donderdag 3 januari 2019

Portugal 1808/09 – rear guard at La Trepa

Details of the location, troop strength and historical background can be found at the link below. Briefly, La Romana’s rear guard, commanded by General Mahy, comprised of seven under strength Spanish units, were caught near the village of La Trepa by a light cavalry force led by Franceschi. In the ensuing skirmish the rear guard was severely mauled.  

La Trepa, in Galicia, can be found on the N525 roadway leading north from Monterey. The valley gradually narrows north of La Trepa and for our tests we have positioned a number of difficult hill paralleling the road and narrowing to a point north of the village. As per deployment rules, the Spanish start 6BW from the French point of entrance (base line) as the French cavalry are off table; this  was done as the board is 80cm x 80cm.

In the first test General Mahy split his force in two groups with one marching ahead while a second formed a skirmish line to cover their withdrawal. Each group would then re leave the other in turn continually marching further north. The French arrive and immediately attack with the lead formation while others move to extend the line to either side of the road. The Spanish line hold their ground and covering fire from the hills give them time to withdraw toward the village. Renewing their pursuit, the French reach the Spanish infantry and cut them to pieces. This unnverved the militia that had formed line on either side of the road as they face other French cavalry in turn. Franceschi leading his Chasseurs destroy a unit of militia sending the remaining troops into panic (demoralization). The French pursuit is hampered by the close confines of the village giving Mahy an opportunity to reform his remaining into line allowing the rest to flee. Franceschi breaks off pursuit as further movement north in the narrow valley would be hazardous and so was content with the captured standards and destroying half the rear guard. 

French cavalry catch up with La Romana’s rear guard.

Spanish withdraw to a second position to hold off a second attack.

Despite further losses, the Spanish continue their retreat. 

A second test, prompted a revised Spanish deployment; skirmishers were positioned closer to the Spanish column so as to give better covering fire. As the Spanish column continued their march militia and regular units formed a second line just south of the village At this moment, the French enter the board with a bit less élan (low pip score). They made up for this on the succeeding bound to assault the regular units defending to front and those positioned on the hill slopes. To their surprise, the Chasseurs on the left were badly mauled and both fights on the hill slopes were repulsed. The Spanish regulars demonstrated a cool determination and moved back toward a second position. Here, the French cavalry renewed their assault eventually destroying a unit of militia.  Despite this, the Spanish continued their retreat threading through the village and along the hill slopes. A last desperate attack by French cavalry caught Spanish regulars just north of the village cutting them to pieces. The game ended with Mahy salvaging half of his command while the French counted a quarter of their strength as casualties.

Spanish deployment is slightly revised.

French vigorously attack but lose one of their number.

Spanish are holding their ground.

The stubborn resistance by Spanish line save the remainder of the rear guard.

General Mahy must withdraw his entire command off board (north) to achieve a victory. Knowing this the French player must quickly destroy two units of Spanish to bring the remainder in a state of demoralization. Reaching this point, the French should be able to destroy the remainder of the command with ease. Yet, from the tests it is possible for the Spanish to give the French a beating by concentrating their fire on an individual unit. This scenario does require skill to pull off a retreat while  holding an enemy at bay; an excellent exercise for the command of the Light Division at Fuentes de Onoro.

You can review the background history and troops involved at the following link.

woensdag 26 december 2018

Portugal 1808/09 – scenario tests

Before testing the scenarios for Soult’s campaign in Portugal I thought it prudent to refresh my acquaintance of the DBA variant rules for the Horse and Musket era. The first review involved an encounter between two division sized forces of Spanish and French. The Spanish forces contained line and militia battalions and these were further supported by newly raised levy while the French were on the whole well trained. Both commanders controlled about 13 – 14 battalions which during the first two tests quickly produced a strain on pip usage as the battlefield measured over one square kilometer. The ground favoured the Spanish with their right flank was secured by a village and a large hill offered a good defensive position for the remainder of the battle line.

The initial tests resembled more an ancients battle than a Napoleonic one. The situation was corrected when both sides made use of reserves. This channeled pip expenditure to the active brigade to develop the opening moves leaving the reserves to either support or be used to apply pressure elsewhere. Having both commanders focus on the immediate conflict produced a methodical development of a Napoleonic battle. As you can see from the photos and brief description the battle progressed through a number of stages with reserves employed in the final phase

Photo one:
The French launch their assault columns against the hill position with two battalions of light in support on their right; not in picture are reserve infantry and cavalry are positioned on the left rear.

The Spanish have stretched their battle line along the hill crest to anchor their right on the village. To their rear are four battalions in reserve. {1}

Photo two:
Despite repeated assaults, the French could not lodge the Spanish off the hill, even the efforts of the light troops were also blunted. {2}  

Photo three:
Reforming hs disordered columns and light troops these were given orders to keep the enemy held hill occupied while the battle shifted to an assault on the lightly held village.  

Having inflicted casualties on the French and seeing no further activity, the Spanish began contracting their line while withdrawing formations off the hill position. The French move against the village would threaten their retreat, so the grenadiers were ordered to hold the village along with the lights already positioned their. {3}

Photo four:
The grenadiers held firm causing heavy casualties among the French. At the end of the struggle both sides lost troops, but the village remained in Spanish control. {4}

Photo five:
Nearly five hours (time scale) had elapsed from the first shots fired and with dusk approaching the Spanish began withdrawing troops from the hill position. Spanish light troops and grenadiers screened the retreat French cavalry would not pursue with darkness fast approaching. {5}

After a brief rest, a pursuit by the entire division would begin during the early morning hours, but that is another battle.

{1} Nearly half the number of elements were held in reserve for this test, but future tests may have that number reflect the quality of the commander (cautious, bold, rash).  

{2} A number of DBA3 rules remain unchanged, non-light troops move as single elements or one element wide columns. Also, shooting in bad going is ½ BW distance which did produce a gritty combat lasting (scale time) an hour and a half. During this time the light troops were for most part out of command control and therefore required an extra pip expenditure to move.

{3} Commanding from an interior position, the Spanish general had less issue with control, while the French general frequently moved about; movement is 4BW at no cost.

{4} Although a village or hamlet is classed as rough going, historically streets are generally narrow so structures may provide a maximum amount of shade. As planning commissions were not around during this time, the village was classed as bad going and would impeded only movement and shooting.

{5} The Spanish withdrew leaving the field to the French and after nearly five hours (23 turns) the French incurred 12% casualties for their effort. In contrast, the Spanish lost 7% claiming a very minor victory.  

zondag 9 december 2018

Scenario - March 29 – April 18, the combat at Amarante

Historical Background
Following the defeat at Chaves on March 11, Silveira retreated east to regroup his shattered forces, However, on hearing that Soult continued his march to Braga, he retook Chaves with two regular regiments and the Ordenanza, a total of 6,000 men. The French garrison at Chaves, under the command of Messager comprised only one company and a number of convalescents and stragglers. These retired to the citadel and after a siege of five days, the governor surrendered. Leaving a Portuguese garrison to hold Chaves, Silveira marched down the Tamega River to Amarante, paralleling Soult’s advance on Oporto. His seizure of Chaves rallied more Ordenanza to join his force at Amarante swelling his strength to 9,000 men. With the increase in troop strength he was able to protect the bridges and fords along the Tamega River.

After the capture of Oporto, Soult’s first task was to restore communication with Victor who had been assigned the task of supporting the march on Lisbon. To do this, Loison with two brigades supported by cavalry was given the task of contacting Victor, but reaching Penafiel he encountered the Portuguese in force. Loison’s advance guard of cavalry could go no further and awaited the arrival of Foy’s infantry. The initial assaults were repulsed leaving Loison no option but to call for reinforcements from Soult. Taking advantage of the situation, Silveira crossed the Tamega to attack the two French brigades (April 12). This attack was beaten back leaving Loison holding his position across the Tamega. [1] 

Soult reinforced Loison with an infantry brigade (Delaborde) and Lorges’ dragoons, which left Soult with a force of 10,000 in and around Oporto. On the 18th of April, Loison advanced against Silveira who offered him battle. Considering Silveira had 2,000 regulars and 7 to 8,000 militia and Ordenanza, his action could be considered rash. [2] The Portuguese were beaten and pursued back to Amarante, but encountering stiff resistance at the bridge holding the French to the right bank of the Tamega. Days passed and all attempts for find an alternative crossing point failed as bridges and fords were defended.  

In desperation a night assault (May 2) succeeded in destroying the fortified position across the bridge leaving the French access to the town and taking the Portuguese held heights beyond forcing Silveira to retreat south toward Lamego. [3] Although the battle for Amarante ended in a defeat for the Portuguese, it did tie down nearly half of Soult’s forces. By the time Amarante was taken, the British were on the march to Coimbra and Oporto.

This scenario should be played as a series of seperate engagements starting with the initial contact by the French advance guard and end with the night assault across the Tamega River. Use an internet search for Amarante selecting the Wikipedia option. Click on the coordinates link and select any of the terrain options given and zoom in to a scale of 1 km.  Lacking maps of the actual terrain fought over do read the physical geography given for both Penafiel and Amarante; this should give you a resonable idea of the terrain fought.

7 April: The defence of the Amarante and Canavezes road (use Penafiel Wiki for description terrain).
12 April: The counterattack across the Tamega by Silveira (as above, but source Amarante).
18 April: Battle on the heights of Villamea. 
2 May: The assault on Amarante.

7 April: The defence of the Amarante and Canavezes road.
French: Loison, cavalry brigade, later supported by Foy’s brigade.
Portuguese: Most likely a third of Silveira’s force.

12 April: The counterattack across the Tamega by Silveira.
French: Loison, two infantry brigades.
Portuguese: Substantially more that the initial engagement.

18 April: Battle on the heights of Villamea. 
French: Loison is reinforced with infantry (Delaborde) and Lorges’ dragoons (9,000 troops).
Portuguese: 2,000 regulars and 7-8,000 Ordenza.

2 May: The night assault on Amarante.
French: An assault company of grenadiers.
Portuguese: Silveira’s rear guard, the remainder are encamped on the heights.

[1] C. Oman, The History of the Peninsular War, vol. II, p.267
[2] ibid, p.268
[3] ibid, p.272

Defence of Amarante, 6 April – 2 May 1809,