Monday, 6 September 2021

WORTH A WATCH

 The Mariners' Museum of  Newport News Virginia - home of the USS Monitor - have two series of vids that are worth watching for anyone of a marine bent. I recommend them here on the basis of  rams still being used in naval forces then ...plus there are plenty of wrecks ;)

Click to go to their website HERE

The first are presentations about pictures in their collection of maritime painting. These are presented by their art curator Kyra Duffley. She is knowledgable about the subject and waxes lyrical about some great lesser-known marine paintings. Short vids.


Second is about the naval side of the American Civil War. This is presented by John Quarstein who is an author and steeped in the subject. He has a very enthusiastic and ebullient presentation style which is very welcome for those tired of fast cuts and effects. Longer presentations certainly with detail you will not know about even if you follow the subject. Old school in the best way!


Give these a try. You will be pleasantly surprised. Not least by some nice southern states accents! Subscribe to them to support thier efforts!

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

SEA OF DOOM #5 : GETTING THE DUCKS IN A ROW - ORDERS OF BATTLE

 Herodotos conveniently provides orders of battle for the two sides. It is possible to nit-pick over details but in the overall scheme of 1500 or so ships fine details are not so important.

Rank hath its privileges

The biggest challenge is to assign the ships to a manageable number of counters. There doesn't seem any point in making a counter for every 10 or 20 or for each ship. The map game is just a way of easily providing variation for the clash of models. To reiterate - because a simple re-run of history is predictable and dull we are seeking here to provide some unexpected surprises and variation whilst still keeping contact with the ancient events.

The appropriate notes can be scribbled on the reverse of the counters thus preserving some uncertainty for the opponent until the battle lines meet.

My obols are on the cat

GREEKS - these can be ordered after ethnic lines relatively easily. The massive Athenian contingent being divided to make sure each counter includes about 30 ships.


PERSIANS - fewer and larger  contingents mean we can follow a similar principle but allot about 100 ships to each counter - one could just as easily use 50 - so as to keep the number of counters manageable.

A NOTE ON QUALITY - Following the basic variables of  + / - / = as outlined before, each counter needs to be labelled for quality. + being superior, = being average and - being deficient. There is no need to refer to rules here because who knows what models and rules will be used at last? Just the relative quality needs to be known for now.


ORDERS OF BATTLE FOR SALAMIS - COUNTER BY COUNTER  

GREEKS - 12 COUNTERS about 30 per counter

ATHENS - 6 counters each of 30 ships     3 +    3=

MEGARA - 20 ships =

NORTHERN STATES - Ambracia7, Leucas3, Ceos 2 Pentekonters, Naxos1, Styra 2, Cynthus 1 plus 1pentekonter, Crotoniats1, Melians 2 pentekonters, Syphnians 1 pentekonter, Serephians 1 pentekonter  all rated -

EUBOEANS - Troezen2, Hermione3, Chalkis20, Eretria7    all rated -

PELOPONNESIANS - Sparta 16, Sicyon15, Epidaurus10  all rated =

CORINTH - 40 rated +

AEGINA - 30 rated +


PERSIANS - 12 COUNTERS about 100 per counter

PHOENICIANS - 3 x 100 ships  all rated +

EGYPTIANS - 2 x 100 ships all rated +

HELLESPONTINES - 100 rated =

IONIAN GREEKS - 100 rated =

DORIANS AND CARIANS - 100 rated =

CYPRIANS - 150 rated =

CILICIANS - 100 rated -

AEOLIANS AND ISLANDERS - 77 rated -

PAMPHYLIANS AND LYKIANS - 80 rated -

The ratings can be tweaked as desired. The main thing is to give variation to each fleet.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

ALWAYS GOOD WITH SOME EXTRA WAR-GALLEYS : COUNTERS

 Counters for the Sea of Doom. The idea is to scribble info on the reverse. Stick to thick card.


Friday, 6 August 2021

SALAMIS : SEA OF DOOM #4


The seascape needs to be established at two levels.

STRATEGIC / FLEET LEVEL and Tactical Level - which we save for next time...

We need to know where the different squadrons were moved to, harboured, and where they deployed.

The potential area over which the fleets could be deployed ranges round the whole of the Salamian coast and over to Phaleron where the Persians had their main base.

The Corinthians supposedly fled into the Gulf of Eleusis on their way to the Isthmus of Corinth where their land forces, the Spartans and others were constructing a wall to block the Persians from entering the Peleponnesus. 

Xerxes supposedly sent his Egyptian ships to block any escape attempt such as the Corinthians may have made. They went south round Salamis to plug the straits at Megara.

Next we have to allow some space for the Persians to mooch around all night at sea while they blocked the entrance to the Salamis straits. A player might wish to rush into the narrows immediately but the option must b ethere to remain at sea off Phaleron.

For the Greeks, inside the straits, they need the possibility to harbour their ships in different configurations.

The sea space needs to be chopped up into areas. We dont want a hex map. We dont need a map accurate in foot furlong and fathom but it should relate directly to the space available.

The pre-battle period, when ships can be shuffled around, lasts from dusk to dawn. Within this time the Egyptians must be able to get to the Megaran straits and back to the battle during the a.m. .

That trip is around 30km. It has to be accomplished between 6pm (dusk) to 6.30am(dawn). This gives us a scale to 'grid' the seascape at this 'fleet' level. 

Suitable base-ic base-map

The 12 hours of darkness need to be part of the game to set up the battle. But we do not want to have to go through every minute. Let's start with 4 3 hour moves - just to start things.

This means ONE turn of 'fleet level' movement will get us from Phaleron to west Salamis. Arbitrarily, then, we divide this on the map into 6 areas.

Now it is simply a question of chopping the rest of the map into similar sized pieces.

This gives a counter representing a group of triereis a movement of  3 areas in a single 3 hour 'fleet level' game turn.

We can also make the proviso that to get ships out or harbour and into the adjacent sea area takes a whole move.

THE STRAITS

We need to be careful about the situation in the straits. Let's make sure the area inside Psyttalea and St George is a single area. If forces get here then they face each other in the same area - forcing our battle onto the historical focus area.

A boyhood favourite! (before I found war-galleys!)

The same should stand for the Megaran straits - if a confrontation happens there we make the whole strait 1 area for ease.


THE HARBOURS

We also need to make arrangement for the harbouring of our fleets. 

The clock starts ticking with all ships on their way to moor at the end of the day.  Both fleets' crews want to go ashore to stuff their faces. 

The Persians only have Phaleron as  a base. The bay is wide and can accommodate the whole fleet.

There is no tactical interest in making any other arrangement for our game.

The Greeks have three harbours. Even if you think one or other is unfeasible - if we allow the use of all three we get more interesting variability in the action.

Several arrangements are possible. 

1) Allow the whole fleet to be moored in any of the bays.

2) Allow half or two thirds to fit in each bay - forcing a spread.

3) Allow 1/3 in each bay - forcing maximum spread.

I prefer to allow full fleet capacity in one and less capacity in the two others. This is easily varied but the northern most mooring is likely to have been the worst and it is by no means certain either the other two could have acommodated the whole fleet.

100 ships per capacity point - 380 ships to get a berth

In terms of 'fleet game' mechanics - a group of ships (a counter) is 'moored' or it is 'at sea'. It takes a turn to move from the shore out to be at sea in an adjacent area.

Yes this is all arbitrary. But it is with reference to a realistic time and space scheme and it will be easily tweakable once we try it out.

PHYSICAL COMPONENTS

This 'fleet level' part of the game will be a simple paper map with counters.

We need map and counters. 50/100 ships per counter to start with , or varying according to the historical contingents. 

We also need a time/turn track.  

We need a simple set of rules to move the counters on the map.

More we do not need.

Avoid simply remaking 'Trireme' boardgame!!!!

THE TIME TRACK AND STRATEGIC EVENTS - DECISIONS

There are key decisions/events which affect how the battle occurred. It is possible to make a list of many small details but we are doing this exercise to arrive at a battle game - the cart must not be set before the horse.

I summarise the key elements which can decide how elements of the battle fall out.

1) When does Xerxes send his fleet to sea?

2) When or if Xerxes sends a blocking contingent to the Megaran straits.

3) When do the Aeginetians arrive with intelligence about the Persians? (and what info?)

4) When / if the Tenians desert the Persians and bring intelligence.

5) When / if the Corinthians leave the fleet  (or other contingents? ) and when they return / if?

6) When does the Greek fleet go to sea and where ?

7) When does Xerxes send what contingents into the straits of Salamis?


These factors can all be varied in the simplest way as follows..

+ factor  - more than historical effect

= factor - historical effect

- factor - less than historical effect



What this means is that one ends with  stack of  21 or so cards to be drawn at different stages which indicate each player's options.

The cards will be drawn at appropriate times. We end up with a game turn clock something like this.


We now have a framework for how the pre-battle events develop.

We must bear in mind that there are certain pre-requisites for this exercise. If we allow every last influence to be factored in we can easily discover that the battle was actually most unlikely to have taken place.

We are accepting that Themistocles' lure of a disintegrating Greek fleet which could be caught in the process of retreating was accepted by Xerxes. We are also accepting that the Greeks planned to fight in narrow confines not only to accentate their strengths but also out of experience gained at Artemesium. 

Looks juicy,but...

The key is to set the scen for a battle at Salamis which was historically possible but which presents uncertainties and decision-making challenges for the players.


TACTICAL / BATTLE LEVEL

We need a system to allow the battle to be laid out and fought on the tabletop...NEXT EPISODE


Monday, 26 July 2021

SALAMIS REFIGHTS#3 : THE SEA OF DOOM ALMOST

It is easy to see how one can quickly drown in the literature concerned with Salamis.

There is a veritable  hæmerroid of books available about Salamis

To make a recreation of the battle from reading one quickly gets bogged down in academic debates on individual details such as...

Did the Egyptian Squadron go to the Megaran Straits?

Did the Aiginetians make a flank attack, an ambush or even arrive late in the day?

Did the Corinthians make a feigned flight, a real flight or never flee at all?

Did the Greeks back water ? If so, how much ? How long?

etc.

So a broad view is needed - and remember IT IS FATAL TO GO DOWN THE ROAD OF RECREATING WHAT MODERN HISTORIANS THINK HAPPENED IN HISTORY.


Historians work to synthesise a believable narrative. They filter the variety and wealth of material available to establish a believable, defendable framework. This is not what gamers do. Gamers should establish and identify parameters and factors and then effectively run a Monte Carlo simulation. 

Some would say a Fleming Simulation - but it is actually a genuine article 

We are interested in plausible what ifs. We are not interested in introducing spaceships and we are not interested in agreeing the historical outcome was the only one possible because of the historically prevalent conditions. The interest is in the variability. 

We have a few certainties for Salamis.

We KNOW the Greeks were not destroyed by the battle

We KNOW Xerxes withdrew from Greece after failing to deliver knock-out blows to either of the Greek land forces or naval forces.

We KNOW Xerxes had moved the largest army and navy the world had ever seen from Asia Minor to Attica and after the battle it was the end of the usual season for campaigning.

Print( or paint) the myth!

The winner of any ancient war-galley battle could mop-up at will, kill defenceless sailors and troops isolated on an island. The Greeks held the strait after the battle and kept the Persians off Salamis and kept a fleet in being but we do not know they smashed the Persian fleet. The Phoenicians went home in a fit of pique but there were plenty of them to go home - the elite of the Persian fleet who bore the brunt of the battle..

For Herodotos and Aeschylus the fact that the Persian fleet left was enough. Surely this was evidence of defeat. 300 'noble' warriors were slain on Psyttalia but what relevance had 300 in a battle involving up to 180,000 men !



But apart from these details....everything else is open for variation to create an interesting confrontation on the table.

    We  do not know where the battle happened.

    We do not know the strength of Persian forces involved, even if we agree the Greek ship total is             believable.

    There is potential argument over the natur eof the ships used on both sides and the number of fighting     men aboard them.

We need to identify and highlight key factors which affect the ancient battle. These factors must not be too numerous and they must have a substantial effect. These will be the basis for the kriegspieling or simulation of the engagement.

To be clear. The game needs to include variable set-ups, variable deployments, even variable sides if there were factors which could have changed those which occurred on the day.

The variables we elect to involve in the game will only be those that affect the day's proceedings in an interesting way. The location of Xerxes throne is not relevant but the location of his admirals is.

Ruggero Giovanini's epic picture of Salamis from Xerxes' perspective : LOOK AND LEARN


Next - Build the battle as a gaming model.


NEW DOWN THE SLIPWAY : Monokrotic Pentekontereis

The pentekonter was the precursor to the trieres. It was the F4, a great fighter from a generation previous to, and totally outclassed by, the F15 - the trieres - which ushered in a new concept of ancient galley warfare. The pentekonter could cruise at 4.5knots or make a burst of speed possibly up to 6 knots. It could accelerate faster than a triakonter but nothing like the trieres. It could not turn as sharply as the smaller ship but probably as well as a trieres.


The pentekonter had 50 oars - the name means a '50' . The ship was probably 30 metres or so long and the vase paintings which show them depict elegant vessels with fine lines. They were fast and agile. With a beam at the waterline of only 2.3 metres or so and a draught of 0.6 metres.

6th Century BC Athenian vase

Pentekonters did not necessarily have rams. They probably had a fore-foot because this was the standard hull form for the Greek Archaic and Classical eras. The first ram-armed war-galley battle, fought in the Sardinian Sea between Phokaians and the combined forces of Carthaginians and Tyrrhenians, took place c.540BC. The pentekonter was the first true war-galley.

Reconstruction of early pentekonter : Late Minoan date

Greek Ship models .com version of a pentekonter


I based my model on a ship with a partial deck /catwalk to allow an element of deck fighters to be perched on the model if desired. It is ram-armed but I could trim the forefoot and paint it as wood if I just want a transport or courier ship.


The oarsmen are modelled, as usual, with individual features taken from surviving statues and vase paintings.


The key characteristic of this model is that it has a single tier of oarsmen. This is a monokrotic oar system. Later developments led to a two-tier pentekonter with a dikrotic oar system. This is the next model down the slipway!


As far as we know, no monokrotic pentekonters were ever built as cataphracts, with a full deck and enclosed oarsmen. Although Demetrius son of Antigonos may have used these ships as the basis for his 'gunboats' at the siege of Rhodes.

Size comparison with a trieres at rear.

Now enjoy the sight of a flotilla of monokrotic pentekonters taking it easy during peacetime manoeuvres 'somewhere in the Aegean'.


Sunday, 11 July 2021

SALAMIS REFIGHTS #2 : WHAT HAPPENED AT THE BATTLE?

Previously I discussed how the different ways one could fit the Persians and Greeks into the Salamis straits meant we could find no single  solution as to what happened that day so long ago.

There is no one logical way to fit the opposing forces into the space available.  Our ideas about what actually happened must be based on the accounts we have from antiquity - if we can read a sensible account from them - but we cannot expect a military operational plan with maps attached to emerge.

We have Herodotus : he wrote not long after the battle - in the second half of the 5th century BC. He travelled widely and may have spoken to veterans of the conflict. His account of the battle is lodged in an account of the war which is very detailed. 

Then we have the playwrite Aeschylus. He participated in the battle as a hoplite - he was no spring chicken by this date, being born c.525BC he was 45. He was therefore not an epibates if he was on a ship but rather a supplementary deck soldier. His play 'The Persians' is about the effects of the defeat on the Persians at home. How they suffer for their Great King's arrogance before the gods. The problem is this is not a war correspondent's despatch but a drama. It includes some interesting details but has no objective narrative of the battle.

Why I always wear a hat in tortoise country, Aeschylus' big mistake.

Diodorus Siculus was a Sicilian writing in the first century BC. He used older writings to construct his monumental 'Library of History'. His account of Salamis includes some details and judgements not apparent from Herodotus nor in Aeschylus. There were at least 9 ancient authors in the fifth century BC alone who addressed the battle apart from Herodotus and Aeschylus, so there was some material to work with.

BIG history - DS' Library of History'

Later historians such as Ctesias, Plutarch, Aristodemus (and others) give us snippets. But no complete narratives and probably base themselves ultimately on the fifth century writers.

Then we have fragments from lost works of poetry and prose such as the poets Simonides and Timotheus. These are near contemporary but inconclusive.

From the previous discussion the big choice was should the battle-lines be drawn-up facing each other east-west or north-south.

As long ago as 1928 Kiel summarised 6 different approaches to reconstructing the battle. He further grouped them into two main tactical options - the' encirclement battle' or the 'frontal attack battle'. 

We have no new information about the battle barring the Troezen stele which is probably a later document.(I won't say 'fake' because it is 2400 years old item, and composed in a plausible way, not intending to cheat its audience). The reconstructions made over 100 years ago do not differ much from the most recent ones.

Plus ca change..

Modern accounts range from short commentary papers dealing with a single issue such as the identification of where Xerxes plonked his throne down to entire books but the basics remain.

This is the refighter's problem. As I tried to show in the previous piece, looking for 'the solution' is where madness lies. There are far more tubes in the jungle than one can possibly squeeze. 

Just to take three examples of how trying to create the perfect over-arching scenario which explains all the details we have from drama, history and poetry etc.. authors begin to lose all reason. 

BARRY STRAUSS - Wot I did on my holidays at Salamis

Within the same paragraph..p.252

'Many Persian commanders were killed at the battle...they had little loyalty to a cause;...They had no incentive to fight to the death.'

AINT GONNA DIE FOR NOOO-ONE..

HANS WALLINGA - Xerxes Great Adventure

p.93 -dealing with his speculation that the Persian planned a simultaneous landing attack from Psyttaleia to the south side of Cynosura..

'That nothing came of the actions projected in the plan must not lead us to neglect the indications preserved by the Greek witnesses. They strongly suggest, if they do not prove, that the Persian staff were not tied to a simple naval handbook scheme.'


i.e. just because my convoluted scheme is not directly mentioned by the ancients doesnt mean it wasn't done or wasn't at least possible. Probably. 

NEIL HAMMOND - All About Salamis

p.47 -  trying to cajole the battle lines to lie where he wants them.

'The fleet(Persian) therefore advanced en echelon..Deceived by the disappearance of the Greek fleet ...the Phoenician squadron was still pressing on towards the narrow when the Greek fleet emerged in column and swung into line to face the en echelon formation of the Persian line.'



WILLIAM SHEPHERD - Everything About Salamis within Osprey Format

Somehow, he has the Greeks emerge from Ambelaki and Paloukia bays to form a continuous line from Pharmakoussa to the tip of Cynosura with some forces kept in reserve. (how would this be coordinated?) This is done in the dark/twilight with no direct observation of where the Persian ships are. For an army or fleet to be drawn up based on a hunch in ancient warfare is unusual.

TRAFFIC CONTROL..WE NEED TRAFFIC CONTROL.

What seems to happen is that a detailed overview which hangs perfectly together of this battle is a problem of Schleswig-Holsteinian proportions. If it does not kill you it will send you mad so best forget about it!

WTF are we arguing about?

All authors who tackle the battle with a total recall style approach become tough to read. Barry Strauss's book is sometimes like fighting through jungle thorns and creepers. A glimpse of the ancient sources, followed by the digression on a subject bearing some relation is repeated again and again. You start to shout at the book 'Get on with it!' Academic papers are meant to deal with arcane matters but still if you read several which fail to agree, almost with a will, the process becomes wearing. Hans Wallinga uses an entire book about Salamis to ride his hobby horse that triereis usually operated without a full compliment and often with a whole tier of oars missing.

In the end I decided to marry two perspectives in an attempt to gain control of the Salamis spaghetti monster. One has to step back and stop letting any discussion of details hinder the project.

First : recognise that a reconstruction of an ancient battle is impossible. I have fought in so many reenactment fights I cannot remember. The evening after any one of these events,  people fighting next to each other will give a different account of what happened. This with 500 people fighting in groups of up to 50 each. This without the traumatic effects of a near-death experience. (Mostly).


Commanders give different accounts from front-line fighters. Those who 'died' have a different view than those who survived. The left flank seldom knows what the right flank is doing, or has done. Herodotus collected accounts, no doubt, but then had the task of collating and reconciling them.

I am in this fight. I remember almost no details.

 An impossible task. The latter of which he does not really attempt.  Aeschylus had his limited viewpoint of the battle which was highly authentic but the surviving form in which he set down an account of the battle is a politically-charged drama which hangs together as drama but cannot be considered a despatch from the front.

We must get over this desire to accommodate all surviving references and details. We must find the key details - a manageable number -  and work with them. Details upon which the battle depends and upon which all commentators must have a view.And most importantly, details which can be modelled somehow in a tabletop recnstruction.

Second : Throw away the hackneyed method of marking out a scaled-down battlefield and deploying on this a force reduced in size by a factor suitable for your collection of models. 

It is necessary to scale the forces and the topography in synch. A 1/4 sized battlefield needs forces which occupy 1/4 of the space of the original forces. A massed unit which had problems manoeuvering cannot be replicated by 2 or 3 models. Of course, it can, but not in a realistic way.

Actium on the table: this represents something like 650 ships using models on 40 bases.
Does this present the gamer with something of the problems of shepherding massed fleets? From the excellent blog NCC1717.com

The degree of  scaling must be assessed if the 'refight' is to be meaningful. If a regiment which operated in two battalions is scaled down to a single unit of 10 figures then we have lost any flexibility in deploying that unit and we should proceed with the idea that all units should be represented as individual blocks rather than have any sub-units. 

A key point at Salamis is the number of ships in a limited space. This problem must be presented as part of the game as much as whether Greek or Persian ships were better. Scaling which results in less of a space problem means a refight is diverging more from the original situation.

Salamis suitable congested but somewaht undermanned.
From excellent report at Bleaseworld blog HERE

Finally, to make such a project interesting and involving there has to be choice and chance involved for the commanders on each side. If the game evolves as a slide -show of original events it will be boring.

For the Battle of Little Big Horn a refight should allow the US Cavalry to bump into Indian forces at different times and locations than the original events show. The forces available to the sides might be varied with reference to changing a few factors in the background story. This is a refight game rather than a rerun.

See article on game theory at Little Bighorn HERE

Now all we have to do is examine what this means for Salamis.

NEXT PART : Salamis : Fighting Fantasy Adventure? (when the rabbiting should begin to make sense at last..)