Sunday, 12 May 2019

Battle of Cape Finisterre, 22nd July 1805

Yesterday Julian hosted a fine naval game, the culmination of months of recent planning and testing of the rules, based on the Battle of Cape Finisterre, 22nd July 1805, aka 'Calder's Action'.

The scenario came straight out of the rule book (Grand Fleet Actions in the Age of Sail). After a bit of discussion, Julian and I decided to play it 'as given', so the English commanders were rated 'average', crews 'veteran', French commanders and crews 'average' and the Spanish command 'inept' and crews 'slack'. We had seven players with Mark H ('Marc'), Mark B (Biko), Olivier and Stephen of the NWS joining Julian, Mark (Wilko) and me. I took the Spanish as the descriptions sounded fitting!

What follows is a brief, pictorial account. No doubt Julian will post one of his excellent reports of the action in full account on our Avon Napoleonic Fellowship blog and Mark H will be posting from Villeneuve's point of view (his role), so I'll add links to those in time.
(Mark H has not done this excellent post about the game)

The Allied fleet in line ahead, heading east towards Ferrol. English fleet approaching in the distance, from the north-east, also in line ahead. Wind coming from the north-west.

The historic action was fought in foggy conditions, so the commanders used 'follow the leader' to keep their fleets together. The fog was reflected in the scenario by the simple, but significant, effect of halving the command range.

 The Allied fleet with Rear-Admiral Dumanoir's command (Julian) in the van.

The English broke into four groups with the aim of cutting the Allied fleet in several places and defeating it in detail. Captain Gardner (Olivier), Admiral Calder (Stephen), Rear-Admiral Stirling and Captain Butler (both Wilko), from nearest to furthest.

Dumanoir was first to come into action, inflicting some damage on Gardner's lead ships (Agamemnon and Hero (flag)).

 Calder's command soon joined in the action, ...

 ... as Gardner's ships opened up.

 An artist's impression, c/- Wikimedia Commons.

 A wider view of the action around this stage (Allied at bottom-left).

 Calder's ships unleashing on Dumanoir's vanguard.

 At the rear of the line, my ships were oblivious to it all.

On board Hero, Gardner attempted to board one of Dumanoir's 40-gun fifth (or are they sixth?) rates. It all went to pot though (the dice were not with the English, to be sure). The English attempt failed, and Hero was captured! She was sailed away as a prize.

 Villeneuve (Marc) came into action in fine style.

 The raking shot on another of Gardner's command resulted in a test for catastrophe.
 The 1 in 10 of a one,...
 ... ship explodes!

It was not all going the allies' way, Formidable, Dumanoir's flagship, was no longer so and the crew struck her colours!
(Addendum to original post: I forgot to mention that this, I recall, was as a result of our local land-lubber, Wilko, successfully executing a 'Nelson's touch' manoeuvre and breaking Dumanoir's line. He's starting to get the hang of this 'boating' lark!)

Magnon de Médine (Biko) now came into action, but his crews were not as accurate as Villeneuve's, firing an ineffective rake,...
 ... and inflicting little further damage on what remained of Gardner's (former) hard-pressed (and demoralised) command.

 Some wider photos of the action at this stage.

 Same again, showing Hero sailing away in the foreground.

My rearguard finally came into action, adding to ex-Gardner's woes (a lucky '10' making up a lot for my 'slack' crews).

The table at the end of the game. At the top, in front of Calder's hat, Rear Admiral Dumanoir's former command (demoralised) and Admiral Villeneuve's command are making east and safety of Ferrol. The central line are Rear-Admiral Magnon de Médine's and Admiral Don Gravina's commands that seem destined to safely by-pass most of the English ships that are past them and against the wind: part of Captain Butler's command at top-right, Admiral Calder's closest to camera, what remains of ex-Gardner's ships at front-left and Rear-Admiral Stirling's coming in towards the line in the centre.

With 50%-plus of their ships exiting or likely to, the east table edge, it was a French scenario victory.

It was a most enjoyable game, looked and felt like a Napoleonic naval game, and all seven players got to move ships and have a shot or two (several more for those in the van and centre).

Well done and thanks Julian for hosting such an enjoyable game. The testing, checking and investment all paid off. Trafalgar beckons...!

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Remembering le mort de Napoleon 198 with free e-books

Sunday, 5th May marks 198 years since the death of the Great Man at Longwood, Saint Helena after a short illness^.

Mort de Napoléon Ier à Sainte-Hélène, le 5 mai 1821 par Charles de Steuben (Wikimedia Commons).

To mark this event, Pen & Sword are offering free e-books of four of their titles. Here's the note that I received from the publisher with a request to 'spread the word':

This Sunday marks the anniversary of Napoleon's death, to coincide with this anniversary Pen and Sword will be giving away four eBooks for free from Amazon. I wondered if you would be able to share this with your readers, if you are doing a post around this anniversary. It’s not often we give away eBooks for free, so I am keen to spread the word as far as possible! Here’s the four eBooks that will be free on the day and the Amazon link to download the titles. 1815: The Waterloo Campaign Vol I: 
 In Napoleon’s Shadow: Letters from the Battle of Waterloo: With Eagles to Glory (will be uploaded to Amazon shortly):

This is for Sunday (GMT) Only, so act now!

^The compelling theory of poisoning has largely been refuted, although, of course, it can never entirely be 'put to bed'. For those interested, here's a list of some of the key publications around the matter, in chronological order:

Smith, H., Forshufvud, S., & Wassen, A. (1962). Distribution of Arsenic in Napoleon'S Hair. Nature, 194(4830), 725–726. 
Lewin, P. K., Hancock, R. G. V., & Voynovich, P. (1982). Napoleon Bonaparte—no evidence of chronic arsenic poisoning. Nature, 299(5884), 627–628. 
Weider, B and Hapgood, D (1982) The Murder of Napoleon. Congdon and Lattès, Inc., New York, 266 pp. 
Weider, B and Forshufvud, S (1995) Assassination at St. Helena Revisited. John Wiley & Sons Inc, 555 pp. 
Corso, P. F., & Hindmarsh, T. (1996). Further scientific evidence of the non-poisonous death of Napoleon. Science Progress, 79 ( Pt 2), 89–96.
Hindmarsh, J. T., & Corso, P. F. (1998). The death of Napoleon Bonaparte: a critical review of the cause. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 53(3), 201–218. 
Pascal Kintz, Jean-Pierre Goull, Paul Fornes,and Bertrand Ludes (2002) A New Series of Hair Analyses from Napoleon Confirms Chronic Exposure to Arsenic. Letter to the Editor Journal of Analytical Toxicology,Vol. 26, November/December2002. 
I. Ricordel, S. Pirnay, A. Maréchal, P. Chevallier, G. Meyer, N. Milan, J; Plesse (2004) Arsenic in Napoleon's Hair: Is external contamination a possible source?. Conference: Poster P45 Session B Post mortem toxicology, At Washinton USA, Volume: aFBI TIAFT. Available from: 
Lin, X., Alber, D., & Henkelmann, R. (2004). Elemental contents in Napoleon's hair cut before and after his death: did Napoleon die of arsenic poisoning? Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 379(2), 218–220. 
Mari, F., Bertol, E., Fineschi, V., & Karch, S. B. (2004). Channelling the Emperor: what really killed Napoleon? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 97(8), 397–399. 
Lugli, A., Zlobec, I., Singer, G., Lugli, A. K., Terracciano, L. M., & Genta, R. M. (2007). Napoleon Bonaparte's gastric cancer: a clinicopathologic approach to staging, pathogenesis, and etiology. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 4(1), 52–57.
Kintz, P., Ginet, M., Marques, N., & Cirimele, V. (2007). Arsenic speciation of two specimens of Napoleon's hair. Forensic Science International, 170(2-3), 204–206.
J. Thomas Hindmarsh and John Savory (2008) The Death of Napoleon, Cancer or Arsenic? Clinical Chemistry 54:12 2092–2093.
Lugli A, Clemenza M, Corso PE, di Costanzo J, Dirnhofer R, Fiorini E, Herborg C, Hindmarsh JT, Orvini E, Piazzoli A, Previtali E, Santagostino A, Sonnenberg A, Genta RM. (2011). The medical mystery of Napoleon Bonaparte: an interdisciplinary expose. Advances in Anatomic Pathology, 18(2), 152–158.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Battle of Abensberg (north) 210: 20th April 1809–20th April 2019

John planned and hosted this game, the first in the shed at his new abode in suburban Spearwood, of a semi-historical game based on the northern section of Abensberg. The withdrawal of history became a fighting rearguard action in this scenario from Michael Hopper's Eagles Over Bavaria 1809. This book had been the basis of a game of Abbach that we played last year, chez-moi. As with that game, General d'Armée were John's rules of choice, making it my second game using them.

I went French, naturellement, comprising Friant's division under the command of Davout, while John took Rosenberg's IV Armeekorps.

The scenario was fairly evenly balanced, although the French advantages of better command and generally better quality troops probably out-weighed the Austrians slightly greater numbers and big advantage in guns.

I decided to use the cunning 'the whole line will attack' tactic. Yes, dear reader, I went into the game with, at best, a partially developed plan. This was compounded, in the early turns, by some bad dice.

 The skirmish lines exchanged pleasantries.

An example of some of my early useless dice rolls. Ones are rarely good, as was the case with these dice for skirmisher fire. Trying to use poor luck to excuse a lack of planning; surely the last bastion of a scoundrel?!

Bad decision no. 1.
I decided to 'have a go' and so sent Barbanegre's brigade headlong at the Austrian defenders in the village, hoping to get lucky.

 I didn't, the defenders fired well and the attack stalled.

 In the centre, Grandeau's brigade moved slowly through the woods.

Bad decision no. 2
Why not repeat the same rash attack with Grandeau's brigade? Trouble was that I assumed they'd make it easily, did not measure (as allowed) and they stopped short, unformed, right in the teeth of the Austrian line and cross-fire from the guns!

 Meanwhile, back at the village, Barbanegre's men attacked again,...
... and were once again repulsed; this time retreating back past the wood.

 This allowed some sneaky Austrian skirmishers to take a shot.

Help was at hand with the arrival of Montbrun's mixed command of light cavalry and infanterie légère.

 The Austrians moved in reinforcements to meet the coming threat.

Back in the centre, Grandeau's men had suffered too much, one battalion was broken, causing the brigade to 'falter...
... retreating back to the safety of the woods (failed command roll).

Finally, a better decision.
On the French right, Gilly's léger brought three battalions against one of Grenz.
The Austrians fired ineffectively (producing a 'fire discipline' result).

 The French charged in with élan and the Grenz were broken.

Gilly mustered his men for a charge against the second battalion of Grenz, but the loss of their brothers-in-arms had caused them to falter and they retreated (having failed the command roll).

 An eagle's eye view of the battlefield, Austrians at top with that 'jolly' village on the left.
The same view from ground level showing the French left (above) and right (below). Note the cuirassiers in the foreground, heading to the right to assist Gilly's léger. A third stupid decision, to compound my earlier ones. I had originally intended them for a hammer-blow in the centre; see that lovely Austrian line ripe for charging?!

 Time to take that d@mned village! In went one of Montbrun's léger, ...

... joined by their supporting battalion. A certain victory!

What? Retreat? Ahhhh! This was rapidly becoming my La Haie Sainte.

A photo looking down the line from the Austrian left. Mid-sized and larger Napoleonic games just look so good, don't they?!

Here comes the cavalry! With only three turns left, will they make it?

Action on the right; the Austrian infantry took advantage of Gilly's isolated infantry in square,...
 ... breaking a battalion.

 And on the right; in once more went Barbanegre's stout fellows,...

... and out they stayed, yet again!

Montbrun's 5th hussars charged an Austrian square. I selected the stronger of the two in the front of the line, so they retired after an inconclusive mêlée.

VICTORY! The village finally fell to Montbrun's léger. Actually, it was worth nothing in terms of victory points, but if felt as though I had won the whole bloomin' war.

Back on the French right, the Austrians were preparing to attack one of Gilly's remaining battalions--his (Gilly's) brigade having passed the roll on the falter table, when...
 ... along came their armoured mates on big 'orses!

While the village did not represent any victory points, its capture was not entirely a waste of time as it opened up the Austrian right flank.

In went the 11th chasseurs à cheval (heavily disguised as the 16th), breaking the square weakened by the 5th hussars and subsequent skirmisher fire.

Bad decision no. 4
Last one for the game, but just when things were looking up, I decided to send Grandeau's weakened brigade to attack the Austrian centre. They were repulsed with heavily loss.

The cuirassiers were in! One regiment against the recently rallied Grenz (above) and the other taking on the supporting chevau-léger (below).

 Grenz defeated.

 Cavalry mêlée indecisive; both sides retreated.

Back on the French left, the victorious 11th chasseurs charged and broke an Austrian battalion in line that failed to form square.

Their flanks, particularly the right, were under significant pressure, but the Austrian centre was strong and supported by as-yet unengaged troops.

The scheduled 12 turns reached, we called it a draw. Losses were about equal and the battlefield situation similarly so. The Austrians would probably have withdrawn, the French cavalry could pursue, but the 'poor bloody infantry' were just that. 

A huge, public thank you to John for planning and hosting the game. It was beaut that we managed to coincide with the 210th anniversary of the real battle, as was part of his plan.

General d'Armée came out of it with honours intact too. We were both rusty as we'd not used them since September last year, but John's more detailed reading and use of them solo combined with my single use and subsequent read through, meant that we were able to resolve queries quickly, easily and satisfactorily. This was helped by the fact that we both played the game in the 'right' spirit and that the mechanics, once understood and accepted, worked largely according to our expectations.

I'll happily be part of another game using them in the not-too-distant.