Sunday, May 10, 2015

Of rivers, canals, pontoons and bridges

Friend of the Blog Peter A has penned a really nice piece on the importance of rivers in the warfare of our period.
Rivers were crucial in 17th/18th century warfare. They provided the means of transporting supplies, troops, weapons, ammunition, artillery and livestock - the full panoply of war! With the un-metalled roads so poor and often only usable for the brief campaigning season of April to October, navigable rivers and canals allowed the year-round moving, supplying and resupplying of the troops.
The control of rivers, the crossing of rivers, the position and flow of rivers forming borders or providing invasion and defensive places dominated the thinking of all the great 9YW and WSS commanders.  Bridges had to be seized or defended – or if they had already been destroyed by enemy action - either repaired by the engineers or substituted with pontoons or identified fords…
In Europe we have the evocative names of the Scheldt, the Moselle, the Meuse, the Rhine and the Danube… and in Ireland think of the vital role played by the Shannon, the Boyne and the Foyle…
Rivers provide great opportunities for scenarios in tabletop games. Their capture and command and the area-dominance their control would provide, meant possessing them, or passing across them, was always a strategic goal in each season’s campaigning.  Bridging and pontoon trains were huge affairs and were regarded as vital to the army’s ability to manoeuvre and outwit the enemy.
 In 2004 for the 300th anniversary of the seminal battle of Blenheim, the local German authorities created an excellent small exhibition and produced a fully-illustrated guide in the castle of the small town of Hochstadt. Hochstadt is of course the German name they give to the battle of Blenheim 1704 and the small town sits in the rear of the French and Bavarian lines, a few miles from the battlefield.

One of the exhibits was this marvellous 1/72nd model of a troop transport barge with a Bavarian horse regiment – neatly carrying men and animals on a raft down the River Donau (Danube). 
What inspiration to create similar models using matchsticks to form the base and sides of your barge or raft… my own attempts at creating pontoons and river scenes are shown in the images that follow.
 Pontoniers, engineers and officers are busy constructing bridges and pontoons to get the army across the fast-flowing river before the enemy arrives. Not a job for the feint-hearted. Speed was vital – but also reliability. This was a specialist task and these enterprising individuals should be celebrated on the table…
 The bridge is almost ready… the waterways of Flanders, France, Germany and Ireland provide great opportunities for imaginative wargame scenarios.

As the sun sets in this scenario, a Polish army is desperately trying to get across the river Nieman on its way into Russia…


  1. Great and interesting post! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Thanks Peter - and credit must go to Eric the Shed on for the idea of the blue Homebase tiles to make rivers. The banks I made from green model railway matting folded over cotton wool to make a 'soft' bank! Peter

  3. What an excellent post - that 1/72nd barge is wonderful!


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