Saturday 3 February 2024

Battle of Camperdown - The Leeward Division Attacks, Far Distant Ships

It has been with much anticipation that I looked forward to posting this AAR on a new set of rules for me, namely Far Distant Ships (FDS) written by David Manley, as part of my New Year Project to complete and play the Battle of Camperdown and covered in my recent post looking at the preparations for our game.

JJ's Wargames - Battle of Camperdown Preparations, The Leeward Column Attacks! Playtest

On first and subsequent reads, FDS certainly chimed with thoughts around staging and playing bigger battles using 1:700 models, but as my post alluded to, reading is one thing and playing is another and so getting a scenario together to give the rules a chance to show their potential was important.

Recalling similar efforts four years previously with Kiss Me Hardy and the Trafalgar collection, I decided to mimic the practice games for that project that used a discreet section of the Trafalgar attack, namely that of the Leeward Squadron under Admiral Collingwood, to do something similar with the Leeward Division of Admiral Onslow at Camperdown, with the similarities only too obvious when the set up is seen deployed on the table.

I think a good parameter as to how well a particular rule set works on the simulation/game measure is, in terms of the simulation side, do the rules capture the aspects of a particular historical engagement, to the point that with all things being equal, in terms of set up and constraints on the players representing those placed on the historical counterparts they are representing, they enable a very similar replay of the events that occurred as recorded. 

Similarly as regards the game parameter, are the rules fun and absorbing for the players involved? 

So as well as observing the play mechanics and routines, I was very much focussed on the simulation/game aspect, with the set up designed to represent the constraints alluded to and not presenting a 'what-if' playing of the attack we were portraying.

This scenario recreates the attack on the Batavian Dutch rearward squadron under Rear-Admiral Hermanus Reijntjes, flagship Jupiter, by the British Leeward Division under Vice Admiral Richard Onslow, Flagship HMS Monarch.

I made an error with the carronade factors (CF) on the British 3rd-rate Inferiors (64-gunners) which should have been +2 not +3. That's what play tests are for!

Wind from the North West, Light Breeze, and Visibility good.
The action is fought on a 9’ by 5’ table using 1:700 models, scaled to one inch to 20 yards or 1cm to 8 yards.

See the diagram at the end of this scenario pack for an indication of the position of individual ships in the respective lines.

The Leeward Division under full sail bear down on the Batavian line ahead.

British Setup
Weather Column
Leeward Division: Vice Admiral Richard Onslow, Flagship HMS Monarch
The British line deploys sailing North West to South East

Batavian Setup
Trailing Squadron: Rear-Admiral Hermanus Reijntjes, flagship Jupiter
Frigate Line: Independent ships
The Batavian squadrons deploy first, heading South West to North East

The frigate line deploys to leeward of the battle line at least 20 cm away, Independent and may be dispensed with if signalling rules are not in play. 

The Batavians open with their broadsides on the approaching British

The map below illustrates the approach of the British fleet towards the Dutch line and in particular the Leeward Squadron under Vice Admiral Onslow aboard HMS Monarch on which this scenario is focussed.

Many contemporary illustrations and paintings of the Battle of Camperdown portray Admiral Duncan's flagship HMS Venerable flying 'Signal No.5, 'Close Action', including this one by Thomas Whitcombe, with the red and white chequer signal flown at the mizzen, as a punishing broadside is delivered to the Batavian flagship Vrijheid.

The Batavian Dutch reversed course and headed towards their base at the Texel, edging ever closer to shallower water as they did so to help them in their efforts to discomfort any British attack on their line as they sought sanctuary within their home port.

Howe's signal book was in use for the Battle of Camperdown.

On realising the enemy’s tactic, Admiral Duncan has signalled the British fleet at 11.35 ‘Signal 41’, to ‘Bear up and sail large’, followed by a further signal at 11.53, ‘Signal 34’ instructing captains to ‘To Pass through the Line and to Engage the Enemy to Leeward’, later followed at 12.05, Signal 5 'Close Action', at which point the set up presents the situation as seen below at 12.30pm as the British are about to move into long range for the great guns.

Special Rules
The table may be “scrolled” to East and West and South and South West (Should the Batavians attempt to edge closer to the coast) as required.

The South table edge is considered to be coastline. Shallows commence 30cms beyond the table edge as follows:

The Batavian ships are able to navigate closer to shore due to their shallower draft.

Batavian ships are not equipped with carronades. They have a +1 gunnery modifier at Close Range.

British ships are equipped with carronades. All 3rd Rates have a +3 gunnery modifier at Close Range. All (Inferior) 3rd Rates and 4th Rates have a +2 gunnery modifier at Close Range.

HMS Monarch signals a change of heading for a required course correction.

Throughout the action the Agincourt failed to close with the enemy (for which her captain was later court martialled). If players wish to recreate this aspect then Agincourt is not allowed to voluntarily close to within Short range of any enemy ship of the line, apart form those that have struck.

Captain John Williamson c 1775
Captain of HMS Agincourt was court martialled in the wake of the battle.
Further information about his history and that of HMS Agincourt can be found in my post from December last year.
JJ's Wargames - All at Sea, Battle of Camperdown - Project Build, Part Four, The Leeward Division Completed

The Court Martial verdict on Captain John Williamson was a clear indictment of his behaviour at the battle, and the evidence against him and in support of him provided by fellow commanders and other eye witnesses provides historians with a more detailed record of the battle than can be extracted from the ships logs.

As laid out in the court's judgement, the verdicts failed to find him guilty of cowardice and disaffection, but it seems they were content to conclude that he failed to obey and do his duty by Admiral Duncan's signal and appear not to have ruled out negligence for the cause of his not engaging the enemy and doing his utmost towards their destruction.

'The Court, pursuant to an order from the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland, &c., bearing date the fifteenth day of November last past, directed to the said Skeffington Lutwidge, Esq., Vice-Admiral of the Blue and Commander-in-Chief of his Majesty's ships and vessels in the river Medway and at the buoy of the Nore, proceeded to inquire into the conduct of Captain John Williamson, late commander of his Majesty's ship Agincourt, one of the squadron under the command of Admiral Duncan, and to try the said John Williamson upon several charges, for that during the engagement of the said squadron under the command of the said Admiral Duncan with the Dutch fleet on the eleventh day of October last, he, the said John Williamson, did not upon that day, upon signal and order of fight and upon sight of several of the enemy's ships which it was his duty to engage, do his duty, and obey such signal, and also for that he did, on the said eleventh day of October last during the time of action, through cowardice, negligence or disaffection, keep back and did not come into the fight or engagement, and did not do his utmost to take or destroy such of the enemy's ships as it was his duty to engage, and to assist and relieve such of his Majesty's ships as it was his duty to assist and relieve, and having heard the witnesses produced in support of the charges, and by the prisoner in his defence, and having heard what he had to allege in his defence, and having maturely and deliberately weighed and considered the whole : the Court is of opinion that the charges of cowardice and disaffection have not been proved, that the other parts of the charges have been proved in part. 

Therefore, in consideration of the case and the nature and degree of the offence, the Court doth adjudge the said Captain John Williamson to be placed at the bottom of the post captains list and rendered incapable of ever serving on board any of his Majesty's ships or vessels in the Royal Navy, and he is hereby sentenced accordingly.'

Batavian Gunnery:
Many Batavian captains reported that they couldn't use the lowest (and heaviest) batteries on the lee side due to the heeling over of the vessel. Reduce the Gunnery Factor of Batavian ships of the line by -1 on their lee broadside when sailing in a quartering or beam wind.

The British press home their attack successfully passing their test to pass through the enemy line, issuing raking fire as they make their way to leeward.

The Dutch coast is only three miles away. The off table area to the South West, beyond the Batavian line is shoaling water, but the shallow drafted Batavian ships may operate in them safely. British ships are at risk of grounding in this area.

This contemporary illustration of the battle with the Batavian flagship Jupiter highlighted illustrates the proximity of the Dutch coastline

Batavian Training:
The Batavians had conducted extensive gunnery training whilst under the blockade but had little opportunity to practice other aspects of seamanship. All Batavian ships are treated as Veteran for gunnery, but as Average for all other aspects.

HMS Agincourt, living up to her historical predecessor, has turned away at medium range to engage the Batavian line, bearing 'light damage' for later testimony at Captain Williamson's court martial.

Victory Conditions
The game ends immediately once one side’s fleet morale breaks, a Tactical Victory going to the side that first causes its opponent’ fleet morale to break.

HMS Monarch 74-guns bears down on the gap between the Batavian flagship (right) Jupiter 74-guns and the following Haarlem 68-guns (left). Behind the Haarlem, the 56-gun Alkmaar is taking a stern rake from the 64-gun HMS Director which will cause her to strike soon after.

As outlined in the historical set up prior to 12.30pm when our game time starts Vice-admiral Onslow has received and passed on all the signal instructions from Admiral Duncan and his squadron is seen bearing down on the Batavian line under a full press of sail intent on passing through their line to luff up on the leeward side to administer the coup-de-grace following the requisite raking fire dished out on their way.

Of course one of the British squadron, HMS Agincourt was quite content to turn away at medium range and start to exchange broadsides with the 68-gun Cerberus and 74-gun Jupiter which gave us an introduction to the gunnery rules, which are very straight forward comparing opposing d6 rolls and adding in the various factors for range, ship size, crew ability and damage sustained, to give a comparison total with damage levels generally dished out according to the level of difference advantaging the attackers total to that of the defender, i.e. less than which is no effect, equal, more than, twice as much etc.

Captain Bligh's HMS Director, blasts the Alkmaar with a stern rake, causing the latter to strike in response to the 'Heavy Damage' result, the first to strike to the British attack.

There is no book keeping required with FDS with ship status in terms of damage, sail settings and ship morale all noted by the placement of an appropriate counter on the model's base, which are seen in the pictures.

We came up with a few home tweaks to allow for our ships to turn at any time in their move and to fire as they bear, according to the orders they were operating under, ruling that the sail speed used at the start of the move applied throughout it, irrespective of course changes affecting the wind bearing; that kept the movement process simpler and less taxing than applying proportionate movement.

Additionally we allowed captains to manoeuvre as required, once they got within close range (20cm) using their initiative to best comply with their last signalled orders.

Director luffs up alongside the Alkmaar which promptly hauls down her colours before inviting another close range broadside. The punishing attack caused our first critical hit test resulting in a fire aboard the Alkmaar as seen by the strike and fire markers at her bow.

The final tweak we worked in to our play was to allow ships to fire as they bear during the movement phase, particularly at close range where potential rakes became involved, rather than sticking rigidly to a move then fire phase process, marking ships already fired with smoke to ensure they didn't fire again in the turn and putting damage markers next to the target ship's base to indicate that the damage would take effect at the end of the current turn, when it was then placed on the base as normal.

The Batavian 'veteran' status for firing had the required effect of causing a gruelling approach phase for the British as they ran the gauntlet of medium/close range broadsides, forcing them to spend command points administering repair tests to the most badly affected. 

However retribution was not long in coming as the British squadron swept into the Batavian line, easily passing the test to pass through it despite the Batavian admiral spilling wind from his leading ships to allow the two fourth rates Alkmaar and Delft to attempt to narrow the gap between them and the third rates.

The Batavian 74-gun flagship Jupiter strikes to the British 74-gun flagship Monarch following a bruising close range encounter as the latter passed astern of the former, the fourth and final Batavian ship to strike and causing the squadron morale to fail seeing the 68-gun Cerberus and the 44-gun frigate Monnikendam make their escape towards the shoals and the Dutch coast.

The Agincourt continues to bombard from medium range, focussing her efforts against the leading Cerberus, as Batavian resistance reaches its climax with the Jupiter, second Batavian ship seen in the line, about to strike to the Monarch passing astern of her.

The British attack at its height which would culminate in four Batavian ships striking in quick succession from the close in damage recieved at this stage. The small blue d6 on the card indicates that number of remaining preservation points (squadron morale) with the loss of each ship of the line taking two of that total and the flagship three. The Batavian would also see the brig Daphne strike after getting a return broadside from Director after firing at the British third rate,

The rules nicely model the British 'passing through the line' tactic by requiring each ship in this effectively line abreast formation to test the resolve of each captain to press on through the gaps in the Batavian line, themselves in 'Fighting' formation of anywhere between 9cm to 18cm between ships, with a score of 5 plus required on a single d6 adding +1 to the die roll for VA Onslow's command abilities and +1 for the British ships being 'veteran' with Monarch adding +2 for being 'crack'.

Not surprisingly all the British ships testing managed to pass, with failure resulting in the affected ship turning away to windward to run parallel with the enemy line.

The fire on the Alkmaar would get out of control and the small fourth rate would be destroyed before it could be brought under control.

The Batavian brig Daphne fires at HMS Director. She would strike in the next turn following a return salute from the British third-rate.

Our game ran for eleven turns effectively one hour and fifty minutes of battle with the Batavian squadron defeated by 13.50 which makes a fascinating comparison to the historical situation seen in the map below, showing the affected ships struck and hove to among their British captors, with the Jupiter last to capitulate striking at 13.45 historically and 13.50 in our game.

The Monarch's signal log for our game records the following:

12.40 to the Division - Signal No. 04 - New Heading 'East'
13.20 to Ship No. 20 (Agincourt) - Signal No. 52 - 'Engage the Enemy More Closely'
13.40 to ship No. 15 (Montagu) - Signal No.76 - 'Take Possession of Struck Enemy Ship'

So the verdict on our first game of Far Distant Ships was very positive, giving a fast flowing game which became more intuitive the longer we played which is always a good sign.

I loved the narrative created by the game and the multiple decision points presented to players in the commanding of their respective squadrons, and it was really great to see that the rules transition very nicely to a larger scale of model that they were not originally intended for, but I hope we have illustrated that they can equally work well with.

Yes we found we had to tweak aspects to our preferred way of playing that probably springs from Kiss Me Hardy and our unconsciously competent way of playing those rules and the firing as you bear, turning circles and simpler movement rules take their inspiration from that rule set, but carried over very seamlessly as did our use of the firing angle template and using the mainmast as a point of aiming.

In addition I will add a few extra markers to the set to include recording critical hit outcomes, and in that respect I found the use of markers a refreshing change from written recording of damage on a record card.

As the Batavians were confirmed shooters at the hull proponents we did not try out the targeting of the rigging which might have proved interesting with the British approach conducted under full sail for much of the time, and I might try the Leeward Line Scenario from Trafalgar to see how a Combined Fleet line up would do using those tactics in that set up, but that will be for a future play test.

In summary, then, we really like Far Distant Ships and I will be happy to get these out on the table for another game.

Thank you to Jack and Mike for putting the rules to the test and providing the fun for this AAR.

More anon


  1. Replies
    1. Hi, Thank you, glad you enjoyed the AAR. JJ

  2. I really enjoyed your blow by blow game reporting coupled with the assessment of FDS rules and how they play. I enjoyed viewing your wonderful ships.
    I really like the FDS concept of no separate record keeping. However does it sacrifice realism to do so?
    Regarding FDS rules, do you think they are suitable for small ship/fleet actions ala the War of 1812 lake actions of frigates to schooners and gunboats?

    1. Hi Rod,
      Thank you.
      Ok, so as I outlined in the previous post looking at my reasons for running this scenario was to test out my thoughts around FDS, very much directed to refighting historical large battles, which despite my best efforts are difficult to do in a reasonable amount of time using Kiss Me Hardy, as demonstrated with the previous games of Trafalgar and Cape St. Vincent.

      With a turn representing ten minutes of battle in FDS, practically double that of KMH, the time compression means that a lot of firing could have happened in that amount of time and therefore a certain amount of abstraction to represent what might have happened is inevitable, so for example, raking fire accounts for the extensive damage from that kind of attack but also the close in exchanges of fire that likely occurred as the ships passed close to each other during and after the rake.

      Hence the damage ratings Worn, Light, Medium and Heavy work really well around that time compression and abstraction as we found out with our playtest, that allows more battle to be fought in actual game time, as well as putting the players firmly in the roles of Admirals, rather than junior commanders and commodores with the focus on command and control to get the fleet/squadrons in the best formation to fight.

      As far as my smaller squadron and single ship actions that I've been working on, then I would still use KMH as a preference, where the time is less of an issue and the granularity of opposing ships being worn down in battle is all part of the narrative of a ship's captain or commodore, and I would include the Great Lakes vessels in that small action category.

      That doesn't mean you couldn't use FDS for those small actions, as David points out in his Introduction to the rules, with previous play-testers doing so for a speedy resolution of campaign game frigate encounters, but on preference I would use KMH or even David's other set Form Line of Battle for those kind of games.

      I hope that helps