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The Orkney Wargames Club meets

in Kirkwall on Thursday evenings.


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The Battle of Germantown, 1777

The American War of Independence, Black Powder, 28mm

This weekend three of us flew up to the neighbouring island of Shetland, to take part in an inter-island wargaming weekend with the Thule Wargames Club of Shetland. The airfield in Shetland is just eighty miles north of the one in Orkney, but it was like stepping into another world.  Shetland is bleak, rugged and covered in heather while Orkney is rounded and green. We spent the weekend referring to the two places as “Mordor” and “The Shire” – not entirely in jest. Still, the local crowd made us extremely welcome, and staged a great weekend of gaming for us.shetland-002The first game was an American War of Independence game – a refight of the Battle of Germantown in 1777. In the real battle, Washington’s army launched a surprise attack on the British who were camped near Germantown outside Philadelphia. They could of won a spectacular victory, but poor coordination between the attacking columns, bad blood between the rebel commanders and a swift and decisive British response turned what could have been a victory into a pretty shameful defeat.  One of the key factors was the defence of the Chew House (or Cliveden House) by the British. A regiment garrisoned the place and held it against all comers. As the house was stuck plumb in the middle of the American lines it was a thorn in the American side, and Washington’s men spent much of the battle trying to capture it. The garrison held firm. In our battle the four American column commanders decided to bypass Cliveden, and launch attacks on the British flanks, hoping to roll their line up towards the centre. All the players had to roll to bring on their first brigade, and then roll again for any subsequent reinforcements. This reflected the somewhat haphazard American approach march, and the fact that the British had been taken by surprise, and were in their encampments when the fighting began. Only the British outpost units were on the table when the battle started.shetland-010We fought the game on a 16 foot by 6 foot table, which with hindsight was a bit too long for our needs. A 12 x 6 would have worked perfectly well, especially as we’d scaled down the Black Powder movement and shooting distances by a third – musket range was now 12″ rather than 18″. To reflect divisions in the American command the American column commanders had complete discretion over where they came on. Therefore, I was surprised to see the first columns appear at the two far ends of the table, on Limekiln road which led to the British right flank, and the Ridge Pike Road beyond the Wissahickon Creek on their extreme left flank. The two central columns (one of which was commanded by me) then appeared closer to the centre of the table, but apart from screening Cliveden with a militia brigade we gave the British outpost a wide berth. The British did very well in their initial rolls – Knyphausen’s Hessians appeared right away, and formed up behind Wissahickon Creek, while Grant’s command marched onto the table and swung right, to deploy around Lukens Mill, on the British right.shetland-018We still thought we had the British. If we could march on and engage them with everything we had, then we could gain local superiority over their forces, and crush them before the rest of the British army appeared. This sort of worked over on the American left, and soon half out army was in action against the Hessians. The battle there raged all day, with units gradually getting swallowed up in the maelstrom of die rolling. Eventually the outnumbered Hessians began to look shaky, but they were still holding their line when the game drew to a close. More importantly, they had inflicted grievous casualties on the Americans, and these troops were completely shattered. More importantly, a third of the British army had held up half of the American one, which made it all the harder for the Americans on the other side of the battlefield.shetland-003General Greene’s attack unfolded around Lukens Mill, but it washed up against a pretty strong British line, deployed behind a small creek. Even then, the tide of battle was slowly tipping in the American favour. Then Cornwallis arrived. The last of the British reinforcements appeared on the centre of their table edge in Germantown village, and they veered right, marching in support of General Grant over on the British right. My own small division of Americans had been advancing through the fields to the east of Cliveden House, threatening the flank of Grant’s British division. Now my troops found themselves outclassed and outnumbered, and very much out on a limb. As the British guards and grenadiers marched forward against my right flank I pulled back, and so broke contact with Grant’s British. The battle there soon petered out, as the Americans lacked the strength to force the issue.shetland-009Then came the rolling up of my centre. Cornwallis deployed his best troops as a steamroller, and the British line surged forward. By this time my Americans had pulled back and were formed up behind a stone wall. This stood them in good stead when the British finally charged home, and they stood their ground for several turns, facing the cream of the British army. Eventually though, the American line crumbled. One unit after another failed its break test and fled the field. By the end of play all of the American commanders had just a few shattered units left. On the British side the two flank guard forces had pretty much been reduced to half strength, but had held their ground. In the centre, Cornwallis drove all before him, clearing the Americans from around Cliveden, and turning what would have been a draw into a pretty unequivocal British victory. We all had great fun playing this game, and while the lurid green terrain left a lot to be desired the game itself was tense, well-balanced and thoroughly enjoyable.


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