Friday, July 22, 2016

Convergence and Divergence

Reading Bob Cordery's blog recently - as I do regularly - my ears pricked up when I noticed that his attention had devolved upon Napoleonics.  What particularly piqued my interest was the sort of army organisation he was planning.  It bore a remarkable resemblance to my own, designed for my 'Big Battles for Small Tables' project (now somewhat stalled).  But there are differences.
A French infantry Division in line of battle.  More of this later...

Commenting on his blog, I seemed to be making a blog posting, but now that I am here, I find myself with all sorts of things I could talk about.  Rather than split them up into several postings, this will be a longish one.  I hope it is as interesting.

The motivation here is to play 'Army Level' games on a small table.  That means that your tactical units will be Divisions or Brigades, and/or your regiments and battalions will have a mere handful of figures.

The 'small battalion' notion has a long and respectable pedigree, beginning with R.L. Stevenson's 4-figure units in his games with his step-son.  My first introduction to wargames featured something similar.  I will mention here one Philip Allen, 1970s law student at Auckland University (where I was purportedly completing a degree in Mathematics), who had begun building his Napoleonic Armies whilst still at high school, and used a version of Young and Lawford's Charge! rules for his games. Unfortunately, I lost contact with Philip a long, long time ago.

III Corps again, this time in colour;  Four infantry Divisons
(Numbered 7th to 10th), a light cavalry Brigade (3rd,
represented by Chasseurs) and artillery park (1 model 8pr
cannon with 4 gunners). Minifigs.

Philip favoured 9-figure infantry regiments - one officer and 8 men - organised into Divisions of 4 regiments. Every regiment had its own number. Cavalry regiments were 5 figures strong, but not formally organised into higher formations.  The 36-figure Divisions were mounted, but not fixed - upon movement trays in a columnar formation, 4 ranks of 9 figures, the officers standing on the right of each successive rank.  Divisions rarely departed from this formation, even when defending.  That suggests, perhaps, that the 1813 campaign was pretty much the focus of Philip's battles and wars.

Three such Divisions formed an Army Corps, of which there were four (actually, I think I Corps had only 10 or 11 regiments, one or two Divisions being under establishment). The Imperial Guard was an independent 5-regiment Division.  The Army Corps did not include in any formal sense artillery or cavalry, which were attached on an ad hoc basis, depending on scenario or campaign.  In the great War of 1975/1812, my first Napoleonic 'Division', painted as Westphalians, added to the Strength of the French, also as an independent formation.  As Philip favoured the Continental wars, he had built up a huge allied force of Russians, Prussians and Austrians.  Even with my 'Westphalians' added, the French found the Allied numbers too great to overcome when combined.

III Corps on the road.  I wanted to see how much
 roadway would be taken up by the Corps to determine
how long it would take for it to deploy into battle formation.
It was partly in fond memory of those days that I sought to recover that sense of fighting wars rather than battles.  Some years ago. I had seen what Paul Leniston had been doing in this regard.  His Army organisations are elegantly simple:comprising 4 Corps, each with 4 infantry brigades of 8 figures, a 4-figure cavalry brigade, and a park of one model gun with four crew on a stand.  Including the Corps commander, that is an Army Corps of 41 figures.  Having played in one of his campaigns, I could appreciate the simplicity of Paul's approach, and the kind of command discipline it enforced, particularly in the field of logistics.  

The infantry (11th to 14th Divisions) of IV Corps.  Figures of
mixed provenance: early Minifigs plus figures from two or
three manufacturers I can't identify.
17th Light Infantry representing 15th Division
of V Corps.  Front Rank figures.

A 4-Corps army (166 figures including the army command) is a respectable number to field on a 6'x6' table, but for the strategic wastage built in by the need to establish and garrison supply depots and distribution points.  As there were no subdivisions below a whole brigade, if you wanted to advance any distance, you had to count on at least a quarter of your infantry to be detached upon garrison duty!  That made for some challenging decision making, and I don't think I ever did fully grasp Paul's campaign rules. At least it was the poorer quality units that were detailed for such onerous tasks!

Fortunately, my Prussian Army seized its objective early and held on (just!) against several strong French counter-offensives.  I declined to participate in further campaigns, despite temptation, as I found that being 'out of phase' with everyone else it wasn't always easy to keep up with what was going on.

The system adopted by Bob Cordery, and my own, lie somewhere between those used by Philip Allen and Paul Leniston.  Bob has gone for divisions comprising four  6-figure infantry regiments, a 4-figure cavalry regiments, a gun with 2 crew figures, and a commanding general.   Normally Napoleonic all-arms formations were at Army corps level, so the inclusion of cavalry at this level is a bit unusual.  The effect, though, of grouping two or three such Divisions together is to create Army Corps with a realistic ratio of all arms, depending on how one looks at the artillery.  In addition to the Divisional holding, does one add a Corps Reserve artillery park?  I suspect not.  But however you do these things, there has to be a compromise somewhere!  One of the problems I have with the otherwise fine rule set Age of Eagles, is the sheer number of model cannon you need.  I am quite content with ten model cannon for 720 figures of the other arms.

Where Bob has organised his army around Divisions, I have mine about the Army Corps.  The result is surprisingly similar.  The 24-figure infantry battalion/regiments and 12 figure cavalry regiments of my standard Corsican Ogre game become Infantry Divisions and Cavalry Brigades, without having to make any change to the way the figures are organised. 

Although I have no formal regimental 
15th Division in column with skirmishers brigaded together,
 and skirmishing in grande bandee.
organisation below these levels, yet their composition suggest they exist in potentia.  My 24-figure French units comprise 4 grenadier, 4 voltigeurs and 16 centre company figures that will include flag bearers, officers and musicians. In the pictures accompanying this part of the text one can see how a Division might be arranged internally in all sorts of ways.  I have long taken the view that it ought to be possible to depict this kind of activity, below the nominal 'tactical unit' level of the rule set in question.  I have always had a bit of a problem in this regard with rule sets like Volley and Bayonet, and even to some extent Age of Eagles, which fudges these, rather. 

15th Division with double the usual allocation of skirmishers
deployed in grande bandee.  Divisions represented by light infantry
figures are the only ones permitted this.  See text.
My French Army Corps comprise three (I, II, V, VI, Imperial Guard) or four (III, IV) infantry Divisions, one light cavalry brigade (represented variously by units of hussars, chasseurs-a-cheval or lancers), and - here's where Bob and I diverge - a single gun.  The Imperial Guard includes a heavy cavalry Brigade (represented by Horse grenadiers) as well as the light (Chasseurs-a-cheval).  It also holds two gun models each with 5 crew figures, a park overall of 80 cannon.

Division deployed in successive lines with skirmishers forward,
represented by voltigeurs and carabiniers-au-pied.
This single cannon in my line formations represents not only the Corps's reserve park, but the whole of the Corps artillery. The crews will normally vary from 3 to 5 figures, each crew figure representing, as it were, an 8-gun battery or company.  The 3-figure crew might equally well represent four 6-gun companies of, say, horse artillery.  The standard, however is (for the moment) a gun with four-figure crew, representing a park of 32 cannon.  This is probably a little on the light side for a French Army corps, and a 48-gun park might be a better number.  That could be depicted by two guns with 3 crew men apiece.  However, I did want to keep gun models down.  I would require at least fourteen cannon, and that not counting horse guns for my Cavalry Corps.

Built into this system is the flexibility to depict single gun companies if the need arises.  This is simply a gun with a single crew figure.  I am thinking of a situation in my Retreat from Smolensk narrative, in which a single Division flung out as a flank guard, is about to come under attack by a large body of Russian cossacks, foot and guns.  It seems reasonable to suppose this Division will have taken its artillery - a single company - with it, and with it awaits the storm, or relief from elements of Davout's Corps...  Of that, more another time.

I did ask Paul Leniston whether he had considered the idea of Cavalry Corps.  I had seen the notion in Paddy Griffith's Army Game from his Napoleonic Wargames for Fun book, and of course from my reading of history. I gather Paul was vaguely tempted by the idea, but decided it would over-complicate his game system. I think he's right that it would not be a good 'fit'.  My French Army has two Cavalry Corps, each comprising 3 Brigades. At present, I Cavalry Corps comprises three brigades of Cuirassiers (with the possible addition of an orphaned 'regiment' of 4 Hinchliffe figures), and II Cav Corps 3 brigades of Dragoons, with a light horse gun attached with 3 crew.  Of course, Marshal Murat commands the former.  I will probably attach a light gun to the Cuirassiers as well.

Division in ordre mixte, with skirmishers deployed.
So far I have omitted mention the fourth part of my Army Corps: the logistics element. Unfortunately I have also omitted them from my pictures.  This can be any kind of wagon, cart or caisson that must accompany the army corps into battle.  I would probably omit a logistic element for the Cavalry Corps as likely to have been left well behind, or else subsume the same into an Army HQ logistical element.  I'll have to think about that. 
Division in advancing  battalion or regimental columns
with skirmishers deployed forward.

Work in Progress:
Imperial Guard: Heavy and Light Brigades, Sapeurs of the Guard,
Old, Middle and Young Guard Divisions, Guard artillery.
Below are pictures of my Imperial Guard, all 115 figures, not counting the absent ADC to the Marshal commanding.  That personage is an early Minifigs model of Marshal Bessieres. When I got him, he was painted up as a French General (one Marcel Douchenois), but now there is good reason and motivation to repaint him as he should be, resplendent in his uniform of the Guides.  

The lone mounted general is in fact an early Minifigs
Marshal Bessieres, who has spent his life hitherto as one
General Douchenois.  He will be repainted in his proper dignity
as Marshal in the uniform of the Guides...

As you will see from the pictures, this is still very much a 'work in progress' with a few figures recently bought to beef up the Old Guard to 24 figures. They need to be painted, as do the bearskin hatted gun crew to the right of the pictures.  The plumed shakos of the other gun crew I have deemed worthy of Guard status. One has yet to acquire his plume.

As the 5-man crew of the near gun represents a park of 40 cannon,
a broader base seems to be indicated. 

To make a plume, I drill down the front of the shako at a slight angle, into which hole I shove in a length of wire.  Over this I slip a short length, 8cm, say, of the end of a cotton bud.  To get the effect and the shape that I want, I strip perhaps half the cotton from the bud.  Dobbing on the paint tends to give the thing the right sort of shape and feathery look.  I have an idea the trail-spike man at the rear of the left-hand gun (as you see it) has received that treatment.

In these pictures you will notice the guns placed, but not fixed, on triangular bases.  This is really part of my flexibility fetish.  The 'unequal'  side of the isosceles triangle is the battery frontage; the other two sides form an angle that define the battery's arc of fire.  The flocked base measures 7cm across the front and 7cm in depth.  On my ground scale of 1:3600, 7cm (about 252 meters) is a bit of a squeeze for 32 guns - not too bad for 24 - but there is a way around this.  One is as shown, placing a figure at either end of the front edge. As my figure bases are 15mm, that extends the frontage to 10cm - 360meters - which is much closer to the likely frontage required by a 32-gun park. Having said that, the arc of fire remains defined by the angles of the gun base.

The shape of the wider base is more apparent in this pic.
The angles from the front edge indicate arc of fire.
The base made from carpet tile has been fashioned into more of a pentagon.  The frontage of this one is 10cm.  Extended to 13cm by the bases of the gunners on either side, represents a frontage of 468 meters.  This is close enough to the required frontage of the 40-gun battery this represents.  The arc of fire is still defined by the angles of the sides contiguous to the front edge.  

I Corps d'Armee: 3 infantry Divisions, light cavalry Brigade
and an artillery park representing 32 cannon.
 I have omitted the logistics element, which can be any sort of
wagon, cart or caisson.

Finally, a look at my more 'standard' French army Corps.  The following is I Corps, comprising three infantry Divisions, one light cavalry Brigade, and the artillery park.  Absent its its logistics element.

You will note that the 10th Hussar regiment is standing in for the whole Brigade, and so the whole army is constituted in that way.  One could mix up the formations, but it seems to me tidier not to do so.  In a whole different game, this force represents a Brigade strength column of all arms, comprising 13th Light, 17 and 30th Line Infantry, 10th Hussars and a half-company of artillery.

Work in Progress:
Commander of I Corps, Marshal Davout - on a borrowed horse...
Have barely begun painting him.
The Corps Commander, Marshal Davout, is still a 'work in progress', requiring painting, and, for this picture, he is riding a borrowed horse.  The picture below shows my dual labelling for the figures: my initials, the regiment number and the Corps/Division identity for use depending upon the scale of the action I am fighting.
Marshal Davout's ADC is a spare Minifigs
elite hussar figure.

Flexibility.  How the units might be battalions or regiments
for one type of game, and a Division for another.

Pic taken indoors, without additional effects, of a sunny late July day
 in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Even in winter the light can be very strong in this part of the world!

I close with this picture, that was going to be  discarded.  I was struck by the strong light from our winter sun (it wasn't all that warm a day, neither) even through a double-glazed window.  This was taken and recorded with no additional effects other than a little cropping.  

In a future posting I will discuss how my other Napoleonic armies are organised.  


  1. A good way of getting larger formations onto a small table. Back in the day I used to play a good bit of Volley and Bayonet for Napoleonics and Franco-Prussian war- still fell that they are the best commercial large battle set I have tried as not only do the rules work well and easily but the Look is that of a large action.
    The form horse in that stable now appears to be Blucher- which I have not tried.
    However your multi-use armies are more flexible .

    1. I have glanced at the Sam Mustafa line of rule sets, and would like to look into them a bit more. I'm a bit chary of event card systems, though. My main beef with V&B were some (to me) very strange game mechanics, and what seemed to me the the subsumption of minor tactics within the formation stands. At that, there seemed to me something soulless about 20-odd figures on a fixed stand. I agree with your remark about the 'big battle' look, though.

    2. Blucher isn't an event-card system so you're OK :)

    3. I may well have conflated two rule systems there. Memory plays tricks sometimes. Come to think of it, "Lasalle" from I think the same designer isn't either. I must have misremembered something else. Probably "Longstreet" which does have event cards, but that's a different war.

  2. `Sorry I am in Australia and will ride Davout's horse back and drop it off on Thursday night.


    1. That might not be a good time. Ursula is getting married that day (returning from Oz for the big event). If you can make it sometime during the following weekend, that will be great. napoleon is doing the 'a horse, a horse, my empire for a horse' thing as well...' But it's not urgent. I've been very slack, lately.

    2. Sure - Congratulations too !

  3. Archduke Piccolo,

    WOW!! What a 'meaty' blog entry!

    You have included a great deal of very useful information and explanations as to the decisions you have made regarding the way you have approached your Napoleonic wargaming, and it has made me think again about the way I organise my Napoleonic forces. Specifically I will not allocate a Cavalry Regiment to every Infantry Division (I will now use most of these to form Corps-level Cavalry Brigades) and not every Infantry Division will have any Artillery.

    Thanks very much for sharing your thinking on this matter ... and for making me realise that I need to acquire some logistics support for my armies!

    All the best,


    1. Happy to oblige, Bob...:-) Thanks for your comments. You had me very tempted, though, to allocate artillery for each Division, which was, after all, historical, but I keep running up against the numbers of model cannon required. Getting the effectiveness right - assuming we know what is 'right' - would not have been difficult, I think.

      If I think of my 23 infantry regiment Army (as opposed to my 23-Division Army), it approximates an Army Corps of, say, four Divisions (if we count the Imperial Guard figures as Brigade of Line Grenadiers, say). Then each division might have a 2-gun company, with the Corps Reserve park a heavy company plus a horse company - 12 cannon altogether. I may very well increase my French artillery inventory to 12 cannon, but not beyond that.

      For logistic support, I might well eventually get in some metal wagons or carts, but for the time being, I'm making do with plastic caissons (HaT) or Airfix 'Wagon Train' without drivers...

  4. Interesting to see how you fit elements of gaming into your pieces in your collection.

    1. Cheers! My Napoleonic armies have undergone a number of transformations over the years...

  5. That was an interesting read sir!

    1. Thank you! There will be more on this, especially organisations for my other Armies. The Austrians in particular tend to be a bit tricky...