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Short Rounds

"This is War, Not a Game!"

The Prussian – later German – general staff pioneered the art of wargaming during the nineteenth century, and by the early twentieth century the practice had spread to other armies as well, though with varying degrees of acceptance.

In a number of armies, the value of wargaming was viewed with a jaundiced eye. In the British Army Gen. Sir Henry Wilson (1864-1922), was a staunch supporter of wargaming, having served as head of the British staff college from 1907 until 1910, when he was appointed Director of Military Operations. An inveterate admirer of the French Army, and a close friend to Ferdinand Foch, Wilson worked hard to insure that Britain would be ready to stand by France when war came with Germany. He developed the mobilization and deployment plans that put the British Expeditionary Force on the French left in August of 1914. But Wilson’s ambitions for a field command went unfulfilled, save for a brief tour at the head of a corps, due to political machinations

Nevertheless, in late 1917 Wilson was appointed the British representative to the newly formed Allied Supreme War Council, headed by his old friend Foch. Pondering the possibilities for the coming year, in January of 1918 Wilson decided to conduct a wargame using the personnel from his staff.

During the game, the German player undertook an offensive with 100 divisions that broke the front along the Somme at the juncture of the Anglo-French armies and led to the loss of some of the Channel ports. 

With this grim possibility in mind, this Wilson recommended a number of measures to Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commanding the British Expeditionary Force. Haig chose to dismiss the recommendations, despite the fact that in February Wilson was appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

On March 21st the Germans unleashed “Operation Michel,” the first attack of the “Kaiserschlacht – the Kaiser Battle,” their series of spring offensives intended to end the war. The blow came at precisely the point and in almost the strength predicted in Wilson’s wargame, and very nearly had the prediced outcome, as the British front was ripped open so badly only a desperate “backs to the wall” resistance saved the Channel ports.

 

"If it Hangs in the Branches . . . . "

Legend has it that one day in 1382, a strapping 13-year old lad known as Giacomuzzo was working for a farmer, hoeing vegetables in a field near his home town, Coltignola in the mountainous Romagna district of eastern Italy. 

By chance, a troop of mercenaries passed down the road that ran alongside the field in which Giacomuzzo was working. Some of the soldiers, seeing the sturdy young man at work, approached him. One of them asked him the medieval Italian equivalent of “Hey kid, do you really want to tell your grandchildren that during the wars you were shoveling shit in Louisiana?”

Realizing that they have a point, but unable to make up his mind, Giacomuzzo said, “I’ll throw this mattock at that tree. If it hangs in the branches, I’ll join you.” It did, and he did. Giacomuzzo promptly left the field, stole his father’s horse, and joined what turned out to be the company of Boldrino da Panicale (1331-1390), a moderately successful condottiero.

This, at least according to an old tradition, marked the beginning of the military career of one of the most notable of the condottieri, Giacomo Attendolo, known as Muzio Attendolo Sforza (1369-1424).

The real story isn’t much less interesting

The Attendolo family were actually prominent local landowners with a history of military service. When Giacomuzzo was 13 he enlisted as a page in Boldrino’s service, and two years later re-enlisted as a man-at-arms, a testimony to his large size, great strength, and aggressive manner. It was a busy life. In Giacomuzzo’s very first year with Boldrino, he saw action serving the Church against Gentile da Varano of Camerino, a rather recalcitrant papal vassal, fought for Perugia against some exiles, and helped run the protection racket against Siena. Boldrino offered an excellent education in the mercenary’s trade, having himself studied at the feet of the great John Hawkwood, learning not only how to fight and manage troops, but to negotiate contracts, betray employers, and divide up the loot properly. And Giacomuzzo proved an apt pupil. By 1386, the young man, then about 17, was already commanding a squad of nine lances – each a combat team of 3-5 mounted troops headed by a heavy cavalryman. But soon after he had an altercation with another squad leader that left the latter dead. For reasons of health, Giacomuzzo left Boldrino’s service for that of Alberico da Barbiano (1349-1409), one of the greatest of contemporary condottieri, who nicknamed him "Sforza" ("Strong") for his great physical strength. A few years later Giacomuzzo formed his own independent company, drawing upon kinsmen and family retainers.  For several years he served as a sub-contractor to Alberico and others, slowly building his company and his reputation.

By 1398 Sforza was commanding 100 lances and taking on independent contracts. A decade later he commanded 600 lances, an enormous force, in the service of the Angevine King of Naples against his Aragonese rival, fighting in the centuries-long dynastic dispute between the two royal lines over the throne of Naples. He remained thereafter largely in the service of the Neapolitan Angevines, who named him Grand Constable of the Kingdom in 1416, while his “company” came to number some 7,000 men, horse and foot together.

Muzio Attendolo Sforza drowned while on campaign at the age of 54.

His son married the only daughter of the last Visconti Duke of Milan, and founded a line of princes that reigned there, with occasional interruptions, from 1450 to 1535, while marrying into the most noble houses in Europe, so that almost every modern European royal is his descendant.

Not bad for a kid who reportedly started out hoeing vegetables.

 

Those interested in reading more about Sforza and mercenaries in Renaissance Italy, might want to have a look at Geoffrey Trease’s excellent, THE CONDOTTIERI : Soldiers of Fortune in Italy's History (New York: Holt, Rhinehart, 1971) or Michael Edward Mallett MERCENARIES AND THEIR MASTERS: Warfare in Renaissance Italy (New Yrk: Rowman & Littlefield, 1974) 

 


 

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