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 13 August 2017

The Combat of Fuentes d'Onoro 3rd May 1811 - A Polemos Refight

Issue 21 of Miniature Wargames contained a scenario for the Combat of Fuentes d'Onoro.

 A prelude to the more famous events of the 5th, this took place on 3rd May 1811 when Marshal Massena tried to take the key to Wellington's position - the village of Fuentes d'Onoro - by direct assault.  Over the course of an afternoon, one and a half divisions of French infantry tried to force a crossing over a stream and take the town, but in bitter fighting, were unable to succeed.  This forced Massena to try an outflanking move, which led to the bigger battle on the 5th.  Oman's account is here.
The scenario is quite a small one, being pitched at that 'divisional' level of combat historically most popular amongst Napoleonic gamers.

The Forces:

The Anglo-Portuguese:
C-in-C: Colonel Williams (Capable)
Fuentes de Onoro Garrison: 3 bases of Trained SK2 infantry, 1 base of trained SK1 infantry

Nightingall's Brigade: 1 base of Trained SK2 infantry, 3 bases of trained SK1 infantry, 1 base 6lb Horse Artillery (arrives Turn 8)

The Imperial French:
 C-in-C: General Loison (Capable)

1st Division: (Ferrey - Capable)
1st Brigade: 4 bases of Trained SK1 infantry

2nd Brigade: 4 bases of Trained SK1 infantry (Arrives Turn 5)

Cavalry Brigade: 3 bases Trained Dragoons (Arrives Turn 5)

2nd Division: (Marchand - Plodding)
1st Brigade: 4 bases of Trained SK1 infantry, 1 base 4lb Horse Artillery (Arrives Turn 12)

There is certainly a good argument for making everyone on all sides Veteran (including the artillery).  If you like, you could make the light infantry in the garrison Elite too, but that seems to me to exaggerate things.

n.b. the magazine scenario has Nightingall's Brigade arrived before Ferrey's 2nd Brigade, but the narrative suggested to me that the other way around might be better.

The Terrain:

Looking from South to North: Fuentes d'Onoro to the left of the stream, with a wooded hill behind; the French are advancing from the right (East).

Another view of the village.

And from behind the village, looking West to East.
 The Battle:

The British light infantry units defend the village on the line of the stream, with a line infantry unit to the rear. The French approach on two parallel roads.

Another view, concentrating more on the village.

Loison deploys two battalions to pin the British infantry in the village

Loison himself leads an attack across the bridge and the stream

French success!! The light infantry companies are thrown back and Col Williams rides to rally them.  Both sides are somewhat shaken.

Ferrey leads an attack across the stream; but around the bridge, the leading French battalion has been routed!  The French battalion to the south of the bridge is about to receive an equally devastating volley...

A view of the French secondary attack; Ferrey chucks forward another battalion, and the British are in some disorder (note the two individually-based figures being used as shaken markers.

More intensive point-blank combat around the bridge!

Both sides draw blood!  The French secondary attack has been held in the southern part of the village, but the French main attack to the north has succeeded and the British are routing...however the French brigade failed its morale check and withdrew

Same position, but a wider view from the west

Loison leads an attack by elements of Ferrey's 2nd Brigade...

Yet again, Loison throws back the Brits!

Which led to a morale fail for the entire British garrison (hence the empty village)!!!! Fortunately the next British brigade is just arriving...

Col Williams leads the new brigade to push the French back - its lead battalion can be seen routing (top-right)!

The French attack the northern half of the village

The French nearly succeed in taking the village, but the battalion by the bridge is routed - this leads to the panic of the entire French division!!!

The last French brigade arrives (right)

Another view of Ferrey's division routing and Marchand's brigade arriving

For the third time today, Loison prepares to storm across the stream at the head of his infantry, but this time with some artillery support.

And from the opposite angle

Success! The French force their way across yet again, and yet again the Allied infantry are in disorder

And the reverse angle from the village side

However, a desperate counter-attack throws back the French again...

And this time there is no recovery; another French battalion is broken by British fire!

Marchand's other troops are thrown back too; but the British have managed to get into position to attack the French left flank...

The French still have a couple of battalions and a battery in the fight, but with another battalion broken, French morale fails
 Game Notes: A scenario which is very suitable almost from the starter pack alone (you would need two more bases of French infantry) but gives a very exciting and interesting game and one that reflected history quite closely.  The arrival of the various reinforcements really dictates how the game will go.  For a beginner it would be a good introduction to the infantry combat systems, as well as the way terrain and command work in the game.

 Streams are a lot easier to attack over than hills are to attack up in Polemos and the extra French generals (3 to the Allied 1) meant that the French could largely negate that advantage.  I reduced the modifier for the town to -1 from -2: towns were simply not that easy to defend in Napoleonic times without a wall or being a specific strongpoint.  There might even be an argument to say that the modifier should only apply to artillery bombardment and fire combat, not to an infantry attack.  The dreaded brigade morale roll continues to provide moments of great tension and drama!

Neither in the article nor in the history as recounted by Oman nor in the logic of the situation could I see a reason why the British should be better (or worse) than their French opponents: this action took place at the end of a long and hard campaign; the surviving troops were probably very much on a par, so I was happy to make all the troops classed as "Trained" or "Veteran".  Since Polemos is all about opposed rolls it doesn't matter which you plump for, but in another ruleset, I'd err on the side of veteran, except perhaps the French cavalry.

Another excellent game from the Polemos Napoleonic rules.  The terrain was 3'x2', the figures from Baccus 6mm, the majority of the buildings from Total Battle Miniatures.


  1. Excellent job on this little action as a precursor to the larger battle of Fuentes d'Onoro. I likely have #21 in the MW pile. I think I will go and have a look. Appears to be a good sized action for my 28mm Peninsular War Napoleonics.

  2. Thanks very much Jonathan. I think it will work very well for a division or so per side with 28mm troops. There isn't really a scale on the map, but it looks to me like Fuentes d'Onoro ran for 600-800m or so by the stream as a rough marker. I don't bother including such detail in my own orders of battle, I don't think it is quite fair to the original scenario writer, but it has a few interesting units in the battle: the Hanoverian Legion, mixed light and rifle companies, Portuguese Cacadore and Atiradore companies and so on.

  3. Enjoyed, good small action for a number of rule sets. Thanks Norm.

    1. Thanks Norm. As you say, a useful scenario that should work quite well with most rulesets for the period.