Sunday 19 July 2009

The French Invasion of 1810, by Harold Gerry, part 3

(A campaign game played by the Mid-Herts Group; for strategic rules see part1. Basic numerical representation - one figure = 40 men, one gun = a battery of 6).

General situation prior to the East Coast landings

French strategy during the first ten days or so of the campaign was based on the natural assumption that the English would concentrate most of their forces (about 26,000 regular infantry, 4,800 cavalry, 90 guns) in the London area, or within easy reach. In fact the English had decided to divide their regulars into four small equal armies: one in the South-West, one near Portsmouth, one near London, one in reserve near Reading, and to employ a strategy of immediate counter-attack on all landings. In this way it was hoped to keep the French well away from the key naval bases, and prevent them from building up overwhelming strength in any one region.

The French, with far more regulars available, about 34,000 Line, 4,800 Young Guard and 6,000 cavalry, but limited in shipping, consequently found it difficult to obtain any foothold at first. They landed in small scattered groups which were eas­ily dealt with. Their general plan, to create multiple diversions in the West and Wales and then land in East Anglia with the elite troops, largely failed at first, as the English had massed their militia regiments (one per county) within two or three days of the first May 1st landings into small local reserve armies of about four regiments each. These, appearing unexpectedly from directions different from the English regular armies, bewildered the French strategists as to the English strategic intentions.

For a long time, the French were seldom able to hold an area long enough to raise regiments of Republican sympathisers. It needed about 48 hours in undisputed control of the greater part of a county to muster and equip one such unit.

French Landing on the East Coast, May 10th and 12th.

The second stage of the French invasion began on the 10th with four ships land­ing a regiment of infantry (960 men) with supporting cavalry and field guns, at Lowestoft. The British reacted at first by sending a reserve army of regulars from Cambridge towards the invasion, and a mixed militia-regular army started out from London, hoping to meet the invaders or any others before Ipswich.

The Lowestoft landing was in fact only a bait, as on the morning of May 12th 4,800 Young Guard supported by 1,600 heavy cavalry and some guns and Line infantry landed at Harwich, and proceeded to march on Colchester next day. The Cambridge army was slightly delayed in reacting, owing to starting for Lowestoft, but the London army, coming leisurely up the main road, had plenty of time to change its plan, swung right at Colchester, and deployed to check the Young Guard until the Cambridge force could come down to assist.

The French, about 5,700 infantry with 1,600 cavalry, deployed just East of where a brook crossed the Harwich-Colchester road near Little Bentley. The ground was featureless apart from a slight ridge on either side of the brook. Here the French were attacked by the London army of about 7,000 regulars and 6,000 militia!

Gambling on the militia not standing up to determined bayonet charges, (Militia throw 2 dice for morale when charged, need 5 or 6, choosing highest dice thrown. Line throw 3 dice, Elite troops 4. 1 dice deducted for disorder per 2%> loss, etc.), the French planned to hold the road area with half the army, sending the other half to attack the English left strongly. Unfortunately the English had most of their regular rifles on this wing, and much energy and manpower had to be expended on simply destroying that one unit. The French advanced half a mile, the English masses falling back as the militia failed to stand when charged by the French cavalry. The English brought over a regiment of Guard infantry to stop the rot, and the French just hadn't the numbers to extend further. They began to withdraw across the brook towards 1.30 p.m. after 1½ hours fighting (8 moves) with the satisfaction of having outshot the English Guard into routing temporarily, and swinging a cuirassier regiment left to ride down an English Line infantry unit near the Inn which had already been gutted by musketry from the Inn defenders. The English right wing had made good progress towards the French ridge, but then had most of their first line of militia regiments flattened and broken by the superior musketry of the French regulars. (For firing, throw one average dice per 9 front rank re­gulars or 12 militia or other second-grade troops). The second line retired to the Little Bentley position to await the Cambridge army, having the satisfaction of halting the French advance on Colchester and London. The French, with only one infantry regiment still in good fighting trim, withdrew to Harwich to join with the Lowestoft column now crossing the estuary in small craft(evening of 13th).

Almost a third of the French were casualties after this bloodbath, whilst of the English only 8,100 out of the 13,000 were still with the colours at nightfall.

Battle of Harwich, May 14th.

The next morning the English, reinforced by the Cambridge army to nearly 16,000 strong, attacked at dawn to avoid excessive casualties in the approach to the French lines over the very open isthmus - open apart from a few sandpits affording slight cover.

The French, amounting to about 9,000 but of which 2,000 were cavalry, had planned to tempt the English into an attack on the south-east sector, whereupon the French right wing would have swung round and tried to drive the English towards the sea coast.

But due to subordinates' mistakes, the two Young Guard brigades were stationed nearer the centre than the plan had intended, and this confused French reactions when the English surprised them by instead attacking in great force along the estuary shore, straight for Harwich, with a subsidiary thrust at the centre. The massed French field guns for half an hour cut down masses of the leading English assault line, but it was obvious that the English were going to break through at the estuary unless something were done quickly to bring French infantry over from the seacoast side. The situation was serious, as the English had cleverly kept ¾ mile gap clear between their two wings, and 36 cannon were firing with deadly accuracy down this lane.

The French ordered their own infantry to abandon the redoubt and the whole sea-coast sector, and to march at full speed towards the French grand battery, one regi­ment going straight along the beach to Harwich. To cover this move, the French Hussars and two regiments of cuirassiers were thrown-in against the smaller English assault force. The Hussars routed and practically wiped out some heavy dragoons be­fore being cut down or captured by three light cavalry units, one cuirassier regiment caught a Guard infantry unit in disorder just after an infantry melee and routed them with loss. The remaining cuirassier unit broke two English line infantry units and although it was in the end also swamped by English reserves, the English advance had been held up just long enough to allow a good deal o£ the French infantry to disengage.

The English main attack had meanwhile reached the French gun line, which succeeded in beating off only the first two waves, having to limber up to avoid being overrun by the 3rd and 4th English lines. On this sector the French used infantry to gain time, the 1st Voltigeurs having a whole battalion engulfed and captured in the process. The English brought up two heavy dragoon regiments and decided the day. They rushed the French horse batteries, which broke, and one went on to hit a fresh Young ;Guard regiment just arrived in disorder after a hurried march from the seacoast side. This did not break, but was too disordered to stop the cavalry, (units in disorder have only half the normal melee points value. So in this case 24 Young Guard at 1¼ points each = 30 points, fought 10 heavy dragoons at 5 points each = 50 points), and was driven back.

Covered by counter-charges by the cuirassier brigade supporting the guns, the French poured back in disorder to Harwich. The two horse batteries could not be re­covered, and the 16th Line could not get back to the town through the throng of hostile cavalry and light infantry, bringing the total of prisoners taken by the English to 640 cavalry and 1,440 infantry.

Three cuirassier regiments and two Young Guard regiments still in a good fighting state took up position in the outskirts, and, together with the guns which had been rescued from the pursuing English, checked pursuit for a short time. The English guns were far to the rear.

At first the general in charge thought of digging in to try and hold Harwich, as a base near London, but further orders came in by frigate during the day with fuller information as to just how heavily he was outnumbered by the English armies defending London from the North, and ordering him to embark and abandon the port. The last companies of tirailleurs left the docks in the late afternoon, under fire from the converging English riflemen.

So the English, at the cost of not much more than 1,500 killed, had achieved a decisive victory, leaving their London army free to return to base. The French had been lucky in saving any of their army, against such odds.

Saturday 18 July 2009

At the Colonel's Table, Part 3: by Don Houghton, Wargamer's Newsletter 90 September1969

The second campaign at the Colonel's Wargame table was to be a much more grandiose affair. This time we would fight a full scale battle - not just a Brigade skirmish, as he was pleased to put it. (Readers may recall that the 'Brigade skirmish', my first encounter with the Colonel, ended in my complete rout and the decimation, amongst other casualties, of a battalion of the 16th Regiment of Food, the Bedfordshires!). I shuddered to think what might happen to any Corps under my command under similar circumstances.

During the week, I received, by post, a most impressive map and a set of detailed instructions. The Colonel is always very interested in the 'character' of any specific battle. By this he means whether it is to be a Waterloo-type fight, an Austerlitz-type, a Peninsula-type or whatever. He then very carefully designs the terrain to meet these specifications. On this particular Sunday, we were to fight a fictitious Peninsula-type battle. However, there was a certain freedom of choice in regards to the troops involved. The Commanders could pick any units of their respective armies that fought up to the end of Waterloo. This rather confounds the purists, but does allow for more scope and imagination in planning the battle. Each Commander forms his Corps on a point system (specific point-values being allotted to various units) and he can favour a preponderance of Infantry, Cavalry or Artillery as he wishes.

Once more chance dictated that I should command the British Forces. The instructions outlined my task very clearly. It was assumed that I was engaged in a fighting retreat towards Corunna. I had to get my Corps through a valley road that led to the sea and safety. However, the Colonel's French troops had somehow managed to get round to the front of me and lay between my Corps and my destination. I had sixteen game moves to get my forces passed him.

Map detail: (as illustrated) Corunna lies to the N.E. A fairly straight road from the S.W. corner leads up to the N.E. In the centre of the fictitious battlefield there is a bridge crossing the Golondrina River. The river flows from the S.E. corner and off into a due North direction after the bridge. The Golondrina is fordable in three places, one spot north of the bridge and two south of it. The tiny hamlet of Filomela nestles about the bridge. On the western side, close to the British base line, are the lower slopes of Monte Petirrojo. To the east are the Heights of El Gavilan.

Order of Battle. We chose the following troops:

British Corps:

Two Battalions of Line Infantry (22nd and 55th of Foot).
One Highland Battalion (92nd of Foot).
One Guards Battalion (Coldstream) .
Two Companies of the 95th (Rifle Regiment) as skirmishers.
Three Companies of Royal Marines (as Light Infantry).
Two Regiments of Light Cavalry (one Hussar, one Light Dragoon) .
Two Regiments of Heavy Cavalry (Royal Scots Greys and 1st (Kings) Dragoon Guards).
Six Batteries Royal Horse Artillery.

French Corps:

Two Battalions of Line Infantry (42nd and 49th of Foot).
One Battalion of Chasseur de Montagne.
One Battalion of the Imperial Guard.
Two Companies of Voltigeurs as skirmishers.
Three Regiments of Light Cavalry (Polish Lancers, Hussars and Chasseurs a Cheval).
Three Regiments of Heavy Cavalry (Two of Cuirassiers and one of the Empresses Dragoon Guards).
Three Batteries of Field Artillery.

It is immediately apparent that the Colonel favoured his Cavalry arm, whilst I, remembering the disastrous effects of his Artillery in the last campaign, leaned to¬wards the guns. But in my dash to the north east I wanted to be able to move them quickly, so I chose Horse Artillery. When I first saw his Order of Battle I congratulated myself on having no less than six batteries, bearing in mind his awesome display of cavalry. Perhaps I could cut them down before they got in amongst my infantry. Perhaps....

I arrived at the Colonel's home at about eleven in the morning. Politely, but very definitely, I refused his offer of a stiff whisky before we crossed swords. I wanted my head clear and my wits sharp this time. The Colonel was in a rare good humour. He guffawed with monotonous regularity and kept on slapping his thigh with the palm of his hand, as though thumping a cavalry boot with a horse-whip. I took that as a hint. I was going to watch his Cuirassiers with an eagle eye.

The table was a joy to behold. He must have spent nearly the whole week setting 5 up the terrain. The village of Filomela looked tranquil and peaceful as it slumbered .: innocently beside the Golondrina River. The two main heights, El Gavilan and Monte Petirrojo, on either side of the road were massive and brooding. (Students of the Spanish Language will have noticed that the Colonel named all the physical features after species of birds - a strange choice for this hell-fire-and-shrapnel character, I thought). All too soon this gentle panorama would be swarming with men locked in mortal combat - in some ways it was a great pity. In his own way the Colonel was a great artist and builder, odd, therefore, that he should have spent most of his professional career either in battle or preparing for battle.

This time I had brought my own troops and he inspected each unit as I brought it out of my travelling case. He thought they were, in the main, a pretty mouldy lot (and indeed they were, in comparison to his beautifully detailed and painted figures) but he did pass a grudging compliment on my Guards and Highlanders. I only hoped they would do their uniforms justice when it came to the crunch!

His troops were already deployed behind his base line. Mine would appear from the south, the entire Corps arriving during the course of three moves.

The campaign began at twelve noon on the dot. The guffaws and the thigh slapping stopped - but the Colonel did give out with a snort when I won the toss. So to battle.

1 scanned the slopes of Monte Petirrojo and decided to locate no less than three of my six batteries there. Consequently the first of my troops to arrive was the R.H.A., escorted by the Scots Greys. Next I sent my Light Cavalry Brigade full pelt N.E. along the Corunna road, bound for Filomela and the bridge. I badly wanted to secure that position as early as possible. My Riflemen and Marines advanced fairly slowly along the western bank of the river, anxious to command the first fordable area of the river south of the bridge.

For his first move the Colonel seemed to ignore his infantry completely. He sent his Light Cavalry Brigade towards the Heights of El Gavilan. His Heavy Brigade, and I suspect, the pride of his army, he sent immediately to the river bank north west of Filomela and close to the fordable area north of .the bridge. Obviously it was the flanks of my approaching Corps he wanted to threaten. One solitary battery of his artillery followed slowly behind the Light Brigade on to the Heights.

My batteries on Monte Petirrojo began to get into position. I placed them so that they could command the village and its bridge and also cover the northerly threat from the Colonel's Heavy Brigade. The Scots Greys formed up behind the artillery and would remain there to guard the guns in case Monte Petirrojo was assaulted by infantry or cavalry. The downward slope would give them good impetus if they had to charge. I brought up another two batteries to cover the southernmost fordable strip of the river and they took up position behind the Riflemen and Marines. Next I brought in my Guards Battalion, The Coldstreamers would take up a position in the centre of the field just north of my base line and form my main reserve, supported by the 1st Dragoon Guards. In the meantime, my Hussars and Light Dragoons were approaching Filomela rapidly. As for the bulk of my infantry, they would appear in the next move, Highlanders in the van, from the south west along the Corunna road.

I stood back from the table and was well satisfied with my dispositions. But then the Colonel smiled and I had a horrible feeling, in the pit of my stomach, that I was marching into some sort of trap. For the life of me I couldn't yet see what it was.

His Heavy Brigade continued its advance and crossed the river at the northern fordable strip. His Light Brigade gained the Heights of El Gavilan and yet another artillery battery joined them up there. From their position on the slope his Lancers, Hussars and Chasseurs a Cheval were already threatening my own R.H.A. battery, the 6 Riflemen and the Marine skirmishers.

And now came his infantry, uniforms a blaze of colour, eagles glittering in the morning sunlight. They approached in a long, extended line their right flank resting on the lower slopes of El Gavilan and their left hugging the eastern bank of the river. They made a fine and impressive sight. They were, also, an almost impregnable wall laying across the road that would lead me to Corunnal Slowly they moved on to¬wards Filomela - and the first of my forces they would balk would be the.Light Cavalry Brigade attempting to secure the village and the bridge. How the hell could my Hussars and Light Dragoons make any sort of impact on the Colonel's infantry with mass of village houses blocking any chance of a charge? And, anyway, I had nothing at all to support my cavalry. My own infantry was far too far back to help them. Only the Coldstreamers, whom I had hoped to keep in reserve, had any chance of reaching them. So I deployed my Hussars on the left hand side of the road and my Light Dragoons on the right to the south of the village outskirts. For a while there was no chance at all of me securing Filomela.

The Colonel's Cuirassiers wheeled and began to advance due southward. I could see his plan now, with awful, crystal clarity. The mass of his infantry would bear down on me from the centre whilst his two cavalry arms would deliver a right and left hook from the flanks.

And then.... the Colonel's wife asked if we might call a truce for an hour. It was lunchtime - and so great had been our concentration that we hadn't even heard her come into the room. Reluctantly we had to leave the table. Up to this point not a single shot had been exchanged.

I remember I didn't talk very much over that excellent lunch. There was some¬thing nagging at my mind, something about that battlefield and the situation it presented. It was some elusive point that just refused, for the moment, to materialise. The Colonel, too, was a little less exuberant than he had been half an hour ago. Both our thoughts were concentrated on the forces soon to join in battle. The Colonel's wife, sensitive to all moods, remained the quiet and gentle hostess. We had, I recall, a bottle of cold Chablis with the meal - but by the time the cheese came round there was still a good third of the bottle left untouched.

So we went back to the table. I won't bother too much about describing the respective moves in detail. Instead I shall give an outline of the battle as it progressed.

Saturday 11 July 2009

The War of the Bombar Succession Part 3: by Neil Cogswell, Wargamer's Newsletter 82, February 1969

Owing to the map and the number of tables in this article I have scanned the original, and reproduced it, rather than scanning it into text (which would have played havoc with the formatting).

Thursday 9 July 2009

Napoleonic rules by Gerard de Gre, modified by Charles and David Sweet, The Courier 1970

Featuring artillery fire using a plastic gun firing Q tips (cotton buds for those of us this side of the Atlantic), and using a home made catapult for howitzer fire, these rules bridge the HG Wells era towards Morschauser and others.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Early US Gridded Wargames

These pictures are from Making and Collecting Military Miniatures, a book by Bob Bard and published in the States in 1957. I am indebted to Doug from Unfashionably Shiny for drawing this book to my attention. One chapter considers wargaming at the time in the United States, including rules, on Wellsian lines.

Here Herbert Sherlock displays his 54mm gridded wargame.

Ancient Scruby: 54mm wargaming

Back in the day when he was still John and not Jack (at least for formal occasions) these pictures show Jack Scruby wargaming with 54mm figures a la H G Wells, using a gridded playing surface.

These pictures are from Making and Collecting Military Miniatures, a book by Bob Bard and published in the States in 1957. I am indebted to Doug from Unfashionably Shiny for drawing this book to my attention. One chapter considers wargaming at the time in the United States, including rules, on Wellsian lines.

Charles A Sweet: The Early Years

These pictures are from Making and Collecting Military Miniatures, a book by Bob Bard and published in the States in 1957. I am indebted to Doug from Unfashionably Shiny for drawing this book to my attention. One chapter considers wargaming at the time in the United States, including rules, on Wellsian lines.

Here Charles Sweet is using (I believe) 30mm figures on a gridded system. There is a pleasing aesthetic to the pictures. Does anyone want to identify any of the figure used?

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Charles A. Sweet, Table Top General from Table Top Talk September 1963

Looking in this picture vaguely like Tony Soprano (or really quite a lot like Assistant Commissioner Rawls from The Wire) Charles A Sweet was one of the early godfathers of wargaming in the United States. This was not least because he featured in an article on the hobby in Sports Illustrated. More of this in the next post, from The War Game Digest, another of Jack Scruby's publications.

Charles Sweet: Confession of a longtime wargamer, War Game Digest Fall 1971