A day of many parts

Today, despite being well into the second half of July, is dull and drizzly, following spectacular thunderstorms last night.

So I am confined indoors and catching up with several domestic and wargaming tasks.

I was inspired after listening to the latest Meeples and Miniatures podcast and after our recent fire to start documenting my wargame collection for insurance purposes.  It will be a long task.  It took me a week to collate from memory and photographs what we lost when the two sheds burned down.

Then I found a compiled list of unit values for Panzer Leader 1940 at www.imaginative-strategist.layfigures.com for use in my Operation Sealion games, which I began to incorporate into my game records.

Next task was the pile of ironing, helped along by watching a couple of episodes of “By The Sword Divided”.

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This is a BBC drama series screened between 1983 and 1985, like a sort of 1640s “Downton Abbey” which coincided with my early years of  English Civil War reenactment, and later episodes included some of my oldest – and in some cases sadly departed – friends as “supporting talent”.  The DVD series was released by the BBC in 2004.

Then I turned to some figure painting, namely the 1790s 6mm MDF soldiers from Commission Figurines.  These little “toy soldier” style figures are a little fragile, and because I expect them to be handled by small people I glue them in ranks of 3 to form blocks.

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During the course of this I managed to drop a paint pot lid onto the beige carpet.  I hope that after some immediate panic action and a steam cleaner I have (almost) got away with it.  Time for a second application of carpet cleaner now before the Memsahib sees it.DSCN0707

And it’s still only 1:30pm!  Plenty of time for more catastrophes before bedtime.

A new project

As if I needed anything else in my wargaming life I have decided to create a game for the younger members of my ECWS cavalry regiment.

We have a couple of 8 year old potential troopers, currently very able at fetching and carrying, horse “poo-picking” and firewood cutting.

I am trying to make a table-top game that will involve them and keep them from their other nefarious activities.  At our last event I was able to pick up 4 boxes of Revell Thirty Years War plastic soldiers (2 infantry, 1 cavalry, 1 artillery) for £5 (originally £4 but the stall owner had no change).

More to follow as it progresses in time for the August Bank Hoiday.

 

A busy man

Winston Churchill once said: “If you want something done, ask a busy man.”  Clearly this did not involve blogging. (A noticeable exception to the blogging rule is Neil Shuck of Meeples and Miniatures fame. He manages to keep up a daily blog, a weekly podcast and who knows what else in addition to a full time job, a family, a hobby and recently a broken wrist)

Anyway, back to me.  I have not posted for 6 weeks.  I have had plenty to do, but little time at the “real” computer, having spent a lot of time on the iPad and iPhone simply catching up.

So what have I been up to?

I will try to cover these activities in detail later with photographs, but meanwhile, here is the boring stuff.

I have been vainly trying to progress my “Operation Sealion” PBEM campaign, which is stagnating mainly due to the fact that I want to get all my models looking as good as possible on the table (shades of Peter Stringfellow?).

The next battle is the German assault on Brighton, which calls for a lot of railway track.  My blog followers will know that I normally use Hexon tiles for my gaming area, but extensively remodelled by me.  Well, this time I tried to mount the railway track by Irregular Miniatures and Leven Miniatures onto the raised rubber-ish roads produced by Total Battle Miniatures.  This was not successful because everything delaminated, and I am now remodelling all the railway hexagons, and, having spotted it while ordering more track I have a new railway station from Leven to paint.  I should mention that Leven have taken the trouble when asked to cast in resin a new 4-piece set of double rail track that will make a 60 degree curve specifically to fit a 10cm hexagon tile (2 inner curves, 2 outer curves).  I hope to see it on the website for general order soon.

In addition, this battle – without giving away too much to my German commander – needs a lot of British transport.  I have loads of 6mm trucks and lorries for 1944, but I want to get it right, so several packs of GHQ vehicles were ordered from Magister Militum, my UK supplier.

All of this stuff needs painting.

A failure to paint in time resulted in me not taking my semi-portable in-period wargame to the (bizarrely) 217th anniversary of the Battle of Marengo.  For wargamers, I am building armies from the Commission Figurines MDF range, but my figures are glued together in blocks for small people’s fingers to handle.  The project to create, initially French and Austrian,  armies for the French Revolutionary Wars is ongoing.

The trip to Marengo occupied much of my time, including all the necessary requirements of taking my dog camping in Europe and bringing him home again without quarantine. Superb driving over the Alps, including the St. Bernard Pass, last visited in 1989 in full Napoleonic kit for a reconstructed crossing by Napoleon in 1800.

Additional problems are having my car fixed after a sunroof motor failure (luckily it was a heatwave with the roof jammed open) and some kind individual ramming the rear end of my car in the Marengo car park.

We took our new caravan (collected the day after my return from Italy) to Wales for an English Civil War re-enactment weekend, and I am still resolving, and paying for, the failures of the vehicle.

I have also been instructed by my GP to have certain areas of my body checked for issues that affect gentlemen of my age, culminating – I hope – in an hour of MRI scanning this morning.

And so I am returned to the “real world” of painting, modelling, and hopefully actually playing some wargames, with a resolve to post more frequently in future.

 

 

More on Code Breaking

Following the surprising amount of interest in my recent code-breaking activity publicised by the BBC and the Daily Telegraph, here is a little background.

Some years ago I was invited to take part in a historical event held at Mont Orgueil Castle in Jersey. My character for the week was to be the spymaster Philippe d’Auvergne. I was provided with a small look-out post at the top of the tower and a telescope. The weather was not the best and I decided to restrict my outdoor forays to a minimum, and prepared instead to display period code-breaking activities based on the story of George Scovell, who cracked the code used by Napoleon’s armies in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War.  For the benefit of visiting youngsters a set of simple cyphers was prepared for them to try their skill.

First I needed some coded documents. I wrote a computer program that would mimic the French coding system. The basis of the coding was that a single letter could be represented by up to half a dozen numbers of one, two or three digits. A number could also represent an entire word or group of commonly used letters forming part of a word.

I found some historical reports from the period in French and fed them into the program without reading them first. All I knew was the subject matter of the reports. I armed myself with pens, pencils, a notebook and an original 1791 French/English dictionary, as seen here:

Code breaker

Over the course of four days I managed to decode and translate one long document of about two pages and parts of several shorter ones that I used as cross-references. Sadly I have not been able to find any of the documents, but here from my notebook is a sample of my working:

My code-breaking notebook
The right hand page records the deciphered numbers, while the left hand page contains all the relevant notes.

I found this a most satisfying exercise, and I have recently used the same coding in my Peninsular War wargame campaign where the players requested messages to be in code.

Home from the Wars in the Low Country

Whew!  What a week that was at Waterloo!

As Assistant Quartermaster General to British 2nd Brigade (one of 6 allied brigades) I spent the first two days organising the various company officers into providing strength returns for their rations and gunpowder and creating a guard duty roster that was acceptable to all.

We had 23 re-enactment units in the brigade ranging from 4 to 42 people from 6 countries, and about 240 muskets.  It was like herding cats most of the time.  Our brigade camp occupied most of the old formal garden at Hougoumont.

Brigadier General Parker began to pull this group together during drill sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.  Most were already using the same drill book and the manoeuvering  of the brigade began to work like clockwork.  Our strength was approximately that of a half-battalion in the British Army at Waterloo, and we split it into two wings, each with a Major commanding it.

Friday evening we marched by a circuitous route around the Butte du Lion and through the courtyard at La Haie Sainte to the battlefield east of the Charleroi road.  We were to fight just south of the centre point of Wellington’s ridge.  The field on our side was of groin-high barley with deep tractor ruts hidden beneath.  Scale (to ground area) representations of Hougoumont, La Haie Sainte and the Plancenoit cemetery had been built, and the topography of the ground was just as the original.

We took our place – almost an hour late because a heavy gun had collapsed a ramp en route – in the centre of the Allied line and looked at the French on the other ridge.  Memories of the film “Zulu” came to mind.

The guns began to fire.  We had 48 cannon and the French I believe almost as many.  After a 15 minute cannonade imcluding RHA rockets that were spectacular but fell amongst our own skirmishers around La Haie Sainte, the valley was swathed in smoke.  We started to wonder if the 60,000 spectators would get their €50 money’s worth.  During the cannonade the French put in an attack on Hougoumont, but were beaten back.

Then the French columns began to advance, slowly, steadily, massively.  We advanced a short way to meet them.  A couple of brigade volleys, rippling out from the centre with a satisfying “crrrrrump!” added to the smoke, so much so that the Brigade Commander had to wait well over half a minute to decide if it was safe to advance or to fire again, because the French had disappeared from view.

The Allied heavy cavalry scattered the French infantry to our front and a general cavalry engagement began.  At one point we were ordered into square against our own light cavalry returning to the lines.  Wellington’s point about headgear was clearly demonstrated.

Then we had to form square for real because the enemy cuirassiers and dragoons appeared on our right flank.  The first time we made it.  On the second occasion they came out of the smoke and here is the result:

Failing to form square in time

The back wall of the square had a gap about 12 men wide which was closed just in time by staff officers and a quick-witted corporal of the Buffs who called some of his chaps to help.  He was mentioned in dispatches and publicly embarrassed next morning.

We discerned a lot of musket flashes  through the dense smoke to our left as the Prussians arrived.  Dusk was now upon us.  The Imperial Guard began to move.  We poured out volley after volley and from the back of the brigade I never saw the Guard arrive at our lines.  I did see them retreat and we charged after them as well as we could through the barley.

Next day we resolved that the brigade square was a hopeless concept and practiced forming two battalion squares, which left a nice killing ground between them and also gave the cavalry more options.

On Saturday morning the British Army Commander was indisposed and so my Brigadier as 2ic was invited to a public lunch with the “Duke of Wellington”, the “Prince of Orange”, “Field Marshal Blucher” and their staff officers.  About a minute before he left he was advised he must bring his ADC and as the nearest uniformed officer I was nominated.  I grabbed my bicorne and best gloves and off we went for a sumptuous meal, cooked on site and served impeccably, and with a different wine for each course.  I thought “For safety reasons the men cannot drink before battle, but those making the decisions do so publicly”.

(I am behind the tent pole to the right)

And so back to camp where just before forming for the march to battle I was grabbed by Reuters TV for an interview, a snippet of which is included here

Reuters TV clip

The second day’s battle was even better than the first.  We arrived first on the field and spent about an hour watching the French form up.  The Duke arrived and in a prepared time-wasting scam was double-bluffed by one of the Enniskillens who was carrying a small fluffy pink pig in his haversack in place of the valuables the Duke expected to find.

I was better able to follow the story of the battle in this day’s action and it culminated in the massacre of the Old Guard in square.  Shortly before that I witnessed a little re-enactment incident.  Half a dozen Imperial Guard Grenadiers, contrary to the script, pushed through our line.  One ran straight up to the “Duke of Wellington” (Alan Larsen) who was sitting on his horse behind us, shook his hand and with a huge grin returned to his unit.  That’s his Waterloo tale.

Back to camp by just before midnight and nobody wanted it to end.  The singing around the camp fires started.  At 3 am there was still a general muted conversation going on and some were still talking at dawn.

I doubt that I will experience anything like it again.  As the historian Dan Snow put it on his Twitter feed (@theHistoryGuy) “This is what time travel looks like”.  Facebook and YouTube are full of photographs and clips, and I can recommend Thomason-Photography.net for action shots.

My thanks to all the 6000 participants of both sides who contributed to a fantastic display.

My next big wargame!

Final uniform detail is being added to one figure in preparation for next week’s wargame.

Scenario: Waterloo 18 June 1815

Figure scale: ca 1800mm, 1:1
Figure ratio: approximately 1:25 (1 gun model = 3 pieces)
Note: some of the models figures to be used, in my opinion, err on the “chunky” side.
This is to be expected with modern models.

Ground scale: not yet determined.
Terrain built by many generations of Belgian farmers.
Basing. Example: The Anglo-Dutch army will be represented by five bases of about 150m x 10m.

The game will be played on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th June at around 8pm each day. A large crowd of spectators is expected.

I think that, whatever rules are used, the result will be a foregone conclusion.