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 28 May 2016

Peninsular Campaign: French Dilemma

In my refight of the Peninsular War, the French Army of Spain is in a particularly tricky situation.  Wellington is on the Spanish-Portuguese border with around 50,000 veteran troops.  The French Army of Spain is in the barren territory to the east of Wellington on the Spanish side of the border.  They number about 60,000 troops of variable quality, but mainly veterans.  A Spanish army of 20,ooo troops - wildly varying quality - has re-taken Madrid and is marching northwards against the French lines of communication to Bayonne.  There are no large forces belonging to the French in the North of Spain except Soult's Corps of around 20,000 which is around Astorga, which is holding down an equally-sized although slightly less skilled Spanish force opposing it from Galicia.

So what should Joseph do?

If he presses home the attack on Wellington and fails, he will probably be destroyed.
If he retreats then Wellington will probably pursue and together with Elio will outnumber Joseph.
If he detaches a force to defeat Elio, Wellington will probably have sufficient troops to almost guarantee defeating him.
If he retires on Soult in Astorga, Wellington will mask them while Elio cuts off the army from France.

Game Map:

Hopefully this screen shot makes things clear.  The river is the Tagus, Madrid is to the East.

Saturday 21 May 2016

"The Woeful Battle of Nechtansmere AD685" - A DBA v3.0 Refight

Today I had a go at a scenario from Miniature Wargames 19 entitled "The Woeful Battle of Nechtansmere".  This was the first in the series of "Dark Age" Britain scenarios penned by Early Medieval historian and wargamer Guy Halsall, who wrote many great articles in the 1980s and 1990s on various aspects of medieval warfare (plus a great series on the Vendée, if I recall aright).  Nechtansmere (or Dun Nechtain) was fought between Northumbrian Anglo-Saxons and Picts trying to assert their independence: the basic story of the battle is here.

Guy Halsall postulates the following forces for each side:

The English:
300 Royal Bodyguard (Excellent armoured "mounted infantry" - despite Halsall's loathing of the term he uses it in the scenario, presumably it was in the WRG rules of the time)
2000 Warriors (Veteran leather armoured spearmen)
400 Peasants (unarmoured)
200 Archers
200 Javelinmen

The Picts:
80 Heavy Cavalry
500 Light Cavalry
2800 Infantry (unarmoured spearmen)
600 Archers
320 Javelinmen

I was using DBA.  Consulting the relevant army lists, I created a DBA order of battle as follows:

Middle Anglo-Saxons (III/24):
1 x General (4Wb)
5 x Select Fyrd (Sp)
1 x Great Hyrd (7Hd)
1 x Archers (Ps)
1 x Javelinmen (Ps)

Picts (II/68a):
1 x General (Cv)
2 x Light Horse (LH)
8 x Spearmen (3Pk)
3 x Archers (Ps)
1 x Javelinmen (Ps)

The Anglo-Saxons would thus collapse after losing 3 elements, the Picts after losing 5.  I used two special rules.  The Anglo-Saxons had to advance straight ahead in their first turn.  The Pictish cavalry was -1, despite having the general, to reflect its weakness in numbers and equipment.

The Set-Up:

The Anglo-Saxons are advancing from the bottom-right, pursuing some Picts who are feigning flight.  Two large groups of Picts await in ambush!

The view from behind the main force of Pictish spearmen

View of the advancing Anglo-Saxons from behind Dun Nechtain

And a view from behind the main body of Anglo-Saxon warriors, looking through their king and his bodyguard towards the lake.
 The  Battle:

The Anglo-Saxons push forward into the jaws of the attack

Same position, slightly different view

First blood to the Anglo-Saxons: the King himself leads his bodyguards into close combat personally and destroys the Pictish warriors who had feigned retreat by the banks of the lake; meanwhile, one jaw of the Pictish trap closes: the Anglo-Saxons form some sort of shieldwall to face the Pictish spears; the remainder of the Picts and the Anglo-Saxons seem equally frozen!

On the far side, a battle line of sorts is formed, although the light troops are equally engaged; on the near side, the Anglo-Saxon bodyguards and archers are harrassing the Pictish warriors; many of whom are still hanging back whilst more Anglo-Saxons form another shieldwall

The Anglo-Saxons have managed to form two battle lines: can they carry out a withdrawal and escape from the trap relatively intact?
The Anglo-Saxons on the far side start to push the Picts back!

On the far side, the Anglo-Saxons start to gain the upper hand: some of the Pictish skirmishers run to the rear; on the near side, the Picts finally manage to put a concerted attack in, allowing their numbers to tell and push the Anglo-Saxons back, slightly

And suddenly, it was all over!  The Anglo-Saxon King and his bodyguards fell under the spears of Pictish infantry and their supporting light horsemen.  Technically this would automatically win the battle anyway, but I played out the remainder of the turn and the Anglo-Saxons lost another couple of bases as the Pictish pressure told.

Some Pictish troops didn't actually make it into the battle

That Anglo-Saxon corridor has thoroughly collapsed and very few of their warriors would escape: only the warriors on the hill who never made it into the battle would be able to escape easily.
Game Notes:
A short but enjoyable game using the DBA v3.0 rules .  As ever, the DBA PIP system does throw up some interesting situations.  Because the Picts initially threw so low on their PIP scores, the ambush went off a bit half-cocked.  For a moment, just after the Anglo-Saxons had polished off a unit of warriors and formed two shieldwalls, I thought that the Anglo-Saxons might well escape, or even win.  But when the Pictish spearmen got fully into action, the Anglo-Saxons collapsed quickly.
As ever, DBA throws up some interesting points.  DBA, by making Pictish spearmen "Fast Pikemen", makes them the most effective troops on the battlefield.  In basic frontal combat, they would start at a base '6', whilst a supported Spearmen unit would be '5'.  Given average luck and a decent number of combats, then the Pictish infantry will come out on top.  Add the advantages of the tactical situation and the numerical superiority, it is going to take good play for the Anglo-Saxon player to get out of this one.  I think if I do this scenario again, I may make the Pictish foot-soldiers Spearmen.
The rules do give a good, interesting game and are normally easy to follow.  I think it took about 45 minutes.  I used my Baccus 6mm Ancient British army for the Picts and the Baccus 6mm Anglo-Saxons for the English army.  I think the buildings are from Timecast.
And thanks to Guy Halsall for writing such an interesting scenario.  He has quite an interesting history blog too.

A couple of questions:
I did wonder about flank support by light troops. As far as I understand, light infantry (which is "fast") cannot give flank support, but light horse can?  Is that correct?  And the other thing I wondered about is if flank supporting troops should advance if the troops they are supporting advance after the target recoils?

Saturday 14 May 2016

Campaign Battle 22: The Battle of Montehermosa

The Battle of Montehermosa, early June 1809

General Situation: King Joseph and the Army of Spain were in a difficult position, with every possible move dangerous.  Should they fall back into Leon?  Force a way through to Madrid and then escape?  Attack Wellington directly?  Play for time and wait until Moncey's III Corps could rejoin them from its period refitting between Salamanca and Astorga?  In the end King Joseph vacillated between the Madrid withdrawal and attack, but Cuesta's close pursuit persuaded Joseph that a precipitate retreat would be a defeat without a battle, whereas with luck he might check or defeat Wellington and Cuesta.  Noting that Cuesta was slightly exposed, Joseph has ordered an all out attack.  Could Wellington arrive in time to bring succour to the Spaniards?

Orders of Battle:

The Army of Spain - King Joseph (Plodding)

Saligny's Div: 3000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Latour-Maubourg's Div: 5000 Cavalry, 6 Guns

I Corps - Suchet (Decisive)

Ruffin's Div: 4500 Infantry, 6 Guns
Villatte's Div: 3000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Valence's Div: 6000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Treillard's Div: 3000 Cavalry, 6 Guns
I Corps Artillery: 24 Guns

IV Corps - Lefebvre (Capable)

Sebastiani's Div: 3000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Lapisse's Div: 45000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Lahoussaye's Div: 2000 Cavalry, 6 Guns
IV Corps Artillery: 12 Guns

V Corps - Mortier (Capable)

Rey's Div: 4500 Infantry, 6 Guns
Gazan's Div: 4500 Infantry, 6 Guns
Lorge's Div: 3000 Cavalry, 6 Guns
V Corps Artillery: 24 Guns

VI Corps - Ney (Decisive)

Bisson's Div: 4500 Infantry, 6 Guns
Marasin's Div: 4500 Infantry, 6 Guns
Mermet's Div: 3000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Grouchy's Div: 1000 Cavalry, 6 Guns
VI Corps Arty: 12 Guns

Infantry: 45000 Cavalry: 14000 Guns: 156

The Allied Army

Spanish Army of the Centre - Cuesta (Plodding)

Zayas' Div: 3000 Infantry, 2000 Cavalry, 6 Guns
Moretti's Div: 4500 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 6 Guns

Total: 7500 Infantry, 3000 Cavalry, 12 Guns

The British Army - Wellington (Decisive)

Anstruther's Div: 6000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Spencer's Div: 6000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Hope's Div: 6000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Baird's Div: 7500 Infantry, 6 Guns
Paget's Div: 3000 Cavalry, 6 Guns
Lecor's Div: 1500 Infantry, 6 Guns
Ferguson's Div: 6000 Infantry, 6 Guns
Craddock's Div: 7500 Infantry, 6 Guns
Cotton's Div: 3000 Cavalry, 6 Guns
Otway's Bde: 1000 Cavalry
Reserve Artillery: 36 Guns

Infantry: 40500 Cavalry: 7000 Guns: 90

The Deployment:

The centre and right of the battlefield, French at the bottom.  The terrain generator came up with a river, so I made the scenario into a river crossing scenario.  Ney's VI Corps is on the left of shot advancing over a pontoon bridge in the woods; Lefebvre in the centre with the Army reserves at the bottom below the hill; Mortier's V Corps in on the right.  Detachments of Morretti's Division are defending the central and right-hand bridge, a detachment of Zayas' Division faces the French in the woods.

A closer-in shot of the French right flank

The left-hand side: Suchet's I Corps faces another of Zayas' brigades guarding the bridge; and another shot of Ney with his leading troops across the pontoon bridge

A shot looking down the river from French left (near) to French right (far)

The view from the Spanish side: looking down towards the French centre and right.

The Battle

First blood to the French in the morning sunlight: Suchet's Corps (left) and Ney's Corps right successfully sieze the bridges, in Ney's case routing the Spanish opposition too.

The Spaniards fleeing (left) and the Frenchmen of Ney's VI Corps advancing (right)

Stalemate on the French right: Mortier's troops briefly gained the bridge and threw the Spanish back, but the arrival of Wellington's forces in the nick of time restored the situation.

The French artillery forced the Spaniards defending the central bridge back in disorder; again the arrival of the Allied troops in the nick of time restored the situation.  British heavy cavalry have moved up to the support of Moretti's hard-pressed infantry

Ney's VI Corps has cleared the woods and advanced to the brow of the hill and thrown back a British cavalry attack in disorder; this was merealy a feint however for Wellington to prepare his assault on the most exposed French Corps

"Bold measures are the safest": Suchet proves he isn't a general for nothing as he leads an immediate counter-attack by Rey's Division which throws back an advancing British division in confusion

A closer view of the same position

On the extreme left, the British hurriedly try to get into formation to repel Suchet's I Corps; however Wellington's attack has demolished Bisson and Mermet's Divisions of VI Corps; can Ney, leading his last unbroken division (Maransin's) halt the rout?

A closer view of the position around the wood: French infantry fleeing to the left, Lecor's Portguese have turned to face the remainder of Ney's troops.  British light cavalry look on to the exit from the wood whilst further British troops advance; and to their rear, the British cavalry (defeated by Ney earlier) is regrouping

Maransin's Division is largely broken in the woods and the advancing British light infantry seize the pontoon bridge.  Ney has fought off the attack on the last of Maransin's brigades (see Ney in the woods) but he is now surrounded...

and Ney, Marshal of France, has no option but to offer Wellington his sword!

In the left-centre, the British light cavalry has taken thousands of prisoners from Ney's fugitives; Suchet, cool-headed in the crisis, has formed a strong line to halt any further pursuit; in the extreme top-left, Craddock's division is barely holding out against Rey's infantry

Suchet has stabilised the French left-flank, but the destruction of Ney's cavalry (the Chasseurs of the Guard no less!) completes the utter defeat of VI Corps.  The French army is split into two...

On the right, Mortier's troops have fought their opponents to a standstill but have not been able to advance themselves: stalemate

Lefebevre's Corps got a nasty shock in the centre, as the Spanish infantry and British cavalry routed a Dragoon brigade from Lahoussaye's Division and advanced over the bridge!  French reserves restored the situation and the Spanish and British retired to a stronger defensive position

The Finale

The battle continued for quite a while after this without anything much of note happening!  Wellington knew that strategically the battle was won and was unwilling to risk a tactical reverse which might change that, so he methodically prepared to advance.  On the French side, Jospeh realized that a further tactical reverse might result in the loss of the entire Army of Spain, so carried out a (very skillful) disengagement without significant further loss.  The French cavalry superiority ensured that there would be no very close pursuit and the remaining French troops left the battlefield in good order.

The Results

Casualties were actually surprisingly light, except for the destruction wrought on Ney's Corps.  The Spanish lost 2400 infantry, 1100 cavalry and 12 guns, mostly from Zayas' mauled division.  The Allies lost around 1100 infantry and 250 cavalry and 12 guns, the majority from Craddock's Division which was roughly handled by Suchet's troops.  The French however lost 4500 infantry and 600 cavalry killed and wounded, but losing 6000 prisoners and 12 guns on top - along with one of the best French commanders Marshal Ney.  Although the disengagement was carried out skilfully and successfully (in recognition of which, many picked troops from I and V Corps were transferred into Joseph's Guard!), the strategic position for King Joseph is dire, as Wellington has cut off his escape into Leon.  Joseph must cut his way out the long way through the devastated lands around Madrid in the face of Spanish opposition...or surrender!

Marshal Ney, after fighting off a strong British attack, had no option but to offer his sword to Lord Wellington after being surrounded and cut off in the Battle of Montehermosa

Game Notes

There was considerable French success at the beginning of the game - the additional French commanders (the French have Corps commanders on the table, the Allies don't) give the French forces a significant tactical advantage in combat over the Allies, particularly the Spanish, who suffer from less effective skirmishing tactics too.  Luckily for the Allies, Wellington's troops turned up quite quickly after the start of this battle.  Some determined Spanish resistance in some sectors meant that Wellington was able to concentrate overwheleming forces against the most advanced Frecnh Corps - that of Ney.  And Ney was duly overwhelmed!  The French then made lots of feints, covered by strong artillery fire, to prevent the Allies opportunistically exploiting this success and all the remaining French troops escaped. 

I think this battle identified a weakness in my use of "marching to the sound of the guns rules".  Both sides have used this in the campaign and I think the mechanism is sound (each leader rolls against his initiative to march to the sound of the guns, then roll a '6' on a D6 to arrive).  However, until this point I have allowed each side to arrive en masse.  I think it would be more realistic for troops to arrive one formation at a time from that point onwards, but each formation already moving (i.e. can continue to move for a single tempo point/PIP until halted).

The game took about two and a half hours of playing time which is longer thsan usual, but the cat-and-mouse end of the game took a while to play out,  It was played on a 5'x3' table.  Rules as ever were the Polemos Marechal d'Empire Napoleonic set and the figures are from Baccus 6mm.