Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Grand Tactical Game - Action at Los Arapiles

This was the planned refight of Salamanca, using my new MEP rules. It's the first time I have attempted to stage a historical battle, and I thought long and hard about the best way to do this.

Since part of the objective was to prove the rules, it seemed inappropriate to attempt just to act out what really happened, yet ignoring the history altogether would kind of nullify the whole point of making it Salamanca. I decided to set up the action as it stood at about 1pm, put a few of the principal events into the first few bounds, and see what happened.

Well, it didn't turn out to be a very close copy of history - my starting point was to be the attack on the French left flank by Pakenham, with cavalry support, and Pack's independent Portuguese brigade's assault on the Greater Arapile, a hill in the middle of the French position.

Things started pretty much as in the real battle - Pack's attack was repulsed, and Pakenham quickly broke Thomieres' leading brigade, though his own losses were severe. History stopped dead at this point. The British heavy cavalry (Le Marchant's brigade) made no progress at all in following up - they were checked by Thomieres' weak second brigade - so much for the most glorious cavalry charge in British history. Then Cole's and Leith's Divisions were very badly mauled by the divisions of Barbot (vice Clauzel), Maucune and Bonet in the centre, and the momentum was lost. The French position was strong, any further British attempt to attack would have been foolhardy (the Allied off-field reserves, primarily the 7th Division and De Espana's Castillian troops, were not due for an hour, and were not capable of affecting the outcome), and there was little else that Wellington could do but resume his retreat towards Portugal. The French cavalry was not up to the job of harrying the withdrawal, and both sides left the field in reasonable order around 3:30pm. French casualties were slightly higher at about 10% of all troops engaged, and they lost two senior generals in Bonet and Tirlet (commander of the artillery reserve).

The rules worked well enough - artillery counter-battery fire seemed possibly a bit too effective, but it's debatable. The weather was fine and dry throughout, the only command snag of note was when Lowry Cole called off his attack on Bonet, which was probably good judgement. The game (it didn't feel very much like a game, since I spent much of the time with my nose in Dr Muir's book, checking the script) was over in about 90 minutes - I was running the rules on a computer, and did cut back on the skirmishing, which was mostly ineffective (which is probably correct, and was expected).

So a bit of a damp squib, all in all. I was persuaded by Dr Muir that Maucune was accompanied by an amount of artillery which could only have been possible if part of the reserve park was so deployed, and that may have been a significant element. Don't know, really. I also have to say that, when you see the real numbers of troops set out on the battlefield (scales were 1 hex = 1/4 of a mile, 1 bound is an hour, 1 figure = 125 men for this game), it seems improbable that the French could lose, unless there is some major morale advantage working against them.

I do not intend to repeat the action, so I include some pictures, just to prove it happened.

All right - it was a lot of fun, really, but I'm rather disappointed that the big battle stalled! It was pleasing to be able to attempt a battle on this scale, but the little units still feel a bit strange.

General view of the battlefield, looking West. The French position is down the near edge of the table, then up the left hand edge. From the right, the French have the Divisions of Foy (far right), Ferey, Sarrut, Bonet (on the hillock and beyond), Barbot, and Maucune in the centre on the ridge. At the far end, on the left flank, is Thomieres, with support from Taupin and the light cavalry of Curto. Note the rather exposed position of William Anson's British brigade, on the hill of the Lesser Arapile in the centre of the picture.

Wellington's hammer - the Allied Third Division on Wellington's extreme right, under Pakenham, with cavalry on both sides, forced-marching to attack Thomieres. It didn't go too well...

The rest of the Allied position - Leith's Division in the foreground, supported by Clinton, then, further away, Cole, Pack's independent brigade, Henry Campbell's First Division and the Light Division (Karl von Alten) on the extreme left.

View from behind Clauzel's position. In the real battle, the French were convinced that the Allies were in retreat - you can see why - there's not much over there, is there?

Almost the end - the French haven't moved very much, but their centre looks pretty solid. Time to get marching and try another day.


  1. It actually looks pretty good. You may not be quite used to the smaller units but the armies look "right" when deployed on the ground. (as opposed to troops massed shoulder to shoulder for miles on end).

    Its a pity you aren't going to rerun it. Seems the ebst way to see if it was a fluke or if a historical result is unlikely. Did you have a possible chance event for Marmont to be taken out at a critical point?

    Very interesting all in all.


  2. Hi Ross - since I've got the scenario set up and documented, I probably will run it again sometime, but I think I'll do it with someone else. Yesterday's effort was solo largely because I had visions of the rules or the program crashing in flames, and an open-ended series of restarts, which is tiresome for a visitor!

    In fact it ran OK - the odd raised eyebrow, but no problems really - inevitably, I have some notes for tweaks! My starting point had Marmont already off the field, and Clauzel in command of the French. Studying Muir's book provides a lot of detail, but it increases rather than reduces the number of areas of uncertainty, especially with regard to timing and sequence of events. So much of the source material was written by guys who were trying to talk up their role on the day, trying to cover their a*s.

    My understanding of (real) Salamanca (which may be different by next week!) is that Maucune was leading the French march (towards their left), but turned to threaten the village of Los Arapiles; Thomieres overtook him, and kept marching as per his orders, followed by Taupin. When it became obvious that the French left was overextended and in some disarray, two things happened - (1) Marmont ran to get his horse, to ride over there and sort things out - but was taken out by shell fragments (2) Wellington ordered an attack in the centre, and sent Pakenham plus cavalry round in a big hook to outflank the French left.

    Exact timing is unknown - one of the things which I may have done wrong is rushing into a pile of priority actions right at the start of the game/refight. It probably didn't happen like that. In particular, if you look at the "right hook", the distance they covered must mean that they can't have got into action until quite late on.

    I also have to repeat the main impression I got yesterday - if you look at the numbers and positions of the troops, and the way the terrain lies, there is no way that the French could lose. Those French divisions are big, and the quality was pretty good. Something weird happened here - if those big groups were panicked and routed by the forces Wellington had available then there must have been something very wrong with their confidence to start with.

    It was an interesting exercise, though very hard work on my own! I feel a bit better about it after a night's sleep...

    Regards - good New Year to you