Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Kilsyth gamed; or William Baillie's Vindication

From the North, near the end : my right wing gone!

 Welcome back, all. Things have been quiet here hobby-wise, but there has been remote gaming. What now seems an age (but was in fact around two weeks) ago, I was lucky to be part of  M.S. Foy's remote gaming extravaganza,  re-fighting the battle of Kilsyth, 1645.  Readers of this blog have very likely seen his description, preceded  by the extensive and excellent research and preparations, on his brilliant Prometheus in Aspic blog.   It was great fun, and I can't resist giving my version of events. I took a couple of screenshots near the end, of which the above is one ( by this time my right wing seems to have mostly evaporated ).

When it came to choosing sides, I thought I'd better go with my ( possibly imagined ) ancestry; my paternal grandmother being a Campbell. As a child I was under the firm impression of being at least one-quarter Scottish, and was told that members of that side of the  family in the 1930s/40s would don the tartan and dance the sword-dance at parties ( I later traced the family tree, and found that my Campbell ancestors came from as far North as - Enfield. I did at least learn that one of them managed to be present at Tel-el-Kebir, with a detachement of Royal Engineeers ). I digress. 

Anyhoo.. when it transpired that the Government/Covenantor regime was headed by Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyle,   I thought that was good enough reason to opt for the role of William Baillie, the Government commander.  That left the dashing Montrose to be impersonated by my good friend  and fellow Dave, the proprietor of St Cyr on Wheels blog - whose Scouse roots probably gave him good claim to command the formidable Irish Brigade, mainstay of Montrose's army.


Initial setup - courtesy of our host

The forces in their starting positions were as shown in Foy's map (above) provided by him as a playing aid;  Baillie's units are shown in blue.  Though the armies were equal in numbers of units ( 12 each ), I was very much aware of having only two cavalry units  ('TR' = Trotters) to Montrose's  three, and only one veteran foot  (FT)  regiment  (Home's) against three in the form of the Irish Brigade.  I had three 'Raw' foot units, the Fife Levies on the left, not much use at all - Montrose had four 'Raw' units but these were the Highlanders (HI), who had a compensatory ability to charge further than a normal foot unit,  albeit also not being equipped with muskets - so hand-to-hand combat only.  I did have the only gun - marked 'MG' , which designation may have given me a misplaced sense of its possible fire effect.  Overall I thought I had a slightly inferior force, and not being the most dynamic of commanders, my conclusion was to hold my position, take a defensive posture and see if I could shoot the Royalists down as they came to attack me. It turned out that this chimed with Baillie's preferred plan for the actual battle, since he knew reinforcements were on their way to him, hence saw  little point in risking attack before their arrival. In real life, he was overruled by his political masters (and by some of his units getting carried away) and forced to attack - with disastrous results. Could I do better, by staying true to Baillie's own idea?

Despite a built-in disadvantage  for the more plodding Baillie against dynamic Montrose when it came to  initiative die rolls, I did get lucky at the start and won the initiative on the first couple of turns - I used my commanded shot and infantry to occupy the hills,  ruins and mill in the centre-right, and hoped to hinder Montrose's advance with them. Meanwhile I gathered most of my infantry into a fairly formidable-looking defensive line around the hills at my left-centre. But it all unravelled very soon, especially as Montrose's men were aided by a massive lucky streak of die-rolling throughout the evening. When it came to shooting and combat, they won every time, and my units were blown away - starting with the Commanded Shot, who never actually got a volley off, being ridden down immeditely by a Royalist cavalry charge!  A cavalry fight ensued, which Dave/Montrose duly won, while he brought forward his Irish veterans,  and my cavalry and  a further  Infantry unit  bit the dust. My Veteran ( Home's ) regiment held up well, and might have knocked out one of Montrose's infantry units, if I hadn't decided to use their combat roll against the opposing  cavalry - the dice gave no hits, but would have been 4 hits against foot! That was fairly typical of the 'dice gods' attitude that evening.  Added to that over on my left, one hard-marching Royalist infantry regiment managed to dispatch my gun ( which got one shot off - and missed, of course ) and one of the Fife levy units.  All too soon, it was 7 Victory Points to 'them' and zero to 'us',  and the game was over. Oh well, even with the cursed Royalist dice, it was still great fun and a jolly evening! 

From the South: Fife Levies about to succumb

I should say something about Foy's  rules - his  'Ramekin' variation on 'Command and Colours', adpated for Pike and Shot warfare.  I liked their rather elegant  simplicity - for example in handling Pike and Shot units, no need to try to remember what proportion have pike or musket. Basically one combat dice per remaining 'block' in the regiment -  in close combat, if the unit has pikes, just add one more dice.  When firing, if pikes present, subtract one dice. Simples!  The 'Ramekin' part is the allocation of  command actions, replacing the the C&C card deck, the number of actions each turn  being decided by a modified die roll. I like that, as I always thought the C&C card deck was problematic - it has an uncanny knack of giving me loads of actions in the sector where I have no units or don't want to attack, which is very frustrating!  

If I have one 'note' on the system, I think I might look at the way that given a limited number of actions per turn, both sides can easily get fixated on only one part of the battlefield. Once fighting starts, one tends to want to focus more actions on it, knowing that the other guy will do the same, and I think that tends to mean that just one battlefield sector  sees all the action. In 'Pike and Shot' armies there was a definite command structure of 'wings' and 'centre' each with their own leaders capable of independent  action, and/or following orders from the C-in-C,  and I wonder if it might be good to ensure each of those sub-commands were ensured a share of the action points, to allow them all to use their initiative. They could perhaps voluntarily 'hand back' their actions to the commander if just standing on the defensive in their sector, and the overall commander should perhaps have some actions he could allocate where he chose, to generate the main thrust of his attack. I wonder if that could work?  In this game, I especially noted that there was a stand-off in the centre, with my infantry and Montrose's Highlanders just scowling at each other, because all the action points were being expended on the Government right flank. I should have used some actions to go and try to shoot up the Highlanders, perhaps, but once the brawl began on my right flank, all energies were taken up with that. Hmmm...   


My own paper and blu-tak based play aid - worked OK!

 Having said all that, the game worked fine, the rules were easily memorised and easy to use - which set us free to be Generals, not clerks or lawyers.   In fact our host did all the calculation of die rolls etc - so the remote gaming setup actually made me feel more like a 'commander' than a 'player', because  my job was to simply  tell units to advance, retreat etc  and whether to charge or fire  -  the results were determined and relayed to us by Foy.  Alas the result didn't go my way (and how!), but I am the least competitive wargamer I know, and I was too busy enjoying myself to worry too much about losing! 

So, many thanks to MS Foy  for hosting and providing a lovely setup, fantastic game and possibly too much information on the battle - some of which I have not quite read even now ! And to Dave 'St Cyr' for being such a worthy and good-humoured opponent - clearly such a charming chap, indeed, that the very dice joined his army...

There was some jollity over the colloquial description of my ( probably not ) ancestor Archibald as 'The Bastard Campbell'  - for information, here he is in all his glory, presumably contemplating the  massacre of some wretched hambuger-vendors. Thanks to Foy for providing the image.

No, I do not require fries with that..

Finally  by pure chance, in the run-up to the game I was skimming through the Battlefields Trust magazine's latest issue, and in the book reviews they feature a recent publication from Partizan Press - 'William Baillie's Vindication' by Stuart Reid, which discusses the papers presented by Baillie to a court of enquiry into the defeat at Kilsyth.  The review points out that 'accounts of the battle are typically from the Royalist side', so this is presumably a valuable counter-weight, and from the primary source, too. Worth a read,  I suspect, for all students of Montrose's campaign. 

'The dice were against us, alas..' 


I'll leave it there. A great time had by all, once again many thanks to MS Foy, and it has restored my blogging mojo too!  A bit too much of real life recently meant no time for this whimsy -  time to spend some time in hobby world again.  Keep well, everyone.


Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Charity begins - In the Library

The warm response to my last post helped make my decision, and so  I scooted back to the British Heart Foundation shop on Monday morning, made the appropriate donation to their funds, and  am now the proud owner of this rather nice book : 

This is volume II covering 1714 to 1760, so just the right period for me. Originally published 1941, this is a reprint from 1971, with the price printed on the inside dustjacket - all of £3.30 , 50 years ago - which I am told would be about £48 today, so quite a luxury item.  Lawson was an eminent artist as well as a military historian, and the pages are stuffed with his illustrations - no less than 220 of them in about 270 pages.  Page 1 gives a good flavour of what is to come : 


And here are  few more pages taken fairly randomly to give an idea of the contents. Chapters on Infantry of George I and II,  Marines,  Scots  in both British and foreign service, Cavalry ( including saddlery, colours and standards ) , Artillery and Engineers, Militia and Volumteers, Hanoverians, 'and many, many more'.. 


It really must have been a labour of love...  

There are only a couple of colour plates - both showing musicians,  rather fine too.

I love the syle of the whole thing, and there is a serious amount of information too. I had not really considered a British element to my 7YW forces, but of course one gets tempted when looking through this. I wonder if a mercenary Scots or Irish unit might be added? Or perhaps a Hanoverian contingent? 

It also has that essential element that my partner summed up so well :  'it smells of old book'..

Keep well, and safe, everyone. 

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Bank Holiday Bodging, and Books, Books, Books


What to do with a dull, overcast Bank Holiday Monday, at the end of the dullest, most overcast   August? Well, given those conditions I felt very little guilt about staying indoors at my desk and working on some of the model kits in the 'plastic pile'.  After rather too many hours, I have at least completed the build of the above two : the Puma armoured car acquired the other  week, and the 'Wespe' self-propelled gun, bought about this time last year (oops!).  I'll admit it was quite a challenge. Most of the kits I have built previously were by Armorfast or Plastic Soldier Company, and very simple to assemble - for example  the suspension usually being moulded as one piece per side, just cement it to the hull in one operation. Not so these - for the Puma, each wheel assembly  had 3 parts to put together before cementing to the hull,  and of course there are no less than 8 wheels.  Doubtless all this is great fun for dedicated modellers for whom the painstaking build is the whole point, but of course I just want to get something more or less recognisable onto the gaming table, ASAP! Factor in a surprising number of very tiny parts ( e.g headlights and smoke grenade projectors ) and my pudgy fingers and middle-aged eyesight, and the time and frustration increased many-fold!   A lesson learned, and I may be looking harder at resin-cast or 3D-printed models in future. I have the  M7 Priest to build next - with 116 parts, to the Wespe's 54 and Puma 69, it may be a long haul!   But at least the above two are built, and can now be painted, ready for action. I like them both, and was surprised by how compact the Wespe turned out to be. Of course the chassis was that of a Panzer II, so I should have realised it would be relatively small.  The Puma rather dwarfs it!  

Another project that has been ongoing far too long also came to fruition - a second unit of Austrian Cuirassiers for the Seven Years War.  Work on these  started  while sat in the garden  on a sunny day - in February! It's been a funny old year. I think most of my limited hobby time was used (as it probably should be ) on gaming, so painting took second place, and the Prussian infantry primed at the same time as these remain resolutely uncoloured ( like a regiment on some sort of 'punishment parade' in their underclothes!), looking at me balefully from a shelf.  I am going to try, now, to have a regular 'hobby hour' ( or half-hour might be more realistic ) and get on with painting and modelling for at least some of that time.  A strange side-effect of the pandemic is that despite working from home and not having to commute, work and domestic 'stuff' seems to take more time than it did before - I can't explain that.    These chaps won't win any prizes, of course, and the dry brush and 3-layer highlight remain unknown in these parts, but given aforesaid fingers/eyesight combination and a lifetime of manual incompetence ( school metalwork classes still a traumatic memory ),  I'm quite pleased with them. One advantage of solo gaming is that no pesky opponent is going to pick up the figures and look at them too closely - they will always be seen at 'battlefield distance'.  



Somehow, more books can always be acquired - a week's 'staycation'  resulted in visits to Bury St. Edmunds and Woodbridge, both of which boast  Oxfam bookshops. Thus the above two for under a fiver altogether.  Gary Sheffield will be known to many readers, as he is not only a military historian by profession, but also a hobby wargamer - a semi-regular opponent of Bob Cordery, for example, and I've heard him guesting on both  Henry Hyde's 'Battlechat'  and Al Murray's 'We Have Ways' podcasts. I've started his book, and it promises to be worthwhile - he begins by outlining the rather simplistic 'Lions and Donkeys' view of 1914-1918 handed down to most of us, and no doubt aims to challenge those ideas.  'The Full Monty' has potential, too - I have only a rather superficial idea of him, and this promises to give the back story, since it covers his life up to 1942 - the making of the man, so to speak.

Finally, one that I didn't actually buy, but was interested to see , in a charity shop in Sudbury this very afternoon.  C.C.P. Lawson's 'Uniforms of the British Army' - volume 2 of 4.  Originally published in 1941, I think, and this looks to be a 1970s reprint.  It features many rather charming sketches by the author ( himself an artist, I gather ), and it does appeal, given its 'old school' connotations - I bet Peter Young would have had a copy in his library.  Someone at the charity has done their homework, though, and the asking price is £14 - which to be fair looks about what you'd pay on Abebooks. Does it need 'rescuing', and to be 'given a good home', do you reckon?  

 It must be time to get back to some gaming, soon,  perhaps that should be the subject of my next post. Meanwhile, keep well, and safe, everyone.