Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Peninsular Campaign - Battle 04: An interlude

This battle is a 'flashback'.  It is the Battle of Saalfeld scenario taken from the Polemos Napoleonic Companion, but using Spanish forces from 1808 in place of the Prussians.

The Companion is a bit light on what both sides were actually trying to do at Saalfeld, so I re-read the relevant section in Petre's Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia . Basically, Prince Louis (the Prussian C-in-C) was trying to maintain his position on the left bank of the Saale rather than just hold the right flank, to allow his superiors freedom to manoeuvre on both sides of the river, in accordance with alternative plans presented in the previous days.  Marshal Lannes, the French Corps Commander, disobeyed Napoleon's orders and attacked with support - but success forgave all!

French Forces:
A Division of 20 battalions of infantry and two artillery batteries, plus a brigade of three light cavalry regiments.

'Spanish' (Prussian) Forces:
A brigade of six infantry battalions with a battery of artillery (in Polemos terms, 1xSK2, 3xSK1, 2xSK0; these being the skirmish ratings assigned to Prussian Jaeger, Fusiliers and Line Infantry respectively for the 1806 Prussian army;  I used Spanish Light Infantry in place of the Jaegers, with more or less efficient Spanish line infantry replacing the others.)
A brigade of six line infantry battalions (all SK0)
Two light cavalry brigades each of two-three Hussar bases with a horse artillery battery attached.

All units on both sides were classified as 'Trained'.  The French C-in-C and Gen Suchet (the French Divisional commander) were both rated as 'Decisive' (the best), Prince Luis, the 'Spanish' commander was rated as 'Competent'.


Looking at Saalfeld from the West
The French troops advancing from the West (bottom); opposed by  two brigades of infantry and two of cavalry

 The Initial Manoeuvering:

Reille's Brigade advances up the middle to pin the opposing Spaniards who  for their part are strengthening their centre and deploying the majority of the cavalry to each flank.  Vedel's brigade starts moving towards the right to threaten the heights on the Spanish left.

The Spanish Cavalry Charge!

Who says that Spanish Cavalry is rubbish?!   These Dragoons have just routed four battalions of French infantry! Mind you, the other Spanish Dragoon regiment was routed in short order, but history will gloss over that...
The Spanish Cavalry Charge again!!

On the other flank mind you.  Two regiments of Spanish Hussars, supported by a horse artillery unit, are just about to break the French Light Cavalry brigade opposing them...In the melee (to round off some very unlucky French dice-rolling), the French C-in-C (the small base with 3 figures, the right-hand horseman carrying a tricolor) is about to be sabred by a French Hussar!  How the wheel turns - in the real battle, the Prussian C-in-C Prince Louis was killed by a French Hussar quartermaster...)
The French in Crisis:

The Spanish close in on the French.  With Vedel's brigade on the right having retired from the field , spent after seeing off the Spanish Dragoons, and the French light cavalry routed by the Spanish Hussars, and having made little or  no progress against the Spanish infantry in the centre, in the woods or on the heights, the C-in-C killed, Gen Suchet assumes command and hands over the division to his senior brigadier, Gen Reille.  Should he withdraw? No!  Relying on those raw pugilistic skills a later historian would see as the true bedrock of French success, the French stand firm and await the Spanish assault...

The Spanish Assault:

...which is delivered with boldness!  Can the French infantry hold?

Snatching Victory!

Yes!  The action was so fast and furious, one would need to film it to do it justice, but, in essence:  the French infantry on the right, hold, then throw back the Spanish cavalry and their supporting infantry;  Claparede;s Light Infantry on the right, despite suffering heavy casualties, see off the Spanish on the hill, the personal attention of Gen Suchet and a supporting battery of horse artillery just out-matching the value of the heights to the Spanish defenders; and in the centre, the French infantry, despite having their artillery captured by the Spanish, hold, throw back, and finally rout their opponents!  Then, swinging into the flank of the Spanish troops holding the central wood, these troops too are sent retreating, their officers maintaining a semblance of order and discipline...just.

Despite, the Spanish troops still being willing to fight on, Prince Luis could see there was no way that the road to Saalfeld could be held further and he ordered his two most intact brigades to retreat North to rejoin the main body, trusting that the lack of French cavalry would enable him, and the rest of his scattered command, to escape...

N.b.  Sorry the road was looking a bit disevelled by this point!  I need to either make or buy some better roads.
Game Notes:
At one point I nearly threw in the towel as the French player, but I'm glad it did not, as the war game see-sawed and was genuinely tense until the end.  The game took 15 moves, and lasted just over 90 minutes.  It is possibly the bloodiest game of Polemos I have ever fought.  Often the morale rules work so that armies retreat after relatively few casualties, but here everyone stuck it out.  I think this was partly because the French had two brigades of nine battalions, which are quite hard to break; while the Spanish were organized in brigades only (no Divisions) and that seems to increase robustness at the expense of command efficiency.

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