Tuesday, November 28, 2023


The recently seen spectacular film, based (loosely) on real events, inspired me to write my own take of the Corsican. This will be about his generalship rather than his value (or lack of) to the human race. I will steer clear of his love life with Josephine or any of his other paramours.


His tactics were aggressive and usually competent. His victories were often more due to the way he had forced the enemy into battle. See below. Borodino and Waterloo are examples of his use of aggressive and not so competent tactics.


He was exceptional at operational strategy, the planning of movement to bring the enemy to battle on his terms. This was his strongest suit. He was a predator, viewing opposing armies as prey. Most other generals aimed to force the enemy to retreat by threatening strategic points. Napoleon always aimed to wipe them out. He didn’t annihilate them that often but quite often beat them badly while seeking their total destruction. He often won by using speed to force his enemy to fight at a disadvantage.


“There are many good generals in Europe, but they see too many things; as for me, I see only masses. I seek to destroy them, knowing well that the accessories will then fall of their own accord.” Napoleon


His operational genius led him to make grand strategic errors based on the belief that his armies were invincible. He would have been better off leaving  Spain alone in 1808, even more so, Russia in 1812. His armies were very tough, but not invincible.


Much of his success was due to his energy and his attention to detail. He was a dynamo, providing much of his own staff work. Later in his career his energy level slackened, possibly due to failing health. This coincided with his enemies learning his ways. 1809 was his last hurrah. He was still up to herculean bursts of energy, though his army was starting to show the wear and tear of nearly constant attrition.

In 1813 the Allies came up with the Trachenberg Plan. Any army facing Napoleon in person would retreat. Any facing other French generals would attack. It worked, with a few misfires. Napoleon was finally cornered at Leipzig and very badly outnumbered.

Edit: one reader pointed out on another forum that Napoleon could have retreated before Leipzig. Rather than acknowledging defeat, he threw the dice hoping for a long shot win. He was a gambler. At Waterloo he should have broken off the battle once he learned of Blucher marching against his flank. Instead of accepting defeat he rolled the dice again and again was decisively defeated.

On the first day of the Waterloo campaign, his offensive was stalling near Charleroi. He arrived and fired up the attack. The Prussians were soon retreating. Then Napoleon sat down on a chair and fell asleep. French troops were told not to cheer to avoid waking him as they marched past. This was not the Napoleon of old. A series of blunders followed during the short campaign.


“A man has his day in war as in other things. I myself shall be good for another six years, after which even I shall have to stop.” Napoleon, 1805


In most of our games, centered on individual battles, we only rate commanders (if at all) on tactical ability. Operational skill doesn’t enter into it, not to mention grand strategy.


We might also consider the morale effect of successful generals on their troops. French soldiers fought harder when Napoleon was in the field, as did British led by Wellington or Prussians led by Blucher.


“I used to say of him [Napoleon] that his presence on the field made the difference of forty thousand men.”  Wellington

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Korean War: Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot, 1952

Another of my father-in-law’s stories of his time in the Korean War. He was a 2nd lieutenant commanding the 75 mm recoilless rifle platoon of the heavy weapons company, Company D, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Division. It was in the front line trenches on a hill facing enemy trenches across a valley. My notes are in italics, all else is in his own words.


November 22, 1952  The Turkey Shoot. 71 years ago.


During the Korean War,  we had saved up ammo for an old fashioned Turkey Shoot.  For us, that was a TOT (Time on Target exercise).  At a given moment, first the 8 inch (203 mm) guns of DIVATY (Div Artillery) miles back opened up,

 then the 155 mm (6 inch),


next  the 105 mm (4.1 inch) Howitzers, 

followed by the 4.2 inch (106 mm)


and 81 mm (3.2 inch) mortars,


the quad 50's (four 50 caliber machine guns in the back of a halftrack).


The quad 50's were firing from indirect positions dug in along the hillside behind us. They sent long streams of tracer bullets arching about 150 feet over our heads. The impact, about a mile away,  was in a well peppered 50-yard circle. 

Then all the  weapons on line opened up, tanks,

my 75's,

heavy and light machine guns.


All shells set to arrive on target at the same time, and continue firing  for  five minutes.

I assume those surviving on the receiving end scrambled out of their bunkers to line the trenches when the barrage lifted, fearing that an infantry attack was coming on the heels of the barrage.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Quatre Bras redux

We tested my Quatre Bras scenario for Bloody Big Battles again, with 4 Fencibles present, the first time we’ve had that many since early 2020. Bill and Carl handled Wellington’s polyglot forces. Andrew channeled Marshal Ney. I assisted with the rules, knowing when Andrew left before the game was over, I would take the French. The scenario needs some more work but is closer to done than last time. I do need to give the victory condition more thought. And tidy up the scenario.


I rated the French as veterans. This was the best French army Napoleon had led in years. They kept fighting against heavy odds here and at Waterloo where they finally broke, called upon to do more than was possible. The Anglo-Dutch were a mix of some very good troops, some OK and some not so good. The opening deployment is below.

Andrew, an aggressive player, was a good choice for Marshall Ney. He had the Allied players worried for a while. Yellow discs = disrupted units, casualty figures show where a base was lost.

The third turn saw astounding French attacks, and a bloody counter-attack by Brunswick. When it ended both Brunswick and Bachelu’s veteran units were wrecked. 

Somewhere during the brawl, Kellermann’s cuirassiers got into the fight. One division was shot up by artillery. The other got into a fight with Merlen’s larger but lesser Dutch-Belgian cavalry and was dispersed in a tie. Merlen did the same to another French cavalry unit last game. Hmm. Merlen was then sent to the showers by musket fire from Bachelu. I can’t quite place it in the photos.

We played the game Saturday. I didn’t get around to doing the report until today, Tuesday. I can’t quite reconstruct all that went down. The Allied losses were substantially higher until late in the game when all their reinforcements got into the fray. Andrew left with the Allies in a pickle. I took over as the tables turned. 

Jerome’s largest brigade was destroyed. An amazing firing squad was arranged for Foy, 20+ fire factors. Their powder must have been wet. Carl rolled a 3 on 2D6 and Foy lived to tell the tale to his children.

We played slowly. There was a lot of talking because we hadn’t been together in a while and some of the guys were rusty with the BBB rules. And the Allies displayed some indecision early on. We played 7 turns in almost 4 hours, around 30 minutes per turn. The third turn was an amazing one, with multiple combats and exploitation by the French, followed by a three-round assault by the Brunswickers. We’ve played a lot of BBB over the years but haven’t seen the like of that turn before.


French losses: 8 infantry, 1 ran away, cavalry, 3 cavalry, 3 ran away and Reille hors de combat for a total of 16. They held Gemioncourt.

The Anglo-Dutch lost 8 infantry, 1 ran away, 3 cavalry, 2 ran away for a total of 14. They held Quatre Bras and the Bois de Bossu objective.

The French score: 14 losses inflicted +1 objective = 15.

Anglo-Dutch score: 16 losses inflicted +2 objectives for a total of 18.

Wellington won. A check of the rules later showed that artillery cannot seize objectives, just infantry or cavalry. That would have made made the score close, but still Wellington’s game.

I noted that good cavalry did quite well when supporting infantry. When operating on their own, everything in the area tended to shoot at them.

About the losses: in this period I tend to think that half of game losses are dead, wounded or missing and the other half are people helping their friends to the rear or just headed that way on principle. Those who ran away would likely turn up around the camp fire at dinner time. Assuming that is true, French losses are about 4,000 infantry, 750 cavalry and a corps commander, slightly higher than the actual losses in the battle. The Anglo-Dutch losses were 4,500 infantry and 750 cavalry, slightly higher than the real thing. If it's not true, then we had an astounding bloodbath. Take your choice.

Edit: further thoughts: the French need to strike early and hard, while the iron is hot. But then they need to think about falling back slowly without flanks hanging out for the numerous Allies to envelop. If this doesn't get tested again before January, it will be March or later before the next test. Based on this scenario, Ney did a good job in the real thing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

A Wee Trip in the UK: Chester, Wales, Edinburgh, Orkneys, Inverness

Quite recently I traveled with my wife through the aforementioned places. Due to a bout of illness on the trip I missed the Vindolanda Fort, a mile fort on Hadrian's Wall and an active archaeological site. Next time. The really nice photos were taken by my wife, and massaged by me to reduce their sizes.

It began in Chester, a town that was first founded as the Roman fortress Deva Victrix. Later it was the HQ for Legio XX Valeria Victrix. Victrix Miniatures is based in the general vicinity. Makes sense. Our first day we got into town early in the morning after getting maybe 90 minutes of sleep on the plane. After stowing our luggage at the hotel, we staggered to Bridge Street to get some strong coffee. As we finished, loud shouting broke out on the street. Soccer fans so early? No, it was a walking tour. I knew you can get tours led either by a chap in full Roman armor or else Medieval chainmail. This was a Roman tour, with the leader shouting loudly. I didn't catch what he was saying but it sounded working class. The tourists were in a column of twos, each with a small legionary shield and a wooden sword. They responded to the leader's shouts with their own chanting, I suspect of mangled Latin. They got around the corner and out of sight before I could get a picture of them.

Chester city walls, first built by Romans and then rebuilt and expanded over the centuries. The last military use was during the English Civil Wars when Parliament blew a hole in the wall and stormed the town.

On to Wales and Conwy Castle, built by Edward I Longshanks to cow the Welsh. Mighty impressive castle on a big rock.

Skipped past Hadrian's Wall, taking the train to Edinburgh. Speaking of an impressive castle on a big rock, here's Edinburgh Castle. a Boer War monument to the Scots Greys is in the foreground.

Ensign Ewart is buried here. While still a sergeant, he captured the eagle of the 45th Ligne during the charge of the Union Brigade at Waterloo. They have the eagle and the flag in the Scots Greys museum. The flag is bleached out, no hint of the tricolor left. I have seen the King's color of the 69th Foot in the Invalides. Either the Brits had better dyes or the flag wasn't left out in the sun. There are three military museums in the castle: military, Royal Scots and Scots Greys. Yes, I was in all three. My wife is very patient.

 There is also a memorial for the Duke of York and Albany. You've heard of him.

Oh the grand old Duke of York,

He had ten thousand men,

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And he marched them down again.

The National Museum of Scotland has many fine things in the collection. One is this modern reproduction of a Celtic Carnyx. I wondered about the way it is depicted as being played straight up.

Well, a link to it being played that way is here.

Now imagine hundreds of guys around him with shields and spears.

Next we were off to Kirkwall, capital of the Orkney Islands. We got in just before air traffic was shut down by Storm Babet, which took the lives of seven people in other parts of the UK. Once it passed, weather was decent. There is a large anchorage, Scapa Flow. It was the major base for the Royal Navy in both world wars. I used to play Jutland back when I was in high school. Scapa Flow was a dot on the map where most of the Grand Fleet's dreadnoughts lived. Who knew it was so pretty?

In 1939 U-47 snuck in and torpedoed the obsolescent dreadnought Royal Oak, killing some 834 crew. What are called the Churchill Barriers were built by Italian POWs to keep other U-boats out. Kirkwall has a lovely and venerable cathedral of St. Magnus. In it is a book that has the names of those lost on the Royal Oak.

A short drive from Kirkwall is the Neolithic site of Skara Brae, 10 stone houses that would serve quite well if roofed and electrified. It was built some 5,000 years ago. There are several standing stone circles nearby, older than Stonehenge.

The gift shop has some silly items for those briefly channeling Vikings.

Nearby is the home of the local Lairds, now a museum. I found this interesting item hanging on a wall.

We took the ferry back to the Scottish mainland. I was aware that part of the time we were in the channel that Jellicoe's dreadnoughts took on their way to Jutland. I hadn't known that the populace was upset with the result of the battle and were unkind to the sailors. They didn't sink the German High Seas Fleet, but then the Germans didn't come out again during the war.

We went to Inverness, a very nice place. I have this running joke that I won't paint up Jacobite warriors for the '45 until I find tartan paint. There's a pub in Inverness called the Highlander. It had a traditional music group named... Tartan Paint. Even got us up dancing. Not right away, but I guess some Highlanders for the '45 are in my future.

On the last full day in Scotland we took a half-hour drive to Culloden. The blue flag is one of the Jacobite line markers. I'm looking across at the Duke of Cumberland's lines.

Oh, it was a lovely trip. It would have been better without the bout of illness, but c'est la vie.

PS sometimes the background and text colors of this blog drive me crazy. Hope it's readable.

Manet, the USS Kearsage and CSS Alabama

My wife took me to the Manet/Degas exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was excellent. Of course, I noted Manet's paintings of the Kearsage-Alabama fight and the painting of the Kearsage at anchor. I thought it should be shared with you.

The CSS Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built along the River Mersey near Liverpool by John Laird Sons and Company. British built, it had a British crew and Confederate officers who had made their way across the Atlantic. Between summer of 1862 and Spring of 1864 it captured 65 Union merchant ships, decimating the Union whaling fleet. It then met the USS Kearsage, a Union sloop-of-war off the coast of France. The US Navy ship proved a tougher customer than the merchant ships. The Alabama sank.

Manet's painting features the stricken Alabama in the center, with the Kearsage nearly enveloped in smoke behind. Many French spectators watched the battle.


Manet later saw the Kearsage at anchor and painted it. It looks formidable, all business. 

After the American Civil War ended, President Grant's administration pressed claims against Great Britain for the damage done by the Alabama and other British-built raiders. International Arbitration found for the US and the British paid $15.5 million, leading to a treaty that restored relations between the two nations. It also set a precedent for international arbitration.

Monday, November 6, 2023

My Pistol Repair Problem

 Another story of my father-in-law’s time in the Korean War, all in his own words. Any comments by me are in italics.

While serving in Korea in 1952, I was authorized to carry my own personal side arm instead of the assigned weapon, a carbine, for extra mobility. My job was to walk about a mile on the MLR (Main Line of Resistance) to visit my 75mm gun emplacements. I followed a path along a communications trench just below the crest of our hill, stopping frequently, with both hands free to hold my 20 power binoculars. I was looking for targets of opportunity for my guns in the mile wide valley separating us from the enemy trench lines.


My pistol was a Colt Commander which was a lighter weight (26 oz) aluminum frame, shorter versions (4 inch barrel) of the Govern. At night I slept with my pistol under my make-shift pillow, round chambered, hammer back, safety on. My sleeping bag had a breakaway zipper for fast exit.

Colt Commander, not the exact pistol in the story

Unless I expected trouble, I left my M-2 carbine, with a selector switch making it capable of firing full automatic, in my command bunker.  It was kept loaded with two 30-round magazines taped back to back. We also had a .45 cal Thompson submachine gun on wall pegs. Both were cumbersome to carry up and down the steep hills. I need to be ready to move fast to avoid snipers in the valley.


Sometimes .45 caliber ammunition was hard to find but my daily walk took me past our Sherman tanks which were dug in along the MLR. They were used in direct fire as needed, with only their turret and 76mm cannons exposed, and heavily camouflaged. Tankers had grease guns, cheaply made .45 cal. Submachine guns, so I could get ammunition from when needed. Some cartridges being issued had steel instead of brass shell casings, left over from WWII production as was nearly all of the equipment being used during the Korean War. (Congressmen Please Note: when 36,634 American soldiers are KIA, it should be called a War, not a “conflict”).


While offline and in a blocking position, I took pistol practice often to remain proficient. My pistol started having unusual jams on extraction and ejection. Occasionally a spent shell casing would stove pipe (get caught by the slide moving forward and left standing straight up in the breech).  A change of magazines did not help. I then found that most of the tip of my pistol’s extractor had broken off.


When fired, a brass shell casing will expand to the chamber walls then contract back to near size for easy extraction. A steel casing also expands but remains glued to the chamber walls. That is what broke my extractor, making the pistol unreliable in time of need.

I explained what happened in a letter to my father in Conn. He relayed the problem to Colt HQ in Hartford. A replacement extractor arrived in the mail from Colt very quickly and at no charge. My pistol was then good as new, thanks to caring strangers at Colt, 7,000 miles away.


Lt. Marshall Tharp

Korea, 9/52-6/53.

Notes from his son-in-law: growing up in the 50s on the gritty Lower East Side of Manhattan, many of the adult men had served in either Korea or WWII. My mother told me to address grown men as “sir”. When I did so, most of them would reply with a grin, don’t “sir” me, I’m not an officer. I knew of the Korean War. It was only in my teens that I heard about the “police action” or “conflict”. It’s always been the Korean War to me.


If you’d like to read more of his stories, please comment below and let him know.