For Wargamers – forming square

For any wargamers who think that you can form a nice, neat square in one turn, this sequence of photographs show what actually happens when something like a half-battalion is approached by a troop of cuirassiers.

Note how the light company  and the Rifles decided to form their own defensive clumps because there simply was no time to safely reach home.

This then gave the rest of us a problem because there was a light company sized hole in the rear of our square!

Incidentally, talking to one of the spectators the next day, he told me that he watched this incident and said to his wife “Look at those chaps – they’re not going to make it.”, which was very much my own feeling (in the square) at the time.

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 for action shots.

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

Waterloo game demo at Horsham Museum

23rd May 2015.  As part of their “100 days” exhibition and tied in with the French Market in Horsham, England, the museum invited the 45eme Regiment de Ligne reenactment group to put on displays.

My own contribution was acparticipation game of the Battle of Waterloo.  While I had many interested visitors during the day, including some gamers, nobody took up the offer to take the rôle of Wellington for a turn.   


As you can see the battle is reduced to the size of a card table.  6mm figures are used on a gridded table.  A full strength unit occupying one grid square is 4 x 18 infantry, 4 x 8 cavalry or 2 guns with 3 crew each.

For Waterloo the squares were 1/4 mile (400m) across and each figure represented 100 men (1gun:25 pieces).

I, as Napoleon, tried to copy the original battle action, but it soon went awry.  Wellington lost half his artillery in the first hour.  Hougoumont fell at around 1:00 pm.  An entire division was wasted trying to get into la Haie Sainte.  The Allied heavy cavalry charged d’Erlon before he had moved and then d’Erlon attacked and we had the spectacle of the Union Brigade attacking French squares on the Allied ridge on their way back.

Napoleon failed to make any progress on the right or centre, but did get a brigade of cavalry to the north edge of the board on his left.  Mont St Jean was still strongly held, and the other strong points held by the allies, but the centre of the ridge was bare when dusk fell.

Blücher never arrived, and the Imperial Guard never budged.

Casualties were 32,000 allies and 33.400 French.

The Eagle in the picture is that of the 45eme – a copy of the one the Scots Greys stole at Waterloo.  This one is scripted to be taken again four weeks from now.

Not much gaming as Waterloo looms

It seems a long time since I had anything to post.  On the wargaming front the Peninsular War e-mail campaign progresses slowly as more forces begin to find and engage the enemy.  It will be two more wargame days before I can post a “one month in arrears” update.

I have been making some tweeks to my Napoleonic “in period” display game, requiring some new models to be painted.  The problem was the infantry squares.  I am using Irregular Miniatures 6mm models and there is very little definition on the infantry square castings, and from what I can see it appears that many of the men are carrying a blanket roll or greatcoat above a non-existent backpack, as the crossed belts are visible  on their backs. I compromised and painted some with crossed belts and others with packs.

There is plenty of action on the reenactment front, particularly in preparation for the Waterloo 200th anniversary.  I have switched armies for this one and am eagerly awaiting some very expensive uniform items.

For my camping I designed an extended tent built from two ordinary soldiers’ tents side by side, with one of them rigged as an awning to be used as a day tent. (I am a Major, so I claim I can have two tents).  It worked fine in the garden with no rain and little wind.  First time out in a gale I added guy ropes to brace it.  Overnight the wind reversed direction and we had a downpour. The resulting weight of the rooftop swimming pool threatened to pull the whole structure down!

I have reverted to the original plan of using my bell tent and have loaned my soldiers’ tents to my French friends.  This will no doubt incur the displeasure of the camp organisers because camping in the garden at Hougoumont will be somewhat “cosy”, given the numbers and the available space.  Single occupancy bell tents are apparently frowned upon by the General Staff in their well-appointed marquees.

It appears that we will be displaying a white canvas tent city at Waterloo for the benefit of the expected 20,000 visitors per day, despite the fact that it never existed.  On the other hand, if at my age I will be living in a muddy field for a week under public scrutiny I intend to be as comfortable as possible whilst staying “in period”.  What we should be showing is officers cramming into peasant houses and the soggy soldiery making do in the field, but historical accuracy in reenactment will always come second to modern comforts.

I am told that I am a Supernumery Officer, so can I have a special cape and wear my underpants outside my overalls?



Preparations for Waterloo 200

At Waterloo in June 2015 I will be portraying a major of the 1st Foot (Royal Scots).

I have been working on the bicorne hat which I purchased on Ebay, and have achieved this:

A British staff officer's bicorne of 1815.
A British staff officer’s bicorne of 1815.

But apart from the Waterloo event in 2005 when temperatures reached 38c (100f), every reenactment I have done in Belgium has been wet and muddy, so I have made a cover to protect the glorious appearance of the headgear.

Suitable for Belgium?
Suitable for Belgium?

I searched the internet and every reference book I own for a pattern for the waterproof cover to no avail, so finally had to design my own. I find it amazing that although there are so many references to covers for headgear in this period there is little evidence as to how they were constructed.

Waterloo in miniature – in miniature

At the end of May one of my reenactment groups, the 45eme Regiment de Ligne, is putting on a Waterloo themed display at Horsham.
My planned contribution is a display game of the Battle of Waterloo, played in my role as a pensioner of les Invalides.
This will be a big “bathtubbing” exercise, because I intend to replay the battle on a table two feet (60cm) square, divided into 144 squares.
I have the basic terrain ready, but some of the cork tile pieces representing higher ground need to be painted and gridded to match the table.

Hougoumont, with a battalion of Guard Infantry and a company of skirmishers in the orchard
Hougoumont, with a battalion of Guard Infantry and a company of skirmishers in the orchard. My original Hougoumont occupied two squares and was too big.
Two companies of skirmishers hold la Haie Sainte as Blue columns advance towards the Red line on the ridge
Two companies of skirmishers hold la Haie Sainte as Blue columns advance towards the Red line on the ridge

Then most of the figures need to be painted. I will use the 6mm generic Red and Blue armies that I have been developing for this game. Tentative orders of battle are prepared.  Units in the order of battle consist of four bases as shown in the photographs, except artillery which will have two gun bases.  Maybe I will include two limbers as well – that remains to be seen.  Their presence or absence will not affect the game.
2 Guard infantry
7 Line infantry
2 Heavy cavalry
3 Light cavalry
4 Artillery
1 Guard infantry
6 Line infantry
1 Heavy cavalry
3 Light cavalry
3 Artillery
Red casualties will be recycled. When 4 bases of the same type (2 for artillery) have been lost there will be a chance that an identical Prussian unit will appear on the south-east corner of the table near Plancenoit.

Plancenoit village. Red (Prussian) reinforcements advance against Blue(French) Guard Infantry - it's as exciting as watching glue dry.
Plancenoit village. Red (Prussian) reinforcements advance against Blue(French) Guard Infantry – it’s as exciting as watching glue dry.

More news as the project develops.