Saturday 25 September 2021

Napoleon at Leipzig, The Battle of Nations, October 13th-19th 1813, 5th Edition, Operational Studies Group on Vassal - Part One

Back in the day when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I mean for you 'Millennials', pre internet and in a time when talking about digital meant using your fingers, Steve M and I sat down a few days before the Xmas holidays got into full swing, sometime in the late 1980's, to play my first edition copy of Napoleon at Leipzig from Operational Studies Group.

Of course the only computers around then was the Sinclair ZX Special or perhaps the Atari ST, which were not really up to handling a board game of this complexity, in fact they were not really up to much considering the computing power of an average modern day mobile phone, and so we were playing the traditional way using a hard copy paper and cardboard counter game, and we were happy because that's all there was!

Napoleon at Leipzig First Edition

As you can see from the pictures of that first edition game, which I still have as a treasured part of my collection, the artwork was pretty basic with the box cover featuring Marshal Ney leading the cavalry charge at Waterloo and with counters you could describe as functional rather than attractive.

First Edition Counters, functional but not attractive

Well it's all very different now, and sometimes I don't think the youngsters of today realise how very lucky they are, but us old codgers really appreciate the changes to wargaming and boardgaming and the 5th edition of Napoleon at Leipzig helps illustrate what I mean together with its Vassal reincarnation that makes playing a mammoth game like this very doable and great fun.

Yes we could set this thing up in hard copy, leaving it in situ and playing as the opportunity presented, but frankly I am now of an age where messing about with hundreds of small counters and a pair of tweezers is not really very appealing; not when we can get together over a table with laptops, back to back, and enjoy the graphics power of Vassal without any chance of a stack of counters getting knocked over in the mayhem of battle, and we can save the game at any time, to pick it up exactly where we left off.

Leipzig Map at 11am on the 14th October at the start of our mammoth game. Napoleon can be seen in the north in road column, bringing with him his guard and guard cavalry, as Murat squares up with Witgenstein in the south and the lines there start to take shape near Libertwolkwitz.

When I describe this game as mammoth, I'm not kidding and the sight of the hardcopy map laid out shows the need for an aircraft hanger to accommodate it, but the new version of the game is truly a stunning piece of artwork with counters to match and so Steve and I were keen to rekindle the memories of our previous game over which we played into the wee hours of the several days it took us to get it done.

This time however we were using the latest Vassal module together with all the new rules including things like vedettes and strategy cards to modify the play and we decided to go large and start the game right at the beginning on the 14th of October as the armies started to arrive on the field of battle before the walls of the great city of Leipzig.

Close up of the various units. The Vassal module allows each side to mask units out of sight of the enemy only showing those visible to the player and, with me being French, showing my masked units with a yellow border, allowing me to see at a glance my units that are masked to Steve.

With lockdown restrictions gone, Steve and I are now able to play face-to-face once again, but I think this is where the versatility of Vassal really shines through not only as a remote play platform but also as one where the size of the game map wise and with a multiplicity of counters in play makes the aspect of setting up, saving and coming back to, so easy and a reason to keep playing Vassal while we are both so competent at using it, something likely to lessen as we play more games in hardcopy format.

The Control Panel to the side of the map makes management of weather changes and reinforcement arrivals a doddle and where we keep our cards that are in play that impacts movement rates and other game aspects.

Reinforcement Schedule with stacks of units yet to arrive with General officer counters and their portraits clearly visible

Both of us are well read on our Napoleonic history and so were both aware of how the battle was set to unfold, but I chose not to refresh my memory on exactly how the actual battle unfolded so I could play it somewhat as Napoleon found himself, having to react to an unfolding situation.

That said the game has moved on from the original version we both played back in the late eighties with the inclusion of cards that can slightly alter the historical account with variations to the reinforcement schedule and slowed rates of movement to interfere with precise placement of specific corps

Current weather and game cards in play. The Late Start card was particularly problematic as the French struggled to get their Corps Commanders to wake up and get their troops into position.

The game starts with Marmont's corps in the north together with the French Leipzig garrison in situ, and with the bulk of the two armies already on the battlefield facing off to the south of the city with the French under the command of Murat and the Allies, under Schwarzenberg.

Leipzig - Southern Sector, 11am 14th October 1813 and two moves into our 'big' game with me as French and Steve commanding the allies

The game is scaled around one hour moves at brigade level, with each hex equating to 525 yards of ground and with slope hex-sides representing a rise in height of 50 -100+ feet, with die rolls using a traditional d6.

Thus with brigades forming divisions and divisions forming corps, the key pieces are the various corps and army commanders, as seen in the illustration above, with, in this example, Napoleon obviously an army commander and a very good one, having three command points allowing him to command three subordinate corps commanders out to a range of four hexes without them needing to activate themselves, and with an example of a subordinate such as Oudinot here, able to command his corps units out to a range of three hexes, but if out of command activating himself on a 4 or less as defined by his Initiative Rating.

Likewise the various brigades have their corps affiliation clearly identified with the above example of Marulaz's Light Cavalry brigade of  French IV Corps able to break down into four vedette counters and having an Initiative Rating of 3 able to activate itself on 3 or less on a d6 should for some reason it finds itself outside of command from its IV Corps commander.

Leipzig Map at 5pm on the 14th October at the end of our first day of play with Napoleon bringing some order to arrangements in the south as a massive allied build up starts there, and with the first elements of Marshal Ney's norther French corps starting to arrive as the Old Guard start to assemble around Leipzig.

Obviously at this scale artillery ranges are out to a maximum of three (extreme) hex range and close combat occurs hex side to hex side, with line of sight able to run along hex spines to target an enemy close to, but not in, blocking terrain.

Napoleon at the head of his guard heads south past Leipzig to oversee Marshal Murat's defensive arrangements as darkness and heavy rain brings the 14th October to a close

The 14th of October is characterised by both armies arriving and the respective lines around the city of Leipzig starting to coalesce as the race is on to 'get there fastest with the mostest' to quote a certain US general of a much later period.

This race generated some town fighting in Liebertwolkwitz as the Austrian IV Corps tried to stage an early coup by ousting the French V Corps as the French just managed to enter the town first, and seeing them winning the struggle before barricading themselves in and around the church on the eastern outskirts.

The 14th October saw an early struggle with the Austrians and Lauriston's Vth Corps which left the French firmly in control of Liebertwolkwitzbut but with Victor and Poniatowski struggling to form a cohesive defence between Markkleeberg and Wachau with the French mode card drawn at the start of the day that saw most of the French corps commanders struggling to wake up at the start of the day!

The struggle for the town saw us both trying out the rules and relearning the principles of artillery barrages and mixed arms combat with Pajol's heavy cavalry managing to catch an Austrian brigade with a charge in support of a combat that broke the Austrian formation up, sending it to the reform box.

Pajol's V Cavalry Corps made an early impact as Murat brought the French cavalry up on the 14th to help stabilise the hold on Liebertwolkwitz on the 14th October. 

As the first day of our game came to a close we are remembering the grinding battle of attrition this game creates presenting both players with the challenge of managing the combat in localised areas while trying to keep an eye on the bigger picture of the evolving lines around the city in what was the biggest horse & musket battle before the modern age and the titanic struggles on the Western Front in the First World War and thus demonstrating perfectly the command and control limitations of this age stretched to their limits in this battle.

As our game evolves I will follow this post up with the AAR's for the others days as we refight OSG's Battle of Leipzig on Vassal.

Monday 20 September 2021

Clotted Lard 2021 - Devon Wargames Group & Too Fat Lardies Weekend

This weekend I was at the club involved in our annual Lardy gathering Clotted Lard which for myself, started on Friday night as I and other club members assembled at our venue to arrange tables for the next day before retiring to the hotel-pub in Exeter to join our guests staying over for the show for a swift pint or two.

The next day started at 08.00 setting up the other room as game organisers arrived and set up their tables ready for a welcome address together with some housekeeping announcements and the usual group pictures, before I set off touring the two games rooms to sit and join each game in turn to try and capture the look of the action for our show report; together with a video clip below which I think shows what a Lardy event and especially Clotted Lard feels like when you're in the room and everyone's deeply involved in their game and having fun.

For a full report of the show together with pictures of all the games then just follow the link to the club blog:

Having taken the morning session to gather my pictures for the show report I was doing a 'hot table' as I think my American readers would say, typical of a US Convention, as I swapped with Andy Crow who ran the Bag the Hun game in the morning to set up my Kiss Me Hardy, Leeward Line scenario with the Warlord collection of 1:700th ships.

The warm-up game I ran in July at the club really paid dividends as I was able to take the time in between to really tweak the scenario and make sure the player aids and record sheets worked much better on the day which allowed the game to really get going and we played through to a conclusion.

One aspect I wanted to include was a measure of a clearer winner in this microcosm of a much larger battle and so settled on the idea of basing the criteria as if the two formations were in fact very separate squadrons from the larger fleet action that was going on around them.

The dogfight underway as the Santisima Trinidad and the French 74-gun Fougueux open fire on the Royal Sovereign as she attempts to cut the Combined Fleet's line. Meanwhile the 74-gun Belleisle has passed behind the Fougeueux, delivering a stern rake on her as she passed, and is now swapping broadsides with the 74-gun Spanish Monarca on her starboard quarter.

Thus the Combined Fleet squadron, composed of elements from the Rear Squadron and Squadron of Observation were deemed as one under the control of Spanish Admiral Alava leading in the Santisima Trinidad, and likewise the British under Collingwood.

With these formations delineated, relegating French Rear-Admiral Magon as Alava's second in command on his flagship, the 74-gun Algeciras, I allocated a Fleet Preservation Value (FPV) to each ship, with each third rate valued at 2 points per ship and a first rate or flagship valued at 3 points. 

This idea of Fleet Preservation, that is that a fleet, like a land army, doesn't fight on to the last man or ship, like wargamers, but will attempt to break off when losses cause a break of confidence.

This idea then of Fleet Preservation is not mine and I know I harvested it from another discussion forum for use at a later time, so apologies for not remembering who to credit for this simple but effective idea.

As the Royal Sovereign and Belleisle go about their work, the Mars under Captain Duff can be seen further back, preparing to move in after opening fire on the French 74-gun Pluton

The total Fleet Preservation Point Value of each force then equated to 13 points for the British and 16 points for the Combined Fleet, which allowing for a loss of 25% for the Franco-Spanish and 50% for the British equated to 4 points for the former and 6.5 points for the latter.

Thus the Combined Fleet Squadron under Alava would be likely defeated with the loss of more than two of its 74 gunners or one of the flagships and a single third rate, with loss defined as being caused to strike, sink, burn up and explode or captured through boarding and with a dismasted vessel counting one point less in the total, i.e. a flagship dismasted equating to two rather than three points off the total.

HMS Mars opens fire on the Pluton and sets her helm to pass behind Admiral Magon's 74-gun flagship Algeciras as to her starboard side HMS Tonnant, Colossus and Bellerophon approach menacingly like sharks moving in for the kill with the Spanish 74-gun Bahama dangerously separated from her consorts.

This simple calculation would determine when a particular force was likely broken, to the extent that a test would normally be taken at that point in the game with the roll of a d6 adding the quality rating of the commanding admiral, +1 for Collingwood and 0 for Alava and Magon, should the latter find himself in command, needing 5 or 6 for the squadron to stay in the fight and with failure seeing the Combined Fleet for example, attempting to disengage and move to the leeward table edge, only shooting back if fired upon, and obviously, likely captured at the end of the scenario if prevented from escape by British ships on their leeward side.

In addition, with the role of admirals influencing the morale of their respective squadrons, I wanted the potential for their loss through death or wounding to have an effect, so included Nick Skinner's 2005 Trafalgar Scenario,  'Death of Nelson' rule to allow for all the admirals involved to test if their respective flagship suffered 'High Officer Casualties' as a special damage hit.

As our game progressed the Combined Fleet got the majority of their ships to deliver extreme and long range broadsides at the British rigging in the approach phase with the Royal Sovereign for example reduced from a base speed of 12cm to 8cm plus 2d6 cm for having a quarter wind, because of damage recieved in her rigging from the Santisima Trinidad on the approach. 

However as anticipated the delivery of stern and bow rakes by those British ships that managed to break into the Allied line added to by other British ships pouring in close range broadsides reduced two Spanish and one French third rate to floating wrecks with fires breaking out on two of them.

Fire breaks out on the Spanish Monarca which she managed to extinguish prior to her striking, after being pummelled into submission by the Belleisle, astern of the hard fighting Fougeueux.

Inevitably the two Spaniards struck and the British went for the killer blow by grappling the battered Fougeueux, and boarding her, winning the first round of melee to capture the Frenchman's upper-deck, whilst pouring in a point-blank bow chaser shot, which missed, as she attempted to get the French ship to test for a strike.

The final twist of the game came as we prepared to head off to the pub as the Fougeueux, then managed to come storming back with what remained of her crew of 'Elite' Sans Culottes to push the Royal Sovereigns back to their own bulwarks and thus still fighting when we ended the game.

However it seemed likely that another strike test caused by the next round of firing would see her strike eventually, breaching the Combined Fleet's four point threshold and a likely failed FPV test and so I called the game in favour of Collingwood's column.

If you want to give this scenario a go with the adaptions I have added then just follow the link below for the scenario briefing together with the orders of battle and ship record sheets.

Kiss Me Hardy - The Leeward Line Scenario

Thursday 16 September 2021

The Two Battles of Copenhagen 1801 and 1807, Britain & Denmark in the Napoleonic Wars - Gareth Glover


Well it's only taken me four years to get there, but I've finally got around to reading Gareth Glover's (GG) 'The Two Battles of Copenhagen', this after attending his presentation back in 2018 at Crusade in Penarth announcing the publication of his then new book by Pen & Sword (see link below for my 2018 show report).

JJ's Wargames - Crusade 2018

Before reading Gareth's book I wanted to first read, Danish historian, Ole Feldbaek's 2001 account of the First Battle of Copenhagen that he published in time for the bicentenary of the battle best remembered perhaps as one of Lord Nelson's famous victories, but very much giving a Danish perspective and as GG makes reference to this work in his own account I was glad that I read them both in that order, thus able to recall the various comments in the former book that are referred to and I would definitely recommend interested students of this battle to do the same.

If you have not seen my review of 'The Battle of Copenhagen 1801' by Ole Feldbaek from last year, then follow the link below.

JJ's Wargames - The Battle of Copenhagen 1801

So with my continuity announcement complete, on with my review which to my mind picks up very much from my previous read, but very much coming from a British perspective and from a former Royal Naval officer who has sailing experience in the Baltic, bringing a practical knowledge that relates to the accounts from the time and GG's book is written very much in the tone that I think the two battles were and are seen from a British perspective, as ones that it would have been much better had they not occurred, with absolutely no sense of satisfaction at the death and destruction wrought, or in the neutralising of the Danish fleet.

The first chapter entitled 'Walking the Tightrope of Neutrality' neatly lays out the diplomatic and military situation that influenced Danish strategy at the end of the Great Northern War in 1721, which saw Denmark and Sweden with their power and influence irrevocably reduced to second rate behind that of Prussia and Russia, the two dominant powers in the Baltic region; and with Denmark having to balance her stance between defending her possessions such as Norway against the acquisitive gaze of her old enemy Sweden and the tension on her southern European mainland borders with her possession of the north German state of Holstein.

With Prussia not being a naval power of any consequence, control and influence in the Baltic was a constant source of intrigue and squabbling between the three other Baltic states, really only put to one side when threatened by outside influence, as Denmark, Sweden and Russia tried to work for the common good whilst desperately trying to overlook the severe lack of trust between all of them which inevitably caused a breakdown in the attempts at alliances, termed 'leagues' and a return to rancour and occasionally war.

A Danish merchantman passes a Spanish Pink - Antione Roux
Danish overseas possessions in the 18th century supported a growing and successful merchant fleet trading in high value goods, never viewed as a serious mercantile threat by Britain 

Added to this local diplomatic minefield, Denmark also had her overseas interests to manage with islands in the West Indies (St Thomas, St John and St Croix) purchased from France in 1733, trading posts on the Gold Coast of West Africa (Fort Frederiksburg, purchased from Sweden, Ossu Castle and Frederiksburg) together with trading posts set up in the Indian subcontinent (Trankebar in Tamil Nadu and Frederiksnagore, north of Calcutta) that supported a growing merchant fleet trading in particularly high value goods, much to the irritation of British merchants, but allowing Danish merchant houses and the government to enrich themselves through the eighteenth century, gaining a grudging forbearance from British competition.

Denmark's strategically important position astride the entrance to the Baltic via The Sound made the precarious tightrope of neutrality even more so if Britain should perceive a threat to her naval dominance.

As far as the Baltic was concerned, Denmark's position, at its entrance from the North Sea, gave her a strategically important position to exert control on traffic, in and out, and although Britain had traditionally shown little interest in the area as long as its merchant fleet retained free access, this became a more serious issue as the indigenous supply of wood in Britain, for ship building, diminished as demand started to soar and a greater reliance was placed on overseas imports, including other naval store items such as hemp and pitch, the best sources of which came from Norway and Sweden for wood and Russia and Poland for the great masts together with hemp and pitch.

Tensions grew further with the Seven Years War that saw Sweden and Denmark favour Britain's arch-enemy France, counterbalanced with a fifty-year trade agreement between Britain and Russia from 1734, that is until Russia and Britain found themselves on opposing sides, but with the mutually beneficial trade of wool for ships stores seemingly preventing a cold war turning hot.

However the tension with Sweden and Denmark saw the first flowering of so called 'armed neutrality' as the two nations came together out of fear for their merchantmen being stopped on the high seas by British men of war by sending a large combined squadron into the North Sea to protect their merchants and in turn send a very strong message to Britain.

Andreas Peter Bernstorff, Danish Foreign Minister 1784-1797

The growing issue that would fester and become a casas belli was that the British were becoming increasingly aware of 'neutral' ships being used by their enemies to circumvent their naval blockades designed to starve their enemies into submission and destroy their commerce. 

The Danes however saw nothing wrong with this subterfuge, which became an increasingly lucrative trading opportunity and armed response in defence of such trade only served to ramp up tensions still further, with the implied threat to Denmark's legitimate trade network by a massive British naval supremacy that could clearly overwhelm any of the individual navies in the Baltic.

Thus in GG's first chapter the road to war becomes clearly mapped out with both sides looking to find ways of either 'turning a blind eye' in the case of Britain, already with her hands full fighting other major European naval foes and desperate to maintain her supply route to stores for her navy and the Danes keen to take advantage of an opportunity and assert their sovereignty whilst avoiding going so far that Britain would feel compelled to take action against them.

The crisis would reach 'fever-pitch' in 1797 with the death of Danish statesman and foreign minister Peter Bernstorff, who had consistently managed to restrain the 'hawks' in the Danish government led by the Crown-Prince and Regent, Frederick, later King Frederick VI and consistently refused the use of escorted Danish convoys which he rightly believed would provoke the British, but with the appointment of his nephew, Christian Bernstorff on his death that year, the Crown Prince's demands were met and escorted convoys were commenced, putting them on, as one Danish historian has described, 'a collision course with the world's most powerful navy'.

Danish frigate Freya 40-guns under Captain Peter Krabbe and a convoy of six merchantmen intercepted off Ostend by a British squadron of five warships led by the 28-gun frigate Nemesis under Captain Thomas Baker

On the 25th July 1800 the Danish frigate Freya under Captain Peter Krabbe and a convoy of six merchants were intercepted off Ostend by a squadron of five British warships led by the frigate Nemesis under Captain Thomas Baker, with the former under strict instructions not to stop if instructed to for inspection by the British.

Firing commenced and after a half hour exchange of broadsides the Freya struck having lost two dead and five wounded with the British having four killed and several wounded and the convoy was taken to the Downs anchorage off Deal.

The Freya and her convoy were later restored to the Danes, but in response the Emperor of Russia, Czar Paul used the incident as a pretext for renewing the 'league of armed neutrality' between the Baltic states of Denmark, Sweden and Russia thus setting off the series of events that would see a British fleet off Copenhagen the following year under orders to neutralise the Danish fleet and assert British freedom of navigation into the Baltic.

The book then recounts the lead up to and the actual Battle of Copenhagen with GG looking at the difficulties of rapidly putting together an expedition to Copenhagen that ideally would have had a large army component to allow Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker the flexibility of a joint naval and army operation to complete his mission; indeed First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord St Vincent advocated landing 10,000 troops to attack and destroy the Danish naval base with the view that a bombardment from a few bomb vessels was unlikely to break Danish resolve, but it seems the government could not muster or support such an operation, an error that would become all too obvious as events would prove.

The complexities of the naval aspects of the operation are well considered as GG explains the issues that had to be overcome in terms of navigation in shallow waters, with the draft of ships over 74-guns making navigation problematic in seas that were also very often becalmed or with light winds, that left large sailing warships vulnerable to attack from swarms of Danish gunboats; to the need for the Admiralty to find 'Baltic specialists', having not operated with a British fleet in the area for over seventy-five years, which prompted the appointment of Parker because of his recent experience planning an expedition there in 1790 during the last crisis to occur.

The choice of the cautious, solid and dependable Hyde-Parker also prompted the appointment of his subordinate and a 'fighting admiral', Vice-Admiral Nelson fresh from his successes at Cape St Vincent in 1797 and the Nile in 1798.

The Battle of Copenhagen seen from the Danish city, April 2nd 1801 - C.A. Lorentzen
The battle can be seen raging in the King's Deep before the entrance to Copenhagen 

Finally the operation was working to a very strict timetable to allow the British to force the Danes into compliance with British terms, before the Russians or Swedes could come to their aid, with the fleet assembling off Yarmouth in late February 1801, and the plan to take advantage of ice free seas in mid-March whilst leaving the Russian fleet still frozen in its more easterly anchorages.

In the consideration of the planning of the attack GG exposes the significant weak point in it, in that the lack of a significant landing force exposed the weakness of the navy, unable to accurately or significantly damage the naval base, or strong enough to sail into its harbour and engage, close up, its shore batteries and fortifications, with the implications of limited options to manoeuvre and with the only real hope of neutralising the Danish fleet by its coming out to meet the Royal Navy in an open water sea battle, something very unlikely.

It is here that GG disagrees with Ole Feldbaek's assertion that the orders were to destroy or remove the entire Danish fleet and its stores, with the 1801 expedition nothing like on the scale of the later 1807 one, which did indeed have those orders and with the 1801 expedition being much more limited in scope to removing the Danes from the League of Armed Neutrality either by negotiation or by force, fair means or foul, thus allowing the British fleet safe passage into the Baltic without having a sizable enemy fleet in its rear, and I must say I find his assessment very compelling.

Nelson's letter to the Crown Prince that opened the negotiated end to the First Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.
‘…Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when no longer resisting but if the firing is continued on the part of Denmark Lord Nelson will be obliged to set on fire all the floating batteries he has taken, without having the honour of sparing the brave Danes who have defended them ….’

From this point the book, having set up the reasons for war and the plan of action, takes the plot forward through the actions leading up to the first battle of Copenhagen, and its eventual climax having seen the British fleet demolish the line of floating batteries and old dismasted Danish ships moored among them, not without a significant casualty bill themselves, but clearly masters of the King's Deep; and throughout GG's narrative, the driving force force and determination to overcome of Nelson's will, shines through in distinct contrast to the frustratingly uncertain and inconstant Hyde-Parker and the Danes looking to delay and put off every demand made on them, in sheer desperation that a Swedish or Russian relief force would appear over the horizon.

As GG goes on to explain, the victory achieved by Nelson in 1801, was incomplete and indecisive and the British fleet only just got away with it in that the Danes lost their reserve fleet but were left with an operational fleet and the final negotiations were still in play as the news arrived of the death of Czar Paul that completely removed the pressure on the Danes to continue the struggle or for the British to assert their naval dominance further into the Baltic, heralding a period of five years of relative harmony.

The final result was effectively a 'technical knockout' for the British, with as Ole Feldbaek stating in his assessment that the League of Armed Neutrality had failed because it was neither armed or neutral, and as GG states clearly, explains why the British government felt compelled to send a much larger force only six years later.

The whole situation in Europe was to change dramatically with the rise of the Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, crowned by the Pope in 1804 and his speedy demolishing of all the crowned heads of Europe who opposed his expansion of the French borders, eventually seeing him astride the River Tilsit negotiating his ongoing relationship with the Russian Empire and leaving Britain standing alone in opposition.

Emperor Napoleon and Czar Alexander agree the Treaty of Tilsit on the 7th July 1807

Yet again Denmark found herself in a very difficult corner caught between the struggle of Britain and Napoleonic France and with her neutrality hard pressed as she sought desperately not to give the former any reason for a return visit but as a consequence defying Napoleon's demand that she close the port of Husum in Schleswig to British packet boats connecting Britain to the European postal system that allowed the transit of illicit trade deals, communication with British agents and reports on French operations.

On this occasion however Denmark and the King found themselves more sympathetic to Britain, having a very clear dislike of French dominance and with the correspondence of the Danish Prime Minister, Christian Bernstorff to his envoys abroad betraying his dislike and rejoicing in news of any French reverses, and with the Crown-Prince, in a letter to his brother-in-law, Duke Frederick Christian of Augustenburg, declaring that if Napoleon insisted on Denmark closing her ports to Britain, that she would regard Britain as her natural ally.

But it was over the detention of neutral shipping that tensions between Denmark and Britain would again rise dramatically with 35 Danish merchants taken in 1805, with all but three later released by the Prize Court, 150 in 1806 and a further 31 in the early months of 1807 and very few released, but with the Danes protesting vehemently, their continued practice of selling false papers and concealing prohibited cargoes severely undermined their case with the British authorities.

Interestingly it was an innocuous report to George Canning the British Prime Minister in early June 1807 from Lord Pembroke, the new British Ambassador to Vienna that would start the crisis that would cause the British to finally react, when he wrote about his journey to his new posting and described his landing at Memel to proceed to Copenhagen before the land journey to Austria, and having taken a tour of the Danish shipyards and defences, reporting that they were fully prepared and as many as twenty Danish warships were 'fit to go to sea with all their stores &c named and numbered'

Later evidence would suggest that what he actually saw was Danish ships 'mothballed' with all their stores ready to be embarked in quayside warehouses and in fact Danish records show that in the first six months of 1807 only three ships of the line, two frigates and three brigs had been fitted for sea service; talk about history repeating itself with my mind immediately recalling the Iraq conflict in 2003 and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's 'Dodgy Dossier', justifying another, perhaps less justifiable, invasion by British forces.

Copenhagen under British bombardment on the night of the 4-5th September 1807 seen from Christianhaven

However the ball was rolling and in an existential war such as Britain faced against Napoleon in 1807 , the supposed threat that the French Emperor could potentially lay his hands on twenty Danish warships to enable him to once again threaten Britain with invasion was enough to put plans into operation to neutralise that threat once and for all, with yet more historical similarities springing to mind as another British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was understandably forced to order a similar neutralising of the French fleet in 1940 at Mirs-el-Kebir, with the threat of a German acquisition.

As attributed to Mark Twain, 'History never repeats itself, but it sure does rhyme!'

With the set up for war outlined GG then takes the story forward with the second Battle of Copenhagen, which more than made up for the deficit of the former operation and conducted with breath-taking speed as the British cabinet discussed options for sending the fleet (later confirmed as 21 ships of the line and 71 smaller naval vessels) on the 10th of July 1807 to its arrival off Copenhagen by the 15th August and with a force of 18,000 troops landed on the 16th August at the small fishing village of Vedbaek, some twelve miles north of Copenhagen.

The demand issued to the Danish authorities explained that France's increased influence on mainland Europe now meant that Denmark's ancient policy of neutrality could no longer be maintained. Therefore the British were determined to remove the Danish fleet to a place of safety, well beyond the reach of Napoleon, and promised the fleet would be returned in the same condition as soon as a general peace was agreed.

William Fadden's Map of the British Positions during the Siege of Copenhagen 23rd August - 6th September 1807

Speed was of the essence in such an operation and with equally breath-taking secrecy, leaving the Danes totally unprepared or unaware of the operation, practically until British troops started landing, with the race on to force a capitulation to British demands before a French force could be mustered under the guise of providing relief of the Danish capital, and with the usual practice of Danish delay and obfuscation the use of indiscriminate bombardment of civilian property to force a capitulation by the Danish military.

A section of a contemporary map showing Kioge south of Copenhegen

The Danes quite naturally fought back as best they could with attacks on British siege batteries by Danish gunboats working close into shore and a force of 7,000 militia (North and South Landvaern and 150 cavalry) assembled at Kioge on the 23rd August, roundly defeated by Major-General Sir Arthur Wellesley and the British reserve, with some 1500 militiamen made prisoner.

However despite their best efforts the Danes was forced to capitulate and the necessary articles were signed at 2am on the 7th September, with the British pledging to evacuate Copenhagen and the whole of Zealand within six weeks.

GG states the damage to Copenhagen was immense, with official Danish reports listing some 305 dwellings and one church having been completely destroyed and thousands more receiving some damage, with Rifleman Green quoted after, being shocked by the destruction;

'I was astonished to see the havoc our bombardment had made. Whole streets lay in ruins; churches burnt down; and we had work to get through the streets to the dock-yard, and to go on board, our road being blocked up with bricks, stones, tiles and timber.'

The British troops were indeed appalled by the destruction caused, reflected in their horror of the destruction as described by Captain Leach;

'Callous and insensible must he have been who could have walked through the streets and witnessed the horrors occasioned by the bombardment, and the misery inflicted on thousands of the unoffending inhabitants, without bitterly regretting that our government should have considered it necessary to adopt such rigorous methods.'

The Danish fleet was removed and partially built vessels destroyed in situ, with any salvageable timbers also taken causing an economic collapse in the country leaving Britain with a strengthened hand in the Baltic, with the anger of Russia short lived and reversed with Napoleon's march on Moscow five years later. 

The Gunboat War of 1808-09 saw Denmark wage war on British and Allied convoys in and out of the Baltic using a large and powerful fleet of inshore gunboats supported by sea-going privateers.

The Danes reacted by allying themselves to the fortunes of the French Emperor and clung on to his favour even when events suggested that the time was right for changing sides and joining Sweden and the other European allies in resisting and later destroying the Imperial Napoleonic project; engaging in the Gunboat War of 1808 to 1809 as she replaced her ocean going fleet with a large one of inshore gunboats, backed up by sea-going privateers designed to attack and harass British and allied merchant convoys into and out of the Baltic, and a serious threat to even the largest and most powerful ships in the right conditions.

The Danish threat forced the British to maintain a large fleet in the Baltic during the summer months resorting to convoy tactics that were not completely fool-proof but keeping losses at an insignificant level with as an example 2,210 merchantmen escorted in and out of the Baltic between June and November 1809 without a single loss to enemy action.

Denmark would be the very last of Napoleon's allies to abandon his cause in 1814, signing a peace treaty with Sweden and Britain on the 14th January at Kiel.

In his overview, GG describes the tragedy that;

'. . . pitted two like-minded, independent thinking, feisty and determined peoples, who are both at their best when their backs appear to be against the wall and who recognise these similar traits within each other . . . and few Britons celebrated or enjoyed the victories they gained at Copenhagen.'

'Perhaps these two episodes can best be described as unfortunate family squabbles, that are now best understood for what they were - necessary evils - and forgiven . . . Britons and Danes are kindred spirits and long may it remain so.'

The Two Battles of Copenhagen 1801 and 1807 is 277 pages and consists of the following:

List of Plates (24 Colour pictures of artwork, places and items relating to the battle in the centre of the book).
List of Maps:
Fadden's Map of the Great Belt dated 1807
Map of the Sound dated 1812
Area around Copenhagen from Franz Reilly Map of 1796 (simplified)
Plan of Copenhagen as it looked in 1800
The Attack on Copenhagen, April 2nd 1801
Contemporary map of Copenhagen in 1807, the dark area in the north-western corner representing the area destroyed by fire.
Heligoland and the North German Coast - section of the Thompson Map.


1. Walking the Tightrope of Neutrality
2. The Drums Beat 'To Arms'
3. The British Mobilisation
4. Parker Delays
5. Denmark Prepares
6. The Die is Cast
7. The Battle of Copenhagen
8. Battle Continues
9. Winning the Peace
10. Five Years of Relative Harmony
11. Rapid Escalation
12. The Cabinet Deliberates
13. The Fleet Forms
14. The Fleet Arrives in the Sound
15. Danish Preparations
16. British Troops Land
17.The Battle of Kioge
18. The Bombardment
19. The Aftermath
20. Danish Losses Further Afield
21. The Gunboat War, 1808-1809
22. The Swedish Question
23. The Final Years

Visiting the Scenes Today
Appendices Relevant to the Battle of Copenhagen 1801
Appendices Relevant to the Siege of Copenhagen 1807

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and Gareth Glover has an easy-to-follow style of prose that I found developed the story in a logical flow that made picking the book up each time a pleasure to read.

As well as the history the later sections provide some really useful information for those interested in visiting the scene themselves and as someone likely to do so in the next few years I can see this book coming along for the trip.

The Two Battles of Copenhagen by Gareth Glover is published by Pen & Sword books and retails at £25.00 in hardcover but can be obtained at the time of writing anywhere from between £6 for a used copy to £18 for a new one.

Other sources relating to this review:

Sunday 12 September 2021

The March on Oporto, Part One, Retreat to Albergaria - Tiny Wars Played Indoors

Time to get the collection of French supply wagons out on the table as the Retreat to Albergaria gets played at Tiny Wars Played Indoors.

If you've been following Bill Slavin's playthroughs of the scenarios in O'er the Hills, you might be interested to know he has now progressed into the spring of 1809 with his latest game recreating the French retreat from Albergaria, pursued by a British army under the newly arrived Anglo-Portuguese commander-in-chief, Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley, recently cleared of allegations at the hearing convened to look into the controversial 'Convention of Cintra' that saw the removal General Junot and his French army from Portugal in 1808, repatriated to France in British ships.

I have attached a link below if you would like to follow Bill's highly entertaining account of their play with excellent pictures of his 1:72 - 20mm collection of Peninsular Napoleonics and appropriate terrain to match.

Tiny Wars Played Indoors - The March on Oporto, Part One, Retreat from Albergaria

If you are just picking up this series of games you can follow the link below to Bill's other renditions back to the start at Rolica and through to Corunna.

Tiny Wars Played Indoors - O'er the Hills Scenarios

Scenario 5, The March on Oporto, picks up the the story of early British involvement in what became known as The Peninsular War, following the death of Sir John Moore and the evacuation of the main British army in theatre from Corunna in Galica in January 1809.

It wouldn't be until the 8th February that Marshal Soult's battered II Corps, following the pursuit to Corunna and the battle, was restored enough to begin the French advance back into Portugal via the tortuous roads through the Galician mountains into the north of the country seeing him taking the city of Oporto on the 29th March after a decisive battle with defending Portuguese forces under the Bishop of Oporto who were routed and suffered some 8,000 casualties in their retreat from the city.

The theatre of operations in May 1809 as Wellesley commenced his offensive
from Lisbon in the south to drive Soult out of Oporto in the north and hopefully
destroy the bulk of his forces in the pursuit.

Sir Arthur Wellesley landed with fresh British reinforcements at Lisbon to join the British garrison together with the first elements of the British trained Portuguese army on the 22nd April 1809 and in his characteristically determined approach to demonstrate to the British government the practicability of his plan for holding Portugal as a base of operations for aiding and supporting the guerrilla war in Spain; he immediately activated plans to drive Soult and French II Corps out of the country that would see his spearhead formations clash with a French advance party somewhat unaware of his presence near the village of Albergaria, hastily forced to prepare a rapid withdrawal back to Oporto when they realised the strength of the force that was attempting to envelope them from the south.

The scenario starts with the French march column set up on the road 
through Albergaria ready to march north to Grijo

This scenario is part of a two part series, with the results potentially impacting on the second game as French General de Division Jean Franceschi attempts to pull his cavalry and infantry forces back in the face of a rapid Allied pursuit whilst ensuring the safe passage of his baggage train on a thirty mile journey back to the village of Grijo where he might hope to receive help sent out from Oporto to stem the Allied pursuit as the French fall back over the River Douro.

Bill's representation of the French march column as illustrated in the scenario map above. 
Perfect, what could possibly go wrong?

Steve and I had a lot of fun play-testing this series of two games, working out the tweaks to allow the results to be linked into a mini-campaign game which is all about retreat management in the face of the enemy, possibly the hardest military manoeuvre to conduct and one that produces a game totally different from the usual 'set 'em up and start charging and firing' affair but no less exciting and interesting. 

This series of games gives a good excuse to get some French wagons built and out on the table, which only adds to making the game look a lot different from the usual Napoleonic set too.

As you will see from Bill's account his game mirrored much of our own experience with the French commander reaching decision points in the game as to when and who to turn about to make a stand covering the retreat of others, ready to in their turn, turn about and cover those behind them.

For the Anglo-Portuguese it becomes a balance of rapid pursuit, aiming to keep the pressure on whilst not overextending elements of the force that could be overwhelmed piecemeal, and always with an eye to taking advantage of an enemy mistake.
The fox is in sight and the horns sound 'view-haloo' as the Allies press their pursuit hoping not to encounter a 'stag at bay'.

Again, as I discussed with Bill, these scenarios, and indeed I would recommend all of them, repay the players for including the Brigade Morale and Orders rules in Over the Hills as the added pressure of brigades with decreasing morale levels that threaten that they might break off, together with orders going astray or being misinterpreted at a vital time, with all times in a retreat like this often being vital, add a whole new level of interest and simulation without, in our experience, much effort and we played all the games that way because of the fun they generated as best laid plans fell apart or better still came to fruition.

Thanks Bill for a very entertaining series so far, I know Steve, I and others have enjoyed the read throughs and personally has refreshed my enjoyment of putting these games together and I'm looking forward to your next production.

Finally I should mention that not unsurprisingly Bill's posts have reignited an interest in playing the scenarios in O'er the Hills, and enquiries to me about getting hold of a copy, with the book being currently out of print.

Stand to Games Shop - O'er the Hills, Early Peninsula War Scenarios pdf Version

I have been in touch with Adrian McWalter at Stand to Games and would direct you to the pdf copy of the book in the link above which I see is on offer at £9.60 and if plans progress to a reprint I will update any confirmation to do so here on the blog.

Over the Hills - Facebook Page

In addition I would highly recommend joining the Over the Hills Facebook page for the latest updates and information, with lots of input from Ady McWalter and other folks interested in playing Napoleonics with the rules and scenarios.

I hope that helps