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, 25 September 2021

Fighting Retreat at 'El Perez' 1809 - a Polemos Ruse de Guerre battle

As I have mentioned before, each month the Napoleonic Miniatures Wargames Society of Toronto puts on a club game using Glenn Pearce's Polemos Ruse de Guerre rules, which I try to mirror as a solo game in the UK.  The battle for September 2021 is Auerstadt - but this isn't it! What gives?!?

 The original scenario is always designed as a big 'club' game with a lot of figures on a big table.  I don't generally have a problem getting the figures together, but doing justice to the terrain and the wider scenario sometimes requires a bit of work on my part.  Suffice to say, I am still figuring out how best to stage it.   However, I was very much in the mood for a Polemos RdG game, so instead I picked this scenario which was published back in Wargames Illustrated 265.

However, the scenario might be familiar to more gamers as being the Napoleonic scenario featured in the first edition of the Black Powder ruleset.

It is quite an interesting scenario and the write-up in the Black Powder rules is very good.  The premise is a fighting retreat by an Anglo-Portuguese force which has to force its way past a small French garrison to escape, whilst a larger French force closes in.  How easy or difficult it is for a force to retreat varies quite widely between rulesets, so it will always provide an interesting 'test' scenario.

The Scenario:

The Anglo-Portuguese Army:

C-in-C: General Hill
1st Brigade: 2 bases Trained Light Infantry, 1 base Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Artillery
2nd Brigade: 4 bases Trained Infantry (inc. 1 Portuguese infantry unit)
3rd Brigade: 4 bases Trained Infantry (inc. 1 Portuguese infantry unit), 1 base Trained 6lb Foot Artillery
Cavalry Brigade: 1 base Well-Trained Cavalry, 2 bases Trained Cavalry, 1 base Trained 6lb Horse Artillery

The French Army:

C-in-C: General Merle
1st Brigade: 4 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 8lb Foot Artillery
2nd Brigade: 4 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 8lb Foot Artillery
3rd Brigade: 4 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 8lb Foot Artillery
Cavalry Brigade: 1 base Well-Trained Cavalry, 2 bases Trained Cavalry, 1 base Trained 4lb Horse Artillery  
Garrison: 1 base Trained Infantry

All the brigade commanders are considered capable and each gets 1 Tempo Point.  
The French garrison unit is immune to Force and Army morale.
The 'Well-trained' cavalry in each army represents a Dragoon regiment, whilst the 'Trained' cavalry represent a Hussar regiment and a Chasseur or Light Dragoon regiment, as appropriate.  If using rules which differentiate cavalry capabilities by 'weight', then make the 'Well-Trained' unit into a 'Trained' medium cavalry unit.

The orders of battle above are those closest to the published scenario.  I think that if doing this again, I would make or consider making the following changes:

Make the Portuguese infantry 'Raw' (the Portuguese Army was still being rebuilt in 1809).
Delete one of the foot artillery units.
Consider deleting the horse artillery unit.
Consider making the infantry unit in the 1st Brigade into a light infantry unit.
Consider making one infantry unit in 2nd and 3rd Brigades a light infantry unit.
Make the 1st Brigade into a light infantry regiment with 4 bases of trained light infantry instead; alternatively make a single base in each brigade into a light infantry unit.
Consider deleting one of the foot artillery units. 
The French can have their  foot artillery in a separate brigade with its own brigadier, if so desired.
Consider making the garrison battalion 'Raw'.
Terrain Notes: 
The French units do not start on the table.  It requires 2 Tempo Points to bring on a force.
The smaller hill has steep slopes, the larger hill has gentle slopes.
The river is impassable in the time frame of the game, it can only be crossed via the bridge.
The Allies are trying to get at least 50% of their units across the bridge and off the table. 

The Set-Up:

The French hold the bridge and the town to the West (top-left); whilst the vanguard of the main army is approaching from the East, through the town of El Perez (right); the Allies have a brigade of infantry and their cavalry facing El Perez, with the other brigades in columns heading West.

A closer look at the Allies: the Cavalry (bottom-left) and 1st Brigade (centre-right) are the rear guard of this rear guard, facing El Perez (right); 2nd Brigade (centre) and 3rd Brigade (top) head towards the bridge (top-left).

Another view - note that one of the cavalry regiments has been detached to support the 1st Brigade (top-right)

And another view, this time facing El Perez.

The French garrison, deployed to cover the bridge.  They could have stayed in the village itself, but that would have allowed the Allies to cross the bridge before assaulting. 

And the view between the French garrison (top-left) and the Allied 3rd Brigade (right)

The Battle:

The leading French elements approach: their Cavalry brigade on their left (bottom), the 1st Brigade wending its way through El Perez (top-right) and their 2nd Brigade in the centre (right); the Allied formations, with the exception of the 1st Brigade covering the road, are moving towards the bridge.

Another view

Another view of the advancing French columns

The engagement is well under way now: the French Cavalry have attacked the British Cavalry (left), with indecisive results; whilst the French 2nd Brigade is attacking the right-hand battalion of the British 1st Brigade (centre); the British battalion is shaken by the fire of the advancing French.

Another view

The British battalion holds on, its close-range musketry and bayonets hold the advancing French at bay, who become disordered in their turn (centre).  The Allied 2nd Brigade's brigadier turns back his rear two battalions to protect the flanks of the Allied infantry and cavalry (top-right)

A wider shot of the same

And a closer view of the infantry clash

The effort was too much for the British light infantry battalion however: although the French attack had stopped and descended into a desultory fusillade, the British lights have broken (centre)!

Quickly seizing the initiative to attempt to restore the situation, the Allied 2nd Brigade units launch a bayonet charge!

Meanwhile, the French garrison infantry has been routed by some co-ordinated fire from the advancing Allied infantry.  The plan had been for the garrison to withdraw to the town after forcing the Allied to deploy, but the Allied troops had moved too smartly and fired too accurately.

The mixed results of the Allied bayonet charge: the French Horse Artillery was overrun (centre-left), but the French infantry, despite being in considerable disorder after their own attack, drove off the attacking Portuguese infantry with musket and bayonet.

However, the flanking fire from the remaining British battalion (left) causes horrific casualties in the disordered French ranks, and one of the battalion breaks and runs (right); note that the remaining units of the British First Brigade have withdrawn slightly, so their right now hinges on the farm (top)

The French 1st Brigade has deployed to try and launch a more coordinated attack, but is suffering from British artillery fire (top)

The Allied units by the bridge start pouring across to safety (i.e. the Allied 3rd brigades and half of the 2nd)

A wider view: the French cavalry are reforming for a third attack (bottom-left); the French 3rd Brigade is about to come into action (bottom); the French 2nd Brigade has reformed in the centre; the French 1st Brigade has launched an attack up the road (top); although it has left half its battalions behind (top-right)

The French 1st Brigade's attack is confounded by the fire of the British infantry, and the leading French battalion is routed (centre-right)

The British Light Dragoons have no hesitation in taking advantage of this opportunity, charging the remaining disordered French infantry.

The French infantry flee for the shelter of El Perez.

The attack of the French 3rd Brigade begins to develop however and sees off the British battalion from the Allied 2nd Brigade in short order (top - running away up the hill)

The French cavalry launches another attack, but yet again - without decisive result (bottom-left)

The French 3rd Brigade, being in the most promising position, launches an attack on the exposed Portuguese infantry (centre-left)

Meanwhile, the French Chasseurs lanuch a supporting attack down the vallet (centre-left); however, the French Hussars have finally had sufficient whiffs of grapeshot and have given up the struggle (bottom)

Unfortunately both French attacks miscarry: the French Chasseurs are driven back with loss by the British Hussars in the valley (centre); the Portuguese infantry has heroically stood firm against the advancing French infantry (centre-right)

The British cavalry advances and drives off the remaining French cavalry!

At least the French artillery is causing some casualties amongst the British defenders of the farm

However, the British artillery replies with devastating effect, routing one of the exposed French infantry battalions.

The British Dragoons, supported by the RHA, charges into the disordered flank of the French 3rd Brigade (centre) - the leading French battalions dissolve into rout

At that moment, the entire French brigade breaks and runs!

With the entire French Left in rout, Merle's Division is incapable of further action, allowing the Allies to continue their retreat unmolested.

Game Notes:

A good fun game to get my toys back onto the table after a couple of weeks away. This one was a fairly convincing Allied victory, but wasn't as easy as it perhaps it looked, it was just that the French could never quite pull off that one coordinated attack. As I mentioned at the start, 'fighting retreat' scenarios are interesting as a test of rules since they are a lot easier in some rules than others.  Polemos Ruse de Guerre is easier than some, since it has a relatively generous 'retire' move distance.  The tempo allocation to individual commanders also helps, unless those commanders are plodding, since each retiring force can move every turn, guaranteed.  This contrasts with the Polemos General de Division set, which has no guaranteed movement and in any case, retiring is rather slower.  Both are easier than many rules, which make retiring once the enemy infantry is in musket range very difficult.  

Hopefully this game shows that this kind of game is very easily doable in 6mm on a small table, although the proportions are actually exactly the same as for the Perry twins' original - a 6mm unit base of 6cm is 25% of the unit width of a four-base Perry infantry battalion in 28mm, so this 3'x2' table is roughly equivalent to a 12'x8' table using the 28mm figures, but is much handier is space is tight and much cheaper if money is tight.
Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings by Total Battle Miniatures, Leven & Timecast.


  1. Great to see this scenario re-played but with another ruleset. As you say fighting withdrawals are easier said than done, depending upon the ruleset used. IIRC in the BP book the Anglo-Portuguese found it rather difficult to achieve. I agree with the post game observations about a 3' x 2' table giving a great game when using reduced base sizes. It also is much easier on the back!

    1. Thanks very much Steve. The differences between the two games are quite instructive, actually. The Allied 3rd Brigade was equally successful in both games. The initial cavalry clash was somewhat similar too, as was the Allied 1st Brigade's initial success. The three key differences were that:
      1 - The Black Powder 'blunder' rule had the Allied 2nd Brigade go way off course.
      2 - Black Powder is more forgiving of independent cavalry units wandering about, and the French Dragoons managed to get behind the Allied lines.
      3 - Once in square to avoid being rolled up, the French infantry could relatively easily deal with the Allied infantry.
      Basically none of those factors would come into play in a Polemos game. Command error is expressed in terms of formations and units 'not doing stuff'; cavalry knocking about on its lonesome will almost certainly get walloped unless it finds a genuinely open flank; infantry in Polemos is more than capable of driving off unsupported horsemen.