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.

Monday 18 February 2019

Bemis Heights - A Polemos Ruse de Guerre Action

The Battle of Bemis Heights:

The action at Bemis Heights followed on from that at Freeman's Farm as part of what became known as the Battles of Saratoga.  A superior American force has spotted a British reconnaissance in force and intends to drive it back and if the opportunity arises, defeat the forces in front of it and take the defences.

This is the  next scenario in the Polemos Ruse de Guerre rulebook.  As I did for the previous scenario, I have made it smaller by increasing the number of men/guns that each base represents and reduced the playing area to 3'x2'. 

As in the last battle, I have re-set this into the War of 1812, since that is the period I have armies for!  It makes no difference in the rules...

Revised Orders of Battle:

United States:
C-in-C: Arnold

Morgan (Decisive): 1 base of Well-trained Riflemen, 1 base of Well-Trained Light Infantry
Poor (Capable): 3 bases of Infantry, 1 base of Light Infantry
Learned (Capable): 5 bases of Infantry, 1 base of Light Infantry
Broeck (Plodding): 2 bases of Poor Infantry, 2 bases of Poor Light Infantry

C-in-C: Burgoyne

Fraser (Decisive): 1 base of Well-Trained Infantry, 1 base of Infantry, 1 base of Well-Trained Light Infantry, 2 bases of 6lb Guns
Riedesel (Decisive): 1 base of Infantry, 1 base of 12lb Guns
Breymann (Capable): 2 bases of Well-Trained Infantry, 1 base of Well-Trained Light Infantry, 1 base of Trained Native Americans*, 1 base of 3lb Guns (one of the bases of Well-Trained Infantry is in the Freeman's Farm position)

*This unit is an amalgam of small contingents, hence the unusual rating.

The author makes the point that this scenario is biased somewhat in favour of the Americans.

The Set-Up:

The Americans are approaching through the woods; Morgan's light troops (right) and Learned's brigade (left)

A wider shot, including Broeck's militiamen (left) behind Gen Arnold.

Poor's Brigade

The British advanced position: Fraser's and Riedesel's Brigades are outnumbered, but have plenty of artillery...

Breymann's troops are in the rear position

And an overview of the whole battlefield.  Freeman's Farm is the position at the bottom-left.
The Battle:
The Americans press forward to try and crush the exposed British

First blood to the Americans!  The 24th Foot is immediately sent into a howling rout (bottom-left)!  Lindsay's light infantrymen are pushed back by Morgan's troops (right)

Morgan quickly organizes another assault through the woods (right); Learned pushes his troops forward to outflank the British guns

The British light infantrymen scurry for the rear too, their order completely broken by Morgan's men

The British gunners are still holding firm however: a whiff or two of grapeshot have broken some on the skirmishing New York militiamen (top)

Learned has tried to turn the flank, but swiftly handled guns and rapid cannister fire have broken one of his battalions (right)

The position: the British are under heavy pressure and their right has been completely caved in, but they are still resisting stoutly in the centre and on the left

Breymann has brought up his grenadiers and has launched a spoiling counter-attack against Poor's Brigade

With some success!  Poor's units recoil through the woods in disorder

Breymann orders his men forward too, to try and crush Poor's command entirely

Broeck tries again to take the guns, through the withering hail of cannister...

Morgan's troops have worked around the flank: only Burgoyne in person and his picked Grenadiers can stop them...

...and stop them they do!  Morgan's light infantrymen run away (bottom-right)!

Broeck has had to retire for a third time: his militiamen just cannot get near those guns!

Poor's brigade has lost a battalion in rout (top) and the remainder are shaken...some inspiring hat-waving leadership keeps them in the fight...for now...

Morgan launches another attack into the British rear since that must give the Americans victory...

However, several things happen at once:  Morgan's riflemen are worsted by the bayonets of the British grenadiers, and they flee the field in rout (bottom-right)! However, a stray shot kills Burgoyne at this moment of triumph - history does not record whether it was a Parthian shot from one of Morgan's riflemen or from one of the Massachusetts men leading the supporting troops.  At the same time (left), von Riedesel was also killed and his infantry routed, at which point British morale collapsed

A closer look at Morgan's rout

The capture of some guns, the rout of the infantry and the loss of the Commander-in-Chief and one of the German brigadiers in the space of 5 minutes has given the battle to the Americans...
Game Notes: A really enjoyable game, since, despite the American strength, this ended up being a close-run thing and the British had two moments when they could have won: Poor's brigade could have easily collapsed when hit from two sides, whilst, if Burgoyne had survived, he might have just stabilized the British right-rear long enough to form a much stronger defensive position.  Great fun!

The rules again performed admirably.  The British guns were a little lucky to survive repeated attacks, but not that lucky: they rolled just a little bit better than their opponents, which was enough.  The Americans had most of their luck early on, and crushed the British right in very short order indeed. 

One thing I did notice is that I was using my generals in close combat far too much.  This is a hangover I think from other Polemos games.  In the Napoleonic rules, it hardly ever makes sense to leave them out: the bonus is high and the threat relatively low; so they should only avoid combat if one is certain you are going to win.  In the ECW and Roman rules, they should only go in if you think that they will win - the chances of them being lost are too high otherwise.  In Polemos Ruse de Guerre, it is neatly balanced: that bonus is handy, but the risks are just high enough to make me think that I should be doing it very rarely.

Once again I think that for solitaire play, my decision to reduce the number of bases and the size of the board is well rewarded by decreasing the time but increasing the intensity of the game play.

Figures as ever by Baccus 6mm, the buildings were  a mixture of Baccus and Leven.

The Battle of Wavre: A Horse, Foot & Guns Scenario

The Battle of Wavre was the only one of the 'big four' battles of the Hundred Days that I didn't get to have a go at during the bicentennial year.  Never one to not right a wrong, when I stumbled across a scenario for it in Miniature Wargames 62, I decided that it would make an interesting scenario.

I think this was a great issue BTW!
The original magazine scenario is designed for a big game using a 33:1 figure ratio but I prefer smaller games on smaller tables, so I re-designed it, also drawing on the scenario in the Polemos Napoleonic Companion, so it would be suitable for Phil Barker's Horse, Foot & Guns on a small 3'x2' playing area.

The aim of the scenario is for Marshal Grouchy to gain control over the river crossings as soon as possible: in this scenario the bridges at Limale and Wavre (there are four in the original scenario, but since the watercourse is only a stream, I felt that the important ones were those chosen - the Polemos scenario makes a similar determination).  Thielmann and his Third Corps must prevent them.

18th June lasts until the end of Turn 20.  If there is no result, fighting can continue until Turn 32.

The Forces:

Imperial France:
1 x CP (Grouchy)

1 x CP (Vandamme), 1 x Light Infantry, 9 x Bayonets, 2 x Field Guns
1 x CP (Gerard), 1 x Light Infantry, 7 x Bayonets, 3 x Field Guns (Arrives Turn 4)
1 x CP (Exelmans), 3 x Dragoons, 1 x Light Cavalry, 1 x Horse Guns (Arrives Turn 2, except the Light Cavalry that arrives on Turn 10)
2 x Bayonets (part of Teste's Division, Arrives Turn 21)

n.b. Pajol is not represented and his Hussars are included in Exelmans Corps - his forces seemed too small to merit his inclusion as an individual Corps commander.

Kingdom of Prussia:
1 x CP (Thielmann), 4 x Bayonets, 6 x Inferior Bayonets, 3 x Light Cavalry, 1 x Inferior Light Cavalry, 1 x Field Guns, 1 x Horse Guns (I think I may have miscalculated here and was too generous with the Prussian cavalry)

2 x Bayonets, 1 x Light Cavalry (I Korps' rearguard - withdraw on Turn 21 if still on the board at that point).

 n.b. There are army lists, but no scenario, in the main HFG rules for Wavre.  They give:
Prussians: 1 x extra Bayonets, -1 Light Cavalry
French: -4 x Bayonets/Light Infantry for III Corps; -1 Light Infantry, -1 Bayonets, -1 Field Gun, 1 x extra Light Cavalry for IV Corps; 1 x extra Dragoons, -1 x CP (Exelmans) for the Cavalry, which are instead commanded directly by Grouchy.

The Set-Up:

View from behind the French side: Limale on the left, Wavre top-right.  Vandamme's Corps has entered the board on the North-South road (bottom-right)

The view along the stream near Wavre, down to Bierge - complete with watermill!

Stengel's detachment holds the bridge at Limale.

The massed ranks of Vandamme's III Corps.
The Battle:

Vandamme throws his leading brigade of Legere into the assault, hoping to clear the southern bank of Wavre

Meanwhile half of his forces are rushing towards Limale (bottom); Exelmans cavalry have arrived and are in support (bottom-right)

Vandamme's leading brigade has disintegrated in its assault!  He organizes his next division to conduct a more deliberate assault

Meanwhile, Vandamme's other units approach Limale (left)

A second assault goes into Wavre, combining superior numbers with artillery support

A wider view at this point.  Vandamme's Corps is engaging along the length of the stream, and Gerard's Corps, following up (bottom-left) is clearly heading in a direction to support Vandamme's left rather than aid the assault on Wavre itself.

Eventually Vandamme succeeds in pushing into Wavre, although his troops remain on the southern bank

French troops form up to assault the bridge at Limale

Intense fighting around the bridge and stream in Wavre leads to heavy casualties but no result

Vandamme's troops probe all along the river, trying to stretch out the defences and find a weak spot

Stengel's detachment throws the intial French assault back across the bridge

Vandamme's leading brigades are still getting nowhere fast in the fighting in Wavre

Gerard's Corps winding its slow way forward...

Another determined French attack in Wavre - but the defences are too strong to the west of the bridge and road

Stengel's detachment still holds the direct French attacks off, but he is unable to prevent the turning of his left flank by superior French forces

Another French assault goes in and crushes one of the Prussian brigades!  The bridge is cleared, although the village is still in Prussian hands...for now...the morale of the rearguard is visibly crumbling...

French troops try and cross the stream between Limale and Bierge, but are being strongly resisted by the Prussian musketeers and landwehr, as well as with musketry from the Landwehr units in Bierge.

The Prussian infantry, ably supported by its artillery which has already destroyed many of Vandamme's guns by searingly accurate counter-battery fire, still resists all attempts by Vandamme to push forward around Wavre

Prussian Cavalry charges French Dragoons in support of Stengel around Limale; the village is again under attack from Vandamme's infantry

The Prussian troops around Biele manfully keep the French back - the Landwehr brigade charge and repulse French fusiliers (centre-right)

The wider view: Limale is taken (left); fighting continues along the stream (centre), with the Prussians basically holding on gamely, and intense but indecisive fighting happening around Wavre (top-right); Gerard has got his light infantry across the stream south of Limale, but the remainder of his column is still just approaching it (bottom)

Vandamme's troops have simply not been able to dislodge the plucky Prussian defenders around Biele

Limale is lost, however; Prussian Cavalry take up blocking positions (centre-top)

Once more again, with feeling.  Is this the fifth assault around Wavre?

Some success at last!  Some French infantry manage to get across the stream, and the Landwehr regiment near the bridge are under severe pressure

It restores the situation.  However, the French infantry has finally managed to get across the stream to the east of the bridge and pushed the Prussians out of the town.

Heavy fighting continues around the stream - the Prussian artillery has been forced (temporarily) into the rear (top)

Now that Limale has fallen, the French have been able to attack with superior numbers and start to get troops across the stream between that place and Biele.

A wider shot: both Vandamme's Corps and Thielmann's have taken heavy casualties but are continuing the fight for the crossing points.  The French turning movement to the left has slowly succeeded in pushing the Prussians back.

The Prussian cavalry has been forced to put in another charge near Limale.  Although they have destroyed a brigade of French Dragoons, elsewhere they have been defeated and become exhausted

The indomitable Prussians around Biele are still strongly resisting the French

Grouchy launches a cavalry attack with a brigade of Dragoons, tiring of repeated infantry failures!

The Prussian infantry merely forms squares and the French Dragoons pass through them harmlessly, but end up in the midst of Thielmann and his staff (centre)!!

Who are immediately killed, captured or dispersed.

Inexorable French pressure on the Prussian Right is beginning to tell...

Not the devil himself is shifting these Landwehr from this part of Wavre however!

The Prussian centre and right is still holding on, but disheartened by the loss of their leader and much of the left wing, retreat is ordered just as night falls...

The position at the end of the battle.
Game Notes:
A very enjoyable battle and I think a pretty successful scenario.  I did make a significant mistake, however: I think Exelmans command was 'defeated' and I missed it (I accidentally mistook one of Exelmans' Dragoon brigades for Gerard's, and vice-versa).  This had some impact, although I think that overall the battle would have turned out the same (the Dragoon brigade which attacked Thielmann at the end belonged to Gerard, not Exelmans).  The Prussians proved tough opponents and the simple-but-effective PIP system in Horse, Foot and Guns makes organizing a really first-rate combined attack quite tricky.  There was nothing in the game that struck me as too implausible.  The number of turns might seem excessive, but since it is a DBx game, then each turn rattles along quite quickly.  The only slowing element in the game is the number of firing die rolls (since both sides can fire twice in each turn), although this is hardly excessive.
The only thing that I dislike about HFG is that it theoretically allows several march moves by a single base in one turn, so if Wellington is really cracking the whip, the 52nd will cover 6.4km along a road in 20 minutes...obviously this is an extreme example, but I do dislike loopholes like that.  That said, if that is the worst that can be said for some rules, it must be doing something right - and these are!  I really do enjoy them for this level of combat...
I am pretty happy about my decision to play this scenario at this scale, since it allows an involved battle to be fought to a conclusion in a couple of hours.  I know that other gamers very much differ from me on this point, liking to have every battalion represented, but having 10-25 manoeuvre units per-side just works well for a fast but intense game, and I certainly won't concede it to be less realistic.  If anything, it is more accurate in focusing on the kinds of decisions a Grouchy or Thielmann usually had to make.
I counted Stengel's detachment as a separate force for morale purposes. In retrospect, I think this was a mistake and it should just be counted as an integral part of Thielmann's troops.  Otherwise, it would be better to ignore his force morale entirely (since Ziethen's Corps was doing just fine) and maybe roll a separate D6 for his PIP score, divind the raw score by 3 and rounding to the nearest whole number.

Previous 100 Days Refights:
Quatre Bras
Quatre Bras again

Figures by Baccus 6mm, except for some of the Prussians which are wooden figures from Commission Figurines, buildings mainly by Leven, some by Baccus.