Friday, 20 September 2019

Vive la Commune!

The Funny Little Wars Group recently gathered together in a dank, foreboding, cobbled courtyard, in a long forgotten corner of old London town. The cries of cutpurses, ne'er do wells and an angry mob echoed in the surrounding alleyways and rookeries........ you couldn't ask for a better setting in which to recreate Paris of the Communards in1871.

 The western suburbs, from the gateways in the crumbling ancient walls, wide boulevards run through to the heart of the City.  The boulevards are denoted by chalked lines, the areas between the boulevards are a congested warren of houses and narrow alleyways (you have to use a bit of imagination here!)

The National Government has fallen after embarking on a disastrous war against Germany which saw the City subject to a six month siege and the humiliating capture of Emperor Napoleon III at Sedan.  A new Government of National Defence has been established at Versailles, troops are sent to recover all the artillery from Paris but they are opposed by a popular uprising of the workers at Montmartre, backed by the Paris National Guard

The view from the South Gateway, the red flags of the Revolutionaries fly from all the major buildings seized by the National Guard, the artillery park at Montmartre is in the left background.  Prominent supporters of the Versailles government, the clergy and Archbishop Darboy have been rounded up and imprisoned.  Elections are held and a Commune Council is installed to run the City.

Meanwhile Versailles builds an army, calling in troops from regional garrisons, gendarmes, firemen, naval and foreign legion units.  Marshal MacMahon is ordered to retake Paris, he occupies the surrounding forts and opens a bombardment of the City.

MacMahon marches on Paris but his way is blocked by Fort Issy which is still held by the Communards.  The garrison Commander, Leon Megy, has taken the precaution of barricading himself in the forts deep wine cellar, several hours later a runner is sent back to Paris to inform the Council that he is in no fit state to command.  A company of National Guard are sent to assess the situation, and stiffen resolve in the fort, they have secret orders to spike the guns and escape if resistance looks untenable.

MacMahon's columns suffer heavy casualties from Fort Issy as they advance but eventually they surround the Fort and overwhelm it.  The garrison manage to spike the guns before they surrender, they are then executed by the victorious Versailles troops.   This sets an ugly precedent which will have unfortunate consequences for the hostages under arrest in Paris.

The indiscriminate bombardment of  Paris has continued daily and turned much of the suburbs to rubble but caused relatively few casualties.  Rather than cower the Communards it has strengthened their resolve to fight to the end.

Meanwhile the Revolutionaries have not been idle, barricades are thrown up, buildings booby-trapped with explosives and incendiaries.  The newly formed Committee of Public Safety have ordered more arrests of anyone suspected of supporting Versailles.  A sweep of the suburbs uncovers a counter-revolutionary plot to rescue the hostages and the traitors (seen here in prison with Archbishop Darboy) face the firing squad.

The biggest problem for the Communards is that they don't have enough men to hold all the strongpoints in the City, also they have an abundance of artillery and shells but few artillery crews trained to use them.

As MacMahon's troops forced their way into the City, my character, Gustave Cluseret, was arrested by the Committee of Public Safety and accused of leaving the gates open, I was to be tried for Incompetence.....or Treason.......or Both! (don't you just love committees?).  News that I would face the firing squad when found guilty drew rapturous applause from my fellow players! (steady on lads, it's only a game).

Happily a favourable roll of the dice saved me from the firing squad!  A desperate struggle begins in the streets and alleyways as the Communards struggled to withstand the steady disciplined advance of the regular troops, canister shot rips gaping holes in their ranks but there are just too many to stop and the revolutionaries are continually forced to fall back from one strongpoint to the next.

As the fainter hearts among the workers begin to drift away the fervent hard core revolutionaries dig in and prepare to sell their lives dearly as the fighting grinds down into a struggle from house to house.  There are also a few surprises held in reserve, as the regulars seek cover in unoccupied houses they set off the infernal traps, the air is rent with explosions and fire sweeps through the district, although the actual casualties are light.  The regulars must now face the fury of the Petroleuses, emotionally patriotic women (seen here in front of the buildings left and right) who launch themselves suicidally at the invaders, bombs in hand, this time the casualties are much heavier.

As the ranks manning the barricades get thinner and thinner, only the fanatics remain and the inevitable end is in sight.  A massive quantity of partypoppers were expended simulating the effect of canister shot, booby traps and the bombs of the Petroleuses.  Great fun!

While all this has been going on, the Versailles Government has been negotiating with the German Army, who still occupy the eastern approaches to Paris, to be allowed to pass a another column of troops through their lines and attack the undefended eastern suburbs of the City.  this new column races through the streets brushing aside the light defences, as news of the impending collapse reaches the Central Committee there is just enough time for me to give the orders for Archbishop Darboy and the hostages to be executed while all the prominent buildings are put to the torch.  The new attack quickly reached the central redoubt but we didn't hang around to take any pictures of their triumph.  My comrade Louis Delescluze (played by Graham A.) donned his red sash of office and honourably climbed onto the barricade, pour encourager les autres, where he was promptly shot dead.  I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and made my escape during all the confusion dressed as a nun.

And thus ended the Paris Commune of 1871.

Okay it didn't all happen quite like that but my rendition of events is closer to the truth than some of the more spurious Versailles sponsored propaganda you are likely to see appearing in other parts of the blogosphere.  A nasty, vicious little campaign, as the quelling of civil insurrections so often are, but also an interesting and unusual one which throws up a lot of fascinating personalities and is so often overlooked by the enthusiasts of military history.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Rorkes Drift, another BattleCry game

Anthony has taken delivery of the Rorke's Drift compound, commissioned from Mike Lewis of Imperial Miniatures, who designed it for use with the BattleCry or Portable Wargames rule systems.  As with our previous Risorgimento game there is a scenario sheet for playing Rorke's Drift using BattleCry on the Command and Colours website, so we decided to give it a spin, here's how it went:

An overview of the compound model, designed in modular form for ease of storage and transport, it can be reconfigured for other scenarios.

All of the figures are from Anthony's Zulu War collection and are made by Little Legion Toy Soldiers they really are a joy to game with.

The mechanics of the game require the British defenders to withstand three waves of Zulu attacks.  A wave is repulsed when four Zulu units have been destroyed, the Zulus then return to their starting positions to begin the next attack wave.  All Zulu units are reinstated at the start of each new wave to represent their overwhelming numbers.  

At the end of each attack wave the defenders are allowed to rearrange their formations within the compound but their casualties are not replaced, so the garrison is being steadily depleted.  Victory objective for the Zulus is to destroy all the British units.

The first Zulu assault inflicted casualties but couldn't breach the mealie bag walls before being beaten off

The second wave approached more cautiously and succeeded in breaking into the compound but concentrated fire from the redcoats drove them back and they were repulsed again. 

The defenders were now severely depleted as the third wave breached the wall in several places, then just when it looked like they would be overwhelmed they managed to regroup and hold the line.  (Just like in the movie!)

So a close run win to the Brit's.  The format of  the successive attack waves worked very well and would convert easily to non grid based games, particularly any siege games.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Battle Cry and the Risorgimento

The date for our next game had been in the diary for a couple of months and we talked about trying something different, but as the day drew nearer one of my cats broke a leg, which rather changed the dynamic in our calm and peaceful household.  Rather than postpone we opted for something easy to set up and play, but still wanted something a bit different.  A quick search through the scenarios on the Command and Colours website gave us Garibaldi's invasion of  Sicily in 1860 and the Battle of Calatafimi.

Garibaldi has landed and declared himself dictator of Sicily, as he marches on the capital, Palermo, the Neapolitan General Staff send General Landi to block him and put down the popular insurrection.  As usual we were playing a wargame with 54mm toy soldiers, here's how it went:

The opening positions find Garibaldi and Bixio with their 1,000 Red Shirts (the "Mille") occupying the village of Vita on the left, Major Sforza has rushed the Neapolitan infantry forward to occupy the hills of Pianto dei Romani in the centre.  On the hills beyond we can just make out the Picciotti, local militia, who have turned out to support the uprising.  On the right we find General Landi in Calatafimi bringing up the rest of the Neapolitan troops.

The Neapolitan troops have been pushed forward to occupy the hills, the artillery is served by seasoned professionals, the infantry are well trained and armed but are raw recruits, if they lose a morale check they will fall back two hexes.

General Landi in Calatafimi rouses the Chasseurs and reserve infantry, but they won't move out until after the fourth turn.

Garibaldi's Mille advance on the hills from the village of Vita.  Garibaldi himself can be seen leading the unit on the right, his second in command, Bixio is with the units on the left.

The Picciotti, poorly trained and armed, sit in the hills waiting to see what will happen, the scenario prevents them from taking any part in the action until after the fourth turn, their combat effectiveness is also reduces by 25%

The Neapolitan infantry wait apprehensively, overlooking the well cultivated valley, they can hear the Red Shirts approaching but their line of sight is blocked by the woods on the hills opposite.

Both sides move into contact in the centre

The action in the centre flows back and forth attack being met with counterattack and both sides giving good account of themselves.

A few well placed rounds from the Neapolitan artillery on the right flank has pinned down the Picciotti in their hills and things are looking desperate for the Red Shirts

The Neapolitan reserve finally get under way but it's too little, too late and the game will be over before they arrive.

Through shear force of personality Garibaldi leads his men in one final charge and breaks the Neapolitan line, as the enemy fall back in disorder the game is suddenly over.

The game played out in very much the same way as the actual battle 169 years ago, I guess that's the mark of a well designed scenario.  The figures are nearly all conversions from various American Civil War figures and the practised eye should be easily able to distinguish their origin, I counted seven different manufacturers making up the Red Shirts.  The game involved a lot of different terrain features, which took a while to set up and get acquainted with, but after that it moved very fast and we were done in about two hours. 

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Well that's all done for another year!

Yesterday was the thirtysomethingth Plastic Warrior Show in London, I forget which number we're up to, a sure sign of ageing), here are a few of the things I took a shine to:

A tongue in cheek diorama made by Dan Morgan shows the archaeological discovery of  ancient Replicants figures in the South Downs of England.  The archaeologists are all converted from Replicants wild west figures.

The Plastic Warrior Show has become the traditional showcase chosen by Replicants to launch their latest range, this year they have produced a set of Texas Rangers.  Not the sharpest photo, sorry about that.

It's not all plastic at PW (although it is mostly), here a nice selection of Elastolin and others composition, I thought the bears were awesome.

One of the nicest forts I've seen in a long while, this one hand built by the seller, if only I had the room for it..............

I love these early plastic aircraft, especially the twin engine bombers, I'm tempted to start collecting them but you have to draw the line somewhere........don't you?

Some serious hardware here, lovely old German tinplate from the 1930's, the AA truck and jeep in the centre are by Tippco, I didn't dare to turn over any of the price tags!

More from the same table, the panzer in foreground was made by GAMA, I don't recognise the large gun at the back but it looks to be like 1960's manufacture.

A typical table top at the show, an organised confusion of plastic figures, this table belonged to one of the German collectors.  Last year we had wondered what effect Brexit would would have on the attendance of dealers from Continental Europe, happily they all booked their tables way before Brexit was postponed, which bodes well for the future, it seems the lure of toy soldiers far outweighs a little inconvenience at customs.  The German guys were all staying overnight in Belgium so they could attend the Brussels Toy Soldier Show the next day......... and there was a spare seat for me if I wanted to go, was I tempted?  you bet I was.

A nice selection of rare and early English plastics, it continues to amaze me how much of this stuff there is out there.  We all acquire far more toys than we need or want and the PW show has always been primarily aimed at collectors who want to dispose of their surplus, this year the show was fully booked well in advance and there was a sizable waiting list in the event of any dropouts.  I find this very encouraging, it indicates an enthusiastic and resilient collectors community.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

It's surprising what turns up.

The recent mild weather in the South East (UK)  has ushered in the start of the Car Boot Sale season a little earlier than usual.  Our local one is held on a farm, so it's a good long walk in the early morning fresh air, and I like to go along as often as I can for the exercise.  Who am I kidding, I go along for the bacon rolls and to hunt toy soldiers!   It can be very hit or miss but  here's what I picked up this week and last:

A group of modern white metal figures made by Del Prado, the first one depicting Captain Souter of the 44th Regiment of Foot could have walked straight out of the Last Stand at Gandamak painting by William Barnes Wollen.  The remaining five are all types of the French Foreign Legion, this series was issued in France but not in the UK so they are harder to find here, I use them mostly for uniform research and at less than £2 each they had to come home with me.

I know nothing about old tin toys, except that I like them, and I do like to include them as set dressing in wargames.  The saloon car is about the rights size for 54mm toy soldiers while the Omnibus is a bit small but I think we'll get away with it, they both need a bit of cleaning up and straightening out but nothing too drastic.  I don't think there's any great age to them, they look like modern reproductions to me but for a couple of quid each they had to go in the bag.  Likewise the ceramic stable block which was made to take a tea light candle but will now illuminate my toy village.

Finally a hotch-potch of odds and ends that came in at about 50p each from various junk boxes.  The first three Britains/Herald Robin Hood figures are so damaged and scuffed that they will end up as conversion fodder.  The Evzone and horse from the Lone Star Lone Ranger figure will be passed on to someone else at the forthcoming Plastic Warrior Show next month.

The remaining two figures I'll keep, the chap in green is a Starlux character figure of Barberousse (Red beard) from the ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion Television Francaise) TV series Richard Coeur de Lion.  The set was issued in the mid 1960's and included two foot figures each of Richard, Redbeard and Blondel and one mounted figure of Richard, they're quite hard to find.  The diminutive figure of Napoleon was made in France by MDM.  The palm tree is a modern white metal item.

The Plastic Warrior Show is being held on Saturday 11th May and further details can be found on the Plastic Warrior blog, link in the column to the left.  Good Hunting!