Monday, April 13, 2015

Villafranca 1813

Following the disaster at Vittoria, French troops in the north of Spain are in full retreat towards the Pyrenees. Longa is snapping at Foy’s heels, and Graham (never the sharpest tack in the box) is trying to find Maucune’s supply column as it comes south from Bayonne. Unfortunately the French aren’t co-operating with allied plans, and unknown to Graham Maucune turned his supply wagons around at Tolosa and has moved his division to Villafranca to cover Foy’s withdrawal.

Villafranca, 1813. The French are to the north (top), the British south (bottom).
So as Graham finally finds his way out of the hills to the south, Foy’s men are moving across Maucune’s rear along the road from Villareal to Tolosa towards safety in the Pyrenees. The British objective was to move onto the French rear, cut the road in Row A and hold it for at least three full Turns. The French objective – obviously – was to stop them!

The battlefield seen from the north, the French baseline. The British will enter on the road from Segura, in the far corner 
I should point out that this was not meant to be the real Battle of Villafranca – although the historical setting is accurate, the terrain and scenario details are almost entirely fictional. Those familiar with C.S. Grant’s Tabletop Teasers may recognize striking similarities with “Turning the Flank” – the river is generally impassable, but the British were aware it could probably be forded if they could find suitable locations. Villafranca itself was something of a fortress, to deter any but the foolhardy from a frontal assault.

Forces were broadly similar in size, but the French were somewhat worse in quality. However, the British were split - their advance guard started to arrive on Turn 1, but the bulk of their force was delayed; players did not know when they would appear. Ross commanded his British with Andrew's assistance as advance guard commander, while the French were represented by Geoff and Jim.

The French garrisoned Villafranca with a brigade supported by the divisional artillery, while two full infantry brigades and the cavalry brigade were deployed well forward beside the town and on the rear of the hill to the south-east. No reserve was held back - the entire area behind the river was defended by only a single infantry brigade positioned in the left rear, covering the road to Villareal. Clearly the French intended to be aggressive, and hoped to disrupt the British advance before it could get started - a strategy which left few options, and led to much debate after the game!

The French advance aggressively as the first British brigade deploys...
... but the thin red line holds
The next British turn though saw the welcome arrival of two light dragoon regiments with a second battery of horse artillery. This seemed to dispirit the French, and they effectively surrendered the initiative. 

The cavalry ride to the rescue
Maucune had a massive force facing the redcoats, but it was so condensed into such a small area the units were tripping over each other - the French cavalry spent the morning trotting forward and backwards but never seemed to be in a useful position. The smaller British force did an excellent job of containing Maucune's men while they waited for reinforcements.

Suddenly, there was consternation in the French rear. A brigade of Longa's Spaniards had marched towards the sound of the guns, and appeared on the French left.

Yum, yum! French tapas for lunch...
Maucune was confident his men could hold back such a rabble though, and sent his Légère into the woods to see them off. From where they were promptly ejected by a determined brigade assault...


Both brigade commanders showed considerable initiative, and this small action grabbed everyone's attention as it began to dominate the battle. A desperate struggle developed, with columns charging and counter-charging amidst a storm of musketry. One Spanish regiment broke but quickly rallied, but the French were pushed back.

See how they run!
Finally, two French battalions broke and routed up the road, leaving the brave Légère to face the victorious Spaniards.It could only be minutes now before the vital road would be cut...

Revenge is finally served...
Meanwhile the British main force had started to arrive, and as the struggle in the distance developed, both sides began to pour forces over the river in a Race for the Road.

The British discover a ford, and throw troops across. Unknown to the French, guerrillas had already told the British of a ford on the other side of the island.
... and the French cavalry follows
As the French tried to also pull an infantry brigade across the river though, disaster struck. Two and a half batteries of British artillery galloped up and unlimbered across the river, creating a perfect storm of canister which simply slaughtered the poor Frenchmen with 500 men falling in 15 minutes.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre...
The British also maintained pressure on their left against the defenders in front of Villafranca throughout the day, finally finding some dry powder and discovering how to make their muskets work...

Howzat!
By mid-afternoon, it was clear the writing was on the wall for Maucune. His losses were mounting, and a Spanish brigade sat astride the road from Villareal. The French general faced up to defeat, and withdrew his shattered force back towards Tolosa. French losses were considerable at around 2000, while the allies suffered only a quarter of that.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Battle of Tamames, October 1809

“Quantity has a quality all its own”

Following the less-than-stellar performance of the French on their last outing, we decided to refight the real-life battle which had been the precursor to our (only slightly) fictional encounter at San Cristobel.

As I studied Oman, it became even clearer that the real Tamames was a battle which should never have happened. The acting commander of the French VI Corps, Gen. Marchand, was both rash (presumably he could see his Marshal’s baton beckoning) and massively over-confident. Displaying that arrogance which often seemed typical of the French in the Peninsula, he considered any Spanish force a rabble which his veterans could simply sweep aside.

However on this occasion his “Corps” (which actually on the day amounted to only his own 1st Division, the rest of VI Corps actually being either dispersed in garrisons or detached with Gen. Kellerman elsewhere) was facing an entire Spanish army of three divisions. Not only did he massively outnumber his enemy, but the Spanish Gen. Del Parque was unusually good and chose his ground with as much care as Wellington would have. He also benefited from having the core of an established army - around half his regiments were “old” royal regiments with troops who had at least a basic level of military experience and training.

Marchand compounded his folly with poor tactics on the day, attempting his main assault with only a single, unsupported brigade. Unsurprisingly, despite some early success this failed and he was forced to flee both from the field and the entire area of Spain, evacuating Salamanca and retreating to the Duoro.

Oman's rather useful map
For the game, the Spanish force was slimmed down by around 50%; it still had three infantry  divisions, but each of these was only made of two small brigades each of three single-battalion regiments, making a total of 18 battalions of infantry, supported by 2 regiments of (awful) cavalry and 3 batteries of light artillery. To try and give a more balance game, the French division was only slightly reduced, with 3 brigades each of 4 battalions (rather than the 6 battalions each in reality), supported by 2 full regiments of cavalry and the divisional heavy artillery battery. The quality and experience levels of the Spanish force were very mixed with over half being Raw and/or Militia stiffened with a core of Experienced Line regiments, while the French were mostly Veteran.

The table replicated the real field as closely as available terrain permitted, and a broadly historical deployment for the Spanish. Their right (Losada’s division) was formed on steep hills; all raised ground to the right of the road was classed as Rough Going with many areas of Bad Going, while on the left of the road La Carrera’s division held a less-steep ridge, classed as Good Going below the highest contours which became Rough Going. Belveder’s division was held in Reserve off-table in the centre.

A confident Spanish general surveys the field before the battle, master of all he sees. The French players have requested anonymity...
So how did our prequel unfold? Historically, Marchand’s main attack was on the less-difficult terrain held by La Carrera, and our French players decided this made good sense – in fact they deployed their entire division onto this flank in a compact mass, sacrificing any notion of a holding action on their left for a knockout blow on the right. 

Vive la France! Ummm - those guns, late breakfast...?

Maucune and Margognet lead the advance; already, fire from the Spanish artillery is telling. Where are the French guns?!
Having learned from previous mistakes, they realised that Tamames itself was a distraction and wisely ignored it – though a kind of invisible friction did seem to slow Maucune’s brigade on the left of the French advance, as if the town still held a magnetic attraction it was hard to shake off...

Meanwhile, Labasseé’s brigade on the right managed to entangle itself in the small wooded area on the Spanish left as it tried to move wide around the enemy’s flank. As a result, the initial assault on the ridge was made by Marcognet’s brigade in the centre, largely alone. 

Contact - front, 50m, fire!
In an intriguing mirror of history this again succeeded, though with considerable loss against opposition from some Spanish units which was at times worryingly stubborn.  

The French assault begins to tell
French dragoons broke a shaken Spanish square, and one by one Marcognet broke through all of the front-line militia regiments until eventually only the more experienced Principe regiment remained to hold the line, with its formation in disorder. 

It wasn't entirely one-sided, however. Spanish infantry managed to deliver some unpleasant surprises...


They don't like it up 'em, Captain Mainwaring!
... while Spanish cavalry scored a rare success, heroically charging and routing an unprepared infantry battalion as it crested the ridge.

Temptation beckons...
However, a rash pursuit brought the Reyna Regiment within reach of French hussars. The Spanish cavalry promptly decided they had done quite enough for the day and routed, despite receiving hardly any casualties. The supporting Cazadores rapidly followed!
 
Spanish cavalry - easy come, easy go...
Although they didn’t realise it, this was to be the high watermark of the French attack. The delay in support arriving gave the Spanish time to stabilize their lines, and they begin to move their reserves onto the table. Also, the lack of any French attempt to pin the Spanish right allowed Losada’s division to march rapidly left to take up a strongly-held position of defence-in-depth on the shoulder of the right-hand ridge, covering the road and freeing up the reserve for action on the left.

Division will move to the left - quick march!
Back on the ridge, Maucune's battalions finally came into action and it looked inevitable the position would fall to them. Two veteran French battalions were ordered to mount a brigade assault to finally clear the last Spaniards from the hill. It seemed the Frenchmen’s enthusiasm was beginning to falter though; they failed to press home their attack and were repulsed, with few casualties on either side.

The irresistable French tide finally meets the immovable Principe - and its nerve fails. Broken French battalions running and a shattered Légere screen are all that remains of the French centre...
Labasseé’s brigade had finally moved around on the right to be in a position to attack. However, with the other infantry now having suffered major losses or broken and falling back, and facing both Belveder’s and Losada's fully-deployed and fresh divisions, the French commander realised his opportunity to seize a Marshal’s baton had probably gone, and decided a withdrawal was the more prudent course.

Losada has moved across in strength and Belveder has deployed - the shocking failure on the ridge has left the French position looking exposed.
 As the defeated French retreated temporarily into and around the now-abandoned town, Gen. Marchand was already writing his dispatch to the Emperor; six Spanish guns and the town of Tamames captured would make a more positive impression than dwelling on his losses… The reality would surely have been similar to history though; with a strong Spanish army reforming for an attack and his own forces severely weakened, it is hard to see how Marchand could have remained on the field.

Postscript


The French players made the correct choice to push hard on the right – this was the only plan which made sense. Despite this decision though, the execution seemed to fray at the edges as Maucune’s brigade seemed to lag behind on the left and Labasseé’s got held up by its wider swing onto the Spanish flank.  Perhaps a more co-ordinated attack by Maucune and Marcognet together would have overpowered the Spanish centre-left quickly enough to prevent their reserve deploying?

Also, in a remarkable oversight, the French heavy guns failed to contribute to the battle at all. Having failed to position them forward, Marchand helplessly watched his battery slowly drag its heavy guns forward for three hours in a futile attempt to keep up with the rapid infantry advance. As an alternative to the rapid advance, perhaps a more measured approach which prioritised a weakening of the Spanish with sustained fire from a battery of the Emperor’s “belle filles” might have either broken some weaker Spanish regiments by weight of shot alone, or silenced the Spanish guns in the centre which were instead left free to cause major carnage amongst the attacking infantry with canister fire.

As ever, thanks to those who came along and provided a most enjoyable day's gaming. The opinions of participants are welcome – do the French have excuses for the lack of enthusiasm shown by some of their troops, or the Spanish wish to claim divine assistance against the godless French?!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Viva España, October 1809

In the west of Spain in 1809, the French were not having a good time. Their defeat at Talavera was compounded by a further loss to a Spanish field army at Tamames. Led by the Duke del Parque, The Army of Galicia and Asturias went on to evict the French from Salamanca and bundled them back across the Duero in some disorder.

The man held responsible for this fiasco was Gen de Division Marchand, clearly promoted beyond his means to the temporary command  of VI Corps and truly the exception to Napoleon’s expectation that his generals should, above all else, be lucky… The demoralized army was taken over by Kellerman, and poor Marchand returned to command his division.

Kellerman has now marched his army south again to avenge their losses, and Gen. Marchand’s unhappy division is acting as advance guard. They have found at least some of the cursed Spanish, defending an important river crossing at the village of San Cristobel.

Astonishingly - for those of us brought up on the anglicised, Spanish-were-useless history of the Peninsular War, anyway - the background to this scenario is actually true. (The hapless Marchand was only in command because Ney was on holiday – you really couldn't make this stuff up!). It was just translated slightly in time and space from Medina del Campo where del Parque in fact went on to scub the French again - Kellerman’s vaunted cavalry were seen off by a highly-proficient and well-handled Spanish Infantry force - before VI Corps were evicted from Salamanca for a second time!

French enter from bottom, San Cristobel (1) at top right, Ventosa (4) centre. Note the French were unaware of much of the terrain, having only seen a much less accurate map in advance.
This scenario was basically a withdrawal under fire - the Spanish had to evacuate their division across the river, after doing some major damage to the French to prevent pursuit, while the French were anxious to secure the bridge, trap the Spanish on the wrong side of the river and exact some revenge…
The table, seen from the opposite direction with San Cristobel and the Spanish position in the foreground; the French will march on along the road seen in the far corner. The valley with stream and road on the Spanish centre-right was dead ground unknown to the French, and removed before the game. However, the French never tried to move over this area so avoided some nasty surprises!
Ross, commanding the French 1st Division and with the unfortunate Gen. Marchand as his on-table CinC, had a number of disadvantages built into the scenario such as unhappy and unmotivated troops, and a miserable AV of 1 (due to his subordinates  not being willing to follow his questionable leadership). In a spooky parallel with history, he also had to contend with very similar real-world problems from Geoff and Jim, who unknowingly played the parts of disobedient, distracted and unhelpful  subordinates to perfection! 

Paul J commanded his beloved Spanish, ably assisted by Paul C. Unfortunately for the French, the Spanish commanders also mirrored history by their well-coordinated execution of a clear and coherent plan...

The French also suffered from a protracted deployment – their troops were well spread-out on the march as they desperately tried to find forage, resulting in their arrival on table over a period of about 4 hours.  Deploying quickly in a restricted area while keeping the road clear to allow further brigades to arrive started show up cracks in the French command and control system from an early stage!
Geoff brings his first brigades on table
Geoff’s light infantry brigade was the screening the advance, and it moved smartly to investigate and secure the wooded  areas close to the where the road entered the table. Disconcertingly, they quickly spotted two well-formed Spanish cavalry regiments drawn up in parade order on the front of the hill to the French right.
Lacking any cavalry of their own at this stage, a French infantry brigade moves forward to force the Spanish cavalry back
 The Spanish cavalry were sadly rabble (they had only been persuaded to stay on the field at Tamames after their own infantry fired on them) but they put up a fine performance here (and it was a performance - if the French had ever pressed them, they would not have stood). Careful to never look too threatening, and falling back continually in the face of the French advance, they nevertheless delayed the French right significantly, at little cost. 
Pressure on the road builds as more French brigades arrive on the battlefield, and the French right is held back by the Spanish cavalry
The same could not be said for the French cavalry - when they finally reached the table, they were pushed right to face the Spanish horse - but by this time it had become something of a valley of death for them, with infantry lining the enclosures and a well-sited Spanish artillery position above them causing carnage among the hussars and chasseurs á cheval for several hours as they tried to move forward against a hail of iron.
Spanish artillery move into position to punish the French cavalry should they advance..
Meanwhile French brigades continued to pour onto the battlefield; but by now their command and control was coming apart at the seams. The French cavalry were rightly loathe to advance against the Spanish cavalry while enemy infantry held the enclosures on their left, but instead of being deployed to support their cavalry in a quick advance the available French infantry were pushed towards the farm complex at Ventosa. With an amazingly realistic display of gallic arrogance, the French players seemed to think that chasing the enemy out of the farm was a forgone conclusion and would allow them to continue an advance straight up the road. Of course, things didn't quite work out that way...
The Walloon Guards defend Ventosa like a rock against a flood of French infantry
In an astonishing demonstration of the way wargamers (as well as real generals) can suffer from the "Hougoumont Effect", a peculiar little private war began there which eventually sucked in - and badly delayed - two entire infantry brigades as the valiant Walloon Guards battalion defended the complex heroically for several hours. This obsession with Ventosa - which effectively paralysed the French centre for several vital hours - was a roadblock they simply couldn't afford.

An attempt by French light troops to work around the central massif also came unstuck when they unexpectedly found themselves facing the red and green jackets of the British light brigade, concealed in the central forest. After a brisk exchange of musketry, which saw fairly equal casualties on both sides, the British slowly pulled back towards San Cristobal, and the French were content to let them do so!

If you go down to the woods today...
The British brigade was an interesting sideline - they certainly flummoxed the French and foiled an attempt to work around the top of the massif, but this was a only ever a distraction - they were never intended to be a major force, and Paul bluffed with them very well. The idea of the scenario was a  "what-if" - that Wellesley, instead of simply retreating to Portugal and sulking, had maintained an interest in supporting successful Spanish generals, but only if British troops didn't start to suffer major losses!

Overall, the French attack was moving forward but too slowly. Eventually they realised Ventosa was a distraction, and abandoned it - the defenders eventually marching out in good order to successfully evacuate up the central road without major loss and with quite a story to tell! As planned, the Spanish were withdrawing - two entire brigades in fact never even being placed on the table, so little pressure did the French put on this process.
The British Light Brigade does what it does best....

Finally, the French approach San Cristobal - and see little except Spanish dust and an impassive line of red coats...
Eventually, as dusk descended around 7pm, the last Spanish brigades were pulling back across the bridge, with a British battalion forming line in front of San Cristobal as it waited its turn, keeping the advancing French at a respectful distance.
At last, the open road beckons...
Right on the last two turns (39 & 40, 7.45pm & 8pm), the French were able to throw infantry at San Cristobal in a last, desperate attempt to dislodge the garrisons before night fell. A quick rush by a Légere battalion secured the older, less well defended eastern side of the village, but unfortunately both the larger but uncoordinated brigade assaults on the western area were spectacularly unsuccessful, with not a single 6 being seen among the (literally dozens) of attack dice thrown by the French!
San Cristobal - The Final Conflict! A final, desperate French assault on the western area fails as night falls.
The outcome, in game terms, was very close; a better-coordinated (or just averagely lucky) French assault on San Cristobel in the final turn could have snatched some degree of success in points terms from what was otherwise a clear tactical defeat.

The post-mortem...

How did it all go so wrong again for poor Marchand?! Well, in an unintended but accurate parallel of French organisation and professional relationships in the Peninsula, Ross's brigade commanders seemed almost willfully disobedient, ignoring most attempts at a central direction of strategy. Like their historic counterparts, they also had an unhelpful tendency to get easily distracted by their own personal interests (in this case, the first game in the Cricket World Cup!) 

Overall though the major cause was the failure to properly support their cavalry brigade, who were basically hung out to die in the centre in a killing ground of Spanish artillery and musketry fire. After taking substantial losses, the remnants of both regiments eventually - and understandably - broke and routed off the field. If the infantry brigades  which had become obsessed with Ventosa had either been tasked with clearing the enclosures instead, or had actually mounted a second major assault instead of hanging around looking embarrassed for two hours, the French might well have reached San Cristobal earlier and with plenty of time to mount a coordinated attack after bringing up their artillery.

As might be expected, final Spanish losses were very low while the French lost 1,000 men killed and wounded overall, with as many again routing off the table.

A good (and long) day's gaming was had by all, although the French side definitely suffered from rather more frustration and friction than the Spanish! As ever, thanks to all who took part. Paul has suggested that the "return match" be an Anglo-Spanish attack on a French position in the Pyrenees, but I have a hankering for a proper stand-up battle first... Tamames anyone?!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

France Sud 1813

The British are pushing north from the Pyrenees, and Marshal Soult has decided to show Wellington that the French are not yet beaten! He has ordered General Foy's division south in a limited counter-attack to slow down the British advance guard.

The battlefield , viewed from the south
The terrain consisted mainly of hills on the southern side leading into more wooded areas to the north. A river, which was broadly fordable, meandered east-to-west. The main roads led to the farm complex of Rousseau in the west and the hamlet of Bouvoir further east.

Unusually for such a small battle, it lasted for two days of (relaxed!) gaming; Paul J commanded the French initially but was replaced by Andrew on the second day, aided on both days by Geoff's tenacious actions around Rousseau. Ross commanded the British main force and was aided by Paul C on the right. Jim turned up on the second day just in time to take on a French command once victory seemed inevitable! Thanks to all for - as ever - a most enjoyable game.

The forces which clashed were similar in strength. General Foy's division was superior in artillery (with a battery each of Heavy, Medium and Horse against Wellington's two RHA troops) while the British had a cavalry superiority (including a heavy regiment of dragoons). The British were boosted by the fortuitous presence of Wellington himself at the head of his men.

Gen. Bachelau's veterans lead the French advance in the centre...
... while Gen. Margaron's conscripts arrive on the left, supported by heavy guns
The French advanced from the north-east, while the British arrived from several points in the south.

A British brigade arrives in the east,  supported by cavalry...
... while the main force advances further west
As the forces sighted each other, extensive repositioning was observed in the British lines. The French moved to counter this, and for several tiring hours the troops on both sides matched to and fro, with both sides looking for an advantage while they probed the state of the river. At an early stage though the French cavalry brigade, supported by its horse battery, made a determined advance across the river to secure Rousseau.
The French seize Rousseau
Eventually, a strong British push from the south-west began to build against Rousseau. 
The pressure builds
As opposing horse artillery began something of a duel along the road, British riflemen pushed forwards. This was too much for the French cavalry to watch idly, and a regiment of hussars galloped forward to chase them off - receiving a galling and effective volley into the flank from a British line regiment which formed on the hills above them.
French hussars demonstrate their elan - and the British demonstrate their firepower
 As Wellington sent more and more forces in that direction, it became clearer that there was little British appetite for a full engagement in the centre and Foy brought Gen. Bachelau's veteran brigade forward into was was becoming a gap, to support his right flank with a counter-attack.

Meanwhile, the French cavalry brigade made a pre-emptive strke against the Dragoons leading the British cavalry force forward, inflicting significant casualties and breaking it before withdrawing. This also caused something of a hiatus in the main British advance, with the infantry shaking out into formations better prepared to receive cavalry before continuing.
An impressive display of drill from the redcoats
The strong British advance forced the French to fall back on Rousseau, and a determined assault then bundled the defenders back across the river.

Rousseau falls
However, this proved to be the high-tide mark for the British advance. Aggressive action by the French cavalry further east - and in particular their horse gunners, who advanced fearlessly to pour in canister - blunted the British advance. As Foy's counter-attack in the centre gained momentum, Wellington's troops began to falter, and his earlier decision to attempt a limited advance on his right deprived him of a reserve he most desperately needed to face it.
The British right flank - the missing brigade!
Out on the right, a smaller but entirely separate battle was raging. A sudden and perfectly-timed assault had hit the unprepared British brigade as it climbed the hills, and broken two battalions. The whole brigade, along with its supporting RHA guns, had to run back half a mile before outdistancing their pursuers and reforming. As the afternoon wore on, it became clear that they were now simply too far from the action on the opposite flank to have any hope of influencing the outcome of the battle. Their return to order and determined advance back into action was a model of drill and a credit to the army, but their absence proved critical. 

In the centre and left, the inexorable pressure took its inevitable effect, as British infantry felt the repeated whiff of French grapeshot. Lacking a reserve to plug the gap, a British withdrawal became inevitable and Wellington was obliged to yield the field.
Wellington seeks shelter with the remnants of his centre, as those cursed horse guns press forward yet again
General Foy's dispatch to his Marshal that night raised the spirits of Frenchmen throughout the country - Wellington had been taught a bloody lesson!

Vive L'Empereur!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

San Antonio - Redux!

24th May 1809 – The Rematch!

In an unexpected twist of fate (or perhaps a parallel universe!) and by popular request, the same British and French forces again clashed again at San Antonio, just three weeks later! On this occasion Wellesley was clearly back on his usual form, and Napoleon could not quite match his previous performance - after a hard-fought and hugely enjoyable game the British finally prevailed.

The Second Battle of San Antonio!
This time, Wellesley moved with alacrity to seize Spinoza and secure the east bridge. At the same time however, Napoleon sent his veteran Light Brigade dashing up the road and across country towards the river. Their Hussar regiment galloped into San Antonio and waited nervously for their infantry to catch up – but they were safe for the moment, the British cavalry Brigade had deployed on the right flank and in turn moved smartly around the south-eastern massif, heading for the easily-fordable upper reaches of the D’Oro. 

To secure his left against this, Napoleon deployed both his heavy 12pdr batteries onto the hill north of the ravine; they had a fine field of fire out towards San Antonio and Spinoza, and prevented a deep cavalry strike around the eastern end of the ravine. Léger battalions moved into the woods south of the ravine, the vineyards beside San Antonio and crossed the river to occupy the dense wood in the centre.

The British toehold in Spinoza looking fragile
 As these marched forward, Napoleon sent his other strong infantry brigade forward in the centre, and held his weaker, mainly raw 3rd Brigade in reserve. Wellesley sent his veteran Highlanders forward to secure San Truco and ordered his 3rd Brigade on a wide outflanking march to the west, which it carried through without hesitation over the course of the next few hours.

The Long March begins...
An early British attempt to cross the river in the centre before the French could move up in force was foiled by the veteran Light Cavalry in San Antonio, who moved into the vineyards and carefully controlled the centre for the next few hours. They surprised the first British battalion as it struggled up the banks in disorder, charging and sending it running back with heavy casualties.

Undaunted, Wellesley then demonstrated a textbook deployment across the east bridge, shuttling infantry battalions through Spinoza. A Guards battalion bravely advanced forward and formed square between the vineyards and the woods, preventing the French cavalry from interfering while two regiments of cavalry calmly crossed the river behind them. Picking their way across slowly and disordered, the cavalry took nearly two hours to form up safely on the western bank; the Guards paid for this vital time in blood, being reduced to 30% strength. A heavy French assault on them by two line battalions was repulsed, but Napoleon had his Grenadiers to hand and they charged the Guards, exploiting their disorder and finally breaking them.

Pressure builds...
The Grenadiers could do no more though – they found themselves facing two regiments of British cavalry keen to avenge the slaughter of their comrades in kind, and had no option but to form to receive cavalry, their flanks secured by the vineyards and the woods. A Léger battalion defended the woods though, and more Léger lining the edge of the vineyards stymied the British cavalry – they desperately needed infantry support to force the matter, and there seemed to be none to be had.

Napoleon still had a secure hold on San Antonio, and the British cavalry appeared powerless to intervene – any attempt to move further north around the French flank would have exposed them to ferocious fire from his 12pds batteries. A stalemate seemed to have broken out, although the French commander was acutely aware of the threat posed by the British brigade still doggedly marching towards his undefended right flank.

Suddenly, to Napoleon’s horror, Highlanders were pouring out of San Truco and across the D’Oro! In perfect order, a battalion emerged on the north bank and formed square to protect the crossing while their comrades followed – the French Light Cavalry were powerless to interfere. The Highlanders’ canny commander had realised that the villagers on the far bank must have an easy way to get to and from church, and thought to dip his toe in the water – there was a ford, right below the old abbey!

The British are across!
At the same time, British RHA galloped up to the dense woods to the left of the crossing and poured canister into the unfortunate Léger defending it. Seeing their opportunity, the 95th Rifles were quick to move up and joined the gunners in flaying the woods with lead. The Voltigeurs’ nerve finally collapsed under the sustained fire, and they retreated, shattered. The 95th rushed into the woods and prepared to assault San Antonio.

Pinned by the enemy cavalry, the French Grenadiers could only watch helplessly as British infantry also struck decisively into the vineyards, evicting the defending Léger. A perfectly-coordinated assault then erupted against San Antonio, with Highlanders charging in from the south and the 95th Rifles across the river; even a raw conscript battalion scented victory and attacked bravely from the vineyards. Overwhelmed, the defenders were ejected.

San Antonio falls
Although Napoleon still had most of his force intact, it was in no position to retake the village. British artillery had now unlimbered on the hills to the west, and were firing unopposed into the exposed French lines as more riflemen and fusiliers forded the D’Oro north of Puente Negro. Napoleon had run out of time and options – a withdrawal north before the enemy could exploit their victory and cut him off was his only choice.

Wellesley could justly celebrate – although he had lost most of three battalions of infantry, and many other units had empty ranks at parade that evening, he had out-foxed Napoleon. The Frenchman’s losses were light, but his reputation had suffered much more serious damage!