Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Over the Hills Play Test - Corunna (Two Hundredth and Ninth Anniversary Game)

Few and short were the prayers we said,
And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfast gazed on the face of the dead,
And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

Today is the two hundred and ninth anniversary of the Battle of Corunna so picking up where we left off in 2017, it seemed very appropriate to start the first of the four remaining Over the Hills Peninsular War scenarios with this scenario of the battle.

Looking from the French lines towards the village of Elvina and the Monolos river

The Battle of Corunna is often remembered as the British 'Dunkirk' of the Peninsular War where General Sir John Moore saved Britain's main army from destruction following a harrowing pursuit over the Galician mountains in the height of winter, to turn, face and beat Marshal Soult's army before evacuating to the awaiting transports only to see Moore fatally wounded at the moment of his triumph.

The British army that fought at Corunna was Britain's premier force with the vast majority of the infantry composed of first battalions and despite Moore's best efforts of returning 80% of it home, would see the rest of this force wasted in the Walcheren expedition in July 1809 as Moore's replacement and vindicated Sir Arthur Wellesley battled with the cream of the Grand Armee at Talavera with many junior second battalions among his ranks.

The other end of the French position on the lower slopes of the Altos de Penesquada

The quality of the British troops must be born in mind when looking at this battle as despite the situation Moore found himself in, his soldiers were more than capable and equally determined to give a good account of themselves when Marshal Soult sent his columns forward into the attack at about 13.45 on the 16th January 1809.

View of the French positions from the British line above Elvina atop the Monte Mero ridge

In addition, despite the harrowing conditions experienced during the retreat to the port city, the British had had almost three days to recuperate before its walls before the arrival of the transports and the French, so were in better shape than when they first arrived.

With the ships came new uniforms, weapons and some ammunition, offset by the destruction of many of the cavalry mounts as horses were slaughtered on the docks and neighbouring cliffs to create space for troops and stores, with only nine pieces of artillery left on the slopes of the Monte Mero ahead of the coming battle.

Bentick's brigade with the 1/4th Foot and supported by just three RFA six pounder cannon cover the road from Elvina

On the 16th of January at midday Moore issued orders to General Paget to prepare his reserve division for immediate embarkation to the transports and the men were in columns, contemplating a return to 'Blighty' when the French guns began a preparatory bombardment drawing the attention of sailors and soldiers alike as Moore immediately rescinded his orders to Paget and headed back up to his rearguard brigades atop the Monte Mero ridge.

Soult's three columns of four battalions from the 47me Ligne, 31me Legere and 122me Ligne

To General Paget's and his mens credit all thought of home was abandoned as they immediately sloped arms and headed back towards the British stop line behind the villages of Elvina and Piedralong.

GdD Houssaye with GdB Caulaincourt's brigade of dragoons and supporting horse artillery

It would be before the former of the two villages and furthest away from the sea and any naval interference that the French under Soult would press their main attack whilst demonstrating before the latter in an attempt to confuse the defenders.

The weight of Soult's attack was designed to turn the British line in front of Elvina with cavalry feeling out the British right flank

Major Charles Napier commanding the 50th Foot described the scene as General Moore arrived on the ridge above Elvina as the French columns assembled on the slopes opposite behind their thick screen of skirmishers.

"Thrown on its haunches the animal came, sliding and dashing the dirt up with its fore feet, thus bending the General forward almost to its neck; but his head was thrown back and his look more keenly piercing than I ever saw it." 

Lieutenant General Sir John Moore rushes to the Elvina position alerted by the midday bombardment from French guns

Moore had expected Soult to attempt to attack his right flank with Bentick's brigade positioned to take the brunt of any French assault, and with Warde's Guards brigade in support on the rear slopes of the Monte Mero together with Paget's reserve held back to be ready to extend the British flank and block any turning attempt whilst protecting the direct route into the city.

Major Charles Napier commanded the 1/50th Foot seen here overlooking the village to their front

Inspired by the sight of Moore ignoring shot and shell as he inspected the French attack, Napier rode across the front of his regiment, the 1/50th, moving to the right where the fire seemed the strongest, looking to share the dangers endured by his men and noticing that each time a cannon shot whistled over head the men all ducked.

'Don't duck' he told them cheerfully. 'The ball has passed before you hear the whizz'. But the instinct was irresistible. Only one man was able to restrain himself. He was uncommonly short and as his neighbours continued to bob their heads compulsively above him, he maintained a rigid composure as he looked calmly down the slope at the advancing enemy.

'You are a little fellow', Major Napier called to him, 'but the tallest man in the 50th today for all that - come to me after the battle and you shall be a sergeant.'

Major General Coote Manningham's brigade with the 3/1st Foot and 2/81st Foot forward

This scenario presents a relatively straight forward French attack on a British defended rear slope ridge with British reserve elements on call or with a variable arrival time plus a French dragoon brigade looking to unhinge the position before said reserves can take a hand.

French foot guns prepare to soften up what they can see of the British position

The 17me and 18me Provisional Dragoons prepare to scout out the difficult terrain

In this test of the timings of the French march across the valley and the timings of the various force arrivals, not to mention the difficulties of the terrain imposing itself on the contending armies, both Steve and I followed our historical predecessors battle plan,

Marshal Soult accompanied by GdD Mermet checks all is ready to begin his assault

Thus my French columns set off across the valley at the best possible speed hoping to impose themselves upon the two British brigades before the arrival of their supports whilst also sending Houssaye's dragoons off in search of a ford over the River Monelos to add to that discomfort.

The 47me Ligne preceded by a thick screen of voltigeurs prepare to assault Elvina

Steve likewise opted to follow Moore's prescription of holding his two brigades back behind the ridge line thus avoiding the worst of the French artillery and diverging from the script by choosing not to send the 50th and 42nd Foot forward to contest French occupation of Elvina.

The 31me Legere with the 122me Ligne to their right prepare to advance

These French battalions are not made of the same stuff as fought for Junot at Vimeiro, only on average numbering some 500 men, so I had to be judicious about where to press the attack, especially being aware of that powerful British Guards brigade being held in reserve.

Houssaye's dragoons scout the Monolos river for a suitable crossing point

French confidence levels were high as at the halfway stage their columns were on the forward slope and Houssaye's dragoons had discovered a crossing looking to cover the area with their horse guns as new orders were issued to support the attack of the infantry.

The French assault columns closes on the British position

The French guns do their best to support the attack in the face of a 'canny' British line using the reverse slope

As the French columns pressed they were met by British six pounder canister and accurate skirmish fire from the British light bobs who held firm in front of Bentick's brigade driving back the voltigeurs of the 47me Ligne.

Half an hour into the French advance with the broken ground doing nothing to make things easy for the French attack

The French columns have moved onto the Monte Mero ridge as Warde's Guards brigade are called forward by Moore 

As the battle began to rise in tempo the Guards made their appearance, and with two new formations now on the table, needing changes of orders, the new order die proved perfect for indicating the arrival of the respective aides delivering the new orders and reminding us to test for receipt on the next turn before replacing the die on the Force Morale card.

The 47me Ligne close on Bentick's brigade with both sides light battalions contesting the advance

Meanwhile the pressure builds on Coote Manningham's brigade as the French close, but now opposed by the Guards having advanced into the centre of the British position

As the French dragoons began to deploy on the other side of the Monelos river the second British brigade also managed to arrive setting the scene for the finale of the fight for control of the Monte Mero Ridge.

Having discovered a suitable ford, new orders are issued for the dragoons to attack

Likewise Warde's  Guards brigade are issued new orders to revert from 'reserve' to 'hold' in support of the forward brigades

As in the previous game tests this was very much about proving the concept and checking the timings of various events to set the scene for the final clash.

We came away satisfied with the the set up but with modifications discovered necessary to the orders of battle and some units positioning.

In addition we were able to define the role of our Combined Specialist Light Infantry battalions with some additional rules about their use clarified and to be further tested in upcoming scenarios.

The struggle reaches a climax as the formed infantry closes
The actual battle, saw the death of Sir John Moore and his subsequent burial that night before the evacuation of the troops which began at about 21.00. Sir John Hope who assumed command on Moore's death assessed the losses at seven to eight hundred killed and wounded, with the French estimated to have lost about double that number.

Next up we will be looking at the scenarios designed to model the key actions of the Oporto campaign.

Dedicated to the memory of John P Bowden


  1. Another great AAR Jonathan, happy gaming in 2018.


    1. Hi Tony and thank you. I wish you an equally entertaining year.


  2. Hi Jonathan,

    Wonderful as always.

    Hopefully, if I can keep my project on track I'll soon be able to do some of your scenarios.

    BTW. If you were starting from scratch, which rule set, for battles involving say a dozen units per side to begin with, would you now go to first?

    All the Best


    1. Hi James,
      Thank you. Well I'm pleased to see you got your Napoleonic mojo back.

      Well I like to play in the 'Grand Manner' style with plenty of depth to my units. So that has to be the start point, with any rule set allowing me to play at battalion/squadron/battery level.

      Hopefully with this series of play-tests we have shown that 'Over the Hills' will cater for the size of game you are planning right through to the larger affairs we have done around Talavera. I know you are building a 28mm collection so these rules are designed around that popular scale. We have just shown that they work equally well in the smaller scale and bigger game.

      I really like them and the fatigue effects allow you to tailor the armies in a way in which we are just now starting to appreciate to a greater extent after having played quite a few games.

      So I guess my preference would be Over the Hills if you want to roll dice and many of us do and Carnage & Glory if you prefer to let the computer take the strain. Both sets take seriously the concept of fatigue caused by movement, combat and proximity to the enemy causing stress and friction and over time degrading the ability of the army to keep fighting. Thus if you have the last fresh reserve on hand you can really seal the deal, just like it was done by the experts!

      Hope that answers your question


  3. Looks awesome, this table is superb!