Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Retreat from Smolensk - Part the First

Overall view of the 'Hill Line Defence' scenario: 512 figures
on my 4ft by 4ft 5in table.  Too much?  Well...
This posting has been sitting in 'draft' for the last three and a half weeks, pictures only - it is high time I did something about it.  What follows isn't quite what I intended, but at least it gets things moving. I hope.
The French ready to defend the distant hill line.
This thing was an experiment at two levels, not only a major play test of my Napoleonic Big Battles for Small Tables rule set, but also just to see how many troops I could get on a table and still fight a battle.  At neither level was this experiment an unqualified success, but I wouldn't rate it altogether as a failure, neither.
The Austrians have massed on their left flank, The II (Hungarian)
Corps leading I Corps.
The action purported to be one of the major battles during the course of Napoleon's retreat from Smolensk - a narrative I shall take up another time.  To summarize, however, the Austrian Emperor threw in his lot with the Russians to moment it became clear that Napoleon, having wintered his army about Smolensk, was about to abandon his Russian project.  His brother the Archduke Charles was sent post haste to take over operations from the sluggish Prince Schwarzenberg with strict instructions to bring the French quickly to battle in order to hinder as much as possible the retreat of La Grande Armee.
The French I Corps has flung forward its voltigeurs.
Well informed as always of what was afoot in the enemy camp, Napoleon knew that the single French Corps south of his line of march would be insufficient to keep open his western line of communication, and despatched elements of I Corps under Marshal Davout and IV Corps under Prince Eugene Beauharnais to succour General Reynier's command.
Looking along the Austrian line from west to east.
The action that ensued was taken from Charles S. Grant's Programmed Wargames Scenarios (a.k.a. The Black Scenario Book):  'Scenario 1: Hill Line Defence'.  I programmed both sides.  Each army was adapted from the Grant lists to fit my organisation, which gave me the following forces:
Austrian Reserve Corps.  The distant village I made a bit
more substantial than the hamlets or farms in the original.
That was probably not a good decision.

BLUE Force: French, GOC Prince Eugene

I Corps (elements): Commanded by General Morand (vice Marshal Davout)

  • 3 Infantry Divisions comprising 24 figures each;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 gunners.
That forest did not help the French I Corps defence at all...
IV Corps (elements): Commanded by Prince Eugene
  • 2 Infantry Divisions with 24 figures each;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 gunners.
VII Corps: Commanded by General Reynier
A view of VII Corps on the French left flank.
  • 3 Infantry Divisions with 24 figures each;
  • 1 Lancer Brigade with 12 figures;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 gunners.
Cavalry Reserve comprising
  • 1 Cuirassier Brigade (Elite) of 12 figures;
  • 1 Dragoon Brigade of 12 figures.
French Cavalry reserve.  The shallowness of the French
position (coupled with programming restrictions)
made their intervention problematical.
Totals: 192 foot, 36 horse and 3 guns with 12 gunners - 240 figures in all.
(38,400 foot, 7,200 horse and 96 guns with 2400 artillerymen - 48,000)

RED FORCE: Austrian, Archduke Charles

I Corps: 
  • 3 infantry Divisions each with 24 figures;
  • 1 Uhlan Brigade with 12 figures;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 crew.
Massed Austrian foot.
II (Hungarian) Corps:
  • 2 Hungarian Divisions with 24 figures each;
  • 1 Hungarian Grenadier Division (Elite) with 24 figures;
  • 1 Chevau-leger Brigade with 8 figures;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 gunners.
In contrast to the Austrian western flank, this small and
lonely Brigade formed the extreme Austrian right!
I Reserve Corps:
  • 1 Grenadier Division (Elite) with 24 figures;
  • 1 Grenadier Division (Elite) with 20 figures;
  • 1 Jager 'Division' with 24 figures (of which more anon);
  • 1 Cuirassier Brigade (Elite) with 12 figures;
  • 1 Dragoon Brigade with 12 figures;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 medium field cannon with 4 gunners;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 heavy (12pr) field cannon with 4 gunners.
Austrian centre advancing.  Traffic control was a bit of a problem
on this restricted battlefield... 
Totals: 212 foot, 44 horse, 4 cannon with 16 gunners - 272 figures all up.
(42,400 foot, 8,800 horse, 3200 gunners -  54,400).

The sparse Austrian right seemed to call for an early response
from Reynier's Corps.  Prince Eugene's caution (i.e. programming
restrictions) forbade such an action, however.
The Jager formation was split into three and distributed across the whole Austrian front as per the programmed instructions.  For the rest, a die roll determined that the Archduke massed 60% of his strength on his left (i.e. western) flank, with 30% in the centre, and a mere 10% on the right.  This involved (a) a certain tailoring of the army's organisation, but also (b) detaching the chevau-legers from II Corps and placing them on the extreme right flank.

VII Corps saw little action for much of the day...
For their part, the French were arranged, again determined by a die roll, with 40% of the army in the centre, and 30% on each of the flanks.  This symmetry was achieved by the above organisation, and placing I and VII Corps on the flanks, with IV Corps and the Cavalry (including Reynier's lancers) in the centre.

General view of the French looking north-westward from
behind the Austrian right flank.

To be continued...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Best wishes for the Season...

Opening moves of a 'Big Battles' play test that is still awaiting
The write-up.

In the meantime, you might enjoy this by way of festive entertainment... HoHoHo...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Inconclusive Experiment

Realising I had forgotten some farm buildings in my previous posting, and reading Tim Gow's WW2 action with Britains figures, I was moved to try a little experiment with my own Army Men project.  First I wanted to show the buildings I had forgotten to include in my previous posting. But as that was scarcely worth a whole article, however brief,  I thought I'd check how these OO/HO scale buildings would look against my Army Men figures.

My reasons for investigating this idea came from the 'footprint' size of the 'rubbled' ruins in Tim Gow's game.  How would intact buildings look though only half the scale of the Army Men figures? Well, the AFVs were underscale anyway, so maybe...

It was also an opportunity to try out my own Army Men rule set on a very small 4ft by 4ft 5in table. The first thing that had to be done was to scale down the moves and weapons ranges from the set rule set designed for larger battlefields... such as an 8ft x 6ft table.  Or a lawn.  Everything was scaled back back to about 20mm for each inch in the parent system.

The action was between those inveterate enemies, the Imperial Raesharn Army attacking, and, in defence, the Republic of Kiivar.  The forces were:


  • Infantry Company comprising two platoons each of two sections;    Each section comprised 1 NCO with SMG, 1 LMG team (2 men), 9 rifles - 12 men each;
  • Tank Platoon with 2 medium tanks;
  • Artillery Battery with 2 field pieces.

The Raesharn 2nd platoon began off table.


  • Infantry Company comprising two platoons each of three sections;   Each section comprised 1 NCO with SMG, 1 LMG, 4 riflemen - 6 men each;
  • MMG section with water-cooled MMG;
  • Mortar section with a medium mortar and three-man team;
  • Anti-tank gun portee mount with medium anti-tank gun (began off table).

Instead of the anti-tank gun, the defenders had immediately available a mixed light tank platoon parked on the road behind the 'ornamental' palm trees.  One of these was a support tank armed with a medium infantry support gun. Having parked them there I completely forgot about them!

Number 1 Platoon was ensconced in and about the farm, with 'B' section lurking behind a low stretch of rising ground just visible in the above picture beyond the barn.  'C' section garrisoned the barn itself, whilst 'A' section prepared to defend the farmhouse.  The MMG section set up among the palms. Number 2 Platoon formed a defence line based on the ruined farm ('D' and 'E' Sections),  and behind some piled logs near the rail junction ('F' Section).  In rear of 'F' Section the mortar team was ready in support.

So far as the figures vs 'terrain' was concerned, the problem didn't lie with the figure-building comparison, but with the ground.  The lead platoon - just two sections of 12 men apiece was stretched across a front that looked as though it ought to accommodate at least double the force.  It is true, though, that my armies have a kind of built-in sliding scale.  One figure represents one man, vehicle, gun, and what have you, but 2 guns is a battery; 2 AFVs a platoon, and two platoons is a company. Seen in that light, the figure to ground scale doesn't look quite so anomalous.

The initiative lay with the Raesharn; they opened the ball (I use a IGoUGo system).  Rather too enthusiastically the two 4-man assault teams of '1' Section outpaced their fire support team and surged over the 'ripple' - a low ridge of rising ground that was sufficient to conceal who lay beyond. This was a complete miscalculation on my part.  The move and fire thing I have adopted and adapted from the Panzer Marsch rule set - a game system I haven't played in a very long time. As the Kiivar section hadn't moved or fired the previous turn, they were permitted a 'reserve fire', which also meant they fired first, and the attackers took casualties before returning fire.  The latter provision was probably a mistake, though, and the shooting should have been simultaneous, as the defenders, not concealed, would have been visioble the moment the Raesharn crested the ridge.  Damn. And double damn, because that meant that 'B' Section really should not have been placed there at all.
The result was bad for the Raesharn, with some excellent shooting by the Kiivar at short range knocking over no fewer than seven of the eight attackers.  Four would have been the expected 'score'. With firepower nearly as great (more guys, but the LMG left behind) the Raesharn ought to have achieved similar results.  Oh, well...  The lone surviving Raesharn did manage to knock over his man.
Just as the Raesharn Number 1 Section was getting its beans, the gun battery loosed a stonk against the Kiivar 'F' Section behind the logs.  Strictly speaking there was no occasion for this, as there was no reason to suppose anyone was there.  But I wanted to revisit my artillery scheme with the fire grid shown above.  I'm kinda proud of this invention - the device defining the point of aim, the line of fire (along a diagonal), the central point of impact, and the beaten zone.  The 6x6 grid gives the fall of shot based on the roll of RED-GREEN dice.  Unfortunately the 'permanent' marker has proved more temporary than I expected, leaving the thing bally hard to read.  However, the 4-4 result meant 'on target' and no deviation.  I haven't shown it here, but for every man under the grid (the beaten zone) TWO dice were rolled - one for each gun firing - a 'six' resulting in a casualty.  'F' Section proved to be very lucky, despite the 'on target' result cancelling the cover of the logs.  Just one man became a casualty.

In its turn, the Kiivar mortar dropped a shell on part of Raesharn's '2' Section.  The 5-2 roll for fall of shot meant  a deviation 7.5cm to the left. This still left three men under the grid.  As there was but one tube firing, one die was rolled for each man.  There were no casualties.

Shortly after the ambush of '1' section, '3' section entered the action, gathered up the remains of '1' Section and, together with the armour, surged over the rise.  Easily overcoming the Kiivar 'E' section, though not without taking further loss, the Raesharn on this flank were able to push on towards the farm.
Now you see 'em...

Now you don't.  'B' Section annihilated.
Meanwhile, on the left, '2' Section had much farther to plod before finding any enemy.  The NCO commanding the Kiivar section behind the wall ('D' Section) took with him two riflemen on a personal reconnaissance up towards the patch of brush crowning the hill to his right front.  As enemy infantry pushed through the rough going a brisk firefight developed that sent the Raesharn packing. Whilst the Raesharn LMG set up a fire position in the patch of brush further down the slope, the remaining four men of '2' section approached the farm.  They could see not far off a Kiivar portee mounted anti-tank gun approaching from the opposite direction.
From the cover of their wall, the Kiivar drove off the enemy with loss.  The Raesharn LMG tried to sustain the contest from its cover position, but could do little against the cover enjoyed by the Kiivar infantry.  Number 4 Section was still some way off, so there would be no advance here for the time being.
Lacking attractive targets, the mortar tried its hand at a little counterbattery fire.  Selecting as its point of aim the mid-point between the guns, they dropped their shell right where it was wanted (another 4-4 roll!).  All six gunners were vulnerable, but just the one became a casualty.  This, by the by reflects the nuisance rather than killing value of single tubes under this rule set.  Although the Raesharn artillery proved woefully ineffective in this action, having two tubes promises far better results, and three (the maximum 'battery' size under my scheme) could be devastating, especially if they are heavies (which require 5s to hit as well as 6s).. 
The second salvo of the Raeharn artillery was 'over' target, which left just one man of 'F' Section under the beaten zone, but also one of the mortar crew.  The two men survived, but for some reason I included the mortar tube itself.  For it, not one, but two 'sixes' were rolled, leaving it pretty much wrecked.  This 'rule' I think I'll revisit, and allow damage to equipment only if they lie under the 'on target' section of the grid.
Having cleared the 'ripple' the Raesharn infantry swarmed towards the farm.  Badly shot up in a brisk exchange of fire, 'C' Section hastily abandoned the barn - leaving half their number behind.  The armour, meanwhile, swung off to the left with some vague notion of helping the advance on the left flank.  It has to be admitted, Raesharn command was not shining with particular brilliance this day! Come to think of it, neither was the Kiivar.

But I really needed to test out the tank and anti-tank.  The two medium tanks had helped take the barn with their machine guns, now they swung off to the left. 

At once the lead tank came under long range fire from the anti-tank gun.  Red dice for effect: a 'six'! Medium AT vs medium armour at long range, a 'six' should have been a KO.  But the station platform lay between, enough cover  to count the tank as being 'hull down.'  Hull down armour counts as being the next grade higher - 'heavy' armour in this case.  A 'six' means 'damaged', the amount of damage being determined by a die (D6) roll.  Tanks can continue functioning with up to 6 'points' of damage, the 7th 'point' being enough to put the machine out of action.  The damage roll came up with a '4' - moderately severe.
In their turn, the tanks were able to return the fire and knock out the gun crew.  Unfortunately, I omitted to take pictures to show how this was done.  The tanks fired, but as they were within line of sight and in 'anti-tank' range, they could shoot using average-dice (D5s) instead of ordinary D6s to determine fall of shot.  The result was 'on target' and crew (rather unluckily for them) eliminated.
It was at about this point that I noticed the Kiivar light tanks waiting idly behind the ornamental palm trees.  It was clear, therefore, that the Raesharn had reached their high water mark, so it was determined that they would at once abandon the attack and pull out.  Relieved at the abatement of the attack, the Kiivar were in no position to hinder their departure.  Losses were heavy enough, in all conscience: some thirteen Kiivar personnel plus some equipment destroyed; and nineteen Raesharn infantry, two gunners, and a tank damaged.

I rather think I'll need to do some work in this game system if it is to 'fit' this size of battlefield. Maybe it will work OK in an urban setting?  Intriguing thought!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

No Housing Shortage Here...

Continuing on with my stock-take of my houses, buildings and assorted edifices. I thought I might as well conclude with my Hornby Railway buildings, with a few extras thrown in.

In the foreground, plastic house, stables or garage, and a small
factory.  The last was bought at a model railway show; the others second
hand at a bring and buy.

Hornby Railway Station - the smaller one! A little
remedial work needed on the chimney and the awning.

These buildings have been laid out simply to add interest
 to the pictures.  The telegraph poles I got from a assortment of
model railway accessories going second hand.
The black strip in the above picture is some kind of vinyl or fake leather intended to represent Macadamised road.  I think a drybrush of grey, and maybe a dashed median line might improve its look.  I don't actually have much of this anyhow...
The town's CBD.  Administration building, bank, and assorted
shops around a paved square.
This church was about to be deep-sixed, and the original steeple
was certainly beyond repair.  The crenellations that replaced it
were given a coat of sand.

This church, even after 40 years, still has its steepl, though
it is getting a bit worse for wear.

This plastic station was another Bring-n-buy score.
 It did not come with a platform though, and looked wrong without it.
The platform is balsa overlaid with printed paving.
 The railway station in these pictures answered a need for something a bit smaller and bucolic than the other railway station pictured earlier.   The printed paving was part of my small store of down-loaded cobbles/brick/masonry/paving patterns that I print out when I feel the requirement.
The street entrance to the station with its loading ramp/walkway.

Over a thick sheet of balsa I laid a thinner sheet with a small overlap
then glued the paving paper over all.  The ramps are separate.
The raised platform area sans station.

Small station with the ticket office and platform, Hornby
water tower, and small goods loading and despatch office.
At the extreme right is a little coal office.

These black and white timber and plaster houses were
designed to be constructed as one unit.  See text.
 The above pictures show examples of the so-called 'Tudor' timber and plaster buildings that I rather like.  Though the black and white was peculiar to Britain, I gather (the continent tending to dark browns and yellows), I tend not to worry about such niceties.  The background unit I bought second hand as is and have left it that way.  But the one I bought many decades ago, I wanted to be two separate buildings, and so I constructed them. That meant adding new walls where they would have joined.  No problem there.  I just shapes some white-enough card stock and drew on the timbering with marker pen.  The brickwork around the base was coloured with marker pen, and then brickwork drawn over it with fine black ballpoint pen.  The difference between that and the original is barely noticeable.

 The smallest 'Tudor' house in the foreground grew from my discovery the other day that I had an extra wall.  So I made another, very small, house.  I'm not sure the paving pattern really 'works' as roofing slates.  The windows and doors were drawn in.  In the pic below, two of the houses 'rubbled'. The orinigal buildings fit over the top.  I have done this with just one other of my buildings.
 This is it - some sort of municipal office or administration building - the Grunterhof, or Rathaus...
Municipal Rathaus in peacetime...

...a pile of rubble in war.
Shop district.

I don't know where the middle one came from, but I bought it new and assembled it.  I had hoped to make in 3 separate sections, but that proved impractical.  So it stayed rather neglected and in rather poor shape until a quick refurb a couple of weeks or so back.  The colourful building on the right I got second hand in very sorry condition.  I coloured the plaster a light orange, though I think light yellow would have been better, and touched up the worn bits with marker pen.  The place still manages to look run down...

The larger, small-town or suburban railway station, signal box and some sort of power generator thingy by way of accessory.

Office buildings.
I'll close with a few other inconsequential pics...