A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Action at Vado del Caballero

Early birds - the first of St Paul's Italians arrive on the French right

Today’s post is about an actual wargame, not a dandelion extractor, nor the architectural integrity of Liverpool waterfront. I thought it was probably overdue.

My dear friend Chester visited yesterday. Chester and I have been fighting miniatures battles off and on for fully 30 years, but he has no previous experience of using the Commands & Colors rules, so a suitable Napoleonic episode was set up, and battle was duly joined.

To get us started, I reproduce here our context notes and OOBs, slightly edited to remove private jokes and similar.

Action at Vado del Caballero, Castilla Vieja, Feb 1812

As a result of an administrative error, a French supply convoy has been ordered along the wrong road, and is headed for an Allied controlled area. In fact the situation is worse than this for the French, since Wellington has ordered Maj.Gen Karl, Baron von Alten to probe this very region with the Light Division and a brigade of light cavalry.

Gen de Divn Darmagnac of the French Armée du Centre has been despatched from the Madrid region with a rather motley force, mostly Italians and afrancesado Spaniards, to get there quickly and secure the area around the key river crossing at Vado del Caballero.

This is basically an encounter battle – neither side is really aware that the other is there. The main objective for each force is to defeat the enemy and retain control of the area. The Allies have the additional support of a couple of small groups of guerrilleros – they should be used with discretion. The French have a good-quality battalion of dismounted dragoons – since this unit consists largely of men from the elite companies of the 19th and 22nd Dragoons, they count as grenadier infantry.

Forces engaged (including CCN categories and “block” strengths) are:

French Army – mostly detachments from the Armée du Centre – including the Toledo garrison

Genl de Divn Darmagnac
Genl de Bde Verbigier-St Paul – Italian brigade
2nd Italian Light Infantry          [Italian LT – 4 blocks]
1/3rd Italian Line Infantry        [Italian LI – 4]
2/3rd Italian Line Infantry         [Italian LI – 4]
1/5th Italian Line Infantry        [Italian LI – 4]
2/5th Italian Line Infantry        [Italian LI – 4]
Regt “Dragoni Napoleone”      [Italian HC – 3]
7/1st Regt Italian Ft Artillery     [Italian FA – 3]
Capt Genl Casapalacios – Spanish brigade
1/1st (Castilla) Lt Infantry        [Spanish LT – 4]
1/2nd (Toledo) Line Inf            [Spanish LI – 4]
2/2nd (Toledo) Line Inf            [Spanish LI – 4]
1/Regt Royal-Etranger              [Spanish LI – 4]
Bn de Marche, Drag Provisoirs  [French GR – 4]
Col Vial – Light cavalry
13th Chasseurs à Cheval           [French LC – 3]
22nd Chasseurs à Cheval          [French LC – 3]
26th Chasseurs à Cheval           [French LC – 3]
5/5th Artillerie à Cheval            [French HA – 3]

Allied Army

Maj.Gen Karl, Baron von Alten
                Lt.Col Barnard – 1st bde, Light Divn
                                1/43rd Ft (Monmouth)              [British LT – 3]
                                1/95th Rifles                             [British RL – 3]
                                3rd Bn Ptgse Cacadores             [Portuguese LT – 3]
                Maj.Gen Vandeleur – 2nd bde, Light Divn
                                1/52nd Ft (Oxfordshire)            [British LT – 3]
                                2/95th Rifles                             [British RL – 3]
                                1st Bn Ptgse Cacadores           [Portuguese LT – 3]
                                Troop ‘I’, Royal Hse Art         [British HA – 3]
                Maj.Gen Geo Anson – light cavalry
                                11th Lt Dgns                            [British LC – 3]
                                14th Lt Dgns                            [British LC – 3]
                                16th Lt Dgns                            [British LC – 3]
                                Troop ‘A’, Royal Hse Art        [British HA – 3]
                                1st Cruzados de las Espinas     [Spanish GU – 2]
                                2nd ditto                                 [Spanish GU – 2]
                                Avila Volunteer Artillery           [Spanish FA – 3]

Scenario – action commences at first light. Each side gets 5 Command Cards, French move first throughout, and victory requires 7 “banners”.

First move (French first) – place up to 4 units/leaders on the field, anywhere up to 5 hexes from your own baseline, but not within 2 hexes of the enemy.

Thereafter – units may only be brought onto the table as a result of activation by Command Card play. Leaders may not arrive already attached to a unit. Infantry may not arrive in square.

Special rules in addition to normal C&C N – the Rio Hediondo is fordable at all points, and has two formal bridges. Italian troops fight like Portuguese; Spanish line troops (incl the volunteer artillery) also fight like Portuguese, but suffer double retreats. There are special rules for guerrilleros – they may move 2 hexes and battle, they may pass freely through woods and built-up hexes; they fight like Portuguese line infantry, but a single retreat eliminates them. Guerrilla infantry may not form square.

The Action

Allied advanced guard looking for something to charge

General view of the French position around Turn 4, with the Italians at the far end

The terrain was fairly broken, with small, rocky hills and wooded areas. The Allies put light cavalry and a horse battery into the field early, to cover the arrival of the rest of the troops. Sadly (if predictably), these light dragoons were subsequently wasted in pointless skirmishes with their French light horse opponents.

Darmagnac (who was not physically on the field until the very end of the battle) had arranged for his Italian brigade to advance into the hilly area on his right flank, while the Spanish afrancesado Line troops approached rather more cautiously, along with Vial’s light cavalry, behind the river on his left.

The Spanish brigade missed a big opportunity very early in the day. The Regt Royal-Etranger, admittedly somewhat discouraged by artillery fire, allowed the British 43rd Light Infantry to enter the nameless village in the centre of the field, a position which, vitally, they held with ease for the rest of the day. In general, the Allied light infantry made good use of their double-move capability throughout the action.

St Paul’s Italians made a concerted assault on the wooded hills on the right flank – at first this went very well, St Paul doing a fine job replacing fatigued units with fresh battalions, and, though the combat ebbed and flowed a bit in this area, it looked as though they must take this position, an impression which was heightened by the unaccountable rout of the 1st Cacadores and the most regrettable wreck of the 2nd Bn, 95th Rifles (who, inexplicably, refused to form square when charged by the Italian dragoons – a decision which was still being agonised over in the Indian restaurant after the battle).

Never underestimate a guerrillero in a wood

Eventually St Paul ran out of luck and men, and failed. One of the big surprises of the day was the performance of the Spanish guerrilleros. Two small, informal “battalions” of the Cruzados de las Espinas were present – my first experience of trying out my extension to the CCN rules to cope with these irregulars. These “GU”-class troops have some definite strengths – especially in speed of manoeuvre and their ability to move through broken terrain – but they are brittle – a single retreat will eliminate them. The 1st battalion were briefly exposed to long range cannon fire and, though they suffered no casualties, were shaken into a retreat, from which there could be no return. This was more than made up for by the outstanding valour of their colleagues in the 2nd battalion, who successfully held a wood, under the personal direction of General Vandeleur, and managed to break the final assault of the Italians (partly thanks, I am reminded, to some very, very lucky dice-rolls).

Oops! - George Anson goes on a surprise holiday in Verdun

That did it - the 1st Castilla fail conspicuously to take the village

The battle was very finely balanced throughout – eventually, both sides had 6 victory banners, but the day was won when the Spanish Castilla Light Infantry rather rashly stormed the 43rd in their village. The 43rd played a FIRST STRIKE Command Card, and duly wiped out the men from Castile with a single roll of 3 dice. Game over. One very silly moment came when the Allied commander left the cavalry commander, General Anson, isolated - he did, admittedly, have depressingly few cavalry to command by this point - and he was promptly taken by the French - a very easy victory flag for them (as if things aren't hard enough...).

Command & Colors Notes

Not a lot to say, really. A RALLY card and some fortunate associated dice rolls allowed a rather battered British RHA battery to return to full strength in a key position at a critical point in the battle, which rather led us to wonder where the guys had been. That was an influential moment, but these things are always welcome anyway for generating excuses.

We took all day – probably 5-and-a-bit hours to play the game, which is very slow for CCN. That is partly due to having to consult the rules a lot, but mainly because of the difficulty of bringing forces on to the table as the Command Cards allowed. The encounter scenario worked very well, however, and this kind of set up brings a lot of interesting challenges.

And I did learn (the hard way, again) that a square is a dashed good idea in the face of cavalry.

Really enjoyed it. Still very happy with CCN, and even more motivated to get to a proper test of my Solo variant while the table is still set up.



  1. Interesting report, I have a couple of questions though.

    1) I notice you've messed around with the block numbers per unit, particularly the French cavalry and the British light infantry. What prompted this?

    2) I like the Italians, I have some Neapolitans just like 'em.

    3) Where did you get that Royal Horse Artillery crew - they are fantastic. I think the officer my favourite of the lot.

    Squares are extremely useful - I used to always go into square, but I'm beginning to get the hang of weighing the odds. It will take practice.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Mr Kinch - greetings

    (1) Simply because of the size of my units. My Allied light infantry battalions have only 18 men, including a couple of open-order bases. The French cavalry units were not larger than the British ones historically - not in the Peninsula anyway, because of the shortage of horses - no particular reason to give them more blocks than the Allies. If the quality were better I could give extra dice, but I don't think that's justified either. Different at Wagram.

    (2) The Italians are mostly modified Higgins French Young Guard - some Falcata and Hinton Hunt in the command department.

    (3) RHA are PMD (ex-Les Higgins) crew, with Hinchliffe 20mm scale guns and a Minifigs mounted officer - all my RHA are like this - I have 3 two-gun batteries (which count as 3 blocks each in CCN!).

    Squares - I thought I'd weighed the odds on this occasion, but it came off in my hand.


  3. Guerrillas are lots of fun when they defy the odds and play well; no one expects it of them, so when they do it's a notable occurrence!

    Looks like an enjoyable, close game.

  4. By email, I received this morning the following message from General Darmagnac himself - a man of rare fighting spirit, but a sore loser and possessed of a notable thirst:

    First, I must draw attention to the unchivalrous conduct of the British - in particular their unseemly rush to occupy the village without warning, whilst I was unavoidably detained in a hostelry five miles from the field of battle.

    Secondly the Spaniards. Los Guerrillos are the biggest set of rogues and ne’er-do-wells I have ever encountered. These brigands had the luck of the Devil.

    Oh, quel dommage!! Mais, jamais l'esprit.

    Your servant

    General Jean-Barthelemy-Claude-Toussaint Darmagnac

  5. Hi
    It results very interesting the performance of your Guerrilleros whrn figthing along (and against) regular troops. Agreat AAR and pictures!

  6. Are PMD still available I can't say I've ever come across them?

    I can see your point about the cavalry - I find French light cavalry very powerful, though I should be considered a deeply partisan Herveyite.

    I only recently discovered Falcata - I have a box each of their Spanish line and grenadiers. They are splendid.

  7. PMD were just Les Higgins Miniatures after Les died. Most of the Higgins cavalry was actually branded as PMD, plus the two horse artillery crews (one French guard, one RHA), plus the lovely infantry command pack - only the British one appeared before they went out of business in the 1970s - check out Higgins history on VINTAGE20MIL site. Figures still turn up on eBay from time to time.

    CCN unit strengths - I'm reluctant to bend the game, but this must be an area where the standard block numbers can be adapted. If I am fighting a campaign, and a 4 block unit finishes the day with 3 blocks, I think I would be inclined to field 3 blocks if they are required to fight again within a few days (for example).

    Rafa - late in the action, one more lost unit and I would have lost the battle, so the 2nd guerrilleros were kept in cover, with a general in attendance, to keep them from running (and thus being eliminated). They did well!


  8. Aha! I have a set of these RHA that I picked up in a little hobby shop on my "Grand Tour" in '73. I've been trying to remember who made them, now I know! They really could use an army to go with them though.

    Anyway, an engaging and enjoyable battle report.