Friday, 14 February 2020

By Fire and Bayonet, Grey's West Indies Campaign of 1794 - Steve Brown

I've just finished reading a book I got for Xmas and one I've been looking forward to reading since its publication by Helion back in 2018 with the stunning cover artwork 'The Landing at Martinique' by Peter Dennis immediately catching my eye when I first saw this advertised.

My decision to embark on building a new collection of 1:700th age of sail collection themed around the French Revolutionary and later Napoleonic War period, conveniently coincided with this book doing the rounds and so made an easy choice to include on my Xmas list.

Helion have, in recent times, cornered the market in publishing highly interesting and very specific military titles that focus in depth on a particular campaign, leader or both, often not covered by other publishers in modern or past times and they are to be congratulated and better still supported in their efforts to bring these important titles to the military book reading customer.

I'm doing my bit by having a couple of English Civil War titles by them and a more recent acquisition on my bookshelf,  'The Key to Lisbon', which formed an important part of my Peninsular War battlefield research library prior to my setting off touring the area last summer and a book I reviewed in June last year.

 The Key to Lisbon - Kenton White

Thus it was that I started to get reading this book almost immediately it was out of the wrapping paper.

Lieutenant General Sir Charles Grey 1794 - Henry Bone

My familiarity with Sir Charles Grey was from an interest in the American War of Independence during which Major General Grey developed his very individual way of leading his soldiers, arriving in New York in 1777 and leading a brigade during General Howe's Philadelphia campaign in that same year.

Advancing on Philadelphia after the Battle of Brandywine, Howe ordered Grey to neutralise an American brigade under the command of General Anthony Wayne encamped near Malvern in Pennsylvania, that saw him initiate an attack on the American camp at Paoli Tavern on the 20th September 1777, a little after ten o'clock at night; instructing his composite light battalion and their supports, the 42nd Highlanders and 44th Foot, to remove the flints from their muskets, to ensure the attack would be carried out with the bayonet and with no chance of any accidental discharges on the approach, with his troops ordered to go:

"in a silent manner by a free and exclusive use of the bayonet."

The British attack at the Battle of Paoli

The British troops attacked in three waves, catching the encamped Pennsylvanian and Maryland troops completely by surprise and routing them without a shot fired, with the American brigade losing 53 killed, 113 wounded and 71 captured, for the loss of 4 killed and 7 wounded.

He would repeat the same shock tactics a year later at Old Tappen, New Jersey when on the 27th September 1778 he led a battalion of light infantry and grenadiers supported by the 33rd and 64th Foot against a similarly encamped Continental Dragoon regiment housed in farm buildings.

Only forty cavalrymen escaped the attack, leaving fifteen of their comrades dead and another fifty-four wounded or captured, again without a shot fired.

It was the result of these actions that saw Sir Charles Grey earn the title by both sides, 'No-Flint-Grey', a compliment in British circles, but less so among the American rebels who labelled him a butcher and sought to propagandise the attack at Paoli Tavern as the Paoli Massacre, inflating the casualty report in their efforts to turn what was an embarrassing defeat into a way of raising sympathy for their cause.

Ill health would force an early exit for Grey from the American War, to be followed by a period back home, that would see his Whig political leanings interfere with his opportunities for further advancement, eventually causing him to retire to his estate and a focus on family and a private life away from military affairs, until the outbreak of war with France would see his summoning back to command forces earmarked for an expedition to the West Indies and planned attacks on French possessions.

The regulation dress of British infantry operating in the tropical West Indies during Grey's Campaign
Private, Grenadier Company, 45th Foot, Sergeant, Light Infantry, 48th Foot, Officer, 9th Foot.
Martinique 1793 - Bryan Fosten , Osprey Wellington's Infantry (1) Men at Arms Series 114

It is after this introduction to Grey and the tactics he developed in America that he would again use with outstanding success in this next campaign that Steve Brown commences his book taking a look at the state of the British army at the start of the long war with France and the plans for the expedition.

As Brown highlights in his outline for Grey's campaign, the West Indies and Caribbean theatre had been a significant battleground between France and Great Britain during the American War with several large naval engagements featuring, that culminated in Admiral Sir George Rodney's defeat of Comte de Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes, 12th April 1782; a battle that effectively restored British naval supremacy in a war that had seen a few significant set backs that threatened the British hold on its global possessions and its position at the negotiating table when the war reached its inevitable close.

Vice Admiral Sir John Jervis, later Earl St Vincent , pictured here in 1795 by Lemuel Francis.
Described in the book as a 'fist of iron in a velvet glove', Jervis' relationship with Grey and his abilities as a naval commander formed a pivotal role in the outstanding success achieved between February and April 1794 before Yellow Fever and French reinforcements took a hand.

The importance of close naval cooperation in a theatre composed of islands loomed large in the upcoming campaign of 1794 and Brown looks closely and pays tribute to the other key personality in the campaign, Admiral Sir John Jervis, who was a close personal friend of Sir Charles Grey and whose abilities as a naval commander coupled with their bond of friendship formed one of the key strengths of the early success that the campaign enjoyed.

So with the outline of the two British commanders earmarked for the West Indies campaign of 1794 clearly established, the book goes on to describe the plan of campaign developed by the British administration under Prime Minister William Pitt; as a badly prepared nation geared up for yet another war with France, resting as it did on the need to support European allies (Austria, Prussia, Holland and Hanover), offering practical aid to opponents of the revolution in France and using the navy to capture French colonies.

The third aspect of that strategy bears some inspection as it was key to undermining the French will and ability to wage war, with the French Sugar Islands, as the West Indies possessions were often referred to, being a significant contributor to the funding of such a war. The region provided as much as 40% of French overseas trade and the attached income that it provided in taxes and tariffs, with 50% of that trade reliant on Haiti. The revolution created new tensions in the islands with French Royalist held plantations heavily reliant on a large slave populations now offered the chance of a bit of 'liberte, egalite and faternite' if they were willing to keep working and fighting for the republic.

France was practically bankrupt following its involvement in the American War and was fast losing its ability to feed its population, thus loss of its French West Indian Islands would be a major blow at its attempts to stabilise its situation and to spread its revolutionary ideals and guillotines outside its own borders.

As well as looking at the French situation Brown does a good job at illustrating the frustrations and inadequacies affecting the British with regards to deploying its limited manpower and assets to support its strategy and thus we see just 7,000 fresh faced recruits pulled together to form the force that Grey would take with him, when the plan quite clearly illustrated a need for twice that number of troops to allow for losses from Yellow fever and casualties, not to mention a total lack of planning for the administration of the islands once they were captured..

The great equaliser for forces campaigning in the West Indies in the late 18th century. Not known at the time but Yellow Fever, described as an acute viral hemorrhagic disease, that causes fever, headaches, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and often death was spread by infected mosquitoes, the effects only enhanced among tired men worn out by the demands of campaigning and combat.

Then we see a large part of the force dragged off to support the Duke of York's campaign in Flanders, which it successfully performs but which causes it to depart for the Caribbean two months behind schedule, a schedule carefully planned to avoid the campaign extending into the months when disease rates would increase dramatically, as events would prove.

What stands out from the description of this governmental mismanagement is the patient control of events by both Jervis and Grey as they set about working to their best abilities in the circumstances they found, best exemplified by Grey's training and leadership instilled in his new command, bringing all the experience and knowledge he had gained in the American War.

The Capture of Fort Louis, Martinique, 20th March 1794 - William Anderson.
As HMS Asia 64, and the sloop HMS Zebra, provides covering gun fire against the fort, Commander Faulknor leads his men up the beach to attack the fort on its landward side. This picture well illustrates the mobile war fought by the British in the campaign. 

Brown details the organisation put in place by bringing together the detached grenadier and light companies to form six elite battalions that would spearhead Grey's attacks, utilising the 'shock and awe' aspect, to use a horrible modern term so loved by the media, of silent fast moving attacks with the bayonet often at night or in the early hours to take out key positions, relying on the steady British line companies, artillery and naval parties to deal with Republican forces in open field battles.

The close naval support from Jervis is also well outlined, as the navy with its boat and naval landing parties able to rapidly move troops to various beaches, and provide support on land with their marines and sailors, often hacking paths through virgin forest and dragging large guns over mountains to provide heavy artillery support against French held forts.

The 6,500 man force sailed to the Caribbean on Monday 3rd February 1794 that culminated in a campaign that saw three French islands, (Marutinique, St Lucia and Guadeloupe) rapidly captured and occupied, with Guadeloupe, the largest, falling on the 24th April of that year.

Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau, commander of Republican forces on Martinique
skilfully made the best of his small garrison that forced Grey to fight longer than he had intended to capture the island thus setting back an already tight timetable designed to avoid the worst ravages of the fever season.

However the masterful generalship displayed by Rochambeau on Martinique was to badly derail British plans for an even more rapid conquest than it turned out.

The lost time only added to the woes of an inadequately sized force that had performed brilliantly to capture the islands but was too weak to hold them, and with losses suffered to disease and combat, most units could expect to lose half their compliment by campaign end due to disease, coupled with senior officers distracted with civilian administration duties instead of garrison command, the inevitable setbacks soon followed with the arrival of fresh French troops and naval support lead by the dastardly rabidly Jacobin Victor Hugues.

Victor Hugues reads like a Serbian militia leader from the war in Bosnia specialising in eradicating friend and foe alike when it suited him, developing a favourite tactic of roping together suspected royalists and their sympathisers before a large pit, before shooting the group with massed musketry, causing the dead and wounded to pull those still alive into the mass grave, before rapidly covering it up to snuff out the cries of the wounded and those still very much alive.

Quite depressing really to see that war criminals haven't changed much over the centuries even if muskets have been replaced by modern assault rifles.

The behaviour of Hugues contrasts dramatically with Grey who hanged several of his soldiers after warning them against looting French property and having to make examples of the very few that disobeyed his orders. The result was that after several French towns fell to British assault, the citizens did not suffer the pillaging that characterised other assaults on towns in later campaigns.

By Fire and Bayonet was a thoroughly good read and informed me about a campaign that I had only a passing knowledge of before reading the book.

Steve Brown has put together a wealth of information about the campaign and provides a really strong narrative of the operations and the subsequent action that followed, together with the political manoeuvres that preceded and followed the campaign.

Just as interestingly he charts the careers of the key characters that survived the campaign together with the many famous names that I immediately recognised of junior officers who would feature large in the later campaigns of the Duke of Wellington in Spain, Portugal and the Low Countries.

Jean Baptiste Victor Hugues

Sadly Victor Hugues died in his bed, but I have to imagine his last hours must have been somewhat troubled.

So I really enjoyed this book but have a few rather minor criticisms. The regular complaint of books not having enough maps is not one I can level at this particular tome, however it is really frustrating to have a map of Guadeloupe or Martinique that doesn't have indicated the places where much of the fighting is being described in the text. Thus they provide an overview of where the forces were and where they went, shown in the form of arrows, and the key towns. However there are forts and prepared positions where the fighting took place that are simply omitted.

The other quibble is the several mis-types with words missed out or mis-spelt that caused me to go over several sentences to make sure I understood what the intent of the sentence was, which is surprising, but maybe a casualty of the cost involved in proof reading these days. Helion as I say are to be congratulated for their efforts in producing books like this, but attention to detail such as this is important in being able to command an appropriate price for the end product.

By Fire and Bayonet is 244 pages and includes the following;

List of Plates
List of Maps
1. The West Indies Theatre
2. Grey's movements on Martinique, March 1794
3. The Capture of Saint Lucia, April 1794
4. The Capture of Guadeloupe, April 1794
5. The Loss of Guadeloupe, October - December 1794
Naming Conventions

1. Never was a Kingdom Less Prepared
2. Grey
3. Jervis
4. Ostend and Back
5. The Knife-Edge
6. The Capture of Tobago
7. A Lock Step Banditti
8. Landing and Consolidation
9. Falstaff's Corps
10. Saint Lucia
11. High-Water Mark
12. Enter Hugues
13. We Have Been Greatly Neglected
14. Prize Money
15. Daily Expected
16. The Cost
17. The People

I. British Forces in Windward and Leeward Islands June 1793
II. Return of Troops Disembarked at Barbados 1 February 1794
III. French Garrison of Martinique February 1794
IV. Returns of British Forces in Windward and Leeward Islands in 1794
V. State of Martinique Garrison in November 1794
VI. Grey's Officers
VII. Royal Navy Squadron at Martinique, February 1794
VIII. Royal Navy Squadron at Guadeloupe, April 1794 


I have to agree with Steve Brown's conclusion that Sir Charles Grey is one of best British general officers of his generation and indeed of the period, demonstrating a great flare for developing a very unique offensive system that proved to be a battle winner when used by British troops under his command, but also a very clear ability to manage forces at a higher level with the use of his multiple columns to envelop and overwhelm the French forces defending these islands rapidly.

Of course Grey's ability on land relied on his close working relationship and friendship with another great commander, Sir John Jervis whose abilities at sea were equally of a very high order and his influence on the Royal Navy in terms of organisation, training and discipline paved the way for others that came after him.

From a wargaming perspective, I found myself looking at a naval campaign in one of the Too Fat Lardies Specials, combining the use of Kiss Me Hardy and Sharp Practice to run a fictional campaign of island hopping in the Indian Ocean. With a book such as this, why bother with a fictional campaign when you could easily conduct the historical one instead - just a thought.

By Fire and Bayonet is in glorious hard back as well as being available on Kindle, but frankly I would recommend getting the former, just for Peter Dennis' excellent cover and the feel of a beautifully made hardback book. From a brief inspection of the net you should be able to pick it up for between £15 to £20 new.

Monday, 10 February 2020

All at Sea - On the Stocks in JJ's Dockyard

As mentioned in my last post I had started to work on the French fleet box set of ships, composed of a French first rate, three third rates (Bucentaure, Redoubtable and L'Aigle), and three frigates (Thesus, Comete and L'Hermione).

As with any new collection and working with new figures or as in this case ships, I find my technique improves with gradual changes to the method of construction and painting with each new job and this collection of models is benefiting from my experience working from the first ones produced.

The painting work is done with the masts and boats to be fixed to the hulls

So as you will see in the pictures, I continue with the basic process of painting before rigging, but unlike with the very first builds I have found a distinct advantage in painting the hulls with just the jib attached and with all other masts, boats and anchors painted on the sprue separately.

I find this process really aids the detail work on the hulls with no masts in the way to prevent access with the brush to really bring out the detail on these kits. Likewise with the resin models, that is the French first rate and HMS Victory I have kept the metal masts separate and painted them prior to drilling the hull and fixing them in place.

HMS Victory

The detail work on the exquisite stern galleries on these named ships together with the individual figureheads each carries has entailed a bit of homework on the net trawling for illustrations of scale models showing the likely appearance of these fittings and the colours used.

Once the basic paint job is done, I do the fitting out, attaching masts and boats, but leaving anchors off until the rigging is done.

The stern galleries, figureheads and deck detail are what really set these models apart from other scales. Nearest to camera are L'Aigle 74 and the French first rate.

You might think the Warlord box with its pictures of their own models is good enough but I would council caution with referring to just the box and not to other sources.

Two famous names from Trafalgar

An equally famous Trafalgar ship that will no doubt need an enhanced anti-personal rating

The later interpretation of L'Hermione

For example the L'Hermione frigate model illustrated is using colours from the reconstructed frigate of the same name built in France for the commemoration of their involvement in the American War of Independence. However the later french frigate that was built to replace the AWI model that was wrecked of the French coast in the late 1780s is the one I wanted which took part in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

French frigate Themis' figurehead

The Bucentaure

Needless to say L'Aigle

Likewise I have found better illustrations of the French third rates that captures the look of these key ships that took part in the same battle and that information is reflected in the look of these models.

Once the varnish has dried thoroughly on these models I will get on with the final work of rigging and adding the naval ensigns.

As well as adding to the fleet, I have put together some chits and markers for our next scenario play-tests using War by Sail to avoid using cards. Once I am happy with the set up I think I might get some improved laser etched options.

The large tokens to determine the sequence of play and the smaller markers to determine what individual ships will do when their move token is drawn, which are placed face down to prevent the opposition knowing until the move is made.

One final thing I thought would be worth including, for those interested in using the clear bases to mount these ships on is that Fluid 3D Workshops have listed the bases on their website for easy ordering and I attach them here for reference.

Bases for Brigs
Bases for Frigates
Bases for 3rd Rates
Bases for 1st & 2nd Rates

Sunday, 2 February 2020

PAW 2020 - Presented by the Plymouth Association of Wargamers

The main hall of the YMCA sports centre, Plymouth yesterday, with the other hall next door given over to the competition gamers, the show was well attended with a nice buzz in the rooms of wargamers chatting and playing and picking up stuff.

Yesterday I spent a very pleasant day travelling down to Plymouth in the company of Vince and Bob to revisit a show I hadn't attended for five years, namely PAW, presented by our neighbouring club, the Plymouth Association of Wargamers, based in the second city in Devon forty miles down the road from the more famous County town and City of Exeter - only kidding chaps.

PAW - Annual Show

PAW - 2015
PAW - 2014
PAW - 2013

The re-sparked interest in seeing the Plymouth show arose from chatting to several new members of the DWG who are Plymouth members as well and who suggested we might like to come down and see what was happening.

These local shows are a great time not only checking out games, picking up stuff from the traders but also an opportunity to 'shoot the breeze' with other local wargamers who I have met and chatted to over the years but who tend to attend other groups and clubs and so really only meet at occasions like this.

However with the recent growth in membership of the DWG in recent times, it felt like being at our own show at times bumping into other chaps from club who had also popped down to Plymouth to see what was on.

I wasn't really looking to get much in the way of purchases myself having recently added to the ship collection and with several vessels on the slip way in the JJ's Wargames Royal Dockyard, but ended up picking up HMS Royal Sovereign and some paint.

The latest additions to my current project plus a surprise contribution from Colin Farrant at Charlie Foxtrot Models of a copy of Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail which has added to the bedtime reading pile.

Not only that but Colin Farrant from Charlie Foxtrot Models happened to have a copy of  Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail by Bernard Ireland that he was looking to re-home and very kindly let me have it, given my current focus, all things age of sail. Thanks Colin that was very kind and very much appreciated.

I have posted a bit of an update on my current projects at the end of this post.

So as usual in no particular order I present some pictures of the games that caught my eye from the day:

Ghost Archipelago - Ian Rowe and Friends

Fellow Exmouth wargamer Taff and a few of his friends staged this glorious fantasy treat of a game using Ghost Archipelago from the Osprey Frostgrave stable of rules and books.

What particularly caught my eye with this game was the harbour, and buildings together with its protective town wall, with the latter being 3D printed and really setting off the look of the whole table, not to mention the fire breathing temple platform at the other end.

Great fun and a treat for the eye, and some examples of great modelling to capture a particular theme.

I know nothing about these rules other than their existence and am very unlikely to ever play a game like this, but I did enjoy watching the play and taking some time to get these pictures.

Test of Honour - John Roberts & Chris Pearce

Slightly more towards the historical theme, but with a period that has never really captured my imagination was this Samurai set piece using the Test of Honour rules.

John now joins us at the DWG and has regularly brought Test of Honour along as a stand by game should we need it for a club meet to cater for excess numbers.

Thus it was I joined John and some of the other chaps from club to finally get to play this game, and I have to say that I was really impressed with the mechanics and fun the game created as we moved characters and small groups of figures around on the stylised play mat seen in the pictures looking to dominate key objectives within the five turn scenario being played.

With some nicely turned out models and terrain pieces the game play is further enhanced to give a very thematic game that had me imagining scenes from Seven Samurai.

American War of Independence, Command & Colours - Martin Binns

Another nicely turned out game and in a period that is always likely to grab my eye was this Command and Colours game produced with figures and hex mat.

As you can see the individual units were nicely turned out together with terrain items that complimented the hex mat that did a very good job of turning the board game into a very attractive tabletop miniatures game.

I can definitely see the attraction of this style of gaming and I was using hexagons to do these kind of battles long before GMT thought it might be a good idea, but have now returned to my roots with games not reliant on any zonal appearance and hopefully more aesthetic in its overall look.

French Indian Wars - Laurie Walsh

Talking of aesthetics in tabletop gaming, the following FIW game exemplifies perfectly the point, offering pictures of figures in their natural environment, almost as if you were on the banks of the Mohawk River itself, three hundred plus years ago.

Some lovely modelling on show transporting the onlooker to scenes straight out of 'The Last of the Mohicans' - Very nicely done.

On my travels around the various games and trade stands I stopped off to watch a couple of chaps playing a little English Civil War set-to using 'The Kingdom is Ours' fast play rules from Bicorne Miniatures and published by Helion.

I have seen the rules advertised now and then but didn't really know too much about them and so it was great to watch the rules in action together with a selection of units from Bicorne who sell them ready made to work with the rules.

I really liked the chit draw activation system together with the combat exchanges I watched during play, and unfortunately there weren't any copies of the rules there on the stand as I would have bought them there and then, but I will pick up a copy anyway.

The activation is flexible enough to cater for individual units to brigades of multiple units should you want to play a bigger game.

English Civil War is a period I would really like to build a collection of figures around if I can just live long enough and these rules looked rather interesting.

So there we are for another PAW.

I had a very nice day out at my first show for 2020 and thanks to all the chaps I met who made the day it was and especially to Vince and Bob who travelled up with me on the journey from Exeter.

Finally as a bit of a post-script, I mentioned progress on my current project and the additions made to the collection this month and include here a few pictures of the current builds in progress, constructed from the French Fleet, box set.

The collection of French ships will bring my French squadron up to fourteen when these roll down the slipway.

The box offers specific stern galleries and figureheads to produce named French frigates and 74s from the generic plastic kits together with a French three deck first rate.

The classic lines of HMS Victory are captured well in the Warlord Games model

Alongside the French three decker I have HMS Victory taking shape for which I am looking forward to festooning with signal flags to stir the heart of any red-blooded Briton.

My French first rate starts to take shape, with the first wash applied

More anon