Wednesday, 17 February 2021

18th Century Mini Campaign - The Raid on Vestisle Part 5: The Battle of Abrantes - the first hour

Apologies to regular readers for my lack of blogging; I can only blame Lockdown inertia combined with an increasingly dodgy rural broadband service as so many neighbours seem to call on the bandwidth with home working, home study by zoom or just plain streaming films and TV. This post tries to catch up on our alternative history mini-campaign in the Summer of 2019 and, if you wish to, you can read the previous post (Evening and overnight deployment) and from that back track through whole mini-campaign.

Failing that here is a Very Quick Recap:

August 1756 - A British corps-sized force under the Duke of Marlborough has invaded the French island of Vestisle with the aim of disrupting a large gathering of Jacobites who are training, under French auspices, to try another attempt under "Bonnie" Prince Charlie on the English throne. A big battle (Bellune Hill) has taken place across the middle of Vestisle island from around 1200 midday to 1420 in which an outnumbered French and Jacobite army has just about held off Marlborough's corps but had to give up vital ground. Both sides suffered fairly horrible localised casualties and, according to my campaign rules, needed to pull back at least one map square (500 metres) apart to recover. During the evening of my actual wargaming weekend (10-11 August 2019) the 5 players and I worked out the arrival of significant reinforcements on the island for both sides and how to deploy them on the evening of 10th August 1756, overnight, and up to dawn (0600) on 11th August.

Time did not allow formal maps to be made so the best I can offer is a couple of nice photo views at the start of the day and a photo of the magnetic counters on my campaign map. Blue are the French and Jacobites and Red the British, Hanoverians and Hessians. We had to use both the 12 x 6 foot main table and the 4 x 3 foot smaller one in the room upstairs.

The main table: Hanoverian infantry in foreground with British and Hanoverian infantry and cavalry forming a strong flank. They are facing a very weak French holding force; there are some reinforcements approaching from the road on the right. Beyond these the British are massing for an attack on Abrantes town though left flank forces are a bit tardy. French infantry have formed a main line of defence and a very strong French elite cavalry corps is swinging round the town to help fill the very gappy left centre.

The players, from left: British - Ken Marshall and Dillon Browne; French - Guy Barlow, Graham Ward and Graham Cummings (Graham W. opted not to play today as he had to get back off to London  earlier than planned)

The smaller table with a corner of the Jacobite camp from which the clan battalions intend to counter attack along with the Grenadiers coming from Bellune town.  The loyal Scots facing from Bellune Hill are hoping to keep them bottled up.

The magnetic map with approximate positions of campaign "units" mostly brigades or independent battalions or regiments. If you wish to identify them further the F and B numbers correspond to units in the Orders of Battle which can be found here

Before we could start, and as we cleared away the breakfast things, I had to tackle Guy about the exact positions of his "characters"and a key unit in the city. We have met some of them before but Prince Charles Edward Stuart was an obvious target for the British raid, and Guy had acted throughout the mini campaign like his historical French counterparts and treated Charlie as a dispensable liability. The only trouble was that Charlie was now accompanied by a bigger group, some of whom mattered, and Guy decided they would all be sheltering in the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville):

Prince Charles Edward Stuart

Laird Jamie Fraser of Lallybroch (military adviser) - 

Donald Mactavish (Charlie's manservant and fixer)

Le Duc de Vestisle

Le Chevalier Dumonnaie (Chief Secretary of the Treasury in Paris)

Madame Florence Dumonnaie (wife of the Chevalier and "admirer" of Charlie)

sundry servants 

Charlie's dalliance with Madame Dumonnaie the previous day over "lunch" in "Le Canard Malpropre" tavern had created a certain bond which I guess encouraged Guy not to separate out his characters even though he had the chance. It was significant that the chaos in Abrantes caused by the British landing had allowed Charlie to volunteer his, er,... sword, to protect her while her husband had checked that the Government gold was safe in the casemate of the stone bastion at Abrantes harbour. 

The other choice for Guy was how to dispose of the Abrantes Citizen's Militia in battalion strength which had assembled on the Saturday, and Le Duc de Vestisle had instructed to defend the city.  I'm not sure whether it was the inscrutability of his profession or just the "morning after the night before" and several bottles of excellent Malbec.......but Guy was adamant the whole lot should defend the West Gatehouse area of the decaying city walls. This was despite my subtle Games Mastery attempts to suggest that putting all his eggs in one basket might not be wise.  You see, I already knew what the instructions were from Ken for Captain Cochane's companies of sailors who had successfully infiltrated the city during the night and Guy had left some other key points unguarded.

These elements were to prove of great significance later. Here is the text of hand written orders I got from Ken the evening before:

"To Captain Cochrane RN, from The Duke of Marlborough

Thank you for your report and intelligence on future operations.

I intend to seize Abrantes on the 11th. Although I cannot provide an accurate time I expect to be in a position to attack around 11 am. 

If you are successful in infiltrating the town your primary tasks are to send companies to:

  • Silence the bastion battery and search and secure it
  • Search the Hotel de Ville
  • Search the Town Inn cellar
  • If you can locate the Duc de Vestisle and capture him to use as a bargaining chip even better
  • Target the South and West perimeter walls and residences with gunpowder from 11am which may ease our attack" (by distracting French troops? CG)

As GM it was my task to interpret this as Captain Cochrane and it was a tall order with the remaining companies of sailors and would have to be done incrementally. Ken had thought well ahead and assembled Cochrane's little corps to include a mixture of Scots, Gaelic and French speakers so I determined that during the night they blagged their way to infiltrate carefully round the town square and await the passing  through of the French infantry on the morrow. More on that later.

At dawn there were a lot of French infantry in Abrantes City awaiting the passing of the Elite Cavalry corps so they could emerge

Another important point to decide was what would be the start time of our on-table manoeuvres?  As it "dawned" on each team that 6 am would not see the newly arrived troops far from their night bivouacs it became a kind of mental race in their minds to visualise how far the enemy would get if we opted for say 8 am to try for formal battle lines. Rather than play a metaphorical game of scissors, paper, stone it was mutually decided that we would set up as at 6 am and let normal game play determine the outcome of forming up positions.  So the initial photos give an idea of how scrappy this appeared to the protagonists, especially the Allies who still had several brigades off table.

The now "Dashing" Lt General de Barbier stands by the French mercenary Battenburg brigade holding the farm and ground immediately in front of Abrantes

French, Irish, Swiss and Scots Elite infantry continue the French line westwards with Legion de la Morliere Dragoons, Grenadiers and Fusiliers holding the extreme right flank

The French left flank (on this table) is held thinly by Lauzun Hussars, Marines, Lauzun light artillery and Grenadiers and the only regiment of Jubarbe's cavalry surviving from the Battle of Bellune Hill. They have their backs to the uncrossable Ruisseau de Veste

Facing them the massed ranks of the "victors" of Bellune Hill. Three battalions of Hanoverian infantry remained in good condition after their clash with the Highlanders, then four battalions of British infantry. These are backed by a Light Cavalry brigade and three regiments of British Dragoons and Dragoon Guards who expect to crash through the gap opposite

A brigade of five British battalions holds the Allied centre across the Cime d'Abrantes ridge, and beyond Schwarz's Hanoverian Jagers are advancing up the Cassatte Valley. In the far distance (using the window cill!) the first of Ken's reinforcements - German Light infantry and cavalry

0600 11th August 1756 - Opening Movements

The French Grenadiers and Bellune Militia came out of Bellune town on the extreme right flank of the Loyal Scots. The battalion of Frasers came down the slope of Bellune Hill to try to block them and exchanged fire. This was the start of the small "private" game between Dillon as the Loyal Scots and Graham Cummings commanding his beloved Jacobites currently still in the camp. (Below)

We decided to run both tables concurrently in case of spillover and so Dillon and Graham carried on with their respective Hanoverian and French troops on the main table too. The mass of Hanoverian and British troops advanced while Graham kept Lauzun's Legion and the other meagre units well back awaiting the column of reinforcements which had now become visible out of the morning mist across the river. Although he brought the Hussars more centrally to help meet the big cavalry threat.

The reinforcing French brigade can only cross the ruisseau via the bridge which limited Graham's tactical options
Further West towards Abrantes Ken shepherded his main Allied line brigades facing the town while bringing up reinforcements on the left flank especially light troops on the extreme left. Guy began to match this on his right flank by extending his line with the Legion de la Morliere and newly arrived sailors. However, the main excitement was to see the magnificent French Guard Cavalry corps advancing along the road towards Bellune with the intention of filling the gap on the French left centre and matching the opposing Allied Heavy Cavalry. (Photo below)

French cavalry come up from the Abrantes Harbour area to reinforce Morliere on the right flank (whose Grenadiers have bravely advanced along the Cime de Cassatte). The Abrantes Citizens' Militia can be seen in the foreground trying to defend the western walls and suburb

0620 - Consolidation of the French lines/success for Jacobite cannon

The French Guard/Elite Cavalry had reached the critical left-centre gap and deployed into 5 regimental lines  with Jubarbe's remaining regiment; but in front of them Lauzun was fully engaged. The Lauzun Grenadiers and light battery inflicted significant casualties on Pitt's leading battalion and broke it. In return one of Hardenburg's Hanoverian battalions scored 3 hits on the French Marines. Elliott's and von Trump's Allied  heavy cavalry were sizing themselves up now for a more difficult fight than they had expected. In addition Favert's French infantry brigade in reserve was beginning to cross the bridge.  More French reserves were able to begin deploying too as the infantry brigade began to emerge from the South gate of the City.

General view over the main table during Move 2

Unit 25 is the 23rd Fusiliers, broken by fire from the Lauzun Grenadiers and light gun. Five large regiments of British and Hanoverian heavy cavalry mass beyond Pitt's British infantry

South and West of Abrantes City the French Guard/Elite infantry  and Berard's Cavalry brigade formed a line across the top of the Cassatte valley making an imposing obstacle for the British and German advance. Out on the French right Morliere's Grenadiers attacked Schwarz's Hanoverian Jagers in an attempt to avoid being surrounded.

A French brigade (St Germain's) emerges from Abrantes City's southern gate

The Grenadiers de la Morliere are looking increasing exposed as foot and mounted Jagers circle around this flank

From the Jacobite camp the two field gun batteries concentrated on the Loyal Scot's Light battery and Graham scored high and got 3 hits on it. On the extreme flank Fraser's Scots came off worse under musketry from French Grenadiers and Bellune Militia. (2 photos below)

0640: French hold at Left Centre and start of Jacobite counter attack

Unfortunately for Guy and Graham this turn the brigade of 5 large French Guard cavalry regiments rolled a 1 for command initiative and were limited to just changing formation. This left Major General Elliott's cavalry free to attack, but Joubarbe's single regiment held them at bay; both sides suffered 4 hits and had to retreat.

Joubarbe's single regiment tries to hold Elliott's cavalry brigade.....
........and forced the front regiment back, but also had to retreat itself

Lauzun's Grenadiers and artillery continued to hold back Pitt's British infantry for the moment but Hardenburg's Hanoverians were virtually free to choose how to manoeuvre in the open area to their front. Ken clearly was worried about the proximity of the Jacobite camp to his flank and angled the two end regiments along the road facing Bellune town and away from Lauzun's troops - as seen in this general view below.

More Allies now advanced up the Cassatte Valley towards Abrantes - a brigade of German musketeers in three lines. On their left flank Stengel's brigade of Prussian heavy cavalry now arrived on the table. On the French right flank the Comte de la Morliere consolidated his line under the delaying attack by his Grenadiers but at the cost of them now having suffered 4 hits and were forced to retreat back to his lines.

By the Farm it can be seen that one of Battenburg's regiments is in retreat. The Elite cavalry have all changed to two ranks lacking orders to advance at the moment and St Germain's French infantry begin to deploy out of Abrantes.
The German brigade advances up the Cassatte Valley and those Grenadiers de la Morliere have held back the tide for a while

On the French left flank things looked a bit better as Fraser's Loyal Scots broke under concentrated volley fire  leaving the Bellune Militia and Grenadiers free to begin reclaiming Bellune Hill. Campbell's Loyal Scots moved confidently forward to try to block the gate of the Jacobite camp having recognised their arch enemies, the MacDonalds, as the front defensive unit there. But the MacDonalds were keen to charge and opened the chevaux de frise gates in readiness........

"Dillon, I'm really sorry that I'm rolling so many 5s this morning....."

Fraser's  battalion has dispersed and Montgomery's Scots move forward to try to stem the flow of Grenadiers towards Bellune Hill

MacDonalds confront Campbells at the camp gateway

Stocktaking - 3 great shots of the participants during Move Three as they all have dilemmas to solve:

0700 - Multiple setbacks for the Allies
At the Jacobite camp gateway the deadly clash between old enemies resulted in victory for Clan MacDonald, and the Campbells were repulsed back to the woods. Montgomery's fared even worse against the Grenadiers, losing 5 Hits which forced them right back up Bellune Hill, but they were not quite "done for" with our local amendments for large units.

French Grenadiers and Militia follow the retreating Montgomery battalion while maintaining a good line

The Campbells retreat back to the woods though the MacDonalds have also had to retreat temporarily from the gateway

That convinced Dillon even more that he needed to close the road to Abrantes with his two battalions of Hanoverians on the main table. But beyond them Graham's aggressive tactics were making things hot for the Allies. Lauzun's Hussars were able to attack the Hanoverian Guards in the flank and although they received flanking fire from the 21st Foot they broke the Guards but also had to retreat with 4 Hits.  In turn Lauzun's Grenadiers broke the 21st Foot with musketry.

Above and below: Hanoverians block the road to a Jacobite resurgence and British Foot and Hanoverian Guards fall foul of the Lauzun Hussars and Grenadiers

On the left of this action Dillon had not been slow to exploit the previous turn's discomfiture to the French heavy cavalry and Major General Elliot launched the Imber Dragoons against the French Royal Carabineers. This resulted in a reverse for the Allied cavalry and the Carabineers pursued to crash into the Feifeld Dragoons behind them. This proved one melee too far for the Carabineers who now had 6 Hits and even though a large unit, were broken, but Feifeld also had to retreat. So now all Elliott's cavalry regiments had met with reverses and the Abrantes roadline was still hotly contested.

Above and below: two viewpoints of the central cavalry clash. The French formation and Superior status gave them victory in the first round, the Imber Dragoons (in red) were forced back and the Carabineers charge on to meet the Feifeld Dragoons (in blue)

In and around the Cassatte Valley large forces were amassing on both sides and a firefight breaking out on the Abrantes Ridge. Morliere had brought back his Grenadiers to the main line which now extended to the far flank anchored by a battalion of sailors.  Guy, as the French C in C, Le Duc de Richelieu, continued his tactic of making small scale attacks to wrong foot the Duke of Marlborough while bringing up reinforcements from Abrantes City. This time it was the Comte de Berard with a heavy cavalry brigade which filled the open ground to the French front. Marlborough (Ken) brought forward Von Pannewitz's  German Mercenary brigade of five smart looking battalions and behind them an Allied Grenadier brigade was to form the next line. Their left flank was to be protected by the large regiment of the Finckenstein Dragoons.

St Germain's Brigade  continues to come out of Abrantes one battalion at a time

At the moment it is looking like a neat standoff at the head of the valley but up on the near ridge fire fights are breaking out

Above and Below: The order is disrupted as Berard's cavalry attack the clusters of German Jagers and force them off the shoulder of Cassatte Ridge. Finckenstein Dragoons are behind the Jagers and two battalions of Allied Grenadiers in the valley foreground

Just before the lunch break Graham (as both the Comte de Lauzun and the Duc de Orlean) seems to be relishing the good position his forces are in despite the apparently overwhelming enemy numbers. Favert's infantry brigade is now coming across the bridge and deploying

It was now 0720 game time and we had done four very full Moves. It was also time for lunch so we called a temporary halt and that is a good place to finish this post.

Next time (very soon I hope) - the concluding moves in the battle of Abrantes and the fate of the French VIPs...........


  1. Just caught up!
    Majestic! Impressive! Inspiring!
    Been enchanted by narration and pictures of this epic campaign!
    Still a lot of excellent stuff to see and read! Cheers!

  2. Wonderful looking game , great figures , tremendous buildings a real tour de force

  3. Brilliant game Chris. You certainly know how to stage a spectacle - and the write-up's excellent too.

  4. Thanks so much Stokes, Dinos, Martin and Gary your support means so much to me. Any Gary - you are THE man for 18th Century spectacle at your club so a compliment indeed, thank you.

  5. Gripping stuff Chris.Cant wait for the next episode.

  6. That is quite superb, such a superb looking game, every thing about it is just so good. Well done to all and looking forward to seeing more!!

  7. Tony and Donnie really appreciate your comments thanks. I shall get on drafting the next part tonight but it does take me a few days to put this sort of thing together.

  8. Huzzah! Chris, this is just brilliant. I wonder if I could find a way to "transport" this island to New France...


    1. Thanks Eric, yes indeed you could - my maps and briefing resources are within the blog posts and as linked files. There is historic precedent for British landings in New France during the FIW. You could make it an island in the mouth of the St Lawrence and still have a resurgent Jacobite force there if you like Highlanders but also bring into the mix Canadian Militia and Coureur du Bois. Plenty of scope for sailors and marine landings too and forts/bastions on the coast.

  9. Chris,

    What a spectacular game! It could easily win a Best in Show award if presented at a convention. Jacobites! Hanoverians! French! British! It’s got it all. I can’t wait to see how this one ends.


    1. Thanks a lot Bill. Game design and throwing the terrain together down to me but the spectacle is mainly due to the wonderful Crann Tara and Minden/Fife and Drum armies of Ken and Guy. My terrain doesn't travel well and because of my hearing problem big noisy gatherings like Shows are a trial I don't need, thanks for the compliment though.

  10. Chris,
    Long time in coming but we’ll worth the wait. I’d almost forgotten what a tense battle it was - but hugely enjoyable

    1. Thanks Graham. Too true, I enjoying reliving it by putting it together combining the photos with notes I made at the time.