Thursday, 18 June 2015

West Country Waterloo: The First Refight - Part 3

Thank you to all those who have read, and especially commented on, the previous post waterloo-first-refight Part 2. The foregoing represents only 7 moves which is all we managed on our first day. The initiative system does produce delays while each command goes in turn, some take longer than others of course. I also got chastised for the time taken by wanting to clear the decks for photos and get a briefing for my notes each turn - you happy readers  are getting the benefit of that!  Everyone benefited by allowing Paul to adjudicate most of the time to avoid mistakes or overlooking some nuance he had introduced especially for Waterloo (such as soft ground affecting round shot for the first hour).  I did some adjudication on the peripheries where it made sense to keep up momentum. Luckily we had scheduled two days to ensure some kind of result. That meant that for Day 2 we lost Owain as Uxbridge and Tony as Prince of Orange, but we gained young Freddie sharing some of those responsibilities. The French were content to keep the good natured, historically flavoured, bickering among the same generals! Despite the lulls, and my suggestion to even out some of the workloads during Day 2, everyone seemed to be enjoying the slower pace and the commands that they had. That might have had something to do with the previous evening's pub meal followed by wine and cakes supplied by D'Erlon and Wellington into the small hours!
The umpire supervises Napoleon inspecting his reserves on the back table........
.....while Wellington briefs the young Prince of Orange 
By this time Wellington had built up an impressive gun line on the West end of MSJ
3pm - 3.30pm
On the French left the Belgian cavalry pushed the French Carabiniers right back to join the rest of Kellerman's Corps. The intact brigades of Dragoons and Cuirassiers still looked dangerous and neither side's cavalry seemed to have the upper hand, so Uxbridge called up the Household Brigade and the Union Brigade to the North-West of Hougoumont to try to make a difference. 
In the background can be seen the Household brigade (Life Guards) attacking.
The Union Brigade (Scots Greys) are on the right. Jerome's Division faces
Alten on the chausee. Hougoumont burns.
In the Hougoumont area Lobau continued artillery fire on the chateau and was now backed up by the advance of the Guard Heavy cavalry and artillery followed by the Old and Middle Guard infantry on the Eastern side of the chausee. 
Napoleon is at last on the main table
The Guard Heavy Cavalry
 This turn's rocket salvo rolled "1" which meant the French got to choose the target! So they were directed on Hougoumont and set more of it ablaze. The British Guards held firm despite a loss from the"friendly fire".

On Mont St Jean (MSJ) the Highlanders weakened, but maddened by fire from the Grand Battery, charged down the slope but losses due to the melee meant the morale of both sides failed. So Donzelot's attack was temporarily halted but the Highland brigade retreated hastily back over the ridge.
Before their charge - the Highland Brigade in square above LHS under artillery fire from
 the Grand Battery and with a yellow counter. At bottom left a Nassau brigade
 has also formed square because of the nearby Cuirassiers; the French HA fire
made sure they would regret it.
And afterwards the Highlanders back behind the crest with a red counter (exhausted)
and a small casualty stand (shaken) and under assault by French infantry
Two views from the Grand Battery

Among the Frischermont woods a gap in the trees was covered by Vivian's Horse Artillery, now exposed to the full fury of Jacquinot's renewed assault. They failed to see off the Lancers with canister and abandoned the guns but, as so often happens in wargames, this very success proved a final, fatal morale test for Jacquinot's Lancer brigade. To counter-balance that another KGL Hussar brigade was destroyed by the Guard Light Cavalry.
Another KGL  cavalry brigade about to be destroyed. Abandoned gun in
3.30pm - 4pm
Collaert's Belgian Carabiniers got beaten in their attack on Kellerman's Cuirassiers and Uxbridge led the Household Brigade and Belgian Hussars to try to rectify the situation.

Lobau's Corps was biding its time trying to weaken the resolve of the Hougoumont defenders by artillery fire. In this effort they were now joined by Imperial Guard artillery and the fire spread to cover the woods and orchard  not just the buildings. The Guard infantry and Heavy cavalry moved towards the West of Hougoumont.
Hougoumont burns more! Imperial Guard approaching in the background
Mixed fortunes on the main part of MSJ where more of D'Erlon's infantry surged forward and the Highland Brigade fought till it finally died. However the Brunswick Hussars now made a surprise attack over the crest riding down the chausee and pushed back one of the weakened Cuirassier brigades but was in turn trounced with a "Total slaughter" melee result thanks to poor dice! 
Brunswick Hussars at left. Highlanders receiving their last onslaught at top left
The same action from along MSJ
On the French right flank the Guard Light Cavalry finally got rid of all Vivian's cavalry but reached tired and exhausted status themselves. Around that time the first Prussians (Hack's Brigade of IV Corps) began to arrive on the table at the Lasne Brook road but quickly formed squares due to the apparent threat from the French cavalry.
Reforming French Guard cavalry with Prussian squares at left rear
4pm - 4.30pm
More Prussians began to arrive, with the squares protecting columns from the potential attention of the now-regrouping Guard Light Cavalry.

Red Lancers threaten the Prussian arrival
On the opposite flank the Household Brigade was getting the better of Kellerman's men, and Subervie's cavalry began to approach the lower slopes of MSJ under artillery fire.
Subervie's Light Cavalry Division near La Haye Sainte
The main French gains appeared to be in the centre where D'Erlon's troops were pushing over the crest of MSJ where the Highlanders had been. 
Things temporarily look better for the French on the MSJ crest
Wellington ordered a counter-attacked with Brunswick infantry and pushed them back. The young Brunswickers suffered badly in this process from French musketry but the subsequent Morale dice were two "1"s - the best possible result to retain the crest for Wellington!
Above and Below: Raushenplatt leads the Brunswick Contingent in a counter-attack

For his part D'Erlon used his Vivandiere vignette to replenish some of Donzelot's fatigue for one final struggle.
D'Erlon's Vivandiere Corps asset
4.30pm - 5pm
This turn was to prove the most significant of the battle.
The Household Brigade finally got rid of all Kellerman's heavy cavalry but were counter attacked by the French Guard Dragoons and pushed back in an "exhausted" state (below).

 Subervie's cavalry put in a charge up the Western end of MSJ and attacked the guns on the crest, but they got poor dice and both brigades were forced back. 
Subervie's Lancers are partially successful by disrupting the Allied gun line.
Two of Alten's brigades are sufficiently distracted to head back up the ridge
French infantry and Cuirassiers once more surged over MSJ to the East of La Haye Sainte but Wellington's and Picton's personal supervision held some of them to a draw in melee and others were seen off by musketry.
View down the chausee from the elm tree crossroads
Riflemen manned the sandpit by LHS  all day
This led to a voluntary withdrawal of Durutte's and Donzelot's Divisions by James as many brigades were within one or two fatigue points of breakdown and he wanted to deny the Allies of those VPs. It was to prove a sensible, as well as realistic decision. Nevertheless, Wellington perceived continuing danger to the Brussels road and ordered two of Alten's brigades to return up MSJ.

The real game changer came at Hougoumont between Kevin and Freddie. The British Guards had been continuously weakened by artillery, skirmisher fire and burning embers, and a combined assault by both the Middle Guard and the Old Guard infantry proved too much for them now and they were pushed out of the woods and prepared to defend the burning buildings.
First attack by French Guard on Hougoumont
On the French right near Papelotte  constant fire from horse artillery batteries finally destroyed a Nassau brigade which had been manning the hedges and broken ground next to the farm. The Prussians continued to advance towards Plancenoit as weak French cavalry brigades hurried back to reform (below).

5pm - 5.30pm
D'Erlon's infantry continued an orderly retreat back past the Grand Battery which gave covering fire (below), though Wellington's line was weakened to the extent that he had nothing there fit to pursue.

Wellington (centre) surveys a rather thinly held Mont St Jean
Picton's Brigade containing the 28th Foot fought their Cuirassier opponents to mutual destruction so the French had nothing left on the crest to exploit what success they had had.
The final surge of Milhaud's Cuirassiers. Picton stoically defends the crest
Subervie's Lancers had rallied on the ridge above Hougoumont and drove back a Royal Foot Artillery battery but in the process overreached so they were easy prey for the Irish brigade, and being weak by now were destroyed.
Subervie's Lancers short lived success
Uxbridge continued to lead a vigorous cavalry attack with the Union and Household brigades now doing battle with the Horse Grenadiers of the Old Guard, with no conclusive result as yet.
Horse Grenadiers fight the Scots Greys
In the distance The Life Guards are still battling with the French Empress Dragoons
The Duke of Cumberlands Hussars managed to re-enact their original Waterloo when they suffered some casualties from artillery fire, checked Morale and promptly fled the field!

At the other end of the battlefield Prussian cavalry under Prince William now arrived on the road near Frischermont and promptly attacked the Imperial Guard Light Cavalry. They managed a draw against the Red Lancers but were repulsed by the Chasseurs a Cheval.(below)

At Hougoumont the French Guard infantry still pressed on their attack. The Old Guard won by 3 - a "Marginal Win" and enough to press the British Guards back across the courtyard. The Middle Guard attacked winning by 7 - a "Total Win" pushing that brigade, exhausted, right out of Hougoumont.  Now the other British Guards brigade counter-attacked from the orchard and were beaten back by a French "Major Win".
French bearskins can be seen in the Hougoumont courtyard!
That meant the French Guard had suffered another hit so another Morale check. But the buildings were still burning and it would be the French turn now to be weakened by the accompanying "fatigue". This was enough for them to fail Morale and one brigade retreated out of Hougoumont leaving a bit of empty space in the middle!

I'm sorry to say I have to end the narrative there as we'd played through to 1830 real time and it was time to pack up :-(.

I must say that from a strategic point of view the French had lost yet again. The key area of Mont St Jean and the road to Brussels was still in Allied hands and the arrival of the Prussians inevitably shifted the weight advantage to the Allies. The Young Guard still held Plancenoit and all the artillery of the Grand Battery was intact. I argued that given the poorer quality of the Prussians against the built up area supported by strong artillery the French could have inflicted a very bloody nose on Blucher. But Paul, weighing up the state of fatigue of the rest of Napoleon's Army du Nord decided that was unlikely to make enough difference. He ruled that, unlike their historical counterparts the French would be able to make an orderly withdrawal and sue for peace on fairly favourable terms.

For the players though the Victory Points were the clinching evidence. When we totted them up they were as follows:
Allies   -  10 VP for terrain, 17 VP for units destroyed = 27
French -  12 VP for terrain, 15 VP for units destroyed = 27

So a real "close run thing" and one that all decreed brought honour to all the players involved, and judging by the spontaneous applause, for Paul the organiser too.

This is a magnificent achievement by Paul to get such a nail biting result. Even though we didn't finish properly there was a convincing result, but one which left everyone feeling satisfied by a marvelous weekend's eb and flow of battle. There was a very happy atmosphere, lots of laughter and a few mock tears, and no cross words that I detected.  It was a  very suitable way for me to be able to celebrate exactly 50 years doing "proper" wargaming since I was wowed by the Waterloo of Peter Gilder and Don Featherstone in London in 1965. On reflection they probably didn't have many more figures than we used ourselves but how times have changed - now our battle with 1800 figures was just modest compared to some.  Oh, and I got a few compliments for my terrain too, which seemed to suit the purpose admirably.
Some silliness before the big pack-up. From left - Mike, Richard, James, Pat, CG, Kevin.
Picture taken modestly by Paul - thank you for a great weekend
Next weekend Paul is giving us "Waterloo - Le Woteef Scenario". Using the same terrain and probably similar orders of battle but Richard, as Napoleon this time, will face James, promoted to the Duke  of Wellington, with the opportunity to do things differently, and with a largely different cast of players.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

West Country Waterloo: The First Refight - Part 2

I'll assume readers have already seen waterloo-first-refight Part 1

The action begins
Moving comes before firing but it's fun to start off with a note on the good humoured banter that crossed the table all weekend. When it came for the French Grand battery to open fire one of the players looked at his watch and mimicked Christopher Plummer's Wellington in "Waterloo":  "The first shot is at 11.13, sir". We all saw the symbolism that our game had "started" so close to the real battle's 11.25 and burst out laughing. It set a good tone for the proceedings.

Reille's Corps began its move to the left under Pat, but Peter, as Ney, having no troops of his own, took about half the Corps forward and began to converge on the Great Orchard area of Hougoumont . He ran into heavy fire from sharpshooters in the orchard and woods as well as on the slopes of MSJ, and considerable British artillery fire from the crest. The Grand Battery caused only 1 hit for its first salvo with no morale effect on Byjlandt's brigade. On the flanks both the Light Cavalry Divisions of Pire and Jacquinot advanced but Milhaud's Cuirassiers failed to activate so D'Erlon just marked time by changing formation. Evidently the French had decided not to make the mistake of an attack without close cavalry support.
Centre and West end
D'Erlon changes formation
The Allies contented themselves with moving Hill, supported by Grant's cavalry, out to towards the right flank, the Guards moved to reinforce Hougoumont in full strength, and Vivian's Cavalry Division moved out to the left flank.
Jacquinot in front of Frischermont
Vivian moves out to the flank
Midday to 1 pm
Pire's Lancers had met Grant's cavalry and come off badly and were pushed back. As a  consequence Jerome's planned left hook ground to a halt as his brigades formed squares due to the Allied cavalry being true to form, failing to pull back after victory, and coursing off after the French "hares". Behind them though Kellerman's Heavy Cavalry had activated and moved left towards Mon Plaisir in support of Jerome. The Hussars of Grant's Division annihilated the fleeing French cavalry but two of his brigades were broken themselves on the squares of Jerome's Division.
This sequence shows Grant's cavalry sweeping away Pire

Vacated landscape in front of Jerome's squares. Kellerman's heavy cavalry
round Mon Plaisir on the left 
Further back Lord Hill reorganised his British infantry into menacing looking columns, was the Allied right hook plan about to be executed?

Foy's Division led by Ney in person had fared badly under the Allied guns and retreated in disorder from Hougoumont,  hotly pursued at a distance by British Rifles. A surprise occurred when Tony sallied a half battalion of Nassau infantry forth from the Hougoumont woods and proved to be the "straw that broke the camel's back" for one of Foy's brigades, adding another Victory Point to the Allied score and rendering the Division of little use from now on.

On Mont St Jean Byjlandt suffered 5 hits this time from the French guns at long range and although their Morale did not break they were at "tired" status and withdrawal behind the crest made good sense. Alten's Division gave up its front line position to move towards the right flank and was replaced at the crest by reserve units.
Byjlandt's Brigade has retreated and D'Erlon's corps slowly moves through the
Grand Battery
Around Papelotte/La Haie, Tony as the Prince of Orange moved a Netherlands Division down the ridge to support the Nassau skirmishers in the hamlets. The latter had been playing cat and mouse with Jacquinot's cavalry to little effect for either side. Owain began to break the deadlock by moving Vivian's Light cavalry around Smohain and Frischermont to give Jacquinot pause for thought.
In the foreground Vivian moves round Smohain
1 pm - 2 pm
Up to this time Ney had been sending messages to Napoleon, in between losing Foy's Division and trying to persuade Kellerman to get a move on. Paul had rendered Napoleon as "resting" due to his illness and lacklustre performance that day. He could self activate by a 1 on a D6 aided by messages from Ney (i.e. each one took a Rank/command from Ney). None of them had made any difference until now when Ney left the field and visited Bonaparte in person to encourage him to became his old self! He got up and Kevin was pleased to be able to activate Lobau's Corps, the Young Guard and the Guard Cavalry. Since no commander was on the field of battle not much else of note happened for 30 minutes except for the Highland Brigade suffering 3 hits from the Grand Battery. Picton was still very much alive encouraging them to hold.

Above and below: D'Erlon moves on slowly. Lobau's corps is visible by LBA
Vivian mounts the ridge to face Jacquinot

On the British left Vivian's cavalry mounted the ridge in front of Frischermont and began to shape up to Jacquinot between the woods. Behind them Lefevre-Desnouettes Guard Light Cavalry were now streaming to support their right flank comrades.

Guard Light Cavalry and Jacquinot's
Jerome and Kellerman now move forward
Things were really happening for the French now. Lobau began to move his whole corps towards Hougoumont filling the space vacated by Foy.  Kellerman's cavalry moved forward on the left causing Hill's potential attack to halt as Mike decided to form the whole Division in squares, backed by Collaert's Belgian cavalry. Alten formed line by his side back up towards MSJ while the British Guards Division began to pack as many bases as possible into Hougoumont and its surroundings.
Lobau's Corps extreme left and Hill in squares extreme right. Picton and
Alten line the crest of MSJ
Close up of Lobau and Subervie's cavalry near LBA
In the centre at last Milhaud's impressive Cuirassiers corps moved through D'Erlon's infantry and the whole body began an advance across the valley towards MSJ in close combination. Peter controlled the cavalry as Ney and James controlled D'Erlon's infantry.(below)

Chasse's Division heads down to Papelotte/La Haie directed by
The Prince of Orange
2pm - 3pm
The wooded area in front of Frischermont now saw a big cavalry battle. First of all Vivian was reasonably successful against Jacquinot but before they could make any headway the Guard Light Cavalry came forward along the ridge and delivered a big punch. Amazingly the melee dice proved to be smiling on the Allied cavalry resulting in the KGL Light Dragoons holding the French to a draw - difference of 1.
(3 + 5 = 8 French;  9 + 0 = 9 KGL)
After that it took quite a while for the Guard cavalry to make any headway, especially as when one Allied brigade got "exhausted" status Richard swooped in as Wellington to play an event card that made them mad and go fanatical. This meant they got 4 more fatigue points and fought on till destroyed.
This sequence shows Vivian's KGL cavalry thwarting a much superior French force

Overwhelmed and Exhausted these KGL
Hussars got a "Battle Frenzy" event card
Around this time Hougoumont was set on fire by French howitzer fire (an event card) and a process started where the occupants of burning areas lost fatigue points while trying to put out fires, sometimes successful and sometimes the card got repeated, just adding to their problems as the fire spread. Hougoumont burned for the rest of our game. The British Guards could stand the fatigue loss....but not indefinitely. Only French skirmishers and artillery were in action here as Lobau still shaped up for an attack while receiving some losses from rockets. The random nature of the rocket rules caused much mirth as we watched them fall. No adverse morale among the French resulted though.
Kellerman and Jerome steadily advance on Hill and Alten 
Hougoumont burns
The Young Guard occupied Plancenoit gaining the French 4 VPs.

Between La Haye Sainte and Papelotte two French Corps were advancing in tandem - Milhaud and D'Erlon, with the Cuirassiers at this point first forming up at the base of the ridge. Losses from artillery mounted though and one brigade quickly reached "tired" status. Picton formed his brigades on the ridge into squares. As the French pressed bravely on the Cuirassiers received severe casualties from rifle fire from LHS and canister from RHA on the ridge top and failed to dent the Allied line.

Milhaud's Cavalry assemble at the foot of MSJ....
......but receive serious casualties from skirmishers in LHS
They have a yellow "tired" counter
The view from the Grand Battery and D'Erlon's infantry
Initially Durutte's infantry fared better, for a while cresting the ridge, but eventually one brigade was repulsed.
Part of Picton's Division receives Durutte in square
Initially repulsed Durutte played this card which gave him another turn,
 but the British stood firm. (What did he expect? This brigade also contained  the
28th Foot - North Gloucestershire!)
The rest of D'Erlon's infantry struggle up MSJ. The Highland brigade is still
getting a pounding from the Grand Battery 
On the French left the Carabinier brigade led Kellerman's assault but at that point the Earl of Uxbridge seized the day and counter charged at the head of Collaert's Division through Hill's squares resulting in a "major win" and sending the Carabiniers back where they were effectively finished by Horse Artillery. The remainder of Kellerman's cavalry formed up to threaten Alten's infantry.

Here is the action sequence....... 
Initially the Carabiniers hit a Belgian Horse Battery (distant view)
Over ran it to attack the squares
And found themselves pushed back and overwhelmed by Collaert's whole Division
I'll leave you with an overall view at about this point - around 3pm battle time but the end of our first day's play.

I think that's enough excitement for one day, hopefully part 3 tomorrow.