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!