New Thinking on Artillery in Wargames

Why is it that so many horse & musket rules allow units to freely interpenetrate deployed artillery units without penalty?   I’ve read several articles recently discussing artillery, specifically on their deployment and use in the Napoleonic era, and the points being made by the authors are good ones that contradict several long-standing conventions for wargame rules covering this period of history.

The specific articles or notes I’ve read are as follows:

  • An extract from the upcoming “Republic to Empire” rules being written by Barry Hilton of the League of Augsburg.
  • The “Talking Wargames” article by Chris Scott in Battlegames #17.  (NB:  Battlegames is an excellent magazine… highly recommended for historical miniatures gamers)

Both articles cover the issue of space taken up by a battery of artillery, and how it is woefully under-represented in most wargame rules.  The frontage taken up by an average battery can often be pretty accurate, but the depth is way too shallow in almost all cases.   Mr. Scott argues that when you take into account all of the limbers, caissons, extra draft horses, field forges and other accouterments, an 8-gun field battery of the period would occupy a space roughly 100 yards wide by 250(!) yards deep.     The depth being described is much deeper than anything I’ve seen in any other tactical set of rules out there.  I suspect the basing depth for Napoleon’s Battles is probably closer to being correct due the ground scale versus the actual size of a 15mm artillery piece.

The ramifications of all that extra equipment lurking behind the gun lines are that guns are much harder to redeploy than many rules account for, and the quick 45-90 degree shifts in deployment that wargamers often execute on the tabletop.   For grand tactical rules this isn’t as big a deal, since the time and ground scales are such that we wouldn’t notice this much in many cases.  For tactical sets, though, I think it means that it should be much harder to radically shift facings, since you will need to account for the time to pack things up and get all of the supporting equipment realigned as well.  

The other issue is one of interpenetration.  Mr. Hilton argues that because of the need to keep feeding ammunition and other supplies forward to the guns, this deployment zone behind the gun line should essentially be a ‘no-go’ area for deployed troops.    Moving through this area, with all of the wagons, horses, ammo, people and everything else should disrupt both the guns and the formed units moving through them.   This makes a lot of sense to me, but it runs counter to almost every other Napoleonic rules set out there.  I can remember many times playing Empire III where the French would deploy a small 2-3 squadron of light cavalry right behind an 8-gun battery.  The horses were somewhat protected from the enemy, yet were free to charge (not just move, but charge) right through the guns to intercepts any unlucky unit that wandered nearby.    

Likewise, a number of Napoleonic rules sets allow infantry units positioned directly behind batteries to ‘support’ them for purposes of both morale and melee.   If you have to wade through 200+ yards of stuff to offer that help, I have trouble seeing what good that will do.  Units being posted on the flanks makes sense.  Behind the battery, not so much.

I wonder what differences in deployment there would be for horse artillery… will have to do some digging on that.    Since higher mobility was one of their specialties, I would be curious to see if they travelled with less ammunition and other extra equipment to allow them the extra flexibility their job demanded.

These articles were very thought-provoking and raise good points about how some of the cost-cutting measures we take (not buying models of limbers & caissons) can warp our perceptions about the mobility of artillery on the Napoleonic battlefield.      The art of siting batteries was not simple, yet most of our rules make it very easy to move and redeploy at will.  As Mr. Scott states in his work, it’s not that we are that much better at running black powder artillery than the professionals that actually did it back then… it’s just that the rules frameworks we use don’t accurately depict the problems that artillerists actually had to confront.


1 Response to “New Thinking on Artillery in Wargames”

  1. 1 Marshal Greg December 15, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Very Valid Point! I will make adjustments and place them in my rules adjustments for “the scenarios”

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