Tuesday 21 September 2021

Battle of Langensalza: Part 1 - Background and making the terrain

 Once a year, if I can,  I try to do a sculpted terrain on the extended table. Many readers will remember the 12 feet x 8 feet setups for Waterloos x 4 , and four days of playing Quatre Bras, and the two big games in The Raid on Vestisle. COVID lockdowns put paid to that in 2020 (though I have still to blog on the excitement I got up to that year!) So in 2021, after the Brampton terrain and all the spin-off games on that 8 x 6 table in May and June it was time to Go Large again. But what to do?

As usual I asked my mates and it emerged that Guy wanted to use his new modest-sized Crann Tara Saxon Army, and I was keen to exercise my newly painted RSM95 Hanoverians.  I looked in the masterwork on the Saxon Army "Between Scylla and Charybdis" by Helion & Co, and found in Part II page 78 The Combat at Langensalza. This battle had manageable numbers of Saxons and French fighting an Allied force of Hanoverians, Hessians and Prussians, it seemed ideal. Emails with Guy and a bit more digging revealed that the same description of the battle was in Kronoscaf but with the great advantage of full orders of battle of all the units on both sides which were within marching distance of the battle area. There was also a difficult-to-read old map reproduced there.   Combat at Langensalza

Very handily you can click through for the majority of regiments to find their uniforms too. This was particularly useful for me as I had to work out which units from our collections  best represented the scaled down formations we needed to make a balanced game. Paul B had kindly offered his Prussians and Austrians to help out as required.

Just as a teaser - Paul and Guy with the first Move's units on the table at Langensalza, about 50% more were still to arrive in due course

Historical setting

I try not to do too much boring history on the blog but a bit of background is necessary for this. The Prussians captured and dispersed a lot of the Saxon Army in the Autumn of 1756. What was not absorbed into the Prussian army got away to fight either alongside Austria in Bohemia and Silesia and Saxony or across Germany to become part of the French Army.  By February 1761 it appears that a corps of around 10,000 Saxons was a formal part of the French order of battle within a French-officered hierarchy and holding a key part of the front line against the Western Alliance in Hesse/Thuringia.

As the Kronoscaf account tells, by mid February the Hanoverian/Hessian/Prussian Allies assembled a force across the River Unstrut from the town of Langensalza where the Saxons were based, and managed to bridge the overflowing river and the marshes either side to try to take the Saxons by surprise. It seems evident that the Saxons weren't caught completely napping as by dawn they had a strong infantry brigade on high ground overlooking the river.

To summarise briefly - the Allies were dominant in cavalry which they sent across the river first, by two or three routes; the Saxons began to retreat but were eventually surrounded.  Another Saxon Division under French control arrived but did not stick around. A lot of the Saxons were cut off as they tried to retreat through a flooded gorge at Ufhofen and around 2000 were taken prisoner, although they gave a good account of themselves first. That only took about two hours and involved no more than a few thousand men on each side so no wonder no one  (in the general wargaming community anyway) has ever heard of it!

But taker a closer look with your Games Master hat on.

Here is the map:

The high ground to defend and the difficulty crossing the Unstrut should have provided the Saxons with a better chance. And then looking at the OOBs I could see that they could make a balanced game with the following two changes:

1. The French high command have the will to fight and not just retreat to live to fight another day

2. Both sides can call on up to the whole available forces if you allow a few more hours marching time.

So I came up with the following list of figure requirements calling on elements from our 3 collections of 28mm miniatures.

This was using, as usual, "Honours of War" as our basis but the scale needed to be more or less halved (I hate the term "bathtubbing" but many will know what I mean).  That was because the ground scale had to be manageable on the 12 x 6 table so I settled on 2 feet (60cm) being about 1000 metres and therefore we could simulate approximately 6 kms of frontage. I altered the weapons ranges better to simulate the decreased ground scale from the normal HoW battalion game, more on that next time.  So, with help from Google Earth, and using Photoshop, I interpreted the historic map to arrive at my tabletop battle area with enough surrounding territory to give us a run-up for the reinforcements. (I have invented names for the 3 x BUAs just North and East of Langensalza town)

We set the game for a couple of days in mid August with Guy as the Saxons/French and Paul B as the Allied commander, others would be invited.  I won't dwell much more on the history and game at the moment as my next task was working on the terrain, and so that is what I will give you here.

Langensalza - building the terrain

I'll just refer you back briefly to the customised terrain for the Battle of Brampton. Several readers have expressed dismay or sadness to me that these art installation terrains are temporary and are "destroyed" after use. But don't worry, I've said it before and I do try to discard as little as possible, and much of it is simply cut up, stored in the garage and reworked later. 

Disposing and repurposing the Brampton terrain for Langensalza

The 8 x 6 feet table top has the small polystyrene-based hills cut off and stored for another time. You can see them on the table by the window

Using a serrated blade and a tenon saw I carefully cut out the streams, including the marshy tufts, and will work them into another terrain in the future 

No problem that the corrugated packing material is now exposed  I'll be building over it

Significant holes in the surface are filled with papier mache. The supporting tables are slightly re-arranged and the tabletop pushed towards the big window. Then I have added my two reserve 6 x 2 foot MDF boards, here seen with my standard green-brown texture

There is a lot of high ground on the Langensalza map so I got hold of the large hills and ridges I had built for previous terrains and started to saw them up to rough shapes. You can see I have used a black marker pen to transfer basic contours from my map onto the surface

This steep valley around Schonstedt village is cut through the hill I used for (among other things) the Lobosch berg at our West Country Lobositz

I had to call on some of my store of expanded polystyrene for a few ridges which needed a new build. But in this year of COP26 hosted by the UK I'm now disgusted by my big stored pile so all the unused poly has been taken to the tip and from now on I'm only re-using and forming new hills from cardboard, wood and paper

Sawing up and piecing together pre-loved ridges

Here you can see the papier mache effect being applied to seal and conceal the joins

And that Schonstedt valley in close up using thick textured packing paper and PVA glue

Basics of the river and marshes

Before I got any farther I had to get a reasonably flat basic surface down on which to paint and build the River Unstrut and the surrounding fields inundated by flood water, and effectively becoming marsh areas. I called on the store room once more for old black vinyl which I had used many years ago as the base for my sand table in Cheltenham. Interestingly it still had a coating of some darkish green powdery paint which I could put to good use as an undercoat.

So this was cut to shape and the basic river and streams painted on before the final hill contours were placed on top.

Adding the intermediate contour
So far what I have is the lowest contour at river level and the highest level (Two contour on my map). What I needed now was to blend it all in my filling in with what I called One Contour on my map.
This was basically big sheets of packing cardboard cut to shape and made into a giant jigsaw puzzle stuck together with cheap masking tape. This very fragile surface was then all blended and stuck together by the most fascinating process of papier mache modelling

If you want to do this and have the space I recommend
flattening and keeping all the very large boxes you get with,
 for example, flat pack furniture.
 "They will come in handy one day dear!"

The masking tape does not give a permanent fixing but holds it long enough till you can get the glue and paper covering in place.

Yes, I am mad,
but the NHS says I don't have autism, ADHD
or a personality disorder........!

I love the papier mache moulding as it really begins to take shape

The blending doesn't have to be universally accurate
 as there is more processing still to come

Strategically placed weights help to prevent warping as the PVA dries out

Still shiny while it is wet.

Cutting the streams and starting colouring the contours

I had to wait a day or so for the paper and cardboard and PVA 3D model to dry out and then the next task was to mark out and cut channels where the stream cuts through the hills. This is one of the most fun parts of sculpted terrain as you get to really feel the issues of terrain obstacles  - "oh yeah that bank is steep, no wonder artillery can't cross".
A Stanley knife or similar is necessary to get through the
 thick cardboard

Once cut out I painted the streams with a thick mixture of filler,
PVA and dark acrylic paint. Lower streams were given a coat of
a thinner lighter mixture as they would be more turgid and muddy

Then it was time to mix up my usual "gunge" to cover the contours.
This was household filler, sawdust, sand, PVA glue, water
and cheap school-quality acrylic paints to taste!

The BUA areas were painted with a less textured mix of a different colour.
This is Langensalza town

Now I have everything coated with at least something. That lighter green on the higher ground (Two contour) is mostly the pre-existing green from matching my usual flat boards. Roads have been marked out but not yet textured

Here is the Schonstedt valley now with a khaki brown shade of gunge
along with the rest of "One Contour"....but that is just an undercoat

Roads and more intensive colouring
There are no right or wrong answers with this. So far I'm experimenting to some extent to work up colours across the table and keep an eye on how it is developing, like a 3D painting. Time to give the roads some definition, smooth the surface overall and then add deeper shades and washes, plus dry brushing to get an overall unified effect but one that is practical for gaming purposes. 
"Any fule can make a splendidly realistique landescape modelle, but knowing when to hold back with thy hands and brushes for gaming practicaletty takes gude judgemente". (Thoughts of Sir Joshua Gregg RA, Treatise on making ye model battaylefields, Oxford University Press, first published 1775)

I painted all the roads with a  fairly creamy mixture of filler, sand, sawdust, PVA and mid brown paint expecting it to dry lighter. Before it hardened I went through with two coffee stirrers to simulate wagon tracks. That solidifies to have quite high ridges so I went all over the roads (and the terrain too!) with a surform rasp tool to smooth out the lumps.

A thin dark brown wash fills up the ruts with a shade colour.
That has to be allowed to dry completely

The roads can then be dry brushed with one or more coats of light cream coloured acrylic to bring out the highlights and create definition

That big wetland was beckoning to be given a proper water shine with a
couple of coats of Winsor and Newton Acrylic Gloss Varnish.
To some extent overkill as most of it will be covered up ....
but I just know that inundated marshland is wet below the surface!

Applying different green and brown washes of thin acrylic
to the contours helps to differentiate the levels.
This is that Schonstedt valley again

The original light green highest contours are beginning to blend in

It's meant to be central Germany in February so I think this is much too green yet.......

This is going to be where the bridge crosses the Unstrut
 at Merxleben - a key approach for the Allies

The same area from the opposite direction. In the foreground I have started to paint lighter green and brown highlights on the streams

This step makes a big difference.
Time to get a reasonably wide brush and dry brush all over with a light cream.
Sandtex ultra smooth Masonry Paint - Sandstone finish, is ideal

That unifies the whole set up making it seem less artificial and more like viewing from an aircraft.

Yet by dry brushing more intently along the dividing lines
 between contours you can make a practical visual signal to
players to deduct move distance for going up or down hill

Top and bottom: really pleased with how this is beginning to look now. I sort of wish I needed a big wide river....but it's going to be marsh

The scenic "add-ons"
It would be nice to go on to show you all sorts of custom made additions to this but you might be relieved to hear that I just raided my extensive boxes of past wargames infamy and unearthed quite a lot of stuff that hasn't been on a wargames table for some time; some of it predates my move away from Cheltenham in 2013. Here is a tour in photos with some explanations

I always intended that the Unstrut would be crossed by the two bridges
and the remaining inundated area was to be crossable with difficulty to all but artillery

So the "marsh" was represented by all sorts of low profile foliage
 from my store boxes; some loose scatter and some previously
formed bases and bushes

Commercial tufts were used to border the marsh areas
 but everything else, as usual, was scratch made by me from cheap materials.
Scatter foliage pieces were added randomly to give extra emphasis along the hilly streams

A home made stone bridge nestles in nicely. At left I have stuck on to the backdrop some low-relief wooden houses bought from Hobbycraft many years ago. More buildings will be found to make up Merxleben

Test buildings on the site of Langensalza. Ufhofen BUA is yet to appear
on the foreground open patches

The photos above were taken during a test run for buildings and not what I ended up with. The final battlefield is shown in the pictures below. I put some random units on the table too so as to give the players an idea of infantry, artillery and cavalry sizes to help their map deployment.

Schonstedt village, now with a fir tree wood in the valley

The Ufhofen gorge is just off-table towards the camera so we can see
Ufhofen village leading on to Langensalza town

Looking down on Judenberg Hof. If it seems familiar you will have
seen the grey roof building as a tavern in "Brampton" and a hamlet in 
the Auden Hills battle

Langensalza is an eclectic mix of card buildings (some new for this
game) and plaster and china ornamental charity shop/car boot sale type
 buildings given a new lick of paint

I imagined an old 17th Century pump house bordering the marsh, now fallen into disuse and the complex taken over by a brewery and tavern for commercial gain by the bridge to Thamsbruck. It's a china gift shop ornament with a cardboard scratchbuilt rear extension and thick canvas-board garden wall. That foreground marsh is some "distressed" Astroturf formerly loved in Darkest Africa jungle scenarios.

View overlooking Langensalza from the Allied artillery position
on the Merxleben Heights. It was about 2 kilometres but the account
says the Prussians bombarded the town.

Shallow, wet and a formidable obstacle for Allied
 troops who don't use the bridge

I will leave you with a view of the guys well into the action on the day.
Part Two will go into more detail on the objectives, plans, orders of battle, dispositions and opening moves.

As I write the table is a bit forlorn....no troops, no add-on scenery, the marsh foliage is all packed away. We've had 2.5 days of hectic wargaming action on it so far; I've scheduled an 18mm Napoleonic General d'Armee try-out on it in early November and I will probably do something on it with my grandson Seb at October half term holiday. However I think there is space in the schedule to fit in another modest 18th century Honours of War day-long bash in the second half of October so if anyone fancies that and can get to Oakridge Lynch between Stroud and Cirencester please get in touch and we can see if it can work.