This month saw the roll out of our first scenario using "Napoleon at War" from Man at War.
The chosen battle was Rolica, the first battle between British and French troops in the Peninsular War and the debut of one of Britain's greatest military commanders, Sir Arthur Wellesley, later to become the Duke of Wellington.
This battle at first glance may not seem that attractive to most wargamers, with a relatively small French advance guard up against a much larger, about 3:1, Allied army of British and Portuguese troops. The scenario attempts to balance this by measuring each commanders results with those achieved by their historical predecessor. For a PDF copy of the scenario, and more information about the thinking behind it, follow the link to JJ's Wargames Blog.
|The area of the battle portrayed in our scenario|
We set up the forces as per the historical arrangement with Sir Arthur Wellesley's main forces arrayed in front of the French occupying Rolica and Rolica Hill. The scenario assumes that Sir Arthur has sent his two outflanking columns off table and thus the French force will have to fall back within a limited time. General DeLaborde managed to hold the Allies for three hours, twelve moves, until falling back from his second position in considerable disorder loosing 600 men and three guns in the retreat. Wellesley managed this by manouvering his oppontent off his positions rather than head on assault and lost just 479 casualties. How would our tabletop commanders compare?
Under the opening salvo from the Royal artillery brigade at the centre of Sir Arthur's force, eight battalions of line infantry, two rifle battalions, one cacadore battalion and some light cavalry arranged in four brigades, set off on their march to meet the French. The British troops were keen to close with the enemy, having chased their rearguard out of the small walled town of Obidos the night before. As the redcoats closed on Rolica Hill the French guns opened fire in response with seemingly little effect as the British closed up to fill any gaps caused in their ranks.
|The view from the ridge, Columbiera village on the left, Rolica on the right|
|View from the British start line facing the French on Rolica Hill|
The initial French position was a formidable one with two battalions plus artillery holding the hill and one battalion occupying Rolica and blocking the Lisbon road. The remainder of the force, two battalions and a light cavalry regiment were held in support.
|The 1/70th Ligne, 3/2nd Legere and Foot Artillery holding Rolica Hill|
|General Hill's brigade in the foreground with Nightingale's and Fane's brigades beyond|
|Fane's brigade, 95th Rifles, 60th Rifles and the 6th Cacadores|
|The British advance|
|General "Daddy"Hill leads his brigade supported by the 20th Light Dragoons|
|Wellesley, top right, overseas the approach march of Nightingale's brigade|
|The 95th Rifle supported by the 60th Rifles prepare to assault the 3/4th Legere holding Rolica|
As if sensing the French indecision, the 95th Rifles launched an assault on Rolica village forcing the 3/4th Legere to stay and support their colleagues on the hill. The elite rifleman charged into the narrow streets and small buildings engaging their light counterparts in deadly hand to hand fighting. The first hours of battle had the riflemen firmly in control of Rolica and the 3/4th Legere streaming back up the Lisbon road in rout.
In desperation General de Brigade Brenniers turned to the least likely of units to retake the village and stabilise his line. The 4th Swiss were ordered to charge in and eject the rifles. They seemed to advance quite steadily at first to the village outskirts, but after passing the remnants of the 4th Legere throwing away weapons and acoutrments that might slow their rout, they simply stopped and refused to advance any further.
|The 4th Swiss held in support of Rolica|
|The 1/9th foot lead Hill's brigade in turning the French left flank|
The French sensing discretion was the better part of valour fell back just far enough to force the British to continue their advance in line.
|The 26th Chasseur a Cheval move up to delay the advance of Hill's brigade|
|The 29th Foot prepare to assault the guns on Rolica Hill|
|The 70th Ligne start to fall back from Rolica Hill as British infantry approach|
|General Crawford's reserve brigade moves on past Sir Arthur in support of Fane and Nightingale|
|The 95th Rifles "mop up" after a vicious battle to take Rolica|
This is where the Allies could force a "sudden death" conclusion to the game by getting more good order troops onto the ridge than the French thus compelling them to retire and reducing the casualty count. Would they take advantage of the opportunity?
|British reserves moving up|
|The fighting moved through the valley as the French withdrew|
|The rearguard to the rearguard|
|The pressure builds on and around Rolica Hill|
|The Rifles re-group|
|The guns limber up with British light cavalry in hot pursuit|
|The Swiss head for the ridge|
|The Chasseurs fall back|
|The Chasseurs turn to delay the British pursuit|
|The 70th Ligne evacuate Columbeira|
|Entering on of the defile onto the ridge|
|Colonel Lake of the 29th Foot killed at Rolica|
|The Swiss defend the ridge on the Lisbon road|
|Hill's lead battalion climbs an undefended pass|
The 50th foot seeing this gave a cheer, lowered their muskets and charged. This was too much for the Swiss who promptly threw down their muskets and surrendered. Game over in turn 11, a close run thing. The British had clearly won and broken DelaBorde's force, but had the cost been higher than Sir Arthur's casualty bill.
|The British in headlong pursuit scent victory|
The French were awarded 3VPs for each allied base destroyed even if subsequently rallied and returned to battle, of which 8 were. These totalled 15 bases, three times the casualties Wellesley suffered and easily cancelling out the British taking the ridge and breaking the French force, all of which Wellesley achieved at less cost. So leaving the British with a Phyrric victory at best.
More importantly was it a good game. Well we all enjoyed ourselves, and the rules stood up to scrutiny with them being new to most of the players.
Thanks to Ian, Jack, Ollie, Charlie and Gus for a fine afternoons entertainment. I will be running the same scenario in a few weeks time using Carnage & Glory computer rules and will post a report on JJ's Wargames Blog