It’s no secret that small details can breath life into a wargames table. I’m talking about things that are not really necessary for gameplay, but still add to the atmosphere. So, what would fit into an American Civil War landscape?
Every homestead needs a small vegetable garden. Dogs and pigs would be kept out by a picket fence that would have to be painted regularly by that ne’er-do-well Tom Sawyer. Mine is based on two old plastic cards; the fence is made out of matchsticks, the pumpkins are coriander seeds.
Another thing every homestead needs is an outhouse. Peter Pig offer a pack of two in their Scenery range and they look very nice. I based one singly and the other one together with a scratch built dunghill.
And who’s guarding the farm? Trusty Buster, of course! The doghouse is built from scratch, again out of matchsticks and balsa wood and the dog is from Peter Pig.
Another piece of scatter terrain I built was telegraph poles. I’ve already got myself a couple of old TT gauge tracks from ebay so I can put a railway on my table. The Union and Confederate armies used to dispatched small parties to tap into the telegraph line of the enemy, which often ran along railroads. This would make a great scenario, so I made a couple of simple telegraph poles.
This was easy: I just glued shish kebab skewers onto round bases and than put a small piece of matchstick across the top. I painted them grey-brown and drybrushed heavily to give them a weathered look.
And this is how a mock-up of the table looks like (the house with the porch is from Peter Pig, the barn is a model railway building I bought at a flea market and repainted):
Susan Travers was born into a wealthy English family and spent most of her youth in southern France. After she finished school, she led the life of a socialite, travelling around the world as a semi-professional tennis player.
When World War 2 broke out, she wanted to contribute to the war effort. Being able to drive a car, she ended up as an ambulance driver with the French Expeditionary Force on their way to Finland. After the German invasion of Denmark and Norway, she escaped back to England, where she joined de Gaulle’s Free French. During the Syrian campaign, she worked as a driver for a medical officer of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Légion Étrangère. From there, she accompanied the Foreign Legion to Dahomey and the Congo to finally end up in the Western Desert campaign in North Africa.
Having formed friendly relations with officers of the Foreign Legion, she was assigned as the driver of General Pierre Koenig. Over and over again, she proved her skills at the steering wheel, chauffeuring Koenig when he led the so-called ‘Jock Columns’, two- or three-day long reconnaissance missions with a motorized convoy of troop transports, cannons and Bren Carriers. In her autobiography, she describes the dangers of such missions:
“More than once we nearly got caught and I had to drive the general to safety, fleeing from enemy fire at great speed or hiding in a dried-out wadi as the German or Italian tanks rolled by.”
When Koenig was tasked to occupy and hold Bir Hakeim, a desolate former oasis in the middle of nowhere, Travers refused to leave the area with the other women and stayed for what was to become one of the most dramatic actions of the Desert War. The attack was planned by Rommel, who estimated that it would take about 15 minutes to overrun the position of the 1st Free French Brigade. In the end, the defenders held out for almost four weeks against attacks from Italian and German forces. When the situation finally became untenable and ammunition was running out, Koenig decided to make a daring sortie and lead his troops through the German cordon back to the British lines.
On 10 June, Travers drove Koenig’s staff car, her trusty Ford Utility, with Koenig and Lieutenant Colonel Dimitri Amilakhvari of the Foreign Legion in the passenger seats. She headed through mine fields and German gun emplacements, dodging potholes, mines and bullets.
“Avoiding a car burning fiercely in front of me, I roared on across the minefield, heading straight for the tracer fire, not having time to think or even be afraid. In fact, by this time I was exhilarated. It was an amazing feeling, going as fast as I could in the dark towards what looked like a mass display of beautifully coloured fireworks dancing towards me, bringing what seemed like almost certain death. This was what I had come for – to feel what it was like to be a man, in the very heat of battle. […] The stalled convoy, seeing us get through, followed my lead, jerking their engines into life again. I drove at the tracer fire ahead of us as if the car were the bow of a great ship, parting a sea of bullets.”
When Travers later inspected her car, she found 11 bullet holes and severe shrapnel damage.
Koenig’s manoeuvre succeeded: He managed to get 2.500 of his men out of the German encirclement and into the safety of the British positions. The Battle of Bir Hakeim was hailed as a great coup and signalled the combat readiness of the Free French Forces.
Susan Travers went on to work as a driver for the rest of the war, conducting ambulances, trucks and even a tractor for anti-tank guns.
“The vehicle was much easier to handle, but its cargo meant it was far more dangerous to drive. It was my job to manoeuvre it into position, unhook it, turn round and go back for the next. There was a fair amount of shelling whenever I appeared because the Germans were very keen to knock me out before I got the cannon into position.”
After the war, Travers officially joined the French Foreign Legion and served as an Adjutant-Chef in Vietnam. She was decorated with the Légion d’honneur, Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire.
How to represent Susan Travers on the wargaming table?
Travers standing beside Koenig’s staff car would make a nice vignette, for example as a Jump Off Point for Chain of Command – which, incidentally, is what I intend to make. Unfortunately, I could not yet find a suitable figure.
Our trip to CRISIS started with a minor crisis, as the airline lost our suitcase and we had to make a quick shopping trip through Antwerp on Friday. Fortunately, Antwerp is a lovely city! This was the first time we actually had the opportunity to see something of the town and we like it very much.
On Saturday morning, we headed to CRISIS, where we not only got our bag of goodies but also met an old friend of mine who lives in Brussels. It was great to catch up with him and visit the show together!
The show itself was marvellous as always. There were a couple of participation games I wanted to play in, such as the wonderful Galleys, Guns & Glory game hosted by the South East Scotland Wargames Club. This is a new set of rules played with MDF galleys that look rather good. Unfortunately, we were not quite ready to play in the morning and when we came back, there were other people having a go. Equally busy was the Frostgrave table, which featured lovely terrain. (Unfortunately, my camera walked out on me and produced mostly crappy pictures, so sorry for their quality)
However, we did get to play Hammerin’ Iron by Peter Pig. Now I’m a long time Peter Pig fan and was very interested in their take on ACW riverine warfare. When I planned my own project, I browsed their ships but the few photos I found on the website back then didn’t look very good and they were a tad too big for my table anyway. However, when I now saw them in the flesh, I was astonished by how nice they look – in fact, they look much better than on the website! They are definitely lovely ships and I had a hard time resisting buying one or two…
Martin from Peter Pig hosted a great little game for K. and me. We both got a boat and started right in the middle of the action. The rules really are clever and great fun, and we had a blast steaming around and shelling each other. For a change, I even managed to win and sink K.’s ship!
There were a lot of other excellent games around. Being a fan of amphibious operations, I was captivated by Barry Hilton’s Great Northern War table, which featured a spectacular floating battery.
One of the show’s centrepieces was the huge Plancenoit table by the THS – Team for Historical Simulations. It featured not only an impressive array of 28mm figures, but also a plethora of small scenes and vignettes, like a dressing station for wounded or the quirky cook selling frog’s legs. Have a look at Stefan Kö’s wonderful blog for more images!
Another German club, Hamburg Tactica, presented a 30 Years War table with an impressive castle.
Another table that caught my eye was the Yppenburg 1940 table by Murphy’s Heroes. They played Chain of Command and won the price for Best Participation Game, so congratulations! I find the idea of a raid on an airfield very inspirational – this could be something for our Western Desert CoC games…
There were some very nice small skirmish tables. Pirates still seem to go strong, as I saw two tables, one of them a cool looking cluster of cliffs and half-sunken ships. I also spotted a nice Western gunfight table. The Crush the Kaiser Mexico game also looked a treat, with its dramatic range of craggy hills and the railroad running through.
This is just a small selection – there were lots of other excellent games around, and as always we were a bit overwhelmed by the sights.
I was also very happy to catch up with Annie The Dice Bag Lady and finally have a decent chat with her. She brought some new figures, which look lovely, and it was good to see her stand constantly busy.
As always, time ran by fast and we left the show pretty late, exhausted but happy. My bag was quite heavy at the end, how could that happen?
Well, one part of my shopping consisted of preorders, most of them from Peter Pig: some odds and ends for the ACW project, including a small train set, as well as a couple of packs of British 8th army figures for my new Chain of Command project. I also got some small stuff from Magister Militium, the most noteworthy being a pack of 10mm Dwarves riding on rams – my new chum Virago is pestering me to participate in a 10mm fantasy campaign using Mighty Empires, and who am I to resists such a temptation?
When I browsed the bookstands, K. noticed an Osprey on The American Civil War in the Indian Territory. Now K. is quite interested in American Indians and convinced me that we could perhaps add one or two units of Indian troops to the ACW project, so the book was bought and we headed over to the Worean stand, where I got a pack of Blue Moon Indians. I also bought Paddy Griffith’s Rally Once Again and a couple of (old and new) magazines. Finally, some bases from Products for Wargamers and a nice looking field also made it into the loot.
CRISIS 2015 was a great show and K. and me both enjoyed it very much. It was also great to meet my old friend and to walk around Antwerp, which showed itself from its best side. Especially the area around the harbour, where our hotel was located, is very nice, and the MAS Museum aan de Stroom is well worth a visit. Also, our suitcase did turn up soon enough – I wouldn’t have wanted to carry all the lead back in my small rucksack!
To try out the scenarios in One Hour Wargames, we decided to set up a game of Sharp Practice. Scenario #6, Flank Attack I, sounded interesting, so K. took the French ambushers and I took the British, which deployed in column along the road.
For the first two turns, I added a ‘French Initiative’ card to the turn deck, which would allow the French to activate any of their Big Man. Also we ruled that, as long as the French hadn’t revealed themselves, the British were only allowed to march forward.
The first two turns saw the French at the road block take some potshots at the British advance guard without much effect. However, the French also formed a line with their flanking force and swiftly moved it up the hill. When they opened up, their fire was withering and threw the British column into confusion!
While the British Major was rallying his troops, the Maroons charged out of the jungle and crashed into the other group of British regulars. They were repulsed but again the British took casualties and shock.
Things were going downhill for the British. Most of the next turns ended early because of the ‘Tiffin’ card, which meant that the French could keep up a steady fire which wore down the British troops while the British couldn’t do much besides shooting back. The Chasseurs were falling back fast and soon the whole column was in a state of disarray.
I decided to let the Chasseurs run and concentrate my effort on the regulars. To our surprise, Major Turvington and Lieutenant Winkworth managed to rally their troops and get them on the road again. Ranks were dressed and the men marched forward towards the barricades.
The rear was pretty secure as the Maroons had fled into the jungle and the French regulars were far behind, so I nourished hope that I might swing the game around. Major Turvington led the first charge onto the barricades, but alas! a thrust from a French bayonet felled the brave fellow and he dropped from his horse dead as a doornail.
We decided to end the game at this point. The British charge had been repulsed, their leading Big Man was dead and it was only a matter of time until the French troops would close up. There was no chance the British could force the barricades now.
This was a very enjoyable game with some dramatic twists and turns. The scenario worked very well for Sharp Practice, it was challenging and provided an interesting tactical situation. Also, it was perhaps the most historical plausible scenario we have played in a while – ambushes like this were very common during the Haitian campaign, and the French usually got the better of it.
I am definitely looking forward to trying out more scenarios from One Hour Wargames!