Sunday, 11 May 2014

Oporto 205th Anniversary Game

At last, the day had arrived, all the painting, planning and modelling was over and it was time to get the toys out on the table to recreate the events in Portugal two hundred and five years ago.

The Objectives:
Victory status would be confirmed by C&GII, Inconclusive, Minor or Major victory.
If the British/French achieve either or both their tactical objectives the British/French Victory status will be improved one level for each.

1. Hold the Seminary uncontested, by occupying the Seminary building with at least one unit under orders. 
2. Prevent the French from getting 50% (11) of their units off table.
(Note uncontested hold of the Seminary was defined as one of Foy's brigades being in charge range of the building for five turns during the game. After the five turns they were free to deploy elsewhere. The contested state would prevent further landings of British troops here).

1. Take the Seminary, by occupying the Seminary building with one unit under orders
2. Get 50% (11) of French units off the table under orders.

The French must get clear of the town by end Turn 11 (13.00)

Briefing over, it was time to put the first troops on the table

So the game started with most of the French troops and their commander Marshal Soult off table in their billets in Oporto town.

British Order of Battle

French Order of Battle

General de Brigade Foy
At 10.30, Turn 1, General Foy has spotted British troops under the command of General Paget entering the Bishops Seminary after using wine barges to cross over the Douro. In response, he has sent an ADC off to warn Soult at his HQ. At 11.00 am he is expected to arrive and wake the Marshal and avoid him thinking it is just the Swiss washing their kit by the river!

General Wellesley has positioned eighteen guns to be able to fire on French troops should they attempt to interfere with the landing, and he has detached Generals Murray and Cotton to take the KGL infantry and British cavalry up river to take advantage of a semi intact ferry. These troops are expected to arrive after about an hour

Hill's Light Bobs move out from the Seminary to skirmish with the 17e Legere
The game would be a further test of the C&G system as we had the French troops set up on "Defend" orders. This would pose a problem for General Foy as these orders prohibit troops from charging unless accompanied by a general officer and thus it would be difficult to initiate a coordinated attack immediately; as indeed it proved in the actual battle. Thus Marshal Soult once awake would have to issue more appropriate orders to his commanders and deal with the "friction" that might cause.

The 3rd and 48th Foot stand to in the grounds of the Seminary, as the British guns open fire
On Turn 2 (10.45), the 17e Legere and the Foot Artillery started to move out of Oporto to take up the fight with the British troops in the Seminary. They in turn were greeted by round shout from Wellesley's guns and skirmish fire from the British light bobs in the vineyards.

Marshal Soult tested to awake from his slumbers and meet with Foy's ADC, requiring a 4 5 or 6 and promptly rolled a 3!!

The 66th Foot having just landed make their way up the cliff path
Whilst things were hotting up on top of the cliffs, the 66th Foot were disembarking and struggling up the path from the landing point.

The 48th Foot secure the Seminary building
With turn 3 (11.00) Foy was able to call out his other troops, the 70e Ligne, to support the Legere and move out towards the Seminary. Meanwhile Soult attempted to stir himself needing to avoid rolling a 1 or 2 and promptly rolled a 2!!.

The 1/17e Legere move out to contest the Seminary
The 66th Foot got up to the Seminary wall just as the 17e Legere started to drive off the British skirmish line. The poor old 70e Ligne were getting a taste of the new British artillery round from Major Shrapnel.

2/17e Legere confront Hill's Light Battalion among the vineyards

Wellesley's guns open fire on French troops

The 66th approach the top of the cliffs
With turn 4 (11.15) the British were amazed to see the arrival of not only Stapleton Cotton with the cavalry, but General Murray and his infantry on the road off to the east. The French were now in very great peril and they needed Soult to react this move. Seeing the arrival of these British reinforcements caused General Foy to become more circumspect in his actions, as he was the only force capable of defending the only road out of town for the rest of the French army.

It was then that Marshal Soult became aware of the situation and calling for his aides sent immediate orders to his subordinates in the town. However Soult's delayed response and the prompt arrival of the British flank forces now put the French evacuation plan in great difficulty.

The 17e Legere push forward towards the Seminary

Stapleton Cotton leads his cavalry into action 

The British bridgehead is growing stronger by the hour
The British commanders became aware of the need to close down the French position whilst the advantage was with them, and so Cotton and Murray had their troops double time along the road. This would have consequences later with the fatigue levels generated, but time was of the essence and "getting there fastest with the mostest" became the imperative.

Turn 5 (11.30). The first of the French commanders started to respond to their new orders, with Franceschi and the cavalry brigades moving north of the city to get out into the open country. Generals of Division Merle, and Delaborde also responded and the 86e Ligne moved off towards the road out of town. General Foy received his orders to move to the attack and was now able to bring his troops forward to threaten the Seminary. General Reynaud got the 4e Legere into the warehouse quarter of town and pulled the 15e Ligne away from the docks. As the French troops pulled out, the townsfolk moved to the harbour and started to take their boats over to the British bank.

Foy's Voltigeurs attack the British light troops on the wall, with the 70e Ligne moving into position in the background

Turn 6 (11.45). Foy moved the 70e Ligne forward to contest the advance of the 66th Foot who were now directed to pressure the French troops in front of the Seminary. In addition Foy brought up his Voltigeur battalion which promptly charged their British opposites and drove them back from the wall lining the vineyards.

French Light cavalry started to appear north of the town supported by horse artillery that promptly unlimbered by the windmill on the hill ready to defend the French road north. The British light cavalry wheeled of the eastern road and formed line, whilst behind them the four KGL battalions laboured forward with their light battalion in open order among the cork trees.

Then General Reynaud became confused with his change of orders and halted his two brigades reverting back to his original defend orders. Marshal Soult noticed the halt and sent off another ADC to enquire of the General what the delay was.

The 66th Foot move up to attack Foy's troops

The 4e Legere of Reynaud's brigade moves into the warehouse quarter
Turn 7 (12.00). The tipping point of this battle was reached. The French were desperately struggling to get their troops on the road whilst maintaining their grip on the Seminary and also had to now counter the threat from the fast approaching British cavalry.

Foy's Command prepare to resist the 16th Light Dragoons

British Light Dragoons move off the road to threaten the French escape route
The British could see the slow response of their enemy and were now moving to take advantage of their discomfiture by attacking from the Seminary and using their cavalry to further disrupt their movement on the road, to give time for the KGL infantry to close up.

With the pull back from the waterfront and the movement of the French cavalry, the off table area was now open to British troops to land, able to move slightly quicker due to the aid given by the Portuguese civilians.

The KGL battalions of Sir John Murray's brigade move up behind the cavalry with their light troops acting as flank guard
As the opposing lines started to close with both cavalry formations drawing their sabres, General Reynaud decided to take time to aid his favourite ADC who had been wounded in the incessant British artillery fire; and so the 4e Legere and the 15e Ligne were staying put on orders to defend the town.
(Note C&GII provides these colourful explanations as to why events have occured).

However the British were also having challenges to deal with, in that orders could not be passed to Paget and Hill in the Seminary to start to attack, and so it would be down to General Cotton and his cavalry to assault the French position.

The 16th Light Dragoons prepare to sound the charge

The RFA and KGL batteries laboured all through the morning taking their toll on French troops as they attempted to escape
Turn 8 (12.15). The stage was now set to decide where the result of this battle was going. The charge orders were given, bugles sounded and the thunder of hooves could be heard though the billowing clouds of white gun smoke.

The 16th Light Dragoons, under the direct command of Major General Sir Stapleton Cotton, lead off for the British, charging Foy's Voltigeurs lining the vineyard wall under the direct command of General of  Division Delaborde. The Voltigeurs held their nerve unleashing a crashing volley in to the light cavalry bringing 42 of their number down. The cavalry staggered under the volley, recovered, and crashed into the light infantry lining the wall. The Voltigeurs were decimated, losing 200 of their number in the ensuing melee with many men throwing down their arms to surrender. General Delaborde narrowly missed serious injury himself with his closest ADC being killed in the action and he being carried away with the survivors.

From his vantage point Sir Arthur Wellesley was able to monitor the progress of his troops
Next to charge were the 14th Light Dragoons who fancied they could take out the French Horse guns protecting the road, they were very wrong! The French gunners coolly received the charge with a full battery fire of canister emptying close to 100 saddles, driving off the attack.

The 86e Ligne struggle to get clear of the Oporto suburbs
Alongside the 14th Light Dragoons, the 20th and 3rd KGL Light Dragoons, in line, tackled the French light cavalry who were in column due to space restrictions on their deployment. Things looked in favour of the British, but due to their having to double march to get in to a position to attack, the fatigue levels were three times in favour of the French. With a half hearted exchange of sabre cuts the French easily drove off their British opposite numbers.

Whilst General Reynaud's troops were held fast in the town, the good news for the French was that the 86e Ligne was working its way clear of the suburbs. Meanwhile the 66th Foot supported the attack of the 16th Light Dragoons by advancing on the 1/70e Ligne and volleying them, getting a return volley in response. However the 1/70e Ligne were now pinned with British Light Cavalry on its flank!

Battalions of the 4e Legere congest the roads out of town whilst under fire from the British guns
Turn 9 (12.30). On the face of it the French seemed to have got the best of the fighting in the previous fifteen minutes, with the bulk of the British cavalry falling back. However the cavalry action had bought time for the KGL infantry to move up in support. Infantry was an arm that was in short supply for the French as over half of their number was still in Oporto town.

Good news greeted the French command as General Reynaud got his act together and issued orders for his men to recommence the march. Was it a case of too little too late? Further into town the British landings were well under way, lead by Major General Sherbrooke and his Guards brigade, who now started to move out behind the town ready to support their KGL colleagues by attacking the road out from the other flank.

Franceschi's cavalry guard the road north

The 14th Light Dragoons charge the 12/1er Artillerie a Pied of Foy's brigade in an attempt to close the road. The 3/70e Ligne provide support behind their guns.
The 16th Light Dragoons had now regrouped and despite the casualties suffered in their fight with the Voltigeurs, bore down on the open flank of the 1/70e Ligne. General Foy had joined the battalion to encourage them in their battle with the 66th Foot and was utterly surprised by this assault from what had been a secure flank.

The Light Dragoons were irresistible, the attack left the battalion with barely 20 men who could bear arms and General Foy was carried from the field severely wounded. If that was not bad enough the 70e Ligne had lost the first Eagle captured by British forces in the Peninsular War.

The 66th Foot prepare to take on the 1/70e Ligne under the watchful eye of Sir Roland Hill. 
The attack of the 16th Light Dragoons seemed to literally "knock the stuffing out" of the French command. There was a need to refocus on the objective, namely getting half the available units off the northern road.

Marshal Soult's army started with 17 battalions of infantry (not including the combined light battalions), 4 cavalry regiments and 3 artillery batteries. At the moment only the cavalry, artillery and three battalions looked likely to get clear at the expense of the rest of the army. Still the result was in the balance and the next half hour would be critical.

With the cavalry now in support Hills brigade prepare to move out and attack

Marshall Soult oversees the rearguard and the retreat

As the British cavalry fall back from their unsuccessful combat with the French cavalry, the KGL infantry move in.
The 16th Light Dragoons are mopping up in the vineyard, top left.

Victorious French cavalry command the road
Turn 10 (12.45) As the game edged towards the close, the British had clearly inflicted enough casualties to gain a victory, but the question remained: could they convert the victory to an overwhelming one by restricting the number of French units able to get clear within the time limit?

I should say the 13.00 time point to end the game was selected because this was the end point on the day and the players were simply trying to get a better result than the historical one. In reality Soult's army was devastated in the pursuit and he was at least two moves ahead of our table top command, so it seemed a good measuring point.

Success! The 16th Light Dragoons led by General Cotton regroup after destroying the Voltigeurs and 1/70e Ligne capturing their Eagle and severely wounding General Foy

The Eagle of the 70e Ligne taken at Oporto by the 16th Light Dragoons

With absolutely no room for any "cock ups" in the French plan to pull out, guess who, General Reynaud decided to get confused with his orders and his troops again stalled in their retreat. The remains of the 70e Ligne and the 17e Legere were now in retreat as were the artillery assets. The French cavalry was drawn up as a rear guard. The 86e Ligne looked likely to be cut off by the Guards and KGL infantry. The French command conceded with 15 minutes remaining.

The French retreat falls into disarray as the troops begin to lose order

Turn 11(13.00). The various commands shifted position and exchanged fire, but this was only the last gasp of a French army that was now an army in name only. Marshal Soult would escape with barely half his force, probably having to abandon his guns in the retreat. General Foy, severely wounded, and General Reynaud would be captured. There was a rumour circulating that Reynaud had been the senior general involved in the Agenton plot.

The British Guards arrive behind their screen of light troops ready to close of the escape road

Trapped in the confusion, the 4e Legere are stranded in the town suburbs still under artillery fire

Our game ran very close to the historical outcome, differing in two key events, namely the timely arrival of General Murray, and the late response of Marshal Soult to the news of the British landing. That half hour made all the difference in that it removed the time to deal with the friction events, such as General Reynaud's command becoming confused in the retreat. It also caused Foy's command to move to the defence much earlier than occurred historically as it became the rear guard to keeping the escape route open.

C&GII played as well as ever, with the added fun of seeing the command and control friction from the need for both sides, principally the French, to change the orders of their commands. As wargamers we often think that it should be straight forward in changing the orders of our Divisions and Brigades, but that in reality it was something you would wish to avoid particularly once the shooting had started.

Mid Battle picture, left to right Ian (Cotton & Murray), Nathan (Wellesley), Yours Truley (Gamemeister), Chas (Soult) and Tom (Foy)
The team for our 205th anniversary game are pictured above. We played from 9.30am to 6pm on the day, with lots of laughs and banter. Thanks to Ian, Nathan Chas and Tom for making this game one to remember. Cheers Guys.

[W] denotes No Advance
[R] denotes Halt or Retire
[Y] denotes Routing
[D] denotes Dispersed and removed from the field

The next replay is set for 1st of June


  1. I have really enjoyed reading on your blog as you prepared the various units for this game. As I said on TMP, just the visual spectacle of it was fantastic.

    1. Hi Brian, thank you. If I had the kind of space you are working with this game would have been in 28mm.

      Thanks for your comment

  2. Great report and wonderful looking game. Congratulations.


    1. Cheers John, glad you enjoyed it


  3. Great stuff I've been looking forward to this and really enjoyed it thankyou! :) all you hard work has paid off in a really inspiring game :)

    1. Hi Robert, thanks for your comment. I have really enjoyed putting this together and playing it so if other people have enjoyed it, that's even better. I still have to more plays to go before we March South to Talavera

  4. Fantastic BatRep, Jonathan, and stunning terrain! What are your intentions with the custom layout? Are you planning to reuse it or was this a one-off venture!

    Poor Soult and command and control issues. The demise of many a general.

    1. Hi Jon, thanks mate. I keep being asked the "what are you going to do with it after" question by friends and family. On balance, I'll probably put it into storage as I think the replay value of the scenario might be high enough to pull this one out occasionally as the odd Xmas game.

      Yes I really felt for my French commanders who struggled all day to cope with problems that were not of their own creation. C'est la guerre.

    2. Looking forward to seeing your forthcoming replays. In my mind, your Oporto layout would work quite well in recreating the Battle of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham. Really an outstanding piece of art and one that I would utilize as often as possible.

    3. Hey Jon, that's a very good idea. I might have to get a few of those Blue Moon French Indian War figures and do a Quebec game

  5. Absolutly wonderful! That's a tremendous report, with a beautiful terrain...great work!

  6. Great stuff, Jonathan. Nice to see all of your hard work finally come together.

    1. Thanks Bill, it's not entirely finished yet as the Seminary model is yet to appear. I'm hoping it will make it's debut in the June game

  7. Great write up and pictures. The table rocks as always. Always love reading the after action write ups for your games. When is the next battle scheduled?!

    1. Hi AP, thank you for your comment, I'm glad you liked it. We all had a great time, even the French struggling to get outa town.

      You missed my strap line

      We have the next game planned in for June 1st and I'm hoping to have the Seminary model ready in time for the game.


  8. What a marvellous looking game and a fine blow by blow account. Such a great culmination of all that planning and preparation. Thanks Jonathan

    1. Hi James, thanks mate. We had a great day and there are still two more play tests to come plus the Seminary model debut.

      Glad you enjoyed it

  9. A very well written up report and terrific pictures and terrain. All the time and effort put into developing it paid off. Maybe do a refight and have the players switch sides?

    1. Hi Vl'E, thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed it. The next game is set for June 1st and the guys in the last game came up with some really good tweaks on the tactical objectives to encourage the French to get agressive with the Seminary. I'd like to play again with changed sides but I''m trying to give a game to as many people as I can. Once Oporto is done, after July, it's on to Talavera.

  10. I've only just caught up with this post. Absolutely brilliant! Well done to you and all involved!

    1. Hi JR, no problem, I know the feeling. Thanks for your comment. Next refight planned for June 1st.