Ball’s Bluff, 21st October 1861

Although 21st October is most remembered in Britain as the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, I have neither models nor rules for that fight, so I decided to have a go at the battle of Ball’s Bluff, 21st October 1861.
I found a scenario online for the boardgame “Battlecry”, and prepared the battlefield with my Kallistra terrain. Laying put the troops I discovered I needed more Confederate cavalry, so off the the toy cupboard and paintbox.
One very quick painting and basing session later and we are ready to go.

An overview of the battlefield, taken with my i-pad
An overview of the battlefield, taken with my i-pad. Union troops are drossing the Potomac in the background.

Followers of my blog may notice from the closer picture below that my ACW models are not flocked to match the terrain they stand on, unlike most of my models. This is because when I started to base the troops for my Gettysburg battle some months back there was no time. It’s a job for another day.

A view from the Confederate right flank.
A view from the Confederate right flank. Terrain by Kallisra, figures from Irregular Miniatures, buildings by Total Battle Miniatures, trees by various makers.

The battle began with the Confederates advancing on their right flank, which was countered by the Union cavalry, while also moving their infantry forwards towards the woods.
The Confederates advanced into the woods to meet this attack, but were met by fire from the Union infantry.
The cavalry of both sides charged and a general melee ensued.
The Confederates pushed forwards in the centre, while the Union countered on their left. Confederate infantry and artillery in the centre fired with devastating effect. The Union forces then counterattacked but after several attacks and counterattacks were beaten back.
On the flanks both sides took to the woods for cover and continued to fire with limited effect. Eventually Confederate firepower in the centre won the day.

Although I enjoy the Commands & Colors Napoleonics games I found this version of the same basic game system to be a little too abstract. Not reducing the firepower as a unit incurs casualties is somewhat counterintuitive, and means that units are artificially strong until suddenly collapsing. Maybe that is more appropriate to the Civil War, but it does not work for me.

So, while the table is set up, tomorrow I plan to replay the battle with other rules.

More on German tugs

As an afterthought to yesterday’s post I got out the kit pieces and tried various deck layout configurations for a second steam tug.

I think that I will try this one, with a few nautical accessories.

Kit components seeking inspirational use.
Kit components seeking inspirational use.

But things keep getting better! At the top of the picture are two river boat hulls, which just happen to be the correct dimensions for a German catamaran ferry or floating gun platform in 1:300 scale.

It looks like my 19th century Americans will need to wait for a boat trip up the Mississippi.

A little something to help the Germans along.

From my previous posts you see that I have built something to put the panzers in to get them across the channel.  But those barges won’t move themselves, so what to do?

I found on Amazon these models at a very cheap price so I snapped up the last two.

The basic models
The basic models

My game is in 6mm (1:285/1:300) and these models claim to be 1:400, but with a little tweaking I have produced a slightly smaller steam tug about 26m in length.  The crew will need to duck to enter the bridge, but no more so than with many of my model houses.  My models wear their steel helmets mainly to avoid concussion from low doorways.

The kit is made of fewer than twenty pieces.  I cut the hull down to the waterline, omitted some lights, moved the mast and replaced the funnel with one made of spare sprue with one end drilled.  For added effect I scored planks into the deck.

A small steam tug
A small steam tug

Sorted.  One done, one to go.  And as a bonus I have two river boat kits to transport my ACW troops.

On second thoughts, I may be able to combine parts from the tug and the river boat to make a different design.

Operation Sealion: German barges part two

Barges ready to transport tanks to Britain September 1940
Barges ready to transport tanks to Britain September 1940

After a splash of paint, a dirty wash and the addition of fenders made from slices of paint brush protectors, they look half decent.  I could not round off the rear ends properly because of the hollow  moulding method.

The barge at the front is awaiting the arrival of some model railway pallets to give it a front door / ramp.

Not at all perfect (just like in 1940), but they will do for my purposes.


Operation Sealion. German shipping

I have found it very difficult to source German naval models for my Operation Sealion campaign.

However, thanks to the book “Invasion of England 1940” by Peter Schenk, I have been able to look at a number of photographs and plans of the equipment designed by the German forces.

I have ordered several models from Second City Games, Heroics & Ros and Irregular Miniatures, but I have also been working on adaptations based on the good old Airfix Pontoon Bridge set, having discovered that the pontoons for 1/72 scale approximate Rhine barges in 1/300 scale. (Is there no end to the versatility of these models? See D Featherstone: Wargaming Airborne Opperations)

And so far I have, awaiting painting, in the photo below, from front to back:
A powered barge with ramps to discharge tanks,
A towed barge for infantry or tanks,
Two towed barges, one shown with ramps for tanks,
An unconverted Airfix pontoon.

They are very basic conversions, using 4 pontoons and one ramp carved up.  I hope that when painted they will give the correct impression.

A selection of basic conversions for German barges
A selection of basic conversions for German barges

Two small battles and some conclusions

Yesterday I was lucky to have my old re-enactment friend Chris Scott available to play out a couple of actions from the Peninsular War campaign.

In the first he had a personal interest.  He plays the role of Don Cristobal d’Escozia, the renowned commander of all guerrillas in Spain (and the only fictitious overall commander in the game).  One of his sub-commanders with orders to capture some French cannon decided to ambush them en route in broad daylight.

We played the game using 6mm miniatures on a hexagon terrain board, using Commands & Colors Napoleonics rules.  I had to invent characteristics for the guerrillas, and as they would be outnumbered 4:1 I was generous.  They had all the advantages of light Infantry in firing, the advantage of French Line in mêlée and could use rugged hills (normally prohibited) with the same protection as villages.  Also, they has one base per 12 men whereas their opponents had one base per 24 or 36, according to type.

I was disappointed that I had not had time to paint up the Neapolitan Light Infantry from my Baccus collection, but I had loads of Irregular Miniatures chaps based up as French Light Infantry, so with a quick flag repaint they were ready, and due to scale differences I used the same manufacturer throughout, except the Guerrilla leader who is a splendid chap by Heroics & Ros that I bought, fully painted complete with leopard skin cloak, in the distant past.

Guerrillas in the mist. The commander with some of his brave chaps.
Guerrillas in the mist. The commander with some of his brave chaps.

And so to the game.

Both sides were given the same territorial objective.  To get the two gun models and two caisson models under their own control beyond the river using one of two bridges.  Each would count 1 Victory Banner.  The game would be won by the first to gain five banners, so at least one enemy unit had to be eliminated.

Chris insisted that this battle would not have happened, but I replied that he himself had ordered the capture of the guns, and his subordinate had decided an ambush would succeed. (Under my campaign rules with those odds, rash temperament and with imperative orders he needed to draw an ace or a two from “Señor Decacardes” and a two was drawn.)

The French column marches into the trap.
The French column marches into the trap.  The Guerrillas start to search for a better mousetrap.

Despite routing the first two Neapolitan companies in the column, the ambush party was surrounded and annihilated in the woods.  The other guerrillas moved into the village in blocking positions, except one company that (due to the lousy hand of cards held by Chris) was left out in the open to be picked off.

I drew a lucky card allowing a strategic move and got the guns onto the hill overlooking the village.  Two guerrilla bands attacked them (before they were deployed) but rolled appallingly and failed to hit anything, while in both cases the guns replied with devastating effect.

We both agreed that the rules for this cannot be correct.  Even allowing for the effect of canister at short range if frontally attacked the artillery have too much power.  We were playing with miniatures, so the tactical situation was different to that of the board game, but I ruled that in future.

“Artillery when battling back in mêlée, unless attacked frontally and having already fired from their current position, will battle using only one die.”

The final result was that the Guerrillas lost three units (11 of their original 16 bases).  One company of Neapolitan troops was destroyed and a second ran for the hills (overall French loss 7 of 24 bases).  The Guerrillas withdrew from the field, so technically it was a draw.

Following this engagement I have also changed the way that Guerrillas will operate in the campaign.

If they encounter a lone ADC or a party of enemy less than half their own strength I will adjudicate the event with a couple of card draws to determine losses (if any) on each side, as I previously did whatever the odds.

Otherwise if a party of guerrillas is in the same map square (10 miles x 10 miles), the enemy will be moved backwards along his intended route by 1 mile per 25 guerrillas (actually calculated with a finer degree of accuracy in my records).

This will represent the delays caused by ambushes, the necessity to scout ahead for ambushes and other disruptive activity.

As an example a band of 100 guerrillas could slow an unencumbered infantry battalion from 20 miles per day to 16 miles per day on good roads, and from 12 miles per day to 8 miles per day in the mountains.

And so, having very quickly resolved this encounter, Chris offered to assist with another that had arisen in the previous 24 hours.

In this battle the vanguard of an Anglo-Portuguese Force has approached a well-defended town in Portugal. They have observed and fallen back to await the rest of the division.

However the French spotted the column and have sent a strong battalion out to investigate.  They know there are wagons to be captured (but the British officer has withdrawn them to safety).

Both commanders gave orders to try to outflank the enemy to the east side of the approach road, which was an increasingly steep ridge. And so the situation is that a battalion of around 600 Portuguese infantry, with separated pickets on the hills, faces a battalion of around 1100 French, of whom one third have been ordered to outflank the enemy by using the hills

The opening move with Portuguese pickets on the slopes and the French starting their flanking manoeuvre
The opening move with Portuguese pickets on the slopes and the French starting their flanking manoeuvre

Although the Portuguese had orders to hold the position, seeing the isolated French force, I sent them forward.  They had some success, but Chris moved the rest of the French battalion to the left and drove them back with heavy casualties.

In the nick of time a British battalion arrived on the road from the south, and a second arrived beyond the ridge to the east (unseen by the French).  The French decided that enough was enough and withdrew

The end of the affair. The Portuguese have fallen back defeated, the British are advancing and the French have quit the field.
The end of the affair. The Portuguese have fallen back defeated, the British are advancing and the French have quit the field.