Sunday, June 10, 2018

'Now... that reminds me...'

French approach.  The Dragoons have taken some losses from
guerrilla fire as they passed through the town.  13th Light
undertake to clear the place of insurgents. The weakened
11th Dragoons are further discomfited by the Maria-Luisa Hussars...
A comment upon my recent posting anent the Gatonegro War of Independence put me in mind of amnother wargames battle, fought long ago between armies of disparate training and durability.  The thing was set in Spain, and based upon one of Charles S. Grant's Tabletop Teasers: 'Peninsular Conflict'.  I notice now, looking at the original, that I inverted the whole thing, a little trick my memory sometimes plays with me!

The premise is that poorly trained and led, motivated only by resistance against an occupying power, the Spanish armies were time and again defeated by the French.  Early in the Peninsular War,  smallish French forces  were able to take on and beat much larger Spanish armies.  Such is the myth, anyhow, but a fine instance of that must have been General Joseph Souham's victory over twice his numbers at Vich (Vic) Catalonia early in 1810. Of course, one tends to forget the outcomes of the actions at Baylen, Tamames and Alcaniz...

This scenario had the French responding to rumours of a Spanish force approaching an important town somewhere in northern Spain.  The report read by General Montenez indicated the town itself  - El Viscostello - was a hotbed of guerrilla activity.  Off marched the French general, with his Division, with attached horse and guns. His aim was to capture and seal off the passes through the high ridges west of the town.
Late morning: the action develops.  French ordre mixte clears
the northern ridge and part of the central, but at some cost.
Spanish right hand Brigade counter-attacks...
 His Army comprised:

Army of Catalonia, Momtenez's Division:
GOC General de Division Alexandre Montenez.

13me Legere ..... 27 figures (3 HQ gigures and 24 'shooting' figures)
17me Ligne  ...... 27 figures
30me Ligne ........27 figure
51me Ligne ........27 figures
61me Ligne ........27 figures
11me Dragons ... 12 figures
9me Hussards .... 12 figures
Cannon ...............  8 figures and 2 cannon.

Totals: 167 figures and 2 guns.

Now, this had been somewhat adapted from the Teaser scenario, and took on board the author's suggestion - in view of the heavy defeat of the French in his enactment - the addition of a further unit to the original numbers.

Early afternoon:  French advancing steadily on the right, but
are very lucky to hold on their left when a desperate change by
9th Hussars flings back two Spanish battalions.
 At the time, my friend 'Jacko' was building a Spanish army, in plastics I think, with 18-figure battalions.  This led to a fair bit of calculation and Maffs to arrive at the Army of the Left-Right-Centre led by General Don Diego del Huevos y Bacon as follows:

Early morning: the 13th Light infantry beginning clearing operations. 
Two companies clear the north side fairly quickly, and on the south side,
 the guerrilleros are soon driven into the orange groves.  But the pursuit
among the trees leads to losses heavy enough that 13th Light
 had to give up the chase.  They fall back to the buildings
 lining the main street streets.  Two guerrilla figures remain.

Army of the Left-Right-Centre:
GOC General Don Diego del Huevos y Bacon

1. Navarre infantry  ....... 18 figures
2. Cordoba Infantry ........18 figures
3. Zaragoza Infantry .......18 figures
4. Leon Infantry ..............18 figures
5. Rey Infantry ................18 figures
6. Aragon Infantry ..........18 figures
7. Soria Infantry ..............18 figures
8. Guadualaxara Infantry..18 figures
9. Estremadura Infantry ...18 figures
10. Maria Luisa Hussars ..12 figures
11. Artillery ...................... 8 figures and 2 cannon

Totals: 182 figures plus 2 guns.

In addition to this considerable force, there were in the town a small force of guerrilleros, to the number ten.  The town itself comprised 12 buildings, 6 on the north side of the main street; 6 on the south.  Orange groves fringed the southern outskirts.  The location of each guerrilla fighter was determined by a die throw: odds/evens to determine north/south side; and the pip count determining which building.  The modified picture above and to the right shows the distribution, and the French effort to hunt them down: 3 guerrillas on the north side; 7 on the south.

The qualitative difference between the armies was intended to make up the difference in numerical strength.  The 24 shooting figures of the French battalions was double that of the 16 shooting figures of the Spanish.  The former were more durable into the bargain, being classed as 'Experienced' against the Spanish 'Raw'.  However, the guerrilleros, acting in small independent groups, were not subject to morale checks at all.  Combat between them and their light infantry adversaries was conducted in a different manner - more in the way of a 'skirmish' action among individual figures.  The result was startling, to say the least.  The 13th Light infantry were never to enter the main action this day!

Late afternoon:  A Spanish counter-attack throws the French
briefly onto the defensive, and even recaptures the centre
ridge for a time.  French pressure on both flanks eventually
throws back the Spanish army.  Half an hour before last
 light, the Cocobanana and Saramiles passes are both
in French hands,
Leading the French column, on a dim dawning of 19 February, 1810, the 9th Hussars passed through the town safely enough.  But by the time the leading troopers of the 11th Dragoons passed through,  the insurgents in the town had been alerted and were ready for action.  Pistol, musket and blunderbuss fire erupted from upper windows and balconies, emptying many a saddle.  Carrying on through the town. the Dragoons formed up west of the town.  It was up to the light infantry of the 13th Legere to clear the town.  As the volume of fire indicated that the majority of the insurgents were on the southern side of town, just two companies were detailed to clear the north side; and the remainder of the battalion to deal to the south side. 

As commander of the French, I had hoped that, after clearing the town of insurgents, the light infantry would become available for action in the battle for the ridges.  It was not to be, but the French were victorious - fortunately so - in the tough, hard-fought near-run affair that ensued.

Apart from the map captions, I won't go into the rest of the action: it's ancient history.  But, by a remarkable coincidence, something very similar was to occur during the early months of the Gatonegro War of Independence...

Friday, June 8, 2018


New accommodations for the Army of Ursaminor.
 Not a whale of a lot happening on the war games front chez moi.  One gets these blah phases, especially with the onset of winter, in which the motivation to do much of anything is lacking.  I ought to be doing a heck of a lot more with this blog spot.  It is not as if I haven't things to write or to show.  But I have been doing a bit of painting and a bit of trying to rationalise, sort out and accommodate my inventory of stuff.  One friend has been the beneficiary of a small cull of unpainted plastic Napoleonic and 7YW figures.  Seemed fair: he's sent stuff my way from time to time.
Four horsed regiments; four manufacturers: Italieri carabiniers;
Revell Dragoons, Airfix hussars, ESCI lancers.
 I also found these laminated cardboard drawer file thingies.  A good size and height for my plastic figures.  Pictured is the army I built about 20 years ago for my daughter.  Recent readers might recognise it as the Royalist/Loyalist side in my recent narratives on the Gatonegro War of Independence.
Ursaminor infantry until recently. 4 Line, 1 Grenadier, and
1 Jager battalion.  There's supposed to be an extra Grenadier
battalion HQ in there somewhere...
Several years ago I got hold of a job lot of Airfix French artillery figures, with enough of the included marching infantry to form almost two further battalions.  Then four more arrived to make up the numbers.  For some reason I'd find one lot (the 34) or the other (the 4), never quite remembering whether or not I had the other lot, never quite being able to recall what happened to them, until recently.  That's what happens when you happen to be fossicking around for something and run across what you weren't looking for.

Ursaminor artillery, a militia battalion, and two new Line
battalions plus a new Grenadier Bn HQ.
Finally and at last, I've got them together, with some Airfix AWI British Grenadier figures, to form the 5th and 6th Regiments of the Army of Ursaminor (or the Estrada and Friol Infantry of the Royalist Army in Gatonegro).  It was time to desist with the teddy bear motif (sorry - Ursus Theodorus or displayed), in favour of simpler designs - Azure with two bendlets or for the 5th, and Chequey gules and or for the 6th.  Standing in front of the brown-jacketed militia unit is the HQ for the Guadix Grenadiers (drawn from the grenadier companies of 4th - 6th Regiments).  It took me three goes to get a satisfactory lozengy vert and argent flag for that HQ.
Trying out simpler flag designs ... 
The distinctive blue coats of 5th Regiment were due to most of those figures having been semi-painted when I got them.  The crowns of the shakos having been painted red, they became all red.  And 6th Regiment got grey shakos.  Sixth Regiment also got the 2 extra figures to become a 30-figure, rather than the establishment 28-figure unit.

The whole army (excluding the militia) comprises 225 foot, 60 horse and 18 artillerymen - 303 figures, with 4 cannon.  I'll need to find some suitable Brigade or Division commanders as well.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bir Hacheim - Memoir 44 scenario playtest.

It was reading Martin Rapier's recent account of a 'Bir Hakeim' action played under the Memoir '44 game system, with add-ons, supplements and adjustments, that inspired this belated, and rather divergent, posting.  As such it was something of an experiment and the article as much a review of the game system and the success (or otherwise) of the modifications Martin had in mind (see here).
Scenario set up.  The dotted bits represent minefields, for
which I used AT obstacles.  Blue arrows are exit points fpr
Axis units breaking through; the grey stars
strong-point objectives.

 Reading this, I wondered just how the scenario would go with the basic Normandy game system - completely unaltered.  Mapping out the scenario from the photographs, I had to guess the number of command cards and 'victory points' for each side.

The Axis went first; both sides got 6 command cards.  The Allies got Victory Points by destroying enemy units.  The Axis get them by {a} destroying Allied units, {b} by occupying strong points held by the 'Free French' near Bir Hacheim' (grey stars) and {c} by exiting units from either of the two exit points marked with blue arrows on the map.

For this action, I used anti-tank obstacles to represent minefields, with no rules adjustment.  All the same, as the action developed, it became clear that the action would concentrate upon the less protected positions outside the fortified perimeter.  Partly this was due to the preponderance of sector orders to the right and centre.  Very few group orders turned up, an observation that Martin Rapier dilated upon.
Rough notion of how events unfolded.  The arrival of 2/3
of the Ariete Division tanks and the 'Armour Assault;
card led to almost the entire Indian Bde being overrun.
For quite a while, it looked as though the Axis were not going to flank the Gazala line at all - through Bir Hacheim, or around it.  Fighting was never more than desultory around the Bir Hacheim 'box' itself - such as there was being as much to turn over the cards as to inflict losses.  The defences were discouraging enough, but none too many sector order cards came up for this part of the field.

Between the ridges, the fighting was a deal more brisk, and the defenders were giving a pretty good account of themselves.  Early on, the Axis paused to bring up the artillery just one hex, to a more effective range of the dug in line.  Even so, the early Stuka raid (Air Strike card) and heavy artillery strike a few turns thereafter (Barrage card) were welcome to the Axis to keep up the pressure in what amounted to a battle of attrition.  A couple of tank units from 'Ariete' Division were called over - to reinforce what had become the main attack, but also to turn over a 'left sector 'Probe' card.

What sealed the deal for the Axis was the arrival of an 'Armour Assault' card, just as the Ariete Division was set to intervene effectively.  With it, the four tank units still available thundered into close assault, effecting a couple of overrun attacks and swept the Allied line - infantry and guns - from right to left.  Only the remnant still occupying the rise on the left flank survived.

Of course, the tank units of the 4th Armoured Brigade counter-attacked, and inflicted some loss.  The left hand unit even reoccupied some positions earlier held by the infantry.  But after their massed attack, the momentum rested with the Axis.  Soon the entire available Allied armour were wrecks littering the darkling desert.  Five Allied units destroyed and one Axis Panzer unit exited, to two Axis units destroyed (though at least a couple of others were down to a single element) it was a great Axis victory; 6-2 based on VPs.

The turning point was certainly sudden, and the Allies didn't get much in the way of group cards to help things along.  Still, for mine, a fascinating exercise, interesting scenario even under the basic Memoir '44 system... and ... a candidate game for The Portable Wargame!