Monday, 6 April 2015

Talavera - Night Attack, Game One

The British secure the Cerro de Medellin - Graham Turner

The evocative picture by Graham Turner, aptly captures the nature of battle in the hours of darkness as the fighting gets very close and personal.

My interpretation of battle at night

The "Night Attack" scenario, just focuses on the specific are of battle and the forces involved
Night battles in the Napoleonic era are very rare indeed, for obvious reasons. In an age before modern battlefield communication and navigation techniques, moving large bodies of troops about in a coordinated fashion on ground at night was generally avoided. Not only was there an increased chance of mistaken combat between friendly troops but also the likelihood of units becoming disorientated and becoming lost in enemy lines.

Thus Talavera presents one of those rare opportunities to model this type of engagement and experience the problems it presents.

It's a quiet night, following the day's skirmishing, and the camp fires are lit up on the opposing slopes
Thursday night's game was very much a test run to see if some of the ideas developed during the play testing of the Casa de Salinas scenario would work equally well here. In time I intend to write up the construction around these games with options to add in or leave out, as players choose, based on our discussions during play.

It's 22.00 and with the light fading, restricting visibility to 200 paces the French form up to attack
So what are the basic principles behind this game?
  • The action took place roughly between the hours of 22.00 to 01.00 the next morning, when the French were forced to fall back to their own lines, following a successful counterattack by General Hill leading one of his own brigades up on to the Medellin to repulse the 9th Legere.
  • The French are recorded by Lt Girod of the 9th Legere to have formed up in battalion columns with two forward, marching level, and one behind acting as a reserve.
  • The darkness caused the two flanking regiments to get lost during the advance and end up returning to French lines after failing to make contact with the enemy.
  • The darkness and poor British picket duty (also displayed at Casa de Salinas) allowed the French to approach undetected and catch the forward KGL brigades by complete surprise, breaking them in the initial attack. Follow up British units were confused and unsure if they were under attack and from what direction.
  • The French were attempting to get a sizable body of troops on the summit to gain control and hold it until the hours of daylight, enabling the French to turn the allied line.
Picture to illustrate the direction of march in the first hour of nightfall
To simulate the conditions outlined we had the following special rules:
  • Units moving outside of close proximity to friends and enemy formations had their direction of march randomised. The picture above shows where the various battalions ended up during their approach march. As they were moving over unknown ground in the dark trying to stay in formation, we reduced movement to half normal.
  • Visibility is controlled by C&G after inputting the time of day/night and start weather conditions. Our battle, starting at 22.00, had an initial visibility of 200 paces which rapidly dropped to 100 paces as the summer night set in.
  • The British were pinned to their positions until firing broke out. They too were subject to randomised directional movement, but less so as they were operating on familiar ground. To simulate the surprise and confusion in British ranks, their musketry was randomly reduced, gradually increasing through the battle as more men fell into line and became aware of an enemy presence. Also their was a risk of friendly fire if friends manoeuvred within a units arc of fire.
  • British reinforcements were set up to arrive around midnight, and we left their inclusion as determined by the state of the French attackers at that time. Clearly if the French had units under order on the summit with no British units able to contest their presence, the game would end and the victory level assessed in the light of casualties suffered. In the end we didn't fight Hill's arrival as the French brigades were starting to tire significantly and were deemed not strong enough to resist attack from fresh British reserves.
The French prepare to move off into the valley with the regiments having two columns up, one back

The direction of march in the dark leads to a group of columns closing on the forward slope of the Medellin
The first four moves entailed the French columns dicing to establish their direction of march and the picture above is just before the initial contact with Low's KGL brigade and the three French columns bearing down on it.

At this point I, taking the French command, had already lost the 2/96th Ligne as they moved to their left following the Portina stream and turned back towards the French lines.

First contact, the 7th KGL are caught off guard as they are charged by the 96th Ligne and 9th Legere, note charge chips behind the KGL
The blinds allow variation on deployment, enough to allow slight tactical advantage to the player with the initiative, and Tom, running the KGL, adopted a battalion forward, battalion back formation to meet the initial attack.

The firing broke out at 2315, with the 7th KGL caught by surprise and only about 70 men fired against the two columns that charged in. Splitting their fire reduced that effect still further, but they managed to reduce the impact on one of the columns, but failed to resist the other and broke through the 5th KGL to their rear.

To the right of the initial attack, French columns infiltrate further on to the Medellin. Nearest camera, the 1/96th Ligne take on Langwerth's 1st KGL single handed.
Meanwhile the 1/96th Ligne having lost contact with its sister battalion found itself alone, "bumping" the 1st KGL, part of Langwerth's brigade. Alerted by the shouts and subsequent firing to their left the 1st KGL were able to fire off a more substantial volley with about 120 men able to react to the sudden attack and, being concentrated on just the single French column, caused it to halt to reform, with General Barrois accompanying it, joining the battalion as it returned the fire.

Donkin's Brigade are unaware of the French columns approaching their position as firing breaks out to their right. French charge markers are behind Low's KGL brigade.
The first contact had broken the 7th KGL, but had caused the assaulting 3/96th Ligne to fall back disordered. On their left the 1/96th Ligne were locked in a firefight with a desperately reforming 1st KGL, supported by the 2nd KGL also trying to form up.

Keen to take advantage of this early success, the 1/9th Legere continued to charge forward over the ground previously occupied by the 7th KGL and hit the 5th KGL.

With the loss of the support of the 3/96th Ligne, the 1/9th Legere attack faltered as the 5th KGL managed to hold their ground in the melee and the two battalions fought on.

The 7th KGL are broken, moving away, at the back of picture. The 1st KGL, nearest to camera,take up the fight, whilst the 9th Legere charge into the 5th KGL top right, as the 3/96th Ligne are halted in disorder
Meanwhile, the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 24th Ligne, supported by the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 9th Legere infiltrated forward onto the summit of the Medellin and prepared to celebrate a breakthrough, when suddenly they were met by a ragged open order volley from the 60th Rifles, who, alerted by the shouts and firing to their right, had started to assemble in their positions forward of the brigade.

The 60th Rifles in Donkin's brigade shout the alarm as they fire on two columns from the 24th Ligne
After a torrid action at Casa de Salinas, the last thing Donkin's brigade needed was a sudden call to arms. The veteran 60th Rifles had bought them some time to muster and the two Irish battalions were desperately grabbing their weapons and forming up as the 24th Ligne charged in forcing the 60th Rifles to fall back.

The "Incomparable" 9th Legere support the 20th Ligne as the 1st/9th  charge the 5th KGL
The 87th an 88th Foot proved to be the rock on which the French tide ebbed and their initial volleys managed to bring the fire of over 300 Brown Bess muskets to bear, staggering the attacks of the 24th Ligne, with only the 1/24th Ligne able to cross bayonets with the 2/87th.

The "Aigle Catchers" were having none of it and in the short sharp melee the 1/24th fell back into the darkness to join their sister battalion, disrupting the column of the 2/9th Leger as they went.

The 88th hurriedly form line as the 9th Legere burst onto the summit of the Medellin 
The French attack had stalled, with the 1/96th Ligne facing off the 1st KGL, the 3/96th refusing to advance on a tired 5th KGL, but now supported by the 2nd KGL free to come to their aid. The eventual success of the charge of the 1/9th Legere pushed the 5th KGL back only to leave the tired French battalion facing another wall of 2nd KGL redcoats.

With the two other Leger battalions faced off with the now alert 88th and 87th Foot, General de Division Ruffin decided discretion was the better part of valour and covered the withdrawal of the 24th Ligne, with his remaining good order battalions.

The high water mark with the 9th Legere still pushing forward but the 96th and 20th Ligne starting to retire

The 1st KGL and 1/96th Ligne closest to camera are locked in close range fire fight as the British start to get the attack under control
Where was the 2/24th Ligne when they were needed? The 2/24th Ligne had lost its bearings on reaching the Valdefuentes Farm buildings and instead of turning to their left and supporting the attack on the 88th Foot turned right and back to the French lines via the northern valley! C'est la guerre.

With the French brigades starting to tire, Donkin's and Langwerth's brigades start to get control
It was midnight and General Hill, on hearing the firing on the Medellin, was leading General Stewart and his brigade into their allocated positions following their tour of the Spanish army occupying Talavera. Moving forward to assess the situation, he met a captain of the 87th Foot organising the recovery of his wounded men.

"What's happened hear Captain?"

"Don't worry sir, it seems the French got lost in all this dark, but we soon showed them the way to their billets."

Generals Low and Barrois face off in a battle of wills as the fighting starts to wind down 
A really enjoyable short sharp battle, which had Tom firefighting with his units trying to stem the initial French attacks as his units gradually increased their firing ability move on move. The game reached a tipping point on turn eight with the 1/9th Legere beating the 5th KGL in combat only to see the 2/87th return the compliment on the 1/24th Ligne.

If that last combat had gone the way of the French, I had two Legere battalions ready to take on the 1/88th and occupy the summit uncontested before Hill and Stewart's brigade could have intervened. However with the repulse of the 24th Ligne and two battalions back in French lines I had both brigades at cautionary status and would have been hard pushed to defeat the Irish brigade and to have resisted Hill's counterattack.

Both the randomised movement and British firing worked extremely well to produce a tense closely matched scenario, and we both thought this would make an interesting afternoon game at club. 

More tests to do with this scenario, but on a first run through, it proved great fun. 

The final results showed how well the French had done in their attack, seriously embarrassing the British defence and gaining a minor victory based on casualty count. We deemed the game a draw as, due to their withdrawal, the French failed to capture their tactical objective.


[D] denotes Dispersed and removed from the field
[W] denotes No Advance
[R] denotes Halt or Retire

Talavera Night Attack
As of Game Turn: 9

Division Rowland Hill - Defend
[ 512] Major General Rowland Hill - Active B- [950 paces]

Brigade Richard Stewart - Defend
[ 514] Brigadier General Richard Stewart - Active B [450 paces]
[ 529] 29th Foot 0/ 598 C+ [sk] Good Fresh
[ 530] 1/48th Foot 0/ 807 C+ [sk] Good Fresh
[ 531] 1st Battalion of Detachments 0/ 609 C [sk] Good Fresh

Brigade Rufane Donkin - Defend
[ 516] Colonel Rufane Donkin - Active B- [350 paces]
[ 537] 2/87th Foot 65/ 534 C [sk] Good Tiring
[ 538] 1/88th Foot 0/ 599 C+ [sk] Good Fresh
[ 539] 5/60th Rifles 13/ 260 B- [sk] Good Fresh

Brigade Ernest Baron Langwerth - Defend
[ 510] Brigadier General Ernest Baron Langwerth - Active B- [350 paces]
[R] [ 519] 1st KGL Line Battalion 76/ 528 C+ [sk] Average Acceptable
[ 520] 2nd KGL Line Battalion 0/ 678 C+ [sk] Average Fresh

Brigade Sigismund Baron Low - Defend [Retire]
[ 511] Brigadier General Sigismund Baron Low - Active C+ [450 paces]
[ 522] 5th KGL Line Battalion 75/ 535 C+ [sk] Poor Tired
[D] [ 523] 7th KGL Line Battalion 146/ 411 C+ [sk] Broken Tired

375/ 5559 Bayonets
375/ 5559 Total of all arms
16 Standards present

As of Game Turn: 9

Division Francois Amable Ruffin - Attack
[ 105] General de Division Francois Amable Ruffin - Active D+ [650 paces]

Brigade Claude-Marie Meunier - Attack
[ 106] General de Brigade Claude-Marie Meunier - Active B- [400 paces]
[ 191] 1/9me Regiment de Legere 57/ 522 C [sk] Ex'lent Tired
[ 192] 2/9me Regiment de Legere 0/ 570 C [sk] Good Fresh
[ 193] 3/9me Regiment de Legere 0/ 578 C- [sk] Average Fresh
[R] [ 194] 1/24me Regiment de Ligne 112/ 471 C [sk] Broken Exhausted
[ 195] 2/24me Regiment de Ligne 0/ 582 C [sk] Good Fresh
[R] [ 196] 3/24me Regiment de Ligne 131/ 462 C- [sk] Broken Tired

Brigade Pierre Barrois - Attack
[ 107] General de Brigade Pierre Barrois - Active B [450 paces]
[W] [ 199] 1/96me Regiment de Ligne. 107/ 502 C [sk] Average Tiring
[ 200] 2/96me Regiment de Ligne. 0/ 565 C [sk] Good Fresh
[ 201] 3/96me Regiment de Ligne. 102/ 501 C- [sk] Average Tiring

509/ 4753 Bayonets
509/ 4753 Total of all arms
3 Standards present

Talavera Night Attack
Minor victory for the French Army
As of Game Turn: 9

The British Army has suffered losses of:
[ 13%] 786 men of all arms
incl.[ 1%] 113 prisoners of all arms
[ 13%] 786 bayonets
Honours: [ 537] 2/87th Foot

The French Army has suffered losses of:
[ 9%] 509 men of all arms
incl.[ 3%] 178 prisoners of all arms
[ 9%] 509 bayonets
Honours: [ 191] 1/9me Regiment de Legere

An interesting footnote. I am just finishing reading "Incomparable, Napoleon's 9th Light Infantry Regiment" and will be doing a book review as soon as I have finished it. I have just read the chapter relating to the events around this scenario. Taken from a French view point the book makes interesting reading and differs in the account quite significantly from British writers who took part. Our wargames clash struck me with a lot of similarity to the French account.

Next up, Spanish supernumeraries, followed by Spanish artillery


  1. Great AAR and scenario! Seems like you really captured the confusion of nightfighting. /Mattias

  2. This is excellent jonathan,
    Superb bat rep

  3. Fascinating read and an interesting tactical problem for both sides. Random French movement could frustrate the best of plans.

    Nice job!

  4. Thanks for your comments guys. I think the basic parameters seem to work quite well with this little scenario. What I will try out going forward is more variability on British musketry and response to see how the balance can shift.

    In time this scenario and it's predecessor, Casa de Salinas, followed by the Dawn attack will give the French command in a mini-campaign a selection of opportunities to try and degrade the British, whilst accumulating victory points, prior to the full on afternoon scenario. Of course, with the risk of blowing it and gifting the Allied command the same. Well that's the plan.

  5. Brilliant stuff JJ.
    The fact that eye witnesses only see what they see, often 'gild the lily' and all sides 'lie like a bulletin' makes it a real challenge to get to the bottom of what "actually happened". Wargames can be a useful way to explore this can't they?

    1. Thanks James, I absolute agree, wargames really can give a lot of insights into some of the issues that occurred in these actions. That, for me, is the pleasure in fighting historical scenarios.

  6. Great looking blog well done
    What rules were you using?

    1. Thank you. The rules used are Carnage & Glory II

  7. Excellent again JJ. Really enjoying these scenarios mate.

    1. Thanks Carlo, glad you're enjoying the fun.