Sunday, November 12, 2017

Connaught Rangers 88th Foot Regiment (or going down the rabbit hole!)

The regiment of 88th Foot, first group completed for my Peninsular British army.

Ever since I mistakenly painted my Spanish Swiss regiment with red coats and then had to laboriously repaint them all blue I've been itching to try my hand at some real red coats. Originally, when I agreed to start painting Napoleonics, I had a deal with two other gaming friends that one would paint the British, the second Russians and I would paint the French. Two or three years later the Russians are close to being fielded on the table, I have about as many French as I need (for the moment!) and have gone on to paint even more Spanish, as the French were tired of having no one to cross swords with. But our other co-conspirator's British output had been - well - slow. In his defence he has many passions that consume his free time and does work a regular 9 to 5, neither of which are things that intrude on my own so-called life. 

So, in support, I have moved on to doing some British! Sadly, choices for Peninsular British in 1/72 plastic are limited. There are the Emhar figures, nice enough but the detail is thinly etched and hard to paint, and they are a bit on the small side. The only other set out there that I'm aware of is the Hat set of Peninsular British. Although this set looks very good and has a range of command figures included, it is, unfortunately, virtually unavailable any longer as far as I can determine!

Some of the Hat Peninsular British that would have made my life so much easier - sadly no longer available anywhere, it seems! (from Plastic Soldier Review)
I started looking further afield, casting my net wider. At first I thought, having done some reading on the subject, that I might get by with light infantry figures as these regiments retained the stovepipe shako used in Spain and Portugal by both line and light infantry right to the end of the wars. They also sported the shoulder wings rather than the small tufts seen on the line shoulder straps but I figured this to be an easy fix. So I ordered a set of the Hat light. But in all honesty, once I took a good look at these figures I could not bring myself to invest time painting such lacklustre plastic soldiers! 

The Hat light infantry - the right shakos for my needs, but oh-so-wooden! (from Plastic Soldier Review)
However, at the same time I had purchased a couple of sets of Italeri 1815 British infantry. These are a beautifully sculpted set and on the Plastic Soldier Review site I had read that half of these were based on the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment which retained the stovepipe shako to the end of the wars. These, I found, painted up beautifully and easily as Peninsular infantry. 

Italeri British 1815 set - Gloucestershire Regiment) (from Plastic Soldier Review)
However, being as frugal as I am I couldn't bring myself to discard the other half of this set, especially as they included a beautifully done drummer boy, a commander and another figure, probably a sergeant, which looked as if it might, with a minimal of work, be converted into an ensign. 

One infantry figure and the three figures I converted to command stand figures. The second from the right is the sergeant, armed only with a crop that I though could adapt to an ensign. (from Plastic Soldier Review)
So I went to work on these, remodelling the shakos, cutting off and adding epaulettes and shoulder strap tufts where needed, etc. The commander needed to lose his shako and gain a bicorne, and his coat was a bit short on the tails which needed lengthening to work as an 1808 coat. The ensign did indeed take a flagpole very well, but needed to lose his shoulder wings, gain an epaulette and a sword, and have all his gear sliced off and turnbacks modelled in. All these things challenged my fledgling modelling skills considerably, but once they were I thought completed worked well from a small distance. You can see the results and judge for yourself!

Sergeant remodelled as an ensign (left) and sergeant with pike and sword (right).
Ensign (left) and sergeant (right) rear view. The ensign required his gear to be cut away and turnbacks remodelled.

Command stand. The officer has had a bicorne and epaulette added and the drummer and ensign were given new shakos. The ensign also received a flagpole, sword, pouch for flag belt, epaulette and some new turnbacks.

Three quarter view.

Rear view showing lengthened coat on officer and remodelling of back of ensign.
And, of course, having started on these three figures I was soon looking at the remaining five on the sprue and thinking about what I could do with these! Being modelled on the 1st Foot Guards, they all had the shoulder wings and a small emblem on the cartridge case (both easy enough to carve off). Some had pants tucked into their gaiters which had to be remodelled into regular trousers and all of them, including the command figures, had Belgic shakos which had to be changed to stovepipe shakos, with the plume moved to the front.

Original Italeri 1st Foot Guards I converted to Peninsular infantry.  (from Plastic Soldier Review)
A stand sporting three of the 1st Guard conversions with pants remodelled, shoulder wings removed and strap tufts and stovepipe shakos added. The kneeling figure front left and standing firing both had their shakos remodelled while the figure with grey trousers received a shako courtesy of the Hat light infantry!
With the first group of 1st Guard conversions I remodelled the shakos with putty but it was tedious work and they didn't really have the tapering profile of the stovepipe shakos. And then I remembered those Hat light infantry that I had been unable to bring myself to paint and found that those shakos, cut off and pinned to the Italeri figures worked quite well (with a bit of judicious modelling!)

So that's my story of disappearing down the Napoleonic rabbit hole, emerging back into the sunlight with the first of hopefully three or four regiments of British line for our games. And in the meantime I still have my eyes out for that Hat set if it ever shows up!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Battle of Medellin, March 28, 1809

Last week we played through, for the first time, a new scenario I had written using the Age of Eagles ruleset. It can be found here on this blog and I have included orbats with troop numbers in case anyone wants to adapt it to their own rule set.
The scenario, based on the battle of Medellin, pits a smaller but more effective French force with superior artillery (the 1st Corps under Marshal Victor) against the Spanish Army of Estremadura commanded by General Cuesta. It was played on a 7.5' X  6' table with 1/72 scale figures, and in this case all the toys came from my cupboard.
In the Peninsular War, the Battle of Medellín was fought on 28 March 1809 and resulted in a victory of the French under Marshal Victor against the Spanish under General Don Gregorio Garcia de la Cuesta. The battle marked the first major effort by the French to occupy Southern Spain, a feat mostly completed with the victory at the Battle of Ocana later in the year.
The battlefield was just southeast of the town of Medellín, roughly 300 km southwest of Madrid. The Guadiana River ran along a west-east axis on the northern edge of the battlefield and joined with the Hortiga River, which ran along a north-south axis that precluded any Spanish flanking maneuvers on the French right. Victor had roughly 17,500 troops while Cuesta possessed about 23,000. However, Victor had a 50-30 advantage in guns.

A map of the actual battle. In the game the French deployed much as shown here, but with Lasalle's flank back closer to Villatte. The Spanish, rather than try to cover all the area between the Hortiga and the Guadiana as Cuesta did, instead concentrated their force on the right and centre and used their massed cavalry to protect the left flank.

1. The French line

Victor deploys three of his 1st Corps divisions so that they span the “y” created by the Rio Hortiga (top) and the Rio Guadiana (bottom). Although the Hortiga is only a stream and easily fordable, its steep banks give a solid anchor to the Trench right while the Guadiana is impassable save by a couple of fords not easily accessed. 
Lasalle’s light cavalry, supported by a small contingent of German troops (Baden) from Ruffin’s 3rd Division and two batteries of cannon hold the left (bottom) with Villatte’s strong infantry division in the centre and Latour-Maubourg’s dragoons occupying the high ground on the right, supported by a second contingent of German troops (Nassau) as well as two batteries. 
Ruffin’s cannons are also attached to Vilatte’s division, giving him a total of four batteries.

2. Ruffin’s division in Medellin

Ruffin’s 1st Division is in reserve outside of Medellin, on the far side of the Hortiga but within an easy march of the French lines.

3. The Spanish advance

Cuesta marches his Army of Estramadura onto the battlefield, hugging the Guadiana with his right flank while his cavalry is massed on the left to ward off any incursions from the dragoons the Spanish could see drawn up on the crest of the high ground on this flank.

4. The French right flank

Seeing the Spanish massed on the French left, Victor orders Ruffin to begin to move his troops over in support while a small contingent of chausseurs ride up from Medellin via Megabril to join the dragoons on the right.

5. Ruffin crosses the Hortiga

Ruffin brings one of his divisions over the Hortiga to join the main line, but the second fails to receive orders and stays put in Medellin.

6. Spanish line shakes out

The Spanish forces, originally bunched up on the right, begin to shake out into some sort of battle array. Cuesta masses the bulk of his troops on the right along with the majority of his cannon while the remainder move to form supported lines opposite the French centre. 
Villalba’s three cavalry brigades advance cautiously, guarding the Spanish left but leaving this part of the French line uncontested. Portago’s division, the weakest of the Spanish troops, form a reserve in the rear, moving forward slowly in fits and starts.

7. First clash on Spanish right

Seeing Victor’s reserve moving to reinforce the French left, Cuesta moves his troops forward rapidly to engage this weakest part of the French line before they can arrive. They push back the Baden troops and force the enemy cannon to limber up and pull back.

8. Lasalle’s light cavalry counterattacks 

In an attempt to stave off the Spanish advance on this flank, Lasalle’s cavalry counterattacks.

9. Trying to bring the Spanish artillery into play

The Spanish find it hard to get their artillery into play, especially in the face of the superior French cannon. Two batteries are damaged early, and the others are unable to be easily brought to bear due to the mass of friendly infantry in front of them. With two batteries damaged early the Spanish artillery, already with only five batteries to the French eight, is ineffectual throughout the battle.

10. French left retreats

With their cannon driven back and the Germans routed on this front, the French reform their line further back. Reinforcements from Ruffin’s division begin to arrive, helping stabilize the line.

11. View from Spanish right

Although the Spanish have made some headway they find themselves now boxed in. Cuesta, failing to have demonstrated on the Spanish left, save with cavalry, allows the emboldened French to bring Latour-Maubourg’s cannon to bear on the advancing Spanish infantry as well, ringing them in a deadly hail of cannon fire.

12. Charge!

Suddenly an opportunity opens up for the Spanish on their left flank. Latour-Maubourg, seeing Cuesta direct his light cavalry brigade to bolster the attack on the Spanish right, sends his dragoons in a flanking maneuver towards the enemy rear and engages the Spanish heavy cavalry. One of Villalba’s brigades countercharges, holding the French horse at bay while a second takes the opportunity to charge the now unprotected French right flank (top left).

13. Overview

In this overview the Spanish can be seen massed on the French centre and left, but unable to advance as all eight enemy batteries are holding them at bay. Successive attempts to push forward on the Spanish’s right have been thwarted by Lasalle’s cavalry. Now being commanded directly by the charismatic French general, they have charged and countercharged repeatedly, at great cost but effectively holding up the Spanish advance.
On the Spanish left (far left of photo) things get interesting as the French dragoons, having charged towards the Spanish rear, now finds themselves boxed in by Villalba’s dragoons. This gives an opportunity for the Spanish line cavalry (upper left) to charge the exposed enemy flank. Although brought up short, they pass the French cannon intact while the Spanish light horse (seen beside the house model) charge back to this flank as well. 
At the bottom Portago wheels the reserve division to guard the Spanish rear.

14. From the high ground

On the high ground on the French right Latour-Maubourg’s small infantry contingent sees the Spanish line cavalry bearing down on them.

15. French outflanked on right

Although the Spanish heavy horse is unable to close, the light horse does, destroying an unattached battery and routing the small German brigade on this flank. Wheeling it destroys a second battery while the line cavalry charge and smash the small chausseur contingent that had moved to this flank.
Completely outflanked the French line looks to be in serious trouble!

16. Sticky Lasalle

This turns out to be the highwater mark for the Spanish. Lasalle’s chausseurs, completely isolated deep in the Spanish lines still manages to drive off attack after attack, even in the face of Spanish cannon fire. The best of the Spanish troops, including the Irlanda regiment, the Royal Spanish and Royal Walloon Guards, assault the French line but are thrown back. They charge again but are decimated by French cannon fire and driven back a second time! 

17. Victor redresses French line

The French line is now redressed in a tight arc from the bridge over the Hortiga to the Guadiana with the river to their backs. Villatte refuses his right flank, pulling back his élite light infantry on this side to thwart the Spanish cavalry’s flanking maneuvers.

18. Dragoons move to Spanish cavalry’s flank

Weathering a charge by the Spanish horse and one of Portago's brigades, and tired of the cat and mouse (especially as the cat is being held at bay by the mouse!) that has kept them boxed in the French dragoons maneuver to their left to hopefully take the Spanish heavy horse in the flank.

19. Victor takes the offensive

Victor, seeing the Spanish battered and bruised by French artillery fire, judges it time to take the offensive. Both sides have taken enough casualties that their army’s cohesion is threatening to fall apart, but the Spanish are reeling from a series of failed charges that have left them depleted and in disorder. Also the French general benefits from back to back attacks, meaning he can capitalize on the Spanish disarray before they can rally.
At the bottom, Pathod’s brigade, lead by the the 27th Légere, refuse their flank and disorder the Spanish line cavalry with cannon and musket fire.

Meanwhile Villatte’s still intact second brigade, under Puthod, alongside Ruffin’s two brigades (centre top and top) charges the Spanish to their front along the entire line. Villatte’s cannon (centre) left unsupported, pour fire on a still intact and unattacked Spanish division, disordering them and holding them at bay.

20. Spanish thrown back

All the French charges are successful! Three brigades are routed in the initial charge and breakthrough charge and the Spanish are sent back reeling.

21. Spanish in disarray

A Spanish commander desperately tries to rally his fleeing troops in face of the French onslaught.

22. Pathod’s light infantry charge Spanish cavalry

Meanwhile, on the French right, Pathod’s légere, seeing the enemy line cavalry wavering, close in a charge, routing them completely and leaving only one brigade of Spanish horse on this flank.

23. Retreat!

The Spanish line cavalry flee back to the high ground in face of the French infantry charge.

24. Rout!

The Spanish dragoons are also routed as the entire Spanish army collapses. The French dragoons drive them from the field and then bear down on Portago’s militia.

25. Spanish right destroyed

The French infantry assault along the Guadiana also continues as more Spanish brigades are routed and a battery destroyed.

26. Battle’s end overview

The battle came to a sudden conclusion with Spanish casualties doubling in the last two turns of play as a result of back to back French turns leaving their entire army in disarray. The Spanish right wing was virtually destroyed in the French counterattacks with only two Spanish infantry brigades (upper centre) still intact in the front line. Portago’s militia division in reserve, still well behind the lines and not in the fight, was still intact although the French dragoons were about to scatter one of those in a headlong charge (far left). 
As for cavalry, only the Spanish light horse brigade facing off against Villatte’s light infantry brigade on the French right (top right) was still operational. Spanish artillery, originally five batteries, was reduced to one battery in good shape and a second damaged by game end.
The Spanish threw in the towel at this point as they would now be testing at a -6 as result of losses which would mean that their remaining troops, even those in good order, would almost certainly rout from the field.
French losses, although 30% of their army, were mostly represented in the loss of four small brigades while the remaining five were still largely intact. Lasalle’s light cavalry was a spent force but had finally managed to break out of its encirclement by Spanish forces after doing legion duty in holding off the Spanish right. Latour-Maubourg’s dragoons were still at full strength, ranging behind the shattered Spanish lines and six of the eight French batteries were still in good order.
So, much as the actual battle, a resounding French victory, although for a moment mid-battle it looked as if the Spanish might carry the field.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Near Smolensk, July 1941

This weekend our group played out our annual Big Game (Biggish Game, really - numbers and scope have shrunk to more do-able proportions over the years!) a two day affair that allows us to seriously get our teeth into a scenario of choice. This year’s scenario was Near Smolensk, written by Michael Turner for the Battlefront WWII rule set. The scenario is set during the battle of Smolensk in Russian, July, 1941, and is a non-historical encounter that has the Russians holding a vital river crossing against attacking German armour and infantry. 

It pits a German infantry battalion with support weapons, a light tank company, and the support of an SP panzerjager platoon against two companies of Russians, support weapons, an AA platoon, and a tank battalion (roughly equivalent to the German tank company). Reinforcements in the form of a company of engineers and an assault gun platoon arrive for the Germans on Turn 6 and a company of engineers and the third company of infantry for the Russian infantry battalion make their appearance Turn 8. Victory conditions were based on what objectives were held at the end of the game; 4 points for each village and ford, 6 points for the main bridge in the northeast corner. The location and number of fords were unknown to the attacking Germans but were to the Russians. (As it turned out, there were two).

The game was played out on a 7’X9’ table and played with 1/72 scale toys, mostly plastic with a bit of lead. The fantastic array of early war armour was courtesy of Phong Nugyen-Ho’s talents, most of the scenery and table building courtesy of me and the whole thing played out in the palatial dining room of Ted Hodson, who also sustained us with delicious chili, burritos and falafels!

Scenario map showing opening Russian positions and German attacks.

Opening Strategies

The Russian commander decided from the beginning to abandon the village in the southwest to the Germans, opting instead to concentrate the defence in a line running along the river and encompassing the northwest village and woods just south of it, as well as the two fords located where the question mark is on the map. Minefields were placed to bolster the defence on the centre left with a smaller field on the Russian right. The small woods south of the village, seen as key to the defence was defended in depth. AA guns were set up in close defence of the bridgehead.
The position was a strong one, with well-covered routes along the river that allowed easy shifting of defending forces as the situation might require. In the end it was mostly just armour that was shifted as the bulk of the German attack fell on the most strongly held part of the line.

The German attack keyed up along the woods to the west (left), with 1st Kp. attacking north of the road towards the Russian held village, the 2nd Kp. on the south side of the road and the third tackling the small woods. As the battle played out the 2nd Kp. ended up splitting its attack between the village and in support of 3 Kp. on the woods.
German armour massed on the extreme left (north) wing of the attack.

The Battlefield

The battlefield viewed form the north. Chits represent Russia positions (some are dummies). The Germans attacked from the woods to the right of the photo, the Russian line followed the river, bulging out to accommodate the closest village and the woods beyond.

1. Germans advance

The veteran German Light Panzer Kp. spills out from around the north edge of the woods in advance against the Russian position. The Kompanie is composed of PzKpfw IIc’s, PzKpfw Ib’s and PzKpfw 38t’s.

2. Enemy fire

The advancing infantry start to come under fire from Russian mortars and heavy machine guns emplaced in the village.

3. Russian tanks begin to expose positions

As the German armour draws closer Russian tanks open fire, exposing their positions scattered through the village and north along the river. Infantry guns and interlocking HMG fire also join in, trying to blunt the German advance.

4. Fire from the river edge

The small Russian tanks are well hidden hull down in the dense woods along the river. A T26/33 opens up in ambush on the German armour.

5. Bridgehead reinforced

The Russian commander shifts some of his heavy armour from further south into the village as the focus of the German attack is revealed. The first T28 C emerges from the woods next to the bridge as the Russian AA opens up on enemy infantry moving down the road.

6. First German tank casualties

Two of the lighter German tanks are picked off easily by the Russians as they begin to close.

7. Overview

The German plan of attack is early revealed as the bulk of its armour sweeps in on the Russians’ right flank (bottom). There are enough enemy tanks to blunt this move until more armour reinforcements can be moved over from the fords (top left) to help defend the bridgehead (centre left).
On the centre right the first German infantry attack is turned back by small arms fire from the perimeter of the village while in the upper right 3 Kp. moves in from further afield to assault the small woods south of the village (centre).

8. Sticky going for German infantry

The defence of the perimeter of the village proves sticky going for the German infantry, so their tanks move in to help clear the Russians out of some of the buildings.

9. 3. Kp. Kampfgruppe Kreaves assaults woods

Under cover of a barrage of mortar smoke 3 Kp. moves in to assault the woods south of the village.

10. Russians defend

As mentioned, a key to the Russian line was a defence of the small woods south of the village in depth. The Germans fairly easily brushed off the outer defence but them came up against a second line deep in the woods. Both sides continually fed men int to this fray, and in the end the battle ended up chewing up half a Russian company as well as the loss of a tank. But it was more costly for the Germans, who in the end expended a company and a half of infantry trying to take this woods without success.

11. Russian T26/31's sally out from fords

On the extreme left end of the Russian lines two more T26.31’s sally out from the woods near the ford to lend their support. But the Germans move part of their Panzerjager platoon of PzJg Ib’s to hold them at bay.

12. Mortar strike

While the Russian mortars stay largely ineffective, the German mortars do a good job of keeping the enemy’s heads down. Firing a series of concentrations, this one brasses up the Russian infantry gun and one of their company mortars along the river edge.

13. Jabos!

The Germans throw one of their two Stuka strikes against the village, trying to break the impasse. But Russian AA fire blunts the attack and damage was minimal.

14. Armour stand off

The armour on both sides settle into a bit of a standoff, with the Russians, in strong positions between the village and the bridge hold back the Germans who are reluctant to move into close range of the Russian tanks.

15. Kps. 1 and 2 mount assault on village as T28 is KO’d

With the outer houses cleared by their armour German Kps. 1 and 2 resume their assault on the town, forcing their way into the western most houses. A fine shot from one of the 38t’s KO’s one of the two T28’s at the bridge as it attempts to maneuver into a better firing position. This is traded off against the loss of a third of the light German tanks.

16. The tide turns?

A the end of Day 1 with four Russian tanks knocked out, including one of the dreaded T28’s and the Russian command tank, things look bleak for the defenders. Much of the Russian infantry company holding the village break and flee for the bridge as the Germans start to make headway into the village.

17. And turns again...

What a difference a night’s sleep makes! The Russians return the next day, moving the third of their T28’s from further down the river into the village. Two enemy tanks are brewed up in quick succession bringing German light armour losses to over 50%. In the small woods, too, the Russian infantry beat off yet another German attack to take the woods, and move some light armour into support the troops on this flank.

18. Engineer company and Stugs arrive

German reinforcements arrive at a key point, disembark from their transport and move to invest the second village but find it abandoned by the enemy. However these troops are now dismounted and a long way from the action!
One of the newly arrived Stug’s support them while the second peels off to go help the battered 3rd Kp. fighting it out south of the the other village. 

19. Stug chases off T26/31's

With their tails between their legs the two T26/31’s that had been demonstrating on the Russian left flank are hustled by the Stug back towards their postions by the ford. But their presence has served the Russian purpose, drawing off valuable AT resources in defence of the German troops on this wing.

20. So that's where the minefields are!

Desperate to break the deadlock that has stymied 3 Kp.’s attempt to take the woods, the Germans move in one of their Panzerjagers as well as a Stug. But the SP gun runs afoul of a minefield, discovering late in the battle where the Russians have placed this asset, and is put out of action.

21.Russians hold the woods but at a cost

Wth the trees stripped away to see the action in the woods (flocking marks perimeter) the remnants of 2 and 3 Kp. rally once more in a do or die attempt to carry the woods. They partially succeed, clearing the way for a close assault on the Russian armour which destroys one tank and drives off the other. But it is too little too late as morale finally fails and the German infantry abandon the position en masse in a headlong dash back towards their lines.

22. Russian reinforcements arrive

Russian reinforcements, a third infantry company and a company of engineers arrive east of the river and only a short march to the crucial bridge and bridgehead which is still in friendly hands.

23. Battle's end

This overview shows the end of the battle. After two full days (real time) of hard fighting, the German armour still stays stalled out northwest of the village. Although hard-pressed, the Germans maintain a superiority of armour over the Russians. But the German infantry have taken a beating, with all companies well in access of 50% casualties, demoralized and in full flight while the Russians are still well in control of bridge, fords and one of the villages with more infantry coming in in support. The Germans call it a day.
We all agreed it had been a satisfying two days of locking horns in miniature. Despite some serial bad rolls on the part of the German players they still took the micky out of the Russian armour and, at the end of Day 1 of play, looked as if they might well carry the village and woods, with only Day 2 turning the tide irrevocably in favour of the Russians.