Thursday, 7 July 2016

Wargaming With War and Peace

To celebrate passing the halfway stage in this very entertaining book (I'm on page 797 out of 1358 at the time of writing), I thought I might share a couple of Mr Tolstoy's views on history in general and military history in particular. And if you didn't already know, Tolstoy was a Russian artillery officer in the Crimean War.

I thought that would get your attention. Lily James as Natasha Rostov.
Lily James is officially the best looking woman in the world. Apart from my wife.

His account of Austerlitz occurs quite early in the book and is notable for its description of the confusion and chaos of a Napoleonic battle. Take this passage for example:

After riding up to the highest point on our right flank, Prince Bagration started off downhill, where a continuous rattle of gunfire rang out and nothing could be seen for the smoke. The further they descended into the hollow the less they could see, but the more sharply they could sense the proximity of the actual battle. They began to come across wounded men. [...]. They crossed the road and started down a steep incline, where they saw several men lying on the sloping ground. Then they were met by a crowd of soldiers, some of them not wounded. These soldiers, gasping for breath as they hurried uphill, took no notice of the general and went on shouting to each other with much waving of their arms. Ahead of them through the smoke they could now see whole ranks of grey coats, and once the commanding officer set eyes on Bagration he ran off after the retreating mass of soldiers, shouting for them to come back. Bagration rode up to the ranks, where noisy sporadic fire drowned all speech including the officer's shouted commands. The air was thick with gunsmoke. The soldier's faces were all animated and smudged with gunpowder. Ramrods plunged in and out, powder was poured into pans, charges came out of pouches, guns fired. What they were firing at couldn't be seen for the smoke that hung undispersed by the wind. (p.192).

And much later in the book he writes this:

A good player who loses at chess is genuinely convinced that that he lost because he made a mistake, and he goes back to the opening gambits to find what that mistake was, forgetting that his every move throughout the whole game involved similar errors, no move being perfect. The mistake that he concentrates on attracts his attention only because it was exploited by his opponent. How much more complex than this is the game of war, which has to be played out within specific time limits, and where there is no question of one man's will directing events through his control of soulless machinery, because everything develops from the interplay of infinitely varied and arbitrary twists and turns! (p.787).

My point being, when you are playing Honours of War and you throw a 1 for your command roll, stop bitching! It's realistic!


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Read it myself... last year I think... it's a surprisingly good read.. but you do have to skim read the more tedious philosophical bits
.. and I got endlessly irritated by the procrastinations of the two main male protagonists! :-)

Steve-the-Wargamer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke said...

I must agree with you re Ms. James. A stunner.

Best Regards,


Steve J. said...

One of my dearest friends was in charge of the hair and make-up on the recent BBC production, lucky bugger!!!

Getting back to the confusion of battle, one of my regular wargaming chums colleagues is a Napoleonic re-enactor and also ex-military. He informed us that after a few volleys they couldn't see a damned thing and experienced first hand the 'fog of war'. From memory Tolstoy interviewed lots of Napoleonic veterans to get a good idea of what the campaign and battles were like, which would account for his realistic descriptions of battle.

Archduke Piccolo said...

A certain chessmaster name of S. Tartakower once remarked: "The winner of a chess game is whichever player made the second to last mistake."

Lev Tolstoy tended to the belief that social forces were what drove history. Even powerful individuals like Napoleon was subject to these forces and their efforts and abilities could avail little against them. It is no very large step, it seems to me, from that position to some type of historiographical determinism, though whether Tolstoy himself would have gone so far is hard to say.

tradgardmastare said...

A superb actress in a splendid series.
BTW I am thinking of using H of W with my 18th century Ottomans to fight the perceived threat of them by Austria during the SYW.Have you used Ottomans in the play testing at all?

Keith Flint said...

The short answer is no. However a couple of guys on the forum have posted on this subject. Try searching for 'Ottoman Turks' using the search function. I believe Roland's Marlburian download might also contain something on this, although that particular download is due for an update next week and might have a bit more at that stage.

tradgardmastare said...

Many thanks Keith for the "heads up" yesterday.It was a most helpful place to begin my thinking.