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.

Saturday 6 June 2015

Campaign Battle 16: The Battle of Belchite

The Battle of Belchite, late-January 1809

General Situation: Palacio's Army of Catalonia has been pushing towards Saragossa in order to divert Imperial attention from the current main effort in Castile.   To this extent, the plan has worked, and in accordance with Napoleon's direction that a disaster in the Ebro valley is the worst thing that can happen - because it must inevitably lead to defeat in central Spain - the Imperial VIII Corps has been diverted to protect Saragossa and stop any threat to the Imperial lines of communication through Pamplona and Burgos.  However, General Junot, after securing the city, has seized the initiative and forced march his troops onto Belchite where Palacio was holding, apparently thinking himself safe.  Many stragglers dropped out on the march and VIII Corps was 2000 men weaker by the time Junot approached the position.  However, this (and the total lack of Spanish cavalry) achieved surprise and Palacio has only been able to prepare a hasty defence around the town before the Imperial arrival.

The Forces:

Imperial Forces: VIII Corps (C-in-C Junot (Capable))

Delaborde's Division: 8000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Travot's Division: 7000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Kellermann's Division: 1000 Dragoons
VIII Corps' Artillery: 24 Guns

Total: 15000 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 36  Guns

Spanish Forces: Army of Catalonia (C-in-C Palacio (Plodding))

Caldagues' Division: 4000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Jacome's Division: 4000 Infantry, 6 Guns

Total: 8000 Infantry, 12 Guns

The Deployment:

The initial dispositions: the Imperials are attacking from the bottom, Delaborde's Division to the left and Travot's to the right, a grand battery in the centre supported by a brigade from Travot's Division.  Kellermann's Dragoons are off-camera to the left.  For the Spanish, Jacome's Division is to the right, Caldagues' to the left (as you look at it), with the Spanish artillery on the road.

A clearer picture of the Spanish position.

 The French First Attack (Travot's Division):

Travot's leading brigade - led by Junot in person - clears the enclosures in front of Belchite to the right of the highway of Spanish troops, disordering the Spanish brigade and routing the Spanish reserve.  Jacome's division was lucky not to collapse, but its morale (just) held.

The attack of Travot's second brigade - again led by Junot in person - pushes the Spanish off the hill.  But in one of the quirky results possible in MdE, the French lose confidence at the moment of victory and pull back onto the ridge!

Jacome manages to rally and reform the two remaining brigades of his division.
 The French Second Attack (Delaborde's Division):

Delaborde (and Kellermann) try to emulate Travot's success and approach the Spanish right.  Palacio has brought up the brigade held in reserve in Belchite to support the Spanish infantry in the enclosures.

Palacio bravely led a charge of the Spanish infantry holding the ridge in an attempt to push Delaborde back!  However, although fortune often favours the bold stroke in MdE, this one didn't pay off and the Spanish have reformed about 1km into the rear.  The Spanish centre is now exposed to attack on three sides!
The Denoument:

Junot quickly organised an attack with Delaborde's right-hand brigade and Travot's left.  Leading Travot's troops, he again successfully routed the poor Spanish infantry opposing him (they have their backs turned, routing past Belchite to the left)!  Some of Delaborde's infantry have overrun the Spanish guns too.  The Spanish light infantry in the centre of the shot did actually see off the Swiss troops (bottom), easily holding their own, but the division's morale collapsed at this point and they were forced to surrender.  The game ended at this point.
 Results: A crushing defeat for Palacio, who has lost a third of his infantry and all of his guns in this short, sharp action.  Kellermann's dragoons inflicted further severe casualties in the ensuing pursuit and the Army of Catalonia must now flee for its very existence: as it is, it is now the strength of a weak infantry division and it will require very substantial reinforcement before it is able to contest French activity in Aragon or in Catalonia.  Junot's gamble and losses have paid off handsomely!  The main danger to the French was that Junot would get himself killed: he managed to suffer three minor wounds whilst leading from the front.  French losses were insignificant, overall casualties numbering in the low hundreds.

Game Notes: This game was always likely to be fairly unbalanced, so I tried an experiement: rather than play it out using Polemos General de Division, I wanted to see how Polemos Marechal d'Empire would work for a DBA-type game (for newcomers to the game, I've reviewed the rules here).  And it worked fine: the game (involving 15 elements of Imperials and 8 elements of Spanish on a 3'x2' table) gave a plausible result in 35 minutes flat.  The tempo mechanics (i.e. activation points) do work even when there is only a single corps per side.

Interestingly, the strategic situation and the outcame was not so different from the real Battle of Belchite!

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