A Friend In Need Is a Friend Indeed

There’s a joke in the movie, What’s Up Doc? that goes something like this; “So you’re a doctor of music are you? Can you fix a broken record player?” “No.” “Well, sit down then!” Yes, I really do have a doctorate in computer science but that hardly means I know everything about computers (just watch me trying to fix my wife’s old machine running Windows XP). The higher up you go on the academic ladder in computer science the more you deal with algorithms, optimization and ‘big ideas’ and the less you do with learning the latest Microsoft programming environment.

When I began programming General Staff two years ago I decided to write it in Microsoft WPF (Windows Programming Foundation). This ensures that the program will run as a ‘standard’ Windows program and there shouldn’t be any compatibility issues. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no experience with WPF but, as I’ve done all my life, I gamely plunged in and started learning as I went.

For the most part things went pretty well and when I ran into trouble there was the Microsoft Developer’s Forum to ask for help. However, about a month ago, I had really coded myself into a corner and when I asked for advice about how to straighten out the visual representation of an Order of Battle Table a very nice gentleman by the name of Andy O’Neill kindly stepped in, took a look at my code and explained that I was doing it all wrong.

Andy is a superstar of the Microsoft Developer’s Forum. He is ranked in the top 0.1%, has 10 gold awards, 14 silver awards and 19 bronze awards. He was awarded the gold medal for the Microsoft Technical Guru in April 2015.

But, most importantly, Andy is a wargamer and knows what an Order of Battle Table is! 

Andy lives in Liverpool, England just up the hill from Strawberry Fields and John Lennon’s house. While, professionally Andy is known for his work with business application development, data visualization (and, really, isn’t this what a wargame is?), point of sale chip and pin credit card integration and end consumer applications (especially GUI, or Graphical User Interface), it’s his interest in table top wargaming that makes him invaluable to the General Staff project.

Andy has been involved in table top wargaming since the ’70s and his main area of interest is 1/72 WW2 skirmishes but he’s also interested in Fantasy, Ancients, the Seven Years War, Ultra Modern, Monster Rampage, Darkest Africa and the Boer War. He also works on modifying rule sets.

Below are some of Andy’s incredibly detailed miniatures:

With Andy’s expertise we have made a number of important changes to the underlying data files used in General Staff. This will result in a much more robust Windows program. Furthermore, Andy has made some substantial contributions to the user interface making the entire process of creating armies and scenarios much more intuitive and user friendly.

I can’t thank Andy O’Neill enough for all his help.

 

 

The Wargame in the Viking Grave

The recent article, “A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics,” which appeared in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology has started a firestorm of controversy in both academia and the international press. The New York Times wrote, “…the controversy has reignited a longstanding debate about the role of women among the Vikings, Norse seafarers whose exploits, from the 8th to the 11th centuries, are central to Scandinavian identity.” Some argue that the DNA testing, itself, was in error or that the bones of the Viking warrior were mixed up with bones from another grave since the original discovery of grave Bj 581 from the Birka settlement on the island of Bjorko by Hjalmar Stolpe and first reported in 1889. Nonetheless, what caught my eye – and probably yours as well – were these words from the original article:

“The grave goods include a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields, and two horses, one mare and one stallion; thus, the complete equipment of a professional warrior. Furthermore, a full set of gaming pieces indicates knowledge of tactics and strategy (van Hamel, 1934; Whittaker, 2006), stressing the buried individual’s role as a high-ranking officer.” – A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics, American Journal of Physical Anthropolgy, Hendenstierna-Jonson, et. al.

I had to find out: what was the Viking wargame buried in grave Bj 581?

Illustration by Evald Hansen based on the original plan of grave Bj 581 by excavator Hjalmar Stolpe; published in 1889 (Stolpe, 1889). The red circle highlights the gaming pieces. Click to enlarge.

Reconstruction of grave Bj 581 drawn by one of the authors, Neil Price. Click to enlarge.

First, I contacted Dr. Rosemary Moore who teaches Roman Military History and Warfare in the Ancient Mediterranean (as well as Classics) at the University of Iowa. I studied under Dr. Moore in graduate school and she was also on my Doctoral Defense Committee. Dr. Moore is also a former Marine officer and enjoys World of Warcraft and wargames. She did some preliminary research and forwarded Game-Boards and Gaming-Pieces in the Northern European Iron Age by Helène Whittaker to me. In describing a female burial in the same Viking cemetery (Bj 523) Whittaker writes, “Grave 523 was an exceptionally rich burial which contained gaming-pieces of glass…” And, “The female burial in Grave 523 at Birka shows that gaming equipment could at times also be associated with high status female burials. It can accordingly be suggested that the occurrence of gaming pieces and game-boards in funerary contexts could refer specifically to male prestige and the values associated with military prowess and leadership, but at times could also express social status in general, both male and female.”

While unable to find an actual photograph of the game pieces from Bj 581, I did discover a reference to 27 antler game pieces from that grave located at the Statens Historiska Museum in Sweden. A bit more digging found this photograph of 27 bone / antler game pieces from the same museum and tagged as having been found at  Bjorko.

Twenty-seven bone/antler game pieces found in grave 624 at Björkö, Uppland Sweden Adelsö parish. From the Statens Historiska Museum, Stockholm. Click to enlarge.

While the above game pieces came from a different grave in the same cemetery, they are of the right number and material. Consequently, the game pieces in Bj 581 must have been very similar.

What did the board look like? This photograph of a game board from a 7th century Viking boat burial in Valsgärde, Sweden had similar pieces:

Game board discovered in a 7th century Viking boat burial in Valsgärde, Sweden. Click to enlarge.

So, now it looks like we’ve found the pieces and the game board. All that’s left is to identify the game, itself. The best guess is that this is the game Hnefatafl. There are a number of modern versions of the game (some using different pieces) though the original rules were never recorded.

The name of the game comes from the Old Icelandic words hnef (fist) and tafl (table). Fist-table sounds like a proper Viking game for warriors.

Free Scenarios Sixteen Through Twenty!

We continue our list of the thirty most desired 18th and 19th century battles (as voted on by you) with numbers sixteen through twenty. All thirty scenarios will ship with General Staff, as well as the Army Editor, the Map Editor and the Scenario Editor to early supporters of General Staff on Kickstarter.  After Kickstarter these scenarios, and the software editing suite, will be available as digital downloads (DDL).

The battle of Shiloh created for the Topographical Engineers in 1866. From the Library of Congress. This is a great image. Please click to greatly enlarge.

If you have ever visited the site of the battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee) your first thoughts were probably, “how could two large armies fight in this forest?” There are, of course, clearings where significant events took place and where the Union encampments were attacked, but Shiloh is mostly deep forest cut with ravines and a few paths and roads.

Shiloh was also a two-day battle with the first day ending as a major Confederate victory and the second a Union triumph. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was bivouacked alongside the Tennessee River after its victories at Forts Donelson and Henry. Union commanders, including Sherman, ignored reports of Confederate activity in the vicinity. When the Confederates attacked on April 6 the Union forces were overwhelmed.

Plaque on the Shiloh battlefield indicating the location of Grant’s HQ. Click to enlarge.

On the evening of April 6-7, 1862 a terrific thunderstorm fell across the battlefield. Grant’s headquarters had been taken over as a field hospital and so he retreated to a tree where he stood in the rain holding a lantern in one hand and smoking a cigar. Grant’s subordinate commanders had decided that the battle was lost and that the army’s only hope was to abandon the artillery and baggage and ferry the troops across the river. Nobody wanted to approach Grant and, eventually, Sherman was induced to talk to him. He found Grant under this famous tree.

Not knowing exactly how to start the conversation he began by saying to Grant, “Well, Grant, we certainly had the Devil’s own day.”

“Yes,” said Grant, the end of his cigar glowing in the dark, “Going to whip ’em tomorrow, though.”

The Confederates ordered an attack against Grant’s troops at dawn. Grant ordered an attack on the Confederates an hour before dawn. The rest is history.

Positions in the morning of Day 2 of the battle of Eylau. Click to enlarge.

Though Eylau is listed as one of Napoleon’s great victories on the Arc de Triomphe, in reality it was a massacre in a blizzard that ended in a slight French tactical victory and a minor Russian strategic success.

Two large armies (the French and the Russian / Prussian armies were approximately the same size at 75,000 troops) occupied parallel ridge lines separated by a valley. It was February in Poland and the weather was freezing and snowy. Obviously, the weather conditions greatly effected troop speeds. It is very easy in General Staff to adjust unit speeds to reflect various weather conditions (see here).

At a critical juncture Napoleon ordered Murat to charge the Russian center with his 11,000 strong force. Though this was one of the largest cavalry charges of all times, this dubious honor actually belongs to the Polish and German cavalry at the battle of Vienna September 12, 1683 with an estimated force of 20,000.

Murat’s famous cavalry charge at Eylau painted by Jean-Antoine-Siméon Fort. Click to enlarge.

Murat’s charge stabilized Napoleon’s center and the Russian and Prussian troops withdrew from the battlefield that night. The French were too exhausted to pursue. After the battle, the late arriving Marshal Ney famously observed: “Quel massacre! Et sans résultat” (“What a massacre! And without result”).

The battle of Leuthen. Positions after Frederick the Great’s right flank envelopment maneuver. Click to enlarge.

At the battle of Leuthen, Frederick the Great performed a classic envelopment maneuver that crushed a much larger Austrian force. There are many ways to describe an envelopment maneuver but this clip from the movie Animal House has always been a favorite:

While distracting your opponent (“Greg, look at my thumb!”) you clock your enemy with a roundhouse punch.

In military terms, the distraction is called the ‘fixing force’ and the roundhouse punch is, “the enveloping force.” Frederick the Great assigned a small ‘fixing force’ to distract his enemy while the main force traveled behind a hill, hidden from sight.

The artificial intelligence (AI) for General Staff ‘knows’ the envelopment maneuver and prefers it over all forms of attack. Below are figures describing the implementation of the envelopment maneuver from one of the author’s papers:

Figures from the author’s, “”Implementing the Five Canonical Offensive Maneuvers in a CGF Environment,” illustrating the TIGER AI’s implementation of the envelopment maneuver. Click to enlarge.

The AI is keenly aware of 3D Line of Sight (see here) and will take advantage of intervening terrain (as did Frederick the Great) to hide its maneuvers. You have been warned.

The French are surrounded at the battle of Sedan. Click to enlarge

The battle of Sedan  ended the Franco Prussia war when the French army (commanded by Emperor Napoleon III) was surrounded and captured by  the German and Bavarian army (commanded by Helmuth von Moltke). As a scenario this will obviously turn on, “Can the French break out of the trap?”

Free Scenarios Eleven Through Fifteen!

We continue our list of the most requested (as voted by you) scenarios with numbers eleven through fifteen. These scenarios will be included as a reward to General Staff Kickstarter backers. For more information about when the Kickstarter campaign will begin see this page. After the Kickstarter campaign they will be available as digital download content.

Scenarios number 12 and 13 are excellent examples of the flexibility of the General Staff Wargaming System. In the Little Bighorn with Gatling Guns scenario we can use the built in ability to modify unit speeds (see this video) to modify the horse artillery speed to properly reflect that “condemned cavalry horses” that pulled the guns. In the Isandlwana scenario we can use the built in ability to modify the attack matrix to represent that the Zulu regiments were armed with assegai iron spears and cow-hide shields.

Map of the Battle of the Little Bighorn to accompany the report of Lieutenant Edward Maguire of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Click to enlarge.

After the original UMS (see here) was released a number of users created Little Bighorn scenarios that included Custer’s famous Gatling guns. (For more information about Custer’s Gatling guns click here.) Custer, of course, refused to take the battery (either two or three guns) because he feared it would slow down his column. Instead, they traveled with Colonel John Gibbons’ column. In rejecting them, Custer wrote to his superior, General Terry, “The 7th can handle anything it meets.” Would they have made a difference? This should make for fascinating ‘what if’ simulation.

Photo taken by F. Jay Haynes of one of the Gatling guns that were available to the 7th Cavalry. Click to enlarge.

This map is from the Campbell Collection University of KwaZulu-Natal. We are working on getting a higher resolution image.

We have recently written about using the General Staff Wargaming System to create a Battle of Isandlwana simulation. Properly modeling disparate unit types (e. g. British line infantry versus Zulu regiments) could be a daunting task but General Staff allows for modifying attack matrices to reflect different unit types, armament and abilities.

The battle of Talavera from page 273 of History of the King’s German Legion. [With plates.], by BEAMISH, North Ludlow.. Original held and digitized by the British Library. Click to enlarge.

The first of our Peninsular War battles is Talvera and pits Sir Arthur Wellesley (who will be elevated to the Peerage with the title Viscount Wellington after Talvera) against the French King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte. This is an especially interesting terrain where evenly matched armies fought where the British suffered approximately 25% casualties and the French 18%. Considered a tactical victory for the Anglo-Spanish.

The Battle of Blenheim August 13, 1704.

Blenheim was a decisive victory for the Duke of Marlborough and a crushing defeat for the Duc de Tallard and the French. The battlefield stretched from the banks of the Danube to a point some four miles to the north and west and contained varied terrain features including villages, swamps hills and ravines. . Over 100,000 troops were engaged by both sides. Blenheim was included in Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy’s, “Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World,” where he wrote, “Had it not been for Blenheim, all Europe might at this day suffer under the effect of French conquests resembling those of Alexander in extent and those of the Romans in durability.”

Free Scenarios Numbers Six Through Ten!

We are continuing the list of thirty free scenarios that will be rewards for early backers of the General Staff Kickstarter campaign. These battle scenarios were the top vote-getters voted by you. Click here for the top 1-5 vote-getters.

The Battle of Austerlitz December 3, 1805. Click to enlarge.

Not surprisingly, this is not the first time that we have visited the battle of Austerlitz. Below is a screen shot from The War College (UMS III) which is, indeed, an ancestor of the General Staff Wargaming System.

Screen capture of Austerlitz from the War College (UMS III), a solid model 3D real-time simulation.

Austerlitz, sometimes called the Battle of Three Emperors, is one of Napoleon’s greatest victories. The General Staff system of multiple command layers should make for an interesting simulation of Austerlitz as orders travel from the Emperor to the subordinate commanders and then down to units. It will be very interesting to see how the new artificial intelligence routines react to this tactical situation.

Fantastic engraving of the battle of Saratoga from the Library of Congress. Definitely click to enlarge.

One of the most interesting features of General Staff is the ability to use the same map for different scenarios and we will certainly do that for the two scenarios at Saratoga in 1777. These two battles – the first considered a Pyrrhic British victory and the second a great American victory under the leadership of General Gates – eventually resulted in Burgoyne’s defeat which certainly encouraged French King Louis XVI to intervene on the side of the Americans.

German map of the battle of Gravelotte – Saint Privat made shortly after the battle. Click to enlarge.

Most Americans – myself included – know very little about the Franco-Prussian War so it was especially interesting to read up on the battle of Gravelotte (or Gravelotte–St. Privat) on 18 August 1870. The largest battle of the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian victory sealed the fate of the French later trapped and besieged at Metz.

The Battle of Antietam scanned from the Official Military Atlas of the American Civil War and imported into the General Staff Map Editor. Click to enlarge.

The author walking across Burnside’s Bridge in 1966 (age of 12).

The Antietam battlefield is very special place for me. It is not as well known as Gettysburg and – at least during the 1960s – attracted very few visitors.  However, almost all of the battlefield is federal property and, unlike Gettysburg, has been preserved. It is eerily quiet.

Antietam is my ‘favorite’ battlefield; if one can have a favorite battlefield. I would visit Antietam with my father most summers. To the right is a picture my father took of me crossing Burnside’s Bridge in 1966. I was twelve at the time. In 1968 my father and I would visit Antietam for the last time. A month later he died of cancer.

Burnside’s Bridge – named after IX Corps Commander Major General Ambrose Burnside who was assigned the task of taking this bridge – is the key tactical feature in the southern part of the Antietam battlefield. We will do a General Staff scenario concentrating on this part of the battle.