Friday, June 29, 2012

Vivandieres & Why I hate Lady Macbeth

Daughter of the Regiment
19th century audiences found cantinieres quite romantic
I have a soft spot for vivandieres. A friend of Mrs Kinch's remarked on this once, though she couchedit in somewhat unkind terms. "Was it normal for the prostitutes to wear uniforms?*" 
As it happens, no it was not, though no doubt someone can produce an example somewhere. I suspect Massena's name will crop up. 
Vivandieres and Cantinieres (for our purposes the terms are effectively interchangeable) were women who had a contract to supply spirits, shaving kit and other small necessities to the regiment to which they were attached. Strictly speaking the girls didn't have this contract themselves, it was held by a Sergeant who was known as a Cantinier. The Cantinier's wife was known as the Cantiniere and was definitely not a prostitute. She took up the job as the Cantinier was too busy with his duties, marching up and down and so forth and staring at terrified recruits and saying things like "Zis eez ze brown bess musket, eet eez ze preferred wepon ov yur enemy and it make a verey diztinktive zound when fired at you, mon brave."

An S Range Vivandiere

This figure represents a typical vivandiere/cantiniere with her basket and little barrel of brandy. She was a gift from Foy over at Prometheus in Aspic, who no doubt noted my somewhat unwholesome interest in the breed. She was painted by Krisztian, whose skill and craftsmanship is almost getting monotonous in its excellance.

 For your titilation, the ladies uncovered ankles.
Put them away you dirty, dirty girl...

As it happened Cantiniere's were rather better at surviving battles than their husbands were and as such (as well as I suspect their access to a legitimate source of booze may also have played a part) were highly sought after as spouses. Nicholette, the vivandiere, in RF Delderfields "Seven Men of Gascony" is married several times and is unabashedly unsentimental about the process.

 Just pull yourself together dear...

Which brings me to the second point of this post, what does Kinch have against Lady Macbeth? Nothing per se, I like Macbeth. It's not my favourite or the one I know best, but it is very, very good. However, I don't care for the usual casting of Lady Macbeth, who is often a painfully young, screechy creature who uses the sleepwalking scene to take her hysterics for a walk.

All of which misses one of the essential truths of soldiers wives - they are tough women.

Isuzu Yamada's performance in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood is a notable exception to this somewhat depressing rule and Dame Judi Dench in Trevor Nunn's 1979 production is suitably flinty, but what makes those two stand out is that while they do portray women in a state of mental breakdown, they don't make a meal of it. To paraphrase Victoria Wood, you can't just rub some blood on your hands, scream a bit and go,  "Don't mind me, I'm a looney".

 A second Vivandiere, 
based on the facings I'd say attached to a regiment of dragoons

No-one has made a film of Seven Men of Gascony, which is a pity as it's rather good and with the exception of Gerard, certainly the best fiction I've read about the period from the French point of view.  I fear however, that if one was made today, that poor old Nicolette would be hammered into the same tired "beautiful, but deadly" formula that seems to be rule for heroines these days.

This lady was a gift from Old John of 20mmNostalgic Revival and she does look fine. She's been used as an objective marker (with attached donkey) for Command & Colours Napoleonics games so far, though I think it will take a skirmish game for her to come into her own.

"I hate to see you leave, 
but I love to watch you go."

I think the point about the portrayal of Lady Macbeth that annoys me so much is that it is unfair. Sir Terry Pratchett wrote about women like her in his fantasy novel, "Guards, Guards".

"Sybil's female forebears had valiantly backed up their husbands as distant embassies were besieged, had given birth on a camel or in the shade of a stricken elephant, had handed around the little gold chocolates while trolls were trying to break into the compound, or had merely stayed at home and nursed such bits of husbands and sons as made it back from endless little wars. The result was a species of woman who, when duty called, turned into solid steel."

Sir Terry is writing about a policeman's wife, rather than a soldiers and I see a lot of Sybil in Mrs Kinch sometimes. It may no longer be fashionable or popular and I can't think of an example in popular culture in recent years, but I'll be damned if I don't give these ladies their due. 

*Whereupon my mother in law (who is reading this over my shoulder, yes you Mary) says something uncharitable about the Guards Division.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Salamanca (French Left) 22nd July 1812 - Part One

Mr E looks skeptical as he looks over the battlefield, though this is not uncharacteristic. 
He is a skeptical fellow. 

Command & Colours: Napoleonics has two Salamanca scenarios, one which deals with the French right, which we've played several times. I was casting about my Peninsular Battles page, when I realised that we had played the scenario covering the French right and played a version where the two scenarios were put together in order to make one large one, I'd never actually played the French left as a straight two player game. Fortunately, Mr E was able to oblige and we set to.

"Phew", thought the British infantry at least those fellows are quite a distance away....

I usually umpire at these evenings and it's something that I really enjoy doing. It has been remarked upon that I seem to enjoy organising wargames as much as playing them. "Kinch likes to watch," is how Savage put it - he really is a vulgar, greasy little oik - but there's some truth in the observation. That was not going to be the case today and I sat thinking about how I was going to develop my attack. I had an adequate hand, but I would need to use up some of the more mediocre cards to built the kind of hand that would allow me to put in an attack that the French wouldn't tear to shreds with a counter attack.

 Good Lord!

But, it wasn't to be. Mr E with typically Napoleonic decision, decided that the best defence was a good offence and used a special card called "Le Grande Maneuvre" to throw all four battalions of the 1ieme Swisse forward. This allow him to move four units four hexes, a huge distance in Command & Colours terms and place them in contact with my redcoats. In doing this, he seized the high ground, nullified the effects of my superior musketry and put his own men in a position to hit me with the bayonet the next turn. I would have to think fast. 

 Well this is a pickle...

As to what exactly this special card represents is open to debate. Was the British commander caught napping? Probably, either that or his own orders to move infantry onto the ridge line went astray. However, the matter at hand was that the French were right on top of me and the battle had suddenly taken a very differant turn then the one I had expected.

 Volley fire drives one battalion from the field

The Rifles and the Halberdiers fell back firing, which caused some casualties, while the Fourth Foot launched a bayonet charge that broke one of the French battalions. With one down and one weakened by fire, things were looking better but a well timed charge from Mr E could spell the end.

As the casualties are carried away, I await the inevitable counter-attack - the Swiss, much like the French are dangerous at close quarters

I'd weakened one unit and wiped out a second, but my plan was in shreds and I was certainly on the back foot.  An older colleague of mine once told me that one of the most important aspects of any fight is realising what sort of fight one is in, that and that no-one who has to risk his skin thinks fights should be fair. I believe the risk was about equal at this stage, Mr E would require good cards or good luck to crush my left. But, I had come prepared to attack and was now scrabbling to muster a defence. "L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace," had served Danton as far as it went, but it remained to be seen whether Mr E would profit by it.

 General E as a wise man supports the attack with cavalry and feeds more troops in

For his next trick, Mr E moved forward infantry supports and two squadrons of cavalry while skirmishing with the 4th Foot. This was in many ways a bigger problem as it meant that the attack would be well supported and that while I might be able to defeat the Swiss, there was every chance the fresh troops would roll over me. 

 Rifles are slow to load...

...and they fare poorly close up. The Swiss fell upon the 60th Royal Americans with a will and though they took a volley on the way in, an infantry symbol and two crossed swords finished the Americans in one fell swoop. 

The British redcoats pause, having fallen back for mutual support

My return fire caused some casualties, but it was pretty poor stuff and there were a worrying number of cavalry coming towards me. I also knew that if my left flank folded, Mr E would simply sweep into the vulnerablle Portuguese infantry in the centre, rolling me up before I could hit him back.

1 Regiment Swisse

We shall pause for a moment and regard these fellows. Newline French infantry, they're lovely models, though a little small - though I got them as part of a deal of 100 castings for €50 or thereabouts. These fellows are painted for my perpetual obsession, the battle of Maida, though I have four units of them as the French fielded Swiss at Bailen too and it would be a little unkind to deprive the Spaniards of suitable opponents. In the Bailen scenario, they are a little more fearsome, but normally I just field them as French Line Infantry.

The Hussars of Conflans move forward pinning the Halberdiers in square while the Chasseurs do the same to the 4th Foot

And this is where it all began to go a little squiffy. I was sitting on a good card that would allow me to counter- attack and do so comprehensively. A bayonet charge card that would allow to cut the retreat of the French horse and slaughter them. In Command & Colours, cavalry may fall back from an infantry charge substantially reducing the chance of casualties. I was worried that if I went into square, Mr E would take the one card in six that could do him serious harm.

The Fourth Foot took the charge of the Chasseurs in line and paid dearly for it. They managed to halt the French charge, but at the cost of near extinction. The Hussars of Conflans charged and I lost my nerve and formed square. Mr E reached out and like a revenger in a Webster play, took my Bayonet Charge. It was a disastrous turn. I had one battalion teetering on the edge of destruction, while another was now tied up in square. My effective counter had been snatched from my hand. But as Peter O'Toole put it in Laurence of Arabia, "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

The 7th Dragoons move forward, hoping to draw off some of the pressure

I was losing on my left flank and there was damn all I could do about it. I could make poor use of a good card in an attempt to shore up weakness or I could try to take the pressure off by exerting a little pressure of my own. I moved my Portugese cavalry, the 7th Dragoons no less, forward on the right. I had a six cards (now five) to Mr E's five and I wagered that he'd be less then happy to see his Legione Irlandaise run to ribbons by my cavalry. He could either trust to luck, which was unlikely or form them into square which would restore my card advantage. Either way, if he was playing cards on his left, it would draw his attention away from my now almost paralysed left and give me time to dig a way out of the hole.

Three British battalions held in square, this was going to be tricky

The Legion Irlandaise took it on the chin, while Mr E quite wisely pressed the attack where he was winning, forcing both battalions of the Fourth Foot into square. This took two additional cards from my hand and narrowed my options considerably. The only saving grace was that I had badly damaged his infantry before I had been forced into square and the only fellows in a position to take advantage of my discomfiture were a ways away.

Still, it was looking grim for General Kinch and his redcoats.

Part Two tomorrow.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hinton Hunt Royal Horse Artillery

Hinton Hunt RHA rider with a horse of uncertain ancestry

I'm nearing the end of my project to complete British and French armies for the Peninsula. There are plenty of other projects beckoning (Cold War Force on Force, Memoir '44, Samurai, Spaniards, India and on and on and on), but one of the luxuries of nearing the end of at least one project is a filling in of gaps, indulgence in certain extravagances that would not otherwise be entertained except in the happy time when the main work is done. These fellows are one such extravagance, a gift from a chum, Jack Hixon, in old Virginny who saw my Newline Designs RHA and took such a dislike to them that he sent me these.

RHA gunner

I find it hard to look at this pose and not think of briefings in black and white war films, anything with Kenneth Moore or Jack Hawkins, where a moustachied Rupert would importantly jab a stick at map with the words, "Jerry is here, here and here." Though in the circumstances it should probably be, "Francois is here, here and here."

They are beautiful figures, though Krisztian was unimpressed by their tiny feet, but their upright posture and good carriage remind me of figures from a Hillingford painting. They've done good service too - they saw their first combat a few weeks ago at the Redinha and confounded the normal expectation of newly painted figure, by charging forward and blasting the French with grape at close range in the best Royal Horse Artillery tradition.  

Sergeant, pot that fellow would you? Hinton Hunt RHA officer

So these chaps have been replacing my Newlines on the field of Mars, though I can't quite find it in my heart to dispose of them. Krisztian did a lovely job on them, for all their tiny feet and I can see them giving good service for many years to come. God bless Jack Hixon and the Christian Brothers who taught him and left with such an affection for the Auld Sod.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Russians are coming!

While the photographs of miniatures on this blog are generally me stealing other men's glory - these chaps are Russians are actually painted myself. I've been chipping away at a Cold War collection for Force on Force, mainly inspired by the beautiful work produced by Elheim miniatures. The sculpting, the proportions of the figures, the little touches like the Russian sniper having a smoke make them really stand out.

I've been painting these fellows up with a mind to playing the Top Malo House scenario from the main rulebook with the dastardly Reds taking the role of the Argintineans, mainly as I didn't like any of the Argies currently on the market. The painting is very simple and based on some excellant advice I received on the Guild.

1. Undercoat black. This is harder than it looks with a spray as there are plenty of undercuts.

2. Paint uniform Vallejo Khaki.

3. Wash with GW Devlan Mud.

4. Paint hands and face with Vallejo fleshtones.

5. Paint webbing with Vallejo Dark Brown and bag, etc with Vallejo Khaki.

6. Paint Helmet Vallejo Reflective Green.

7. Paint wooden weapon furniture Vallejo Mahogony Sand

8. Paint weapon an off grey, I usually mix black and white and then add a slightly lighter grey as a highlight.

9. Crush capitalism to taste.

My research into Russian Cossacks is going very well. 

In other news, it appears that Command & Colours: Napoleonics will be getting a Russian expansion next with a tentative release date of November. This is great news, though I haven't managed to finish playing all the scenarios in the basic set yet! Certain parties have prophesied that this means that I will have to study an aspect of the Napoleonic wars that doesn't involve Wellington or the Peninsular an area, they have rather laughingly described as "the real Napoleonic wars" (I'm looking at you Takacs). I'm skeptical, but I'm digging into Zamoyski's 1812 again and I'm quietly confident that this won't result in too many new books...

Fortunately, I'll be able to reuse a lot of my French troops and Strelets and Zvesda have almost everything else for the Russians covered. 

And lastly, there are Russians coming for one of my favourite computer games Company of Heroes, a skirmish based real time strategy PC title. It's tremendous fun - it's a historically based game rather than a historical wargame per se, but it provides an entertaining game and I find playing against the computer very relaxing. It's like playing a game of 1960s Second World War films. It's not exactly right, but it is close enough. The original game featured Americans with the British forces arriving two years later in an expansion. The third expansion wasn't up to much - but apparently the sequel is due in 2013. It will feature a single player Soviet campaign and in addition to having terrain that can be blown up and deformed, will also feature snow fall that will affect visibility and movement and that will build up over time.

There are questions of course of whether it will run on my laptop, but we live in hope.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Schilling French Grenadiers

Schilling French Grenadiers

Sharp eyed readers will no doubt have observed the freshly painted grenadiers lurking at the rear of the French line at the Battle of Vimeiro. The fellows pictured above are Schilling French Grenadiers bought from John Cunningham of 20mm Nostalgic Revival. John lectured me during his last visit that no true Napoleonic wargamer can be considered as such until he has fielded Old Guard Grenadiers. However, being of a Peninsular turn of mind, I didn't have much call for them at the time. However with Waterloo looming it seems I'll have to field some after all. 

And in close up

These were painted by Krisztian Takacs and they're brilliant figures well painted. Krisztian is also a photographer of some skill. He took the pictures above for Uwe of History in 1/72, who is also selling the Schilling grenadiers. As you can see they are crisp, beautifully proportioned castings about equivelent in height to SHQ I think, but I'll try and get a comparison photo posted soon.

From left to right, Officer, Pioneer and two grenadiers

I've also discovered that there is so little differance between Guard and Line Grenadiers that I'm happy to use the same figures for both. As Windrow & Embleton write in Military Dress of the Peninsular War,

"British diarists recalling the fighting in Fuentes de Onoro mention being attacked by "Imperial Guards", but there were no units of la Garde present.  The troops who made such an impression were three battalions of detached grenadier companies drawn from all eight of Drouet D'Erlons two divisions. It was a natural mistake for any man to make in the heat of battle, with the massed ranks of tall bearskins coming at him through the powder smoke."

The paths of glory lead but to the grave...

Lastly, there is the ever important casualty figure to mark where the unit has fallen.  Inigo, Uwe's sculptor has done a wonderful job - there is pathos there that gives weight and feeling to Thomas Gray's words.

All in all, two wonderful units that will hopefully break as soon as they see the sight of cold steel.

But somehow I doubt it. 

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Monday, June 18, 2012

This is an appeal... raise awareness of sausage fingered blogger syndrome. 

Every day dozens of people read your blog.

People like Dan Milligan, a man so lazy he is actually fictional.

People like Conrad Kinch of Kingstown, Ireland - a man so feckless and a sluggish that he frequently reads your blog on his phone in bed, when he's meant to be sweeping the kitchen or writing that article that he promised to Donogh months ago. But mainly on his phone, because he's too lazy to wrest his laptop away from Mrs Kinch, who is probably doing something productive with it, like getting a Tesco shop in or arguing with people on the Internet.

Conrad reads your blog.

Conrad likes your blog.

Conrad would like to comment on your blog, but he can't.

Because Conrad suffers from Sausage Fingered Blogger Syndrome.

This is a real condition, a very real made up condition, that makes it too much trouble for Conrad to comment on your blog. Why?

Because your blog has "Show word verification" enabled.

Every day, Conrad expends seconds, sometimes entire minutes if he's bothered to write a long enough comment, trying to type a random word to prove that he's not a robot. He does this in spite of a tiny screens and the cruel vagaries of predictive text.

Conrad is not a robot.

For one he lacks their work ethic and unrealistically high standards of personal grooming.

Disabling "Show word verification" doesn't mean that your blog will be suddenly filled with comments offering you penis enlargement pills, Nigerian bank accounts or pictures of Hot Girls waiting for you live on their webcams.

Well, actually it does, but they will all end up in the spam filter, which empties itself anyway.

It doesn't mean that you can't moderate your comments. You will be able to. 

So take this small step and make it easier for people like Conrad to comment on your blog, rather than mashing their chubby fists against an iPhone screen while queuing at the Post Office.

It would be better. He is beginning to frighten the children there.

Thank you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I don't write games...

....but if I did they'd have a samurai. 

As all dilligent readers of Battlegames are no doubt aware, Zvesda is releasing a new game called Samurai Battles. This is an unusual game in that it actually includes two rule sets, one based on Zvesda's house system Art of Tactic and the other using Command & Colours by our old friend Richard Borg. You can find a PDF of the Command & Colours rules here.

I fear another period looming.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Battle of Vimeiro (21st August 1808) Part two

Things are hotting up around Ventosa with the Connaught Ranger attempting unsuccessfully to evict the French interlopers. It remains to be seen whether General Solignae's haste to take the village, leaving two battalions to follow on behind will prove wise.

Fire from the French troops ensconced in the town pushed the British back while the French light troops moved forward to support their embattled brothers. There was some debate on the French side on whether it would have been wiser to bring the guns forward, but in the end the Light infantry carried the day.
But they were not enough, as the combined fire of the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Horse Artillery drove the French troops from the town.

With their right falling back, the French decide to up the pressure in the centre. Playing the "Elan" card - they send two battalions of the Legione Irlandaise forwards, one on the left and one in the centre. Risky, but in their present staits - nothing will be gained by caution.

And with that in mind, the push on the right recommences with the Hussars of Conflans moving forward to support the infantry.

The Legione Irlandaise manage to cause some casualties amongst the Royal Artillery on the ridge line, but nothing more.

And are promptly wiped out by return fire. Things are looking grim for Junot and his staff. It may be time to commit the grenadiers who are in reserve. These are very beautiful Schilling figures bought from John Cunningham and painted by Krisztian Takacs.

The Fourth Foot and the Portuguese cavalry move forward to meet the advancing grenadiers, but neither side can gain a decisive advantage.

Meanwhile, the battle still rages around Ventosa. The Connaught Rangers managed to retake the village, but were badly cut up doing so. Could the French eject them with one last push?

With the score 5-3 to the British, General Creanor orders a cavalry charges in the centre, risking a costly reverse to break the French quickly. He throws two regiments of cavalry down into the valley between the two armies and between them they claim the French battery watched over Junot himself. 

General Du Gourmand typically jolly in defeat, while Polish emigre General Siskey shakes his hand. General Savage is phlegmatic, while General Creanor somehow manages to get out of shot.

This was a good game, though I feel the French handcapped themselves by being too aggressive at the outset and not properly preparing their attack.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Battle of Vimeiro (21st August 1808) Part one

This battle was played some weeks ago, before I was overcome by a blogging lethargy that has left me bizarrely unenthused with the whole project. However, nothing overcomes a lack of writing like applying the seat of the pants to a chair and waiting until inspiration strikes.

The battle of Vimeiro as you all very well know, took place in 1808 during Wellington's first outing to the Iberian peninsula. Wellington or Wellsley as he was known at the time, arrived in Portugal and beat the French at the battles of Rolica and Vimeiro. He was then superceded by Generals Dalrymple and Burrard, who concluded a peace which while it cleared the French out of Portugal, was so politically disasterous that of the three British commanders that signed it, only Wellsley ever held high command again.

But enough of that.

The strategic situation was as follows, the British forces had recently arrived in Portugal at Mondego Bay near Lisbon. Wellington had had been tasked with kicking the French out of Portugal and was had been eying the seat of the pants of Jean-Andoche Junot as a likely spot for a boot.

Wellington had fought a battle with the French under Delaborde four days previously at Rolica in one of those strange engagements that neither side could be said to have lost. The British took the French position, but the French had retired in good order. Not bad for a Sepoy General who had not commanded an army against the French in battle before, but one does not break the aura of Gallic invincibility by pushing half your number of Frenchmen off a hill. The positions were now reversed, Wellington was on the defensive awaiting reinforcements (and supercession by a more senior officer) and Junot was eager to shatter his force before it could consolidate. 

This wasn't the first time we'd played this battle, but it was the first time Krisztian had joined us, though he mysteriously appears to have dodged all the photographs.

The French opened the ball with characteristic ferocity, a full throated bayonet charge straight into the heart of the British line.
Which was promptly shot down after some muttering from the British staff.
"What the hell does he think he's playing at?"
Meanwhile on the French right, the Line infantry begin to advance
...and the cavalry in the centre charge! But fail to make much of an impression.
While the "thin red streak tipped with steel" drives the Chasseurs back in disorder.
General Solignae moves up to join the front line.
Meanwhile in the French centre, all is not well. The 13ieme Cuirassiers have been driven back and the 60th American have skirmished forward, picking off a few of the 22ieme Ligne. There was back slapping all around from the British.
But they spoke too soon, a powerful cavalry charge backed up by the weakened 22ieme Ligne wiped out the over confident riflemen and swept the 4th Foot who unwisely tried to take the charge in line from the ridge. Though the Frenchmen were 2-1 down, the 4th were barely hanging on and even if they managed to form square on the following turn, there was a better than even chance that they would be ridden down.

But it was not to be, a counter attack by British Light Dragoons supported by their Portuguese brethren, put paid to the over extended French cavalry. "Good Lord," muttered the British IC, "I do believe they've been stealing our tactical manuals."

On the French left, General Solignae spurred his men to great efforts, taking the village of Ventosa despite tough British opposition.