Monday 19 August 2019

18th Century mini-campaign - Raid on Vestisle: Part 1 - Introduction and first blood

Regular readers will know that I have been trying to build up my expertise with the "Honours of War" (HoW) SYW rules since 2016 and have been very fortunate to meet Ken Marshall and Guy Barlow via the "A Military Gentleman" forum to help. We've applied the HoW principles to our Imagi-Nations and historical armies and my background imaginary campaign and we've all enjoyed the games, numbering over a dozen by now. Sadly I've not got round to blogging some of the biggest. Last year we had a weekend game in which over 3000 figures from our joint collections took the field with four players. It was too many! We got bogged down and didn't really finish, or have much satisfactory manoeuvring.   I consulted my companions on what to do this year and Guy said he loved the backstories I created from the fictitious campaign (which was all out of my head, not on a map) and could we have a proper one with map moving as he'd never done that?

Mini-campaign challenge
There was a challenge! So I began to think how we could adapt the wonderful Charles Grant mini-campaigns for our weekend using the HoW brigade/corps scale games. Ken came up with the answer and had remembered Charles' "Raid on Vesta" mini- campaign scenario from an edition of "Practical Wargamer" magazine about 25 years ago. I read it and realised it was just what we wanted, specifying:

  • An island involving landings, but not concerned with ship to shore game mechanics
  • Specific, limited objectives for the attackers, not an all out invasion for conquest
  • Time bounded so the attackers/raiders had to get away intact, hopefully achieving some of their objectives
The only trouble was that the CS Grant system uses big battalions and big ranges and his scenario was really a reinforced brigade style game good for two players over two real and two campaign days.  So I had to increase the scale of the island and make allowance for significant forces as, under HoW, a good run of dice rolls can lead to units melting away quickly. Also I wanted to maximise my facilities here in our remote Cotswold village by making an open invitation to my many friends who like 18th century wargames. The invitations went out in the Spring identifying the date as 10-11 August 2019. I got 5 firm takers and, great, they all wanted to stay the night, so we'd have a full house and could spread the campaign over the evening "down-time" too and mix "business" with pleasure over a few bottles of wine and beer.

Without more ado, here is the campaign map I created with Photoshop. I called the island Vestisle, not Vesta and in homage to Brigadier Grant changed the names but slightly to a more Francophile spelling to fit my scenario of which more below:

Vestisle is about 50% bigger than Grant's Vesta but this gave tabletop battlefields ideal for our 28mm battalions using HoW.
A sample 10 feet x 6 feet is shown to give an idea. As it turned out our battles were both bigger and smaller than that.
Raid on Vestisle: Historical context
The next step on from Imagi-nations wargaming is Alternative History wargaming and both my protagonists know their mid-18th Century history so we were guaranteed some fun if I could come up with something vaguely plausible......

I'm putting many of my resource documents available on my Downloads sidebar - 18th Century Historical, for anyone who wants them. Strictly for hobby use though not for any commercial purposes - copyright Chris Gregg 2019. Link here Raid on Vestisle documents

It is mid August 1756. The French have taken Menorca and the British/Hanoverians are smarting with embarrassment and looking for a quick way to build a propaganda advantage before things really kick off on the continent threatening Hanover. The French, for their part, are also looking for a  way to distract King George II so they can strike at Hanover itself. Oh look! We have the little island of Vestisle off the coast of Brittany (any resemblance to Ushant is entirely coincidental as I've only just found it!) and on it we have the remnants of the Stuart pretender's clansmen kicking their heels and waiting for a chance to get back to Scotland and create trouble for King George!  They need money and training from the French, as well as assistance from French troops to mount an invasion of England. So my French side was taking shape thus:

The French
  • The Duc de Vestisle, local governor with a couple of militia battalions, 4 heavy batteries in static redoubts guarding the ports, a citizens' militia to be raised on an alarm to defend the capital, Abrantes, plus a few companies of marines and and a mobile battery to give some dignity to the on-island defence.
    The Cassatte battery overlooks the small port
    Minden Miniatures painted by CG
  • The Chevalier de Muy assisted by Lt General Barbier. He commanded the main French regular forces on Vestisle which consisted of a brigade of line infantry, a brigade of converged grenadiers, both with supporting artillery, and a brigade of heavy cavalry. Their aim was to train and exercise with the Jacobites to help them become proficient after the disaster of Culloden. For protection nearer the coast de Muy had the Legion de la Morliere and the Legion de Lauzun, each brigade strength and including light troops. 
    Part of Baron Joubarbe's Cavalry Brigade  at the Battle of Bellune Hill.
    Elite and Minden Miniatures painted by Guy Barlow
    The Legion de la Morliere (right) prepares to try to see off Schwarz's jagers
     in front of Cassatte. Legion - Crann Tara Miniatures painted by CG
  • Prince Charles Edward Stuart, titular commander of the Jacobite forces, but in reality giving way to Earl Marischal William Keith as Lieutenant General and field commander. They had five clans at battalion strength forming an infantry brigade, two small cavalry regiments, and two artillery batteries of dubious quality.
  • The Jacobite infantry and artillery await the order to attack at the battle of
     Bellune Hill, 10th August 1756. Crann Tara Miniatures painted by Guy Barlow
  • Due to arrive on Beach 1 and Abrantes harbour on the evening of 10th August 1756 was a crack force of French units including a brigade of elite and guard infantry, a brigade of elite cavalry, two brigades of standard French line battalions and a small brigade of French heavy cavalry.  Their light element was represented by a battalion of marines and a battalion strength unit of sailors. These were all under the Duke of Richelieu himself. 

    The French Elite Cavalry brigade under the Duc d'Orlean moves to its
    forming up position prior to the Battle of Abrantes, 11th August 1756 (mostly Guy's)
I had to give some context to the actual military action other than the macro-strategic story given above, plus define some objectives. OK, this was a wargame campaign and I could kid no one that there would not be an invasion sometime. It was only a question of when, so I invented the device of the French and Jacobites having organised a joint training exercise for 11th August and the Chief Secretary of the Treasury in Paris, the Chevalier Dumonnaie, was due to come with his wife for a little holiday and bringing two mule-loads of gold with which to pay for the Jacobites invasion - if they earned it by showing suitable professionalism in the training.  As we had the benefit of a couple of months of emailing prior to our weekend I had Dumonnaie arrive on 8th August and Guy had to devise "entertainment " for the couple which would determine their whereabouts, and possibly the other characters including Prince Charlie, for the next few camapign days. The idea was that he would not be able to predict the date and time of the Allied raid.

You can find the complete French Order of battle here

The Allies

I gave Ken the chance to start his Allied landings anytime from 5 am on 10th August at Beaches 2, 3 or 4, and also a battalion worth of British sailors as a kind of "special forces" which could land anywhere other than the North coast.  I gave him the following map of approximate French positions plus a long letter from a spy in Abrantes explaining what I wanted Ken to know from which to make his plan and dispositions.

French dispositions from Allied spy. This was not of course completely accurate but contained enough real information to be fair to both sides. The French deployment round Delmotte was largely dummy units but also Lauzun's Legion and some marines watching Beach 2.

He landed his first wave of light troops at 5 am then there was an enforced gap of an hour to clear the beaches so the main forces arrived in two more waves from 7 am to 9 am.

This is what the campaign map (an 18 x 12 inch print attached to a magnetic white board and with magnetic tape units) looked like to me as umpire around 0800:

Umpire's Map. I used Photoshop to blur out the detail of those enemy units that were too far away or out of sight on the maps which I gave to each player.
I was using a very simple set of campaign rules which gave me what I needed to run this by email and then on the weekend. Here is a link to them in the sidebar Download section Vestisle mini-campaign rules

Ken had landed two dummies on the eastern part of the island and my rumour mongering kept Guy's real units busy there till about 10. 30 am. He landed at Beach 3 a brigade of Government Scots Light troops followed by a Hanoverian infantry brigade and then a brigade of two regiments of German cuirassiers. A couple of batteries of artillery and a few companies of the recently raised Royal Corps of Sappers and Miners (yeah, I know they weren't created till later in 1756 in reality!) completed this force under Lt Gen von Brunck. The initial aim was to mount a quick attack to neutralise Bellune town and the two bridges across the Ruisseau de Vestisle but the Scot's scouts soon discovered that Bellune was well protected. They observed Grenadiers barricading all the southern approaches and were receiving howitzer fire from the town as well as occasional, but ineffective fire from the Bellune heavy battery. Von Brunck decided to retreat out of range back near Beach 3 and await further developments.

The main force, led by The Duke of Marlborough, assisted by Lt Gen Lord George Sackville, landed at the South end of Beach 4.  Major General Schwarz advanced carefully towards Cassatte with his German Jaeger brigade while Major General von Aststadt scouted across the Cime d'Abrantes with his three Light Cavalry regiments. Rather to my surprise Guy ordered Morliere's Legion to retreat back to Cassatte rather than try to disrupt the landings.

Ken was cautious with the main force of two infantry brigades and a cavalry brigade and waited by Beach 4 and the Auberge till all his Line brigades and artillery were united. The infantry finally moved off about 0900, but more of that later....

You can download the full Allied Order of Battle here

Below - Sir Alastair Campbell's Brigade of Government Scots facing Bellune town

Fraser's Highlanders - Parkfield Miniatures painted by CG
Montgomery's highlanders - Old Glory Miniatures painted by CG.
Small Converged Grenadier battalion and Light Artillery battery behind
Campbell's Highlanders - Fife and Drum Miniatures painted by Ken Marshall
Engineer companies behind and Hanoverian infantry beyond
French and Jacobite sub-plots
It's worth taking a little time to wonder what is happening to the French and Jacobite "characters" as they will become important later.

Guy had the Dumonnaies enjoying a lovely Summer break first at Le Chateau du Roi and the next day at Delmotte sampling the renowned Moules Marinieres. They went back on Friday evening, 9th August, to dine with Le Duc de Vestisle at his Residence in Abrantes where they were staying. The Chevalier had taken the precaution of locking the gold safely away in an ammunition casemate in the bowels of the stone bastion battery overlooking Abrantes harbour. Only the Sergeant of the guard knew what they were guarding and the Duc and the Chevalier had the only keys. The pack mules were stabled in the Residence mews. The Dumonnaies were due to visit Prince Charlie at the Jacobite Camp on Saturday but Ken's invasion news roused them from their beds and gave an anxious breakfast in Abrantes. The Duc de Vestisle had to look to the defence of the town and harbour and from about 0900 was very busy organising the Abrantes Citizen's Militia battalion (to the tolling of the church bells) in the Town Square.

Guy had put Charlie, not with his Highlanders in their camp, but in a tavern in Bellune town doing unspeakable dallyings with Rosemarie, the serving wench. So I had a messenger rudely awaken Charlie and Rosemarie early on 10th with the news of the landing of the Government Scots, which was obvious from Bellune church tower. Guy's reaction surprised me. He was adamant that Charles and his immediate retainers and the young French lady would mount up and ride like the wind to Beach 1 to look for a boat!  I was certainly not having him leave the island so soon and therefore he did not find any boats or seamen at the beach - all the fishermen had sailed on the morning tide about their business. This was now about 0830 to 0900 and I offered to waive the HoW rules on Dithering Commanding Generals for him if he would show some backbone and return to the front. No, certainly not said Guy, and he had Charlie pay off Rosemarie, and he and the others set off on tired horses towards Abrantes where he suspected the gold was stored.  Guy was really entering into the spirit of his first campaign and had me chortling over the keyboard at his inventiveness - here is an example from mid -morning 10th August

<<Me: - Charlie is on the road somewhere towards Abrantes, no estimated time of arrival. 

Guy: HQ is not surprised by this as HQ has been made aware of a pop up creperie which has been set up by a buxom cantiniere on the road. Charlie is very partial to a bit of lightly sugared batter and squeezed lemon.>>

and there we will leave the not-so-Bonnie Prince for the moment.

First exchanges on the wargames table
We must now return to the South-west side of Vestisle where Lt General Barbier is closely supervising the Comte de la Morliere's performance in patiently waiting for the enemy to come to him, and is not impressed. I quote for my email exchanges with Guy:
Me -
<<Lt General de Barbier
He is now in Cassatte with the Grenadiers. His Fusiliers de la Morliere are in a skirmish screen where the two Easterly roads enter Cassatte, the light gun is in the line firing at enemy light troops. The Dragoons are formed in line on their left flank to screen the Abrantes road. 
He can see all the green clad enemy jagers now spreading out in a long skirmish line from the road NE towards the Cime D'abrantes, they have a light battery which is firing at the Fusiliers. Beyond them enemy light cavalry are traversing the crest of the ridge, moving northwards. An artillery battery is coming up the road towards Cassatte. This is in within long range of your heavy battery so that won't be very effective against a difficult target and the jagers are no longer within the narrow redoubt angle of fire. South of this position red coated infantry and artillery batteries are forming up in columns - probably as many as 7000 men in the open ground North of the Auberge. He can also see that more boats have landed at the South end of Beach 4 and are unloading horses.
Barbier is now getting nervous that he does not want personally to be cut off from the main army or Abrantes. While he is taking in the scene from Cassatte church tower he receives news from the Comte de la Morliere that his Fusiliers are taking casualties from the light battery (2 hits).

Opening dispositions for the Cassatte game
Pitt's brigade marching inland from the Beach 
What is he going to do? >>

Guy's response from Barbier:
So the stage is set for a quick game involving a short sharp counter-attack by the French
Time for  one more exchange before the game

Me - 
Barbier discusses his thoughts (as expressed by you ARE YOU  A MAN OR A MOUSE?) with Comte de la Morliere.
The latter is Dashing and takes afront at the idea of just standing and taking the artillery fire. This is what he says.
Closer view as the two enemy brigades face off
"Your Honour! if you will support me in person I will order all my troops to advance quickly and try to drive the enemy away Southwards. The Fusiliers will skirmish against some of the jagers, the artillery will support them with fire and the Dragoons will attack the enemy right flank to drive them South. They are only light troops and cannot stand against me! The Grenadiers will come out of Cassatte and support the attack by also advancing with the bayonet. We must try to do that before that new enemy artillery battery takes up an effective position. When they have gone back we can begin to withdraw towards Abrantes"

Lt General Barbier has given his orders to the Comte de la Morliere
(Barbier's foot ADCs courtesy of William Harley of Ivybridge, Devon)

(NB  with Barbier present within 15cm of Morliere he adds 1 to Morliere's Dashing score and within 5cm can knock off a Hit each move (so Fusiliers can start off at 1 not 2)

Guy's response

I was content that Ken would be happy with a fairly passive defence as he had said that Schwarz was not to get embroiled in an attack on Cassatte ("They are Jagers not Grenadiers")

With a short game in prospect I offered my neighbour, Oscar, a chance to take Guy's dynamic Lt Gen Barbier and Comte de la Morliere in this "Delaying action at Cassatte" while I endeavoured to look after Allied interests in as neutral a way as possible.
I used the full 8 ft x 6 ft table with the South end of the Cime de Cassatte and the redoubt overlooking about half of Casatte village and fishing port. Then wide open spaces across the Cassatte valley using the Cime d'Abrantes as the table edge (Squares F2 to F4 down to I2 to I4 on the map).

Part of the small port of Cassatte
In the spirit of the email campaign I present the battle to you dear readers as the two somewhat biased accounts I had to give to Ken and Guy, with photos of the game from which you can draw your own conclusions.

Battle of Cassatte - Allied version
<<Around 0840 the right hand Jager battalion (Wyle Tal) was attacked by the Dragoons de la Morliere and they fired and hastily withdrew but obviously caused loss to the cavalry who then swerved to their right to attack the rifle jagers. At the same time the Fusiliers de la Morliere attacked in the same area and ended up trying to take the German Light battery in flank.

The Morliere Dragoons and Fusiliers have been driven back, but held Schwarz up in the process
At this point Sackville was sent forward (from the main body) to try to retrieve the situation and report back.
Here is his report at an hour or so later:

"As I rode forward it became evident that the French were bravely attacking all along their front and our light troops were fighting back but in fact also successfully evading and giving ground. As the smoke cleared I could see that General Schwarz had the situation well in hand. The Dragoons had been repulsed as had the Fusiliers and were themselves falling back to their starting point. A regiment of Grenadiers had emerged from Cassatte and were now attacking the Ost Kenneten Jagers. Their fire, together with the French light artillery, was beginning to cause significant casualties in our own lines and General Schwarz knew it made no sense to press on too hard with his men in the face of canister fire.  The French Grenadiers prudently withdrew to stay in touch with the rest of Morliere's brigade and the crisis seemed to have subsided somewhat. However, the Wyle Tal Jagers, who had suffered least, followed their orders to extend to the right and in doing so tried to cut off the Morliere Dragoons from retreat, but their fire actually broke the Dragoons who fled back to the Abrantes road.

Although they were not, in the event,  to prove necessary, I was following your orders by then leading forward the 1st Reserve Artillery up the road towards Cassatte. It was with great surprise that we came under heavy and very effective fire from the direction of the redoubt on the hill. I was nearly unhorsed by a ball. We realised that  the gunners had taken about an hour to manhandle their heavy fortification pieces outside the redoubt so they could fire on us.

The plucky Cassatte battery gunners slowly haul their heavy cannon where they can
get an angle on the Allies below
By about 10 am the whole French force was in retreat covered by the fire of one heavy and one light artillery battery so General Schwarz had won a notable victory, and we allowed them to go up the Abrantes road unmolested to avoid unnecessary casualties.

I was informed by General Schwarz that the red, white and blue quartered standard of Lt General de Barbier was seen among the disordered ranks of the Morliere Fusiliers so it appears he has taken a personal hand in masterminding this delaying action".

Despite the range of their rifles I wanted to keep those Jagers safely back
As Marlborough orders the two infantry brigades to march up the valley, around 1030, he can see that the naval guns on the hill had been abandoned and the crews slipped away. At the base of the hill, further up the Abrantes road and beyond the wood, the Morliere brigade has reformed into march formation and is about to set off Northwards covered by a screen of skirmishers.>>

In the distance the Morliere Dragoons have been outflanked giving Pitt  the
confidence to begin marching his line infantry up the valley
Delaying Action at Cassatte - French version
<<Around 1040 the Chevalier de Muy receives a messenger bearing the following report from Lt General de Barbier:
"1000 hours East of Cassatte on the Abrantes road -
Monsieur le Chevalier. It is with great pleasure that I report the Comte de la Morliere and I have  held back over 4 times our numbers of English and Germans in front of Cassatte with little material loss to ourselves.
Overall view showing that fire from the right hand Jagers has broken the Dragoons
(below in detail); The Morliere Grenadiers are conducting a well ordered  retreat

As a strong line of German Jagers, some with rifles, supported by artillery, approached Cassatte port the Comte very bravely led all his regiments forward against them. The Dragoons were immediately successful in driving back one battalion and scattering another to the East, but eventually the fire of the withdrawing Germans proved too effective and the Dragoons were forced to fall back. But this charge was so surprising to the English that the two brigades of Foot regiments trying to form behind this skirmisher screen halted in shock! (a 1 on initiative die!!!).

The Fusiliers de la Morliere, despite being only light troops, also joined in the charge when they saw they had a chance to attack the German battery in flank. Unfortunately the guns were turned in time and the Fusiliers were repulsed by canister fire. By this time the Grenadiers de la Morliere had emerged from Cassatte and formed line and they joined in the fight, but it was too late and flanking fire from a third Jager battalion encouraged them to fall back into line with their comrades.

At that point I was worried that the fast movement of the light troops facing us would risk preventing a successful withdrawal but we heard the booming noise of heavy artillery from behind our heads and it became apparent that the local heavy artillery battery commander had used his initiative to drag his guns out of the redoubt. From there they could play on the Germans and English in the valley South of Cassatte but further inland from the coast.

Heavy gun now begins long range fire at its best target - limbered artillery
 on the road...............
We witnessed considerable destruction among a limbered English battery trying to approach up the road from the beach, and when this was combined with the threat from de la Morliere's light battery the Germans' dared not venture nearer, and the whole force edged Eastwards to avoid the heavy battery fire.
...........Oscar scored a 5, and even the inferior artillery got 2 Hits on the
 limbered German reserve battery.
Sackville is nearby and within the 5cm danger zone; he survived.
So I am confident I can find a place of relative safety on the road just North of the woods to recover our missing and wounded. After that it is my intention to bring the whole force towards Abrantes (closely marshalled due to enemy cavalry visible on the Cime d'Abrantes just to my South and East). I estimate I can be around the bend where the road approaches the crossroads just South of Abrantes town by about midday to await your further instructions." >>

Above and below: The Dragoons have rallied and the whole French brigade is
now retreating up the valley (as planned!)

By most wargame standards this would have been seen as a defeat for the French (some genuinely unfortunate dice rolls for Oscar) but my fake news worked a treat and after Guy praised Oscar's spirited efforts he sent the following from the Chevalier de Muy to Barbier -

"The performance will certainly be included in the dispatches to His Majesty. If both (Barbier and Morliere) continue to perform well against the perfidious les rosbifs, I will be humbly recommending to His Majesty that both are advanced to the rank of Chevalier of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis.

I confirm approval of their movement towards the cross roads. Please endeavor to slow and shadow the enemy and report any movements back to HQ."

The Situation after the Cassatte action
I will leave you with a view of the island giving approximate positions about 1040 on 10th August 1756.

By 1040 the Allies are following Morliere's brigade at a  safe distance up the Cassatte Valley. French infantry are making a stand in front of Abrantes while their cavalry brigade scouts South along the ridge ; the Jacobites are out of their camp and forming a line from the Colline de Bellune to the town itself. In the East the French have finally realised there are no real enemy troops. Von Brunck consolidates his Hanoverians and loyal Scots near Beach 3.

 Next time - The Battle of Bellune Hill and news of reinforcements