Wednesday 2 May 2018

West Country Quatre Bras Part Two: Day One - 5.45 pm to 7 pm

My previous two posts set the scene - the terrain and a snapshot of pre-game deployment.  Those unfamiliar with our project might care to read the accounts of the first part of this refight going back via the final report played in September 2017.

However, a very brief recap. We set out from about 2.15 pm historical time representing practically every unit present at 1:20 scale. The sparse Dutch-Belgian and Nassau line crumbled pretty quickly but reinforcements soon came up and by the time the French reached Gemioncourt stream and the outskirts of Bossu wood they had a real fight on their hands. Consequently a brigade of infantry and one of Chasseurs a Cheval were sent to outflank the Allied left but as they got in position the whole Allied line was being reinforced by British, Hanoverians and Brunswickers.  In the centre repeated attacks by French Lancers achieved nothing significant but eventually the quantity of French skirmishers and artillery began to push the Allies back onto their own newly established gun line North of the stream. Significant progress was made by the French in Bossu Wood and by close of our first weekend Prince Jerome's Division was in a serious threatening position on the Allied right flank.

Kevin East, as game organiser, took advantage of what seemed a natural joint exhaustion to give himself an umpire's privilege of a move with no charges and "reset" some of the positions for the start of Part Two. One good reason for this was to allow for the fact we had turned the battlefield through 90 degrees and stretched parts of it to make the whole thing a more accurate scale for the units, of about 12 inches = 200 metres. Here is the map of the dispositions he would use at the start of Part Two
As shown in the previous parts we modeled the large inner area and played reserves on the map in the two outside rings of squares.

Those who are keen can read the full briefings, orders of battle and reinforcement timelines for Part Two here, or else from the Napoleonic Download sidebar at right. If you find any of them useful for your games please let us know. There will be a link to the rules later.

Richard and James take stock of the refreshed Allied positions round Quatre Bras
Kevin suggests some options to Tony for the French guns on Gemioncourt Ridge

Kevin has written a short personal introduction:

<<From Umpire to Player:

Due to 2 players being unable to make the game at the last moment I actually got to game as General Reille!....a chance to game the final weekend of QB2 as part umpire and also player! Reminding ourselves of the rules from 6 months ago proved a slow start for move 1 but the pace soon picked up. This resulted in 11 moves being completed over the weekend (5.45 – 8.30pm). Tony Dillon (Ney) and I (Reille) worked the West and East side of the Brussels road respectively and Richard Newcombe (Prince of Orange) and James Fergusson (Duke of Wellington) did the same. It proved an easy landmark with which to transfer control of units to the appropriate player. (and the historical chain of command made this dual command structure practical - CG). 

Chris’s game narrative will provide the detail of battle but plans were as follows: 

The French plan:
Plans for the left and centre were to push hard in Bossu Wood with Prince Jerome Bonaparte, fill the centre left with fast moving Guard horse artillery to support cavalry attacks from Kellerman’s Cuirassier Brigade swiftly followed by the Dragoon brigade. Available units from Bossu were then to follow the cavalry to exploit any holes. Troops East of the Brussels road were to storm across the Gemioncourt stream and continue to drive westwards from the Namur road to take Quatre Bras. Only two artillery batteries were available on the East flank to support this, and one of those was damaged.

The Allied plan:
The main plan was to use the existing forces to hold the French on the left and in the centre and hold up the French across the Gemioncourt stream. (However, I heard James express himself to be strong enough on the left to try a counter attack, especially with his Brunswick cavalry - CG). Reserve units arriving on the Brussels road were to be used on the right flank (West of Quatre Bras) to counter attack through Bossu woods, pushing the French back and outflanking behind their position. 

You can see whether either side achieved their aims!>>

A quick visual tour of some of the main areas at the start:

Prince Jerome had about 9 battalions in Bossu Wood, pressing the Allies hard
Two British battalions were all that blocked the open fields next to Bossu Woods
Opposite them the remains of the two French Lancer regiments
 are still just about battle worthy
In the centre the Allies had consolidated a formidable line of British, KGL,
 Brunswick and Hanoverian batteries, but no longer much infantry to cover them
Large numbers of French skirmishers faced them astride the Brussels -
 Charleroi cobbled chausee........
...........and on either side of Gemioncourt stream
Apparent strength in depth along the Allied left flank, but quality was lacking in
some battalions
Reasonably good French infantry but very much weakened Chasseurs a Cheval
 faced them around the Bati St Bernard ridge
A close up from the rear: (from foreground) Brunswick infantry by JF; a wing of Brunswick Hussars by JF: Hanoverian Landwehr by CG: more of JF's Brunswick infantry: Highlanders and Dutch-Belgian Cavalry by KE. In the distance French infantry and cavalry
 At the end of each move I got a briefing on significant events from the players and took notes, so they might be a little cryptic but my plan is to report the narrative from my notes and supplement them with hopefully useful photos. To keep things manageable I will limit myself in this post to describing what happened on the first day of our weekend refight.

16th June 1815
5.45 - 6.00 pm
Since Kevin had made an arbitrary Umpire's Move in getting to our start positions, and there were no melees,  we limited ourselves just to firing and morale for this move.
On the Allied left the weakened Verden Landwehr were forced to retire. In the centre a heavy exchange of fire between the Allied cannon and the skirmishers saw the latter lose a stand but morale held, while Roger's battery and the KGL Horse Artillery both suffered hits but without becoming critical.  The Brunswick artillery caused heavy losses to the French line on the other side of Gemioncourt Stream but amazingly they achieved the desired morale score to hold.
Continuous but not significant firing continued through the foliage in Bossu Woods but the 2/1st (Royal Scots) in the open across the road found themselves just in range of one of Tony's Medium batteries on the ridge and lost a stand - they laughed it off with a high morale dice (for now).

Tony's batteries at bottom right still proved to be in range of the British battalions
down the slope
Rogers' battery was already at 50% from QB1 but the rules allow it to fight on
until the next Morale test - which would be its last with one stand left.

6.00 - 6.15 pm
Now it all began to kick off.....
Furious cavalry charges by both sides on the Allied left saw the 6th DB Hussars halted by tremendous volley fire from the 3/2nd Legere who maintained their line. Brunswick Lancers pushed back the weak French 6th Chasseurs and as shock troops failed the restraining dice and would follow up. Next to them the reverse happened with the 1st Chasseurs beating the 5th DB light Dragoons and pushing them back.  Down by the stream a few weak Allied units were vainly trying to stem the renewed tide of French infantry now storming across in columns of attack. The skirmishers preceding them caused enough casualties on the remnants of the 28th Foot (my local North Gloucestershire regiment) to reduce them to only the command stand remaining of this valiant unit;  still they fought on with General Picton inspiring them.

1st Chasseurs and DB Light Dragoons charge each other.
Beyond the 28th Foot fights on under Picton's direct command
DB Hussars are stopped by the French Light Infantry volley fire
Overview of the left flank from QB crossroads
Nearer the centre Moll's Brunswick foot artillery got lucky with an Event Card. This added to their effect in hitting 1/92 Ligne such that even the two lines of thick hedge were not enough to prevent sufficient casualties to cause loss of morale and a retreat back off the table and onto my map. They were not to return until reformed well over  4 moves later. Further along the stream, nearer the bridges, the 2nd Brunswick Light Infantry pressed forward regaining some ground by pushing the French skirmishers back.
Brunswick artillery and their Event card..........
.......and their victim
On the back table James was reforming some of the stronger Allied battalions that were forced to retreat at QB1. Major General Bylandt was with them and able to order a couple of battalions out to reinforce the left flank.
A Nassau and a Dutch-Belgian battalion bravely march eastwards to rejoin the fray
Baron Guiton's Cuirassier Brigade now put in an appearance with three units - 2 wings of the large 8th, and a 6-stand regiment being the 11th Cuirassiers. They topped Gemioncourt ridge and advanced steadily across the stream in column of march formation to the West of the bridges, intending to form for an attack on the waiting British battalions. This gave heart to the Lancers who advanced in parallel, and to their left the two batteries of French Imperial Guard Horse artillery galloped up the road and then to the right of Bossu wood. They had been released earlier as targets in Bossu wood disappeared.  The whole thing was building up to a formidable classic Napoleonic cavalry attack, one could almost feel the ground tremble!

French Guard Horse Artillery on the move (classic figures by Tony Dillon) 
Cuirassiers and Lancers advance
All the French left flank Cavalry and Artillery so far 
In Bossu Wood itself the Allies were mostly outclassed by Jerome's men where the three battalions of the elite 1st Legere were now in action. Lively fire was exchanged with each side losing casualties, including significant losses from the relatively fresh Brunswick Avant Guard,  the already badly battered battalion of Nassau Elite companies, and some Green class Dutch-Belgians.

Bossu Wood overview (before the arrival of the Cuirassiers who as a "map reserve " came on last). In the foreground the Brunswick Avant Guard battalion is heading West, off the playing table into an outflanking position.

6.15 - 6.30 pm

Overall view during the movement phase of Move 3. Cuirassier Brigade has changed to lines, followed by Dragoons. Guard Horse Artillery are beginning to deploy and Richard is beginning to consolidate a line of British battalions to the West of QB
On the Allied left major developments continued with both sides' cavalry. The weakened Dutch-Belgian 6th Hussars bravely shattered themselves on the muskets and bayonets of 3/2nd Legere. The Brunswick Uhlans followed up the disordered 6th Chasseurs a Cheval and routed them, and in the same fashion the French 1st Chasseurs followed up the 5th Dutch Belgian Light Dragoons and turned their retreat into a rout.
DB Hussars and Brunswick Uhlans
Heinemann's battery and the 28th Foot face an onslaught of French infantry
A Left Flank overview in which more Allied reinforcements can be seen in the foreground
The Allied artillery superiority on this flank took a few blows this move starting with the destruction on the chausee of Sympher's battery KGLHA by heavy volley fire from 1/93rd Ligne. Then Heinemann's battery failed to get any hits of consequence when firing canister at the skirmishers continually popping away at them from near the stream. 
The Brunswick Light battalion in a brisk firefight with skirmishers near the bridge
The remaining few guns of Rogers' battery turned to fire canister into the flank of the Cuirassiers changing to line near them but there were not enough left to make much difference any more. They could only watch disconsolate as Baron Picquet's Dragoon brigade advanced to back up the Cuirassiers.
General Kellerman leads his two brigades - Cuirassiers........
.........followed by Dragoons
One of Kevin's wonderful dismounted Horse Artillery vignettes
To the left of the heavy cavalry two batteries of Guard Horse Artillery were deploying
(figures by Tony Dillon)
At last the 6th Chevaux Leger Lanciers successfully charged the Royal Scots, beat them only in the second round of the melee (thus losing their Shock status) and had to be content with just pushing them back down the road bordering Bossu Wood and breathing a sigh of relief that they did not need a morale check as they were already below 50%.
Led by General Pire the 6th Light Horse Lancers were able to hit the 1st Foot
while they were severely distracted in a volley exchange with a French infantry battalion
Probably the presence of the Prince of Orange was making these British battalions
 uneasy, with Lancers oncoming :-)
The sparsely held Allied centre  - but Wellington is on the spot! Rogers' remaining gun model can be seen having turned to threaten the Cuirassiers while still surviving skirmisher fire - only 2 hits remaining till destruction!
In the wood itself there was more French success as Tony attempted to use his weight of column of attack, albeit at slow speed through the undergrowth, to press the less resolute among the facing Allied units. 3/2nd Nassau had to give way across the woodland road in the face of 1/100th Ligne.
1/100th Ligne storm through the trees to the road in Bossu Wood
Not all gloom for the Allies though as Major General Sir Colin Halkett's 5th British Brigade began to filter off the chausee at Quatre Bras and gradually deploy to fill the gaping hole to the West of the village.

To the right of QB the gap is being filled by more British battalions

6.30 - 6.45 pm
In James' words "not much happened" on his flank this move! In fact a wing of the Brunswick Hussars counter attacked and beat back the formerly successful 1st Chasseurs. The attack of the Brunswick Lancers was blunted as they were held off by fire from a French square. Fortuitously this gave the French 6th Chasseurs more time to rally.

By now the DB Light Dragoons were fleeing through QB to add to the congestion
...and the 6th Chasseurs  had also fled from their assault by Brunswick Uhlans....
....who went on to be held by a French square and their horses blown,
but in the background 6th Chasseurs have rallied
The 1st Chasseurs were now blown and suffered a counter attack from
Brunswick Hussars
A dramatic struggle took place round the colour party of the 28th Foot. The single remaining stand of stalwart Gloucestershire men (yeah, I know they were mostly Irish really!) took 2/61st Ligne to three rounds of melee before they were destroyed in a glorious last stand! Picton survived the dice check for hits on an attached general and managed to get away.
Picton and the 28th Foot at extreme right just about to go down (below).

Around the stream in front of Gemioncourt Farm Kevin now concentrated the French resources of artillery, volley and skirmish fire against the over-extended Brunswick Light Infantry battalion who lost two stands in this Move and had to fall back, unsteady, to their original position, much weakened by their attack.
2nd Brunswick Light battalion, falling back at 50% lost
(figures by JF)
Rogers battery, such as it was, succumbed to an overwhelming charge by 2/4th Legere in a skirmisher mass. This meant the Allied blocking strength up the centre was melting away and now an artillery battery in front of La Bergerie with the Duke of Brunswick was the most effective forward unit left.
The wreckage of the KGL Horse artillery battery......
(original Hinchliffe figures by TD)
....and the last gasp of Rogers' RFA battery
(Victrix plastic figures by CG)
Having galloped past Rogers a wing of the 8th Cuirassiers bore down on the 44th Foot who were in line. Richard was gambling on British firepower stopping the cavalry but even he could not succeed with lousy firing dice! That let the Cuirassiers charge home and poor Richard rolled 1,1,1,and 2 in the melee thus not inflicting any casualties at all, and infantry beaten by shock cavalry were automatically routed.

The 44th Foot about to be hit.......
....and the result
In a very similar circumstance, with more poor firing and melee results, near to Bossu Woods the 42nd Highlanders were broken by a desperate attack by 6th Light Horse Lancers. At last, after being in battle since 2.15 pm, the French Lancers had achieved something!
Staggeringly the weak 6th Lancers won against the full strength Black Watch in line
British comrades close ranks to shield the demoralised highlanders, but they had
done enough to finish off 6th Lancers who had lost a stand and could not
 pass their morale test so retreated below 50% strength
The battle raged in Bossu Woods. While holding firm centrally against a surprising Allied surge, the French were making key gains towards the northern edge and 1/100th pressed on in column and routed its Nassau opponents. Richard had executed one crafty move though which was to move his elite Brunswick Avant Guard battalion off the table in fast moving skirmish order onto the flank of Prince Jerome's infantry and they just got into position to open up and cause Tony to hold back his advance here to cope with the telling fire.

Above and below: isolated French successes were beginning to break
 apart the Nassau, Brunswick and DB hold on Bossu Woods

On the "extra bit" of terrain, or back table, more Allied reinforcements just began to arrive in the form of Kielmansegge's large Hanoverian infantry brigade. They would be restricted to one unit per Move though as Kevin was allowing in his game design for the QB to Brussels road being by now (as historically) jam-packed with wounded and fleeing troops and baggage carts.

The Grubenhagen Light Field battalion leads the Hanoverian brigade on the
road from Brussels (figures by CG)
6.45 - 7 pm
In the centre the French had made a significant breakthrough as the successful Cuirassiers began to follow up the fleeing 44th Foot who were making up the chausee towards Quatre Bras. The whole area SW of QB was now alive with French heavy cavalry eager for blood and, sensing this, Richard and James formed any battalion within striking distance into square, this was not to be without its own problems though.  Although the Cuirassier wings were being spread out by their potential targets the Dragoons were forming in a coherent column of squadrons behind them.

Above and below: Dragoons advancing and forming up

All players were eyeing up the new possibilities presented by the cavalry breakthrough
Artillery could only cross Gemioncourt stream by the bridges, so for the last hour there had been a constant traffic of limbered guns riding up the left flank of the cavalry advance. Tony had found that his Medium and Light guns were now out of range so it was vital to move forward with the attack. All the Horse Artillery tried to get to the front (we had made their maximum effective range 48 inches [800 metres] for this game) and the Foot Artillery slightly behind up the slope with a 60 inch maximum range. There was a 12 pdr Heavy Artillery battery 20 inches off table on Gemioncourt ridge which could just hit some of the squares at extreme range (84 inches).

Some of the off-field fire had already hit British units near La Bergerie earlier but now, as each new battery unlimbered, Tony was able to concentrate on particular squares SW of Quatre Bras. Being made of stern stuff the British infantry were not giving into it just yet!

A good view of the British squares, with both Wellington and Prince Billy near at hand
However, next to where the 44th had died the 79th, Cameron Highlanders,  were too close to a wing of their 8th Cuirassiers opponents to form any other than a hasty square and forfeited their fire, and they were also overcome and routed.
The Camerons square under attack
Sadly for the highlands this Move also saw the demise of the 92nd, Gordon Highlanders, who had become separated from their brigade in the QB1 game and were now way out on the Bati St Bernard ridge. Their prominent position made them a target for Kevin's supporting battery on the high ground behind Gemioncourt stream. So they were suffering badly and finally folded under a charge from 2/108th Ligne. This was one of the many veteran battalions of Bachelu's Division which had finally succeeded in crossing the difficult hedges of Gemioncourt Stream and were now coming uphill en masse with the intention to outflank the Allied left towards QB. Such was the importance of this to Tony and Kevin they had placed both Ney and Reille at that point of the front line.
A good view of the Allied extreme left. James is to be complimented on managing to form two defensive lines though scrutiny of the Wargamer ADC status stands will reveal their low quality. Gordon Highlanders at top right.
Gordon Highlanders at top left; Brunswick Hussars; Hanoverian Foot Artillery
French columns come up from crossing the stream
On the back table, behind the Allied centre, the surprise success of the French cavalry had put the nearest regiment only 18 inches away from the Grubenhagen battalion, who formed square rather than await the same fate as the 44th, whom they could see fleeing up the chausee along with the DB Light Dragoons, too shattered to rally and spreading panic like their historical counterparts. The Luneburg Light Field battalion now marched on to support their fellow Hanoverians.

In Bossu Woods 2/3rd Ligne managed a full blooded flank attack on 1/2 Nassau who were engaged in a fire fight frontally, and pushed them back across the woodland road. It was not going all the French way though as the off-table Brunswick Avant Guard were inflicting telling casualties on the French Legere skirmisher screen who had deployed at 90 degrees to fend them off. They were strong enough to pose a significant hindrance to Prince Jerome's supremacy in the woods.

Flank attack in Bossu Woods
Now we were at the end of the wargaming day there was a general feeling of concern on behalf of the Allies, and this was compounded by the arrival of the Imperial Guard Lancer Brigade on the other side of the stream behind the Dragoon Brigade.

Above and below: Two views of the Guard Lancers

Two photos put together to give an idea, with the blue line, of the extent of French success during Move 5
Things were shaping up for an exciting finale since Richard knew that at some stage the North of Bossu Wood would be recoverable with the arrival of his own Foot Guards Division - 4,500 crack infantry and more artillery. He had issued them with marching orders and I had been plotting the progress of both sides' reserves throughout the day on my magnetic map.

My off-table map monitoring at a point when Kielmansegge's brigade, the Imperial Guard Lancers, and Colonel Jean Trippe's French infantry brigade are all due to get on the table
We were all in good spirits though as we went for dinner at the local pub and later sat round reminiscing over wine and port till the early hours about wargaming in times past.....