Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Wargaming Waterloo 1815 : 2015 (5) Battle of Quatre Bras circa 1994

I credit and thank my father (Ralph) with introducing me to wargaming. In fact, perhaps I should ‘blame’ him, given the ‘beautifully obsessive’ nature of the hobby? (haha!!) Without his influence I may well have remained as a modeller and diorama-maker, something that I now consider a bit of a waste of figures as they are not actively used!

While greatly limited in the number of painted figures that we had, as this relied on my slow output around school and then university studies, we were always most interested in re-fighting historical battles or conducting historically-based campaigns. A few years after he retired in 1985, Ralph tried his hand at painting the 1/72nd figures and discovered that he could in fact do it (and really well too, I thought). This lead to a rapid increase in the forces that we had available. Around that time he met a ‘fellow-traveller’, Tony, who lived nearby to them. They switched to 5 mm figures, thereby making available reasonable forces in two figure scales. Since we lived, then and now, on opposite sides of the country (~4 000 km apart) opportunities for wargaming were limited to visits one way or the other.

During one of my visits to them over a summer holiday in 1994, Ralph and I decided to set-up and play a game in the loft area. We chose to do one based on Quatre Bras and decided that it was best done using the 5 mm figures deployed on the moulded, foam Waterloo terrain that Tony had given to Ralph.

I recently ‘re-discovered’ Ralph’s summary of the game and, in this bicentennial year, and with our own recent bicentennial game of the Quatre Bras still fresh in mind, it seems a good time to post it here for interest and comparison. Back in ’94 we used Empire rules with its figure scale of around 1:60.

I’ll hand over to Ralph (Dad) to tell the story of the game. We did not take many photos, but I have included scans of those that Maude took for us.
_______________________________________________________________________
Photo 1: Overview of the battlefield early in the game. You can see the French columns in coming from the south, approaching the Dutch-Belgian troops on the low ridge, with more allied troops coming through Quatre Bras.
(I loved those colourful trackies, wore them to death!)

The hostilities opened with the first hourly phase starting at 1400. At this time the Prince of Orange, as commander of the 1st Corps of the Anglo-Allied Army, was with the 2nd Netherlands Division deployed to the south of Quatre Bras. With the limited numbers at his disposal Baron de Perponcher had attempted to cover all approaches to the cross roads from the south in accordance with his orders. The 1st battalion of the first brigade was on the left flank, while the 2nd battalion was in reserve near the farm of Gemioncourt. The two battalions of 2nd brigade were deployed on the right centre and right flank. Each brigade was supported by a battery of foot artillery.

The French 2nd Corps under Reille opened operations with Bachelu’s 5th Division attacking Gemioncourt, the 9th Division under Foy was directed against the Netherlanders’ left flank, while the 2nd Cavalry division swept to the right of Foy to outflank the Dutch left.

Photo 2: Close-up of the developing battle before Quatre Bras.

For two hours the struggle continued south of the cross roads while reinforcements arrived for both sides and were deployed as they arrived on the scene of the battle.

By 1700 the two Dutch-Belgian infantry brigades had been driven from the field and their guns lost to the French. Van Merlen’s cavalry with their horse artillery battery and the Prince of Orange were on what was now the right flank of the army without visible opposition. The 1st and 2nd Brigades of Picton’s Division were defending Quatre Bras with the 3rd Brigade occupying the chateau on the left flank. The two brigades at the cross roads were hotly engaged by Foy and Bachelu’s divisions while Jérôme’s 6th Division was moving to join the fray. Meanwhile Piré’s 2nd Cavalry Brigade had crossed the Namur road on Picton’s left flank and was engaged with the brigade defending the chateau and with Alten’s Division approaching on the road from Brussels.

Photo 3: Overview of the battlefield as things hot up (units around the centre of the board)

At the commencement of the 1800 hour phase the dragoons which comprised the leading element of Uxbridge’s division, drove Piré’s lancers back over the Namur road, enabling Alten’s division to resume its march to support Picton. At the same time Kellermann’s cavalry division was moving round on the French right flank and advance elements were approaching the Namur road. All through this hourly phase the attacks on Picton’s brigades at Quatre Bras were pressed fiercely by Foy and Bachelu’s divisions, supported now by a grand battery sited on a hill dominating the field of battle. But the British line held firm and, leading one of the attacks, General Foy was killed.

The 1900 phase saw the French breakthrough. Uxbridge’s division suffered heavily from bombardment by the grand battery and repeated charges and countercharges by Kellermann’s division. One of l’Heritier’s dragoon regiments charged Picton’s left flank, dispersed the Netherlands cavalry and swept on to be halted by Alten’s division which was deploying on Picton’s right flank. At the same time Bachelu was killed as his division pressed an attack on the leading regiment of Alten’s division.

Photo 4: Towards the end of the game the French are pressing the attack. Kellermann’s cavalry and the artillery at the centre left of the photo with Bachelu and Foy’s infantry attacking the allied troops around the cross roads.

With the French cavalry menacing the Anglo-Allied left flank and Jérôme’s division poised to join the attack on Picton’s position, the only course open to Wellington was to make a fighting withdrawal along the road to Brussels. It was therefore decided that this gave the result of an effective French victory.


Epilogue

Dad is 90 in July this year and I’m looking forward immensely to a planned visit in August when they will see our set-up at ‘ANF HQ’ and meet Julian, Mark, Stephen and Mark. A game of Napoleonic naval is already planned for that day!

15 comments:

  1. Great blast from the past! I know too many folks whose fathers were less than a positive influence on their lives. Thankfully, that was not at all the case for me, or it seems, you either. Definitely take some pictures of dad during his upcoming visit this summer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, all positive for me, I am pleased to say.

      Delete
  2. Very impressive, no doubt!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Phil. They were always enjoyable games with the 'old man'!

      Delete
  3. Didnt you bring Dad down to the club a few times James? Great photos and back story mate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He certainly did Carlo. Napier keeps him in touch too, emailing him copies of the Lancer.

      Delete
  4. Replies
    1. Yes, some more 'boating' will be as enjoyable, intriguing and challenging as the previous one. Julian has painted the other side of our blue foam grey-blue, 'cause we'll be in the Atlantic, I think? (Don't spill the beans if you know, 'cause Julian does not want to spoil the players' surprise!)

      Delete
  5. Lovely post! Mostly my Dad's fault as well, not really a wargamers as such but he was always interested in military history and model soldiers and had a friend who was a wargamers. My Dad did tell mer that I was wasting my time painting figures as it was too hard and I'd never be any goof at it but apart from that always encouraged me. It made me quite sad when he asked me the other day if wanted his collection of Hinchcliffe Peninsular War figures as he is now partially sighted and doesn't think he will ever use them again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a tough call that we will all get to, accidents permitting. Gotta enjoy it whilst we can.
      Dad doesn't wargame anymore either. He still has a keen interest though, looks at this blog occasionally and we talk about matters wargaming and history often on the 'phone.

      Delete
  6. Great post, thanks for drawing my attention to it James! My own father never was into wargaming, but did ask if I was interested in the wargaming side when he saw me busy doing dioramas and painting models. I said "no" at first, but later found one of Don Featherstone's books in the library and changed my mind!

    ReplyDelete
  7. It seems that we were both 'saved' from merely painting models and making dioramas then?! For me the book of rules that fired my imagination was Quarrie's "Napoleonic Wargaming" which Dad purchased for me/us early on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was a great book and took me to the next stage of my serious wargaming adventures. Prior to that I had used some local rules which were okay, but Bruce Quarrie's seemed more real.

      Delete