Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: Waterloo - The Hundred Days by David Chandler

Title: Waterloo - The Hundred Days
Author: David Chandler
First Published: 1980
ISBN: 1855327163

It's very hard to not start with the Battle of Waterloo when learning about the Napoleonic Wars purely because it was such a pivotal moment in human history. I will be the first to admit that the Napoleonic Period represents an enormous hole in my knowledge of history, so I headed out to my favourite second-hand bookshop Canty's and raided the shelves of their excellent military history section. I needed a book that would give me a good overview of Waterloo without assuming I already knew all the relevant background material, and that is exactly what Chandler's book delivered.

The book covers the period from Napoleon's escape from Elba through to the four battles over the course of the Belgian campaign from 15-18 June. It starts with Napoleon's escape and the political implications for the Allies and goes on to cover the biography and nature of the three commanders (Napoleon, Wellington and Bl├╝cher), the composition and state of their armies, the preparations undertaken by both sides, the four battles of Quatre-Bras, Livre, Wavre and of course Waterloo, and concludes with two chapters dealing with the immediate and longer-term legacy of the campaign.

I found the level of detail to be perfect. All of the significant facts impacting on the decisions made and the campaign outcomes were covered in good detail without becoming bogged down in minutiae. The stories of the battles themselves were well-organised, tightly written and deeply engrossing. There is a good mix of individual experiences and large-scale actions. The chronology of events across multiple locations are managed well with appropriate forward references to explain the impact of critical decisions or mistakes. The maps were well drawn (including contour lines) and the period paintings included were very evocative. And the length of the book was spot on - 200 pages with plenty of maps and illustrations. Perhaps best of all (for me anyway) the grammar is absolutely perfect.

The author is clearly British and this seeps through occasionally in the odd remark celebrating the failures of the French or the successes of the British, but the overwhelming view of the book is well-balanced and fair. I would have liked an Appendix covering the Orders of Battle in greater detail rather than just a chart showing the forces down to the Divisional level but this is a minor thing as such Orbats are widely available elsewhere.

On the whole this exceeded my expectations and left me much wiser about the battle and hungry to read more. I don't really believe in rating books (too subjective) but I will definitely recommend it to anyone who is starting out in the period. I greatly enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

To War

Welcome to my blog!

My intention is to record my journey as I explore the rich history of the Napoleonic Wars through 6mm miniatures and the Black Powder rules. By way of background I grew up playing the Milton Bradley games Hero Quest and Space Crusade (based on the Games Workshop worlds), which naturally led to playing Warhammer Fantasy and 40K. My favourite game out them all was Epic (variously called "Space Marine", "Titan Legions" or "Epic 40K") which was 40K played with 6mm miniatures on a grand scale: Hundreds of infantry, dozens of tanks, and giant war machines. I also loved Warmaster (the epic version of Fantasy). But they weren't GW's most profitable games so they dropped them...

Fast-forward ten years and I'm a burned-out 40K player who, besides irregular dabbling in Blood Bowl, hasn't really played a whole lot else and is struggling to maintain his enthusiasm. I hadn't painted anything for many months and had only played a handful of recent games - I was over it.

Enter my excellent friend John who had signed up to play Black Powder at CanCon and wanted to get in some more practice games. Now Black Powder was put together by the aptly-named "Nottingham Mafia", being Rick Priestley and friends, and draws on the Warmaster system among others. It emphasises scenarios over tournament play and can be used with whatever scale miniatures you like.

Neither of us had appropriate miniatures so John had cut out some cardboard bases to represent the units. We didn't really have a scenario in mind so we agreed to play until someone lost a brigade. We then embarked on three hours of the most exciting, challenging, intense, and above all fun wargaming I have experienced in decades. I made an absolute mess of the deployment on my left flank which was compounded by the fact that the Brigade Commander on that flank repeatedly failed to issue any successful orders, leaving my line badly exposed to John's advancing cavalry. John's first battalion charged heroically into my massed guns and was duly massacred. One of his other battalions got caught on the march in some woods, but I couldn't capitalise because the damn commander (yup, the same numpty who couldn't get the flank organised) couldn't get organised to issue the necessary engagement orders.

When we called it quits the battle was in the balance, although I'd say John would have gone on to win. We had completely lost track of time which shows just how much fun we were having. I came home buzzing and spent the next two hours coming down off this gaming high by researching everything I could about the Napoleonic Wars online. I honestly can't remember the last time I had so much fun playing a tabletop wargame.

So here we are. I've had my watershed moment and I am about to embark on a major change in my wargaming career. This blog will record the journey and hopefully end up chock full of battle reports, book reviews, tutorials and photos. I hope you find something useful here.