Saturday 21 July 2018

Summer Holidays

Since we retired to Spain we have developed a very quiet and selfish life style.   We live outside a small village with extensive mountain views.   It is very quiet and peaceful.   We have a very regular routine, which is largely hill walking and wargaming - our joint favourite hobbies.

During the summer this all comes to an abrupt end when my son and his family join us for their annual holiday.   The arrival of two adults and three children (aged 3, 7 and 11) is eagerly awaited and dreaded in equal parts.   They normally spend two weeks with us, last year it was three and this year almost four.   They love the area and the children love the swimming pool.   We love having them but must accept the loss of our house and routine.  

It all starts two days before they arrive.   The house has to be rearranged, cleaned and dusted.  Under Jan’s direction I do the lifting and carrying, and fit child guards for the stairs.   Like most Spanish houses the floors are tiled and there are lots of sharp edges.   For their first visit we tried to cushion most of them, but that was really impractical and soon abandoned.   We had forgotten how much more practical parents are than grandparents.

Fortunately we have never been fussy, and do not have too many breakables around the house.  But those we have are removed the day before they arrive and stored in my office.   This becomes my “man cave” and sanctuary for the duration of their stay.   Everyone is banned from the office, though not everyone holds to the ban.  Usually after a couple of days the children want to see what granddad has behind the closed door.  Fortunately it is pretty boring, and they soon lose interest.

In the office I have my computer, and I can play with the campaign and update maps.   Order of battle can be revised and new campaigns planned.   So I can keep reasonably busy, but concentrating is very difficult.   Jan is not so lucky.   Normally the kitchen is her area, which I avoid except to wash up after meals.   It now becomes part of the play area which includes the rest of the house, except for our bedroom and  the wargames room.

We have introduced each of the children in turn to the wargames room.  They accept it as a natural part of our house, and are only mildly interested in what it is all about.   We always have a game set up, and continue to do so when they are here as well.   I have never known any of them to move any of the figures.   Perhaps they have had dire warnings from their parents.

We fit in our routine around the visitors.   They have the pool all day, except for an hour in the afternoon when it is ours.   We avoid the sitting and dining room, and don’t expect to be able to watch any TV for the duration.   We have our meals together and then retire to our own areas.   Jan has an hour siesta after lunch to recover from the constant noise and movement.

It sounds pretty terrible, but we love it and really look forward to their visit.   It disrupts our routine, which is a good thing.   We all spend quality time together, but we all respect the other’s needs for personal space.   When they leave at the end of the holiday the house is very quiet and we miss them greatly.   It takes us about a week to get back into our familiar and much loved routine.

It also makes us realise how lucky we are that they actually want to spend their precious few weeks holiday with us.   The parents can have as many nights out eating and drinking as they wish, we are regular baby sitters.   The children love the freedom of being here and being spoiled by their grandparents.   The Spanish love children, so we can all go out for a meal together whenever we want to.  Though the children would prefer an evening on the beach when it cools down a little. 

They don’t arrive until tomorrow, but already they have driven all thoughts of wargaming out of my mind.   Hence this unusual blog post.   Hopefully normal service will be resumed in about four weeks.

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.