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.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Polemos General de Division: 2nd Battle of Oporto, 12th May 1809

Miniature Wargames 19 contained an absolutely cracking scenario by Arthur Harman to re-create Wellington's defeat of Soult and his crossing of the Douro on 12th May 1809.  The scenario is mainly designed for a multi-player club recreation of the events, although a two-player alternative is given.  I actually vaguely remember playing this one down the club in the mid-1980s!  Anyway, solo play can't necessarily deal well with the same themes - a lot of the scenario is a pre- and post-battle mini campaign.  But the actual battle scenario is interesting enough, and the main events don't necessarily require much in the way of figures or table size.

I chose to being the refight at the moment the French prepare to attack the British troops that have secretly managed to ferry themselves over to the east of Oporto and occupied a seminary.  The French must destroy this bridgehead before Wellington can bring the mass of his troops over.  Unfortunately for Marshal Soult, he has already sent away his strongest infantry division and his cavalry brigade to escort his baggage away (he tried to turn them back into the battle but was unsuccessful).  He therefore had to resist with two strong infantry brigades and an artillery battery, but if he leaves Oporto undefended, perhaps the Allied forces will be able to cross into the city as well, in spite of the bridge having been destroyed.  Wellington has three divisions, a cavalry brigade and six artillery batteries, but can only slowly feed his troops across by ferry.

Orders of Battle:

Imperial French:
C-in-C: Marshal Soult (Decisive)

Foy's Brigade: 2 bases of Veteran SK2 infantry, 3 bases of Veteran SK1 infantry
Reynaud's Brigade: 5 bases of Veteran SK1 infantry
Artillery: 1 base of 8lb Foot (make it Veteran if you differentiate artillery)

C-in-C Wellington (Decisive)

1st Division: Sherbrooke (Capable) 
Campbell's Bde: 1 base Veteran SK2 infantry, 2 bases Veteran SK1 infantry*
Sontag's Bde: 1 base Veteran SK2 infantry, 2 bases Trained SK1 infantry, 2 bases Raw SK1 infantry**
A Campbell's Bde: 1 base Trained SK2 infantry, 2 bases Trained SK1 infantry, 1 base Raw SK1 infantry**

* You could make these Veteran/Elite if you believe that is appropriate for British Guards

2nd Division: E Paget (Capable)
Stewart's Bde: 3 bases Veteran SK1 infantry, 2 bases Raw SK1 infantry**
Murray's Bde: 3 bases Veteran SK1 infantry

3rd Division: Hill (Decisive)
Hill's Brigade:  1 base Veteran SK2 infantry, 2 bases Veteran SK1 infantry, 2 bases Trained SK1 infantry
Cameron's Brigade: 1 base Veteran SK1 infantry, 1 base Trained SK1 infantry, 2 bases Raw SK1 infantry**

Cotton's Brigade: 2 bases Veteran Light Cavalry, 2 bases Trained Light Cavalry

Artillery: 5 bases 6lb Foot, 1 base of 3lb Foot (make 2 bases Veteran and 2 bases Raw** if you differentiate)


n.b. If you are wondering why the number of bases is different from the battalion strength of the various forces, it is because Polemos uses elements of equal strength, so the strength of the force is considered across the entire Army depicted.

The Seminary and Convent have a DV of 2.  The river is impassable except by boats.  It takes 2 turns to get 1 base across by boat.  The boat in Oporto becomes active if the French garrison is reduced to less than 2 bases. Ideally the river you use will be wider than mine (this river is big).

Oporto to the left, the seminary to the right (occupied by a single British Bn so far).  The convent is bottom-right and is being used as Wellington's HQ.  The suburb bottom-left is Villa Nova, and has 1st Division behind it (I left 2nd Division off-table to be moved on if required)

The area around the seminary.  Hill's brigades wait to cross.  Wellington has set-up a massed battery on the southern heights, able to sweep the ground west of the seminary with fire.  In the background is Soult's baggage, moving slowly towars Amarante (just here for local colour, and for the British to try and seize if things go well!)

Looking towards Oporto and the sea from the seminary

The same, but from further back

And from the Oporto side

 The Battle:

British strength in the seminary reaches c.1000, whilst Foy prepares his leading regiments to begin the attack

Foy advances, although slightly delayed by the fire from the massed Allied batteries - this assauklt was thrown back with loss

The second assault.  Expert fire from the French artillery helps Foy's light infantrymen drive back the British infantry from the walls of the seminary

Same moment from a slightly different view

The British, by a combination of artillery, musketry and the bayonet, restore the situation.  Soult has arrived to take personal charge of the situation.  Units from Reynaud's Bde are now also suppporting Foy's troops.  The French artillery continues to be unbelievably effective!

A third assault is driven back with loss.

Soult attempts a fourth assault, but it stalls to the North.  The single battalion reaching the wall is about to be exterminated by British musketry.  Note that Hill has decided to being the breakout and is moving around the right flank

Soult himself leads the infantry assault to try and counter this flanking movement, but Hill, coolly directing the fire of the leading British Bn, defeats this and the French retire with loss. Soult is seriously injured at this moment; however, Foy leads another attack which takes the wall of the seminary (bottom)!

Another picture of Hill's victorious movments

But another picture of Foy's success! Can he snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?  But note the heavy casualties inflicted on Reynaud's troops by the supporting Allied artillery.

A further charge by Hill sweeps away some of Foy's units, and more desperate fighting with in the seminary throws back the others - the French being seriously hampered by the absence of any leader at this point.  Confusion and casualties spell defeat for the French, whose morale failed them at this point!

The Result:
A British victory, and perhaps a more substantial one than in the historical action, but that was a direct result of the French fighting with greater skill and ferocity than on the day, supported well by an outstandingly handled single French battery.  However, the increased ferocity led to the greater French casualties and more pertinently, Soult's Corps would have been split had this been the case in reality - which might have had ever more dire strategic consequences (at least one part of the Corps would have likely been captured outright).

Game Notes:
An interesting and intense game, helped by the fact that in this battle, the French are generally speaking a touch tougher than their Allied opponents - I don't think this would be an inaccurate reflection of the skill and experience of the two forces at this time.  The French dilemma is where to draw the balance between preparing a co-ordinated attack and allowing too much time for Hill to get most of his division across.
The French also benefited from attacking downhill towards the seminary.  This effectively negated the defensive value of the seminary (the factors are +2 in each case)!  I think this has made up my mind: the combat factor for uphill should be +1, not +2 and the factor for veteran troops should be +1, not +2.  I note that in the big-battle version of the rules General de Division, Veteran troops are +1.  To my mind, the lower level the game, in general the smaller the differentiation between troops should be.  Why?  Maths, really.  If Prussian battalions are +1, then why should a regiment also be +1? It should be more like +2.  Apart from that though, no quibbles and the rules gave a really good game - as did the scenario, a real cracker, especially if you could do it in such a way as to get in the pre- and post-game stuff down at the club, or via an e-opponent or whatever.  Definitely one to scout out a copy, if ou can.

I used a 5'x3' table, but actually a 3'x3' would have been absolutely fine: you are only going to need a couple of hundred yards east of the Seminary I think, especially if you ignore the baggage train and its escorts.  Similarly, some or all of Oporto can be left "off-table", and merely bring in British troops across if the French garrison abandons it.

Figures as every by Baccus 6mm, boats by Irregular, buildings by Timecast, Total Battle Miniatures and Leven (I think).


  1. I continue to enjoy your replays of these old but still useful MW scenarios. Keep it up!

  2. Thanks very much, Jonathan. And who knows, I might get onto Wargames Illustrated's early issues at some point too...

  3. Is a Prussian battalion roughly the equivalent of a regiment in other armies in terms of men deployed?

  4. No, a Prussian (Napoleonic-era) Regt would be the equivalent of a British or US (Napoleonic-era) Bde i.e contain c.3 battalion-sized units.

    All the best

  5. Great report, thank you for sharing it!
    I especially like the way your figures bases match the terrain surface: Did you made the terrain mat or is it a commercial one?

  6. Thanks very much, Cesar. It is a homemade mat: basically brown paint mixed with caulk and a little PVA glueIIRC, spread over a decorator's drop sheet, then scatter on the top.

  7. Thank you very much for your answer!

  8. No problem. If you want to see the stages in more detail, you could take a look here:

    All the best