Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Over the Hills Playtest - Retreat to Albergaria

Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal for the second time on the 22nd April 1809. On learning that Marshal Soult was pinned down in Oporto he made immediate plans to carry out the first part of his mission, namely to secure Portugal from the French, before turning to deal with Marshal Victor's I Corps, hovering on the border close to Alcantara.

After confirming his intelligence reports, Wellesley marched his army of around 19,000 troops off up the road to Oporto on the 7th May, having dispatched Marshal Beresford inland the day before with an Anglo-Portuguese force designed to get around Soult's left flank and prevent him retreating from the city.

The little village of Albergaria straddles the road from Lisbon to Oporto

Only Generals Mermet and Franceschi were operating south of the River Douro and Oporto, ignorant it seems of the force Wellesley was bringing against them.

Wellesley's forward elements bumped Franceschi's pickets guarding the crossings on the River Vouga below the village of Albergaria and after giving his force a days rest and to allow Beresfords force a good start, he made preparations to encircle Franceschi before he could escape back to Oporto.

The next day Cotton's cavalry and Trant's and Stewart's Anglo-Portuguese infantry, after some unfortunate delays pushed the French back from the Vouga and with Cotton's Portuguese guide failing to bring the British cavalry onto the flank of the French march route, the chase began as described:

"..... Cotton arrived, not in his rear or on his flank, but right in his front, so as to get the surprise which he meant to give; and being yet unsupported by any near approach of the main body, felt obliged to decline the combat which Franceschi offered.

General Paget's division now arrived, with the Commander in chief at its head, and at once cleared the pine-wood and turned the French cavalry to flight with scarcely an effort, moving swiftly on in column, as if upon a forced march with not a foe in front. The astonished Franceschi adroitly extricated himself from his perilous position ; he retreated, all day, without any confusion and with little loss, to Oliveira de Azemis; and continuing his march during the night, by Feria, joined Mermet next morning at Grijo.

The villages of Albergaria Velha and Albergaria Nova, which the French had occupied, presented fearful evidence of the atrocious spirit in which they continued to carry on their invading war. They had, in mere wantonness and malignity, destroyed everything which was destructible,—smashed the houses, burnt thatch and furniture, wasted food and drink, slaughtered cattle and pigs, and strewn the debris of their devastations along the public road. And in this manner they acted through the whole of their retreat to Oporto." - A Memoir of Field Marshal, The Duke of Wellington

Cotton's cavalry brigade draw up on the road to Albergaria and assess the French column 

The plan saw Stewart's infantry and Cotton's cavalry brigades cross the Vouga and pursue the French column now preparing to fall back from their position having ascertained the size of the British force facing them.

At the same time General Hill with one brigade but with others to follow would use boats to cross the coastal Lake Ovar, to land his troops in behind the French and allow them to cross country march onto their line of retreat.

General Franceschi aware of the threat to his column directs his cavalry to draw up on a nearby hill

As Franceschi became aware of what was up the action in front of and around Albergaria would develop into a two day chase along the road to the next stop point in front of the village of Grijo where Franceschi and Mermet would join forces before falling back into Oporto and burning the bridge of boats, thus setting up the Second Battle of Oporto covered in the previous post.

The 31er Legere up the pace to put as much distance between themselves and the British cavalry

Thus this scenario is linked to the final one in this series, 'Rearguard at Grijo' with the French player tasked with making sure he doesn't lose his wagon train (this represents Soult's baggage train entrusted to Generals Mermet and Franceschi) to the British pursuit and minimises his casualties to allow his force to be better able to cooperate with General Mermet's infantry in the next.

General Jardon commands the rearguard of two battalions of the  31er Legere and the 22me Chasseur a Cheval

In any kind of pursuit scenario the fundamentals require an assessment of the command choices available to players based on what the scenario presents them in the set up.

In this case the British cavalry are one move behind the French column leaving them two turns before they may hope to be in combat contact range. Of course they are not that interested in the French escort, as if they can take out the wagons they will complete the mission in one scenario and Mermet will have been deemed to fall back into the Oporto alone. That then presents the option to play the Oporto scenario with Franceschi's cavalry - good luck with that one!

It will not be easy for the British to catch the supply train in its entirety so there is always the alternative of trying to break one of the French escort brigades thus damaging it for the next scenario.

As the French wagon train negotiates the village streets, the British pursuit closes

The terrain is designed to produce challenges and opportunities for both players with gently rolling hills interspersed with small woods and rough ground consisting of fields and fences, allowing the French to find little defensive positions to resist the British advance.

However with the skilful use of open order, the British light dragoons can negate a lot of the terrain restrictions and move across country quite rapidly. Like wise the village of Albergaria whilst offering a possible refuge for wagons or French infantry acts as a choke point on the quicker road movement and with Stewart's infantry brigade in close assistance the French do not want to linger too long among the houses, not to mention the risk of retribution from the locals.

The French cavalry oversee the wagons and rearguard battalions up to and through the village

In this test game I took command of the French and Steve the Anglo-Portuguese and started to discover the command challenges this scenario presents for both players, deciding when and where to stand or where to push the advance, always operating within the restraints of the various command ranges, with both sides finding it difficult to stray too far from the road or risk elements falling out of command range.

With Stewart's infantry brigade close at hand the British cavalry prepare to charge

The action was the debut for Marshal Beresford's newly trained Portuguese forces with 1/16th Portuguese Infantry attached to Stewart's brigade

The game also tested our knowledge of the rules to another level as we developed our understanding of road movement limitations and cavalry opportunity moves to combat contact, not to mention using open order cavalry in combat.

The French column, by using the road managed to stay just ahead of the British pursuit for a couple of turns

The wagons cracked on as Franceschi's force turned to buy time for them to escape off table.

As in the real encounter Franceschi managed his column up the road with a few short sharp engagements that helped reveal where we could throw in a few 'spanners among the cart wheels' to help ramp the tension up for both sides.

The British cavalry amassed to the right of the road and drove the 22me Chasseurs back forcing the voltigeur battalion into square covering the road

Whilst resisting the British cavalry it was important for the French to not become embroiled in a fight with Stewart's infantry

From a French perspective the sight of all that British cavalry bearing down on my escort units with redcoats in close company ready to finish off any mistake on my part made for a really enthralling encounter, whilst Steve also felt the challenge of identifying and pushing down particular routes to get at the French column, which calls for a bit of daring by the British if they want to try and win big.

For me there was always a pang of nervousness deciding to put my infantry into square to protect my wagons on the road whilst contemplating the movement restrictions that would impose on them whilst British redcoats are barrelling along in their company columns.

With the the wagons still not clear, it was a struggle to stop the British cavalry from exploiting into the French rear

As the action draws to a close both the rearguard and vanguard are drawn up in squares and cavalry lines

The scenario produced several sharp cavalry encounters between the Chasseur a Cheval and Light Dragoons as described in the accounts together with the appearance of a steeple-chase as mass squadrons of cavalry bounded across the countryside - great fun.

The Chasseurs contested the British advance supported by the voltigeur battalion

In fact my need to throw in my Chasseurs on several occasions and the fatigue hits that accrued caused my rearguard brigade to come perilously close to break point so with the tweaks we garnished from this test will offer opportunities for both sides to embarrass the other.

The rearguard (Force Card 4) looking a bit battered after the fighting conducted by the 22me Chass a Cheval

The British pursuit force still full of fight, ready to resume the pursuit the next day
Next up the final scenario in this series, Rearguard at Grijo where we discover if Mermet and Franceschi are trapped before falling back into Oporto or they are able to imitate the successful withdrawal carried out for real.


  1. Looks like a great scenario, real nail biting stuff...
    As always great work JJ.


    1. Thanks Nathan. These 'manoeuvre' type scenarios can be a real challenge and make a pleasant change from the usual line em up type.

  2. A great scenario! Small forces and its more about the tactics than the fighting

  3. so stealing this one, great job yet again!

    1. Ok cool, but there will be more to come on this and all the scenarios presented.

  4. Your games are great, it would be nice though if you posted an actual OB with them. There are many I would like to play.


    1. Hi John, thank you.
      Please bear with me as these are reports on play-tests where we are working on developing the scenarios from very often a first draft and incorporating changes from the notes taken during play. Once they are where they should be all will be revealed.

  5. That's another great write up! I love these smaller actions.

    1. Thanks Scott.
      Yes I have looked to put together a collection of large and small actions that typify the battles very often within battles of this period, with an Anglo-Portuguese army not as competent as it would be in later campaigns, when Wellington declared 'I could have done anything with that army.'

  6. Nice little rear guard action.

    Always good to have one player thinking "what is the least I can get away with using ?", whilst the other is debating "what is the most I can get there in time ?". All whilst both have to consider not throwing the baby out with the bath water.


  7. Late to this post but this is a great looking scenario - I love scenarios that incorporate something other than the "line up and fight" format. I'm looking to play it from your scenario book but was having a bit of trouble sorting out how to handle the wagons. Orbats have them as three stands each but it looks as if you have represented each with one stand, possibly because of the length of the wagon stand? And the wagons have a significant FS so I assume the drivers can fight if necessary as you say in the notes. But what formations are available to them and how is this handled on the board?
    Thanks in advance for any help on this JJ. Looking forward to playing it out.

    1. Hi Bill,
      My idea, as mentioned in the notes, was to treat the wagons very much as limbered artillery, with all the disadvantages they would suffer if contacted in hand to hand combat.

      They have no formation, and can only move as a brigade, along the road purely as a potential target if the Allies can get near them, and note, lost wagons (ie the wagon train takes enough damage to break the brigade) will result in a lost scenario for the French. One idea Steve and I toyed with in the play-test was to add in the potential for a wagon to tip over or loose a wheel or something that could slow the whole progress down, but that would alter the historical play, as in reality the French got their wagon train all the way back to Oporto intact.

      The key idea behind the wagons is that, just in the actual action, they cause the French to have to fight a rear-guard and can't simply run off the table.

      Hope that helps


  8. It does help, thank you! I had noticed in the notes that the wagons move as limbered artillery but hadn't thought to extend that to how they would engage in combat.
    FYI my gaming partner, another Peninsular War enthusiast, and myself plan to play out most if not all of your scenarios from this book over the next while. I now have enough wagons to play this one, thanks to a scratch-building binge last week.
    You will have to save your tipped wagon idea for the Rio Côa engagement if you ever tackle that! That's one Peninsular battle that I have always wanted to try and write up myself some day.