Saturday, 14 July 2018

More thoughts on Why Battalions not Corps

36 figure battalions in the mid 1980s

My last blog was mentioned on TMP Napoleonic Discussion forum, and resulted in some very interesting comments.  
The discussion was unusually polite and covered a wide range of views.   Though as often happens few seemed to have read my blog, or at least failed to understand the point I had raised.   I asked why the early wargame rules concentrated on the Battalion rather than the Corps.   Most replies were in favour of current favourite rules. 

A lot simply confirmed that they liked the look of bigger battalions.  When asked why one 36 figure infantry battalion looked better than three 12 figure infantry brigades they simply preferred flags, drummers etc.  

I can understand that, because when I started wargaming I felt the same.   However that was because large infantry battalions were presented as the norm.   Having no previous experience of the Napoleonic period I simply accepted that.  I suspect that most of my generation of wargamers did the same.   And having built up wargame armies of 20-36 figure infantry battalions most would not want to change to suit a new set of rules.  Any new rule set would be wise to acknowledge this.

A few remarked that many of the early rule writers would have served in the military during WW2, and would have had little experience above battalion level.   I find this suggestion harder to accept.

I served in the military for 20 odd years, and found the opposite.   I started wargaming accepting that infantry would be grouped in units of 20 or so, because it was a game.   But my understanding of chain of command and higher formations quickly led me to question the battalion as the logical basis of rules designed to wargame Napoleonic battles.

I remember reading in one of Don Featherstone’s books that he regarded wargaming as being nothing at all like war.   He firmly believed that it is an interesting game, and not a genuine attempt to recreate Napoleonic warfare.   The more I wargame, the more I agree with him.   I did not have his experience of total war, but I did have extensive knowledge of how the modern military works.   Of course it was different in the Napoleonic period, and I would not for a moment claim that having served in the army would give me a better understanding of fighting in the Napoleonic period.  But it does give me an understanding of the importance of levels of command, strategy, tactics and logistics.   And you will find that modern military staff colleges study many periods, including Napoleonic, to understand these very subjects.

But that is not why I raised this question in the first place.   It just seemed to me that a set of Napoleonic wargame rules based on the corps would just make a lot more sense.   From what I have read Napoleon’s main innovation was the corps.  It allowed him to control much larger armies, it allowed him to move on parallel lines of advance, and to concentrate for battle.  It allowed him to pin parts of the enemy army and gain local superiority.  Most important it gave him more flexibility than his enemies, at least until they started to copy him.

However the important thing for me was that it would allow new wargamers to collect, paint and play with model soldiers much easier.  Instead of having to paint hundreds of figures before they could fight a battle, they could paint up small groups.   Having painted 36 infantry they would have an infantry division of three brigades, rather than one infantry battalion.  With the addition of a few horsemen and gunners they could field a small combined division.

It would also allow a logical and interesting way to build larger armies.   For each division of French infantry you could paint an allied one, say Bavarian or Polish.   You could represent the whole French guard infantry with only 32 figures.  Two 8 figure brigades to represent the Old Guard and two more the Young Guard.

However it was not to be.   I spent many years collecting ever more Napoleonic figures, without any structure or design.   And when I finally decided to reorganise my collection in a logical way I found that I had far too many French Old Guard, Scots Greys and British Horse Artillery.   This is because they were the very first figures I bought, because they looked so good!

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Why Battalions and not Corps

Paul and Jan 1970 (note stills from Waterloo on the wall)
I was pleased to receive so many comments, and such thought provoking ones, to my last post “When is a game too big”.   Indeed it was those comments which suggested the subject of this post.

I have often wondered why Napoleonic wargaming rules are designed around an infantry battalion, rather than a corps.   It seems to me that the essence of Napoleonic warfare is large formations of 20,000 men or so.   Even small Napoleonic battles are much larger than most wargamers can cope with using battalion based rules.

I suspect for most of us the glamour of the period is first and foremost the uniforms.   But a close second is the image of Napoleon or Wellington directing their corps and divisions in grand strategic and tactical manoeuvres. 

Am I alone in seeing myself as a Napoleon or Wellington when I was drawn to the concept of Napoleonic Wargaming? 

Why were the original, and subsequent, rules not written to allow the wargamer to command an army of 6 to 8 corps?  
We started wargaming in 1969, when the world (particularly of Napoleonic wargaming) was much more innocent and simple.   My inspiration was “Charge, or How to Play Wargames”.   I no longer have my copy, so I can’t check.  But I don’t remember anything in that great book which suggested scale or army organisation.   I recall that the infantry “units” were about 16 figures.

I accepted that wargaming armies were made up of “units” of infantry, cavalry and artillery.   The aim seemed to be to collect as many actual figures as possible and eventually be able to fight a large battle like Waterloo. 

But there was little, if any, reference to actual orders of battle.  And even less suggestion how to produce an historical order of battle on a wargames table.  

The 1970s and 1980s were an exciting time to be a Napoleonic Wargamer.   Gone were the simple days of Don Featherstone and his home produced Wargamers Newsletter.   Along came Peter Guilder and His Wargames Holiday Centre.   At the same time Wargames Illustrated appeared with its glossy pages and photos of large 25mm  armies marching around the 36 foot by 6 foot wargames tables of the Centre.   It was inspiring, to say the least.

But it was, for me, a disappointment to find that even the great Peter Guilder did not have detailed orders of battle.  When you fought Waterloo or Leipzig on his tables you were given an order of battle.  It included corps, but (as I recall) not divisions or brigades.  Each corps consisted of about ten 36 figure infantry units, plus cavalry and artillery.   Each French unit had 6 bases representing grenadier, voltiguer and fusilier companies, in effect an infantry battalion.   His epic “In the Grand Manner” rules were battalion based.

All of this is not to say that I did not enjoy wargaming with battalion tactics, sending out skirmishers and forming column, line and square.   But to do so I had to ignore the “elephant in the room” that what I was doing was using battalion tactics to fight battles which were historically based on divisions and corps.

With the introduction of small figures the problem was eased. But I have always favoured my 20mm, then 25mm and finally 28mm figures.   I did experiment with 6mm figures, especially after seeing photographs of the Battle of Leipzig in one of the glossy magazines.  But I have never taken to them and always revert to my first love.

Now that we live in the age of the internet little has changed.   The instant availability of information has certainly changed.  There are a mass of forum where you can get an instant response by an expert in any aspect of Napoleonic history.   You have but to ask and within minutes someone will tell you how many buttons there were on the gaiters of an Italian infantry sapper, and more than likely include a link to an illustration of the same.   People argue at length, and get very heated, about how infantry formation were directed during a battle.   They will discuss at length the relative sources available for strategy or tactics.   But at the same time they accept that their basic unit will be a 12, 24 or 36 infantry figure infantry battlaion.

I was delighted to discover Snappy Nappy rules, which does try to solve this problem.   I have never used them, but their concept helped me to develop my own wargame rules.

Would it have been different if Don Featherstone had written rules similar to Snappy Nappy back in the 1960s?  If they had formed the basis of his book “Wargaming” and all his subsequent wargaming books.   Would Peter Guilder have called his 36 figure units a brigade, and grouped them as divisions and corps?   The actual games would have looked the same, but the historical feel would have been much more accurate.

If the early rules and playing experience had been corps, rather than battalion, based would Napoleonic Wargame have developed as it did?  Perhaps specific rules for battalion tactics would have been developed anyway, much as skirmish rules are now.   But they would have fit neatly into a gaming population which accepted that the only way to fight large scale Napoleonic wargames would be with brigades, divisions and corps.

Does it matter?   No.   But it would seem to have been a more logical evolution of wargaming the battles of the Napoleonic Wars.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

When is a Game Too Big

Two corps wargame on a 6x6 foot table
I no longer post on TMP very much, but I do visit the Napoleonic Discussion forum most days.   This is the title of a current discussion about size of wargames.   As with most things involving wargaming there are strongly held views, and conviction that they alone are correct.   I suspect that as with wargame rules there will be almost as many answers to this question as there are wargamers.
When I designed my current campaign I spent some time considering what size I wanted my armies to be.   The most important consideration would be how many figures could comfortably fit on the table, and not be shoulder to shoulder. 

My wargames table is 6x6 foot and I quickly decided that the maximum size per side should be about 200 28mm figures per side.   My table is composed of 9 2x2 foot scenic squares.   Each square could hold about 50 figures.  

I wanted to fight multi corps battles, so each corps would have to be no more than about 50 figures.   Consulting my available figure collection it was soon obvious that each corps would be 32 infantry, 4 cavalry and 1 gun.   This would represent 4x8 figure infantry brigades, 1x4 figure cavalry brigade and 1 gun and four crew.
 One corps per side
The smallest battle would be one corps per side.   My rules require that each brigade must be within 8” of the corps commander to receive orders.  So this small size battle would in effect be fought on the three centre squares of the table.   The corps would deploy at either end of the table, and the centre square would be the contact area.  
Two corps per side

Two corps per side would deploy as shown on the top photo, but would often spread over all three squares wide.   This would lead to very open battles, with lots of space for open flanks, particularly when a brigade routed.
 Three corps per side
Three corps per side would be a major battle.   The CinC would usually be present at this size of battle, so the corps commander freedom of choice was very limited. Only the CinC could decide corps objectives and whether they would engage or attack.   The difference is one of aggression.  On engage orders only cavalry can melee, infantry can only skirmish or volley fire.  On attack orders there is more hand to hand combat, and each combat is much more decisive.  There is still a lot of space on the table, particularly when the CinC (or the terrain) dictates that one area of the table should be avoided.  In this case the large city in the centre, and the hilly approach, make it easier for the British to concentrate on the French flanks, and particularly the French right flank.
Four corps per side
Four corps per side makes for a very congested battlefield.   On the campaign map only one corps can occupy each map square.   That map square becomes one scenic square on the wargames table.  So at the start of the battle there are normally three corps wide, one on each of the three scenic squares.  A fourth corps is often in reserve and usually off the table.   However their arrival must be allowed for in the initial deployment, because otherwise there will not be sufficient space when they arrive on the table.  It is often difficult to find space for all four corps, particularly for artillery and cavalry.   And routs tend to have more effect on adjacent or supporting brigades.

All of the above applies whatever scale you use, whether you have 32 figures representing one infantry battalion or four infantry brigades.   It is a matter of how many figures you can actually fit on your wargames table, and still have space to manoeuvre.   It is interesting that most of the discussion on TMP is driven by personal preference of scale or the size of battalion that “looks right”.

Over the years I have struggled with this problem myself.  At different times my 25/28mm infantry battalions have consisted of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 36 figures.   I have played on the huge tables at Peter Guilders Wargames Holiday Centre, and even then there had to be huge compromise with orders of battle.   I think his tables were 36 x 6 foot.  But even then his corps order of battle had no resemblance to historical ones.   Worse still that whilst it was a real experience to play on those tables, and a visual delight, the actual games were long winded, boring and exhausting (at least for me).

I am sure that very few wargamers would share my views.  The large battalions seem to rule the day, and I can understand why from a visual stance.   But I found in the past that they do not allow for interesting tactical wargames.   Usually they form up shoulder to shoulder and advance across the table resulting is a large melee.   Good fun now and then, but not very interesting for those of us who wargame regularly.  

it is not surprising that there is so many varied answers to this question.   Such a wide range of interests come under the heading of wargamer.  For many the satisfaction will be painting, collecting, planning and researching.   Actual time spent at the table wargaming may well be limited to once a week, a month or even a year.  Yet all consider themselves to be wargamers, and why not.   

 But if you confine yourself to the tabletop experience then surely Napoleonic wargaming must involve large, multi corps battles.  For many players the aim is to refight a major battle such as Waterloo or Leipzig.   To achieve that on the limited table space available to most of us, plus the limited actual time available to compete the game, is a major logistic and tactical problem.   To do so must involve serious compromise.   

And compromise is the very thing that so many wargamers, and particularly Napoleonic wargamers, seem to find it so difficult to do.