Sunday, 15 May 2011

Albuera 2011 Refight

Well after a fair amount of preparation and planning, on Saturday the 14th four of us met at Schloss Sparker to refight the main bicenntennial battle for 2011, Albuera. The previous post has outlined what a bloody battle this was, and our refight was also something of a hard fought stalemate.

Instead of having just another wargame, I wanted to try and recreate certain aspects of the battle, whilst still allowing the players free rein to exercise their tactical ingenuity, or lack thereof!

To encourage this, a complex set of victory conditions for scoring victory points was circulated to the players prior to the game:

Victory Points (Gentlemen, its all about attrition! These have been carefully designed to influence you to act as your counterparts did on the day, so please take the time to mull them over) :
French score 1 Victory Point (VP) for every small (2 units) Allied Bde broken
French score 2 VP for every large (3 line units+) Allied Bde broken
French score 2 VP for every British Infantry square broken (none for breaking Brit units in line or column), other than as part of the broken Bde criteria above

For example, if a unit of French cavalry defeats a British square, pushing that large Bde to broken, then that is 4 VP in total, 2 for the Bde, 2 for the broken square and stand of Colours. 
The initial table set up, looking from the West to East
 Victory Conditions

The British must attempt to keep the field for the entire 15 moves, to prevent Soult from relieving the siege of Badajozno retreat, no surrender!

If the French fail to achieve 6 VP by the end of 15 moves, it is a British victory. If the French fail to achieve 4 VP by the end of 15 moves, it is a major British Victory with Tea and Medals all round. If the French achieve 6 VP it is a draw. If the French score 7, it is a French Victory. If the French score 9 VP by the end of turn 15, it is a Major French Victory, with Dukedoms and Baronetcies being showered on the French team like confetti.

I would ask that no matter what the vagaries of battle all Commanders strive mightily to do their duty until the end of the 15th move to allow the other side’s team to attempt to maximise the extent of their glorious victory!

Note – there are 4 large and 3 small Allied Bdes for a total of 11 possible VPs up for grabs through attrition.

Allied Reinforcements

Myer’s Brigade will arrive at the halfway point on the British table edge in Column of Battalion lines at 3” intervals at the start of British move 7, with the leading Bn therefore about 1’ into the table. If that ground is occupied by allied forces, the column will arrive immediately adjacent to left or right as decided by the French team. If that ground is occupied by French forces, the Brigade will not arrive until that ground is clear, and will count as 1 French victory point if it has not made an appearance by move 15.
The 'Spanish Bde' - Minifigs Austro-Hungarians
The resolve of Spanish Units

During the battle the Spanish Regiments initially displayed great steadiness in the face of overwhelming French artillery and infantry fire, and then inevitably started to falter as the day wore on. This was reflected in an amend to their 'steadiness':

In the orbat the Spanish Brigade is neither steady nor unsteady. This will be tested throughout the game as shown. Once failed to be steady on this test, the Spanish are considered neither steady nor unsteady for the remainder of the game and no further testing is necessary, they take break tests as normal.

Steady – ignore all break tests
Count as steady on 23456D6 – ignore first break test
Count as steady on 3456D6 – ignore first break test
Count as steady on 456D6 etc
Count as steady on 56D6 etc
Count as steady on 6D6 etc
9 - 15
Not steady, not unsteady - apply break tests


During the battle, the French cavalry took advantage of the reduced visibility and firepower to launch successful cavalry attacks.

The French Cav Commander may initiate a rainstorm at the start of his move by throwing a 1D6, up to a total of 3 times successfully during the game.
The rainstorm will last during this French and the following British move. No small arms fire may be issued during these moves, except by the 95th Rifles and KGL Light on throwing a 456D6

In order to encourage the British to advance boldly across the field in square, as the originals did, we also suspended the Black Powder 'must form square' rule in favour of this table:

Forming Squares 
We shall not use the the forming squares rule. Any Infantry unit charged by cav may, as a response, attempt to form square a D6 throw as follows:

Number of moves req’d by Cav to contact
Score needed on D6 to form solid square
Cav ‘Pull up’ distance

Should the infantry succeed in forming square, the cavalry may pull up at the exact distance shown, or continue their charge. Should the Infantry fail, they are caught out of formation and disordered. Either way, no closing fire may be issued by the unit attempting to form square, although Infantry and Artillery within supporting range (6”) may issue closing fire
Players may of course attempt to form square at any time during their own moves.

Some pretty standard 'house rule' amends also applied, to reflect my idiosyncratic views on artillery effectiveness:

Special Rules

Canister/Grape range 18”
British 9 Pdr range 5’
French 6 Pdr range 4’
French 12 Pdr range 6’

The Players: 

John ensures those dice get a fair shake!
John, left, took on Latour-Maubourg's role as French Cav Cdr. Mark, centre, took charge of the allied Infantry brigades and the Brit Cav, with Jason, right, as the overall Allied cdr and directly controlling the British infantry Brigades. Since it was such a hard fought confrontation, we sorely felt the absence of the rest of our mob!

I had asked John, my fellow Frenchman for the day, to arrive early so that we could hatch our knavish plans. Over the phone when preparing for this game he had expressed his view that the key to victory was successful all arms cooperation, particularly between the cavalry and the infantry. Regular views of this blog will know that in our previous game the French cavalry had been unable to make much impact in the game, and he had clearly been mulling this over. I therefore agreed to detach a small 3 Bn Bde from Girard's division to him as Latour-Maubourg. After all, a game also has to be about developing an understanding of period tactics rather than slavishly recreating the pattern of the historic engagement. This was to cause comment after the game... 

Our plan pretty much followed that of Marshal Soults' on the day, well you would, wouldn't you! I would find, fix and flank the allied infantry in the centre, whilst John would attempt to send at least some of his cavalry around the deep flank so that together we enveloped the enemy. Clearly this would first involve despatching the single small Allied cavalry Bde first, which we happily presumed wouldn't take too long! 
As an aside, I remarked to John that I had deliberately placed the Allied cavalry within 4 and 1/2 feet of his as yet undeployed Cavalry March columns. If Mark, as the Allied cavalry cdr, both spotted, and took, the opportunity, a bold attack at the outset would catch the superior numbers of French cavalry on the hop! We speculated whether he would go for it. I doubted, at the outset of the game, that Mark would have the time to notice such a detail, but John predicted that he would, and that he would not hesitate to charge! 
French feint attacks across the bridge consisted of both Cavalry and Infantry assaults
The major characteristic of Albuera, apart from the appalling casualties, was the fact that the Allied Commander, Marshal Beresford, made an imperfect appreciation of the ground and assumed that the French would attack from the East, straight into Albuera across the only bridge over the intervening rivers. Soult duly obliged with a series of feint attacks from that direction, whilst unleashing his main forces in a flank attack from the South, which our table concentrated on... 
Coleborne's Bde, facing the feint at the outset of the game. Hoghton's Bde, behind, arrives facing the right way!
Since we were light on players, the action in Albuera and the various feint attacks were modelled only, and did not get 'wargamed' as such. I felt it was worth portraying the town and river on the table, though, to help the players feel grounded in the overall battle...
The French feint attacks were utterly convincing...

But eventually the penny dropped...
 Since I played on the French side, and we tried to progress each turn with the both player on a side acting simultaneously, inevitably there will be some aspects of this action packed game that I failed to notice.. For example, Mark did indeed spot the opportunity to catch the French cavalry while they were still deploying...but failed the command throw to launch a 'pre-emptive' attack!

From my perspective the action seemed to fall in three sectors, the Cavalry scrimmage of to the high ground on my left, the high ground to the west, the central sector where the action was fought over one of the shallow mounds that marked the battlefield, and on my right, in front of La Albuera, the Spanish sector.
Girard's Division reaches the assault positions having forded the river.
 The British had the first move, and with a succession of poor command throws gratefully took advantage of the one automatic move I had allocated them for this opening move to prevent the French rolling over their exposed flank and ending the game in move 1!
The charges go in against the Spanish. To the rear the Portuguese Loyal Lusitanians are hurrying up in support...
I opened for the French with an all out assault on the Spanish Bde with mixed feelings. As I player, I was hoping to smash through them quickly, but as the scenario creator, trying to reflect the stubborn resistance of the Spanish on the day, I was hoping that my steadiness table would allow them to recreate the doggedness of their historic counterparts of the Murcia, Canarias and Leon Infantry Regiments...

In the centre, I also launched an all out series of attacks, hoping to gain the high ground to my front before Coleborne's Bde could establish itself securely and link up with the Spanish. I was just pipped to the post by Jason, and we settled in for a long round of hand to hand combat.

Over on my left, John was meeting greater resistance from the tiny British Cavalry Bde than we had anticipated, again allowing Jason to get Hoghton's Bde up forward.

But at least we, the French, were exerting pressure all along the line...

Returning to my right, Eastern flank, I need not have worried about the ability of the Spanish to fight the good fight. Clearly this would not be a quick win....

The Spanish stand firm despite heavy casualties from artillery, skirmishers and attack columns...
Over on his flank, John was having to fight hard to keep to the plan of a deep envelopment. Mark was achieving a lot with the British Cav, and by now Hoghton's Bde was on scene in square, securing that flank for the Allies.
In the foreground, the Light Bde covers the allied infantry. To the rear, the Dragoons attempt to go deep left flanking
Instead of our planned strategic flanking move, the left flank was become quite bogged down, and it seemed that it was actually the British who were demonstrating good all arms cooperation between Infantry and Cavalry! Nevertheless, John persevered...
British Light Dragoons and Brunswick Hussars hold their own against the odds...although I had not allocated the French Dragoons any 'Heavy' bonuses owing to the poor state of their horseflesh.
So at this stage of the game, around turn 5, the Allied players had regained some confidence at managing to hold off the initial French hordes...
The centre holds - just. (No Bavarian units were present in the Peninsular, but many other Rhinbund units were...)
At this point the numbers and aggression facing the Spanish eventually told, and they fell back to the protection of Albuera.

During move 6 though, a concantentation of poor dice throws seemed to rob the British regiments in the centre of their renowned firepower, and the French, despite heavy casualties, seemed poised to breakthrough in the centre, as well as on the flank.

However, in pushing back Coleburne's Bde, the French had suffered so grievously that they had become a broken brigade, and so were unable to exploit forward. It would be left to an envelopment on the flanks after all to secure victory for the French - but could they achieve this in time to cut off the Allied reinforcements...

Only light troops and artillery holds the allied centre, but the centre French Bde has been fought to a standstill!
Because of the sweeping advance rule, both the French Bdes on the flanks were able, with respectable command throws, to exploit forward and meet Harvey's Bde in a pincer movement:
Harvey's Fusilier Bde arrives on table to a warm reception! (Actually only one Fusilier Regt. is  modelled, but if you can't have more Fusiliers the Black Watch will do just fine!)
At this point the Allied players resolved to go down fighting, and so Harvey's Bde put up a magnificent fight despite being beset to their front and on both flanks...
In desperate fight - the Fusilier Bde this once unable to emulate the achievements of  'that astonishing infantry', the Fusilier Bde, here the models on the right representing the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers who were present on the day.
We did not continue the game until the 15th move, once the French had achieved all their victory points.
Staff Officers are always the first to point the finger!
The Post Game discussion.

Overall I was quite pleased with the game, not simply from being on the winning team, but in designing a scenario that had reflected at least some of the salient features of the original. However I agreed with Jason that allocating Infantry to the French cavalry commander skewed the action on that flank, as well as being unhistorical.

I also regretted dropping the British firepower factor to 4 from the 5 value I usually assign them. I have been criticised for this in the past, but I shall stick to my guns in the future.  The only alternative would be to artificially limit the French to assaulting a British line with one column at a time, which seems too contrived.

We all agreed that if we were to play this scenario again we would reduce the length of time the Allies had to hold out to 12 moves, and bring on the reinforcements a little earlier.

But all in all, a well thought out and well fought out game, a fitting end to Napoleonic Bicentennial commemorations for the 1811-2011 campaigning season. Now start the feverish preparations for 1812-2012, with more action in the Peninsular and the Russian Campaign to mark in fitting style!


  1. looks good Sparker, a real nail biter,and the company of Mark, John and Jason would of made for a fun day!


  2. Great post, Sparker! Albuera is my favourite Peninsula battle, and you've reproduced a corker. Well done!

  3. Most kind Gents! Yes the lads were good company as always, John kept the Manchego cheese and Chorizo sausage coming to help set the scene, and it was a good day all round.

    Its always a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for wargaming this period...

  4. Congratulations on hosting a successful refight. Well done that man!

    The Austrians did a sterling job as Spanish. I was going to post a comment on your previous post that I thought they would but I was too idle and then blogger wouldn't let me. Damned computers!

    Roll on 2012-14. A busy few wargaming years amongst that lot for your reenactment schedule. Then there will be 2015 with only a few battles/games and then a well deserved rest on the Napoleonic refight front anyway.

    von Peter himself

  5. Fantastic battle report and images good to see some old mini figs out on the table as well.

  6. Excellent stuff Sparker. Nice wargames room too.