Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Island Fortress 2

Part 2

So the French had made their plans for invading Britain (see Island Fortress 1 for background and details). I needed to find a way of running the British planning game and decided to step outside of CLWG to make use of a small gaming group at work, which would ensure no planning leaks or awkward attempts to pretend ignorance on behalf of the players. Given that the French team had carried out no spying actions at all, this retrospective session would hopefully work. I would ‘play’ the British navy to re-create the descents on Ostend and Le Havre from the French planning game, which would help the British players (Andrew, Gordon and Peter) focus on the land defences.

Strategy

The Brits had two main concerns – the deployment of their scarce forces (less than 10,000 in December 1758) and the use of political / diplomatic actions to improve the readiness of Britain for any invasion. As commander-in-chief Lord Ligonier, Gordon decided that the British priority was raising a large and well-trained militia to ensure that sufficient troops were available to cover all the key invasion sites as well as creating a reserve to respond to any successful landings, alongside a programme of coastal fortifications to slow down any enemy progress. This overall plan raised concerns from Prime Minister Pitt and Lord Newcastle, because of the expenditure required and political concerns about the implications of a larger army, but the King’s support for decisive action to protect the nation meant the players had sufficient political capital to proceed with their plan. Interestingly, like the French, they had neglected to make use of their spies, and did not consider diplomacy until late in the campaign.

With some careful reading of the (fairly short) game rules, the team decided to push through framework legislation to raise local militias, as well as allocating substantial funds to train and arm them. These early decisions meant that the British army was nearly doubled in size, allowing the creation of effective field forces based around Bristol and Portsmouth, detachments in Exeter and Hastings, with the main army held in London. Fortifications were improved in Portsmouth and Dover but the military engineers had their hands pretty full with building new barracks for all the recently enlisted troops. Information fed back from the navy suggested that the French were massing at the eastern end of the Channel, which encouraged more fortifications on the south-east coast. Concerns about a potential landing in Scotland or on the western coast of England were starting to fade.

Final preparations

Well-timed (and overdue) use of espionage in June, centred on Flanders, was critical for the final preparations. Spies and informants told the planners that not only were the French planning to invade in July-August, but also that this would be with Dutch assistance (some British resources were spent in belatedly and unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Dutch not to abandon their neutrality). This also strongly suggested a Sussex-Kent-Essex landing, which led to some crash fortifications of Harwich, Dover and Hastings. The trained militia were concentrated in London and some heavy guns brought back from Bristol, which proved to be crucial in the land battles to come.

I was nervous about the likely French plan, as it involved sailing right into the enemy’s strongest defences and best-prepared defenders. But the British hadn’t taken the steps which could have made the invasion utterly impossible (recalling the fleets or further fortification of the landing sites), so it looked like the invasion was worth playing as a game. The involvement of the Dutch fleet really had changed the balance of powers and meant that the French had a chance of pulling off this outrageous attack – though the odds were probably still against them, largely because of the British efforts in expanding their manpower. Much would turn on what the Dutch fleet was able to achieve against British numerical superiority, and if they were able to do enough to keep the defenders away from the invasion barges long enough to get most of the troops ashore, especially the heavy artillery which would be vital if they needed to attack any fortifications.

Earlier French raids on Hastings had led to some fortifications being built to secure the town, which would play a key role in the next session. But the British forces were heavily concentrated in the SE of England – if any French forces were landing in the midlands, the north or in Scotland they would be facing very little resistance indeed and mostly from poorly trained militia rather than regulars.

Reflections

I was really pleased with how this session went, particularly as the group were much less familiar than CLWG regulars with this sort of experimental game design and planning games. Gordon’s knowledge of the period really helped the group, and I was impressed with their problem-solving skills (as well as Peter’s crucial skill of close reading of the rules to see how they could most efficiently raise militia by some upfront sacrifices combined with Andrew’s concern over finding out what the French were up to).

 

Next time – find out how the invasion fared…

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