Sunday, 10 February 2013

Battle of Sadras - 1782

By 1782 the American War of Independence had spiralled out of British control and had developed from a small problem in the thirteen colonies to a world conflict involving other European powers seeking to take advantage. British forces were becoming stretched to their limits in defending their interests throughout their other possessions.

This struggle naturally came to India where three of the combatants had holdings namely the British, French and the Dutch. 

Captain Pierre Andre de Suffren

Between February 1782 and June 1783 the fleets of French captain Pierre Andre de Suffren de St. Tropez and British Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes fought a series of naval actions along the Indian Coromandal coast in what has become one of the most popular campaign settings for wargamers of the age of sail. Five actions, all largely inconclusive and fought between fleets that were relatively equal in numbers, were fought on the Coromandal coast, at Sadras, Providien, Cuddalore, Negepatam and Trincomalee.

Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes , pictured here as a captain
Battle of Sadras map - Three Decks, Warships in the Age of Sail
Yesterday's game was a recreation of the first of these encounters, the Battle of Sadras. This engagement poses an interesting challenge for both fleets. The French have the wind, a slight numerical advantage and the better commander. The British are in line of battle with better crews.

The rules used were a combination of the card play taken from "Kiss Me Hardy" (KMH) by the Too Fat Lardies, and the freely available App "Eight Bells" to handle the combat and sailing stats for our model ships. All the players had to do was draw a card and decide on their actions.

Eight Bells Napoleonic Naval App

Kiss Me Hardy

For a more detailed description of how these rules worked I have put up a post on my blog.
JJ's Wargames

The French fleet with the wind in their coat tails bear down on the British line
The French fleet bore down on the British line deciding where the blow should fall and by what means. Both forces were forced to use the tactics of their historical counterparts. Thus, unless ordered otherwise, doctrine would have the British shooting at the hull, whilst the French would aim for the rigging. In addition Suffren would not be applying the "Nelson Touch" here by penetrating the British line and thus his options were to parallel the British line or to double it, which is what he attempted on the day.

The British being downwind and in line decided to blaze away as the French fleet approached, however deciding to shoot at the French rigging.

As the range closes, both commanders signal their fleets
We were using the signalling rules from KMH that appeared in the Lardies Winter 09 Special. This places cards in the deck for each commander, one for Hughes and two for Suffren. When the card appeared the respective commander could make one order change to his fleet provided his flagship or the repeater frigate was in view.

HMS Exeter prepares to give the French a warm welcome
As the French closed in Admiral Hughes signalled to "Engage the Enemy", note the repeater frigate to the rear of the British line, allowing his captains to choose their targets and fire off the appropriate shot. However at long range the British were forced to load ball that did little damage when fired at French rigging.

The British line opens fire
The French lead ships were little damaged as they closed in on the rear of the British line. Admiral Suffren was signalling that he wanted his three most rearward ships to follow him around the back of the British line to double their opponents. This move was tried in the actual battle and for one reason or another the French messed up and their force fell into confusion. Would our table top fleet have the same problem?

Fire as they bear
Admiral Hughes was also experiencing problems manoeuvring his ships, and only being able to signal one order at a time (Hughes was rated as a poor commander) was not helping. The Eight Bells App has a movement system that randomises the ships speed based on the roll of three dice and the attitude to the wind. As ships sailing in formation start to try and form up or change direction this can really mess up the neat lines us wargamers like to form, a bit like real life really!

So as Hughes' flagship attempted to tack around and lead his lead ships back to support his rear, the random speed settings together with damage from French fire caused his line to lose formation and become ragged.

The British firing continues as they are led into a tack by the flag ship, now facing into wind.
The second ship in line has had to take avoiding action as his Admiral's ship is "in irons" standing into wind.
The frigate to the right is signalling the tack to the rearward ships.
Likewise Suffren was attempting to bring his ships into a double line and as the rigging started to fall under the British barrage, the formation started to loose cohesion.

The French, on the right, fall in with the British rear attempting to "double" them

The French van fired at the British rear aiming for the rigging
The rearward ships in the British line were bearing the brunt of the French attack, and it was fitting that being the Devon Wargames Group it should be, as in the real affair, HMS Exeter of 64 guns in the thick of it trading broadsides with Suffren.

The British start to lose masts and spars under the close range barrage
As the damage inflicted on each others rigging and the corresponding breakdown in formation occurred both commanders realised the change in situation and signalled "Fire as she bears" allowing the respective captains to place their ships alongside that of the enemy and get stuck in.

As the French go for the British rear the British van double back on them
As the "scrum" of ships developed the French found themselves numerically superior to their British counterparts, with the three, so far unscathed, lead British ships desperately tacking back to help their comrades. It would have been here that French discretion would have been the better part of valour. They were close to taking two of the rear most British ships in boarding actions, and a general withdrawal may have been the better move at this stage.

However the wargamers need to battle it out to the end took over and the French tried to contest every action, which led to the British crew superiority to gradually take effect. As the British reinforcements arrived on the scene the battle swung back their way as three French ships struck their colours in quick succession.

The final melee - yellow markers showing three French strikes
And thus ended our re fight of Sadras, which if this had been part of a mini campaign, forcing our tabletop admirals to be as conservative as their historical counterparts would have given a similar outcome with both fleets forced to withdraw and lick their wounds. Now that's a thought "Mini Campaign".

Once again, thanks to my fellow Devon Wargamers, Jason, Gus, Ian, Ollie and Jack for a very entertaining days gaming.


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