Accuracy in historical wargaming.

Playing the game or the history?

One of the main debates that comes up in the historical war gaming field is the need, or not, for historical accuracy when planning armies, painting and scenarios.

To be honest this can be a bit of a minefield and there are equally valid opinions on both sides of the debate. Some players are playing for the sake of the game, others want to make sure that every last button and epaulette is the accurate colour and design for the regiment in hand.

Napoleonic Uniform Books

It’s really important to say before we continue that this is of course absolutely fine. If the accurate player enjoys the experience more from having a prefect replica of his troops lined up in front of him on the table, then brilliant!

If the gamer is happy that his guys are wearing red coats and is just there to have fine, fantastic!

I come down somewhere in the middle, as I suspect do most historical gamers. I want a good fun game and I want my guys to look the part but I‘m not going to be upset if I don’t have the exact correct shade of trousers for the 33rd at Waterloo.

I’m going to use a couple of examples from my collection to illustrate this.

Bolt Action Germans

My main two Bolt Action armies are a late period US force and Germans from the same time.

Using the Germans as an example, looking at the army lists you can see that a generic Grenadier squad starts with an NCO and 4 men with the option to add another 5 Grenadiers.

Weapon wise you have the options to take an SMG for your squad leader and one other chap, an LMG, or up to 3 assault rifles and some panzerschrecks.

When I first started looking at Bolt Action I automatically took the full strength squad with as many extra Grenadiers in as I could fit. It was at this point that I thought I’d start looking to see what I could find online around actual squad makeups to try and make my army a little more accurate.

A quick Google turned up this:

World War 2 German Squad Sizes

Easy to pull together from the lists without too much of a problem. Cap the squad size at 8, a couple of SMGs and an LMG. Done!

Bolt Action USA

We can apply the same principle to the US army.

We can see in the army lists that a US infantry squad is an NCO and 5 men with the option to add another 6. The NCO can take and SMG and an infantryman can take a BAR.

Again, looking at the actual composition of the time we can see that a squad size would be 12 men. The NCO would carry a rifle and there in indeed an option of a BAR. Perfect!

World War 2 US Squad Sizes

Stick to the squad makeups and equipment and you have a pretty accurate army ready to take to the table!

Bolt Action USA


One of the most popular periods of historical wargaming is without a doubt the Napoleonic wars.

I have recently started pulling together a British army in 10mm for the battle of Salamanca. It turns out my great, great, great, great grandfather was a trumpeter in the 5th Dragoon Guards who fought there, which is why I choose these. I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring him to the table!

The main battles of the Napoleonic period are incredibly well researched and the most cursory of searches will turn up loads of information.

In this case the first port of call was finding an order of battle for the British.

That done we can work out how to translate that to the table.

In this case we can see that we need 47 battalions of red coated line infantry, a couple of battalions of rifles, 10 lots of cavalry, some guns and a handful fo Portuguese. Quite a lot and the reason I’m doing this project in 10mm!

10mm British

So, how accurate do I want to go on the table?

To start with I want to stick to the order fo battle provided. If I’m going to do an army for a specific battle it would seem daft not to. I have a list of the battalions present so I will try and find as many of the correct regimental colours as I can for the time.

Then I start to fudge it a little. For me at this scale, a red coat is a red coat. I won’t be bothering with different colour uniform facings and shako plumes. Essentially does the army look good on the table and can we tell what it is supposed to be. If the answer is yes, then I’m happy.

Other players may disagree with me at this point and would much prefer to see battalions modelled at full strength or at least approximating it with the fudging that all games require with every tiny plume and facing painted in accurate detail.

How Accurate is Accurate?

As I said at the beginning of this article there is no right or wrong way to approach accuracy in historical games, go with whatever pleases you the most and have fun!

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