Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Toy Soldiers

I found this picture on Pinterest awhile ago and there is something about its composition that keeps me coming back again and again. I think that it is the combination of old toy soldiers (and ones with red coats and kilts at that) and old leather bound books. This is definitely Man Cave material here.

The toy soldiers have a Britains look to them, but the bases appear to be too thick, so maybe they are Heyde figures from Germany? Whatever they are, they have a well worn patina of time and considerable use on some young boy's floor games. We used to play with our 54mm toy soldiers on the floor where we had unlimited space to move them around. Also, they remained upright easier when played with on the floor. ( I didn't have to worry about sore knees and pulling back muscles when I was ten years old.

Ten years old. 1962. I think that's when it all started. My grandparents had just returned from a vacation in England and they bought a box of William Britain & Sons Household Cavalry (5 per box) and a box of Grenadier Guards. Both were in those wonderful red cardboard boxes with the paper label on the box cover. I augmented the collection by saving up my allowance until I had enough to buy another box. I'm trying to recall the price for a basic infantry box of 8 figures. Was it $2.50 or $5.00? Something like that.

I divided my figures into two armies: the metal Britains were The Good Guys and the Green Army Men, Herald and Timpo plastic ACW figures, and in fact, anything plastic, were the Bad Guys or The Barbarians.

In 1963 my parents took us on a ten week vacation to Europe ( well, mostly it was my Mom and Aunt Pearl - the latter was quite a hoot- my Dad only stayed for two weeks and had to return back to the States to go to work). We were spending the night at Evesham. It was there that I found a toy store with a bunch of Swoppets War of the Roses plastic figures and my Dad bought about a dozen of these for me. I played with them for the rest of the trip. I wish that I still had some of my old Swoppets.

They were really cool toy soldiers. All of the plastic swords had their own metal scabbards. You could put pole arms, shields or swords in each figure's hands, you could swap torsos with the other figures. In a word, you could just let your imagination run wild. Of course, a lot of the bits and pieces would eventually get lost, so a couple of the figures would end up being used for their parts.

I started giving Britains metal soldiers to friends for their birthday presents in order to recruit some opponents. One friend, Tony M., had a rich grandmother who would buy him anything, so Tony soon had the largest metal Britains army on the block, mostly Arabs and British Colonial red coats. Tony soon got tired of playing with toy soldiers and moved on to other things. This was too early for "girls" to be those other things, so maybe it was sports that ended his career as a floor general.

Then there was Tom P., whose grandmother was one of the descendants of the Kraft Cheese family and she likewise showered her grandson with unlimited quantities of Britains toy soldiers. Hmm, something about those rich grandmothers always throwing a wrench into my plans for world domination.

At any rate, Tom P. acquired the 200-300 piece Changing of the Guard set from Britains for his birthday and that knocked me down a peg or two in the pecking order. I was demoted to Duke from King. Sigh....  Tom always had to one up me don't you know. I would buy a model airplane and then a couple of weeks later he would have a whole squadron of airplanes. And so it went.

I had fun anyway because Tom had more toy soldiers than you could shake a stick at and it was always a great joy to go to his house and see what new editions had flown in from Grandma Kraft. And so our floor battles got bigger and bigger with hundreds of metal and plastic figures lined up in marching order and ready for battle. We always played on the same side: Tom and I versus The Barbarians, or once in awhile, Tom's older brother Michael played the Bad Guys against us. Michael had a large collection of metal Swiss Guards that were made in France. I don't recall the brand ( it wasn't Mignot or one of the expensive French toy soldier ranges), but they were spectacular. 

Our games got so big that we would have to schedule a sleep over at Tom's house on a Friday night. I would go to his house after school and we would set up the battle and then break for Dinner. Mrs P. Was quite a good cook, so there was always a great dinner in the offing. After dinner, we would watch The Man From Uncle on television and then head to the play room to start the battle. It would carry over to Saturday morning and we were always successful at defending Civilization from the Barbarian Hoard of plastic soldiers.

The Barbarian Leader was Turk - one of the Marx Warriors of the World 60mm hard plastic soldiers. Turk was a WW2 American GI sergeant who was posed wildly waving his revolver over his head. Since Turk stood a few millimeters taller than the other Barbarians, he became their leader, the nĂºmero uno of Bad Guys. Turk had a Harry Flashman quality to him in that his army could get wiped out week after week, but Turk would manage to escape somehow and live to fight another day.

Rules? We didn't have any. We just used common sense. If a hoard of plastic Barbarians was charging Tom's French Foreign Legion with Maxim Machine Gun, well then it was obvious that most of them would get mowed down. If the hoard was particularly large, it might overwhelm a company of metal Britains soldiers. We never had any arguments and the system seemed to work just fine.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming!

SYW Russian Brigade (click to enlarge the view)

Well, sort of, they will be here eventually as part of the Minden Miniatures figure range, but Fritz doesn't like to wait so He has started building his own Russian army using various Minden French, Crann Tara Piedmont, and RSM Russian figures to cobble an army together.

By the way, Minden already has two different Russian artillery crews and four different cannon models in the range. We also have the Marshal Fermor personality figure. The Russian musketeers and grenadiers are next in the sculpting queue so hopefully we will see some greens by the end of the Summer.

Yesterday I decided that I wanted to start on a regiment of Russian Horse Grenadiers. RSM makes the mounted trooper, but no command figures. So I used some Minden Hanoverian Horse command figures and swapped heads with some RSM Russian horse grenadiers to create the following command figures:

Horse Grenadier Conversions: Hanoverian Horse Command figures with head swaps from the RSM Horse Grenadier figures.

Another view of the horse grenadier conversions. In addition to the head swaps, I also used some green putty to fill in the jacket open of the trumpeter and standard bearer since they wore "single breasted" buttons down the front of the coat, whereas the officers wore a normal looking military coat without lapels.

Pictured below are a couple of photos of my first painted Horse Grenadier sample, done last evening before going to bed. I made one mistake on the painting: the horse furniture should be a fawn yellow color so I will have to go back and repaint it. All horse grenadier regiments have the fawn yellow horse furniture, all dragoons have cornflower blue horse furniture, and all cuirassiers have red horse furniture. That makes it sort of easy to paint, doesn't it?

RSM Horse Grenadier Trooper with a Minden medium officer's horse.

Same as the first picture, but seen from the reverse side. The sword has to be glued on separately and is kind of a pain in the derriere to work with, so I only glued swords onto one trooper and left the other 8 troopers open handed. I also left off the carbine, which should be on the right side behind the hand holding the sword.

I also swapped out the smaller RSM horses for some of the Minden medium horses walking, and I think that the two make for a perfect match. I really like the way that the sample figure turned out - I always paint one figure of a unit complete before tackling the rest of the unit because I want to see how it will turn out and find out if there are any difficult bits to paint. The finished figure then provides me with a sort of painting template to use on the rest of the figures.

I'm looking forward to starting painting of the horse grenadier command figures to see how the conversion works looks when painted.

What is next?
I might be able to make a 12-figure squadron of Russian dragoons using the excess horse grenadier bodies and the tricorned Hanoverian officer heads, but that is a lot of work.

After completing 24 horse grenadiers, I might tackle some RSM Cossacks, which look very nice, but put them on Minden or Fife & Drum light horses rather than RSM horses. The Minden horses kind of bring a certain uniformity to the project, which I like. I was looking at some of my old Connoisseur Russian Cossacks and these are small and thin enough to use with the RSM and Minden figures too.

I have to paint several more Russian gun crews to man my howitzers. One interesting item that I gleaned from Christopher Duffy's lecture on the Russian army at this year's SYWA Convention, was that the Shuvulov Howitzers were used as battalion guns because they were so effective at close range. So I might have to use Secret Howitzers for all of my battalion guns.

Russian vs. Prussian Actions, Encounters and Kleine Krieg in the East
I have been perusing Kronoskaf frequently in order to build up some knowledge about the Russian theater of war during the SYW. I'm finding that there was actually quite a bit of action going on in between the big battles (Gross Jagersdorf, Zorndorf, Kay and Kunersdorf). I always wondered what was going on in Poland during the SYW. The answer: quite a lot of small actions, raids and battles that might have been, but were never fought.

For example, in 1761 the Prussians sent a large "raiding force" of 20,000 men under Zieten to close in on Posen and destroy the Russian supply magazines there. They got close, but had to retire back to Breslau so as not to get cut off by the main Russian army.  In 1758 I believe, there was an opportunity for the Prussians to defeat the Russian army in detail near Posen and if General Dohna had been a little bit more enterprising, he might have defeated three different Russian columns had he moved faster, but by the time he got his army moving, the Russians had consolidated their army to full size.

There is even an incident where the Prussians, under Platen, went into Poland on a cattle raid and had a cattle drive of 200-300 cattle plus an equal number of sheep! Wouldn't that make for a fun scenario, a Western Cowboy style cattle drive in 18th Century Poland-Pomerania.

Comments Are Greatfully Received (and requested, please)
Finally, I hope that I can encourage my readers to leave some comments after reading this blog entry. Here is a little secret: blog authors crave receiving and reading comments. This blog is so much better when it can be a little bit interactive. I know that a lot of readers choose to be "lurkers", i.e. people who like to read the blog, but maybe are too shy to engage in commenting. Don't be shy, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Old Glory 1805 Russians - from a different era.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Battle of Weissenfels Report

The Band of Brothers fighting the Battle of Weissenfels. Der Alte Fritz Himself is in the front row in the olive green cardigan. BAR rules author Bill Protz on the far left second row, with baseball cap.
On Saturday May 14, 2016 a group of ten wargamers converged on the town of Woodstock, IL to revive the annual Big Battalion SYW Game. We hadn't done one of these games for a couple of years now and Bill Protz and I both agreed that it was time to put on a big show again. If you click on the label "Big Battalion Game" at the end of this article, or click on the same named label in the left hand column of this page, you will be able to find all of our previous Big Battalion Games.

The Back Story to the Battle
Today's scenario was loosely based on the Napoleonic battle of Aspern-Essling in 1809, however, it was transferred back in time to 1758. The back story was that with Frederick off to the east fighting the Russians at Zorndorf, the Allies (France, Austria and Saxony) decided that it was an opportune time to invade the Brandenburg heartland from the west. Accordingly, French Marshal Soubise joined forces with the Austrian General von Loudan in wesetern Saxony, west of the Elbe River and one of its tributaries the Saale River. However, Frederick caught wind of the invasion plans and hurried part of his army back from Zorndorf, meeting up with a contingent of Prussians, commanded by Prinz Moritz of Anhalt Dessau, just to the south of Berlin. 

Frederick endeavored to quickly march west and intercept the Allies and bring them to battle. The campaign covered much of the same territory as the Rossbach campaign in 1757, so Frederick knew the territory very well. The Saale River proved to be an obstacle to the Prussians, with the French having destroyed most of the bridges at various crossing points. Frederick knew from experience, that the Saale was crossable at Weissenfels. So by forced march, the Prussian reached Weissenfels before the Allies and Frederick's engineer quickly threw a couple of pontoon bridges across the Saale. The Prussians had managed to shift half of their army across the river when Soubise, exercising a bit of unexpected initiative, ordered an all out assault on the Prussian bridge head, hoping to trap the Prussians against the Saale.

The Prussians occupied two key towns on the west bank of the Saale: Altenburg - on the Prussian left flank, and Eisenberg - on the Prussian right flank. Prussian Major General von Hulsen commanded the contingent of troops defending Altenburg and Prinz Moritz was charged with defending Eisenberg plus a neighboring town of Schaumburg. General of the Cavalry von Seydlitz guarded the bridge head in the center of the Prussian line with a brigade of cavalry and a battery of ferocious 12-pound Brummers guarding the pontoon bridges.

Here are some pictures of the key defensive positions of the Prussian deployment, west of the Saale River.

The village of Altenburg (Prussian left flank) - click to enlarge.
Prussian bridgehead is established on the west bank of the River Saale.

The village of Eisenburg on the Prussian right flank.

Another view of Eisenburg, with Prussian horse artillery deployed outside of the town.

Scenario Information
The game was played using Bill Protz's rules, "Batailles dans l'Ancien Regime" (or BAR for short) with 28/30mm infantry battalions and cavalry regiments using a 1:10 figure to man ratio. This means that one casting/soldier figure represent ten actual men. Infantry battalions were mostly 60 figures based in three ranks (as the soldiers actually were formed) and cavalry squadrons were 12 figures, leading to some five squadron regiments having 60 horse and riders.

The game sequence in the rules is 1) movement, 2) contact into melee, and 3) firing. A deck of cards is used to determine which side gets to move and fire first. For example, a black card (Prussian) would be drawn at the start of the turn and so all Prussian units could move or declare charges. Once all the troops have moved, another card is drawn from the deck to see which side gets to fire first. As a result, there is a certain randomness to the movement and firing. There is also an opportunity for one side to get a run of firing cards each turn that could give it a decided advantage because the side that fires second must remove casualties (some can be saved using Saving Throws) and will likely fire back with fewer figures.

The Forces 
The Allies had a relative advantage in numbers with about 30% more figures than the Prussians. This is what I call an "Asymetrical Game" involving unequal forces. Oftentimes we use similar forces, or Symetrical Game, but this time I wanted to try something different. My hope was that the defensive positions afforded by the villages of Altenburg and Eisenburg would be enough to offset the Allies numerical advantage.

Allies (6 player):

27 battalions of infantry
45 squadrons of cavalry
90 pounds of artillery

Prussians (4 players):

21 battalions of infantry
33 squadrons of cavalry
72 pounds of artillery

Approximately half of the Prussian army was on the west bank of the Saale, while the other half had to cross the pontoon bridges  each game turn and hopefully build up a sufficient mass of troops to fend off the Allied attack.

Rules author, Bill Protz, explains how they work to a new player. Note the masses of French cavalry and grenadiers on the table.
Victory Conditions: the winner would be the side that controlled two of the three major villages by the end of game.

Initial Deployment of Forces
The Allies deployed with all of the French infantry on their right flank, tasked with capturing Altenburg, all of the French grenadiers and cavalry in the center, and the Austrian army (infantry and cavalry) positioned on the left flank  opposite the villages of Eisenburg and Schaumburg.

Austrian army deploys on the Allied left flank (Prussian right)
Prussian cavalry crosses the pontoon bridge over the Saale to build up the forces on the west bank.

The Austrian Attack on Eisenburg and Schaumburg
The Austrian army had 10 musketeer battalions, one battalion of converged grenadiers and one battalion of converged light Croats. They also had 2 cuirassier, 1 dragoon, 1 horse grenadier and 1 hussar cavalry regiment in their mounted contingent.

Austrian attack falls on Eisenberg. The cavalry leading the two columns of musketeers are all headed towards Schaumburg.

The village of Eisenburg was a tough nut to crack. Prinz Moritz deployed two battalions of infantry and a pair of medium 6-pound cannon in the village. A third battalion of the IR24 von Schwerin musketeer regiment was held in reserve behind the town. Basically, troops defending a town are hard to kill because they are Saved on a D6 roll of "anything but a 1". So trying to root the defenders out of town with musketry and cannon can make for an unproductive afternoon. The Austrian players eventually figured out that charging into the built up areas was the only way to capture them. They certainly had enough forces to do so and by the end of the day, both villages were in Austrian hands.

Austrian assault on Eisenberg - situation shown at the Half Time Break.
The village of Schaumburg, located next to the Saale River, guarded the back door into neighboring Eisenburg.
Austrian light Croats descend on the lonely outpost at Schaumburg.

This is what is coming behind the Croats. All of the Austrian cavalry four battalions of musketeers.
The Prussians put up a gallant defense of Schaumburg throughout the day. They began the day with one battalion of fusiliers, 5 squadrons of hussars , one 6-pound artillery piece and 3 companies of dismounted Black Hussars. Eventually though, the weight of numbers enabled the Austrians to capture and occupy the village by the end of the game.

And by game end, the Prussians contolled only one quarter of the village of Eisenberg, so it was declared to have been captured by the Austrians.

The Battle for Altenburg on the Prussian left flank
the Prussians crammed two battalions of musketeers (IR5 Alt Braunschweig and IR18 Prinz von Preussen) into Altenburg along with a pair of medium 6-pound cannon. Some jagers lurked in the woods behind the town and two more battalions would eventually be thrown into the town. Prussian Major General von Hulsen skillfully defended the town throughout the day. As one of his battalions would be worn down, he withdrew it from town and replaced it with a fresh one.

The initial French deployment facing Altenburg.
Midway into the game, some Prussian cuirassiers moved towards Altenburg in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure that the French were applying to the village. The KR8 Seydlitz Cuirassiers formed up for a charge into the flank of the French La Marck regiment.

Prussian Seydlitz Cuirassiers prepare to charge into the flank of the French infantry deployed in front of Altenburg.

One of the few highlights in my sector of the battle was the charge of the Seydlitz Cuirassiers which drove off one French battery (temporarily) and routed the La Marck Regiment, which it hit in the flank.

 The Seydlitz Cuirassiers did provide a short respite for the beleagured defenders of Altenburg, but the cuirassiers were a spent force and once they were gone, more French infantry surged forward towards the town.

However, the French quickly stabilized their battle line as the Seydlitz Cuirassiers were themselves badly mauled in the combat.

A view of the table at Noon, when we all took a lunch break. Altenburg in the foreground, - Prussians are fending off hoards of French infantry. In the far background where you see the grey church, is Eisenberg. Background far right corner is the village of Schaumburg.
Towards the end of the game, only a few companies of jagers and the remnants of Itzenplitz held the town. So Frederick sent a battalion of the Guard (IR6) into the town to help hold back the French. At game end, the Prussians were still holding on to Altenburg.

The Grand Cavalry Battle in the Center

As is often the case, the grand cavalry battle is what decides the game and it happened in this one too.

French (left) and Prussian (right) cavalry face off in the center

The epic cavalry melee in the center - French on the left and Prussians on the right. Best looking melee picture that I've ever seen.

The Prussian cuirassiers hold up their end of the bargain with a melee win, the the DR1 Norman Dragoons are defeated by the armor-wearing French Carbiniers and Mestre de Camp regiments and rout towards the pontoons. The French cavalry pursued the dragoons and wiped them out. They also ran into some Prussian reserve cuirassiers, who had become disordered after the Norman Dragoons routed through them.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Battle of Weissenfels - Setting the Table for the Game

Altenburg - Prussian left flank anchor point. Click to enlarge.

Bill P. and I travelled to Woodstock last evening to set up the terrain and deploy our forces for the annual Big Battalion BAR SYW Game to be fought this Saturday May 14th.

A close up view of Altenburg.
The Prussians have marched west towards Saxony to meet the advancing Franco-Austrian army, commanded by Soubise, as it attempts to invade the Brandenburg homeland from the west. The Prussians are attempting to cross the Saale River, near Weissenfels, and establish a bridgehead on the western bank of the river. Soubise is particularly energetic this year, so he intends to attack the Prussian bridgehead before it can be firmly established, and destroy the Prussian army.

A view of the bridgehead on the western side of the Saale River. Note the two pontoon bridges.  Prussian cavalry guard the crossing.

The town of Eisenburg, on the Prussian right flank, also anchoring the line.

Close up view of Eisenburg. Farmhouse made by Ian Weekly. Church made by Der Alte Fritz Himself.

Larger view of the three game tables. The aisles do not exist in game terms.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Itzenplitz Regiment Painted

IR13 Itzenplitz Regiment. click pictures to enlarge the view

I finished the Prussian regiment Itzenplitz (IR13) today for our upcoming Big Battalion Game next weekend. The regiment, 60 figures strong, uses my own 30mm Potsdam Prussian infantry figures.

When I was doing an inventory of my Prussian Big Battalion army for the BAR rules (Batailles dans l'Ancien Regime), I found that I only had 11 formed infantry battalions and one Jager unit of unformed troops. I used to have around 18-20 battalions, but a number of them had been sold off over the years and I think that I overdid it on the Defense Departement cutbacks in Hesse Seewald. So I resolved to paint one more 60-figure battalion before the game, and so here it is.

Ground level view of the command stand. GMB Designs flags and Potsdam 30mm figures.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Setting The Table for the Huge SYW Game

We are bringing back an old tradition, the annual huge giant humongous Big Battalion SYW game done in the grand manner. The game will be played next Saturday May 14th at Kieth L.'s home (he of the three 6ft by 28ft tables in his basement).

A differnt game from 2010, same venue, but different era (Napoleonics) and rules (In The Grand Manner).
Here are a couple pictures of our last truly huge Big BAR game at Kieth's house from several years ago. This gives you an idea of what we are trying to accomplish. This is one of my favorite buildings in my collection, made by Herb Gundt.

Lots of figures are used in our BAR games. The French Army is on the move.

I have come up with an idea for the scenario, borrowing a battle from a different historical era and adapting it to the SYW, and so Bill P. and I met at Kieth's home at the crack of dawn to start laying out the table and terrain. Here is a picture of the game tables before we start setting up  terrain:

The game room prior to the setting up of the terrain.

With so much table area to play with, we first did a preliminary set up of some representative buildings in order to check on the spacing of villages and natural terrain objects. This starts by setting a sheet of writing paper on a spot of the table where there will be a village. We set up a couple of buildings on each sheet of paper to get a general feel for the distances involved. Then out comes a tape measure and we measure the distance between several villages to get a sense of how many battalions can fit into that area. Our Batailes de l'Ancien Regime ("BAR") rules use 60 figure infantry battalions (three ranks with each figure having a one-inch frontage), so the battalion has a 20 inch frontage (rounding up to 24 inches to allow for space between two side by side battalions).

Once we are satisfied with the spacing, then a length of rope is used to indicate where streams, rivers or roads might be placed. After that, we are ready to begin setting up the terrain.

Actually, we will come back on Wednesday of this week and set up the terrain because Kieth recently made some new board sections that still require a coating of green paint. However, we now have a general idea of how the layout will look.

It looks like we will have ten players in the game and each player will command a brigade of 5 or 6 battalions or cavalry regiments, plus some artillery.

There are several clues as to what the scenario is (ignore the model of the Hougoumont in the background, it is just resting there and will not be used in the game), but I doubt that anyone has enough information to make a correct guess. I will post more pictures Wednesday evening as we set up the terrain and forces.

Until then, may the dice be with you.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Battle of Prague May 6, 1757

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Prague fought between Frederick the Greats's Prussians and the Austrian army commanded by (officially) the hapless Prince Charles of Lorraine ( bless him :) ), although von Browne was the actual person running command of the battle until he was mortally wounded.

It was a bad day to be a Prussian general, with the likes of Marshal Schwerin and Lt. General Hautcharmoy biting the dust, while Hans von Winterfeld was severely wounded. A couple of these guys might have come in handy at Kolin a month later.

The death of Schwerin as illustrated by Rochling:

Prince Henry wades into the Rokitnitzerwasser to lead his men out of the boggy fish ponds and into a gap that was about to open in the Austrian battle line.