Thursday, 30 July 2015

Waterloo Project: La Haye Sainte refight at 1:3 Part One

I refer readers to my previous post -starting-line-up-for LHS as the introduction for this game which took place over 3 days 17-19 July 2015. For this post I'm delving pretty deeply into the wargaming aspects in this scale for a one-off historical refight and I hope you find it of interest before I enter into the narrative itself.

These maps are adaptations of the ones in Adkin's marvellous "Waterloo Companion". Using my photo and drawing programs I stripped them of existing troop markings and redrew them, emphasising the contours so I could build the terrain (more on that another time). The scale is shown and translated to roughly 3 metres for 1 inch on the table. Although the hedges are shown, the crops are not, so I used a lot of picture and written sources to come up with my own interpretation and you can see the result in the above referenced post. The photos also show the troops on the table at the starting point (with the exception of the 1st Light Battalion KGL still on the painting table at that time!) but these maps show all the available wargame units in the area, many off-table. They formed part of the brief to the players. (Click to enlarge all images)

Map  showing the Allied dispositions at the 1.30 pm start time
For practical purposes all historical units to right and left of the table were ignored. I told the players we would assume that as this is part of the big battle any units at either side were equally engaged and not a threat to their flanks. It made for a better game, with all available space being used.

The French map.
Only skirmishers on the table to start with and many of these
we judged had 10% casualties already from long range rifle fire.
Orders of Battle
Every unit was listed on an Excel spreadsheet together with number of figures, "10%" increment loss in figures for casualties, Number of figures per die for Firing and Melee, and the Morale Factor, a line ready to record the running total of casualties, and in many cases "orders" pre-written by me. The latter was intended to give some sense of purpose and structure at least at the start. Once players had got the more senior commanders into action then they were at liberty to change orders as they wished. Every leader from battalion commander upwards was also listed by number and name on the spreadsheet, and noted whether they were "inspiring" commanders (in my humble opinion and for the balance of the game). I won't bore you with a full Orbat but it can be gleaned from the Subordination charts below. In round numbers we had available for use about 2000 Allied figures and 2700 French of which all but about 650 made it onto the table during the 3 days' play.

As previously mentioned the players and Umpires  came from Gloucestershire, Bristol, and Buckinghamshire.

Allies - James Fergusson, Mike Tovey
French -  Richard Newcombe, Pat Burden, Paul D. and Dillon Browne

Richard briefs Paul and Dillon on their arrival for the second day of play.
Pat scratches his head wondering how he can secure La Haye Sainte Farm
Umpire Kevin listens with interest
James and Mike have a horde of French to deal with on Mont Saint Jean on the third day's play
This mad idea to make authentic forces at 1 figure representing 3 men started out two years ago. At that time we realised we might be able to do this if we combined Kevin's and Paul's existing collections, added  a significant influx by co-opting me into collecting and painting about 1000, and trying to find other collaborators too. Richard and Mike from the Greatfield Group joined the fray with painting and funding, and we discovered James just by chance through post-purchase chat on Ebay. James turned into a major contributor, rules tester and general breath of fresh air to us oldies. But various factors combined to conspire against my targets and I fell short by a  few hundred. Fortuitously the posts on this blog brought forth Paul H. an established wargamer only about 5 miles from my house! Paul had recently bought a big collection of Waterloo Napoleonics and was willing to fill some of the gaps by lending some superbly painted units, even though he was pre-booked on our weekend and couldn't play. Thanks so much Paul.

I tried to match starting strengths where possible as given in Adkin so there were no standard sized units. However most French companies were 24- 32 figures making battalions of 150 -180 figures. Allied battalions were of 4, 6 or 10 companies each so battalion strengths varied from about 135 up to over 200 figures. Cavalry squadrons on both sides were very varied to try to match up similar types, resulting in the smallest being 24 figures and the largest about 55. French 1st Cuirassiers and 2nd Dragoons, and the Allied
3rd KGL Hussars each had 4 squadrons on the field.

So for many days before the event I was busy trying to match up figures from 6 collections to try to make coherent units of the right size for our game. Most of the green clad Allied figures were my own so were relatively easy, but all the French battalions and the Allied redcoats had to be assembled to look OK together, and with Light and Grenadier companies.  A lot of the cavalry too were made up from disparate units designed for 1:20 or 1:100 scale armies. So please forgive some of the close-up photos where, if you look hard, you'll see soldiers with different facing colours juxtaposed. However I think the consolation is that, at normal wargames distance they look pretty impressive. And I revert to my usual mantra "This is not a static diorama it's a wargame!"

Lovely mass effect but all those different portmanteaux give the game way about combining smaller units
While I mention it can anyone challenge my claim to having the most green-clad rifle types on the table at once? If you take the 95th Rifles, 1st and 2nd Light Battalions KGL, and the Luneburg Battalion at this scale it is over 600 figures all in rifle green jackets!

Across the collections we probably had some of most manufacturers in 25/28mm but by far the majority were Perry metal and plastics, which we all like. There were also representatives from Front Rank, Elite, Essex, and in view of costs, Victrix and Warlord plastics too.

Rule aspects
Those who have followed our test games reported on this blog last Summer and in May this year will know I have written a set of rules especially for this game and our 1:3 Hougoumont scheduled for September. They are called "With MacDonnell and Baring 1815". We've tried to strike a balance between the fun of single figure skirmish gaming but with the overall tactical/strategic context still in view and getting the game actually done with thousands of figures! I wanted to ensure there was some flexibility for single companies and squadrons when needed, but that full battalions posed tactical issues particularly over manoeuvre and formation changing. Fog of War had to be present as I think it was responsible for some of the major "mistakes" made on 18th June 1815. A lot of this was represented by the Initiative System. Put simply, each side had a limited amount (maximum 12 as the game progressed) of numbered tokens. These were allocated blind at whatever level of the command chain a player chose. Mounted leaders have a 12" range of influence and foot officers 6". A higher echelon officer can influence more of his units as long as they are within 12". Exceptionally a few very senior leaders were allowed notional ADCs who could carry 1 or 2 tokens up to 30" to activate a subordinate command that turn. All the tokens are turned over and units played in order from 1 upwards. Morale effects are instant and the results applied using a "free" move. Thus players had to make hard choices how to place their tokens but could often be confounded by the playing order that came out and morale effects during the turn. It creates the kind of unpredictable to and fro I wanted but generally rewards the side that put its efforts into crunch points. Without some valid command a unit could not attack or move. "Unplayed units" are dealt with simultaneously at the end of the turn with limited firing and formation change ability.
A beautifully painted French Chevaux Leger Lancier officer leads his squadrons.
The red dot on his white sticker shows I have given him "Inspiring" status.
(photo and figure by Kevin)
Commanders deemed "Inspiring" can swap their initiative token for one nearby to give them more options and they add to a unit's morale if near enough. Players could pack in Inspiring commanders to an important area and add as many as were valid in the subordination chain.

This very smart looking French officer is having difficulty
controlling his French infantry outside the LHS entrance gate,
despite his "inspiring" sticker (at left)!
(Figure by James, photo by Kevin)
Another aspect of fog of war that worked well was that any target over 36" (approx 100 yards) away could be enshrouded in smoke and might not present a good enough target for full effect shooting results that turn.
A reducing chance of good visibility on a D6 over 72" and 120" meant long range artillery targets rarely received full effect which would have been unrealistically devastating every turn.

Even though Allied light troops are surging down the forward slope of
Mont St Jean they are still unlikely to provide full effect targets for  French
batteries (on window cill) deemed to be about 500 yards away (i.e. over 120")
Each unit had a set of statistics and status markers using the
Wargamer ADC bases and tokens adapted for our rules.
Take advantage of Martin's special offer for my readers of this blog by visiting
this posting  before your purchase.
As you can tell from the above I was keen to limit initiative and commands to reflect the historic command structure and likelihood that units would follow known leaders. It wasn't reasonable to expect players to know this so I provided each with one of the charts below that show how the Corps/Division/Brigade/Regiment/Battalion/Battery subordination should work, assuming the commanders were actually available (see Events)

Baron Dubois uses his Initiative token to order forward the front squadron  of
1st Cuirassiers while also summoning up  another one within 12".
On reflection this limitation proved more difficult for cavalry commanders due to the size of units.
(photo by Kevin)

The French chart is fudged somewhat as the paved chausee seemed to be a dividing line between both infantry and cavalry corps and the command chain would have exceeded our officer figures available and chances on the dice!

Random Events and Command

Most wargames tend to represent a battle in its entirety but here we had taken a slice out of one of the most crowded battlefields in history, and one where some generals were notable for their personal involvement at points of crisis. I wanted to reflect firstly, the prospect that generals commanding troops elsewhere might not be present all the time, and secondly that orders might arrive adding or subtracting units due to pressures elsewhere. Occasionaly this was fun, often it was frustrating and, in a few cases, produced exultant air punching!

Each turn a different player on each side rolled two D10 and added them together. Then we applied the resulting number as far as possible. I hope you can read these by clicking and enlarging. If a general "arrived" before any of the troops in his subordination it was not wasted but was applied at the time those troops were due. The Events chart also allowed some custom made occurrences pertinent to the La Haye Sainte area which could prove to be significant game influencers if they happened at the right time.

Allied Event Chart

French Event Chart

Paul D's Wellington Command Group. For his rules each figure on the vignette base
represents a command (so 5 for Old Nosey), but he only had two with my
WMaB1815 rules (photo by Kevin)
Time Charts
I don't want to bore you with more charts, suffice it to say I looked at whatever concensus I could glean from various published works on Waterloo to arrive at times when new units could be fed into the fray. Each side was given their own copy showing timed moves from 1.30pm, optimistically up to 7 pm. but I admit I was allowing some units to arrive a bit earlier than historically as I foresaw the inevitable wargaming delays.

The French 2nd Dragoons advance up the "extra bit" having been available from 3.30pm
Behind them one of the battalions of 13th Legere came on a 4pm
You might think the game objective for the French was obvious - take La Haye Sainte Farm! But no, that was simply a means to an end on 18th June 1815 and the real aim was to take Mont St Jean Farm and Village much further forward.  So I gave the French the game objective to dominate the crest of MSJ ridge and have seen off most opposition there by our close of play after 3 days' wargaming. I wasn't prepared to predict what game turn we might have reached by then!

Next time I'll get on to the narrative.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Waterloo Project: Starting line-up for La Haye Sainte at 1:3 scale

Well it's finally here! Two years of madness to be consumated next weekend and here are some photos of the battlefield we will be using with troops in the opening positions as at about 1.30pm on 18th June 1815. No time to explain more as there are still too many preparations to be done and I'll assume readers have been following what we are up to.  So, many photos with minimum descriptions.
View from the NE corner. At left is the "extra bit" which is separate and will be placed on
the side table to enable players access to all parts of the playing area.
Overall view from North of the Elm tree crossroads
View from the NW corner behind KGL line infantry and the advancing Luneburg battalion
Looking Northwards up the table towards Mont St Jean ridge
The front line: skirmishers from 54e and 55e Regiments de Ligne close in on
La Haye Sainte orchard. On a specially built shelf on the window cill are
three batteries forming part of the Grand Battery. Our rules allow "off-field "
artillery fire as they are 300 metres (100 inches) away.
Looking along the three French batteries
Rogers' Royal Foot Artillery battery looks down the extra bit
And in close up - one of Kevin's famous artillery vignettes in the foreground
Part of Ross' Royal Horse Artillery battery by Wellington's elm

Above and below: two views of the division of Ross' battery by the abattis
on the main chausee

 Luneburg battalion, with skirmishers forward and the rest in company
column begins it's advance down the slope from the sunken road
Luneburg's view of the forward skirmish line and French skirmishers beyond
2nd Light Battalion KGL is garrisoning La Haye Sainte, with its barricade outside
 the main gate, and (below) the orchard 

1st Battalion 95th Rifles in the sunken road on MSJ crest.........
......and around the sand pit
The 32nd Regiment of Foot in two wings shelters on the reverse slope,
with light company lining the hedge
The Duke of Wellington and Earl of Uxbridge await the French onslaught

More photos of the actual game after the weekend, and, if there is any interest I'm happy  to do a posting on how I made the terrain.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Waterloo Beers and project update

Just a quick blog to make sure my faithful followers are in the picture. But first, too good an opportunity to miss to show you some Waterloo beers.

Belgian Waterloo beers on the Waterloo  terrain in my wargames room

In the week before our "Waterloo - Le Woteef" game Kevin arrived bearing a hefty cardboard box. It contained no less than 48 bottles of "Waterloo Beer", two of which are pictured above. His intention was to commemorate our West Country Waterloo Summer by having enough bottles to donate one to each of  the participants in all our games. The majority of those at Le Woteef were beer drinkers and very grateful. Noting that it was a hefty 8% volume of alcohol some opted to take their souvenir home and keep a clearer head for the game!

Kevin and I first encountered this in the Duke of Wellington restaurant near the Lion Mound on the battlefield last year, imbibed more of it in Waterloo village that night, and that led our intrepid  figure painter extrordinaire to import a crate from Belgium especially for our events. As you see it comes in a "Triple Blond" for those who prefer a more Continental style beer and a "Strong Dark" for those like me who prefer their ale more English style. The bottles are small at 33 cl, but just as well really.

Now, completely separately, but as my liking for the hop is well known among my children, I was given a present last week from Scotland by one of my daughters and her Scottish husband.
Scottish Waterloo beer sits astride the Brussels-Charleroi chausee on our,
as yet untested, La Haye Sainte battlefield
This is made by a brewery called "Born in the Borders" and is a normal  UK 500 ml size and a more modest 4%. I have yet to try it but the next weekend should give a good opportunity......which brings me to the update.

Apologies to those looking forward to the account of how "Le Woteef" game went. For the moment I will just say that the Umpire declared it a major French victory. I will be blogging it in the next few weeks but the lack of blogs has been due to a mad rush since that last game dismantling the terrain and rebuilding the part we need in 1:3 scale - that is 1" = 3 metres for 1 figure to represent 3 men.  The terrain is done - 96 square feet of sculpted landscape, the figures for the first Act are on the table (well at least the Allies) and I'm still working on the orbats and briefings, as well as the usual last minute panic to complete essential figures!  It has taken me three weeks of nearly full time effort, and sorting out all the borrowed troops from six collections is something wargamers of modest means like me can usually only dream of. The thirteen battalions of French infantry amount to 2000 figures and the 10 squadrons of French cavalry are around 450. Kevin is coming round Thursday to help with all the vital marking up of units and I hope we manage to get them all into play over the three days we have allocated. 6 players are coming from North Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, and hopefully some local observers will pay a call from Stroud and Cirencester too.

I will be putting some photos on the blog shortly of the terrain and the starting line up.