Sunday, 21 October 2018

O'er the Hills, Early Peninsular War Scenarios - Up and Running

Last night the Kickstarter campaign to publish 'O'er the Hills' finished, raising £1,840 against the required £1,500 from 58 supporters of the book. Wow!, I was amazed to see that people who wanted to see the book published hailed from ten countries across the world, from the UK, US, Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Portugal. Thank you to everyone who backed this publication and I hope you enjoy the read and playing the games presented as much as Steve and I had in putting them together.

I thought in anticipation of the publication I would share some thinking about why this collection looks specifically at the time frame indicated as this has come up in other forums and it might help those that have not followed the blog to get an understanding of my thinking behind it.

The book is very much a culmination of the project started pretty much when the blog did, back in 2012 when I set myself a plan to put together a series of games looking at and recreating the early battles in the Peninsula of Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington.

Followers of the blog have seen the collection and a series of games unfold together with a focused look at the armies involved, their commanders and the individual units that participated in those early battles that reached a crescendo at the Battle of Talavera where Wellesley wielded the largest British army committed to the theatre so far.

Massed ranks of French infantry assault the British line during the Afternoon Attack scenario in O'er the Hills

The battle marks a watershed in the Peninsular War in that it was the last time that the main force British army operating alongside Peninsula allies would fight as a solely British force and that from 1810 onwards, the Duke of Wellington would lead an Anglo-Portuguese army organised in the divisional structure first used at Talavera, but with Portuguese brigades attached to those divisions.

This partly explains the cut off point for this particular book which sets out a series of engagements that I think shows the development of the British component of that Anglo-Portuguese Peninsula Army that Wellington would lead over the Pyrenees in 1814.

Of course the development of that British component was not entirely led by Wellesley and we have the period of oversight led by Sir John Moore who differed form Wellesley in that he never considered Portugal defensible from French incursion and a suitable operating base for conducting a war alongside the Spanish.

The Corunna play-test in full sway

His command was short lived when his plans to operate as an allied contingent alongside the Spanish evaporated as Napoleon carved through the Spanish armies and set Marshal Soult off in pursuit of Moore as he led his army north west towards an evacuation rendezvous with the Royal Navy at Corunna and where his death in battle led to the resumption of Wellesley's command.

The British army depicted in these early battles is very much re-learning battle skills lost since the close of the American War of Independence and grappling with a new drill book imposed following the disastrous campaign in Flanders led by the Duke of York prior to the turn of the century.

After the damaging retreat to Corruna and the shattered army that was repatriated back to the UK, Wellesley was left with a new army largely composed of second battalions and inexperienced troops and commanders as the cream of the British army that survived Corunna was shipped off to another disaster in the fever ridden dykes of the Walcheren campaign in 1809.

French columns thread their way forward through the trees at Casa de Salinas

As Sir William Napier described the poor British rearguard at Casa de Salinas just prior to the main battle of Talavera and the failure to set a proper picket line;

"We were by no means good soldiers in those days!"

Those were the guiding words that I had in mind whilst working on this set of scenarios and, I think, rather defines the British army of this early period that I have chosen to close on Talavera.

Veterans from Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstadt and Friedland

The army that marched back to Portugal after Talavera was quite different from the one that had fought in the earlier campaigns. They had gone 'toe to toe' with I Corps led by Marshal Victor and arguably the most powerful corps in the French Imperial Army at that time composed as it was of veterans from Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstadt and Friedland led by very experienced and capable commanders.

I Corps - Arguably the most powerful corps in the French Imperial Army

The two days of battle had exposed glaring weaknesses and poor command and control and a new realisation on the part of Wellesley about the reliability and capability of his Spanish allies.

The Spanish forces at Talavera - a question answered about their reliability and capability

However at the end of the battle the Anglo-Spanish army were left in control of the field with several captured cannon and casualties inflicted on the enemy that were significant and punishing even when set against the casualties suffered.

The 2/83rd - British infantry in line capable of delivering telling musketry accompanied by an irresistible bayonet attack

In addition the reliability and steadfastness of British infantry in line capable of delivering telling musketry accompanied by an irresistible bayonet attack had been thoroughly proved as a battle winning concept and would haunt French aspirations for the rest of the Napoleonic conflict.

The Portuguese - Relatively untried, but a formidable addition to the new army that emerged in 1810

The British army that would emerge the following year to contest the advance of Marshal Massena into Portugal, supported by relatively untried Portuguese allies operating to the same battle practises, now coupled with a commander free to give battle independently on terrain of his choosing, though not the finished article, was by far a much more potent force than that that had marched along the valley of the River Tagus the previous summer and marks a perfect new paragraph in the career of Wellington, as he now was, and the army that would develop under his leadership.

I hope this little post goes some ways to explaining my thinking behind this collection of scenarios as at first glance the casual reader might think why 1808-09 as a specific period to focus on and why not look across the war as a whole.

By looking at a narrower period in the conflict one is able to get a better feel for the army that was operating at that time and that principal applies equally to the French, Spanish, Portuguese and other minor forces involved.

In addition I have tried to look at some very familiar battles with a different slant and have attempted to model aspects that I wanted to see included that I feel captures the essence of those particular actions very much with the focus on trying to put the players in the 'hot seat', occupied by their historical predecessor who did not have the luxury of balance, points or force selection and had to make the best of the situation as it presented on the day with the forces he had.

My feeling is that playing an historical scenario is all about that comparison between the result achieved historically and that result achieved in the game as a marker of success or failure and there lies the intellectual challenge of this type of game. If in the process we can have some fun and learn to appreciate some of the challenges faced by these warriors from history then we have the basis of a good game.

The final caveat to this however is that I have put these scenarios together based on my own biases, based on the books I have read and the priorities I have chosen to model. I think I am not unusual in joining the ranks of all scenario writers, past and present, in saying, if you don't like something in a scenario, change it, as I certainly would, and if it seems to work and give a better feel for the battle as you see it let us know in the various forums so we can all have a go.

Finally I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have got behind this book with their support on the Kickstarter and also the very kind messages I have had from friends, people I know personally and those I have never met in person but have come to know through this blog and who share a passion for the hobby and the period. Those include many friends from the Carnage and Glory community and especially Nigel Marsh who has greatly influenced my thinking around the project as a whole and who provides an excellent computer moderated platform for players who would like to use the book with C&G II.

I should also extend a huge thanks to Adrian McWalter and Quinton Dalton for their input into creating this book and the rules 'Over the Hills' that Steve and I had a lot of fun playing them to. Thanks chaps for a great set of rules and your humorous support and approach to the hobby in general, I look forward to catching up at Legionary.

If you would like to know more about the book, the scenarios, the armies, my approach to the modelling or stuff regarding rules then drop a message on the blog.

Thanks you all and onwards and upwards



  1. Hi JJ I missed the kickstarter!? Is there any chance of me getting hold of a copy in any other way? :-)

    1. Hi Robert,
      Yes there is. I would drop a message on the Stand to Games page, I've attached the link, and I'm sure one of the chaps will get back to you. I know final stages are happening with the first print run for the Kickstarter orders

      Any problems then drop me a message either here or you can contact me privately via the Contact Form in the right column.