Saturday, 22 July 2017

Missing: One Armada

I mentioned before that I had made a bit of a return to the “renaissance” side of wargaming, and had started to track down and re-base some toys to yield an Elizabethan army. As yet the question of their enemy has been left unresolved. The English, in the time of Elizabeth T., fought the Scots, French, Irish and Spanish, and allied with Scots, French and Dutch. In anticipation of deciding on an enemy, I have purchased supplies of plastic card for further adventures in basing.

The toy soldiers are quite old, Irregular 6 mm. I note that Irregular do still make them, which is gratifying in case I need any reinforcements. On the other hand, I find that having a table 80 cm square means that I no longer have to worry about increasing the sizes of my armies. Twenty bases or so is the maximum I need.

The downside of this, of course, is that while looking through my stocks of “renaissance” armies, I came across some interesting forces. I discovered 16th Century Poles and Muscovites, for example. Immediately my wargamer’s mind’s eye was away thinking about sweeping cavalry moves. Fortunately the spasm passed, and I continued with the job in hand, that of searching for a navy.

This is where the story gets a little odd, or at least, where I start to show my considerable age. I had, years ago, a number of “renaissance” (a horrid and inaccurate term, hence the scare quotes) navies, from both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (There you are, by the end of the seventeenth century the early Enlightenment was well underway; renaissance it wasn’t). I also recall having said navies in various scales, all of them fairly small.

The fact of the matter is that I cannot find most of them. I have put them away somewhere safe, evidently. I have searched in my cupboard and in the crates of deeper storage, but of Armadas and seventeenth century Anglo-Dutch wars fleets there remains no sign. I think I must be getting old.

Still, I did find some nice-ish fleets which are next on my list of things to do. So far as I can identify them, they are Hallmark 1:2400 scale galleys and galleons. And very nice they are as well, it seems to me. I do not even seem to have painted them too badly. A few have been dismasted during our last house move (which was over a decade ago – I have been away from the “renaissance” for too long), but no serious damage was noted on a cursory glance.

The Estimable Mrs P was sympathetic (or, possibly, was humouring the old fool) and immediately offered to buy some reinforcements for what I had found (now you know why she is the Estimable Mrs P), but, rather to her surprise (and, in fact, to mine) I demurred, saying I had better check what I had already. Fortunately, again, for me, they seem still to be in production. I had better try to work out what they are before splashing out and lumbering (yes, wooden ships) myself with more painting.

Anyway, I am not sure that you really wish to hear about my struggles with memory and small ships. The question which arises with the Elizabethan era, of course, is whether the Armada could have succeeded. This is a tricky question, and something that is surely worthy of a wargame or several. The problem is, where to start.

Initially, there is the Spanish strategic dilemma. Phillip II of Spain was presented with two rather good plans for invading England. One, by the Admiral, the Marquis of Santa-Cruz, envisaged a direct assault by a fleet with an army on board launched from Spain. The other, by the Duke of Parma, Phillip’s preeminent general, suggested a lightning strike by the army of the Netherlands across the Channel. This, of course, gave Phillip a dilemma. Which plan should he choose, and who would he upset by doing so?

In the event, the plan was an amalgam of the two. The Armada, with an army on board, would sail up the Channel and escort Parma’s army across it. This did have the advantage of providing protection for Parma’s troops on the crossing, and requiring a less powerful army to be dispatched from Spain, and hence a smaller Armada. However, it did require decent communication between the fleet and the army, which is something that has often been notoriously difficult to establish, even with modern communication networks. Secondly, of course, the Spanish immediately lost the element of surprise which Parma’s plan envisaged.

Of course, we know how it turned out. Parma could not board his troops and get them into the Channel in the time the Armada was on station, and he had no inshore fighting craft to escort them past the Dutch vessels anyway. Secondly, as with all invasions of Britain, the Royal Navy only really had to remain in being to thwart it. The Armada was not sent out to fight the English navy, nor was it equipped to. The defeat of the English navy was not part of the plan. If Parma could get his men ashore, then the navy would surrender along with the rest of the country.


So, even ignoring the English land based resistance options, we have some interesting scenarios here. There is, of course, the Armada as history records it. We could see if it does any better than the original. But then as wargamers we have at least two counter-factual scenarios, plus one where the two are combined but independent. This latter one is intriguing. The English were not made of ships. If the Armada had assaulted, say, Plymouth, it would have drawn a fair bit of the English navy to the south-west, possibly leaving the way open for Parma to slip across and land in Kent. I am not sure how this would have gone, but having the bulk of the English army still in its home counties would be a positive boon in these circumstances, I should think.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Danger! Books at Work

Many wargamers, I should think, realise that reading books is dangerous. Not, I suppose, dangerous per se. There are more dangerous hobbies than wargaming or reading, or even reading and wargaming together. Base jumping, I believe, has the highest fatality rate of any hobby. Similarly, sky diving, parascending, white water swimming and all of these things are fairly risky to life and limb. Wargaming risks are trivial by comparison.

Nevertheless, reading books is, I submit, dangerous to wargamers, or at least their mental health, bank balances and the size of their unpainted lead mountain. I have just encountered a case in point. For me, the trigger was Charles Carlton’s This Seat of Mars (Yale, YUP, 2011). This is a discussion of war and the British Isles 1485 – 1746.

Those of you who are avid readers of this blog (are there any of you?) will recognise that I have a split wargaming personality. Part of me is an ancients wargamer, never happier than when flinging a pike phalanx against the bunch of legionaries to see what happens. Part of me also is a ‘renaissance’ wargamer, which is a terrible term for the period in question, but which happens, roughly, to be covered by Carlton’s book.

I have read another of Carlton’s works, a long time ago, ‘Going to the Wars’, which was about the experience of war in the English Civil Wars. Historiographically, Carlton is following John Keegan’s ‘Face of Battle’ lead, and trying to understand, from the evidence, what it was like to go to war at a given time. Adrian Goldsworthy does a similar sort of thing for the Romans in ‘The Roman Army at War 100 BC – 200 AD’ (Oxford, Clarendon, 1996). In fact, it is rather hard to find in military history at the moment, a historian who is not doing something like that.

Going to the Wars, however, was not my favourite book on the ECW, and I do not have a copy. This is probably a bit unfortunate, but the problem I have with Carlton’s work is that there are occasional mistakes and errors in it, which bother me. These are not typos or grammatical errors, but mistakes of fact, and it seems to me that if errors of this kind are made in areas which I do know about, then what errors in areas I do not know about are getting past me?

I cannot recall the particular problem in Going to the Wars, but I do have an example from This Seat of Mars. On page 126 Carlton states ‘Charles dispatched Prince Rupert to capture Newark so as to secure his lines of communication with his northern army under the earl of Newcastle’. This, of course, is referring to the situation in early 1644. The problem I have with this is that it is incorrect: Newark was already held by the Royalists, and was under siege. Rupert was dispatched to raise the siege to secure the line of communication north, and even then, he did not use it to raise the siege of York but went via Lancashire.

Now, I am probably being pedantic and picky, and certainly should not write the whole book off because of one, probably fairly minor, error of fact. But the problem is that I find them fairly consistently in Carlton’s books, or at least the two I have read. It undermines my confidence in what I read, which is a pity.

That said, I do like Carlton’s book, although some of the things he tries to do are, he admits, speculative at best and pure guesswork at worst. Such activities, like trying to estimate the number of dead in the various wars in the time frame, are worthy but unlikely to be anywhere near to right ball park. The point he makes, however, is that the number of dead in the British Civil Wars was almost certainly higher as a proportion of the population, that in the First World War. Yes, you read that right: the ECW (and the other bits) was more traumatic to the population than WW1.

This was particularly true in Scotland, and even more so in Ireland. The extremely rough estimates of the dead from 1641 – 1660 in Ireland are truly alarming. Mind you, the estimates from the Williamite wars are fairly eye-watering as well. Of course, many of the casualties are from disease and starvation, but even so, the depopulation of all three countries (and one principality) is shocking.

The thing that caught my imagination, however, was not the ECW and its colleague wars, but the wars of Elizabeth I. These are not usually particularly noticed by, well, anyone, really. We know a bit about the Armada, and possibly we are aware of Elizabeth’s Irish Wars, but overall, as Oman says somewhere, the second half of the sixteenth century was boring for warfare in England. Not much happened, there was little innovation and hardly any action.

Carlton demurs, and points to a range of evidence that Oman was wrong. Actually, he tries to overturn a range of historiography (mostly from the 1950’s and 1960’s) which pointed to Elizabethan armies being corrupt, inefficient and ineffective. He argues that, in fact, the Elizabethan militias were a lot more effective than they are usually given credit for, and the armies were not corrupt and inefficient. The Elizabethan state was poor and debt ridden. Elizabeth’s policies had to take account of this. For the Armada, for example, the trained bands (an Elizabethan innovation) were raised and then dismissed as the fleet passed their counties by. This saved a lot of money, but also still provided for a coastal defence force which would have been reinforced by the trained bands from neighbouring counties if the Armada had landed.



So, now I am interested. It helped, of course, that I could find a number of the works that Carlton refers to already on my shelves. I also have a range of already painted figures for the period. They need rebasing, admittedly, but they are extant, and chopping bases up and gluing them on has already started. Like I really need another project….

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Are You Sure They Should Be Black? Revision 1

Well, as vaguely threatened, I have revised my 1:3600 ancient galley rules. They are below.

Not that I imagine anyone will be particularly interested. Whenever I post about something naval the pave views crash. That probably says more about the interests of wargamers than anything else.

1 Models: The models are based on consistently sized bases, I use 20 mm by 10 mm, but I doubt it matters too much.

2 Ship types: the types of ship available are penteconter, trireme, quinquereme, hexereme and merchant. Penteconters are size 1, triremes and merchants are size 2, quinquereme and bigger are size 3.

3 Seamanship: each vessel will have a seamanship rating ranging from 1-6. This reflects the abilities of the captain and crew to manoeuver the vessel both in and out of combat. 1 is ‘which end of this thing goes in the water?’ and 6 is ‘Oxford and Cambridge boat race? Pah! Amateurs.’ If you want to assign seamanship randomly, it is best to use an average ide. The Athenians can get a +1 to this, because they practiced.

4 Formation: Ships can either be on their own or in formation. In a formation, the ships are in edge to edge base contact. The seamanship for a formation is the seamanship of the lead vessel of the formation which is usually the flagship.

5 Movement: Movement is at the rate of the slowest ship in the formation. Normal movement for an independent ship is three base depths (so, 60 mm in my basing system). Movement in formation is 2 base depths.

6 Formation Changes: Ships usually proceeded in line ahead, and then turned to line abreast for combat. This takes one command point to achieve. No ship may move more than its normal independent ship movement to achieve this.

7 Manoeuvre: ships not in formation can move in any direction is they have sufficient room. Formations may turn by wheeling; the inner ship remains stationary except for changing face, the outer ship moves its maximum distance towards the required direction, and the rest conform to that movement.

8 Combat: combat is by matched seamanship rolls. Each side adds to their seamanship a D6, and adjusts for tactical factors. In single ship combat the loser is rammed. In formation combat the loser’s formation is disrupted and the victor’s ships can close in and fight at an initial advantage. Transport ships cannot ram, but may defend themselves.

9 Tactical Factors: +1 having a larger formation; -1 facing more than one group (unless you have more than one group); -1 single ship facing a group; +1 per size difference between attacker and defender vessel (see #2); +2 victorious formation closing in; +2 ramming from the flank.

10 Outcomes: losers in ship to ship combat are rammed. Rammed ships are removed. Place markers where the ships are sunk, as ancient ships rarely sank except in rough weather; rammed ships were usually submerged. Ships may not cross locations where ships have been rammed and sunk. Victors will need to withdraw at least one base depth before resuming normal movement.

11 Command: each side receives 1D6 command points. An individual ship or formation costs 1 command point to start or stop movement. Each side may bid up to their total command points to obtain the first move in the turn. A turn consists of the movement of both sides and any combat.

12 Terrain: most ancient battles were fought near shorelines. Ships and formations next to shore lines (within one move of them) must make seamanship rolls (one per turn) to avoid running aground. Formations failing seamanship rolls are broken up and next turn the ships must roll individually. Individual ships failing seamanship rolls run aground and are stuck until a seamanship roll is successful; for each turn stuck, a 1 rolled on 1D6 indicates the ship is holed and it must be removed.

13 Reforming: formations may reform (or form ex nihilo) if all ships in the potential formation are not in combat. A formation takes 2 command points per ship to form. An individual ship may join a formation for 2 command points.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Battles I Have Known

It has recently been a little quiet around here. This is for two reasons, at least, two that I am prepared to admit publicly. Firstly, as I mentioned, I now have a semi-permanent wargame set-up, and have, therefore, been playing a few wargames. One of these has been the first outing for my ancient galleys and, hence, the first outing for my ancient naval rules. They worked quite nicely, if rather bloodily. Or at least, lots of rowers got wet. Ancient galleys tended not to sink, just fill up with water, so ancient rowers, who were not slaves in general, but well paid professionals at least in Athens, and could swim, generally survived unless the seas were rough. This of course was assisted by the fact that most naval battles took place fairly close to land.

An interesting aspect of this is that the sea battle was fought in the context of my 360 BC campaign, and the fleets were the Persians against a bunch of pirates, with a couple of Athenian galleys supporting them. This is a bit awkward in context, because the Athenians have just agreed to a treaty with the Persians, and used their army to bully the Corinthians into repudiating their newly signed treaty with the Persians. It could all get a bit interesting. Furthermore, I now have a campaign within my campaign as the Persians, having achieved their aim in the sea battle of being able to land their expeditionary force on the island, now face a land battle.

The second reason for the relative silence on the blog is that I have been on a road trip. As we chose one of the hottest days in decades to start this, it had its moments of considering that we were mad. Of wargaming relevance, however, was the number of battle sites we drove past. I have probably missed a few along the way, but these are the ones I noted along the way or just off:

The Battle of the Standard
Halidon Hill
Flodden
Doon Hill
Pinkie
Prestonpans

The interested reader can, of course, take note of where I started to take records, and, roughly speaking, where we were going.

The point I want to make is that history is all around us, if we only stop and take note. Stopping to take note is not something that modern society is particularly good at. It takes time, effort, knowledge, understanding and interest, all of which seem to be in short supply these days. It is far easier to rush on, to take in the next sight, or look at the next army in the lists and by the relevant Osprey.

In wargaming too we hurry along, for the next fad is waiting. We slosh the coffee in, not waiting to smell it. This presumably is how coffee shops can get away with selling such terrible coffee. The world waits for us, but it has to be mediated by a screen. I do see students doing the cartoon thing of walking into stuff and people because their attention is no their phones.

The problem here, in terms of wargaming, is that we only paddle in the shallow end of history. Yet interpretation is vital. After all, if Scotland were not Scotland with its history and culture, there would be no independence issue. That there is an issue is because over the centuries Scotland has been framed as an idea, a construct, a meaning, a nation. It is, to pinch Benedict Anderson’s phrase, an imagined community.

Granted the border is marked, but actually the grass is no different on either side. Nothing changes but everything changes; the change is in our heads. So, for example, I might paint the most wonderfully accurate figures for Thai armies of the 1490’s, and I might fight wargame after wargame with them, against historic foes with historic outcomes, and I will probably enjoy them, as I like wargaming. But for me the battles have little meaning. In context, this does not matter. I can create the meaning for myself – a narrative, an account of winning and losing. Is this not enough?

I suspect a Thai would attach different and perhaps deeper meanings to the wargames and armies. After all, Australia attaches a rather different meaning to Gallipoli than historians of the First World War do, or historians of, say, Canada. Foundational myths (in the technical sense of myth) are important.

Historiography gives interpretations of events. These are meanings of which the actors may well have been ignorant. Some actors do act self-consciously, of course, and attempt, in a sense, to impose their own interpretations on events. But history has the last word, or, at least, a series of last words.

Except in wargames, battles are rarely simple in start or end. The meaning of a battle is freighted with context, fraught with issues other than winning or losing. The English won at Pinkie but did not win the war. Anglo-Scottish hostility only really assuaged after the Scottish reformation, although English damage and destruction to the Scottish church and polity has some influence over events. However, the Scots becoming Protestant was the catalyst for improving relations.


I can, and have, wargamed Pinkie. It is an interesting battle. It has a naval contingent, a still largely medieval army facing a semi-modernised one, and desperate charges of men-at-arms against pike blocks. Its meanings are multiple, of course. There are questions of modernisation, nationality, state building, international relations and power, religion, winning and losing, chance, necessity and all manner of other factors. But which do we own? Which do we care about? And if we do, why do we care about them?