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Action off Finisterre, 1805


Napoleonic Naval, Kiss Me Hardy, 1/1200 scale

Its often said that sailing is a very expensive hobby, and rather than owning your own boat, the real secret is to have friends who do. Well, this worked out very well for me when I was invited to take part in this little game. The guys at the Edinburgh club have gone all naval lately, ever since the Lardy Day last June. I actually have some of these ships – I’ve just never got round to painting, building and rigging them. There’s the rub – whichever way you look at it this is a major chore, hence my delight at being able to play with other people’s ships!

IMG_0142The battle was a fictitious one, pitting 12 British ships of the line against an Allied fleet of 14 ships – 9 French and 5 Spanish. This wasn’t really fair odds for the poor Allies, as the British were rated very highly,  the French were average, and the Spanish were abysmal. To make matters worse the British had the weather gauge, which means they could choose exactly when and where they could break the enemy line. The two fleets entered the 8×6 foot table in parallel but slightly converging lines, with the Spanish following the French. The British began edging closer to the Allied line, but then the wind changed, and began blowing from astern. This wasn’t quite so handy for the British, except for one thing – it would help them close quickly with the enemy when the time came.

IMG_0148Actually, the decision to cut the Allied line was made the very next turn, when the leading British squadron (the Blue) turned towards the French line, intent on forcing its way through the gap appearing between the French 1st and 2nd Squadrons. It worked a treat, and soon the leading British ship was passing across the bows of the Formidable, and delivered a devastating raking broadside at point-blank range. The foremast of the French ship fell, and she immediately became a hazard to the rest of the squadron following on behind her. They veered to port, which soon proved something of a mistake. The following turn the British continued on course, and the same leading ship (I forget her name) slammed a second close-range port broadside into the Mont Blanc. At the same time it smashed her first starboard broadside into the Indomitable, the rear ship of the leading French squadron, while the second British ship fired into the helpless Formidable. Ouch. Now, that’s the way to cut a French line…

IMG_0151Meanwhile the rest of the British fleet had also veered towards the Allied line, aiming to cut it somewhere in the middle of the 2nd French squadron, or else between it and the Spanish, who by now had formed a loose blob of ships somewhere to the stern and port quarter of their French allies. The French actually speeded up, so the line was cut between the third and fourth French ships in their 2nd Squadron – the Berwick and the Intrepide. The Berwick was a particularly tempting target, as she’d been captured by the French back in ’95, and we wanted her back. The Royal Sovereign fired its initial broadsides into the stern of the Berwick, and the bow of the Intrepide, raking both of them and forcing “strike tests”. The Berwick hauled down her flag, while Intrepide passed the morale test, and veered off to windward, trying to avoid the British line. In the process of course she placed herself within point-blank range of the rest of the White squadron following on behind the Royal Sovereign, and consequently she received something of a battering.

IMG_0153My own two ships – Mars and Temeraire – formed part of the third British squadron (the Red), which was now heading towards the Spanish. The Duguay Trouin gamefully headed towards the Victory, only to receive the point blank broadside from the British First Rate. Wargamers being a puerile lot (despite most of us being over the half-century) there were several japes at the expense of our club’s absent member Dougie – who’s name was similar enough to the French ship to encourage us to pick on it. I didn’t quite understand the added comments about ramming Duguay up the poop deck, or boarding over the stern… Anyway, my two ships were heading towards a Spanish Third Rate, the San Augustin, but the game ended before I was able to fire my guns in anger.

IMG_0158The game ended with the Allied line in complete disarray. It had been broken in three places, while a fourth break was only a turn away. At least three French ships – Formidable, Berwick and Intrepide I think – but possibly more – had struck their colours, and others were being pounded so badly or trapped amidst the British squadrons that they would surely follow their shipmates into “the bag”. Only the Spanish were left relatively unscathed, and if they had any sense they would have sailed away, leaving their French allies to their fate. The rules (Kiss Me Hardy, from the Too Fat Lardies) worked very well, and produced a very enjoyable and fast-paced game. After this I might even pluck up the courage to take a look at my own ship kits, and face the unenviable task of building, painting and rigging the little blighters. The lovely 1/1200 ships, by the way, were all supplied by Langton Miniatures.

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