Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire Peninsular War, but with the odd foray into ancient, medieval and WW2 battles.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Battle of Bussaco - Reynier's Attack: a Polemos General de Division AAR

Michael Hopper, author of several scenario books for the Napoleonic Wars, very kindly sent me a few samplers of his very detailed scenarios to try out.  The first of these scenarios concerns the attack of Reynier's Corps on the southern part of the Bussaco battlefield.  This action occurred during Massena's invasion of Portugal in 1810.  Bussaco was a delaying action on the part of Wellington, to force Massena to assault him in a very unfavourable position or stop and try a wide, slow turning movement to force him to withdraw.

I haven't played Bussaco much: I tend to think that if the French win, then the rules must be a bit rubbish since the whole battle was so ill-conceived by Massena.  I share Napoleon's astonishment at the performance of his Marshal!  That said, I thought it would be quite interesting  to see how the scenario and the Polemos General de Division rules hold up in this kind of scenario.

The Forces:

The Anglo-Portuguese:
C-in-C: Welllington (Decisive)**
Reserve Artillery:
1 base of 9lb Artillery

3rd Division: Picton (Decisive)
3 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
5 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
1 base of 6lb Artillery

5th Division: Leith (Capable)
2 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
8 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
2 bases of Raw SK1 Infantry*

2nd Division: Hill (Decisive)
3 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
3 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
+ Reinforcements: 1 base of Trained SK2 Infantry, 3 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry

*Raw may be a bit harsh here.  Alternatives might be to use the "Shako" rating of Second-Rate; with -1 to combat tests and 0 for the firing tests.
** Wellington was not present on this part of the field but appeared to command effectively. What I did therefore was to place "Wellington" on the Northern edge of the board; he commands as normal, but cannot move, take part in combat or be harmed in any way.

Michael's order of battle is much more detailed and comprehensive than this, I have used a very summarized version so readers have enough detail to follow the events of the game.

The Imperial French:

C-in-C: Reynier (Capable)

Corps Artillery:
1 base of 8lb Artillery

Corps Cavalry:
3 bases of Trained Light Cavalry, 1 base of Trained Dragoons

1st Division: Merle (Capable)
8 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
4 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
1 base of Trained Sappers

2nd Division: Heudelet (Capable)
7 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
8 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry

For players of Polemos General de Division who use very separate skirmisher stands, or those using the Polemos Ruse de Guerre rules, use the number of bases as the number of formed infantry bases.  Then, for the Allies, use the number of SK2 bases as the number of skirmisher bases (i.e.  9); for the French, use half the number of SK2 bases (i.e. 7)

A Google map image to show the ridge

And a top-down view

The Set-Up:

The key to this battle is to avoid the French commander getting the benefit of the helicopter-general, which would affect this refight more than most.  Therefore, the Allied commander need only deploy troops onto the table if they are at the edge of the crest or if otherwise hidden troops want to move from their deployment areas i.e. if Leith's troops stay in Leith's deployment area, he only needs to put them on the table if the French get past the crest in his area or if he wants to move them out of his deployment area (even if the French couldn't otherwise see them).

Reynier's Corps approach from the East (bottom); the Anglo-Portuguese hold Bussaco ridge, only showing a small portion of its defenders (mainly Portuguese)

Merle's troops on the French Right, facing Picton's troops, around the villages of Pendurada & Cerdeirinha

Heudelet's troops on the French Left, facing Leith's units; hopefully this shot indicates the size of that slope!

Picton is only showing a single brigade and some guns on the Allied Left

Leith shows two brigades in the Centre, supported with a battery (centre)

Hill shows very few troops on the Allied Right, holding the hamlet of Palmazes

The long view looking from South to North (omitting Hill's units)

The view down the slope from Leith's position

Looking down the slope at St Antonio and Merle;s Division (far side of the road)
 The Battle:

Reynier orders the advance: Heudelet's troops move forward in the centre

Merle's troops also advance; the French artillery is both ineffective and over-worked (see the smoke in front of the battery)

The Portuguese Artillery is equally ineffective in pushing the French back in the centre

Merle's light infantry loses some of its order as it advances up the steep slopes towards Picton's position

Hill's third brigade arrives on the southern flank

Heudelet's light infantry (from 31e Leger) also struggles up the hill (in column this time)

Merle's infantry makes slow progress forwards

A wider shot of Heudelet's initial attacks

Portuguese artillery has driven back some of the French infantry down the slope; Heudelet has also deployed his right-hand battalions out of regimental columns (centre); incidentally, the slope was a bit steep for practicality so I used some rough terrain markers (See the stones and dark earth areas) to help the little metal soldiers keep their positions on the table!

Unfortunately there are a couple of missing shots here; but the Portuguese brigade attacked down the slope; however the right-hand battalion of 31e Leger, despite its state of disorder from the steep slope, executed a devastating volley and routed Leith's left-hand battalion (see it running for the rear - centre of shot, just above Leith); note that Leith now has to show the remainder of his troops (left) since the French have made it to the top of the slope

A closer shot of the successful French light infantry at the crest

However, the remaining units of 31e Leger have been bundled back down the hill in disorder; Heudelet sends forward some units of the 47th (centre, fewer skirmisher figures) to help out

Another shot of the same

Merle's light infantry cause some damage with their musketry (see shaken marker figure centre-right); Merle had stopped and reformed his troops on the slope to improve their fire effectiveness rather than pushing forward at the point of the bayonet

An aerial shot

Another view of Heudelet's troops trying to re-organize at the bottom of the slope

Merle tries to slip a small column around the Portuguese left flank (bottom-right); Picton moves up some of his reserves to combat them

Picton leads the charge, sword in hand and top hat on head!

Leith's reserves attack the now isolated unit of 31e Leger that got up the slope

And after a brief struggle, the heroic French chasseurs are thrown back down the hill in rout

Leith unleashes another attack on Heudelet's disordered troops at the bottom of the slope

The same, a slightly wider shot

After  a couple of volleys and a short combat, the battalions of Heudelet's lead brigades are either in rout or retreat
The panic and disorder in the French ranks can be seen more clearly here

Merle's leading troops are pushed back by the fire of the Allies; note that the Portuguese troops had re-organized themselves to protect their guns (top-left) from an attack by French infantry in column (bottom-left)

A wider shot of the same

Picton charges again on both of his flanks (see right and on the road); the disordered French cannot stand

A wider shot: the French look both much reduced and very disorganized; Reynier calls off his attacks, seeing no further hope of success

Heudelet's troops have re-organized themselves, but there appears to be no hope of success now.
Game Notes: A clear Allied victory, although unsurprisingly, since Bussaco was, and should be, a very difficult proposition for the French.  As in the real thing, the French did achieve a couple of small local successes, but the overall picture is too difficult, unless the French can achieve a series of local successes in the same area. As it was, both Heudelet and Merle achieved fleeting moments of success but they were too isolated to allow of exploitation.  In particular, Heudelet was unlucky in that his breakthrough happened in the one part of the line that he could not reinforce quickly, because of the location of the small built-up area behind it.  Leith's quick counter-attack then assured it couldn't be supported.  Merle's good fortune in achieving a small degree of fire superiority over the Portuguese was cancelled out by Picton's prompt counter-attack.  In summary, the French are going to need to play brilliantly relative to the Allies or have some real strokes of luck to win this one.

I also think that Polemos is particularly tough for the French because it doesn't use a direct attrition mechanic.  Because of the relative lack of artillery, and the difficulty of the terrain for its employment, attrition from skirmisher fire should be the main tool of the French commander to try and weaken the line before he puts in his attack.  However, unlike in say Grande Armee, the skirmisher rating in Polemos positively influences the infantry assault but cannot be used for long-range fire.  In most battles this makes little difference, but here it does.  So I think that the combination of these two factors makes Bussaco under the Polemos rules very tricky for the French.  I am going to experiment with using the Ruse de Guerre approach to this and have entirely separate light infantry and close-order infantry bases, and maybe use the Shako approach to determining how many light infantry bases there should be.  Food for thought.

What I do like from Shako is the use of "Second-Rate Line" troops to have a step between Raw and Trained status, which is quite a big jump in capability in the Polemos rules.  I am sold on incorporating this into my Polemos games (although this is mainly an issue for the Napoleonic rules - the jumps are less big in the SPQR and ECW rules).

Anyway, the scenario and the Polemos General de Division rules worked very well on the whole.  The game took about 1hour 40minutes and was played on a 5'x3' table.  Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Total Battle Miniatures.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

ECW Campaign: December 1643

The English Civil War: December 1643

The governor of Carlisle wrote to the King to assure him of his and the town's continuing loyalty.  Lord Ethyin in York received intelligence from his local network of agents that the small garrison of Scarborough was wavering in its support for Parliament and a strong show of force might precipitate a change of allegiance.

Lord Ethyin decided to try and exploit this and marched on Scarborough - which worked!  The small garrison defected and pledged allegiance to the Crown.  Ethyin was able to return to York, before Fairfax received news and could exploit the brief absence of the York garrison.  Later, Cavendish march north to join Ethyin in York. Fairfax and Newcastle continued their patient training of their troops.  Brereton finally moved into action once again, taking Lancaster and then beginning to besiege the long-suffering town of Preston!

The Earl of Manchester moved to London to reinforce the Earl of Essex and bring the garrison of London to well over 20,000 men.  King Charles, feeling that the Parliamentary forces in the Southeast were now too strong, withdrew northward to Melton Mowbray, feeling that this position - from where he could cover London, York, Shrewsbury and Gloucester - would give him the strategic advantage and limit Parliament's options. 

The contingent of Anglo-Irish regiments had reached 4000 strong and it marched to Shrewsbury to reinforce Prince Maurice, who was engaged in training his army.  Waller took Hereford and then moved to besiege Gloucester.  A small force of Parliamentary Foot moved from The Fens to Louth.

Hopton moved to Wells to recruit.  Bedford released a contingent of his troops to sail to London to reinforce the garrison, then moved the rest of his army to Bodmin.

There was a large prisoner exchange at Christmas: the Royalists released Skippon, Foppington, F.Fairfax and Dalbier in exchange for Forth, Vasey and Goring.

The North:

The Royalists:
Newcastle is at Newcastle with 4000 Foot & 1500 Horse
Preston is garrisoned with 1000 Foot
Cavendish and Ethyin are at York with 5000 Foot & 2250 Horse

The Parliamentarians:
Brereton is besieging Preston with 3000 Foot & 3000 Horse
Fairfax is at Hull with 4000 Foot & 1500 Horse

The Midlands:

The Royalists:
King Charles is at Melton Mowbray with 10000 Foot & 6750 Horse
Prince Maurice is at Shrewsbury with 6000 Foot & 2250 Horse

The Parliamentarians:
Louth is garrisoned by 2000 Foot

The South:

The Royalists:
Hopton is at Wells with 2000 Foot & 750 Horse
Gloucester is garrisoned with 1000 Foot
Oxford is garrisoned with 1000 Foot

The Parliamentarians:
Essex and Manchester are at London with 21000 Foot and 6750 Horse
Massey is at Bristol with 2000 Foot
Bedford is at Bodmin with 4000 Foot & 1500 Horse
Waller is besieging Gloucester with 2000 Foot & 2250 Horse

Game Notes:
Has King Charles' moment gone?  He felt that success was too doubtful and it was better to withdraw and regroup - shades of Turnham Green?  On the other hand, his central position is undoubtedly strong and crucially, it will be very difficult for the main Parliamentary force to co-operate effectively with any Covenanting army which approaches.
The moving of large forces around London has sucked away the available supplies for smaller regional operations, so there has been a lot of focus on training and small moves.  However, Parliament has felt safe enough to begin some smaller operations to take Royalist strongholds on the periphery.  It feels that a different phase of operations has been reached, in which small forces will only be able to operate in the more distant regions, as small forces trying to operate in Middle England will be caught and destroyed by the large central Field armies - unless they can be pinned by equally large force.

And that concludes Act I!  I hope those of you following this campaign have found it interesting to follow, it has certainly been interesting to play it.  I hope to resume in a few months, depending upon when I finish a Scots' Covenanter army ready for service - which in turn will depend upon when Baccus 6mm is able to finish and release all the figures for it (the Foot and Guns are released, but the Horse hasn't been done yet).  Many thanks for all of the comments and interest shown so far.

Stay tuned for Act II: The Coming of the Covenanters...

ECW Campaign: November 1643

The English Civil War: November 1643

The commanders of the garrisons of both Hull and Lyme wrote despatches to Parliament assuring that body of the continued unwavering loyalty of the garrisons and populations of those two ports, describing their steadfastness in God's cause.

The Earl of Manchester attempted to reach London through Essex in order to reinforce the capital; Prince Rupert moved to intercept him at Chelmsford however and Manchester was forced to retreat back to Bury St. Edmonds, abandoning the Essex town into the hands of the Royalists.  King Charles then planned to march to Chelmsford himself and then incorporate Prince Rupert's forces into his own and attack London.  However, Manchester moved to intercept the King near Cambridge and managed to defeat him, somewhat against the odds, at the Battle of Swaffham.  The King was able to gather his forces and join with Prince Rupert, but his troops were now not in a fit state for any further marches or battles until after a period of recovery.  Hampden rode from Basing to Cambridge to join Manchester's army.

Waller remained quiet in Ross-on-Wye, training his troops.  Cavendish withdrew from in front of Waller, moving to Nottingham from where he could march north to support York or south to support the King.  Prince Maurice remained in Shrewsbury, recruiting and training.

Newcastle concentrated on training his men.  Brereton did likewise.

Bedford moved to Truro, obviously intending to use the port to ship some or all of his forces to other theatres of operation.

The North:

Add caption
The Royalists:
Newcastle is at Newcastle with 4000 Foot & 1500 Horse
Ethyin is at York with 1000 Foot
Preston is garrisoned by 1000 Foot

The Parliamentarians:
Brereton is at Appleby with 3000 Foot & 3000 Horse

Fairfax is at Hull with 2000 Foot & 1500 Horse

The Midlands:

The Royalists:
Chester is garrisoned by 4000 Foot
Prince Maurice is at Shrewsbury with 4000 Foot & 2250 Horse
Cavendish is at Nottingham with 3000 Foot & 2250 Horse

The Parliamentarians:
The Fens are garrisoned by 2000 Foot
Manchester is at Cambridge with 8000 Foot & 2250 Horse
Waller is at Ross-on-Wye with 3000 Foot & 1500 Horse

The North:

The Royalists:
King Charles is at Chelmsford with 10000 Foot & 6000 Horse
Oxford is garrisoned by 1000 Foot
Gloucester is garrisoned by 1000 Foot
Hopton is at Sherborne with 1000 Foot & 750 Horse

The Parliamentarians:
Essex is at London with 11000 Foot & 3750 Horse
Hopton is at Truro with 6000 Foot & 2250 Horse
Reading is garrisoned by 1000 Foot
Massey is at Bristol with 1000 Foot
Basing is garrisoned by 1000 Foot

Game Notes:
Manchester's victory at Swaffham (and it might be argued, it was really Cromwell's victory) really did save London from being besieged by the King.  Although the King was able to join with Prince Rupert, there was no time left to carry out the attack on London and the losses in that battle have changed the equation so that the King no longer has the numbers to guarantee that Essex would have to withdraw:  Essex could leave a small garrison to prevent a coup de main and still put a very respectable force into the field against King Charles.  This must change the King's strategic calculations, knowing that he has very little time left before the Covenanting Scots come to Parliament's aid, fundamentally changing the strategic dynamic of the conflict.  On the other hand, is this still the King's last best chance for a decisive victory?

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

ECW Campaign Battle 11: The Battle of Swaffham

King Charles planned to complete his autumn campaign in triumph by marching back to his capital at the head of his victorious army.  To do this he need to march southeast, pick up Prince Rupert's army on the way from Chelmsford and then march on London from the northeast.  However, although he had a choice of two routes, the western route was threatened by the Earl of Essex from London itself whilst the eastern route was threatened by the Earl of Manchester, whose army had just scurried back to Bishop's Stortford.  The King picked the eastern route, thinking that Manchester would probably not try to intercept him, would fail to do so if he tried, and if he did succeed would be badly beaten by the King's veteran troopers.  On the first two counts at least, the King was absolutely incorrect and Manchester forced the King to halt his march and turn and fight in an isolated spot near Swaffham just off the road to Cambridge, with a small (but defensible) rise and some farmland  and a small pond.

Both sides knew that the stakes were high.  Manchester had to win and force the King to retreat, almost regardless of the cost - otherwise King Charles would be besieging London with an army of over 20,000 men by the end of the month...

The Forces:


King Charles I (Average)
Earl of Forth (Poor)

22 bases of Veteran Horse (S)
1 base of Veteran Dragoons
4 bases of Veteran Foot (SH)
4 bases of Raw Foot (SH)
2 bases of Guns


Earl of Manchester (Poor)
Cromwell (Good)

12 bases of Veteran Horse (D)
4 bases of Raw Horse (D)
1 base of Raw Dragoons
14 bases of Raw Foot (SH)
4 bases of Guns 

The Set-Up:

Royalists defending (bottom), Parliamentarians attacking (top).  The Royalist have put their Horse on the more open terrain to the left, with Foot defending the hill, enclosures and marshland.

Cromwell commands the veteran troopers on the Parliamentary Right

Foot and guns in the centre of the Parliamentary line

And looking a little further along

The Earl of Forth commands the Horse on the Royalist Left

King Charles on the summit of the hill, overseeing some of his Foot and Guns

King Charles has placed some Horse in the middle of his line to try and threaten the raw Parliamentary Foot

The view from behind the defenders in the enclosures
The Battle:

The battle beings with a mutual cannonade around the hill

Next, the Earl of Manchester advances a brigade of Foot towards the enclosures

The Royalist Foot reserve is brought forward to guard against any Parliamentary flanking movement

Another shot of the same

And a wider context shot - the Parliamentary Foot appeared in no great haste to actually assault the hedgerow lined with musketmen!

Cromwell (centre) leads forward his first brigade in a gentle trot.  Is he trying to provoke the Earl of Forth into charging?

The artillery exchange continues in the centre - some good shooting by the Roundheads discomfits the King's artillerists!

The lead brigades of Horse clash - Cromwell is in the thick of it, sword in hand (right) - but the Earl of Forth seems strangely absent...

...although his discretion has clearly paid dividends: the Roundheads seem to have rather the better of this first clash, initially

The King orders forward two battalia of veteran infantry!  Is he testing the resolve of the Roundhead Foot...?

Same moment, wider context shot

King Charles orders one of the central brigades of Horse to charge: they charge home, but are somewhat shaken...

Meanwhile, the leading Royalist Horse brigade on the left is coming apart.  One of its troops (centre) has routed its opponent, but it has two troops routing and a thrid one (bottom-left) is beginning to come apart...

One Royalist Horse troop punches through (centre), but the brigade overall is looking quite ragged, having been mainly beaten back by the Parliamentary Foot

A closer shot

Meanwhile at the edge of the enclosures, the musketry continues to rage, with lots of ammunition expended but little in the way of decisive results

Seeing his first brigade in more or less complete rout, the Earl of Forth (bottom-right) calls upon his second brigade (bottom)

Somewhat against the odds, the Parliamentary Foot in the centre has successfully beaten off the Royalist Horse, in the main - only that single troop in the centre has punched through, but is facing the Parliamentary reserves

The stalemate around the enclosures continues

The last troop from the leading Royalist Horse brigade is routed by Cromwell's second line

Cromwell himself is leading the attack into the next line of Parliamentary Horse.  Luck is with him again and the Roundhead troopers have very much got the upper hand...

The Royalist Horse in the centre has been thrown back by the reserves of Manchester's Foot

The musketry exchange continues: the attackers continue to get slightly the worst of it, but not decisively so

A battalia of Royalist foot advances on the centre of Manchester's line

But the second line of the Royalist Horse on the Left is now broken

A wider shot of the Royalist Centre and Left: one can see that the Royalist Left is under extreme pressure

The Parliamentary infantry's musketry has halted the Royalist attack (left) and restored its defensive line (right)

The third line of Royalist Horse engages and at last has some success - except against the invincible Cromwell (right)!

The leading Parliamentary brigade is routed (centre & left), with the exception of Cromwell's own troop (bottom-right)

The Royalist Foot in the centre cannot get forward in the face of the musket fire

The Earl of Forth leads a small reserve Horse brigade in a charge against Cromwell's isolated troop - again, the Cavaliers charge home but in disorder...

The second Parliamentary Horse brigade advances (from top), easily getting the better of this isolated Royalist troop

A troop of Royalist Horse and a battalia of Foot do manage to get into contact in the centre

And yet another half-cocked Royalist charge goes in!

There is no stopping Cromwell this day!  His troop defeats the Royalist reserves and the Earl of Forth is captured too!

The Royalists are having no luck today.  Defying the odds, the raw Parliamentary troopers have forced back the veteran Royalist Horse and Foot in the centre

And the same is repeated on the other side of the centre, although here at least the Royalists are getting the better of one battalia of Foot (centre)

A closer shot

Half of the central Royalist attack in full retreat

And the other half is mainly defeated too! Only that isolated troop (centre) has been successful

This shot shows how the cavalry fight is beginning to swirl around towards the Royalist Rear

The final Royalist Horse brigade is not routed in its entirety, but has been broken up into individual combats - there is nothing now to stop the Parliamentary reserves on this flank

Disorder and casualties mount around the enclosures, but neither side risks an attack over the hedge

A wider shot - the infantry battle is largely a desultory stalemate now

The Royalist centre lookig very weak, although the Parliamentary centre has suffered some losses too

The position at the end of the battle - with Cromwell approaching the Royalist rear, King Charles was obliged to flee.
Game Results: A fairly convincing victory for Parliament.  Losses were:

Royalists: c. 1300 Horse, c.1100 Foot, Earl of Forth captured
Parliamentarians: . c.700 Horse, c.1200 Foot

Although the casualties don't look too far apart, the losses of veteran Royalists are more strategically important than losses in the raw Parliamentary Foot.  And more importantly than either, the King's defeat and retreat would prevent a link-up between Prince Rupert and Charles this month.  Folloing the battle, some of the captured Royalists deserted to the Parliamentary side.

Game Notes: The King had very little luck in this battle. His deployment seemed quite sound and the best that Manchester could really manage, considering that this was a must-win battle for him, was to set up so that the Veteran Horse on his side had a straight fight with the Veteran Horse on the Royalist side, giving him a 50:50 chance of success.  Cromwell's leadership advantage over Forth more than equalized the dubious Royalist charge-ability advantage.  And this was enough for success for the Parliamentarians.  The Royalists equally had no luck in the centre, really, losing combats they really should have won.  Surely God was on the side of the Roundheads this day.
Infantry attacks onto defended locations without a major advantage in skill and/or numbers continue to be suicidally unpromising.  The Royalist charge ability continues to be blessing and curse in equal measure! The only rules point of note was to look again at the effectiveness of firing.  I still believe that the rules change to improve the effectiveness of musketry was vital, because otherwise units of 50:50 shot:pike were so much more effective than shot-heavy units.  However, this change has also made all musketry and artillery more effective; in some cases, I am wondering if that is too effective.  I am still considering this however and I am by no means sure that the change is wrong.  I just don't think I have a clear enough idea of how effective musketry should be.  Anyway, no real rules issues in this game.

Rules were Polemos: ECW, figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Timecast.