Search Glorious Little Soldiers

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Catching up on my Reading 19 . A Blast from the Past.

  Donald Featherstone's Lost Tales .Edited by John Curry.

I've had this volume for a while and never thought of reviewing it until recently. However as a book by one of the 'originators'  of the wargaming hobby as it stands today it deserves a second and even a third look. Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for 'retro' wargaming, often preferring it to some of the gamesey  history free twaddle that masquerades as 'historical wargaming' in this 'modern era'. Now that is not the same as saying that ALL modern 'games' are tripe  - they are not-  but like the curates egg- the modern era of historical wargaming is only good in parts.

In some ways it is a strange book, combining as it does real history and wargaming.

 The real history consists of Featherstone's 'War Memoirs' and a short history of the Army Tank battalion he served with . This last has  several gameable scenarios   within its narrative as well as the rather unusual organisational quirks of 51st Battalion Royal Tank Regiment with its mixture of Sherman  and Churchill tanks while in Italy. There is also an essay on 'The Birth of Modern Wargaming'  which should set the record straight concerning how what we have today began in the late 50s /early 60s which 'Millenial wargamers' should read . The picture of wargamers of yesteryear in Jackets and ties will raise a smile or three! 

As for the 'Wargaming' bit well the main body of the book is a block of Featherstone rules actually a total of  12 sets by either Featherstone himself or Tony Bath covering most of the popular and a couple of more obscure periods. Some a very simple, even simplistic, and many are also rather skeletal in terms of the actual amount of rules given. These are not 'games' in the sense many expect today. They assume some pre-knowledge of period and some suspension of belief- especially with regard to Command and Control and  formations This does not mean they are useless. A decent Umpire can use their vey simplicity and skeletal nature as a toolrack to hang his scenarios upon adding scenario specific rules as required. Games using these rules will be fast and bloody- especially in the Horse and musket era. There are no set unit sizes here  although there are some suggestions.

 Arthur Harman's useful  introduction to the rules section of the book points out many of the possible pitfalls and inconsistencies and his point about the suitability of these rules for small actions is well made and to the point and the lack of period detail is also mentioned. However I would opine that such lack may at times be advantageous to the well read Umpire, and as a fan of 'Active Umpiring' the very simplicity has its uses.

 To be honest it is unlikely that I'd  umpire a game using these rules without some amendments more than once or twice ,as usual I treat rules as a toolbox and feel free to amend as alter as needed in much the same way  Donald Featherstone  advocated.

So  yes I recommend this book to chaps who have an interest in the development of our hobby. Don was after all one of the pioneers.

Friday 4 August 2023

Catching up on my Reading 18. The Battle of Lutzen A Reassessment by Andre Schurger

This latest volume by Published by Helion in the Century of the Soldier series (It is no 104) landed on my mat almost a month ago and has taken some reading. This is not a bad thing as it is well worth the time actual study takes.

 The Battle of Lutzen in the Thirty Years War is mostly famous  for the untimely death of King Gustav Adolf II of Sweden in the heat of the action and the confusion of battle, at which point apparently hearing of their Kings death  by magical means the Swedes  went battle mad and promptly polished off the Imperialists in short order.
 Needless to say the reality was a lot more complex that that which this fine book goes on to explain. 

 Indeed it is so stuffed with useful information that it is actually overflowing, as another 80 PAGES are available as a download from the Helion website, which will give the careful reader even more useful and fascinating information.. This section contains another 48 assorted maps and charts of  archaeological finds and bullet distribution. Maps of pre-battle movement and a clutch of battle maps showing  formation movements down to brigade and sometimes even regimental level.

 So what  do you actually get in the paper format?
Physically the book is in the usual Helion style and has 241 pages  with 17 pages of colour plates of troop types and colours plus two colour maps of army deployment.
The eight chapters cover all you might expect in a 'Battle ' book  such as the campaign including the difficulties of supplying seventeenth century armies and the two armies  orders of battle and deployments but also a whole lot more.

 For a start there is a serious examination of  both primary and secondary sources and their respective values (or lack of such) Then an equally serious examination of the archaeology, much of which the author was himself involved in so he knows whereof he speaks.

With the help of the downloadable maps- these give extra details- the reader is taken through the battle  blow by blow in deep and almost exhaustive detail. From the initial manoeuvres through to the Kings death and Pappenhiem's arrival to the exhaustion of both armies and the final Swedish attacks it is all here for the reader to study.

 One of the things that surprised me was how comparatively small the battle was.  The total troop numbers for both armies  only just topped 30,000 men. Somehow I had the erroneous impression that the two armies were much larger.

There are , as you would expect,  more than a few translated chunks of contemporary accounts and the author uses these to illustrate his points well. 

Now I not going to launch any spoilers here, regular readers will know that is not my style, you will have to buy the book and download the extra info to get a full picture of what is there . Anyone wit any kind of interest in 17th century warfare should have this volume on his shelves.   

 My only niggle - and it is a very very minor one, is the authors use of military terminology - in particular the word 'squadron'- which for most of us is a sub unit of a cavalry regiment often in the 17th century  composed of two 'troops' or 'companies' of horse usually, though not always, from the same regiment.
 Here the term  is used as a catch all for anything from a  battalion of 1,000 or so Imperial infantry (some of the eight of these units were made up of more than one regiment) through the usual cavalry term to any detached unit of  'commanded' musketeers. I found this a tad confusing until I worked it out and once you realise this it does not detract from the book in the slightest.

So yes I  commend  this book to any Pike and Shot fans wargamers or not, but more than that, this is a book  worth serious study to any student of 17th century military history. 

 Highly Recommended