Saturday 30 January 2021

All at Sea - Scourge vs Le Sans Culottes 13th March 1793

The British Brig-Sloop Suffisante chasing down the French Brig-Corvette Revanche 27th May 1796 - Derek Gardner
Ok I know it's not the Scourge and Sans Culottes, but I couldn't resist using this great rendition of two similar British and French brigs from one of my favourite marine artists.

This week I got to try out a new way of enjoying the hobby of table-top wargaming when I played my first remote game over Zoom, this following watching a really interesting YouTube chat between Richard Clarke of Too Fat Lardies in discussion with friends about Miniature Wargaming On-line - A Beginners Guide.

So after getting in contact with another fellow Lard enthusiast, my mate Bob Connor who manages the DWG Lardy Day, we got together to put Richard's recommendations to the test plus me shortening my learning curve because Bob has a few such games under his belt already.

Well I have to agree with Richard that, if I understand the comments of Guy Bowers and the chaps at Wargames Soldier and Strategy Magazine correctly, I think they might be a bit premature in their assessment of this way of gaming as we certainly enjoyed the evening pushing some model ships about the table using Kiss Me Hardy (KMH) to moderate play and I have put together a short video presentation of how are game turned out.

I should say that I had originally planned to present the game as a solo run affair, as per my previous effort covering The Leeward Line scenario from the Battle of Trafalgar, but with comments from Rich and the chaps about how well naval games and KMH can work with this way of playing I was more than ready to try it out and would encourage others toying with the idea to have a go.

So to set the scene, I quote William James' 'A Naval History of Great Britain Volume 1' covering the year 1793 and the start of the French Revolutionary War;

'On the 13th of March, the British 16-gun brig-sloop Scourge, Captain George Brisac (but mounting then only eight 6-pounders, with a crew of 70 out of her complement of 90 men and boys), being a few leagues to the westward of Scilly, fell in with, and after a three hours' action captured, the French privateer Sans-Culotte, of 12 guns (eight long 8-pounders, and four English carronades, 12-pounders), with a complement of 81 men; of whom nine were killed, and 20 wounded, the Scourge escaping with only one man killed, and one wounded.'

In my previous post I outlined my plan for this game using Gina Willis' Grand Tactical AI Wheel to bring the Sans Culottes onto the table and Narrow Seas to determine advantage and wind, and 'To Covet Glory to better modify KMH for small ship actions thus enabling me to complete the first two turns solo before Bob and I picked up the game from there, with Bob taking the Sans Culottes under command.

The table and cameras set up during play - the iPad gives Bob an overview of the table and the phone camera enables close ups for a more detailed look. Bob can be seen on the iPad and we were able to enjoy all the normal chat and banter as we rapidly played through the turns of play.

Thus with the iPad and mobile phone logged in on Zoom Bob and I played another five turns resulting in an equally fierce and decisive, if slightly shorter action as the Scourge and Le Sans Culottes went at it 'hammer and tong'.

Hopefully the video presentation of the game will help capture the key elements, so if you want to find out how it played, just follow the link to the video below.

Next up: Another report looking at another Peninsular War scenario from O'er the Hills and progress continues to add six French 3rd rates to the collection of Napoleonic ships. In addition adventures in the world of Vassal with a game of Richard III and all the fun of the Wars of the Roses or should that be 'The Cousins War'?

Thursday 28 January 2021

All at Sea, Naval Support for the British Army during the American Revolutionary War - John Dillon


As the saying goes 'Amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics' and John Dillon's addition to the body of work looking at the the role of the British Royal Navy in what is commonly known as, on this side of the pond, the American War of Independence, adds a very important look at the Cinderella aspect of warfare throughout the ages, namely logistics.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'logistics' as 'the branch of military science relating to procuring, maintaining and transporting material, personnel and facilities.'

Simply put, without careful attention to the key aspects covered in the definition of logistics as described, experience tends to show that military expeditions, campaigns and the conduct of a war as a whole is often doomed to failure before the first boot has got onto the ground to use a horrible journalistic cliché, and I promise not to use anymore.

As Dillon's book highlights, the war with her thirteen American colonies coming on the back of a highly expensive but extremely successful conclusion to the Seven Years War in 1763 was for Great Britain a war she neither needed or in the early stages of the dispute believed was a distinct possibility; and as usual following other major conflicts, the savings on military expenditure was well underway, with cutbacks in both the army and navy together with additional taxes designed to pay off the British national debt incurred to fight that war. 

Frederick North, Lord North, and British Prime Minister 1770-1782 - Nathaniel Dance
With frequent requests to the King to be allowed to retire from his position being rejected, Edmund Burke would describe North as 'of admirable parts, of general knowledge, of a versatile understanding, fitted for every sort of business, of infinite wit and pleasantry' but who 'wanted something of the vigilance and spirit of command that the time required.'   

The dispute that erupted in to all out war between the mother country and her colonies, left many on both sides sympathetic to the other, with no clear divide in what was as much a civil war, perhaps the first American Civil War, that left many folks caught up between the warring forces just trying to avoid taking sides one way or the other and with several senior and junior British commanders reluctant to press military action against those they saw as fellow British subjects.

However with a seemingly belligerent attitude from King George III and his determination that the colonies should submit to Parliamentary, and de-facto his authority, the opportunities for concessions and a peaceful resolution quickly and seemingly irrevocably faded with the so called 'Boston Massacre' in 1770, the  burning of HM Customs Schooner Gaspee in 1772, to the arrival in Boston of a British force of four regiments to the one already in garrison along with the boastful Lieutenant General Thomas Gage who had told the King that that would be all he would need to bring the Americans to heel.

Thus military conflict looked more and more likely to be the solution to the impasse, although Gage would soon reel back from his boast, quickly requesting, after his arrival in Boston a force of 20,000 men to get the job done.

Thus we are led through the series of events that led to a war that not many right thinking people at the time were either contemplating or looking for and was probably very avoidable had smarter heads been involved.

The British military authorities and indeed government could not have been less prepared for war than it is possible to imagine and indeed would see British troop numbers increased from 10,000 to nearly a staggering 100,000 men in three to four years as the conflict grew from one of a minor colonial dispute to a full on global war between the Bourbon monarchies of France and Spain, later joined by the Dutch, as European neighbours sort to gain at the expense of British overstretch.

As an historical wargamer interested in this period of British military history and one who has indulged that interest in many a tactical and strategic level game around the war, I found John Dillon's book a fascinating and insightful look at the actual issues faced by the military of all sides but particularly the British, tasked with sending an army overseas with a 3,000 mile long sea journey between it and its supply base, subject to vagaries of enemy ships, wind and tide on a fleet of wooden warships and merchantmen in the era before canned food or any modern method of food preservation, whilst also trying to fight multiple enemies on multiple fronts in an age when communication could be months in the sending and receiving of information, long out of date after its arrival.

The numbers and statistics quoted in terms of supplies, reinforcements, equipment and horses for the British army are truly staggering, with Dillon's analysis for example taking the reader through the requirements for one man's rations over seven days through to what that looks like when supplying provisions for 40,000 men for twelve months, specifically 14,560,000 lbs of flour, 7,280,000 lbs of pork, 1,820,000 lbs of beef, 780,000 lbs of butter etc.

These supplies had to be brought from Britain once the war closed down the opportunity to purchase supplies in America, and note the word 'purchase' as this was not a Napoleonic army living off the land and 'making war pay for itself' to quote a famous French Emperor of later years. Generally British forces sought to purchase provisions locally, in efforts to not antagonise Americans, that is unless they refused to supply the King's forces when force could be used to enforce a request.

In addition to supplying the troops the British authorities would see themselves needing to provide supplies for several thousands of Loyalist civilians forced to evacuate to the safety of British administered coastal areas around places like New York and Charleston.

All this was done, sometimes barely, with the garrison in New York sometimes only several weeks away from running out of key foodstuffs before a relief convoy would arrive to replenish stocks, but this fact alone meant that increasingly British Army commanders were unable to launch major expeditions into the interior through their inability to keep the troops fed once they moved away from their coastal depots.

Dillon describes the lengths gone to, to purchase supplies at home, ensure their preservation and storage over long weeks at sea and thus be still fit for consumption on arrival, with officers charged with identifying poor of bad produce so that reparations could be had from the supplier when traced back, with a surprisingly low failure rate in the good provisioning of foodstuffs.

The stress put on requisitioning enough merchant ships to not only carry supplies but also to move British troops in theatre is described in detail, highlighting the problem for the authorities at home to find enough shipping, particularly exacerbated by the habit of British commanders not releasing merchants to sail home after unloading stocks to be able to pick up and bring out further supplies, but instead being held in American ports to store the supplies carried, through lack of suitable warehousing, or to be used to carry troops on amphibious operations.

Initially this supply operation for the army was carried out by the Treasury who were responsible for putting out tenders to supply contractors such as the marvellously named 'Drummond and Franks' who very soon were advising the government that things would quickly go awry through a combination of the break down in acquiring local supplies from in and around Boston due to 'radical elements' and the nature of the town out on a narrow peninsular with the British troops confined and unable to forage locally.

The fact that the British Army could not conduct operations without the support of the Royal Navy, together with the fact that the navy were a supply and provisioning organisation in their own right, well versed in producing ships and equipment as well as providing provisioning for their ships around the globe, made it an obvious though reluctant decision on the part of the navy, for them to take responsibility for supplying the army as well as their own ships.

The two most prominent figures in the cabinet during the American War of Independence
First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich (left) and Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for America (right)

Thus after the King and Prime Minister, Lord North  and alongside the much criticised Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for America, whose most prominent failure, among many, was not to have appointed a Supreme Commander of British forces in America and possibly the Caribbean, steps on to the pages of this interesting account the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich on to whose desk came all the numerous requests for increased supply and troop transport capacity, whilst he busied himself running the naval war with inadequate naval resources and numerous demands on their deployments

In several ways this book splits into two sections that neatly mirrors the changing magnitude of the war as the early chapters focus on the minutia of the British authorities getting their heads around supplying their ever growing forces in America, following the retreat from Boston and the appointment of the Howe brothers to command both land an sea operations as the army commenced operations to capture New York with a view to using it as a base to advance plans to control the Hudson valley up to the borders of Canada and cutting New England off from the wider continent.

The amphibious landings conducted by the Howe brothers at New York, Kipps Bay and Head of Elk stand testament to the ability of the British army and navy to cooperate successfully in combined operations to land and supply large numbers of troops even facing opposed landings and it was in the operations around New York that saw the British opportunity to win the war finally slip away.

The two brothers showed how talented and cooperative command between the two services could bring outstanding results and as Dillon remarks, it is surprising how close Britain came to winning the war in 1776 as the British ran rings around Washington and his outclassed Continental army, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory possibly down to the Howe's both being Peace Commissioners, not pressing home their advantage more vigorously, a charge that would cause them both to be recalled home to defend their conduct to Parliament.

With the defeats in the winter of 1776 and the debacle of Burgoyne's invasion as the Howes ignored the original plan to cooperate along the Hudson but decided to evict Congress from Philadelphia instead, the threat of French involvement, at first clandestine, morphed into an outright challenge to British interests and a declaration of war, with the second part of this book changing focus in line with the British military authorities led by Lord Sandwich to shift attention and resources away from America to much more important strategic imperatives such as the defence of Britain's Sugar Islands and the gateway to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar soon to be under siege as the other Bourbon power Spain joined France in 1779.

As the war ramps up with the involvement of Britain's traditional European enemies, Dillon takes more of a focus on the amphibious and naval operations conducted by the various navies, contrasting sharply the brilliantly executed operations at New York, Kipps Bay, and Head of Elk (Philadelphia) by the Howe's, with its precise landing tables for troops reminiscent of D-Day to that of D'Estaing off Savannah and Rhode Island where the lack of experience was painfully exposed.

The Second Battle of Virginia Capes - V Zveg
The British inability to secure naval supply line to Cornwallis's army at Yorktown, that alone why Cornwallis was their in the first place was just one of a series of events that predicted how the war in America was likely to end, with supplies and logistics drawing a line under any further British involvement in the thirteen colonies.

However the fact remained that because of a severe lack of supplies, British troops would remain tethered to key coastal towns, supplied by the navy and if poor cooperation between army and navy existed between the commanders, exemplified with the description of Clinton and Arbuthnot, with the Admiral failing to attend a prearranged meeting after Clinton had ridden across the best part of Long Island or with Clinton and Parker off Charleston in 1776 when neither party would join the other for a command meeting on each other's ship, preferring to send letters via a jolly-boat to one another whilst anchored yards apart, then the potential for disaster was only one operation away.

Then if you throw in an Admiral with the worst credentials for such an important command as North America (Arbuthnot) together with the army falling out among itself (Clinton and Cornwallis) then the debacle of Yorktown became the self fulfilling prophecy that the description of previous adventures foretold.

Admiral of the White, Lord George Brydges Rodney - Thomas Gainsborough
Pictured here behind him with the captured ensign of De Grasse's flagship at the Battle of the Saintes,
the Ville de Paris 

In the end the British supply situation was barely holding things together when the peace was finally signed with British garrisons in Charleston and New York having weeks to spare between needing urgent resupply; and Lord Sandwich can take credit for braving the King and many other detractors by insisting on the appointment of a fighting Admiral such as George Brydges Rodney, who for all his many faults knew how to take the war to the enemy at sea and in the end contributed hugely to Britain being able to secure the terms of peace that she did and continue to hold her possessions in the Caribbean and Gibraltar despite the loss of her American colonies.

John Dillon's book is very well focussed on the specifics of what it quite clearly sets out as its brief, namely to look closely at British arrangements around supplying their troops and organising combined operations between the navy and army whilst contending with the other demands of naval warfare during the American War of Independence. 

Thus it is not another book looking purely at the naval operations of that period, and there are plenty of other great books that cover that subject matter, one coming immediately to mind and reviewed here recently on JJ's being  The Struggle for Sea Power, A Naval History of American Independence by Dr Sam Willis and so if you come to this book looking for descriptions of the dramatic naval battles and actions of this period then you might find Dillon's work unsatisfying.

The Battle of the Saintes 9-12th April 1782 - Thomas Whitcombe
The French flagship, Ville de Paris in action at right with HMS Barfleur.
Rodney's victory reasserted British naval dominance and laid the foundation for the further development of British naval tactics exposed during the American War of Independence.

However if you want to get a better understanding of the challenges faced by the British in particular, looking to commit their forces to action in America and elsewhere and the challenges faced in commanding, supplying and maintaining them with the background of the wider war events to give context then this is a great read and I know the next time I am happily moving my forces around the map during a game of Washington's War, my appreciation for what stresses that would have imposed on my logistics chain will be that much better understood.

My only criticism of the book is the poor quality of the maps accompanying the text with the outlines of various land masses barely visible, only really confirmed by the position of dots identifying key coastal towns and cities of the time. However I didn't find myself referring to them that much, being fairly familiar with the places mentioned, but newcomers to the subject might find them slightly irritating.

All at Sea is another really interesting and valuable contribution from Helion & Company and is 293 pages containing the following:

List of Maps

  1. East Coast of America
  2. The English Channel
  3. Boston Harbour
  4. New York area
  5. Philadelphia area
  6. Rhode Island
  7. The Caribbean
  8. Charleston 1780
  9. Yorktown and Chesapeake Bay
  1. Revolt, hostility, and rebellion'
  2. 'Blows must decide'
  3. 'Good, wholesome, and sound'
  4. 'On which the subsistence of the army immediately and entirely depends'
  5. 'Hell is in the forecastle, the devil at the helm'
  6. 'Few people dare to supply us'
  7. 'In bad plight we go to Halifax'
  8. 'Our safety depends on our having a powerful fleet at home'
  9. 'His Majesty's Troops being landed without opposition'
  10. 'The Expectation of war increases here Every Hour'
  11. 'The country that will hazard most will get advantage in this war'
  12. 'Oh God! It is all over'
  13. 'Their Command of the Sea gives them Advantages'

All at Sea is in paperback with a very nicely designed and robust feeling cover, something I immediately noticed when taking it out of the package. At the time of writing it can be purchased from Amazon at £15.51 saving £9.49 on the list price.

Next up: I'm all at sea in the Western Approaches refighting the first naval action of the French Revolutionary War, HMS Scourge versus the French Privateer Brig, Le Sans Culottes as my mate Bob Connor joined me via Zoom to do some remote tabletop wargaming, and much fun it was too.

Friday 22 January 2021

Rorkes Drift and Isandlwana Presentation courtesy of the National Army Museum and Professor Ian Beckett

Back in March 2019, I attended the National Army Museum presentation by Ian Knight, looking at the events of  the Zulu War One-hundred and forty-one years previously and posted about it soon after, here on the blog.

Obviously attending similar events at the moment is impossible, but the National Army Museum are providing a great service to military history enthusiasts around the world, if the Crowdcast chat feed was anything to go by, by providing a platform for some great speakers and presentations on a varied offering of British military subjects; with today's offering presented by Professor Ian Beckett, it being the one-hundred and forty-third anniversary of the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift on the 22nd January 1879, an overview of the history of the war and those two battles in particular, its commemoration in popular drama and arts, since the news of the battles arrived in Great Britain in early February 1879 and the impact it has had on British and Zulu culture throughout the changes in views over the intervening years. 

One of the many Zulu War games we have played at the DWG and looking forward to doing again when normality resumes, with many members of the club attending Professor Beckett's talk today

Of course that overview scans the books, musical and theatre interpretations and more recently the films Zulu and Zulu Dawn which still hold popular appeal today, but also looks at the reality they captured or not and the modern interpretation of the events seen today based on modern research and recent archaeology.

Professor Beckett presents in an engaging and fast paced style which really grabbed the attention of the audience inspiring plenty of chat and appreciative comments together with enthusiastic questions which he answered at the end. 

If you missed today's presentation, the good news is that you can register to watch a recording on the NAM Home Page and sign up for updates of future talks which are completely free to attend and highly recommended.

In addition you can also pick up a copy of Professor Beckett's book on the subject


With all the lockdowns going on and people confined to indoors I can recommend this as a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours in between the painting and modelling.

More anon 


Wednesday 20 January 2021

All at Sea - To Covet Glory in Narrow Seas!

HMS Scourge capturing the Sans Coulotte, 13th March 1793 - Thomas Yates
This time last year, having built a few models in the age of sail collection, I was working through some historical single ship actions, looking to develop those scenarios based around the concept of duels and chases to try a set up a framework around these games that better reflected what the commanders of these ships were trying to achieve when they ended up in the fights they did.

Very often these fights were a mismatch because the opposing commanders mistook the identity and fighting capability of their opponent before it was too late to alter course and escape and the ruses of flying false colours or shoddy handling of sail and rigging to add to the confusion only made things more difficult as most nations insisted on a positive identification to be made before engaging in combat, Barbary Corsairs excepted.

The other issue when refighting engagements between ships at the smaller end of the rating lists and below are that the rules have to cater for these lighter and more lightly armed fighting vessels, to allow the players to recreate the actions that could last for tens of minutes to several hours once the action became close.

Of course fighting these single ship engagements also presents added problems for the solo gamer in that representing the options available to an enemy commander of a ship desperately trying to outmanoeuvre ones own is problematic when you the player are trying to choose options for both ships, which is why I have focussed my attention of the larger ship engagements initially, where the line of battle tactics limit the options of the individual ship commanders on each side.
The basic components as supplied in Gina Willis' download, printed to paper and glued to thick card

That was until I saw a very interesting video presentation from Gina Willis who is the designer of a board game 'A Glorious Chance', hopefully soon to be published, covering the naval warfare on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812 for which she has designed a tactical simulation for those who would want to set up the engagements generated by the game on the table top.

In the video she demonstrates the use of her Grand Tactical AI Wheel which, by setting up the course of the AI ship in relation to the wind and the player's ship randomly generates some plausible course directions for the AI vessel, and I thought it might be fun to try on the table top to bring ships into close action or indeed have them run simply by taking an opposite course to that generated by the AI Wheel.

All the components  cut and made ready for assembly

Well that's the idea and so to test it I sat down at the weekend and put her design together, falling back on my old 'Blue Peter' skills (for non UK residents, a BBC TV kids show that taught you how to make models of Windsor Castle out of Cornflakes boxes and old washing up liquid bottles, back in the day when BBC made programs that people wanted to watch!) and with card, modelling knife and a Pritt stick made myself an AI Tactical Wheel that will generate my three numbers and help my AI vessel select a course to close with or run from the enemy.

Voila, one Grand Tactical AI Wheel for the use of!

The idea is, that the three numbers it generates is read off against a chart with six course options next to each set of three numbers, selected by rolling a D6. The ship will generally head towards the threat and my intention is that if the commander decides that he will run instead then that course option is simply reversed - 'simples!' as the Meer Cat said (Sorry another British TV thing).

To Covet Glory- Wargames Vault

The next idea was to choose a set of rules to marry with this idea and to further develop the thoughts around scenario set ups and small ship rules and that lead me to think about 'To Covet Glory' by Chris Stoesen, a small ship rules adaptation of Kiss Me Hardy together with a selection of some very interesting single small ship actions, with ideas around flying false colours and other such goodies.

Plenty of open sea for my little brigs to operate over

The other idea was to take some of the scenario design ideas from another publication available through Wargames Vault, 'Narrow Seas' by  Wargame Vault Curs'd-Captain Products, and their frigate war set of rules 'Enterprize' which sets up these smaller engagements within a framework around the ideas of chases and duels, designed to allow enough scope to tailor them to the rules you want to use.

Narrow Seas for Any Age of Sail-Game - Wargames Vault
So as usual I sat down and started to mess around with both these resources to come up with my own ideas hence the title of the post and above and below is my table set up to try them out.

The red markers indicate 'gates' that facilitate set up arrival points and possible escape routes should a chase develop

The scenario I chose to bring these ideas together was a simple action involving two brig-sloops that met 'a few leagues west of the Isles of Scilly on the 13th of March 1793' at the very start of the naval war of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic War or 'Great War' as it was known before the titanic struggles of the twentieth century eclipsed it.

The reason for selecting To Covet Glory is that it is tailor made for these small ship engagements using Kiss Me Hardy as its foundation, a rule set I am very familiar with and of course using the chit activation system that makes them very solo play friendly. That said, I'm halfway through Rich Clarke's video recording on best ways to run games via Zoom, so I might see if we can get some live opposition in future games.

Everything set up and ready to go, with the wind direction established and the AI course director set up

So to get things going I have set up the encounter between His Majesty's Brig-Sloop Scourge, nominally of sixteen guns but reported on the day of this encounter to have only mounted eight six-pounder long guns and with seventy men aboard, twenty men under strength, and under the able command of Captain George Brisac.

Commander George Brisac of His Majesty's Brig-Sloop Scourge
artwork courtesy of the old rule set Heart of Oak and Privateers & Gentlemen by Jon Williams and J.Andrew Keith, also available through Wargames Vault.

The very able Lieutenant Visage de Vache commanding the French privateer brig Le Sans Culottes

The opposition and the AI controlled ship is the French privateer brig Le Sans Culottes sporting a formidable armament of eight eight-pounder long guns and four twelve-pounder obusiers and with a crew of eighty-one souls, the commander unknown to history but out of due respect to Nick Skinner commanded by that 'devil may care', 'rash is my middle name', Lieutenant Visage de Vache.
 Attention ennemi en vue! Le Sans Culottes is still beating to quarters as Scourge turns towards her

Being a privateer merits the Sans Culottes as having a better than normal French crew, recognising their desire for prize money and volunteer status as 'Poor, Jolly Jack Tars', so this should make for a very interesting little fight.

Deck there, Sail one point off the starboard bow!

Table plan arrangement adapted from Narrow Seas

Gaining a slight advantage and surprise, Scourge makes sail having beaten to quarters

Fortunately or unfortunately this little action, one of the first in a very long war, only merits about six to eight lines in William James' history and so sea conditions, wind direction and details of the action are none at all, limited and/or concise, so I generated the wind direction based on prevailing westerlies off the Scilly Isles and used the Narrow Seas rules to generate the initial positions and preparedness for battle with the Frenchman being the slower off the mark to beat to quarters, and with both ships needing to confirm the identity of the other.

I shall record the proceedings as play develops and put together a presentation to follow.

More Anon

Saturday 16 January 2021

All at Sea - The Leeward Line using War by Sail, Solo Game Playthrough - Part Two

Picking up from where I left off last week, I've been messing about on the table with the 1:700 age of sail ship collection completing play of The Leeward Line scenario from turn three as the rest of Admiral Collingwood's leeward column of British ships closed to contact with the Allied line at Trafalgar.

Warlord Games - Trafalgar Leeward Line.pdf

A lot of die rolling ensued as the British ships barged their way through the forward line of Franco-Spanish ships to luff up alongside and begin the process of exchanging close range broadsides like two boxers mixing it on the ropes, and it seems produce a result very similar to the historical reality of the battle.

Wargame Vault - War by Sail

The pictures below are taken from the close of play and, I think, really capture why this scale of model  adds so much to the table-top impact of the game, which has provided lots of food for thought for staging something much bigger.

In the video I was keen to try and illustrate the damage sustained by the two fleets over a period of time that can represent up to two hours of fighting, and it is worth stressing, as pointed out in the video summary of the damage percentages, that the percentages represent the damage sustained to the ship's ability to fight, float and/or manoeuvre, not for example, a percentage of crew casualties sustained. 

I played the scenario to the actual events as much as possible so had the British ships reserving their first broadsides until within close range, and if the chits presented the opportunity, allowing them to make raking attacks as they passed through the Allied line.

Once the first broadsides were fired, War by Sail models the need to either take a whole turn not firing to reload or to reload and fire as the target bears, testing the individual gun crews to see if they are ready to open fire, with the better trained British crews more likely to get more of their guns ready to fire than the French or Spanish.

I will no doubt try this scenario again using 'Kiss Me Hardy' as a comparator, which, with the rules scaled at around 1:900, should work well as written for this scale of model. 

Santa Anna-112 guns exchanges greetings with Royal Sovereign which saw Admiral Colingwood and his officers come under fire.

Behind the Santa Anna, Le Fougueux 74-guns wallows in the swell, critically damaged and on fire, but with its crew determinedly hanging on and its colours flying

HMS Tonnant has just passed through the Combined Fleet line with the two French 74's, Le Pluton and L'Algeciras, Admiral Magon's flagship, having been saluted on the way through.

HMS Mars 74-guns (left centre) surrounded by enemy ships having contributed to the distress of the French 74's, Le Fougueux and Le Pluton in its wake crosses the bow of the Spanish Monarca 74-guns
HMS Tonnant's stern quarters can be seen as the British ship cuts through the Allied line
HMS Colossus cuts the line to the rear of the Spanish 74-gun Bahama as the stern quarters of HMS Bellerophon are seen further along the line crossing the bows of the Spanish ship, with Admiral Magon's French 74-gun L'Algeciras in the process  of hauling down her colours.

So if you would like to see how the scenario played out just click on the video links below, with the link to Part One first, for those that might have missed it followed by Part Two below:

Next up: More adventures in Vassal as Steve and I reacquainted ourselves with Columbia Games'  Richard III as we sat down between Xmas and New Year to play the Wars of the Roses Campaign game, and work is progressing to add another six French 74's to the age of sail collection.

Wednesday 13 January 2021

Rommel in the Desert - Campaign Game with Vassal


So just before the close of play last year, Steve and I decided to finish off 2020 with the full campaign game of Rommel in the Desert (RITD) which combines the 1941 and 1942 scenarios into a two year campaign by linking the orders of battles and checking for supply and build up points from month to month in effect twenty turns of play that covers the period encompassing, The retreat from Benghazi, Operation Crusader, Gazala, First and Second Alamein if you get that far.

Empire Set Up April 1941 with the Tobruk garrison of five units plus some extra infantry operating in the outskirts and my forward units of Neame's battered and worn XIII Corps

Out of preference to the way I like to play, I would probably err towards playing Afrika Korps and the Axis, but we decided to roll for sides and I took the Empire forces.

This is a game that Steve and I had discussed many times as one we would like to play using the board game with time permitting and room to leave it set up, and so Vassal really makes playing this longer variant so much more 'doable' in that we were able to play through for three nights over three weeks, saving and coming back to the game in between.

Empire Order of Battle for the Campaign Game, less the set up units which are illustrated above in the placement I opted for at the start before Steve started the Axis forces rolling forward from El Agheila

As will be surmised from the orders of battle in the two shots from the game set up, the advantage in numbers and quality lie with the Axis in 1941 and early 1942 and for the Empire player it is not simply a case of hanging on, but one of looking for opportunities to degrade the Axis order of battle by writing down Afrika Korps units in particular, whilst not paying too high a price to do so, knowing better quality units and lots of them will arrive in the later period.

The Axis Order of Battle, very much front loaded with some excellent Afrika Korps units, but starting to dry up as the war progresses into late 1942

In addition to managing the battle situations, the Empire forces, in particular, have to know when to trade space for time, ideally leaving well reinforced garrisons in Tobruk and Bardia with effective defences, better supported with mines if possible, thus stretching the Axis supply line if they advance past those garrisons and allowing the Empire to shorten their supply and logistics route to Alexandria at the same time.

Of course if the Empire forces fall back too soon without drawing Axis units forward in their wake, they run the risk of leaving the garrisons to be overwhelmed before relief forces can reach them and if the Axis get control, particularly of Tobruk in 1941, it could be a very long game for the Empire.

The set up for 1941 recreates the battered and worn Empire units fresh from their success under General Richard O'Connor having defeated the Italian Tenth Army during Operation Compass between September 1940 to February 1941, seeing them capture 130,000 prisoners, 400 tanks and 1,292 guns, but leaving the Empire troops exhausted and regrouping near Beda Fomm with forward elements patrolling towards the Italian supply base of El Agheila, and much weaker after having a veteran cohort of the force siphoned off by Churchill for operations in defending Greece and Crete.

Enter the Afrika Korps under a relatively unknown German general, Erwin Rommel, who not prepared to sit back and wait for his total force allocation to arrive, plunged off into the blue with his first units of armour and reconnaissance troops that clashed with and then rolled back the weak Empire forces before them in April, starting the first part of what became commonly known to the British 'Tommies' as the 'Benghazi Handicap' as opposing forces raced each other along the North African coastal highway to be the first to the next potential choke point before Tobruk.

Empire Retreat April 1941 - Turn 1
Empire rear-guard forces do an excellent job delaying the Axis advance and inflicting annoying casualties, whilst forcing them to burn vital supplies in the advance to Tobruk

In anticipation, from the Ultra intercepts I had been receiving, I planned for my inevitable retreat to be more ordered than that achieved by Lieutenant General Phillip Neame commanding XIII Corps and placed small units of motorised and lorried infantry supported by the odd battered remnants of cruiser tanks from 2nd Armoured Division at choke points such as Benghazi and the coastal corridor through the mountains of the Jebel el Akhdar and south of them on the desert track at Mechili, to act as speed bumps.

I could not hope to stop the Axis units coming up the road towards me but by occupying positions that were far enough away, such as Mechili to force supply point expenditure to get there or in places like Benghazi and its fortifications together with limited access reducing the number of Axis forces that could attack at any one time, the plan was to fight and withdraw, hoping for the manoeuvrability, and/or armour of my troops to give them an element of protection from pursuit fire, but enabling me to delay the Axis and build up my forces in and around Tobruk.

Axis consolidate whilst Empire reinforce from Alexandria May 1941 - Turn 2

As my rear-guard forces fell back before Tobruk in May 41, the delaying tactics seemed to have paid off with two highly valuable Afrika Korps units in the destroyed box alongside three of my battered remnants and a more valuable brigade from 70th Division, caught up in the retreat from Mechili, but a reasonable trade off that allowed me to build up supply and manpower as the Axis spent theirs in the pursuit.

Destroyed Axis and Empire units April-May 1941
Those two Afrika Corps units, more than made up for the loss of my three remnants and the lorried infantry brigade from 70th Division.

As the Empire forces fell back on Tobruk and later towards the Egyptian frontier, both sides drew breath and pulled forward their reinforcements, which saw a formidable stack of Axis troops advancing around Tobruk as the Empire had the fortune of the early arrival of several full strength cruiser tank brigades, plus spending fifteen 'build up' points to build minefields in and around the Tobruk defences.

Our previous warm up games playing Crusader and Gazala had taught both of us the lesson to be wary of charging in on stacks unprepared and the value of all arms attacks to cover those eventualities, but the pressure for the Axis to make hay in those early months ensured the attacks that came in during June, July, August and September as we both fought in the sands south of Tobruk on the frontier, attempting to weaken the other enough to enable either the Axis to assault Tobruk without hinderence or face being driven back to regroup from losses sustained in the fighting.

End June 1941, Axis lay siege to Tobruk - Turn 3
An ominously large stack of Axis units hovers south of Tobruk, looking to force events on the Egyptian frontier south of Bardia

In the end the fighting close to Bardia proved too much for the Empire troops, having called in reserves from Bardia itself only to see the Axis rush troops forward to occupy the key town and then to smash the Empire armour units in a very large drawn out battle near Fort Capuzzo as both sides increased their forces committed that broke the Empire force sufficiently to cause a general withdawal back to Alexandria and the Alamein line at the end of November.

The start of the Battle of Fort Capuzzo as the lead elements engage, that would see the Axis victorious and the Empire forced back to El Alamein in November 1941.

The really great part of playing the full campaign is that it forces the players to think ahead and not just on the battle in front of them during a two or three month scenario.

In the campaign, decisions have to be made when to call an end to the combat, to allow the opportunity to get key forces away from the battle to hopefully be rebuilt alongside newly arrived reinforcements; and leaving those forces as rear-guards to die, unable to escape multiple attacks in pursuit is sometimes not an option, but the decision to fall back from the frontier to Alexandria was a difficult one.

Destroyed Axis and Empire units End Nov 1941
This screen-shot tells the tale as to why the Empire forces had to fall back to Alexandria and leave Tobruk to fend for itself in January 1942

The decision put the ball very much in the Axis court and Steve found himself having to decide whether to pursue the Empire towards El Alamein with Tobruk behind and on his supply line and all the problems of the length of the route causing to his own supplies and reinforcements, but with the opportunity, should the Alamein line be broken, to end the North African campaign in 1941; or to make use of the breathing space to turn the full force of the Axis against Tobruk and deal with the problem in time for the next campaign in 1942.

End November 1941Tobruk under siege and Empire back on the El Alamein Line - Turn 8
A difficult decision at the time, but the Empire had to fall back to Alamein if it were to stand any chance of holding on into 1942

Steve chose the later option and so January 1942 saw the Battle for Tobruk as Axis troops braved shell, shot and mine to attempt to batter their way into the city as the Empire reserves desperately rebuilt and regrouped alongside the new arrivals to rush along the coast road to Bardia, with not much hope of closing on Tobruk before February 1942.

The minefield placement in Tobruk in May proved a wise investment and the Empire infantry together with support from their 25-pounders chewed up the Axis attacks in the first rounds of combat, but Steve was committed to the offensive and threw in the reserves, reducing the defenders to a single artillery brigade with one strength point left before the Axis were compelled to withdraw through lack of supplies to support more attacks; 'a close run thing' as the Duke would have called it!

As the Axis battered themselves against the defences of Tobruk, the Empire reserves rushed up to Bardia and with the Axis frontier stripped of troops investing Tobruk, assaulted back into the town and rounded up the German infantry left to hold it, later laying mines around it before advancing on Tobruk with a large force of mechanised infantry, armour and artillery to Gambut on the coast road below the Sidi Rezegh escarpment as January drew to a close.

End January 1942 - Turn 10
The battle to take Tobruk was a close run thing but the Empire just held on as their reserves rushed forward from Alexandria to retake Bardia 

The choice of positioning the main Empire relief force at Gambut was deliberate in that it both supported Tobruk and Bardia, enabled reinforcements to make their way in to replace the losses in Tobruk and being on the coast below the Sidi Rezegh escarpment limited any Axis attack to just two routes in, thus limiting the numbers that could engage at any one time.

With the Axis forces busy sorting themselves out at Gazala, the crisis of our campaign had been reached with the beefed up units of Eighth Army due to arrive in the summer including the new Grant tank brigades, Steve would have to force the issue around Tobruk now.

The fighting in January and the subsequent losses together with the Empire reinforcements had seen a shift in the balance and now the Axis were hard pressed to attack Tobruk whilst preventing those forces from being attacked, but, having the advantage to move first, moved immediately back into the attack on Tobruk, whilst placing a blocking force between the city and the Empire reserves at Gambut on the coast road at Belhamed.

However the Gambut forces were composed of armoured and mechanised troops supported with artillery and anti-tank guns, so that as the reinforced garrison in Tobruk now sporting a brigade of Matilda infantry tanks in support held the Axis attack, the forces at Gambut fell on both the Axis blocking force and were also able to put units into the Torbruk area thus splitting the fire of the Axis units there.

End February 1942 - Turn 11 and they think it's all over, well it is now! The Axis forces fall back from Tobruk for the last time

The fighting in Tobruk and directly outside it at Belhamed proved too much of a stretch for the Axis units left and with supplies dwindling and the Afrika Korps armour bled white together with numerous other support units now destroyed, they fell back to Gazala.

A quick look at the 'Dead Pool' at the end of February 1942 shows the comeback the Empire made in the first two months of the year with numerous Axis units written down in and outside Tobruk in the bitter battles for possession of the town.

Destroyed Axis and Empire units End Feb 1942 and Game End

At turn twelve with the first Grant tank brigade to arrive and another eighteen Empire brigades in the next six months, with next to nothing for the Axis we decided that Rommel would be looking to fall back to Tunis from here and so called the game.

The campaign lived up to all our expectations with all the added drama of retreats, build ups, pursuits and massive battles in between the twelve months of campaigning, as we worked our way through, and RITD is a definite favourite and one I'm sure we will return to again.

Thanks to Steve M who played a great game as Field Marshal Rommel and produced a real cut and thrust contest with the Empire driven back to Alexandria in December 1941, eight months earlier than his historical counterpart managed and came within a battery of 25-pounders of also emulating the German general by nearly taking Tobruk the following month.

Next up - Lots of stuff in the pipeline; The Leeward Line scenario continues using War by Sail as Collingwood's British division of ships comes broadside to broadside with Admiral Alava's and Magon's Franco-Spanish division, plus Steve and I managed to squeeze in a Vassal game of Columbia Games' Richard III as we played the campaign game between Xmas and New Year, and later I have six French 3rd rates on the stocks in a slightly different Revolutionary War livery and an interestingly different Age of Sail book that I'm reading at the moment to review a bit later.