Tuesday, May 6, 2014

151st Anniversary CAMERONE DAY Game AAR


Though my wargaming buddy Nick Stern and I could not manage to meet across a tabletop on Camerone Day 151 (the way we had the two previous years), Nick did manage to play a commemorative game -- lucky devil that he is -- and was kind enough to send me some very nice pics, as well as his own eloquent synopsis of the action.  So without further ado, I turn you over to the very capable hands of one of the most experienced -- and finest -- colonial game-masters and scenario devisers alive...

Like Ethan, I get a particular "historical rush" when I play a game based on a real battle on its anniversary. So when I found myself free on April 30 I decided to host a Camerone 151 game, even though we'd had a blowout game on the 150th the previous year.

I have a hacienda set up I made five years ago or so and I've been adding bits and pieces over the years. I made the discovery that I like the looks of the models the more debris I add to the courtyard. I have more than enough figures for the 60 men in Danjou's force, 49 if you start them in the hacienda after the skirmishes with the Mexican lancers. I have about 200 Mexicans and that was to present a challenge for the Mexican players, but more about this later.

I was able to persuade four friends to take the day off. Milton Soong, former editor of the Heliograph and Savage and Soldier, and Dave Love joined me in running the Mexicans. Alan Sissenwein and Lawrence Goslinowski played the French. I had an assortment of French cheeses, pate and nachos for appropriate snacking.

The rules: Michael Montemarano's Not Men But Demons, heavily favor the French, as they should. Anything on the table is in range and the French kill on a 4, 5 or6, with no saving throws. The Mexicans kill French in cover on a 6 and the French save on a 1, 2 or 3. 4 is a wound, 5 a severe wound and 6 is dead. As you can see, you need a lot of Mexicans. Not the 40 to 1 odds in the real battle but something close to 8 or 9 to 1. So with only 4 to 1 advantage, my Mexicans were in for an uphill battle.

I started the game with five Mexican snipers in the upper floor of the hacienda. The French used their first move to attack the upper floor with one squad while holding the ground floor with the headquarters squad. It took the French three turns to clear the upper floor but after they did, it put them in a good position to bring fire to bear from the seven upper floor windows. Meanwhile, the dismounted Mexican cavalry assaulted the south and west walls. With recycling, the Mexican cavalry totaled 120 men and that was all the Mexicans had until the infantry arrived on the fifth turn. At first the Mexicans made good progress, silencing the French who were stationed on the stable roof on the south wall. But the Mexicans units start to strangle at 50 percent casualties so the 12 figure cavalry units were quite brittle.

On the fifth turn, the 140 Mexican infantry arrived. Divided into seven companies, they started on the west, south and east sides, 24 inches from the hacienda walls. In the rules, it takes four men to aid one man to climb a wall. This seemed to result in just few enough Mexicans to provide targets for generally two or more French per man on the wall and the Mexicans suffered greatly trying to scale the walls. The Mexicans made some progress on the breach in the south wall which was barred by an overturned cart. In the firefight by the break they were able to take advantage of the cover and managed to inflict enough casualties to force the French at the breach to abandon it and seek cover in one of the ruined sheds along the east wall.

When we played the game last year, the French held out for fourteen turns, with Danjou being the last man down. In our game we called it after playing 20 turns for five hours and only half the French being either dead or severely wounded and without the Mexicans being able to establish a foothold inside the courtyard. I definitely needed at least another 100 Mexican figures to be able to gain the critical mass needed to succeed. Also, an earlier draft of the rules had the French fire become less deadly as the game progressed to model the historic French running out of ammo. I think it would be good to reinstate this rule. I know I've sounded very pro Mexican in this report. But I feel the game is only successful if the Mexicans ultimately succeed in taking the hacienda. Otherwise it's very unsatisfying as a Mexican player to continually make progress only to be knocked down and have to start over again and again. The Colonial Angle said that in a good game the defending side needs to continually feel that it does not have enough men to adequately defend and the attacking player needs to feel similarly that he doesn't have enough men to adequately attack everywhere he'd like. I think it's getting that balance right that is the challenge in this kind of game where the odds are so skewed.

As a final note, I'd like to add that Alan and Lawrence played the French very well, making the best use of their defensive qualities. And they rolled like demons!

Thanks to Lawrence for taking most of the photos.

Best regards, 

Nick

...AND NOW FOR THE PHOTOS:

1.  The CONVOY ROAD from Vera Cruz on the coast to Puebla in the interior, runs past the abandoned Hacienda de la Trinidad, in the deserted and forsaken village of el Camaron...



2.   View from the South, with the BREACH visible near the Eastern end of the South wall...


3.   Longshot view of the compound, with the Convoy Road to the North, surrounded by a scattered mix of cacti, scrub-brush, woods, and overgrown farmland to the East, West, and South...


4.   View of the two-story HACIENDA and its surrounding compound as seen from the South-East, with the WOOD-SHED built outside the North end of the Eastern wall visible just South of the road...


5.   Juarista Mexican forces swarm the North-West corner of the compound wall, with the Convoy Road visible just below it, and the exterior door to the Hacienda also visible (The lack of numbers on the Mexican side must have prevented them from sending troops to assault the Hacienda from the road via that door.)


6.    Massed attack on the North-West corner of the compound -- North gate visible at the upper right corner of this pic...


7.    Juarista regular infantry throw themselves at the East wall...


8.    Legion defenders -- including an NCO "HERO" -- defending interior walls close to the Eastern wall of the compound...


9.   Mexican regular infantry throw themselves against the North-West corner of the compound...


10.  Irregular infantry assault along the entire length of the South wall, while dismounted Regular Cavalry approach the West wall in the foreground of this pic...


11.   Dismounted Regular Cavalry -- who set off the battle hours earlier when they blundered across the Company Danjou on the Convoy Road -- make their last attack on the walls...


12.   Irregular cavalry attack South wall...


13.  Legion defends South wall from atop the stable roof...


14.  Only a severely-wounded Legionaire holds out on the South wall/stable roof...


15.  Assault on the East wall peters out without reinforcements...


16.  Holding the South gate against the first rush...


17.  Attack develops on the SW corner but is beaten back by Legion rifle fire (from offscreen)...


18.  The dismounted Cavalry climb atop the South end of the West wall -- with the awning above the South gate just visible at the lower left of this pic...


19.  Massed attack on the North-West corner cannot overcome accurate Legion marksmanship...


Many thanks to Nick and his fellow Bay Area gamers for enabling me to feel like I managed to get a Camerone Day game in this year after all!

















Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Camerone Day 151

Today marks the 151st anniversary of the battle of Camerone.

I tried to organize a commemorative wargame, but unfortunately it did not work out.  Everyone else had other things to do, which is a pity.  I will wear my t-shirt, with a piece of art and the name and date of the battle on the front, and "NOT MEN, BUT DEMONS!" written across the back.  I guess, as my children would say, I am just a history geek.

There has not been much activity on this blog over the past year.  It's been a bit of a rough year for me, with my dad passing away in December of 2013, and some very tumultuous doings on a particular work project.  The time I did have to spend on the hobby was all spent on prepping terrain for my 1879 Second Afghan War battle of Charasiab layout, which is set in a very terrain-intense environment.  I've been working on the various elements since the end of 2011, and hope to have it all done in time for the next anniverary this coming October 6th, by which time I will have been working on it, on and off, for about three years.

If anyone hasn't seen it and is interested, here's a LINK to what I've done so far, which does not yet include several major elements, including most importantly a pair of river terrain boards, which I hope to begin building some time soon...

CHARASIAB LAYOUT

Meanwhile, I do want to add something re: Camerone to this post, so...

Here's a list of what I consider to be the most important three books I used as resources for researching preparing my terrain and scenario.

For those of you very familiar with the battle and the literature dedicated to it, this list will come as no surprise, but if you're more of a newcomer to the subject, I hope it will be of some use...


                                (1)



THE HAND OF CAPTAIN DANJOU, CAMERONE AND THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION IN MEXICO by Colin Rickards, Crowood Press, Ltd., 2005, 480 pp.

This is a very valuable book for anyone interested in the nitty-gritty details of the battle, as well as in the overall history of the "Mexican Adventure" campaign and the Foreign Regiment's participation in it (as the Legion was known at the time).  For my purposes it was extremely valuable, since it contains just about all the existing written reminiscences of particpants in the actual battle, as well as contemporary descriptions of the Hacienda de la Trinidad and the surrounding derelict village of el Camaron.


                                     (2)


CAMERONE, THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION'S GREATEST BATTLE by James W. Ryan, Praeger, 1996, 144 pp.

When it was first published, this was by far the best book in English on the battle, containing the most details.  However I would have to say that compared to "Hand of Danjou" it comes in second place.  It's a smaller book with more modest goals, dealing only with the battle of Camerone from start to finish, but "Hand of Danjou" does that just as well if not better, places the battle into the context of the overall campaign, and also deals with the historiography of how the "legend" of Camerone developed inside the Legion over the years following the battle, and was later ensconced as "official" history.  Still, as a completist, I'm happy to have the Ryan book on my shelf and would not want to part with it.


                                   (3)



MAC COY, CAMERONE, written by J.P. Gourmelen, illustrated by A.H. Palacios, Dargaud, 1983.  Silly as it may at first seem, the French comicbook pictured above, one of a large series devoted to the adventures of a U.S. Cavalry officer named "Mac Coy" (who looks suspiciously like Robert Redford around the time of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "Jeremiah Johnson", makes my list, because of the artist's impressive rendering of the terrain and buildings surrounding the Hacienda compound, as well as the compound itself.  It also provides a pretty accurate visual depiction of the progress of action as the battle proceeds from start to finish.  I've been told that copies exist in English but I've never seen one myself, mine is in French, but since I bought it for the art that fills every page, that is no problem.

NOT SHOWN ABOVE but also very valuable -- if you do read French -- is Pierre Sergent's "CAMERONE, THE FOREIGN LEGION'S HEROIC CAMPAIGN IN MEXICO", Fayard, 1980, 480 pp.  For many years this was the authoritative account of the battle, and it includes several good maps and diagrams of the area surrounding the hacienda compound and the compound itself.  Unfortunately I've never seen or heard of this book being available in English as opposed to French.

I hope to return soon with a new post devoted to the CAMERONE DAY game my good friend Nick Stern has organized up in his Northern California neck of the woods, which I trust will go splendidly well, as pretty much all of his games do.  Until then, I can only echo the words of Colonel Milan by saying:

NOT MEN, BUT DEMONS!







Sunday, October 6, 2013

Camerone in 54mm

My Camerone comrade Nick Stern sent me a couple of awesome pics displaying his newfound interest in 54mm skirmish gaming, using some custom-made "Magnificent Seven" buildings he just purchased, along with Mexican Peasant & Bandit figures, and some "Classic" C.1880 North African desert Legionnaires.  I think they look pretty sweet...