Friday, 10 November 2017

Over the Hills (Play-test) - Night Attack, Talavera

Scenario play-testing continues with the next in the Talavera series looking at the night attack carried out by General Ruffin's infantry division on the night of the 27th July 1809 as the armies settled themselves into the Talavera line.

Night attacks are not common during this era of warfare, for the obvious reasons of command and control and finding the enemy in a period that relied very much on line of sight.

The first set up with the French battalions too dispersed for operating at night

This scenario has proved perhaps the most challenging to construct and play using Over the Hills given that we had to incorporate a layer of rules over the basic rules to facilitate the night battle.

Likewise the British were in the right place but those forward KGL battalions needed to double up

As with all this series of historical re-fights the process begins with working out who was there in what strength and where exactly they were.

You might think that would be relatively quite straight-forward but as with a lot of battles from this period and indeed many others, it is not always that easy. The Duke of Wellington's famous quote about battles being like balls, in that the reporter was only really aware of what was happening in their corner of the ball-room, often comes to mind.

The reset start with closed up French now with their commanders in play to monitor command ranges, and a very open Medellin

Anyway most of the sources agree that the Cerro de Medellin was, remarkably, left undefended that evening, a fact that Marshal Victor set out to exploit by sending a division across the valley floor with what seemed like an open goal to put the ball in.

Thus the set up pictures with markers representing the approximate positions of the various battalions needed to reflect that fact.

The only thing that could interfere with French progress towards their objective was the very thing that would allow them to march towards it hopefully unnoticed, namely the cover of darkness.

Similarly the KGL have doubled up on the road with commanders in play - General Hill and Stuart's brigade will appear in the lower left of picture

Thus we come to that layer of rules designed to simulate the potential chaos that could cause individual units to lose their way, fire on friends and surprise enemy alike; all conducted under a dark night sky where visibility could come and go leaving commanders aware of the proximity of the enemy but unable to fire because of a sudden drop in visibility range or indeed vice versa.

First contact, the 5th KGL are caught by the column of the 1/96e Ligne

The blinds or markers are not a new idea but proved a simple way of identifying units that had been spotted and those that hadn't.

The other concern was time, in that the whole French attack lasted slightly less than a hour, indicating a rapid French advance and perhaps a good level of knowledge about the ground given they had been encamped in the area for several weeks before the battle.

The French get the best of the exchange of musketry as the red die appears on the German battalion

In the end we allowed ourselves the luxury of twice the amount of time than in the actual battle to allow the French to try and consolidate a hold on the Medellin should they manage to get more troops on it than did General Ruffin who managed to get just three of his nine battalions to the top.

With the first contact resolved the visibility increases revealing to Baron Low and his 5th KGL the strength of the attack

We played this scenario twice and rapidly discovered the issues with the first draft that were not apparent on a simple read through. That's why play-testing is so important.

In the second game with the adjustments made we saw the French emulate their historical predecessors by rapidly crossing the Portina stream with quite a tight grouping of battalions, with what looked like a potential seven on target for the summit and General Hill nowhere to be seen.

The 96me Ligne on course to attack the KGL as the rest of the division make a home run for the summit of the Medellin

Even when the lead battalions of the 96me Ligne 'bumped' Low's KGL brigade, the lead French column managed to come out on top in the first exchange of musketry as the German battalion failed to cause a hit and received two in return from the head of the column - it seemed the KGL were as disordered and surprised as the historical accounts, that saw them rapidly dispersed losing many men taken prisoner.

The battle between Low's KGL and the 96me Ligne leaves both sides battered with the French marginally stronger as the 9me Legere take the summit. Stewart's brigade can be seen arriving top right. 

The British surprise at the attack was simulated by having their closest brigades on hold orders in the areas of their bivouacs until General Hill could take command and call on them to clear any French on the hill top.

General Hill redirects Donkin's brigade to support Stuart's as he sets about dealing with the French incursion

Then just as it was looking really rosy for French fortunes ill luck and poor situational awareness from several battalion commanders reduced the French battalions headed for the summit from seven to three.

Stuart brings his brigade up the hill, well almost, as the 29th Foot can be seen heading in the wrong direction at right

If this wasn't bad enough General Hill, leading Stuart's brigade, in response to all that musketry, arrived on the back slope and immediately made contact with Colonel Donkin to redirect his brigade towards the hill top.

As the British battalions prepared to counter-attack the clock was against them and the French had already assumed an unassailable points tally

Some relief came with the 29th Foot losing the direction of march and diverging from their brigade comrades but that this still gave the British commander four very good battalions to strike at the three battalions of the 9me Legere.

Game end - the 9me Legere in proud possession of the Medellin

The saving grace for the French was that their progress had been so rapid and the British response, a turn or two too slow in reacting. This meant that the Legere would be repulsed but not soon enough, allowing them to grab an unassailable lead in victory points and thus a French victory.

This scenario is easily played in an evening and poses several decision points to the commanders on both sides trying to manage the chaos of operating at night.

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