Saturday 30 October 2021

Erik Oaksplitter and Companions

This little project has been long in the production as I got these figures for my old friend Steve M as a significant birthday present and added in an offer to paint and base them, to make them an attractive addition to Steve's growing collection of 28mm Dark Ages.

That was nearly a couple of years ago now, which has seen a global pandemic and me rather occupied with model ships, but I like to consider myself a man of my word and as soon as the opportunity came to get some long outstanding painting jobs done, these Footsore Vikings including 'yer man' Erik Oakspitter himself were got ready for some 'tender loving care'.

The warriors all come with a clenched hand designed to be drilled for a particular weapon and not having specific weapon choices to hand I substituted two of them with a sword and the other an axe to add some variation, with both weapons taken from some spare arms from some plastic offerings I had built previously and I think the conversion has worked really well.

The shield decals are of course from Little Big Men and the designs just finish the figures off perfectly.

Footsore are a class above to my mind and these chaps were a pleasure to paint and made a nice change in palette and so I hope you like them Steve. 

Now where are the rest of those ships?

Monday 25 October 2021

The Battle of Trafalgar at Warlord Games HQ, Nottingham

The Trafalgar Collection of Warlord 1:700th model ships had its premiere this weekend at Warlord Games HQ in Nottingham to which I drove up on Friday night in preparation for our refight of Trafalgar in this the week of the 216th anniversary of Lord Nelson's famous victory over the Combined Fleet.

I suppose this game is the fruition of the project tentatively started back in November 2019 with my first build of what was then the new range of age of sail models launched by Warlord Games after I had seen them premiered in the April at Salute.

My very first build, a 36-gun British frigate from the then new range of Warlord model ships. I remember well falling in love with the detail and the lines of this model and my eagerness to build more of them.
JJ's Wargames- All at Sea, Another Project !

The inspiration for starting the collection came from seeing the models premiered at Salute back in 2019, which just goes to show why going to shows can be so detrimental to staying focussed on projects already underway, just ask my Romano-Dacians!
JJ's Wargames - Salute 2019 Show Report

So almost two years later the culmination of the project resulted in the game table below as the two fleets were laid out based loosely on Mark Adkin's, The Trafalgar Companion, map of the battle lines as the two fleets prepared to engage and the first ships of the Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet opened fire on the lead ships in the two British columns.

It's 11.45 am on the 21st October 1805 and the line of the Vice Admiral Villeneuve's Combined Fleet prepares to meet its destiny with history as the two columns of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's British fleet bear down on it and receive the opening broadsides of the battle that was to follow, seen from the nearest ship to camera, the Spanish 74-gun San Juan de Nepomuceno, part of the Squadron of Observation.

Mark Adkin's map from his 2005 Bicentenary Trafalgar Companion was the basis for the initial set up, here shown with my addition of the ship numbers on the bases to better able players to identify each model in the game. Note all the ships illustrated were on the table from the mighty Santisima Trinidad to the diminutive cutter HMS Entreprenante.

However before we could get to setting up a game of this size, a lot of preparation and planning had to be coordinated and after several communications between Gabrio Tolentino, from Warlord Games and author of the rule set Black Seas, which we would be using for our game, and myself, I found myself loading up the car in preparation for a Friday night drive up to Nottingham from Devon, for an overnight stay to get over to Warlord Games HQ the next morning to get things ready for our invited group of players and spectators.

Several important items in the car boot, the ships and my overnight bag.

Moving a large collection of these models around securely and with the associated sea cloths requires a bit of pre-planning but I now have the set up well and truly tested with this little adventure with my Tiny Wargames sea pattern cloths, neatly rolled around the carpet tube cut-offs from a local carpet supplier in my home town, together with the ships and other game related items safely ensconced in their mdf tray inserts for my 19 litre Really Useful Boxes, living up to their well thought through brand name.

We use Tiny Wargames (link at top right of the page) cloths at the Devon Wargames Group for pretty much all our game requirements and by simply ironing out any creases and rolling them around some old carpet tubing you can easily transport them as needed and roll them out crease free when needed for play. Here are four 10 x 5 foot cloths on two tubes (there is another one underneath that seen) easily put across the back seat of the car.

The drive up to Nottingham on Friday night was a bit of a chore with a three hour, forty minute drive taking another forty minutes to do, given road works and weight of traffic near Gloucester, and around Birmingham on the M42, but after a night's sleep and breakfast at my city centre hotel, it was only a short drive to Warlord, not before grabbing a few tourist pictures of the famous Nottingham Castle and a certain outlaw that used to frequent this part of the country.

Some of the local Nottingham hostelries pictured on my short walk to get the car outside the front gate of Nottingham Castle

The modern day front gate to Nottingham Castle

The most famous outlaw in history, Robin Hood, graces the front wall of the castle. I can't say I have ever really liked this rendition of the man or myth and would have much preferred an Errol Flynn style of cocked hat, feather and rakish goatee beard and moustache rather than the tight fitting scull cap that has our hero looking more like a naughty school boy. 

As a kid I grew up with images of Errol Flynn as my archetypal
Robin Hood so the statue above was rather underwhelming 

So with my 'tourism of Nottingham box' well and truly ticked I was off to Warlord and meeting with Gabrio and the team to get the table set up in preparation for our day's game.

The Battle of Trafalgar has to be a 'must do' game on most age of sail wargamers bucket list of games to play, and this being my first go at this epic historical naval battle, I was really looking forward to the day

To help set the scene and present the players with the options our historical commanders faced on the day we had a quick run through of the set up and the battle tactics the various commanders chose to attempt to thwart each others plans and then left it to our present day commanders to choose their own options within the parameters of the set up.

Gabrio in the role of Gamemeister for the day points out some of the key factors that will influence the game during our pre-game briefing.

A view of the initial setup from the British side of the table

Having the honour to assume the role of Vice Admiral of The Blue, Cuthbert Collingwood, leading the leeward column aboard HMS Royal Sovereign I opted to put Black Seas to the test, to see if I could follow Collingwood's plan of attack by sending my ships in to the rear squadrons of the Combined Fleet in echelon, holding my fire until reaching a point blank or close range broadside solution, ideally administering stern and bow rakes as my ships passed through the enemy line.

Lord Collingwood's Lee Column approaches in echelon, bearing the brunt of the opening broadsides from the Combined Fleet, but resolutely holding their fire.

The wooden walls of France and Spain prepare to test the theory of the immovable object meeting the irresistible force.

The first few moves saw the British fleet press forward boldly as their lead ships were peppered with long range broadsides mainly at the rigging, but with occasional strike causing the odd issue, like an early critical hit fire aboard Victory that fortunately was soon extinguished by the veteran crew, something the poorer crews on the Allied ships would find more difficult to do.
HMS Victory leads Temeraire 98-guns, Neptune 98-guns, Leviathan 74-guns and Conqueror 74-guns as the weather column bears down on the Combined Fleet ahead.

A sight to stir the heart of any 'true Brit', HMS Victory leading the fleet into action with all her colours flying and her immortal signal aloft.

Adopting Collingwood's tactics certainly proved a test of nerve as the range shortened and the Allied fire became more effective, leaving the lead ships, Royal Sovereign and Belleisle rather battered as they prepared to answer back with interest.

As it turned out Nelson wasn't having things any easier on his front, but the British commander's plan of front loading his column with the 100-gun Victory and two solid three deck 98-gunners in the shape of HMS Temeraire and Neptune certainly paid dividends as the big ships soaked up everything that was thrown at them as they closed the range.

The battle begins as HMS Africa passes down the weather side of the van of the Combined Fleet

However the battle really started on the extreme end of the Combined Fleet line as HMS Africa took up the challenge of keeping the van occupied as the plucky little British 64-gunner took on the best of the lead squadron, swapping broadsides with Rear Admiral Dumanoir's 80-gun Formidable.

HMS Africa bears her teeth as the yellow flash from her lower deck 24-pounders salute the van of the Combined Fleet to get our battle well and truly underway

Seeing HMS Victory take a determined change of course towards Admiral Villeneuve's 80-gun Bucentaure and Rear Admiral Cisneros in the 130-gun Santisima Trinidad, the Allied van started to turn into wind as Dumanoir attempted to bring his squadron round to help the fleet flagship.
The Combined Fleet returns Africa's salute as Rear Admiral Dumanoir aboard the 80-gun Formidable orders his ship to open fire.

The Centre Squadron of the Combined Fleet with the mighty three deck Spanish 136-gun Santisima Trinidad (Rear Admiral Cisneros) in the centre of the picture and with the 74-gun Heros, 74-gun San Augustin and 74-gun San Francisco de Asis ahead of her and Vice Admiral Villeneuve's 80-gun Bucentaure, and Captain Lucas' 74-gun Redoutable directly astern. To the starboard side of the Spanish flagship are the French brig Furet and frigate Hortense.

Thus as our game approached lunch at the 12.30 break we had both British columns ready to close and unleash their firepower to good effect in the next round and with HMS Africa now supported by the unlikely help of Captain Sir Henry Blackwood's light squadron prepared to lay their frigates down as proverbial speed bumps on the approach of Dumanoir's lead ships.

The battle fast approaching its crescendo, interestingly at around 12.30 game time, mimicking the historical breaking of the line on the actual day of battle. We took the time soon after to break for a bite of lunch, courtesy of Warlord Games, after having sampled some grog and hard tack biscuit. Collingwood's Lee Column led by the Royal Sovereign is about to break the Combined Fleet's line

Our day had a bit of extra historical interest with an opportunity to experience the culinary delights of serving on a 19th century man-o-war as Gabrio tempted us with an offering of hardtack and grog to fortify our efforts in the afternoon session.

Thankfully the grog was a lot less potent than its original formula but still using the original components managed to give the taste of a not bad cordial, but the hardtack lived up fully to its name, leaving me not quite sure what the cracking sound in my mouth was and checking my remaining teeth with some relief after the first bite. I can see why this stuff was much better boiled down into the classic British pudding of a good old duff that would line the the stomach just like a school dinner pudding and leave you ready to face anything the enemy could throw at you.

To get the full Trafalgar experience Gabrio treated us, if that is the right term, to some authentic naval sustenance, and for me the grog wasn't bad at all but the biscuit could have done with more weevil to help soften it.  

Crunching a piece of hard tack instantly reminded me of the
dinner chat in Master and Commander, perhaps the best and most accurate historical
military film made, and we weren't using condiments to refight our table top Trafalgar.

Do you go for the grog or the hard tack or as Captain Jack Aubrey would say, 'making the choice between the lesser of two weevils!'

With lunch gleefully consumed and a consideration of where the game was at before starting the afternoon session, we got back to it and things started to happen almost immediately.

Post lunch and the battle explodes into action as broadsides get exchanged at close and point-blank range causing extreme damage and fires.

Rear Admiral Dumanoir orders the van to reverse course by tacking about to bring his ships to the aid of the hard pressed centre.

Collingwood's leeward column prepares to break the line

The Royal Sovereign barrelled on forward towards the Santa Anna. looking to bow rake the Spaniard and take the French 80-gun Indomptable out with a passing stern rake.

However Captain Hubert commanding the Frenchman was having none of it and skilfully passed a skill check to pass his large third rate through the wind to bring himself broadside to broadside with the British first rate.

The Franco-Spanish van starts to turn and prepare to tack as Victory leads the weather column towards the centre and bears the brunt of the first broadsides, one causing a fire aboard the British flagship.

The mighty HMS Royal Sovereign shows the lethal destruction that a British first-rate ship of the line can unleash with a point-blank first broadside, utterly demolishing the brave French 80-gun Indomptable that attempted to tack on to the weather side of the British flagship and was crushed in the exchange of fire, as a close broadside from her larboard side starts a fire on the Spanish flagship Santa Anna 112-guns (Vice Admiral Alava).

However Captain Hubert's skill at sailing and managing his crew in the most dangerous of situations availed him little as the Plymouth based Royal Sovereign unleashed all the pent up fury of suffering the battering on her approach with a point blank broadside that demolished the Frenchman and just to emphasise the point left the Santa Anna teetering on striking her colours after 32 pound round shot smashed their way in through her bows.

Just as in the historical encounter, Captain William Hargood brought the Belleisle up in close support of his flagship and gave a similar gunnery demonstration by finishing off the Santa Anna with a point blank stern rake whilst delivering a similarly decisive blow to the following 74-gun Fougueux with a point blank bow rake as the the two British ships found themselves amid the French frigate line on the leeward side of the Combined Fleet.

HMS Victory and her close consorts get stuck in with the centre of the Combined Fleet with a fire seen blazing on the Santisima Trinidad and Bucentaure after the first close broadsides.

HMS Africa boldly takes a lead from the Victory and wades in among the rear ships of the Combined Fleet van.

The Royal Sovereign is closely supported by the 74-gun Belleisle as she unleashes her own point blank rakes on the rear of the Santa Anna taking out the Spanish flagship before demolishing the 74-gun Fougueux with a bow rake, following in the wake of the Santa Anna and effectively decapitating the head of the Rear Squadron with the destruction of its three lead ships.

It's in a really large game like this that you start to appreciate the Duke of Wellington's description of a battle being similar to a ball, in that you are really only aware of what's going on in your corner of the ballroom at any given time, making it very difficult to give an overall impression.

From where I was on the quarterdeck of the Royal Sovereign I was aware of close range broadsides being swapped between Victory, Santisima Trinidad and Bucentaure with fires breaking out on all three flagships at one time, and then the gradual removal of nearby third rates which included the doughty Africa and some British frigates that over extended their welcome amid the enemy line.

Fires break out on the Santisima Trinidad, Bucentaure and Victory as the fighting becomes close up and personal.

Even my end of the line didn't go unscathed with the Tonnant striking her colours after suffering a severe battering on the way in and the Bellerophon left in a perilous state after some close up exchanges with a toss up as to which sides third rates would strike first.

HMS Africa is encircled by enemy ships as she bravely fights her own battle with the enemy van

That said the Nelsonian approach of getting in close and hitting very hard seemed to be well replicated by Black Seas and as well as giving a very entertaining day's play produced a very hard fought battle with the result only going in one direction but leaving both fleets looking in the state depicted by the great marine artist of the period, Nicholas Pocock, and of course nature and her weather would have the final say in the result. 

Our game towards the close with a mass melee of opposing ships as the order breaks into disorder mimicking the look of a Nicholas Pocock picture from the time. 

Thus ended a day of firsts, my first Trafalgar game, the first time the collection had been out in battle on the table, my first visit to Warlord Games and my first game of Black Seas.

Tim's 32-pounder ball with shoe for scale, which only leaves one with a feeling of awe for the men that had to move these things around under fire.

Thank you to James Wright (Vice Admiral Villeneuve), his Spanish second in command Thomas Pottage (Admiral Gravina and my generous opponent for the day), My Lord, Vice Admiral Nelson (the suitably named Christopher Nelson) who went above and beyond to appear in period costume and of course Gabrio Tolentino and Tim Bancroft who performed magnificently in herding the cats and helping our game to roll along in such a splendid fashion and with Tim bringing along his 32-pounder cannon ball which as well as giving me a near hernia when lifted produced huge respect for those men on the lower decks of a first rate having to manhandle one of those projectiles down the barrel of a gun in action.

Thank you to the folks who added to our game by coming along and watching it unfold, taking time to chat wargaming stuff and just adding to the fun of the day and of course to the folks at Warlord Games who made us very welcome during our visit.

Pocock's depiction of the close of Trafalgar seems to capture well the state of a lot of our ships after our day of battle, but of course in the best traditions of wargaming no one was hurt and everyone had a fun day.

Finally, not forgetting what this collection is all about and with future plans to put on more games like this with it to support our veterans, I availed myself of the limited edition Lucky Jack figurine as a memento of the day and a contribution to Combat Stress.

My Lucky Jack figure will make a nice distraction from the normal painting routine and will feature in a future post.

The original plan for the day had been to livestream the game on Twitch but there were technical difficulties that prevented that, but there are several great video clips of the game on the Warlord Facebook Page together with more pictures of the game.

In addition I gather there will be a video compilation of the game to come and if you would like to see more now you can check out a short video I recorded of our game in progress, below.

Once again, many thanks to all involved in our 'big game' and here's looking forward to future events.

Next up, I'm working on some small ship additions to the 'All at Sea' collection with some Spanish and French Schooners and Cutters, plus I've been battlefield exploring with Mr Steve, so a post to come covering our little expedition back to the English Civil War and the Prayer Book Rebellion, and I have another book review from my ancients library.