Sunday, 1 September 2019

Waterloo in 54 mm

A grand-scale wargame in all senses of the term!

I was so impressed with Phil's post about this marvellous game that I wanted to 'spread the word'.

Not a scale of wargaming often achieved. Well done to all involved. Superb!

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Book Review: Napoleon's Imperial Guard Uniforms and Equipment: The Infantry

A few months ago, I reviewed my all-time favourite Napoleonic book; The Anatomy of Glory*. It is unlikely that Lachouque’s magnificent study of this legendary formation will ever be moved from this mantle, but every now and again a book is published that threatens to do so. Paul Dawson’s new book comes close.
(A relevant aside, Lachouque’s book is on a magnificient special at Naval and Military Press at the moment)

Now, you can never have too many books about the Imperial Guard(!), in my opinion, but this new tome by Paul Dawson is not another history of the units nor beautiful presentation of uniform plates. Rather, he has produced a novel and significant piece of research that is compiled into a beautifully presented book. Something that offers new insights as well as a feast for the eyes.

Dawson has combined a detailed study of the Archives Nationales and Service Historique Armée de Terre with extant uniforms and equipment from museums and private collections, as well as documentary evidence from memoirs and period artists’ representations to produce a detailed analysis of the uniforms of the infantry of the Guard—down to the piping on the lapels and stitching on the cross-belts! He uses this combined evidence to challenge some of the accepted representations of the uniforms and equipment of this most famous force, including such giants of modern Napoleonic uniformology as Rousselot, and Boucquoy, who have influenced many of the books that fill the shelves of wargamers and modellers.

The book begins with the briefest of chapters describing the formation and history of the Guard (a mere four pages). This is followed by a chapter on the organisation and equipment of the Guard infantry followed by a third, brief chapter describing the cloth and colours of the period. In the second chapter, Dawson includes important comments about the limitations of the archival records. He notes that the records are not complete for all regiments—those for the chasseurs being non-existent. He acknowledges that Rousselot filled this void with artists’ representations (such as David and Hoffmann). His own approach is similar, but focusses more on the archival material and existing uniform items, referring to the documentary and artistic evidence to complement them. His detailed and tooth-combed approach has yielded some important observations but, as he notes “We will never know exactly what some regiments wore”.

The majority of the book comprises chapters describing in minute detail the uniform and equipment items of each regiment of the Guard infantry. Dawson leads the reader through his research into the specifics and developments of uniform and equipment of each unit, complimenting his text with numerous tables and lists from the archives detailing the numbers of uniform items and materials to make them.

A visual feast: the book is filled with numerous plates of photographs of uniforms and items of equipment from museums and private collections, all shown in great detail and from various viewpoints.

For me, the piéce de resistance of this book are the photographs of the uniform items from private collections, the Musée de l’armée, the Musée de l’Empéri, Musée municipal de Pontarlier, Borodino museum and National Militair Museum Soesterberg. These are numerous, clear and include separate zoomed photos of the detail of each item, from a range of angles.

In addition there are some 88 plates of paintings of guardsmen by Hoffmann, Otto, Martinet and others. Then, in the centre pages six full-pages plates of paintings by Keith Rocco.

Orders articles and decrees notwithstanding, the reality ‘on the ground’ was often quite different, even amongst the privileged ranks of the guard. An example is this habit of a voltigeur of the guard, which includes epaulettes from the chasseurs.

Dawson provides detailed tables and lists of information from archival documents. My one gripe with the book is that the asterisks beside the names of commanders are not explained. I searched and searched, but could not find the explanation. I suspect that they indicate those who receive the legion of honour, but it is frustrating the the explanation is either missing or buried somewhere in the book.

This is a weighty book, in all respects. Its hard-bound 475 pages are printed on lovely, heavy, gloss stock. The photographs and plates are clear and 99.5% in full colour (417 out of 419 images by my count). It is a magnificent book to own, to admire and to read through. I recommend this for your book-shelf whether to leaf through, admiring the photographs of the equipment, the reproduced prints or Rocco’s artwork, reading about the equipment of a specific unit of the Guard infantry, seeking detail to paint, or simply to know more about the uniforms of the soldiers of this ‘immortal’ formation.

I shall enjoy leafing through and ‘drooling’ over this book again and again.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Book Review: Wargames Terrain and Buildings: The Napoleonic Wars

I became aware of this book when I saw Seb’s excellent review on his blog. I therefore jumped at the chance to do one of my own when offered a review copy by the publishers.

Cover art courtesy of the publishers.
Please seek permission before reproducing.

I enjoy making my own terrain pieces and it has always made more sense to me to spend available ‘wargames funds’ on figures and books before buildings or other terrain. After all, figures I cannot easily produce myself, but I can make buildings, no matter how rudimentary. In more recent times, even while the prices of buildings and other terrain have reduced (and available funds for wargaming increased), I am still reticent to purchase terrain, save perhaps for second-hand items or some of the MDF kits from Sarissa Precision (I discussed their 1/72nd La Haie Sainte previously). More on them later.

It seems that this is something that I share in common with Tony Harwood, although my attempts pale when compared to his beauties. Yet with the aid of this book, in which he shares some of his methods and ideas, I hope to be able to improve the quality of the buildings that I produce.

This book is marvellous in so many ways. The construction of the example buildings and other structures is described step-by-step with clear photographs of each. Mr Harwood uses simple, easily obtainable materials, chiefly of the ‘scrap’ variety. The construction process is straight forward and includes some great combinations of techniques that make so much sense. For example, layering strips of paper on the cardboard ‘shell’ of a building, glued in place with PVA glue in a kind of papier maché fashion. This rounds off the sharp or jagged edges of a cardboard-only construction while adding some texturing to the walls.

The construction of nine models is covered in the book. These are a Russian windmill, two-storey French house, La Belle Alliance, French pigeonnier, stone build well, Russian granary, small bakery, Hungarian chapel and Peninsula diorama. The Russian windmill is 15 mm, La Belle Alliance 20 mm and all the others are 28/30 mm. With the exception of La Belle Alliance, which is the 20 mm Sarissa Precision kit with modifications, the scales of the models are completely nominal. There are no plans, an aspect that may detract for some people, but one that I think is a bonus and adds flexibility.

Inspired by an image from a book or other source, Tony Harwood first produces a sketch.

From his plans, he produces the shell of the building. In this case strips of paper with PVA applied to one side are layered over the cardboard in a papier maché kind of manner.

The finished two-storey French house. Twenty-one pages with clear photographs show its step-wise construction.

In fact, the plans are not omitted as they do not exist! Rather, than work from a plan, Mr Harwood gets his ideas from images in various books, draws himself a sketch (something that he’s darned good at) and then roughly scales the sections of the building, using a figure of the appropriate scale as his ultimate guide.

Using this approach means that the step-wise construction of all of the structures in the book, with the exception of La Belle Alliance as it is a commercial kit, can be followed at any scale. Brilliant!

Furthermore, for those willing to have a go and adapt a theme and technique, the buildings/structures in the book can be used for inspiration to build something different. I intend to use the ideas presented in the construction of his Hungarian chapel as inspiration to make the church at Plancenoit.

Actually, ‘inspiration’ is an appropriate one-word summary for this book.

Thank you Tony!

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.