Sunday, 28 September 2014

Bumps & Grinds



That was the nick name for ‘Officer of the Watch Manoeuvres’ in the Navy when the newly commissioned sub-lieutenants and the midshipmen are given a chance to practice conning the ship, often in formation with others. It’s got nothing to do with anything naughty, although the language on the bridge was often choice. On one of my ships we had a Sub Lieutenant Fox, a proper oxygen thief, who couldn’t find his own backside with both hands and an Admiralty chart. He was the one who had most time in on bumps and grinds and, by God, he needed it. I got collared to do a stint on the guard boat at Gibraltar when he was allegedly in command of it (the guard boat, not the Rock). Only did the one watch with him and got slung off for ‘insubordination’. It wasn’t my fault at all – a sort of Act of God (?). We were off out of harbour one night  to escort RFA Sir Bediver into Gib because it was a tad foggy and, despite the Cox advising Fox (Blimey, that rhymes!) that he should reduce speed, the silly man ignored him and, but for the timely action of said Coxwain, we nearly rammed the outer mole (sea wall). The Cox muttered something about Fox’s parentage and I quietly declared our brave leader was a complete (@^£. Unfortunately Sub Lieutenant Fox had ears like a closet rodent and we both got bounced. No disciplinary because the Skipper and the Jimmy obviously agreed with us. As I remember, Fox got quite a rapid draft back to somewhere or other, preferably ashore selling ice cream of something.


So by now I suppose you’re wondering what any of this has to do with wargaming, painting leads, history and the like. Well, nothing really, but it is a fair description of what I’ve been up to for the past several weeks. Been trying to sort out my hoard of books and figures and getting nowhere. Painted several batches of stuff to depopulate the painting table (that’s a laugh), but, obviously, not done any basing because I really dislike that job. However, one of the tasks was to finish those damned Salem Zouaves. They look nice as a unit and I’ll take some photos when I’ve based them (there, I’ve said it!), but it was a pig of a job. I’m an unashamed Perry fan, but these little monkeys were enough to try the patience of a saint. The quality of casting could have been better and that’s an old whinge about Perry figures, but the sculpting was ‘different’. It seems to me that whichever of the twins sculpted these wasn’t sure whether he wanted to leave them with the zouave vest or to give them a shirt underneath. Maybe he just wanted them to look like they had goiter trouble? Then, to top the lot, the staffs for the standards were too short. Being naive, I didn’t bother to check; after all, these were Perry sculpts! Serves me right. I’ve had to do a botched up job and the two standard bearers (hopefully) look like they’re standing with grounded colours and holding them by the staff and the hoist edge (I don’t know what they call the part of the flag where it’s attached to the staff – ‘hoist edge’ is what it’s called in the navy). All in all, a bit of a disappointment.


Got a commission to do some C18th Woodland Indians, but, while I’m waiting to start those, I’m killing off Sir Henry Bard’s Regiment (ECW Royalist foot). Another little ray of sunshine – a mixture of Foundry ‘carve your own’ figures and some Perry ‘Why don’t you clip the vent flash off?’ figures. Actually, they look quite good when painted up, but the Foundry types are unmistakably Thirty Years’ War style!


This brings me to what was for me the high spot for September. A couple of weeks ago Chris went to a card making expo or something in Catterick (no, I don’t know why Catterick either). As the event started early in the day, we’d planned well in advance to drive up, stay over on the Friday night, she’d go to the craft thing on the Saturday and then we head for home. While Chris was occupied all day, I thought I’d go for a mooch somewhere – yes, it was that well planned.


In fairness, you’re not stuck for something to do or somewhere to visit in that neck of the woods, but the seemingly never ending ankle problem did impose limits. In the end, after a really good meal and almost certainly too much wine, I announced I was going to go to visit Marston Moor. “Oh, you’ve been there before.”  might have been taken by some as a challenge, but, after almost 38 years of a really great time together, I was confident it was simply a statement of fact. Anyway, I had the car keys . . . .


So, after the drop off next morning, I headed for Tockwith/Long Marston. Now, I’m not trying to set myself up as the Alan Wicker of wargaming (I mean a producer of travelogues, not dead), but it’s a very interesting place to visit, even if you’re not an ECW buff and there’s a lot to reflect on with regard to those good old chestnuts ‘dead ground’ and ‘that bloody map’s not right’.


One of the interesting trials of having a shufty round a place of historical interest is trying to find the actual key points. Battlefields are probably the most challenging because the construction of sketch maps and deployment plans aren’t always foremost in the minds of the majority of the people involved, even those whose job it is. Consequently, the older the battle, the less accurate the maps and descriptions, especially when the person doing the describing isn’t that familiar with the location and is often doing so from memory. There was enough trouble with parts of the Arnhem area because of rapidly redeploying units, so, in the case of Marston Moor, a mere 370 years ago, it’s only to be expected. Generally, the topography hasn’t changed much despite the Encllosures Act of 1773 et seq. What was once open moorland is now farm land, but it’s all still essentially open and the number of hedgerows isn’t significant. Therefore it’s easy to get a good impression of the whole field and it takes little imagination to identify the deployment areas, or it wouldn’t if all the maps agreed. There are several maps of the battlefield and the deployment of the armies, but each differs slightly (radically?) from the next.  The two most famous (I think) are the Lumsden and the de Gomme maps and they're contemporary.



The Lumsden map was drafted by Major General Sir James Lumsden of the Allied (Scots/Parliamentarian) Army. that shows the opposing armies in some detail. However, the de Gomme map was drafted by Captain Bernard de Gomme and, although it shows an outline of the Allied Army, is primarily concerned with the deployment of the Royalist forces. The significant thing is that it only shows the first two lines of the Allied deployment and completely misses the third line of troops who were deployed just short of the crown of Braham Hill. In his book ‘Marston Moor – 1644: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Blackthorn Press, Pickering, 2003), Dr Newman is pretty confident that this was simply a rough deployment plan showing intended rather than actual dispositions. That being the case, it goes into a lot of detail for the Royalist units so personally, I’m not so sure:




Below are shots of the Allied line (Looking south across the Long Marston - Tockwith Road towards Barham Hill,  east to west) and no dead ground can be even hinted at:



Both armies arrived on the field during the day from fairly early morning onwards, the Allies completing their deployment between 14:00 and 15:00 and the Royalists not receiving their last infantry units (Newcastle’s brigade) until after 16:00. Prince Rupert (Royalist commander) initially had to make do with the units he brought with him and had to cover the whole anticipated front, padding this out with units as they arrived. The Allied Army had a similar problem, but were better organised as their troops arrived from more or less the same direction. So, the key to Marston Moor as a game would seem to be accurately portraying the arrival and deployment phase. 


I’ve only seen a couple of demo games for this battle, but each time both armies have been deployed ready to go. That seems to miss the point. Too Fat Lardies are keen on the use of blanks to represent deploying and arriving units, but what about representing the effects of dead ground? I think we need to employ the services of an umpire to cater for this. Generally speaking, opposing armies have a reasonable (sometimes very good) idea of each others’ composition, so, assuming your enemy appears to be around 30% light, where are the ‘missing’ troops? They may be in some dead ground or they may equally be making a flank march. Your confidence in their whereabouts will be governed by your reconnaissance abilities and this will influence your deployment.


Campaign games and scenarios have this aspect covered before the battle, but pick-up games need some mechanism to determine this. WRG Ancients rules used to have effective methods of coping with this (maybe stil have), but it’s all too common for players to chuck all their troops on the table and have at it. Okay up to a point, but it’s a bit like chess or draughts. 


Marston Moor has another interesting feature (among many) in that there was a ditch across the front of the Royalist line – not many agree on its length:



Presumably this feature is little changed since the seventeenth century, but at the time of the battle it was described as:


“a Great ditch betwixt the Enemy and us” Captain Stewart with the Alliled cavalry on the right wing of the army.


“small dich and banck betwixt us and the moor through which we must pass if we would charge them . . . . it was a great disadvantaqe  to him that would begin the charge.” Lionel Watson, Scoutmaster General to the Eastern Association (Allied)


“and ditch which (the Royalists) had in possession” Major General Sir James Lumsden (Allied, Scottish)


Nevertheless, the ditch does not appear to have had a significant effect on the battle. However, what if the Allies had been unaware of this obstacle or were aware of it, but had no knowledge of its potential as an obstacle (which appears to be the case)? Assuming that in a game only one side had this knowledge (or neither in an encounter battle) then the umpire comes to the rescue again, but I’m conscious that few of us tolerate this role. Even so, it’s fairly simple to spring a surprise on the force crossing such a piece of terrain by the use of chance cards or dice even if one player actually knows the answer.


Many years ago I read a piece in Wargamers’ Newsletter about introducing an element of surprise into games by making units charging over unfamiliar terrain (which hadn’t been traversed previously) dice for the chance of becoming disorganised or otherwise impeded by unforeseen obstacles. A bit extreme, granted, but maybe this brings us back to the earlier comments  about the need for effective reconnaissance/scouting rules.

8 comments:

  1. I like the idea of dicing while charging, Fog of War is a great thing to add to any game, it just takes that helicopter view and stuff it where the sun don't shine!

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    1. I think you have to reasonably moderate with it though. Officers weren't all complete cretins and 'surprise' obstacles weren't all that common. The problem is that those which did feature often get blown out of all proportion in histories.

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  2. Glad to have you back Gary despite all your tribulations.

    Thanks for the report from the ground as it were ("Other side of the hill" and all that).

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    1. Thanks for that edwin. I haven't really been anywhere, just hanging around like a bad smell. Had the 'dog' out for a walk, but nothing desperate.

      ;O)

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  3. Great post, Gary! Marston Moor is a really interesting battlefield. I visited with my wife one summer evening about 15 years ago. It hardly seems to have been much affected by the intervening centuries, and your photos brought back some great memories. From what I can remember now, the ground seemed more undulating than I had imagined it when reading Brigadier Peter Young book. The maps, or deployment plans, are very interesting, although I always have enjoyed Eythin's words on Prince Rupert's ideas for deployment that "it is very fine on paper but there is no such thing in the field". How micro-terrain affects a battle is one of those fascinating things which crop up time and again. Great to have you back!

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    1. Oh Peter Young is so passe these days . . . . ;O) I liked the man and liked his writing style, but it seems like the experts are queueing up to have a pop at him. Mind you, especially with ECW and Napoleonics, everyone has a pop at everyone else. Stuart Reid and Peter Newman both criticise each other's views on Marston Moor in their respective books. I have a great deal of time for Reid's works, but, having read Newman's book, I think friend Newman would have been a chap you'd want to avoid.

      Yes, the terrain at Marston Moor is much more undulating than you'd imagine from descriptions of the battle, despite the 'levelling' effect of two hundred and odd years' of ploughing since then. The Royalist right is pretty much flat as a pancake, but their left had a pronounced rise in the ground running north to south, beyond which was dead ground as far as anyone on foot would be concerned. I did wonder whether a horseman would have been able to see clearly over it as, in the circumstances, only a very few feet of elevation can make a world of difference. Didn't appear to cause any problems on the day though.

      The dead ground on the hill really got me thinking. There's not the slightest sign of it from the road or even further back from behind the royalist lines. We 'Thousand Foot Generals' have it so easy.

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  4. Excellent post - enjoyed the naval story, but the Marston Moor story is right on cue for me - I have been away for the weekend, and I took with me Stuart Reid's little booklet about Thomas Tyldesley (this is my second copy - I can actually read this one) - SR does a quick time-out on the subject of Marston Moor, specifically with regard to TT's involvement, and he refers to the fact that Dr Newman appears to have changed his mind dramatically about dispositions between his first and second books about Marston Moor (the second one mentioned is 1981 - the Tyldesley booklet appeared in 1987). Me, I love battlefields, but I can never, for the life of me, get a clear idea of the layout without a lot of maps and head scratching. I must be the land-based equivalent of your useless Mr Fox.

    Cheers - good pics! - Tony

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    1. Thanks Tony. I think the trouble with the ECW battlefields is that most of them have become suject to urban sprawl and, in any case, the sources nearly always contradict each other. Maps generally differ and were commonly drawn by non-professionals and frequently from memory. Still, it all adds to the flavour of the period for me.

      The Reid/Newman spat is quite amusing really. Both are amateur historians (albeit in Reid's case, a very good one - maybe exceptional in his main period), but they're like two dogs with a bone on the Marston Moor issue. I was disappointed with Newman's attitude though as he comes across as a bit of a diva and there's a tinge of acid in his comments. No need for that, I think.

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