Thursday, 13 December 2012

Soldats! Je suis content de vous: La Tourbière Pt. 2


Being an account of the bloody engagement fought in the vicinity of la Tourbière on November 25 1813(ish), during the late wars on the continent (continued...)
"By God,  That will do!"  
In an homage to "Our 'Atty", Matt hurls an eaten leg of fried chicken back over his shoulder in gleeful anticipation of the coming bloodletting.  
(And yes, he washed his hands afterwards before handling the miniatures!)
The battle started with a demonstration between the cavalry on the allied right/ French left flank.  And, bien sur, it was immediately marked by Sada rolling a double-six for his command roll when ordering his hussars forward- a blunder!  

Instead of just moving forward to keep up with the infantry advance, the French light cavalry- being hussars and outnumbering their opponents, naturally decided to exercise their prerogative to launch themselves recklessly at the nearest enemy, in this case the British 14th Light Dragoons.
The light dragoons promptly counter-charged, although mercifully this prevented the Brunswick Horse Artillery from peppering the French with canister in what could have been a very juicy target...
The infantry on the French flank froze in place,  nervously wondering if they would suddenly find themselves suddenly and dangerously exposed to Allied cavalry and guns...
The combat ended in the French retreating back to their base lines, while the British cavalry decided to hold in place and return back to the safety of its position.  
Brits return nonchalantly to their start lines, feeling quite satisfied after having given Johnny Frenchman a bloody nose...
We all know how vulnerable cavalry can be if left unsupported against troops in good condition, so we were all playing it cautious with the horse this game.  Evidently, nobody had mentioned this to the French hussar colonel!

That was pretty much it for cavalry action in the game for the French.  The only casualties were pride and, not long after the battle, the life of the French hussar colonel.  He was slain in a duel with the Chef de Bataillion of the 5e Légère, a result of the latter having taunted him over his regiment's loss of face in front of the whole army.  C'est la guerre... 

In the centre, both sides were anxious to take the buildings in the hamlet.  However, there was a epidemic of men tripping over their own shoelaces and struggling through middens, as the progress was maddeningly slow (failed command rolls, or one-action moves at best).  

We had started out with command ratings of seven across the board.  But, frustrated with all the failed rolls, later in the game we arbitrarily raised them all to eight, which was enough to speed things up greatly.
"Komm und get us, Tommies!"
The British 74th Foot and Bavarian Schützen were in a mad race to be the first to gain the shelter of the hamlet.  Whoever held it would have an advantage by being able to pepper the opposing side with shot and to hinder enemy movement in the centre.

Much relieved were the French when it was the Bavarians who finally made it to the stone barn!  From there, they promptly potted away at the unfortunate 74th, now exposed in the open.
Open season on Glaswegians...
After suffering through so many games where the French had found themselves unable to reply to the long-range and accurate fire of Matt and Rod's riflemen, it felt really good to be dishing it out for a change, and to be giving the British a taste of their own medicine!

With the hamlet still in dispute, but sensing there was a good chance of it remaining in French hands, the French command began organizing their right for a major assault.


In the meantime, the French left began an attempt to move up to the hill next to the hamlet, from which they would be able to set up a battery to fire at any point on the Allied right and centre.  
The Allies of course had no intention of standing idly by while the French settled themselves in up on the hill crest for an afternoon's liesurely artillery practice, so the Brunswickers, with a few under-strength companies of Portuguese Caçadores leading the way, were themselves promptly ordered to advance at the double up to the hill and to get there first. 

Unfortunately the Brunswick brigade commander must have left his English/German/Portuguese phrasebook in his baggage wagon behind the lines.  In any event, things didn't work out quite the way the Allied general had intended.  

Instead of being part of a coordinated advance, the Portuguese Caçadores ended up exceeding their orders and raced up to the top of the hill, while conversely the Brunswick light battalions moved forward a bit and just- well, stayed put.  

Evidently they felt that taking some time out to enjoy a Meerschaum break, while the Portuguese Caçadores took care of any  enemy activity, was time well spent.  

Subsequently, the Brunswick light battalions were never really to make much of an effort to come the the aid of the Caçadores, which I think was down to Matt being concerned about wanting to keep some kind of reserve until it was clear which way the fight in the centre and around the hamlet was going.  That, or his command rolls for the Brunswickers were proving duds- I really can't remember! 

Whatever the reason, the unsuspecting Portuguese were to find themselves fighting alone- against an entire brigade of French light infantry.  But orders were orders, and Portuguese pride was at stake.
"Onde estão os alemães condenados!"
With a mass of French infantry heading straight for them in overwhelming numbers, and with Confederation troops uncomfortably close by on their left, the Caçadores grimly took up their positions.  The riflemen settled in among the rocks and shrubs that lined the top of the hill, while the reserve companies closed up behind them in support on the reverse slope.  Cartridges and flints were checked and readied, and the regimental priests offered up prayers for mercy and strength to the Virgin Mary.   

Thus they all resolved to sell themselves dearly as they heard the French drums beating the pas de charge from below.

And hold they did! for move after move the Portuguese held off against all comers, throwing back assault after assault.    
A Blue Tide slams against a Brown Breakwater

In the process the Portuguese bled profusely, taking numerous hits.  But despite being a small unit, they kept passing their morale rolls and refusing to break- while all the time keeping up a withering and accurate rifle fire on the French below.  

The stuff of legends.
"What's keeping you?!?  There are only a few skirmishers, damn your eyes!"
"Nenhum passará!
"Morte aos franceses!"
Inevitably, the Plucky Portuguese had to give way, but not before having inflicted grievous casualties upon the French, and having seriously delayed their plans for an early flank attack.  

For a good hour or more, the doughty Caçadores had successfully prevented the French from placing their artillery on the hill; by the time the hill was ours, the focus of the battle had switched to the British centre-left and the artillery would be needed elsewhere.
Success, but at what price??

By the time the Portuguese had been dealt with, the Confederation troops were now firmly in control of the hamlet.
The Bavarian Schützen- supported by their line infantry in a dashing charge- had seen off repeated assaults by the British 74th foot who had finally blundered towards the Allied left flank, where they stopped to lick their wounds supported by the 60th Rifles. 


The Big Blue Machine that was the French centre was now ponderously set into motion, the regiments advancing in dense attack columns with the voltigeurs thrown out in front of them.
"de DUM dum, de DUM dum, de dummity-dummity DUM-dum"
Sending in an attack this large isn't easy, especially when the troops have to negotiate themselves through bottlenecks resulting from terrain and neighbouring units.  Still, with the enemy in sight and no likelihood of any threat from the hamlet, the order was given to advance.  The French were in roughly three lines, with their right flank supported by both artillery and the lancers held in reserve.
I had learned my lesson over the past year, and attacks- if they are to succeed- need to be in depth and with reserves.  But even with five battalions at my disposal, another brigade in reserve wouldn't have gone amiss.  Those were redcoats we were facing, supported by artillery.  And that first fire roll is deadly.
"See off those impertinent green scoundrels"
Coming on in the same old style...
Fortunately for the French, the initial British volleys proved ineffectual.  There were few hits, and we managed to save most of them.  More importantly perhaps, there were no sixes which would result in disorder, so the advance continued.
"Plus vite!  Plus vite!"
Subsequent volleys would cause disorder and hits, but not enough to halt the momentum of our juggernaut as units halted, recovered, and moved forward again.  The lead units were being punished dreadfully, but when any break tests were required, they passed them!


Back to the French left, and the Allies were feeling the pressure as they turned the cavalry to threaten the approaching French flank.

However, with the (suitably chastened) French hussars now being held firmly in check in support of the French left, and with an infantry battalion close at hand to back them up, any charge by the British cavalry into the advancing French foot would prove a risky undertaking.
By this time the Brunswick Horse Artillery battery was within range of French fire.  Being both dangerously exposed and- with a hit point of only a one, very vulnerable- it soon ended up failing its break test, being forced to limber up and retire ignominiously off the table, never to be seen again.  

New Unit Syndrome, first victim.
...and off they go...
Talk about  'dead ground '...


Back to the centre, and the French approach the British line.   A very dense attack on a narrow frontage!
The 1/28e Légère has been hit by a volley from the 92nd Highlanders, so the decision is made to form them into line, with the French artillery and Lancers on their flank.  This should stop the British from getting any ideas about outflanking the oncoming French phalanx with the Scots.
"Scotland Forever!! Why dinna ye run, ye Froggie beasties?!"
The opposing lines meet, and the 60th Rifles evade behind the now drained and exhausted 74th Foot, which once again finds itself the unwilling centre of attention.
The British volleys are taking their toll of the French, but fail to break them.  Matt becomes very much aware that he has no reserves, and he isn't being helped by the fact that the Royal Artillery are proving to be less than optimally effective this day.  Clearly the gunners were hitting the gin a tad too hard the previous evening.
"'Ere, Chalky, look at 'em,!  They're coming on in as thick as cockroaches in a Cheapside Whore'ouse!"
The steady pressure from the French assault is met by resistance from the 74th, clearly feeling out of sorts as they seem to be getting more than their fair share of the day's labours.  But like the French, they too take hits yet manage to pass break tests as they are rallied by their commander.
And then suddenly, in what was a great surprise to everyone, our aggrieved Glaswegians found themselves once more attacked by their old foes, the mad Bavarian riflemen!  

The Bavarians had just rolled a blunder and, like the hussars earlier in the game, took it upon themselves to charge the nearest foe; as it happened, their old sparring partners, the 74th.  

A very welcome development for the French commander, as I had just successfully ordered a battalion of the 39e de ligne into melee with the 74th.  This unexpected attack by the Bavarians would force Matt to divide his melee dice between his two attackers.  

I soon ordered a battalion of Bavarian line infantry up in support of the Schützen so as to beef up their woefully-low melee factors.  
The results of the melee had the Schützen- who entered the fray already suffering maximum hit points- unsurprisingly get the worst of it.  But as was happening so often in this game, they once again refused to break.  

They merely backed off a distance, baring their snarling teeth at their enemy while slowly- and very grudgingly- giving ground.  They were clearly quite happy to give it another shot if they could.

Wunderbar,  simply... Wunderbar!  Even Prussians would have to admit to being impressed.

On the Allied side the 74th had clearly had quite enough, having been forced to deal with a column of French line infantry as well as these green-clad Bavarian Beserkers. And as with the Schützen, they too were already at near-maximum hit points.   

The inevitable roll on the break table had the hapless 74th retire behind the Royal Artillery, no doubt justifiably satisfied that they have contributed more than enough to the days affair.  "Stand at ease, and on tae yon Tavern, me lads!"


Returning to the French left; having had shaken themselves back into order after the bloodbath on the hill against the Portuguese, the French resume their advance against the Brunswickers, ever wary of those two regiments of bloodthirsty British Light Dragoons still lurking on their flank.  

It was a relief to Sada and I that the horse artillery had been sent off, otherwise the battery would have made merry sport of enfilading the French advance.
Men in black...
So the French advance without harassment en echelon against the soberly-clad Benighted Brotherhood.  They find themselves assisted by the now-unemployed Confederation troops, who debouch from the hamlet anxious to participate in a good day's bit of GBH against their fellow countrymen (clearly they hadn't been reading that thread on TMP).
     "Für Imperator und Anheuser-Busch!"
The first assault is carried out by a battalion of French light infantry, who foolishly go in before waiting for the Germans to support them.  Typical, typical...
But the rest of the French and Germans are coming up fast!
Both sides then spent a turn basically catching their breath; rallying, removing hits and getting rid of disorder markers.   

The situation was starting to look promising for the French.  At this point in time we were steadily putting pressure on the Allied right flank, who were fast running out of room to fall back.  We felt that we had enough unengaged reserves in support of our attack there to neutralize any threat from the British cavalry.  

The French centre, although it had been held off in its first assault on the British line, had dished out as much as it had received, and were clearly game to step over the pile of dead and wounded and to make another go at it.  The French command was very aware that we still had the advantage of numbers on our side. 

However, nightfall was approaching, and ammunition was running low (which sounds more martial and in character than saying Matt had to leave soon to help change his baby's diapers).  The next turn would have to be the last. 

It was evident that the French would never be able to get their three units off the baseline in time as per the original objective.  But it was the French who were now finding themselves dictating the course of events on the table.  With the Allies clearly on the ropes, the French were determined to put our fine patent leather riding boot into 'em as much as we could in what time was allowed to us.  

We were not to be disappointed...


On the right flank, and the 1/28e Légère, along with the support of a 6pdr foot artillery battery, had for some length of time found itself engaged in a desultory but inconclusive firefight with those Ladies from Hell, the 92nd Foot.  The combat on the French right flank had so far been very much one of attrition, and casualties had been mounting on both sides without anyone getting much out of it in return.  

The Lancers of the Guard were staying well out of it, realizing they were doing their job just by being there, and throwing them away would have simply exposed the whole right flank of the French assault for no good reason.

So up to this point the 92nd Foot had been drawing the attention of long-ranged, but steady, French musket and artillery fire.  The Jocks had taken a number of hits and were in the middle of being rallied by their brigadier.   

With time running out, a reasonable chance of success, and nothing really to lose, I decided to order the 28e into column, and see if they might not be persuaded to charge the pesky highlanders.  

A good roll on the command dice (three actions), and so charge they did!  The 28e survived the incoming fire without serious loss, and then ploughed right up centre of the skirted Scots (my apologies for any unpleasant mental images here). 

The melee was short and sharp, but the 1/28e Légère broke the 92nd!   The gay Gordons were decidedly not feeling so on this day; they failed their break test- miserably.   

New Unit Syndrome claims a second victim.

What was more, their brigade commander, who had been attached to the highlanders in order to remove a casualty marker, ended up being slain in the melee.  

We then rolled to see if a colour had been captured- and it was! 

The 1/28e Légère were now in proud possession of the Regimental Colour of His Britannic Majesty's 92nd Regiment of Foot (Highlanders)!  "Och aye, mes amis!"
What made this such a sweet triumph for me was that it was the 28e Légère who pulled it off.  

The poor, much-abused 28e Légère.   

The same 28e Légère who had their eagle taken by the British 5th Foot at the defense of the Chateau Pignon in 1813.  
"Join the army and see the world, the Sassenach's said..."
This was the first Napoleonic unit I painted since coming to Japan, and ever since we began our games using Black Powder it hasn't been the luckiest of regiments.  

With monotonous regularity it has found itself being canistered, charged, routed, and generally kicked about by every Allied unit under the sun.  Even the lowly Neapolitans would look down their noses at the 28e and demand precedence in the order of battle.  Cocky buggers.

Well, the 28e redeemed themselves with their valour and glory this day, and have forever wiped out that stain on their honour from having lost their Eagle to the 5th Foot.

Vive L'Empereur!  
Should look good hanging from the ceilings at Fontainebleu!
I shall leave the last words to our beloved Emperor Napoleon himself; words spoken as he addressed the proud survivors of the 28e upon the restoration of their regimental Eagle- and regimental pride- during a subsequent parade at Fontainbleau, where the regiment presented him with the captured British colour.  

His Majesty spoke thus;

"Soldats du 28e Légère, je suis content de vous! Vous avez à la journée de la Tourbière justifié tout ce que j'attendais de votre intrépidité. Vous avez décoré vos aigles d'une immortelle gloire."

(okay, so allow me a little artistic licence....)

So that was it!  A very entertaining game, with honour being satisfied on both sides- as it should be.  

Heroes of the day- apart from the 28e Légère- must surely have been the Portuguese Caçadores, for their doomed but heroic stand on the hill.  No less impressive were the insanely brave Bavarian Schützen, who just didn't know when to quit. 

A change to the rules we adopted a few games ago, and which has worked out well, was that every turn we roll to see which side has the first phase.  This has resulted in a lot of tension and unpredictability.  But on balance the results have been pretty much evenhanded, with each side being alternately blessed and cursed by the unbiased capriciousness of the Dice Gods.

One reason we ran out of time was simply the number of troops involved. Matt was also the only allied player, so although the combat calculations in Black Powder are quite simple and straightforward to work out, just getting through them all from one end of the table to the other took time. 

Clearly as our collections grow, we need to start earlier and/or finish later than we have been used to, in order to allow for the extra time the larger games take to play.  Or at least get more players!  

The biggest headache for me is still transporting figures, terrain and gaming mats to and from the club, but this is something I can live with- the spectacle is worth it.

Our next game will likely take place in January.  Hopefully their will be even more toys to place on the table!