Tuesday 15 October 2019

18th Century mini-campaign - Raid on Vestisle - Part 3 The Battle of Bellune Hill

We are now getting to the wargaming meat of this enterprise  and for those who wish to be reminded of the purpose and scope of the mini-campaign please see Part 1
A little aside describing the British Sailors' stealthy infiltration around the Chateau du Roi was described in Part 2

For those who just want to keep up I am revisiting here the last situation map and caption which I published

By 1040 on 10th August 1756 the Allies are following Morliere's brigade (led by General Barbier) at a  safe distance up the Cassatte Valley with the main force under Marlborough. French infantry under De Muy 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. 
(NB> The above map does not expand as I copied it from the earlier post - all the rest can be viewed big by double clicking)

So I could see that both players were determined there would be a showdown pretty soon and I asked them to share with me their intentions:
Guy for the French: 
  • Barbier to pull back Morliere's Legion to the head of the Cassatte Valley and join up with De Muy to make a useful flank guard across that approach to Abrantes
  • De Muy's infantry brigade makes the best defensive line it can across the Cime d'Abrantes and calls up the Marine artillery battery from its reserve position and the German battalion from Abrantes Town
  • There is an obvious weak spot between the two woods so Baron Joubarbe's Heavy Cavalry Brigade is called back to form a line as best he can to join de Muy's infantry with the forming Jacobite line on Bellune Hill, a big ask given the distance.
  • Lauzun's Legion and the Marine battalion were recalled at best speed from East Vestisle, and Guy recognised instantly that crossing the Ruisseau de Veste would cause a bottleneck at the bridge. So he ordered the cavalry and horse artillery to make for the northern bridge while the foot troops marched more slowly to cross by the east bridge and occupy Bellune town.
  • That required fine tuning on the timing as Earl Marischal Keith would not have all the Jacobite troops in position till midday. So to assist, most of Major General Verrieres Grenadier brigade was ordered to make a steady advance South from Bellune to cover the Jacobites and the town.
  • That might seem a bit strange but Guy's master plan was bold as he intended to wait till those reserves from the East were in position behind the lines and then press forward to keep Von Brunck's Hanoverians as far away as possible.
In summary this was a very brave attempt for a long single line to confront the Allies at all points and hold them back. This was to give as much deployment room as possible for the reinforcements which were expected to land at Abrantes harbour and Beach 1 in late afternoon. 80% of what passed for the illusion of Guy's second line were in fact dummy units using buildings, woods and hillslopes for concealment.
As a reminder you can find the French order of battle here

The Chevalier de Muy forms his line South of the Ferme St Denis near Abrantes Town
Ken for the Allies
To some extent Ken's job was more straightforward though, on the ground, it would not have seemed so.

  • Schwarz's Jager brigade was to press Morliere's weakened Legion and hopefully break through towards the walls of Abrantes from the Cassatte Valley
  • Second in command, Lord Sackville, was to lead Anstruther's infantry brigade northwards along the Cime d'Abrantes and drive back de Muy onto the Abrantes walls
  • In the centre the scouting by telescope from the pinnacle of the Abrantes Ridge line gave Ken the the idea that a bold attack towards the end of Bellune Hill could hit the Jacobites in flank and split his opponent's whole army wide open. He ordered von Aststadt's Light Cavalry to manoeuvre carefully and, as the Duke of Marlborough, led Pitt's brigade towards the French centre in march columns with the aim of a combined all-arms assault at the schwerpunkt.
  • Ken was sensibly keen that von Brunck's useful, but not overly powerful, corps should not get drawn into an attack on Bellune town. Hence the plan was to form a line westwards towards Marlborough's main force and let the French /Jacobites come forward from their defensive positions and, when the time was right, counter attack in force with the aim of taking Bellune Hill to dominate the Jacobite camp.
  • Sir Alastair Campbell's loyal Highland brigade guarded the right flank connecting to Beach 3 but Ken's master plan, if things went pear-shaped, was to abandon the beach and retreat towards the main force. That was because he had ordered the Marquis of Granby to bring in the second wave all around Beach 4 later that afternoon.
  • Masterfully Ken was bringing up the four-regiment strong Dragoon brigade of Major General Elliot to be a useful and near reserve behind his main point of attack.
In essence Ken had described his plan as the left flank to be the "Hammer" to drive the French onto the right flank "Anvil".  How lucky was I to be the Games Master for two such determined and clever 18th century wargamers!

As a reminder you can find the Allied Order of Battle here

The Duke of Marlborough takes up position between von Aststadt's and Pitt's brigades ready to attack Bellune Hill
Knowing these plans helped me to gel their orders with any conflicts that occurred on the map movement and decide on appropriate formations and spread of the various units and brigades. Both chaps had kindly got their figures to me before the designated weekend so about a week before hand I was able to get everything sorted and ready. Also around this time (1100 on 10th August campaign time) I got both commanders to write written orders/instructions/suggestions as appropriate to their colleague players who would command the second wave troops. These were despatched by courier and then fast boats to the approaching fleets. I got Graham Cummings - the French Duc de Richelieu - to specify the intended points of disembarkation and timing for the French "main force", and Dillon Browne to do the same as Granby commanding a mainly Hessian corps as the Allied reserve.
Thus, before the action of Bellune Hill was started on the table, the dice had been cast, so to speak for the reserves, and Ken and Guy had to play without the certainty that things would pan out as they hoped.

Above and below: Second wave troops of both sides sorted and ready before the day

The Battle of Bellune Hill - opening dispositions
So the following map shows the dispositions on or around the tabletop at midday 10th August 1756 just before we started the wargame action(s). Each square on the map is two feet (60cm on the table, representing about 500 metres). Each unit number corresponds to the Orbats already referenced above.

You will note two distinct rectangles. This is because I had secured the Duchess' agreement that for this weekend only we could set up playing as well as storage space in the open plan living area above my wargames room. So the large rectangle is the main table fully stretched to its 12 feet x 6 feet and the small one a table cobbled together to make about 5 feet x 4 feet. Although not very photogenic the small table allowed concurrent play and we were able to treat the games as one big battle on a realistic scale 4500 metre frontage.

I got Ken and Guy to travel on the Friday so we could make some sort of start that evening. I decided we would kick off just with the small table and leave the big one until all five players arrived on the Saturday. Poor Ken had to deal with deadlines on his engineering project which is about infrastructure to do with a scheme of national importance, so even wargaming could not trump that! He had given me permission to command his Allied troops till he arrived, so I took things carefully.

Holding Action at Ferme St Denis

Happily the deployments meant that the small table had neatly balanced forces for a self contained game.  The first photo shows that I had to add an extra board and mark some hatched tape to show the slope of Cime de Cassatte in the foreground. A small back table allowed us to track the progress of the Bentheim Regiment emerging from Abrantes town.

French at left - Legion de la Morliere with the Duc de Battenburg's brigade
 over the Cime d'Abrantes. Allies at right - Schwarz's jagers, and Anstruther's British
infantry span the ridge in two lines.
I started the game by just pounding the French with Ken's artillery, which was
 slightly heavier than Guy's, but could not make any real impact before Ken arrived
An unusual photo - After supper and it had got dark so my flash is reflected in
the window while Guy and Ken resume the play. Of note Morliere has advanced
his Grenadier battalion in an attempt to wrong-foot the Jagers
But unfortunately it was ill judged as the facing Jager battalion was equipped with
 rifles and scored significant hits, killing Morliere in the process, This was about 1245 pm
The Morliere Grenadiers have fallen back and are now led by a "Dependable"
substitute commander. In the distance the Charrentan Battalion has retreated with
4 Hits along the ridge.
Luckily for Guy the Bentheim battalion has arrived  to fill the gap
An overall photo about 1.00pm. At left the Fusiliers de la Morliere have arrived after being called back from a position guarding a pass in the ridge. Ken's self discipline had prevented him lurching forward with isolated Jagers to follow the retreating Morliere Grenadiers so was now trying to stabilise this flank for Anstruther to attack along the ridge. Artillery fire has caused the Charrentan battalion to retreat back to Abrantes.
Lt General Lord Sackville in the foreground watches Anstruther lead his brigade
against the depleted French infantry
Tiredness had set in for the players so we called it a night and resumed in the morning before the others arrived.

De Muy got initiative and formed the Bentheim battalion where it could join its fire with the Haut Lovelle regiment and flanking fire from two batteries on Anstruther's infantry, attacking on a narrow frontage. At left losses from artillery and musketry had caused a prudent withdrawal by De Muy of his left flank.
Overall view about 1.20pm:Pretty much a stand off between the light troops in the valley - neither side wanted to commit itself piecemeal but holding such a wide line made concerted action difficult; and any attack by the French would be met by effective Jager fire. On the Cime d'Abrantes the British are suffering badly from all the incoming fire. 
The 25th Foot have broken under the strain and Anstruther went down in a hail of canister.
Even Sackville's presence is not enough to stop it.
Campaign time was now 1.40pm and we had done 5 Moves on this small table. What had started off looking bad for the French had been turned around as Ken had to attack and unfortunately did it in such a way that he got far too much incoming fire, with inevitable results. It was a good place to leave this fight as the others were beginning to arrive so it was time for coffee and biscuits and briefings for the newcomers.

A tour round the Bellune Hill battlefield
The following photos show the starting dispositions on the big table, to where our action now shifted.

Compare with the map: At left von Brunck's Corps: Campbell's Government Scots - mostly Light infantry; von Hardenburg's Hanoverian Line Infantry; von Trump's Cuirassiers Brigade. In the distance Pitt's British Infantry and von Aststadt's British and German Light Cav.  On the right the French and Jacobites: Vestisle Militia in the foreground; Verriere's Grenadier brigade in and beyond the South gate of Bellune town; Jacobite guns; Keith's Jacobite Highland infantry up and on Bellune Hill (Pitsligo's tiny cavalry brigade hidden out of sight behind the hill); Joubarbe's French cavalry brigade. A corner of the Jacobite camp can be seen at middle right
Sir Alastair Campbell's loyal Scots 
A closer view of the Bellune southern suburb
Von Aststadt's Prussian and British Light Cavalry about to test the mettle of
Baron Joubarbe's cavalry who are spreading themselves thinly between
 the two woods
The front regiment of the Cuirassiers brigade which protects the flank of the
strong Hanoverian infantry brigade
Major General  de Verrieres inspects his Grenadiers.
(Minden figures beautifully presented as Imagi-Nations units by Ken)
Two battalions are deployed to bolster the resolve of the Jacobites while one
 remains in the gatehouse area of Bellune (below)

The southern entrance to the Jacobite camp, protected by wooden stockade and
felled branches as abattis. Moveable chevaux de frise can be used to open and
close the entrance as necessary. Lt General de Barbier has been delegated by
de Muy to command this flank, currently he is by the camp gate.
Part of the French heavy cavalry brigade.
That gap between them and the Jacobites is what is tempting the Duke of Marlborough
in planning his attack
A lovely view of Guy's Crann Tara Highlanders. Simon Fraser, Master of Lovatt, commands five clan battalions in a single line along the crest of Bellune Hill, just awaiting the right time to unleash a Highland charge. William Keith, Earl Marishal of the Jacobite Army is also supporting at close hand. Bonnie Prince Charlie has by now been "distracted" in Abrantes town by Madame Demonaie so will miss everything!

Bellune Hill - the opening moves

I will let the photos tell the narrative. This part of the battle too commenced at 1200 midday.

The proceedings opened with an attack by Guy's cavalry on the French right flank. He was not going to let Ken's British have any more territory without paying a price. The initial melee can be seen below

Unseen, the infantry and cavalry of Lauzun's reinforcements are entering Bellune
 town (see map) and that was the signal for the French Grenadier brigade to act
aggressively and advance towards the loyal Scots.
Graham Ward is acting the part of Major General de Verrieres
The overall scene during Move 1. The Allied infantry are currently passive awaiting the left flank to move in.
Pitt's British infantry are beginning to form lines in the distance
The Orlean cavalry regiment has been repulsed and is trying to recover while
their colleagues are now involved in a complex fight. Lt Gen de Barbier has
moved closer to try to make a difference
The cavalry fight is about to get more complicated as Elliot's Dragoon Brigade begins to arrive 
Dillon appears to be allowing Graham's Grenadiers to advance well away from
Bellune town, although they are  now under long range fire
The three French commanders are concentrating hard. Graham Cummings still awaits the right moment to move his clans on the hill, and at last a reaction by his opponent has caused Graham Ward to pull back his Grenadiers before they get into trouble. Good news though as the Comte de Lauzun's cavalry reserve can be see on the road streaming out of Bellune, and would be only just in time
This has got Dillon thinking hard about how to coordinate von Brunck's corps to best advantage. Frustratingly he has rolled continuous 1s for von Trump's initiative and his Cuirassier brigade is not yet able to threaten the hill.
A rare spell of mutual paperwork! Ken and Guy are checking Plusses and Minusses against the Quick Reference sheet. The two Grahams are both consulting the rule book about something ........
A super photo along the Jacobite line. Grenadier brigade howitzer in the foreground
 then the two Jacobite batteries which look impressive but I made them "inferior" status.
Behind them Pitsligo's cavalry have emerged from behind Bellune Hill
and wonder if some chance for glory will present itself
In front of them the Hanoverian brigade is stoically advancing. Front line are Ken's Minden/Crann Tara figures and Guy's are mostly in the second line
Heavily outnumbered the French cavalry are now down to only the Aphon Regiment.
Stirred on by the brave de Barbier they are keeping back 5 Allied regiments!
Aphon attacked a British Foot battalion in flank but was in turn flanked by
British Dragoons.
The result was inevitable and by about 1 pm it looked like the French right was broken

The Advance to Bellune Hill

With their eyes still apparently on the "prize" of the open Jacobite flank both Pitt's
and Elliot's brigades leave the French cavalry to run and they veer right towards
Bellune Hill
Graham still taunts, or tempts, them by keeping the right flank of the MacDonald clan in the air but at the East end of Bellune Hill he is making adjustments to the Jacobites  to angle towards the Hanoverian right flank.  If the latter continue ahead they will get boxed in! At the end nearest the sea both sides were cautiously manoeuvring towards each other and firing on the move
Here is a close up of the aggression. Dillon has brought up his small battalion of combined Grenadiers to give Graham's a return taste of "Superior Infantry" firepower, and that is combined with canister from the Scots Light Battery. The Grenadier Howitzer battery is in no position to return the compliment due to its own friends in the canister angle
Help is at hand for the French.
The Marine battalion of light infantry and the Grenadiers de Lauzun
are making their way westwards out of Bellune to join in 
The close range fire has brought advantages for both sides: the canister fire has broken the Grenadiers de Gue d'homme and on the other side Fraser's Highlanders have been broken by the combined fire of two battalions
By 1.20pm, with the lines now broken up, flanking opportunities presented themselves
 to both Scots and French. The Scottish battery is turned on the Grenadiers de France.....
........While the Grenadier brigade howitzer and Lord Ogilvy's Jacobite guns pound the end of the Hanoverian line
Over on the Allied left Elliot's brigade has reformed and Ken has placed it
squarely facing the gap between the woods. A glance at the map shows that
ahead lies an impassable river so the French Heavy cavalry have had to try to
reform behind the woods........
.....seeing what Elliot cannot - that the Hussars de Lauzun and the
Hussars de Bercheny will soon be in position across the gap.
 Initiative dice and possible double moves might decide it!

 The Jacobite Charge

Graham C had been biding his time, thankful that the Hanoverian brigade had only had modest initiative dice thus far and that only now, about 1.30 pm was von Trump's German Cuirassier brigade shaking itself off and moving towards Bellune Hill.  Pitt's infantry was doing that terrible slow British red-line advance thing that inspires dread of the first volley. So he thought he had better do something dramatic now before it was too late.
But as Graham advanced on the Hanoverian flank Dillon rolled a double move for
Hardenburg's brigade and was able to edge sideways to meet him head on.  
We were using Graham's speciality - the "Highland charge rule" whereby
 the Jacobites were able to charge, fire at close range and then go into melee with
the close order charge bonus. 
A defender's only real hope is to stop the clan attack by pre-contact fire
The outcomes can be seen above and below after a frantic 30 minutes of
real time action. Two Hanoverian battalions are fleeing as is one of the clan
 battalions, one stays put and two have had to withdraw. 

In the foreground the small Cameron battalion is as yet unbloodied, but outnumbered.
 Around this time we had done 5 Moves and we had to decide if the smaller action on the table upstairs should be resumed.  Guy's infantry had the upper hand and he was fantasising about sweeping forward and then coming round onto the big table South of the woods to cause trouble on Ken's flank.  There seemed to be a unanimous view that it was an unrealistic aim due to the British troops being unbroken and both sides on that table were still fairly evenly matched. So we just assumed a standoff on the Cime d'Abrantes.

 Final Cavalry Showdown

As it happened the initiative dice fell in favourable numbers and sequence for both sides in the cavalry action between the woods
Around 1.40pm half of Elliot's brigade attacked to their right and the Comte de Lauzun was able to use his "Dashing" skills to change formation and counter charge in line. But the weight and size  of the British regiment was too great for the Hussars and Lauzun's own regiment was pushed back through Bercheny's. 
This to me is an amazing thing. You'll recall that every French Heavy cavalry regiment was routed bit by bit, but gradually Guy had rallied and recovered them out of sight behind the woods, and also maximised Barbier's Lieutenant General status to rally extra points for the last couple of turns. So that, admittedly weakened, all three regiments returned to the fray to block the other half of Elliot's brigade......When the fight finished only the Orlean Regiment remained, although the Allies had lost heavily too. This did mean, however, that the Allied cavalry were in possession of the road between Bellune and Abrantes, which would affect later strategy

End Game beyond Bellune Hill

Realising it is getting crowded with Pitt's infantry von Trump has turned 90 degrees
 with the Cuirassiers and no longer aiming for Bellune Hill
Somewhat incongruously this photo shows the small Clan Cameron battalion  exposed amid 5 battalions of Hanoverians. In fact its fire-before-charge had been so successful that the facing battalion gave way and we can see all 3 battalions busy trying to reform and recover points, way back where they had started
The Chilmarque Grenadier regiment is caught in the flank by the small British
converged Grenadier battalion, and routed...........
..........but they themselves are attacked in the rear by the Grenadiers de France, with a similar result

It was now around 5.30 pm real time and 1420 game time.  The players were happy to call a halt there as there was much more to be done in this mini-campaign weekend.

There was honour for both sides in this battle:
  • The French had been outnumbered and stretched really thinly but they had held back a larger force for two hours and inflicted severe losses. The remains of the French cavalry were rallying in places of safety, thanks to the bravery and persistence of General Barbier. The Jacobites were still intact and had beat a hasty retreat back down Bellune Hill and into their camp to recover. The Grenadiers withdrew back into the safety of Bellune town.
  • The Allies must have felt it was a victory of sorts even though the Hanoverian infantry had suffered a bloody reverse. Pitt's brigade was virtually unscathed but all the others had notable casualties. More importantly their troops dominated the terrain - still retained the Beach 3 landing site, captured Bellune Hill overlooking the Jacobite camp and away to the North shore.  Controlled the main road on the island connecting the most important towns, and still contested the ground in front of Abrantes town from the peak of Cime d'Abrantes

From my point of view it had been a great game to watch, and I loved the terrain with its wide sweeping plain but just enough key obstacles which dictated the French deployment and gave something significant to fight for.  Just what you want in a campaign game - not a fight to the death but careful deployment and nice blend of audacity with cautiousness in tabletop decisions. Its fair to say that the Allies were dogged by a couple of runs of unfortunate dice without which their plan would have looked more efficient and speedy than it was. Once again "Honours of War"(HoW) had coped well with a large multi-player game - about 1000 figures in play and 7 turns completed in about 5 hours of actual playing time (not counting refreshment breaks and briefings!). Von Trump's poor initiative dice felt more like "Black Powder" but that prolonged torpor doesn't happen at all often with HoW.

Next time: How we organised the aftermath:  post battle attrition, arrival of the reinforcements, redesigning the battlefield, and redeployment for the Sunday's big Battle of Abrantes.