Saturday, 20 January 2018

All Gaul

There exists somewhere in Western Europe a bit of rather depressed graffiti from, I think, the Second Century AD, along the lines of ‘It doesn’t matter what happens, the Romans always win.’ From that perspective, of course, the graffiti is correct. Things might have looked a little different a century or so later, but from the First Century BC to the Second Century AD (don’t let us get all politically correct over dating systems) the Romans carried all before them.

The reasons for Roman success are, of course, many and varied. According to their own accounts they did win more battles than they lost, but the historian has good reason to suspect that these accounts are a bit biased, with any losses being rather glossed over. A second reason is that the enemies of Rome were, in general, rather divided. This some Gauls cheered Caesar on in defeating other Gauls, who were their enemies. This probably made life a bit easier for the former, but ultimately they were subsumed into the Empire just the same.

Thirdly, there is the fact that Roman armies were professional. Thus they could be in the field earlier than tribal armies, and stay there longer. If the tribes were not to starve, spring planting and autumn harvesting needed to be carried out, and the manpower cannot both be in the field and on campaign. Further, the logistical capability of most tribes was not great. Supplying an army in the field was a major operation, which successive nations, armies and generals have failed to do down the ages.

All of this means that, over the three centuries of interest here, the Romans did, indeed, win. But it also makes things a bit awkward for the wargame rule writer. If the Romans win, then why bother wargaming at all? Indeed, it does seem to me that, despite all the interest in the Romans, the period is rather under-wargamed, often being dismissed as boring, as the Romans always win.

The topic has been brought to my mind by JWH’s blog, Heretical Wargaming, where the author has played a number of Romans against Gauls scenarios using Polemos: SPQR and ‘An Introduction to Wargaming’ rules. This has led to the question of whether the Gauls can ever win a wargame against the Romans. And that, of course, implies the question as to historical accuracy and what that might mean.

My first ever set of wargame rules was for ancients, and included a rather strange rule by which a Roman legionary, throwing a pilum, got an enormous plus on their dice roll. Indeed, for some time the pilum seems to have been regarded as a sort of super-weapon, which can disable an opponent and make them vulnerable to a sword thrust, even if not killing them outright itself. Slightly saner counsels have prevailed since then.

My second brush with ancient rules was DBM, on the one occasion I visited a wargame club. I was put in charge of some Roman legionaries awaiting the onslaught of a Gallic army. My co-general pointed to the Roman cavalry and said ‘They’ll win the battle for us; that lot,’ indicating the legions with a wave of the hand ‘are useless.’ The cavalry lost their battle and the Romans vaporised in about half an hour.

When I came to tackle SPQR I knew that there was a balance to be struck. The Romans should not be too good to win without breaking sweat but, on the other hand, they should not be so poor as to be mere speed bumps to a tribal charge. This is, of course, a rather tricky thing to pull off. The point, however, is that the Romans did not have it all their own way, but there must have been some purpose in dragging those legions over the whole of Europe and the Near East.

I am not claiming that SPQR does this balance perfectly or even, perhaps, adequately. But at least the problem has been identified. Reading the sources, mostly Caesar, Josephus and Tacitus, indicates a couple of things fairly clearly. Firstly, the Romans, while reporting their victories, do admit that they sweated a bit in achieving them. Secondly, that when the tribal armies won, they tended to do so from a position of ambush. Thus the Germans and the Jews both obtained startling victories from ambush.

Straight up, toe to toe slogging matches tended to go the way of the disciplined, well supplied and professional army that could, and did, relieve its front combat troop regularly. Tribal armies, which did not do this, tended to exhaust their front rank troops and lose. Thus, it seemed to me in writing, and still does on reflection, that the tribal armies either win big and quickly or lose, perhaps a bit more slowly but comprehensively. If the Romans can stand the first charge, then they are likely to win.

I have, of course, tried this out. For the Gauls and their ilk, the problem is in the timing. You have to get close enough to the Romans to charge them, without being too close to be advanced into. It is a difficult balance to strike, and, if you can manage it, victory, while more likely, is by no means guaranteed. For the Romans, the requirement is to break up the tribal foot into manageable portions and defeat them in detail, preferably without being charged.

I have no idea whether these options are historical or not, but they seem reasonably likely. A further advantage is that it does remove the view of the commanders of tribal armies as mindless beasts who only knew enough to wave their swords in the general direction of the Romans and shout ‘Charge!’ What we do know of tribal commanders is that they were no worse than the Roman generals, knew their troops and, in some cases, were trained by the Romans in command themselves.  The word ‘barbarian’ after all, simply means ‘non Greek speaker’.

As I said, I have tried this out a number of times and yes, the Romans usually win. The most spectacular victory for the Gauls was from ambush, where they not only won big, but practically wiped the Romans out. On most other occasions the Romans managed to grind out a victory, especially if they can dispose of the opposing cavalry first.

Historical accuracy is, of course, moot. But I hope that I have managed to obtain a balance between the ‘plus six because they are Romans’ camp and the ‘really the legions are speed bumps’ view. The generals on both sides knew their troops and, often, the enemy, and went about their jobs as best they could. At least we owe them the respect of taking their tactics seriously.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

The Abbeys Campaign

Don Pedro, count of Vina Soro, turned away from his scrutiny of the coast and allowed a thin smile to grace his lip. Caught napping, he thought. Even from this distance he had seen the thin smoke from camp fires rising from behind the castle tower, but the blaze of the warning beacon was only just going up.

A man approached, feet padding on the deck planking. The stays creaked. ‘My Lord, the men are in the boats’.
‘We await your order, my lord.’
Don Pedro nodded. ‘One moment.’ He looked across the deck. ‘Father?’
‘My Lord.’ The black clad priest looked around.
‘Do you see that?’ Don Pedro pointed to the ruined abbey high on the hill over the harbour. ‘This evening, if God wills it, you will celebrate Mass there.’
‘The Lord’s will be done, my lord.’
Don Pedro glanced around. The men were truly in the boats, looking nervously at the shore and around them at the bulk of the ships towering over them. The messenger cleared his throat.
Don Pedro looked at him, at the shore and back again. ‘OK,’ he said, ‘Let’s go.’


The singing swelled in the evening sun. The chill of the wind was keener here, on the top of the hill. Don Pedro sat back and shut his eyes. In the sombre chanting of the Solemn High Mass his mind drifted over the events of the day: the scramble down the netting into the boat; the pull to the shore, with puffs of angry smoke from the battery on the harbour wall; the splash through the wavelets onto the beach. He could still feel the sand of England between his toes. He really must change his socks.

The English had not put up much of a fight. Only a militia unit in the village and a couple of cavalry squadrons had even really tried. From his position on the right, Don Pedro had watched with professional incredulity as the English troops from Whitby had failed to deploy properly and had then been thrown into confusion by a well-directed volley of arquebus fire from his own men, just landed on the beach. After that the English had just seemed to melt away, leaving the harbour to the armada. By lunch time the first of his ships had docked, unloading horses onto the quay for the waiting gendarmes, who would be very glad to resume operations several feet above the waves.

The voices swelled in the gathering darkness. The first proper Mass for fifty years was reaching its climax. Behind, Don Pedro could hear a crowd of curious English people, townspeople from the port, crowding into the back of the shell of the church. The mayor, when he had come to make his peace, had explained that the place had fallen on hard times when the abbey had been dissolved. Now the people hoped for better things.

Well, maybe, and maybe not. Such hopes were beyond Don Pedro’s remit. So far he had done his duty to God, King Phillip and the Duke. There would be more and harder fights ahead, he had no doubt. But for now he could rest content with a good job done.


The picture shows the situation at the end of the action (a picture. Of soldiers. And on this blog, too. Whatever next? Some decent pictures, probably, but that won’t happen).

This is from the right rear of the English position. Whitby town is in the right foreground with the harbour to the right. The English command position and trained band camp is left middle. In the distance you can see the English cavalry and Sandeford militia fleeing. Sandeford (Sandsend, as it is today) is in the distance, and the second wave of Spanish has just hit the beach. The Armada is, of course to the right, in the sea.

This is the view from the other side. Don Pedro (with the yellow flag) is in the foreground just to the left of Sandeford. Sneaton Castle and the English camp is in the middle. The big red cannon in the foreground is the tempo marker. The English general is just beyond the blue coated fleeing trained band; he was trying to untangle the Whitby militia march column before it got taken in flank by the Spanish. As you can see, he failed.

The figures are mostly Irregular, although the untrained militia are Baccus. I am not sure of the provenance of the tempo marker, although I think it might be Baccus. The buildings are a variety of sources. I think there are some old Hovels cardboard buildings, some old Baccus resin ones (the hovels and one of the churches in Whitby), plus some Timecast Saxon buildings. The naval guns and crews on the harbour wall are Langton Napoleonic models. The Armada vessels are 1:2400 Hallmark. The harbour walls are Irregular's Aztec causeway, and the ship in harbour is Speaker in 1:1200, but I am not sure which manufacturer, Navwar probably. All of it terribly assembled and painted by yours truly.

And so to some pondering:

I was quite pleased as to how the game went. The rules, for all their incohateness (is that a word) seemed to work quite well, although there is some nuancing to be done. The Spanish showed a remarkable propensity to get and keep the tempo, which slowed the English reaction and deployment, and secondly a startling ability to throw a six when the English threw a one. On the other hand, they did show more aggression than the English. The demi-lancers refused to charge so, in the next bound, the Spanish sword and bucker men under Don Pedro’s command simply advanced into them and the demi-lancers fled (on a 6:1 roll). A similar thing happened with the staves also seen fleeing in the pictures. The only real resistance was from the Sandeforde militia, who held off the elite dismounted gendarmes for a couple of turns.

The nuancing of the rules is mainly in the army morale. I worked out a neat way of downgrading performance when morale drops without completely destroying the army, by the wavering level indicating that all advance orders are switched to hold. Thus the army hesitates when things seem to be going against it.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, although I confess that the battle was fought on the feasts of St Stephen and St John, not on Christmas Eve night. You might wonder about the campaign name. I have just invented this. The idea is that the next battle will be fought at the next dissolved abbey inland which is, I think, Guisbrough Priory. All right, technically it is not an abbey, but it was wealthy and one of the bases for the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

The (First) Battle of Whitby

‘twas the night before Christmas,
And all over the house,
Nothing was stirring,
Not even a mouse.

Except for a wargamer and a few figures, of course.

With the estimable Mrs P. rushing around large parts of rural England like a mad thing, the scene was set for that rarest of all things in these parts, a full blown wargame. I realised, a few days before, that my role and function as ‘he who keeps the home fires burning’ entailed myself being in the large room stoking the aforementioned home fire.

This activity usually precludes pushing any metal around on a table. But astute readers will have noted, earlier in the year, the acquisition of a card table, for the purpose of playing wargames. Now the neat thing about card tables is that they, by design, fold up and are moveable. They also do not take up that much in the way of footprint when unfolded and set up (deployed, in this case, perhaps).

My slow and rather addled brain (it is the time of year, honest) eventually managed to place two things together, and a plan was hatched to move the card table into the big room, thus enabling both the continuation of the home fire and opening the possibility of a wargame.

Now, some of you may recall that I have, for some time, been rebasing figures (and painting some as well) and writing rules for an Elizabethan period wargame, based around the question ‘what could have happened if the Armada had landed?’ Not feeling quite up to the normal suspension of disbelief that a full blown Armada landing in, say, Kent would entail, including the intervention of Alien Space Bats to remove the English and Dutch navies from the frame , I have gone for a rather smaller frame which does have the advantage of being, perhaps, a little more believable.

Of course, if the Armada had landed, we would be discussing very different scenarios, and a set of counterfactuals along the lines of ‘what if the Armada had not landed?’ This would have entailed the pondering of the English succession of Elizabeth had remained on the throne and whether that Shakespeare chap could have written any decent secular plays, given his employment as a propagandist for the Catholic Church. A discussion of the role of alien space bats in removing the English navy would have also been necessary.

As yet, the wargame has to be fought. I do have, however, all the figures, ships, buildings, markers and rules that I think I need. Indeed, a major industry recently chez Polemarch has been the manufacture of markers. I am a fan of markers. I like all the information required for the wargame to be on the table. I rather dislike having to keep tallies lists off table. Aside from anything else off table frequently seems to become on table, and scratty bits of paper become terrain features.

It turns out that I am even more pedantic than that. Not only do I dislike keeping rosters and other things on paper, I also dislike the recording of unit status and orders with bits of plastic markers, counters, casualty caps and other such items. A marker, it seems to me, should fit with the game. Sticking a plastic hat on a lovingly painted figure (or even one of mine) seems to me an aesthetic disaster, albeit a rather popular one.

My rules are, of course, based on the Polemos camps, although as yet they are inchoate and but a few scrawls on paper. Nevertheless, Polemos does require a certain quantity of book keeping. This is true even though I have attempted to simplify things, as I have removed training classes, which yields fewer combat factors and also any requirement for colour coding bases to tell us if they are raw, trained or whatever. However, tempo, orders, recoils, shaken and disruption due to terrain markers are all required. Thus the recent industry in producing markers of all sorts, the final set, a couple of tempo markers, have just been stuck to their bases.

For PM: SPQR (and, for that matter, PM: Age of Alexander) I have shaken markers consisting of a half width base with a casualty figure placed upon it. This is all right for Ancients, I think, but it does feel a little ghoulish. Thus I have made simple plain green painted markers. The recoil markers are half the width of the shaken ones; in the Wars of the Counter Reformation rules two recoils give one shaken result, so the recoils need recording and a certain amount of accounting needs to be done. The half-half width of the recoil markers gives a clue, at least.  After some comments about how combat shaken and terrain shaken are conceptually different things (I agree), I now have disruption markers for the latter, which are shaken markers but painted brown. I did not manage to work out what sort of terrain item I could place on them like a casualty figure, so I simply went for a different colour.

I discovered when rebasing the figures that I had a large quantity of single mounted officers and small infantry command groups. These are now the tempo points and orders markers. When the side rolls for its tempo points, a group of these are placed by the general’s base as a visual sign of the number of tempo points available. They are mounted on small triangular bases (actually a base width square, cut diagonally) and can then be moved directly to indicate to orders assigned to a particular base or group of bases, the point indicating, where appropriate, the direction of march.

Finally, after a play test, I decided I needed a marker to indicate which side holds the tempo. This matters as, in case of a bidding draw, the side which currently holds the tempo retains it. Previously, I had had to write it down, along with the tempo points, bids and remainder.  As I mentioned, I have just completed the tempo markers, in this case some nice, big cannon.

I now think that I have markers sufficient to contain all the information required to pick up and put down the wargame as necessary. This might not, of course, work quite as well for a face to face game when some information, like the number of tempo points to spend, might be required to be kept secret. However, for me, I think it works, and does not disrupt the aesthetics of the game too much. I shall find out in a day or two.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Britain and Europe 1500 – 1780

Now, there is a title to get many British people, anyway, who are politically engaged, hearts racing. Or, more likely, the whole electorate have been bored and turned off by the whole load of manoeuvrings, political chicanery, public posturing and occasional rants on live television. Still, it keeps journalists employed and gives some of our more dubious politicians something to think about other than mugging old grannies on the streets for their pensions (they steal it by other means instead).

Inevitably, the post is about a book, and that book is Houlbrooke, R., Britain and Europe 1500 – 1780 (2011, London: Bloomsbury). It appears to be part of a series of four, tracking the development of relations between Britain and Europe. Of course, there are objections to this idea, some of which are tackled. For example, we could argue that Britain is part of Europe, and so any discussion of the relationship should be conducted on the same grounds as, say, Europe and Germany, or Europe and France. Fair point, conceded, but geography alone dictates that Britain, the scattered archipelago North West of continental Europe interacted with some bits of the continent more strongly than with others.

Houlbrooke develops the book in three chunks – 1500 – 1603, 1630 – 1707 and 1707 – 1780. The astute among you will recognise that the divisions are caused by, in the first place, the union of the crowns of England and Scotland and, in the second, by the Act of Union itself. Both of these were, of course, significant for Britain internally and, as British power increased during the eighteenth century, had an increasing impact on Europe and the rest of the world.

The chapters start with a narrative section of the era under consideration. This is followed by political, economic, diplomatic, cultural, technological and scientific changes and interactions between Britain (Houlbrooke excludes Ireland, the island, from Britain, on the grounds of culture and, after the mid-sixteenth century, faith) and the rest of Europe. A few points stand out. Firstly, Britain as a trading nation was not isolated from Europe, even after the end of the Hundred Years War and to loss of Normandy and Gascony to the English crown. Scotland too had strong links to France, the Low Countries and, more than England, Scandinavia. James VI’s wife was, after all, Danish.

Secondly, one of the key events in British history was the passing of the Navigation acts in the seventeenth century. This does, of course, go against the free trade grain, but it established the English merchant marine as the carriers for trade, slowing easing (or violently easing) other nations out of colonial, Baltic and Mediterranean commerce. The Protectorate recognised that doing this required a blue water navy capable of protecting overseas colonies, factories, trading bases and commercial shipping. This ensured the ultimate success of the maritime empire. As a flank power, Britain was nearly unassailable while other countries, the Dutch included, had to watch and defend their land frontiers as well.

Thirdly, the formation of the Royal Society was very important. This might seem a bit dull, but the Royal Society provided a forum to exchange and development of ideas of all sorts. Thus technology, for example navigation aids, fell within the Society’s remit. It was also an open forum. Many of its fellows were non-British, and so news about innovative ideas, inventions and discoveries tended to be funnelled through London.  The Royal Society, in some part, provided the conditions for the industrial revolution.

Fourthly, eighteenth century Britain was intensely nervous about two things. The first was the Hanoverian connection, which meant that Britain engaged in European warfare of which Parliament was, in part, very suspicious. Secondly, there was a good deal of nervousness regarding the Jacobites, again especially after the Hanoverian succession. There was also a rather surprising gap in warfare of about 20 years due to an agreement between Britain and France to get on with life and not fight.

From a wargamer’s point of view, of course, the book is a bit of a dead loss. There is little information about the details of battles, for example, or armies, campaigns, weapons or tactics. It seems to surprise some wargamers, at least, that there could be anything interesting beyond these things, and yet, somehow, there is. Of course, much could simply be dismissed as unimportant ‘social history’; the quote marks are meant to suggest a wargamerly curl of the lip in a sneer.

And yet the wider context of history and development is important. The context sets the conditions of the historical wargames we play. The decision of the Elizabethan government to fight a strategically defensive war in 1585, and to stick to it through until 1603 sets the conditions for western European warfare, as well as diplomacy and commerce, throughout the later sixteenth century. The Protectorate decision to create a blue water navy, initially to fend off threats from the newly Royalist naval elements from 1648 had an impact that would be felt through until 1815 at least. And so on.

The point is, of course, that no war, no battle can be divorced from its historical context. Britain lost the war of the colonies, of course, but in doing so bankrupted France and set the conditions for the Revolution which destroyed ‘Old Regime’ Europe. It also set the conditions for British maritime and financial supremacy, because the British maritime fleet dominated trade with the former colonies. The point is that the conditions were then set firstly for the naval blockade of Europe and, secondly, for the British financing of the various alliances that fought against the various French regimes.

Of course, ignorance of the above does not stop us sticking toy soldiers on the table and having wargames, and nor it should. But more engagement with the broader themes of history should give us a better context for our battles; enable us to see why some battles took places at some points between some sides, and not others. I suspect that, if we decide not to engage in this, we may well miss out on how enriching a hobby wargaming can be.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

A Christmas Present

In keeping with a spirit of giving, I am offering a present here.

To spoil the surprise, it is a draft of the Polemos: Age of Alexander rules.

I emphasise draft. as in unfinished, incomplete, lacking in finesse and liable to change. I suppose I should mention that this is done with the support, nay, encouragement of Mr Berry, the guru of Polemos, perhaps in the vague hope that it might encourage the author to actually finish the rules and get them published.

But if anyone is interested enough to have a look, please do. Just remember they are only worth what you paid for them.

Further, if anyone is interested in play-testing them and reporting back, so much the better. Comments to me here or, perhaps, better, to the Polemos Yahoo! group.

If the link works (I've never linked another document in a blog post before), I might even post the Wars of the Counter Reformation rules as well, if anyone is interested.

And a Happy Christmas to you.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

French Cavalry

I must firstly apologise to all those wargamers who saw the title of this post and clicked on the link expecting to find pictures of beautifully painted Chasseurs-a-Cheval or hussars, or something of that nature. This is not the blog for you.  I rarely post pictures of anything because my painting skills are not up to being photographed. Mind you, my painting skills are matched in their paucity by my photographic skills.

Those of you who are used to the style of this blog, or who have waded through the first paragraph whether-or-not may be rewarded by a few nuggets about French cavalry, of the period of the French Wars of Religion, 1562-1598. It is, to me at least, somewhat surprisingly interesting.

Now the French state, between the dates stated, did one of those amazing falling apart things that only the French really seem to have been capable of. It is not that the state disintegrated, nor was it particularly heavily invaded, it just sort of paralysed itself, and existed in a state of hostility for decades, sometimes as civil war and sometimes just as barely concealed armed hostility. After much chaos and confusion, not to mention a few battles and large scale death and destruction, Henry IV became French king and everyone went home.

The interesting thing about this, from a historical wargame perspective is the development of the French cavalry arm during this period. At the beginning, everyone was a gendarme, and rode en-haye with a lance to smash the peasants who dared to stand up to their social and military superiors. By the end, cavalry were deployed in smaller blocks, deeper formations and used more firearms. The development seems to have been via the caracole, a deep formation of cavalry (often German reiters) relying more heavily on firearms.

For a number of years I have had a puzzled relationship with the caracole. The idea, basically, is that the horsemen sacrifice mobility and shock for shooting in ranks at the enemy with whatever firearms they had to hand. The front rank fired, turned to the left, the next rank fired and so on. Assorted people are quoted in stating it could be quite effective, but why on earth did cavalry adopt it, even for an apparently short time?

A caracole, properly conducted, could be quite scary. ’a man could see nothing but fire and steel’ a contemporary reported. On the other hand, it is also reported that the whole formation could go ‘bang’ at the same time, from too long a range to be effective, with the rear ranks simply shooting up in the air. Presumably discipline and training had something to do with it.

The reason for the adoption of the caracole seems to have been two fold. Firstly, dealing with solid blocks of pike was not that easy. The French had proved, in the Italian Wars that gendarmes could charge through pike block without winning the battle, and at high cost to themselves. Standing off (or, in the case of riders, sitting off) and shooting at the pike probably seemed like a viable option.

The second reason is that, of course, reiter type cavalry were cheaper than gendarmes and a relatively dense block of them could disrupt and defeat a thin line of lancers en-haye. Once in confusion the gendarmes were just as vulnerable as anyone else and possibly more, as the lance is rather a one shot weapon, while swords and pistols can be used again, even in the same combat.

So the evolution of the French cavalry comes down to money, in the end. Henry IV was permanently cash-strapped and missed several opportunities to finish the civil wars because of it. His cheaper, lesser nobility cavalry were less well armed than the royal gendarmes (who tended to be the higher nobility) and needed more time off to replenish horses and arms. However, they did a good battlefield job.

French cavalry also developed lighter (and cheaper) horse, chevaux-legers and arquebusiers-a-cheval. These gave Henry IV the opportunity to conduct a war of lightening marches, striking at the enemy when they were not expecting. The light horse were the scouts and could form the flank of the cuirassiers. The mounted arquebusiers could fight mounted or dismounted, providing the rest of the horse with a solid firepower base to perform either defensive fire duties of soften up the enemy for an attack. Henry IV developed a hit and run style or warfare, suited to his limited resources.

So, what of wargame terms and wargame rules. Well, obviously, the interaction of lancers and reiter types needs to be pondered. In general, a deeper formation of reiter could disrupt and defeat lancers charging en-haye and, really, there was no other tactic suited for lancers. So, unless the lancers get lucky, the reiter is the way to go.

On the other hand, the reiter is not so clever when it comes to dealing with solid foot formations. Mind you, nor is the lancer, but the key is in the terminology. In favourable circumstances the reiter can use the caracole before closing in with the sword to finish the infantry off. If not then, of course, they are not in particular danger from the latter – infantry cannot outrun cavalry. Further, in Henry IV’s ‘equestrian’ army the reiter can call upon the mounted arquebusiers to dismount and give the infantry a hard time, while hovering to dissuade the enemy from closing in. as with so much of military history, combined arms operations come to the fore to win.

The reason for the post is not a random wander down a back land of military history (although it may be that as well). Academically, there is debate over the military revolution of Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus of Sweden. There is an argument here that some of their innovations were not that new. Henry IV got there first. Secondly, there is an impact on the way wargames of the period should be played, and their rules written. How do we model these interactions?

Love, R. S. 1991. ""All the King's Horsemen": The Equestrian Army of Henri IV, 1585-1598." The Sixteenth Century Journal 22 (3):511-33. doi: 10.2307/2541473.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Sandwich Anyone?

Sometimes, when you are a bit of an omni-reader, as you have probably guessed I am, synthesis appears, as if sprung to life as smoothly as the meshing of gears on an Austin Riley. One such meshing has just happened, and so I am dashing along here to tell you all about it.

Of course, it being about matters maritime I very much doubt if anyone is going to be particularly interested. There is something very odd about naval wargaming, in that very few people actually seem to be interested in it at all. Given that Britain has a ‘great naval tradition’ and that the Unite States still has, I believe the biggest and most powerful navy in the world, this seems a little strange. Various navies and nations, over the years, have taught us that geo-political and strategic power is often most usefully and easily projected by naval forces. In short, the dictum of the British Empire still applied: If in doubt, send a gunboat.

Yet I can verify, in my own blog statistics that if I write a post about matters naval, the number of hits (which is never great at the best of times) crashes. For example, whereas a post titled ‘Project Wargame’ got over 230 hits, one updating the world on my Armada project got about 80. I admit that this is neither a scientific sample nor a statistically convincing one, but it does strike me as being a little, well, odd. Are naval wargames so unpopular?

Out there in the blogosphere of wargame matters things seem to be similar. Few posts on blogs that I occasionally look at seem to mention matters maritime. It is, of course, entirely possible that naval wargamers have better things to do than blog about their projects, rules and battles, but it does seem a bit weird, not to say, landlubberish (if that is a word).

Now, each wargamer to their own, I concede. But I did, a few years ago, have terrible trouble establishing anything very much about the navy in the English Civil War. There was, at that time, one book on the subject I believe, and it spent most of its time proving that the navy had won the war for Parliament. I suppose that you need a radical hypothesis like that when you are attempting to show that something largely un-regarded in fact mattered.

The navy did matter in the ECW, as I am sure that some of you are aware. Without it being in Parliamentary control the Royalists could probably have made a better fist of the war than they did, with increased access to foreign imports of, say, gunpowder (which they often seem to have been short of) and mercenaries. Some supplies did get through, of course, especially after Rupert captured Bristol. Henrietta Maria, of course, is famously the only British Queen to have landed in the country under naval bombardment (and she went back to find her dog, as well). But have you ever tried to find wargame models of naval vessels of the 1630’s? I do not believe they exist.

Now, the symbiosis of my reading matter came about in this wise. I read History Today magazine and, in November’s issue there was an article on the Battle of Sandwich. I am sure that you all know that this was fought in 1217 between the English and the French. William Marshall, the English Protector of the infant Henry, was struggling to contain a French invasion and baron’s rebellion.

The English had made a fairly good start in defeating the French and others at Lincoln, and so, in order to carry on the fight, the French needed some reinforcement. This was collected by the French Queen (I don’t think she did it personally, mind you) and dispatched. The English got wind of this and intercepted the French fleet, somewhere off Sandwich and Dover. Either good fortune or a nifty bit of sailing gave the English the upper hand (or the weather guage)and the invasion fleet was defeated. The French already in England were thus left with little option except to return home.

On my shelf I have a book by Susan Rose called ‘England’s Medieval Navy’. It is a nice book, with plenty of colour illustrations giving a good impression of the very little that is really known of medieval ships, shipping, mariners and naval warfare. Having the book available was a happy accident and I have just finished it. The point she makes is that naval operations in the medieval period were, largely, logistical, in support of or, in fact, landing armies. Thus Berwick Upon Tweed was an important harbour for invading Scotland, and the Channel ports, on both sides, could be vital targets for raids and jumping off points for invasions. Only a few full blown naval battles occurred, of which Sandwich / Dover was one.

Whether Sandwich was a battle ‘more important than the Armada’ is a judgement I do not feel qualified to make. The author of the article was fairly sure that it was, claiming that if the French had succeeded, England would have been a fief of the French crown and history would have been different. Possibly, but the English barons were a fairly fractious lot at the time and France itself was the victim of a fair number of collapses of Royal authority through the medieval period. History would have been a bit different, perhaps, but it is a bit hard to see Sandwich as being that decisive.

From a wargamer’s point of view, it would be a nice battle to fight. It would be different, visually stunning if you can get the heraldry right, as the ships were brightly painted and bedecked with banners, and even the rules would be reasonably straightforward, as the fighting was similar to that on land. The only drawback that I can see is that there are few, if any, suitable wargame models available.

I did once, a long time ago, read an article on medieval naval wargaming advocating using half-walnuts for the cogs. I have no idea if it would work and my modelling skills are not up to it. But it would, at least, be something different to try out.

Sandwich anyone?