Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Raise the blockade!

A hypothetical game during the American Civil War set at the mouth of some major river, or perhaps a coastal port.  Four players initially gathered, chose their side and drew an armored and wooden vessel from stacks of prepared ship sheets.  Rules are Steam and Black Powder by Neil Stokes, miniatures are 1/600 Thoroughbred and Peter Pig models.  The Yankees managed to draw two of the weaker ships in each category.  The armored vessel USS Keokuk joined with the river ironclad USS Benton.  The unarmed Ellet ram USS Switzerland paired with a 90-day gunboat the USS Itasca.  On the Rebel side we had the CSS Queen of the West and CSS Sumpter running interference for the CSS Neuse, a small and slow ironclad and my draw, the CSS Tennessee.  The latter is a great ironclad ram with excellent guns.  The purpose of the game was to sink or drive away the Yankees to formally lift the blockade.  Another player was due any moment and my plan was to have him take the USS Canonicus, a 15" gunned monitor and the USS Varuna, which at least had a lot of guns.  It would redress the advantage the Rebs enjoyed.  He'd get there any time now.  Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

A ranging shot from the Tennessee.

Who were the Rebs shooting at?

Both sides moved to close, though the Rebs more slowly since the Neuse could only manage half the speed of the Tennessee.  The Yankees drew first blood with a shot to the Tennessee that weakened a frontal armor plate.  But the Rebs were quick to draw even with a solid hit to the Keokuk.  The Switzerland, which drew a lot of fire continued to enjoy her immunity.

The Keokuk takes a hit as she checks the generous firing arc.

The Benton comes about to unleash a full broadside.

As the ships drew closer each began to maneuver.  Gunnery is effective in the game, but rams and torpedoes are the game winners.  So each sought a ramming solution while trying to protect themselves.  Suddenly, in one turn six of eight ships were involved in rams or collisions.

The Tennessee cuts loose as she is missed and hit.

A "three-way" that produced little results.

Bow on bow rams or at poor angles aren't as effective and each was either a glancing blow for no effect or just minor leaks.  The gunfire however became deadly at this range and bits and pieces of wood and iron went flying in all directions.

After glancing hits the ships slid past each other.

The Itasca is pummeled from both sides and catches fire.

At this range it was hard to miss and additional collisions were inevitable.  At this point the advantage in rams held by the Confederates became painfully clear to the Union ships.  Only the Switzerland was properly equipped for ramming so even when the other ships got into good positions they had little chance to do significant damage to the Rebs.

The big picture.  Where are those other Yankees?

The Keokuk suffers mightily.

At the worst moment the Keokuk found herself sandwiched between two Rebs as her crew frantically attempted to reload the 11" Dahlgren cannons.  It was a bad round for the Yankees as the Itasca burned fiercely, the Benton got a limited flood from a love tap from the Queen of the West and the absence of guns on the Switzerland continued to frustrate.

Not looking good for the blockaders.

Fire fighters only fan the flames higher!

The Itasca succumbed to her fires and flooding to sink.  Her ghost crew still at their posts.  Next turn the massive fires on the Keokuk caused total structural failure and she broke up.  Only the Benton and Switzerland remained.

Itasca breaks up as Benton sails by, Keokuk burns in the distance.

And now there were but two Yankees afloat.  The Queen of the West has fallen victim to flooding next to the Switzerland.

At this point the Tennessee had some significant damage on her starboard side, the Neuse's stack was holed, the Queen of the West had sunk and the Sumpter had taken damage.  The Reb's expected the Benton to break off since she had better speed than the Rebs, but she gamely renewed the fight, buoyed by the sight of smoke on the horizon finally.  Alas, it was only the Varuna as a replacement ship.  The reinforcements never showed (real world conflicts).

Two Yankee ramming attempts produce little result.

Here comes the USS Varuna at top speed.

Finally the battle came to a crashing end as the Tennessee crashed into the side of the Benton, causing a catastrophic flood.  The Switzerland put on the coal and ran while the Varuna took discretion as being the better part of valor.

The killing blow.

The Yankees performed well given they were essentially out-classed ship to ship.  It was the unfortunate draw of ships and the lack of the expected third Yankee player.  A fun time was had by all all await a rematch.  My thanks to all.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Battle of Middendorf

The French were growing impatient.  "When will they attack us?" was on the minds of many the officer and ranker standing for hours in place.  In time they came to regret their desire for action.  Somewhere in Hanover, 1750-something, twenty-three "French" battalions (French, Germans, Swiss and Irish), eight cavalry regiments and five batteries were set with the cavalry forming the left wing and the six brigades deployed in a double line of brigades.  Some difficult ground, though still passable, was on their right where they also hoped for reinforcements.  Opposing them came sixteen Hanoverian battalions, plus four Hessian, four Brunswick and the mighty Lippe-Schaumberg battalion, relieved for once of their horse watching duties.  Six batteries and five good cavalry regiments completed the force.

Allied deployment from the right.
French deployment from the left.

With the ranks of grim killers arrayed, the combat began as the Germanic types stepped off.  On the French left the outnumbered Hanoverian cavalry boldly advanced, as did their guns.  Outstripping their slower infantry supports.  A potentially dangerous gap opened between their forces.

St. Germain eyes an opportunity developing.

On the French right, the Brunswickers and Hessians attempt a broad flanking maneuver while watching the side road entry point.  They had been warned that there may be a surprise in the game.  And there was, but I digress.

On the left, the French cavalry had withdrawn in the face of the Hanoverian advance.  Emboldened and confident, the latter continued the advance.  Suddenly the trumpets sounded and in supporting ranks the French cavalry charged their surprised opponents.  Of the three charges only one target managed a counter-charge, with unsurprising results.  The French dragoons, unaccustomed to success, carried on towards the limbered Hanoverian guns.  Disordered, they impacted the guns.... and lost.  In game terms, that's why we use dice.

After the successful charge, with the shaken dragoons center.

Now, with the left temporarily held up, the focus of action shifted to the center and right where the infantry aggressively came on.

The Swiss await on the left-center.

French line form the defense on the right-center.

On the far right the senior regiments face the Brunswickers.
 On the French left a sort ennui seemed to infect the Hanoverians.  Left-center the Swiss waited passively while the enemy sorted themselves out and engaged in counter battery fire.  With the difficulty of hitting unlimbered artillery plus firing uphill it was ineffective.  On the right however, a real dog-fight ensued.

Volley firefights, wheeling fire and charges were the norm.

The French advanced on the right to meet the enemy.

Routers were streaming towards the rear on both sides though the majority seemed to be wearing dark blue coats.  The Prussian hussars attempted to charge and although enjoying initial success they ultimately were eliminated as a fighting force. 

The French grenadiers and la Marck counter-attack.

Reformed, the French cavalry seems to have the enemy cowed.

Bercherny Hussars got in among the Allied guns!
Judging the time right, the French commander Robert Rondeau threw his last available reserve into the center with good results.  The Allied army was split in two with no reserves available to plug the gap or counter-attack.  Although their brigades were deployed in two lines, they were no army reserves.  The price of a double-envelopment plan.

The Swiss roughly handle the Hanoverians as the artillery replenishes.

The Brunswickers are successful.  But...

It doesn't really matter.
Having seen off their opponents, the Swiss begin to flank the Hanoverians and highlanders on their left as the Irish eagerly move forward.  Realization that the battle was lost began to sink in and without orders, the Brunswickers began to withdraw to preserve their remnant force.

The final act on the left.

Till the next battle.  Wiedersehen!

From his carriage, the French commander looks on.

All told a brisk action, quickly played.  Rules were Final Argument of Kings by Dean West.
Figures are 15mm from my collection and Todd Prochniak's.  And for the surprise?  There was an Austrian brigade of infantry and cavalry that could have arrived on the right hand road.  However we didn't start dicing for them till turn seven and then it required "boxcars" on 2d6 to get them.  It got one pip better each turn but by turn ten when we finished they still weren't in sight.