‘Knight’s Battles for Wargamers’ — A long-ago series

By Rob Morgan

Back in the 1970s when wargaming truly took off in Britain, there were a fair number of speculative books and series of books published to aid the new table top warrior in his interest. Among them was a short series, about eight books in all, written by a group of skilled military historians, including Mike Orr who lectured at Sandhurst; all of the titles had an introduction by Brigadier Peter Young, who started every volume, at least the five I’ve seen and used, with the words “Man is an aggressive and competitive beast,” and suggested that this was the reason for the popularity of war games. (Probably true.) This was followed by an advert for the Young & Lawford book “Charge!” with it’s well known and very widely used — Young says “well thought out” — rules for the horse and musket period.

The eight books covered the time from Oudenarde (1703) to Gettysburg( 1863), and included volumes on Dettingen (1743), Minden (1759), Saratoga (1777), Borodino (1812), The Alma (1854), and First Bull Run (1861). I’ve not seen or used any of the American battle titles, but the European battles are well written. The format was a small 70+ page hardback A5 size book, with numerous maps and line drawings, but no plates nor, perhaps surprisingly, any photographs of wargames at a time when manufacturers like Hinton Hunt and Hinchcliffe were turning out some beautiful 20/25mm scale metal soldiers, and the age of 15mm wars had arrived with the extensive range produced by Peter Laing.

Each volume differed slightly in its approach, but all considered the basics of the art of war at that stage, and the weapons and preliminaries to the encounter named in the title. In the case of the Oudenarde book, there were brief biographies of the commanders involved. In other titles, like Dettingen, the origins of the war and orders of battle were given prominence.

In every case, and “Minden” and “Borodino” are the finest examples of all, the day of the battle, and the progressive stages of action are described and mapped. There really was everything there that the wargamer needed, bar the figures, guns and dice! In the Oudenarde title, the writer gives an interesting add-on in the form of variables encountered in the battle itself: the weather, the French failures before the day, and the inactivity of the Duke of Burgundy — useful stuff.

Of course, the eight battles chosen (and it’s hard to believe that Peter Young wasn’t active in the choice) are all BIG battles, with immense armies, sometimes three or more a of them, involved, and that was the essence of early 1970s wargaming as I recall it. Not skirmishes or small scale fighting retreats or raids, but full-blown winner takes all encounters.

Marvelous stuff, of course, and Peter Young urged the reader to select battles where the sides were well matched but somewhat dissimilar in style. he suggested Vimiero (1808) in the Peninsular War, which with only 30,000 men in the field seems a bit on the small side compared to Gettysburg or Borodino. These were delightful volumes, and if anything the opinion that “elaborate morale rules are a waste of time” is one that as far as I’m concerned has always held true.

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