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Lions Led By Donkeys?

Posted by Adam on January 3, 2018 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (2)


After our first try out of the modified Donnybrook rules for a game set in 1895 Heligoland, I had a think about the "feel" of the game as experienced. We had discussed right after what had worked and what had not and it was a generally positive impression. But... What niggled at me was the thought that I had, "How was this different from a WW2 or VBCW or Back of Beyond game?" Similar weaponry by the infantryman and an understandable tendency by players to use their anachronistic knowledge of later tactics. Some pondering required, that had to be postponed as work got busy and Christmas landed on me like a tonne of bricks.


A small party from the Suffolk Regiment. Unfeasibly Miniatures, which should be generally available soon.



"Helpfully", Les also sent me some chunks of information about the two Boer Wars (which bracket our 1895 conflict. First Boer War 1880-81, Second Boer War 1899-1902.) Essentially reading up a bit more on the reality of the British performance it became clear my tailoring of the British for Donnybrook 1895 was bollocks. The British seemed to learn nothing from the first war and it took the Second Boer War for them to start the process of sorting out tactics that suited the age of breech loading repeating rifles and modern artillery. My letting them fight as skirmishing marksmen with mad-minute drills was definitely not realistic in 1895.


Some Sikh veterans from an Indian regiment. Foundry figures from their Darkest Africa range.



This brings up the problem that was concerning me. How do you inflict on the players the requirement that they make the same mistakes as their historical counterparts? In larger scale games there can be compulsory formations for battalions or companies that reflect the thinking of the current battlefield tactics. For a skirmish scale game however it would be dispiriting to have to march the figures in close formation into the teeth of annihilating rifle fire, however correct that might be historically.


Seaforth Highlanders. Irregular Miniatures.



Additionally there did not seem to be a simple consensus as to which battle tactics should be used within the same armies in this period. The Prussians had the lessons of the Franco-Prussian war to draw on as well as frequent large scale manoeuvres. The British had almost continuous combat experience around the world on a generally smaller level than European army scale. Both nations (and others) quite naturally observed the ideas and methods of other armies as well. However, not only was there disagreement about what these ideas and lessons meant but there was patchy uptake amongst the generals and officers in translating new ideas into actions on the ground.


A German Navy shore party. Figures from North Star but not sure what they are meant to be...


The reasons for this were complex but from what I have read there was a strong body of opinion drawn from theoreticians such as Clausewitz and the experiences of battle going back to the Napoleonic Wars that offensive tactics were the key to victory. The morale and initiative advantages of attacking outweighed the benefits of being a defender even in prepared positions. Then there were voices that pointed to the more recent examples of the American Civil War and the Franco Prussian war where these certainties had been roughly tested upon the advent of universal usage of breech loading rifles by the common infantryman. One of the interpretation of these examples was that the frontal attack on infantry so armed was no longer a valid tactic due to the very high casualties that would be sustained by an attacking force.


But in the end it did not necessarily matter what was taught at Aldershot or the Prussian staff college. Tactical methods became enmeshed with politics in the German army and the preferences of the Kaiser became as important as those of experienced military planners. The British, who had seen committed attacking armies such as the Zulus and Ansars beaten by their own rifle fire from carefully crafted defensive positions, haughtily disdained these “natives” and many senior officers believed that a professional soldier would be able to press home such a frontal attack.


German Infantry from the 49th Regiment. More Unfeasibly Miniatures from the 2016 Kickstarter Campaign.


My approach to build in this disparity of tactical methods within the game rules is in 2 parts. Firstly I have decided that the officers and characters in the 1895 games need to have some assigned characteristics. Rather than the officer figure being the player’s representative it will be a professional military man with his own ideas on the way his men should be used in a battle. The officer’s understanding of tactics would confer upon troops acting in his command radius benefits and disadvantages. I have tried to distil the complex theorising down to two factors: The preferred formation / control system (close order, loose order or skirmish order) and Tactical school (frontal assault with the bayonet, frontal assault using firepower and standing on the defensive.) I have also tried to give all the characteristics a balance of good and bad effects, whatever history and my personal bias says the correct approach should have been for the period.


A German Officer. But will he be an advocate for the tactics of defence or attack?


The second strand of these rule changes is that units may only act upon their activation card if in the command radius of an officer or character (there is no let off by parking the officer well to the rear where he cannot interfere…;) This I think reflects well the more rigid hierarchy of command compared to the 17th Century. I have written up a draft of the rule additions here for anyone to have a look at and comment on (please!) We’ll try these out in the next opportunity we have to get some figures on a table.


Heligoland First Game

Posted by Adam on November 30, 2017 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Our first run out with new toy soldiers and the draft amendments for the Donnybrook rules was arranged for the weekend. Based around the figures that I had already painted and suitable ones from our collections, the scenario was a scouting mission by a small British force. This comprised of a squad of Heligoland Garrison Regiment (Inexperienced, 12 figures + a sergeant, D6) and three volunteer detachments of veteran British reinforcements. These were from the Grenadier Guards, Suffolk Regiment and Seaforth Highlanders. All regiments with experienced hands who had seen a lot of action recently in India. These were all Veteran, 4 figures, D10. The party was under the command of Lieutenant Delacroix of the Garrison Regiment but with instructions to listen to the advice of the Colour Sergeant of the Highlanders. The Grenadiers, being an advance party without any officers were accompanied by Major Rumbol-Smythe, as theirs was a regiment he had once been seconded to for a mission in the Congo.





The briefing was to investigate a report that a German ship had been seen docked at a secluded landing stage on the estuary of the Jagstavon. Discovering what they were up to and stopping it, if possible, was to be attempted if the reports were true.




 

The German force which was instructed to protect the cargo whilst being unloaded and then until transport arrived to take it inland. To carry out this task the lucky German officer Hauptman Schultz had a squad of the 49th Regiment of Infantry (8 figures, Drilled + a sergeant, D8) Arriving with the cargo steamer was a Seebattalion squad (8 figures, Drilled + a sergeant, D8) and enough spare sailors to provide another squad (8 figures, Drilled + a coxwain, D8). They also had a machine gun…





The landing stage had a small clump of industrial buildings and stockades clustered around it. IT was around these that Hauptman Schultz deployed his troops but close to the gangplanks in case a large enemy force turned up. This allowed the British to infiltrate the buildings without coming under too much fire. The Garrison Regiment occupied a large building that overlooked the landing stage with the intention of punning down the Germans whilst smaller parties worked their way around the left flank to catch them in a crossfire.





The plan worked well. The Garrison squad took a casualty as they milled around trying to get through a door and the Seaforths had one unlucky Highlander hit by a German bullet but the were soon able to start a close range fire on the enemy infantry huddled behind crates and bales. The Germans found themselves being whittled away and when Schultz sent his group of sailors in to shore up the position they took a terrific hail of bullets trying to cross a wall. The remnants of the Reichmarine party hunkered down but were eventually sent retreating back on board the steamer.





On the left the Seebattalion were making very slow progress and their machine gun seemed to take an age to get into the action. When it opened fire the machine gun was able to kill several of the Garrison Regiment in the top floor of their building but not enough to drive them back. The Seebattalion riflemen worked their way into the rear of the British in the meantime and opened fire on the flank of the Suffolks, killing one private before they knew where the attack was coming from. This was potentially bad news for the British. All their soldiers were engaged in the firefight with nobody left to respond to the flank attack.





The crumbling position of the rest of the German force, particularly after one of their sergeants was hit (50% casualties and morale check time) now prevented the Seebattalion pressing their advantage. Hauptman Schultz was forced to order a retreat. Under covering fire from the machinegun, the Germans dragged their wounded onto the steamer and slipped the hawsers to rapidly move away from the shore.





The Heligoland Garrison Regiment had soundly beaten the invaders (with a little help.) The delivery of supplies had been stopped but still it was not known. What was this mysterious cargo?




The Heroes of Heligoland

Posted by Adam on November 20, 2017 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Steadily painting up the combatants for the two sides but I snuck in a couple of command characters (who might bear a resemblance to friends I game with*.)

 

First is Sir Leslie A. Rumbol-Smythe, Archie to his friends.

 

 

And his old sparring partner, Baron Nikolaus von Langenfordt

 

 

These two will have some backstory including previous encounters in other parts of the world. Archie is rumoured to be a handy chap in the sort of situations where Her Majesty's Government cannot get directly involved. The Baron is a fanatical patriot and has used his family fortune to support various schemes (dastardly ones natuarally) that he sees as advancing the cause of Greater Germany.

 

No images exist at the moment for the notorious Anarchist leader known as Adamos de la Hay...

 

I cannot for the life of me remember where the British office figure came from, maybe London War Room's old range of figures for battles on Mars. The Baron is a Westwind Miniatures chap from a pack called German Archaologists (I'm not sure how you use a sabre in a dig but there you go.)


(*Mainly the names to be honest...)

The First to Fight

Posted by Adam on September 17, 2017 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

The initial armed encounters of the Heligoland Crisis in 1895 were between units of the invading Imperial German Army and the islands' sole defenders., the Heligoland Garrison Regiment. The Heligoland Garrison Regiment (HGR) was an unusual and neglected offshoot of the British Army. The first garrison of the newly captured islands in 1810 was a handful of men from the Invalids Company Royal Artillery and a battalion of  the Royal Veteran Regiment. After Waterloo and peace in Europe the islands' defence was taken over by a ragbag of auxilliary formations, which had fought for the British in the Peninsula and elsewhere. Gradually these units were disbanded and the soldiers returned to their homelands, more or less enthusiastically.  


The need for a permanent garrison was recognised but under ancient  and renewed rights, the population of the islands could not be compelled to provide any military service to the islands' ruler. The inception of the Heligoland Garrison Regiment was only possible in 1818 by the recruitment of a core of French Exiles, who could not return to Royalist France. In the main these Frenchmen were officered by "volunteers" from British line regiments and, unsurprisingly, these officers were not high calibre men that a Regiment's Colonel was going to miss. Fortunately the rank and file had mostly seen service through the long years of war on the Continent, so a passable imitation of a military formation was acheived. In later decades a compromise was concluded, that allowed Helgolanders to serve in the HGR on a "permanant loan" from the islands' volunteer militia. However foreign recruitment was still practised and  French surnames continued to feature strongly amongst the officers and men of the unit.


The inexperienced soldiers of the Heligoland Garrison Regiment bravely confronted the elite German forces that landed in 1895, only grudgingly giving up their native farms and villages as the invader's numbers told.


The HGR had settled to a constant size and organisation by the middle of the century. Not conforming to any typical pattern the unit was formed of four companies, three of "fusiliers" and the fourth all gunners. A static defence role was seen as the regiment's only real option manning the battery positions and coastal forts its natural home. Some of the unit's commanders had other ideas training their infantry element as everything from light infantry to ship-board marines, but the reality mostly remained a coastguard/customs role. The gunners of the HGR tended to have a higher status (at least in their own eyes!) Their drill was up to the highest standards even if much of the ordnance was of an older or inferior stock.


The uniforms of the Regiment followed the general scheme of other British Regiments. The War Office beurocrats rigorously supplied the latest equipment and uniforms to the Islands even if not with the highest priority. The unusual status of the HGR did lead to their most distinctive item of uniform. In 1879 the regiment received a supply delivery including tropical service, white pith helmets. As a foreign stationed unit they had been mistakenly sent on the assumption that Heligoland was in warmer climes! As the unit had not yet received their new spiked Home Service Helmets they enthusiastically adopted the pith helmet into their parade order of dress. Despite occasional demands to relinquish them, the HGR  steadfastly kept them and they were worn almost without exception in preference to the Home Service headgear.


Shown here the typical dress of the HGR circa 1889. The tricolor flash

on the left upper arm the most obvious regimental distinction.


The status of the HGR was in doubt for a time when the negotiation for the handover of the islands was under way. The decision had been made to disband the unit and distribute any personel who wished to remain in the Army to other regiments. When the treaty fell through the HGR found itself in a bit of a limbo state with all War Office plans for the future already regarding them as no longer in existence. The Regiment continued its normal duties but it was some years before it regained official acknowledgement as being still operational. This did nothing to improve the already disgruntled morale of the unit. They entered the conflict in 1895 with out of date uniform jackets and black powder rifles but with the burning indignation of a disregarded servant to the British state.

The Heligoland Crisis 1895

Posted by Adam on July 29, 2017 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (3)

Here is the background notes for the 1895 campaign set on the Heligoland Islands.

 

The Heligoland Crisis 1895

 

In February of 1895 a small group of “scrap metal dealers” raised the flag of the German Empire over an abandoned herring canning plant on the uninhabited island of Duene. The significance of this action lay in the ownership of this sandy speck in the North Sea, the British Empire.


Following the collapse of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty in 1890, the small island group generally just known as Heligoland, had become an unwanted diplomatic headache for the British Government who had administered the islands since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Their preference had been to hand them over to the newly united German Empire in return for a few useful concessions in Germany's expanding African colonies. A finely crafted treaty had been scuppered at the last knocking by the young German Emperor Wilhelm II.



The departing Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck arranged for publishing of the minutes from a meeting with the Kaiser, where Bismarck had queried the real value of the islands compared to potential colonial wealth. The Kaiser had responded with a stream of bellicose abuse and bravura openly bragging of his wish to build a German navy that would control the World’s oceans and allow Germany to control any overseas colonies she saw fit. To what extent Bismarck stage managed the meeting is hard to know but his fingerprints are certainly on the route that it took to a journalist in the Washington Post after his resignation.


“As fine a piece of political chicanery as I have ever seen,” commented one Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister. Whatever the real machinations were behind the newspaper story, it effectively killed off any chance of the treaty being ratified by the British.


 



On hearing the startling news that Kaiser Wilhelm was planning for the Royal Navy to be demolished by his new German fleet, some voices within the British Admiralty were raised in support of keeping a naval base which could observe and if necessary block aggressive naval forces emerging from the Kiel Canal. That wiser heads did point out the difficulties in defending a station only 50 miles from the German coast, only served to cause there to be a political deadlock within the British establishment. National pride was feeling bruised in London and Berlin, but little appetite could be summoned to hash out a face saving compromise. With the Kaiser’s credibility still in tatters it only took the activities of a small nationalist society to bring matters to a head.


The Bremen Fatherland Society had a well organised "Rifle Club" including several off-duty NCOs from the Imperial German Army. On February 20th 22 of their number were transported to Duene on the paddle steamer Ozeanwelle. Reports that this was crewed by Kriegsmarine personell were never substantiated and quite unlikely. Within 48 hours their provocative flag raising had been noted by passing fishing vessels and reported to the British authorities.



The first response was a visit from HM Steam Patrol Boat Fowey, which scouted out the small island on the 23rd February. Seeing the German flag still flying over the old cannery and a ramshackle group of tents erected around the crumbling buildings, a small shore party was landed.


Lieutenant Franz Hoeskstra of HM Coastguard decided on low key approach to the situation taking only one Seaman with him to go and talk to the interlopers. Neither man had a firearm despite the shore party being well equipped with modern Lee Metford rifles and Hoekstra by regulation should have been wearing his holster and Webley revolver. The Coastguard officer's diplomatic approach had no sway with the Bremeners and all he receive in return was nationalist slogans and personal abuse. When the first shot rang out the pair were already halfway back to the boat and the remainder of the shoreparty. Hoekstra was killed instantly by an expert rifle shot to the head and AB Dudley was hit twice as he attempted to carry his stricken officer to safety.


The shore party was thrown into confusion at this turn of events but cooler heads amongst them were able to lay down some covering fire (perhaps causing the only German – non Coastguard German that is, casualty of the encounter.) Whilst retrieving the shore party the HMPB Fowey fired rounds from its 2“ gun into the cannery where the initial shots were supposed to have come from. The Bremeners had already made tracks however, crossing the tiny island to where they had boats hidden and splitting up into several smaller groups. Effectively their task was complete.


The importance of this incident was not initially realised. The newspapers in London and Berlin ranted and complained but none of them openly predicted that this would be the spark to a wider conflict. The British reaction was initially muted. The German Ambassador was not summoned for almost a week to the Foreign Office and then it was for an informal discussion. In the War Office it all barely raised a flicker of interest. On the islands themselves the Heligoland Garrison Regiment stepped up shoreline patrols and the small police force was on the lookout for the Bremeners in its own way.


It was not the Bremeners who the Garrison Regiment members of B company found on the 28th February however. Just before dawn the five man patrol almost walked right into a full company of the German Imperial Army (Lower Rhine Fusilier regiment, No. 39) recently disembarked in a secluded bay under the cover of darkness. Luckily the sergeant was an old India hand and realised that getting word to his superiors was of more importance than any heroics. Embassy staff in both Capitals were about to have a very long day!



(Before I get any grief from nutters and button counters, please let me make it clear most of the above is an alternative history exercise in "what-ifs..." I have for a start added a sizable companion to the real main island at Heligoland and the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty did take placeand wasn't scuppered in 1890. Much is based on truth however: the Kaiser's unfortunate penchant for saying the wrong thing to newspapermen, the falling out between him and Bismarck and the wish by some in the British Establishment to keep hold of the island - Queen Victoria for one!)