It was with much anticipation that I approached the second game of Oporto with all the ideas and discussion still fresh in my mind from the anniversary game last month.
|The table all set up ready to go|
I was up early Sunday morning putting the finishing touches to the set up and my notes for briefing today's players; two friends from the Devon Wargames Group, Vince and Martin who would be playing Wellesley and Soult respectively.
Part of the briefing included a few changes from last month with Cotton's cavalry added to the variable reinforcements and changes to the "Battle for the Seminary Rules" to reward the French for attacking the strong-point. These changes are designed to fine tune the scenario before making it available for others and will enable me to add alternative options to the final brief.
|Foy leads the 17e Legere straight on towards the Seminary|
This game was to prove a quite different affair from last month's right from the start, as Foy decided to get the 17e Legere moving out of the city on turn one and making straight for the nearest part of the Seminary wall. This was audacious in that it immediately put his brigade into contesting the Seminary from turn one but also put two of his battalions into medium range of the British guns. The French are required to contest the Seminary by having a unit/units within 525 paces of the wall for a minimum of five turns to count as having contested the building. This primarily stops the French from simply ignoring it and retreating.
|Foy's infantry are saluted by the RFA and KGL guns|
This aggressive move by Foy almost seemed to faze Wellesley, and the movement put immediate pressure on General Hill and the 66th Foot as they made their way up the cliffs from the river. The response from the guns seemed to settle the British command as round-shot and shrapnel started to take a toll on Foy's men.
|The Legere start to take casualties from the artillery fire to their flank|
With turn three the 70th Ligne came marching out from their billets and preceded by the Voltigeur battalion immediately pushed through the vineyards looking to threaten the front of the Seminary and drive off the British skirmish line. The 12e Artillerie, deployed on the outskirts, added to the discomfiture of the Seminary garrison by firing at the battalions manning the wall of the perimeter. The French had been briefed that if they put in a charge against the perimeter regardless of the outcome, that would reduce the number of turns needed to contest the building by one for every charge move made. However because General Foy's command are initially set up on "Defend" orders under C&GII, they can only make a charge move when the General attaches to a unit.
|The 70e Ligne pour out of Oporto to support the Legere|
Foy's Voltigeur battalion were as aggressive as their commander forcing the Light Bobs to give ground as they moved forward firing as they came on. To reinforce the point the 2/70e Ligne moved up behind in column.
|The French drive back Hill's Light Battalion as they look to seal off the Seminary|
|Close up skirmish battle|
The turn also saw the arrival of General Foy's messenger at Soult's HQ and requiring a 4, 5 or 6 to wake the Marshal and start the retreat, the French rolled a 4 and a flurry of messengers went out to alert the garrison for the need to start to withdraw.
The first units to move out and onto the table were General Franceschi and his two cavalry brigades, immediately working their way around the back of the city to move onto Windmill Hill.
The process of monitoring where the French and British off table forces were and how quickly they would appear on the table was by using the Cyberboard map that allowed me to move markers as directed by the two commanders
|Franceschi's cavalry arrive en mass|
|The French start to evacuate the city|
|General Hill dresses the ranks of the 66th Foot|
|Sir Arthur oversees the artillery support for on forces on the far bank|
|General Foy's aide attempts to rally the 17e Legere as they fall back from the Seminary|
As he gave his orders for the embarkation, a dispatch arrived announcing the imminent arrival of General Murray and the KGL infantry brigade.
|The French start to organise their units to pull out|
Now however, the situation required the French force to move from the offence around the Seminary to a staged withdrawal with an active rearguard keeping back British attempts to disrupt the units attempting to leave.
|The first battalion start to exit the road off|
|Sir John Murray and the KGL double march to attack the retreat route|
|General Hill brings the 66th Foot forward|
|General Reynaud oversees his brigades march out of the city. General Franceschi's cavalry are top left on Windmill Hill facing off against the Guards approach. The KGL are top right with skirmish lines closing in on the road.|
|General Archibald Campbell's brigade pushes on into the outskirts of Oporto. Note the Portuguese Infantry making their on table debut rear top right.|
|2nd Guards shake out into line, with the Guards Light Battalion up ahead|
|General Henery Cambell leads the Guards out of the city to the top of Windmill Hill|
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road, the KGL battalions preceded by Hill's and Murray's light battalions advanced to pressure the retreat; as well as forcing the 1e Hussars and 22e Chasseurs of General Debelle's brigade to move out in line to oppose them.
|General Foy and the 2/17e Legere make their way away from the pursuing British|
|General Hill brings the 66th into the line of pursuing allied troops|
The game was reaching a climax as the French brigades were strung out along the escape road, with more and more British units closing in on it from various directions. The French rearguard units were forced to deploy to buy time for the army to make good its escape.
|The Guards start to attack the French retreat|
|French Horse artillery supported by Chasseurs look to hold off the British Guards|
|The French retreat is fully underway|
|The French 1st Hussars pull out having destroyed Hill's Light Battalion|
The two cavalry charges moved out from the French lines with the Hussars proving irresistible to the British Light Bobs who, turning tail, in a vain attempt to reach the KGL infantry to their rear, were caught and cut down to a man. On the other side of the road, the result was quite different as the 8e Dragoons underestimated the effect of the cork groves would have on their charge reaching the Guards line. The Guardsmen were totally unmoved by the French heavy cavalry struggling to maintain order among the small trees and with the French charge falling short delivered a crashing first volley into their ranks knocking down over 200 of their number and sending the regiment reeling back upon its supports.
|The 66th Foot advance on the French rear guard|
French general officers including Marshal Soult himself joined the affected battalions in an attempt to get the men moving, but to no avail, and it was decided that several of these units would not escape the final pursuit.
C&GII is really good at bringing in this kind of granularity to a game that other rule sets struggle to model. The fatigue effects really make command in the game a constant balancing act as players have to struggle with doing things they need to with their troops but not overworking them and finding their orders going unheeded. As the game progressed the day was getting hotter and the fatigue effects were multiplying.
|General Foy's Voltigeur battalion hold off the KGL|
The French had had an excellent result in comparison to the actual events with at least half of Soult's units deemed to have got away from the city. In addition, the prompt movements of General Foy's troops had allowed them to contest the Seminary and pull back on turn 6. Thus the French had achieved both of their tactical objectives, with the bonus of General Foy reappearing at his brigade HQ with his wounds dressed and a bloodied uniform that raised cheers from his men.
However the British had responded well to events in the game and their constant barrage of artillery on specific targets together with the musketry brought to bear on retreating French troops; particularly from the Guards and the 66th Foot had seriously dented the French army morale and left a significant casualty bill of around 1500 men. As in the actual battle the lack of cavalry would prevent an immediate pursuit, but with the morale effects on the French force any later pursuit would likely be very damaging.
|The French rear guard seen from Sir John Murray's KGL brigade|
|Map illustrating principle moves during the game|
[W] denotes No Advance
[R] denotes Halt or Retire
[Y] denotes Routing
[D] denotes Dispersed and removed from the field
Thanks to Vince and Martin for providing the entertainment on what proved in the end a very close run thing.
The post script to this account was the amusement caused to all when announcing the units that gained honours in the battle. All through the day the 66th Foot had become very "sticky" announcing that it would not advance on the enemy unless accompanied by a general officer and requiring morale checks at the end of several moves in succession. It had undoubtedly caused the rout of the 1/17e Legere with its well directed volley fire together with seriously wounding General Foy in the process. The continual "stickiness" meant the General Hill was with the battalion through out the day keeping it moving forward and it was pressing the rearguard to the end, if a little reluctantly. Great stuff, another memory to savour.