Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Afterthoughts On BlastHof

Its great to see I'm not alone in enjoying picking over these old battles.

Anyone familiar with Charge! will realise that my refight was not an exact reconstruction. Although this (in the original authors' minds at least) was a small battle, it could not be properly contained within the confines of a family dining table. This problem will be far worse for the next battle I am hoping to refight (Action! from 'The Wargame').

Marburgers Close Up - Taken before we chose sides, the wrong general is still on the table.

There were some slight changes to the OOB. These worked very well, the original OOB favouring (in my humble opinion) the infantry-heavy side. It is ironic that the outcome of the battle was decided by artillery. I had reduced the number of guns from two to one on each side. I had originally intended to go further and use a revised artillery effect table, but in the end chose to stick to the original rules in their entirety. The single Rheinfeller gun, once it woke up, blew away an entire infantry company in two turns: one quarter of the Marburger Army.

Fortified by beer and chocolate (no ladies were in attendance to forbid such excesses), both sides pursued extremely aggreassive tactics. This goes entirely against my childhood memories of games fought with Charge! rules, where the tendency was to hang back and bombard the enemy. I don't think we have grown old and foolish just yet, so this change in tactics probably reflected our desire to have a fun game rather than worrying about who won.

We found one major problem (there were many minor ones too) with trying to record the battle. When we came to the critical moment of the battle we were both engrossed in the fight and entirely forgot about taking photos. So the photos of the cavalry charge and melee are of the second and not the first charge. I also didn't take any notes: I'd assumed that with such a simple battle my memory would be sufficient, something that turned out to be an error.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

BlastHof Heath, April 1758

I love it when a plan comes together - as I seem to remember Hannibal Smith of the 'A Team' saying annoyingly frequently. In my personal experience long-laid plans rarely do come together, but this one did. The battle against my old school friend Jim Wannop - almost 30 years since we last locked horns - took place. This post will relate the events. Photos of the battle were taken by Jim, so are of a rather higher standard than is normal for this blog.

The order of battle we used was pretty close to the original: 3 coys of infantry and one squadron of cavalry (36 infantry, 8 cavalry) and one gun on the Electoral side (or in this case Marburgers), commanded by Soubise. Quite what Soubise was doing fighting for the Northern Protestant side is anybody's guess: from his energy on the day of battle it's quite possible that this was a different Soubise who led the French at Rossbach.

Marburg initial position

The opposing Imperial (Rheinfeller) side had 2 coys of infantry and 2 squadrons of cavalry (24 infantry, 16 cavalry) and one gun, under the command (of course) of General Kornberg.

Rheinfels Starting Position

We used the elementary rules as in Charge!, although it must be remarked that neither of us had read the rules before battle commenced. So some deviation from these rules may have unwittingly occurred. However this did not occasion any argument as neither of us was worried about winning or losing.

Initial Moves

Soubise won the toss and moved first. His army moved forwards, inclining to the right so that a second company could come into line on the near bank of the stream. Kornberg responded by a general advance, sending both squadrons of his cavalry across the stream, and following its banks with the rest of his army.

Soubise now showed his natural inclination towards the defensive. He refused his right flank to protect it against the mass of cavalry that was clearly directed at it. His infantry on the left flank continued their advance. He halted his artillery to fire at the enemy cuirassiers, but missed, rolling a four when a five or six would have been required to hit.

Kornberg was unimpressed by the ranging shot and continued his advance, his cavalry being held a little back. By giving up the opportunity to return fire, his gun now reached a commanding position, with its right flank protected by the Rheinfeller infantry, its left and front by the stream.

A commanding position

The Battle Develops

Soubise's staff was now in heated debate about what to do. The leading infantry companies were in easy range of the Rheinfeller artillery, and were masking their own gun from returning fire in that direction. Those who argued for a slight retirement were overruled by Soubise who was inclined to more aggressive action. The dragoons now advanced on the right flank, one infantry company moving to their support. In the centre the artillery moved forwards, Soubise having decided that their gunners were clearly not up to long range firing. One company on his left crossed the stream, the other remained close to his gun.

Kornberg now prepared his stroke. The cavalry moved forwards at a measured pace, its officers keeping the horses fresh until within charge range. The rest of his army remained stationary and the gun took aim at the infantry company opposite it. Only a two was needed to hit, and a two was gotten. Kornberg grinned as he threw for effect. A one, great was the cursing from the Rheinfeller side as a single infantryman was removed. Ignoring their general's discomfort the Rheinfeller infantry fired at the Marburg infantry that had crossed the stream and shot down the four that hadn't gotten into cover.

Soubise now prepared for the charge that was clearly to come. The outnumbered Dragoons were somewhat comforted as their supporting infantry company moved up onto their left. His right flank secure, Soubise now moved his gun forwards again to reach within canister range of the Rheinfellers. His infantry in the houses continued their advance and now took up a position where they could fire upon the Rheifellers without any effective reply. Return fire from those previously caught in the open killed a single Rheinfeller.

Kornberg charged with his cavalry. His gun fired again at the enemy infantry, and despite the close range, somehow managed to miss (he rolled a one on the 'to hit' roll). An irate Kornberg could be seen spurring his horse fowards and belabouring the unfortunate battery commander with the flat of his sword.

The cuirassiers charge

The Marburg infantry now fired on the oncoming Cuirassiers, two of them falling from their saddles. Soubise's gun fired at the Rheinfeller gun: if this could be put out of action, then the need to advance on the strong Rheinfeller position facing his left would be removed. A hit has duly acheived and two gunners fell. The final activity on this turn was to resolve the melee. The Dragoons, despite their secure position, managed to lose one trooper while failing to inflict a single casualty in return. The infantry, who had risked so much to support them, lost three men: again for no return. Both sides fell back.


Kornberg had now lost control of the battle, occupied as he was in chastising his artillery commander. This seemed to be no real loss to the Rheinfellers, and their cavalry charged again. His right flank infantry wheeled left and lined the bank of the stream, putting the infantry in the houses at long range. Meanwhile, a battle-scarred bombardier had taken over command of the gun, and took long and careful aim at the Marburg infantry. This time there was no error and a six for effect was rolled. Six of the Marburg infantry were removed, a heavy loss.

The Conclusion

Soubise noted that his casualties were becoming severe, and urged his army on. The infantry in the house charged the Rheinfellers in the rear. On the opposite flank the remnants of the infantry company there fired upon the oncoming cuirassiers, killing another two troopers. The Marburger gun then fired again on the Rheinfeller artillery. A decent roll here would have reduced it to firing only once every second turn. Sadly it was not to be: a one was rolled for effect, and that was negated by a 'half owed' from firing at the cuirassiers. The advantage in the right flank melee this time went to the Marburgers, the Dragoons killing two cuirassiers for only one loss, the infantry losing three men.

Kornberg saw that his cavalry were blown. He now allowed them time to rest and reorganise. But in the centre his artillery spoke again, throwing another six for effect. The remnants of the Marburger infantry company guarding the gun were blown away. The desperate infantry melee at the bridge was easily won by the isolated Rheinfels infantry company. these devoted warriors killing five men while losing only one of their own, and bundling many of the survivors into the stream.

The Final Bayonet Charge

Too late: the battle was over. The losses to grape and canister had been too much for Soubise's army, which was now understrength. Covered by the Dragoons, it retired from the battlefield, Kornberg being too involved with thrashing his artillery commander to organise a pursuit.

Dr J Evans Mudd, the noted military historian (now based at the University of Geneva), notes that the battle seems to have been won by the skill of a single artillerist, rather than by the tactical ability of Kornberg. The Marburg army had been savagely mauled and was out of action for many months to come. When the news came to the attention of Ferdinand of Brunswick he sent a detachment under Ysenburg to Marburg.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The Final Countdown

It looks like BlastHof is going to be happening as planned: my old school friend is going to be visiting the neighbourhood at the right time. So our plans are laid, although (of course) the plans of both mice and men are liable to change at any moment due to the requirements of the female members of the species. But if nothing intervenes the 26th of April should see that famous bridge being contested yet again by a band of metal heroes.

Thinking back on old times, I have some fears about the thing. My friend has at times received generous aid from the dice. We once fought a SPI (hex) wargame on the Ardennes Offensive. In that game the Germans receive an initial 'surprise' bonus on their attack rolls until, at the start of a turn, the Germans roll a six. When I fought that game with my friend, my Americans were still being surprised on the very last day, several weeks after Hitler's minions had first crashed into their lines. Good grief, even the French in 1940 had figured out what was happening by then.

But I digress. In terms of the assets required (for BlastHof), things are plodding along at a slow rate. As that's all that is required to meet the planned date, all is well and good. I have five figures left to paint - none of them essential. The terrain is also well under way - but then there's not a great quantity of it needed to fit on your average family dining table.

Figure basing is proving to be the most tedious task, and I have decided to get quite fancy here and have been experimenting with static grass. Having never used this stuff before, I have been very pleasantly surprised by the ease with which the stuff is applied. Stick it into its bottle and give it a good shake, then puff it at PVA glue on the base. You can buy special 'puffer bottles' for this, but I used a top of the line job available at any local supermarket (citrus flavour no less), as the photo shows. All I had to do was enlarge the hole in its top with a 6mm drill.

Dragoons and 'Puffer Bottle'

Looking ahead, I want to start on the units for the next battle in the series given in 'Charge!' and 'The Wargame'. So I've sent off to Tradition of London for a company each of musketeers and fusiliers and another squadron of dragoons. As usual, I haven't bought greater quantities of figures than I will paint in a month or so: I'm hoping that in this way I won't build up a metal mountain of never-to-be-painted figures. Its enjoyable shopping for model soldiers but one can buy them far quicker than you can paint them.

The one problem I can foresee at this point is the light infantry. I'd prefer to use a different pose from march attack, and I'm not keen on standing firing either. The first I associate with infantry in close order, the latter looks peculiar to me when (as normal) there are no enemy figures to the front. Figures with their muskets 'at the ready' would be about right. I'd also like one of the units to be Croats. Now there are figure ranges that would give me all this, but none that I know of that don't belong to the 'porcine' breed. So, at the moment, I have no idea where to look for these gentlemen.

Monday, 7 April 2008

A Little Bit More Gun

It occurs to me - albeit rather belatedly - that my photo of yesterday uses a very bad choice of camera angle for showing the Suren gun. So here's a view of the same gun from the side.

You can see from this angle that the gun's barrel is relatively long, as is appropriate for a French gun. Experiments in the middle of the 18th Century showed that the length of barrel could be considerably reduced without any significant loss of performance, either in terms of range or accuracy. A shorter barrel meant much less weight in metal. That in turn meant that a less sturdy and thus lighter carriage could be used.

All this gave rise to much more mobile artillery, enabling units such as Captain Phillip's artillery brigade (two batteries of 12 pounders) to come up in time to support the British infantry column at Minden.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Guns And Gunners

Guns and crew - at least a minimum complement needed for the battle - are now complete. I have only painted four gunners per gun so far (Charge! uses six per gun) but I intend to add the rest only if I have time before battle commences. I really want to crack on with the terrain now, so the extra figures can wait.

Suren French Artillery masquerading as Prussians

Painting the gunners doesn't take long, its the remodelling done to make them a little more like SYW Prussians (instead of WAS French) that takes the time. As usual with any unfamiliar figure, no matter how carefully I inspect them, I tend to find additional detail that I'd prefer to change after I have started painting. Its only when tracing a paint brush over the entire model that I come to know every feature of it.

I'd probably have done better to have gone with gunners from the AWI as suggested by Alte Fritz. However I had thought when choosing figures that the AWI tricorns looked as if their evolution to bicornes had gone a little too far. With the benefit of hindsight, I think this would have been a relatively minor problem, and one that's hardly noticeable on the tabletop.

So my units are essentially complete and I have only the field of battle left to consider. Luckily the terrain for Blasthof isn't all that complex: a few lengths of stream with a single bridge, a house, a hill, and a ploughed field. With the exception of the bridge and stream none of these had any great impact on the original fight so can be left out if I'm pushed for time.