Waterloo with Big Battalions: 10th May 2014- by Conrad Cairns

For three years now Durham Wargames Group have taken 54mm display games to Carronade, one of Scotland's leading-and most enjoyable- shows, put on by the Falkirk club. This year we followed up the War of 1812 in Canada and the 1777 campaign near Philadelphia with what we hope will be the first of a series of Napoleonic battles.

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As yet the Prussians are not around, so it seemed sensible to put on a show based on the first really important clash of the other two armies on 18th June 1815, the attack of d'Erlon's 1st Corps on the left wing of the Allied line. We had a table 18 feet by 8 feet, to represent what was a roughly square sector of the battlefield; nay-sayers told us that only gibbons (or other species of simian) would be able to manage this width, so I suspect this makes us all monkeys shaved.

Gaming with 54mm figures is not really different from doing it in smaller scales-the rehearsal was with the same armies in 15mm- but the gamer's aesthetic and historical attitudes cannot be the same. The collections was started by my father around 1960 to demonstrate the main stages of the battle to trainee teachers in Sunderland, and has been growing ever since, the final figures arriving in 2014. In the beginning, there were only Timpo toys, excellent in their time, Britains guns and a few Marx Alamo Mexicans, who have been reinforcing the Dutch/Belgians for decades: then Airfix came along in the 1970s. More recently, we have Hat, Italieri, Armies in Plastic, A Call to Arms, Replicants, and Death Figures- the last (obviously) specialising in casualties. But figures go into and out of production alarmingly quickly, and the range is much more limited than in 25mm or 15mm. So rather than plan an army and then choose which manufactures to favour, with the big figures you see what you can find, then build your armies around that. Luckily Irregular Miniatures of York do 54mm metal figures at a very reasonable cost, so I've used some of these for officers, colour-bearers etc. Against these limitations, the size of the models means that you can emphasize the sort of detail that appeals to you-in my case this was the fashionable green gloves and blued and gilded blades for officers! I'm still waiting for a suitable Becky and Amelia to look decorative on the sidelines.

The standard battalion has 24 men, although some are weaker, and the all the cavalry regiments should be 12 strong- a couple are under-strength, due to the the figures no longer being available. Each battery is played by one gun and 4 gunners, and occupies a roughly appropriate space, at least frontally. In fact most batteries were almost square when deployed, but to depict this correctly would have cluttered up the table. Cecil B. de Mille was right-sometimes spectacle is more important than archaeological precision.

We fielded roughly, but only roughly, half the number of units present on the day. There were problems with the two British heavy brigades, each of 3 regiments. As regards command and control, for the French this was relatively straightforward. My Napoleon model still needs a lot of work, and in fact he left Michel Ney (hatless, to show off his ruddy complexion and red hair) as our general. He could give orders to d'Erlon (1st Corps),Milhaud (4th Cavalry Corps), Drouot (the Guard) and St Maurice (grand battery). The Peer did not hold with such rigid lines of command, so he dashed around, in no way resembling a wet hen, to give orders on the spot. He particularly enjoyed ignoring the earl of Uxbridge- I cannot think why.

As very often happens, a lengthy game ended in a victory for the Army of the North, the British and KGL behaving in an appropriate fashion, the Dutch-Belgians collapsing, and the lustige Hannoveraner doing well for such young soldiers.

What's next? Marshal Vorwarts should be around in 2015, to lower the social tone of the Low Countries; and three days last year tramping two of the battlefields of the War of Liberation-not to mention some fine 200th anniversary exhibitions- suggests something in Saxony. Anybody been to Borodino?

The Allied army:

  • 8 British/KGL battalions, 4 Hanoverian, 3 Dutch/Belgian
  • 6 British regiments, 2 Dutch/Belgian
  • 3 Britis/KGL batteries (including a rocket), 1 Hanoverian, I Dutch/Belgian

The French army:

  • 15 battalions
  • 10 regiments
  • 7 batteries

Thanks to Matt Boyd, Jimmy Hall and Dave Jarvis for commanding, Nigel Brough for devising the rules, Shaun Lowery and John McCann for rehearsing the battle, and Nigel Gould for La Haye Sainte and the Sandpit.