Friday, 22 May 2020

Action in the Channel 1666 - Part 1

Dutch Wars Fleet Action With Form Line of Battle

Having painted up a load of merchant ships I wanted to do a convoy action, but given the number of ships I knew it would have to involve some off table movement. I set up a situation on the map with the convoy escorted by three squadrons under De Ruyter, Evertsen and Tromp attempting to pass through the Straits of Dover, unaware that the English fleet is out looking for trouble. Although the fleet sizes are similar, the English have the distinct edge with their larger ships and heavier guns.

Starting situation. English top right, Dutch bottom left.

Initial Moves

After 24 hours of sailing with mostly light winds, both fleets are becalmed and anchor for the night. At dawn the fleets are in sight of one another about 8 leagues SW of Beachy Head. A light north westerly springs up, giving De Ruyter the weather gage. Ayscue's White squadron is isolated to windward of the rest of the fleet and the Dutch bear down on him. Ayscue gives ground to leeward to allow the Red and Blue squadrons to come up and De Ruyter, not wanting to  be dragged too far from the convoy, calls off the attack and hauls up on the larboard tack.

After the English tack the White squadron is again isolated from the rest of the fleet. De Ruyter decides it's now or never. If he allows the English to form their squadrons in line they might be able to cut off the convoy's advance. If the English give too much ground, then the convoy will be able to slip past them and through the straits.

The Battle

Situation at about 07:10. De Ruyter and Tromp bear down on Ayscue, while Evertsen stays to windward to guard the convoy's flank.

About 07:30. (After scrolling the table). The Dutch continue to bear down on Ayscue, but struggle in the light airs. Albemarle's Red squadron is beating upwind to support. The blue squadron are still off table.
07:10. The fourth rate Yarmouth fires the first broadside at De Ruyters flagship De Zeven Provincien.

07:15. General engagement. De Ruyter and Tromp press the attack against Ayscue. The Red squadron tacks in succession.

The Weather Changes

 From 08:00 to 08:15 the wind backs to westerly and freshens. This changes everything. The weather gage is now contested as elements of Tromp's and De Ruyter's squadrons are now to leeward of the English. Worse, the convoy's current course means that the English can form line to leeward at their leisure and still be able to head it off. It's a precarious position and De Ruyter orders his fleet to haul up on the larboard tack and signals the convoy to come about on the opposite tack.

The situation at 08:15 seen from the Dutch side of the table (the NW). The wind is now westerly (diagonally from bottom right).

08:30. The convoy is now on the starboard tack heading out into the Channel.

08:35. Ayscues White squadron engage Tromp's retreating ships, with the Red squadron forming line in their wake. In the bottom left are two of Ayscue's damaged ships forming in the lee of the Blue squadron.

Sub Plot: the Frigates

While all this was going on there was an entertaining sideshow. The Yarmouth mentioned earlier, being the last in line of the White squadron, has borne the brunt of De Ruyter's attack. Dismasted and adrift but with her colours still flying, she is set upon by two Dutch frigates - the Nijmegen and Harderwijk.

Nijmegen runs aboard the Yarmouth and boards. Yarmouth surrenders. The prisoners are taken off and, unable to tow their prize away, the Dutch set fire to the crippled ship.
During this time Harderwijk attracts the fire of the Red Squadron passing to leeward. She catches fire and although the ship is saved the crew strike their colours.

The captain of the Defiant, unable to let a prize go unclaimed, sends a boat to take control of the Harderwijk. Note the burning remains of the Yarmouth top left. The fifth rate Sweepstakes (bottom right) lends support.
Ten minutes later the fire gets into Yarmouth's magazine and she explodes, just as Defiant's prize crew pulls up to the Harderwijk. Nijmegen has been keeping her distance to windward.

Nijmegen hurtles downwind and opens up on the boat, missing.

Sweepstakes goes about and gives the Nijmegen a good talking to. The prize crew scramble on board the battered Harderwijk and get her under sail.

Nijmegen comes alongside the captured ship and fires a broadside. The Harderwijk is reduced to a shattered wreck.
Sweepstakes continues to hammer the Nijmegen causing major crew casualties and bringing down her foremast. A fourth rate from Evertsen's squadron, the Stad Gouda, comes to assist and Sweepstakes yields, turning away to leeward.

The Fleets Disengage

The Dutch come about on the starboard tack and work upwind toward the convoy.

The final turn, viewed from leeward (east). Smith's Blue squadron tacks while the Red and White squadrons wear in succession to fall in behind him.

What's the Damage?


The White squadron has suffered the worst -
The fourth rate Yarmouth sunk
The third and fourth rates Gloucester and Happy Return have lost masts and their rigging is in shreds.
The fifth rate Oxford has serious fire damage.
The second rate Swiftsure and third rate Fairfax have come through relatively unscathed.

The Red squadron -
The third and fourth rates Dunkirk and Mathias have each lost a mast, but otherwise the squadron is intact.

The Blue squadron didn't manage to engage and so is untouched.


Van (Tromp) -
Four of Tromp's largest ships have had their batteries seriously reduced, and taken some hull damage.
Only the two fifth rates remain undamaged.
Centre (De Ruyter)
Three ships with light to moderate damage - De Zeven Provincien, Eendracht and Klein Hollandia.
Fourth rate Gouden Leeuwen severely damaged by fire, but with her rigging still undamaged.
Fourth and fifth rates Dordrecht and Nijmegen heavily damaged.
Fifth rate Harderwijk sunk.

Rear (Evertsen) -
All undamaged apart from the fouth rate Stad Gouda which has medium damage.


Both fleets will need to make running repairs, which I will have to make up some rules for. I have some vague ideas how it'll work. I suspect we'll then see a running fight with small pockets of damaged ships being picked off, and hopefully we'll have the merchant ships make an appearance on the table. Should be fun, but it'll have to wait for now as I have some other things to get on with. This one's going on the back burner for a week or two.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Virtual Campaign Map

Using Photo-Editing Software as a Campaign Engine 

I wanted to play a large-ish scenario in Form Line of Battle, big enough that I knew some ships would be off table at times, so I went off Googling for a map of the English Channel just to set the scene. I found this in the Library of Congress:

Available here:,-0.006,1.716,0.905,0

It's a gloriously high res scan - the version I downloaded is over 10,000 pixels wide - with sandbanks etc all depicted clearly. There's a scale on the right edge of the map in leagues (1 league = 3 nautical miles), which I cut out and turned into a ruler. From that I worked out that my 6'x4' table at 1cm=100yards is 3x2 leagues i.e. this size:

Added some squadron markers and a wind template:

Hey presto! Custom campaign system. I used Affinity Photo, but any Photo Editing/Illustration app that has layers and vector drawing tools will do the same thing, including GIMP which is free.

It's fairly easy to add a hex grid too:

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Merchants, Small Ships & Markers

Merchant Ships

I had a blast painting these, particularly the small ships. I think they're some of Tumbling Dice's best sculpts.

East Indiaman and two large fluyts



Small Merchants. I might get some more of these - they'll make good fireships.

Zeeland Sloops



While I was waiting for stuff to dry I got on with making up some more generic markers. I'm always running out of them, so I did all the remaining ones I had. I'm almost certainly going to need more, but Warbases are closed for the moment due to this ghastly plague business, so it'll have to wait for now.

First up, some wake markers to replace the ones I had. These are 20mm square with rounded corners. They can be used to mark when a ship has moved, and if it has turned:

I've got a bunch of cheap sticky numbers to put on them to indicate speed, for use with my hex conversion of Dahlgren & Columbiad. Not lovely, but they'll do for now till I replace them with some decent Letrasets:

Then some more general double sided markers. The oblong ones are great for broadside reloading:

And finally a test paint of one of the casualty marker discs from Warbases. These will be used for aircraft formations to indicate either altitude or number of flights/aircraft etc.:

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

More Age of Sail Rules

In my ongoing quest to come up with a set of fleet-level rules for the Anglo-Dutch wars I've been trying out various rulesets for ideas. There are so many available for the Age of Sail that I'm narrowing down the choices to those which match at least one of two criteria: either specifically covering the 17th Century, or specifically designed to be for large fleet actions.

Form Line of Battle

I used to have a hard copy of these yonks ago, but never got round to playing them. I have no idea where they ended up, so I bought a pdf on Wargame Vault. I set up a small battle with a single 4th rate and two 5th rates on each side, with the Dutch ships covering a small convoy of 6 fluyts. No photos I'm afraid, but some random thoughts:

I had more fun than I thought I would with these rules. I came to the Dutch Wars looking to fight the epic battles in the Channel and North Sea, not piddly little skirmishes, but the more I read about the period the more I'm tempted by smaller actions. Barry Hilton's amazing work has been a source of inspiration in this department.

FLoB is fairly quick, at least for smallish actions, though I couldn't help feeling certain aspects of the gunnery procedure could have been more streamlined. At the very least it could do with a decent quick play sheet with all the charts in one place.

I like the movement system - ships get a number of dice to roll depending on their point of sailing, and they can choose to move either the total sum of the dice in cm, or pick just one die and move that distance. It's neat and effective and gives just the right amount of uncertainty and chaos. My only minor gripe is that it makes ships that are beating less controllable than those sailing downwind, which is sort of the opposite of what you'd expect. I'll be house ruling this somehow.

FLoB gets top marks for getting the angle off the wind right for close hauled ships. There's even a separate movement gauge for the pre-1700 era, and it only allows an angle of 80º off the wind. Beating to windward is painfully, and realistically, slow. Round of applause!

The national characteristics for the Dutch Wars seem a bit off to me. The English get beefed up Broadside Ratings to account for their heavier guns, and get a corresponding heavier penalty for firing to leeward. All fair enough. They also get a small bonus to movement for their rounded sterns. The Dutch are said to be more stockily built and get a bonus to Hull Rating.

I'm fairly new to this period, so perhaps I've got this wrong, but from what I've read I get the impression that this is all a bit topsy turvy. The Dutch ships were known to be more lightly built than their English equivalents, but be quicker and handier. This, combined with the lighter armament, prompted the Dutch to attempt to bring about a close range melee, where they would try to disable the enemy's rigging and then grapple and board.

I'll be house ruling all this, giving the Dutch a speed bonus but reducing their hull rating, and get a bonus on boarding actions. The English might be slightly more weatherly (for the rounded sterns), and might also get a bit of a bonus at med/long ranges, in addition to the normal broadside rating bonus.

Quibbles aside, FLoB is a really nice set of mid-complexity rules for squadron-level actions. I liked it enough that I've decided to design new ship charts condensed down to playing card size. Here's the work-in-progress:

General at Sea

I had high hopes for these. On the face of it this should be the answer to my prayers - a fleet level set of rules specific to the 17th Century. Ships are based in multiples of 4, but strangely there doesn't seem to be any scaling down of the numbers. I was rather hoping it'd be 1 model representing say 3-4 ships, but looking at the scenarios it seems to be pretty much 1 to 1. To be fair it does suggest that at 1/1200 scale you can use a single model as a base, so what I'd probably do is have two 1/2400 models per base.

There are lots of things to like - the command system is simple and effective. Each admiral and squadron commander has a number of command dice. Admirals may allocate dice to their subordinates before rolling. The total rolled on the dice gives the number of action points that are needed to manoeuvre. It's a bit abstract perhaps, but it works nicely to demonstrate the effect of an admiral trying to divide his attention between his various squadrons.

The combat is suitably abstract too. Each base has a Combat Value, you add some DRMs and roll on a chart for the outcome. Rather than tracking damage on individual ships, a stand can go through various states - disrupted, damaged and scattered.

The big let down is the movement system. Not only does General-at-Sea commit the cardinal sin in allowing its stands to beat at 45º off the wind (grrrrr....), but it actually insists on it. Yes, all movement is constrained to 8 directions. Not only is it wrong, it looks weird too. I hate it.

Battle of Kentish Knock, using one model per base. Oh, the humanity.

I was determined to try it out anyway so I used one model per base (didn't have enough ships), and set up the Kentish Knock scenario. I played enough to know that the whole 45º thing was definitely a deal breaker for me, and then set about seeing if I could modify them with a different movement system.

I came up with a modified scenario using 2 models per base for Kentish Knock, based on the map in Hainsworth & Churches:

It looks way better with a realistic angle, but I immediately ran into trouble making the other game mechanics work. It turns out writing wargame rules is hard - who knew?

The main take away from this for me is the idea of using multiple ships on bases. I think I feel better about sticking 2 ships on a base and saying that's a division of 6-8 ships, than having single ships and saying each one is actually 3-4 ships. There's also the advantage of having fewer units to move and fire, with the disadvantage of losing a certain amount of flexibility and detail.

Another practical advantage is that with the longer base length, it's much easier to measure the angle against the wind precisely. They'd work with hexes too, each base occupying 2 hexes.

I dunno, I'll think about it. I'm taking a break from it while I catch up on the huge mountain of reading I have to do.