(NB: Tabletop game over but the following narrative is compiled from post game role-play and discussion and several player emails putting forward suggestions of what might be the outcome of this, far from insignificant, slice of alternative history. Please forgive the differing formats as I've copied passages from emails - too good not to share verbatim. This follows on directly from Part 6 and is interspersed with some close up photos from various parts of the mini-campaign. Towards the end are some reflections on the whole project, please comment if you have enjoyed it or found it useful).
|Abrantes City and harbour as seen from the Cime d'Abrantes about 0800 on 11th August 1756|
The Duke of Marlborough's situation
|Ken as the Allied C-in-C|
By 0820 on Sunday 11th August The Duke of Marlborough had been watching a large pall of smoke rising over the stone bastion on Abrantes harbour and wondering about the consequences. Was it too much to hope that his plan for Cochrane's sailors was working? ADCs looking through telescopes reported heavy musket fire around the city gate of the bastion and inside its retaining walls. Also puffs of musket smoke around the Hotel de Ville and then The flag of Vestisle which had been flying above the building was slowly replaced by a red ensign. Was that a faint British cheer emanating from the city centre?
Marlborough had originally hoped that the Royal Naval elements would blow some holes in the walls on the island side of Abrantes and that his troops would be near enough to exploit it. He surmised that timing and events had caused Cochrane to attack the harbour bastion and Town Hall first, and so he scanned the horizon along the whole battle line to figure out what to do. Far to his right his flank had collapsed and the Jacobite hIghlanders were rampaging over Bellune Hill, looting corpses and trying to assemble in and near the woods to outflank the Hanoverians. But the elated Highlanders were slow to assemble and von Brunck had plenty of time to order his entire force to face right to put on a formidable front of cavalry and infantry since they no longer had any French to their own front. However it meant there would be no assault from there on Abrantes city.
So Marlborough's gaze then alighted on his own centre where a single regiment of French cavalry was causing havoc to the line which was already crumbling. The only bright spot was that the French line brigade opposite, at the farm, was clearly the worse for wear and would not be counter attacking but just trying to protect that approach to Abrantes.
As he looked along the ridge to his front and in the valley at his left things looked a bit better. The French Guards and elite infantry had been taking a battering and Granby's reserve of 4 Grenadier battalions was fresh and nearby. Although the German musketeer brigade was falling back in the valley the Allied left flank on the Cime de Cassatte looked strong and healthy. Also he had 5 Battalions of Hessians still in reserve - plenty of strength just not in the right places at the right time. That was because ahead of this wing there appeared to be no weaknesses in the French line to test.
Nowhere did he feel strong enough to risk an attack on the city, at least not till some news was received from Cochrane's sailors.
Marlborough had the orders from Horse Guards still ringing in his ears "My Lord, remember this is a raid not an invasion. You need to inflict a bloody revenge on the Frogs for Minorca and try to ensure the threat from the Jacobites is blunted, but don't risk losing our Army in another fiasco!" So he ordered his generals to rally as many troops as possible and fall back till things clarified.
Around 0845 his aides brought forward an exhausted messenger, a midshipman whose youth and knowledge of French language had enabled him to blag his way through the battle lines with a scribbled message from Captain Cochrane:
Young Pretender captured but lost to accident in transfer to ship. Unable to recover his body. Bastion gate blown but my troops overwhelmed. French VIPs including Duc de Vestisle prisoners. Making escape with about 200 men and prisoners by sea to North to rejoin fleet.
Cochrane (Captain RN)"
So that made up Ken's mind. An honourable retreat would save the army and Charlie's death would disrupt the Jacobite cause better than he could have dared hope. Job Done!
So what had happened to Charlie and his followers?
The prisoners were taken via the now unguarded North gate to the Abrantes beach. The French navy and transports had mostly set sail for Brest on the dawn tide and the few which remained only had skeleton crews and cannon not run out for action. So all that greeted the escaping sailors was a desultory fire from swivel guns mounted on the gunwhales with hardly any effect. But there were enough fishing boats and cutters at the beach and harbour to be commandeered and be able to take everyone off.
According to Guy:
The search for Charlie's body was unsuccessful......
In news from London, Lieutenant Bond from His Majesty's ship Audacious has been promoted to the rank of commander and reassigned to the Foreign Office to carry out liaison activities. I understand his last duty included commanding the side party of the Audacious when Prince Charles was brought aboard.
The lieutenant's actions in attempting to rescue the prince from the water have obviously been recognised and it's good to note that no blame is being attached to him following the unfortunate and unexpected failure of the side rope.
But there is a lot more to say. In the spirit of those drama documentaries based on real life they go on to tell you the fate of the protagonists.
What happened to the French gold secured in the bastion casemate?
(No doubt having originally trained as an avocat at the Sorbonne, De Muy will advise how to draw up a contract making sure the Sergeant gets as little as possible (sounding a bit like Les Miserables!)
What happened to the sailors and the Abrantes Militia at the Chateau du Roi?
It had always been the intention of Captain Cochrane and Lieutenant Bond to ensure a message was got back to 2nd Lieutenant Dumbleton who had been left in charge at the Chateau du Roi and of the 250 or so prisoners from the ambush of the Abrantes Militia battalion. (As stated in the original British brief no one was equipped to cope with prisoners apart from the VIPs) The prisoners had been locked in the (emptied) wine cellars below the Chateau since about 1100 on the Saturday and had been nearly 24 hours with little air and no food and water. Many were wounded, with no medical care. Dumbleton's scouts up the trees in Chateau Woods reported on the battle, the explosion in the harbour bastion, and eventually ships moving out of harbour and the Allied infantry forming up and moving Southwards back to Beach 4. Cochrane failed to remember them as he was so concerned to get his valuable charges off the island quickly. Dumbleton waited and waited but soon became aware that the whole of the Legion de la Morliere was heading his way to sweep up his mere 75 sailors. So he ordered all the cellar doors locked and barricaded as he scuttled off back to the boats at the Quai du Chateau to catch up with the British Fleet.
Morliere's men had fought three battles in the last 24 hours and lost their commander and were pretty jaded so they only gave a cursory look around thinking the men of Abrantes had been taken away to England. By about 2pm, however, someone heard faint banging from the cellars and investigated, the doors were battered open but by that time it was found that around 100 men had died from wounds, dehydration and suffocation. Thus the story of "Le Trou Noir de Vestisle" became almost as famous in French history as the Black Hole of Calcutta is in English. Some unkind souls have pointed out that Dumbleton's younger brother, a mere ensign, had been a victim in Calcutta and the news had only recently reached Portsmouth just before the Vestisle expedition was launched. The subsequent enquiry into Dumbleton's conduct completely exonerated him and he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant ostensibly for his part in the woods ambush and capturing so many prisoners !
The consequences on Vestisle were grave, however, since over 300 men from the western half of Vestisle had perished thanks to the Duc's original order to investigate the goings on at the Chateau. These were not professional soldiers but mainly farm workers, fishermen, carpenters, blacksmiths, shopkeepers and cloth workers, so the French Government felt obliged to invest in Vestisle (pardon the pun) and provide money to persuade some of the Jacobites to stay on, and for men from Eastern Vestisle to diversify their work interests across the island in order to help the bereaved families.
That's why to this day there are so many red headed Vestislians with names like DeCamerone, deFrasier, d'Ogilvie and M'Donalde........
Other Jacobites and Sundry French Commanders?
Earl Marischal Keith will be looking for a reward for the excellent Jacobite performance.
Lt General Barbier also for masterminding the major part of the battle of Bellune Hill and leading the Guard Cavalry in those glorious charges for an hour and half of frantic excitement finalised by personally leading the Royal Dragoons in a flank attack on British artillery and infantry (I reckon it was those ADCs supplied by Willz wot gave him inspiration!)
The left flank Legion de Lauzun did do exceptionally well but all the units were dispersed and the Comte de Lauzun (who thwarted about 6 or 7 attempts by Dillon to kill or capture him) went back to Abrantes a bit sulkily and will need cheering up by some ladies of the night till his command gets back together.
For the Highlanders Guy promised -The Jacobite infantry performed extremely well and now there are masses of potential recruits for the Wild Geese regiments. Their commanders will be offered commissions in the French army
On the day, and after the brief discussion, I declared the mini-campaign a marginal win for the British. Just how marginal is shown when I totted up the units destroyed using my Army Points system dictated by quality and size of units (eg. 1 for Small Inferior units, up to 5 for Large Superior ones)
French - 16 units lost represented by 57 points out of a total of 201 = 28.5%
Allies - 16 units lost represented by 53 points out of a total of 209 = 25.5%
So these figures show that the campaign was well balanced and so was the skill and luck of the players. I could not be happier. The players were very complimentary about the campaign and the weekend games themselves, they seemed to have been challenged and enjoyed it.
For my part it is hard to describe how grateful I was for the weekend's activities. Regular readers will be aware that I've had many Napoleonic weekends in Oakridge since 2015 but they have not really been my "baby" nor a project I felt any long term commitment to. Some of us had a weekend of Imagi-nations SYW in May 2018 which was great but did not use the figures we had to best advantage (too many and too cramped). This alternative history mini-campaign, however, used mostly historic units in a plausible context and felt real to me throughout. That was aided considerably by Ken and Guy playing in character, making sensible decisions and deploying in an 18th century military manner so by the weekend itself we had a fine battle set up for everyone to take part in. Then Dillon and Graham applied themselves with a will in the same vein to assist and help drive things forward. For me it worked like a dream. They were all so great when it mattered and good at organising themselves - wrapping up Saturday's game and planning the overnight moves to give us a huge game on the Sunday which I found constantly exciting.
Even clearing up was done just as efficiently - thank you to all concerned.
Any lessons to take from this?
I've had many enjoyable campaigns in my rich wargaming life, and many have been pretty realistic, but often complex and time consuming. This one probably worked better than any other I've had so maybe some bullet point thoughts might help others:
- I shamelessly used the stimulation of Charles Grant's original mini campaign but adapted it hugely in scale and purpose for the needs of our big and diverse armies - so - use a trusted source!
- Set a finite time to run it - in our case we started in Spring 2019 with the aim of finishing with a weekend of big games in "Summer". The time between was taken with lots of fun emailing and map moves but, with a little bit of licence from me, as Games Master, we got there.
- Keep the campaign rules simple - just basic map moves by squares cross country and road and not too many map units to keep track of. I printed my map large and used magnets to pin it to a metal notice board. Then took regular photos of the numbered magnetic counters to send to the players as progress sitreps.
- Don't use more troops for the map work than you can field on the table. I learned the hard way over the years that megolomania has to be curbed to avoid the risk and embarrassment of doubling up on certain required units!
- Use a small cadre of reliable players. Deliberately I set Ken and Guy as commanders of the forces which would be engaged initially, as they were the main figure contributors. Later I invited participants whom I guessed might be interested in the historical context and/or 18th century classic style games to come for however much of it they wished. It would be up to fate who the subset of players would be and in the end 2.5 days of player time almost worked perfectly. This was 3 guys out of maybe 15 given invitations; I'd hoped for maybe a couple more to turn up during the day games but in fact it worked out pretty good. The only down side was the two Grahams having to leave early so I had to actually play - not my preferred role in my own game!
- Subset players are also reliable - both Dillon and Graham C were willing to be involved in limited emailing and giving some orders a few weeks before we were due to meet. Though not strictly necessary it did help the "fog of war" and I hope helped them feel more involved than just turning up for the tabletop games.
- Set the duration of the wargame time to be finite and with measurable and achievable objectives so you can tell who has won. I much prefer historic-style strategic objectives but, as a fall back, I was prepared to use the unit points losses to determine victory. The fact it had such alternate devastation, yet practically equal losses at the end, is tribute to how well-matched my opponents were in both skill and luck!
- Having a team of great people to work with who were all experienced wargamers and enthusiasts of the period proved to be a bonus in helping all my planning efforts pay off - so once again very grateful thanks to them