Legio Wargames

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By smacdowall, Oct 23 2020 05:16PM

In the early 1980s I was living in (what was then) West Germany. Once, when my young children were going outside to play, I overheard my German mother-in-law warn them not to stray too far from the house “or the Swedes will get you.” She had no idea of the origin of the saying, it was just one of those things that had passed down the centuries from the trauma of the Thirty Years War (1618-48).

A couple of days ago I was one of those Swedes as we re-fought the Battle of Lützen (1632), appropriately socially distanced on the tabletop and via Zoom.

Wallenstein’s Imperialists had a strong centre protected by a ditch (represented by earthworks on the table). Their right was anchored by the town of Lützen but their left was relatively open.

Our plan was to pin the imperialist centre with a thin line of foot.

Refuse our left.

Strike hard and fast on our right with a large cavalry force led by Gustavus Adolphus himself, supported by a brigade of German, Swedish and Scottish foot.

We knew that Pappenheim would be arriving with Imperial reinforcements at some point but neither we nor the Imperialist players knew when. An average die was secretly rolled at the start of the game and kept under wraps until the 6th turn. We were lucky. When the die was revealed it told us that it would take another 5 turns before Pappenheim arrived.

The cavalry action on our right was fast and furious, swaying back and forth as lines of horse passed through each other. Turn after turn almost every unit on that wing was engaged in one way or another. Leading charge after charge, Gustavus was wounded but managed to stay on the fight (unlike the historical Gustavus who was killed).

The Imperialist had the better of the initial cavalry clashes but the tide turned when a unit of Imperialist cuirassiers, led in person by Heinrich Holk, was charged from two sides, The cuirassiers were routed and Holk was killed. This broke the morale of the Imperialist cavalry and advantage passed to the Swedes who began to turn the enemy left flank.

Meanwhile the Swedish foot attempted to close with the Imperialist foot holding their left. Met with a withering fire from guns and muskets, the first line of Saxons were driven back. The second line of Swedes met a similar fate.

As the third line of Swedish foot closed on the ditch, the Swedish cavalry had cleared enough ground to allow two additional battalions to start to work their way around the flank.

The Imperialists sent in a regiment of cuirassiers to block the gap but they were destroyed by a combination of fire from the Scottish foot and a flank attack from Swedish horse.

The Swedish cavalry on the other wing were roughly handled by the Imperialist cavalry. Bereft of cavalry support, the Swedish foot moved to successfully refuse their left flank.

As Pappenheim’s reinforcements finally arrived the Swedes had managed to turn the Imperialist left.

At this point Wallenstein decided that it was time to withdraw from the field of battle and King Gustavus lived to fight another day.

By smacdowall, Sep 30 2016 08:47PM

As my Battle of the Dunes project grows, I have become increasingly fascinated by the transition from civilian clothing to military uniforms in the mid to late 17th century. I had thought that Cromwell’s New Model Army was the first, but the more I delve into it I am coming to the realisation that the red coats of the New Model Army were more down to an oversupply of red cloth in London rather than a deliberate attempt to enforce uniformity. Probably most wargamers ECW armies are far more uniformed in appearance than the historical originals.

It seems to me that it was Louis XIV who first decided that his troops should be uniformed in the modern sense. The Gardes Français were perhaps the first to be issued uniform as we now understand it. Initially it was a grey coat, later the more familiar blue faced red. Louis had a thing about clothing. He insisted that his nobles were dressed in the latest fashion, loaning them money to buy the necessities to appear properly at court and then using their debt to further control them. It was not a great leap to extend this idea of ‘uniformity’ to the troops of his guards and then later the rank and file of the line units.

I find this contemporary painting of French troops at the 1667 siege of Tournai, now in the Swedish Army Museum, utterly fascinating. All the men are wearing the newly fashionable justacorps (long coat with turned back cuffs) but only the officer in blue coat with red lining seems to have anything that might be interpreted as a military coat. The men in their various shades of grey, brown and red all wear a similar style but they are far from being in uniform. The hats, too, show great variation. Some have black hats with white lace which would soon become standard issue but many others are still wearing civilian patterns and colours.

As it is with later English Civil War armies, many wargamers seem to assume an early assumption of uniform by the Swedes. The story told in the Swedish Army Museum is quite different. All their depictions of Swedish troops in the 30 years war are uninformed.

The museum has a unique display of 4 original justacorps from the late 1600s. Their exact origin is not definitely known but it is widely thought that these were sent by Louis XIV to the Swedish King to serve as models for a new Swedish uniform at the time the French were courting a Swedish alliance and when the French were busily setting the fashion for military uniforms.

Despite the fact that many wargamers paint their 30 Years War Swedes in blue coats with yellow facings, It would seem that this configuration only came into existence many years later, probably not before the turn of the 17th century. Even then many regiments still wore other colours.

This wonderful diorama shows Swedish cavalry at the time of the Great Northern War in the blue and yellow colours that we have come to associate with the Swedes. They are depicted charging à l’outrance with cold steel rather than using their pistols. This tactic came to be adopted by Marlborough’s Dutch and English troopers to great effect in the War of Spanish Succession

By smacdowall, Sep 12 2016 03:17PM

I knew that Stockholm had some rather good military museums but I had not realised just how good until recently.

The Vasa Museum probably takes pride of place. Seeing this immense 64gun 17th century warship up close is utterly awe inspiring. Built at the height of Swedish expansionist power in 1628, the Vasa was too top heavy and sank on her maiden voyage.

The Swedish Army Museum is probably one of the best army museums I have ever visited. I would put the Turkish one in Istanbul a close second. It covers the Swedish army in action from the 1500s to modern times.

I spent my entire time on the top floor which covered 1500-1900, leaving the more modern bits for a future visit. Much of the upper floor is dedicated to the 30 Years War, Great Northern War and the catastrophic winter campaign against Norway.

Many of the artefacts are supplemented by full scale dioramas which tend to focus on the hardships of campaigning rather than glorious feats of arms. These are done tastefully and realistically.

There is even a 1:1 scale diorama of a fully deployed Swedish army in the 30 years war done in what looks to be 20-25mm scale.

There is also a close-up of a foot unit done with larger miniatures as a spotlight above the the wider diorama.

If one was ever in doubt of the power of 17th-18th century Swedish cavalry charging à l’outrance with cold steel rather than relying on pistols, this trio of troopers literally drives the point home.

The displays are all very well explained in both Swedish and English with anecdotal and personal stories adding colour.

Unfortunatlely poorly lit glass cases house a rather magnificent collection of original Imperialist and Russian flags captured in various 17th -18th century battles.

At the entrance to the museum is a nuclear warhead recovered from an abandoned Soviet base in Estonia which had been targeted on Stockholm. It is a sobering reminder of how close we were to the brink of destruction in the days when I deployed tanks in the West German countryside in anticipation of the Soviet hordes coming over the border.

The Royal Armouries, below the Royal Palace also house some very interesting artefacts. Much of it is devoted to Gustav II Adolf (aka Gustavus Adolphus) and was started by him as a propaganda tool to remind the Swedes of the exploits of their warrior king.

It houses the clothing and buff coat he was wearing when he was wounded in the Polish campaign of 1627.

When the King was killed at Lützen in 1632 his body was found stripped apart from the three linen shirts he was wearing and his stockings.

These are all on display along with his sword which had not been looted, probably because it was relatively plain.

Gustav’s horse Streiff is also on display, much like Napoleon’s at Les Invalides. He is sporting the saddlery and pistols carried at Lützen.

There is also a good collection of arms, armour and Royal costume from the 1400s to early modern times.

There is an entry fee to the Vasa Museum but the other two have free entry.

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