Sunday the 22nd of July marked the bicentennial of the Battle of Salamanca, a decisive battle of the the Peninsula campaign, in which Wellington beat Marmont, apparently the only French Marshal that gave him sleepless nights. French General Maximilien Foy, one of the Divisional Commanders at the battle, was later to write generously on Wellington’s conduct of the battle:
It raises Lord Wellington's reputation almost to the level of Marlborough. Hitherto we had been aware of his prudence, his eye for choosing a position, and his skill in utilising it. At Salamanca he has shown himself a great and able master of manoeuvres. He kept his dispositions concealed for almost the whole day; he waited till we were committed to our movements before he developed his own; he played a safe game; he fought in the oblique order – it was a battle in the style of Frederick the Great.
In our commemorative game we would focus on a small, but exciting part of the action. The battle started when, after the two evenly matched armies had been marching parallel to each other for several days, Marmont extended the army to attempt to head off the Anglo Portuguese army.
In so doing, the lead French Division became seperated from the rest and allowed a fleeting opportunity for the British 3rd Division, held back in the wings for just such a chance, to pounce upon the hapless French and rout them within minutes. The stuff of legend, apparently ‘Our Arthur’, on seeing the gap, tossed the chicken leg he was munching over his shoulder and cried ‘Dammit – that will do!’ Our game, however, focussed on the next Divisions in line, and their reactions.
Maucune’s 5th Division was next, and our game starts with them having only just formed into Battle Column and turned to their right to face the advancing lines of Leith’s ‘fighting’ Fifth Division as they swoop down on them form the higher ground by Los Arapiles.
The ‘Fighting’ Fifth are also supported by Major General Le Marchant’s Heavy Cavalry Bde,
which proved decisive on the day, smashing two French Divisions but with the gallant, and highly professional, Le Marchant falling at his finest moment. Only just coming onto the table is the third French formation, Clausel’s, and Boyer’s light cavalry Bde would make an appearance eventually...
The British team, of Greg and
, had 8 moves in which to smash Maucune’s Division before the weight of the remainder of the French army could come and support it. The French team, Philip, Bryan and myself, simply had to hang on... Troy
The best laid plans of the Game designer seldom bear fruit. Whilst I wanted an exciting and balanced game, I also wanted the game to play out historically, which perhaps was a bit unfair on Philip as Maucune! Still, if it was easy anyone could do it! But my hope of a historical outcome seemed destined for the scrap yard when the British team decided to swap command of Le Marchant’s Heavy Cavalry Bde from their right (Greg’s) wing to the left under Troy...
So much, I thought, for a dashing cavalry charge down the right flank as occurred on the great day itself, worthy of inscribing on the bloody pages of history!
As the attacking side the British opened the play, with an unexceptional advance of most of the units,
but with an unfortunate command throw delaying the movement of their left most Bde, the one with which they would need to hold off Bryan’s division as the rest minced up Philip...
The first French response was startling to me however. We had decided that, since the real French command posture was wrecked by Marmont’s early wounding and then that of his successor soon afterwards not to confer during the game as a French team, but to each fight our commands independently in reaction to the British moves, but obviously wanting to come to Philip’s aid. But imagine my surprise when Philip, normally a steady, ‘safe pair of hands’ sort of bloke, decided that attack was the best form of defence and immediately launched his outnumbered division in a series of attacks all along the line!
The audacity of these attacks was not rewarded with outright success, but it seemed form where I was sitting astride my gallant steed that he had at least disrupted the oncoming British and Portuguese lines...
Certainly the British response was decisive – Greg ordered a deep and wide attack with his light cavalry Bde right down the side of the table, and with a fortunate die roll giving the formation 3 moves, that flank of Philips division was now locked into square!
It may not have been the Heavies led by Le Marchant, but it was certainly a bold move and something of a decisive one, as it forced Philip back onto the defensive. As part of the scenario I had mentioned that during move 3 and 4, when on the day the setting sun had blinded the French Infantry to Le Marchant’s charges, any French Infantry would have to repeat a successful throw to form square. As it happened one of the hapless battalions threw for a disordered square and so we had the rare event of a cavalry charging square, with the inevitable result.
With Troy suffering a spate of poor command throws, the gap between Philip and Bryan remained open and the latter lost no time in coming to the aid of Philip with a series of attacks being made to attempt to establish a defensible position.
However across on the other flank Greg and Troy were demonstrating some wonderful all arms cooperation between the light cavalry, accompanying RHA battery, and Troy’s infantry which was really putting the pressure on the French form that side, making it difficulty for Bryan to integrate into the French defence.
He contented himself with a series of hasty spoiling flanking attacks against the Allied centre, knowing that Troys’ flanking Bde would not faff around indefinitely and that once they finally came up he would himself be outflanked, but on a much larger scale. Why on earth was Boyer (me) taking an age to lead his Light cavalry onto the table to cover his flank?
Well I didn’t want to twist the game too far by restoring too much of a numerical advantage to the French, so had designed the game to prevent me from intervening too early. I duly arrived on table on move 4, able to launch attacks from move 5. However some spectacular faffing myself after a series of failed command rolls demonstrated the British wisdom in transferring the Heavy Bde to my side of the table.
Hence the British Dragoon Regiments, all ‘Heavy Cav +3’, were lined up ready for me – Hussars against Heavy Dragoons – just marvellous!
Actually, Greg’s French 5th Hussars, backed up by the Jerome Napoleon Hussars, fought magnificently in this, their maiden tabletop appearance, and held the Dragoons off for several moves, before eventually, and inevitably, being evicted from the field...
In the meantime, Troy had sacked his recalcitrant flanking Bde Commander and brought them up to complete the encirclement of both Macune’s and Clausel’s divisions, and steadily began to grind them down...
As the game ended at the end of the Allied 8th move we took stock. Their mission was to destroy Maucune’s division in 8 moves. It had gone from 9 battalions to 5, 2 of which were shaken. So if not technically a victory, close enough to the historical outcome to keep me happy. But it has to be said that Philip had a very challenging role to play and made a pretty good fist of it, supported to the utmost by
. So I think an enjoyable game for all, and a fitting commemoration of the battle. Bryan