Sunday, 15 January 2017

Vimeiro Hill - Over the Hills

The Vimeiro campaign of 1808 holds a certain affection for me in my Napoleonic wargaming history. I began studying it and the battles of Rolica and Vimeiro back in 2013 as I searched for a set of Napoleonic rules to allow me to game in the grand manner with battalions, squadrons, batteries and skirmish lines to the fore; I have never been keen on the look of three men taking a flag for a walk. If you want to see those early games then check out the link below to JJ's Wargames with the first post about Rolica way back in February 2013 that starts the odyssey described and click on the newer posts tab at the bottom to link through to Vimeiro, Corunna Oporto and on up to Talavera.

JJ Wargames - Peninsular War Scenarios

At that time I had my mind very much towards gaming bigger grander battles and Vimeiro was seen very much as a launch pad to allow me to test out rules on a small battle that could go on to cope with the bigger ones I had in mind, and now with my Talavera project nearing completion I can look back on Vimeiro with fond recollection as Tom, Will and I got our heads around Carnage & Glory II and British reverse slope tactics.

I have always had my eye out for a paper based set of Napoleonic rules to use alongside my preferred option C&G II to cater for those of my friends who still prefer to roll dice; and Napoleon at War was a potential candidate but didn't quite make the cut and so it was with much interest that I looked at Over the Hills rules which I reviewed with our first play test back in October last year on JJ's.

JJ Wargames - Over the Hills Napoleonic Rules Play Test & Review

Following that first game, I came away impressed with the neat ideas around capturing battle fatigue so well done in Carnage & Glory that I was prompted to run a second game at the Devon Wargames Group and I immediately thought of my original scenario plan for Vimeiro that I designed back in 2013 for Napoleon at War and later C&G II.

So digging out my original scenario plan I began to rearrange the detail and unit statistics around Over the Hills together with some ideas that came out of the first play test to better manage the process of recording fatigue during our game.

I have copied the briefing and unit details here to this post and will provide a PDF copy with other materials we used on JJ's Wargames with a post to let you know when they are available and how to get them if you so choose.

So on with our game yesterday. The map below sets the scene of the Vimeiro Hill scenario that focuses on the first attack on Sir Arthur Wellesley's line on the ridges covering the beach landing area above the mouth of the River Maceira.

British Riflemen landing in Portugal in 1808 -
French General Junot commanding the invasion force sent to subdue Portugal in 1808 had quickly gathered what forces he could and marched north from Lisbon to crush the British expeditionary force now gathering near to the little coastal village of Vimeiro.

He decided on a flanking manoeuvre to turn Wellesley's position atop the line of hills leading in from the coast by detaching two brigades under generals Solignac and Brennier, whilst he lead the main part of his army against the British troops in front of Vimeiro and holding Vimeiro Hill. The forces involved in this part of the battle are detailed below together with the objectives and victory conditions designed to simulate the challenge faced by the opposing commanders.

Vimeiro Hill
Start Time: 09.30
Environmental Conditions
Season: Summer
Weather: Clear

Ground Conditions: Good
After Rolica, Wellesley marched across country to make contact with his reinforcements on the
coast. Hearing that Junot’s main body was in the area he made preparations to attack him, but Sir
Harry Burrard arrived and countermanded the order. The following morning he was advised that the
enemy was preparing to attack him.

Special Rules:
No Horses - The Artillery teams after the march from Rolica were rapidly wearing out.
The British foot artillery movement distance when limbered is 2” (100 paces) per segment, and once
deployed may only move by man handling, 2” (100 paces) per move plus fatigue.

Essential Scenery:
Terrain - Ground is typically gently rolling arable or cultivated, with open wooded areas, villages and
small enclosures for olive groves and vines. These areas should be scattered randomly over the table
Overhead artillery fire is only permitted from one unit to another when the firer or target is located
on or above equal elevations, both of which are higher than the intervening friendly or enemy unit.
No overhead fire is permitted within canister range.

Vimeiro Hill – This area was not suited to cavalry movement and should therefore be considered as
rough ground for cavalry outside of other terrain features (Fields, woods, Vineyards) placed upon it.

Villages – All structures are stone (Seven Defensive Points). All rules for ‘Built Up Areas’ apply.

Roads - Troops must be in March Column or limbered to gain road advantage.

French - Your orders are to control Vimeiro Hill and/or Vimeiro Village, and force Wellesley’s forces to retreat to the beaches.

Allies (Anglo-Portuguese) - Your mission is to deny the French control of Vimeiro Hill and/or Vimeiro village. You must withstand the assault until the end of the battle or inflict so many casualties that the attacking forces are obliged to give up.

The Allies may deploy up to 12” (600 paces) onto the table from the British player’s edge. The infantry will be deployed in two brigades, in two lines with each battalion in line. Wellesley’s deployment had the 60th, 95th, 50th, 97th, 52nd in the first line with the 9th and 43rd battalions in the second). The Foot artillery will be unlimbered and deployed. (See map for positions)

Acland’s brigade is in reserve behind Vimeiro and may deploy on the Allies back table edge in the two squares behind the village or to the North East edge in the first square. The cavalry will be off table, in reserve and may be deployed along the Allied player’s table edge.

The French may deploy up to 12” (600 paces) forward of their table edge. The artillery may start
limbered or unlimbered and deployed. (The map shows the deployment positions taken by Junot).

Junot’s columns arrived in two distinct phases with Thomières and Charlot’s attacking first, followed
later by an attack from Kellerman and St Clair.

Margaron’s Cavalry Brigade, Kellerman’s and St Clair’s Brigades are in reserve, and may be deployed along the French player’s table edge.

Once the French have deployed the Allies may change the facing and/or formation of all their
deployed forces.

The French plays as Side A in all game turns.

Victory Status:
The side that forces the other to have MORE THAN 50% of its total Fatigue Score in recorded Fatigue Hits has caused the other to become shattered and to withdraw from the field of battle and will be declared the victor.

However, the game can be called after eight turns by assessing each side’s victory points:

  • Destroying a unit = 2 points
  • Routing a unit = 1 point
  • Breaking a brigade = 5 points
  • Breaking the most expensive brigade or anyone of two or more with the same points = 10 points

Wellesley (Divisional Commander 24”, 1200 paces) (4 +2) (57 Army Fatigue)

6th Brigade Fane (Brigade Commander 12”, 600 paces) (3 +0) (16 Brigade Fatigue)
2/95th Rifles Light Battalion (7 A/R) 411 men in four companies
5/60th Rifles Light Battalion (9 A/R) 544 men
1/50th British Line Battalion (10 C) 850 men
Fane’s Light Battalion (4 B) 200 men

7th Brigade Anstruther (Brigade Commander 12”, 600 paces) (3 +0) (19 Brigade Fatigue)
2/9th British Line Battalion (8 C) 570 men
2/43rd British Light Battalion (8 C) 649 men
2/52nd British Light Battalion (8 C) 589 men
2/97th British Line Battalion (8 C) 625 men
Anstruther’s Light Battalion (5 B) 270 men

8th Brigade Acland (Brigade Commander 12”, 600 paces) (3 +0) (11 Brigade Fatigue)
2nd British Line Battalion (8 C) 658 men
1/20th British Line Battalion (4 C) 361 men in seven and a half companies
Acland’s Light Battalion (8 B/R) 313 men composed of 1/95th Rifles plus light company men from the 2nd and 20th Foot

Under Wellesley’s command (11 Brigade Fatigue)
British Foot Artillery Battery (7)  5 x 6lbr medium, 1 x howitzer – See limited movement rates in notes
20th Light Dragoons (7) 240 Light Cavalry
Portuguese Light Dragoons (6) 299 Light Cavalry (6th, 11th, 12th and Lisbon Police Cavalry, Combined Regiment)

The table at the start of our game with the on table forces deployed at start and the British brigades (left) firmly ensconced on Vimeiro Hill

Junot (General de Division 24”, 1200 paces) (3 +0) (60 Army Fatigue)

Thomiere's Brigade Thomiere (General de Brigade 12”, 600 paces) (3+0) (12 Brigade Fatigue)
1/86th Line (8 B) 757 men
2/86th Line (8 B) 756 men
4th Swiss Line (3 B) 246 men in two companies
Thomiere’s Voltigeur Battalion (4 B) 246 men

Charlot's Brigade Charlot (General de Brigade 12”, 600 paces) (3+0) (11 Brigade Fatigue)
3/32nd Battalion (9 B) 804 men
3/82nd Battalion (8 B) 749 men
Charlot’s Voltigeur Battalion (4 B) 222 men

Kellerman's Brigade Kellerman (General de Brigade 12”, 600 paces) (3+1) (12 Brigade Fatigue)
1st Battalion Reserve Grenadiers (9 B) 467 men
2nd Battalion Reserve Grenadiers (9 B) 467 men
Kellerman’s Grenadier Light Battalion (4 B) 232 men

St Clair's Brigade St Clair (Colonel 12”, 600 paces) (3+0) (10 Brigade Fatigue)
3rd Battalion Reserve Grenadiers (9 B) 467 men
4th Battalion Reserve Grenadiers (9 B) 467 men

Margaron's Brigade Margaron (General de Brigade 12”, 600 paces) (3+0) (11 Brigade Fatigue)
4th A Provisional Dragoons  (5) 295 men
4th B Provisional Dragoons  (5) 295 men
5th A Provisional Dragoons  (5) 330 men
5th B Provisional Dragoons  (5) 330 men

Under Junot's Command (4 Brigade Fatigue)
Line Foot Artillery (7)  6 x 8lbr, 2 howitzers

The view from French lines with Thomiere's brigade (closest to camera) preparing to assault Vimero village and with Charlot's brigade (32me and 82me Ligne) facing off forces on Vimeiro Hill - Note the new Fatigue Force Morale cards in action to the left.

This game allowed me to try out my newly minted Force Morale cards shamelessly copied from Sam Mustafa's Maurice game incorporating coloured dice (blue - French, red - Allied) to record reductions in Force morale caused by fatigue. These cards will also facilitate using order chits which we didn't need in this game with the French on attack and the Allies on hold/defend orders throughout the game.

The fatigue caused to units through the game can be seen being recorded by similarly coloured micro dice positioned behind the affected units.

Thomiere's brigade beat out the pas de charge as General Junot encourages his men

With the objectives and deployments established we kicked off with the French starting their move towards both the village and the hill and with their artillery placed in the centre able to support either wing.

These early moves were swiftly followed with a call for the French reserves to move on to table in the next turn.

The British commanders could only observe to see where the French would put in their main attack before committing their reserves and so contented themselves with some early ranging shots on Charlot's brigade advancing towards the hill causing the first hit of the battle and some early fatigue.

The French artillery moves up to support the infantry assault

The arrival of French reserves on turn two consisting of the grenadiers and dragoons moving obviously in support of Thomiere's advance on Vimeiro prompted Wellesley to call forward Acland's brigade together with the British and Portuguese cavalry to secure the village as the French tried desperately to race them to it.

General Fane's 6th Brigade with General Anstruther's 7th Brigade to their right atop Vimeiro Hill with Sir Arthur Wellesley overseeing his gun line in the centre

Despite the emphasis of French deployments to their right and the village, the British command seemed reluctant to relinquish their positions on the reverse slope of Vimeiro Hill and thus it was not until the third turn that General Anstruther's 7th Brigade turned to thinking about moving to their left to occupy the slopes vacated by Fane's 6th Brigade as they prepared to offer support to the 2nd 'Queens Regiment' Foot as they quickly prepared the houses and walls in Vimeiro for defence.

General Anstruther's 7th brigade with Moore's light bobs from the 52nd and 43rd Light Infantry on the forward slope - note the little ridge-line markers to allow the British players to position their line on the rear slopes 

General Charlot was only to happy to aggravate British deployments as his two battalions gamely pressed on towards the British right atop the hill, although he took a deep breath as British artillery fire inflicted three fatigue hits on the 32me Ligne to be followed by the French guns attempting to reply rolling a ten and promptly finding themselves out of ammunition!

Sir Arthur Wellesley observes the French deployment as the Royal Artillery prepare to try out their new shrapnel shells
General Junot orders the attack to commence

The first exchanges of musketry between Thomiere's voltigeurs and Acland's light bobs on the front of Vimeiro village announced the commencement of the battle for this key objective.

General Acland's men had easily won the race for the village and placing their strongest battalion in it, the 2nd Foot, and with their brigade skirmish screen forward must have felt secure behind the thick stone walls with a defence factor of seven, as the three columns of the 86me and 4me Swiss Ligne approached the outskirts.

General Acland's brigade move in and secure Vimeiro village as Thomiere's troops enter the outskirts of the village
The British 2nd Queen's Royal Regiment of Foot with Acland's light bobs prepare the village for defence
The RFA greet Charlot's brigade with some well directed fire

As Thomiere's troops prepared to assault Vimeiro, Margaron's dragoons moved rapidly to threaten any troops moving off the hill in support of the village as Kellerman's grenadier columns moved in march column to speed their approach to the village in support of the attack.

The assault on Vimeiro develops as both sides deploy their reserves in support of the battle for the village with the 20th Light Dragoons under Colonel Taylor charging in among the 2/86me Ligne

General Thomiere was the spearhead commander as his men charged into the narrow streets of Vimeiro and must have felt he was leading a likely 'forlorn hope' as the factors added up to seven points in favour of the British defence.

Over the Hills works on the roll of a D10 needing to be rolled less than or equal to a factor for any given result. With plus seven to the score for the British only poor die rolling could prevent the French from 'bouncing' back from their assault; and that was when the French scored one fatigue hit to none received in return, gaining them a foothold in the village which they took after two further rounds of desperate melee.

French cavalry move up to seal off the British in Vimeiro from their comrades on the hill

With the 1/86me Ligne busy fighting to secure the village their sister second battalion got themselves on the wrong end of the British 1796 model light cavalry sabre. As the battalion cleared the outskirts of the village, its vineyards and enclosures they were immediately engaged by the 20th Light Dragoons under their commander Colonel Taylor.

Osprey's depiction of Lt. Colonel Taylor leading the 20th Light Dragoons at Vimeiro - Patrice Courcelle

The 2/86me rapidly shook out into line and delivered a well directed volley causing two fatigue hits but unable to prevent the British cavalry swirling in among their ranks suffered the consequences as the battalion was dispersed with men throwing down their muskets and appealing for quarter.

British troops on Vimeiro Hill redeploy to bolster the flank closest to the village

The fighting for Vimeiro had left both Acland's and Thomiere's brigades badly battered with both formations teetering on brigade morale failure which would have caused immediate withdrawal from the battle.

The good news from a French perspective was that Thomiere's troops were in control of Vimeiro and with its defensive characteristics were very unlikely to be ejected by anything but fresh troops.

Margaron's dragoons prepare to charge
The battle in full sway with French forces now holding Vimeiro village as their Grenadier reserve moves up the road in support

It was now that the battle reached its crescendo as both sides sought to reinforce and consolidate their gains or take back lost objectives, with the principle fight around the road between the hill and the village leading towards the British beach head.

French guns support Charlot's brigade as the French refuse their left flank as they consolidate the hold on their right flank and Vimeiro village

General Margaron lead his dragoons up to the British line forcing the 95th and 60th Rifles to form square rather than risk their position at this critical stage in the battle.

However the French dragoons overplayed their hand and attempted a charge on the British line further along the hill encountering its broken and disrupting terrain causing fatigue on the approach only to be met by well directed volley fire from the 50th Foot that sent the French cavalry reeling back down the slope.

Desperate fighting erupts in the centre as the French prevent British attacks to retake Vimeiro
The 20th Light Dragoons having destroyed the 2/86me Ligne in a devastating charge can only observe the French forces holding the outskirts of the village

The defeat of Margaron's dragoons was all very well, but did little to aid the British in their attempt to take back Vimeiro as the cavalry had done an excellent job in preventing Fane's men from launching a counter-attack in that direction.

The "point de décision" as the forces of  Fane, Margaron and Kellerman go toe to toe outside of Vimeiro

The afternoon was drawing to a close and both sides were looking to get an overwhelming hold on the battle.

The British sensing the opportunity to retake Vimeiro by assault slipping away refocused on trying to break Junot's force morale by breaking some of his battered brigades which had lead the assault.

The focus swung back on to Charlot's two battalions who now close to Vimeiro hill became threatened by a potential counter-attack from it by General Anstruther's powerful brigade. However try as they might the French battalions gave as good as they got and were pluckily hanging on in the fight as the French brought up their, as it turned out, battle deciding reserve.

The Combined Grenadier battalions of Kellerman and St Clair proved a reserve to far for the British at Vimeiro

Like two punch drunk boxers leaning on the ropes trying to land a key blow but now breathing hard to keep going, the fight reached its final phase.

The four columns of French grenadiers had now moved up to replace the battered French dragoons who reluctantly gave way to the French elites who launched themselves at the British elites in the form of the 60th and 95th Rifles who had now shaken themselves out into line.

This would be the decisive fight as the winners would decide the fate of Vimeiro village and who would be able to hold it.

As the French columns charged in the British commander felt confident the British volley fire would command the day, until it didn't. Poor die rolling again allowed the French columns to close to contact and it was only the quality of the British riflemen together with better subsequent die rolls that kept them in the fight for the three rounds of combat it took to see both sides pull back.

The British riflemen had held the French attack, but it was the French grenadiers who were the fresher of the two brigades and well capable of launching a second assault and just as importantly very capable of preventing a British attack to retake Vimeiro itself.

Thus we called the game at that stage with the French firmly in control of the village and having achieved their objective.

That said the fatigue levels at the end of the game below shows how close the battle was and how difficult it was to call especially with one broken French brigade worth 5 VP and a destroyed French infantry battalion worth a further 2 VP. Had the British held onto Vimeiro as they should have, it would have been an overwhelming British victory

With Vimeiro in French hands and the British on the worse end of the battle fatigue we called it a French victory

Wellesley (Divisional Commander  (57 Army Fatigue - 25) 43% loss
6th Brigade Fane (16 Brigade Fatigue - 4)
7th Brigade Anstruther (19 Brigade Fatigue -11)
8th Brigade Acland (11 Brigade Fatigue - 8)
Under Wellesley’s command (11 Brigade Fatigue - 2)

Junot (60 Army Fatigue - 29) 48% loss
Thomiere's Brigade Thomiere (12 Brigade Fatigue - 2)
Charlot's Brigade Charlot (11 Brigade Fatigue - 4)
Kellerman's Brigade Kellerman (12 Brigade Fatigue - 11)
St Clair's Brigade St Clair (10 Brigade Fatigue - 8)
Margaron's Brigade Margaron (11 Brigade Fatigue - 0 broken)
Under Junot's Command (4 Brigade Fatigue - 4)

Given that this was only our second go at 'Over the Hills' what was the overall impression and what worked well and not so well?

I very much like the way these rules play and the game they create. This scenario proved a very close run thing and we were all struggling to call it right to the end. The effects on players seeing the fatigue levels impacting on their brigades really creates that meat grinder effect of sustained battle; with the need to have fresh reserves to be able to settle the matter at the end which it what the French
Grenadiers were able to do.

The Force Moral Cards were a success and together with the micro dice we were able to easily mark hits on units that could be rallied off in the game and also easily record them against the individual brigades and army by turning the dice on the cards. Any dice used up were left on the card of the affected brigade so we could see how much had reduced the overall army morale, bearing in mind that some on the dice were not showing six points when placed.

I like to use my light companies as battalion units to screen brigades and this needs further work in how we use them as it was easy for players to get confused as to their role in situations. Simply put, light troops are their to indicate the skirmish screen and to inflict long range softening up fire, but if formed up can also fight as a small light infantry battalion and I need to get clear on how that function works in the game.

Finally the rules as with many others on the market would benefit from a thorough index to enable quicker reference to the various rule references which can occur in several parts of the rule book especially when, as we did, you are using the Optional Rules from page 55 onwards, that together with some missing factors from the QRF which I need to update, were a minor quibble that didn't hugely distract from our enjoyment of the game.

So there we are my first Napoleonic game for 2017 and much fun provided by Over the Hills.

Thank you to Nathan, Ian, Si and Steve M for patiently getting their heads around the rules whilst also producing such a close fought game which has set the year off to an excellent start.


  1. Excellent visual treat and a BatRep well told!

    1. Hi Jonathan, thank you, glad you enjoyed the read.
      All the best

  2. Looked like a good game, I'm sorry I missed it.

    1. Hi J it was fun and you were missed. Hope you're ok mate and I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities to get the toys out again this year.

  3. Sounds great, a wonderful report with fantastic looking figures and terrain, worthy of the special atmosphere of the Peninsular war...

    1. Thanks very much Phil. It was great fun starting the new year with the Napoleonics and OTH gave a very good game.

  4. A great and enjoyable game, well run and shepherding of the cats, thanks JJ.

    1. A pleasure Nathan, glad you enjoyed it and a great way to start the new year.

  5. Looks great JJ, also looks like a good set of rules. We are just starting to get to grips with the same Light company battalions and how to work the rules to best suit them in Black Powder. Especially the difference between a light battalion in skirmish order and a battalion in "mixed order" with it's light company deployed as skirmishers. Led to some confusion :)

    1. Thanks Tony. Yes I really like OTH and being a rule set dedicated to Napoleonics, they really seem to capture the feel of the period. They are well worth checking out if you guys wanted to compare and contrast with BP.

      There are three rule options in the book that offer various ways of modelling light companies and I am trying to carry over the way I do it with C&G that allows them to be amalgamated as a light battalion and screen as well as form up to act as a supporting unit to the line battalions in their respective brigades or for the French, regiments.

      I need to play the rules a few more times to get it sussed.

  6. Nice report and the figures and board looked great! I loved the detail you interjected - has me hankering to get a rule set that deals with this level of engagement.

    1. Hey thanks Bill, it made a nice change from Talavera. I reckon with that lovely collection of French and Spanish you have amassed you could easily give these rules a go if you fancied a lower level type action.

  7. Great write up. If you all had used C&G II do you think the results would have been about the same given the tactics used during the game?

    1. Thanks Adam. Quite possibly. The battle turned on the French managing to get a foot hold and finally taking Vimeiro. Acland's brigade is quite brittle with the second battalion in it, the 20th East Devon's being relatively weak having lost three companies during the beach landing. Both the French and British took a lot of fatigue with their respective brigades in the fight for the town and the 2/86me getting taken out by the 20th LD didn't help. So with the French following up their attack quickly with their reserves of cavalry and grenadiers they were able to seal off the town from British counter attacks.

      I would think eight times out of ten the British would have held Vimeiro on the first assault, but as in this case occasionally they won't and then it's a case of getting there "the quickest with the mostest".

      OTH comes very close to modelling the fatigue element you get from C&G which was why you didn't see the British or French throwing their battered brigades at one another, knowing that they were just two or three fatigue points away from them withdrawing from the battle. This element, like C&G forces players to have reserves and be very choosy about how and when to commit them.

  8. Another great game and battle report with awesome pictures of miniatures and terrain what more could you want thanks for posting my friend

    1. Thank you Stephen, that's very kind. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about the game as much as we enjoyed playing it.