Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ancient flats

In more ways than one. These Egyptian, Nubian, Greek et al figures are getting on in years. Their provenance is uncertain, but looking at them brings back memories of the grainy black and white photographs from the pages of the Featherstone classic "War Games". In particular the battle of Trimsos between forces from Hyperborea and Hyrkania.

The Greeks are the most numerous, with a solid phalanx of hoplites, supported by smaller units with cavalry on the wings.

They have very few light infantry, unlike the coalition assembled against them who have swarms of Nubian and Egyptian archers, javelins and slings. What really catches the eye are the elephants and chariots.

The skill of the painter in making these two dimensional figures look 3D has to be admired. I did have some problems getting the focus correct when photographing these flats and so have not really done them justice.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Mayhem on the Mississippi

The home-made ACW ships had another outing last week. The scenario was that a Confederate force was gathering at Knot's Landing with a view to disrupting Union operations further down river. At the core of the Confederate force were the ironclads Raleigh, North Carolina and Manassas, and they were supported by four wooden ships, (General Beauregard, General Polk, Water Witch and Little Rebel), plus the torpedo launch David. The anchorage at Knot's Landing had been strengthened by the construction of a battery on Fisherman's Neck, a peninsula of land which jutted out into the river opposite the small island of Rogers' Folly. The battery dominated the narrow passage between the island and the eastern bankad this gave the Confederate commnader the confidence to allow the crews of the Raleigh and North Carolina a little R & R at the local hooch parlour, a decision he would come to regret.

Having discovered the location of the Confederate force the Union commander decided to act swiftly and gathered a force of two ironclad monitors, (Catskill and Saganaw), three wooden ships,(Donnelson, Shenandoah and Sumpter), and the tinclad Potomac. He raised his flag in the Hartford and set off up river ordering the Potomac to take a mortar barge in tow to help shell the new battery. His plan was to use the ironclads to engage the battery and shield the wooden ships as they passed up stream. Once above the battery the Hartford would land a force of marines to destroy the Confederate base and burn any ships at anchor.

Alerted by lookouts down river the Confederate commander ordered his ships to raise steam; only to find that the engineers for the Raleigh and North Carolina were still absent. Sending a platoon of guards off to retreive them he called upon the captain of the Little Rebel and ordered him to tow a fire raft out into the channel and then release it to float down and disrupt the Union fleet.

As the Union fleet moved up river the Potomac moved towards the eastern bank and cast off the mortar barge to begin its bombardment of the battery. As the first shells began to fall they were joined by more from the monitors as they came into range. he battery's response was not effective, only light damage being sustained by the Catskill as it sailed past. Of more concern to the Union commander was the lack of manouevering room between Fisherman's Neck and Rogers' Folly. He therefore ordered the Sumpter to pass between the island and the western bank. What he failed to notice was that a string of mines or torpedoes) had been laid across the channel.

Meanwhile the Catskill had now passed the battery and began to fire on the Little Rebel. The captain of the Little Rebel decided that it was now time to release the fire raft and withdraw and therefore did a quick turn to port and cast the raft adrift. Just when he needed full control the captain of the Catskill found that his steering had failed. As the raft approached the Union engineers frantically worked away, but the rudder refused to move. The damage control crew went on deck and prepared to put out any dangerous fires as the raft bumped along the hull of the Catskill. Luckily for them only small spots of tar and cotton fell on deck and they were quickly dealt with.

The Saginaw behind them was not so lucky. The captain's attention was fixed on the raft and he failed to spot the David approacing from the cover of Fisherman's Neck. The David's captain deployed the spar torpedo, ordered full speed ahead and braced himself for the explosion.

As the torpedo struck the explosion was followed by a huge jet of water and then dull red flames as fires began inside the Union vessel. Within a minute another explosion rent the vessel asunder and she slid beneath the waves. The David did not escape unscathed. Shaken by the force of the explosion she became the target for the wooden Union vessels sailing by and was pounded to pieces.

Just then a further explosion was heard, this time from behind Rogers' Folly. The Sumpter had struck a mine. In true Farragut style the captain had taken a chance on the mines being faulty; he had not been lucky, the explosion tore a large hole in his bow and as his ship slowed to a halt to aid damage repair it was rammed by the Water Witch. The Sumpter could not survive this second shock and sank. This was not the last of Water Witch's victories. As the Donnelson moved past on the other side of Rogers' Folly it was fired upon by Water Witch and one of the shells penetrated the magazine and the Union ship was destroyed in an instant.

With three ships lost, the day seemed to be going against the Union fleet, but the Confederates were still trying to get their two ironclads moving. If they remained moored in the anchorage they would be sitting ducks. It was then that the decision to bring the mortar barge began to pay dividends. In quick succession three shells fell directly on the battery, knocking out one of the guns and causing severe casulaties amongst the crews.

With all of the Union ships now upstream of his guns the battery commander decided to withdraw and the gun teams were called forward.

The Confederate ironclads had gun crews on board and began to fire on the Union ships. The Hartford was hit and had its steering damaged, just as the captain ordered it to move towards Fisherman's Neck to land the marines. A long range artillery duel began. Meanwhile the General Beauregard and General Polk tackled the Catskill. Although they suffered damage they did manage to damage the Union ship's engines,reducing it to a floating battery. Emboldened the captain of the General Beauregard decided to ram the monitor. The wooden ship steamed forward at its best speed and crashed into the Union vessel; seemingly to little effect.

However, some damage must have been done because the Catskill seemed unable to hit any target, even at point blank range for several turns. As the General Beauregard backed off it became clear that it had suffered considerable damage in the ramming manoeuvre. Whilst the damage control parties worked to repair the bow, the Sheandoah steamed past firing a point blank broadside. This was too much for the Confederate ship and it sank.

At long last the first of the Confederate engineers returned to Knot's Landing and began to prepare the Raleigh for casting off. As the Raleigh moved forward it began a gunnery duel with the Sheandoah. Meanwhile the General Polk was exchanging shots with the Hartford. In an unequal duel the Confederate ship began to suffer damage and finally succumed to a full broadside from the larger Union vessel.

Down river the Water Witch was now engaging the Potomac. The latter vessel had successfully seen of the ironclad ram the Manassas, but as it moved out into the main channel a shell from the Water Witch started a fire on deck. Desperately, the crew rushed to extinguish the flames and eventually succeeded. As the Potomac resumed its move up river it fired on the Water Witch. The heavier guns of the Union ship soon reduced the gallant Confederate vessel to a drifting hulk and the captain beached on Rogers' Folly.

The second ironclad North Carolina had now raised steam and it also mved out to attack the Union vessels. The Confedrate commander felt confdent that his two ironclads were more than a match for the wooden vessels opposing him; a view encouraged when the Raleigh sank the Shenandoah and then moved alongside the Catskill.

Several point blank salvoes proved ineffective and Raleigh moved round beind the Union vessel. The North Carolina joined the fray and exchanged shots with the Hartford, causing minor damage. However, the Hartford's shots started a fire on the Cofederate vessel. This was extinguished, but the captain was concerned about the engine machinery. After several neffective salvoes the Catskill evenually hit the Raleigh, knocking out its engines.

With darkness falling the Union commander decided to move into mid river and try to sail down river in the daylight so he could avoid all the wrecks caused by the days fighting. For the Confederates, they beached the North Carolina and scuppered the Raleigh rather than let it fall into enemy hands.

The rules we use for these actions are very simple home grown ones (just over two sides of A4). They cover most eventualities, but for the mortar barges firing is by rubber band rather than dice. That is the player throws the band as you would on a hooplah stall, trying to 'ring' figures or models.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Eastern Front

Before the report on our latest SYW battle I must correct something from the previous blog. The company which manufactured the fences I bought at the Stoke show is Ironclad Miniatures, not Ironclad Games.
One of my regular wargames opponents has recently increased his SYW Russian army by investing in some more cavalry regiments. To give the new 'lads' a run out, a scenario was drawn up whereby a Russian force had invaded eastern Prussia and Frederick had responded by gathering up a force to oppose them. The Prussian response had forced the Russian commnader, Saltykov, to take up a defensive position where he could take advantage of the renowned fighting qualities of his troops. The position chosen by the Russians was a steep ridge(requiring one full move to ascend), with a wood and village on the southern end and a church on the northern end. A stream rose near the centre of the ridge and flowed westwards between steep banks, again requiring a full move to cross. The western slopes also had areas of ground impassable to formed troops. Behind the southern end of the ridge was a ruined village. For the Prussians to be victorious they needed to capture either both villages, or, one village and the church.

This is a general view of the centre of the Russian line. It was supported by two field batteries and one howitzer battery. The southern end of the ridge was held by a brigade of grenadiers with an attached light gun. The church and churchyard were garrisoned by the first battalion of the Schusselburg regiment plus a light gun, with the second battalion and both battalions of the Ingermanland regiment in support. In traditonal style the flanks were held by cavalry, both wings having a mix of heavy (horse grenadiers/cuirassier), light and irregular units. A regiment of dragoons were held in reserve.

Frederick decided that he would use his favourite tactic of an oblique attack. His army was divided into two forces. The northern (left) would attempt to pin the enemy right and centre, whilst the bulk of the army (right)would attack the enemy left. This would mean tackling the brigade of Russian grenadiers, but Frederick was confident that his units of Guards would be up to the task.

The first task for the Prussians was to defeat the Russian cavalry to protect the flank of the infantry advancing towards the ridge. The Prussian right swept forward, led by the Von Reusch Hussars, who had little regard for the Kalmuck troops facing them. Goaded by the Kalmuck archery the hussars got ahead of their supports and the Russian cavalry commander sensed he had a chance to attack the hussars in flank.

He ordered his cuirassier regiment to wheel to their left end then charge. The future looked bleak for von Reusch, but in the nick of time (lucky initiative dice) the Garde du Corps charged forward and caught the Russian cuirassiers in flank. In no time the Russian cavalry were in retreat and the Prussian elite cavalry surged forward believing that the Kalmucks in front of them would be no match for them. However, it was not to be. Already disorganised by the melee against the cuirassiers, they suffered casualties from the archery of the Kalmucks who then stood and defeated them in melee. So, the pride of the Prussian mounted arm, fled to the rear and played no further part in the battle. This victory bought only a brief respite for the Russian left flank cavalry as in quick succession the horse grenadiers were caught and defeated by the Von Buddenbrock Cuirassier and then the Kalmucks were driven from the field by Von Reusch. Unfortunately for the Prussians, the hussars lost command and pursued their opponents off table being lost for the rest of the battle.

On the northern flank the Russian cavalry advanced and the cuirassiers led the way, supported by a regiment of horse grenadiers.

On the right of the heavy cavalry were the light cavalry, a regiment of hussars plus one of Cossacks. Opposing them were two regiments of cuirassiers and two of hussars, one of which was a frei hussaren unit. The first clash was between two units of cuirassier with the Russians victorious. As the Prussian regiment fell back the Russian commander decided not to exploit his victory, he may well have been wary of becoming isolated, because he advanced the horse grenadiers to cover the flank of the cuirassiers.

As the cavalry clashed on the flanks, the Prussian infantry moved forward supported by their artillery. The Prussians were not having things all their own way. The Russian artillery was inflicting heavy casulaties on the packed ranks and half of the fusilier brigade tasked with pinning the Russian right flank infantry fell back, having to be rallied by Frederick himself and led back to action. The other brigade in the 'pinning' force was also suffering, not helped by having to manouevre across the stream directly in front of the howitzer battery. In spite of their losses they were pushed forward, encouraged by the scathing remarks of the commander of the Guard infantry. The activities of the Russian light infantry added to the problems of the attacking Prussians. Pandours and jaegers made full use of the broken ground, proving adept at picking of guardsmen and then pulling back into terrain where they could not followed.

The Russians did not have things all their own way. The Prussian artillery began to take a toll on the front line of Russian infantry and the grenadiers were forced back from the edge of the ridge into the cover of the village. Seeing the threat to his left, Saltykov began to lead troops to that sector, thinning out his right. But he had another problem, Prussian cavalry was beginning to probe around the ridge. If they moved to the rear of the ridge he would have to find troops to defend his rear, thinning the line defending against the Prussian infantry even more. He therefore moved his last cavalry reserve to block the Prussians and supported it with the reformed, but now depleted, horse grenadiers.

On the Russian right the cavalry combat continued. The Prussian cuirassiers had now reformed and faced the Russian cuirassiers and horse grenadiers, but the decisive action would take place between the light cavalry forces. The Prussian hussars defeated their opponents and taking the initiative (via a lucky dice roll), attacked the flank of the horse grenadiers. They broke after a short, but bloody melee. Their fellow heavy cavalry, the cuirassiers were also defeated and then routed by the pursuing hussars. Now both Russian flanks were defeated.

Saltykov deployed more units to cover his rear.

The Prussian cavalry continued to advance,pushing back the Russian dragoons and horse grenadiers. To their rear they could see the Prussian left flank cavalry advancing, they were in a trap.

The day was lost for Saltykov; his infantry held the ridge for the moment, but with no cavalry, the only option was to attempt to retreat.

In the post action discussion we decided that a revision was needed to the initiative rule in Konig Kreig. In a Prussian - Russian action with Frederick present the Prussians have at least a plus two on initiative, enough to almost guarantee a win. Even with a strong Russian position this was a decided advantage. Therefore in future, the msximum initiative advantage would be +1 for the Prussians