Tuesday 28 March 2017

Encounter at Kaaskerke - a Napoleonic game using "Rank and File"

In my previous post I gave information about our plans to refight Quatre Bras at 1:20 scale and some photos of our battlefield for the latest test game using Rank and File rules with some slight variations.

Using "Rank and File" rules
We have altered the firing ranges more in line with our ground scale of 6 inches = 100 metres so musket range is 8" and artillery ranges 36", 48" and 60", depending on calibre.  Most notably previous tests suggested that the limited differentiation between troop types would inhibit our ability to let the smallish experienced French battalions perform well against the larger, generally inexperienced Allied battalions. So Kevin has worked out Veteran/Regular/Green values for all units for Firing/Hand to Hand/Morale. These needed checking and we found they weren't all right. Size of units was proving critical, and slavish adherence to historical order of battle numbers would not translate easily to the R&F formations. In particular the large Dutch-Belgian cavalry regiments needed to be split into wings or squadrons.  This game, we hoped would test the durability of certain units and how the infantry versus cavalry rules worked. Keeping the game fairly small meant we got our wishes in a day's gaming at the speed of one player at a time.

Richard, James and Kevin check the rules during the first move
The Players
The project team is Kevin East, James Fergusson, Richard Newcombe and me, all veterans of West Country Waterloo at 1:3 scale, and we are joined in the effort, though not, alas, for this game by veteran wargamer from Birmingham, Tony Dillon. In between making the tea, pouring the beer etc  I actually got a command on this occasion - approximately a third of the French force, the right flank. Richard was French C-in-C and James controlled all the Allied force. Kevin had organised the Orders of Battle and objectives and umpired admirably.

The game set-up
As stated before, we took my Spittelwitz battlefield, mucked about with the add on terrain items and Kevin turned the scenario 180 degrees so the attackers (French) came from the opposite side. Here is the sketch map he gave me to modify the terrain, also showing the Victory Points he allocated to certain places.

Self explanatory, hopefully - the table is 8 feet x 6 feet

You can see the Orbats, maps, objectives in full detail for each side as PDF documents via the Download sidebar at right Napoleonic.  A small number of fairly isolated Dutch-Belgian (DB) units held the front line Area A and a couple of units were in the camp in Area B. Reinforcements were due to arrive by dice roll. The French infantry brigades were committed to come onto the field at centre, left and right - march order decided by dice, with the two cavalry brigades subject to random arrival times in baseline areas 1 or 8. I will carry on with the narrative mostly using the picture captions.

French positions after Move 1

After Move 2- Dice dictated the French Light Cavalry reinforcements arrived first, and early on my flank.....

Two regiments of Lancers and a horse battery - which should have been an advantage but at this stage I was obsessed by pressing round what looked like a weak Allied flank ahead of me and was boxed in by the river. 
Richard began to skirmish against the DB 27th Jagers. One variation we use on Rand F is to allow Light battalions to divide into two so part can skirmish and also keep a close order nucleus in reserve. Both sides are doing that here.
A rare view of yours truly - I am usually behind the camera.  
This is the French left flank where the ridge has shielded our enemies from view and Richard is trying to sneak round - in columns of attack just in case.

Close up of the skirmishers in the centre
And now battle is joined as the French Legere battalion engages the 27th who have more troops in the woods. Both sides bring up their close order element to add weight in the second round of melee
The small unit of Nassau Volunteers Jagers, who had been hiding in the crops, is forced to withdraw without having any effect. On reflection we should give them rifles next time, not muskets
A general view of Move 3 while James consults the umpire on some point in the rules. More Allied units have now appeared
A DB line battalion has been revealed facing Richard's left flank brigade, with infantry and cavalry across the river behind them
The opposite view from behind the Kings German Legion Horse Artillery battery and a Brunswick battalion
The view from the "little lead men" of a DB battery 
French line battalions close up on the central melee.......
....which, not surprisingly is eventually won by the 2/1 French Legere. They consolidate the wood on the Big Houyet while the 5 stands remaining of the 27th Jagers reform in the valley
Over on my flank I formed the front two battalions in line to cover the deployment of my Foot battery, hoping to be able to open a good fire on Kaaskerke village which I assumed to be occupied
Apart from that my opposition appeared to be just a Brunswick battalion and a division of DB light artillery (in our scale one model represents 2 or 3  real cannon)
Action hots up for the Little Houyet
On the French left the French columns cross the Little Houyet ridge and close in on the DB battalion   
But before they get there the Allied cavalry comes up to look very menacing, however, the French Foot artillery battery has deployed on the ridge and may make a difference
Not surprisingly the plucky DB infantry are defeated but withdraw in good order as does one of the French battalions.
The artillery are able to give some supporting fire but the Belgian Dragoons still charge home on the remaining French unit still in column.
Richard withdraws the weakest battalion back round the ridge, but note by now his Cuirassier brigade has arrived and one regiment is in support of the left flank while the larger one occupies Big Houyet as a significant threat.
A ferocious melee takes place with the Life Guards giving moral support to the Dragoons.........
.....and resulting in the demise of the French battalion. Another forms square on the ridge top.
The Belgian Dragoons have impetuously charged forward at the square, followed by the Life Guards up the ridge to attack the French artillery. Not quite as foolhardy as it seems as the guns had been weakened by fire from the KGL battery and the DB battery on the road prior to them being distracted  by the Cuirassier threat (more later).
A close up of Kevin's gorgeous Perry metal Cuirassiers
French attempt on Kaaskerke village
Leaving you in suspense for a while ....On my flank things had now taken a distinct turn for the worse!
The Brunswick infantry had received reinforcements from two very large Dutch-Belgian Cavalry regiments
My front left battalion discovered the village was occupied and suffered casualties from a volley without being successful in the return fire. Additionally their colonel was wounded and "sent to the back of the table". My second infantry regiment is making haste towards the extreme right flank'
I'd like to say this was the umpire soberly contemplating some momentous decision.....but that's a post-lunch glass of red in his hand and he's just "chilled" :-)
As for me I was having to worry about whether I could form an emergency square in time against the DB Light Dragoons

Above and below: Two overall views show developments. Through Veteran status my leading battalion formed square in time and the Light Dragoons were repulsed. The infantry formed column ready to follow up. My horse artillery battery began to deploy and fire on the Brunswick infantry as they received an attack from my right flank battalion. But there was no way through yet for the Lancers and the foot battery failed to get any hits at all on the unit in the village! My left front battalion received more hits from fire from the village and I retreated them to safety before they fled. Richard's Legere Battalion had seen off the enemy Jagers in the crops and pressed onto the village only to face a standoff against the defenders and he withdrew to a safer distance.

Above and below: some close ups of the Dutch-Belgian Hussars and the Brunswick/French melee

This overall view shows Richard advancing his Legere battalions in skirmish order towards the central bridge and following up the 27th Jagers making their retreat - close up below

Mutual Heavy cavalry impact 
Moving back to the fighting on Little Houyet:
The Allied view of their heavy cavalry uphill attack
Reduced to 50% strength by the incoming fire, but the Life Guards are Elite, Shock cavalry against gunners counting as unformed, they are not going to stop now!
The results: Also half strength the Belgian Dragoons failed to break the French line infantry and withdrew. Different story for those Life Guards who hacked the battery to pieces and over ran it; in this photo the remaining gunners have already fled. 
And French Cuirassiers try the same thing in the centre, charging down from Big Houyet.
Much to our surprise the Belgian infantry got  a 6 to form square quickly
But the big Cuirassier regiment charged home. I think someone said something like "sledgehammer to crack a nut!" ...
Although the Belgians took it to a second round (Even shock cavalry only get 6s to hit against a square) the Nut was surrounded and suitably cracked and smashed - we deemed half the battalion surrendered as they couldn't get away as they might have done from a smaller attacking unit.
The blown cavalry reformed and faced up to the DB Foot battery very nearby, but James was not very lucky in his canister dice
...leading to a very similar result with these artillery
Climax on the Kaaskerke front
This overall view puts it in context. In the foreground you can see, out of frustration, I have crossed the river with one Lancer regiment hoping to be useful somewhere.
I'm still not causing any casualties in the village with my artillery but as some compensation James was experiencing similar bad dice rolls with his light gun on this flank. At the edge of Kaaskerke a wing of the big Dutch Belgian Hussar regiment has come close to my advancing column of infantry, though the one behind it is in square 
The Hussars charge...............
...........and see off the infantry, so my flank assault is firmly blunted with one battalion still way out on a limb at the right
Finally - a confrontation at the central bridge where 27th Jagers are making a stand lining the river bank for some vigorous skirmishing.
It was now 5.45 pm and Richard and James had quite a long journey so were keen to wrap up. Kevin had been keeping a tally of objective Victory Points gained and pointed out to Richard that he was only one move away from winning! Both central bridges were within reach but still theoretically controlled by the Allies making the current score 14 to 4. The 6 points for the bridges could switch the result dramatically. But Richard did not see it as that obvious and declined the extra move of play.
So to summarise:
The French had supremacy on the left flank and centre with plenty of heavy cavalry and artillery to carry forward the threat. They had full control of both Huyet ridges. I had completely failed to achieve anything of significance on the French right wing and it was a classic example of it's no use having large or powerful units (2 regiments of "shock" Lancers!) if you can't make space to use them. The Dutch Belgians and Brunswickers were still in good heart in the camp and Kaaskerke and a support line to the South-west. So 11 moves of play and a good victory to James with his often undervalued Low Countries Allies.

What of "Rank and File" 
We are really getting into the rules now and making slight modifications that should help them fit our purpose of refighting Quatre Bras with an even chance for either side. It was Richard's first game with them; he managed very well and declared in favour. The game was full of action, and credit to Kevin for a good balanced day which we all enjoyed.

I felt the new gradings gave a much richer and more realistic game. We agreed that most French infantry battalions at true 1:20 strength are too small to have much life expectancy, which is wrong for 1815, and Kevin will have a look at the historic orbat and consider amalgamating and averaging out to create fewer, but bigger, battalions for the next game. Conversely some cavalry regiments will be historically too big to enable any formations remotely like a squadron column (so our hasty reorgisation on the day for some helped) We proved the point that a 4 base good quality cavalry unit is still very effective in the right circumstances but a10 base one is too unwieldy. 6 bases felt about right and could probably go to 8 if necessary.

So for Cavalry we are thinking of a rule such as this:

"The orbat may stipulate certain large cavalry regiments are split into sub units (wings or squadrons) of specific base numbers. These are completely separate units for the game but with a unified identity such that they must not be intentionally separated by more than 1 move (20") from the regimental commander or other sub unit(s) of that regiment (enforced Morale results may separate them unintentionally in which case re-unite when they can). e.g A two wing cavalry regiment could span 40 inches plus the width of the figures if their colonel (or Brigade commander) is placed mid way between them)".

Next one is a much bigger multiplayer game over a weekend in mid-May - watch this space