Sunday, January 6, 2013

Table-Top Battle Report: Protecting the Flank

Firstly, this battle report needs to be read in conjunction with the scenario "Protecting the Flank" written by me (Unlucky General) and play tested by Grant Astill and Matt 'Bluewillow' Williamson. See my previous posting. This game was played on a 6'x8' table using Black Powder rules and 28mm miniatures.
The Table-Top Battlefield
Matt took the role of the British Major Des Astor of the Light Division. In command of four (4) companies of Rifles with two squadrons of Light Dragoons and a battery of Royal Horse Artillery, his mission was to take or destroy the bridge over the Greco at the village of Burro. The initial attack was to be with Riflemen only: the horse and guns to follow after dawn.

It was to be an attack using the cover of darkness and he immediately discovered two rifle companies were separated during the night march on Burro and duly rolled to see where they would arrive. As it happened, one of the two companies ran into the main group upon entry but the other found itself stumbling about in the midst of a cow herd.
Initial Deployment
It was at this time that Matt rolled for the Staff Rating of Des Astor in accordance with the Black Powder rule set and perhaps all too predictably, he rolled poorly. With a rating of just six (6) Matt's Major Des Astor was to live up to his name; described in Black Powder as a 'Poor, an indecisive or reluctant commander prone to dithering.' An evil portent for the British.
Picket hidden by darkness and distance ... until sun-up.
The French, if they were there, were nowhere to be seen but Astor played it safe and moved at half speed (see STEALTH rule) to avoid detection. The company in the cow paddock advanced to the stone wall boundary but went no further. In fairness to Matt, he was unfamiliar with the Black Powder rules and as a wargaming gentleman of the first order, he refused to go back on decisions based on ignorance even when the opportunity was offered by the umpire (Unlucky General).

Before the second turn was up, the isolated company managed to DISTURB the cows and announce their presence to any waiting French - but none were sent to investigate. Worse still, the same company remained at the wall, continued to cause reactions amongst the nervous herd and were not to leave that position until well after sun rise. In spite of his orders, Astor seem paralysed and dithered until sunrise whereby he closed on the bridge and engaged whatever French he could see with rifle fire.

Sunrise - surprise!
Meanwhile, Grant has rolled for his Major Paul Tron who similarly earned his name with another role of six (6)! With both opposing commanders of such poor quality, the wargame was bound to become a comedy of errors.

Through a combination of unfortunate rolling, cautious decision making and a seeming aversion to risk what few troops he had, Astor failed to achieve the bridge before sun-up. Having formed an arc about the Villa end of the bridge, the Rifles appeared to be playing defensively and with full light restored at turn seven (7), everyone could see sentries on the bridge. At this point, fire poured out from the villa where another company of Voltigeurs had been waiting.

The alarm was thus raised and Grant rolled well for the guard to emerge from their billets the following turn. The initiative and element of surprise was certainly well and truly lost by Astor. Not only was he being faced off by superior numbers, but from behind buildings and the village stone walls which commanded the river from the French side. To make maters worse, the following turn (nine) Grant rolled well for the immediate appearance of supporting cavalry - a squadron of hussars which arrived by the church.

By this time, posted sentries on the hills about the church moved together with the hussars toward the river and forced a crossing down-stream from Burro; threatening the rear of the Rifles. The crossing was hard going; however, and at half speed. With a poor Staff Rating, Major Tron was unable to hurry even his cavalry - despite their Marauding ability of ignoring distance penalties for receiving orders, they either moved once per turn under own Initiative or Grant failed his command rolls.


When they finally did get across and behind the Rifles, it was already turn eleven (11) and Astor's Light Dragoons and artillery had arrived. Unlimbering immediately, they opened up on the Voltiguers in the villa and began taking a toll - eventually forcing it's abandonment. At the same time, Grant had rolled for more Hussars and they appeared behind the British front, on the left of their side of the table. Limited by his ongoing command restrictions, they too only made it one move before Matt in his turn rolled for the appearance of a squadron of KGL Hussars who appear immediately to the rear of the recently arrived French cavalry!
Dawn re-enforcements
Buoyed with new found confidence, Matt sent in the charge and a brisk melee took place as the French horse turn to face. Following some famously poor dice rolling, the KGL were off the table just as soon as they had appeared, with the French Hussars retiring to regroup with their comrades.

The Vistula Lancers appear on the British side of the Greco
 and French Hussars join after seeing off the KGL. But there
 are more Light Dragoons ahead.
Pretty much at the same time, on the other side of the battlefield, more French cavalry had arrived to force the extraction of the horse artillery and commitment of Astor's Light Dragoons. To cut a long story short, through the course of this 26 turn wargame, the balance hung for well over half of it, neither side giving much ground about the bridge. Relief squadrons from both sides appeared throughout the day and at all edges of the table, dashing about the place and skirmishing furiously with one another.

Curiously, there was only one instance where anyone's cavalry charged down on infantry and that was toward the end when Matt committed a squadron of Light Dragoons against a relieving company of Voltiguers who had crossed over the Bridge. Amazingly, they succeeded in fighting off the horsemen and kept their ground - stalwart fellows!

Sometime after midday (turn 16) Grant began dicing for the arrival of the French main column - none too successfully. Over the course of the following eight (8) turns, he only managed to get two battalions of foot (without skirmishers) and the General de Brigade down the road toward the bridge. The first battalion to arrived was checked almost immediately by the appearance of more KGL Hussars from out of the corn field behind Burro. Forming square, they eventually saw the cavalry off but had choked the road and caused a significant delay. The appearance of a further squadron of British Light Dragoons by the river on the French side made the approach to Burro far from certain for Grant.
The beginning of the end ... for Astor
Great things were expected with the arrival of the General de Brigade who has command of the infantry and any units from the main column. With the two existing and poor commanders, a man of real talent was capable of profoundly affecting this game using the Black Powder rules. Grant rolled, we all fixed our gaze on the turn of the fate as he scored, of all things, a five (5)! How could this be? It seems that le General HAD sent his best man to take the bridge after all as HE was even worse - a fool, "a feckless blustering imbecile, justly despised by his men and fellow officers alike."

Nevertheless, Grant had managed to march two infantry battalions toward his objective and it seems improbable that Matt could achieve his - the destruction of the bridge. Matt's Major Astor had only one more card to play - he knew that the bridge was heavily mined with powder and it appeared the French did not. It was agreed that there would be a chance, albeit a slim one, that a lucky shot from his gun might detonate the charge and blow the bridge sky-high.

The bridge over the Greco was an old stone structure but with a wooden deck. It was agreed that is he could hit it on a roll of six (6), then roll a further six (6) would set off the charge underneath. Looking back, I'm surprised none of us came up with the idea earlier. With so much enemy cavalry movement about; however, getting the gun into position was difficult and in the end Matt only got two shots off and neither of them successful.
Cavalry everywhere and time to move that gun. By days end, this
was all of the table-top left in British hands.
By dusk, the advance elements of the French column were at the village, the bridge was still in their possession and the British further from the Greco than they had been since the start of the game. With re-enforcements not due to arrive until later than night, the next day's battle would see the main British force having to fight their way out of one quatre of the table-top. I rather think Wellesley will elect to withdraw deeper into Portugal.

OBSERVATIONS

I think the scenario played out very well and all agreed it was enormous fun. It took us about six hours to play but might have cut that time down with greater familiarity with the Black Powder rules. Grant was of the opinion that whilst great fun, there was too much cavalry and a 2in6 chance for their appearance would have been better.

The British player needs to make best use of the dark and push hard for the bridge. Attacking from several different approaches at once and leaving the half-movement STEALTH advantage until getting closer to the bridge may have served Matt better. Even if observed and contacted, another company may avoid detection depending upon the sentry and patrolling patterns of the French player.

Black Powder firing and especially skirmisher firing can be devastating but in this game, in spite of everyone blasting away turn after turn, it wasn't until the afternoon turns that units began to break. The British need to take risks - do or die. Certainly, a better commander capable of pushing his troops harder would have had significant advantages. If rolling two or even three under a Command roll enables a unit so commanded to move two or three times per turn. At STEALTH movement rates, a good roll would enable the Rifles to move up to 18" over even ground. With a poor commander like Matt's Major Astor, this was next to impossible.

When DISTURBING cattle or pigs, it is prudent to remove the unit using cover of darkness. Matt failed to do this and Grant could have sent a company to investigate but Grant preferred not to leave the confines of the Villa or Bridge and had allowed for no patrols. Perhaps he was right to.

FINAL WORD

This was the first of four games we played this weekend (different era, scales and rules) before I'm posted overseas for a couple of years. It's going to be some time between games. Between the three of us we have a couple of thousand figures and play at a 1/20 representative scale in favour or big battalions.We could have set up for a massive bash but I have to say, this evolving skirmish 'pre-battle' was something different and great fun. Fighting with skirmishers and squadrons rather than regiments is dynamic and enjoyable.

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