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.

Friday 25 March 2016

The Battle of Abrantes mid-March 1809 - Peninsular Campaign Battle #21

The Battle of Abrantes, mid-March 1809

General Situation: King Joseph continued to urge the greatest activity on his Corps commanders, who, despite severe losses in sick and deserters, caught up with the Allied armies of Wellington and Castanos near Abrantes.  Although the two Allied generals could have evaded, they chose to engage, feeling that they were in a reasonably strong position and that a decisive victory could throw the French pursuit - in fact, the whole French plan of campaign, into disarray.  The scene was set, then, for a decisive clash.

Orders of Battle:

The Imperial Army:

I Corps
C-in-C Suchet (Decisive)
 Ruffin's Div: 6000 Infantry
Villatte's Div: 4500 Infantry
Treillard's Div: 3000 Cavalry
Artillery: 24 guns

IV Corps
C-in-C Marshal Lefebvre (Capable)
Sebastiani's Div: 3000 Infantry
Leval's Div: 1500 Infantry
Artillery: 12 guns

III Corps
C-in-C Marshal Moncey (Decisive)
Gobert's Div: 1500 Infantry
Morlot's Div: 1500 Infantry
Wathier's Bde: 1000 Cavalry
Grouchy's Div: 1000 Cavalry
Clausel's Div: 1500 Infantry
Musnier's Div: 3000 Infantry
Barbou's Div: 3000 Infantry
Artillery: 60 guns

VI Corps
C-in-C Marshal Ney (Decisive)
Bisson's Div: 6000 Infantry
Maransin's Div: 6000 Infantry
Mermet's Div: 4500 Infantry
Artillery: 36 guns

V Corps
C-in-C Marshal Mortier (Capable)
Rey's Div: 6000 Infantry
Gazan's Div: 4500 Infantry
Artillery: 12 guns

Totals: 52500 Infantry, 5000 Cavalry, 144 Guns

The Allied Army
C-in-C Wellesley (Decisive)
Anstruther's Div: 7500 Infantry
Spencer's Div: 6000 Infantry
Hope's Div: 6000 Infantry
Baird's Div: 12000 Infantry
Paget's Div: 3000 Cavalry
Lecor's Div: 1500 Infantry
Ferguson's Div: 3000 Infantry, 12 guns
Craddock's Div: 7500 Infantry
Otway's Bde: 1000 Cavalry
Artillery Reserve: 48 guns

Totals: 43500 Infantry, 4000 Cavalry, 60 guns

The Spanish Army
C-in-C Castanos (Capable)
Venegas' Div: 3000 Infantry
Coupigny's Div: 3000 Infantry, 12 guns
Espana's Div: 1500 Infantry, 12 guns

Totals: 7500 Infantry, 24 guns

So very similar forces on both sides, except for the French artillery advantage


The Allies deployed on the reverse sloe of a long ridge dominating the position (top); the French approach from the south.

Showing more of the French right flank: Suchet's I Corps is around the woods (bottom-right), opposing the Spanish on the hills (top-right); Moncey's III Corps faces the division of Baird by the road; Lefebvre's small IV Corps is bottom-centre, between wood and the road.

Same position, but this time including more towards the French left: Mortier's Corps can be seen towards the left, then some of Ney's artillery and infantry (extreme bottom left); on the Allied side, at the top from the left in reserve are Lecor, Otway, Craddock, Paget and Ferguson; in the front-line, from the left, are Spencer, Hope and Baird; elements of the Anstruther's Division, opposing Ney, can be seen occupying the isolated hill on the left

View of the Allied right from behind Mortier's Corps

View of the Allied Left from behind Suchet's Corps

Ney's VI Corps on the French Left Wing opposed to Anstruther's Division occupying the advanced hill
 Ney's First Assault:

Marshal Ney personally leads the assualt from the front (where else should he be!); leading elements of Bisson's and Maransin's Division straight up the hill, whilst Mermet's troops go right-flanking

Same position, seen from behind Mermet's troops

Bisson's attack (left, just out of shot) was bloodily repulsed, but Ney, personally leading Maransin's infantry, have routed a British brigade and captured 12 guns, and are pursuing the retreating British down the hill!

As mentioned above, Anstruther managed to hold onto part of the hill - the summit and the forward slopes by chasing Bisson's infantry back past its starting point
 The Central Attack - Moncey and Lefebvre:

Moncey's IIIC orps and Lefebvre's VI Corps advance to test and pin the Allied centre.  (Lefebvre on the French right)

After a short but intense fight, the British light infantry rout the attacking Wurzburgers of LEfebvre's Corps.  Initially this looked like it was going to go the other way!  But the British got their act together and led by the 43rd , defeated the Germans.

Sebastiani's troops defeat the British Guards!  They flee to the rear...

A very strange result: Sebastiani's troops defeated Ferguson's counter-attack...but then pulled out themselves having lost too heavily and being in too exposed a position, as Moncey's troops were too slow to support him

Same position, different shot

Ferguson's troops, battered and broken, in full retreat

Lefebvre in full retreat too: still, the French are well ahead on the exchange, an excellent opening to the battle
 Ney's Second and Third Assaults

Ney simply needed to clear that hill in order to bring his powerful artillery into play: therefore he prepares another assault

The French suffer heavy losses and a beaten-off assault but clear the hill in the end; the British and Portuguese troops on the far side of the valley have repulsed Maransin's attempts to exploit this however (note the casualties)

Moncey's Central Assault and the Great Counter-Attack

Moncey advances, but Wellington leads elements of Hope's Division and Paget's cavalry into a disrupting counter-attack: the French are thrown back and the British Dragoons capture 12 French guns

Mortier's V Corps advances to support Moncey's left flank; the remainder of Hope's Division looks dangerously exposed

A wider contextual shot: III Corps and V Corps continue their attack (note Morlot's Division climbing the hill just left of the road); but the remainder of Moncey's Division is under heavy pressure from the British (right, along the road)

The attack of Mortier and Moncey advances up the slopes      

And is crowned with success!  The ridge is taken at its central point, and Hope's troops are repulsed.  Baird's reserves approach from the right to try and restore the situation

Spencer's Division (left) has managed to hold on...but will it be hit in the flank when Moncey and Mortier reform their troops?

But on the central road, the British have enjoyed complete success, as Gobert's and Barbou's Divisions are both routed and the French artillery is at the mercy of the British brigades; the French centre has been pierced and Suchet is split from his comrades

Wellington's reserves restore the situation in his right-centre: the French are thrown back and the ridge is again in Allied hands

This defeat proves too much for Moncey's III Corps, which collapses and flees the field
Suchet's Attack

Suchet leads his troops forward to attack Castanos' Spanish on the Allied left flank

Leading the assault in person, Suchet routs Espana's Division and throws Coupigny into confusion

Some of Baird's British Brigades arrive to stabilize the flank after Coupigny is defeated too

Venegas (centre-right) gains some glory for Spanish arms by repulsing then routing Villatte's Division!

Close-up of Villatte retreating; Treillard's Dragoons (left) are recovering after being hit by Baird's infantry
 The Final French Attack

Ney and Mortier prepare a huge - and hopefully decisive - blow against the Allied right

Same position, but this time including Mortier's right-hand units (on the slope of the ridge)

Mortier's attack - one last effort against that damned ridge!

Mortier's troops gain the slope and defeat Spencer's units!!  Can they hold on?  Some of Gazan's troops try to fend off Wellington (right)

Ney in trouble:  the combined British-Portuguese force (from Anstruther, Lecor and Otway) have broken the attack by Mermet, whose troops are now in full retreat; Ney's artillery and reserves are now turning to face the threat of British troops advancing after the defeat of Moncey (extreme bottom-right)

Mortier is pushed back:  Hope and Craddock's toops - the last British reserve - push Mortier off the ridge for the last time

but the collapse of Ney's Corps and Gazan's Division spells the end of the battle.  Anstruther's troops collapsed but in a fine showing by the newly-trained Portuguese, they defeat Bisson's Division and Ney's troops fled the field..;
 End of the French Right

Suchet was able to mount a classic combined arms attack on two British brigades trying to fend him off; one British brigade was routed, the other retreated onto its cavalry support

Troops from the British centre outflank Suchet's open flank: he is left with no option but to retire after his attempt to force the British back fails
 The scale of losses was huge:  the Spanish army lost 2100 infantry and 12 guns; the Allied army c.6750 infantry and 12 guns, a combined loss of 8850 infantry and 24 guns.  The Spanish General Espana was captured in the fighting.  On the Imperial side the scale of the casulties was even greater 19250 infantry, 125o cavalry, 24 guns.  General  Leval was killed, Generals Barbou, Morlot and Musnier were captured  The casualty figures are slightly lopsided as a result of the defeat, rather than its cause as over 6000 of the casualties were prisoners taken in the very last stages of the battle or in the pursuit.
The strategic effects are also incalculable at this stage: this was potentially a campaign-winning battle for the French.  Their defeat throws into question the French ability to maintain their position in the Iberian peninsula at all.

Game Notes:
A truly titanic struggle!  This game took around 4 hours of playing time to complete (I played it in a couple of stages).  One aspect of the game worth noting is that there wasn't a commander-in-chief on either side, there being two "co-operating" army commanders on the Allied side and no less than five on the French side.  Basically, each individual commander bids for tempo separately and then one commander - chosen at random - bids for the side as a whole,  This can produce "interesting" effects, and reflects a structure much less efficient than that of an Army commander directing separate Corps.
The French came very close to  winning this one a couple of times, for two reasons.  Partly, they distinctly had the best of the dice rolls, but the other reason was their greater number of commanders: this allowed the French to make many more "+2 attacks" (you get a +1 bonus for attacking and an additional +1 bonus for a general leading the attack); if they lead the French Legere units, that can end up being +3.  The defenders may get a +1 for some kind of terrain, but overall this means that the French can expect to organize multiple successful attacks.
In terms of the campaign game, the key to this successful battle for the Allies was the extenisve campaign attrition inflicted on the French forces over the last few months.  Wellington's army was retreating down a prepared route, with logistic depots at appropriate points whereas the French were pursuing him down a very barren terrain without the opportunity to arrange such support and lost sufficient men to make the Allies accepting battle a realistic possibility.
The table was 5' x 3'.  Figures as ever from Baccus 6mm.

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