Legio Wargames

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By smacdowall, Sep 17 2018 09:24PM

With a view to re-fighting Malplaquet next Spring, Dave Allen and I visited the actual battlefield a few weeks back — as close to the actual day of the battle (11 September) as we could manage. We wanted to understand what the ground was like, how the troops deployed and what they could see, in order to represent it accurately for the wargame.


The battlefield monument
The battlefield monument

Straddling the French-Belgian border just south of Mons the battlefield is easily accessible. The starting point is a monument standing just in front of the centre of the French lines a few metres south of the Belgian border.



Orientation map of the initial deployment
Orientation map of the initial deployment

There are some excellent orientation maps around the monument which give good detail of the units involved along with their deployment and movements. The French side of the battlefield benefits from a signed walking tour which can be followed with the aid of a most helpful app. This gives information and maps in English as well as French.



Bois de la Laniere on the French right
Bois de la Laniere on the French right

One thing that struck us was the very limited visibility. Although there are no significant hills, the gently rolling terrain generally limits visibility to less than 200 yards. The main French infantry lines were on a slight reverse slope with the result that troops on the opposing sides would have been unlikely to see each other until within less than 100 yards of each other.


The Bois de Sars at the point where Lottum attacked
The Bois de Sars at the point where Lottum attacked

The woods which formed the flanks of the gap which the French defended are still there. The Bois de Sars to the west still has the same outline as it did back in 1709. It is hard to imagine just how the tens of thousands of allied troops managed to attack through them to emerge on the other side.



Information board on the site of the French redans
Information board on the site of the French redans

There are no traces of the French redans or entrenchments but their locations are reasonable well marked and by walking along their lines it is possible to get a sense of what it must have been like.



The allied forward battery circled in red
The allied forward battery circled in red

Many accounts of the battle say that Marlborough’s grand battery of 40 guns first fired into the Bois de Sars to support Lottum’s attack. Then they switched their fire to engage the French cavalry that could be seen on a slope behind the French foot, hidden by their reverse slope position. Although we tramped over all the possible locations for this battery there are no good fields of fire to substantiate this. The maps by the monument suggest another battery of 10 guns and 3 howitzers well forward of the allied centre and indicate that is was probably indirect fire from this battery which inflicted casualties on the French horse to the rear.


Memorial to the French senior officers killed in action
Memorial to the French senior officers killed in action

The small church in Malplaquet has a memorial to the French officers killed (Lieutenant Colonels and above).


Malplaquet church
Malplaquet church

The church was there in 1709 and although it has since been re-built it was done so in a way to closely resemble the original.



Blairon farm cicled in red viewed from the French centre
Blairon farm cicled in red viewed from the French centre

Blairon farm forward of the French lines forms an obstacle we had not appreciated. It is not so much the farm itself as the deep north-south running stream that runs through it. This, and the now much depleted Bois Thierry to the north, break up the allied line of advance. Once committed beyond this point it would have been pretty well impossible to move troops from the allied left (east) to the centre or visa versa.


Scattered around the battlefield are several monuments as can be seen in the following photos:



Monument to the Swiss regiments on both sides
Monument to the Swiss regiments on both sides


Monument to the British regiments that fought at Malplaquet
Monument to the British regiments that fought at Malplaquet

Plaque at the position of the French artillery which decimated the Dutch
Plaque at the position of the French artillery which decimated the Dutch


Monument to the French carabiniers who held the left flank
Monument to the French carabiniers who held the left flank


19th century mural on the side of a barn
19th century mural on the side of a barn









By smacdowall, Aug 13 2018 11:33AM

It has almost been a year since I played the German commander in day one of an Operation Seelöwe game which I reported on here: The Battle of Folkestone July 1940. The end of this game saw the Germans establishing a salient around Hythe and Folkestone after suffering heavy casualties.



Folkestone in German hands
Folkestone in German hands

After a number of strategic moves conducted by email, we picked up the action a few days ago, moving the game on to day three. The situation at the end of day 2 looked pretty bleak for us Germans. The Royal Navy had made a mess of our attempts to reinforce and resupply by sea and despite the Luftwaffe’s best efforts to establish air superiority we did not have control of the skies. Low on ammunition and thin on the ground the temptation was to hold on to what we had and await reinforcements. The British, however, would be able to reinforce far more quickly than we could so I decided that my only option was to try to expand the salient and position my troops to eventually take Dover and its vital docks.


The German plan
The German plan

I knew I did not have the strength to take Dover so I gave orders for my best units to move east from Folkestone to cut the road and rail links into the town in the hope that I could isolate it. Having beaten off a counter attack on Hawkinge airfield and receiving intelligence that the enemy had ‘shot their bolt’ in that sector, I also decided to expand the salient to the north so as to be in a better position to protect that important airfield. I would leave just enough troops to hold the western edge of the salient, especially Lyminge airfield and the port of Hythe. I suspected we would have to face a British counter-attack and so I ordered my commanders to take up defensive positions as soon as they ran into any serious resistance.


The British plan
The British plan

The British did indeed counterattack and did so in more strength that I had feared. Our attempt to expand the salient turned into a defence of our vital points: the airfields of Hawkinge and Lyminge, and the ports of Hythe and Folkestone. We beat off an attack on Hawkinge with relative ease thanks to the quality of our troops aided by an effective Stuka bombing run.


The German defence of Hawkinge airfield
The German defence of Hawkinge airfield

In the west the British attacked both Lyminge airfield and the approach to Hythe in divisional strength. I judged that with three battalions in good defensive positions and a regiment of Fallschirmjäger in reserve I had just enough men to hold without diverting any troops from the east. It was touch and go. We managed to hang on by the skin of our teeth but it took all the remaining ammunition of our supporting artillery and our last remaining bombing runs to do it.


The Battle for Aldington
The Battle for Aldington

On the approach to Hythe the 2nd Battalion, 21st Infantry was reduced to only one platoon but they passed all morale tests and hung on in the village of Adlington while the Fallschirmjäger flanked the enemy that bypassed them. The RAF intervened but fortunately their air sorties were far less effective than ours. A few reinforcements arrived by sea at Hythe. This was just enough to ensure we could hold the western flank.


The British attack in the centre
The British attack in the centre

We had barely time to congratulate ourselves for the successful defence of Hawkinge airfield when the British launched a major attack from the north aiming for Folkestone town. We had very few troops in this sector, our artillery was low on ammunition and we had no air sorties left. Therefore we had to redirect troops from the east, including our only Panzer battalion to deal with this attack. The fighting was fierce and we inflicted heavy losses on the enemy but at a terrible cost including the complete destruction of our armoured reserve.



The Germans shift troops from the east to the centre
The Germans shift troops from the east to the centre


The massive British attack from Dover
The massive British attack from Dover

At this point the British launched an attack from Dover in overwhelming strength — both armour and infantry. Our eastern flank was only thinly held, we were out of artillery ammunition, had no tanks left and no more air support. It had been very hard fought and our heavily outnumbered troops had acquitted themselves incredibly well. With the enemy in a position to dominate Folkestone Docks there was no longer any hope of significant reinforcements and therefore Operation Seelöwe had failed.



The table overview
The table overview

Although we lost it was a great game and a very hard fought one. As in the previous game we used 6mm miniatures with Spearhead rules. The rules worked very well for an operational game of this magnitude. They were easy to pick up by novices with the aid of some judicious umpiring.





By smacdowall, Aug 7 2018 06:00PM

Painting has taken a bit of a back seat over the past few months as the warm sunny weather has been keeping me outside. For the first time in ages I have picked up my paint brushes with the intent of finishing off some Marlburian dismounted dragoons that have been sitting idly on my painting table for some months.


At the outset of the War of Spanish Succession dragoons were still primarily mounted infantry. Horses, often poor nags, were used for mobility but the men would dismount to fight. French dragoons continued to operate this way for most of the war, their great value being internal security, foraging, scouting and briefly holding strong points ahead or on the flanks of the main army. As the war progressed many Allied dragoons increasingly became second class cavalry — paid less and riding smaller, less well trained mounts than troopers of horse. By the end of the war dragoon regiments in some nations (Denmark for example) had been converted into proper regiments of horse. Britain went the other direction. Regiments of horse were re-designated as dragoons as a cost saving measure as dragoons were paid less than horse.


Austian dragoons in action against the French
Austian dragoons in action against the French

Although most Allied dragoon regiments operated as second rate cavalry in the major battles of the War of Spanish Succession, there were occasions in the early years when they dismounted. Dismounted Imperial dragoons at Friedlingen (1702) supported battalions of converged grenadiers to attack the French in the hills of the Black Forest. At Schellenberg (1703) the North British Dragoons (later the Scots Greys) dismounted to support an attack up the steep hillside. Some allied dragoons also dismounted at Blenheim (1704).


Dismounted French dragoons (red coats) supporting Swiss foot
Dismounted French dragoons (red coats) supporting Swiss foot

I have dismounted figures and horse-holders for all my French dragoon regiments and I thought it about time I did the same for some of my British and Imperialists. Finding suitable miniatures is a bit tricky as not many manufacturers make dismounted dragoon figures wearing tricorns suitable for the allied units I wished to represent. I eventually settled on Blue Moon Miniatures who have a set of tricorn-wearing dismounted dragoons in their Great Northern War range.


These new recruits to my army will probably be enough to provide the allied dismounted dragoons I may need for future engagements. The British can also serve as Dutch as Dutch dragoons all wore red coats. The blue and grey-coated Imperialists could also double as Prussians and other Germans.


Dismounted British Dragoons
Dismounted British Dragoons


Guidon of the North British Dragoons (Scots Greys)
Guidon of the North British Dragoons (Scots Greys)


Imperial Bayreuth (blue) and Swabian Hoenzollern (grey) Dragoons
Imperial Bayreuth (blue) and Swabian Hoenzollern (grey) Dragoons



By smacdowall, Sep 18 2017 06:45PM

My historical wargames interests are set firmly in the time before firearms become effective.

Some time ago I dabbled for a bit with Cold War micro-armour but the last WWII game I fought was decades ago.


It was on my childhood bedroom floor with unpainted Airfix HO 8th Army and Africa Korps — the original 1960s sets.


Shortly after watching the film Dunkirk, I was inspired to break the mould by an invitation to play the German commander in a 'what if' Operation Seelöwe game. The scenario imagined a German landing on the beaches of southeastern England on 14 July 1940. The British would have been licking their wounds after Dunkirk while the Germans would have been feeling the wind behind their sails.


I was given a rough map with even rougher intelligence. From this I had to select 4 beach squares, on each of which I could land an infantry regiment of 3 battalions, which would arrive in three waves. I also had two parachute regiments and could select three adjacent squares for each of the regiment’s battalions to land. Following on from my decisions and those of the British commander, a tactical game would be played to see what happened next.


I decided to concentrate my attack on Folkestone with a diversionary attack on Deal. The blue circles A-D were the beaches I selected and the maroon circles 1-6 were the parachute landings. Hythe and Deal had small harbours which would allow me to land infantry reinforcements while Folkestone and Dover had proper ports where I could land heavier troops. If I captured the airfields of Hawkinge (maroon circle 4) or Lyminge (maroon circle 1) then I had the possibility of bringing in further reinforcements by air.


Dover had a better port than Folkestone and would allow me to bring in more reinforcements. I decided, however, not to attack there as it seemed like too hard a nut to crack. I felt that if I took Folkestone, Hythe and the two airfields then I could concentrate my forces in a relatively tight area with good opportunities for landing follow-on troops and supplies.


I allocated the vast majority of my air resources to achieve air superiority, leaving some air assets to provide cover for my landing craft and ships. I also ordered a naval bombardment of the beaches north of Dover to hopefully divert British attention there.


The view of the table from Lyminge looking south-east towards Hythe
The view of the table from Lyminge looking south-east towards Hythe

The tactical tabletop game which followed was played out in 1:300 scale on a 16 x 6 foot table covering the area from RAF Lyminge in the west to the beaches northeast of Folkestone. The rules we used were Spearhead. I had no experience of these or any other WWII rules before. I found they worked rather well. They are relatively simple and do not get bogged down into fine detail. The mechanisms are easy to remember and give enough tactical nuance to make close actions interesting while keeping the game at the grand tactical level.


The para-drops drifted a bit and did not land exactly where I had wished. Those aiming for RAF Lyminge had a bit of a hike to get to their target and by the time they reached the airfield, British infantry reinforcements were already arriving form the west.


The British defences at Hawkinge
The British defences at Hawkinge

It was easier at RAF Hawkinge and after hard fighting my paratroopers were able to overcome the defenders to take the airfield. As soon as they had they done this, the1st London Rifles arrived from the north to launch a counter-attack. After fierce fighting both sides were so worn down that the survivors dispersed leaving Hawkinge airfield unoccupied.


German paratroopers cut the rail junction above Folkestone
German paratroopers cut the rail junction above Folkestone

One of the parachute battalions from the regiment assaulting Hawkinge was tasked with cutting the rail junction above Folkestone (maroon circle 6) and then support the infantry attack on Folkestone. It took the attached engineers an inordinate amount of time to blow the rail lines (thanks to low die rolls) but when they finally did, their support of the attack on Folkestone proved invaluable.


The first wave lands between Folkstone and Sandgate
The first wave lands between Folkstone and Sandgate

The initial landings on the beaches met little initial resistance but as soon as the German infantry approached Hythe and Folkestone they ran into a determined defence which more or less wiped out the first wave of attackers in house to house fighting.


Close quarter fighting in Folkestone
Close quarter fighting in Folkestone

It was hard going and it took supporting attacks from the paratroopers before they finally managed to clear the defenders from the built up areas. An ad-hoc battalion of British sharpshooters from the nearby School of Small Arms were particularly annoying.


The first wave lands below Hythe
The first wave lands below Hythe

My troops managed to take Hythe in tact but just as Folkestone was about to fall into my hands the defending stevedores blew up the port facilities rendering it useless for landing much needed reinforcements.


British reinforcements hold up the paratroopers attacking Lyminge
British reinforcements hold up the paratroopers attacking Lyminge

I re-occupied Hawkinge airfield with infantry from the third wave but the RAF Regiment defending Lyminge grimly held on to the last man, inflicting heavy casualties on the paratroopers who finally captured it.


As daylight began to fade I started to set up defensive perimeters, anticipating a fierce counter-attack, especially from the direction of Dover. When I moved troops towards the village of West Hougham to take up a position dominating the road to Dover they came under fire from the Home Guard. They had been reinforced by British regulars who had fled Folkestone along with a heavy machine gun.


The home guard at West Hougham hold up the German advance
The home guard at West Hougham hold up the German advance

Despite repeated artillery bombardments the defenders of West Hougham kept up a withering fire on my men, taking out a 50mm anti-tank gun and several platoons of infantry. They held up my advance for 4 hours and it took paratroopers reinforced by 2 tanks to finally clear the village so I could establish my defensive perimeter.


The umpire called the game as night fell on 14 July 1940. I held two salients around Folkestone and Hythe and controlled the airfields of Hawkinge and Lyminge. My lines were stretched and I would need further reinforcements if I was to hold out against a determined British counter-attack.


We will continue the campaign some time in the future, picking up where we left off.






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