Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire English Civil War, but with numerous discursions into battles from many different periods. 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, 16 June 2018

The Battle of Bussaco - Reynier's Attack: a Polemos General de Division AAR

Michael Hopper, author of several scenario books for the Napoleonic Wars, very kindly sent me a few samplers of his very detailed scenarios to try out.  The first of these scenarios concerns the attack of Reynier's Corps on the southern part of the Bussaco battlefield.  This action occurred during Massena's invasion of Portugal in 1810.  Bussaco was a delaying action on the part of Wellington, to force Massena to assault him in a very unfavourable position or stop and try a wide, slow turning movement to force him to withdraw.

I haven't played Bussaco much: I tend to think that if the French win, then the rules must be a bit rubbish since the whole battle was so ill-conceived by Massena.  I share Napoleon's astonishment at the performance of his Marshal!  That said, I thought it would be quite interesting  to see how the scenario and the Polemos General de Division rules hold up in this kind of scenario.

The Forces:

The Anglo-Portuguese:
C-in-C: Welllington (Decisive)**
Reserve Artillery:
1 base of 9lb Artillery

3rd Division: Picton (Decisive)
3 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
5 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
1 base of 6lb Artillery

5th Division: Leith (Capable)
2 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
8 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
2 bases of Raw SK1 Infantry*

2nd Division: Hill (Decisive)
3 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
3 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
+ Reinforcements: 1 base of Trained SK2 Infantry, 3 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry

*Raw may be a bit harsh here.  Alternatives might be to use the "Shako" rating of Second-Rate; with -1 to combat tests and 0 for the firing tests.
** Wellington was not present on this part of the field but appeared to command effectively. What I did therefore was to place "Wellington" on the Northern edge of the board; he commands as normal, but cannot move, take part in combat or be harmed in any way.

Michael's order of battle is much more detailed and comprehensive than this, I have used a very summarized version so readers have enough detail to follow the events of the game.

The Imperial French:

C-in-C: Reynier (Capable)

Corps Artillery:
1 base of 8lb Artillery

Corps Cavalry:
3 bases of Trained Light Cavalry, 1 base of Trained Dragoons

1st Division: Merle (Capable)
8 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
4 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry
1 base of Trained Sappers

2nd Division: Heudelet (Capable)
7 bases of Trained SK2 Infantry
8 bases of Trained SK1 Infantry

For players of Polemos General de Division who use very separate skirmisher stands, or those using the Polemos Ruse de Guerre rules, use the number of bases as the number of formed infantry bases.  Then, for the Allies, use the number of SK2 bases as the number of skirmisher bases (i.e.  9); for the French, use half the number of SK2 bases (i.e. 7)

A Google map image to show the ridge

And a top-down view

The Set-Up:

The key to this battle is to avoid the French commander getting the benefit of the helicopter-general, which would affect this refight more than most.  Therefore, the Allied commander need only deploy troops onto the table if they are at the edge of the crest or if otherwise hidden troops want to move from their deployment areas i.e. if Leith's troops stay in Leith's deployment area, he only needs to put them on the table if the French get past the crest in his area or if he wants to move them out of his deployment area (even if the French couldn't otherwise see them).

Reynier's Corps approach from the East (bottom); the Anglo-Portuguese hold Bussaco ridge, only showing a small portion of its defenders (mainly Portuguese)

Merle's troops on the French Right, facing Picton's troops, around the villages of Pendurada & Cerdeirinha

Heudelet's troops on the French Left, facing Leith's units; hopefully this shot indicates the size of that slope!

Picton is only showing a single brigade and some guns on the Allied Left

Leith shows two brigades in the Centre, supported with a battery (centre)

Hill shows very few troops on the Allied Right, holding the hamlet of Palmazes

The long view looking from South to North (omitting Hill's units)

The view down the slope from Leith's position

Looking down the slope at St Antonio and Merle;s Division (far side of the road)
 The Battle:

Reynier orders the advance: Heudelet's troops move forward in the centre

Merle's troops also advance; the French artillery is both ineffective and over-worked (see the smoke in front of the battery)

The Portuguese Artillery is equally ineffective in pushing the French back in the centre

Merle's light infantry loses some of its order as it advances up the steep slopes towards Picton's position

Hill's third brigade arrives on the southern flank

Heudelet's light infantry (from 31e Leger) also struggles up the hill (in column this time)

Merle's infantry makes slow progress forwards

A wider shot of Heudelet's initial attacks

Portuguese artillery has driven back some of the French infantry down the slope; Heudelet has also deployed his right-hand battalions out of regimental columns (centre); incidentally, the slope was a bit steep for practicality so I used some rough terrain markers (See the stones and dark earth areas) to help the little metal soldiers keep their positions on the table!

Unfortunately there are a couple of missing shots here; but the Portuguese brigade attacked down the slope; however the right-hand battalion of 31e Leger, despite its state of disorder from the steep slope, executed a devastating volley and routed Leith's left-hand battalion (see it running for the rear - centre of shot, just above Leith); note that Leith now has to show the remainder of his troops (left) since the French have made it to the top of the slope

A closer shot of the successful French light infantry at the crest

However, the remaining units of 31e Leger have been bundled back down the hill in disorder; Heudelet sends forward some units of the 47th (centre, fewer skirmisher figures) to help out

Another shot of the same

Merle's light infantry cause some damage with their musketry (see shaken marker figure centre-right); Merle had stopped and reformed his troops on the slope to improve their fire effectiveness rather than pushing forward at the point of the bayonet

An aerial shot

Another view of Heudelet's troops trying to re-organize at the bottom of the slope

Merle tries to slip a small column around the Portuguese left flank (bottom-right); Picton moves up some of his reserves to combat them

Picton leads the charge, sword in hand and top hat on head!

Leith's reserves attack the now isolated unit of 31e Leger that got up the slope

And after a brief struggle, the heroic French chasseurs are thrown back down the hill in rout

Leith unleashes another attack on Heudelet's disordered troops at the bottom of the slope

The same, a slightly wider shot

After  a couple of volleys and a short combat, the battalions of Heudelet's lead brigades are either in rout or retreat
The panic and disorder in the French ranks can be seen more clearly here

Merle's leading troops are pushed back by the fire of the Allies; note that the Portuguese troops had re-organized themselves to protect their guns (top-left) from an attack by French infantry in column (bottom-left)

A wider shot of the same

Picton charges again on both of his flanks (see right and on the road); the disordered French cannot stand

A wider shot: the French look both much reduced and very disorganized; Reynier calls off his attacks, seeing no further hope of success

Heudelet's troops have re-organized themselves, but there appears to be no hope of success now.
Game Notes: A clear Allied victory, although unsurprisingly, since Bussaco was, and should be, a very difficult proposition for the French.  As in the real thing, the French did achieve a couple of small local successes, but the overall picture is too difficult, unless the French can achieve a series of local successes in the same area. As it was, both Heudelet and Merle achieved fleeting moments of success but they were too isolated to allow of exploitation.  In particular, Heudelet was unlucky in that his breakthrough happened in the one part of the line that he could not reinforce quickly, because of the location of the small built-up area behind it.  Leith's quick counter-attack then assured it couldn't be supported.  Merle's good fortune in achieving a small degree of fire superiority over the Portuguese was cancelled out by Picton's prompt counter-attack.  In summary, the French are going to need to play brilliantly relative to the Allies or have some real strokes of luck to win this one.

I also think that Polemos is particularly tough for the French because it doesn't use a direct attrition mechanic.  Because of the relative lack of artillery, and the difficulty of the terrain for its employment, attrition from skirmisher fire should be the main tool of the French commander to try and weaken the line before he puts in his attack.  However, unlike in say Grande Armee, the skirmisher rating in Polemos positively influences the infantry assault but cannot be used for long-range fire.  In most battles this makes little difference, but here it does.  So I think that the combination of these two factors makes Bussaco under the Polemos rules very tricky for the French.  I am going to experiment with using the Ruse de Guerre approach to this and have entirely separate light infantry and close-order infantry bases, and maybe use the Shako approach to determining how many light infantry bases there should be.  Food for thought.

What I do like from Shako is the use of "Second-Rate Line" troops to have a step between Raw and Trained status, which is quite a big jump in capability in the Polemos rules.  I am sold on incorporating this into my Polemos games (although this is mainly an issue for the Napoleonic rules - the jumps are less big in the SPQR and ECW rules).

Anyway, the scenario and the Polemos General de Division rules worked very well on the whole.  The game took about 1hour 40minutes and was played on a 5'x3' table.  Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Total Battle Miniatures.


  1. Excellent fight and report, John, thanks for sharing. I think the Bussaco ridge line was well represented on your table, physically very daunting; all I could think was ‘how the hell would you carry an attack up there, and even if it succeeded, then what? No way it’s getting reinforced/exploited, even by the cavalry.’

    But a fun read, and I love the look of your 6mm setup.


    1. Many thanks Jack, I appreciate that and share your assessment. Every time I look at Bussaco I wonder what Massena was thinking. That said, I am always impressed too by the courage of the French soldiers in actually getting to the top!

    2. Indeed! And glad to see back at Napoleonics. I mean absolutely no offense, and of course you should game what YOU want to game (not what I want you to game), and it looked interesting, but I just couldn’t get into the ECW stuff.

      Clearly you were having a good time, and that’s what counts, I’m only saying this in case you were wondering why I hadn’t said anything about your very impressive string of 12 fights.

      Anyway, great fight!


    3. No worries at all Jack. There are quite a few people who only comment on one or two strands of my gaming and that is absolutely fine and indeed, expected. You may not have seen this, but I have reached a "natural break" in my ECW campaign (I am waiting for Baccus to release a re-modelled range) so I will be doing more WW2, Napoleonics and Ancients over the next few months, while I wait for the new range to arrive and for me to paint them!

  2. Yes really beautiful. This is real gaming in a sensible scale!

    1. Thanks Noel. 6mm big battles on very moderate tables isn't the thing for everyone, but it is a set-up I really enjoy.

  3. Thank you for the kind write up. Michael ( AT