Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Chalke Valley History Festival 2018

Last month Steve M invited me to join him on a trip to the Chalke Valley History Festival, a week long event, 25th June to the 1st July, held at Broad Chalke in the beautiful countryside south-west of Salisbury.

Steve went to the show last year and based on his account of his time then, I decided to make a note to go along this year.

The event is described in the brochure as offering visitors a chance to "see, touch and feel history" in the company of expert living historians "demonstrating a wide range of activities from historic cookery to surgery to other features of day to day living  and of course, how warfare was fought and developed over the centuries."

The festival boasts honorary patrons including Sir Anthony Beevor FRSL, Professor Micheal Wood, Sir Max Hastings, Dr Peter Caddick Adams and Tom Holland, among others.

Throughout the week, each day offers the opportunity to choose particular speakers and subjects, from ancient to modern, that might be of interest, allowing visitors to attend on one or multiple days, as Steve did, to listen to what expert speakers have to offer on any given subject. Alongside the speaker presentations are displays of various other historical themes together with vehicles and weapons and an array of food and beverage stalls able to cater for all tastes.

Obviously the weekend is the busiest time of the festival and the air and ground displays together with some very well known speakers tend to be around on the Saturday and Sunday, but as two grumpy old men wishing to avoid tripping over excited kids and their weary parents we opted for the Friday where we prepaid to attend the 09.30 to 13.15 presentation entitled " Red Devils: British Airborne Forces in World War II.", followed after lunch by "Air Power: A Global History" presented by Jeremy Black in the year that the RAF celebrates its 100th anniversary.

The first part of our day, after a suitable refreshment after the drive up from Devon, was to find our way to the air-conditioned Hiscox marquis where James Holland introduced the presentation and guest speakers which took a timeline overview of British parachute forces operations from North Africa through to Arnhem with Dr Peter Caddick Adams covering the early development of the force and then a look at one of its early deployments into Sicily, Operation Fustian, where the British 1st Airborne Division came up against its German opposite numbers at the Battle for Primosole Bridge

Primosole Bridge in Sicily soon after its capture by British troops
After the first presentation we were treated to cold drinks, a must on such a hot day and moved outside to watch the guest reenactment team take the audience through a selection of the weapons and other equipment used by British paratroop forces

The weapons and equipment display team made for a very pleasant break between speakers outside in the glorious sunshine

On returning to the marquis we were all introduced to the next session looking at the personal experiences of Fred Glover, aged a sprightly 92, former member of the 9th Parachute Regiment detailed to land on the Merville Battery in three gliders on the eve of D-Day to prevent the German artillery position from interdicting the allied landings later that morning.

Guest of honour and D-Day veteran Fred Glover of 9th Para part of 6th Airborne Division

Fred was interviewed about his reminiscences of volunteering from his reserved occupation job, his thoughts about the esprit de corps that typifies these elite units then and today; and his extensive active service that spanned D-Day, where he was wounded, through to his escape from the Germans, taking part in the liberation of Paris, where he helped take out a German sniper, through to his later service on the Rhine crossing and post war in Palestine.

Colonel Stuart Tootal a former commander of 3rd Para in Afghanistan interviews Fred about his experience of joining the Parachute Regiment and his part in the attack on the Merville Battery on D-Day

I was able to record the full interview given by Fred which includes some fascinating anecdotes from his long service together with a vivid display of wit that characterises the man followed by the warm standing applause given to him by the audience making it such a memorable moment and with very few of our WWII veterans still with us, a real honour to have attended.

Restored gun casement at Merville pictured in 2011

I well remember my own visit to the Merville Battery back in 2011 and to here Fred's description of being hit by antiaircraft fire and the shrapnel penetrating their glider as they crash landed onto the battery before going into action was very vivid.

The battery has been restored and opened to the public as a superb memorial to the men of 9th Para who captured it and knocked out the guns on the eve of D-Day.

One of the gun positions in the casement pictured back in 2011

Fred demonstrating the peculiarities of using the Sten Mk V that he carried into Normandy 

Next up we had Al Murray taking us through a very particular day in the Arnhem campaign, 'Black Friday' when it seemed everything that could go wrong for 1st British Airborne Division fighting for its existence around Arnhem and Oosterbeek reached a crescendo.

Al Murray covered the Arnhem history with an interesting look at one particular day in the battle, 'Black Friday' the 22nd September
Taking personal reminiscences and sections form the various unit war diaries, Al weaved an account of the fighting and suffering that the airborne troops were experiencing on that one day and, for me, was a very moving experience to hear recounted.

I carry my own personal reminiscences from the Arnhem campaign and couldn't help but recall the accounts from my father from those times and the utter desolation that a setback like Arnhem could leave with those that took part, all be it that the Market-Garden operation closely followed by the Ardennes campaign very likely accelerated the collapse of the Nazi regime in the following spring.

The presentation moved its focus over various parts of the battle around the bridge to the attempts by 1st Airborne to force their way past the German stop line in and around the town and railway, to events at the headquarter in Oosterbeek as the break down in communications and command made it more and more difficult to influence events.

Both Steve and I are very familiar with this battle and the places mentioned, but both felt that it would have been greatly enhanced had we been treated to some maps put up on the giant screen seen in the pictures. It seems strange that presentations on military history are starting to mimic the books we read, either no maps or very poor ones! As the saying goes a picture, or in this case a map, is indeed worth a thousand words.

With the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Airforce in 1918 under Lord Trenchard that took over the mantle of providing British air power on land from the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, it was not surprising to see the festival having a bit of an air theme to this year's proceedings.

The prolific author Jeremy Black from Exeter University was our next presentation that we attended straight after lunch.

The talk which coincided with a book on the subject was an overview of the development of military and importantly naval air power from its early days through to modern times charting how the use of air power has changed based on the demands put upon it in several distinct times.

Thus we had the early periods of the first world war very much focused on using air power as an adjunct to land based artillery and to some extent naval reconnaissance, with the importance on reconnaissance and accurate mapping of targets, with very limited thoughts of strategic bombing as the allies and Germany started to look at large multiple engine bombers. Tactical support was in its infancy and likewise developed late in that war

The second period looked at the development of the bombing force as a tactical support over the battlefield and as a means of winning a war outright without the need of land or naval forces to compel the enemy to give in. This idea took shape in WWII and reached its climax at the end of the war into the early 1950's with the nuclear bombing forces to be made redundant by the development of intercontinental missiles as the delivery system of choice.

Missile systems and space technology presaged the third age of airpower with next generation aircraft now straining the limitations imposed on them by being a maned or 'womaned' craft and all that might mean for unmanned remote aircraft especially when you also consider the huge cost imposed on states by next generation aircraft.

The presentation also ranged over the other nations impacts on the development of world air power and with a particular emphasis on the maritime and naval aspects of the arm.

A very thought provoking presentation that would have been enhanced had our speaker included more time to allow more than one question.

Following our time in the tent both Steve and I were keen to explore the outdoor exhibits and my only regret about this time was that given the journey home, we had to crack about to see as much as we did and yet there were still some extremely interesting exhibitions such as one looking at the newest historical finds from Waterloo that we didn't get to see.

What follows is some pictures of the WWI aircraft and a Spitfire mock up which, out in the open on grass, really capture the look of these planes in their natural environment when on the ground.

This Airco DH2 would have been operational from the summer of 1915 though to the autumn of 1917 and was the first operational effective RFC fighter designed to counter the 'Fokker Scourge' of late 1915 which saw the German fighters using interrupter mechanisms to allow their aircraft to fire a machine-gun through the forward propeller, allowing them to point the aircraft at the target they wished to engage.

This type was flown by Major Lanoe Hawker VC, CO of 24 Squadron, the first squadron to be equipped with them. Major Hawker was later shot down and killed by Manfred von Richtofen on the 23rd November 1916 after a lengthy dual.

The DH2 had a maximum speed of 93mph and a ceiling of 14,000 feet and was armed with one Lewis Mk. 1 machine-gun

This particular replica was built over an eighteen month period and is a great memorial to an aircraft of which their are no surviving wartime airframes.

The Spitfire replica is easily given away by those sadly drooping elevators, probably where some over enthusiastic kids have looked for somewhere to sit.

That said if you remove the white tents and 21st century visitors, with the RAF tractor close at hand you might think you were on a 1940 airfield waiting for the bell to signal a scramble.

The S.E.5a was perhaps one of the finest fighter aircraft to emerge from the first world war and was flown by notable aces such as Albert Ball VC, Mick Mannock VC, James McCudden VC, Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC and Cecil Lewis MC.

Albert Ball in the S.E.5. Interestingly, Ball wasn't very impressed with the plane on first impressions but went on to score 11 of his 44 victories in it.

Armed with a single synchronised Vickers machine-gun and a wing mounted Lewis machine-gun on a Foster mounting designed to enable firing at an enemy aircraft from below, the S.E.5a could fly at 138 mph and reach a service ceiling of 20,000 feet, although 17,000 feet is the quoted maximum.

Following the aircraft displays we headed for the vehicle park which had some lovely restorations on view, plus some other examples still requiring a bit of TLC.

I have included a few all round and interior pictures for those nerds like me who like to reference this stuff for when it comes to modelling the thing.

One of the highlights was to visit the 17lbr anti-tank gun and limber, which was decked out in the arm of service serial code and unit badge of the 21st Anti-Tank Regiment, Guards Armoured Division.

As soon as I saw this marvelous gun and its tow, the picture below flashed into my mind of the regiment with one of its 17lbr guns set up on the approach to Nijmegan bridge following the battle to capture it.

21st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery, Guards Armoured Division 17lbr set up on Nijmegan Bridge

The Morris C8 AT towing vehicle is equipped with a linked set of breaks on the gun operated by the lever above the steering column in the picture below.

This was an aspect of using a large gun like this on any sort of an incline that I had not considered. The lever can allow the driver to apply the breaks fitted to the gun when pulling up and before unlimbering.

The owner, who was present to conduct some blank firing demonstrations, explained that the gun is surprisingly mobile and so well balanced, that it is easily turned onto a new facing.

As well as the vehicles and big guns on display, there was also an interesting array of small arms and machine-guns.

If you were thinking those are some rather large vehicle or anti-tank mines in the picture below, you're wrong. They are in fact two air filters that were used in German WWII bunkers to prevent the occupants from being overcome in a gas attack.

German bunker air fliters

The rather battered and unloved Grant seen below looked like it had just arrived from one of the ranges out on Salisbury Plain and would probably prove the ultimate in restoration projects!

The really great thing to see was plenty of youngsters getting enthused about history and hopefully a few new budding wargamers of the future catching that bug that never ever lets you go.

These kind of events make for a great distraction when the sun shines and a little inspiration is required away from the painting desk, so I think I might be checking out the program for next year's festival.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Furioso Al Fresco

On Tuesday this week Chas kindly invited me up to his place along with Steve H to see a play-through of a set of rules I have had in my possession for nearly a year and have been really keen to see played.

Unfortunately I don't own any Renaissance war figures, the period of warfare, 'Furioso' by Alternative Armies is aimed at.

The rules and Italian Wars supplement are available in paperback and pdf, together with their own range of 15mm figures that also incorporate the fantasy range of Da Vinci type creations including his design for a tank.

A perfect day for an outdoors wargame

Our game was sticking to a more historically factual approach and we were using 28mm figures to put together an Italian Wars scenario with a Spanish army versus a Papal State force and the range of troop types they might be expected to field.

The odd breeze made set up slightly problematical hence weights needed to hold down those tabletop unit set up markers

With the current spell of weather we are experiencing at the moment and not wishing to be gently poached in Chas' sun lounge we maintained the Italian theme by playing the game 'al fresco' under Chas' marquis in the back garden which made for a very pleasant experience if occasionally a little breezy which caused a few problems with the set up.

I thought rather than give you a blow by blow account of the game I would focus on how the rules play and my impressions which 'spoiler alert' were very favourable. So to give you an idea of how the game turned out I have captioned the pictures from the various stages  of play up to where we called it a day.

As you will seen above, we were following the scenario creation and table set up process straight from the book that requires the laying down of unit markers, face down, prior to them being revealed and the units being placed in that position. This allows a certain level of hidden deployment, with the more aggressive/better manoeuvred force likely to be deployed further forward than its enemy.

Thus our table set up ended up looking as seen below with the Spanish line advanced with its three pike blocks and supporting missile troops advanced and with light cavalry to the flanks and with the the heavy stuff in the rear.

The Spanish to the right and Steve's Papal boys on the left, both 300 point forces

The Papal chaps, being outmanoeuvred, as explained in the set up system, were deployed nearer to the rear of their base line, with a force much more biased towards cavalry and with the inclusion of a medium sized gun. In addition the Italian force was allowed a couple of infantry trenches and some gabions to emplace their gun; as it turned out by the time the troops had finished building their trenches the battle had made them redundant.

The Spanish force deployed a formidable array of pike blocks forward with their heavy cavalry in support

The set up is very straight forward with a familiar process of laying terrain items and deciding on table edges that is very reminiscent of Peter Pig rules where players take nine dice and allocate a proportion of them to Terrain, Path, Approach and Events.

Terrain decides who gets to layout the terrain, with the loser re-positioning one piece. Path decides which side of the table the forces will enter from. Approach decides who gets to advance their deployment zone and Events allows the winner to decide which event table to roll on to decide a pre-battle event.

With dice allocated the players roll off for each category and the winning die roll takes control thus the number of dice allocated gently weights the players chances of winning or not as the case may be.

The Papal army was principally a mix of heavy and light cavalry supported by a militia pike block, skirmish infantry and a medium gun

In our game Steve (Papal State) won the terrain, path and events but although able to choose his table edge and the shape of the table saw the Spanish winning the Approach and thus extending forward their deployment zone and when choosing the events table that gave him the chance of getting a Papal Blessing for his army saw instead his army being on the wrong end of a Long March and thus forced to start back a further six inches.

The cream of the Papal army was its unit of Famiglia Ducale heavy cavalry (right), that compared to the other stuff was as keen as mustard to get stuck in

With the deployments sorted out we were off and the very straightforward design of the rules enables a very fast flowing intuitive game.

The sequence of play is designed around initiative with each unit rolling a d6 that can be modified up or down by commanders or other force specific factors with the final score determining when or if the unit will activate in the turn. I say if, because some of our units were occasionally reduced to zero, meaning they were pinned for the phase, unable to shoot but able to defend themselves if contacted in combat.

The highest scoring units move first with ties decided in favour of who moved second in the last phase and at the start in favour of the side with the highest group of best initiative rolls.

The Spanish advance is confident as the pike blocks lead from the front

The movement is quite straight forward with the unit either moving its full allocation or not, its full allocation being a standard type movement rate (examples are 4 inches for pike, 6 inches for foot crossbow or shot and 8 to 12 inches for various cavalry types) including modifiers for terrain. To this is also added the initiative roll which can add a further one to six inches.

This movement system can lead to some interesting decisions about how far forward to advance certain units without exposing them to rapid flank attacks by fast moving cavalry.

The Spanish advance is met by a screen of Papal light cavalry armed with cross-bows and arquebus

As with movement, shooting and combat is equally straight forward with a basic concept of hits being caused on a d6 score of 5 or more and a reciprocal saving throw requiring the same score with shooting worked out on the basis of 2d6 per stand at close range and 1d6 per stand beyond that, up to maximum range; and with saving throws for each hit added to for factors such as cover with, for example, a target in heavy cover adding 3d6 to the number of dice being thrown.

Likewise combat is determined by various units being allotted a unit specific combat factor of one to five. This combat factor determines how many dice to roll per stand in contact with the enemy unit, again various modifiers would affect the basic roll by adding or deducting dice to roll for hits and saves with factors such as armour adding to the saving attempts.

The skirmish forces operate in a typical manner, picking off the odd casualty here and there - very annoying

Following losses caused by shooting or a unit taking part in close combat a morale test is taken by the units affected, with the combat factor used to determine the number of dice to be rolled in the attempt again modified by situational factors such as having lost a stand, closeness to the general etc, with one of the die rolled required to give that five or higher result.

Failure of a shooting morale check means a player being forced to check their best scoring dice against a morale result chart that looks at the magnitude of failure with one difference causing one casualty and a fall back of one inch to a failure by four causing a unit to break and be removed from play.

The Papal skirmish screen advanced and caused casualties from the start

Given that both sides take a morale test after a round of close combat, their results need to be compared one to the other to determine who has to react with an equal result causing a continuation of the combat or with the one side having the fewest successful die rolls being declared the loser of the melee round and thus subject to a morale result check again causing no effect through being pushed back with casualties to a worse case of breaking and being removed.

A little stiffening of the Papal skirmish screen

The accrual of casualties gradually causes units to lose effectiveness and eventually break and be removed with four casualties causing the loss of a stand and with a unit losing more than half it stands being removed from play, with the exception of skirmish units being deemed broken on the removal of just one stand.

The first clashes as particular Spanish units are engaged in close combat

Finally the armies themselves are subject to an Army Morale which based on the number and size of units in the given army gives a number of Army Morale Points which is the start point for assessing a degrading of the armies effectiveness and eventual rout if 50% of those points are lost through units being removed.

A Spanish pike block is engaged by Lanze Spezzate heavy cavalry after being disordered (note marker) by the Papal artillery

Around this simple framework are built the rules that give this period of huge transition from the late medieval to the horse and musket era its flavour.

The name of the rules 'Furioso' point to this tailoring with units such as the Swiss and Landsknecht troops known for their vicious enmity towards each other likely to go into a state of furioso, meaning an impetuosity, leading to multiple combat rounds in the same round and the increased casualties that were likely to follow.

A unit of Spanish arquebusiers gets attacked by a unit of aggressive Stradiots (raiding light cavalry)

The rules come with basing and organisational guides together with the stats for several period specific forces, namely the Italian Wars (French, Italian, Spanish, Holy Roman Empire and Swiss), The French Wars of Religion (Huguenot, Catholic, Dutch and Spanish) The Tudor Wars (English and Scots) and The Elizabethan Wars (English and Irish).

The Papal force begins to drive back the Spanish flaking forces out on the Spanish right

As with most modern sets of rules these days, basing is recommended but not compulsory and we quickly decided on similar basing to other sets already out there with a decision to use the 40mm base for infantry with four figures in a double rank, and with cavalry on a 50mm wide base with two figures.

The look of such units is captured in the pictures with a pike block of eight bases together with a couple of skirmish stands and a base of doppelsoldner or sword and bucklermen.

Likewise the heavy cavalry operating with a usual four bases and with skirmish types in threes with a two up one back formation to indicate their role.

The Spanish centre is formidable and the Papal forces are forced to call on all their units to attempt to stop the seemingly unstoppable advance

I came away from our game even more enthused with 'Furioso' and went and got myself a copy of the Italian Wars supplement, together with a copy of James Roach's Pike and Plunder campaign rules which would I think work very well with them.

The Italian Wars supplement provides a wealth of background information to the period, a really interesting set of additional rules that allows players to bid for certain mercenary groups prior to play with some added flavour of named mercenary leaders and their stats.

There are also five historical battle scenarios included with suggested armies listed for Fornovo 1496, Ravenna 1512, Biocca 1522, Pavia 1525 and Cresole 1544.

Then you will find some ideas on solo campaigns and linking up Furioso games followed by several sections looking at the fantasy additions of 'wondrous inventions' and how to incorporate them.

Finally there are some additional flavouring rules around blessings and divine power followed by a very useful Q&A section that came out of the rules clarifying points of play.

Eventually even the reluctant Papal militia pike are brought into the fight

In addition several of us in the Devon Wargames Group are keen to commemorate our own local history from this period, remembered as the Prayer Book Rebellion with a series of battles fought around Exeter in 1549 between Devon and Cornish rebels and King Edward VI army under the command of the Lord Privy Seal, Lord Russell (boo, hiss, boo).

This was a time when England didn't have a standing army and the king would call on nobles to provide forces alongside county militias and hired foreign mercenaries, hence Devon being the scene of some vicious fighting involving Landsknecht troops.

The Papal troops are successful on the Spanish right, driving their opponents back over the river

I am still very much on the learning curve with this period in history but came away with ideas of building some forces to compliment others held in the club and the likely 28mm figure ranges I might start with.

Never fear though, all these ideas will have to wait whilst my current project is under way, but at least I have found a rule set to work with once I get started.

Next up Romans, Dacians, Chalke Valley History Festival and an Iron Age Hill Fort attacked by the Romans.