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

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Battle of Uclés - 13th Jan 1809

Artilleryman's view - near the end of the day, the boys of Vilatte's battery can still
see the Spaniards on the south end of the ridge opposite - unlike the real battle, in
which the Spaniards on that flank melted away like snowballs in Hades
The scheduled game based on Uclés duly took place yesterday afternoon, and it was the most excellent fun. My visiting generals were the famous Stryker and the rather more shadowy (though equally intimidating) Goya - splendid fellows, both, and more than ready to accept the eccentricities of the house rules and generally muck in, in the interests of the game.

Our game was not an attempt to replay the actual B of U, of course, but I shall refer to the real battle here and there, to set the context. Let's start off with some historical scene-setting... [there are pictures at the end if you can't be bothered with this bit]

When Sir John Moore and his army threatened the French communications at the end of 1808, Napoleon diverted a great many troops stationed in central Spain to support Soult in the pursuit which eventually ended with the Battle of Coruna and the evacuation of the Brits. One side effect of this was that for a while Madrid was relatively lightly defended, and there was a real chance for the Spanish Ejercito del Centro (commanded, briefly, by the Duke of Infantado - why do so many of the Spanish generals remind me of Gilbert and Sullivan?) to take back the capital. Infantado wasted a lot of time, pondering over alternative grand strategies which included marching off to attack the French lines of supply in the north, and by the time he actually did something it was too little, and far too late.

He detached two sections of his army, which got as far as Tarancon and Aranjuez, at which point they found that the French had recalled much of the missing manpower and that any action against Madrid was now impossible, so they combined and withdrew to Uclés. The commander of this expeditionary force, Mariscal de Campo Venegas, placed a small advanced guard in the little village of Tribaldos, and lined up the rest of his army along a north-south ridge which is bisected by the monastery town of Uclės and by a ravine containing the (fordable) Rio Bedija.

Marshal Victor, with his I Corps (one division absent) and the dragoon division of Latour-Maubourg (detached from the Cavalry Reserve) arrived on the field at 8am, brushed the Spanish advanced guard out of Tribaldos, and sent his infantry forward in two wings - Vilatte's Division attacked the Spanish left (and rolled it up very quickly), while Ruffin's marched around the Spanish right and intercepted the fugitives as they retreated. Infantado never appeared with the promised reinforcements - the Spanish army lost something like 6000 prisoners and was effectively wrecked. Infantado was relieved of command, and history proceeded...

For our game, we started with the position as the French arrived at 8am - Ruffin's (left flank) force was kept off the table, to be marched on as Command Cards allowed. To give the Spanish (me and Stryker) rather more than their customary zero chance, their infantry battalions were at full strength (many of the units on the day really had less than 200 men) and we adopted a scenario rule by which militia units did not count for a Victory Point if eliminated - this justified by the fact that the Spanish army would be neither surprised nor demoralised if the provinciales left early. We used a hybrid form of Commands and Colors, using the updated card packs from the Generals, Marshals & Tacticians Expansion (#5) and, since we had a big battle in hand, on a stretched table (17 x 9 hexes), we also borrowed the idea of the extra Courier Rack command hand from the Epic Expansion (#6). 10 Victory Points (VPs) to decide the day. There was an extra 2 VPs available to the French for each of the town hexes of Uclés which they captured, but this was always unlikely to happen, and in the event they never got close.

Rather than ignoring it and advancing around it to attack the Spanish left flank, Victor attacked the village of Tribaldos immediately - forcing the Spanish advance guard to remain and contest the place. That rather set the flavour for the rest of the day. Instead of being a brief mopping-up operation, this sector began to look more like La Haye Sainte, and, though the French did eventually take the village - eliminating Venegas' only unit of line grenadiers and the 2nd Bn of the Regto de la Reina and killing Brigadier Avellano (who was only painted a week ago!) - it cost them a lot of time and men - the sweeping right flank attack which won the day in 1809 never really got under way at all (not, of course, that we were intending to replay the historical battle).

Turning his attention to his left, Victor brought on Ruffin's Division, and managed to draw some very helpful cards to speed this process up. Thereafter there was a bloodbath on the French left - it has to be said that Ruffin did not have any luck at all with his dice-rolling mojo, the Spanish light cavalry (which was not very formidable) caused more of a nuisance than we expected and slowed things down by forcing units into square. In particular, the despised milicias provinciales on the northern ridge performed heroics - remarkable shooting, for one thing.

At this point, I regret to report, we ran out of time. The VP count stood at 7-all, and the French looked likely to pick off a few more, but my guests had to catch a train, so the deadline was not negotiable.

We had been fighting for about 3½ hours at this point, which by C&C standards is quite a long time, but Baron Stryker was making his first venture into the world of C&C, and, though he picked the game up commendably quickly, necessarily we still spent some time on explanations and conferences over card play etc. We probably made a rather stodgy start after lunch anyway! Though we agreed an honourable draw (an astonishing success for one of my forays with the Spanish army), in truth I think the French probably edged it because they had also eliminated a non-scoring militia unit, and were certainly well placed to finish things off - though it might have taken a little time, since they had lost momentum on their left. Also they had such appalling dice that they deserve a little extra credit for what was achieved. However, in my role as General Venegas, I shall graciously acknowledge all applause and honours which may come my way - to quote Bernard Montgomery, the boys done exceptional.

Afterthoughts? Hmmm - it was always possible that the game was too big to play as an introduction, but I picked it because the ability to play out a large action logically and with clear development is one of the strengths of the game system. Given the size of the action, we might have done better to use the original Command Cards - they are quicker in use, less longwinded, and require a lot less reading than the new ones! I wasn't convinced that the extra Courier Rack hand was much of a help, but Goya thought it worked well, so the jury is out on that one.

The double-retreat handicap rule for the Spaniards actually produces interesting results - on one occasion a battalion of Regto Ordenes Militares, about to be blown to pieces by a massed musketry attack, retreated out of range at the first volley without suffering any casualties, to the fury of Marshal Victor, and it is a commonplace for the French to be unable to catch up with Spanish units retreating from melees.  

All in all? Excellent - I had a great time, and we have agreed to reconvene soon for another fight - next time I fear there will be a mighty Austrian-Prussian coalition - I believe there is painting going on as I write. I am pondering the logistics of taking my French troops and my wargame on the road - should be OK. My van should do the job nicely - just have to put the troops securely in magnetised A4 boxfiles and, if we are to play C&C, I must wrap the battleboards in old duvets (my van is often mistaken for a travelling doss-house), and secure everything with bungee cords. Right.

My thanks, once again, to my colleagues - a lot of fun.

***** Late Edit *****

By special request of Mr L Gunner, here's a game OOB [note that the Spanish army is the actual units I have available, which is not hugely dissimilar from reality; the French army is the historic one and, since my cupboard armies are mostly VI Corps and the Armée du Centre, the parts of the various units were played by similar units with different numbers!]

(Part of Spanish) Ejercito del Centro (MdC D. Francisco Javier Venegas)

Adv guard in Tribaldos (Brig Beremundo Ramirez Avellano)
Combined grenadier bn (Regts Reina & Africa) & 2/Reina
Husares Españoles & Granaderos a Caballo Fernando VII

Right Flank (MdC D. Augusto Laporte)
1/Murcia; 2/Guardias Walonas; 1/Irlanda
2/Granaderos Provinciales de Andalucia & Bn de Campo Mayor (ligero)
Milicias Provinciales de Cordoba, de Granada & de Jaen
Foot battery

Centre (in and around Uclés) (Brig D. Pedro Agustin Giron)
Burgos (2 bns); 1/Reina; 1er Voluntarios de Cataluña (ligero)
Caz a Caballo de Olivenca & "Voluntarios de España"
1er Husares de Estemadura (Maria Luisa)

Left (Brig D. Antonio Senra)
1/Cantabria; Ordenes Militares (2); La Corona (2); Africa (2)
Bn de Ribeiro (ligero) & Mil Prov de Ciudad Real
Foot battery

French I Corps (Marshal Victor)

Division Ruffin
Brigade Barrois: 96e Ligne(3)
Brigade Lefol: 9e Léger(3); 24e Ligne (3)
Art à Pied

Division Lapisse (absent)

Division Villatte
Brigade Pacthod: 27e Léger(3); 63e Ligne (3)
Brigade Puthod: 94e Ligne(3); 95e Ligne(3)
Art à Pied

Corps cavalry
Brigade Beaumont: 26e Chasseurs à Cheval

From Cavalry Reserve: Division Latour-Maubourg
Brigade Perreymond: 1er & 2e Dragons
Brigade Dolembourg: 4e & 14e Dragons
Brigade Digeon: 20e & 26e Dragons
Art à Cheval


The struggle for Tribaldos - the French got bogged down a bit here - the elegant
white Lego block marks the flank section

Venegas' cavalry took this strange position - mainly to oppose the French
dragoons - there weren't many left at the end, but  they did all right

General view from the Spanish right flank, prior to Ruffin's arrival - units with
yellow cube markers are the militia...

Rather odd picture of Tribaldos, with the Spaniards gone, but a lot of time lost

Ruffin's Division appears on the French left...

...more and more of it...

...and things get very sweaty here for a while - the Spanish light cavalry look as if
they are on a suicide mission, which ultimately I suppose they were, but they forced
a couple of battalions into square and slowed the attack down...

...view at this stage from behind the French left attack - the town of Uclés
is in complete calm in the background...

Shrewdly, Venegas withdrew some militia from the end of his line, and replaced them
with the more warlike Regto Irlanda (light blue uniforms) as the French gained a
foothold on the ridge; the Irlanda were destroyed, very quickly! - overall the militia performed better...

As the day came to an end, the French were well positioned to make further progress
on their left, and the Spanish were getting a bit sparse at this point...

...but we ran out of time! Venegas might regard himself as lucky to achieve a draw,
but he will certainly dine out on his success for years. 7-all - you can see the VP markers.

Here are a few incidental pictures, commemorating a wonderful event in the history of the Spanish army's adventures at Chateau Foy:

Since some of the Spanish artillery wore red waistcoats, and since some of the
NapoleoN figures are without jackets, it amuses me that I have a battery of
gunners in what look like Arsenal strips - non-British readers, do not worry about
this - British readers, worry if you wish

Here are some of the Milicias Provinciales - they may be the regiment of Cordoba,
 or maybe Granada - it doesn't matter - whoever they are, they were great

Some of the French units which were badly damaged attacking Tribaldos, resting
at the rear. The more observant students of military history may note that Marshal
Victor and generals Pacthod and Vilatte are also resting at the rear. I have nothing
further to say about this.

The town of Uclés, on its hill, with light infantry in the town and line infantry in
the woods. No rape or pillage today - it would have been a good day for a picnic. 

Since they didn't get mentioned much, here is the Spanish left flank, still in place at the end.

Good company, an entertaining game of toy soldiers, complete with Bellona bridges and Merit trees - what more could you ask?


  1. Looks like a splendid game all the way 'round!

    Best Regards,


  2. What else could we want? A copy of the orbats perhaps?

    Nice game!

    1. Hi Roy - OK - I've added that - maybe a beer?

    2. As always, Foy, your troops, photos and narrative are superb. A perfect start to the week.

    3. Thanks for the Orbats Msgr Foy


  3. Sounds like you all had good fun. Enjoyed the AAR. Well done for getting the draw!

    1. I think we'd have been sunk if it had gone to extra time...

      The Spanish army are great if they stay put, have plenty of supporting friends and generals, and leave gaps for "fatigued" units to fall back when necessary. In these rules, if you try to get into a moving firefight, or infantry charge in a melee, you are going to get outmatched pretty quickly. The multiple retreat rule can be a killer, but can, as we saw on Sunday, produce a few lucky breaks (literally?).

  4. It was a great game but it does help to have beginners luck when rolling the dice!

    1. Your dice prowess is now legendary in every cantina in the region. There's a few Frenchies muttering about it as well. It was frustrating having to hang on to the cavalry all that time, wasn't it? - I really thought we could offer them up as sacrifices to all those dragoons, but the sacrifice proved to be elsewhere...

      You realise that if this result had really happened, the Duke of Infantado would have kept his job at least for a few extra weeks...

  5. The Provincial Militia was no worse than the regular Royal Army. It had been called out in 1804 when Spain was at war with Britain and was never stood down. The Urban Militia was the real dross but they never took to the field. The Provincial Militia even had four Grenadier Brigades of high quality troops [for the Spanish]. I think the problem with the Spanish was their inept commanders and the fact the the French Army in Spain in 1809 was formed of well trained experienced veterans commanded by some of the best generals of the age!

    1. I'm currently reading Esdaile's book about Soult in Andalucia (very good, I think, though very detailed in the junta-level politics dept) - and he makes the point that a great many of the Urban Militia were wealthy citizens who used it as an excuse to avoid military service beyond their own town - I hadn't realised this. Yes, the Provinciales are OK as long as they don't get discouraged - certainly Venegas exposed his mil prov units in risky places at the real Uclés, so he must have had faith in them. The 3rd "Division" of Granaderos Provinciales (Andalucia) appeared in our game - they are ranked as line infantry rather than grenadiers in my house rules.

  6. That all looks and sounds splendid. It's good to see the Spaniards taking the field on their own account and giving a good one too.
    I agree with Drew J that overall the quality of commanders mattered way more than supposed troop quality, as was often the case. Obviously bad leaders will create bad soldiers (by under-training, under-paying and under-feeding them, and sapping their belief in victory), but even with great troops a slipshod general can work disasters.

    1. Leaders were indeed a problem - following the proceedings of the Spanish army can be bewildering at times - they had a vast proportion of general officers on tap. About ¼ of the units at Uclés had a brigadier as colonel, and in most cases he was present in the field. When Infantado created his detached forces to threaten Madrid, the allocation of units and commanders appears almost ad hoc - the chaps put in charge of the various bits look like whimsical suggestions - maybe political? This trend was continued at the battle itself - when Venegas assembled his defence line, it bears no relation to the official command structure of the Ejercito del Centro - just units shoved wherever they would fit, with no attempt to maintain continuity of command or familiarity between commanders and commanded. Even Venegas' status in the E del C is a bit shady - I think he had recently been demoted (when Infantado arrived), and he does not appear on the official list of bosses in the original OOB.

  7. A great mixture of manufactors. I see Phoenix (Les Higgins) and some Hinton-Hunt. Maybe you should put some close ups of your troops on the blog as I would like to see the painting of these old figures which looks great from the distance.


    1. Thanks Uwe - my blog is stuffed with about 7 years' worth of photos of my troops - I think they actually look much better from a distance, since I am a mere journeyman painter!

  8. Fantastic photos and write up Tony. Was this Ian's first game of Commands & Colors? If so be interested to know how he found it and how quickly he picked the rules up. Lovely to see all those Spaniards on the table together.

    1. Hi Lee - yes, Stryker was a C&C first-timer, and he did splendidly - he arrived with no apparent prejudices and even seems to have survived my dreadful enthusiasm. He has written a very interesting (and kind) post on his blog.

  9. Looks absolutely splendid and sounds like a great day. Nothing like a plan and long hours of preparation coming to fruition.

    1. We ran out of time, admittedly, but that is a common military failure. It's the fruition bit that is rare and appreciated!

  10. Interesting post. I have played a few games of C&C and bought a copy last week. I am thinking of having a go with some old 15mm figures I have lying around.

    1. I'm sure you'll find it rewarding - Stryker commented somewhere that he was surprised that it felt like a normal miniatures game, despite the boardgame hexes and the detail abstraction - I'm glad he felt that - it has always seemed that way to me. I'd be interested to hear how you get on.

  11. Late to the show on this one. An excellent report and I've always had a soft spot for the Spanish, you get a real sense of achievement if you secure a draw or better!
    I haven't tried the new C&C cards yet but am looking forward to one day getting my 20mm armies on the table

    1. Hi Graham - thank you - the new cards are an improvement, but I'm certainly going to have to invest some time into studying them - they slow the game down for me at present. It had occurred to me that a typed list of all the cards in Expansion #5 might be useful, so I'm thinking of posting on here shortly.