Friday, 1 February 2008

Terence Wise once ran a remarkably good military bookshop in Doncaster. It was due to his enterprise that I own a copy of Charge - or at least of the reprint that he published. He also republished some rare, but immensely valuable books, with subscribers to his booklist signing up to guarantee some sales before it was published. Not only did we get a number of desperately wanted books as a result, but we got our names printed inside them, good for the ego, and cheap at the price.

Lord George Sackville (As Lord Germain, by Romney, 1778)

One of these books was 'His Brittanic Majesty's Army In Germany During The Seven Years War ', by Lt. General Sir Reginald Savory. And it was in the pages of this epic tome that I first came across that unfortunate officer Lord George Sackville and his part in the Battle of Minden. In Savory's words:

'Sackville had refused to advance despite repeated orders from Prince Ferdinand. Seldom, if ever, has there been in battle such disgraceful disobedience.'

And there things might have stood for me if I hadn't, one day in London, seen a book entitled 'The Coward of Minden' in a shop window near King's Cross Station. The title was intriguing (I'm still unsure as to why this kind of book is to be happened upon quite by accident whilst wandering about London) so I went in and bought it. The book, by Piers Macksey, turned out to be a detailed history of the conduct of the battle, the events leading up to it, and Sackville's court martial afterwards. And I think it is probably the best source of information for anyone trying to write rules for the Seven Years War that I have had the pleasure to read.

Without wishing to write a spoiler, the book gives a rather different viewpoint to that of Savoury. Macksey points out the factors that explain Sackville's conduct. To give a very brief summary from memory these were.

1. The rate of advance of the British infantry was unprecedented and unanticipated, and was contrary to Ferdinand's plans.
2. Sackville's view of the battle was blocked by a wood that lay between his position on the extreme right flank and the rest of the army..
3. The orders received by Sackville were both ambiguous and contradictory.
4. Sackville was consciencious officer of proven courage, but customarily a very slow mover of troops. This last was compounded by his being an infantry officer put in charge of cavalry.

I don't think that Sackville is exonerated by the above: as a senior officer he was trusted to use his judgement to overcome all these problems, but Macksey does show that he was dealt with very harshly when a quieter, more dignified, removal might have been called for. I rather doubt if I would have done any better in Sackville's position, but then I don't expect anyone to entrust me with the command of part of a real life army. I do find it interesting to compare his conduct with that of Soubise at Vellinghausen: a SYW general's career was obviously determined as much by his connections at court as by his conduct in the field.

This leads me to the point that while factors such as terrain, unit formation, and training are all important in determining movement rates, we cannot omit one factor of fundamental importance: leadership. The difference between a Seydlitz and a Sackville or a Soubise is so great that it can be the most important determinant in how a force manouvres. Charge rules do not account for leadership. This is something I shall have to think about, and any suggestions are welcome.


Bluebear Jeff said...

My own rules give each General and Brigadier a "personality". There are four . . . Careful, Steady, Aggressive and Political.

Each type has a matrix as to how they will "interpret" their orders depending upon a die roll and the personality of the General issuing the command.

We've had some wonderful results using this structure. If you check out my last post in December, 2007, it has links to the accounts of the various playtests of my rules. Reading them may give you some ideas.

The rules themselves are in the process of a re-write to clean them up and bring them in line with how we've been interpreting things in play . . . so I'll try to let you know when I get version 0.20 online so that you can see how this works.

Go to . . .

. . . and scroll down about halfway to where the post title is "HISTORY OF "WAG" BATTLES". There will be a picture of me (white bearded guy in red) looking over some troops. That's the post and you can follow the links from there.

-- Jeff

Andy Mitchell said...

Yes thats the sort of thing I want. Charge! names all its generals but then excludes their personalities from how the conduct of the battle is determined. Perhaps because I'm not interested in competitive battles, I want to be able to use the people in my private imaginations to have a greater impact. Mind you, I may need a greater number of types of personality - additional flavours of incompetence as it were. More fools, fewer heroes.

I look forward to version 0.20.

Snickering Corpses said...

Jeff's rules are definitely worth a look through, and you may also want to check out Bill Protz' BAR, which has general quality ratings included.

Steve said...

...very thought provoking - good post... a simpler approach I guess you could use a DBA PIP type roll - deducting or adding an amount of points based on the character of the commander....

..the obverse of this (and this is very much one of those "national characteristics" type of discussions) is that when I put my army ont he table, I want to command them - not a proxy I have no control over.... which is bizarre given I like to include "national characteristics" ... :o)