Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rearguard at Santa Maria

After a lengthy break including (variously) earthquakes and holidays, another random VLE game sprawled onto the new, rather larger table at Waikuku. As the scenario was made up on the spur of the moment, and no-one really took any notes, discussion here will be brief!

We don't always field balanced forces in our games. Real life was never balanced, and we find more interesting games (and unusual conditions which find gaps in the rules) often develop from situations where the overall outcome isn't in much doubt and victory conditions need to be more imaginative. This was the situation here, although the French did not know just how weak the British were.

Picton's under-strength Division (commanded by Dave and Ross) was tasked (a little unfairly!) with fighting a rearguard action to hold off the pesky Frogs as long as possible; the position chosen was a nice, classic British-friendly ridge line overlooking the village of Santa Maria but the limited forces available to the British commander made it unlikely his position could hold for long.

The French  players (Ion and Geoff) commanded Gen. Delaborde's Division; this formed the Advance Guard of a Corps and was required to brush the pesky redcoats aside quickly so the Corps could advance unhindered.
Quiet and peaceful - the  previous day....
The view looking North shows the British position to the left (West) and the French to the East. Camera perspective has rather skewed the image - the village in the distance is actually close to the centre of the table! The two woods with dark-cloloured trees were dense and swampy (Bad Going), while the rest were open woods and Rough Going. All the hills were gentle slopes.

This view, from the French centre, better shows the area of the table where all  the action took place:
Santa Maria from the East, with Perdido in foreground and Derrida top right
Mostly hidden, the British had just three infantry brigades, plus a small cavalry brigade with one heavy and two light regiment, all under strength. Gen. Halkett's Light Brigade was concealed forward of the hill, holding the southern end of Santa Maria with the 95th Rifles in the enclosures. Gen. Barclay's 6th Brigade held the northern part of the village, while the Allied left flank was formed on the ridge to the south of the village and entrusted to Gen. Bradford's Portuguese Brigade, comprised of three small battalions of keen but inexperienced troops. The Division's KGL Brigade under Gen. von Alten was detached, and though ordered back was not expected to arrive in time to join the battle.

The French set up with their left and centre packed into the central third of the table, with three Infantry Brigades aimed directly at Santa Maria:
Gen. Merlot's and Gen. Medoc's Infantry Brigades, with Gen. Margaron's  Grenadiers, put on a fine show
The only French force to their left was a battalion from Gen. Merlot's Brigade and the Foot Battery which moved up the road to seize Perdido, and Milhaud's Dragoon Brigade, which due to some bad luck with the random troop quality rolls, were both Raw regiments.

The Dragoons were sent on a wide sweep to the left, and other than eventually discovering part of the sunken stream which protected the British southern flank, contributed nothing to the battle - probably wisely, given the superior quality of (most!) of the British.
Milhaud's Brigade looks impressive, but they are raw recruits
Geoff's force was to their right, and planned to turn the British left flank:
Gen. Thomiere's and Gen. Solignac's Infantry Brigades, with Gen. Colbert's Light Cavalry Brigade and Horse Battery on the right flank
The size of the new table allowed Ion's megalomaniac Napoleonic ambitions free reign, and a full-scale pin-and-envelop action ensued, culminating in a convincing French victory.

Gen. Merlot's Brigade advances in the centre, and finally some British appear - two artillery batteries open up from in front of the ridge line
Another nice view of the impressive French advance to contact
The view from the British gun line above Santa Maria. Unseen, the Light Brigade hold the enclosures and the southern part of the village
As the French pressure builds, finally the British come out to play. Gen. Barclay's 6th Brigade holds the northern part of Santa Maria, while Gen. Bradford's Brigade of Portuguese Conscripts holds the left flank. The Thin Red Line is stretched very thinly indeed...
Gen. Halkett's Light Brigade ambushes and destroys a French battalion on the southern flank...
... and the Portuguese conscripts (with some help from their friends) see off an initial French attack...
...but now the inexorable French pressure starts to build as they swing around the British left flank.
The British Heavy Cavalry are all but annihilated in a rash charge against the French horse battery, and the writing is on the wall...
Although one of Colbert's Light Cavalry regiments was routed, the British cavalry was neutralised and the final French assault could be launched. The Allied force was unable to withstand a second attack, and Picton ordered a full withdrawal covered by von Alten's KGL Brigade which had only just arrived.


  1. I'll probably be adding a narrative of this encounter on my blogspot. At any rate, it is a pity my camera was u/s on the day, and Colin's I think also had run outta gas, so we missed the sight of the final French attack.
    This comprised two battalions (one Grenadier) storming the north end of Santa Maria village so violently that there wasn't much of the defending battalion as it staggered out of the place.
    The other battalion of the Grenadier Brigade struck the south end of the ridge just north of the village, and rolled straight over a much attenuated British battalion before following up into the flank of Portuguese battalion busily engaged with the remnants of Geoff's 2nd Brigade (Thomieres?).
    Altogether it was just too much for the Allies, with no reserves in hand to restore the huge gash in their line.

  2. Yes, I'm afraid my description of the final phase was a little anti-climactic, which the game certainly was not. The lack of photos is a shame as the Grenadiers smashing through the Allied line was a classic Napoleonic image!

    All in all, an enjoyable game so long as you happened to be French, I suspect :-) I was a little unfair to the British - if I'd let them withdraw when they wanted to, there wouldn't have been a game! Still, that's a soldier's lot...