Thursday, 18 June 2015

West Country Waterloo: The First Refight - Part 3

Thank you to all those who have read, and especially commented on, the previous post waterloo-first-refight Part 2. The foregoing represents only 7 moves which is all we managed on our first day. The initiative system does produce delays while each command goes in turn, some take longer than others of course. I also got chastised for the time taken by wanting to clear the decks for photos and get a briefing for my notes each turn - you happy readers  are getting the benefit of that!  Everyone benefited by allowing Paul to adjudicate most of the time to avoid mistakes or overlooking some nuance he had introduced especially for Waterloo (such as soft ground affecting round shot for the first hour).  I did some adjudication on the peripheries where it made sense to keep up momentum. Luckily we had scheduled two days to ensure some kind of result. That meant that for Day 2 we lost Owain as Uxbridge and Tony as Prince of Orange, but we gained young Freddie sharing some of those responsibilities. The French were content to keep the good natured, historically flavoured, bickering among the same generals! Despite the lulls, and my suggestion to even out some of the workloads during Day 2, everyone seemed to be enjoying the slower pace and the commands that they had. That might have had something to do with the previous evening's pub meal followed by wine and cakes supplied by D'Erlon and Wellington into the small hours!
The umpire supervises Napoleon inspecting his reserves on the back table........
.....while Wellington briefs the young Prince of Orange 
By this time Wellington had built up an impressive gun line on the West end of MSJ
3pm - 3.30pm
On the French left the Belgian cavalry pushed the French Carabiniers right back to join the rest of Kellerman's Corps. The intact brigades of Dragoons and Cuirassiers still looked dangerous and neither side's cavalry seemed to have the upper hand, so Uxbridge called up the Household Brigade and the Union Brigade to the North-West of Hougoumont to try to make a difference. 
In the background can be seen the Household brigade (Life Guards) attacking.
The Union Brigade (Scots Greys) are on the right. Jerome's Division faces
Alten on the chausee. Hougoumont burns.
In the Hougoumont area Lobau continued artillery fire on the chateau and was now backed up by the advance of the Guard Heavy cavalry and artillery followed by the Old and Middle Guard infantry on the Eastern side of the chausee. 
Napoleon is at last on the main table
The Guard Heavy Cavalry
 This turn's rocket salvo rolled "1" which meant the French got to choose the target! So they were directed on Hougoumont and set more of it ablaze. The British Guards held firm despite a loss from the"friendly fire".

On Mont St Jean (MSJ) the Highlanders weakened, but maddened by fire from the Grand Battery, charged down the slope but losses due to the melee meant the morale of both sides failed. So Donzelot's attack was temporarily halted but the Highland brigade retreated hastily back over the ridge.
Before their charge - the Highland Brigade in square above LHS under artillery fire from
 the Grand Battery and with a yellow counter. At bottom left a Nassau brigade
 has also formed square because of the nearby Cuirassiers; the French HA fire
made sure they would regret it.
And afterwards the Highlanders back behind the crest with a red counter (exhausted)
and a small casualty stand (shaken) and under assault by French infantry
Two views from the Grand Battery

Among the Frischermont woods a gap in the trees was covered by Vivian's Horse Artillery, now exposed to the full fury of Jacquinot's renewed assault. They failed to see off the Lancers with canister and abandoned the guns but, as so often happens in wargames, this very success proved a final, fatal morale test for Jacquinot's Lancer brigade. To counter-balance that another KGL Hussar brigade was destroyed by the Guard Light Cavalry.
Another KGL  cavalry brigade about to be destroyed. Abandoned gun in
3.30pm - 4pm
Collaert's Belgian Carabiniers got beaten in their attack on Kellerman's Cuirassiers and Uxbridge led the Household Brigade and Belgian Hussars to try to rectify the situation.

Lobau's Corps was biding its time trying to weaken the resolve of the Hougoumont defenders by artillery fire. In this effort they were now joined by Imperial Guard artillery and the fire spread to cover the woods and orchard  not just the buildings. The Guard infantry and Heavy cavalry moved towards the West of Hougoumont.
Hougoumont burns more! Imperial Guard approaching in the background
Mixed fortunes on the main part of MSJ where more of D'Erlon's infantry surged forward and the Highland Brigade fought till it finally died. However the Brunswick Hussars now made a surprise attack over the crest riding down the chausee and pushed back one of the weakened Cuirassier brigades but was in turn trounced with a "Total slaughter" melee result thanks to poor dice! 
Brunswick Hussars at left. Highlanders receiving their last onslaught at top left
The same action from along MSJ
On the French right flank the Guard Light Cavalry finally got rid of all Vivian's cavalry but reached tired and exhausted status themselves. Around that time the first Prussians (Hack's Brigade of IV Corps) began to arrive on the table at the Lasne Brook road but quickly formed squares due to the apparent threat from the French cavalry.
Reforming French Guard cavalry with Prussian squares at left rear
4pm - 4.30pm
More Prussians began to arrive, with the squares protecting columns from the potential attention of the now-regrouping Guard Light Cavalry.

Red Lancers threaten the Prussian arrival
On the opposite flank the Household Brigade was getting the better of Kellerman's men, and Subervie's cavalry began to approach the lower slopes of MSJ under artillery fire.
Subervie's Light Cavalry Division near La Haye Sainte
The main French gains appeared to be in the centre where D'Erlon's troops were pushing over the crest of MSJ where the Highlanders had been. 
Things temporarily look better for the French on the MSJ crest
Wellington ordered a counter-attacked with Brunswick infantry and pushed them back. The young Brunswickers suffered badly in this process from French musketry but the subsequent Morale dice were two "1"s - the best possible result to retain the crest for Wellington!
Above and Below: Raushenplatt leads the Brunswick Contingent in a counter-attack

For his part D'Erlon used his Vivandiere vignette to replenish some of Donzelot's fatigue for one final struggle.
D'Erlon's Vivandiere Corps asset
4.30pm - 5pm
This turn was to prove the most significant of the battle.
The Household Brigade finally got rid of all Kellerman's heavy cavalry but were counter attacked by the French Guard Dragoons and pushed back in an "exhausted" state (below).

 Subervie's cavalry put in a charge up the Western end of MSJ and attacked the guns on the crest, but they got poor dice and both brigades were forced back. 
Subervie's Lancers are partially successful by disrupting the Allied gun line.
Two of Alten's brigades are sufficiently distracted to head back up the ridge
French infantry and Cuirassiers once more surged over MSJ to the East of La Haye Sainte but Wellington's and Picton's personal supervision held some of them to a draw in melee and others were seen off by musketry.
View down the chausee from the elm tree crossroads
Riflemen manned the sandpit by LHS  all day
This led to a voluntary withdrawal of Durutte's and Donzelot's Divisions by James as many brigades were within one or two fatigue points of breakdown and he wanted to deny the Allies of those VPs. It was to prove a sensible, as well as realistic decision. Nevertheless, Wellington perceived continuing danger to the Brussels road and ordered two of Alten's brigades to return up MSJ.

The real game changer came at Hougoumont between Kevin and Freddie. The British Guards had been continuously weakened by artillery, skirmisher fire and burning embers, and a combined assault by both the Middle Guard and the Old Guard infantry proved too much for them now and they were pushed out of the woods and prepared to defend the burning buildings.
First attack by French Guard on Hougoumont
On the French right near Papelotte  constant fire from horse artillery batteries finally destroyed a Nassau brigade which had been manning the hedges and broken ground next to the farm. The Prussians continued to advance towards Plancenoit as weak French cavalry brigades hurried back to reform (below).

5pm - 5.30pm
D'Erlon's infantry continued an orderly retreat back past the Grand Battery which gave covering fire (below), though Wellington's line was weakened to the extent that he had nothing there fit to pursue.

Wellington (centre) surveys a rather thinly held Mont St Jean
Picton's Brigade containing the 28th Foot fought their Cuirassier opponents to mutual destruction so the French had nothing left on the crest to exploit what success they had had.
The final surge of Milhaud's Cuirassiers. Picton stoically defends the crest
Subervie's Lancers had rallied on the ridge above Hougoumont and drove back a Royal Foot Artillery battery but in the process overreached so they were easy prey for the Irish brigade, and being weak by now were destroyed.
Subervie's Lancers short lived success
Uxbridge continued to lead a vigorous cavalry attack with the Union and Household brigades now doing battle with the Horse Grenadiers of the Old Guard, with no conclusive result as yet.
Horse Grenadiers fight the Scots Greys
In the distance The Life Guards are still battling with the French Empress Dragoons
The Duke of Cumberlands Hussars managed to re-enact their original Waterloo when they suffered some casualties from artillery fire, checked Morale and promptly fled the field!

At the other end of the battlefield Prussian cavalry under Prince William now arrived on the road near Frischermont and promptly attacked the Imperial Guard Light Cavalry. They managed a draw against the Red Lancers but were repulsed by the Chasseurs a Cheval.(below)

At Hougoumont the French Guard infantry still pressed on their attack. The Old Guard won by 3 - a "Marginal Win" and enough to press the British Guards back across the courtyard. The Middle Guard attacked winning by 7 - a "Total Win" pushing that brigade, exhausted, right out of Hougoumont.  Now the other British Guards brigade counter-attacked from the orchard and were beaten back by a French "Major Win".
French bearskins can be seen in the Hougoumont courtyard!
That meant the French Guard had suffered another hit so another Morale check. But the buildings were still burning and it would be the French turn now to be weakened by the accompanying "fatigue". This was enough for them to fail Morale and one brigade retreated out of Hougoumont leaving a bit of empty space in the middle!

I'm sorry to say I have to end the narrative there as we'd played through to 1830 real time and it was time to pack up :-(.

I must say that from a strategic point of view the French had lost yet again. The key area of Mont St Jean and the road to Brussels was still in Allied hands and the arrival of the Prussians inevitably shifted the weight advantage to the Allies. The Young Guard still held Plancenoit and all the artillery of the Grand Battery was intact. I argued that given the poorer quality of the Prussians against the built up area supported by strong artillery the French could have inflicted a very bloody nose on Blucher. But Paul, weighing up the state of fatigue of the rest of Napoleon's Army du Nord decided that was unlikely to make enough difference. He ruled that, unlike their historical counterparts the French would be able to make an orderly withdrawal and sue for peace on fairly favourable terms.

For the players though the Victory Points were the clinching evidence. When we totted them up they were as follows:
Allies   -  10 VP for terrain, 17 VP for units destroyed = 27
French -  12 VP for terrain, 15 VP for units destroyed = 27

So a real "close run thing" and one that all decreed brought honour to all the players involved, and judging by the spontaneous applause, for Paul the organiser too.

This is a magnificent achievement by Paul to get such a nail biting result. Even though we didn't finish properly there was a convincing result, but one which left everyone feeling satisfied by a marvelous weekend's eb and flow of battle. There was a very happy atmosphere, lots of laughter and a few mock tears, and no cross words that I detected.  It was a  very suitable way for me to be able to celebrate exactly 50 years doing "proper" wargaming since I was wowed by the Waterloo of Peter Gilder and Don Featherstone in London in 1965. On reflection they probably didn't have many more figures than we used ourselves but how times have changed - now our battle with 1800 figures was just modest compared to some.  Oh, and I got a few compliments for my terrain too, which seemed to suit the purpose admirably.
Some silliness before the big pack-up. From left - Mike, Richard, James, Pat, CG, Kevin.
Picture taken modestly by Paul - thank you for a great weekend
Next weekend Paul is giving us "Waterloo - Le Woteef Scenario". Using the same terrain and probably similar orders of battle but Richard, as Napoleon this time, will face James, promoted to the Duke  of Wellington, with the opportunity to do things differently, and with a largely different cast of players.


  1. AN amazing set-up and game. Well done, and I am eager to review the upcoming Le Woteef scenario.

    Best Regards,


  2. BRAVO! Thank you for the wide-angle shots showing the scale of the game table operations.

  3. Fascinating. I missed the timings from my AAR, they really help in following the action. Your game seemed to play out like ours - hard fighting by the French that weakens them but also badly bruises the Anglo-Allied and the dangling question of can the Prussians make it?

    Great looking game.

  4. A wonderful sight Chris! Beautiful troops!

  5. Thanks for sharing this with us. Great looking game of an iconic battle for wargamers of a certain era and an enjoyable weekend with friends, what more can a wargamer ask?

    Happy 200th. Ross

  6. Thanks all for your lovely comments. Yes I like wargame reports to show the whole table and the environment too as it helps the experience of feeling like "being there". I took lots of candid photos during the game and many of them I don't think the players would appreciate being publicly on-line . Ross, you are right, this was one of the best wargaming experiences I've had for a long time, it was a mix of players but many have been friends for over 40 years and Waterloo made a good excuse to get together, also for the social evening meal and overnight stay for some.

  7. Chris......a great write up on what was a fantastic weekend of wargaming. As Napoleon I was well stressed by the Sunday night after all that battling and still the brits were standing betwixt me and Brussels! Never mind I have had the Waterloo beer sent from Brussels itself to quench my thirst and ease my fevered brow. Unfortunately it was not to be drunk in Brussels on this occasion........but then there is another woteef game this weekend that might change all that! At least you can all enjoy the imported beer if it all gets too much! Enjoy the coming game and all the thanks I can give to you and paul for this one. En avant! Napoleon.

  8. Kevin. Sorry you can't be with us for Le Woteef, but thanks for the beer....hic! Have a great holiday.

  9. An excellent write up Chris. Followed it all the way through to the shock ending at 18:30. Bit of a cliff-hanger and the next episode's been cancelled. Still, I'll be looking forward to reading the account of the next, brand new thrilling installment!

  10. Colin W has emailed me with some thoughts and included this which he has given me permission to quote as his comment since he is now otherwise occupied and can't get to do it:

    "Thank you for sharing all this. Absolutely brilliant - well done everyone - for all the hard work behind it for a great time and outcome - the pictures look great and I am sure the experience at the table must have been really great - all just fantastic to see.
    More to come - you lucky people."
    Thanks Colin for your continued support and appreciation.

  11. 36 Fantastic photographs of good friends, lovely figures and terrain.

    Looks Wonderful.