Tuesday 28 February 2023

By the Centre….Quick March!

As promised last week here is a parade of the Franco-Prussian War 5th Prussian Cavalry Division.

The 5th Cavalry Division was a little different to the other five divisions in Prussian service in that it contained three brigades instead of two and two horse batteries were assigned to it instead of the usual one. The brigadiers should be familiar names from previous posts - von Bredow, von Barby and von Redern.

Commanding the division in 1870 was 57 year old Albert von Rheinbaben, the son of Prussian cavalry general Baron Heinrich von Rheinbaben. Inheriting the baronial title the son had been educated in the cadet corps and entered the army in 1830 as a second lieutenant in the 1st Cuirassier Regiment a posting he held for 16 years before being promoted to first lieutenant. In 1849, in Austrian service, he participated in the suppression of the Magyar revolt in Hungary. Returning to Prussian service he served in the general staff before taking a posting as military companion to Prince Albert (the younger) of Prussia. He returned to the line in 1857 but his royal patronage saw him rise quickly through the ranks to major general in 1866 in command of the 1st Light Cavalry Brigade in the Austrian War. Like all of the Prussian cavalry in that conflict, his performance was not particularly inspiring, but it was enough to get him command of 9th Infantry Division two years later and promoted to lieutenant general commanding 5th Cavalry Division in 1870. In the first few weeks of the campaign he exercised command over his and 6th Cavalry Division, the entire cavalry force in front of I and II Armies. However in those opening weeks he proved a less than effective cavalry commander, incorrectly assessing the situation at Spicheren,  then losing contact with the French  and having to be prompted constantly to establish contact again. At Mars-La-Tour he again failed in his reconnaissance duties, but went on to fight an effective delaying action that allowed the infantry to come up at prevent the French retreat to Verdun. He participated in the Sedan campaign, protected the western approaches of Paris during the siege and accompanied the Duke of Mecklenberg into Normandy. In 1872 he took a posting as inspector general of military education, leading to reforms in the Cadet School. He retired in 1880 as honorary colonel of the 13th Dragoons and died in that same year.

And so to the parade. Sorry the lighting isn’t the best - I blame our dreadful summer so I wasn’t able to set up outside where the natural light is much better.

 First up is the whole of von Redern’s hussar brigade.

And then the whole division, with von Bredow’s Brigade on the right, von Barby’s on the left and von Redern’s to the rear along with the two horse batteries.

In all there are nine regiments, each of 12 figures. All I have on hand to finish for this Prussian force now are two horse batteries which will be started next week.

Sunday 26 February 2023

Action in the American Civil War

Today we fought an American Civil War game, three players a side. This is our first game after several weeks following all the recent weather events.

What follows is a series of randomly taken images. I will try to  describe what is happening in each, but I have to admit that I didn’t leave my end of the table much during the game so that description may be a little vague.

At the opposite end of the table from me my Union colleagues begin to cross the river covered by a battery

Near the centre the Confederates secure the road junction that is one of their objectives.

More Union troops arrive

The starting positions on my flank

Union troops secure the bridge that leads to their supply depot 

Things start to develop on my front

Union troops occupy the fence lines on the far flank 

Union cavalry try to skirt the Confederate position

The Confederates assault my battery - they manage to drive the gunners off after a sharp fight.

In the centre the Confederate line is forming

A one on one combat in my flank 

Two Union regiments secure the river bank

Union dismounted troopers skirmish with Confederate cavalry 

Rebel reinforcements press forward 

Things are heating up for me

The rebels prepare a final push on my position…after some initial success I succeed in pushing them back. 

The game ended with a Union victory. Both sides had secured their objectives, but more the Confederates suffered severe losses on my front.

It was a good way to pass a a summer’s day (not that we have seen much in the way of summer this year).

Friday 24 February 2023

The Dancing Hussars of Krefeld

The 2nd Westphalian Hussar Regiment began life in 1806 when Murat raised the Cheveau-legers of the Duchy of Berg as a part of the Confederation of the Rhine. The regiment was later converted to a lancer regiment in the Imperial Guard, the Lanciers de Berg. They saw action in Russia and at Leipzig.

When Berg was annexed by Prussia in late 1813 they were absorbed into the Prussian Army, converted to hussars and renamed 2nd Westphalian Hussar Regiment, Number 11. They fought at Ligny in 1815 and were engaged in counter revolutionary action in 1848-49 in Baden and Bavaria. In 1866 they served in the 14th Cavalry Brigade, Elbe Army. Four years later in France it formed part of von Redern’s brigade. At Mars-La-Tour it went forward to cover von Bredow’s wrecked regiments returning from their “Death Ride” and their presence may well have contributed to the decision of the French cavalry not to press their pursuit further.

Their greatest claim to fame came in 1906 when Kaiser Wilhelm I responded to a petition from the citizens of Krefeld that there were not enough bachelors to dance at the balls and ordered that the Regiment relocate their garrison from Düsseldorf to Krefeld. The Kaiser’s order was at first considered a joke, but later that day it was confirmed by the district commander and the garrison was moved. That is how they became the “Dancing Hussars of Krefeld”.

The Regiment served in the 9th Cavalry Division in 1914 on the Western Front. Later it transferred to the Eastern Front where it was dismounted in 1916 and disbanded in March 1918.

This completes von Redern’s Hussar Brigade and also completes the 6th Cavalry Division.  I think a divisional parade is called for, when time permits.

Tuesday 21 February 2023

The Luck to Survive

Following an exchange of comments with Jonathan on his Palouse Wargaming Journal blog about my great uncles who served in Palestine in the Great War I have done some digging around in what records I have of their service. The primary source for this search is a book titled “The Luck to Survive” privately published in 2004 by Brian Edwards, who married my great-uncle’s step daughter, and drew heavily on the war time diaries and letters of my great uncles. Much of what appears here is paraphrased from that work.

My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Caroline Blundell, the second of five children, three boys and two girls, of Charles and Ann Blundell of Halstead, Kent. Various other members of the family have traced the Blundell line a considerable way back - the first positive date being 1259, but with three possible generations before that leading back to William Blundell, Lord of Ynes, co Lancaster. Whether all that is correct I don’t know (although it is certificated), but what I do know is that Charles Blundell was a fruit grower, specialising in strawberries and raspberries, in Kent with holdings of several hundred acres on a farm known as Mapledene in Halstead. The family was well known in the area and a hunting event was held annually that was well attended.

A photograph taken at the 1900 hunt with the two Blundell brothers, Edmund (Eddie) third from the right and Douglas to his right. The large bearded man is Dr W.G. Grace, the famous cricket player.

When war came in 1914 Eddie joined “A” battery, of the Honourable Artillery Company in September. Aged 39 Eddie was small man of five feet, three inches, but was a skilled horseman (I still have a silver cup won by him at a ‘pony race’ in 1912) and he became a driver in the battery. After seven months of training and coast watching the battery sailed from Bristol to destinations unknown. After two days of rough weather they entered the Mediterranean then re-coaled in Malta before landing at Alexandria. The battery marched east and went into camp at Kantara on the east bank of Suez Canal where the Royal Horse Artillery maintained a rest camp. While other units were sent to Gallipoli, Eddie’s battery sweltered in the heat and endured the monotony of camp life. During his stay here he participated in horse races and spent his leave days in Alexandria and Port Said.

Driver Eddie Blundell flanked by the battery farriers

In December the battery was entrained for Cairo and went into camp beside the Pyramids where there was a standing bet for anyone game to try to climb to the top of the Great Pyramid in ten minutes, but they did not remain there for long before they were sent back to Alexandria to face a threat in the Western Desert where the local Senuissi people had taken up arms. The battery went into action for the first time on 23 January 1916 in support of the Australian Light Horse. Eddie wrote that the action felt like like five minutes, but it was five hours during which they fired some 400 rounds and lost one man and three horses wounded.

While Eddie was in his first action in Egypt, his younger brother Douglas was joining up. In September 1915 the 29 year old Douglas joined the Artist’s Rifles (28th London Regiment). The Artist’s was effectively an officers training unit and included in its ranks the war poet Wilfred Owen, although there is no evidence that he and Douglas were ever friends. Basic training was undertaken at Hare Hall Camp in Essex. In April 1916 Douglas commenced his officer’s training and was commissioned on 14 June. He arrived in France after the Battle of the Somme and was was assigned to Company B, 2/20th London Regiment on 11 September.

Private Douglas Blundell, Hare Hall Camp

He joined his battalion on the 13th opposite Vimy Ridge a few miles north of Arras. Immediately on arrival he was assigned to repair a break in the wire caused by German shelling, a mission he and two volunteers undertook after nightfall. Douglas was described as a “…gentle man and never came to terms with his own authority,” and when the team set out one of the soldiers told the sergeant “we’ll look after him.” On return they paid him a high complement, “we got an ‘officer’ this time.” 

2nd Lieutenant Douglas Blundell, 1916

After several rotations to the trenches, the battalion was withdrawn from the line for a move that was rumoured to be towards the Somme. However, it was not east they went, but south…to Marseilles. Then on 19 November, after some additional training, they boarded the Cunard liner Ivernia bound for Salonica, Greece. Here the six British divisions of the Salonica Expeditionary Force joined French, Greeks and Serbians on the Macedonian Front to defend against the Bulgarians in the mountains to the north. For five months activity on Douglas’ front was light and the routine appears to have revolved around wire repair and night time scouting, but in April a more significant action took place.

This was a diversion for the main British attack to the west and the battalion was ordered to destroy the trenches in front of them. The action was preceded by a bombardment intended to cut the wire, but when the infantry advanced they found the wire had been repaired and they had to cut through it, which they did with the aid of a Bangalore torpedo, in the face of machine gun fire. The battalion took the enemy trenches, which had been abandoned, and although under constant fire they fulfilled their task of destroying the enemy position. After half an hour they were given the order to fall back on their own trenches. Douglas recounted “it was a terrible business getting back over a mile of “No man’s Land” - it being shelled all the time and their searchlights playing on us as we withdrew.” The loss of the operation was 18 killed, 70 wounded and 3 taken prisoner.

Shortly after this Douglas was made transport officer and spent less time in the trenches, rotating between headquarters and the line, something he didn’t like “…I would rather it be one thing or the other…” Then on 19 May the battalion was pulled out of the line, relieved by the Black Watch, and marched back to Salonica. On 15 June they boarded the ship Kashmir and sailed on the 16th to an unknown destination.

That unknown destination was Alexandria. Douglas continued with his duties as transport officer busily sorting out camels at Ismailia while his fellow transport officer went off on leave to the fleshpots of Cairo. Douglas got leave a few days later and took the train into Cairo where he visited the Pyramids and the Mohammed Ali Mosque before shopping in the bazaar - to this day I have a number of items that he purchased in that bazaar. 

On 7 July the battalion commenced its movement east, out of Egypt. They marched first to Kantara and then onto the railhead at El Belah, near the coast. There they camped in the open desert. Water was limited to one gallon per man per day and the mules had to be taken two miles every day, further after the pump broke down. Despite the relative proximity to Eddie’s unit, the brothers never met in Egypt and at the end of the month Douglas heard of Eddie’s impending discharge due to a medical condition and that he would be home for Christmas. Meanwhile Douglas remained in his desert camp, but was far from impressed of the camp location “I’m hanged if I can see where the land of milk and honey comes in…”, he wrote.

Douglas Blundell in Egypt 1917

In September things began to heat up. Douglas’ division (60th London) was facing the Turkish line between Gaza and Beersheba with a no man’s land of perhaps ten miles. When the attack on Beersheba commenced Douglas was kept busy ferrying ammunition and other supplies on his camel train. As soon as Gaza fell to the British, the line of advance moved near to the coast where the water supply was more certain. The advance north continued.

“What do you think of the address?” he asked his sister in a letter home post marked Jerusalem. When the city surrendered Douglas went shopping and bought a bible and book of common prayer encased in a cover made of olive wood. He visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other sites in the Holy City. Christmas Day was spent in Jerusalem in the pouring rain. The next day the battalion was on the move again, towards Jericho and the River Jordan. 

In February 1918 he became a 1st lieutenant and the battalion took Jericho. A period of leave followed and he was lucky enough to get transport to Egypt where he sailed down the Nile from Aswan to Kom Ombo, Edfu and then Luxor where he toured the Valley of the Kings and Karnak, returning to Cairo by train. He was back on the front in early April where the battalion was supporting the operations of the Australian Light Horse in action across the Jordan, but when the Turks counter-attacked the battalion had to rapidly retreat and Douglas struggled to  get his transport limbers back. No sooner had they made it back to their camps than they were ordered back to Jerusalem and on 22 May they were told that the 60th Division was to be broken up and the 2/20th was to return to France. Douglas was to go ahead with the transport sections. In early June he left Palestine.

By the middle of August the battalion was back in France and in position between Bapaume and Arras. On the 29th they were involved in a heavy action near Vraucourt in which they captured 5 German officers and 255 men, 18 machine guns, 7 trench mortars, 2 anti-tank rifles, two big ammunition dumps and 600 tons of coal, but it had come at a cost to the battalion of 33 killed and 139 wounded. Two days later the battalion was rotated out of the line and Douglas, after two years abroad, was granted a fortnight’s leave and he travelled home to Kent to visit family. 

He was back with his battalion in early October just after after the Hindenburg Line was breached and the British were driving on Cambrai.  Douglas’s battalion pressed forward and on 2 November, while on reconnaissance, there was a sharp exchange of artillery fire in which his captain was hit. Douglas searched for stretcher bearers, making sure that his officer was evacuated despite being wounded himself. He then returned to the battalion and remained with it until the reconnaissance was ended before being filtered back through the casualty network to the 24th General Hospital at Etaples, where he remained until after the Armistice. 

Douglas’ war was over. His wounds healed and he returned to civilian life although he continued in the Territorials until 1923. When his father died in 1929 he inherited the family business and became a leader in the community, serving as a local councillor and as a magistrate. He married Eileen and lived until 1974, passing away a few days before his 89th birthday. 

Eddie married Flora and continued to work in the business. He died in 1958, the year I was born. There was a photograph of Eddie in full dress of a Royal Horse Artillery driver in my mothers possessions, but it has been lost.

I never met Great Uncle Eddie, but did meet Douglas - although I was only two years old and with no actually recollection of the occasion the only evidence I have of that meeting is a family photograph taken on a visit to England in 1960.

As I was writing this I was struck by a common theme between my mother’s and father’s families - fruit. While the Blundells were fruit farmers and were responsible for developing new varieties of raspberrys, my paternal grandfather was an orchardist and in the late 1890’s and early 20th Century layed out many of the orchards in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. So while one side specialised in berry fruit the other specialised in apples and stone fruit, but on different continents,

Saturday 18 February 2023

Magdeburg Hussar Regiment, Number 10.

This regiment started life as the volunteer Elbe National Hussar Regiment (although in popular terms they were known as the Green Hussars from Aschersleben after their green coats and the town where they assembled). Forming in November 1813 they did not participate in the Campaign in Germany, but in the 1814 campaign they served at the Siege of Magdeburg.

In May of 1815 the regiment was transferred to the Prussian standing army with the title of Magdeburg Hussar Regiment, Number 10. They participated in the 100 days campaign, but were not engaged at either Ligny or Waterloo.

In 1816 they were presented with their colours, but lost the title Magdeburg.

In the revolts of 1848 they were sent first to Magdeburg then to Hesse and the disturbances in both were resolved without bloodshed. The title Magdeburg was returned to the regiment in 1860. In 1866 the regiment earned distinction at Munchengratz, Gitchin, Koniggratz and Pressburg.

In 1870 their only notable action was at Mars-La-Tour where they participated, along with the Brunswick Hussars,  in the great cavalry battle north of that place.

Elements of the regiment went to China in 1900 as a part of the Boxer expedition and a detachment was sent to East Africa in 1903 to help quell disturbances there.

Initially deployed to the Western Front in 1914, they were dismounted  in 1916 and some squadrons were posted to the Eastern Front. While most of the squadrons were disbanded in early-1919, two were retained as volunteers to defend against Polish insurgents, but then disbanded in 1920.

The colour of the busby bag and the wolf tooth edge of the shabraque for the regiment was Madder Red (sometimes called Pompadour Red). What did that mean? This set me off on a search to see what colour Madder Red actually was and it made for an interesting find for me. The colour has origins back to 1500 BC and was evident in Egyptian and Asian civilisations. Derived from the common madder plant it is an organic or lake pigment known a Madder Lake that has a pinkish-magenta hue. For those familiar with colour specs they are: RGB 227,38, 54 or CMYK 12,92,70,2).

Tuesday 14 February 2023

The Pavlovsky Grenadiers

Arguably the unit best known to wargamers in the Russian Napoleonic army is the Pavlovsky Grenadiers and it is largely because of their headgear - they wore the eighteenth century mitre caps with a brass front plate instead of the kiwer. I had always thought that they had a long and distinguished period of service and wore that cap out of some sort of honour that probably stretched back to Peter the Great. But no, their origin was much shorter, being formed from two battalions of the Moscow grenadiers in 1796. They participated in almost every major event that the Russian Army was involved in during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, including the expedition to Holland in 1799, the Hanover Expedition, the battles in Poland in the 1806-7 campaign, making a name for themselves at Eylau, where were simultaneously attacked front an rear by French cavalry and at Friedland where they were raked by French gunfire but held their ground.

They were in the thick of things in 1812 and made their name at the Battle of Klyastitsy where Wittgenstein was surprised by Oudinot on 30 July. The following day the Russians turned to the attack and drove the French back. Unable to halt the advance Oudinot ordered his troops back across the Nishcha River and to burn the only bridge, but the 2nd Battalion of the Pavlovskys stormed across the burning bridge and routed the French, as depicted in this painting by Peter Hess.

The regiment was heavily engaged at Borodino, repulsing the initial assault by the French V Corps around the village of Utitska. In November 1812, for is service in the Patriotic War, the regiment was given the title Pavlovsky Life-Guard Regiment and served as a part of the Imperial Guard at Leipzig, in the Turkish War of 1828-29, the Polish Revolts of 1831 and 1862-3, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 and the Great War. The mitre caps were retained as a part of their ceremonial uniform, complete with the bullet holes from the regiment’s Napoleonic exploits, until the very end.

Pavlovsky Grenadiers are the butt of many jokes in our group. This is mainly because part of the group’s collection is made up of old Minifigs and Hinchliffe figures originally owned by one of group founders, my dear departed friend Jim Shaw. He collected his vast armies back in the 1970s and it would be fair to say that in those days information on the organisation of the Russian Napoleonic army was hard to come by. If you were lucky a magazine like Military Modelling, Airfix or Tradition would have a snippet of detail once every two or three years. So Jim was working blind with organisation of the Pavlovsky regiment and he recruited five battalions of them - there were only ever three and of those only two ever took the field, the third remaining in garrison in St Petersburg. Whenever these figures make to the table there are the inevitable jokes about the Pavlovsky Division.

When I decided to do a brigade of grenadiers for my army, I just had to add the Pavlovsky Regiment. I had owned two battalions of them  before in my Hinchliffe army collected in the 1970s and sold in the 1990s. Until fairly recently every manufacturer made the figures with the tall grenadier mitre, but when the Soviet archives were opened new research showed that this was not the standard headgear for the regiment. Traditionally the Russian grenadier regiments consisted of three battalions, one grenadier and two fusilier battalions. In 1810 the grenadiers were restructured  and the battalions were formed of one grenadier and three fusilier companies. The fusiliers wore a shorter version of the mitre. All grenadiers were supposed to turn in their mitre caps in 1805 for the 1803 shako with that ridiculously large bottle brush plume, but true to Russian procurement capacity of the time the Pavlovskys still wore their mitres in 1807 and for their heroic efforts at Friedland the Tsar permitted them to retain their mitres.

Both battalions, the First the left and the Third on the right.

According to the Perrys each of the fusilier companies carried a standard as I have done here. One of the companies in the First battalion carries the colonel’s colour the rest are the regimental colours. 

And cyclone Gabrielle? Well it is still raging around the country, although I suspect the worst has past for Auckland. The rain has abated, but the wind is still strong. We weren’t badly hit. Our only noticeable damage was to four pots of runner beans that got blown over in a very heavy gust. 

Hopefully they can be recovered (apart from the broken pot) because they have been particularly productive plants. Other places around the country aren’t so lucky though and there is a lot of cleaning up.

Saturday 11 February 2023

Here We Go Again!

Following on from the “atmospheric river” that dumped 240mm (10 inches) of rain on us two weeks ago, tropical cyclone Gabrielle is barrelling in from the Coral Sea and in line for a probable strike on Monday. With predictions of winds of up to 150 kph (93 mph) and 300mm (12 inches) of rain we are in for a fun time in the city that summer forgot.

Tropical cyclones are common at this time of year in this part of the world and barely a year goes by that we don’t feel the residual effect of one that has passed through the South Pacific. But not that often do the hit us directly. The last major one was back in 1988.

We didn’t suffer from the “atmospheric river” event because we are good distance from any water courses and are relatively elevated, but properties one kilometre away from us, near the local creek, were under waist height water and are likely to suffer again if the predictions are correct. Any potential risk for us is from wind damage - the fence on the eastern boundary has a partly rotted post on the neighbour’s side that I have braced as best I can, but it still may give way in a heavy gust.

But what annoys me the most is that I have a head cold and have had to bail out of tomorrow’s game!

Oh well at least the lead pile is moderately full.