Tuesday, 16 March 2021

18th Century Mini Campaign - The Raid on Vestisle Part 7: Wrap up and Conclusions

 (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:


"Your Lordship

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.

respectfully

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:

French High Command lost no sleep to hear that Bonny Prince Charlie ‘slipped’ trying to embark from the jolly boat to transfer to a ship into the deep after a British sailor had surreptitious lifted his wallet and replaced it with some lead weights. The men, women and animals of the island are now safe from his dubious tastes. His retainers being tied up, were unable to rescue him and they were bundled below (not a chance of a ransom or promise of good behaviour, France already has too many aristos seeking gainful employment). Jamie Fraser had been wounded trying to defend Charlie in the scuffle at the Hotel de Ville but, back in England, would be hanged for treason (Sorry Clare, away on your jaunt in America, you'll never meet him again!). Charles has died and without any French blame. The best of all worlds. We get rid of a problem and our agents can spread the news around Scotland that the Brits actually did him in. That will keep the fires of revolt smouldering. The official court obituary will remember a noble Prince, with perfect Christian morals, who thought only of his people.

 The search for Charlie's body was unsuccessful...... 

According to Ken's "alternative facts":

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?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The gold was well hidden so Richelieu could stand to be financially far better off. All the aristocratic witnesses as to the gold’s whereabouts are captured so he will plant fake news saying the British took the gold and the French are to disbelieve any denials from perfidious albion. The servants who knew will be given a one way ticket to Guadeloupe. Trouble is only the Duc de Vestisle and Chevalier Dumonnaie had the two keys to the casemate under the bastion where the gold was stored. The Sergeant of the guard at the bastion had been taken into DuMonnaie's confidence and he was wounded when the sailors exploded a gunpowder keg among the surface-stored ammo. The company of British sailors at the bastion was finally forced to surrender by the whole battalion of Citizen's Militia which Guy so generously sent there and so the Sergeant will recover from his wound and demand a significant pension and sinecure as Deputy Governor of Vestisle from Richelieu  and De Muy in return for keeping quiet while they break down the door and distribute the ill gotten gains as they see fit.

(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........


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hole_of_Calcutta



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



Lord Sackville and the future of history?

Lord Sackville’s untimely death means the outcome of the battle of Minden will be affected. The British cavalry will actually do something so the French cavalry will veer off to face that threat and they will not attack the British brigade. Further though, under Granby's inspirational leadership the Allied cavalry sweeps the cream of French chivalry into the river and the British and Hanoverian infantry march on the French centre using their expert musketry to see the French infantry packing. Minden is occupied, taking an important French supply base, and the French army does a sauve qui peu fleeing back to the French border provinces.  Taken with French losses elsewhere in the world in 1759 King Louis sues for peace under rather desperate terms, and the Seven Years War will be renamed the "Four Years War" subtitled "Liberation of the Low Countries". And Guy helpfully added:
Also Sackville would not become Secretary of State in the American Department in 1775. Fortunately the government minister at the time was a tea drinker, so there was no tea import tax and he supported the concept of the American colonists having representatives as he was an enlightened chap. Therefore the Boston tea party didn’t happen nor the Revolutionary War.

Who would have thought we could so comprehensively rewrite History in a weekend's wargaming eh?


Mini-Campaign Conclusion

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


A rare pic with me in (left) taken by Ken Marshall

CREDITS
Original idea - Charles S Grant article in Practical Wargamer Magazine - The Raid on Vesta
Idea expansion, game design, campaign rules and map, terrain and tea making, photos and reporting - Chris Gregg 
28mm Figures from the collections of Ken Marshall, Guy Barlow, Chris Gregg and Graham Cummings.
Around 2,500 Figures mostly by Crann Tara and Minden designed by the late Richard Ansell and commissioned through the foresight of Graham Cummings, Frank Hammond and Jim Purky.
Terrain - mostly scratch built by CG.  Most buildings are foam core or art board faced with downloadable and printed paper/card architecture from various internet sources. Abrantes Tavern - resin by Grand Manner. Hotel de Ville is a converted Christmas decoration mansion. Farm is a Perry plastic ACW farmhouse. Trees mostly by Supertrees of USA. Flexible rubber road pieces from Total Systems Scenic.
Casualty Marker dials by Warbases.

RESOURCES
For my Player Briefings, Orbats, Campaign Rules etc see the downloadable files in the right side bar under 18th Century Historical or via this link


23 comments:

  1. Incredible Wargaming spectacle. I will return often for motivation.

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  2. Splendid. A worthy write up for an excellent event. Thoroughly enjoyed this.

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  3. Very nice work from all concerned, albeit a somewhat sanguine view of the historical consequences.

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  4. Truly a feast for the eyes!

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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  5. Jonathan, Paul, Doug and Stokes thank you all very much indeed for your supportive comments. Sanguine? ha ha! well it is just a tongue in cheek interpretation of what might have happened! It was not my idea to top Charlie, Guy was happy to get rid of an apparent liability but I had given him command capabilities in the campaign which Guy never used. He kept him well away from both the Army and his own Chateau du Roi throughout but that could not keep him safe in the end.......

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  6. That's superb Chris. The game looks good but you can't beat a convincing campaign backdrop to bring it life. Excellent write-up too. Hopefully you are planning more once the world returns to some semblance of normality

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    1. Thank you Gary for such praise from a "master wargamer". Yes we are trying to workout what to do next. First to scratch our own itches and then maybe a weekend later for the wider fraternity to attend if they can.

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  7. What a ripping yarn Chris. An exciting tale of heroism and skulduggery mixed in with epic battles. Well done to yourself and the participants.

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    1. Glad you appreciated it Tony. We all contributed to the tale in different ways. If you combine an ex-spy, an engineer and a solicitor as your GM and players you have to expect to end up with skulduggery, big bangs, dodgy deals and a bit of debauchery for good measure :-)

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  8. As impressive as ever Chris and wonderful to see a 'group of wargamers all together playing, sorry commanding, troops. Hopefully soon.

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    1. Thanks Robbie. Well as a fellow policeman and countryman of one of my party yous should ken arl abart playin' wi' im, man.

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  9. I was reading the story and was thinking it was a novel! You have a pen, sir!
    And you managed to change history in one night! ;-) Even the Boston Tea Party did not happen! I liked a lot your point system for counting who won as well as all the bullets of your after game thoughts! Well done! Well done!

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    1. Thanks as ever Dinos. I'm so glad you enjoyed the story telling, it was fun to think about how to present the situation without live action to illustrate it, and Guy provided a lot of the ideas. In fact I had to leave out some of his more eccentric suggestions!

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  10. Chris there are very few wargaming blogs I enjoy reading more than yours, the level of detail, organisation, beautiful terrain and the great figures all add up to top shelf entertainment. The wargaming must have been good with so many smiling faces and I think a recap for myself through all of these posts once again may be in order. Thanks for delighting us all.

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    1. Thank you Carlo. You always show by your comments that you take the time to savour it all which makes all the effort worthwhile for me. I hope you will go back over it and maybe get something useful for your own games.

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  11. Superb read and what a great looking game, the whole thing is top notch. I really enjoyed reading and drooling over the whole campaign!!

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    1. Thanks so much Donnie and I really enjoyed writing about it.

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  12. I'm afraid Willz Harley is another reader who can't get Blogger to allow him to comment. Here is an extract from his email to me "...excellent stuff I will read more in depth later. Please praise yourself and all the other chaps for a fantastic game, AAR and beautiful inspiring photos." Thanks Willz

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  13. Greg McCauley in Sydney , Australia has emailed me his comment ".....thanks for the update mate. That is a mammoth effort pulling together the mini-campaign. Glad everyone enjoyed the games. Well done! Happy to help If you ever have a role for a "distant commander" (some fat old commander in Horse Guards) in any future campaigns." Thanks a lot to you too Greg, mate, I'll bear it in mind.

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  14. That was a great campaign Chris. Interesting tactical situations on the battlefield as well - and all in excellent company. The effort required to document it all is quite a mammoth task which you've done justice. I've enjoyed reading of the exploits already starting to dim, so your account will be something to revisit again until the next time. Thanks for being a great organiser and host. Cheers.

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    1. Thank you Unknown - but which one of my lovely guests are you?!!!

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    2. Actually that Unknown was me. Bloomin' computers.

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    3. Thanks a lot Dillon. I probably have not given you enough credit for your skilful handling of the British/Hanoverian right at Abrantes, but hearing you had a good time and enjoyed the read hopefully makes up for that. Fingers crossed for next time being this Summer.

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