Trench Raiders Campaign Day

My British Trench Raiders, from Great War Miniatures.  At last, the Allies can go on the offensive!
With all of us off at different times over Christmas, Kieran, Ollie and I made a special effort to get together for a few games of Trench Raiders during the festive period.  The game is really maturing now, thanks to all the readers of this blog who have downloaded and enjoyed the game across the world.  My gratitude goes out to those who've emailed in with feedback on the game; every email has contributed in some way to the rules.

Up to now, we've been taking turns to use the Germans as the attackers since I only have Russians to defend with.  Well, I treated myself to some Trench Raiders from Great War Miniatures, so now those Germans can get on the defensive.  I won't spoil the forthcoming model post, but I was pleased with the bases which used GW's texture paint Stirland Mud.

Anyway, it was a smashing day which saw a win, a loss and a draw for both sides.  The first game was my favourite, with my rapid start becoming bogged down into swapping grenades round a corner, and all my attempts to flank frustrated.

I began by selecting Divisional Bombardment, meaning that for the first six turns all the Germans were bottled up in their dugouts.  However, I failed to get all the way to the objective before this time was up and reinforcements started pouring out to meet me.
Some stubborn defence held up my plan - this defender was supposed to go in the first turn!
In the end, it became a tense battle in the comms trench connecting the dugout and front line trench, with
both sides swapping grenades.  I decided to get out of there, and managed to do so with only two casualties.
The 'Fourtex' - with one exception (a six), every dice that landed in the central gap between the four perspex sheets scored a four.  There was a lot of dice aiming, with superstitious players trying to land the dice inside.

Lions Led By Donkeys?

One thing that came out from today's game was the difficulty the Raiders have.  Because they have a limited team of eight, each loss is felt much more keenly and we found they tended to loose two games for every victory.  To try and rebalance this, we decided to experiment with giving the Raiders one free re-roll per turn.

Haig with his dustpan and brush -
not quite as simple as that?
It sparked an interesting discussion - I asserted that this would be a real reflection of the 'offensive spirit', dash, pluck, whatever you want to call it.  This abstract quality has been unfairly maligned in popular WWI history, in my view - bumbling Melchett-style commanders ordering infantry in to action against machine guns, telling them to rely on this offensive spirit.  It is a very important, and very real factor, to be on the offensive and in tactical control of a situation, rather than passively defending and waiting for the enemy to attack you.  There were plenty of instances of plucky, determined 'wave attacks' overcoming dug-in machine guns - albeit at a horrific cost.

I thought it was particularly apt given the news in the UK at the moment with a debate on the portrayal of these 'lions led by donkeys' raging - the BBC report on the subject is here.  I have to say, while I don't quite agree with the left-wing conspiracy theory put about by Michael Gove, I do think that commanders like Haig and others have been unfairly treated.  Anyone interested by this topic is encouraged to read The Chief by Professor Gary Sheffield - not a straightforward defence of Haig, but rather a balanced review of his reputation with a close look at the facts.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on the matter?  Anyway, thanks for reading.  A lot of 'rounding off' posts to come in the next few weeks, looking at old projects I've finally managed to finish off as well as one exciting new one...

Thanks for reading,



  1. Looks like a good few games in there: I think that getting psyched for offensive operations does have a definite effect; just find some photos of the Staffords before desert storm and you can see the pent up tension and capped aggression - with the abundant light and modern photography its easier to see in them than it is in pre-D Day photos of the invasion force. This has to have something to do with the fact that the attacker has the initiative, but it is more than that; it is sort of spiritual as well in some way. So your re-roll is entirely justified IMHO.

    As for WW1, hummm. Notwithstanding that the Secretary of State for Education is an expletive with no more right to walk god's green earth than a weasel; I think that a lot of the 'left wing' view of Lions led by Donkeys is that it was a family squabble by Aristocrats paid for by the blood of the proletariat; that It was driven by the upper classes with disregard for the common man. This is blatantly false: The AH Empire was going to use the assassination as a pretext to extinguish Serbia. Germany was in on the deal (because they thought they could win).

    So setting aside the AH Empire, who had lost their favourite son; Germany was in a position to prevent a war - they did not have to support the aggression against Serbia, they did not have to press the Von Schlieffen Plan button. Britian did not enter the war for dynastic upper class personal reasons - it defended Belgium in '14 in the same way it would defend Poland in '39.

    The Kaiser and his government only went to war because they foresaw success. And without the collapse of their home front, they nearly had it.

    As for the performance of the Generals: Yes, they were prepared to fight the previous war and they were comparatively slow to adopt new technologies. But; we have the benefit of both hindsight, knowledge of what they new technologies could have actually done and familiarity with a phenomenal pace of technological change.

    Things like the field telephone and machine gun were still fairly new; perhaps not in terms of actually having them, but certainly in ways they could be used. So whilst we see the adoption of the tank in WW1 as too little, too late, in terms of development and procurement, what we are seeing is the beginning of the process that will take us from the Vickers Vimy to the B52 in not much more than 50 years.

    I think that people who concentrate on the General Melchett Stereotype are deliberately ignoring the bigger picture - with the resources that they had available the massed bombardment and infantry wave attack remained their best chance to seize ground - I'll point you to the Chinese offensives in Korea - Infantry waves are not a worthless tactic, where they work, they work well.

    The factors that aided the defenders - abundant machine gun cross fire set ups and conditions that meant that no-mans-land was a more formidable obstacle than a minefield; coupled with other new things like barbed wire emplacements and complex, well engineered trench systems in depth could possibly have been overcome in isolation; but all this things were new and all appeared at once; so the development of a weapon that allowed a breakthrough and would change European warfare back one of manoeuvre was actually not that slow, given that they were not developing a new AFV; they were inventing something entirely new from scratch.

    Just an opinion !

    1. Thanks, as ever, for your interesting contribution Zzzzzz.

      I agree entirely about the whole photography issue. As well as the technological changes, the style of photography has changed to shift the focus (no pun intended) onto the individual rather than the mass, allowing you to identify that emotional aspect more clearly.

      As for the ‘offensive spirit’, I am fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate) enough to have plenty of first-hand experience of waiting in a ditch those tense fifteen minutes before dawn to go ‘over the top’. The Taliban are not nearly as good shots as the Germans, but still. Waiting to attack is a totally different experience to waiting to defend.

      You’ve hit the nail on the head with Germany there. There is a lot of blame and counter-blame about who started the war, but I think regardless of who fired the first shot/violated the first border/made the first declaration of war, the war was an unconscious and unintended, but inevitable, consequence of a hundred years of treaties and alliances all interwoven with the collapse of absolute monarchy in the West, the rise of popular terrorism in the East, and a growing backdrop of nationalism across Europe. That accounts for the curious situation whereby no-one at the time saw it coming (at least in quite the way it did), and yet every schoolboy today can reel off all the reasons it began, unconsciously implying the idiocy of the statesmen who failed to recognise them.

      The entire debate can be summed up with that key phrase you used – benefit of hindsight. General Melchett is a very lazy stereotype, and people are to ready to import him wholesale from Blackadder as a backdrop to project all First World War generals. It’s not Blackadder’s ‘fault’, it’s lazy contemporary people failing to appreciate the subtlety of the comic stereotype.

      Very interesting stuff. Next time I’m round we’ll have to continue this discussion.

  2. Gove's left wing conspiracy theory ignores history. The British and French high commands were criticized by the rank and file from Day One, and by historians as early as Liddel Hart's work in 1930.
    I'm reading Herwig's landmark study of the German and Austro-Hungarian war effort. He isn't too kind on their high commands either! While I'm not sure all the criticisms are justified, there must be some fire for all that smoke.

    1. I'm always wary of Liddel-Hart's contribution to this debate; his one source for WW1 material was the British official historian Sir James Edmonds. He had a bit of a postwar grudge and a good reason for retrospectively portraying himself as a visionary. He was very bad at taking sentences out of Haig quotes, miscontextualising them and portraying the latter as a bumbling idiot. Having said that, as you say, no war is performed perfectly and some of that justified criticism clearly developed military strategy and informed a revision of the high-casualty tactics of the Somme.

      I've just looked up that Herwig book - going to have to get that.

    2. Col. Scipio,

      It's a real eye-opener. Herwig makes a strong case for Vienna having pushed Berlin into war. He also shows just how poorly planned the A-H offensive was, as well as how little communication there was between politicians and generals, and between the high commands of Germany and A-H. It's dense going and will take a while to finish, but I'm captivated.

  3. Trench Raiders really does look like a great little game, glad it earned some play time.
    This is a really interesting discussion too. Don't mind me, I'll just sit here in the corner and ears drop for a bit... please go on.

    1. Thanks - yes, it's turning into a belter of a game! Glad you're enjoying it, we'll let the debate rage.

  4. They were bloody excellent games, particularly the one above where my erstwhile defenders were ground down to a draw. The Frenchies should be taking to the table next time.

    Definitely like the re roll idea and as before agree completely. I had pretty much the same thing in 1919 for the same reason.

    As for the discussion, I could waffle on but agree completely sir and Zzzzz summed it up nicely too. It is not an issue that really has anything to do with political spectrum. I certainly think Haig was over maligned, but the one constant of historiography is revision - but I don't think that fits Mr Gove's ideas about education.

    There were those that adapted well to the new methods and technologies of war and those that didnt. Just as always. Lions led by donkeys is certainly unfair

    1. I'm always wary of the Man with one Maxim (a motto, rather than the MG...), but 'the truth, more than half the time, is the sum of the opposing views halved' - in other words, the truth is somewhere in the middle - is particularly relevant.

  5. Smashing stuff, on every level.

    Being - as I ever am - in the weird halfway house between being (a) a flip-flop-wearing, godless-Pinko secondary teacher living in the bafflingly strongly-left-AND-right-wing South Hams bubble of loveliness (If you've ever caught the patchouli whiff of Totnes, that's our nearest proper town) and (b) a matelot's son from Portsmouth who was never out of uniform as a kid (school; Scouts; ATC) then somehow ended up with a pip in the Officers' Mess at Cambridge...I never know quite where I stand on this. Or anything really, for that matter.

    BUT interestingly...

    I've just finished teaching the rather enjoyable 'Private Peaceful', a kids' book by Michael 'War Horse' Morpurgo, (which is like 'War Horse' except actually good, relatively unpredictable, NOT schmaltzy and hstorically poignant) and my kids - year 7s; 11 years old - were indeed sensitive to the whole 'it wsn't that simple though, was it, Sir?' angle, when thinking about the 'Lions and Donkeys' debate.

    Pertinently to this discussion, there's a large chunk dedicated to trench raiding for prisoner grabs, and I think they're unsuccessful until attempt number eight. Would you believe, it's at great cost...?

    Pleasingly, in addition to a duffering old retired colonel back in Blighty, Morpurgo presents (if you want to see it like this) both donkey-like NCOs and leonine officers: it's balanced overall, with the main thrust being not about lion-donkeys but about the injustices of bullying and shootings by a war machine that was understandably slow to realise the genuine effects of PTSD.

    Agan, Zzzzzz's on the money: hindsight is 20:20, right?

    Anyone read 'Tommy' by Richard Holmes?

    Oh, by the way, if I ever see you, I would just love to play this game. I assue it travels easily...

    1. That's a very interesting angle on all this, the 'new generation' factor. It's good to know that Year 7s are questioning things like that; I never studied WWI as part of my syllabus as far as I recall so most of my 'education' was courtesy of Blackadder unfortunately, until I was old enough to start reading round on the subject.

      20:20 hindsight sums up this debate perfectly. Oh, and as for trying this game out, if we both make it to Zzzzzz's this year I'm sure we could slip a quick game in, they're relatively quick to do.

  6. Drax always makes me chuckle!

    I think that the Australian history that is taught in our school is really woeful and is to blame for Australia’s distorted mainstream views on WWI. My wife is a primary school teacher and we always get into debates when she covers history with her classes. It isn't that the facts are wrong it is just the way the stories are strung together.

    As a kid we always received an incredibly slanted perspective on WWI and I think the same is true today. Everything is summed up in ways that described the Ausy ANZAC diggers as courageous, inventive, heroic larrikins that were good fighters that got killed a lot because of the incompetent British. Even the enemy Turks are spoken of with more regard than the British! I guess for you guys the issue bring up a separation of the classes, while for Australians the issue is more about the British dominance of post-colonial Australia.

    All of Australia’s colonial history is taught along this vane. The key points that are mostly taught are: the Australian Aboriginals - a great bunch of nations (essentially a utopian world). Then the British rock up, kill them and steal their lands. Next the British are the cruel guards of the convict prisons. The next point in history is the gold rush and the ‘Eureka stockade’ in colonial Australia - The British authorities don’t treat the gold miners very well and enforce unfair taxation, so the miners revolt and are dramatically massacred by British Red Coats. Then, through the idealism of white supremacy a whole bunch of aboriginal kids are stolen from their families by the government. Next point, WW1 – the Aussies die because of British incompetence. What I'm saying is for Australians, it isn't about an incompetent upper class, but about making the British a scape goat for everything that ‘white Australians’ feel guilty about. It is just way easier to palm it off on the British then to consider the broader aspects of why history played out as it did.
    Anyway that’s my rant on Australians not understanding WWI and all of our history in general!

    1. Hummm. That explains a few things. Odd that I never got any 'pom-bashing' at all on north or south island; whereas here, we even get it from ex-pat west - islanders.

      We are still paying the price for the imperialist past of our forefathers. And it's not going to end anytime soon.

      Perhaps we ought to get back to wargaming, rather than real world commentating.

  7. As the pre-privatisation slogan used to go, "I saw this and thought of you"...:

    1. Thanks for the thought Drax! Wow, that really is impressive. That's always the dream, and in fact the original aim, to have proper terrain and this stopgap 2D version has become the final product. That's fine by us as it allows us to do pop up gaming, I suppose.


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