Monday, 7 July 2014

Oporto - Game Three

This weekend saw the third run through of the Oporto scenario where we had another tweak to the initial set up to test out. This time we would have the British 14th Light Dragoons attached to General Murray's brigade timed to arrive on turns 4, 5 or 6 and the rest of the British cavalry under Cotton turning up on turn 4.

I re-emphasised the benefit to the French command  of a charge being made on the garrison in the Seminary in that, should it be successful in penetrating the compound, it would shift the victory condition one level in favour of the French and that every charge move made would reduce the five turns the French had to stay within 525 paces of the building by one turn.

General Foy and the 17me Legere muster at the alarm
With Foy's and the British troops in the Seminary set up, the game commenced, with my younger son Will, A level exams over, taking the French and fellow Devon Wargames player Andy B taking command of the British.

The 3rd Buffs and the 48th foot garrison the Seminary as Hill's Light battalion move out on to the road
When, at 10.30am, General Foy discovered the British troops ensconced in the Seminary, his response was immediate. Before his ADC had cleared the square courtyard in front of the bell tower, he was issuing orders to Colonel George Beuret of the 17me Legere to move immediately towards the Seminary and attack the garrison and prevent further reinforcements gaining access. As the Legere moved out of the square, Foy ordered the 8lbrs of the artillery battery stationed behind the square to move out in support of the infantry.

The British guns open fire on Foy's men
The French movement of troops immediately caught the attention of the British artillery positioned on the cliffs opposite the town and the shrapnel shells soon started to fly over the city roofs causing early casualties.

Foy moves the 70me Ligne and his guns out to support the 17me Legere
After sending orders for the 70me Ligne to join the Legere in their attack on the Seminary, General Foy placed himself at the head of the 3/17me Legere and, whilst directing the first battalion to form line and head towards the cliff path to block British reinforcements, led the third battalion in a column charge against the wall, letting fly a ragged hail of musketry from the front of the column as they approached,

The British guns let fly at the first battalion of Legere, whilst the 48th foot poured in a close range volley from the Seminary walls dropping over a hundred of the French light infantry. The charge faltered 50 paces from the wall and the Legere shook out into line. Another crashing volley soon followed the first and with the first battalion now reeling under the British artillery fire, both battalions fell back to the town in rout, with General Foy being carried to the rear with a leg wound.

Soult attempts to stem the rout of the 17me Legere after their abortive attack on the Seminary
On the face of things the first half hour of battle had not gone well for the French. Two battalions of the 17me Legere were routed and dispersed and General Foy was in a field hospital having a wound to his leg dressed. Command of the remainder of his brigade was now in the hands of his staff and the news from Soult's HQ was that he didn't believe stories of a British crossing and that he was not to be disturbed.

On a positive note, it was now 11.15am and the French army had contested the occupation of the Seminary for half an hour (two turns). In addition they had put in a charge on the wall that meant their honour was satisfied and that they could commence a retreat from the city a turn earlier, in turn five.

It was thus that General Foy's staff turned their attention to the defence of the exit road out of the city from any attempts by British reinforcements at closing it. The remaining battalion of Legere took post outside of musket range in front of the Seminary and at extreme range for the British artillery. The 70me Ligne took post in the vineyards along the road in support, whilst the Voltigeur battalion and the French artillery kept up harassing fire on the Seminary garrison.
The French fall back from the Seminary, skirmishers in the rearguard

Hills brigade man the walls

Foy deploys his two brigades to keep open the road out
With the threat to the Seminary and the cliff path removed the 66th foot completed its march to the top of the cliffs and deployed into line ready to support their brigade comrades in the Seminary grounds. The battle seemed to take a pause as both sides drew breath after the first bruising encounters and prepared to renew the struggle.

The 66th Foot surmount the cliffs by the Seminary
At 11.30 (turn 4), General Foy's ADC insisted on speaking to Marshal Soult and with the increasing gunfire from the east was ushered into the Marshal's presence. In minutes staff officers were hurrying out to carry orders into the city. This was not without problems as four of the seven ADC's were not able to carry their masters orders for one reason or another. The young officers concerned were either too stupid, not able to find their way or too drunk from the night before. Thus with three messengers left, they were directed to Generals of Divisions Franceschi (cavalry) Delaborde and Merle directing them to order their brigades to begin the retreat.

Soult lends a hand to organise Foy's force after the General is forced to retire wounded
With his orders issued Marshal Soult rode out to see the situation at the Seminary for himself.

He need not have concerned himself as the French units of Foy's brigade had the situation under control and the 1/70me Ligne supporting the Voltigeur battalion had driven Hill's Light battalion back into the Seminary grounds. The British force seemed reluctant to press issues until reinforced.

The 86me Ligne Regiment, led by General Delaborde, were the first of Soult's troops to begin the retreat.
At 11.45 (turn 5) the first of Soult's orders reached their recipients and General Delaborde who was with his reserve regiment the 1/86me Ligne was able to get them started immediately heading into the outskirts of the city arriving to meet Marshal Soult and able to take command of Foy's brigade in the absence of their commander. To reinforce his previous orders Marshal Soult sent of his own aides to the brigades positioned around the west of the city and at the harbour front to start withdrawing immediately.

In addition to Delaborde's arrival, General Franceschi appeared on Windmill Hill bringing his divisional horse battery with him and deploying it to cover the road exit to the north. The French army was now able to ignore any thoughts of contesting the Seminary and could focus entirely on arranging for half their army to have exited the city by 13.00 (turn 11).

The 86me clog the roads out of town
The new arrivals for the French were matched with the arrival of three Light Dragoon regiments under General Cotton, although one regiment, the 3rd KGL Light Dragoons were barely half a squadron. . Arriving in column of march the light cavalry made quick progress along the road towards the Seminary.

As if in response to these new troops, the Light Bobs of Hill's brigade manning the walls, debouched from the main gate and advanced in open order towards French troops manning the walls of the nearby vineyards.

At 11.30am General Cotton and his cavalry brigade arrive to attack the road out of Oporto

Cotton oversees his men as they deploy

With the arrival of the cavalry Hill's Light battalion sortie from the Seminary grounds
At midday (turn 6) the withdrawal was well under way and, on approaching the main road north, the 86me Ligne double timed towards the exit. Other French brigades were getting their orders to move and the next arrivals appeared, led by the two cavalry brigades and followed by the 4me Legere under General Reynaud's command.

Aware that the removal of the 4me Legere would open the harbour front up to landings by follow up British brigades, enquiries were made about setting up rearguards in the outskirts to hold back these following enemy troops. Senior officers, in the form of the umpire, informed the French command that given the surprise caused by the British assault crossing, confusion in the French force about their sudden need to pull out didn't allow for any organised resistance and that the troops were  totally occupied in saving themselves from capture. (My younger son is developing into a typical wargamer, looking to extract all possible advantage in as many situations as possible. Possibly a chip of the old block).

At midday General Franceschi and the cavalry arrive on Windmill Hill
Realising that the French pull out had to be slowed down to allow the British follow up brigades to close in through the city, the Seminary garrison left the walls and forming company columns marched out in support of their cavalry. Sir Stapleton Cotton, now one regiment of cavalry short due to it being attached to General Murray's KGL infantry brigade, seemed reluctant to force the issue as his was a force in being and could only be a threat to the French whilst it was under command. Any rash attack would not allow the infantry in the Seminary to bring their force to bear.

The great problem now facing the British general was his lack of artillery on this side of the river. With the prompt arrival of the French Divisional commanders, they now saw two foot batteries and one horse battery starting to deploy, ready to batter any hasty British attack. The British commander had to content himself by skirmishing with the French troops holding his forces at bay. The good news was that General Murray's KGL brigade were now marching on to the table bringing four battalions of these crack German troops together with the 14th Light Dragoons.

The French however were not willing to wait for General Murray and three battalions of the 86me Ligne together with the brigade Voltigeur battalion marched off the table reducing the French retreat total from thirteen units to nine, with five turns remaining.

An orderly withdrawl was well underway by midday

General Debelle's cavalry brigade's arrival completed the muster of the French cavalry on Windmill Hill

The 4me Legere Regiment are the next brigade to march from the city
At 12.15pm (turn 7) the French command had a "light bulb" moment, when they realised that instead of focusing on the coming British counter attack on their rearguard and having troops in position to support said rearguard, they were only nine units away from completing their mission with about seven units close enough to the exit to make all other events irrelevant.

The British command had come to the same conclusion a turn or two prior to this and were now desperately organising a change from a defensive posture around the Seminary into an offensive one to stop the result slipping from their grasp. This was a great example of a young commander getting caught up in the drama of the battle and temporarily forgetting what the mission was.

General Cotton assesses his chances of interfering with the French withdrawal 
With the realisation that victory was in their grasp the French command moved up a gear in managing the collapse of their rearguard, as forces were detailed to hold ground whilst others started to double time towards the exit.

The one glimmer of opportunity that presented itself to the British was that due to its late arrival, the French cavalry on Windmill Hill was not able to cross the north road to prevent the British cavalry getting onto the open ground by it. This glimmer was soon dashed by the French artillery who can never resist putting a few roundshot amongst "donkey wallopers" at 700 paces and, dropping about twenty troopers of the 20th Light Dragoons, forced them to retire to long range. This fall back allowed the 8me Dragoons to advance over the road, whilst two regiments of cavalry accompanied two battalions of the 4me Legere off the road into the "safely exited" collection.

The three battalions of Hill's brigade were now out of the Seminary enclosure and formed into line opposite Foy's troops occupying the vineyards and protecting the northern road. Just then a cheer went up from the ranks of the French troops as General Foy returned from the field hospital, his uniform bloodied from his previous encounter with the redcoats. Seeing the danger his men were facing he rode straight to the point unit, the 2/17me Legere, and prepared his men to resist.

With five more units exited the French required to evacuate another four to match the performance of Marshal Soult in the actual battle. The French had come close in the previous game, could they finally seal the deal?

British cavalry and Light Bobs probe the French rearguard as the Seminary garrison march out in their support

More British cavalry arrive in column of march to form up

Murray's Light Battalion heralded the arrival of General Murays four battalions of KGL infantry at 12.30pm
With the game clock turning to 12.30 (turn 8), the pot was ready to boil over as the British commander saw this was his last throw of the dice to prevent the French withdrawal within the time limit set at 13.00

The players were invited to place their charge markers and then to reveal their intentions. There was no real surprise to see the three infantry battalions given the order to charge. Sadly the 20th Light Dragoons who were preparing to join in this assault were very discomfited by their encounter with the French guns and would not advance unless accompanied by a General Officer, all of whom were rather busy elsewhere.

The British cavalry prepare to charge
General Hill gave the order to charge and with three hurrahs the 3rd, 48th and 66th foot charged towards the French line. Hills Light Battalion supported the attack by advancing on the walled enclosure to skirmish and pin the French support units.

As the British battalions moved forward to attack, the French command immediately moved another two units off the table.

Could General Hill break Foy's rearguard and force the last units withdrawing to about face and prevent a breakthrough in the rear followed up by British dragoons?

Hills Light battalion skirmish with Foy's rearguard as the rest of Hills brigade form up on the road to attack

And still the retreat continued unhindered

Reynaud's Voltigeur battalion lead the 15me Ligne as they to join the retreat by leaving the town by side roads

Reynauds guns leave on the road up to Windmill hill

The French cavalry joined by their horse battery prepare to deter their opposite numbers
The first British battalion to hit the French line were the Buffs hitting the corner wall and contacting the 2/70me Ligne commanded by General Delaborde. The French battalion calmly waited as the British battalion closed to 50 paces and met them with a crashing volley dropping about 70 redcoats and causing the battalion to stagger and fall short.

The next in line was the 2/48th who taking the lead from their seniors in the Buffs gamely charged forward to attack the Legere battalion on the fence. The 17me Legere were keen to avenge their brothers from the first and third battalions and dealt the 48th a crashing volley dropping over 100 redcoats and causing the 48th to reel back from the charge only being stopped from breaking by the presence of General Hill.

Hill's men apply pressure and all three battalions charge Foy's men in the vineyards
The final attack, when it came, was from the 66th who arrived in amongst the 17me Legere unopposed as their fire had been directed at the 48th. This was too much for the Legere and they fell back from the fence line but did not break and held their ground. As the battalion fell back General Foy took a bayonet thrust to the chest and narrowly missed a serious wounding. He was again forced to the rear to get attention and command devolved to his commander General Delaborde.

The 66th and 48th foot charge the 2/17me Legere on the fence line, too little too late!
The climax of the battle had come and passed with fifteen minutes remaining and nothing the British command could do to prevent the remaining French units leaving the table to the north. The attack by the British infantry had failed to break the French rearguard and the time gained by the attack of the 17me Legere had been wisely used by Marshal Soult to shepherd his troops away from possible encirclement.

The game had shown how balanced the scenario is, with the British achieving a minor victory by inflicting twice the casualties on the French than they received. But the French had successfully contested the Seminary preventing a shift to the British, and had evacuated over half their force in the time required; shifting the result in their favour to a drawn battle and comparing favourably to the historical outcome.

The off table map showing the position of forces at game end with an orderly retreat underway
[W] denotes No Advance
[R] denotes Halt or Retire
[Y] denotes Routing
[D] denotes Dispersed and removed from the field

So with the three games  played we have had a major British victory, a minor British victory and a drawn game.

The pleasing aspect is that the variables on the time of arrival of British reinforcements alongside the command and control problems for the French make the games quite different and presented our commanders with a different set of problems to overcome each time. These factors also balance the advantages and disadvantages for both sides.

When I post the final copy of the scenario I will include notes to guide the umpire on possible changes with the experience gained from these three games.  I have really enjoyed the three games and would like to thank all the players, Chas, Vince, Tom, Ian, Nathan, Martin, Andy B and Will for really getting into the scenario and helping with their feedback to fine tune it into a really interesting game situation. The fact that the scenario is as entertaining as it is is down to their insights from the commanders perspective; never knowing quite what is happening, and having to make decisions based on that limited information. A bit like what is was like for Soult and Wellesley in the real affair.

Post Script
I was very much hoping to have a model of the Seminary ready for these three games to add the finishing touch. That has not proved possible, and I have a few pictures of the model showing the progress on the main building.

As the saying goes, " when the facts change the plan changes with them" and so I will replay Oporto with the model when the opportunity presents, with a game set up based on all the learning gathered and with players familiar with the issues they are likely to encounter.

In the mean time the Talavera plans will continue to unfold and I have a lot of Romans and Dacians awaiting my attention this summer!!


  1. Sensational pictures and detailed report. My wounds are still painful, but it is nothing, mes braves; the pictures brought back the glory.

    It was a privilege to play my part.

    MSFoy (Gen de Bde)

    1. My dear General merci beaucoup, so glad to see you are back to rude health. Your performance in the face of the enemy was an inspiration to the the troops and you are the toast of the 17me Legere.

  2. This looks brilliant and like the previous commentator noted; a detailed report too, well written and action packed, Great to players getting into the narrative and having to make decisions. Fabulous report and modelling, keep it up. Jeremy

    1. Hi Jeremy, thanks mate. We had a very nice day and a very entertaining battle. Even better it was absolutely tipping down outside during play. Perfect wargame weather.

  3. Excellent report, beautiful pictures, love your village and, of course, these fantastic armies...great work!

  4. Wow. Excellent work as always. I'm slowly following your scenarios. Still painting my units but eventually I will endeavor to play all the scenarios you build. Adam

    1. Hi Adam, thank you. Great let me know how you get on, always pleased to swap notes