Monday, 24 September 2012


We seem to be in a phase of looking at various rule sets at the moment and this week we tried out the "A Good Dusting" set for the Sudan.  The scenario was based on the action at Kirkeban, with an Imperial force under the command of William Earle attempting to capture a village held by the Madhists.  Even though the Imperial forces were outnumbered, Earle had detached a flanking force of three battalions plus all his cavalry to attack the enemy whilst his artillery supported by a few companies of HLI pounded their position and occupied their attention.  It was a high risk strategy given the mobility of the Madhists and their considerable numbers.  To the left centre of the Imperial position was a zariba with two machine guns, a detachment of Naval infantry and the hospital corps; supported by a battalion of Indian infantry.

The Madhists occupied three hills forming a ridge facing the Imperial position.  Their best troops, the Beja, were in the centre, covering the village, whilst the Arab troops covered the flanks.  The Madhists lacked any artillery and had few cavalry.  Initially, their orders were to hold their position and wear down the infidels with rifle fire.

Earle's flanking march did not get off to a good start.  His lead unit, the Light Horse strayed into rifle range and suffered heavy casualties from the Arab riflemen occupying the rocky hill to the right of the Madhist position.  Quickly seeking cover in a palm grove the remaining cavalry dismounted and began to fire at the Arabs, but a combination of the long range, rocky cover and reduced numbers meant that the fire had little or no effect.

In the centre the main Imperial artillery battery, supported by two machine guns was having much more success.  The Zanzibari riflemen suffering more casualties than they were inflicting and one unit fell back and had to rallied by the Madhist commander.  Realising that he needed to relieve the pressure on his centre, the Madhist general ordered his right flank to attack the Imperial zariba.  Although they suffered heavy casualties crossing open ground, Arab rifle  occupied two rocky mounds close to the Imperial front line and began to shoot at the machine gun crews.  Understandably, this 'put them off their game' and the main body of Arab swordsmen  closed in on the Imperial defences.

Inside the zariba, every soldier able to stand was called forward to man the defences as a second body of swordsmen broke cover and headed for them.  A breathing space was gained by the actions of the Indian Army battalion from Bombay.  Their measured volleys drew one of the Madhist groups towards them and then as the range shortened, inflicted such heavy casualties that they never charged home.

The colonel in charge of the zariba had sent a young lieutenant off at the gallop, to inform Earle of the attack and request assistance.  When he received the message, Earle had immediately ordered two battalions to countermarch to support the left flank and ordered the commander of the Egyptian battalion to advance slowly towards the enemy right firing volleys to pin them down.  His cavalry were by now involved in a protracted melee with the Madhist cavalry and he hoped they had enough sense not to set off in a madcap pursuit.

Now came the crisis of the battle.  Seeing the fire from the zariba weakening the Madhist commander ordered forward his Beja troops, sensing that they would reach the Imperial defences before Earle's men could intervene. Covered by the remaining Zanzibari riflemen the mass of fighters surged forward.  The Imperial artillery fire was too weakened by losses to slow down the Mahdists and they crashed into the zariba defences.  Red-coated infantrymen stood shoulder to shoulder with their comrades from the Royal Navy and desperately tried to force the forest of spears back.  But the Madhist tide was relentless and step by step the Imperial troops were forced back into isolated clumps of fighting men.

By the time Earle's men reached the zariba it was all over.  The Madhists had pulled back, leaving only the dead and dying.

We found the rules fairly easy to use, but a couple of aspects didn't seem to work well.  Firstly, it seemed no more difficult to shoot deployed gun crews than close order infantry; nor did we find a modifier for shooting at skirmishers.  This meant that the Arab riflemen's fire on the gun crews quickly reduced their effectiveness.   Secondly, the morale (Pluck) test did not get more difficult as losses mounted or rounds of melee were lost.  This enabled the Arab horse to remain in melee with the British cavalry for several moves and allowed the Madhist left flank to redeploy to cover the village.

These results may have been unfamiliarity with the rules or just an example of 'eccentric' dice rolling


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Montrose moves north?

Back in March we re fought the Battle of Inverlochy and last week we looked at a 'what if?' scenario in which Montrose moved north up the Great Glen instead of south and had met the forces of Seaforth near Fort Augustus. 
Seaforth's forces were more numerous 8 units of foot, (of which two were raw) and three of cavalry, but his heavier artillery were delayed by the terrible condition of the roads.  He also had a unit of Campbells and some archers.   Montrose was hampered by having his clansmen 'foraging' in the surrounding countryside and so was left with his elite Irish foot and two units of Gordon foot plus three small units of cavalry and an ultra light gun.  Seaforth's job was simple, destroy Montrose's army.  Montrose had to hold his position and then under cover of darkness use one of the two available roads to slip past Seaforth's men. The umpire controlled the arrival of the Covenanter artillery and the clansmen.

 Montrose deployed his men with the Gordons in the flanking villages, the Irish in the centre and the cavalry in reserve. Rocky, wooded terrain made any outflanking manoeuvre by the Covenanters extremely unlikely.  Having taken command of the Covenanter army and knowing about Montrose's use of terrain to spring ambushes I sent the Campbells to my right and the archers to my left to investigate the woods. I decided to attack on a broad front to exert pressure along Montrose's line and held back the cavalry to either 1) exploit any gaps created by the infantry, or 2) help shore up my flanks from the anticipated attacks.

The attack moved forward slowly, taking time to deploy.  Fire from Montrose's line inflicted casualties, but, once the infantry got sorted themselves out they halted and returned the compliment.  Lady luck seemed to be smiling on me because, even though the Irish had a higher fire factor I managed to achieve parity in causing casualties.

On my left the archers pushed into the woods, but suffered casualties from  the Gordons and also some snipers.  Home's regiment moved to attack the village on Montrose's right but although they reached the boundary of the village they were repulsed. They were then counter-charged and began to give ground.

On my right the Campbells had reached the woods when suddenly the first of Montrose's clansmen appeared. Pausing only to fire a volley, both sides rushed forward into melee.  The battle swayed back and forth, but eventually the Campbells prevailed.  Forgetting any notion of following orders they set off in pursuit of their defeated foes and paid no further part in the battle.

As the prolonged fire fight in the centre dragged on with casualties mounting on both sides, pressure on my left increased when another unit of clansmen appeared there and I moved two units to support Home's regiment.  Their movement took them across the front of my cavalry just as the first signs of a loss of command appeared in the Irish foot.  This would have been the moment to launch a charge, but my own infantry were in the way!

The covenant infantry on my right had eventually reached a position where they could charge the village on Montrose's left.  At first the Gordon foot (the Strathbogie regiment) held their ground against superior numbers and summoned up  their reserves.  These should have decided the matter in Montrose's favour, but Lady Luck decided otherwise and against the odds the Gordons routed.

At last my heavy artillery had arrived and with the threat of further casualties to his centre Montrose decided that he should withdraw, covered by his cavalry.  My infantry in the centre were too battered to move forward and it took time for the cavalry to come forward, so the action ended.  Neither side achieved their objective, but unlike the Covenanters, Montrose would find it difficult to replace his losses, particularly to his veteran Irish foot.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Freeman's Farm Mark II

After the experiment with the "Black Powder" (BP) rules a few weeks ago, we decided to try the same scenario with the  'British Grenadier' (BG) rule set.  The troops were set up in the same way, three brigades per side and we used the same terrain.
When we started moving the units one advantage of BG became apparent, there was none of the rather eccentric moves which had occurred with BP.  The distance moved was not guaranteed, but at least units did move, even if they sometimes became entangled.  Units in line were twice as likely to pick up disorder markers  (by throwing a one), as those in column and militia units were twice as likely to pick up disruption markers (by throwing a one or two) as regular troops.  These markers could be removed by the unit remaining stationary; so immediately the commander has to make a decision whether to keep advancing or dress the line.  Brigades are allocated orders at the beginning of the game, but these can be changed in the light of events (if you throw high dice, that is).
Units only begin to suffer casualties once they have three disorder markers, so two regular units standing at long range exchanging volleys are unlikely to achieve a decisive result.

The rules reward properly planned co-ordinated attacks by several units and the maintenance of good order.  That being said the element of chance is always present.  Both sides committed themselves to a cavalry charge against an isolated infantry unit.  In one case the dice decided that the British infantry were so unnerved by the American horse that their volley was totally ineffective and the resulting melee ended with the British routing. When the British cavalry charged the American volley emptied 25% of the saddles and the shaken horse lost their impetus and the melee.  Just for good measure they were hit by another volley as they fell back.

In the post game discussion BG seemed to be the preferred set, though I think that a few more games will be needed to make sure that we grasp all the basics of the rules.

Painting figures has taken a back seat after the rush to get units ready for the Borodino game; but I have managed to finish these TAG Russian artillerymen I picked up at the Gauntlet show.

Over the weekend we visited a Heritage Open Day event and watched a living history demo by the Sealed Knot.  The 'Knot' did a superb job getting the youngsters interested in history.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Velletri 1744

This is an interesting battle from the Austrian campaign against a joint Neapolitan and Spanish army in Italy during the War of Austrian Succession.  The scenario is based on an attack on the town of Velletri by an Austrian force under the command of Marshal Browne.  The objective was to capture the King Charles of Naples, the enemy commander, who was based there. 
Browne had two brigades of regular line infantry (8 battalions), 4 battalions of grenadiers and two battalions of Croats. In addition he had one regiment of Horse Grenadiers and two light battalion guns.  Charles' forces were more numerous, but varied in quality from grenadiers to second rate line. In the pictures you will see that French, Swiss, Irish and Saxons played the part of the joint Neapolitan/Spanish army.  The activation of the bulk of Charles' force (and him as well) was decided by a dice roll and just for extra spice, the umpire threw a few unexpected twists into the mix.

We began with Browne's force almost at the gates of Velletri, having routed a unit of cavalry back into the town. On a ridge close to the gate were the battalions of Irish in Spanish service.  Browne decided to attack them with his grenadiers and then move his line battalions round their flank and into the town.  Perhaps this was his first mistake as it meant his best troops were not leading the attack.  However, forward went the grenadiers against the Irish.  To the left of the Irish was a unit of Dragoons, to prevent them interfering in the infantry action Browne ordered his Horse Grenadiers to attack them. This they did, pushing the Spanish horse back into the broken ground below the walls of the town.  Just as the Austrian cavalry commander was reforming his men ready to attack the flank of the Irish foot, he was informed by an aide that the Spanish horse had returned, and were now moving around his flank.  Changing face again the Horse Grenadiers re-engaged in melee with the Spanish and although they had the best of the ensuing fight they were drawn away from the main action for some time.

The first unit through the gate at Velletri was one of the Croat battalions, closely followed by the second.  Browne's orders had been specific; one battalion was to advance down the main street, the second on the street to the right.  Both units were to make a swift march and meet at the town hall, where Charles was reported to have set up his headquarters.  If possible they were to seize Charles and hold the building until reinforcements arrived.   March discipline as far as the gate to Velletri had been excellent, but once inside the gate, some men took the opportunity to slope off in search of plunder.  (This was one of the umpire's 'extra's').  With numbers reduced by 25% the Croats moved forward.  Now a second 'extra' was revealed.  Some rather reckless plundering had started a fire.  Alarmed, residents took it upon themselves, to start firing at the men in the streets, assuming they were the enemy.  Detachments would have to be allocated to 'suppress' these locals.
The Croat unit which was to advance down the street to the right of the main street became emeshed in a fight with elements of the town watch and a light battery which was covering the gate.

At this point the dice favoured the Spanish/Neapolitan commander as both the reserve brigades, plus the grenadiers passed their activation test.  So troops began moving to seal off the Austrian attack.  Dice also roused Charles from his cups, the Mayor of Velletri, being the proud owner of an excellent cellar; (at least until yesterday).  Helped by his aides and pausing only to empty the last goblet, Charles joined his escort of Hussars and galloped off down the street as the first element of the Croats approached the Town Hall.  The bird had flown, but Browne didn't know that and continued to feed men into the town.  He was hampered by the determined resistance of the Irish battalions.  They had driven off one grenadier battalion with over 50% losses and were trading volleys with the other three. One of the Irish battalions was driven off the ridge by a determined charge by the Austrians, but that battalion then suffered heavy losses from a devastating volley and had to fall back.  The balance was pushed in the Austrian favour by the eventual return of the Horse Grenadiers.  They charged one of the Irish battalions from the rear and destroyed them.  Reforming, they faced the final Irish battalion, now much reduced in numbers.  An officer rode forward under a white flag with the intention of offering the gallant Irish terms.  He offer was rejected with disdain by the knot of men gathered round the battalion colours.  They stood their ground, firing a weak volley as the horsemen moved forward, but although they fought like demons the action was a foregone conclusion.  For the Austrians it was a Phyrric victory.  The grenadiers battalions had suffered heavy casulaties and would take no further part.

In the town pressure was increasing on the Austrians.  A brigade of Spanish troops, including grenadiers was advancing up the main street.  To their right another brigade, supported by a heavy battery was threatening to capture the gate and trap the Austrian units.  To the left of the main street a third brigade was threatening the Croats tackling the town watch and light battery.

When Browne reached the gate he realised that the game was up.  He ordered the units to fall back in an orderly manner.  However, by the time the last units fell back pressure meant that order was lost and Spanish pursuit was only checked by the Horse Grenadiers.

This was a very enjoyable small action, with plenty of unexpected twists.