Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Battle of Vimeiro, 21st August 1808

Our first game for 2015, the ‘traditional’ Australia Day game, was a re-fight of the Battle of Vimeiro using Chris Leach’s Fields of Glory scenario and Zimmermann’s The Wargamer’s Handbook rules.

As with the real thing, the French made piece-meal attacks, but managed to turn what looked like certain defeat early in the game into a victory by turn (hour) six. A better second half performance, aided by some helpful combinations of good and bad luck, plus British inertia on the ridge, lead to this history-changing result.

Here’s how it came to pass…

We set up according to the scenario but, in using Zimmermann’s rules, we had variably sized units, based on the strengths from orders of battle, scaled at 1:33.

Photo 1: Looking east down the field of battle, British at left, French at right. Vimeiro in the left foreground, Toledo in the centre and Ventosa in the distance at left.

Photo 2: View of the French side of the battlefield. Brigades (left to right) Charlot, Thomières, army artillery (223 guns), Kellermann (grénadiers réunis) and Solignac in the distance on the isolated ridge.
The green block (purple in photo 1) is to expunge Montmorand's brigade that I incorrectly placed, discovering my error in the second turn—more on that later!

Photos 3 & 4: Close-up of the French troops in the western and eastern sectors.

Photos 5 & 6: On the other side of the battlefield, Anstruther’s and Fane’s brigades defend the area west of Vimeiro (above) supported by Acland’s and Nightingall’s brigades, plus Taylor with the 20th light dragoons, east of the town.

Photo 7: Ferguson’s artillery fired at the exposed end of Solignac’s line, but a 1 for windage saved them.

Photo 8: Thomières’ men were not so lucky, Fane’s artillery causing losses to the 2/86e ligne. Note dice for windage (white) and effect (red).

Photo 9: The French batteries tried some counter-battery fire, missing everything. The range was too far to be effective, so move forward they must…

Photo 10: Junot ordered Charlot’s and Thomières’ brigades to attack, supported by the incorrectly placed troops of Montmorand (pale green box).

Photo 11: The mistake rectified, the French attack did not look nearly so imposing!

Photo 12: Overview of the battlefield viewed from the north-west.

Photo 13: A dramatic third cycle (hour) began with a fire-fight between Charlot’s 3/82e ligne and Anstruther’s 2/97th (represented by another unit). A die is used for each group of six figures firing, white for a partial group at half-effect. Displaced figures show the casualties. Casualties inflicted increase for die rolls from one to three and again from four to six.

Photos 14 & 15: Thomières’ lead units attacked Fane’s men, the 2/86e losing their mêlée, while the 1/86e won theirs (dice indicating the random factor in each mêlée).

Photo 15: Anstruther’s and Fane’s brigades retreated from the western end of the ridge-line having failed their morale tests at 1/4 and 1/3 losses. Meanwhile, Thomières’ brigade passed at 1/2 losses...

Photo 16: … thus remained in sole possession of the ridge.

Photo 17: Could they make it to Vimeiro to secure it for the French?

“It’s never a good tactic to throw 1s for morale tests!” Mark remarked.

Photo 18: Overview of the battlefield, this time looking from the south-east.

Photo 19: On the French right (eastern) flank, Montmorand’s brigade finally arrived—at the correct location this time!

Photo 20: View from Nightingall’s position west of Ventosa, as Wellesley sends Bowes’ brigade (foreground) to sure up his right.

Photo 21: Junot hurries Kellermann’s grénadiers to support Thomières’ depleted troops, and repositions the guns to fire at the British right-centre.

Photo 22: Overview of the battlefield at the end of the 4th cycle (hour).

Photo 23 & 24: The next cycle was mainly taken up with manoeuvring, along with some deadly fire from the re-positioned French guns. Here the view from Acland’s position showing the mass of the French guns, Kellermann’s grenadiers réunis and the newly-arrived cavalry of Margaron.

Photo 25 & 26: In the eastern sector, Montmorand’s brigade continued its advance towards Ferguson’s position, now supported by the arrival of Catlin Craufurd’s brigade and Trant’s Portugese. The cavalry of the latter having forced Montmorand’s 2/70e ligne to form square.

Photo 27: Casualties from the French artillery forced a morale test for Acland’s brigade. Another 1 result meant that they too quit the field.

Photo 28 & 29: Wellesley’s right flank was now severely compromised.

Photo 30: Thomières’ brigade occupied both sectors of Vimeiro.

Photo 31: This geographic objective, coupled with the loss of three British infantry brigades (plus Taylor’s cavalry which was to also retreat having been reduced to half-strength and failed the morale test) left the French in a strong position.

Photo 32: In the east Solignac’s orders arrived, so his brigade moved off in support of Montmorand’s attack.

Photo 33: View from Ferguson’s position.

Photo 34: Close-up of Montmorand’s 3/2e légère.

Not wishing to sacrifice his army in a do or die effort, Wellesley ordered his remaining troops to retire from the field. The scenario result was a major French victory, which was downgraded to a victory as Junot had called on Margaron’s cavalry.

Photo 35: Overview of the table at battle’s end.

Photo 36: Nightingall’s brigade standing strong to cover the withdrawal.

It was a fast-paced game without being ‘fast play’ and served to increase my liking of the overall mechanics and many of the specific mechanisms in the Zimmermann rules. We now plan to re-play the scenario, using our ANF version of Shako. It will be a most interesting comparison.