Monday, August 30, 2010

Lawn Moss... a question.

Here are a couple of pictures of Freikorps Pandours in the service of Altmark-Uberheim sweeping though some thick country.

The observant reader will notice that much of the foliage presented here one would normally find in an aquarium, but I feel that they will be very adaptable into brush, standing crops (e.g. maize, and possibly vineyards...(?)) and/or hedgerows. But the more natural-coloured greenery comes from my lawn, just this morning.

Rather unusually for this part of the world, we have had a good deal of rain, which has left the lawn damp and mossy in spots. Methought the moss could be put to good use.

Now: here's my enquiry: how to preserve the moss; wipe out the bugs and what-not, but keep its general appearance. Has anyone any experience of this sort of thing, and advice to offer?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Vive l'Empereur - Action in the Belleau Valley continued

The rapid advance of the British mounted troops had enabled them to establish a preliminary line northwest from that angle of the St Arnac village. Very soon the RHA guns were in action, knocking over several from Ross's veteran Light battalion.

Unfortunately, I took no pictures during the early action, which erupted in response to rather unexpected opportunities. The map will, I hope, clarify the action.

It would be some time before there could be any solidity to that line, as the infantry were still coming up by road and across the fields. Nor did it help that the Heavy Dragoons - no doubt those recruited from the wild Irishmen to be found about Enniskillen - thundered off, to the dismay of General Craufurd, to try conclusions with the French Cuirassiers away to the west flank.

The armoured French horse met them confidently in line, and smashed the dragoons so comprehensively as to eliminate them from the British order of battle.

Emboldened by this success, the French Dragoons, both line and light (Chasseurs), stormed the still tenuous enemy battle line about St Arnac. Riding close to the village, the heavies had to brave a flanking fire from British infantry occupying the NW quarter, but then were suddenly amongst the guns. Bravely wielding trail spikes and rammers, the gunners were little match for the rampaging horsemen. The British Corps found itself minus its horse battery for the rest of the day.

The Chasseurs were almost as successful as their heavier brethren, also sweeping into the British Light dragoons, and throwing them back with heavy loss. Unfortunately, the Chasseurs allowed themselves to be carried away by the moment (a deliberate 'suck it and see' action on my part that won't be repeated in a hurry). Charging on into the Hussars, their disordered lines were broken up and flung back with ease.

The British then retrieved some of the honour by throwing back the French Dragoons in turn. With The Cuirassiers disordered by their encounter with the British Dragoons, and the Chasseurs and Dragoons wavering, if not altogether broken, General Craufurd could at least count on the French cavalry west of the river to remain out of the battle for some considerable time.

We now resume the pictorial narrative, with the British attempting to reestablish a battle line. By now, however, the French horse artillery were lining the east bank of the Belleau River, just where they could fire into the British flank with impunity. The Hussars remained nearby (out of picture), just daring the battalion guarding the north bridge to intervene.

On the main front, the French continued to advance in lines and columns.

With a French battalion entering the southern end of the St Arnac village, the scene was set for a close quarter fight for possession of the place.

Just as the French entered the village, the British battalion already occupying the NW quarter crossed the main street to meet them. Indecisive as the opening exchanges were - little loss to either side (i.e. none in game terms) - the French were already better placed to up the stakes. The following pictures show the unfolding action ...

Thrown out of the village, the British commanders at this point abandoned their objective (to sweep the valley), and began to draw off. The game now became a fighting withdrawal by the British; a pursuit by the French.

This proved to be quite an interesting exercise for both sides. A major feature of Colin's rule set is the command and control by generals at brigade level and above. That generals have a very limited command radius, and the restriction this places upon units (and subgenerals) that are outside this radius, proved a considerable problem, given that these were forces of all arms, and each side had just two commanders. Ross had already to juggle priorities between his detached hussars and horse guns on the east bank of the river, and his main body on the west side. I had similar problems concerning what I was demanding of the horse, the foot, and some of the rearward units coming up.
Although Ross gave vent early on to some disgust at this situation, I felt that he - we both - handled the situation as well as we might have done. The British more compact position made things a little easier for them, but only relatively, I suspect.

The withdrawal begins. Craufurd lines up 3 battalions, backed by the 9pr company on the hill, to cover the withdrawal of their comrades. In the far distance, a battalion continues to guard the north bridge leading into the British left rear. They would do so staunchly under terrible gunfire for almost the entire afternoon.
Near Deuxvoies, the light horse await a possible enveloping move by French Cuirassiers.

In that last picture you can see the Cuirassiers just entering the frame to the far left.
Now the French were pressing the British northwards. But owing to the juggling of commands (Charlot, for one, was continually riding back and forth between his cavalry wing, thrown far forward on the left, and his foot, pressing in upon the British reaguard), that the pressure could not be maintained fully. Ross was similarly placed. No doubt the British also had to take care with their arrangements as well.

It was at this point an event occurred that was very disconcerting to the French. Charlot (me) had sent forward his light infantry skirmishers to engage the British line, still in front of the hill, covering the main withdrawal. The musketry exchange that followed turned up an anamaly in the rules, but even had they been as I expected, the skirmishers would have come off a distant second best. As it was, they were blasted back out of range, leaving a good half their numbers in front of the implacable British line (Next 2 pictures; middle distance).

If Charlot's pursuit had suffered a setback, Ross was doing rather better. The victors of the St Arnac fight continued their advance, chivvying back the Rifles, until they were quite flanking the British rearguard line.

The British decided it was high time the rearguard line pulled back. Soon they managed to pull clear of the French pursuit.

These last few pictures show the British gradually breaking off contact with the French, who were not quite able to keep up with their more spread out forces.

The British commanders derived a deal of satisfaction from their successful withdrawal, especially as, once it had begun, they were handing out as many hard knocks as they were receiving. It is my long-held belief that a good test of a rule set is whether one can conduct under them a withdrawal in the face of enemy pressure: a fighting retreat, shall we say. In my view, 'Vive l'Empereur' stood up well to the demands placed upon them...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

'Vive l'Empereur'

This last weekend, went to Waikuku, for a Napoleonic game to playtest Colin's Napoleonic Rule Set 'Vive l'Empereur'. Colin directed the play, Ross and I took the French, whilst Geoff and David commanded the British. It was to be a meeting engagement; each side's command of all arms and similar size being ordered to clear the valley of a reed and scrub-lined stream that I shall call the Belleau River.

Here is a sketch map by General Loison's Chief of Staff of the general battle area (i.e. the table top).

The River Belleau, fast running, deep, its banks lines with trees, scrub and reeds was crossable nowhere except at the bridges.

The British burst into the valley from the Northeast. Divided into two commands under General Craufurd (Dave) and Fergusson (Geoff) the Corps comprised:
- 9 Infantry battalions, including the elite 95th Rifles (each bn with 5 stands);
- 1 Heavy and 2 light dragoon regiments (each with 6 stands);
- 1x9pr artillery company, Royal artillery (with 3 stands);
- 1x6pr artillery company, Royal Horse artillery (with 3 stands).
This would represent a force of some 4500 infantry, 1350 cavalry, and maybe 300-400 artillerymen with 12-16 guns (I have since discovered that Colin's rule set envisages 120 bayonets and 80 sabres per stand. I tended to think of them as 100 and 75 respectively).

From the southwest, and restricted to a single road, Loison's Corps was also divided into two commands, both comprising all arms.
Overall, Loison had with him:
- General Charlot (Me) and General Ross (Ross - I have forgotten who the other French brigade commander was supposed to be);
- 8 battalions, including 1 elite Guard battalion and 2 light battalions, all with 6 stands apiece;
- 1 cuirassier, 1 Dragoon (the heavies) and 1 Chasseur and 1 Hussar (the lights), all with 6 stands;
- 1 Heavy artillery company (3x12pr stands)
- 1 Horse artillery company (3x4pr stands).
Overall, perhaps 4800 foot, 1800 horse, and, say, 3-400 gunners with 12-16 guns altogether. I took the Guards, Cuirassiers, Chasseurs-a-cheval and heavy guns; Ross had the Veteran line and light infantry, the Dragoons and Hussars, and the horse guns. Otherwise we shared the commands evenly: 4 foot, 2 horse and a battery each.

In case one feels the Brits to be overmatched by numbers, Colin's rule set awards the British infantry a considerable firepower bonus, which, on the day, might well more than have offset the slight numerical advantage enjoyed by the French infantry...

Rather than write up a narrative, I'll allow the pictures to tell much of the story, though there was a period of brisk action in the middle of the day for which no pictures are available.

Here are some general views of the opening moves in the battle. The British decided to concentrate west of the River Belleau, leaving a single battalion to mask the North Bridge, leading into their left rear...

The French, meanwhile, also placed the bulk of their forces west of the river, sending only the Hussars to accompany the Horse battery across to the east bank.

As the French advanced on a broad front, with Charlot's Cavalry leading, the British Advance Guard, comprising two light cavalry and the horse artillery, formed a line, with the left flank resting on the North-west angle of the St Armac village.

Unfortunately, the opening action wasn't caught on camera. I'll relate the action in my next posting.