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AWI reflection on events - the umpires take

The reader must remember that the players in this campaign were operating on minimal information, they were left to their own devices in the intelligence gathering and strategic assessment of events. They were not even sure where their own forces were, or if orders had arrived at their destination, or were in fact in enemy hands (as some where), let alone the location and disposition and intent of enemy formations.

Using Berthier (A free campaign manager) took a lot of booking keeping off me - it timed the arrival of messages according to the distance between the sender and receiver and judged if any messages were lost or intercepted. Some message and orders took up to 10 game turns to arrive at their destination - the content all ready aged, and perhaps even dangerous, because the situation had changed in the meantime.

In effect, each instruction and action out to be thought out turns ahead, and potential consequences thought through carefully, with incomplete information shored up with a good dose of assumption.

Each player only had a campaign map with numbered squares, this map was produced using a tool in Berthier and corresponded to the map positions of units kept by the program. The players never saw this map, and only had the campaign map with the gridded squares to refer to in planning their operations.

Add to the mix that the players were only certain of the position of their character and units in their company (Howe, Washington, Rochambeau and Graves), or units that were in their view. All other units were hidden from their view, and they would only be able to have a general assumption of where these units were in conjunction with the current orders given to their commanders.

Even the units in view could cause confusion - one player saw in the distance a formation of troops marching in one direction, and then saw a couple of moves later another formation heading in another direction. These were friendly troops, but he could not work who they were, or indeed what they were doing - an example of delayed arrival of messages, some of which may arrive with the commander out of order and cause further confusion.

The French player initially started far out to sea, had minimal information, and suffered greatly from the delay in signals. Admiral Graves suffered equally. It would be fair to say that these two players (Rochambeau and Graves) were between 7 to 10 moves behind events in the campaign at some points.

I think both sides played the campaign excellently, and I believe some events had similarities with the actual conflict, what is more, even though this was still a wargame, certain decisions and tactics were forced upon the player that would not normally take place during one off table top battles. People withdrew instead of charging in, agreements were made for battles to end, even though one side could clearly win - the losses would be unacceptable for the campaign.

I also saw how the moral of each commander, at various points in the campaign, affected their view of how well or poorly they were doing. This also had a tangible effect on their strategy. You will see how the stories in the Yorktown Times began to put pressure on the British player for action.

Howe had a very sound strategic plan, which required patience, and to hold his nerve. I think these news articles may have caused him to advance sooner than he wished - this led to a key battle, but I know his division did not contain all the troops he wished, some were still at sea when he marched from New York.

Meanwhile, I am not sure if Washington really knew if the French were coming, or if this was some umpire ruse.......

So far, the British player had lost 342 men in two battles, the American player close to 1,000. Neither side knew exactly how many casualties they had inflicted on each other, and when they read this, it will be the first time they will know for sure. The cost at sea was far less, damage to a French frigates main mast, but this would soon change in the coming weeks.

Howe was concerned with casualties, and this was his primary worry throughout the campaign - he needed to husband his meagre forces - realistic? - absolutely.

He felt constrained by his limited forces, and frustrated. He wanted to attack, which was his nature, but he could not be strong everywhere, and also knew that one costly battle would end the British ability to dictate events. Therefore, Howe appeared uncharacteristically cautious and hesitant. He wasn't, he was just waiting for a brigade of troops to arrive to strengthen his advance south to Philadelphia. The needling he got in the press irked him considerably. He was fighting not only the American rebels, but also against his own wargaming nature.

This is, in my view, very similar to the actual General Howe, an aggressive commander who is accused of hesitancy and timidness during the actual war - a mere coincidence???? - or were his thoughts similar to those of my wargaming friend, I will let the reader ponder that thought.

Washington learned early on that his army could not stand toe to toe with the British regulars and had to pick his battles carefully - realistic? - absolutely, again. He acknowledged to me privately, on a couple of occasions, that he was unlikely to win any battles, in fact, in all three engagements so far (two on land, one at sea), his forces had been beaten and forced to retreat. He found it strange that he could in effect be faced with losing every battle in the campaign, but could still win the war by simply wearing the British down, and stopping them capturing key locations. A situation that he was not used to, and somewhat frustrating.

The observation struck me by surprise, because in effect, it is a situation that the real Mr Washington faced.

Washington, for the complete game worried about a third British force, and this in effect kept a considerable portion (a division of troops and militia) tied in Philadelphia, it stopped him from massing an army to overwhelm the British. He decided to try and intimate the British by camping outside New York, and if the planned bombardment had gone ahead by Destouches, (and the timing of  this would have been a week after the battle of Cormacks Creek), I have no doubt that Howe would have felt under siege during the time his moral was particularly fragile.

So we had a situation that mirrored reality. The British so far had won every engagement, but the British commander felt under pressure, didn't feel he was doing well enough, his moral suffered.

The American commander felt that he just needed to survive, to do enough to keep his army intact, and to pick his engagements with care.

This was not by deliberate or masterly umpiring, this was by the fact that the game was a campaign, using realistic rules, coupled with the simulation of 18th Century communications, and the operational planning of the players. I was surprised by the way the game was mirroring the war - in my view.

I spoke with all the players at various stages and was particularly struck by their enthusiasm for the game, how it drew them in, and presented realistic command problems for them to solve. I know that the lack of information, and the time taken for messages to arrive caused frustration, considerably so at time, but I hope they appreciate when reading this, that they did a good job overall, and significantly contributed to a good campaign.

To be continued.........

Comments

  1. That is why the French were needed... :-)
    Good write up, always nice to see how campaigns like this mirror reality (as we know it to be.)
    Cheers
    Stu

    ReplyDelete
  2. The casualty figures at this point are alarming! I think I was under the illusion I had done a little more damage (but not much more!) to my honorable foe. Damn that English Admiral! Had my small but brave force of French ships reached New York things may have indeed been different.

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