Sunday 31 March 2024

Happy Easter!

May I wish all my regular blog readers a Happy Easter, regardless of whether or not they are Christian. Most belief systems celebrate or recognise the coming of spring and my best wishes are extended to all of you in a spirit of welcoming what we hope will be better times ahead.

The last few years have been trying ones for many people on many levels. In my own case, my health problems continue to plague me and prevent me from being as active as I was even just a few years ago. That said, I have much to be grateful for. Sue gives me huge support all the time and has been far more tolerant of me when I am feeling down than I have any right to expect. I have a number of hobbies (Freemasonry, wargaming, and railway modelling) that bring me into regular contact with a great bunch of people, and sharing – and basking in – their enthusiasm always helps to raise my spirits when I am beginning to flag, stimulates my tired old brain, and encourages me to break out from my ennui and get things done.

Saturday 30 March 2024

Phil Sabin’s Counter-Air wargame

Phil Sabin has recently uploaded a YouTube video about his new two-player air combat board game, COUNTER-AIR.

Now, I’ve never really got the hang of air combat wargames, so I looked forward to watching and listening to Phil's explanation of how his game worked … and I was not disappointed!

Phil's video explains the rules of his simple Counter-Air simulation game about attacks on modern airbases. It is a chess-like game of skill and was designed to be used air force personnel as well as wargamers. It is published by the military wargaming group Fight Club International, and can be downloaded for free from their website.

The game sees a superior Blue force attack Red's defended airbase.

The gameboard.

During the game, Blue can mount five sorties with the intention of destroying Red's airbase and its defences whilst minimising its own losses. Red's objective to to prevent this and to cripple Blue's offensive capability.

The game counters. These are double-sided. The reverse side has an S in place of the A to show when the unit is 'spent'.

During the first turn of the demonstration Blue places its forces in the various sections of the playing board according to the task each flight of aircraft is to undertake during the sortie.

Blue's initial positions.

Red counters by placing those assets it intends to use to counter this attack.

Red's initial positions.

Action begins with a flight of Blue's escorting fighters engaging the Red interceptors with AAMs ...

One of Blue's escort flights fires AAMs at a flight of Red interceptors/.

... and Red counters with their own AAMs, causing two flights of Blue's escort fighters to turn for home.

One of Red's interceptor flights returned fire with its AAMs.

The remaining flight of Blue escort fighters then engage a flight of Red interceptors with their AAMs ...

The battle between the Blue escort flights and the Red interceptors continues.

... and a flight of Red interceptors withdraw. One of the remaining flights of Red interceptors now engage a flight of Blue aircraft that are undertaking the high strike role, causing the latter to jettison their bombs.

The red interceptors change target and engage one of Blue's high strike flights.

The remaining flight of Red interceptors follow suit, causing another flight of Blue high strike aircraft to abort their mission.

Red's interceptors continue to engage Blue's high strike aircraft.

As both side's escorts and interceptors are 'spent' (i.e. they are no longer able to take part in further combat until they have returned to their respective basses and rearmed), the game moves into the air defence phase.

The fighting moves on to the next phase. Blue will now try to suppress Red's SAM defences..

Blue begins by trying to suppress Red's SAMs.

One of Red's SAM units is destroyed by weapons fired by a flight of Blue's SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) aircraft. The destroyed SAM unit is moved into the Graveyard area on the gameboard.

They manage to destroy one of Red's SAM batteries, but the remaining once Red SAM battery engages one of the Blue high strike flights, destroying it.

The remaining Red SAM unit engages one of Blue's 'spent' high strike flights. The flight is destroyed and placed in the gameboard's Graveyard area. 

The combat then continues ... but rather than describe it in detail, I recommend that you watch the video. (I don't want to spoil your enjoyment by telling my regular blog readers what happens next!)

The game is intended to last two hours, with each player having the opportunity to command Blue and Red. The game can be played many times so that players can discover for themselves the best offensive and defensive tactics to employ.

Please note that all the screenshots from Phil Sabin's video are © Professor Philip Sabin.

Friday 29 March 2024

Nicholas Monsarrat’s ‘The Cruel Sea’

I recently read Nicholas Monsarrat’s famous book about the Battle of the Atlantic, THE CRUEL SEA.

I have watched the film based on the book many times, but this was the first time I had read the book … and realised that the film only covers about fifty percent of the story.

The film ends pretty well after the corvette HMS Compass Rose is torpedoed and sunk and the two main characters in the book – Lieutenant Commander (later Commander) Ericson and Sub-Lieutenant (later Lieutenant and finally Lieutenant Commander) Lockhart – take over the newer frigate, HMS Saltash in 1944. The book continues the story up until the end of the war and includes the surrender of the German U-boat fleet.

Sir Donald Sinden (left) as Lieutenant Commander Lockhart RNVR and Jack Hawkins (right) as Commander Ericson RNR in the film 'The Cruel Sea'.

In my opinion, the film is excellent … but the book is even better. It is an example of storytelling at its finest and drew heavily upon the writer’s own experience of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Highly recommended!

Lieutenant Commander Nicholas John Turney Monsarrat FRSL RNVR joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve early during the Second World War and served in the following ships:

  • August 1940 – December 1941: 1st Lieutenant, HMS Campanula (Flower-class corvette) (Sub-Lieutenant until October 1940 and then Lieutenant)
  • February 1942 – February 1943: 1st Lieutenant, HMS Guillemot (Kingfisher-class corvette)
  • March 1943 – October 1943: Commanding Officer, HMS Shearwater (Kingfisher-class corvette)
  • December 1943 – March 1944: Commanding Officer, HMS Ettrick (River-class frigate) (Promoted Lieutenant Commander)
  • April 1944 – December 1944: Commanding Officer, HMS Perim (Colony-class frigate: a US-built version of the River-class)

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Working on the ShamBattle/Portable Wargame battleboard (Part 2)

Once I had glued the first layer of foamcore to my baseboard, I marked the 8cm x 8cm grid on it using a long ruler and a Sharpie pen.

I did this to give me some idea what the end result would look like. I already had a rough plan of the grid I wanted to create ...

... and having a full-sized grid to look at helped me to finalise my ideas as to where various terrain features would go.

The board is intended to be used to fight battles using the ShamBattle/Portable Wargame hybrid rules that I play-tested back in November 2023.

I then began the process of gluing the second layer of foamcore on top of the first layer. Whereas the first layer had been glued on landscape (i.e. the longer edge of the A4 sheet of foamcore was glued parallel with the longer edge of the baseboard), the second was glued on in portrait (i.e. the shorter edge of the A4 sheet of foamcore was glued parallel to the longer edge of the baseboard), thus:

You will note that I cut the outline of the river into the foamcore sheets as I glued them in place. (I also made a small mistake when doing this and made the river end in the wrong grid square! I will need to amend my rough plan for the finished layout accordingly.)

I also marked the 8cm x 8cm grid onto the top layer of foamcore as I went along as I thought that this would be of assistance at the next stage of the baseboard's development.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Gary Sheffield's suggested changes to the musketry rules in the Portable Napoleonic Wargame

Further to the recent blog post about his suggested changes to the PORTABLE NAPOLEONIC WARGAME rules, Professor Gary Sheffield sent me the following suggested change to the musketry rules:

  • Musket-armed units can only fire into an adjacent grid area to better reflect actual effect range of Napoleonic muskets.
  • When a unit enters a grid area that is adjacent to a grid area that is already occupied by an enemy unit, it has the option either to fire at the enemy unit or to engage it in Close Combat.
  • Rifle-armed troops can fire 3 grid areas, but they suffer a penalty to reflect the fact that rifles were slower to reload than smoothbore muskets.

He also wrote the following about his home-made grid squares:

'The terrain squares are homemade. I bought a job lot of wooden squares off the internet, painted them green using cheap acrylic paint, then sprinkled flock onto them. If the paint had dried, I used a coat of PVA glue before using the flock. I then varnished the flocked squares. I used different shades of green flock to get some variation, and sometimes splashed various colours of brown on the flock. I used green felts of various types on a few squares, again with brown splodges. I have some largish green felt squares (from sets of children's roulette that I bought from a department store in the Canaries!), and I put them plain side up under the terrain squares, so no white bits show through from my wargames table.'

Here are some examples of Gary's home-made grid squares:

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Professor Gary Sheffield.

Monday 25 March 2024

Falling back in good order or retreating in disarray?

Recently, Robert-Jan Maycock posed the following question on The Portable Wargame Facebook page:

'In the Ancients game, in the event of a Close Combat result making a unit retire, if the unit that has inflicted the hit follows them up and attacks again, does this attack count as being on the retreater's rear?'

Now, this is a very interesting question, the answer to which can be applied to almost any version of THE PORTABLE WARGAME. My reply was as follows:

'The unit has been pushed back, so I would assume that it is still facing its attacker.

However, one could argue that if it was on the verge of losing all its SPs (i.e. it only has 1 SP left) it might be on the verge of fleeing and could well have its back towards its attacker.'

The French Army retreating after the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon can be seen in the background surrounded by his immediate staff and bodyguard.

In reply to my suggestion, Alan Stewart (AKA Donjondo) replied:

'I've mulled this over in the past ... I've made some tweaks to my procedure since I wrote this ... but you may find it food for thought.'

He then included a link to the relevant page on his blog. The mechanism he suggests is as follows:

'Portable Wargame: Retreating

When a unit retreats, roll 1d6 to see if it’s conducted in good order.

  • If the retreating unit makes its target number, then it retreats in good order and does so facing the enemy.
  • If the retreating unit fails to make its target number, then the unit is routing and faces away from the enemy.

Target numbers:

  • Elite: 3+
  • Average: 4+
  • Poor: 5+

Modifiers to the dice roll:

  • Friendly Commander with the retreating unit: +1*
  • For each friendly unit in good order that’s on the flanks of the retreating unit (within 2 hexes of the unit’s initial location): +1
  • If the retreating unit has already lost half or more of its SP: -1
  • If retreating from artillery fire: -1

* If using Commander ratings as described on p39 of The Portable Wargame, then you could use the following:

  • Good Commander: +1
  • Average Commander: +0
  • Poor Commander: -1'

Alan Stewart's suggested mechanism has a great deal to commend it, and I think that it is one that I can see lots of players using ... including myself.

Sunday 24 March 2024

Other people's Portable Wargames: Proposed Napoleonic rules changes

My old friend and occasional online wargame opponent Professor Gary Sheffield has been playing around with the rules in THE PORTABLE NAPOLEONIC WARGAME and come up with some very interesting rule modifications.

The battle was set in 1806 and saw the French fighting the Prussians. According to Gary, it was a very tough fight, with the French advantage in manoeuvrability being effectively cancelled out by superior Prussian musketry. In fact, both sides reached their respective Exhaustion Points during the same turn!

The French attacked the Prussians and captured some of the high ground being defended by the Prussians, but having done so, they were unable to exploit their advantage as they were exhausted. At this point Gary diced to determine what would happen next and adjudicated that the Prussian commander would withdraw his forces in good order, leaving the battlefield in French hands.

The amendments that Gary made to the basic rules included units becoming Disordered after Close Combat, and having to fight at a disadvantage until they were able to reform … which costs them one activation points. He also added some specific pluses and minuses for the French and Prussians to reflect their differences. Gary also shortened the range of musketry to better reflect actual effect range of Napoleonic muskets.

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Professor Gary Sheffield.

Saturday 23 March 2024

Working on the ShamBattle/Portable Wargame battleboard (Part 1)

I began work on the baseboard some time ago, and got as far as adding some cross-bracing to the underside of the board …

… and giving the top surface two coats of PVA glue to seal it.

Originally, I intended to use the baseboard as it was, but drawing on the experience I gained building my Mucking Flats & Fobbing Marsh Light Railway layout, I decided to cover it with two layers of 5mm-thick foamcore board so that I could include streams or rivers that were inset into the terrain. It also meant that when it is finished, it will be compatible with my model railway layout.

I used A4-sized sheets of foamcore board as this was what I had to hand. These were trimmed to fit.

The first layer was glued in place using PVA glue as follows:

Friday 22 March 2024

Nugget 361

I collected the latest issue of THE NUGGET from the printer (Macaulay Scott Printing Company of Welling, Kent) earlier today and I will be posting it out to members at some point over the next few days.

I have already sent the PDF copy to the webmaster, and members should be able to read this issue of THE NUGGET online after the coming weekend.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the seventh issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2023-2024 subscription year.

If you have not yet re-subscribed, an email reminder was sent to you some time ago with the relevant information you require to do so. If you have lost this and wish to re-subscribe or you are a new subscriber, please request a PayPal invoice or the bank transfer information from the Treasurer or follow the instructions on the relevant page of the website.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Slow progress with my first YouTube video

During breaks in the ongoing decluttering (Wow! I never realised just how much stuff we had but weren’t using!) I’ve been trying to get to grips with the video creation software I have on my PC. To dat – however – my progress has been slow and fraught with problems.

I managed to record myself doing a ‘talking head’ introduction to my YouTube channel using my laptop computer, only to discover that the sound had not recorded properly. I could see sound waves on the software but couldn’t hear anything on my headphones … so I changed my headphones, but this made no difference. I then tested the microphone I had used, and it was working perfectly. The ‘Help’ button on the software’s toolbar was of no use whatsoever and suggested that I check the things that I’d already checked.

I am going to have another attempt at recording my introduction later this week, possibly using my bridge camera. I used this to record my short video about the Mucking Flats & Fobbing Marsh Light Railway so I know that it works, but I am not sure how it will cope with a ‘talking head’ setup.

I’m sure that other YouTubers don’t experience this sort of problem. Either that, or they keep very quiet about it!

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Nugget 361

The editor of THE NUGGET sent me the latest issue on Sunday, and I sent it to the printer earlier this morning. I hope that it will be printed and ready to be collected by the end of the week so that I can post it out to members over the weekend.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the seventh issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2023-2024 subscription year.

If you have not yet re-subscribed, an email reminder was sent to you some time ago with the relevant information you require to do so. If you have lost this and wish to re-subscribe or you are a new subscriber, please request a PayPal invoice or the bank transfer information from the Treasurer or follow the instructions on the relevant page of the website.

Sunday 17 March 2024

What size grid? A few experiments might help

Before I begin work on my new gridded terrain board, I need to decide what size grid squares I’m going to use. I laid out the options available to me in a recent blog post … and most comments from my regular blog readers seemed to favour the 8cm x 8cm/11 x 7 grid.

To help me decide which of the three options I will choose, I drew three squares and placed a number of figure bases from my Belle Époque collection in each to see both how many each would hold, and which looked best. The results are as follows:

11cm x 11cm

I could easily get three double-base infantry units and a single-base artillery unit into an 11cm x 11cm grid square.

8cm x 8cm

I could just about get two double-base infantry units and a single-base artillery unit into an 8cm x 8cm grid square.

4cm x 4cm

I could only get a double-base infantry (or a single-base artillery unit) unit into a 4cm x 4cm grid square. I could not have got a double-base cavalry unit into the size of grid square.

I think that having done this the best option is obvious ... it has to be the 8cm x 8cm grid square.

Friday 15 March 2024

Meeting the Curator of Time

Last night Sue and I visited the Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre where we meet the ‘Curator of Time’ (Dr Emily Akkermans) and one of the conservators who work on the museum's collection of timepieces.

After a brief introduction, the Curator took us to one of the large climate-controlled store areas, and after explaining the difference between solar time and siderial time, she showed us some examples of timepieces and other material that are part of the collection but not currently display.

A very early and very expensive chronometer.
An early pendulum clock. It was only capable to telling the hour, which is why it only has one hand..
A drawing by the famous chromometer designer, John Harrison.
This chronometer was graded as 'useless' when it was purchased because it could not keep accurate time of a number of months. It was therefore 'converted' into a clock that could be carried around the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, where it was used to set the time on all the clocks in use there.
This chronometer was used on several expeditions across the globe.
A timepiece that can best be described as an alarm clock that was used to alert astronomers at the Royal Observatory as to when to sight their telescopes on certain stars. The names of these stars are engraved on the clock's face.
Part of the electrical relay system used to coordinate the time ball signals at Greenwich and Deal.
An atomic clock. This has been recently acquired by the museum from the National Physical Laboratory

We then made our way to the conservation area where all the museum's timepieces are conserved and maintained. We saw various timepieces in different stages of repair and renovation, and the conservator explained how the different lubricants that had been used in the past (and some that were currently in use) caused corrosion and wear. (I must admit that I thought that there was very little difference between the types of lubricants used in clockmaking, but apparently they all have their costs and benefits.)

He also demonstrated the machine that they use to cut the teeth on gear wheels before finishing his talk with a flourish when he unveiled a replica clock that had been built some years ago by the museum and that was being prepared for loan to another museum.

The tapes and ropes have been used to ensure that no part of the clock is damaged in transit..

Our tour lasted over ninety minutes and we could easily have spent twice that time at the Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre. In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much that we are booked on the next Delve Deeper tour of the Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre which will be taking place on the 11th April. It is entitled PROTESTS AND CAMPAIGNING: REVEALING STORIES THROUGH OBJECTS FROM THE PAST AND PRESENT and will be presented by Laura Boon, the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Senior Curator: Contemporary Maritime.