Friday, 26 July 2013

The Seven Years War - Number Crunching

"Look. just bugger off. We're trying to concentrate here."

Trying to work out how well our rules create games that might approximate to real events is one of the central conundrums of wargaming. Of course it gets harder the further back in history we go, as the stream of film, photos, statistics and written records thins out and then disappears.

A rare chance to check out my own rules occurred this week whilst I was reading Christopher Duffy's The Military Experience In The Age Of Reason. On page 209 he briefly tackles the problem of how many bullets might have been fired for each death caused to the enemy. There was enough there for me to take things forward and see how my own rules squared up to historical reality.

Getting Down And Dirty
Apparently, after the battles of Mollwitz and Chotusitz, Frederick instigated an investigation to try and discover how effective his troop's fire had been. A gentleman writing in 1756 used the figures to estimate that around 650,000 rounds were fired at Chotusitz, resulting in about 2,500 deaths, 'and as many wounded'.

This gives a figure of 260 rounds expended per death. According to Duffy, this is in the same ballpark as figures arrived at for a number of other 18th century battles, although the examples Duffy gives are for some of the lesser known actions rather than the main battles of the SYW. Looking up Chotusitz online, it is easy to discover that the total Austrian casualties in that battle (killed, wounded, prisoners, missing) were around 7,000. In round numbers, this gives about 100 rounds per casualty. As Duffy explains, this ratio would be reduced by an allowance for casualties produced by artillery and cavalry, but increased by the fact that a good proportion of the rounds expended were not actually fired but quite likely simply discarded by the soldiers. We can already see that this whole 'investigation' is a very rough and ready process. However, let's continue.

And so to my own rules. I designate a turn length of up to 10 minutes (which seems to be the fashion these days. Those old 2 minute turns seem to have gone for good). As I'm not saying a turn is exactly 10 minutes, let's assume that an infantry battalion which is firing does so for an average of 5 minutes in a turn. So 600 guys fire 3 rounds a minute, making 9,000 rounds heading the enemy's way during 5 minutes. Using 100 bullets per casualty gives us an average of 90 casualties per turn. This would give 180 casualties (nearly a third of a typical enemy battalion) in 2 turns, and 270 casualties (nearly half a battalion) in 3 turns.

I found this generally reassuring. Firefights using my rules are generally resolved, at least temporarily, in 2 or 3 turns (retreating units may rally later). Whilst it was not uncommon for battalions to suffer more than 50% casualties in hard fought battles, even when winning, I am reasonably happy that a third or half casualties would be enough to take most battalions out of the fight for a bit, if not permanently.

Now of course the various assumptions and estimations used in arriving at these figures may well be inaccurate, or may have varied from situation to situation. There's not much we can do about the inaccuracy, except perhaps devote a lifetime of research to the surviving primary sources. As for the variety, I am prepared to let the dice and modifiers take care of that. At least my rules didn't seem to be wildly at variance with these particular calculations.

The Old Moving And Firing Problem
Following the example of Black Powder, I have left out a negative modifier for moving and firing in my rules until now. However, prompted by this post on Ross Mac's outstanding 'Battlegame of the Month' blog. I have decided to relent. My original decision was based on,

1. Simplicity. One less modifier, and more importantly no need to remember who's moved and who hasn't.

2. Encouraging aggression. I found that knowing your fire would likely be less effective than the standing enemy you were attacking made players (me included) reluctant to close to musket range. This is, I believe, a main reason the modifier doesn't appear in Black Powder.

Nevertheless, I find I can no longer ignore the rather obvious conclusion that the fire of moving units would be less effective than those not moving. Therefore a -1 modifier for moving and firing now appears in my rules.

As for aggression, players will have to behave more 'realistically', and gain advantage in an attack by artillery preparation and/or by arranging to outnumber the defending troops in one way or another, even if this means counting a first line as expendable.

In Black Powder, I have also succumbed in the area of moving and firing, by accepting a house rule developed by other players based on one of the special rules introduced in the Last Argument Of Kings supplement. My rule reads as follows,

'Infantry deduct 1 firing dice if they move twice, and 2 firing dice if they move 3 times.'

I give Prussian infantry an advantage by only making them deduct 1 dice if moving 3 times, with no deduction for moving twice. I suppose for really poor infantry (Reichsarmee for example) you could disallow firing completely if moving more than once. 

For any Black Powder players reading this blog, this set of house rules posted by Bill5549 on his blog are well worth your attention.

I'll Be Back
I wish I could promise some real wargames action on this blog in the near future, but spare time for proper battles is limited at the moment. The wargaming world will, however, be relieved to know that I have ordered some new deciduous trees to take the place of the lumps of lichen on sticks I have been using for the past 20 years or more. So the battlefields might look a bit better when they finally feature again on this blog.


Prince Lupus said...

Interesting comments as usual. I'm not convinced that a penalty is required for units moving and firing for the C18.

I think a defender might allow the enemy to get close and deploy without firing a la Fontenoy.

So rather than a penalty for moving a bonus for First Fire might be more suitable. I believe Black Powder has the mechansim to deal with it this way.

Jim Walkley said...

Yes, interesting. Although I definitely tend to the enjoyability rather than the accuracy end of the wargaming spectrum I do like to consider whether the casualty rate is realistic (as far as we can judge) and it is always gratifying when there are conclusions like yours.

Regarding the penalty for moving and firing, my first thought was that a unit moving into range must take fire before being able to return it. Then I thought that if the move is 10 minutes (although I usually think of it as 30 minutes in scenarios) a unit which has moved into range could be returning fire for a large part of the move. Perhaps the deductions should be made per move taken whilst within firing range. If only the third move brings the unit within range it could be argued that the static enemy should have firing reduced as well, although this wouldn't fit with the BP system. In this period we are generally talking of moving and then firing rather than firing while moving.

At first I was inclined to agree with Prince Lupus that a first fire bonus was the way to go but now feel that this is a different subject not necessarily related to moving and firing.

Hmmm, I guess that my conclusion is that having a move sequence where firing comes before moving is perhaps the answer. Sorry for the ramble.



Chef du Whip said...

I think if you read further there is commentary in regards to the Russian front (I hope I have the right book) where the Prussians were observed advancing firing on the Russian defenders. Three rounds were observed fired by the advancing Prussians with no appreciable effect what so ever. This comes up numerous times in other accounts through this period, historians suggest that this seemingly waste of rounds wasn't designed to kill but to intimidate the defending forces and certainly that would account for some of those "wasted" rounds.
It is always interesting to read comparisons of rules vs reality, good job Keith.


snowcat said...

"A gentleman writing in 1756 used the figures to estimate that around 650,000 rounds were fired at Chotusitz, resulting in about 2,500 deaths, 'and as many wounded'.

This gives a figure of 260 deaths per round expended."

I think you mean 260 rounds per casualty. It's actually 0.0038 casualties per round expended.

Interesting thoughts. I like your Black Powder ideas, and I love your Blog.


Keith Flint said...

Paul, thanks for spotting that. I'm glad someone's paying attention. Duly corrected.

snowcat said...

Happy to be a spotter. ;)

I've found your Blog to be a source of inspiration, especially your SYW battles on a 6' x 4', and the scenarios & maps to go with them. You're a credit to the hobby Keith.