Sunday, 28 July 2013

Humbugging the French (...again)

Despite the summer heat and humidity turning my hobby room into a Turkish bath, I managed to get around to finishing the battle report for our last game before it recedes into the lost depths of my memory.      

The game was held on July 14th- Bastille Day.  This coincided with a long weekend here in Japan, so many members of our club had long-standing plans to be out and about with family.  Subsequently only three of us were on deck on the day to put on a game. 

So with the whole (thankfully air-conditioned) room to ourselves for the whole day,  Sada, Rod and I plunked terrain and miniatures down on the table for what turned out to be a really interesting game.

One thing we learned from our last outing was that having all the units starting on the table lined up against one another didn't really lend itself to sweeping maneuvers.  Why place brakes on our ability (or lack thereof) to showcase those flashes of tactical genius worthy of the Beloved Emperor/Corsican Despot himself? 

Having brigades come in on passing a predetermined dice roll gave it a much more Napoleonic "feel".  However,  this time we neglected to use the divisional commanders.  In our last game, this proved to alleviate the chances of untimely command failures, and without them it was back to the gnashing of teeth as units refused to budge when the commanders just dropped the ball.

Usually at key moments, of course.  At one point during the battle, the French cavalry brigade commanders would be seen weeping tears of frustration and rage, as a once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity to sweep all before them was lost as the dice just refused to cooperate.  

We came up with a scenario that worked very well, and one that made good use of table space.  We settled for one road running diagonally down the length of the table, with another crossing it along the table width.  At the crossroads was a town of three built up areas, including the monastery from last game. 

A few marshes and ponds with a solitary stand of trees at one end of the table,  and a row of low ridges along the other, and that made up the Field of Honour.
Looking down the length of the table towards where the French and Confederation troops would be entering.
The view from the French lines.
Sada's felt-and-rubber roads fit nicely over the hills!
The table was approximately 10' by 5' in size- three GW gaming mats worth.  We could have added a fourth had I thought to borrow it from Giovanni, who was off camping that day.  

The ball would open with the British and Portuguese allies holding onto the village.  The French and Confederation troops would be tasked with evicting these impertinent squatters from the Emperor's rightful domains.  Simples.     

Our last few games hadn't really seen many blunders (command rolls of twelve) at all.  This one made up for it- with interest.  Heroism (a.k.a the most abominably undeserved luck) abounded in the game. Two of Rod's regiments, his Portuguese infantry and the 44th Foot, proved resistant in the face of overwhelming- and I mean overwhelming- odds. 
"'Tis but a flesh wound..."
Historically, the 44th Foot were one of the most shot-up and disaster-prone regiments in the British Army.  Brave 'eroes of Gandamack, and all that.  And in this game, they were to reflect that reputation. 

But despite having rank upon rank mown down by enemy fire, they were to perform with remarkable stubbornness- and downright devilish good fortune.  In effect, they held up the advance of the entire French reserve brigades of horse, foot, and guns.  

Bloody fools...   

More on that later.  Here is the report, in photos.
Highlanders garrison the monastery, and begin their search for alcoholic refreshments.
Reinforcements wait their turn.
Sada's new battery of British Foot Artillery.
The British defensive lineup, aided by a battalion of plucky Portuguese.
Sada had his new British artillery battery.
Between them, these two battalions were to cause the French side no end of frustration.
Confederation troops advance to contact!
Soldiers from Saxony and Anhauser-Busch prepare to bleed for the Emperor of the French...
The buildings are garrisoned by British infantry and "The Sweeps!"
Unimpressed, the French form up for advance...
...and are up to the challenge of having their Confederation allies absorb Allied shot and shell.
The French horde is faced by a single battalion of the 71st Highland Light Infantry.
Meanwhile, British reinforcements also await a favorable roll of the dice to enter the battlefield.
The French voltigeurs are sent forward, as are dismounted dragoons.  Spain is harsh on horseflesh.
A combination of good command rolls by the Portuguese- and initial reticence on the part of the 44th's colonel to obey any orders at all- saw the bluecoats ready to flank the Confederation attack, but all on their own. 
Masterly inactivity on the part of the regimental commander of the 44th.
Meanwhile, the French and their Allies advance to the beating of drums and the creaking of wagon wheels.
"Deploy voltigeurs!"
Bavarians refuse the Confederation flank to counter the (now isolated) Portuguese.
And Germanic hordes attack the British garrisoning the inn.  This was to be a meatgrinder of a contest.
Things are looking rough for the 71st HLI.
...very rough indeed!
"All eyes on the prize, mes amis!
The Anhauser-Busch contingent is repulsed ignominiously from the Inn.
The French had a "Cunning Plan" which involved a flanking attack en masse... the Bavarians traded shots with the Portuguese.
The 71st decides that discretion is very much the better part of  valour, and after a few ineffective volleys take to their heels towards the rear. 
"Something wicked this way comes, laddies..."
The Scots are astonished to see the French horde advance all the way past the monastery in one dense mass.  So too was the French command staff, who had envisioned  a more "dynamic" deployment once clear of the road.
At this point, the first reserves successfully rolled to come on.  A brigade of infantry for he French...
...and one for the British.  Snap!
Here's a "les frères Montgolfier"-eye view of the table.
French infantry appear on the scene.  We diced to see which side of the table from with the arriving brigades would enter.
Rod and Sada, pondering which direction the battle would be taking in the coming turns.
The 44th finally consent to march to the support of the hard-pressed Portuguese, who have just got charged in the flank by my emerging brigade of French. 
While yet more French emerge from the other side of the wood, threatening the Allied rear.
The Portuguese concluded that they had done more than enough to satisfy Lusitanian honour, and repair post-haste to the safety of the nearest cantina.
And now the French cavalry entered- it was looking good for French arms this day.
Brigadier Gerard, nattily dress and accoutred as usual, chomps at the bit for action.

Now looking at a position like this, you would thing the Frogs had it all in the bag!  Not so, as from this point on the Dice Deities decided to desert the Gallic host, and would henceforth pour their golden sunshine upon Milord Wellington instead. 
"How could you MISS!?!"  The cavalry could/ would do nothing until the infantry had been seen off first.  This didn't happen.
"Die hard, men!"  With shot and shell raking their ranks from all directions, the worst the 44th would do was to halt or fall back,  rolling 11's and 12's on their break tests despite excessive casualties. 
At one tantalizing point in the action, the French cavalry had a wide open space to charge across, with only an artillery battery that was facing the wrong direction to oppose them.  Brigadier rolls a 10- 'nuff said.  The following turn, the 44th was able to turn flank to face them, thenceforth keeping two brigades of horse effectively at bay.
All that fire, all those casualties, and all those numbers opposing them, and STILL the damned 44th refused to budge!
While of course, THEY were able to disorder the cavalry and prevent them from charging in!  Proving again that God is, indeed, an Englishman...
Mind you, it didn't help the British that their reinforcements under their Brigadier, Col. James Lentulus MacDawdler, were still strolling into action at one move per turn at best.
Resulting in quite a few bar brawls after the battle, no doubt.
Meanwhile in the centre, the decimated Confederation contingent- shorn of the Saxons who are trying to help defeat the 44th-  lick their wounds, as the Italian Guards charge repeatedly at the inn- all to no avail.
Finally it is the Bavarian jagers who give the French a toehold on the village.  After a vicious struggle for the stone cottage, the defending 95th Rifles- out of ammunition and having taken heavy casualties- finally break!
"For you, Blondische Englander type, ze war ist over!"
Over on the other side of the table, Sada's flanking attack on the village had bogged down into an indecisive firefight.  A lot of his own units were unable to bring their fire to bear due to a very congested deployment. 
As with the French cavalry, a large force of troops found themselves unable to influence events on the battlefield Nonetheless, the British and French managed to take out a unit or so each in the firefights.
Eventually, the French began to be enfiladed both from artillery and from the Highlanders in the monastery, the combination of which succeeded in breaking a regiment of light infantry.
These were HaT figures, which I have to admit looked pretty good when painted up.  Smaller than other 28mm's, but on the table top they looked just fine, especially given Sada's capable brushwork.
So with the majority of the buildings in the town in British hands by the end of the day, the Anglo-Allied forces were deemed the undisputed victors.

The hapless French were left to fall back to their start positions, rethink strategy, and- in the case of the general officers- cast about for scapegoats.

At least we saw off that ill-bred rogue Sharpe, along with his green-clad band of poachers and brigands. 

Having the brigades come in at different times and places made for fun and uncertainty.  However, both sides really missed being able to make use of the divisional command stands as we did last time, which allowed players to more easily recover from vital failed command throws.   For games this size, they really are necessary. 

The French were certainly unfortunate in that the heroic, Roland-like stand of first the Portuguese infantry, and later the 44th Foot, effectively stymied our attack and rendered our cavalry impotent.  

But such is the nature of war.  
"Will ye nae skelpit back tae Paris, yon Johnny Foreigners!"
Our flanking attack on the rear of the monastery was mishandled, and we should have been more aggressive while making use of our (at the time) superior numbers to feed in reserve units when needed while simultaneously fending off any British attempt at relieving the garrison.  

It must be said that the French artillery was decidedly ineffective.  Stuck behind the traffic jam that was the French cavalry, my battery never got into action. And with nary a roll of 5 or 6 in sight,  Sada's guns may as well have been firing off cabbages for all the difference it would have made. 

If time had allowed, we all could easily have gone for four more turns.  Both sides had ample units in play to continue the fight, and the French had as good a chance of seizing the real estate as the British had of really giving us an even bloodier nose.  

But in the end time eluded us.  We all wished we had the luxury of leaving the game in situ so we could have come back in a week and fight it out to its conclusion.  But even so, gaming more than once a month is not really practical for most of us due to work and family commitments.  

As usual, more pictures of the game can be seen here on Sada's blog. 

This game was for Pete- we're all hoping to see you back in the saddle one day.  Ganbatte, mate.