Sunday, October 2, 2011

Battle of Guarda - May 1810

Finally the major powers have clashed in the West - Marshal Massena launched a strong French attack on the northern Portuguese mountain town of Guarda. This was defended by the entire Portuguese Army, supported by a number of British regiments and commanded by General Beresford.

The map

Guarda in more peaceful times, looking east - the Portuguese position is in the foreground, the French attacking from the far end. The Portuguese MLR  was drawn from the woods on the left, through the town and the woods on the right, then west along the long ridge forward of the river line.
The terrain hugely favoured the defenders, with most of the woodland (as well as the major hill on which Guarda itself sits) being Bad Going impassable to cavalry and slowing and disordering close-order infantry. The more open areas of rocky terrain are Rough Going, which again slows and can disorder close-order troops. The town of Guarda was awarded a Defence Value of 3, reflecting the solidity of its construction and its position atop an almost unclimbably-high and steep mountainous hill.  Although reduced by the early summer, the rivers also posed formidable obstacles which disordered close-order units crossing them.

Massena and his lieutenants deploy their forces, worried about the task they face
Although clearly concerned by the terrain they faced (and a strength of opposition which, as it turned out, their intelligence had somewhat over-estimated), the French commanders made their dispositions and, promptly at 8am, started to advance towards the village.

As their infantry slogged towards their objectives, the French soon brought their 12pdr battery to bear on the town, and settled in for a lengthy preparatory bombardment. Within the first half-hour of cannonade though the gunners displayed some outstanding accuracy and were astonished to see their efforts rewarded very quickly as walls collapsed and some of the defenders' positions were exposed to fire. With parts of the town reduced to rubble, would Massena be tempted to try a direct assault?

The bulk of the French force had been committed to an advance deep up the southern flank. Massena's plan called for a heavy left-hook to capture the heights overlooking the river and the Portuguese positions beyond. As their advance continued, it became clear that the Marshal was not going to let the temptation of capturing the town distract him from his plan.

French forces mass on the left
As the action developed it became clear that the French were to be superbly served by their strong light infantry contingent, which included many of the elite, veteran Voltigeurs of the Imperial Guard. It also became clear that the Portuguese lacked any effective reply to these troops, fielding only a single battalion of Cacadores.

French light troops swarmed through the centre, making the most of the difficult terrain to envelope the town and engage its defenders.

French light infantry attack the town
Others raced forward to clear the woods and rocky ground in front of the main French advance, where they met and quickly overwhelmed Beresford's Cacadores.

Other French Légere assault the woods on the Portuguese right, evicting the Cacadores defending them. 
In the centre, the light troops spent the day wearing down the defenders; one valiant Portuguese militia battalion was reduced to a single company, but still stood its ground. However, no assault was ever made on the town and its garrison held out comfortably throughout the day.

Instead, the French massed for an assault across the river. A single Portuguese infantry brigade held an advance position on the reverse of the long ridge, but seeing the strength of the forces approaching they withdrew to defend the northern side of the river. An intial reconnaissance by French Dragoons was met with cannon fire from across the river, but they rapidly occupied the heights and were able to view the Portuguese position for the first time.

The Portuguese position is revealed
Now the quality of the French - a well-led, veteran and professional force - began to assert itself over the inexperienced mixture of a few British regulars mixed with local militia which made up the Portuguese Army. Time and again, French light infantry advanced to the river and poured volley after volley into the brigades defending the far bank.

Uncommitted and immobile Portuguese reserve cavalry look on as their countrymen die on the riverbank and French light infantry penetrate the left of  their position, shortly before galloping off to the west in retreat.
The rapid and accurate fire from the Young Guard voltigeurs caused carnage amongst the defenders, who proved unable to make any effective reply. Inexplicably, Beresford left these units in place for two hours, either unconcerned at their plight or unable to construct an alternative plan. Meanwhile, the French Légere in the centre has occupied the light woods to the rear of Guarda, partially cutting the town off and capturing their second battery of Portuguese guns in the process.

Threatened by light infantry annoying his centre and finally realising the plight of the infantry defending the river, Beresford decided to ignore his strict orders to hold the town and in the early afternoon withdrew his Army to the west. The grateful and somewhat surprised French were only too happy to let him go without hindrance.

Portugal is now afire with speculation and rumour. Wellington is said to be immensely displeased with his subordinate's performance and his failure to hold this strategically vital town. The Portuguese Regency is rumoured to be no less furious at Wellington for moving British troops away from Guarda prior to the battle. Where now for the Alliance? There is even a suggestion the Regency, presumably impressed by Beresford's heroic stance, are demanding Wellington be replaced...



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Basing

For some time now I've been experimenting with an alternative basing system for VLE. The motivation is entirely aesthetic - I've just never liked the look of infantry columns which the old bases make look excessively narrow and deep, and having Cavalry on a differently-sized base to Infantry skews combat a little.

The "old" basing was originally a compromise to accomodate the load of figs I had based for other rulesets. Infantry elements are deeper than wide (20mm x 30mm), and cavalry is a different width (30mm). When I started basing figures again from scratch, and rebasing a load of Russians I'd bought on eBay, I thought I'd use the opportunity to experiment.

The "new" style puts both Infantry and Cavalry on 25mm square bases. This widens and reduces the depth of infantry formations compared to the "old" bases :


The only drawback I've met is that a lot of modern figures just don't fit into a 1" square if you want a 2 x 2, rank-and-file layout on the base. Instead, I slightly offset the front and rear ranks (something I've also seen commonly done with 28mm figures on 40mm bases, so they obviously suffer from the same problem!)


While I think it gives columns a much more satisfying "look and feel", it certainly stretches lines, which you might not like the look of :


I also prefer the tighter spacing it gives to Cavalry :


At the end of the day, it's a purely personal preference. Basing doesn't affect the rules, we just have to make adjustments if two differently-based units come up against each other, but you might like to compare them yourself and decide which you prefer before basing too many figures. Over time, I expect I'll rebase most of my troops to the 25mm square style.

With my usual inconsistency, I've left Artillery on 40mm x 40mm bases simply because that seems to work, and looks good! What I have done with my more recently-based models is to separate the crew onto a 40mm x 30mm base of their own, which sits behind the base containing the gun. This lets us easily show abandoned guns or score losses off crews and guns separately, as well as requiring far fewer gun models to repersent artillery from different nations - all you need  do is swap the crew to turn a Prussian gun into a Spanish one...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Battle of Azuel

A most enjoyable day out was had by all as the Spanish Army of Andalucia stubbornly held a well-defended position against a reconnaissance in force by Marshal Sebastiani.

The Spanish force, mainly infantry supported by a quite astonishing quantity of artillery, was well dug-in to a defensible position around the village of Azuel, and the French force lacked sufficient infantry strength (or perhaps just the determination?) to force it.

The Spanish position
Although claiming to be short of infantry, Marshal Sebastiani’s command more than made up for it with a remarkable array of glittering gold braid parading in the summer sunshine – no less than a Marshal of France, and two Divisional Generals overseeing a force which could, charitably, best be described as a Division. To be fair, the Spanish also seem to have seen this affair an opportunity for a grand day out, with no less a personage than the C-in-C of the whole Spanish Army commanding in person!

The French held their best troops, the Brigade comprising two Guard units, 2nd and 4th Hollandaise, in reserve.

The Guard - sunbathing and enjoying the view of the action in the distance
Clearly Sebastiani had studied his Master’s use of the Old Guard, as in fact these saucy chaps never moved and spent a pleasant day sunbathing on a hill, observing the battle for a safe distance. According to Marshal Sebatiani’s report, they “performed well throughout the engagement”!

Most of Sebastiani’s other infantry spent the day proudly marching to and fro in a professional manner not seen since the Duke of York’s famous achievement. In fact, the only infantry who were committed were a couple of line battalions – who made a half-hearted attempt on a redoubt and retired unsupported immediately after capturing it – and the 12th Legere, who spent their day mounting open-order hit-and-run excursions from the safety of the woods to the west of Azuel. Although these hurt the exposed defenders, they received a sharp fire from the Spanish Militia in return which ensured several hundred Voltigeurs would not be returning to la France.

The Militia gives those Voltigeurs something to remember
The overwhelming French superiority in cavalry of course allowed them complete control of the battlefield beyond the Spanish perimeter; an early excursion to the west by the Spanish Cuirassier regiment was punished most severely by a French horse battery (although the regiment effectively destroyed a French Dragoon regiment in the process).

Heroic, but doomed...
Later in the day, Sebastiani switched his cavalry strength to the Spanish right and, pouring sustained canister fire from their attached horse battery, they caused significant casualties to a couple of Spanish infantry squares and achieved some local success.

During this phase of the engagement French cavalry scented blood and charged a Spanish square, shaken and disordered from the swathes of canister fire to which they had been subjected.

The Dragoons charge out of the smoke against the shaken Cordoba Regiment  - and are replulsed!


However the brave Spanish battalion stood, and against all odds heroically beat off this attack. Although their morale failed afterwards, as the hurt they had taken became apparent, this valiant stand marked the end of any sustained attempt by the French to exploit their superiority, and Sebastiani withdrew to the north.

The intensity of the fire and combat within the Spanish perimeter was demonstrated by the loss (fortunately only wounded) of two gallant Spanish Brigade commanders, and the breaking of several battalions from combat casualties. Overall though the Spanish troops showed considerable stubbornness and enthusiasm for a fight, and the Spanish Army can be rightly proud of their bravery.

 Marshal Sebastiani's annotated map of the action...


A more detailed description of the action, along with some of his photos of the event, can be found on Paul's blog, http://paintinglittlesoldiers.blogspot.com/.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Waterloo 2011

As Waterloo Day this year fell on a Saturday when we'd already proposed gaming, the subject was inevitable! Then we got another big quake (well, two actually), and so folk suddenly had other priorities. Despite all that Dave, Ross and Andrew defied the Fates and turned up variously through the day - so (with appropriate delusions of grandeur), the big table became a scaled-down Waterloo. Lacking players and time, we settled for organising the troops and deploying the Allies. Thanks to Dave for most of the photos used here.

We've roughly equated Corps to our Divisions, and so the French have three infantry Divisions, a cavalry Division and (of course!) La Garde. The Allies are organised - a bit unhistorically, but it fits the troops we have and the ground they have to cover - also into three (weaker) infantry Divisions plus a small cavalry Division.

The French army musters for battle:

This photo shows the view from the Allied right rear, behind Hougoumont looking west along the length of the field:


This gives a slightly more general view, also from the same end of the field:


The French forces have been arranged rather randomly (and indeed half are off-table in Reserve), and await the hand of Napoleon!

The Battle

A week late, the Gods of War, Fate and the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse finally turn up to party. Andy, by arriving first, bagged the role of Napoleon, ably assisted by Geoff and Paul, while Dave and Barry commanded the Allies.

1pm

Finally bursting into action, Napoleon opens hostilities, scoring some early artilllery success against the Allied batteries exposed on the front slop of the ridge.

2pm

The French launch an initial attack by d'Erlon's Division against the Allied left-centre, to the east of La Haye Sainte.


Meanwhile, on the French right flank, Napoleon ignores reports of a Prussian advance and orders Lobau to bring his entire Division onto the field against the British. This is a decision which is likely to have a profound effect on the outcome of the battle, one way or the other! 

3pm

The French attack develops, with cavalry and light infantry moving up to cover the infantry brigades behind. Lancers have an early success against some shaken infantry.
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The allies respond with a decisive charge by the Scots Greys, who smash the dragoons threatening the Allied centre.

On the French right, Lobau boldy pushes his troops forward towards Papelotte and the La Haye. Rashly, his cavalry assume Papelotte is unoccupied, only to be shaken by a brisk eruption of musketry from the Brunswickers defending the farm. In some disorder from this surprise, the leading French units are stunned by the eruption of a Prussian cavalry brigade from the woods to the east, who charge without hesitation.

4pm

The French pour infantry onto the Allied squares as the lancers exploit their success.

Meanwhile, on the French left, Reille's Division finally makes a move, with one brigade advancing towards Hougoumont while most push towards the Allied main line.

5pm

Napoleon's decision to pull Lobau's Division away from its role as a buffer against the Prussians is beginning to pay an unpleasant dividend. Unmolested, von Bulow's Division has pushed rapidly west through Placenoit, and its leading cavalry brigade has already appeared to threaten the French right rear. Meanwhile, von Zeiten's infantry now begin to arrive east of Papelotte and advance towards the French. Lobau is now engaged on two fronts.


The desperate fight for the centre continues, with the French columns finally beginning to make some headway against the increasingly fragmented Allied line. Over to the right of La Haye Sainte, Reille's men advance towards the slope to the west while La Garde can be seen marching proudly and confidently forward in the centre. Clearly, Napoleon is determined to force the battle to a decisive conclusion here, as quickly as possible.

6pm

With the centre heavily contested, Napoleon has committed his reserve cavalry Division, along with the cavalry of the Guard, to repel the Prussian assault on his right flank. But as ever-more Prussians push west and south, is it too little, too late?

7pm

The British left finally collapses under enormous and sustained pressure. French artillery continues to pound La Haye Sainte, reducing the south side to rubble, and La Garde evicts the survivors of the garrison. Reille's men are now fully in action against the British right, preventing those units from reinforcing the centre.

More Prussian troops continue to flood onto the field and are thrown into action as they arrive, in a desperate effort to break through the French right in time to save the British from destruction. However, Lobau's men mount a heroic stand, preventing the  Prussians progressing through the woods far enough to influence the outcome of the action further west. Lobau's Division is all but destroyed, with brigades reduced to the remnants of battalions, but they have achieved what the Emperor asked of them.

8pm

It's all over bar the wailing and gnashing of teeth. The French have torn a gaping hole in the Allied centre, leaving the British no choice but retire on their LoC to the west and leaving Brussells open to a fate worse than death... First, of course, Napoleon will have to swing the bulk of his army to face the Prussians one last time tomorrow, but it is hard to see how they can stand against him, especially once Grouchy's Division finally shows up!




Monday, February 21, 2011

The Battle of Alicante

Spanish forces moving south to Alicante from Valencia engaged a strong French force approaching from the west. Unfortunately, the poorly-commanded and inexperienced Spanish force was spread out on the march and found itself unable to concentrate effectively against the veteran French. As a result, the Spanish suffered heavy casualties with only around one-third of their numbers escaping either towards Cartagena or being evacuated from the beaches by the Royal Navy. However the Spanish Army can stand proud, as their men fought bravely and resisted a superior enemy with great determination to the end.

The Alicante battlefield
At the start of the action, only Gen Palafox’s infantry brigade and the cavalry of Gens. Torres and la Pena had arrived on the field. Palafox’s small force was positioned in and to the south of Orchard 3 to hold the centre, while the (southern) left flank was defended only by Gen. Torres’ cavalry and a half-battery of 12pdr guns.

Gen. La Pena’s single strong cavalry regiment was concealed in the light woods at the northern edge of the battlefield, with the mission of surprising and delaying any enemy advance towards the crucial road access from the north. This they attempted to do, charging out of the woods to the shock of three battalions of French light infantry who were advancing towards it. However the veteran infantry formed rally squares, and their determined resistance prevented the cavalry achieving any success. Unable to break the enemy with their charge, the cavalry retreated back through the woods to reform as part of the main defence line which was now being established.

Initial engagement
While la Pena’s cavalry delayed the enemy advance, Gen. McCullagh’s brigade had arrived to bolster the terribly weak defence. This force then bore the brunt of a strong French attack on this flank, and succeeded in holding the road open long enough for Gen. Lardizabal’s infantry brigade to enter the battle. These three strong Militia battalions, which fortunately arrived slightly earlier than expected 90 minutes into the action, immediately deployed to the south of McCullagh.


French pressure builds...
French columns advance...
The French pressed hard against the Spanish right, with heavy and prolonged supporting fire from 8pdr and 12pdr batteries continually whittling down the defenders’ numbers.





In the centre, Gen. Palafox moved his brigade forward into the exposed open ground in order to screen the right flank from this telling artillery fire and paid the price, his men holding on though until few were left standing.


In an epic contest of strength and courage, Militia fought and died side-by-side with Regulars, successfully holding back the French tide. Generals inspired their men to rally and stand time and again throughout this desperate struggle, their hopes raised by the eventual reinforcements provided by Gen. Postiga’s small infantry brigade and (more vitally) his half-battery of 6pdrs. 

The Spanish rally yet again
Many Spanish regiments performed outstandingly, including McCullagh’s veteran Walloon Guards and 3/Hibernia, as well as Gen. Lardizabel’s conscript battalions who fought like lions. However, after over 3 hours of intense combat – and coming close to fighting their enemy to a standstill - the Spanish line finally collapsed, the artillery crews just managing to escape after blowing open their own gun barrels to prevent their capture.

The Spanish line finally collapses
On the southern flank the French had advanced much more cautiously. Although quickly overwhelming the Spanish 12pdr guns on the central hill with weight of shot, they were obviously worried about further ambushes from the woods in the centre and on the Spanish left, and their progress was cautious. 

French deployment on the southern flank
Gen. Torres’ cavalry were concealed behind this hill, which dominated the southern half of the battlefield, and when the French did start to push forward they showed themselves. After being fired on by French heavy artillery, they withdrew again behind the safety of the hill.

Spanish left flank
Having seen the cavalry though the French advance on this flank slowed, with their infantry advancing very cautiously around the central dense woodland and their cavalry holding back in support. When they finally came within reach, Gen. Torres charged over the hill towards a French cavalry brigade with the Pavia Dragoons and the Rey\Reina Regiment of heavy cavalry. 


The Spanish charge
The latter were broken during their charge by a devastating volley from a nearby French infantry square which brought down fully half the men and horses in the regiment; shattered, the survivors fled, eventually retreating to safety through Alicante.

Spanish cavalry charge on the left flank
This left only the Pavia Dragoons, who spectacularly avenged the slaughter of their comrades against a French light cavalry unit, decimating and routing it for little loss. 

The Pavia Dragoons wash their sabres in French blood
Sadly, the Dragoons were in turn caught by French lancers while disordered and three quarters of the unit fell where they stood. 
Damned lancers...
The last remaining Spanish cavalry on this flank, the tiny Olivenza Cazadores regiment who had been held in reserve could do little but fall back to the north, where they subsequently mounted two heroic and successful charges against French heavy cavalry.

The Spanish right flank collapses...
The Spanish forces on the right had meanwhile resisted just long enough to allow the last brigade, Gen Villa’s, to arrive on the field. Unfortunately, the inexorable advance of the French to the south gave them no choice but to rush south as fast as they could in the hope of escaping the inevitable French push towards the sea on the left. The surviving troops on the right and in the centre sold their lives dearly to buy Villa’s men the time to reach the coastal hills north of Alicante and thence the safety of the beaches where the British Navy stood ready to evacuate their allies. Forming up behind the ridge line protecting the southern beach, Villa’s Regular battalions progressively embarked in good order, retiring as efficiently as if on parade.

The race for the beaches begins...
By this stage the brave remnants of the Spanish right had been pushed back onto the coastal hills, with only the sea at their backs. Streams of wounded and broken troops poured onto the beach where British sailors and marines worked frantically to move the flow of men into boats and off to safety, all the while looking anxiously to the ridge for the appearance of French cavalry.

The successful evacuation of so many of these troops was only possible because of the sacrifices made by the surviving elements of the Spanish cavalry. 


The French right flank closes the road to Alicante
They charged heroically down from the hills to protect their comrades; although their losses were almost total, they badly mauled both the French heavy cavalry which threatened the northern beachhead and a regiment of lancers approaching from the south.

The last stand by the heroic Spanish cavalry
Wary of coming under fire from the British squadron, and shocked and exhausted after a battle which had proved much tougher than Marshal Mortimer’s veterans had ever expected, the French occupied the town but halted to the west of the coastal hills. After 6 bloody hours of intense fighting, the last boats pulled away from the shore to the safety of the British ships and the Battle of Alicante was over.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Action at the Guardiana Bridge.

This, the first action of the Armee du Nord in the current Peninsular War Campaign going on in Christchurch, was no light ordeal by fire for the men of General Junot's Corps. For the six weeks since the campaign opened in March 1810, le Duc d'Abrantes has been gathering in his troops for an advance into the desolate badlands of Estremadura - central Spain.

It had been a lonely march. Just once did the French glimpse the enemy, a troop of light horse, far to the south, on the far bank of the Guardiana River. In the second week of April, the main body of Junot's troops, now at the end of a slender line of communication, were approaching the stone bridge that represented the sole crossing along this road of that broad stream. Awaiting them upon the far bank lay a Spanish Brigade reinforced by a battery of light guns.

001


The veterans of 3rd Hussars led off in line to cover the deployment of the rest of the army. As they swept over the ridge to the west, the column of II/15th Line were greeted by a deadly salvo from half the Spanish battery firing at long range.

Discreetly, the battalion withdrew behind the crest to await developments. In the meantime, the laborious process of bringing up and deploying into line the big guns of 3rd Company went on.

With the disappearance of the infantry, the Spanish guns turned their attention to the hussars fronting the bridge. On this day the Iberian artillerists were plying their pieces with a will and with skill. Within too short a space of time, the Hussars were reduced to half their original numbers, and betook themselves to the rear.

More in hope than expectation, Junot ordered his Cavalry commander, General Curto, to take the guns. Joining the King Joseph Guard, he flung the dragoons across the river, straight into the teeth of the deadly canister fire. The gunners stood with the aplomb of veterans against the sight of several hundred horsemen thundering down upon them.

Having lost 40% of their strength by the time the reached the gun line, the troopers were already wavering, but retained sufficient resolve to cut down several gunners. The latter responded with trailspike and rammer eking out their few pistols.

At last, the troopers fell back exhausted. Shaken by the losses thay had taken (60%), they fell back to the riverbank under the shelter of their own artillery on the north bank.

At least they had silenced a section of the guns, and put the rest of the battery out of action for a space, but the job was yet to do. It was up to the infantry.

As the infantry lined the river bank, Junot had already been directing columns to ready themselves to attempt the crossing. The battalion immediately available turned out to be the 500 conscripts of II Battalion, 86th Line Infantry - not Junot's ideal tool for the task in hand. Nevertheless, any rearrangement would likely do more harm than good: across the bridge they went. Reaching the other side, they began to trundle forward towards the guns.

But the Spanish commander had seen it all coming - as who could not? - and had brought up a 700-strong column of Volunteers de Laen to intercept the attack. In a costly and tough close-quarter fight, Spanish numbers told, and although losing heavily themselves flung the enemy unceremoniously back whence they came.

All would have been well and satisfactory so far as the Spanish commander was concerned had not the Volunteers de Jaen allowed the excitement of their victory overcome their fear of the enemy. Though easily distanced by the scampering Frenchmen, the Volunteers reached the middle of the bridge where they were met by a devastating volley of canister, and II/65th coming the other way.

Under cover of the cavalry and infantry assaults, Junot had brought his guns much closer to the bridge, ready to crush the lighter Spanish ordnance beneath the weight of his counterbattery fire. There they were, in good time to provide for the Volunteers de Jaen a lively exposition of French gunnery at short range.

The lesson was well taught. Mowed down in windrows by canister, the disordered survivors were crushed by the French infantry onslaught as well. The scant survivors, 100 out of the original 700, fled the field.

There was little now to stop the French crossing. The artillery had drawn back a piece, and their shelling, though galling enough, was insufficient alone to slow the French down much. No infantry counterattack materialised, though Junot would probably have welcomed one.

Instead, declining further action, the Spanish drew off. They had drawn blood, and had no wish to augment the French vengeance by further acts of rashness.

So Junot had his bridge, but at considerable cost. Early estimates put Spanish losses at somewhat short of 700; the French very close to 1000. But the crossing was secure, and Junot had not yet revealed his entire hand...