Sunday 25 February 2018

With Zeal and with Bayonets Only, The British Army on Campaign in North America - Matthew H. Spring

I think I first became interested in the American War of Independence when introduced to the period in history at school somewhere around age fourteen or fifteen in the early seventies. I remember our history teacher, Mr Colclough, outlining the campaign of General Burgoyne setting off from Canada along the lakes, planning to meet up with an army from New York under General Howe and with the plan to see the Americans, under General Washington, surrounded and surrendered, thus ending the war in 1777, game set and match.

Then we went through how things didn't quite turn out that way and a description of the terrain and the differences between the two armies, and I think it was then that I started to imagine what battles must have looked like during that time and perhaps some of the first sparks and embers of the historical wargamer today were generated at that time.

Thus it was, with some pleasure, that I read that Matthew Spring, as well as holding a History Ph.D. from Leeds University, teaches history down here in the south west at Truro School and my early memories of interest in this period came flooding back.

I well remember the 1976 bicentennial of the war here in the UK and still have my copy of 'Redcoat' by Scotty Bowden, my first introduction to wargaming the period, which has been added to over the years, culminating most recently with C&G II and Maurice.

The Battle of Bunker Hill, Howard Pyle 1897 "Stiff backed automatons"

Of course a lot of myths have grown up around this war that has typically portrayed the combat between stiff backed, automaton like, British redcoats, marching in line into the teeth of massed American musket and canon fire from behind sturdy bulwarks; or tricorn, long tail-coated redcoats feebly picked off by rifle wielding American militia making best use of cover, all of course based on elements of truth but overblown into a representation of the combats as a whole and giving the impression of a rigid, unadaptive British military system.

This misrepresentation of the combat in general and British tactical methods in particular has, as Spring points out, only been exacerbated by a catalogue of "chauvinistic and self-congratulatory" collection of "colourful campaign and battle narratives" written in the main, by non-academic historians, selectively choosing patriot accounts of a limited selection of mainly British defeats whilst ignoring the accounts of British, Provincial and German eyewitnesses.

The situation has been remedied in recent times with a new generation of academic historians re-analysing the historical record and ditching the second hand accounts to produce more rounded and detailed accounts that Spring has referred to in this, his analysis of British, Provincial and German battle tactics.

As a student of British Napoleonic period tactics I found myself making comparisons with those described in Spring's book by the generation that preceded it and the one thing that immediately struck me is the large disparity in first hand accounts by British, in particular, soldiers, be they ordinary ranks or officers compared with the Peninsular War. This, I would suppose, is not entirely surprising when you consider the first was a war lost and the reluctance of those concerned to highlight their service during it, which leaves the gap we have in the record and the importance of close analysis of the few accounts we do have.

Again with my 'Napoleonic' era hat on, I have spent a lot of reading time looking at the development of the British volley and charge system that stood the 19th century redcoat in such a commanding position on the battlefield during the first half of that period, ranging from Alexandria to Balaclava. 

It was during the first decades of the 18th century illustrated by the instructions given to the 20th (East Devon) Foot, in 1755,  by General Wolfe and as discussed by Spring, developed during the American War of Independence (AWI) that you see the early incarnation of this tactic.

Spring describes how General James Wolfe instructed the 20th to maintain their silence so as to better hear the instructions of their officers, a tactic that also unnerved many attackers sensing the destructive fire that awaited them as the range closed, then to have the shock of the fire amplified by the cheer that accompanied the charge.

"The battalion is not to halloo or cry out upon any account whatsoever, although the rest of the troops should do it, until they are ordered to charge with their bayonets; in that case, and when they are upon the enemy, the battalion may give a warlike shout and run in." 

and when instructing them in how they should deliver their fire he went on:

"there is no necessity for firing very fast; a cool and well-levelled fire with pieces carefully loaded, is much more destructive and formidable than the quickest fire in confusion."

The really interesting aspect for me was Spring's explanation as to the adaptation of these principals of fire and bayonet developed by the likes of  Cumberland at Culloden, Wolfe at Quebec and later by others with the almost relegation of firing in favour of a quick decision with the steel. I was not as clear on this distinction in tactical methods during the American War as with the other theatres and it was a revelation for me to see the analysis that backed up this assertion and the logic that underpinned it.

In simple terms, the size of the army available to the 18th century British general and its limited scope for replacing losses meant that there was a need to avoid costly fire-fights with an enemy that was very capable of engaging in destructive fire particularly from cover. This coupled with the rebel troops inability to take on the redcoats with the bayonet, particularly among the militia and riflemen encouraged tactics that allowed the rapid closure to contact that would limit the amount of firing in favour of casualties to the enemy once broken by the British charge. 

This tactic could only be enabled by some other 'American adaptations' which saw the British troops adopt, what would become their 'trademark formation', the two deep open order line with 18" or more between files to facilitate rapid movement over broken terrain and, with a lack of enemy cavalry to disrupt such an approach, a viable tactic for the theatre. In addition it became necessary to avoid allowing the rebels to conduct their defence from hard cover and so we see the British developing their flanking attacks to unhinge American positions and drive the rebels into more open ground where the bayonet charge could be delivered more effectively.

These tactics served the British command well in the early period of the war, following the lesson delivered at Boston, and nearly delivered the war winning battle defeat deemed necessary to force Washington and the Congress to negotiate a peace, when Howe skilfully outmanoeuvred the former at Long Island and had several opportunities to bag a large proportion of the Continental Army.

However in a war where the British were on the wrong end of a very long supply line, needing a decisive victory on the field of battle, further complicated by a huge overestimation of the support for the Crown within the colonies, the longer the conflict continued the more likely that the situation would become untenable by rebel improvements in their own tactics and abilities.

Thus we see Washington adopt a 'Fabian' approach to dealing with the British in the north, avoiding battle unless on favourable terms and engaging the enemy in a destructive small war, whilst with operations shifting to the south we see the weaknesses in British tactics and abilities amplified with the smaller but more effective rebel units now benefiting from better training and a sizeable and renewable cadre of veterans better able to neutralise the British bayonet charge by combining a defence in depth in broken terrain, supported by their own light cavalry.

Tarleton's follow-up after the Battle of Camden, a rare example of a destructive British cavalry pursuit 

The position in the south also revealed the two glaring weaknesses in British tactics, covered up in the early period, first a lack of cavalry and light cavalry in particular, better able to finish off a beaten enemy and destroy his army in the pursuit and the gradual degrading of British skirmish and light infantry capability as the light infantry evolved into an elite heavy infantry better able to deliver a formidable bayonet attack rather than act in a screening role as expert light infantry.

Spring goes through clearly, why these deficiencies occurred and how they were taken advantage of, particularly in the south, where the enemy excelled in both departments and that enabled them to neutralise the threat of the British redcoat whose abilities remained as formidable as ever. 

Spring's description of British, Provincial and German tactics, and it is important to add that distinction as each was a variation on the common theme, namely how to adapt to the terrain and the enemy, not only shows 'the how' but just as importantly for understanding, 'the why' the tactics used were chosen. This when matched with the numerous examples of battles won and battles lost really gives a vivid interpretation of those tactics and I found the book a compelling read.

I think for me, the stand out message from this book was that the British forces and their commanders responded in the main quite well with their adaptations to dealing with the enemy in the circumstances they were presented with. The war was always going to be difficult to win on the battlefield alone even with the vast majority of the population trying to stay out of the conflict, but without Crown troops to protect them often coerced into declaring their allegiances by a very energetic rebel militia that backfilled the territory vacated by the opposing field armies.

That said the British forces almost fought the war to a stalemate with the French nation bankrupted by it and eager for a resolution and with little prospect for that war winning engagement up to Yorktown, and indeed if the Battle of the Saintes had occurred before Yorktown, perhaps Washington may not have had French allies to cooperate with.

Admiral Sir George Rodney's victory at the Battle of the Saintes came too late to reverse the outcome of the American War of Independence

Even then, the hostility generated towards the Crown during the conflict would probably have lead to another soon after the conclusion of the first, assuming the British had achieved a negotiated settlement, and the growing demands of empire would most likely have overstretched British capabilities for fighting another such war.

The plaudits for this much needed analysis are many and copious in their praise and I would echo many of them. 

From an historical wargamers perspective, eager to bring the historical reality into their games, the book is a must read to gain a thorough understanding of the ability and limitations of the British forces involved in the conflict and I would highly recommend getting a copy for your library. Mine is a former library hardback edition in a protected dust jacket and now has pride of place among my AWI tomes.

The layout is straight forward and logical, with eleven chapters following the Preface and Acknowledgements:

  1. The Army's Task
  2. Operational Constraints
  3. Grand Tactics
  4. March and Deployment
  5. Motivation
  6. The Advance
  7. Commanding the Battalion
  8. Firepower
  9. The Bayonet Charge
  10. "Bushfighting"
  11. Hollow Victories
The chapters are supported by fifty eight pages of notes providing details of the sources quoted and this is further supported by twenty two pages of Bibliography source references.

Finally there is a comprehensive fourteen page index to rapidly find the quotes, some of which I have used in this post, that you will find most useful the next time you find yourself sense-checking a particular rule set to see if it lives up to the latest thinking on the subject.

Recommended reading

Tuesday 20 February 2018

JJ's Dark Age Collection

As anyone who has been following the blog over recent months, will have noticed that in between the posts about trips to Holland and Over the Hills play-tests, there has been a collection quietly building in the background.

Viking Hirdmen
Dark Age Warriors
Saxon Thegns

Things got started back in September last year, but the inspiration to get this collection built can be traced back to our trip to York last June with all the Viking inspiration that city can generate coupled with a re-visit to Dux Bellorum as a potential rule set to use.

Devon Wargames - Dux Bellorum

My Saxon (nearest to camera) and Viking hosts all sabot based up and ready to go

Whilst putting this lot together I had to start thinking about storage and basing, the first consideration has seen me join the rest of wargaming humanity by purchasing my first set of Really Useful Boxes together with some inserts from Warbases to carry multiple layers of figures in the nine litre boxes.

Warbases RUB Inserts

The Viking collection complete with its motley band of archers
When not in transit I plan to put these chaps in the room display cabinets, but hopefully two nine litre RUB's will carry this lot, the rules, a bit of terrain and markers.

With opposing forces mustered I now need to start thinking about terrain

The other consideration was basing which ended up with me using the six figure rectangular sabot bases for heavy infantry, be they warrior or shield wall and the three frontage skirmish bases for my light troops.

One last part of the plan was putting together a few Saxon and Viking helmeted warriors together with some suitably styled shields which will act as markers on my generic warrior bases to indicate the team they are on. That way I can mix and match my warriors between my Saxon and Viking forces as the scenario dictates.

The bulk of these figures are Gripping Beast plastics and I have enjoyed working on them

In time, I plan to add a few other pieces to this core collection including a few mounted types and eventually another group from the ninth century like some Welsh to represent the groups down in the far west country.

Alongside the warriors I want to get some casualty figures to sprinkle about the table as required and I thought a few civilian types including the odd monk or priest would make a nice addition.

The Saxons can field a strong armoured component together with slinger and javelin skirmishers

The Viking collection is configured to allow a raiding or army set up under Dux Bel.

Whilst adding bits at last November's Warfare show I invested in a lovely looking Celtic cross from Trevor Holland at Coritani/Magnetic Displays.

Celtic Cross Painted or Unpainted

I think the cross should serve as an interesting objective marker.

The archers were picked up at Warfare last November

The Viking archers are metals from the Gripping Beast range and are supplied with loose bows.

These are Gripping Beast metals which work well with the plastic ranges

The Saxon skirmishers are built from the Dark Age Warrior plastics using javelin or slinger options

In addition to other figures the shopping list also includes getting a range of Dark Age buildings and a timber wall to do some attacks on Burghs with a few scaling ladders thrown in for good measure.

Having visited Lydford a few years ago, which was a Royal Mint back in the ninth century and actually beat off a Viking attack against its walls, I fancy trying to build a scenario around it.

These chaps should allow for the annoyance factor in any Dux Bel game

I also intend to add a lot more banners, and thanks to Ray Roussel for making available some of his own designs. They really are nice and add a bit of variety to the LBM produced options. I just need to put a few more standard bearers together, so that is on the list as well.

A few extras were added to the collection including this downloadable Viking banner from Ray Roussell's blog - cheers Ray
Don't Throw a One - Viking Flags

My Celtic Cross, my first piece of period terrain

With this project now done I now just have one smaller one to attend to, namely a couple of sections of 28mm Fallschirmjager and a certain famous Captain in the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard who will be gracing the table at this summer's trip to Chez Chaz for our north Devon big game and then I can finally turn my attention to the big project, the Romano-Dacians which I am really looking forward to getting stuck into.

Saturday 17 February 2018

North West Frontier, British and Indian Army Campaigns on the North-west Frontier of India 1849-1908 - Captain H.L. Nevill (1912)

Another book from my personal library which judging from the bookmark I must have started reading it long ago but never quite finished so I read it again over the summer, the review however has taken this long to write as it’s a tricky one to do.

You see the book is of its time and so some of its style is no longer deemed acceptable today, I am afraid the N word and T word is used extensively throughout (that’s Natives and Tribesmen) and the evil British Imperialists impose their oppressive western values on the indigenous Hill People by not allowing them to follow their long held traditions of coming down from the mountains and killing and stealing whenever they feel like it.

Fortunately we now live in more enlightened times.

The territory covered in this book is most of modern day Kashmir and the mountainous region that borders Afghanistan, an area which the British had absolutely no intention of taking over as they were quite happy sticking to the nice flat bits. Recent misfortunes in Afghanistan had reinforced their desire to leave well alone as it was clearly far more trouble than it could ever be worth. Also most of this area was nominally subject to Afghanistan anyway but even nominally is stretching the point.


The book itself can be split roughly into two eras, up to 1890 the trickiest part of any punitive expedition was tracking the enemy down so that you could punish the raiders, from around 1890 it got a lot more dangerous as the tribes now had access to European style weapons in greater numbers.

Tribesman with Enfield Rifled Musket

What this book gives you is a run down of every campaign that went into this area (around 27) and it gives the force compositions, the objectives and a description of the events, quite often these are small affairs but there are some large proper campaigns interspersed between the punitive actions. Any estimate of the enemies forces are just that, estimates but I don’t think that really matters for wargamers wishing to re-create some of the events. After each mini campaign there is a review of what went right and what didn’t and is an excellent feature as the authors conclusions are well thought through. You also get the old style good quality hand drawn sketch map that covers each expedition.

Mountain Battery CRF

For example: The Mahsud Expedition 1894-1895 was split into three columns, each battalion /company that took part is listed and in which column it was in, the reason for the expedition is given, then the proposed route for each column and an outline of events for each, any casualties incurred (especially officers) and any terms imposed, it ends with the return journey which was quite often more eventful and finally a review on its successes and failures.

35th Sikh Regiment of Bengal Infantry Malakand Field Force repelling an attack by tribesmen 1897

Over time the British get pulled more and more into the area and start to leave garrisons behind in key points, these now become the centre for attacks and there are a few quite interesting little sieges and therefore forces have to be hurriedly cobbled together to march to their relief.

Chitral Fort 1 plan

The siege of Chitral is an interesting case , there is a description of the fort and its location, then the garrison is outlined giving of course the names of all Europeans involved, there were 99 Sikhs from the 14th Sikhs and 301 Kashmir Infantry with 100 civilians. Exact number of rounds for each type of rifle is given along with various supplies, the number and location point of guards and reasons given for any alterations plus as time goes on ammunition usage is updated and the number of rifles still serviceable. Obviously a full description of all the events is given and then the composition of the relief forces and the extreme difficulties it experienced whilst trying to cross the high mountains and the actions they fought to get there just in time.

Sikhs carry the guns

There are even a couple of full scale night attacks against various British camps which usually causes great confusion, this from the Malakand Field Force 1897

“a second attack was made on the camp, at 9 pm a volley was poured into the camp followed by a rush of swordsmen from several directions, covered by the fire of others….. the engagement lasted until 2 am when the moon rose."

Attack on Nawagai Camp on 20th Sept 1897
Nawagai attack Major Hobday RA

Scattered among the bigger stories are small scale actions with handfuls of men who have been cut off or surprised and which usually don’t end well, ideal for some of the newer rules sets out that cover Colonial skirmishes.

The black mountain expedition ghazi attack on an advanced post at Ghazikot by P Naumann 1

The final chapter is a little odd, it’s a look into the future and how technological advancements could affect Imperial control over this area, better weapons and communications, obviously, improved mobility for the troops naturally and air vessels of course, once they became reliable that is. Finally he foresaw great things for the Mono-Rail recently demonstrated at the Brennan Torpedo factory in Gillingham in 1910, I wonder what became of that. (actually the Brennan torpedo is quite interesting in itself)

Brennan Monorail

Last of all are a number of appendices, The Field Orders issued by Brig Gen N.B Chamberlain are quiet enlightening but is it really necessary to point out that a doolie and a kajawah should accompany the rear guard, it’s not something that you would expect an experienced officer to forget surely. Next is a list of all the regiments that served and the campaigns that they took part in which is very useful and finally an Index.

Gordon Highlanders at Malakand Pass 1896 by SW Lincoln

For anyone with any interest in the North West Frontier and especially those wanting ideas for games then this book is extremely useful, as a general history reader myself I liked it as the actions are well written and the overall tone is quite well biased for the times.

I forgot, at the start there is a brief description of the tribal areas that this book covers and also the individual tribes that inhabit each bit, there is also an indication of their relevant fighting strengths.

One last anecdote from the mopping up after the Chitral campaign:

“The enemy withdrew and Munda was occupied, during a search a letter was found from a Scotch firm in Bombay to the Khan offering to provide all types of arms and ammunition from maxim guns to revolvers, luckily the benevolent intentions of this patriotic firm were discouraged and the firm in question has recently transferred itself to Cairo”

Major Neville didn't make it off the beach at Gallipoli.

Readable pages: 383
Best price as of 9th Feb 2018: £13.43 from ABE Books

Abebooks -North West Frontier

I eventually found it using the ISBN number. 1-871085-10-1

This has been a Mr Steve presentation.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Meare Heath Bow, 2,600 BC

The collection of bows and a replica bronze age period sword - with the replica Meare Heath Bow, right of picture

Meare Heath Bow Replica by Hilary Greenland

A couple of weeks ago I got a chance to handle and shoot a replica of the oldest bow discovered in England, in fact down here in the South West of England on the Somerset Levels on Meare Heath near Glastonbury. The original piece is now housed in Taunton Museum which is on my must visit list so I will hope to do a follow up to this post in the future.

A friend of mine, Che, invited me to come and loose off a few arrows to see what it feels like to shoot this amazing piece of living archaeology.

As I've written before, the hobby of historical wargaming relies heavily on a good understanding of the facts that underpin it, which is why battlefield walking, reading and research into a particular period and looking at the artefacts and weaponry we attempt to illustrate with our models and re-enact with our games adds a multifaceted aspect that makes the hobby so interesting.

Interestingly I am in the process of putting a unit of Viking archers together to compliment my Viking and Anglo-Saxon period forces that have been posted about here on the blog and so having a chance to experience, first hand, the practicalities of using these weapons, originally built for hunting and putting food on the table but then utilised en mass as a weapon of war was an informative experience.

It's not only historical wargamers who are influenced by history as occasionally the film and TV companies go to some lengths to bring historical accuracy to their shows as the Meare Heath Bow copy used in 'Game of Thrones' illustrates, but let's not delve too deep into that statement as I might end up writing a different post!

Meare Heath Bow copy in 'Game of Thrones'

The bow is a powerful shoot and has the pull to rival the great English long bow, however its beautiful propeller blade shape would have prohibited easy mass production required for a weapon of war, hence the long straight yew bows as illustrated in my post about the finds on the Mary Rose.

Mary Rose

I was wearing the full protective wrist guard and leather glove when shooting the bow at a target board and the rattle of the fingers as the arrow shaft passed through them on release left a telling numbness to the fingers, which only grew with multiple shots.

Firing at a target board backed by rubber tyres some ten yards away, and bearing in mind I am not a skilled archer, saw the arrow shafts penetrate up to a third of their length, showing what similar weapons could do when shooting straight at the body mass; the memories of standing on Towton Moor last year came flooding back and imagining the terrible carnage inflicted there.

Battle of Towton - 29th March 1461

In deed we also had a go with the smaller but no less impressive yew bow seen in the centre of the top picture, which was a much easier and handier weapon to wield, and would have served equally well in the hunting or battle setting.

The other aspect of using these weapons is the speed that arrows can be nocked, aimed and shot in an easy rapidity.

As seen below, Che also has a fine collection of period arrows that would have been used by these earlier hunter-gatherers and needless to say these were not the type we were messing about with on the day.

The workmanship on the flights is truly an amazing sight and illustrative of the skill of these early people.

Meare Heath has now been restored to the watery landscape that would have characterised much of the levels at that and previous times, forming a perfect landscape for hunting. Having seen and used Che's replica I feel the need to go and walk the area to complete the impression of the early Britons who lived in this part of the world so long ago.

Next up we have a book review from Mr Steve and I will be reporting on my trip to Roman Corinium amongst other things and the Saxon/Viking collection is almost finished bar finishing off six sabot bases before the parade shot.

Sunday 11 February 2018

Maurice - AWI Test Game

Following our game of Maurice last month, using Martin's 10mm Seven Years War collection, Steve and I decided to get back up to speed with this favourite rule set by playing with Steve's 15mm collection.

For our game Steve picked up the game we played back in 2013 and used the same force mix and cards with yours truly taking the British and Hessians - see the link above.

The start positions for our game

As you will see the British were on the attack with a small hill in the centre of the American line as their objective.

Notables an idea to further develop?

One thing I always wanted to change with Maurice was the inclusion of brigade and/or divisional commanders. I really miss seeing the various levels of command represented and so wanted to play an idea to represent them and using them as part of the activation process.

So in this game you will see other commanders on the table testing out this idea, but I was keen not to fundamentally change the way Maurice plays as the simple but beautifully crafted system is what makes Maurice one of my favourite rule sets.

You could argue that Notables provides some of this layer of command but they have a lose affiliation with any troops they command and don't quite provide that command structure modelling that I am looking to include.

The British ready to advance with a Hessian brigade nearest and a British brigade on the other side of the road supported by guns and cavalry

Thus in the game we modified activation to be based on a command structure with groups of regular or irregular troops to be commanded by a brigade commander, leaving troops such as artillery and cavalry under the direct command of the CinC.

We also continued the use of formation to determine force type which encouraged brigade commanders to try to keep their respective battalions in the same formation and the same terrain to allow multiple activations.

The Americans holding the hill with two continental brigades and the militia on the flank

We treated our brigade commanders as another unit in terms of providing a point to which the CinC could assess his range to a given brigade for command purposes and played that if two brigades in the same formation remained in command range of one another the CinC could activate multiple brigades together.

This simple change immediately created the command feel of looking to keep commanders in range of the CinC rather than groups of units and thus a more recognisable chain of command.

The British close with both infantry brigades staying in the same formation and linked for command. Where did that marsh come from!

The game produced a bit of a drubbing for the British as my British brigade became hung-up on the marshy terrain which caused the attack to stall and cause my forward units to get engaged in an unequal fire-fight.

This card only added to British woes

I soon lost my Guards and a British line battalion around the bog for which for the loss of a Continental unit and a militia battalion were little compensation and with my Hessians trying to get back the initiative by attacking the militia, soon found my right being counter-attacked by multiple battalions of Continentals.

The British are forced to review their plan of attack after discovering unfavourable terrain in front of the American position 

As always the command strain meant little opportunity to bring up my guns and I was soon running short on cards with not much respite to risk a pass to regroup my hand. If an attack could go more badly wrong it is difficult to think of one and so my book of  'I wont try that again' memoirs was increased by another hard earned experience.

The Hessians take the fight to the militia

The simple change to include the extra command layer seemed to work well with little change in the mechanics and now encourages the thought to turn these commanders into a type of notable with characteristics that will enhance or detract from the troops they command rather like the notables but with a distinctly AWI feel.

So we were thinking of characters like 'No Flint' Grey adding a plus to troops in hand to hand combat or General Greene adding to the capabilities of irregulars, etc etc.

I think I might produce my own set of brigade notable AWI characters - more anon.

With two battalions of British infantry destroyed in the centre, the Americans counter-attack the British right flank

Thanks to Steve for a fun evening and so nice to get reacquainted with AWI and Maurice.

Next up a book review from Mr Steve, my bows and arrows, the Dux Bellorum collection gets finished and my review of With Zeal and with Bayonets Only.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

Over the Hills Playtest - Rearguard at Grijo

This final scenario play test carries on where the previous 'Retreat from Albergaria' left off and is designed to allow both to be linked up.

Retreat from Albergaria

General Franceschi skilfully fended off the British pursuit and the French troops marched overnight and up the Lisbon road to join forces with General Mermet's troops positioned in the hills covering the road at the little village of Grijo.

To quote Napier:
The French were posted across the road on a range of steep hills, a wood, occupied with infantry, covered their right flank, and their front was protected by a village and broken ground, but their left was ill placed."

The road leading to Oporto with the village of Grijo astride it

As before, a key responsibility of the French command was to ensure safe passage for Marshal Soult's baggage wagons as well as getting the bulk of the French force safely back across the River Douro and into Oporto to join the rest of the army.

The countryside characterised as rolling hills with small open woods

This second scenario differs in that the Anglo-Portuguese crossed the River Vouga below Albergaria and regrouped before setting off in pursuit of Franceschi, now with flanking columns of infantry looking to cut in behind the French as Wellesley attempted to pin them with a close pursuit using the bulk of the allied army.

The picture below shows the two forces arrayed with the French preparing to move out through Grijo and with Wellesley, two infantry brigades, one of guards and artillery ready to press the French rearguard.

The two armies drawn up with the French holding a ridge in front of Grijo

Now with Mermet's brigade of infantry, Franceschi's force of cavalry and legere posed a significant force to be used to keep the road open and escape via the northern end of the table.

Sir Arthur Wellesley inspects the French position before giving the order to advance

However with two brigades of allied infantry marching to intersect the road at various times through the game the French cavalry would be kept busy trying to stem the allied attacks and allow their infantry and wagons to get clear.

The French drawn up to hold their position as the wagons and other elements prepare to march

This was the last games in our series of play tests and we aimed to play this one right through to completion and it was important to have everything set up ready to go when needed.

Pre-game preparation with all the forces laid out by command and the force morale cards set up

We have got into a set up routine, be the game large or small, and we like to have all the force cards set up with the orders allocated and the dice towers primed for action.

The Anglo-Portuguese set up similarly prepared

The French were tasked with setting up first and then Wellesley could arrange his force accordingly to prepare to attack or move or both depending on the French set up.

All is set and ready to go - turn one

In the last game I played the French, so this time we switched things and I played British to Steve's French.

The 31me Legere are in reserve following their gruelling march from Albergaria the previous day

On observing the French looking to make a fighting stand below Grijo, to allow their wagons to get a good start, I immediately put my battalions into line and moved my guns to the flank, to allow them to rapidly move on to a nearby hill and get a good view of the French sheltering on the ridge line opposite.

Franceschi's cavalry on the flank and able to police the table for the French

The Royal Artillery boys duly did their stuff and managed a few early hits with a bit of plough through onto rear units. With drums beating and fifers playing the redcoats advanced into the attack.

The RFA move on to a nearby hill and open fire on the French ridge as the British line advances

With the British intention obvious the French threw forward their cavalry on their right flank to threaten the British lines, which forced the infantry to push out a couple of squares to cover the exposed flank and slow the attack.

In response to the British move the French throw forward their cavalry to threaten the British flank

Meanwhile two French infantry brigades and the wagons headed off down the road towards Oporto, with Franceschi detaching two squadrons of dragoons to shadow the road as they did.

As the opening shots are traded, the legere escort the wagons along the road to Oporto

As the rearguard started to exchange musketry with both sides light battalions closing, the French force on the road were suddenly faced with several British battalions in column of companies making best speed to cut the road.

These troops were Sir John Murray's KGL and their light bobs, some armed with rifles, soon started to take telling pot shots at the French wagons as the dragoons came across to instill a sense of discretion into the German troops as the legere quickly looked to cover the road from the new comers.

First surprise, General Sir John Murray and his KGL brigade threaten the road

As the French battled to pin down Murray's brigade along the road, the French rearguard started to draw down on its force in and around Grijo as three battalions formed into column and st off to catch up the wagons.

The French are midway through their withdrawal using cavalry to stymie both British threats

Eager to prevent ideas of further withdrawal, the British moved up onto the ridge over Grijo, calling forward the guns to begin a softening up of the French rear units with massed musketry and artillery rounds.

The ground prevented Franceschi's cavalry from intervening and so they pulled back to cover the escape route should the French infantry feel so compelled.

The KGL deploy rapidly with rifle armed skirmishers moving into the woods to attack the French wagon train

The move to bring the dragoons over to cover the wagons had been a good one and so Murray's troops had to content themselves into pouring volley fire into each and every unit that tried to pass their position.

Meanwhile the 1st KGL move towards the road countered by French dragoons in the distance

The French start to draw down on their rearguard in Grijo

With the game past the halfway stage the French were eager to get their force into the second half of the table whilst the British were still looking for Hill's brigade to appear.

The KGL fire starts to cause casualties on the French troops trying to get to the Oporto crossing

The legere battalions were doing a grand job fending off Murray as the first elements of Mermet's rearguard infantry started to pass behind them, and with the wagons almost clear the French could congratulate themselves on a good job so far.

The French dragoons menace any further advance on the road

Then General Hill decided to show up with his brigade coming in from the opposite flank, just behind Grijo.

With their wagons safely withdrawn, the French cavalry hold back Murray's KGL as the French try to extract their rearguard

Suddenly an opportunity presented for the British to snatch a result from a game that was slipping away from them with the bulk of the French force sitting pretty on the road to Oporto.

Wellesley forces the Grijo position as the 1/2nd Guards storm into the village and rout the 2/47me Ligne

Not needing a second invitation, the 1/2nd Guards charged into the little village and smashed the French battalion trying desperately to resist, but breaking in rout after the first shock of combat.

The position around Grijo becomes untenable as Hill's brigade move in to cut off the road and hope of escape

Meanwhile the foot guns sent a few rounds of round-shot up the road to dissuade any French cavalry of thoughts of a rash move to rescue the beleaguered garrison.

Franceschi is stranded as his force looks on at the beleaguered rearguard

With just one move remaining the British brigades moved in to cut off the 47me Ligne from any escape, as Franceschi and Mermet had to settle for a withdrawal less two battalions as part of the bill.

The two battalions of the 47me Ligne fight bravely as the trap closes around them

The 1/16th Portuguese Line join Hill's brigade in the advance to seal off Grijo 

The British main force advance as the Guards close in

Steve's rearguard had lingered a few moves too long and the arrival of Hill's brigade sealed their fate as the first tentative steps backward were being contemplated towards the waiting cavalry.

Sir Arthur Wellesley oversees the taking of the village

General Franceschi prepares his cavalry to withdraw

The game proved to be an interesting challenge to both sides with the French doing an excellent job fending off the early threats to their column and getting the wagons off save a few musket hits, and the attack of the Guards nailing a better result than Wellesley managed by snipping out two battalions that wouldn't feature in the 2nd Battle of Oporto.

The British line advances on both sides of Grijo as the envelopment develops

The 1/2nd Guards mop up in Grijo

We hope you have enjoyed this series of game reports even though I have been frustratingly sparse on the details. I hope to remedy that situation soon.

In the meantime I have made available the play aids we created for these play tests and hope you will find them useful in your own OTH games.

If you want to check out all the posts referring to these OTH play-tests and other related OTH stuff then follow the link below.

Over the Hills

Next up, bows and arrows and Vikings and Saxons.