Sunday 28 April 2024

Action on the War of Spanish Succession

Today for four and a bit hours, eight of us played a War of Spanish Succession game.

I need to be upfront and state that none of these figures are mine. All are from the collection of another in our group.

The armies were formed with the cavalry on the flanks, the artillery in the centre and infantry either side of the guns, between the cavalry. My involvement on the Anglo-Dutch left meant I didn't follow the action too closely. So what follows is a fairly random presentation of images (many of which have been supplied by another player) to which no have added some comments.

The table at the start of play.

The English battalions preparing for action.

The captured standards are presented.

The general's coach

Austrian infantry has  deployed

The French cavalry on the right wing.

And more on the left

The kettle drummer stirs the regiment.

The British cavalry creep past the old water mill

The English cavalry preparing to attack

The Maison du Roi ride to the attack

Austrian cuirassiers

The clash

The Dragons du Roi

En Avant!

The heavy guns fire

The Austrian cavalry prepare to receive the French attack

The Anglo-Dutch right wing

Looking up the tablet from the Anglo-Dutch right.

The French cavalry advance 

Looking up up the table from the Anglo-Dutch left

The Dutch infantry

The Franco-Spanish left

The guns continue to pound away

Thursday 25 April 2024

It's ANZAC Day here...

April 25 is Remembrance Day in New Zealand and Australia - ANZAC Day - the commemoration of the day in 1915 that troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the ANZACs) landed at Gallipoli.

My family are 1960s immigrants so none fought with the ANZACs. I have recounted my maternal relatives participation in the Great War in a previous post (link), but of my paternal family's involvement in the Great War I know nothing other than that my grandfather enlisted in Canada but on arrival in Britain was ruled medically unfit to serve (spending the war as a machinist so the Woolwich Arsenal) while his brother, my great-uncle George, who served with the Ross & Cromarty Battery, 4th (Highland) Mountain Brigade, 26th Division and was killed at Gallipoli - of all places. I do, however, know much more of my paternal family's involvement in the Second World War thanks to some notes left by my father that described his early life.

My father in 1940

My father was 23 when war broke out and was working with the Canadian Department of Agriculture. He was keen to join up, but his was a reserved occupation so for the first year of the war he was engaged setting up food processing facilities in western Canada at Calgary, Lethbridge and in the Fraser Valley. In time his interest in amateur radio caught the attention of the military and he was finally allowed to enlist, joining the Royal Canadian Airforce (RCAF), assigned to the RDF (radar) group. In 1941, as a part of a group of 250 specialists, he was sent to the UK to the RDF school in Yatesbury. The trip was an exciting one for him, leaving Halifax, travelling south to the Bahamas (for some strange reason), then north up to Greenland, across to Elgin and finally to Yatesbury. After his training there he was posted to Liverpool where he suffered the sobering effects of a heavy air raid and spent several days pulling the living and dead from the debris. 

Leaving Liverpool he was posted to Glenarm on the coast of Northern Ireland where radar stations were installed to track German bombers sweeping in over the Irish Sea to attack Liverpool. After his initial three month posting he was left there as the only radar engineer on site for the next eight months. He worked there with four navy WRENs and by all accounts had an enjoyable posting. In his off duty time he played tennis at Lord Antrim's estate and seems to have become friends with both Lord and Lady Antrim. 

During his time in Northern Ireland he was transferred to RAF 79 Wing at Porterdown where he was assigned to aerial maintenance, having been trained by the Marconi Company for the job. He also installed two new stations near Castlerock. Made sergeant in late 1942 he took command of the station for four months until an officer was appointed. The station consisted of an interesting ratio of  8 male and 82 female staff, which he ran with the assistance of a WRAF sergeant and a medical corporal. The posting went smoothly for him and undoubtedly allowed him to develop the administration skills for which he was well known in his later career.

It was also at that time that he met my mother who was serving as a WAAF in the Filter Room at RAF Dundonald, in the basement of the Northern Ireland Parliament building in Belfast. They would marry after the war. 

In 1943 he was transferred back to Liverpool to a group that handled the maintenance of radar stations from Pembroke to Scotland. However, with the diminished threat from German bombing raids, many of the stations on the west coast were deemed non-essential and the wing closed in late 1943. He was sent to North Africa for four months where he was involved with experiments in detecting shells using microwave radar. Transferred to Malton, Yorkshire, to RAF 84 Wing, he was selected as part of a group that gave a radar course to members of Eisenhower's staff, none of whom were lower ranked than general, at Hays Castle Cross, Pembrokshire. During that time he also worked from a base at Winterton, on the Norfolk coast, installing equipment for the detection of V2 Rockets and providing support for the Nijmegen Raid. In 1945 he led a team stripping radar stations in the Isle of Man. At the conclusion of hostilities in Europe he returned to Canada, landing at Quebec, where he had four and a half days of unrestricted leave. He was on a train home to British Columbia when VJ day occurred. He was discharged in August 1945 and returned to his work with the Department of Agriculture.

In the late 1940s he attended Oregon State University as part of an education programme for returned servicemen and earned a degree in Food Technology. In the next fifteen years he developing a sound reputation, one that caught the eye of a director of the New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, who head-hunted him to lead their Food Technology Section and our family relocated to New Zealand in 1963.

While my dad was a technical specialist and did not serve in the front line, others of his family did. Both of his sisters served overseas as nurses and both of his brothers and both of his future brothers-in-law fought with the Canadians in Italy and Holland. All of them came home safely, although one brother-in-law was a driver of a tank that was hit and was never quite the same. One uncle continued with the Canadian Army until the early-1970s, serving in Korea, Germany and with the peace keeping efforts on the Golan Heights. They are all gone now so today is a good day to remember them and their service...Lest we forget.

Sunday 21 April 2024

Travelling Again and Passing the Time Playing Around With AI

This time travel is to the ever vibrant Sydney. The Domestic Controller (DC) wanted to see Opera Australia's production of Westside Story, so we have hopped across the ditch for a long weekend. This is a special outdoor production on a stage the canter-levers out over Sydney Harbour. This is annual event, featuring a different show each year. We had planned to do it in 2020, but that annoying virus got in the way. The venue offers some stunning night views of the city behind the stage.

The relative monotony of the three hour flight was broken by some reading - I did start watching a really awful fantasy film called Napoleon, but couldn’t stomach it beyond the first fifteen minutes. I knew it was going to be bad and wasn't disappointed, but the really sad thing about this film is that there will be a significant number of people that will actually believe that the storyline is true.

The flight was uneventful and as usual the DC had organised the whole trip and booked a hotel near the venue - well I say near but it is still a two kilometre walk from the hotel but it is in Circular Quay, within easy distance of the train and restaurants. The deluxe room she booked turned out to be a suite...far too big for the two of us for two fact at around 1,000 square feet it us pretty close to half the size of our house, but I have to admit it is nice bit of luxury.

Visiting Sydney always provides an excuse to visit old haunts - like the fabulous The Malaya restaurant that we discovered on our last visit in October last year. I mourn the loss of Napoleon's Military Bookshop and the Tin Soldier shop in York Street (both of which have been gone for many years now, but I still miss them), because now instead of fossicking around their dusty shelves while the DC is off doing her thing I have to wait in those shops that women frequent and sit in that little area with old armchairs set aside for husbands who sit there in a state of embarrassment scrolling through news services on their phones and desperately trying not to make eye contact with each other. 

The show was superb and although the few spots of rain after the interval had everyone scrambling to put their put their rain ponchos on, immediately giving most of the audience the appearance of a bunch of CSI specialists, thankfully the rain failed to eventuate and the show was a success.

By the time we had walked back to the hotel we had been awake for around 20 hours and simply collapsed into bed.

The rain we missed on Friday night caught up with us on Saturday. It didn't stop us getting out and about though. We picked up a few bits and pieces around truth most of the same big name stores exist in Auckland and prices are comparable, but the range in Sydney is better. Lunch in Chinatown and dinner at Darling Harbour were the dining options for the day. It was another long day and we slept well.

Now we are sitting in the airport lounge waiting for our flight to be called. By 6:00 PM NZ time we should be on home soil and walking in the door some 30 minutes later.

But while I am in the lounge with a good internet connection I had a but of fun with an AI app called that Jonathan introduced me to on his blog a few weeks ago (link).

I played around at first asking it to create some fictional biographies for characters that might be in a game and it did a brilliant job.  Then I took a different approach and asked it to:

Write me a scenario for a napoleonic wargame set in 1813 between a French infantry division and an Austrian infantry division

Here is what it returned (unedited) in just over one second...

Napoleonic Wargame Scenario: 1813 French vs Austrian Infantry

The Situation

The year is 1813, and the Napoleonic Wars are raging across Europe. In the aftermath of Napoleon's disastrous campaign in Russia the previous year, the French Empire finds itself facing a growing coalition of enemies, including the Austrian Empire.

In a remote region of central Europe, a French infantry division under the command of Marshal Auguste de Marmont is tasked with securing a vital crossroads town against an advancing Austrian force. The Austrians, led by General Archduke Karl, have dispatched one of their veteran infantry divisions to capture the town and disrupt the French supply lines.

The stage is set for a clash between these two formidable opponents, with the outcome hanging in the balance.

The Battlefield

The town of Schöngrabern sits at the intersection of several key roads, making it a strategically important location. The terrain surrounding the town is a mix of gently rolling hills, scattered woodlands, and open farmland, providing both opportunities and challenges for the opposing armies.

To the north of the town, a series of low ridges offer excellent defensive positions for the French, while to the south, the Austrians can utilize the cover of the wooded areas to maneuver their forces. The town itself is a maze of narrow streets and sturdy stone buildings, which could prove to be a formidable obstacle for either side.

The Forces

French Infantry Division

  • Commander: Marshal Auguste de Marmont
  • Composition:
    • 3 Veteran Line Infantry Regiments
    • 1 Elite Grenadier Regiment
    • 1 Light Infantry Regiment
    • 1 Artillery Battery
    • 1 Cavalry Regiment

Austrian Infantry Division

  • Commander: Archduke Karl
  • Composition:
    • 4 Veteran Line Infantry Regiments
    • 1 Jäger (Rifle) Regiment
    • 1 Artillery Battery
    • 1 Cavalry Regiment

The Objective

The French must hold the town of Schöngrabern at all costs, denying the Austrians a vital crossroads and maintaining their supply lines. The Austrians, on the other hand, must capture the town and secure the roads, cutting off the French and potentially opening the way for a larger offensive.

Both sides will need to carefully maneuver their forces, utilize the terrain to their advantage, and employ a mix of infantry, artillery, and cavalry to achieve their objectives. The battle promises to be a hard-fought and decisive engagement that could have far-reaching consequences for the ongoing Napoleonic conflict.

Clearly the more information that goes into the description the better. I can see many hours being dedicated to developing this for future games.

Monday 8 April 2024

More Trees

Continuing my work as a miniature arbourist I have made a bunch of conifer trees. This post is a sort of a tutorial of how I made them. I take pains to point out that this is not my concept, the YouTube tutorial I based my process on can be found here - I  have just added some twists of my own.

But first to honour a promise I made to Stew, here is a quick tutorial of how I make my deciduous tree armatures. Now there are plenty of YouTube tutorials about how to make superbly detailed and delicate armatures, but this is my way of making my armatures that are robust and will stand up to the rigours of the gaming table.

For this exercise I have used some 18 gauge (1.25mm diameter) tie wire, although 20 gauge wire is preferred - I just didn't have any to hand. I cut four pieces of wire between 200mm (8") 300mm (12") long and folded them in half.

Then holding the bent end of the wire in a pair of pliers about 12mm (half an inch) in from the end, I loosely twisted the two strands of wire together, leaving the open end in a fork of about 12mm.

Next I took one of the long pieces and one of the shorter pieces and holding both ends again about 12mm from the bottom and twisted the shorter piece around the larger one, leaving about 40mm (one and a half inches) bend out at an angle from the 'trunk'.

I continued to twist the other pieces around the trunk again leaving about 40mm bend out at an angle from the trunk. As these pieces are twisted together the trunk thicken and distorts the shape into gnarly trunk. I bent and twisted the branches as required.

I bent out the bottom pieces out at angles to the trunk to create the roots. At this point some lower branches were added by twisting shorter pieces of wire through the trunk. With a lighter gauge wire it is possible to add quite a few more branches if needed and I would normally put three of four more on than I have here, but it since this to a tutorial piece I will leave it at one extra.

The next step is to create the trunk over the wire. For this I use toilet paper and PVA glue. I coated the wire with PVA and begin wrapping the toilet paper around the wire. I kept wrapping the paper around, applying water thinned PVA as I went. As the paper built up and the trunk took shape.

I kept working up the tree and around the branches. Before the paper and PVA dries it is possible to etch some lines to give the appearance of bark, but I haven't done that here because I am happy enough with the wrinkled appearance. The paper and glue were left to dry.

Once dry the armature was then fixed to a base and the wire roots were covered with more toilet paper papier mâché.

Then the armature was painted. I start with a burn sienna, then drybrushed two or three lighter tones over top. With a little bit of ground texture around the base it's job done. Certainly this is not a quick process and it would be quicker to user a commercial product (although if you are reasonably organised, working just a couple of hours a night will see a pretty good number of armatures completed over a week), but making it yourself is hugely satisfying. 

Now onto the conifers.

The Materials List

  • Bamboo Skewers
  • Coconut fibre hanging basket liner
  • MDF bases
  • Can of black spray paint
  • A small amount of Sculpey
  • Woodlands Scenic course turf, conifer, flock
  • PVA glue
  • Model paints - a couple of brown tones
  • Ground covering
  • 6mm x 3mm rare earth magnets 

The first thing I did was use the Sculpey to make the stumps into which the trees would plug. I thought about making a master and then a push mould, but it was only 20 pieces and it's not like I have any figures to paint. It only took a a few hours over a couple of nights.

Each stump was then drilled and a piece of skewer glued in place. The skewers were cut to three different lengths for variety. The whole piece was ten fixed to a MDF base.

The coconut matting, which comes as a disc, was cut into four quarters. The quarters were then cut into three 'slices'.

The slices are then cut into a number of irregular discs of various sizes and the discs are split in two, or three if the matting is as thick as the piece I am using here.

The discs are then skewered through with the widest discs on the bottom and the narrowest on the top, although sizing is not too important at this point as they can be trimmed later. The idea is to create an irregular shape and the purpose of the coconut matting is really just creating the bulk and basic shape. Each layer of discs is held in place on the skewer with a drop of PVA.

I also made some smaller trees in pairs. These will sit between the larger trees and provide some density to  the pine forests.

The whole tree is then sprayed black - you could use dark green, but in my view black is better - and left to dry...well away from the house otherwise there are many complaints of "...oh that smelly stuff again...."  This step is important for two reasons: first, the dark colour conceals the brown of the coconut fibre, providing depth, and second, the paint helps to bond the coconut fibres together. When it is dry the trees can be given a bit of a haircut to get rid off the odd stray strand.

Now to the messy part as each tree has PVA applied. The glue is another important component in making these trees wargamer-proof, binding the coconut matting even more. I prefer to apply it by brush, but I suppose it could be dipped or spray adhesive could be used, although I have had variable results with the spray. Then sprinkle the flock over the glue and leave it overnight to dry. 

The final step is to paint the trunks and texture the bases. And there we have it, 26 conifer tree stands.

Here they are fitted into the woods bases.

And the cost? Total materials cost was $32.42 which gave a unit price of $1.30 (US0.78 or £0.62). There maybe cheaper sources from China, but they aren't wargamer-proof and besides I like making stuff.