Sunday, 28 January 2018

Battle of Istrana December 26th 1917 - Wings of Glory

Italian and British soldiers examine a shot down two-seater DFW part of the Austro-German force that attacked Istrana airfield

Battle of Istrana

Introducing two members of the Devon Wargames Group, Colin & Chris, who had only very limited experience of Wings of Glory. So we began with a one on one scout duel by way of firming up on the rules for manoeuvre and firing. On the one side was an Albatros DIII and this was opposed by a Hanriot HD1. An even fight until Chris drew a boom card. OK enough said:) By which time both players were more than competent with this part of the game.

Next up – A scout to escort a two seater on a photo recon mission. Pretty straightforward – the two-seaters had to get within long range distance of a marker, pick it up, then run for home.

On one side a Breguet 14, escorted by a Hanriot HD1; on the other side an Albatros DIII escorting an Albatros CIII. Both players were very quick to learn the two seater rules, but having succeeded in the race to the photo recon mark, Chris again picked up a boom card, this time for the CIII. Well done Colin.

OK so a quick run through the bombing rules and training over. Down to the real business of the

The Battle of Istrana
Borrowed from Andrea Angiolino who kindly permitted the use of his scenario (at least, I think it is his). The details can be found via the following link:
Wings of War Forum

The set up was pretty much as Andrea outlined, except this game was played over three mats instead of two. Two Hanriot HD1s flanked by three targets on the local Italian aerodrome. Plus a supporting Sopwith Camel that happened to be in the area when along came some Austrians & Germans, seeking to bomb the airfield in revenge for an outrageous Christmas Day attack by a certain William George Barker!

The Austrians/Germans force consisted of one Gotha V bomber carrying two bomb loads; an Albatros CIII carrying a single bomb load; both escorted by an Albatros DIII. (Note: Historically not accurate but see the link for the explanation).

The moment the Austro German force began their attack, directly towards the target area, the Italians attempted a flanking manoeuvre, whilst the Camel was more direct.

The attack was strong enough to force the Gotha and the CIII to break right and one of the Hanrios and the Camel quickly got onto their tails.

The fighting at this point was very fierce with the Gotha, in particular, having to soak up a lot of fire
power. However, the rear gunner proved very effective, so that, when the DIII scout came to assist, the result was to force their two enemies to break off. The Hanriot was exposed to some lethal gunnery and was shot down!

Meanwhile the Albatros CIII flew on and successfully bombed the first airfield target, destroying a
number of aircraft on the ground. It then returned to help its comrades, attacking the Camel that had
continued to harass the Gotha. The combined fire from the two Austro/German bombers was enough to overwhelm the hapless Sopwith. Revenge was exacted and the Camel spiraled to the earth.

At this point, one would be forgiven for thinking that the Austro German flight had done enough to end the fight. But not at all. Although the Gotha went on to successfully bomb one more target (the third and last being missed when it over-ran the target) the plucky surviving Hanriot HD1 pilot would not give up. Oh yes! The Gotha went down, when the unfortunate owner drew his third boom card of the day – OK Chris, so we have all had days like this :) Congratulations to Colin!

But hold it one second. The Austro German mission was pretty much a success. So despite the bloodbath, it was decided that on this occasion the Austro German force had won a marginal victory.

Congratulations to both players.

My thanks to Jonathan Jones for the splendid pics.


Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Trent Affair - Pickett's Charge

RMS Trent is stopped by the USS San Jacinta

Historical Backdrop to Scenario
The Trent Affair

In November 1861 the RMS Trent set sail for Great Britain with two Confederate States of America
envoys and their families. Their names were James Murray Mason and John Slidell. Their mission was to persuade GB to recognise the CSA.

The times of sailing and destination were well known to everyone and on 8th November 1861 the Union Steam Ship USS San Jacinta, under Captain Charles Wilkes , intercepted the Trent and after a little bickering between Trent’s captain and Wilkes’ first officer, Slidell and Mason handed themselves over to the Union officer.

This was fairly universally liked by the citizens on the USA. However it soon became apparent that a
major diplomatic storm was brewing and Lincoln eventually let Slidell and Mason go and they continued on their mission to GB. Their mission was, as we are all aware, unsuccessful and GB decided not to recognise the CSA.

The fallout from the Trent incident was that the GB government carried out an extensive review of the British military situation in Canada. They were appalled. They had 3000 British troops plus the Canadian Militia. The artillery was old and in terrible disrepair and most of the powder was damp and unusable.

In December 1861 GB dispatched 11000 troops plus batteries of artillery and various fresh munitions. At the same time plans were drawn up to invade the USA although no physical preparations were made.

What if?
This game was set up on the premise that GB had, in fact, recognised the CSA. Canada was now secure from US invasion and it was decided that GB could now play a more direct part in assisting the CSA.

The British have now sent “Military Advisers”. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, “there are no British
combat troops in America. You now know better. The advisers have been set up at a farm somewhere
in Virginia and have the first two CSA regiments under training. The British troops consisted of two line regiments, riflemen, a battery of Whitworth guns and two squadrons each of light and heavy cavalry.

At this point Allan Pinkerton managed to find where the training camp was and, more surprisingly for the Union, got the numbers correct. He had to get something right at some point after all. Lincoln
immediately ordered McClellan to destroy this camp and force the British out. McClellan dispatched his very best division. These units were well trained and considered to be elite for the purposes of this
game. This force consisted of three infantry brigades each of five regiments with their own artillery plus a cavalry brigade of two regiments.

The confederates knew that this force was on its way and sent their own forces to reinforce the training camp. This force consisted of two infantry brigades each of five regiments with their own artillery plus a cavalry brigade of two regiments. These troops were veterans but not yet fully trained.
This game was organised by me, Steve L  and our players were Mr Steve, Steve H, Steve M and …. Dave. But he did say his middle name was Steve so that was OK. The rules were Pickett's Charge.

Dave and Steve H took the parts of the Union troops whilst Mr Steve and Steve M took on the

Dave took the Union right with an infantry brigade and the cavalry and pushed forward over the hills
and through the woods heading for their target whilst Steve H, with two infantry brigades, moved up
the left in column and on the road, As he rounded a corner he was spotted by the British Guns. In
Pickett's Charge, Whitworth Guns fire using the effective table, even at long ranges. This battery opened fire and inflicted the first casualties of this encounter.

Steve H shook his units out into skirmish order. This was going to be the norm for all the troops in this game. Any units in line or column would quickly take casualties very quickly.

Meanwhile on the confederate side Mr Steve took their left with the smallest infantry brigade and the
cavalry and headed for Dave. On the right Steve M had the larger brigade and headed over the hills
towards Steve H.

The training unit was ensconced behind the walls and fences of the farm … waiting. Steve H pressed
forward in skirmish order, got his own artillery into action and forced the formed British units into
skirmish order themselves and they moved back from the fence lines to get behind the farm walls.
There was a general move forward on all fronts with Dave pressing his cavalry forward very quickly
trying to get to the farm before the confederate reinforcements got there. The first cavalry regiment
arrived and dismounted and moved forward into a withering long range rifle fire from British Riflemen.

The Union cavalry pressed on but they were no match for the well trained riflemen and decided to fall back out of range and wait for the infantry to arrive.

Steve H moved one brigade to the fence line on the extreme left and waited for Steve M to get there.
His other brigade moved towards the farm and there then ensued an exchange of fire that lasted the
game. Casualties mounted on both sides but nobody withdrew. Meanwhile Steve H’s artillery pounded away or rather became what Mr Steve calls self-exploding. Throw low and the rules put casualties on your own unit.

Meanwhile Mr Steve moved his forces forward towards Dave, his cavalry in the van. Steve M on the
right filtered his troops though the woods in skirmish order, his artillery moved around these woods.
As casualties mounted on both sides everyone was shouting for reserves. Now we could have
introduced them as Mr Steve had brought his figures with him, but if we had then we would still be playing the game at ten at night.

The game continued and the rates of attrition increased on both sides. Now a vagary of these rules is
that morale or “Elephant Test” only occurs at certain times and no amount of casualties brought this
into being. We checked and double checked the rule books but that was the way it was.

Mr Steve eventually managed to push the Union right back by force of his dismounted cavalry , infantry and British Riflemen. On the Union left Steve H was pressing forward and a duel was continuing with Steve M who was just about holding his own. Steve H pushed his other brigade towards the farm and was pinging away all the time. Lack of morale checks was proving to be a bone of contention for all players.

As we neared the end of the game, time constraints, Steve H charged into the farm and pushed the
defending CSA unit back. However, there, in front of his troops were British heavy cavalry who charged and forced them back. The cavalry pursued and cut them down to a man.

At this point we stopped the game. It was a well fought battle and it was the easiest game to umpire.
The rules were picked up very quickly as the Reference Sheets are pretty good. I gave the game to the
Confederates but then I may be slightly biased. Sorry Dave and Steve H.

It is not often you play ACW fantasy games. The British were just there in small numbers and I was not sure if I was going to continue with this “Intervention Force”. I am now seriously considering this. The intervention force may well include French from Mexico. I will look this at a future date.

At the end of the game we had a discussion about the rules. The consensus was that we liked the
command and control and movement of Pickett's Charge but Fire and Fury for the rest. Perhaps there is scope for having a mess around and see what happens.

I have been asked to list what figures, terrain etc. was used and where I got them so here goes:
  • Rule Set – Pickett's Charge 
  • British Troops - Lancashire Games.
  • ACW troops – Mostly AB but I have had these a long time and are now very expensive. I am now using Blue moon figures – Old Glory UK, 50% infantry command stands and a lot of the artillery are Blue Moon and they did not look too bad. . Mr Steve supplied the Horse Holders. 
At this point I would like to acknowledge the fact that all the troops were painted by Nick S and thanks to him.
  • Buildings Mr Steve brought from Pendraken. My own I got from and Hovels 
  • Trees, ploughed fields and other bits and bobs – were from Buffers near Axminster, a very congenial place and you get a cup of tea or coffee. This type of stuff is used by war gamers and model railway people. Yes I have that as well which I use with my brother.
  • Roads and Rivers – Search Fat Frank on EBay.
  • Snake Fences – also on EBay. Search 15mm snake fence.
  • Walls – I’m pretty sure they came from Pendraken and came ready painted but I can’t remember the link.
  • Hills – Not seen but were under the cloth were from Total Scenic Systems
  • Battle Cloth – Tiny Wargames
I hope all this helps but if you have any questions just drop a comment and I will try to help.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Kiss me Hardy in the Indian Ocean

How better way to start the new year and new season of wargaming here at the Devon Wargames Group than getting some well needed winter sun and setting sail for the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean in the year 1782.

I have plans for developing my Age of Sail collection going forward with ideas of focusing on the naval conflict that developed during the American War of Independence.

I find this period more interesting than the early nineteenth century that tends to be the favourite of most wargamers in that it saw the Royal Navy rise up from a period of stagnation and mixed competency, following the victories of the Seven Years War to become the overwhelming power that it would be in the following century with a corresponding leap in tactics and technology from Admiral Rodney, mentor to Lord Nelson, braking the French line at the Battle of the Saintes, to the introduction of copper sheathing and carronades.

My initial collection of ships has been built to model the fleets of Admirals Suffren and Hughes who battled for supremacy and bargaining chips in the Indian Ocean in the last years of the American War of Independence that had by then become a global conflict.

Some of the chaps were keen to play Kiss Me Hardy (KMH), the Age of Sail rules from the Too Fat Lardies and so I dug out my cards and gaming paraphernalia together with the ships and threw together a scenario loosely based on the Battle of Sadras 1782 which sees a French fleet of one heavy and one light squadron bearing down on a similarly sized British fleet having caught the British admiral at a disadvantage down wind and having to bear up in line to fend off the advancing French.

The British fleet nearest to camera in line with the French, having the wind gauge, bearing down on them 

As well as using the standard rules and card deck I decided to incorporate Nick Skinner's thoughts on Admirals, Command and Control and Signalling covered in his article "I wish to amuse the fleet" in the Winter 2009 Special.

Too Fat Lardies - Specials

Command and control during this period was dominated by the line of battle and the development of tactics and signals to allow admirals to better command the ships at their disposal.

I am often amused at the  recent developments in Age of Sail rule sets that treat these ships and fleets rather like WWI aircraft where the individual ships happily sail in amongst the enemy and dogfight with each other without any consideration of the strict rules of engagement that the commanders of multiple ships were forced to operate under, for very good reasons.

These fleets and their commanders did not operate as a group of frigate captains, making individual decisions on where to point their ships, but were forced under very strict rules of engagement to fight as ordered by the most senior man on the spot who, not having the helicopter like view that a wargamer enjoys, tried to make sense of what was happening and relied on his relay frigates to repeat his flag signals throughout his fleet to get control of the battle.

This aspect may frustrate many wargamers who like to be able to do things when they choose in the order they desire, but if like me and others you are interested in exploring why these battles weren't fought like many games portray them, then a little frustration is well worth it if you gain a better understanding of why Admiral Graves failed to fight his way into Chesapeake Bay and why Rodney's victory at the Saintes eight months later was so dramatic in the developments of tactics and thinking. Not only that but a greater satisfaction at overcoming those difficulties and triumphing in the face of them only adds to the pleasure of the game.

Admiral Suffren leads his squadron into the attack

I have put together a pdf of the scenario briefings together with the individual 'ship stats.' should others wish to have a go and will make them available on my personal blog, JJ's Wargames for download.

JJ's Wargames

The British line at quarters prepare to receive the onrushing French

So to our game which, as well as inviting the players to get their heads around thinking ahead so as to signal the fleet accordingly, we also incorporated the "admiral/captains purse" procedure where the respective commanders were invited to roll two d10 and use the points generated to improve the ships which I had randomly created from the guide within the rules.

The French swoop in on the British rear

This is a really clever way of simulating the likely training that the commanders of the squadrons and fleets would have conducted at sea on their way to the theatre they would operate in, not to mention having the ships under their command repaired and fitted out to their liking within bounds prior to going to sea.

Thus for example you could push the budget by spending 5 points to improve the sailing qualities of one ship or for 2 points train a crew up to be 'fervently determined' making them more likely to fight on than strike their colours.

As part of the command and control aspects I rewarded the French admiral's better command profile by giving the French two 'Commander's Signal' cards within the deck as opposed to just one for the British admiral.

The war in the Indian Ocean presented commanders with theatre-specific concerns in that casualties to crews were much more difficult to replace due to the fleets operating in a back water theatre and this fact together with the great reluctance of crews to surrender and face a death sentence in a prison camp on the Indian mainland, meant that both fleets tended to shoot into the hull than try to dis-mast and disable their opponents. Thus all firing was assumed to be at the hull.

The first French ships form line on the windward side as the rest look to get on the leeward side and double the British rear

With both commands set up and happy with their respective squadrons agreed, each having two, one of ships of the line and one light squadron, we shuffled the cards and began play with the scenario representing the afternoon of battle and thus just twelve turns for the respective sides to drive a result.

 Superb 74
Gibraltar 80
Eagle 64
Inflexible 64
Magnanime 64
Monmouth 64
Juno 36
Chaser 20

The French command soon identified an opportunity to swoop in on the rear of the British line attempting to use the wind to allow their three closest ships to move around the British rear and double up with their comrades shooting into both sides of the British line and leaving the van out of the action.

Heros 74
L'Orient 74
L'Annibal 74
La Severe 64
La Sphinx 64
Le Vengeur 64
L'Artesien 64
Le Brilliant 64
Cleopatre 40
La Subtile 24
La Sylphide 20

As the French close on the British rear, the British line commences a turn (red marker) in column to come about with the wind

Suddenly aware of this potential threat the British admiral signalled his line to turn in column with the wind to double back on the French looking to protect the rear most ships.

As the French closed the range to medium the British rearmost ships HMS Monmouth and Inflexible opened up a damaging initial broadside on the fast approaching enemy ships

Monmouth and Inflexible open fire on the French as the two lines start to engage, note three of the French ships attempting to get around to the rear

However when the French return broadsides erupted the French fire proved equally destructive and HMS Monmouth's foremast shuddered under the fire before toppling with the wind onto the starboard bow.

The better ship sailing qualities then came to the rescue of the two most rearward British ships as the French vessels trying to get around their rear only managed a few medium range shots before the British managed to extend the range and then the French managed to mess up their tack to get on a parallel course thus allowing the British to extend the distance still further.

HMS Monmouth loses her foremast as French roundshot rips into her hull at effective range

As Monmouth and Inflexible battled it out with four French opponents gradually getting the worst of the exchange but giving a good account of themselves in the process the van of the British line turned with the wind accompanied by the two frigates to head back and help their hard pressed comrades.

The French mess up their tack allowing the British line to move further away.

Despite the French failing to get three of their ships around the British rear the arrival of more French ships began to pummel the two rearmost British vessels and the French admiral prepared to signal his light squadron to detach and race over towards the battered British vessels and take them under tow.

Inflexible and Monmouth now badly damaged attempt to break contact and fall out of the line

With the French 40 gun frigate Cleopatre leading her two consorts La Subtile 24 and La Sylphide 20 towards the now struck Monmouth and badly damaged Inflexible, a race developed between the opposing light squadrons to reach the two battered British 64's first.
The British van arrives to help relieve Monmouth and Inflexible

However the prompt signal to altar course by the British now offered some hope of preventing the French from capitalising on their early success as the Flagship HMS Superb 74 accompanied by HMS Gibraltar 80 and HMS Eagle 64 started to come up on the French van with the British admiral signalling "to engage the enemy more closely" thus moving into short range.

HMS Juno throws a line to the now struck Monmouth.

The three British ships opened up a devastating initial broadside, leaving the French flagship Heros battered and forced to drop out of the line, also leaving Admiral Suffren badly wounded, and thus removing the extra command card from the deck.

HMS Superb, Gibraltar and Eagle open fire on five French opponents badly damaging the French flagship Heros seen dropping out of the line (right centre), leaving Admiral Suffren badly wounded below deck

With just two turns remaining the light ships raced towards the British line with the British 36 gun frigate Juno getting to the struck Monmouth first and managing to throw a tow line aboard causing the French Cleopatre to fire off a despairing bow chaser that caused little damage.

The final turn saw the opposing fleets pass on now opposite courses as the light started to fade and the respective commands prepared to break off.

The last exchanges of gunfire saw the French get a critical hit on the British flagship Superb causing a fire aboard and additional hull damage, but with the British now in a position to prevent the capture of their damaged ships.

The final picture shows the two fleets as the action closed, with the battle judged to be a marginal French victory based on the damage caused to the British ships, all be it finely balanced with the wounding of Suffren and the likely impact of one of his less able subordinates taking command of the French fleet.

KMH played well and gave a very entertaining game with the command rules working seamlessly with the core rule set. I really like the way they play, but have reservations on using them to play larger games as I feel they like many of the other widely used rule sets, they try to straddle the lower and higher command roles.

That is to say the rules incorporate all the detail you would want for ship to ship actions but that level of detail becomes rather laborious when playing as an Admiral of say three or four squadrons in a fleet.

With the additional cards controlling movement for ship to ship engagements I think KMH would still be a rule set of choice, but for the larger games I have in mind, I think I might have found a more appropriate set to use, more anon.

Thanks to Nick, Jack, Ian and Bob for producing a very entertaining afternoon and to Steve L for the loan of his very nice Tiny Wargames sea mat which only added to the fun.