More Prussian landwehr

The two Pomeranian units. The officer o the corner of the font unit is from AB, almost all the rest are Old Glory.

After my WW2 aircraft modelling, I wanted to return to the attack on my lead mountain of Napoleonic 18mm miniatures. This time I experimented with new techniques for a large batch of figures (102) to help make more rapid progress in future. I have painted them up to form four battalions of four bases, painted for two different regiments, from Pomerania and Kurmark (Brandenburg).

For a number of reasons I had far more Old Glory 15s Prussian landwehr infantry in my unpainted pile than I ever really intended. The figures aren’t the finest, and the caps are a bit low. I already had 19 six-figures bases of these done up for Westphalian and Elbe regiments. I have 60 or so of the somewhat nicer AB landwehr miniatures unpainted, which I plan to paint up as Silesians. Still the OG figures are nicely animated and look well enough in bulk – and the Lasalle game system that I have recently acquired is quite expensive in miniatures the way I play it. I could always do a few more more battalions of landwehr. So I thought I would try out some techniques in mass batch painting, on a larger batch than usual. I decided to do four four- base units, from two different regiments, plus one extra base base of Elbe landwehr so that I could top up my current landwehr stock to a full five Lasalle units. Each unit was to have a flag (figure manufacturers are usually over-generous with standard bearers, and I had four spare landwehr flags). Each base was to consist of five ordinary infantrymen, and one “command” figure – standard-bearer, drummer or officer. One of the standard bearers, and two of the officers were AB figures (where I had more than I needed for my Silesians), the rest were OG.

I am not a follower of hobby fashion, and I am ploughing my own furrow on presenting my miniatures. I base them close together on small bases (six infantry on a base 25mm square). The current fashion is for beautifully painted miniatures spaced further apart, sharing bases with rocks, tufts of grass and such. I find photos of the more fashionable 28mm figures based four to a 40mm square base painful to look at (the equivalent of four 18mm figures to one of my 25mm square bases). All contemporary illustrations show infantry in tight-packed masses – tighter than even my basing. Also I often find that the exposed expanse of bases often clash with the terrain board. Of course there is a very good reason that people go for these looser presentations – the painting of the figures is usually of a very high standard, and time-consuming. Looser mounting mean fewer figures to a unit, and the extra space allows the paintwork to be shown off to better advantage. These miniatures always look much better up close and personal than they do en masse and in pictures. I want to achieve the opposite – something that looks better en masse, while requiring less work on each individual figure – something more impressionistic. But I don’t want the miniatures to look terrible up close either, though. My technique had been to paint the figures individually, mounted on strips of card, and then mount them on the bases when they were finished, with the application of flock to the base being the final step. This felt a painfully long process, especially with a batch size of 12 bases (72 miniatures), which I felt to be the minimum to make progress with army building.

This time I decided to mount the figures on the bases much earlier in the process. This wasn’t the first time I have tried this. I did it with my first batch of Prussian line infantry (again 16 bases plus bits), but I didn’t consider it a particular success, as it was hard to paint the figures mounted so close together. I thought it was worth another try. First I primed them by airbrush, using gesso mixed with a bit of black. I then did a quick paint job on the legs below the coat, and some of the feet, and brown on the bases. To get a bit of variation in coat and cap colours I applied an undercoat of dark brown or white on the coats and caps for one figure in six, not including the command figures. This was a bit of a failure on the end result – the variation is hard to see. And then I mounted them on the bases, using the matrix of sand, acrylic medium and paint that I usually use.

And then on to the rest of the painting. The coats were mostly blue (a slightly different mix for each regiment, not that this is very noticeable), with a few brown and grey ones. The caps were black (actually dark grey) for the Kurmark regiment and blue for the Pomeranians. And so on. Predictably the webbing was the hardest – but this is not so prominent on the landwehr, and most of the poses had muskets held close the front of the body, masking the straps. If anything was too hard to reach because of the close packing of the figures, I left it out. I tried to highlight the white cross on the cap front, but not always very successfully; I thought I could rely on the final wash to correct this by highlighting the outline. I could just about reach the collars for the facing colour (red for Kurmark, white for Pomerania), but I did not attempt shoulder straps except for the AB command figures – the straps aren’t moulded properly on the OG figures, and very hard to pick out – their line infantry castings have the same problem. I tried to limit the detailing, but I did paint the gun barrels, as these are very visible. Quite a bit of paint strayed onto neighbouring figures, requiring touching up later. This was basic block painting – nothing clever.

Finally, in order to pick out more detail on the figures I gave them a wash. I’ve tried a number of strategies on this over the years. From acrylic paint and water, to Quickshade, to acrylic ink (sometimes diluted). This time I tried something a bit new again. I had bought some alkyl-based oil painting medium for future use in my aircraft models, to speed up the drying time of the oil paint glazes I have been trying there. I thought I might try this mixed with a bit of oil paint (Payne’s Grey) for the wash. This worked a treat, once the right ratio of paint to medium was found – it needed more than I thought. It dried to a satin finish which was slightly glossier than I normally have, but which helped give the figures depth. And that was the figures finished. No final varnish.

All that remained was to flock the bases. I used the same mix as for my last batch of figures, but it didn’t go especially well. It was impossible not to get flock onto the figures, and not all that easy to brush it off – not helped by the relatively dynamic poses of the figures making them hard to brush. And the flock needed to be sealed with diluted glue once dry, with more risk of flock straying onto the figures. This is a lot of faff for an effect that looks very ordinary. I think I need to try something different. That surely means painting rather than flocking – but I still need to find something textured to cover the bases so that they merge with the basing matrix (without getting onto the legs of the figures!). The base painting would then be directly after this texture is applied and dried, and before the main painting of the figures. Something to think about. With such a density of figures on the base, there is less need to try so hard.

I think the overall result is a success. These aren’t fantastically finished figures, but they are fine on the table. And, though I wouldn’t describe the process of painting them as quick, it felt like a significant improvement on my previous method. The batch of 100 was quite manageable.

The Kurmark units

The Duke of York’s Flanders Campaign – Steve Brown

I have long been curious about Britain’s first campaign in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars – in Flanders in 1793-5. I was curious because I had seen so little written about it. For most people British military history in this era starts with the Maida campaign of 1807 or Moore in Spain 1808-09. There is sometimes a reference to the Anglo-Russian Expedition to North Holland in 1799. How much was the vaunted proficiency of the British army evident before these campaigns, I wondered? So when I saw this history published by Frontline Books, I couldn’t resist it. It proved a most interesting read, and shed light on an episode that wargamers should take more notice of.

The book covers the history of the First Coalition (1793 to 1795) more generally, which I found very useful, before looking at the Flanders campaign in detail. Until near the end, Britain’s contribution to this coalition effort, which was led by the Austrians until they withdrew at the end, was led by Prince Frederick, the Duke of York and Albany, the second son of George III. It was his first experience of military command, but it was the fashion for armies to be led by “princes of the blood”, and this eased relations with coalition allies (the prince was fluent in German and familiar with the dramatis personae of high society in Austria, Prussia and Hanover). Apart from Austria, these allies were Hanover (part of George III’s realm), the Netherlands, and Hesse – with a theoretical contribution by Prussia that failed to materialise. The campaign was a failure for the Allies, mainly because of poor Austrian leadership. This resulted in Austria losing Belgium (as we now call what was then the Austrian Netherlands) to France, followed rapidly by the rest of the Netherlands.

Why did Austrian leadership fail? I didn’t find the book very satisfactory in explaining this. Two main reasons are offered: divergent strategic interests, and outdated strategic doctrines. While these were both doubtless true, I think that Steve Brown fails to explain them properly. What did Austria want to achieve? In the end what undermined Austrian resolve (and that of the Prussians) was a Russian threat to Poland. Was that their worry all along and did that make them hesitate to commit troops deep into France? This idea is not explored. The Austrians were not the only ones guilty of a lack of clear focus – the British government insisted on a diversion to try and take Dunkirk, and diverted troops to campaigns in the West Indies and the Mediterranean. Coalition warfare always struggles when it comes to clarity of objectives – and historians too often moan about this, rather than properly interpreting the conflicting aims. Warfare is politics by other means, after all, and not a be-all and end-all. On outmoded strategic ideas, Mr Brown makes much of the Austrian attachment to the “cordon system”, which let them to disperse forces. This builds on a narrative that was current at the time (the Duke of York himself refers to it), developed later by such writers as Clausewitz, and has been a staple of historians ever since. But that leaves a question: if it was so obviously wrong, why did the Austrians stick with it? If that was actually what they were doing. My main rule of historical analysis is that if you don’t understand how you yourself could have been tempted to take a particular course of action, then you haven’t actually understood it. Nobody defends the cordon system – which means that nobody is taking the trouble to understand what commanders who used it were trying to do. I was not able to pick up a deep enough appreciation of this campaign to develop a view myself. The maps in the book are generally unsatisfactory, and Mr Brown assumes too much knowledge of the local geography.

Mr Brown is a bit better on the tactical details of the battles. These are extremely interesting. There were no great set-pieces along the lines of the Napoleonic period – but rather a series of much more scattered encounters, often relating to the capture of fortresses and strategic towns. The coalition troops fought very well for the most part, with the general exception of the Dutch (whose people were not bought into the defence of royalty and aristocracy). Often Allied troops won out against vastly superior numbers. The French forces were in a state of flux – with elements of the old royal army combining with various flavours of volunteers and conscripts. The French did start to develop tactics that made best use of their advantages – which were mainly numbers – which has been the main historical interest of these campaigns hitherto. This has been dealt with expertly by the late Paddy Griffiths in particular, and this account of the Flanders campaign bears Griffiths out, though it doesn’t dwell on this aspect of the campaign. Griffiths suggested that the French innovations, far from being a new and superior way of war, were developed as a way of using poor quality troops against superior professional armies – and were largely dropped as the French army regained its professionalism under Napoleon. But until I read this book I didn’t appreciate just how effective the coalition troops generally were. The Austrian army was considered the best of the major powers, and their performance in this campaign bears this out (though Mr Brown reckons the Hessians to be the best troops in this campaign). This should provide a lot of interest to wargamers. The two sides provide an interesting contrast. Coalition armies may be nightmare to command, but the variety of troops they incorporate is a wargamer’s delight. And what’s more the coalition’s cavalry arm was very strong – including a substantial British element, featuring Household cavalry, the Union Brigade, and many other units, who had a good campaign. Britain did not field such a strong force of cavalry until 1813, Mr Brown reckons. Of course, the uniforms are totally different to the Napoleonic phase of the wars, but even so this era deserves more attention form the hobby than it gets. If I was in the mood to take on another army-building project, I would be tempted!

As for British tactics, Mr Brown has not much to say – as the British contribution to the coalition effort was not a major one. Many of the British infantry units were freshly raised and of very poor quality. Officers were often inexperienced surplus sons from aristocratic families, who had acquired commissions through purchase. Having said that, the British units generally seem to have fought well enough, using the conventional three-deep line for infantry. They seem to have been used aggressively in bayonet attacks, rather than attempted much with musketry. The Guards units performed well, as well as the cavalry. The weaknesses of the British units was more a question of a loss of discipline off the battlefield, with a lot of looting in particular.

The campaign ended in ignominy, when the Austrians pulled out, and then the French attacked in the winter. The remaining coalition forces were forced into a calamitous retreat where the logistics and discipline broke down and many men were lost. This was doubtless a searing experience for those that were there. And this was something of a Who’s Who of British and Hanoverian officers who were to feature prominently later on, not least of whom was the future Duke of Wellington, who commanded a regiment of infantry. There is an interesting appendix listing these officers who came to prominence later. There are many familiar names on the French side too, such as MacDonald and Vandamme, but most of the famous French names of later were elsewhere. There was another important participant, whom Mr Brown barely gives a mention: Gerhard von Scharnhorst, who served as a staff officer in the Hanoverian army. His experiences of the new French tactics deeply influenced him, and this in turn was very influential in the rebuilding of the Prussian army after 1807.

The Duke of York’s performance was undistinguished, though Mr Brown suggests that much of the criticism he has received is unfair. However, he does suggest that he lacked the gravitas to stamp his authority on an unruly army. He moved on to command the whole British army, where he is reckoned to have done an excellent job, helping to make it become the effective force of the Peninsular campaign. For him, and for the many other British alumni of the campaign, the Flanders episode was a powerful lesson in how not to manage a military campaign. That can certainly been seen in Wellington’s insistence of stern discipline and focused command.

This is an interesting book on an interesting campaign. I think it falls a bit short on the analysis, where it too often follows conventional wisdom, often quoting other historians’ analysis verbatim, and not leaving me with the clarity on events that I had hoped for. The maps are disappointing. But it throws welcome light on an important episode of British military history.

My Airfix Spitfire VC

And the last but by no means least of my trio British planes is the Spitfire VC, which I built from the Airfix kit, released last year. Airfix was my favourite manufacturer back in the day – but this is my first Airfix kit on my return to modelling. In fact the prospect of this model’s release that was one of the things that prompted this project.

The Spitfire V, in the tropical version with the Vokes filter, was backbone of the RAF (and other Commonwealth air forces’) effort in 1943 in the Mediterranean theatre. It started the year as the main air-superiority fighter – although it was considered to be a bit behind the Messerschmitt Bf 109G and the Focke-Wolf Fw190A then use by the Luftwaffe, it was still the best the Allies had. As the year progressed the Luftwaffe was overwhelmed, and the Spitfire VIII and IX came in, with an upgraded Merlin engine. The Fw-190, considered its best German fighter, was withdrawn from the air-superiority role in this theatre, though still used as a fighter-bomber. The Bf-109Gs were increasingly manned by raw and overworked pilots. The Spitfire V iwas needed less as a pure fighter and took up a role as fighter-bomber (the “Spitbomber”), which is how I wanted my model.

The A,B and C designations of the Spitfire V referred to the wing. The A wing was that used on the Spitfire Is in the Battle of Britain, with four .303 machine-guns on each wing. The B wing replaced two of the machine-guns with a 20mm cannon, including a blister on the upper wing to house ammunition. The C wing was generally improved, and could be configured with 4 machine-guns (which almost never happened), one cannon and two machine-guns (the typical configuration) or two cannon (quite unusual apparently – but what my model shows). The C-wing became standard for later marks. The VC was the most common version in the Mediterranean theatre, I believe – though there were quite few VBs earlier on.

In common with the other models in this batch, I decided to use the box decals. These depict either a US-operated aircraft from early 1943, or one from 3 Squadron of the South African Air Force, dated in the blurb at November. This was a bit late for my purposes – but a bit of research showed that the aircraft went into service with 3 Squadron in early July – just before the Sicily campaign – which was fine. These planes had the unusual four cannon armament, which added interest. Doubtless this reflected its fighter-bomber role. Here is a picture of the plane in service (it is DB-V):

The Airfix kit is excellent – and so it should be from something this recently released – and good value for money. As with standard Airfix practice, it can be made with undercarriage up, and a pilot is provided – though not a very nice one (I put it in the Hurricane, where it was less visible, and where I needed a smaller figure). I have only one real gripe with Airfix, apart from wanting them to make a better effort with the pilot: they did not provide any bombs. Since all the photos I have seen of the 3 Squadron machines show them carrying bombs, and since the box artwork shows the American plane on a bombing mission (though actually I don’t think Spits were used in this role until Sicily), this is a bit of a gap. They do provide parts for a clipped-wing version, for a plane without the Vokes filter, and even for under-belly slipper fuel tank, however. Fortunately I had spotted that my Eduard Spitfire VIII had parts for two underwing bombs, which I had no plans to use. The 3 Squadron pictures show the planes carrying a single bomb under the fuselage – but I think earlier on underwing bombs were standard – and I think the central bomb-rack was not developed until after Sicily at least, and possibly not until a lot later(there was a need to make sure the bomb was thrown clear of the propellor in dive-bombing missions, I think). My reference for the original bomb racks suggested that they were pretty much invisible after the bombs were released – which fits with the Eduard parts (and not photos I think from 1944 which show substantial pylons).

I digress. here is the finished model:

I think this is the best of my three models. As with the Kittyhawk I had a bit of trouble with the fit of the fuselage to the wings, but in the end result this doesn’t show badly. One of the underwing roundels isn’t quite flat. The colour scheme is awry, but an interesting point from the photo is that the underside is quite pale on these planes. Usually the Azure Blue is darker than the Mid Stone, but in this case it is plainly lighter – on the two further aircraft anyway. So even here my model may not be as awry as the others. Another curiosity is that the red on the roundels in the decals is very pale, orange actually – and not the typical dark red. This is possibly consistent with the foreground plane in the photo, and the tail flash of DBV. I decided to rely on Airfix’s research and use them anyway. Perhaps it is an SAAF thing?

Rather remarkably, this is the first Spitfire model I have made. I had previously made a P-47, Bf-109, Fw-190, Stuka, Hurricane and Kittyhawk – so this is the first breaking of new ground in my project. It is a lovely aircraft, even with the Vokes filter. I am looking forward to my Mark VIII later in the project, which is even sleeker. I am minded to attempt a VB, or perhaps another VC, from the Tunisia period, in air-superiority mode. But not until the plastic mountain comes down a bit more. There are still eight more planes in it! To say nothing of the vehicles.

My Special Hobby P-40 Kittyhawk 1A

Next a look at my Kittyhawk. The P-40, later models of which became the RAF Kittyhawk (earlier ones were called Tomahawk by the RAF), played an important role in the RAF efforts in the Mediterranean. At first they were used to supplement the Hurricanes as air-superiority fighters – as the former were outclassed by the arrival of the Messerschmitt Bf 109F – plus it was easier to ship them direct from the US to Egypt than supply from the UK. Then as the Spitfires took on that role, they were used primarily as fighter-bombers. By 1943 they had become the RAF’s principal fighter-bomber, increasingly supplemented by Spitfires Vs, as the Luftwaffe retreated and the Spitfire VIIIs and IXs came into play.

The P-40 isn’t the most elegant of aircraft (US designers rarely did elegant, unlike their British and, less often, German counterparts). But it was robust and highly functional (which the US designers were unbeatable at, except maybe by the Russians), and especially suitable for this theatre and the fighter-bomber role. It was let down by its Allison engine, which performed well at low altitude, but not at the higher altitudes needed for escort and other mainline fighter roles. By 1943 the P-40F and L (RAF Kittyhawk IIs) were powered by Merlin engines – which did much better at altitude. Americans using these models as fighter escorts against Bf-109Gs got perfectly respectable results, especially as by this time the US pilots were better trained and rested than their opponents. But the Merlins were needed elsewhere – notably for Mustangs, a far better air-superiority machine – and the later Allison engines were fine for fighter-bombers, so later P-40s (the K, M and N) went back to these.

At the start of my project, in autumn 2020, I went on a buying spree for my models, anxious to beat full Brexit, which kicked in in January 2021. I chose this model from Special Hobby of the Kittyhawk IA to be my Kittyhawk. Alas for my research. The Kittyhawk 1A was the P-40E, which was obsolete by 1943, being replaced by the Kittyhawk II (the P-40F or L) or, mainly, III (the K or M – and apparently some of the Ls, though presumably re-engined). The later versions were chiefly distinguished by a lengthened fuselage, which set the tail back a bit from the tailplanes. I discovered my mistake quickly enough, but decided to press ahead. I decided to do the plane on the box art from 112 Squadron, with its distinctive shark’s teeth. This is a bit hackneyed and overexposed in artwork – other squadrons did not have these markings. But they really do work well on the P-40, so I thought I’d do it anyway. The plane is marked GA-Y, is from 1942, and was lost in May of that year. For some reason it has been by far the most popular to be portrayed on model aircraft. Here is a picture of it:

The Special Hobby kit proved to be a lovely one, in spite of being on the usual undercarriage down mode. The undercarriage doors fitted neatly into the recesses – the only problem is that one of them was very small, and I managed to lose it. This is the mark of a good quality, professionally-made model. The PJ pilot got in without too much trouble but it is a roomy cockpit compared to the Hurricane or Spitfire – or the Bf 109 or Fw-190 come to that. The only awkward bit was fitting the fuselage assembly onto the wing assembly. For some reason this often seems to be a problem (it was the case on both the other models too). I needed to be a bit more patient, and the fit isn’t quite right. Anyway, here is the result:

I used the US bomb from the kit – the RAF did use these (and the US used British bombs). It’s a bit skew though. Also the bomb dips a bit, probably because I didn’t get the pylons right. I have seen pictures of centrally mounted bombs dipping on Spitfires – but that doesn’t show on the picture above. I might try to correct this. I have already commented the errors on paint colours. Also the cockpit canopy suffered from some excess glue. The biggest problem was with the decals. Unfortunately the GAOY on the port side got displaced, as did the starboard serial number – and this escaped my final checks an so dried out of place. I decided that I could correct the worst of this by replacing the roundel (even though it wouldn’t then match the position on the other side). As I was searching stock for a new roundel, I found the decals for my original Airfix Kittyhawk kit from the 1970s. They were for the same aircraft. The big letters were a bit heavier than the Special Hobby ones (which are more realistic anyway), so I decided only to replace the roundel – though I needed to overpaint the yellow to hide a pale outer circle. The GA remains slightly skew. I was also able to replace the serial number, though the Airfix ones were also a bit heavy. The port serial in the kit has a dark background (which looks like an unsuccessful intervention from the censors!) – which is there in the original photo. I didn’t like this so I was happy to replace the serial on this side too.

And so there it is! Another 1942 model in dodgy colours. This can do service on the table, but I’m minded to do a Kittyhawk III as well. I’m also looking at a P-40L in US service, as flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, which would also have RAF camouflage colours.

My AZ Model Hurricane IID

AZ Model’s Box artwork for Hurricane IID

The obvious choices for my first RAF models for the 1943 project were a Spitfire V and a Kittyhawk. But I have always loved the Hurricane, and so I wanted one of those too – even though the type was on the way out in Tunisia, and does not seem to have played a significant role in the Sicily and Salerno battles. Hurricanes continued to be used until the end of the war in the Mediterranean, but apparently not in the major land campaigns.

I wanted to do the IID model, which featured two 40mm anti-tank guns underwing, and reduced machine-gun armament (down to two, firing tracer). One squadron of these was in operation in Tunisia (6 Squadron). This squadron played a significant role in supporting the advance of the Eighth Army into Tunisia, providing direct battlefield support by attacking tanks in particular, sweeping through in advance of the ground forces. This makes it particularly interesting from a tactical point of view – since mostly fighter-bombers were used for interdiction behind the lines. The IID was reported to be very effective in this role, and apparently referred to as the “can-opener”. There is actually quite a lot of controversy about how effective aircraft were at tank-busting in WW2 – extravagant claims by the crews are almost never corroborated by hard evidence (notably Typhoons in Normandy, using rockets rather than guns). There is no corroboration for the Hurricane pilots’ claims – though the psychological effect of air attack from tank crews should not be underestimated. The 40mm guns were awkward things, and hindered the aircraft’s manoeuvrability. The calibre (the same as 2 pdrs) was by then obsolete for ground use, but planes had the benefit of extra velocity coming from the aircraft, and the ability to attack from the side or top of the tank. They would have been useful enough against the Panzer IIIs that were the Germans’ main tank at the time. But after Tunisia the RAF used rockets for tank-busting. With battles in Sicily and Italy providing more cover for tanks, tank-busting went out of RAF repertoire. 6 Squadron swapped the guns for rockets, and used their Hurricanes against shipping – upgrading to Hurricane IVs in due course. The high-ups were always sceptical of using aircraft in close support, in spite of army pressure. Interestingly the Germans also used underwing guns of similar calibre, mounted on Stukas, in Russia. Extravagant claims of success were made for them too.

There seemed to be only one choice for for a 1/72 IID, from AZ Model, though a number of others manufacturers do other versions of the Hurricane II. Alas, I found that it was an poor model, especially compared to the Spitfire and Kittyhawk. It is now withdrawn. Starting again I would go for one of the other IIs, and try to model the underwing guns somehow – it is possible that one of the other kits has them, but doesn’t advertise it (there are often parts for other versions included). I have some guns from the Stuka, but I don’t know similar they are. The model often didn’t have proper pins or recesses for the parts to fit together in right place (the two halves of the fuselage had to be glued together free-form – a bit alarming); detailing was weak though perfectly adequate for my purposes. The fit of parts wasn’t great. It came undercarriage down, and without a pilot. The undercarriage doors needed a bit of work to fit into the recesses to model the up position – and I couldn’t make the side struts to the door work at all, so just plugged the gap with plasticine (I’m not stressing on the detail for these models). There were few resin parts, including the pilot’s seat and the radiator. It was very hard to get these off the sprue without damaging them. In fact I lost the seat in the attempt, and had to replace it with a spare from the Kittyhawk. The cockpit was too small for the PJ Productions model pilot I had (I have a stock of these) – so I used the Airfix one form the Spitfire, with a bit of filing, as this was a bit smaller, though not especially nice. The whole interior was quite hard to do. That didn’t matter too much because the cockpit canopy is quite small, and you can’t see much from the outside. I also managed to blur up some of the canopy interior with excess glue. Anyway, I pressed on, and here is the result:

It Is OK considering, apart from the colouring. The underside has been heavily weathered partly because I wasn’t very happy with the underlying paint colour – at once too chromatic and too light. In any case the undersides of the aircraft got pretty hammered from the dust airstrips – though I don’t have a good picture of what they actually looked like.

Here is a picture of the actual aircraft (apparently over El Alamein in 1942):

Could be worse! The decals weren’t that great – with lots of flash on the lettering and numbers. The tail flashes seemed too big compared to the box illustration – but seem to fit the photo OK. The exhaust stain should be much bigger. And if this aircraft survived all the way to Tunisia (doubtful), it would have looked even more weathered. In fact two of my supposed 1943 planes turn out to belong to 1942. This is in fact evident from the roundels and fin flashes, which were changed in July 1942. The above photo shows the newer version on the second nearest plane, which gives authenticity to the Alamein date (July to November 1942).

Unfortunately, the more I look at colours on this batch of models, the less I like them! This model will be fine to use on the wargames table, but less for display. But while I will consider doing another spitfire V and Kittyhawk, the hurricane is too minor a player for me to consider doing another one. Still, the model does look like a Hurricane – not particularly beautiful, but iconic.

Three British planes for 1943

My Spitfire, Hurricane and Kittyhawk

So this is my first post of 2022! I have spent a lot of time refining my Napoleonic big battle rules, but that is a hard thing to blog about while you are doing it. But earlier this month I returned to my modelling project on WW2 aircraft, based around my 1943 theme, featuring the Tunisia, Sicily and Italian campaigns. This is a return to aircraft modelling after a break of 35 years or so. I started with a single American P-47 Thunderbolt, a bit after 1943, but in Med colours. I then did a batch of three German aircraft for Tunisia. My next batch was three British Aircraft: – a spitfire VC, a hurricane IID and a Kittyhawk IA. Alas on a number of counts the results are rather flawed.

The idea is that I complete the models up to wargames standard. They need to look good from a distance, and have undercarriage up and pilots in place. They would not pass muster for keen aero-modellers, who would include much more close-up detailing. For this batch of aircraft I wanted to focus on the model-making and painting, so I decided to use the decals in the box, rather than the palaver of creating something different (which I did for the P-47 and two of the German planes).

Why are the results flawed? The biggest problem is that I got the colours wrong. The planes look as if they are carrying the early north European scheme of Dark Earth and Dark Green; only the blue underside (not very visible from the picture) gives the game away.. This is a sorry saga with a clear moral. Do your research first! I thought I had understood what was required as I mixed the colours for the airbrush. First I mixed the Azure Blue for the underside. I started with Azure Blue Rowney artist’s paint, dulled down with a bit of white and brown. Too much white: while this is consistent with what some artists show, photos show it to be quite dark. And then I thought it also looked too green – that may be as a result of the white, which causes a bit of a clockwise shift on the colour wheel for some reason (blue to turquoise, red to magenta, etc.). By then the Mid Stone had already gone on. I based this on the brown colour in the German tropical scheme, which I based on Raw Sienna. It should have been yellower, and actually lighter than the Azure Blue. Next I put on the Dark Earth, which I though should come out a bit redder than the Mid Stone. I mixed this based on Burnt Umber. I then looked at this colour photo of a plane in theatre:

Spitfire VBs over Tunisia, presumably in 1943

This shows a distinctly greenish hue to the Dark Earth (which intros picture is generally quite weathered – it fades in the sun quite quickly) and not the reddish one I had. I remixed, using adding in some green, and overpainted. Too much green – though I was probably being led astray by the Mid Stone being wrong. When done I actually thought it didn’t look too bad (it is easy to misjudge colours out of context). But I thought I would tweak with some glazes mixed from oil paints and linseed oil – to make the underside darker and bluer, and the topside paler and less red (which means a bit greener). It took a few days to be dry enough for decals. At this point I just pressed ahead. Alas the Mid Stone looks more like Dark Earth, and the dark Earth looks more like Dark Green! And the Azure is still too pale.

I will profile each individual model separately. But here are some notes on the general technique. I first assembled and painted the interiors and pilots. I then assembled the models apart from the cockpit canopies. I filed, fillered and sanded to smooth over the worst cracks while trying avoid damage to the panel detailing. Then I added the canopies and masked them. I did think about leaving this to later, but thought it was better this way. Apart from the Spitifire I did not attempt to leave the canopy struts unmasked – I would paint them later. But I struggled a little with this, and applied a bit too much superglue on the Hurricane and Kittyhawk – this meant that the canopy fuzzed bit on the inside. And by the time I discovered it the canopies were so secure that I didn’t dare to try and remove them.

After this I airbrushed with white primer. The plastic really needs this step. Then the saga with the paint started. This was my first attempt with RAF camouflage. I sprayed the all the upper surfaces Mid Stone. And then I used Blu Tac and magic putty to mask the Stone areas. This took literally hours to form the rather complicated shapes, and even then I made several mistakes. The magic putty is easier to apply and remove, but it flows – so can’t be left for long, and I needed it to last for days. So I couldn’t use it for the edges – just infill. I won’t do this masking again. After the masking came off and I realised my mistake on the colour, I decided to overpaint with a good old paint brush. I did this with many thin layers – not too hard as the acrylic paint dries fast, so I could do it all in one session. That worked fine – so in future I’m going to use the paint brush for the overpainting. After the paint I put on the oil glaze. the idea was to correct a colour imbalance. It did improve things, but it’s much better to take a bit of trouble to get the colour right in the first place. Ideally all the main colours need to be mixed at the same time and tested before application. I have relished the challenge of mixing my own colours – but my experiences shows how difficult this is – and I don’t think I’d recommend it to anybody isn’t an artist (and I’m not!).

I am making slow progress with airbrush technique – the critical thing being to get the paint consistency right. I have also learnt how to clean the brush more quickly, so I can do it more often. It produces a lovely, delicate finish, which looks really good on aircraft. But good conventional brush technique is just as fast and the results are pretty good. Actually I think the airbrush might come into its own on vehicles, where the smooth finish is not as important, but the nooks and crannies take forever to paint with a brush – and aren’t good for brush health either. So far I have not learned how to do fine work with the brush – so I have to mask – which is clearly an issue! This is partly because of the brush – which isn’t designed for fine work, but mainly its because I don’t think I have set the brush up properly. As for masking, Tamiya standard tape is lovely. I also have 2mm tape which is meant to do bends, but it’s no good for RAF camouflage patterns, and it doesn’t stick all that well after a few months.

After the glazing and detailing the canopies, I went on to the decals. I didn’t think the decal softener was working properly as they weren’t melding properly with the surface. But as they dried, it mostly worked very nicely. Unfortunately I managed to dislodge some of the carefully positioned decals on the Kittyhawk, which required some corrective action – which I’ll describe on my piece on that model. The only surface prep on the decals was using decal fluid, which blobbed a bit on the glazed surface. I didn’t seal the decals afterwards either, as I did on my first model.

After the decals were dry I used the oil paint patination technique of putting small blobs of paint on the surface, and brushing them in. This caused a near-death experience with my German aircraft – but I did not make the mistake of doing this on top of a layer of matt varnish this time. My technique is improving and this step was quick. It really helps integrate the decals, which can be a bit saturated and stark, as well s giving the aircraft a bit of a used look. The glaze left quite a glossy surface, so I applied layer of matt varnish after this. I used the LifeColor airbrush varnish for this, but applied it by conventional brush. This is quick on the smooth surfaces of an aircraft – and I did not want to mask the canopies again. I did not want a deep matt finish, so I didn’t think of using the Winsor and Newton aerosol. The varnish blobbed a bit, so it was a bit trickier than I thought it would be – just as well I didn’t try the airbrush, as the standard brush would have been needed anyway!

Finally I finished with a bit of powder scraped from pastels. This was mainly to create the exhaust stains. But I applied small quantities more generally to give a slightly dusty look. You can’t really tell from my picture above – but closer up pictures will be come with my later posts.

So disappointing. The RAF tropical scheme is hard to get right. I have seen many horrible-looking jobs on restored aircraft, models and artwork. There’s usually an error somewhere. The pre-mixed paints often don’t get it right either. Still my first attempt doesn’t measure up. I plan another batch of models in this scheme later – and I promise they will look much more like the picture above. I may also do another Spitfire V and Kittyhawk anyway, as these models aren’t quite right for other reasons – more later!

Big Napoleonic battles

A view of a recent Albuera based game with Prussians standing in for Spanish. Albuera is not a big battle by Napoleonic standards, and not all the forces are in view – but it gives some idea of the visual effect I am heading for.

It is one of the strange aspects of Napoleonic wargaming that historically the main focus is on big battles, with over 50,000 men on each side (and on occasions over 150,000 and once double that), while the games themsleves are generally designed to represent much smaller encounters. The January and February issues of Wargames Illustrated feature articles which explore this paradox, from veteran games designers Sam Mustafa and Bill Gray. But my approach to this conundrum is different again from these.

This strange situation is readily explainable. The fashion in the early days was to design games from the bottom up, based on the known capabilities of men, horses and weapons. This led quickly to the basic unit being the battalion, which in turn tied the games to the myriad of accounts of the wars written by the men who took part. There is a lot of drama at this level, and it makes for a cracking game. From a wider perspective it also made a bit more sense than it might first appear: one of the innovations of the age was the use of the division as a manoeuvre element and semi-independent locus of command – and the division was the higher level of organisation around which battalion-based games naturally focused.

So far, so good. But this sort of game makes fighting the big battles, like Waterloo or Borodino impossible without doing strange things – like the practice of “bath-tubbing” – making each battalion stand in for a brigade or division. And the big battles, incorporating the works of the big celebrity generals, like Napoleon, Wellington or Kutusov, are one of the era’s main sources of interest. You are told that you can step in the footsteps of Napoleon, and then given no more than a dozen battalions to play with! It gets worse. One of the attractions of the era is the variety of troop types, and especially elite troops. It’s hard to bring these into an honest division-level game without losing much of the drama that surrounds their use. And you might be able to work in one unit of Imperial Guard, or one of Cuirassiers. But both? And then there are tactics such as massed cavalry or massed artillery that are also very hard to do at divisional level.

And so was born the brigade-unit game. Sam started this with his Grande Armée rules, and then his current Blucher system. Bill did so with his Age of Eagles, based on the Fire and Fury system for US Civil War games. Many gamers are understandably not interested in these systems, so wrapped up are they in the dramas of battalions. It’s simply not Napoleonic without them they say. But for people like me, drawn to the drama of bigger battles, these rules were manna from heaven. For a long time GA, and especially its fast play variant, were my go-to systems. For a number of reasons I outgrew this system, which had weaknesses that Sam himself recognises, and were the reason that he replaced it with Blucher. Meanwhile I developed my own brigade-based system, which I used for my Vitoria game in 2013. These rules were quite innovative – using playing cards instead of dice for example, and did well representing Vitoria, which we played as a four-player game.

But I had a serious problem with brigade games, acknowledged by Bill in his article. The units are too small – and indeed the time interval for a move is too short too – for properly big battles. There are too many units and too many moves to make them accessible either to two players in a day, or to multiple players in an evening – which are the typical formats for most games. This is actually less of an issue with Blucher than Age of Eagles. Blucher is highly abstracted and slick, and a number of its systems are designed to speed up play. I can say similarly for another highly abstracted brigade system – Horse, Foot, Guns by Phil Barker. I have successfully had two player day games with HFG: Salamanca and a stripped back Waterloo (a version that ignores the Prussians but takes out Lobau’s command and the Young Guard). I have played Blucher about three times in evening games with made-up scenarios very loosely based on the core forces at Ligny. But there is something about both the game mechanisms and the look and feel of these games that I don’t like, but that I can’t really articulate. Visually I don’t think they work well with my 15/18mm figures. More seriously they start to get more difficult when the battles get bigger – Salamanca and Waterloo redux are medium-sized battles.

I decided that I had to bite the bullet and use the division as the base unit. Bill says about this: “You lose so many painted miniatures from your visuals that I’d suggestion might as well simply play a board or video game.” Actually the aim is to have the number of miniatures about the equivalent of a normal battalion-based game – say 250-500 a side for 15mm. But he has a point of course – reducing a division of 5,000 men down to a group of 24 miniatures is a stretch. It is probably more tolerable with 6mm or 10mm figures, but that is a road not taken a long time ago for me.

I have encountered two systems with division-sized units. One was by Sam, and based on his GA system. This has a very long distance scale, and large units, represented on standard 2-inch or 3-inch squares. In my one trial game we did Waterloo incorporating most of the Prussian approach march on the table. This produced an interesting game, but it is too scaled down for me. It also suffers many of the faults of the GA system. Then came Bloody Big Battles by Chris Pringle. This is based on Fire and Fury, but is much more scaled up and stripped down than Bill’s game. The system is aimed mainly at mid-19th Century battles, and especially the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. But many have used it for Napoleonic. The scaling was exactly what I was looking for though – with 25/30mm square bases representing 1,000 to 1,500 men each, organised into units of three to six bases, usually. My first trial of the system was a solo game between Prussians and Austrians in the 1866 war, using Napoleonic figures. This gave a cracking game with fortunes swinging back and forth wildly. If I start up in this era – and I’m very tempted to – these are the rules that will use (but I’ll use 10mm or 6mm miniatures). It helps that Chris has produced a whole heap of interesting historical scenarios ready to play.

But, as I’ve said a few times here already, BBB does not transfer well to Napoleonic battles. One reason is that the fighting takes too long to resolve – I think because infantry firing is so restricted without long-range firearms. Second is that the command/activation system is very haphazard, so that things can freeze up too quickly in core parts of the battle. This may represent mid-century wars quite well. Central battle control tended to be weak, while local corps and divisional commanders were more used to taking the initiative than earlier in the century. The randomised activation system models this dispersion well enough, but in Napoleonic times the army command tended to be stronger, but lower levels were weaker. The battle flowed quickly in the areas where the army command focused, but tended to be slower elsewhere. Blucher and HFG model this well (HFG overdoes it in fact) – but not BBB. Finally cavalry was much more important in the earlier era, and its role much more distinct from the infantry.

And so for all these reasons I started the journey of writing my new rules with BBB as the jumping-off point. This has produced a series of false dawns, and I’m still not there yet. Partly inspired by Lasalle 2 I have now finally abandoned the I-go U-go turn system. There are other features that I have copied from these wonderfully designed rules. There will need to be more trials before I have anything fit to release, even as a beta.

But one thing is very clear from my journey so far. You lose a lot of the detail with divisional-sized units, and so rely a lot on random combat factors to give a realistic variety of outcomes. This came home forcefully when I tried a thought experiment of recreating d’Erlon’s attack at Waterloo in terms of my rules. The historical outcomes are all possible within the rules, but the route can be a bit indirect at times. But, of course, if you are going to reduce a big battle into something that two players can play in a day, it follows you have to lose a lot. The high randomisation and abstraction is bound to put many off. But it might draw as many others in.

A trial game with Lasalle II

I have read a number of excellent review of Sam Mustafa’s latest game, an updated version of his Lasalle rules, for Napoleonic divisional level games. So I splashed out and bought a copy. I have just tried it out on a solo game. What are my impressions?

As I have said many times here before, Sam Mustafa is one of the top wargames designers currently in business. His games are always elegantly designed, properly tested and clearly explained. However, since his first Napoleonic game, Grande Armée, I have taken a dislike to his various systems – they just didn’t provide kind of feel of game that I have been looking for. That was the case for his first edition of Lasalle. I found them too abstract and “gamey”. There was too big a gap between the way the game was played, and how battles were actually fought. I am very interested in the historical simulation side of the game, rather than it being just a game for toy soldiers. This is a balance, of course: I don’t have much patience for complex mechanisms and piles of detail these days – so a lot of abstraction is essential. And Sam does pay a great deal of attention to the history. The balance wasn’t quite right for me.

Lasalle II never promised to be more than a highly abstracted game for toy soldiers, albeit one that is heavily grounded in the history. However it intrigued me because I would like to have the option of this sort of system for shorter games and club play – in order to give my miniatures time on the tabletop and provide entertainment. This set of rules looked as if it could fill that gap.

What’s more they can quite easily be adapted for use with my miniatures. These are in 18mm and (mainly) based on 25mm (one inch) squares, with six infantry or two cavalry to each base. Lasalle uses standardised units of four bases (for infantry and cavalry). I thought this would look good with my figures, even though typically shallower bases are used. The most popular base width seems to be 40mm for 18mm figures (and this base width is used for 28mm as well – and for 6mm too, albeit with different base depths!). Like most of Sam’s current systems, all distances are given in base widths (BWs); since 1BW equals an inch, I have no need for specially made rulers.

I don’t want to describe the Lasalle II system here – there are plenty of online resources that do that for those that are interested. Suffice to say that it is everything you might expect from a great games designer like Sam. And it’s very abstract. What I want to do is talk about my game and the particular issues that came up for me.

My test game was based on the trial scenario in the rules, but replacing the Austrians with my Prussians (my beloved Austrian army is in a sad state at the moment). That actually changed things quite a bit. The Austrians don’t have the “Attack Column” trait, but did have some high-class cavalry. My Prussians do have “Attack column”, like the French, but five out of the eight infantry units were Landwehr. I still gave them three cavalry units, but these were bog standard quality dragoons and hussars, with the same characteristics as the two French units, of hussars and chasseurs. But I did get the points to balance! I also had to adapt the table layout so that I could use my Albuera table, which I haven’t taken down yet.

Half way through my game. You can just see the discrete pins that mark the edge of the playing area, and how cramped it is becoming for the advancing Prussians

The game length is meant to be eight moves – but mine ended in the fifth, as the Prussians reached their break point of four units lost. This was mainly because I misread the rules on artillery, so that the longer range “bombardment” fire was using the number of dice for canister “volley” fire. The French quickly set up two batteries together, and blasted away the Prussian horse battery before it could let off a shot, and then trashed one of the Prussian infantry units, which had seized the village, followed by one of the Prussian dragoon units. Both of these units were subsequently finished off by close combat, though the Prussians managed to retake the village, and it took a few moves before the cavalry was finally routed. The one Prussian battery to get going did manage to make a mess of one of of the French infantry units before I realised my mistake – and this was duly polished off by a Landwehr unit. This was all aided by good dice throwing; the third French battery did not manage to achieve much – until later. The final battery (Prussian) was never deployed as this was part of an over-ambitious Prussian turning move and it got crowded out.

The Prussians sent their strongest “brigade”, with two line and two Landwehr infantry, one cavalry unit and a battery, on a big turning manoeuvre, through and round a wood. This succeeded in giving them the initiative (in battle rather than game terms), messing up the French plans, and forcing their left brigade to come to the aid of the right one. But one prolong move was enough for them to swing round their battery just enough to face the threat, while there wasn’t enough table space for the Prussian cavalry to get round the rightmost French infantry unit, which formed square and bottled it up. The Prussians decided to risk everything on a charge on the French battery with its leading Landwehr unit (the same one that had routed the French infantry). Because the French had wisely held their fire, this meant that the Prussians had to endure one round of canister before they could close. With some fine French throwing, this time within the rules as written, they scored four disruptions (all the infantry and cavalry units have a strength rating of six, which is the maximum number of disruptions they can endure). The Landwehr rallied and pressed on – but the rally move succeeded in only pulling back one of the disruptions. The battery stood its ground and beat off the attack, inflicting more disruption. A series of charges by Prussian attack columns on the French infantry were also beaten off, and there was some largely ineffectual musketry between the sides – the musket power of attack columns (and squares) is quite limited. But the musketry did manage to finish off the very battered Landwehr unit, and the Prussians had lost their four units.

That was a fair verdict. The Prussians were running out of steam, and didn’t even have the space to deploy their third battery. Quite apart from misreading the rules on artillery fire, there were a lot of mistakes arising from the lack of familiarity wit the rules. In particular my usual method of rapidly throwing in attack columns without bothering much with musketry didn’t really work – and the congestion problems the Prussians had clearly had their root in unfamiliarity too. But there were a number issues that surprised me a bit, and might not be so obvious from the write-ups you see. These aren’t problems with the system, so much as warnings about how they work.

The first issue was space. One inch to a base width gives you a very compact table. The rules recommend a playing area of 24BW by 36: just two by three feet for me (60 by 90cm). I followed this for my trial game wanting, not to spend too much time in the game in early manoeuvring. That meant the playing area was a bit cramped with the suggested armies (8 infantry 2/3 cavalry and 3 artillery unit a side). Both sides were constrained by the opposite table edge. It didn’t help that my wood and crop field were a bit big – the official trial game would have had them smaller. My bases are quite deep, of course, which made them take up quite a bit of space. One-inch bases are doubtless more typical of 10mm or 6mm miniatures on shallower bases. That would still have led to problems with the table depth – and I didn’t even use the suggested unit labels, which are quite big. But this problem has an obvious solution – I have plenty of space to use a bigger playing area. But if you are using a 40mm BW I would recommend that you have a full 4ft by 6ft playing area (1.2 by 1.6m, rather than 0.96 by 1.44m), and space nearby for the routed units, reinforcements, etc.

A second issue is skirmishers. This is a problem that Sam has struggled with for a long time – they were historically important, but are very hard to represent in game terms without making the whole thing too fiddly. Sam has abstracted them away, so that while they have an important effect on the game, no models on the table. Each infantry unit has a number of skirmish points. These are totalled up at the start of each turn and a die thrown for each (an awful lot of dice incidentally) – a 6 is required to sore a “hit”, and this determines who goes first, and may give you extra “Momentum” (MO) points, which drive the game. This is very clever, and further ideas are incorporated into the advanced rules. I would still like skirmishers to be on the tabletop, even if only as markers. At first I thought that I could put one base on the table for each skirmish point, and just use them as decoration. But there are far too many skirmish points for that, in an already crowded table. One base per hit would be fine, but since these have no significance beyond who goes first and MO points, this looks pointless. In fact one of the Advanced rules does give a role for skirmish markers, and adopting this rule is probably the best thing to do.

A third point is that the rules for built-up areas are too abstracted for my liking. At this sort of scale – one base width is something under 40m – you should be able to differentiate streets from blocks of buildings, and so start to represent how street fighting actually worked (it was almost all on the streets, with buildings used as strongpoints only occasionally – otherwise they were just used by skirmishers). I guess the problem is that most wargamers like to use buildings that are “in scale”, and this means the are far too big to leave enough room for streets. On the plus side built-up areas confer no cover or defence benefits unless the defenders have taken time out to “garrison” the block. This is a much more realistic treatment than you usually see in wargames, though the garrisoning is maybe a bit too easy (just a formation change, albeit one that costs two MO rather than the usual one).

But overall this is an excellent game system, fully justifying the rave reviews I have seen of it. The turn play system – both sides interact without the use of phases or player-turns – is especially clever and works really well. There are intricacies which you can miss on first play, but generally the rules should be very quick to pick up. When I get back to club play (some way off – I haven’t found a nearby club yet in my part of East Sussex), I will certainly be trying to introduce these. They are a great way of getting the miniatures onto the table for a bit of fun. The high level of abstraction means they will not be to many tastes, but they are the basis for an absorbing and entertaining game. And the reference to history is much more than a token one, even if it is highly abstracted.

My latest Albuera game – how did Army rules do?

The allies have re-oriented they army as the French attempt to outflank them

At last another game, as my friend Rob was kind enough to visit! I had to put together a scenario quite quickly – and one that could use Rob’s British and allied Minifigs. I decided on Albuera 1811. It is a battle I know quite well, has plenty of action, and the terrain is relatively straightforward.

I have used this as a scenario at a club game using my big battle rules – but I was concerned that this would not be a big enough game for up to five hours of table time. So I decided to scale down (or up?) the rules to halve my normal figure ratio, so that the main units were brigades rather than divisions. Each infantry base was 600 infantry, 200 cavalry or 8 guns. I have just bought Sam Mustafa’s Lasalle rules, and funnily enough each base corresponds to one the standard-sized units in that ruleset. The only adjustment I made to game play was to extend the artillery bombardment ranges by 3 inches. Developing a version of the rules at this scale is certainly something I want to do, but at this stage I am not thinking too hard about what other changes might be needed. The ground scale is 75% of normal, so that each inch is 112.5m, or 150 paces in contemporary military measurement – over 14 inches to the mile compared to under 11. This meant interpreting the 50% figure ratio as relating to footprint rather than frontage.

The game starts at 8am. The French are lined up along the road from Seville that you can see on the left-hand side of the table. The allies are behind the village, with three units off the table on their way. There is a lot of empty space on the top right of the table. As I was setting up the game I realised that I had made a mistake in my previous versions of the game: the road from Badajoz is the one disappearing off the bottom table edge, rather than the one going off to the right. This is the critical campaign axis and the French objective, and the route along which allied reinforcements were coming. If I had appreciated that I would have shifted the table one foot up to have more space along this road, and less at the under-used far end. That would have crimped the French deployment, but that is surely not a fatal problem.

I chose the set-up because I wanted to give the French player the choice of carrying out the historical flank attack, or of something much more frontal, which tends to be the way the French player goes when I run it as a club game. The problem is that if the French do opt for the flank option, as I did this time, the allies have too much time to reorganise. I tried to give the French a head start, with a free move at the start, though one they couldn’t use to mount an attack, as well as the first move in the next turn. Though the French manoeuvred with impressive speed, the allies had little difficulty in repositioning their army to face the threat though. In practice I think the Spanish allies were harder to move around than they were in this game, when I gave them a -1 on the Activation throw. But there may also be a problem with the battle account that I have been following. The French main army may have deployed from the road before 8am – which was when the firing started.

The first few moves were taken up with manoeuvring, and some skirmishing around the village. These early exchanges did not go well for the French, so I did not press them. The photo shows the situation as the allies more or less completed their repositioning, after about two or three moves. After this the French continued their turning manoeuvre, led by the cavalry, and assembled the artillery in a grand battery. As historically, but in a different position on the field, Zayas’s Spaniards took the first brunt, and were pushed back. The grand battery (not a historical tactic in this battle) successfully caused consternation among Ballesteros’s Spaniards (there were some bad throws), and forced it out of the line. But the British troops plugged the gap, and weathered the artillery without difficulty. The game ended with the French hurling their infantry forward across the line into British and Portuguese troops; I needed some lucky dice, which were not forthcoming. By now it was 5pm, we were tired, our wives were back from a day’s exploring the shops in Lewes, and we called it a day. Here is the situation:

At the end

The Allied line has been bent right back, but the French would have to be very lucky to push the British troops back much further. Some units were looking a little worn, but remarkably few had been knocked out of play (the British heavy dragoons may have been the only one). We had played about 9 turns in roughly four hours. The game had started an hour late because of a navigation mishap by my guest.

The scenario clearly needs more work, but it makes for a good game – even if difficult for the French to win. As the French player I probably needed to get stuck in more quickly with the infantry while the cavalry tried to pressure he flank. Unfortunately there does not seem to be a good way to bypass the Spanish troops so the French run the risk of wearing themselves out on the poor troops before taking on the good ones.

How about the rules? This was a very good test of game play, as all arms got a good look-in and there was opportunity for manoeuvre. More work is needed, unfortunately. The good news as that they played quite quickly, but the combat needs to be more decisive. The armies need to be crumbling at the stage we ended the game. The ability to recover from one or two disruptions may be the issue, rather than the rate at which disruptions are handed out. My new rule mechanism for “pinning” – causing the responding side to “borrow” moves from its following turn – proved a damp squib. I also think the combat and casualty mechanisms need to be more intuitive. Command and control also needs more thought. While the French army moved fast enough, the allied army had it too easy, even with not very strong command resources. The game needs to move a little closer to the “PIP” system where the action follows from command focus, which can’t be across the field. It is probably too easy to get two or three actions on the activation throw without intervention from senior command – but probably OK for one action. One idea that did work was limiting artillery to six shots – this made players think more carefully about how to use guns, and limited the temptation to keep blasting away forever.

I will be thinking hard about revisions to the rules – which also need to be a bit clearer in places. What a long journey rule-writing can be!

Using caulk for roads and rivers

Another view of my Albuera table

Last time I posted about the first stage of creating a wargames table for my Albuera game – which I dealt with by placing a fleece mat over a contoured surface of extruded polystyrene. Next come the roads and rivers. I have been trying out new techniques on this – by using decorators’ caulk.

I am not a fan of the standardised lengths of road or river that you can buy commercially. Nature doesn’t usually conform to these shapes, and there are lots of joins. All this is fine for an evening club game when you need to set up in minutes, and the game is usually quite generic. But you should aim higher for historical battles. Hitherto my technique has been to use masking tape, painted over with tempura. But these don’t handle bends well – especially in rivers and streams, and painting the edges of the tape means a bit of spillage onto the terrain mat, which also softens the edges. That was OK for my old felt mat, but not my lovely new printed fleece. So I decided to try a technique described on the Altar of Freedom website – using caulk. This is meant for 6mm terrain in the American Civil War, but my features aren’t that much bigger.

Two types of caulk are needed: opaque for the roads, and transparent for the rivers. The material needs to be paintable – so you need acrylic caulk rather than silicone. For the opaque sort I decided to use coloured material rather than the standard white. It would still need to be painted, but any gaps and damage would be less visible. I bought Unika ColorSealant on Amazon in medium oak. It comes in tubes designed for use with a “gun” – which I also had to buy. It proved trickier to work with than I hoped.

First off I tried spreading it on an old plastic document wallet (I have dozens of these) – but one of caulk’s properties that makes it so useful in DIY is adhesion – and it was impossible to get it off the backing cleanly. I experimented by spreading it on jay cloth that had been pre-cut. That was fine, and gave a more robust product, but a bit of a faff. I also tried wax paper – as recommended by Altar of Freedom – and I found that I could peel it off that with a bit of care. Once off the backing though, the product was a bit fragile and retained a slight stickiness. It is unlikely to survive most types of storage, so it will usually need to be remade each time a table is put together. One thing I learnt on my experiments is that this stuff hates water – which dilutes it rapidly. I tried spreading it on damp jay cloth (so that it was nice and flat) – which was a bit of a disaster.

Transparent acrylic caulk is much harder to find, and (usually) pricier. Most transparent caulk is silicone, which can’t be painted. Eventually I found some on Screwfix – No Nonsense All Weather Clear. This is very different stuff from the opaque material: it is less adhesive, dries quicker and is much harder to paint. Spreading it on plastic document folder was fine, but painting the underneath afterwards not so much.

So much for the experimentation. I want to describe what I did for my Albuera table. I decided on using wax paper. It can be rolled out nice and long, and it is transparent enough so that you can trace felt-tip markings through it. The first step was to trace out the course of the roads and rivers in felt-tip on the XPS base board. I could then mark up the lengths required (using the felt-tip) by tracing through the wax paper. The river bottom was then painted onto the wax paper, over the felt-tip. I then spread the caulk. This means laying beads onto the paper from the caulk gun, and then spreading it into a reasonably flat surface with a spatula. And then I applied paint to the road sections. I did this all in a single session of one to two hours, which meant laying things down before the previous stage was fully dry. The sequence, after the tracing, was: paint the rivers; lay the caulk for the roads; lay the caulk for the rivers; paint the road. A bit of wet on wet is fine, so long as there is no water. Small traces of water in the paint I used for the road (student acrylics) caused issues, though fortunately not fatal. Acrylic paint blends well with he caulk, though, and white caulk would probably probably have been fine. This is how it looked when I left it overnight:

I came back after nearly 24 hours. The river sections peeled off fine, with the paint sticking to the caulk rather than the wax paper, as planned – a bit of wet-on-wet probably helped; the sections just needed a bit of trimming with scissors. Alas the roads did not peel off as nicely as they did in the experiment. In the end I had to leave the backing paper on and cut them out. At least that made the end product a bit more robust, though less flexible. I found that there was a bit of spreading on the road, as a result of water in the paint mixture; in some cases this created a slight ridge at the edge – actually quite a pleasing effect!

There was no time to do more work. The roads could have done with a bit of dry-brushing, and perhaps painting the edges in a contrast colour, or even flocking. It would have been nice to do something with the river margins. Both look a lot better than using tape, though, and the more complex features, like junctions, come out nicely. The rivers are fine by wargames standards, but still aren’t very realistic. The grey colour was a bit of an accident – I mixed too much blue in with the brown – I had wanted something browner. Watercourses should run in a bit of a depression – but that could only be achieved with a lot more cut XPS. In fact rivers and streams (especially in Spain) look more like strips of green than blue, grey or brown, as the banks are vegetated, and this tends to dominate the usually trickling flow of water. I could potentially achieve something by using flock while the caulk is still wet – though I would need to be careful about bridges and fords. But as already mentioned, caulk terrain is not robust, and it is best regarded as throwaway – so it is not worth investing too much in it. Flocked margins would make storage even trickier. On the table, the pieces did have a slight tendency to be knocked out of position. Pinning down with tree models may be a solution, but they should really be a bit wider to accommodate this.

I will try to store these pieces, along with the cut pieces of XPS, so that I can run the game again, but my expectations are low. Anyway I’m sure I will be using some variation on the technique for my next project. Once the basic techniques are mastered, this is very quick and easy -the wet on wet technique in particular saves a lot of time. I will post about the trees and villages on another day!