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.

Thursday 4 April 2024

Alcolea - a Polemos General de Division Refight

Continuing this short series of really lesser-known Peninsular War actions, playtesting scenarios from a forthcoming Michael Hopper scenario book, this game recreates the action at Alcolea, an early action in Dupont's ill-fated attempt to conquer Andalusia in the summer of 1808, which led to the surrender at Bailen.

The basic situation is that a Spanish force with a very small core of regulars supported by a ton of new levies is trying to stop Dupont's advance, by blocking the bridge. It is also on the high ground threatening his flank. Dupont either has to force the bridge, or defeat the Spanish force in front of him.

I used the Polemos General de Division Napoleonic rules for this refight.



I won't give the detailed forces - you'll need to wait for the scenario book to come out if you want that - but in broad terms, I used:

French: 6 bases of Cavalry, 17 bases of Infantry, 3 bases of Artillery
Spanish: 2 bases of Cavalry, 20 bases of Infantry, 1 base of Artillery

As with these other early battles, there are some important choices to be made: the French were hardly the veterans of Austerlitz and Jena, but even the Legions of Reserve and Provisional Regiments were much more experienced and better trained than the Spanish levies. How these are reflected in the game will depend a lot on what your ruleset can handle. But a little more of this in the game notes.

The Set-Up:

The Spanish on the hills and across the river.

One half of the Spanish army

And the other half, guarding the crossing

And a closer look at the built-up area and the bridge, the heart and hinge of the Spanish defence

The advancing Imperials. I don't have the Marins de le Garde so I am using a Young Guard battalion as the closest thing in my collection (I really should get around to doing them, some of the smartest troops to grace a battlefield ever!)

The Battle:

Slightly surprisingly, the Spanish begin by attacking! Seizing the initiative, they were at least doing something Dupont wasn't expecting...

The young French Fantassins seem to flinch a little as the Spaniards approach...

But they deliver a couple of devastating volleys which blow away the head of the attacking Spanish column

The remnants run away up the slope

The French re-group, and then launch a much larger attack of their own, with the Marins de la Garde and Dragoons leading

There is some quite fierce fighting, but the Spanish are slowly being pushed back in the centre of the slope and the Marins break through the first line, which bends back to left and right; meanwhile, more of Dupont's troops are advancing towards the bridge

The French are waved forward for a second time, as their commanders try to renew the impetus of the attack

The Spanish are somewhat akwardly positioned, and suffering severely, but are still fighting hard - they have repulsed the French Dragoons, and stopped the supporting French infantry column

In the congested fighting, the French infantry - pinned on the plateau - re-orientate their supports and try and push back down the slope

The Spanish infantry on the right flank (nearest, bottom) break and run; Spanish counter-attacks can make no progress and more Spanish battalions rout (top of the hill)

Another Spanish counter-attack has some success, the French are just clinging to the edge of the plateau!

The French generals desperately try and re-organize their men

They launch yet another attack

Which partly miscarries! Successful on the far side of the plateau, the raw Spanish troops prove surprisingly handy with their muskets...

The Spanish launch another counter-attack into the heart of the French!

This act of heroism succeeds! Some of the French start to break and run!

The French look to be in some trouble, with two battalions running and third holding on in tatters at the base of the slope...

Meanwhile, the French assualt on the bridge begins and is executed with aplomb: the bridge is crossed and the defenders pushed back

Dupont leads his mn into the assault, sword in hand, at odds of 2-1 against (and more if you count the flanking troops!)

Suddenly Spanish resistance on the hill collapses and it is sauve qui peut...

The Spaniards are in full fight

Dupont and his troops will not be stopped!

With the Spanish in full retreat, their army morale collapses and despite the earlier scare, Dupont is master of the road to Cordoba...

Game Notes: 

Perhaps a surprisingly close game, or maybe the Spanish were a bit luckier than in real life. They were almost certainly more smartly-dressed than their historical counterparts, so perhaps that did it...
Polemos General de Division games definitely have a certain 'grammar' - poor infantry defend hills and better troops have to heave them off them; the first attack can be very dicey, but the second attack is a little more likely to succeed. The essential modifiers here are +2 for being uphill, -2 for being Raw. French troops will generally also get a +1 for being better/having more skirmishers. There are some detailed modifiers in the shooting, and interactions about what happens when the two sides are equally shaken, but that is the nub of it. So this gives the design space to have troops which are a bit less Raw, and only have -1 on their morale: I think that is what I used here for some of the Imperial troops, although the better logic would actually be to make the Spanish levies a -3 instead. Anyhow, it was all good exciting fun and perhaps not inherently too unreasonable. I did use a basically half-sized board which should be appropriate for figures based on a 60mm x 30mm base, but it felt a bit cramped in this game; I think 6'x4' tables might be better off going to 4'x2.66' rather than 3'x2', in this scenatio series.

Figures by Baccus 6mm, buildings mainly by Leven I think.

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