Sunday, 4 March 2012

La Bataille de Sept Bras, 1815

Another Black Powder report, this one from the game we had on Feb. 26 at the monthly games day of the West Tokyo Wargamers.   

This one was notable for being our first use of off-table flanking forces, and for being the debut of Matt's new battalion of- wait for it- Neapolitans!  And they put in a very creditable performance, it must be said.

This was once again a very entertaining game, even if- once again- victory was snatched from the French (and their new ally) by the British and Brunswick alliance.  Some rapid changes in fortune, and some surprises kept things pretty tense, and any ground given up was done so very grudgingly!
"Is there to be no end to the misfortunes and misery of France?!?" 
-One of Sada's very nicely painted miniatures, this one being the eagle bearer of the (now veteran) 1/5e légère.  
He's looking rather pissed off here, and who could blame him?
The Allied forces still outnumber those of the French, so this time we arranged it so that the Allies had two infantry units in reserve.  Starting on the second turn, the Allied commander would begin by rolling for reinforcements.  These would enter the table on any  roll of doubles.  

Double ones would result in them entering the field from the allied base line.  Double twos and threes from their right flank, fours and fives from the left, and double sixes meant that the flanking force would appear directly behind the French!  

For the French, should two units or more find themselves routed off the board, they could also return in the guise of a supporting brigade appearing somewhere on the Allies flanks and rear, using the same dicing mechanism.  

This helped to balance the numbers somewhat. I'm pleased to say that the system worked, making for a very tense game and see-sawing fortunes!

The objectives were the two crossroads; one at the junction of two farm buildings and an enclosed field, the other crossing through the middle of a small woods,  le Bois des Chasseurs.
The table looking east across the centre to le Bois des Chasseurs in the distance.
The French would be coming down the road towards the farm which they would reach first, with the Allies heading towards them from the north. The Allies had further to go, but they were closer to the woods than the French. 

The game was also our first using Sada's new road sections, which he had fashioned from medical tape and caulking.  They looked great, and were just what our table had been lacking in our previous games.
View of the battlefield from le Bois des Chasseurs in the foreground, looking across the centre to the the farm on the opposite flank.  The British enter from the baseline on the right of the picture, while the French can be seen approaching the farmstead at the upper left.

The side that found itself in control of both crossings would win a decisive victory, control of only one being a draw.  In order to count as being in control, the crossroads must  be occupied, which we decided would mean having at least one unshaken unit  planted firmly smack in the middle of the crossing.

Oh, and this time we learned our lesson.  No commander with a command rating under an 8.  This speeded things up considerably.

Matt and Rod contemplate their initial set up, with Matt contacting Whitehall via iPhone for orders.
On the French side, the forces deploy towards the farm, while Sada  plays paparazzi.
Picton oversees the deployment of his division,
The French win initiative and move up, while Matt rubs his hands together in  gleeful -if unseemly- expectation of the slaughter to come...
The 28e légère sieze and occupy the stone cottage, with the 8th Neapolitan Infantry (Principe Luciano's) coming up close behind.
The British riposte.  The Thin Red Line moves forward.
Light Dragoons, wondering if they will find themselves facing Guard Lancers.
French artillery, line and light infantry, and the Red Lancers of the Guard.
Pretty in pink.  Principe Luciano's own prepare to see the elephant.
"Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop..."- The Barber of Palermo?
That's not a crow perched on a barber pole in that last picture of the Neapolitans.  Matt will replace the eagle with the rearing horse which was used by Neapolitan regiments (he'll be converting a 6mm Baccus horse).  

I had recently ordered a selection of excellent GMB flags for myself, and Matt had asked me to order the colours for the 7th & 8th Neapolitan regiments while I was at it.  I just handed them over to him on the day of the game, so the next time these boys see action they will be standing proudly under their proper colours.

The battle got off to a fine start for the French.  Sada, in command of a regiment of light infantry, one of line and an artillery piece, was to move towards le Bois des Chasseurs, sieze the crossroads there, and hold it against all comers.  

Happily- and very unexpectedly given his unfortunate reputation for dice rolling- GdB de Sade managed to roll a succession of three-action commands, which saw the French quickly get into the woods and in a position to take on the British in an engagement that would soon come to resemble the chaos and short-range butchery that was Shiloh in 1862.
"Plus rapidement, plus rapidement!"
The crossroads in le Bois des Chasseurs, highlighting Sada's excellent roads.
The cavalry on both sides waits to see how the situation in the woods is likely to develop.  Note the two-tone grass fields, which is surprising as they are both GW gaming mats!

The makings of a first-class brawl...
Conifers, Canister, and Carnage, Oh my...
"Never lose sight of the Eagle, mes braves"
"Remember what happened to Milord Braddock, Rosbifs?"
The British fall back after their first attack, but rally for another assault.

Things were going well, and the French were satisfied at their progress so far in was evidently turning out to be a promising, if hard-fought, engagement. It could still go either way, but at least we had a fighting chance.

Or so we thought.

Now like me, Matt is not exactly God's gift to the fields of mathematics and statistical analysis, and his ability to accurately assess the odds of a dice roll is highly suspect.  

But Fortune clearly favours the challenged, and when Matt rolled on the third turn for reinforcements, he not only rolled doubles to bring them on, but he managed to roll for them to appear dab smack on the flank of the French attack. 
"Non!!  Pas possible!!!"
All this was very reminiscent of what happened in our last game, and suddenly the French had to deal not only with a sizeable force in front of them, but also with a regiment of Brunswick Light Infantry and the 5th Foot appearing to their right and rear.  Indeed, the latter were the heroes of the Battle of the Chateau Pignon, where they had captured an enemy eagle.
Don't you just HATE it when that happens?
Of course this shattered French plans and hopes.  These were overwhelming odds, especially in a game as bloody as Black Powder.  All GdB de Sade could do was to hitch up his deerskin breeches, jam his be-feathered bicorne firmly on his brow, and try to retrieve the situation as best he could.  All the time mentally composing a letter to the War Ministry, blaming the approaching débâcle on his commanding officer, or on some unfortunate subordinate or other.  

It was decided that the best course of action would be for him to extract as much of his command as he could from the woods, and to then pull his forces back to the (relative) safety of the farm and its enclosure.  We didn't have many units to spare, and couldn't afford to be lavish with French blood unless we had a reasonable chance of success.

Of course, this meant that in the absence of some very unlikely turn of events, we would have to surrender one of the crossroads to the Allies.  All we could hope for now was a draw, rendered the more palatable if we were able to bloody the noses of as many allied units we could manage. 

And we absolutely must hang on to the farmstead, and to the crossroads there.  

But naturally the Allies were by now smelling blood, and were equally determined to take it for themselves.  Despite some useless marching to the right and back, due to rolling a command blunder, the British right wing hadn't been doing much so far.  But Matt eventually got things under control, and his sizable brigade lurched forward.
Rod, doing his best "So, Mr. Bond, we meet again!" imitation.
"I say,  I'd be much obliged if you'd all be good enough to clear those fellows from that cottage for me, eh what?
Red Tide!
The British moved quickly- and in force- towards the stone cottage held by the French 1/28e légère.  Now the last time we had a game where a large force was sent to winkle a out a garrison from its building,  a Prussian regiment had managed to hold out for most of the game, inflicting heavy losses on the attackers.  So I wasn't too worried- well, let's say I was at least cautiously optimistic.
The 60th Rifles occupied a hill, raining down constant- and annoying- rifle fire on the defenders, while the 74th Foot was to make the first assault on the building.  

This actually cheered me considerably, as the 74th had so far earned a combat record that would make one of Joseph Bonaparte's Spanish invalid pioneer battalions- suffering from desertion, the pox and a bad outbreak of the runs- seem like the Grenadiers of the Old Guard in comparison.
"Let the winds blow high, and the winds blow low.."
"But Johnny,  yoos wearin' troosers?!"
Well, clearly these Heelanders wi' nae' kilts were tired of having the proverbial sand kicked in their faces, and this time they did the unexpected- they obeyed orders and didn't run, while conversely the defending battalion of the 28e lost its nerve, and dismally failed a break roll.    

The French were turfed out, and the 74th rushed into the cottage with wild howls of triumph, rage and thirst, as they immediately proceeded to tear up the mattresses and floorboards in search of liquid intoxicants.

God help us, but it was now up to the Neapolitans upon whom now fell the task of holding off the British onslaught from behind the farm's stone walls.  They were about to be severely tested in their combat debut, but despite setbacks, they were to prove tenacious in returning to the fight again and again, and in the face of superior odds.
"Tommies!  Thousands of 'em!"
The Regiment Principe Luciano successfully covers the retreat of deSade's brigade, where they then rally and reform.  One unit was destroyed in the flanking attack by the British/ Brunswickers.
The British proceed to try and flank the farm, while the 30th Foot prepares an attack on the Neapolitans.   Note the surprising development in the Allied rear... 
With two units sent packing off the table, the French were now in the position for dice for their own reinforcements.  Much to the chagrin of the Allies  I promptly rolled a double six, which had a French brigade, boldly marching to the sound of the guns, appear unexpectedly on the table edge directly behind the Allies!
"We're baaack!
This at first this would seem a battle-winning situation- think Kulm in 1813 during the Leipzig campaign- in fact it was less than ideal, and if they had come in from our rear or along either flank they would have been much more useful.    

In fact it was more like the French stumbling across the Allied horde as they did at Battle of Fère-Champenoise in 1814, with similar results...

By coming in on the Allied rear they would certainly slow down the enemy attack, but from the get-go they were outnumbered and in the open in ground firmly held by the Allies- including cavalry.  Still, they would buy at least some time while the remaining French units on the table tried to consolidate around the farm buildings.
The Allies soon recover from the surprise...

...and turn to face the new threat.

Enter the hitherto un-engaged Light Dragoons.

The infantry make short work of one French regiment.  

(Note the vivid green base for the French brigadier.  Matt had just given me these spare Foundry miniatures, and as we found ourselves in need of another French command stand, they were immediately pressed into service, mounted on the back of  a green sticky label!)
..and the dragoons gleefully run down the second, who are unable to form square.  Oh, well...
Heartbreaking.  Simply heartbreaking.  But at least their gallant sacrifice bought a little time.  Meanwhile,  back at the ranch things are getting grim.  

The 1/5e légère make it to the shelter of the wall, and from there go on to occupy the inn, where they trade shots with a  self-satisfied (and by now well-lubricated) 74th Foot, still garrisoning the cottage where they are content to pop off a few rounds at any French head that shows itself.

"Hold, lads, HOLD!!"
The 30th approach the stone wall, while the Neapolitans nervously await.
"Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!"
The first attack fails, but the 30th soon tries again.
Only to fail a break test, the result of an excess casualty caused by sniper fire from the inn!
...but more allies are on the way.
And there are more where they came from.  While the 5th Foot and Brunswickers advance, the British are reminded that they actually need to have a unit physically occupying the crossroads!  An artillery battery moves to the centre, and sets up the cooking kettles for the day.
Right, tea's up!

It's the turn of the 95th to attack, and the Neapolitans come within an ace of sending these elite troops packing! That would have been most satisfying for the French, who now see the writing on the wall as the British have moved a unit directly onto the crossroads at the centre of the farmhouse, where musket and artillery fire have sent the 1/5e légère packing.  

This leaves just the Neapolitans and the Lancers of the Guard, the latter having spent the entire game uselessly milling about  the rear moving from one perceived threat to another, without actually doing anything or influencing events.  Clearly life in the Guard cavalry meant a fairly good chance of getting out of the Napoleonic wars in one piece.

But the Neapolitans made a fight of it, and proved to be made of pretty tenacious stuff.  Three times in total they were repulsed from the wall, and on two occasions went straight back again, and as mentioned almost had the pleasure of handing Mr. Sharpe's butt to him on a platter, had Rod not rolled really high for his break test.

The last push-back was the result of having the Brunswickers arrive on the Neapolitan flank.  However, and despite being over their break point, the lads refused to flee, and only grudgingly gave ground as they retreated slowly and in good order to the rear.
"All right, then- we'll call it a draw!"
Time and opportunity had run out for the French, and it was a decisive Allied win.  But honour was satisfied for all.  The Neapolitans had done very well in their first engagement.  On the other side the 74th Foot had taken its first steps along the long road of redemption for past sins on the battlefield.  And we ended the game exhausted but very pleased with the way the scenario had worked out.  

The disappointment for me was my lancers, and I never used them as well as I could, as there was not really the terrain available for deploying them as most of the fighting was around le Bois des Chasseurs and the enclosed farmhouse.  It didn't help that I dithered over which flank they would be best deployed on, and should have understood that it is no good sending them to reinforce infantry in areas that are not good going for horse, no matter how hard-pressed the foot may be.

Of course cavalry needs to be as part of a combined-arms instrument.  But I do wonder if it is more effective when brigaded with at least one other horse regiment, and preferably some horse artillery too, or else it risks very much becoming a one-shot weapon.

Next game we will be fielding more infantry on both sides, and now that we have three gaming mats (Rod bought himself one as well),  it looks like we can start having games on tables that are as wide as they are deep, which should make for some neat situations.  I also saw Sada's river, which along with his pontoons will just cry out for a bridgehead scenario.