Thursday, 22 August 2013

Catching Up On Past Games (6): Fuentes de Oñoro, 3rd–5th May 1811—Version 2

A Terrible, Wonderful Thing
(14th ANF game, played 4th & 11th September 2011)

We played our scenario of Fuentes de Oñoro a second time in the ANF ‘session’ immediately following completion of the first game of the battle, this time the three of us were present. Mark once again took the British and I played sub-commander to Julian’s Massena so that he could try a new strategy. Julian had been absent when we played the first version, which was one of the chief reasons that we decided to play it a second time.

Day 1, 3rd May 1811

The set-up viewed from the north. On the Anglo-Portuguese side Erskine's division closest to camera, then Campbell's and Picton's divisions north of Fuentes de Oñoro. On the French side Reynier's and Junot's corps (closest to camera) with the three divisions of Loison's corps in the distance. Barbacena's giant killing cavalry (from version 1) is just visible in the foreground.
Close-up of Reynier's corps with Heudelet's division closest to camera and Merle's adjacent to it.
At 13:00 the French attack began. Here we see Reynier's and Junot's corps (left to right Heudelet, Merle, Solignac) attacking Erskine and Campbell, focussing particularly on the former. Over the next two hours the opposing skirmishers exchanged fire and those from Erskine's division were dispersed. Heudelet's and Solignac's troops suffered casualties in the approach and some of Heudelet's skirmishers were dispersed.

Loison's division moved to attack Fuentes de Oñoro, suffering casualties in the approach.

By 16:00 the fighting in the north had become close and vigorous. Heudelet's lead units (17e légère and 70e ligne) attacked the 1st Foot (represented by a unit with yellow facings) who stopped them with an effective volley,

... the 1st counter-charged, but were beaten back by the French units and retired.

Reynier and Junot's attack came on strongly (here viewed from behind Erskine's line).

In contrast, Loison's attack was more of a demonstration before the strong position of Spencer's division in and around Fuentes de Oñoro, but did not prevent the 69e ligne being broken by artillery fire.

The 9th Foot counter-attacked the attack from Heudelet's infantry and pushed them back (rear of photo) but the British 38th Foot was broken and Erskine's battery overrun.

The 1/86e ligne from Solignac's division were pushed back by the 30th Foot (this time represented with yellow facings; unlike in version 1), the French rallied, but the staff officer who was with them was captured.

The second battery from Erskine's division was overrun by the 2e légère from Merle's division. Heudelet's division was broken having lost six out of eight battalions. Junot’s corps pushed further onto the ridge (centre of photo), breaking the 8th Portuguese from Campbell's division.

Above and below: while Loison's division exchanged fire with Spencer's defenders in Fuentes de Oñoro, Marchand’s division was ordered to attack to the south of the town, supported by Lamotte's light cavalry and horse artillery.

As with the first version, the 1/Colstream guards stood tall in defence.

The French formed a grand battery to the north of Loison's corps.

In a move counter to history, Montbrun's cavalry were sent to the northern flank.

Day 1 Summary

While Loison made a demonstration in front of Fuentes de Oñoro, Reynier and Junot attacked Erskine's division aggressively on the ridge on the British left flank. Heudelet's division lead the attack which by day's end had driven in the British line, but at what cost?

Reorganisation 4th May 1811

‘Massena’ and ‘Loison’ conferred during the ‘rest day’. The C-in-C was not confident, but Loison suggested that they attack all along the 'line'. In game terms there were five or so hours (turns) before the ammo supply rules cut in. "Perhaps if we pressured the Anglo-Portugese line everywhere we could break through?" The problem was that there were no reserves to throw in to exploit any weakness, save for the Guard cavalry and that may not become ‘available’.

Massena agreed and decided to throw everything at the Anglo-Portuguese centre and left. Montbrun had already been sent to the north and was ordered to attack around the right flank of Reynier's troops (Merle's division) and then south to the enemy centre. D'Erlon's newly arrived corps was sent to attack the Anglo-Portuguese centre, north of Fuentes de Oñoro. Mermet's and Loison's own division from his corps were to increase their efforts against Fuentes de Oñoro, while Marchand attacked around the south of the town, supported by Lamotte's cavalry and perhaps that of the Guard; if they could be encouraged to join the battle. In short, a concerted and vigorous attack against centre, left and right.

For his part Wellesley was confident in the strength of his position and the resilience of his men. He sent Craufurd with the light division to support the left-centre and would use Cotton's cavalry to harass the French on his right (south).

Above and below, views of the battlefield from the north and south-east after the 'rest day'. The opposing troops began just 7" apart.

Above and below, the Anglo-Portuguese defence in and north of Fuentes de Oñoro; calm and confident.

Wellesley directs the defence from his command post. Note the captured French staff officer who is taking bets on the outcome with Sir Edward Paget.

Day 2, 5th May 1811

The opening artillery bombardment was destructive on both sides. As planned, the French attacked along entire front.

Above and below: Cotton's light dragoons charged Lamotte's light cavalry. The French hussars broke one British regiment and then broke through and forced a second to retreat. However the French horsemen were now blown and exposed.

Massena sent aides in search of Béssières to get his imprimatur to send orders to the Guard cavalry. Béssières was found but refused to send the Guard into combat; for now...

Mermet's division faced off Spencer's defenders while Marchand's division attacked around to the south of the town.

Solignac (closest) and Merle renew the attack that had been suspended since the 3rd.

Slade's 1st Dragoons (Cotton's cavalry) easily disposed of Lamotte's blown hussars and and followed on to break the 2/6e légère of Marchand's division.

Claparede's columns (d'Erlon's corps) attacked Campbell's division. The 21e légère (right of photo) were stopped by fire and broken by charge of counter-charging 61st Foot.

The 15e ligne from Solignac' division exchanged fire with the British line (top left of photo). The French came off second best and broke, taking the entire division with them.

Houston's 7th Division (foreground) moved to support the Anglo-Portuguese right.

The 09:00 turn saw mêlées along the entire line.

The advance of Slade's cavalry 'activated' the Guard cavalry which moved to support Marchand (rear of photo). 

Further north, Claparede's division was making headway onto the ridge.

In the far north, Montbrun's dragoons reached the ridge, broke Barbacena's Portuguese dragoons, put the independent Portuguese brigade into square and moved to threaten the flank of Erskine's division.

Overview of the battlefield from the north. The French were exerting pressure everywhere, especially the centre, but the Anglo-Portuguese line was holding.

Marchand's 39e ligne entered Fuentes de Oñoro and drove back a battalion of highlanders,

...while the rest of his division advanced on Spencer's troops stationed outside of the town.

View of the battlefield from the north, showing the gap left by Erskine's broken division.

In the south, the Empress Dragoons broke the 1st Dragoons of Cotton's division and then charged on to the KGL hussars and were beaten and themselves broke! In the command phase Cotton's division retreated and Lepic (Guard cavalry) also failed morale and were demoralised! Campbell's division passed at 1/3 losses.

View from the south west, showing Houston's 7th Division ready in support and, tellingly, the gap left north of Fuentes de Oñoro due to the retreat of Picton's Division which had suffered from the sustained bombardment of the French grand battery.

Spencer was still in control of Fuentes de Oñoro, but the pressure was mounting.

French attacks continued all along the line. Mermet's division exchanged more volley's with the 1/Colstream, coming off second best.

Marchand's division was making progress into Fuentes de Oñoro.
Picton's, Erskine's and Cotton's had divisions failed to rally.

Marchand's division and the Grenadiers à cheval combined to attack Houston's division.

The British Guards finally broken, Mermet's division entered Fuentes de Oñoro.

Montbrun's dragoons caught the 43rd Foot out of square...

while Fournier's chasseurs à cheval dispersed the 95th's skirmish line.

(**The legitimacy of this movement of the French cavalry along the ridge is something that we have pondered, off and on, since this game)

Campbell's division was close to 1/2 losses.
All French divisions were low on ammunition.

Above and below: Mermet's division was taking control of Fuentes de Oñoro. Campbell's division was broken.

Craufurd's division retreated and the ridge was devoid of defenders; Wellesley's needed to move his command post.

The Grenadiers à Cheval and infantry from Marchand's division charged a square of Houston's infantry and were repulsed. Marchand's division was demoralised.

The French grand battery was in command of the centre of the battlefield. Marchand's division rallied and so was no longer demoralised. Spencer's division, just hung onto the western edge of Fuentes de Oñoro by passing morale at 1/2 casualties.

The tabletop at the end of the game showing how depleted both sides were, especially compared with the beginning of the second day of battle which is shown again below.
Was it Albuera?
The second version of Fuentes de Oñoro left many plastic widows to mourn their loved-ones and the three human players feeling somewhat dazzed. The Anglo-Portuguese army was battered and the French unable to celebrate such a phyrric victory.

Victory points 

The French received 1 victory point for Nave de Haver, 18 victory points for the broken Anglo-Portuguese 'divisions' and 2 points for Craufurd's retreated division. The Anglo-Portuguese received 18 points for broken French divisions. The difference was 3 points giving a minor French victory.

The French had 102 points of MR lost from 260 (39%) while the Anglo-Portuguese has lost  99 points of MR(40%).

It had been an intense and hard-fought affair.


  1. Another excellent post James - and great pics too. Nice to see all those Airfix buildings in use!

    1. Thanks Ian.

      As you know, the old stuff is still some of the best! :)

  2. Phew! "It was a near run thing"; sounds like the players were probably as emotionally drained after the game as the troops would have been physically!

    In other words, great game!

    1. Spot on about feeling 'drained' Peter.

      We are also interested in what these games can teach us about history. For this one we concluded that to win Massena needed to throw everything that he had at Wellesley's position—and to have some luck. I don't think that it would have have been possible to wear the army down as much as we did, to both sides, in this game. Of course the divisional morale rules prevent you 'dying to a man', but if you get lucky you can run to 3/4 losses!

  3. Great looking, and huge looking game!

    1. Thanks Phil. It was one of our more successful scenarios and, even after having played it twice, I'd happily play it again!