Sunday 27 October 2013

2nd Battalion of Detachments 1809

The 2nd Battalion of Detachments completes my 30th unit of British infantry and adds the second unit of these unusual formations organised when the need was at its greatest.

The following quoted from Robert Burnham's work,
"The 2nd Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward Copeson of the 5th Foot, and it too had enough men from different regiments to form them into separate companies. The soldiers from the 82nd Foot were in a company commanded by Captain Carew."

I have carried on with the theme established with the 1st battalion, by having the unit modelled to reflect the irregular character of the battalion (using figures from AB, Warmodelling and Campaign Game Miniatures) and use facings and models to capture the different battalions that went in to make it.

The following quoted from Robert Burnham's work,

"The effectiveness of the two battalions of detachments was perceived differently even at the same headquarters. In a General Order written in Badajoz on 22nd September 1809, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, wrote:
"The Commander of the Forces cannot avoid to express his regret upon losing the services of the two battalions of detachments, which are about to join their corps in England. . . He requests Lieutenant Colonel Banbury(sic), Lieutenant Colonel Copson and the Officers attached to these battalions, to accept his acknowledgement for the attention they have given to them." 

Charles Stewart, Wellington's Adjutant General, had a different opinion of their worth, when he wrote on June 15, 1809 to Robert Catlereagh, (Marquess of Londonderry) the Secretary for War:
"I wish these detachment battalions were replaced. I am sure they are the cause of great disorder -- no esprit de corps for their interior economy among them, though they will all fight. They are careless of all else, and the officers do not look to their temporary field-officers and superiors under whom they are placed, as in an established regiment. I see much of their indiscipline."

It should be noted that Wellington in his general order also mentioned that he had to remind them of proper conduct and when they returned to their parent units, the men were to ensure they behaved properly."

This unit gave me the opportunity to use one of the very "foppish" officers from the Warmodelling range, umbrella at the ready!
With the completion of these two battalions, it's back to the regular formations of the British and French armies for 1809 and finishing off some extras for the Corunna games planned for December on completion of Vimiero.

In addition to looking at the main action at Corunna, I'm rather inclined to try out some ideas around some of the rear guard clashes that occurred on the retreat between Sir John Moore's army and Marshal Soult's.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Vimeiro 1808 - Carnage & Glory II

Well the first Vimeiro game was played yesterday and much fun was had by all.

For regular followers of the blog, this game is the culmination of twelve months work putting together the units and terrain items necessary to re-fight a battle that saw about 20,000 British and Portuguese troops take on 13,000 French troops. The end result of the actual battle saw the convincing defeat of the French force although not complete as the British commander was restrained from pursuit. The French reported losses of about 1,800 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner of whom about 300 to 400 fell into the latter category. The Allies had far fewer losses at 720 officers and men with 131 men killed, 534 wounded and 51 missing.

My preferred set of rules, Carnage & Glory II, was set up to run the game. These rules, in my experience, really tick the "simulation vs game", box for me and once you understand the thinking behind the design, which Nigel Marsh happily explains in the rules and communication queries he receives from people like me, you really get the full on experience of just playing the tactics of the period rather than the game system. The computer takes on all the force/game management, allowing the commanders to direct the model units. The "granularity" I am looking for is all there, with numbers of men, ground scale, named officers, casualties in numbers of men with prisoners recorded separately, just perfect for a Napoleonic fan like me but still a game with all the entertainment value that description implies. Just because it provides a simulation doesn't stop it from being fun.

As an umpire, the pleasure of seeing events unfold on the screen that the commanders are very often unaware of at first, but soon experience as units start to react to situations, is a real delight. I know computer rules are not for everyone, and there is a time commitment involved in setting up the game, but I think that investment in time, after putting the models and terrain together, well worth it, and if you are in two minds about trying these rules, just give them a go.

So to the battle. The scenario "Vimiero Full Fat" is and has been available as a PDF down load in my downloads bar on the right column of the page for some time now and feel free to have a look to understand the set up and victory requirements. This was the first playing of this scenario and I learnt things from it which I will include in a second version of the PDF together with all the ID tags and other stuff I used to run the game. So if you do decide to do your own version you will have everything you need.

The map captured from Cyberboard showing the British hidden set up

Part of the set up for our game included the use of "blinds" to represent un-spotted brigades on the table. Given the British are staying out of sight behind a ridge and the French may attempt a flank march, this is quite a key element to simulate. However I decided that the British had a distinct advantage from their ridge line position in that they would see the French movements more readily and that their units behind the ridge should remain completely hidden with no blinds giving away their likely positions.

So I turned to my trusty "Cyberboard" software and transferred my game map to it and produced scaled blind markers to allow the British commander to place his blinds on the computer rather than the table as the French would do. The map above is a screen capture of that map with my additions of names and French direction of attack arrows to show you that initial set up From it you will see that Sir Arthur was concerned about a French flank attack and thus weighted his brigades more to the centre and his left to counter this threat with the Allied cavalry out of sight in the valley on the extreme Allied left. The flag placement is a simple way of indicating formation and facing. Thus if the flag is in the centre broadside on the brigade is in line facing that direction. If the flag is at the end of the marker, the brigade is in column of march facing in the direction of the position of the flag marker. Simples!!

The table interpretation of the map above looking to the North corner
I asked both commanders, Sir Arthur Wellesley (Steve H) and General Junot (Vince) to write a description of their battle plan. I have attempted to capture the salient thoughts of their plan in the style of the two very different historical counterparts.

Sir Arthur' s Plan:
So Gentlemen, as you know I don't hold much with French methods, and my plan is simple. Deploy behind the ridge line and wait for the French to crest the hill, then shoot them until they run away. I want all guns and light troops deployed forward, "woughing them up" as they come on.
Note; Sir Arthur, always a man of few words, shows his thinking in his deployment and the map above illustrates his concerns.

General Junot's Plan:
These Rostbeeefs always head for the boats at the slightest of attacks so we will have nothing to fear from being bold going forward. I intend to stretch the British line with an all out frontal attack on Vimiero Hill and the Eastern Ridge, relying on my Reserve Grenadiers to turn the British flank and roll them up. Vive L'Empereur.

General Loison's division was soon spotted by the British pickets as the French moved up the Lisbon road at 9.30am.
However the blinds on show indicate that the French numbers were not entirely confirmed.
With plans made, briefings complete we started play at 10.17am GMT or 9.30 am game time and the first French blinds were placed on and around the Lisbon road between points A and B on the map. The spotting process was simple. All blinds were automatically spotted within twelve inches of the ridge lines, it was assumed that British pickets and Generals would be observing from that position. Thus a d6 was rolled for ranges over twelve inches normally requiring a 3 or 4 to spot when first entering the table.

As the French advanced into the valley it became clear they were in force, supported by cavalry
The initial French moves revealed their intent to press the British right and centre, and with French troops seen heading to the British left, a flank attack had to be anticipated. Sir Arthur ordered General Acland's brigade (2nd & 20th Foot) to support Colonel Trant's Portuguese brigade off table and thus out of our scenario.

The 1/70me Ligne (unit 101), under GdB Brenier move into Toledo village with the 3/82me Ligne (unit 112) and the 3/32me Ligne (unit 111) of GdB Charlot off to their left approaching the outskirts of Vimiero.
The French forces of General de Division's DeLaborde and Loison supported by the cavalry of General de Brigade Margaron moved out towards Vimiero Hill and the Eastern Ridge. It became clear that the French commander had no interest in contesting Vimiero itself, contenting himself with the thought that defeating the British on the slopes around the town would force the garrison to quit its hard cover and narrow streets.

The Dragoons of GdB Margaron support the infantry of GdD DeLaborde
The first sign the French forces had of British positions were the placement of skirmish battalions and artillery batteries. The Royal Artillery striking first with round shot ploughing lanes through the French columns.

The voltigueur screen of the 86me Ligne (units 105 and 106) about to move up an on to the Eastern ridge above Toledo to their left.

Royal Artillery Battery B's medium six pounders support Fane's Light battalion as they screen Vimiro Hill

The first of many British round shot plough through the ranks of DeLaborde's infantry and on into Margaron's Dragoons
The first contact between the opposing skirmish lines occurred on the lower slopes of Vimiero Hill as the riflemen there started to pick off officers and NCO's in the French ranks as the advance pressed their positions.

As the French main force attack develops on the British right and centre, the British defence in depth becomes clear
As the French columns reached the foot of the hills and ridge lines the going became more difficult (the terrain was classed as disruptive) thus forcing the French to half speed as their columns struggled to maintain their dressing whilst moving over the broken ground, all the while being plagued by British skirmish fire and round shot.

The British Light battalions really fulfilled their role perfectly, withdrawing in the face of the French columns whilst skirmishing and then reforming behind the infantry lines behind. The only mishap occurring when Bowe's Light battalion was nearly caught by a sudden charge of French dragoons, and although near enough to its infantry supports to get clear, lost its nerve and lost several men as they threw down their arms and surrendered to the onrushing French cavalry. General Bowe's tried desperately to recover his Light Bobs, but they never got over this scare and dispersed to the rear.

The battle for Vimiero Hill in full swing with Fanes Rifle Brigade (60th Rifles, 95th Rifles) silently waiting the French advance with the skirmish battle getting very "up close and personal". The unit nearest to camera is the 1/32nd foot of General Bowe's brigade with the brigade light battalion ahead in open order.

General Margaron directs his dragoons to the left of Vimiero hill to help support General Solignac's infantry attack
The attack on Vimiero Hill was the first clash to reach a climax at about 10.15 game time the French columns met the British line as the two sides skirmishers retired to the rear. Thomas, my eldest son, home this weekend from University, was in command of the two British brigades on the hill and the two rifle battalions let rip with devastating volleys at close range. The two French battalions, 3/15me and 3/58me Ligne, reeled as they were struck each losing about 80 men each. As they staggered under this fire the riflemen charged forward and the French battalions broke back down the hill causing their supporting unit, 3/12me Ligne, to fall back in disorder.

Meanwhile the French dragoons supporting this attack charged in on the flank of the hill driving off and dispersing Bowe's Light battalion but being met by a volley from the corner of the square formed by the 32nd (Cornish) Foot losing about 30 of their number to French sabres but dishing out 60 casualties on the dragoons and forcing them to retire in disorder.

In the centre the French bring up the bulk of their guns to mass them on the Eastern Ridge, whilst the skirmish battle is in full sway.
Meanwhile the French attack was developing along the Eastern Ridge as the columns preceded by their skirmish lines trudged slowly up the slopes. They too were being subjected to British skirmish fire and round shot and tried desperately to drive off the British "Light Bobs" by shooting at their open order supports, but being in open order the British units sustained light casualties.

Behind the French infantry in this sector the French commander had decided to support his attack by massing his foot artillery. As always, attacking with artillery, especially foot artillery, proved how difficult it can be to get the guns into the action when required. Eventually an imposing gun line was set up on the spur of the Eastern ridge beside Toledo village, but a combination of the British brigade commanders keeping their lines back on the rear slope and French infantry impeding their gunners view of the action prevented this gun line having much effect.

The guns cannot advance until the French infantry have cleared the slopes of British "Light Bobs"
And so it was that British doctrine trumped French doctrine in that it was the French columns that arrived on the crest of the Eastern Ridge shocked and peppered by skirmish and artillery fire to be met by a steady imposing line of British redcoats. As an impartial observer I could almost feel the French commanders bracing themselves for the shock, having already experienced the repulse on Vimiero Hill. This time it was even worse!

The brigade of General Anstruther in two lines with the brigade light battalion forward in open order and the 2/52nd Light Infantry supporting the 2/9th nearest to camera. Further on the 97th Foot support the 2/43rd Light Infantry
As the 1/86me Ligne crested the ridge supported on their right by the 4me Suisse and on their left by the 2/86me Ligne they were met by a crashing volley from the 2/9th Foot of Anstruther's brigade killing and wounding about 180 French infantrymen in the front ranks. The 2/9th gave an immediate cheer and bore down on the hapless Frenchmen who to their credit attempted to form line. However the charge of the redcoats proved much too much and the 1/86me broke in rout down the slope.

The French commander ordered his two supporting battalions to charge at the same time. The Swiss battalion was having none of it and stood firm but would not advance without the General coming with them. The 2/86me Ligne just said "Non" and refused to charge.

General Anstruther in the centre of his brigade observes the French attack on his end of the line
The advance in the centre by the other brigade of General DeLaborde's division, General Brenier's brigade did not press its attack fully into the British line and had some success by forcing the RA battery to its front to limber and retire. The battery commander was slow in retiring his guns and the battery was caught by the 1/70me Ligne whilst pulling out, losing about 30 gunners and two guns in the process, but managing to rally in the rear under Colonel Robe's command.

By the time Brenier's brigade were getting close to being able to attack the British centre, both French flanks were in rout and retreat, with French General Officers galloping from unit to unit trying to restore order.

Royal Artillery Battery A supports the defence of Vimiero Hill (extreme right) with General Nightingale's brigade holding Vimiero

The attack on Vimiero Hill reaches its climax. The 5/60th Rifles (502), 2/95th Rifles (503) are supported by the 50th Foot (501) of General Fane's brigade

The French artillery is able to deploy as the infantry of GdB Thomiere press forward towards the British line
With turn 7, game time 11.00am the battle had turned in favour of the British and the arrival of General Kellermann's force on the road at point C did little to rekindle any French hopes of snatching anything positive from it. The British army was as steady as ever and with two brigades in reserve, and fresh, was in complete control of the situation.

As the Battle for Vimiero Hill develops General Margaron's (106) French Dragoons move out to the flank whilst General Solignac (109) observes the progress of his men

RA Battery A fire on the 3/32me Ligne (111) and the 3/82me Ligne (112) under the control of GdB Charlot (110) as they climb the Eastern Ridge above Vimiero
As the French Generals managed to halt the withdrawal of their infantry General Junot issued orders for a retreat back to Lisbon covered by the Dragoons and Reserve Grenadier Division plus their artillery. At this stage there was still an army to salvage and General Junot had decided discretion was the better part of valour.

The French break under the mass volley fire of the rifles on Vimiero Hill

General Anstruther steadies his men as the French cross the ridge line to meet a wall of Redcoats

The French attack all along the line as they feel for a weak point above Toledo village

The 1/78th Highlanders (518) calmly await the French as Lt Col Robe (510) oversees the withdrawal of Btty A RA (510) as they come under French skirmish fire.

The second wave of French dragoons sweep around Vimiero Hill as the French infantry falter in front of the Rifle Brigade and the first wave of dragoons falls back to regroup having met the 32nd Foot in square. The 32nd and 9th foot in square protect the flank of the line.

New arrivals! General Kellerman's Grenadier Division finally appears on the road at point C. Too little too late.

Colonel Taylor's Anglo Portuguese cavalry brigade (20th Light Dragoons & Portuguese Light Dragoons) supported by General Crauford's brigade (1/45th & 1/91st) hold the valley behind the Eastern ridge ready if needed.

The French attack breaks in front of Anstruther's position at Ventosa Farm, the 4th Swiss bottom left retire down the ridge

The French are stopped all along the line, with Junot and his staff desperately trying to control the morale of their men

Vimiero town never threatened by the French was securely under British control

With the attack on Anstruther stopped the French in the centre were looking stranded

One last French attack is stopped in its tracks
And so our game ended on Turn 8, 11.30 am game time, 5.30pm GMT and it was time for all concerned to assess the days events.

The game had run smoothly and once everyone had got use to the sequence of events, had moved along at a good pace allowing for four turns in the morning and afternoon with an hour's break for lunch.

The common consent was that Vimiero is very hard battle for the French to get anything from. The contempt for his enemy that Juno displayed together with a lack of adequate reconnaissance and being significantly outnumbered, forces our modern day French commanders to deal with a very unfavourable position.

The Reverse Slope Tactics modelled in Carnage and Glory and covered in a tutorial on this blog worked perfectly during the game and left our table-top commanders scratching their heads pretty much like Juno, Loison, Delaborde et al on how to overcome it. As Nigel Marsh mentioned in a comment to a previous post, "Carnage & Glory II, Peninsular War Training Mission" posted on the 28th of May this year, the French spent the Peninsular War thinking about ways of neutralising British tactics with limited success; Albuerra and Fuentes d'Onoro being battles where, by turning the British flank, they came close.

British Post Battle Summary

French Post Battle Summary

Victory Result
As mentioned at the start of the report, a simulation of events together with an entertaining day of war gaming was the objective. I think the events modelled, the casualties, and timings bear a very similar relationship to the historical event and I found myself remembering passages of books that I have read about the battle as the game events played out yesterday. As for the entertainment, well everyone said they had fun and the banter and laughs were as good as ever. So many thanks to Vince and Ian who led the French and to Steve H, Steve M and Tom who led the British for a very good day that will live long in the memory.

The game will have a second play next month with different commanders bringing their ideas to bear on the problem of beating the British in a Reverse Slope Defence. Once that game is completed I will release a revised version of the scenario.

Friday 18 October 2013

Vimeiro Set Up and Ready To Go

Hi all, I am really looking forward to tomorrow as the Vimeiro game is set up and ready to go. This game will be the culmination of twelve months work and I will be running it again next month.

As you will know, the last few weeks have been taken up getting the Generals and terrain finished off and I can now reveal on the eve of the game everything now done.

The table hasn't changed greatly other than the ridge line markers and the River Maciera added toVimeiro  town, with my new bridge from TimeCast Scenics.

The River Maciera with the new "TimeCast" bridge on the left
The table below shows both the French and British armies set out in their brigades. This is the first time both forces have been fielded complete and helps illustrate the size of these two armies. The figure scale for the game tomorrow is about 1:30.

The little sealed bags contain my new laminated order chits that I will be trying out for the first time. Carnage & Glory, like other rule sets, requires players to declare their charges and reactions together. The writing down of these declarations is a bit of a chore and so I have produced chits that can be placed next to the affected unit and turned over at the declaration phase. Of course some of them are dummies so no one will be quite sure what the other chap is intending to do.

In addition there are range sticks, fire templates and casualty markers to note units under movement restrictions due to morale reactions and all the unit labels are attached. Job done. Now I just have to get the catering arrangements sorted out.

As always a post and battle report on tomorrows game will follow with plenty of pictures to capture the action.