Coastal defence artillery in action … in fiction

One of my favourite books is Sir Winston Churchill‘s SAVROLA: A TALE OF THE REVOLUTION IN LAURANIA. It was his only novel, and it was written in the last years on the nineteenth century.

The book inspired me to ‘create’ my own version of Laurania, but it also contains the only fictional description of a battle between warships and coastal defences that I can remember reading. It forms part of Chapter XXI, entitled THE RETURN OF THE FLEET.

The Admiral, signalling for half-speed, picked his way towards the mouth of the channel cautiously. It was so contrived that a vessel in passing must be exposed to a cross-fire from the heavy guns in the batteries. The actual passage was nearly a mile wide, but the navigable channel itself was dangerously narrow and extremely difficult. De Mello, who knew every foot of it, led the way in the Fortuna; the two cruisers, Sorato and Petrarch followed; the gunboat Rienzi was next, and the other battleship, Saldanho brought up the rear. The signal was made to clear for action; the men were beat to quarters; the officers went to their posts, and the fleet, assisted by a favourable tide, steamed slowly towards the entrance.

The rebel gunners wasted no time in formalities. As the Fortuna came into the line of fire, two great bulges of smoke sprang from the embrasures; the nine-inch guns of the seaward battery were discharged. Both shells flew high and roared through the masts of the warship, which increased her speed to seven knots and stood on her course followed by her consorts. As each gun of the forts came to bear, it was fired, but the aim was bad, and the projectiles ricocheted merrily over the water, raising great fountains of spray, and it was not until the leading ship had arrived at the entrance of the channel, that she was struck.

A heavy shell, charged with a high explosive, crashed into the port-battery of the Fortuna, killing and wounding nearly sixty men, as well as dismounting two out of the four guns. This roused the huge machine; the forward turret revolved and, turning swiftly towards the fort, brought its great twin guns to bear. Their discharge was almost simultaneous, and the whole ship staggered with the violence of the recoil. Both shells struck the fort and exploded on impact, smashing the masonry to splinters and throwing heaps of earth into the air; but the harm done was slight. Safe in their bomb-proofs, the rebel gunners were exposed only to the danger of missiles entering the embrasures; while such guns as fired from barbette mountings were visible only at the moment of discharge.

Nevertheless the great ship began literally to spout flame in all directions, and her numerous quick-firing guns searched for the embrasures, sprinkling their small shells with prodigal rapidity. Several of these penetrated, and the rebels began to lose men. As the ships advanced, the cross-fire grew hotter, and each in succession replied furiously. The cannonade became tremendous, the loud explosions of the heavy guns being almost drowned by the incessant rattle of the quick firers; the waters of the harbour were spotted all over with great spouts of foam, while the clear air showed the white smoke-puffs of the bursting shells. The main battery of the Fortuna was completely silenced. A second shell had exploded with a horrid slaughter, and the surviving sailors had fled from the scene to the armoured parts of the vessel; nor could their officers induce them to return to that fearful shambles, where the fragments of their comrades lay crushed between masses of senseless iron. The sides of the ships were scored and torn all over, and the copious streams of water from the scuppers attested the energy of the pumps. The funnel of the Fortuna had been shot off almost level with the deck, and the clouds of black smoke floating across her quarters drove the gunners from the stern-turret and from the after-guns. Broken, dismantled, crowded with dead and dying, her vitals were still uninjured, and her captain, in the conning tower, feeling that she still answered the helm, rejoiced in his good fortune and held on his course.

The cruiser Petrarch had her steam steering-gear twisted and jammed by a shell, and becoming unmanageable grounded on a sandbank. The forts, redoubling their fire, began to smash her to pieces. She displayed a white flag and stopped firing: but of this no notice was taken, and as the other ships dared not risk going ashore in helping her, she became a wreck and blew up at three o’clock with a prodigious report.

The Saldanho who suffered least and was very heavily armoured, contrived to shelter the gunboat a good deal, and the whole fleet passed the batteries after forty minutes’ fighting and with a loss of two hundred and twenty men killed and wounded, exclusive of the entire crew of the Petrarch who were all destroyed. The rebel loss was about seventy, and the damage done to the forts was slight. But it was now the turn of the sailors. The city of Laurania was at their mercy.

One incident that might have inspired Churchill’s description was the Royal Navy’s bombardment of Zanzibar on 27th August 1896. The fighting lasted thirty eight minutes, and it is reported to be the shortest war in history


Ford over the River Mob

As a ‘reward’ for the big sort-out I recently undertook of my toy/wargames room I decided to fight a solo wargame using my newly accessible Hexon II terrain. Originally I planned to fight a World War II battle using my MEMOIR OF MODERN BATTLE (MOMBAT) rules, but after my recent visit to (and wargame with) David Crook I decided to switch to using the latest draft of my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules.

Scenario
The Maldacians (who wear uniforms that bear a striking resemblance to those worn by the Austro-Hungarians) are on the warpath again. They have yet again made demands that the Lauranians (who favour uniforms in the Prussian style) must hand over ‘disputed’ territory on the border between the two countries. The Lauranians say that the ‘disputed’ territory has always been – and will always remain – Lauranian, and that any attempts to take the land in question by force will be met by force. The Maldacians have responded in a similarly bellicose fashion … and war between the two countries seems imminent.

News reaches the Lauranian High Command that a force of Maldacians has entered Lauranian territory, and a small division of the Lauranian Army is immediately despatched to intercept the invaders. The Lauranian Division comprises:

  • Four Line Infantry Regiments (armed with single-shot rifles)
  • A Rifle Battalion (armed with single-shot rifles)
  • An Artillery Regiment (armed with rifled field artillery)

Unbeknownst to the Lauranians, this is exactly the same size force (with the same armaments) as that sent by the Maldacians into Laurania. The stage is set for a battle … and it looks like it will happen near the ford over the River Mob.

The ford over the River Mob and the surrounding area. The ford is guarded by an ancient (but ungarrisoned) fortified tower, and on the other side of the river is a small settlement. The Maldacians will enter by the road nearest the bottom of the photograph and the Lauranians will enter via the road at the top. 
The Maldacians advance towards through Lauranian territory.
The Lauranian Division on the road towards the ford over the River Mob.

Turn 1
Both the Maldacians and the Lauranians advance down their respective roads towards the ford over the River Mob. Both sides choose to lead with their Rifle Battalions. In the case of the Lauranians, these are followed by a Line Infantry Regiment and the Artillery Regiment, the latter being accompanied by the Division’s General.

The Maldacians choose to follow their Rifle Battalion with two Line Infantry Regiments.

Turn 2
Both side hurry troops forward to try to reach the ford first. The Lauranian advance is hampered somewhat by the slow speed of the Artillery Regiment, and the leading Rifle Battalion and Line Infantry Regiment break away from the column in order not to be delayed.

The Maldacians avoid this problem by leaving their Artillery Regiment at the rear of their column.

The two opposing forces are now within rifle range of each other, and the actual fighting looks about to start.

Turn 3
The Lauranians gain the initiative, and their Rifle Battalion occupies the built-up area on the right-hand side of the road, from where they engage the opposing Maldacian Rifle Battalion … with some success!

This clears the way for the leading Lauranian Line Infantry Regiment to move forward, deploy, and also engage the Maldacian Rifle Battalion … which suffers further casualties.

The remaining Lauranian troops rush forward to support their comrades.

The brave Maldacian Rifle Battalion charges into the ford to engage the Lauranian Line Infantry Regiment with the bayonet, but they are unable to make it right across.

The following Maldacian Line Infantry Regiment deploys and fires at the Lauranian Rifle Battalion, but inflicts no casualties.

The remainder of the Maldacian Division begins to deploy in support of their leading units.

Turn 4
The Maldacians have the initiative, and the Rifle Battalion closes with the leading Lauranian Line Infantry Regiment and engages them with the bayonet … and causes them a number of casualties!

The Maldacian Line Infantry Regiment continues to fire at the Lauranian Rifle Battalion that is occupying the buildings on the other side of the River Mob, and they inflict casualties on the Lauranians.

Another Maldacian Line Infantry Regiment deploys and engages the Lauranian Rifle Battalion, but their fire is ineffective.

The remainder of the Maldacian Division has now reached the River Mob, and has begun to deploy.

The Lauranian response is to counter-attack the Maldacian Rifle Battalion with a bayonet charge which forces the depleted Maldacians back into the ford …

… where they are shot to pieces by the Lauranian Rifle Battalion.

The Lauranian Artillery Regiment moves off the road and deploys onto the Lauranian right flank …

… and the rest of the Lauranian Division moves forward to engage the Maldacians.

Turn 5
As the Lauranian Artillery Regiment was now deployed, it opens fire on the closest Maldacian Line Infantry Regiment … upon which it inflicts 50% casualties!

The Lauranians build upon this success when their leading Line Infantry Regiment inflicts casualties on the Maldacian Line Infantry Regiment facing them across the River Mob …

… and when the Lauranian Rifle Battalion also joins in the exchange of fire, the Maldacian Line Infantry Regiment suffers further casualties.

The Lauranian Line Infantry Regiment that had previously occupied the building on the left flank opens fire on the Maldacian Line Infantry Regiment facing them across the River Mob …

… and causes them 50% casualties.

At this point in the battle the Maldacians have reached their Exhaustion Point (they have lost one-third of their Division’s initial strength value) and they cannot engage in further aggressive action.

The battlefield at the point in the battle when the Maldacians reached their Exhaustion Point. From this point onwards they cannot engage in any aggressive action, and should withdraw if that is possible.

Having achieved their objective, the Lauranian General asks his opposite number if he would wish for a cease-fire so that he can deal with his wounded before withdrawing from the field of battle. The Maldacian General is only too pleased to agree to this suggestion, and after collecting their wounded and burying their dead, the Maldacian Division withdraws to their own side of the border.

Conclusions
This was a sharp little meeting engagement between equal forces, and had the initiative gone to the Maldacians rather than the Lauranians during the last turn the outcome might have been different.

I liked the new Exhaustion Point rule, and will keep it in the next draft of the rules. I may choose to vary the point at which either or both armies reach it (it is currently when one side loses one-third of its initial strength value) in order to reflect the historical period or setting of the battle, but the concept does enable a battle to be fought to a conclusion that is not dependent upon a particular victory condition or conditions being met.

Modelling Notes
The figures used were out-of-production Peter Laing 15mm-scale Prussian and Austro-Hungarians. They were bought on eBay and were originally painted, owned, and used by a member of the Edinburgh Wargames Group. The terrain used was Hexon II hexed terrain tiles, streams/narrow rivers, roads, and hills. The trees were Hornby model trees that had additional flocking added to them before they were mounted on bases. The buildings were bought ready-painted in Croatia.


Looking backwards to go forwards

I spent this morning – and a chunk of this afternoon – at my father’s house helping my brother to remove some items of furniture before the house clearers arrive. This meant that it was not until quite late in the afternoon before I was able to complete the transfer of my blog print-outs to their new storage folders. (Yes … I am that anally retentive … and yes, I do have printed copies of all my blog entries filed in date order!)

This has been a time consuming process … and not just because there are so many pages of A4 paper to file! I keep finding myself stopping quite frequently to read and review what I have been writing about since I started this blog. After a time one begins to notice certain themes that have reoccurred and developments that have taken place.

Most noticeable is the fact that almost from the beginning I was designing and fighting wargames that used some form of gridded playing surface. It is also noticeable that the rules that I have been writing seemed to have been becoming less and less complex, and that with the growth of simplicity has come greater enjoyment.

Another trend has been the increasing use of imagi-nations in my wargames. Over the past four years I have taken part in historically-based battles, but all of these have been organised by other people. Mine have been firmly placed in an imaginary world that is similar to our own … but not an exact replica. To date I have used the following imagi-nations in the wargames I have written about in my blog:

  • Morschauserland (and its colony, New Morschauserland): a quasi-Germanic country located somewhere in Central Europe.
  • Eastland: a country in Eastern Europe that resembles Soviet Russia during the Stalinist era.
  • Fezia: a country that bears a resemblance to Ottoman Turkey.
  • Laurania: Winston Churchill’s invention, it is located on the Mediterranean coast somewhere in Southern Europe.
  • Cordeguay: a South American country that has similarities with Chile and Peru.

In addition I have created several other imagi-nations – some of them a long time ago – that could be used in wargames:

  • Upsland: a Nordic country located somewhere in the Baltic area.
  • Opeland: similar to Upsland – its great rival – and also located in the Baltic region of Europe.
  • Zubia: an Arab country that has similarities with Egypt … and may, therefore, be a former vassal sate of Fezia.
  • Maldacia: Laurania’s neighbour and archrival in Southern Europe.

Finally, there are the imagi-nations that I have used – or been associated with – in my Colonial campaigns, both in the distant and more recent past. These include:

  • Madasahatta: an island in the Indian Ocean, it was the setting for Eric Knowles’ epic and long-running World War I Colonial campaign.
  • Dammallia: a British East African colony.
  • Mankanika: a German East African colony.
  • Marzibar: an island nation that bears a passing resemblance to Zanzibar.
  • Deutsches Sudan: a short-lived German colony on the Red Sea coast.
  • Chindia: a sort of amalgam of British Indian and Indo-China.
  • Gaziristan: China’s north western neighbour and home to a number of warring and very warlike tribes, in has similarities with Afghanistan.

As I wrote this list I realised that the imagi-world that I have been trying to create – on and off – for the past few months is already populated by a series of countries that I need to include. Furthermore, their locations were already roughly fixed, but as yet I had not taken that into account.

So keeping file copies of my blog entries does make sense … as long as I re-read them once in a while!


Time for reflection … and consolidation

I have had plenty of time to think recently (there is not a lot to do when you are sitting in various hospital waiting areas waiting to take someone to the next medical test they have to undergo), and the events of the past week have made me realise that nothing lasts forever, and that I need to be a bit less like a butterfly – flitting from one thing to another – and a bit more like a worker bee, which gets things done.

I have therefore come up with a list of priorities that I will try to stick to over the next few years. They are (in no particular order):

  • To develop my MEMOIR OF BATTLE and MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA wargames rules so that they cover the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (i.e. 1850 to 1950) … and to build up several armies (and navies) that I can use with them.
  • To put together a 54mm army (or armies) to use with H G Wells’ LITTLE WARS and The Reverend Paul Wright’s FUNNY LITTLE WARS wargames rules.

  • To take part in as many wargames as I can each year, with a target of playing an minimum of wargame per month.
  • To complete the work necessary to set up a series of wargames campaigns that will involve Maldacia and Laurania (and possibly other small nations as well).

It will take time to achieve all of these objectives – and some of them may never, ever be achieved in full – but at least I will get some satisfaction from the fact that I have striven to achieve them.


Incident on the border: The battle for the bridge

Turn 4
The Maldacian Artillery Batteries were still too far away from the nearest Lauranian Units to open fire on them, but the Lauranian Artillery Battery was able to engage the central column of the Maldacian force. It targeted the hex occupied by the second Infantry Unit in the column. The Lauranians threw a 6, which meant that the Infantry Unit was hit; a further D6 die score of 4 ensured that it was destroyed!

D6 dice were again thrown by both sides to determine who would move first this turn. The Maldacians threw a 4 and the Lauranians threw a 3, and as a result the Maldacians therefore moved first yet again.

The leading Infantry Unit of the central column stormed across the bridge and engaged the Lauranian Border Guards who were protecting it. Both sides threw a D6 die; the Maldacians scored 2 and the Lauranians scored 5. As both Infantry Units had to score 5 or less to destroy the other, both Units were destroyed!

At the same time one of the Maldacian Infantry Units on their left flank reached the river and attempted to wade across it, but they only made it as far as the middle.

The Lauranians reacted to this by moving the Gatling Gun Battery up to the river’s edge, and firing at the Maldacian Infantry unit that was in the river. Both sides threw a D6 die; the Lauranians scored 4 and the Maldacians scored 6. Because the Gatling Gun Battery had to score 6 or less to destroy the Infantry Unit and the Infantry Unit had to score 5 or less to destroy the Gatling Gun Battery, the result was the destruction of the Maldacian Infantry Unit.

In addition to this move, the Lauranian commander moved all of his Infantry Units towards the village but not off the hill, as he felt that this still gave him an advantage.

Turn 5
The Maldacian Artillery Batteries were now able to engage the Lauranian Gatling Gun Battery, and both Maldacian Batteries targeted the hex it was in. The first Battery threw a 1, which meant that its shells had missed the hex; the second D6 die they threw was another 1, which indicated that the shell had gone over its target and hit an empty hex. The second battery then threw a 4, and its shells also missed the target hex. Its second D6 die score of 5 meant that the shells actually landed in the river, and were rather too close to one of their own Infantry Units!

The Lauranian Artillery Battery replied and targeted the hex occupied by the Maldacian commander! Their D6 die score of 2 meant that they missed the target hex, but the second D6 die that they threw was also a 2, so that the Battery’s shells hit the hex occupied by one of the right-hand Maldacian Infantry Units. When the third D6 die was thrown, its score of 2 determined that the Maldacian Infantry unit was destroyed!

D6 dice were thrown yet again by both sides to determine who would move first this turn. The Maldacians threw a 5 and the Lauranians threw a 6, with the result that the Lauranians moved first.

The Lauranian commander now decided to commit his Infantry Battalion to the battle, and it advanced downhill and into the village.

The Maldacians responded by falling back. Their commander realised that in order to fulfil his orders he would have to take further casualties, and as his force had already lost over 40% of its Infantry Units, it was becoming increasingly obvious that success would be bought at too high a price … especially as the two countries were not actually in a state of war! He would make this clear in the secret report he would write to the Minister of War … along with a long memo about the need for more training by the Artillery.

Conclusions
The rules as adapted for use with my Heroscape hexes work well, although I think that Infantry Units should be able to fight each other at slightly longer ranges. I have seen this in adaptations of the ‘Frontier’ wargames rules for both the Napoleonic and American Civil War periods, and this would be a logical next step for me to take in developing my version of the rules.

I do like the Artillery rules, and this play-test showed how well they can work. However, I think that the definition of what is and is not ‘Artillery’ would be necessary if I were to develop the ‘Frontier’ rules for later historical periods. For example, tank guns would not be classed as ‘Artillery’ whereas mortars might be.

It gives me something to think about for the next few weeks … if and when I get the time!


Incident on the border: The early moves

Turn 1
As neither side’s artillery was in range the turn began with both sides throwing a D6 die to determine who moved first. The Maldacians threw a 6 and the Lauranians threw a 3; therefore the Maldacians moved first.

The Maldacian force continued to move forward in their existing formation, with the Artillery Batteries sandwiched between the Infantry Battalion columns.

Other than to advance the Gatling Gun Battery closer to the river so that it was better placed to deny the advancing Maldacians an easy crossing, the Lauranian commander decided to keep his forces where they were. He felt that by remaining on the heights above the village and the bridge over the river, his troops were better placed to fight off any Maldacian attack.

Turn 2
Although both sides were now closer to each other, none of the artillery was in range. The Maldacians threw a 3 and the Lauranians threw a 4 to determine who moved first; on this occasion the Lauranians had the option to move first, but decided that they would remain where they were.

The Maldacians moved forward once again, and did not change formation.

Turn 3
The leading right-hand Unit of the Maldacian Infantry was now in range of the Lauranian Artillery Battery, and the Lauranians opened fire on it. They threw a D6 die to see if they hit the target hex; the score was a 2, so the shell missed the target hex. They threw another D6 die to see where the shell did land, and the score of 1 caused it to land in the hex behind the target hex, which was occupied by another Maldacian Infantry Unit. A further D6 die was then thrown, and the score was 4; the Maldacian Infantry Unit was destroyed!

D6 dice were thrown by both sides to determine who would move first this turn. The Maldacians threw a 6 and the Lauranians threw a 5; the Maldacians therefore moved first again.

Enraged by the loss of one of his Infantry units, the Maldacian commander galloped forward and ordered his two flank columns to change to a more dispersed formation. He also ordered the central to assault and take the bridge over the river and then to seize the village.


Incident on the border: The initial positions

To test whether or not it was possible to adapt Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Frontier’ wargame rules so that I could use my Heroscape hexes, I decided to set up a short play-test battle.

The Scenario
As was normal in that part of the World, relations between Laurania and her neighbour, Maldacia, had deteriorated again. The most recent squabble resulted from the arrest of a Maldacian who had bought a defunct mine just over the border in Laurania. He had decided to fly the Maldacian flag above the newly re-painted mine buildings, something that was not allowed under Lauranian law without a permit. The local police tried to persuade him to remove it, but he refused, and in the intervening scuffle one of the policemen was injured. The Maldacian was arrested for assaulting a police officer, and incarcerated in the local jail.

Although the Maldacian miner was released once tempers had cooled down, news had already reached Maldacia and several spontaneous demonstrations were held throughout the country. Some of these demonstrations degenerated into riots where the Lauranian flag was burnt and Lauranians visiting Maldacia were assaulted. When the Lauranians responded with a strong diplomatic note that protested about the attacks on Lauranian citizens and requested compensation for them, the Maldacian Minister of War sent an enciphered message to the commander of the troops stationed near the border with Laurania. This message told him in no uncertain terms to ‘cross the border and give those damn Lauranians a taste of something that they won’t forget in a hurry.’

He responded by rapidly mobilising an Infantry Brigade of three Infantry Battalions and two Artillery Batteries and moving them up to and then over the border. He intended to capture a small village near Castramonta, drive the local inhabitants out, and then burn it to the ground. The village, which was built near to a bridge over one of the fast-flowing mountain rivers, was well known in the region for the anti-Maldacian sentiments of its inhabitants, and the Maldacians hoped that its destruction would send a strong message to all Lauranians not to annoy their northern neighbour.

The Lauranian Secret Service actually managed to decipher the message from the Ministry of War to the commander of the troops stationed near the border with Laurania before it reached its intended recipient, and the Lauranian garrison at Turga – an Infantry Battalion, a Gatling Gun Battery, and an Artillery Battery – was hastily sent along the mountain road towards Castramonta to intercept the Maldacians. It reached the high ground just above the village as the Maldacians began the descent into the river valley. The stage was now set for a battle.

The Initial Positions

The situation at the start of the battle. The Maldacians – whose uniforms a very similar to those worn by the Austro-Hungarian Army – can be seen advancing from the right towards the river and the village in three columns, each made up of an Infantry Battalion. Between each column is an Artillery Battery. The Lauranians – who bear an uncanny resemblance to the Prussians – can be seen occupying the heights on the left of the picture, although the Gatling Gun Battery has been pushed forward to guard the Lauranian right flank. The village is occupied by a Company of Lauranian Border Guards.