Saturday 27 March 2010

Visit to San Sebastian

In 1995 Jan and I spent a week visiting the Napoleonic battlefields of northern Spain and the Pyrenees. Our last day was spent at San Sebastian.

From our holiday base at Fuenterabbia we had a 140 mile drive to catch the ferry from Santander, and San Sebastian was on the way. So we had all day to explore the town before driving to our overnight accommodation just outside Santander.

San Sebastian is a very modern holiday resort, and much enlarged since the siege of 1813. There is little remaining of the siege works, and the castle is now a ruin. It sits on a large hill called Mount Orgullo, which dominates the old town.

Unfortunately the castle museum was closed, but we were free to explore the hill and the ruins of the castle. With the help of Jac Weller's "Wellington in the Peninsula" were were able to follow the stages of the siege.

When we had sufficient of walking around the ruins, we made our way to the old town and found a pleasant cafe in a small square to have a late lunch shaded from the hot sun.

You can read about our visit at:


Friday 26 March 2010

2 Austrian corps at Mattsee

Four days and 16 moves into the campaign the first battle is about to take place.

The Austrians have invaded Bavaria and isolated the garrison of Passau on the northern bank of the river Danube. To do so their two leading corps have left their reserves three days behind.

The Bavarian commander is determined to take advantage of this mistake and crush them before their reinforcements can arrive. He orders his army to march on Passau. The first engagement is at the town of Mattsee, between Salzburg and Passau.

The transfer of the battle from the map to the wargames table has been published on the blog today. One move of the game will be published each day. You can follow it all at


Thursday 25 March 2010

Campaign Maps

Malcolm's campaign map

This map was made by a member of Campaigns of Napoleon forum by the name of Malcolm. As soon as I saw it I was inspired to replace my existing campaign maps, which have served me very well for more than two years.

When I organised my first campaign, many years ago, I used 1:50,000 scale maps of northern Germany, similar to the Ordnance Survey maps available in UK. They covered the area I wanted, but they had a modern road and rail system and much too much details for my purpose.

A few years ago I decided to make my own maps. I wanted to cover all of Europe, and that would require a lot of maps to get the same scale. So I bought an AA road map, one of those ring binder books, which has a scale of 16 miles to 1 inch. This was better, because I could use that for my normal daily march rate.

AA Road Atlas of Europe

The problem is that I am not a very good map maker, indeed I am a pretty rubbish one. I considered trying to use the computer, but gave up after a few days very frustrating days. So I decided that I would make them by hand. They were for use in a solo camapign, so no one else would see them anyway.

I photocopied the relevant pages and drew a grid of 1 inch squares. I then copied them onto A4 pages by hand. I only showed the main towns, the main rivers and a road system more or less based on 1800. My first map looked like this:

Strategic map of Austria (including Mattsee)
These maps were fine for major geographical items, the march distance between say Munich and Vienna would be more or less correct. But there was not enought detail to transfer a campaign battle to the wargames table. Then came the clever part, or at least I thought so.

I would make another map for the tactical movement when the two armies got closer together. Again it would be on A4, but this map would show what the wargames table would look like. The scale would change from 16 miles to 1 inch to 5 miles to 1 inch. This may seem a strange scale, but it was based on the size of my wargames table.

My table is 6x6 foot and the scenery is 2x2 foot scenic squares. So my 1 inch to 5 miles on the tactical map would be one square on the wargames table.

Each square on the tactical map would look like one of my scenic squares. I have 26 of them, so my map would be changing combinations of those squares. It would look like this:

Tactical map of Salzburg area (including Mattsee)

The area with the template shows the area which would be transferred to the wargames table. The table would look like this:

Wargames table of Mattsee

This system worked extremely well for about two years. Then I started the blog, and realised that my hand made maps looked very amateur. If my drawing skills were better I could probably have gotten away with it, but they are not.

A few months ago one of the members of my Campaigns of Napoleon forum put his maps on the forum, and offered to let anyone who wished to use them. This is an example:

Malcolm's map of Austria

I was really impressed and wanted to use them for my campaign. They would replace the strategic maps and I would still use my own tactical maps to transfer to the wargames table.

I copied one of his maps onto A4 and drew a grid. It was immediately obvious that it would not work. Malcolm’s maps are designed to be both strategic and tactical. But I could not produce his maps on my wargames table. So I would have to find some sort of interface. After weeks of trial and error I was no nearer to solving the problem.

I am reluctant to give up my tactical maps, because they make creating wargames so easy and that is the whole purpose of my campaign. If you wargame regularly you quickly come up with the problem of designing new tables. This avoids that problem. In addition they mean that I use all of my scenery over a period, so they are very practical.

Reluctantly I have come to the conclusion that I will have to try to produce my own maps, but based on Malcolm’s. He uses Campaign Cartographer 3 to make his maps, and I have bought a copy. As I expected, it is far from easy to understand or use. But that will be my project over the coming months.
It’s quite possible that it will not work, that I will just find it all too difficult. But it cost less than £50 to buy the system, and if it keeps me busy for 6 months it will have been money well spent.

Friday 19 March 2010

The Battle of the Nive

The battle of the Nive was Wellington’s attempt to drive Marshal Soult away from Bayonne and clear the way for his invasion of France. It is a complicated battle, fought over five days in December 1813 and covers a large area just south of Bayonne.

It is a difficult battlefield to explore as it covers such a large area and there has been much development since 1813. Fortunately parts of the battle were fought a few miles south of the city, and can still be identified. As well as driving around the area in general we visited two interesting points.

The first was the Croix de Mouguerre, a monument to Marshal Soult and his defence of Bayonne on a hill overlooking the city. This was the site of the last major attack when Soult tried to destroy Rowland Hill’s isolated command on the right bank of the river Nive.

The second is the beautiful Basque church at Arcangues. On the left bank of the river, this was the centre of the confused early fighting when the Soult launched his first attack on the widely dispersed allied army. The 43rd light infantry held the church and the French brought up a battery of artillery and opened fire at 400 yards. The two engaged in a duel which the infantry won when the gunners were forced to retire without their guns!

You can read about our visit at:


Tuesday 16 March 2010

Fighting in a Built Up Area

I have often found that built up areas provide the most difficulty in wargames. Trying to find a happy medium which makes it worth while holding buildings, but at the same time makes it possible to attack them with a reasonable chance of success.

A recent game resulted in an excellent result, or at least as far as I am concerned.

In our rules each section of a built up area can hold a garrison of one brigade, the lowest formation in our order of battle. It takes about three full moves to completely occupy the BUA. If attacked before that time then both sides count a fighting inside a BUA, but neither side have any advantage.

When a garrison is attacked both sides calculate their fighting score. This takes into account their class, casualties and current morale. In addition the garrison gets plus 2. However if the attacker can attack two sides of the BUA at the same time the garrison lose their plus 2.

The side with the higher score rolls 2D6 and adds the difference in their combat value. The interesting bit is that if they roll a total of less than 6 they lose the combat and an outright win requires more than 8. If there are two attackers, then two rounds of combat are fought.

You will see that it is a good idea to attack with two brigades against one!

In our recent game two Bavarian brigades attacked a town held by one Austrian brigade. Each side won one round of combat, and each side routed. This should have left the Bavarians in possession of the town, but then came Morale Test.

Any supporting brigade within 4” of a rout must test morale.

There was only one Austrian brigade, and they passed their test.

There was one Bavarian brigade, they failed and also routed. There was another brigade within 4” of the second rout, they had to test and they also routed.

So within one move three Bavarian infantry brigades were in rout despite winning the BUA combat!

Personally I like this sort of unexpected result, even though I commanded the Bavarians. It adds an element of chance to any attack, even one where the odds start in your favour.

Friday 12 March 2010

The battle of San Marcial

The battle of San Marcial is one of the lesser known of Wellington's battles.

On 31 August 1813 the French held city of San Sebastian was about to fall to the allied siege. Marshal Soult determined to make one last effort to raise the siege. The most direct road to the city from Bayonne was along the coast, however the road bridge had been destroyed.

Two French divisions stormed the heights of San Marcial, which was held by three Spanish divisions under General Freire, and supported by a British division. The Spanish held the ridge against the determined French attack. At the crisis Friere sent a request to Wellington to send the British reinforcements. Wellington was convinced that the French were already beaten, and wanted the Spanish to take full credit, so he declined to use the reinforcements.

The Spanish held. By mid morning the French were in full retreat back over the river Bidassoa into France.

Our visit to the battlefield in 1995 is described here:


Wednesday 10 March 2010

Campaign Hidden Movement


My new Passau campaign is a solo campaign, which is to say that I do all of the map movements and write all of the orders for both sides. I wanted to introduce some form of hidden movement, so that when I was writing orders for one of the corps commanders I restricted myself to the information about the enemy that he could be expected to know.

To explain how I try to make this work, I should first explain the two types of map I use for the campaign.

The first is the strategic map

Campaign Strategic Map

This map is used for the commander in chief daily orders. Each square takes one full day to move through. Only one corps can be in each square. At this stage of the campaign all of the eight corps are close to each other.

If one corps is ordered to move into a square occupied by an enemy corps it is in fact under orders to attack that square. At the end of the day one will have withdrawn or both will be in battle and continue to a second day of battle.

Then there is the tactical map

Campaign Tactical Map


This map contains 12 of the squares from the strategic map. For example M 25 is the Altheim square on both maps. However the tactical map has nine squares for each strategic square. Each of these squares has a number which represents a 2x2 foot scenic square. Any 3x3 squares can be set up on the wargames table. On the map above there is a battle at Altheim. The nine squares within the template have been set up as a wargames table and the game is being fought now.

On this map all corps are shown who have entered the area covered by the tactical map. 9th French corps is in Passau, which is not shown on the tactical map, and for that reason there is no symbol on the tactical map for this corps.

Now if I used this map to write orders for one of the French corps, say 12th corps, it would be hard to remember which enemy corps this commander would be aware of.

Each corps can see any enemy within three squares of them. Once one corps can see them it is assumed that they would notify all friendly commanders so all are aware of them.

French Tactical Map


This is the tactical map I use when writing orders for the French commanders. It shows the location of the three French corps shown on the above map. It also shows 9th corps as being off the map above square M 25. This is the corps in Passau, which is in the square above M 25.

However it only shows 1st and 2nd Austrian corps. This is because 3rd and 4th Austrian corps are out of sight of all French corps at present.

So when I write orders as a French commander I can only see 1st and 2nd Austrian corps on the map, and I write my orders based on that fact.

There is also a tactical map for the Austrian army, which I use when writing orders for an Austrian commander. This map shows all Austrian corps, but only those French ones within sight.

I have found that this system works very well. The French commanders are likely to seek to destroy 1st Austrian corps, which appears to be very isolated. However it can easily fall back on 3rd corps for support. Also the French are unaware that 2nd and 4th Austrian corps are now well placed to take advantage of any French advance.

This is a very simple and low tech way of introducing hidden movement to a solo campaign without the need for any complicated computer programme. I am sure that such a programme would work just as well – but I would not be able to develop one, and probably would not understand how to use it if one were already available!

Sunday 7 March 2010

Wargame Rules - Command and Control

Austrian commanders

We had an excellent game yesterday. Jan was defending a village with a Poor commander, and I was attacking with an Average commander. In any good set of rules the advantage should be with the defender, and indeed it is the case with our rules. Jan, and her Poor commander, won the game – and justly deserved to do so. However it caused me to reconsider the command and control element of our rules.

Command and Control is the thing which gives our rules their edge. There are three types of commander Gifted, Average and Poor. To issue orders the commander rolls one average dice and adds plus 3 if he is Gifted, plus 2 if Average and plus 1 if Poor. The total is called Command Points. Consequently a Gifted commander could have a range of 5-8, an Average commander 4-7 and a Poor one 3-6. Not a huge difference, but a significant one.

In addition in a larger game, where we might have six commanders, we use a device called a Poor Card. The moves are card driven, with one card for each commander. The cards are mixed and one drawn each turn to decide who will be the next commander to have his turn. If the Poor Card is drawn, the next Poor commander (on either side) can not issue any orders. He can react if attacked but nothing more. He does however have to check his morale as normal. In one recent game the same Poor commander was unable to issue orders for three consecutive moves due to the Poor Card!

Command Points are used to issue orders. The corps commander must be within 8” of a brigade to issue an order. He must issue orders for each brigade to move, change formation, skirmish or fire. He must also use a command point to move himself around the battlefield. So with six brigades, plus himself, he will rarely have sufficient Command Points to do everything he wants to do. And, of course, this is the intention.

However it will be obvious that in defence there is little movement to do, other than reposition reserves. So even a Poor commander will usually have sufficient points to do anything he wants to.

An attacking commander will always be short of points. Again this is intended, but I have come to the conclusion that there is too much of a disadvantage for the attacker. It also results in very slow opening moves, and makes it too easy for the defender to react to the attacker.

It’s ok if both are advancing towards each other, an engagement battle. However these happen less and less in the campaign.

To solve this problem I am looking at some sort of “corps order”, where less command points would be required if all brigades were in close support and all doing the same thing. For example a corps advancing along a road in column of march. It might also apply to a corps advancing towards the enemy who wanted to change formation from column of march to column of attack, but would only apply to the infantry brigades. The cavalry and artillery could not form column of march and would require normal command points as the whole corps was not doing the same thing.

To maintain the difficulty of command and control for different types of commander I am considering that this “corps order” might take one Command Point for a Gifted commander, two for an Average one and three for a Poor one.

We are starting a new game this afternoon so I will try it out then and see how it works. I will report on how it goes, and will not be changing the rules until I have tested it a few times.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Crossing the Bidassoa

Fuenterrabia would not be one of the first names to spring to mind if asked to list Wellington’s Peninsular Battlefields. However on the morning of 7 October 1813 it was to be the scene of one of his most daring battles.

The cities of San Sebastian and Pamplona has finally fallen and were now occupied by the Spanish army. The French had been forced to abandon Spanish soil and retreat into France.

The river Bidassoa formed the border between France and Spain. Marshal Soult had 55,000 men deployed on the French side from Vera to the sea. Wellington had 44,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops with which to force a crossing and secure the northern bank.

The French believed that the estuary of the river at Fuenterrabia could not be forded. However local fishermen advised Wellington that it was possible to ford the river at low tide.

At first light on 7 October 1813 the First and Fifth British divisions crossed the estuary at a point where it was never more than waist deep. The French were completely surprised and their earth works and fortifications were over run before they could be reinforced. By nightfall Wellington was in command of the north bank and the French in retreat.

You can read about our visit to Fuenterrabia at

Wednesday 3 March 2010

The Passau Campaign

I have just started the blog to record the fourth stage of my solo 1813 campaign. It will be based in the Danube valley with the city of Passau as the strategic objective. The two armies involved are Austrian against Bavarian and Baden.

This is the fourth part of the 1813 campaign. The previous ones were Magdeburg, Halle and Tarragona.
I am still working on the orders of battle and the campaign introduction, all of which I expect to appear in the next few days. The campaign proper will then commence, and I hope to post a daily upgrade.

You an follow the campaign here:

Tuesday 2 March 2010

What Next

Now that the PBEM Halle Campaign is wound up I at last have time to plan what comes next. I have been involved in either taking part in, or running, a PBEM campaign for five months. Its been very enjoyable, but I feel I have taken it as far as I can. I also feel that much as I enjoyed taking part in a campaign with other players, I have missed the amount of wargaming which Jan and I could do previously.

I have spent the last week working on the 1813 solo campaign. Last year I played three of the five phases of the first part of the campaign. I am now almost ready to start on the fourth phase, which will be Passau.

The PBEM campaign was very time consuming so I now have quite a bit of time on my hands.

We are back into the walking season here in Spain. Jan and I belong to a walking group, and usually manage to get at least two walks in each week. Last year I started a blog for the group, and for relatives and friends back in UK. I take photographs on each walk, and put up an entry afterwards with a short description. Each blog takes three or four hours to prepare and type up, and that has also eaten into my spare time over the past couple of weeks.

So I now plan to concentrate on three activities.

First will be the new solo campaign. I will be keeping a diary of the campaign on the blog, plus battle reports. I hope to be able to post on the blog each day.

Second will be walking. As the weather improves we will aim to walk three times a week. Each Monday will be our walking group. Wednesday or Saturday will be with the Costa Blanca Mountain Walking group, or a recce of a new walk if they are doing a walk which does not appeal to us.

Third will be Walking Napoleonic Battlefields blog. I am really surprised how long it is taking to cover the battlefields we have followed. I do one blog for each battlefield and already have done more than 30, and have not yet finished Portugal and Spain. When the current one is finished there is another two weeks in the Pyrenees to do. Then there are two visits to Austerlitz, one to east Germany, one to Italy and one to Aspern and Wagram. That lot should keep me busy for a few months yet.

I am really looking forward to starting the Passau campaign and hope to be able to do so later this week.