Friday, 26 October 2012

Battle of Cuestas del San, 1810

Portugal. 27th September, 1810. On the crests of the Cuestas del San, a British army under General Victorian Mourne awaits an assault by Général Mathieu of the French army. 26,000 of Wellesley's finest stand firm ahead of an attack by 43,500 men of Napoleon's Grand Armée.

The view from the British lines.

This was Napoleon's first great strike against Portugal since the fall of Ciudad Rodrigo weeks earlier. The Light Division that now held the centre of the British line had done sterling service blunting the imperial sword, but had been forced to retreat. Now reinforced by Macmahon's Scots, Barrington's infantry and 7,000 cavalry, they looked to snap that sword across their knee. 

At ten o'clock, the French began to move.Their line quickly became disordered in the rough terrain of the Iberian hills, and Mathieu took up a position in the church of San Léon on the central crest to better observe his men.

Start of Turn Two.

The French columns snaked across the dusty ground toward the thin red line. De Castelmore's division shook itself into line and squared up to Macmahon's men, while Lebowiecki's Polish Legion advanced to confront the Light Division with D'Herblay's men in support. On the French right, Du Vallon's division approached Barrington's positions on the heights, shuddering before the great concentration of artillery on the British left.

On the other flank, De La Fere's men vanish into the woods.

They were right to shudder. As they approached the hills, the forward lines of the 15th Régiment de Ligne were cast down with thunder and great noise. The Light Division threw out its skirmishers as the French approached, and they wreaked red ruin among D'Herblay's forward units and de Castelmore's flank.

But La Grande Armée could not so easily be denied. Columns charged home against the Scots and Barrington's men on the heights. In the centre, the presence of Mourne's 7,000 cavalry required more caution, and so the Poles and D'Herblay's division merely edged closer to engage the Light Division in ineffectual musketry, shooing the skirmishers back among their parent ranks. Virant, the cavalry corps commander, came up to San Léon as the Polish artillery unlimbered on the hilltop.

So the true killing began. Du Vallon's men tore themselves to shreds on the hillside, giving ground before Barrington's implacable defence. On the other flank, the British 1st Brigade and French 26th Régiment de Ligne fought each other to extinction as the rest of the battered Scots Division desperately threw back the assault.

Already unnerved by D'Herblay's hasty retreat from the Scots position, the Polish Legion were ill-served by a torrent of fire from the Light Division, great holes rent in their yellow-breasted ranks by faithful Brown Bess and her sisters.

As the lines separated in some disorder, Mourne ordered the greatest part of his cavalry forward, to harry holes in the French divisions. On one flank, the Light Brigades slaughtered Du Vallon's 23rd Régiment, sapping the spirits of his whole division. On the other, the British dragoons massacred the 50th in the low valley to the south of San Léon. On both wings, the impetuous British cavalry carried on forward, crashing into Marant's dragoons and the remnants of Du Vallon's division. The 19th de Ligne immediately fled before this wave of horseflesh, leaving their comrades in the 15th Legère to be cut down like dogs by their heavy sabres.

In the valley of San Léon, Marant's right wing fell back before the British, but the Guards brigade were slaughtered in their turn by his steadier regiments.

Turn Four.

The bells of San Léon tolled two of the clock, and General Mathieu assessed his position. Du Vallon's men had evaporated on his left, and de Castelmore's had been almost as sorely used, with only a battalion of the 39th remaining steady around their colours at the foot of the hill. Lebowiecki's Poles and D'Herblay's men were all that remained of his main line, though Castagne's cuirassiers and Marant's dragoons were raring to go. And where had De La Fere got to with his 2,500 men?

A sudden shout of “Vive La France!” alerted him, as De La Fere's division charged from the woods into Macmahon's flank. At the same time, his cavalry leapt forward to punish the British impetuosity, and with a heavy heart, he committed his centre against Montjoy's Light Division.

Heavies rumble toward the lights.

Disordered by their headlong rush, the Lights were easy prey for Castagne's cuirassiers, but against all odds, the dragoons of the King's German Legion managed to fend off Marant's dragoons, sending them flying in disarray.

There was little joy from De La Fere's surprise attack either, as the 2nd Brigade sent them packing, back into the woods from whence they sprang and mauling the 17th.
De La Fere's kills (6s) compared to the 2nd's.

Even the glorious charge of the Polish Legion could not lift Mathieu's clouded brow. Though they destroyed Montjoy's right wing, the division as a whole was worn to a nub, and D'Herblay's was in no better shape. As Mathieu surveyed the field and saw only De La Fere and Castagne's divisions in fighting shape, he knew it was time to withdraw and save what part of his command he could. By five o'clock, the plain was empty of life once more.

End of play.

N.B. Given the loss of half his cavalry, and that his orders were to hold the heights, Mourne allowed Mathieu to do so in relatively good order, only picking off the remnants of the 39th and spiking the Polish guns. For this dereliction of imagination, he was removed from command and sent to Lisbon.

Butcher's Bill:
French: 12,000 dead, 9,000 wounded.
British: 4,500 dead, 5,000 wounded.

A fun little game that certainly avenged the Light Division's retreat at the Coa! I thought Mathieu had a good chance with about 150% of the British points, but the die rolls were just too good – sixes clearly grow well in sunny soil. It could have swung a number of times – the KGL and 2nd Infantry's stunning reversals of circumstance come to mind, as does Barrington's bloody defence of the British left.

All told – I fancy it's time for more French to get painted!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Battle of Burwood, 1461

Having finished painting my first Wars of the Roses miniatures, I decided to test them out with a game of DBR, since I wanted to get my head around it before deciding whether I wanted to use it for the English Civil War. Yes that's right - I'm all about the shiny new Anglo-centric projects!

The Yorkists came to the field with 10 Bows(S) and 6 Blades(S) – there were many men of quality in their ranks. They were outnumbered slightly by the Lancastrians, who marched forth with 10 Bows(S), 3 Blades(S) and 4 Blades (O). In total the armies mustered 1,600 and 1,700 men apiece.

As the day opened, the Yorkist commander Sir Henry Mourne had put the greater part of his archers on Burrett's Hill. The rest of his men he kept in one great battle, their flanks secured by the village of Burwood and by their fellows on Burrett's Hill.

His opposite number, Sir Alan Reed, had drawn up his men in a smaller line to the south of the great field – little did Mourne realise that the cunning Reed had also placed a column on his northern flank...

Starting positions.
Yorkist line.
Main Lancastrian battle.

Aware of how far his longbowmen could fire and eager to bleed the enemy, Sir Henry moved his men forward, still anchoring them on Burwood. The Lancastrians heaved themselves forward in response, trudging through the spring mud. Excited by the prospect of combat, the archers under Okeham on the hill leapt forward as one and opened fire, disordering the enemy left.

The battle lines continued to close until, horror! Okeham's archers were caught by a storm of arrows from the Lancastrian left and the front rank melted away leaving the rest in disarray. At the same time, scores of men-at-arms in blue and white were whittled down, giving heart to the Yorkists once again. Then on the other flank, the Lancastrians lost archers too. The Good Lord was hedging his bets today.

The battle lines close - but there are more Lancs in the distance!

It was at this point that Sir Henry led his men at arms in a gallant charge against the enemy centre – but his archers hung back, having realised the threat of the Lancastrian second column. The enemy centre was shattered, hundreds of archers falling and the enemy's men at arms thrown back.

The centre cannot hold!

Shaken by this turn of events, Sir Alan could think to do nothing but throw himself back into the fray, but he was beaten back by deWolf's shields.

The last of Okeham's men on Burrett hill continued to drive back the Lancastrian left with their bodkin heads as Sir Henry kept up his relentless, remorseless assault on the Lancastrian centre. Now he and Sir Alan met in the melee, and there he dealt the foeman a great blow to the head that left his shield red with more than paint.

There we called the game, since Sir Alan was dead along with almost enough stands lost to automatically lose. Victory to York!

After the battle, Sir Henry was well pleased, especially with Jack Bone who commanded the archers of the Yorkist left – he had successfully held at bay almost three times his own numbers to give his captain time to break the enemy centre!

The main action at the end of play.

Butcher's Bill
York: 75 dead, 124 wounded
Lancaster: 450 dead, 258 wounded

That seemed to work about right, but it didn't seem as fun as DBA/HOTT for some reason. I haven't given up hope, but I think I'll have to be much more familiar with the combat resolution tables before I can really enjoy a game of this.

It still gave some fun moments, like Jack Bone's desperate defence of the Yorkist left, or Sir Alan throwing only 1s for his PIPs in the confusion of the melee. He shouldn't have tried to be clever with his deployment - more men in the main battle might well have saved him.

Overall, the game seems a little brittle and sterile, but I think that's more to do with Phil Barker's writing style – I know I don't feel that way about the other WRG games I play, although those are all based on the simpler DBA mechanics.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Battle of Raufheim, 1807

It is 1807. Displeased by Napoleon's Continental System and the effects it has had on trade, Britain has sent an amphibious force to northern Germany to help keep the Baltic trade routes open. While ships of the Royal Navy hang at anchor, an army of 24,000 men under General Estwold has landed to march down the coast and seize the port of Rostock. Unfortunately the Dukes of Ruritania and Brunswick, motivated more by dislike of British arrogance than loyalty to Napoleon, have marched to defend the town and throw the British back into the sea.

26,000 men now stand against the British, hoping to break their assault before they reach Rostock. They meet near the village of Raufheim...

Initial set-up. Raufheim at the crossroads in the rear.

On the day of battle, the German right was held by the Duke of Brunswick's men, secreted in the Erlen Woods. The village of Erm held his vaunted horse artillery. Reist's division held the centre of the line, with Aache's division on the northern slopes. Behind Reist lay von Kleist's mounted division, today personally led by the Duke of Ruritania himself.

The British centre was held by the First Division, which counted among its ranks the 2nd Brigade of Guards. On their left was McAuliffe's Scots Division, and on their right, the Light Division, which was tasked with seizing the bridge across the Raufen. The cavalry division under Imbert held the rear, waiting for the chance of a breakthrough.

The day began with a brisk British advance. Slowed by the woods, the Light Division nonetheless made the best progress, as the main line slowed to face the Brunswickers. All along the line muskets began to fire, but the cunning concealment of the blackclad Germans kept them safe from the brunt of it. The 2nd Brigade charged Erm, and after a bitter struggle managed to rout the German artillery and spike the guns.

Realising the situation the Duke of Brunswick was about to be caught in, Reist moved his regular regiments forward, leaving his grenz and landwehr to guard the crossroads. They looked a fine sight marching forward in the morning sun, their standards snapping in the breeze. From his vantage point on the hill, Aache saw the first elements of the Light Division leaving the woods, and began edging his line forward, seeking to anchor it between Raufheim and the Raufen Copse.

Seeking a swift exit from the bottleneck presented by the River Raufen and the Erlen Woods, Estwold and McAuliffe threw their divisions into the assault.
The true battle begins.

Already shaken by the sight of bright steel approaching, the Duke of Brunswick's Brigade of Line took terrible casualties in the charge and broken, its men streaming out of Erlen Woods in a sorry mass of men thinking only of themselves, throwing away weapons in their flight. His Lights did little better against the wrath of the Highland Brigade, but retired in good order to the heart of the forest.

On the road, the slaughter was as shocking as it was great – four thousand casualties were reaped in those few brutal minutes. The 28th Infantry regiment was routed by the Guards, but the 5th British were destroyed and the 8th Brigade thrown back. McAuliffe had succeeded, but Estwold's position was precarious.

Conscious of the heroic defence already presented by his men, Reist threw forward his reserve regiments, and though the Grenz balked at his orders, they strode manfully into the fray. The regulars retired slightly to cover the 28th, and to block the Guards from consolidating their gains. The Ruritanian second line did masterfully well against the 8th Brigade, sending it packing and breaking the will of the British centre. At the same time, the mere threat of a charge by the Brunswick Hussars sent the 2nd Brigade into paroxysms of fear, leading to their annihilation under the flashing blades of German sabres.

Seeing the infantry beginning to crumble, the cavalry now leapt into action. The heavies sprang down upon the exposed Brunswick Hussars, while the Lights sped forth to assault Reist's division. Inspired, the Guards and Highlanders charged his rear line, while the 1st Brigade went deeper into Erlen Woods to seek out the Brunswick Lights, who fled under such determined pursuit.

The Brunswick Hussars fought valiantly, but were destroyed. The irregular grenz could not stand against the British charge, and the landwehr on their flank were undone as well. Even Reist's regulars evaporated before King George's elites, leaving him alone and confused with the rallied remnants of the 28th.

The British line rallies.

Seeing what had become of Reist's gallant men, Aache threw caution to the wind and sent his men charging towards the Light Division. While the regular regiments approached head on, his grenz launched a sneak attack against the British right as well. Incensed by Reist's losses and the cowardice of the Brunswickers, the Duke led his cavalry forward as well.

The cuirassiers rode to their devastation, but the dragoons of the Guard brought bitter ruin to their British counterparts, breaking their ranks and sending them fleeing in disorder to the mass of Hussars passing behind them to assault the Light Brigades. That slaughter, that fateful pause disrupted the Hussar advance enough that they broke upon the 1st Light Brigade, although the second was destroyed by the Ruritanian 2-1 Dragoons.

They say the fiercest fighting comes between countrymen, and the King's German Legion proved the truth of that as they battled the 23rd Regiment and sent them packing, both sides licking grievous wounds. The 13th were similarly handled by the 3rd Light Brigade, but the 2nd, barely over the Raufen, was destroyed by the 21st Regiment and the grenz that charged screaming from the forest of Raufen Copse.

Battered by their rough treatment, the British cavalry only moved forward slowly to cover any moves by the remnants of their Ruritanian opposites. The Scots Division moved forward to annihilate Reist's remnants, and the Light Division re-engaged Aache's men.

The battlelines have thinned.

Yet again, the redcoats carried all before them, and there, heartbroken, the Duke of Ruritania decided to withdraw in order to save what few of his countrymen he could.

Butcher's Bill
German: 18,500 casualties, 10,000 dead.
British: 12,000 casualties, 5,500 dead.

That battle could have gone either way, but the iron of the Light Division was never going to let anything hold it back. With a Morale of six and shock, there's really no reason not to charge! The fragility of cavalry formations is something I never quite remember when it comes to Napoleonic games, and that was what broke the British cavalry, compared to the larger infantry units.

It was nice to play Volley and Bayonet again after so long with the Too Fat Lardies and 40k – it's a reminder of just how large a game you can get on a 2x2 board with 2mm. I should really get the rest of my Brits and French painted up...

Man of the Match goes to the Highland Brigade for its consistent performance, but there were no real stars in this bloodbath (fun as it was).