Sunday, 22 January 2012

¡La Emboscada! The Battle of La Mononguela, 1812

Our first Napoleonics game of the year!  It ended up being another somewhat ad-hoc affair, but nevertheless we achieved a clear conclusion,  in a game which saw some interesting swings in fortune during the course of the action.  A very enjoyable afternoon's entertainment, especially if your sympathies lie with His Britannic Majesty's forces in the Peninsula. 

This game was not the one we had planned for.  Our collections are growing, and as we now have two GW grass mats, my original idea was to try a "road movie" scenario, with a French column in the Peninsula escorting a small convoy of gold, rations, ammunition, dispatches, and fine wines from one end of the table to a strategic walled town  on the other. Blocking their way would be a well-situated and fortified- but small- Allied force, tasked with holding up the column long enough for incremental, but eventually overwhelming, reinforcements to arrive. 

If the French could have pushed past the blocking force and get to the walled town with the goodies before the Anglo-Allied horde swallowed them up, they would win. If not- well, it would be a few unexpected bottles of fine Medoc Grand Cru accompanying Milord Wellington's celebratory supper this evening.

I had worked out distances, forces, victory conditions, even some very-nicely done (if I don't say so myself!) chance event cards, not to mention some wagons and buildings. I was really looking forward to this one.

So what happens? It turns out that that Matt- who has the lions' share of British and Allied troops- couldn't make the game after all, as he has to take his wife to the maternity clinic for a routine scan. Shoganai, as they say in Japanese- it just can't be helped, and I'm sure Matt was as disappointed as we were.  So it was back to the drawing board.  Merde! 

A quick muster among the rest of us showed that we had just enough units for another small game, and so we decided to give it a go anyway.   The French outnumbered the Allies by a few units, and they had a unit of guard lancers at their disposal, whereas the Allies had no cavalry at all.  

So we decided on an ambush scenario, with two allied units visible and another two using hidden placement.  The French would be the unwitting victims, entering the table in column of march.  They would have more men, but no inkling of what was awaiting them. 

  • 30th Foot (Cambridgeshire)
  • 44th Foot (East Essex)
  • detachment, 95th Rifles
  • 1 9pdr. section, Royal Artillery
  • 1 10pdr. licorne section, Russian Horse Artillery (secretly sent by the Tsar as a goodwill gesture.  Bear with us here....)
  • 1/5e légère
  • 1/28e légère
  • 1/17 de ligne
  • 2e régiment de chevau-légers lanciers de la Garde Impérial
  • 2 6pdr. sections, French artillery
Rod was the commander of the Allied forces, with Giovanni as his 2nd in command.  Sada and I directed the French.  

This was Giovanni's first time to play Napoleonics and Black Powder, but he soon picked up the basics and got well into the flow of things (in fact, he's now working on some Bavarians for a future game!).

As it turned out, the game ended up once again taking a lot longer to play out than we thought it would, and once again, Black Powder demonstrated that it is not a rule set that requires hordes and hordes of troops in order to provide an entertaining wargame.

So, on the report.  Lots of pictures in this one! 

July, 1812, and the British are on the move in the campaign that will culminate in the Battle of Salamanca.  Unaware of the presence of the British, a French brigade is marching in column of route destined for Ciudad Rodrigo, as part of an attempt to recapture the fortress which was taken by the Allies earlier in the year.  

Their journey is to take them through the village of La Mononguela, where they are to stop for the day after a long, hot and dusty march.  The weary Frenchmen are looking forward to the prospect of an evening of well-earned R&R.  

However, their hopes are soon to be dashed, as they march on blissfully unaware that les Rosbifs, part of an advanced guard of Gen. Leith's 5th Division has already beaten them to la Mononguela.  

The British had occupied the village the previous evening.  Just after dawn, local Spanish shepherds report to the English commander that a sizable French column can be seen approaching down the road to Ciudad Rodrigo.  Riding out to see for himself, he sees that the French are indeed heading his way.  He immediately orders a detachment of the 95th Rifles to watch and report back on the French movements.  

Sensing an opportunity, and despite the disparity in numbers, he decides the best course of action is boldly bushwhacking the unsuspecting column as it nears the settlement.  Wasting no time, he deploys his forces accordingly.
"Nice place for a picnic, n'est-pas?"
The French order of march sees the 1/5e légère leading the column, followed by the 1/17 de ligne and a section of 6pdr artillery, all under the command of Gen. de Sade.  The remainder of the force is bringing up the rear with the cavalry at the tail of the column.  These are under the command of Général Victor-Eugène Bouillon-Cantinat- unfortunately suffering from the effects of heat exhaustion after the exertions of the day's march. 
(Thus justifying this fine officer's command rating of a lowly six- this was an attempt to balance out the force disparity for the game, but ended up giving the allies too much of an advantage as I think I managed to pass a total of three command rolls all day!)  
Not expecting any enemy forces in the area, and the local guerrilla forces having long since been pacified, the French have not felt it necessary to organize any proper reconnaissance parties.  Great, then, is the surprise and consternation of the officers and men of the Fifth, as out of the hazy distance appear the red coats of the 44th Foot (East Essex) Regiment, now firmly placed across the road leading into La Mononguela.
But these gallant veterans of Wagram are used to the din and danger of combat, and gamely advance towards the foe.  "Vive l'empereur!!!" 

After a long march through the heat and torpor of the Spanish summer, the French are slow to respond.  The Fifth find themselves unsupported while the remainder of the column stands stock still, like so many deer frozen in the British headlights as their officers frantically try to assess the situation.  

The Fifth tardily form line, but another nasty surprise is in store as  yet another British battalion- the 30th Foot- appears over the crest of a hill, almost directly upon their right flank
"Nom d'un chien!"
The only saving grace for the French is that the British infantry, in its haste to get at the enemy, manoeuvres within the Russian licorne's arc of fire, preventing it from firing.  But the situation is bad enough for les bleus.
Hit markers courtesy of "My Little Pony", it seems...
Taking fire from two sides, the casualties soon start to mount up.  But the  regiment holds on tenaciously, and passes its first break test. 

The rest of the column tries to shake itself into some kind of order.  But in their excitement and confusion, the men are slow to respond to the contradictory and confused bellowing of their officers.
"Order! Mon Dieu, get the men into some kind of ORDER!  Those are cannonballs, not turds!"
"All I know is that the fighting's up there, and we're stuck back here! Time yet for a clay pipe, lads!"
The 17e de ligne manages at last to hasten forwards, attempting to form attack column and to support the hard-pressed Fifth.  But they are slowed by an annoying inability of the French command to roll for more than one action at a time at best.
Being in column of route, the 17e de ligne are in a position to make at least some progress towards the enemy.  In Black Powder, units in column of route get at least one action, even if they fail their command roll.  And the French were not having much luck with the dice today!

But just as they were about to deploy, men start to fall all around them as from out of the woods on their right, well-aimed rifle fire tears into their ranks. 
It's the dreaded 95th Rifles, who on appearing from behind cover, surge forward and infiltrate the woods.  There they promptly pour a wicked fusillade of rifle bullets into the right flank of the hapless French infantry.

Simultaneously, the battered 5e légère, after having taken numerous casualties from the two infantry battalions and the Russian licorne, finally collapse under the pressure and flee rapidly to the rear.  The odds are getting better for the British.
The 17e -remarkably- pass a crucial command roll, and are able to disengage from the riflemen on their flank.  They then immediately move off towards the left to deploy in line in a gap between two small hills.  The French artillery move with them at the gallop, to set up their gun on the far hill which overlooks the allied position.

 A volley into the woods causes the 95th to fall back, but casualties are minimal.
The situation appears to be improving for the French, but it remains very much touch and go.  Rod and Giovanni consult on their next moves, while Frank, visiting from a miniature painting club here in Tokyo, looks on.
The French artillery unlimber and prepare to fire.  

Sada did a great job on modelling this Perry Miniatures artillery piece.  The barrel and carriage are separate, and can be configured either firing or in transit.  When the gun is in action, he replaces it with the caisson.
The caisson lid can be opened.  The visual effect is superb, and it drew a lot of admiration from the other players and from onlookers throughout the afternoon.  It really added a lot to the game! 
The French deploy into firing line, but are already taking hits from the Russian artillery.  That Russian licorne has earned a fearsome reputation for accuracy on the battlefield over the last year, and this game was to be no exception.

The 30th Foot begin an advance towards the French line, taking the opportunity to shoot at the artillery along the way. 
The 30th then pour a volley into the 17e at close range.  Ouch! Many men fall, giving their lives for France.   Four hits, but the regiment passes its break test.
However, a second volley has them retire back in disorder...
...while the licorne also succeeds in disordering the exposed French artillery.  Beset on all sides, it fails its subsequent break test; the crew quickly limber up and ignominiously head to the rear.
"Run awaaaaay!"
Gen. de Sade, his command reduced to a mere one battalion, makes good use of the "Follow Me" order and rallies the shaken 17e de ligne.  They regain both their composure and their courage, and once more enter the fray. "Vive la France!" 

Meanwhile the rest of the French column finally finds itself engaged.  The  1/28e légère forms attack column, and sends its skirmishers to clear the riflemen in the woods, while a section of 6pdr. guns and the lancers move to the flank in support.
"Zis is not Hollywood, you mad English officer-type!"

"Go away, you blond Yorkshire-accent-speaking types. We break ze garlic-fuelled wind in your general direction!"
The voltigeurs take on the tenacious riflemen, and with the support of a couple of well-time shots from the 6pdr, make the woods too hot a place for the green-clad devils to hang around in.
Back to the trials and tribulations of the 17e.  They close again with the 30th Foot, and in a sharp exchange of fire...
The 30th Foot is broken!  

The French rejoice in their first real success of the game. The British are now reduced to the 44th East Essex Regiment and the licorne, as the 95th have been seen off by more artillery fire.  Could this be the turning point?
Alas for the reputation of French arms, t'was not to be. 

Now came one of those occasions in military history where a regiment was to achieve results well above and beyond what anyone would have expected.  Think of the 20th Maine at Little Round Top in 1863, or of the Bayreuth Dragoons at Hohenfriedberg in 1745, and this was the kind of reputation which the East Essex was to earn this day.

Before the 17e has had time to catch their breath, the 44th fall upon them.  This time the gallant Frenchmen, having had passed numerous break tests in the face of all odds, have finally had enough.  They melt away towards the rear like snow on a hot stove.
"Sauve qui peut!"
Emboldened by their success, and by the inability of the French to throw anything near a decent command roll, the English commander issues a "Follow Me!" order, and promptly finds himself rewarded with three actions.   He hurls himself against the 28e légère. 
This unfortunate regiment had earlier suffered a command blunder (the only one of the game), and had fallen back towards the edge of the table.  They manage to survive a volley of the 44th, but on attempting to counter-charge suffered devastating closing fire.  Failing their break point roll miserably, they are unceremoniously sent packing.

And then there were none... almost!
In an insane act of bravado the English, again under the (very useful) "Follow Me" order, promptly wheel and advance to close range of the French lancers, and give it a rolling volley.  They fail to inflict any hits, but are able to form square in response to the inevitable French counter-charge.
At this point the frustrated French called it a day.  Cavalry unsupported by infantry or guns are helpless against squares, and with the artillery too far away to support the cavalry before they would be whittled away by enemy musketry, it was apparent for the French command that the day was irretrievably lost.

A credible performance and well-earned victory on the part of the Allies.  The French could take comfort in the tenacious performance of Gen. de Sade's command, especially that of the 17e de ligne, who managed to survive numerous break point rolls before finally succumbing to the inevitable.

Another great game, and as I mentioned it lasted a lot longer than we expected it would given the size of the forces involved.  With hindsight, we penalized the French more than we need have done given that although they outnumbered the allies, they were being surprised in column of route.   It's been a while since our last game, and we forgot just how unforgiving low command ratings can be.  Giving the overall commander a pathetic rating of six made it almost impossible for them to react in any coherent way.  The allies had the initiative from the get-go, and never really lost it.

Next time I think we will increase the command values across the board, least of all to avoid frustration.  Although the way Sada and I were rolling, even giving the French commander a command value as high as nine would have been challenging enough!

It is pleasantly surprising just how well Black Powder plays with small  forces, but we are itching to play larger games.  Hopefully next month the planets will line up, we'll all be available to play with new units to take the field, and who knows; maybe we'll finally be able to start using the brigade morale rules.

Looking forward to February 27th, our next gaming day!  Maybe I'll get that convoy scenario in after all.


Achilles said...

excellent report Robert! Its a pity that Matt didn't turn up cause I was longing to see a big table full of painted miniatures.
The truth be told however I have to say that I feel really nostalgic especially after seeing all those beautifully painted French from Sada-san.

Keep the good work on those great reports and I hope to see the "convoy" scenario in action soon!

Now let me get back to painting my French and Nassauers...

John de Terre Neuve said...

Really enjoyed that Robert, your reporting style is quite entertaining. As usual your set up looks great. I believe I have a French caisson, I will have to get it out and put in the queue.


Mr. Lee said...

Lovely report, and very detailed. Love the Black Powder rules also. We play it in 15mm, but would love to be able to play in 28mm also. Great models also.

BigRedBat said...

That is a fantastic looking game. I particularly like the french skirmishers in the busbys, very lovely. And the caisson...

Cheers, Simon

DeanM said...

Fantastic looking figures and game. BTW, what size table did you guys play on? Best, Dean

Rodger said...

Excellent report Robert. Lovely figures and great looking table.

Blancard said...

Thanks for another great battle report! A minor correection: it's "les bleus" and not "les blues".

Sada's production is as great as it is fast - truely amazing.

Looking forward to seeing progress on your chasseurs and your 2/28e Légère, Robert!

Robert said...

Thanks, all.

Dean, the table space we used was 6' by 4'- or in other words the space that can be covered by the Citadel Battlemat we were using. We have another one that we will bring out for the next game.

Most of the action took place on an area about 4' by 3'.

Duly corrected, Blancard. in my defence my French is actually a lot better than is my typing. My proof-reading eye was operating in English only!

paulalba said...

That was brilliant Robert and great to see Sada's troops hitting the tanles running.

Never played the rules but sound fun.

Schrumpfkopf said...

Nice read. And fab pictures!

I really never got into the cruelty that was the peninsular wars, but the game certainly looks entertaining.

VolleyFireWargames said...

one question how close was the 44th when it fired and then formed square? we have adopted a 6 inch rule preventing form square if cavalry is that close.

Robert said...

one question how close was the 44th when it fired and then formed square?

If memory serves it was able to close to just inside short range (6") when it fired. It formed square the next turn when my lancers attempted to charge in.

That's not a bad rule, although I think I would just make it that much more difficult for the infantry to form square at close distance rather than just give it an automatic fail. I'd prefer more of an element of uncertainty (or risk taking!).

I really never got into the cruelty that was the peninsular wars

No guerrillas in this scenario, so there was no more gratuitous cruelty in this game setting than you would find in any other campaign of the times (save the Peninsula, Russia and the Tyrol). I suspect any campaign would have been cruel enough for anyone with the misfortune to have been in the middle of it anyway.

David said...

Inspiring stuff

Always good to find a new blog to follow

Iowa Grognard said...

Excellent report!

Schrumpfkopf said...

Ah wargamer porn. :)

Nice table, awesome miniatures and a really nice write-up of the battle.

Thank you!

Phil said...

The table is really great, and the report wonderful!

DeanM said...

Nice write up and excellently painted minis.

BTW, I agree that BP works with smaller forces too - just a really easy-going set of rules that can be adapted to any scenario.

Best, Dean