Category Archives: Military

Chosen Men. Maybe just the thing for all those 54mm Nappys

A long, long time ago, I used to keep a little notebook I’d take on work travel.  I’d just sketch things down in it, some fiction, and the occasional idea for a game.   Big Danged Boats came out of that notebook.  So did a bunch of other things that eventually saw the light of day.  One of them was an often visited, often alluded to project I called Voltigeurs and Riflemen.  This was a skirmish game I envisioned taking place during the Napoleonic era.  The units were single figures or small groups of up to four figures.

54mm British Riflemen, Peninsular War and Waterloo, Italieri, my collection

54mm British Light Company, Victrix, my collection

For my own reasons, I wanted the scale to be 54mm a figure.  I love this size for Skirmish games; they are easy to see and easy to handle, and the size forces the battlefield to be manageable on one table.  My original inspiration was an old book by Paddy Griffith called NAPOLEONIC WARGAMING FOR FUN.  It’s a fun book about several versions of napoleonic games that Mr. Griffith designed over the years.  Nothing I’d try these days, but one design I did really like was his version of a man to man Napoleonic game.  This really doesn’t happen very much in this niche of miniature wargaming.  Napleonics is for big battles, right?  Lovely uniforms, massed infantry formations, artillery batteries, cavalry charges with hussars ranked knee to knee, resplendent down to their pink piping and pigtails.

Well, sure it is.

Still, I often imagine what it’s like in that space in between where the big battalions meet and crash into each other.  There has to be a No-Man’s land where small groups of deployed skirmishers meet each other, for just a moment in time, before the big formations crash into each other.  For that glorious 15 minutes to half an hour, there should be a place on a Napoleonic battlefield where individuals continue to make a difference, where Skirmishers can attempt to pick off officers and sergeants, disrupting the enemy advance.   Such a game would have to move fast, represent individual soldiers by preference, possess command and control tracing back to individual leaders, and somehow represent the impact of that larger battlefield entering their little skirmish bubble during the course of the game.  Skirmishers, after all, were detached from larger companies.  Designated Light formations certainly could skirmish AND form formations.  British Rifle Companies lived in the skirmish zone, their entire purpose in life was to leap nimbly about, find cover and load their slow but accurate Baker rifles to harass, impede and otherwise disrupt enemy attacks by killing the chain of command from a distance.  Napoleon was not as firm of a believer in the rifle, but the Voltigeurs were also trained to screen an advance and act as elite marksmen for the French side of the field.  It’s when these two types of soldiers– the nimble, slow-firing Britons and the nimble, faster-firing but more inaccurate French, intersected as screens for the big attacks, THERE is where a man to man game of Napoleonic warfare makes sense.

The V&R rules (* Voltigeur and Rifleman) I came up with featured breaking a turn down into segments.  Again, this was heavily influenced by the Paddy Griffith book I mentioned above.  You rolled for characteristics of the soldiers in your company, just like a roleplaying game.  STR came in handy for giving more hit points and in melee, DEX allowed you to reload and aim faster and better, MOVE may allow a few more inches of movement more or less a turn, AIM was for firing, LDR was for Sergeants, Corporals, Lieutenants and Captains, and was great for Rallying, Moving men into and out of formation, and giving orders.  As Paddy G. had envisioned it, every action took a segment.  Where he and I parted ways was I thought he got a little too microscopic with his approach to actions and segments.  Picking up a ramrod was a segment.  Cocking a musket was a segment, attaching a bayonet a segment etc.

The “Action Chart” from Paddy Griffith’s ancient Napoleonic Man to Man Skirmish Game. This really impressed me when I was 15.

Every portion of the British Musket drill was broken down into segments.  I thought that was fascinating when I was 15 and read Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun for the first time, but as an adult, now I can see that that would make for a miserable game for modern tastes.  I didn’t have 30 years of experience back then.  I don’t think any player these days, especially convention wargame players, have the patience for such micro management of actions.  So, in fact, would V&R be miserable, as first I imagined it to be.  I streamlined the actions to six for muskets and eight for rifles, seven if taploading– and it still doesn’t play fast enough for me.

Detail from a rogues gallery spreadsheet with many V&R characters rolled up.

I have looked for smaller scale miniature games that might work– I have high hopes for Sharpe Practice by Two Fat Lardies (and purchased it!), but it appears to be maybe one scale size too large, and maybe a little too much for 54mm figures.  Great rules, though.. if I get a whole passle of 28mm Nappy figures, I’m going to be all in for this rules set.

 For 54mm scale, though, I needed a rule set that emphasizes individual actions, not group actions.  That’s why I started on Voltigeur & Rifleman– I still need something that’s relatively fast moving, and the V&R approach won’ t hack it without a lot of re-work and playtesting.

Enter CHOSEN MEN, by Osprey Games.

As I’ve covered in past blog posts, I tend to pick up most of Osprey’s “blue line” of wargame rules in a semi-desultory fashion.  Some of them are great, some of them are bad, and some of them are mediocre.  Since they are relatively inexpensive (for modern wargames, most of which tend to be hardbound and full of illustrations to drive the price point up), and even more inexpensive as Kindle publications, I usually put most of them on pre-order as Kindle publications and hardcover if it REALLY catches my eye.  Since this book came out nearly simultaneously with the release of ROGUE STARS*, I said “what the heck” and pre-ordered both in paper.  There’s always something entertaining in a Napoleonic skirmish rules set.  Wow, I’m glad I did.  Immediately, I can see there are many, many elements of what I am looking for in Chosen Men.  The average force size is 3 to 6 units of maneuver of 5 to 20 models each.  I would be reducing that.  The average gaming area will be 4 x 4 feet, I will be attenuating that and rifle/musket range or the riflemen will become ridiculously powerful.  Models have stat lines very similar to the ones I posted about in the illustration above, only it’s Melee (M), Resilience (R), Command (C), Wounds (W), Tactics (TAC) and Stratgy (STG).  Melee is personal fighting skill, with sword or bayonet, Resilience works like Constitution or “Toughness”.  Command is more like Morale in classic game design, as in being “In command, or capable of accepting commands”.  Wounds is self explanatory, Tactics is like “Action Points”, and Strategy is only used by Officers or Sergeants– used to get their units to do special actions, and there is a finite number of STG points.  Dice are all six-sided (I like this, but I don’t require it).  Actions are determined to be successful by performing checks against skills, and two models opposing each other would determine outcome by roll-offs.  There’s a lot more to it, but there is the gist.  I love some of the extra chrome to give it exactly the setting I’m proposing– the skirmish events that take place in the grey area between the big battalions, where they start to encounter each other.  One chrome element that lends “that big battle right over there” flavor is the “Cauldron of War Strategies” table.

The “Cauldron of War” is similar to a random events table that I came up with in V&R that provided that crucial “meta event” that I think has to be there for a game like this, set in this time period.  You KNOW there’s a big event happening just to your flank or behind you– but that may or may not intrude into your personal little bubble of battle space.  The Cauldron of War abstracts this element out nicely.

Chosen Men isn’t perfect for what I want to do with it.  It’s not an exact fit for 54mm scale.  For one thing, formations are still kind of sort of a thing in Chosen Men (though not the focus of combat or movement).  I don’t know how that would fit in a man to man skirmish game– except maybe I do.  Chosen Men measures fire combat and movement from the unit leader– the Sergeant or Lieutenant, etc.  Formations form on him, and ranges also are measured from him.  I’ll have to seriously tinker with ranges, scale and ground scale to make it work with 54s.  I may have to write some conversion rules to make it fit.  For instance, the standard units are like 6 figures for Chosen Men, and I was thinking 3 figure at most for 54mm.  With that said, I like Chosen Men, it has the right feel for me and I’m willing to test this conversion here as soon as my tin soldiers get out of the warehouse.


Making Pillboxes for 15mm SF games

I’ve been working on a sort of ramshackle, mixed technology setting for my 15mm SF games, as I’ve alluded to in earlier posts. The settlement I’m building would be early days for a colony, with a lower tech than the the core worlds forces, and the structures are characterized by use of re-purposed tech and castoffs, and a high level of improvisation.  New colonies are ramshackle, yes, but they are not without some form of defense.  In my mind’s eye I’m seeing a series of defensive “Picket Pillboxes” controlled by a central defense office and run remotely by the CDO.  I could buy some fancy resin terrain for this (there are a few vendors who make something along the lines of what I have in mind), but I’m finding it to be very amusing to build out the scenery pieces from a kitbash or a ground up-build from bits of junk or arts and crafts stuff.  And so we arrive at making Pillboxes for a remote defensive picket line.  This is what I came up with, pre-painting:

Low-tech pillbox on platform

Needed: 2 inch/5cm paper-mache boxes (preferably round).  Sold in craft shops.  A paper hole puncher, small craft dowels, a piece of Popsicle stick, two cheap craft cylindrical beads such as “Perle” beads.

Cut two holes side by side with the hole punch.

Create the center brace by cutting a 2 inch piece of a craft or popsicle stick. Trim it to fit in the center of the paper mache box snugly. Using a stick, mark the spot where the barrel comes in through the front holes and mark the spot with some paint. Using an X-acto style knife, drill through the markers and make a hole big enough for the dowels to pass through. Glue the barrels in place.

Fitting the internal structure

Top of the gun barrels with a bead.  I’m using Perle beads to accentuate the barrel tip.

Finished item, ready to paint

And there you go. I trimmed just above the barrels with an craft knife to make them more visible and less hidden by the overhang of the lid of the box. I glued the lid of the box to the rest of the structure and a little piece of wood to represent a maintenance hatch. I’m going to prime black and go over it with a dull metal paint and then rust on top of that.

Not the most sophisticated model, I admit, but each one cost about 1.00 in parts, and I’m a cheapskate.

Arlington National Cemetary: Being in the Memory Business

Master Gunnery Sergeant Insignia, USMC.

A colleague and friend of mine passed away from cancer in December of last year. Out of respect for his family in their time of grieving, I’ll just use his first name, James. As James achieved the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant before retiring from the Marine Corps, he was therefore eligible for a burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. James was a kind and cheerful man, well-liked and well respected, so it wasn’t surprising that a sizable amount of his coworkers and friends attended to pay their respects. It took about a month for an opening in the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) schedule for James’ internment. This may sound odd but that’s actually pretty quick these days– ANC performs many burial ceremonies a day and each one has its nuances … they must be conducted with a certain reverence and procedure that never deviates from custom. As such, every internment takes its share of time and they are hard to schedule quickly.

Funeral Cortege forming up

Marine Corps honor guard in back, formal pallbearers conduct the ritual of loading the coffin.

I am no stranger to funerals, and no stranger to military funerals. I have attended my share over the years, though not often at ANC. Being an enthusiast for historical and traditional subjects, yesterday’s funeral forced me into a melancholy, reflective mood.   The public so rarely sees what goes on inside the cemetery on a daily basis, it might be a good thing to remember it for a bit.

Arlington National Cemetary

The USMC Guard of Honor sets up in a field near the internment sight. Not seen, but present, were a trumpeter and a four man saluting team.  Out of respect for the family, I do not depict them in this post.

We were ushered into a waiting room at the administration building where the attendees gathered and the last minute arrivals showed up.  We had a long wait, roughly half an hour, so I watched the live feed of the changing of the guard on the wall screen.  A gentleman (pictured above, left of center) explained the details of the ceremony.  He repeatedly inserted the phrase “Family and Friends of the Deceased” in a titular fashion into his instructions, very respectfully.    Two Sergeant Majors were present from the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, as representatives.  I learned later that the sending of a representative of equal or greater rank to the deceased is the standard etiquette for funerals.   James’ widow was understandably withdrawn and grieving, and almost collapsed a couple of times from the shock of the grief, but many hands were there to support her.

caisson coffin

Marine Corps honor guard pallbearers remove the coffin from the caisson. All movements were very slow and measured, clearly practiced many times and well rehearsed.

I felt quite honored to be invited to walk in the procession behind the family, which was walking behind the caisson, the horse drawn cart that carries the coffin to the site. It was a bitingly cold day which increased the sensation of solemnity and melancholy, but it also made the day bright and the sound carried very far. I hate a funeral in a downpour… that is a miserable experience. For all the cold and wind, not a word of complaint, not a gesture or grimace conveying “let’s get this over with, I want to go inside” was detected on the large supporting staff among the honor guard sent from the Marine Corps. Every word, every gesture, every well-timed and endlessly rehearsed part of the ceremony was accomplished with a respect that was clear for anyone to see. As if the organization itself was saying “This was one of our own. We care. We owe him this– it must be done right”.

The actual internment was not rushed. The coffin was unloaded and reverently placed on a stand, and then the chaplain (a Navy lieutenant) said a few words of prayer. He finished, and the three volleys of four rifles were fired.. I noticed there were misfires in the second and third volleys, probably the temperature was a factor there. The flag was then removed from the coffin in a slow and measured ceremony I have observed many times– where the honor guard takes great care to fold the draping flag into a triangular shape for presentation. This was presented by the Master Sergeant from the Commandant’s office, although James’s widow was overcome with grief at that moment. At the phrase “Thanks of a grateful nation”, even I had a lump in my throat.

The ceremony completed, we dispersed to our vehicles and went back to work. I was, and am, impressed at these keepers of the dead and their deep rooted professionalism. Their care for their charges goes beyond a work ethic.. it’s another level of respect entirely, akin to worship, almost. This is what a sense of mission is all about. In Thomas Cahill’s “Sailing the Wine-Dark See: Why the Greeks Matter”, the author speculates as to how the fledgling Greek democracies of the West were usually successful in conflicts with numerically superior foes from autocratic empire regimes such as Persia. It wasn’t technological differences, it wasn’t even discipline and better tactics (usually). Cahill contends that the root cause was in how the ancient Greeks revered their dead. This conveys a sense of self to individual soldiers.. the feeling that “Society cares enough about me to honor my remains… therefore, my life matters.. my actions count in this world”.   Thousands of years later and half a world away, I see this respect and kindness for the fallen warrior is with us still. They are truly in the Memory Business at Arlington.. I doubt anyone can forget a properly conducted internment with full military honors. I hope and pray we don’t live in a society that ever forgets this reverence for our own fallen. It is inspiring.

Cherish the Living. Honor the Dead.

Rest in Peace, James. You’ve earned it.

The Western Front

Testament of Youth Cover

Testament of Youth Cover

“At The Western Front” excerpted from Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.

I originally came across this passage quoted out loud when watching a show about the Great War on The History Channel.  I remember thinking it was a humdinger; one of the most poignant descriptions of the rekindling of hope and enthusiasm I have ever read.

Vera Mary Brittain (29 December 1893 – 29 March 1970) was an English writer, feminist and pacifist, best remembered as the author of the best-selling 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, recounting her experiences during World War I and the beginning of her journey towards pacifism. (– Wikipedia entry)

I’m not posting this to be jingoistic– the fact that the author is describing American soldiers as heroes and I happen to be an American citizen is just a happy coincidence.″

The Etymology of Military Ranks (from the Inky Fool)

Thanks to my friend Glynis‘ recent discovery, I have started to read the delightful blog on word origins, THE INKY FOOL.  The Inky Fool concerns itself with the origins of words and phrases in common use; it is much like the great blog World Wide Worlds in that regard.   I enthusiastically recommend it.  Their most recent  posting on the Etymology of Military Ranks had to be shared (in part, visit the original post for the whole megillah*).

In the current post, Dogberry writes:

  • The modern ranks were only arranged a few hundred years ago. This means that many of the etymologies make no sense at all. Heads outrank horse-servants, and biggers are smaller.
  • A corporal has nothing to do with corporal punishment. He comes, via caporale and capo, from caput, the Latin for head*. This is odd as a corporal is the lowest and least of non-commissioned officers.
  • A sergeant is simply a servant, and is therefore superior to the head.
  • A lieu-tenant is simply French for a place-holder, or a substitute. The idea is that if I can’t be present in person I can send a somebody to take my place and to act with my authority. American lieutenants are loo-tenants, because they’re incontinent. English lieutenants are left-tenants, because they’re all socialist. French lieutenants have women.
  • A captain, like corporal,derives from the Latin caput, meaning head.
  • Major is Latin for bigger. A major was originally a shortening of sergeant-major or bigger servant and his rank has been steadily rising. In Catch-22 a chap whose name is Major Major Major is promoted to the rank of major through an administrative error: thus becoming Major Major Major Major.
  • A colonel is, literally, a colonnade. A colonnade is a line of columns and a colonel is the chap marching at the head of a column. In a nutshell, colonels have nothing to do with kernels, and there is no truth in them.
  • Generals are, in general, the general head of the army. It is a shortening of captain general, which was formed along the same lines as attorney general and Estates General and other post-positive adjectives. Generals are therefore generic and genetic, ruling over a genus of soldiers.
  • I have always wilfully misunderstood Hamlet’s line about a play being “caviar to the general” as referring to a gourmandising soldier. The phrase actually means that, just as caviar is disliked by the general public, but loved by gourmets, so the play he refers to is unpopular with the hoi polloi, but appreciated by those who know about such things. I am certain that Shakespeare must have used the phrase himself, before giving it to Hamlet.
  • Fields Marshals are not, etymologically, martial. Martial comes from Mars, the god of war and relates to martians. Marshals, on the other hand, are mare-skalkaz or horse-servants. Thus putting them, etymologically, below corporals, which shows how logical the army is. It also makes Marshall Ney’s name even more amusing.
  • Soldiers themselves: the word derives, as I have already mentioned, from salt. This means that, if you’re an officer, you have salty privates.

Attribution: The Inky Fool, post for 30 Nov 2010, The Etymology of Ranks

File this under “Hmmph, who knew?”

* For a charming dissertation on the origins of the term “The whole megillah” see this post on WWW



The Nafziger Collection is online for public viewing

George Nafziger, author, naval officer, historian and purveyor of the Nafziger Collection publishing company, is a name familiar to members of HMGS East, the miniature wargames community that I am also a member of. George has been a familiar face in the vendor area for many years, and a recent Board Member.  One of Mr. Nafziger’s specialties is the research and publishing of orders of battle (OOBs) for armies involved in various wars from medieval times until the 20th century. For years, these OOBs have been available as commercial items, or included into larger history volumes. Recently, Mr. Nafziger took the unprecedented step to make this research available to all, via a website hosted by the U.S. Army. In his words:

I have donated the notorious Nafziger Collection of orders of battle to the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Research Library (CARL). It is online and free to the world. I’m afraid I do not have the URL and I understand that it is still in a “teething” process, but it is there.

You may be wondering why. There are several reasons. First, technology was killing me. The collection was in WordStar, a DOS-based program, and Windows XP and Vista would not allow me to print the documents, so I found myself having to maintain a Windows 98 machine (and a spare, just in case). Sooner or later, I would no longer be able to get to the data. Technological changes would lose it to me (and you).

Second, I’m 60. Sadly, I’m not going to live forever. I imagined, not unrealistically, that since my wife and kids know nothing about the collection, could care less about it, would see a Windows 98 machine and think “junk” and place the computer, its hard drive and all the collection on the curb for the garbage collector, that my death would result in the disappearance of something that meant a lot to me as a hobby and a labor of love. Soooo, when approached by a friend two to three years ago, I realized this was the best solution. Besides, there is some sweet irony about a Navy Captain having his stuff figure so prominently on a U.S. Army website. 🙂 And, in some sense, maybe I will achieve a modicum of immortality, leaving a legacy that will haunt you all long after I’ve shed this mortal shell.

And with that, if any of you are silly enough to want to order something on the old website (which is still functional), I will take your money, but pretty soon I’m going to take it down and leave a link to the army’s website.

Enjoy, make use of it, and consider it my gift to the wargaming community.

I don’t suppose I need to point out what a treasure of research this action has provided historians, history buffs and wargame designers. I am very appreciative of this gesture and will be a frequent visitor in the years to come.

You may view the Nafziger Order of Battle Collection at the U.S. Army’s CARL website, divided by century.

Use this link as a “Finding Aid” (as the OOB PDFs are not displayed by name)

Thank you, George.



Military History Weekend, Williamsburg, VA Oct 16-18, 2009

Re-enactors admitted free (no weapons, lads!)

Re-enactors admitted free (no weapons, lads!)

We will have a range of guests at the event, including World War II veterans, military antique experts, re-enactors, and authors, with various activities such as talks on how to research your family’s combat history, model-making tutorials, living history displays, wargaming demonstrations and $2,000-worth of door prizes.

Organized by Casemate, W.Britain and Osprey Publishing, with a varied list of exhibitors, including bookstores, toy soldier companies and military artists, this is a show not to be missed!

Military History Weekend, Williamsburg, Virginia October 16-18, 2009

Welcome to the official site for the 2009 Military History Weekend, an exciting three days of Military History in Williamsburg, the heart of the historic triangle of Virginia.
4:00pm-8:00pm, October 16, 2009 Open House at The Toymaker of Williamsburg
12:00pm-6:00pm, October 17, 2009
10:00am-4:30pm, October 18, 2009

Here you will find information on all the activities taking place on October 16/17/18th at various locations in Williamsburg, including $2,000 in door prizes!

So join us and meet World War II veterans, re-enactors, family history experts and authors to learn more about your military heritage. Bring your family along too as kids activities, and events for partners are also available.

Admission Information

Adults: $5.00
Children 16 and under: FREE
Families (up to 6 people): $5.00
Veterans and Active Duty Military: FREE
Osprey, and W. Britain Club Members: FREE
Historic Re-enactors in Uniform: FREE (no weapons)

For more information on the event, visit To obtain
your advance ticket, contact W.Britain at (888) 771-5576 or


"… and the Sea Shall yield up her Dead"

I attended a quiet little Memorial Day service run by the American Legion post of Woodstock, Virginia. The ceremony was quiet, small and very local. There was an invocation, then a prayer for the Dead. A small honor guard saluted as the National Anthem was played, then we said the Pledge of Allegiance. Speeches were given, a local girl who had won a civics essay wrote about the value she placed on the sacrifice of the men and women who put themselves in the way of danger to protect freedom.

Afterward, there was a quiet little lunch of baked chicken and potato salad and coleslaw, which the folks at the Legion called “serving supper”. The facility is humble, a largish hall with pictures of Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson at one end. I grinned at that. Pictures of past presidents and ladies auxiliary presidents line the wall, going back to the sixties. So old fashioned, yet so poignant, this small town who had provided its share of its young men and women to die on foreign fields through the long roll of history. I found myself deeply moved by the whole thing. Living near DC, you see your share of politically inspired hoopla around the holidays. It’s all rather solemn but in the end this tiny little town, remembering the fallen, meant so much more to me.

Cherish the Living. Honor your Dead.

Happy Memorial’s Day.

Boom Goes the Dynamite

bullet rocket

More Fun with Uncle Sam’s Death Machine

Small Contained arc Explosion using a radio controlled airburst weapon. Groovy!