Wednesday 8 November 2017

West Country Quatre Bras Part 1 - the first day's play

I hope you will have all seen by now the previous part west-country-quatre-bras-introduction. This one will launch into the refight itself commencing about 2.15 pm historical time and taking us, during the course of the weekend's play up to about 5.45 pm.
The players
Friday night, after initial set up, saw our first hiccup. The Duke of Wellington, James Fergusson, had come down with some kind of intestinal bug and was completely indisposed for the weekend. Luckily, Richard Newcombe, who lives near him, near Aylesbury, and was playing the Prince of Orange, was able to transport James's considerable amount of Allied troops to our Cotswold venue. Here, General Reille - Graham Ward from London, and Marshal Ney - Tony Dillon from Birmingham, were champing at the bit to get started.  All players had been given briefs, maps and orders of battle before the game and so it did not take long to put new arrival units in place and get going.  You can read each side's pre-game briefings in the Downloads sidebar under "Napoleonic"
here.  There you can also see the timelines for decision making and arrival times of reinforcements.  Each commander was only given two moves notice of reinforcement arrival and then had to make a quick decision, usually within limited parameters, of just where he wanted them to arrive.

Graham waits in anticipation of his opponent's arrival. Kevin adopts the role of "clipboard man"  to officiate over the weekend's proceedings
Now Richard is here and double checks the opening, rather sparse, Allied deployments....
.........Here they are - only two gun batteries visible around Gemioncourt Ridge while infantry "hide" in the crops and Bossu Woods
Kevin makes sure Tony is familiar with the opening French deployments around Delsot farm

Two regiments of French Chasseurs started the day near Lairalle farm with Infantry back up not yet visible
For the two flanks I was dealing with any off-table movement and action with simplified rules and kriegspieling both side's units according to general orders issued by the players which could only be changed by messenger. You can see the rules in the Downloads Napoleonic sidebar - side battle rules.
The numbered counters are made from magnetic tape and the black "baseboard" is a metal roasting dish from the Duchess' oven!
At the start: French Guard Horse artillery engaged Grand Pierrepont Farm while Guard Lancers nearby were under orders only to attack if the Allies came further South. Opposite them were several battalions of Nassau infantry and Dutch Belgian Militia plus a single section of Foot guns all under Major General Bylandt; ordered to play for time and stay in existence, retreating as necessary. On the right a brigade of French infantry under Baron Bouge was ordered to take Piraumont and move on to the Thyle bridge. They had no opposition - the Allies were spread too thin to spare any units
 16th June 1815:  The Refight Part One -23-24th Sept 2017
2.15 pm
The French advanced along their front (but not the left flank Guard Light Cavalry). Line Lancers got into the crops East of Gemioncourt, unaware what lay in front of them, and the Belgian guns on the road caused the other Lancer regiment to withdraw temporarily till their own guns got the range.

2.30 pm 
On the French extreme left a long range exchange took place between some companies of rifle-armed Jagers in Grand Pierrepont and the Guard Horse Artillery on the opposite ridge. It resulted in the Jagers losing about half their numbers to cannon fire while discomforting one of the batteries sufficiently for it to withdraw to cover on the pretext of getting more ammunition! The Jagers withdrew and the surrounding Allied units realised it would get hot if they stayed in the open.

Tony moves up on the French left flank. Richard had his new arrivals on the roads and heading towards the hedge gap at
Gemioncourt stream
Graham discusses the finer points of moving up his columns on the French right
A nice view of the French central units. Leading battalion figures by Tony, followed by one of Kevin's
The section of Winsinger's Belgian Foot Guns limbered up and marched off eastwards - onto the main table where they thought they would be safer. However, Kevin was using the dastardly Game Master's ploy of tailor made event cards, and the French happened to pull one that allowed any unit to do a double move - Tony advanced one of his batteries .............

.................and canistered Winsinger's team to destruction!

Bad news for the Allies that Ney's massed battery had no better target than Stevenaar's Foot battery on the paved chausee, and destroyed it.

Good news though that more Orange-Nassau and Dutch Belgian infantry were arriving in the rear area.

Graham had little choice on the French right but to deploy infantry and unlimber to face an unknown threat at Lairalle farm. His guns opened fire without any apparent effect. His Chasseurs a Cheval moved forward and partly onto the main table.

2.45 pm
With nothing obvious to oppose the French this move was just one of advances and withdrawals. 

Allied units on their right (off table) began a phased withdrawal into Bossu Woods to minimise the effects of fire from the Guard Horse Artillery.

The reinforcement infantry crossed Gemioncourt stream at both the chausee bridges.  Light infantry were lurking unseen in the crops and Richard also made judicious use of his dummy unit markers to keep his opponents guessing.

Above and below: Allies reinforce the Gemioncourt area
5th National Militia reached the hedge gap to cover it
The French moved onto the ridge above Gemioncourt and also towards Bossu Woods on table.

Dummy markers and a real skirmish unit in the high crops East of Gemioncourt had not yet been revealed
Lancers pull back through Bachelu's advancing infantry and head for the centre
Colonel Massot urges his regiment onwards up the chausee
Chasseurs a Cheval moved towards Materne lake (though it was uncrossable). I think this was more to try to flush out and threaten troops in the crops (which were actually dummy markers) than a serious advance.

Close up of some of Kevin's Perry French Chasseurs a Cheval
On the right (off table) Colonel Baron Bouge was making good progress and took Piraumont unopposed.

3 pm
Things began to get tense for Richard as his first reinforcements barely made it into Gemioncourt farm as the French came over the ridge beyond.
Here is general view during Move 4
The French advance had flushed out the dummy markers in the crops but the arrow indicates where 27th DB Light Infantry
had retreated under cover to the corner near Gemioncourt.
On the West of the chausee the Allied infantry formed squares behind the ridge crest.

At about this time the 6th Lancers charged Bjeveldt's battery, lost a stand to canister and failed their Morale test, so withdrew unsteady.

Nassau Elite companies began skirmishing at the edge of Bossu Woods on table, hard pressed by French infantry and guns. Tony decided it was time for all the French ammunition caissons to emerge from the ammunition park just south of Delsot as each battery started with only 6 rounds per model gun and he could foresee heavy fighting ahead.

Skirmishing at the edge of the woods;
In the French rear the reserve ammunition caissons are on the move
A nice close up of some of the scores of classic Gilder style French skirmishers kindly provided by Tony Dillon facing some of Kevin and James' equally attractive Nassau Elite companies
Off table the Nassau and DB infantry withdrew into the woods and held the road where it entered at the head of Odomont stream. Seeing this the Guard Light Cavalry relaxed and dismounted on their ridge and the Horse Guns fell silent with no visible targets. Their orders held them there in reserve for the rest of this weekend's game - a deliberate condition by Kevin to fulfil the Emperor's instruction not to risk losing them. We wargamers will not be so constrained when it comes to Quatre Bras Part Two!

Just showing the "off table" units in the side areas. Collective Allied defence at the road entrance to Bossu Woods. Inactive French Guard Cavalry. French advance beyond Piraumont.
The French continued their advance beyond Piraumont, and Bachelu's infantry forced the issue at Lairalle Farm proving the French marker to be a dummy, the advance could continue unopposed up their right flank.

Graham advances beyond Lairalle at last. Chasseurs face Materne Lake undecided
on their next actions
Wellington arrived and joined the Prince of Orange on the ridge overlooking Lt Gen Perponcher's infantry deployment

3.15 pm
The French began to skirmish against Gemioncourt but without any noticeable effect....

...... while to their left some small headway was made into Bossu Woods as the Nassau Elite companies began a planned fighting withdrawal.

Sensing difficult obstacles ahead for his cavalry Reille now sent orders to the Chasseurs a Cheval to head off to the right round Materne Lake and support Baron Bouge's right hook.

Chasseurs on "the extra bit" of terrain receive a message to head
North (off table)
Another messenger was despatched to Bouge ordering him to press on to Haute Cense Farm.

More good news for the Prince of Orange as Merlen's Dutch-Belgian Cavalry brigade arrived on his left flank. Kevin had made a few historic adjustments to take into account our battlefield limitations so Richard had not been allowed to allocate these cavalry on the extreme left in the "off-table". Instead they had headed southeast from Quatre Bras and  now deployed on the rising ground of Bati St Bernard echeloned to cover the gap North of Materne.

Behind them the British infantry of Kempt and Picton arrived around La Bergerie.

Allied staff in give-and-receive-mode with messages for new
 arrivals, and from the "off table" right flank
An overview of the general situation during Move 5.
A. French leaders in collusion issue orders to the Chasseur brigade, and Baron Bouge
B. 6th Lancers reforming after the disappointing charge
C. 5th Lancers planning to steal the honours themselves
D. 27th DB Light Infantry now prepared to confront the French Light infantry near Gemioncourt
E - E.  Chasseurs about face and get out of the way of Bachelu's infantry

Busy scenes as the French establish a new gun line on Gemioncourt ridge planning to pound Bossu Wood and the Allies on the ridge next to it.

3.30 pm
Closing in on Gemioncourt Farm there was steady skirmish fire all round from the 1/4th Legere while the 1/92nd Ligne assaulted head on to force their way in and, much to our surprise, were successful first time and ejected the defenders.

French occupy Gemioncourt

Inconclusive firing across the hedges and Gemioncourt stream concurrent
with the attack on the farm
This success was just as well for the French as West of the Farm such aggression failed. The 5th Lancers charged the 28th Orange Nassau Regiment, bolstered by Lt General Perponcher himself, and were repulsed by fire, while by their side 1/93rd Ligne, under Colonel Massot, charged home but lost in the melee, and retreated.

French attack........
.........and retreat.     Cubiere's 1st Legere can be glimpsed at top right
behind the black dice tower
Further to the French left the 3/4th Legere made the first of many charges through the heavy going of Bossu Wood against the skirmishing Nassau Elite Companies who just evaded in front of them. This did, however, allow the French their first foothold into Bossu Wood.

Behind them there were more French masses as Jerome's Division came into view between Grand Pierrepont and Delsot fronted by the 1st Legere led by Colonel Cubieres.

Off table the Allies are highly conscious of the threat Cubiere's Light Infantry could pose and echelon back to block the road
into Bossu Woods. On the French right Bouge and Chasseurs take the bridge at Thyle unopposed.
3.45 pm
1/9nd Ligne successfully occupied Gemioncourt farm while outside the Dutch-Belgian 27th Light Battalion companies were fighting in the crops. Ever pressing, the 1/2nd Legere skirmishers charged them and the 27th tried to evade behind Gemioncourt but were caught. Here a French commander went down in the close fighting - 2nd Legere's Colonel Maigrot was put back to the baseline till his wound healed!
2nd Legere and 27th Light in a ferocious struggle North of Gemioncourt
In the centre Colonel Massot of Foy's Division pressed up the chausee with his battalions but they were held  in a bloody action by 2nd Bn Orange Nassau infantry. 

DB infantry are pushed back by the farm but hold the chausee and
are closely reinforced by the British 1/32nd Foot 
Behind them Tony was firmly establishing his new French battery line on the Gemioncourt ridge.

The new gun line
5th Line Lancers reform on the chausee
1st Chasseurs a Cheval await further orders South of Gemioncourt
(sharp eyed viewers will note from their helmets that we got the figures mixed up
 for the two chasseur regiments till Move 5!)
Now a new front was literally breaking into action - further East along Gemioncourt stream. The 5th National Militia battalion was manning the gap in the hedges and was now exchanging fire, admittedly with little effect, with 2/2nd Legere of Bachelu's Division. Alongside the Legere a company of engineers was working furiously with axes to widen the gap in the hedge.  Kevin's research had suggested that Gemioncourt steam was a formidable obstacle along it's lower reaches due to impenetrable hedges either side and steep banks, so he deemed that it was uncrossable below the bridges to artillery and cavalry, and infantry had to break down the hedges before attempting to cross. There would be no quick advance here by the French and Richard was determined to block the few potential passage sites with whatever infantry he had.

The other main developments this turn were in Bossu Woods.
French light troops in Bossu Woods
Again the Nassau Elite companies evaded in the face of French infantry attacks and just off table 3/2nd Nassau infantry (originally facing the Guard Horse Artillery to the South) was conforming with them, echeloning in line to keep in touch with the other battalions off table in the woods.  Tony had decide he must try to dominate his left flank so dispatched Colonel Cubieres off table with the 3 crack battalions of 1st Legere with orders to press as hard as possible through Bossu Woods and see off the enemy. Behind them, but on-table, more of Jerome's Division was arriving.
Part of Jerome's Division marches past Delsot
On the French right flank infantry under Bouge and Chasseurs, backed by an artillery battery, were forming up on and around the road just North of Materne ready to advance. A single section of DB Horse Guns near Haute Cense Farm was trying to disrupt them.

A general view around 3.45 - 4.00 pm
Foreground: hot firing across Gemioncourt stream at the hedge gaps
Middle: Perponcher's stalwart infantry hold off the French hordes!
Distance: French batteries line the ridge backed by Jerome's reinforcements;
the three battalions of 1st Legere have now gone off field towards Bossu Woods
4 pm

And a general view during the following 15 minute period:

Mixed fortunes for the French near our half way point. At the gap in the hedge Colonel Thibault led the 2/2nd Ligne across the stream but failed to break through against the DB 5th National Militia opposition.
Even though their supporting infantry have temporarily been repulsed the
 French engineer company continues to widen the hedge gap
Up the chausee the 93rd Ligne were led by both Foy and Marshal Ney against the 2/28th Orange Nassau, who were defeated by this column attack and routed, and the 7th DB Militia also finally broke and fled.
Wider view of the crumbling Allied centre
An Orange Nassau batalion finally gives way
7th National Militia rout from the Gemioncourt area
 French artillery, in their new position, began to have some effect on the Nassau line infantry next to Bossu Wood, causing them to withdraw to the stream.

Above and below: Two nice views of Kevin's Dutch-Belgian Light Cavalry brigade
as they give support to the troops manning the stream line and cover the impending
flank attack around Materne Lake

So at the end of our first day it was proving a hard contest but with Allied units beginning to break, somewhat as expected, the French were making good progress on their extreme right but it was heavy going in the centre. French cavalry had failed yet to make the decisive difference we had thought they would but still were in good shape. What might have seemed a difficult situation for Richard was greatly mitigated by the presence of many good British battalions in his second line.

Time to repair across the valley for a nice meal and some local ale at "The Crown" in Frampton Mansell :-)