Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Mr Steve's Book Review Poll

As regular followers of JJ's Wargames will know, Book Reviews form a big part of the posts on the blog and I am helped with that content by the contributions of Mr Steve who adds to the value of this blog by covering historical reading that would not necessarily fall into my orbit, just as my regular diet of books would not necessarily match his.

Thus we are able to create synergy where the coming together of our joint reading habit produces a greater product than either one alone and hopefully makes this a more entertaining read for you. Don't you just love the thought that goes on here and some of you were probably thinking this thing just gets thrown together!

Last week Mr Steve had me entertain the idea of bringing a little democracy to this corner of the internet by considering opening up the blog to the views of its readers, and allowing you to have some say on the content!

A wise man once advised not to ask a question unless you already knew the answer, something I am sure David Cameron regrets to this day.

So in the spirit of seeing whether you care about the stuff that gets posted up here, and a curiosity as to whether you can be bothered to express any particular desires to input into the process I have been persuaded by Mr Steve to ask the question.

From the following list, which book would you like Mr Steve to review first?

1. The First Anglo-Sikh War - Amarpal Singh
2. The Second Sikh War - Amarpal Singh
3. British & Indian Army Campaigns on the North West Frontier 1849-1908 - Captain H.L. Neveill
4. The Second Barons War, Lewes and Evesham - John Sadler
5. The Roman Emperor Aurelian - John White

I know which one is my choice, but in the spirit of honest broker and interested onlooker I will refrain from expressing a preference and leave the choice to you.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Over the Hills (Play-test) - Night Attack, Talavera

Scenario play-testing continues with the next in the Talavera series looking at the night attack carried out by General Ruffin's infantry division on the night of the 27th July 1809 as the armies settled themselves into the Talavera line.

Night attacks are not common during this era of warfare, for the obvious reasons of command and control and finding the enemy in a period that relied very much on line of sight.

The first set up with the French battalions too dispersed for operating at night

This scenario has proved perhaps the most challenging to construct and play using Over the Hills given that we had to incorporate a layer of rules over the basic rules to facilitate the night battle.

Likewise the British were in the right place but those forward KGL battalions needed to double up

As with all this series of historical re-fights the process begins with working out who was there in what strength and where exactly they were.

You might think that would be relatively quite straight-forward but as with a lot of battles from this period and indeed many others, it is not always that easy. The Duke of Wellington's famous quote about battles being like balls, in that the reporter was only really aware of what was happening in their corner of the ball-room, often comes to mind.

The reset start with closed up French now with their commanders in play to monitor command ranges, and a very open Medellin

Anyway most of the sources agree that the Cerro de Medellin was, remarkably, left undefended that evening, a fact that Marshal Victor set out to exploit by sending a division across the valley floor with what seemed like an open goal to put the ball in.

Thus the set up pictures with markers representing the approximate positions of the various battalions needed to reflect that fact.

The only thing that could interfere with French progress towards their objective was the very thing that would allow them to march towards it hopefully unnoticed, namely the cover of darkness.

Similarly the KGL have doubled up on the road with commanders in play - General Hill and Stuart's brigade will appear in the lower left of picture

Thus we come to that layer of rules designed to simulate the potential chaos that could cause individual units to lose their way, fire on friends and surprise enemy alike; all conducted under a dark night sky where visibility could come and go leaving commanders aware of the proximity of the enemy but unable to fire because of a sudden drop in visibility range or indeed vice versa.

First contact, the 5th KGL are caught by the column of the 1/96e Ligne

The blinds or markers are not a new idea but proved a simple way of identifying units that had been spotted and those that hadn't.

The other concern was time, in that the whole French attack lasted slightly less than a hour, indicating a rapid French advance and perhaps a good level of knowledge about the ground given they had been encamped in the area for several weeks before the battle.

The French get the best of the exchange of musketry as the red die appears on the German battalion

In the end we allowed ourselves the luxury of twice the amount of time than in the actual battle to allow the French to try and consolidate a hold on the Medellin should they manage to get more troops on it than did General Ruffin who managed to get just three of his nine battalions to the top.

With the first contact resolved the visibility increases revealing to Baron Low and his 5th KGL the strength of the attack

We played this scenario twice and rapidly discovered the issues with the first draft that were not apparent on a simple read through. That's why play-testing is so important.

In the second game with the adjustments made we saw the French emulate their historical predecessors by rapidly crossing the Portina stream with quite a tight grouping of battalions, with what looked like a potential seven on target for the summit and General Hill nowhere to be seen.

The 96me Ligne on course to attack the KGL as the rest of the division make a home run for the summit of the Medellin

Even when the lead battalions of the 96me Ligne 'bumped' Low's KGL brigade, the lead French column managed to come out on top in the first exchange of musketry as the German battalion failed to cause a hit and received two in return from the head of the column - it seemed the KGL were as disordered and surprised as the historical accounts, that saw them rapidly dispersed losing many men taken prisoner.

The battle between Low's KGL and the 96me Ligne leaves both sides battered with the French marginally stronger as the 9me Legere take the summit. Stewart's brigade can be seen arriving top right. 

The British surprise at the attack was simulated by having their closest brigades on hold orders in the areas of their bivouacs until General Hill could take command and call on them to clear any French on the hill top.

General Hill redirects Donkin's brigade to support Stuart's as he sets about dealing with the French incursion

Then just as it was looking really rosy for French fortunes ill luck and poor situational awareness from several battalion commanders reduced the French battalions headed for the summit from seven to three.

Stuart brings his brigade up the hill, well almost, as the 29th Foot can be seen heading in the wrong direction at right

If this wasn't bad enough General Hill, leading Stuart's brigade, in response to all that musketry, arrived on the back slope and immediately made contact with Colonel Donkin to redirect his brigade towards the hill top.

As the British battalions prepared to counter-attack the clock was against them and the French had already assumed an unassailable points tally

Some relief came with the 29th Foot losing the direction of march and diverging from their brigade comrades but that this still gave the British commander four very good battalions to strike at the three battalions of the 9me Legere.

Game end - the 9me Legere in proud possession of the Medellin

The saving grace for the French was that their progress had been so rapid and the British response, a turn or two too slow in reacting. This meant that the Legere would be repulsed but not soon enough, allowing them to grab an unassailable lead in victory points and thus a French victory.

This scenario is easily played in an evening and poses several decision points to the commanders on both sides trying to manage the chaos of operating at night.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Carolyn's Birthday - Vikings, Buccaneers and Druids

Boringdon Hall, Hotel and Spa 

This week Carolyn and I took a few days to celebrate Carolyn's birthday with a trip to Borindon Hall in South Devon just outside Plymouth followed by a trip to Dartmoor and Plymouth to visit Will at university.

As well as enjoying a great sauna and spa at Boringdon plus some excellent dinners out, I was keen to grab some pictures of the places visited that I thought followers of the blog might be interested in.

So Boringdon Hall is the first highlight for, as well as being a very nice five star hotel to spend a day and evening at, it also has a fascinating history.

The name Boringdon comes from the Saxon 'Burth-Y-Don' meaning 'enchanted place on the hill' and the hall is recorded in the Domesday Book.

King Edgar granted the Manor of Boringdon and Wembury to St Peter of Plympton in 956 AD and thus it remained in the hands of the Priory until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by King Henry VIII; when it became Crown property and was later passed to Thomas Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton.

Pied Wagtails are always a delight to see, always living up to their name and wagging those tails

Wriothesley sold the Manor to Henry Grey the Duke of Suffolk and father of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for just nine days, until executed at the tender age of 16 in 1553.

The original Manor House is attached to the later Elizabethen hall seen further back on the left

In that same year, 1553, Henry Grey sold Boringdon to Richard Mathew of Tavistock whose grand-daughter married John Parker who inherited it in 1582 when he had the house remodelled into the traditional 'E' shaped house alongside the original medieval hall.

A magnificent entrance hall welcomes the visitor

With work on the hall completed in 1587, John Parker held a banquet in the Great Hall in honour of his old friend and perhaps the greatest hero of Devonshire, Sir Francis Drake, circumnavigator and terror of the Spanish Main.

In the entrance was this notice board that immediately drew my attention to the long history of Boringdon

Sir Francis Drake
Drake had just returned, to great acclaim, for leading the daring and highly successful raid on Cadiz that year in which large numbers of Spanish ships destined to be involved in the attempted invasion of England were destroyed along with supplies and munitions and a treasure ship taken, just arrived from the South American colonies.

Raid on Cadiz

Along with Drake, Parker entertained the other greats of English seafaring history of that period, namely Drake's uncle Sir John Hawkins, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Walter Raleigh and William Parker, brother of John Parker, a great captain in his own right and part of Drake's command that attacked Cadiz.

I knew Elizabethans were very short but surely not!

The fire place in the Great Hall bears the coat of arms of King James I and dates from 1640 with the figures of Peace and Plenty either side.

The fire-place in the Great Hall

The Parker family were great loyalists and supported King Charles I through the civil war that caused them to have their house confiscated by Parliament only to have it returned to them on the restoration of King Charles II.

It remained in the hands of the Parker family up until 1920, when, since then it has had many owners, including the National Trust.

Boringdon Hall was bought by the current owners in 2011 since when it has had a lot of investment to turn it into a premier hotel and spa.

All very cosy and inviting

It was a real pleasure using the spa and then dining that first evening in the Great Hall imagining the greats from history including Queen Elizabeth I who stayed at the Hall several times on her trips to the West Country.

The restoration of the building has been very considerate to the age and history of it with the additional bedrooms fitted out in the older medieval manor still retaining the arrow slits within each room now fitted with a glass window to add to the interior comforts.

The next morning after a traditional English breakfast with a superb black pudding, we were off up to Dartmoor to make a return visit to a site we had only seen in pictures and from a distance but on a bright sunny November morning were determined to walk up to and get a close look for ourselves.

Wistman Wood seen centre right in the West Dart Valley as we began our walk

Wistman Wood can be found close to Two Bridges nestling in the valley of the West River Dart and is an amazing example of the upland oak woodland that once covered much of the moor around 7,000 BC until it was cleared by Mesolithic hunter/gatherers about 5,000 BC and has been protected as a Sight of Special Scientific Interest since 1964.

Wistman Wood, Dartmoor
Legendary Dartmoor

The autumn hues of the wood became clearer the closer we got

The day we headed of along the path that follows the babbling Dart River, along its meandering course, saw the morning starting at a bracing 10'C with gloriously blue skies, which, as the sun rose, caused the temperature to rise and we were soon peeling of the layers.

The journey was accompanied by the gentle babbling of the Dart River 

As you get closer to the wood you immediately notice how stunted the oak trees are in comparison to their lowland cousins and yet these are not saplings by any means as their gnarled twisted appearance immediately displays their great age.

Stunted oak trees on the edge of the wood as we got even closer

The whole slope covered in trees was also covered in large boulders

The wood lies on the sloping ground of the valley and as you get close to the edge you can immediately see that the floor of it is covered in large moss covered limestone boulders that make traversing the area quite tricky whilst watching your footing and trying to avoid hitting your head on low lying branches.

I think Carolyn discovered the favourite rock of the Druids

I have never seen a wood quite like this and on entering it you can immediately appreciate the folklore and legend that has grown around its appearance, looking like something out of a 'Lord of the Rings' film set with the twisted trees covered in strange growths of mosses and lichen.

The trees were quite unlike any others I had seen before

One site even lays claim to this wood as a favourite sacred place for the local Druids and its not hard to imagine what they might have got up to here and you can't help thinking it might have been on the patrol route of the Roman garrisons, knowing how they felt about Druidism and, to the Romans, its strange sacrificial ceremonies.

Old gnarled trunks with twists and loops revealing very old trees

The mosses and lichens were equally as impressive as the rocks and trees they covered

On closer inspection the range and array of mosses and lichen are truly impressive with some very delicate examples amid the soft cushion of green, covering the rocks.

I had never seen anything like these hanging mosses on trees in the UK

Our picnic site beckoned from beyond the trees

On leaving the wood at the lower edge, Carolyn and I found a particularly sunny rock to sit on and grab a light picnic and drink whilst I settled down to read the second in the Anthony Riches series of Roman adventures on Hadrian's Wall in the company of the 1st Tungrians and Centurion Corvus in scenery that perfectly complimented the prose.

Wistman Wood is a remarkable place and now added to our list of favourite places on Dartmoor

After a very enjoyable late morning and early afternoon exploring Wistman Wood it was time to head off to Plymouth where we had arranged another hotel stay and time to visit Will our younger son who his studying medicine there.

With an evening meal arranged and a shopping expedition set for the following day before heading home we were really looking forward to a bit of sight seeing and time to meet Will and his flat mates.

With both our sons studying at Plymouth University we have got to know the city better with the many visits over recent years and the more you take the time to look the more you discover about the city's long and varied history.

On this occasion we were going to be staying close to the Hoe which for those who don't know Plymouth is the high open esplanade that faces out to sea and where it is supposed that Sir Francis Drake was enjoying his game of bowls when the Spanish Armada was sighted coming up the channel.

The Seas of Red display of ceramic poppies on Plymouth Hoe, remembering the losses of World War One

Will and his flat mates have rented student accommodation right next to the Hoe and you can see the attraction.

As well as offering glorious views out over Plymouth Sound, the Hoe is where the many memorials to Plymouth's connections with the services and the war memorials covering the Armada to the modern day are located.

At present, with the run up to Remembrance Sunday on the 11th November, there was a remarkable display of the ceramic poppies arranged in a wave shape alongside the War Memorial which Carolyn took pictures of on our walk to our restaurant that evening.

First shown filling the moat at the Tower of London in a display called Blood Swept Lands, these poppies have proven to be a popular and evocative way of illustrating the cost in human lives the World Wars imposed on the country and Commonwealth with this particular display, Seas of Red, illustrating the 7,300 British and Commonwealth casualties of the First World War who have no known grave and the seamen of the Royal Navy who sailed from Plymouth.

The Fab Four in Plymouth - 1967

The next morning after another sustaining full English breakfast we set off on a day of retail therapy, but not before exploring a few of the other sights on the Hoe.

I hadn't realised the 'Fab Four' had visited Plymouth, but the publicity picture above, taken in 1967 shows the Beatles out and about promoting their Magical Mystery Tour Album that year and the exact spot where they sat has been immortalised with a Beatles-Bum sculpture capturing the impressions of their "derrieres" and hand prints.


And finally one particular memorial I was keen to find was as a postscript to a post I did last May as part of my series looking at the Battlefields of Devon and particularity the attack on Lydford in 997 AD; which saw the Viking invaders repulsed from the walls of the Saxon burgh and pursued back along the River Tamar by the Fyrd to Plymouth where they are thought to have set up a fortified camp at Torpoint and wintered under observation by the local Saxons.

Vikings in Plymouth 997 AD

Battlefields in Devon - Battle of Lydford

The stone erected on Plymouth Hoe was set up in 1997 for the thousandth anniversary of the campaign and is positioned with views out over Drakes Island, the Sound, Torpoint and the Cornish side of the River Tamar.

Home of the Royal Navy and gateway to the Channel and Western Approaches - Plymouth Sound with Drakes Island
I hope you enjoyed some of the flavour of Carolyn's Birthday on Tour 2017 and a nice way to start our series of posts for November.

Lots of stuff to tell you about on JJs coming up , including Mr Steve's potential book reviews, 28mm Viking Bondi and more Over the Hills play-tests.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Over the Hills (play-test) - The Afternoon Attack, Talavera

" If this does not work, it is time to give up war!" 

Marshal Victor quoted before the afternoon attack at Talavera, 28th July 1809

Note whilst presenting this game I write about FS and FH which refers to Fatigue Strength, a number that shows the strength of units and formations and FH which are Fatigue Hits, caused by combat and shooting that degrades FS over time and causes units and formations to stop fighting.

So carrying on our series of games designed to find out what we can do with the rule-set "Over the Hills" (OTH) Steve M and I proceeded to this scenario recreating the main French attack on the Anglo-Spanish line on the afternoon of the 28th July 1809; when the might of Generals, Lapisse and Rey's two divisions supported by a forty-eight gun grand-battery and the 2nd Dragoon Division under General Latour Maubourg assaulted the centre of the British held pert of the line looking to completely unhinge the whole position and open the allies up to the combined French cavalry.

The view of the French lines from behind the British position, with the range sticks indicating the perimeter of our battle

The first two pictures illustrate the specific part of the battlefield we modelled this scenario on, and a view of the two armies which, at this point, is the biggest battle we have fought using OTH.

The massed battalions of French infantry arranged behind their grand-battery

This game would see the table groaning under the weight of thirty two battalions of French infantry, twenty battalions of British infantry, twelve squadrons of French and eight squadrons of British cavalry, not to mention the seven batteries of French and two batteries of British artillery, all crammed into a mile wide sector of the British line.

The two brigades of KGL line infantry hold the forward slope of the Cerro de Medellin with Donkin's Brigade in support nearest to camera

The scenario is modelled around the historical orders of battle and is set up to follow the original plans both sides committed to, allowing the three hours the battle took to resolve itself in reality.

The might of I and IV Corps infantry await their guns to fire and soften up the British line

Suddenly the French line of guns opened up a massed forty-five minute barrage

The games we are playing are designed to allow the full OTH rule system to come into play with, in this case, a three turn grand battery barrage to open the battle that caused a bit of concern among British ranks.

In one turn alone Steve caused 5 Fatigue Hits (FH) firing across the front, and probably accruing about 8 to 10 FH across the three turns, despite the British front rank units 'Going to Ground', simulating British troops lying down when subjected to French artillery bombardment.

The French gun fire fell silent as massed infantry columns passed through their lines to be met by fire from the British guns opposite

The columns of Rey's division closes on the Portina Stream

The thing about scenario design is that you envisage a model built around the actual events and then you start to see ways of adding or changing the design to create those key decision points or capture an element you hadn't considered until you see the thing unfolding in front of you, and this game proved no different.

As the columns advanced, the French guns in this sector limbered up to move forward to support the attack

With their guns withdrawn, the British throw forward a thick screen of light bobs to fend off the voltigeur screen 

This was a full blooded French attack on a British line with all the special rules for French and British troops used that OTH has to capture the way these particular armies fought. So our French columns were making full use of their 'Dancing Officers' and 'En Avant! A la Baionette!" rules whilst the British were coming back at them with their phlegmatic ''Steady Lads, Steady' and 'British Cheer' all designed to recreate the classic line versus column encounter.

The two sides light troops dispute the French advance

All along the line the skirmish battle was fully contested 

The scenario follows the three hour long fight for the centre ground of the British line and with a forty-five minute barrage starting at 14.00 it was not until around 16.00 that the first assaults by the front columns went in having been preceded by a whithering skirmish battle beforehand.

The 60th Rifle companies bolstered the British light bobs with long range accurate sniping of the French advance troops

As the two opposing lines draw near the British reserve line is moved up in close support

Not having fought a battle of this size we were both unsure how the fatigue effects would accrue across such a large number of units facing off against each other and although the units could and did rally off successive FH, the brigades and armies could not, and the evidence of the damage started to show as red and blue d6 used to record the losses to Fatigue Strength (FS), started to be discarded on to the table.

I was keen to keep an element of 'fog of war' by having the opposing record cards keeping track of both sides fatigue out of sight of each other thus keeping the effects of our fire on each other a matter of conjecture throughout until the effects started to show.

The 1/61st Foot of Cameron's Brigade move up to the edge of the olive groves in support of the skirmish screen

Despite the casualties (that little blue die) the French keep on coming

It is this fatigue modelling that for me makes OTH such a compelling set of rules for fighting these big set piece battles as that whittling away of each army's endurance adds another layer of battle simulation as each side attempts to cause the other to topple over first.

As in the real thing, you don't need to kill your way to a victory, simply destroy the other sides will to go on fighting, leaving them vulnerable to the reserves.

General Rey's division exchange one last round of skirmish fire as their columns prepare to charge

The British light bobs prepare to retire behind their supports

The fatigue element also forces the player commander to keep a larger perspective as it is easy to get involved in a particular battle within the larger battle, but it feels rather like a boxing match where multiple repeated hits eventually cause a knock down, with one and then another brigade dropping out of the fight, but with the eye on your own brigades similarly close to throwing in the towel.

The second line of French columns ready to take full advantage of any breakthrough

Six battalions led the first French assault

With the lines so close the British guns are safely withdrawn behind the reserve brigades

The crisis point of this battle came with the attack on Campbell's British Guards and Cameron's 1/61st and 2/83rd Foot when six battalions of French infantry charged home with the two Guards battalions and the 61st having to deal with two battalions of French each.

General Mackenzie oversees the deployment of his reserve 3rd Division

Charge! in goes Rey's division striking Campbell's Guards Brigade with Colonel Guards brigade, 2/24th Foot, 3rd Division, in support

The British line at crisis point as Sherbrooke's division comes under attack with the light battalions withdrawn behind the line

Needless to say British Guards are formidable in most sets of Napoleonic rules and if not I would query the rules, so Steve can be forgiven for having his fingers crossed as the 58me and 75me Ligne gave a cheer and charged forward with levelled bayonets only to be met by a thunderous volley that put 8 FS across the four French battalions in one crushing fire.

On the other end of the British line the KGL light bobs dispute the advance of the 16me Legere as French dragoons close on the extreme flank

Suddenly crashing volley fire erupts along the British line as the columns stagger under the impact

However Cameron's 61st Foot had a harder struggle taking hits as well as giving them and ending up in a three turn close combat that saw the British unit narrowly coming out on top but suffering enough FH to take the brigade over their FS allowance and cause them to have to retire from the battle, broken.

The aftermath of the British volley and charge with Belair's brigade broken and forced back behind the Portina
Not all one way traffic as Cameron's brigade is forced to withdraw broken after forcing back the French columns - note the British columns threading their way back into the reserve areas to regroup. Cotton brings up his Light Dragoons.

The retirement of Cameron's two battalions opened up a gap in the British centre that drew in the remaining reserves including the British light cavalry to prevent a serious incursion into the line, all this as both KGL brigades who bore the brunt of French artillery and a significant amount of skirmish fire found their brigade FS wobbling in single figures on 1d6 each, leaving them one combat away from breaking. 

In fact Steve didn't know it, but he could probably have just sat back and shot the KGL off the top of the Medellin without bothering to close on them.

That said I didn't know the parlous state of the French brigades that opposed them and that is what really makes this rule set such a compelling game - great fun!

The KGL brigades were just a few points from breaking as the French closed in - note the British guns deployed to help hold the French up as reserve units deploy to cover the KGL

Big games need to have an ordered way of keeping track of morale. The dice show remaining Fatigue Score (FS) on the various brigades with Cameron's already depleted and the British army FS using D10s with 72 points left from a start of over 100 FS

Sadly we had to end this test three turns short of the end and with a knife edge set up, so we turned to the pick up game rules to see how the two armies were faring in terms of victory points which at this stage with both sides having the wobbly brigades mentioned showed:

French having broken one British brigade 5 victory points
British having destroyed three French battalions (6 points), broken one French brigade (5 points) and breaking the most expensive in FS French brigades (10 points) showing a British total of 21 victory points, but with two KGL brigades each 3 FS away from braking and with French dragoons bearing down on them.

Likewise the French brigades and army were similarly monitored and their army FS at 69 points remaining with one brigade broken and two brigades on one d6 of FS left.

Despite the early finish we both felt that this scenario clearly has a lot to offer both French and British players with plenty of challenge for both sides and some extra optional additional rules that can be used to further enhance the historical narrative.

Both Steve and I had hours of fun slugging away at each other over the Portina Valley and the more we play OTH the more we are discovering and are enjoying the subtle mechanisms of the play.

So further play-tests to come with another couple of Talavera scenarios and then hopefully back to look at some of Sir Arthur Wellesley's earlier actions from 1808 and 1809.