Thursday, 25 June 2020
Just a quick post on a common wargaming practice, which was prompted by finding an old photo online.
It is a commonplace in Horse and Musket rules to treat deployed (i.e. unlimbered) artillery batteries as 'dispersed targets' or similar. Like light infantry, deployed batteries are assumed to be well spread out and therefore, in general terms, harder to hit. This fits in well with what you read in most books about Horse and Musket tactics - firing at enemy artillery batteries with your own artillery is supposed to be a waste of ammunition.
So far so good. The reading I have been doing recently around Napoleonic warfare (and I've been doing a lot), commonly supports this idea. Napoleon himself spoke against artillery carrying out counter-battery fire. Unfortunately for this theory, when one turns to reading battle accounts, it is quite common to find the artillery from one side being instructed to engage enemy artillery when the enemy fire is becoming a serious problem - or indeed for artillery units themselves to engage enemy batteries on their own initiative. It is also common to find that such fire succeeded, depending of course on various factors such as the competence of the opposing batteries, their relative numbers, and any advantages of position one or the other artillery grouping might have.
So, in my opinion, the concept and practice of gaining 'artillery superiority' during an engagement was definitely current in Napoleonic warfare, and other Horse and Musket periods. I wanted to reflect this in my rules - having a nice little ding-dong between opposing batteries would, it seemed to me, add a bit of spice to a game. So in Shadow of the Eagles there is no negative modifier for artillery (or anyone else) firing at deployed artillery.
My rationalisation was that, firstly, firing in my rules (as in most others these days) is considered to represent not just actual death and destruction, but the moral or disordering effect of incoming fire - the effects of fear, fatigue and stress. As artillerymen cannot conduct their tasks whilst taking advantage of local cover or lying down, we must take account of the suppressive effect of enemy artillery fire in addition to actual casualties being inflicted.
Secondly, I started to question just how 'dispersed' an unlimbered artillery battery might be. Apart from the guns and crews, there are ammunition wagons, limbers, numerous men servicing those limbers and wagons, and of course lots (and lots) of horses. And so on this second point we finally get to the photo I mentioned at the outset. Below is a photo taken during the American Civil War of a 6 gun artillery battery and its supporting equipments deployed ready to fire:
Apologies, but that's about as big as it gets (as the Bishop said to the actress). But consider - does that really look like a 'dispersed target' to you? OK, maybe this was a parade of some sort (it is extremely unlikely to be a combat photograph), and those guns may be at less than normal deployment distance. But consider the depth of the target as well as its width.
So I think the image makes a point. There are a surprising number of similar ACW photos online - I include a few below. The first might be another view of the same battery already shown above:
Of course, some of those photos very definitely feature artillery that was on parade. But I think there is food for thought here - and I am inclined to think the approach in my rules is correct - or at the very least justifiable.
Let me know what you think.