Tuesday 24 July 2018

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

Thanks from the QB project team to everyone who commented so favourably on the first part of this report which took us up to 7 pm on 16th June 1815. Here is the last photo from that post as a reminder; the French had just made a cavalry breakthrough along the paved chausee towards Quatre Bras, were making good progress in the fields westward towards Bossu Wood, but were being held practically everywhere else.

Where we left off from Day One : blue line shows the French advance. QB crossroads at top of picture
French Guard cavalry reinforcements were arriving to the West of the bridges across Gemioncourt Stream and further South just off table, but Allied reinforcements were also trickling in, including the very strong Guards Infantry Division from the North-East.

Everyone was up and about in good time and breakfasted ready for a kick-off just after 9 am on the Sunday morning to start Move 6.

Tony contemplates the possibilities for an overwhelming build up with his French artillery just East of Bossu Woods while  Richard, surprisingly, seems content about the way his rather depleted right flank is reforming under the leafy cover
All to play for in the centre and Allied left. As James looks on, what he doesn't know is that Kevin is readying his Imperial Guard Chasseurs, under the table, for a dramatic appearance later!
7 pm - 7.15 pm
In Bossu Woods things were not going well for the Allies.1/2nd Nassau were routing out of the North side, broken by incessant skirmisher fire. The 1/100th Ligne was beginning to work its way round the left flank of the Brunswick 3rd Light Battalion.
General situation in Bossu Wood: The French columns are making good progress but Prince Jerome is having to keep an eye on his left flank where the Brunswick Avant Guard (just off table) is proving a pain 
Next to the wood fire from the 69th Foot in square was holding off French Light Horse lancers, however a bit further back two columns of attack were bearing down on the 69th along the road. Nearby, the 30th Foot was almost destroyed by concentrated fire from the Guard and Line Horse Artillery batteries back on the ridge.
69th Foot are successful in our game so far even though Prince Billy is nearby
....But the fleeing 44th Foot are mopped up by their Cuirassier pursuers and
 lose their Colours

Looking East towards Quatre Bras Viscount Hill was inside the square of the 73rd Foot and urging them on for their effective volley fire to hold off yet another attack by the 8th Cuirassiers. 

This photo gives an idea of the weight of fire being brought to bear on the British squares by Tony's Horse Batteries up on the ridge
The French Dragoon brigade continued to advance in the direction of La Bergerie, covered by line infantry and skirmishers. The newly arrived Guard Light Horse Lancers were following them.
Above: Dragoon Brigade passes another French battery as they head towards
 the Brussels road. Below: Imperial Guard Lancer squadrons

French infantry fire on La Bergerie held by Brunswick Line infantry. Moll's battery will not give way and is being resupplied. At the right a Brunswick Light Battalion about to be broken by fire
To the East of the chausee the Brunswick 1st Light Infantry, having been stalled in their audacious counter-attack near the Gemioncourt stream, came under fire from no less than three French battalions and pulled back in disorder.

To their left the Allied artillery was being overwhelmed by skirmishers as James had insisted on holding the ground South of the Bati St Bernard ridge until the bitter end. Moll's battery suffered hits and the Brunswick Horse Artillery were destroyed in a melee with 1st and 2nd Bns of 2nd Legere.

Brunswick Horse Artillery attacked by French Legere near Gemioncourt Stream
View from Moll's Brunswick Foot Artillery
Out on the extreme Allied left the formerly successful Brunswick lancers had found their horses excessively blown (two blown markers) and formed march column to retire. This put their rear within charge distance of the 6th Chasseurs a Cheval who had just reformed. Although they were weak Kevin was not going to miss such an opportunity and he attacked and routed the Lancers.
Brunswick Uhlans rear attacked by the 6th Chasseurs........
..........unlikely to hearten the watching Hanoverian Landwehr
All the French constant pressure was now paying off at last and all along the line the tide seemed to be  slowly turning in their favour. Here are three arial photos give a feel for the whole game.
Bossu Wood to the Brussels - Charleroi chausee
The central action 
Left flank - Bati St Bernard ridge down to Materne lake.
 In the centre of this photo a single Brunswick battalion is now looking exposed

7.15 - 7.30 pm
Event cards are pulled at the start of each Move, not all are significant but this Move we had a French Colonel defecting to the Allies. Circumstances dictated it was Colonel Cubiere commanding the three battalions of French Legere in Bossu Wood! A blow to Tony, and ironic since Cubiere was one of the most ardent of Napoleon's field officers historically - commanding the only unit to get inside Hougoumont on 18th June 1815. This came at a bad time for 3/1st Legere whose morale failed under the constant accurate fire from the Elite Brunswick Avant Guard battalion on their flank. However, Prince Jerome's men were still making progress and were advancing out of the North edge of the woods at last, and down the road through Bossu Wood the Brunswick 3rd Light were made to retire from skirmish fire by 3/4th Legere.

Defection of Colonel Cubiere!
General situation at Bossu Woods showing Allied units trying to rally back pursued by French infantry. At left of woods
the 69th Foot hold out
Richard brings his Brunswick Avant Guard skirmishers back onto the table
just where Cubiere had been in action
Astoundingly all the remaining British squares across from Bossu to Quatre Bras held on grimly. 69th Foot shattered the now weak 5th Light Horse Lancers who fled, at last under 50%, back towards their supporting batteries.
5th Lancers have at last had enough in front of the 69th Foot  square
Effective fire from both the Cameron Highlanders and the 73rd Foot repulsed charges by the wings of the 8th Cuirassiers trying to engage them, and, despite the weight of artillery fire, 33rd Foot still stood in their square, albeit now unsteady. Along the chausee French Cuirassiers had to pause from their mopping up work to recover blown horses, but the Dragoon brigade  was following closely.

Above and below: British squares stand firm now
This view of the centre of the battlefield shows the French have split the Allied line along the
paved chausee with Dragoons, skirmishers and more Ligne battalions. But to left and right
the Allied infantry are making progress difficult
At the Allied extreme left Brunswick Hussars beat off the French 6th Chasseurs in another of the see-saw cavalry actions.
Above and below: Two views of the Allied left flank cavalry melee

A firefight between the relatively fresh Hanoverian Osterode Landwehr and a near exhausted 3/2nd Legere resulted in a mutual retreat. James managed to keep a solid looking line across to La Bergerie but was worried by the serious enemy cavalry penetration in the centre and some of his units formed square as a precaution.

The Osterode Landwehr face veteran French infantry
A view of James' line with another Hanoverian Landwehr battalion in square
Brunswick and Hanoverian troops in line with La Bergerie. Behind a unit is in square
Finally Allied resistance at the junction of the Bati St Bernard Road and the chausee collapsed. 2nd Brunswick Light infantry were surrounded and the remnants surrendered down by the stream. Moll's gunners were shattered by canister fire from flanking French Horse Artillery, and at the same time concentrated infantry volleys into the resupplying wagon teams killed men and horses and blew up ammunition caissons!
Above and below: The before and after effects of the massive French effort
to destroy the Allied defence South of La Bergerie
....the remains of the Brunswick light battalion; Gemioncourt stream at extreme left
Some general views during Move 7

Kevin had kept a brigade in reserve behind Gemioncourt farm and it was now
advancing towards the weak spot in the Allied centre, following up the Dragoons
More Hanoverians are arriving on the "extra bit" of terrain but have to be cautious
 with so much French cavalry about.

7.30 -7.45 pm

The excitement of the French players is palpable during the movement phase of Move 8........
.....while the Allied players patiently await their turn and try to re-work their plan.
This period brought mixed fortunes. At the North-west corner the Nassau infantry who had fought a gruelling battle in Bossu Woods finally departed the playing area as fast as they could!
Overview of Bossu Woods: 69th Foot fight on the left; French
breakthrough on the right
Fresh Hanoverian Jagers skirmish to try to stem the French success
Back on the road bordering Bossu things came to a head for the 69th Foot, accompanied by General Halkett, where they were charged by 3/1 Ligne led by General Foy in person. The ferocious melee went to a second round in which the French got 4 hits to the British 2 and the 69th routed, not before severely wounding Foy, and Halkett too fell wounded.

The 69th Foot charged by 3/1 Ligne.............
....miss General Halkett skulking wounded at the baseline 
.....and finally break
Further along the Allied line the 73rd Foot were in square and vulnerable to skirmisher fire which tipped them over 50% losses and they withdrew towards Quatre Bras.

Remains of the 73rd Foot
The 1st wing of 8th Cuirassiers charged the 6th Dutch-Belgian Hussars who were in column  and forced them to retire. This combat took place just at the join of the main table and the "extra bit",  so in the photo below, the Cuirassiers are just behind the nearest building, and the Hussars can be seen in one of the photos above - just behind James! The Cuirassiers got an automatic follow-up next turn which was to prove useful.

French Dragoons storm through the gap forged by the Cuirassiers, and Allied left wing infantry form squares in defence
The Hanoverian artillery on Bati St Bernard were still giving a good account of themselves. They destroyed a French Engineer company as well as inflicting sufficient casualties on the 2/108th Ligne (in square due to the Hussars threat) to force them to retire.
Braun's Hanoverian battery is the most exposed Allied unit now...
.....outflanked by French Light infantry who have destroyed some of the
resupplying ammunition wagons
On the Allied left flank, the Allied squares due to French Dragoons are matched
by French squares due to the threat from Brunswick Hussars
Plucky Braun's battery turns to rake them with canister before its inevitable demise
The French 6th Chasseurs had had enough and routed off the playing area just North of Materne lake, not far from where the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard had by now reached the crossroads near Haut Cense Farm. This was the first point at which we deemed that James would become aware of the new, powerful threat on his left flank.

Off table movements around the end of Move 8. Blue units 10 and 48 are French batteries which gave covering fire
from the high ground throughout the game
A look at my map tracking the off-table units shows the Hanoverian reserves coming in from due North on the Brussels road, the British Guards Division just starting to arrive at the North-west corner and the French Imperial Guard Chasseurs on the right by Haut Cense Farm.

Guards Division just arriving in the nick of time
And two different aspects on French Lancers:
The remnants of the 5th Line Lancers flees back past the supporting guns
making Baron Wathiez redundant now all his brigade has gone........
.....but behind the Dragoons the Light Horse Lancers of the Imperial Guard
form up confidently, not yet having been engaged.

7.45 - 8.00 pm

General view in Move 9 proves I was actually there! James must be attracting Kevin's and my attention
This annotated view gives some idea of the situation in Move 9 (click to enlarge and read more clearly)
As hinted above the follow up by 8th Cuirassiers took them onto the "extra bit" very quickly where they attacked and broke the square of Field Battalion Bremen. 

Led by Kellerman in person the Cuirassiers attack Bremen battalion which
 is only one of the squares sheltering behind Quatre Bras hamlet
The French Event card this turn fortuitously gives
8th Cuirassiers a plus two helping the weak cavalry...........
...break the Bremen battalion and capture its Colour
 Behind them the 2nd Dragoons, turned and deployed to threaten the Allied line along the steams. The Brunswick Foot Guards were a prime beneficiary of their attention (photo below).

Further East the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard advanced onto the playing area, giving the Brunswick Hussars a problem. Kevin was visibly excited that his newly painted elite cavalry had made it onto the table! The pain of his cut thumb was temporarily forgotten......

A view of some of the objects of Kevin's affection, from the Brunswick Hussars.
 Note the Mameluke Squadron at right rear
The stalwart defence of Bati St Bernard by Braun's Hanoverian battery came to an end as they were attacked in flank by the 1st Chasseurs a Cheval and routed (see photo below).

Nearby Ney himself is urging forward French infantry on the right flank
Further to their left, and West of La Bergerie, three fresh French infantry battalions - 1st and 2nd/93rd and 2/92nd, were advancing up the paved chausee towards Quatre Bras and looked unstoppable.

For the moment these battalions look like they are heading for QB village
Not all was rosy for the French though. Many units were worn by now and 11th Cuirassiers could not batter itself against British squares indefinitely. They were stopped dead by volley fire from the Cameron Highlanders and reduced to below 50% strength.

French guns are clearing the area West of QB, with Cameron Highlanders the only
 unit now remaining there
But elsewhere the respite from cavalry attacks allowed the French gun line to take its toll once more as British units near Quatre Bras were still in range. The 73rd Foot was routed by artillery fire, the Black Watch became unsteady from more losses, and the remnants of Bieleveldt's Dutch-Belgian battery, which had been in action from one end of Bossu Wood to the other since 2.15pm, was destroyed.
Bieleveldt's battery in its final position just north of Bossu Woods
Tony was evidently holding his 5 or 6 remaining reserve cavalry units back at this point to allow the artillery to do much of the hard work.

Richard's British had taken a very hard beating and the slightly sheltered reverse slope behind Quatre Bras crossroads was proving a popular rallying point.
The reverse slope is now crowded with recovering remnants of British and
 Hanoverian battalions, more oncoming reserves, and the Allied ammunition park
Allied morale was still high though as a long column of four 1000-man-strong battalions of British Guard infantry was beginning to deploy into line North of Bossu Woods. Richard tried a retaliatory attack deep into West Bossu Woods where his Brunswick Avant Guard battalion had been lurking and constantly pestering Foy's advance, sadly, through bad dice, they ended up falling back again off the table without any tangible result.

Guards Battalions deploy to start the recovery of ground in the Bossu area
And as seen from the French side. One battalion has doubled back to take
some Allied defenders in the rear
8.00 - 8.15 pm

Although events appeared to be building up to some kind of dramatic breakthrough, this Turn (Move 10) actually kept things in balance and therefore the outcome in some doubt.

At Bossu Woods the French skirmisher fire caused 3rd Brunswick Light Battalion finally to rout out of the trees and woodland road. However deep in the Wood on the French left the elite Brunswick Avant Guard was literally proving a thorn in Foy's side by hanging on, even though they were nearly surrounded. The French at this stage seemed totally unfazed by the ranks of British Guards massing just to their North.

French skirmishers engage the advancing British Guards
3rd Brunswick Light Battalion has had enough!
By Quatre Bras the Cameron Highlanders were holding their ground after shooting away the Cuirassiers, however, that respite brought renewed danger. While the cavalry attacks had masked what remained of this British brigade Tony had been bringing up French artillery nearer to the crossroads area, and this move 13 model guns opened up on the poor Camerons! They suffered 7 hits which removed another two bases but amazingly, with the influence of Lt General Sir Rowland Hill in their square, their morale held.

The Camerons can just be discerned by QB buildings. This photo shows only half of the cannon directed at them this turn.
The battalions of Kevin's fresh French infantry who had formed line along the chausee facing La Bergerie, opened up musketry on the farm's occupants (3rd Brunswick Line battalion) but poor dice meant they only scored 1 hit, with no morale test needed.

Three battalions (Tissot's Brigade) face La Bergerie
Great things were expected of the French 2nd Dragoons who had caught the Brunswick Guard infantry napping by one of the streams emanating from the QB ridge. Although attacked in rear their morale held good and they fought the Dragoons to a standstill,  but nevertheless were the melee losers so merely retreated across the stream to safety. One of Tony's potential master strokes had been thwarted.

Allied reinforcements begin to occupy Quatre Bras buildings
(and shelter from the enemy cavalry!) On the "extra bit" the French
Dragoons can be seen to have turned to face the Brunswick Guards........
.....who are on the main table.
Catching the Brunswick Guards from the rear, but they managed to turn to face
Falling back across the stream and then fighting back-to-back with Hanoverian Landwehr
Mixed fortunes for the two wings of Brunswick Hussars who were still fighting with good numbers remaining. Nearest to La Bergerie yet another struggle took place with the 1st Chasseurs a Cheval and the Brunswickers prevailed causing the 1st to retire down towards Gemioncourt stream. 

Yet  another clash between these two adversaries..............
.........This one won by the Brunswickers
But on the extreme Allied left flank the Brunswick Hussars there could not stave off the attack, downhill, from newly arrived Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard and they retired onto the "extra bit" of terrain.
Guard Chasseurs a Cheval in overwhelming numbers defeat this wing of Brunswick Hussars
Taking stock of his dispersed, but just about surviving, Allied force, the Duke of Wellington received news from the Duke of Brunswick that 3 out of 4 of his Divisional commanders had now been severely wounded or killed and so morale support among the Brunswick Corps from senior commanders was very scarce. It was proving a very hard fought and bloody contest.

"Identity crisis": One of Kevin's Event Cards, based on historical incidents, came up this turn, but was not a game changer
8.15 - 8.30 pm
French infantry were sweeping through the Northern part of Bossu Woods and had seen off practically all the Allied opposition - only the Brunswick Avant Guard and Hanoverian Field Jagers remained between them and the four big battalions of British Guards, all of which were now on the table.
These big British Guard battalions with 9 or 10 stands each will be very difficult to shift with just musketry and the bayonet.
The Brunswick Avant Guard really do exist but did not spend enough time  "on table" for me to photograph them - just been pushed off the bottom of this photo
East of the woods French infantry and cavalry had got as far as being level with Quatre Bras hamlet. 7th Dragoons attacked the very small square of the Cameron Highlanders (2 stands) but it took two rounds of melee to defeat them and the Camerons retreated with one stand left. 
These three photos chart the demise of the Camerons

Smoke filled the street at the crossroads as one building was set on fire by French artillery, and that would make it difficult for the Hanoverians to keep their toehold on the built-up-area.
Part of the French gun lines causing the fire due to the paucity of better targets now
Behind the Dragoons two squadrons of red Lancers of the Guard
 were straining to attack

East of the Quatre Bras buildings the remnants of the Gordon Highlanders repulsed the 2nd Wing of the French 2nd Dragoons.
Remnants of the Gordon Highlanders under attack
La Bergerie Farm was proving a tougher nut to crack than Kevin had expected. He had massed three battalions against it, but, as we saw, their fire had little effect so he tried a close assault this move and one big melee took place against the Brunswick 3rd Line Regiment defenders. The Brunswickers got 4 hits (at 5 or 6) to only 3 hits from the French, who had to fall back across the chausee as a result.
The melee at La Bergerie
Beyond La Bergerie the Allied troops were fighting more or less back-to-back. The Brunswick Guard Infantry managed to halt another French Dragoon charge with volley fire, but behind them their Line colleagues were forced back to the stream by musketry fire from the 1/61 and 1/72 Ligne battalions.
Brunswick Guards ended up back-to-back with Hanoverian Landwehr
2nd Wing Brunswick Hussars had pressed their advantage after defeating 1st Chasseurs and found themselves colliding with a square of 1/2 Ligne near the Gemioncourt stream bridges. They came off worse in the melee and had to retire.
Nearer to La Bergerie and Quatre Bras as Allies had to fight off French troops in all directions so a general scene of chaos ensued. In the foreground General Reille is near to the Brunswick Hussars as they attack a square but the apparent rear attack from the reforming 1st Chasseurs is illusory!
Far centre of photo Marshal Ney continues to press with his infantry. At left General Picton, lacking troops of his own Division now, is trying to boost the staying power of the Hanoverian Landwehr. At right - the final position of those defeated Brunswick Hussars
Over on the far flank, nor surprisingly, the strong squadrons of French Guard Chasseurs a Cheval put to flight the remaining Wing of Brunswick Hussars. 
At right the Brunswick Hussars suffer defeat in the face of three squadrons of Guard Chasseurs. On both sides of the "gap" Allied infantry have formed squares while the Mameluke Squadron threatens them both.
This would have given Kevin a pretty clear run on the Allied flank but for a coincidence of timing,  James (Wellington) had hoped for his last reserves to arrive about now. This was a brigade of British Light Dragoons and, before knowing about the Guard Chasseurs, had directed them off the Brussels road and round to this flank. It might have been a surprise for the French except that pure chance  on the move before turned up the "Spy" Event card and so Kevin got a neat ADC figure on the Allied baseline who could report back on the impending cavalry surge to oppose his Guard Chasseurs. 
Figure was a lovely present to me from Robbie Roddiss at AMG 2017
and Kevin devised this event card especially for it. Thanks Robbie!
He didn't have much warning though as this photo shows.
Spy at extreme left is bypassed by the first squadron of British Light Dragoons
Mameluke Squadron at extreme right
Real time was now about 5.30pm on the second day of our refight. Although the players would have liked to carry on we all wanted time to wrap up and discuss the result, pack up the figures and allow my guests their 2-hour home journeys. Superficially it felt like the French were on top although both armies were pretty exhausted (as I expect you are too if you've followed this far!) Yet each side had powerful, and more or less unbloodied, reserves in key positions. Taking the historic strategic situation into account maybe it could go either way?...............

Here is a selection of photos of our end of play situation:
Allied Left Flank
Allied Right Centre
Allied Right Flank

Allied Rear - the "extra bit"
Tony and Richard weigh up the results of their determined two-day struggle through Bossu Woods
Kevin tots up the Victory Points, advised by James
Kevin's masterly scenario had allowed for this eventuality and he had a detailed points system to establish a game victory for one side or the other.  In the next post I will look at the Victory Points and wrap up the battle with the views of our participants and also reflect on the whole project, don't miss it! Sign up for email notification in the Right hand side bar.