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

Friday 30 October 2020

Zoom Game - Fuentes de Oñoro (3rd Day) - 5th May 1811

Yesterday I hosted/umpired a "distanced" game, featuring - nay, starring - Stryker as Wellington and nundanket as Massena - lofty company indeed. We used my Ramekin variation on C&CN, on a 17 x 9 hex table, and the forces were scaled to about 60% of the original, just to get everything on board (so to speak).

I spent some time studying the available scenarios - and eventually constructed my own. Some challenges for Fuentes - it is a very big battle, by Peninsular War standards, but also rather an odd battle in some ways. I chose the 3rd day (which, confusingly, for me, was the second day of fighting - the battle was 3rd-5th May, and the 4th was mostly spent manoeuvring, while Massena tried to come up with something rather more clever, and Wellington extended his right flank, in anticipation of this more clever thing which Massena might do).  The great, received British traditions of this 3rd day are mostly surrounding the early morning action, when Montbrun's cavalry and Marchand's and Mermet's divisions of VI Corps made a left hook through forests and swamps, and flushed Houston's 7th British Division out of the village of Pozo Bello. Craufurd was sent with the Light Divn and some cavalry support, to rescue the 7th Divn - Houston managed to retire to Freneda, which is to the west of the main battlefield, and took no further part. Craufurd then undertook a celebrated withdrawal, with his infantry in square, and with gallant support from his outnumbered cavalrymen. This section of the action is also famous for Norman Ramsay's "charge" with a couple of guns from the RHA, and so on - if you want a truly dramatic account of all this, Napier is your man, though how accurate the depiction is may now be a topic for discussion.

Whatever, I reluctantly decided that much of this early-morning caper is splendid stuff, and would lend itself beautifully to a big game of Sharp Practice or similar, but is far too tactical and fiddly for a big game with a blunt instrument like C&C. Thus our game started with Houston gone and Craufurd on his way back - I would have to grit my teeth and do without the Brunswickers and Chasseurs Britanniques, and our field would have Pozo Bello a mile or two off the south-west corner.

The game, then.

This is my rather basic version of a C&C set-up plan.

Start: general view from north-east corner - Anglo-Portuguese on the right, town of Fuentes (worth 2 temporary Victory Points to the French if and while they hold both hexes of the town) right in the middle of the photo

Start: looking along Wellington's main line, from his right - those big Foot Guard battalions look impressive, but they had a quiet day...

Start: view of the Allied right flank, with Craufurd's force strung out across the field, and Montbrun's cavalry appearing through the trees from the direction of Pozo Bello. Below you see Fuentes itself, with the garrison looking across the river towards Ferey's Divn [I substituted fords for the original bridges, just to avoid that annoying and rather undignified business of balancing sabots on the handrails]

Start: Beyond the Allied left, you see Ferey, with support from the Divns of Conroux and Claparède - the counters on the table edge are further battalions which are still to arrive - Drouet D'Erlon kept back part of the IX Corps force as a reserve. The river is shallow, but the section in the foreground (from the wiggly bit) is in a gorge, and unfordable.

Start: The French centre, with Montbrun's cavalry, Marchand and Mermet beyond. The centre was intimidated by the Allied artillery facing them (for once, the French are outgunned), and served mainly to pin Wellington's main force, and limit the extent to which the Fuentes town position could be reinforced.

Start: Drone shot of Montbrun's cavalry, making a fairly dismal job of harrassing Craufurd. The Allies won the first initiative roll of the game, which was a good one to win

Right from the beginning of the action, the fight for Fuentes began, and it was as bloody as Napier says; to everyone's amazement (especially Massena's), the French gained immediate success and took the southern end of the village. They were promptly driven out again, but came back with equal success. The theme was set - this was the main area of fighting for the day - very quickly, the French were 3-2 up in VPs (9 needed for the victory). Ferey is #17 - he had a very active day.

General view, about an hour into the game. Not much happening in the centre, though the 6eme Léger are taking a bit of a bashing from the artillery.

And still the fighting goes on at Fuentes - I really did lose count of the number of times it changed hands. At this point, the French brought up a battalion of grenadiers (red counter), but they didn't do very well.

On the French left, Montbrun sends a regiment of dragoons up, forcing the 52nd Foot into square, but they were seen off by Slade with the British 1st Dragoons.

Unusual sight - Montbrun's two dragoon units take shelter in the woods - the official story was that this was to clear the way for more troops and the French horse artillery.

Still not a lot happening in the centre, though the French had now pushed one of their own foot batteries forward, where they provided good support for the troops holding Fuentes.

More troops crossing the river, and still the situation at Fuentes is half held by each side, and heavy fighting.

Under the claim that Massena was having problems with his old injury from Essling, I took the opportunity to field him in a carriage. He looks peaceful - he may, in fact, be asleep. The young ADC in the white hussar kit is the Marshal's 17-year-old son, Prosper, who is definitely very wide awake.

The French now have both bits of the village, so the 2 bonus VPs are shining on the scoreboard, and Picton brings up some Portuguese troops to try to do something about it.

The British dragoons attack - and defeat - the French dragoons in their wood - never seen one of these before...

By this stage, with the IX Corps chaps coming up in support, it is becoming obvious that Wellington is not going to be able to do much about recovering the town; his supporting units on that flank are already badly battered. From memory, I believe the VP count was about 7-3 at this stage, so something desperate was needed from the Allies.

General view after about 3 hours fighting - the French hold the village, and Wellington's troops on the high ground are a lot more sparse than they were.

Wellington leads a general advance in his centre, to inflict some losses on the French troops opposite, and to cut off the Fuentes position.

General MacKinnon, who commanded the area around the town, was seriously wounded in the fighting, and Picton became personally involved in the effort to recover the position - here he is attached to some of the Portuguese from Powers' brigade, who are obviously nearing the end of their day.

Here is General Claparède, of IX Corps, leading some of his men against Fuentes town. I took a great affection for the General, whose name is obviously really Clapper-'Ead (his family were bell ringers). Round about this time the 79th Highlanders, after a long and arduous fight, were finally eliminated, and the French had won 9-4. Someone went to wake up Massena and let him know.

As ever, thanks to my colleagues for their courage and enthusiasm - sitting watching a big battle on a laptop requires not a little fortitude and stamina, so I appreciate their efforts very much! I very much enjoyed my day umpiring and watching fake history come to pass, and it was terrific to have someone to talk to!

Monday 26 October 2020

Wet Day - Keeping Busy...

Very nice, sunny morning first thing, but it gradually clouded over and from early afternoon we've had what one might describe as biblical rain. At one point I had to get the recycling out to the bin, and I stood in the downpour to watch what looked like a shallow river running down the lane outside our gate. Yes, I got a bit damp, but it was worth it - not much happens around here.

Among the boxes of soldiers from the Eric Knowles collection which I have here, waiting for refurbishment, there are some generals and staff figures. A lot of these are very early Hinton Hunts, and the quality of the castings is a revelation to those of us who first met up with HH in the 1970s. I've done very little with these fellows thus far, so I decided to have a go at one. The original painting was of a very nice quality, but, being singly-based commanders, they have been subjected to a lot of handling, so the paint is worn in places, and the colours have (obviously) faded during the last 50-odd years.

So here is my new General Lord Somerset (though he could be almost anyone), a vintage Hinton Hunt BN107 OPC figure, freshly retouched and based, fronting his (ex-Eric) Household Brigade, ready for Waterloo if required.

I also glued up some of these. This is the production run of the Max Foy Mark 2 Siege Doofer (Vauban version) - Michael of Supreme Littleness did a nice job on these. I shall slap some paint on them sometime this week. All taking shape on the siege front - I'm waiting for the postie to bring me my latest shipment of trenches (they're in transit from Fat Frank's emporium).

This evening I'm listening to the Burnley vs Spurs match on Radio 5 Live, while working to set up a battlefield for Thursday. Still some work to do, but a decent start. You may hear more of this. Note the bag of Orange Chocolate Minis, courtesy of Terry's Chocolate - other sweets are available, of course, but these are the official confectionery of choice of Foy's Battlefield Construction plc.  

Now you're talking - these bags are now resealable, so you can have one or two minis and put them away for later. Can't understand that at all - surely they would go stale? Certainly I can't remember ever having a bag which lasted into a second day. Still, it's an interesting development.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Stirrings from the Attic

 I've been working away quietly in my semi-isolated state - done a fair amount of painting, refurbing and sorting-out. Here are a few quick pictures, from recent tasks which actually produced something.

I finally completed a unit of Spanish granaderos provinciales which I started (according to my notes) in March 2017 - which is not especially slow by my own standards! Figures are mostly OOP Falcata.

I replaced the crews for two French foot artillery batteries, using retouched ex-Eric Knowles Hinton Hunts - I used my original guns, which are Hinchliffe 20mm. The previous gunners were (whisper it) overscale Prinz August home-casts, very poorly painted, which resulted in these batteries being confined to the French Artillery boxfiles for many years (I'm beginning to understand how they must have felt) - now they can get out and shoot at someone.

David Crook, who saw these little chaps on my table via a Zoom visit, became quite emotional at the thought of these old soldiers getting back into action after so many years, in a form which we hope Eric would have approved of!

For my WSS collection, Goya very kindly painted some more Imperial troops - these are the two battalions of the Regiment of the Markgraf of Baden-Baden, in official shiny WSS varnish.

And I've also been working away steadily on bits and pieces for future siege games (I now have taken delivery of the Vauban's Wars rules and the posh playing cards, and am studying for my diploma). Here you see one of my handicraft evenings, cutting various length strips of 1-inch wide brown felt, to serve as forward saps in the game...

...and here is the start of a small set of mini-units for siege infantry - in this case the Peninsular War department. There is no strict requirement to re-base anything for the VW games,  but I have taken a liking to these little 12-man units, mounted in 3s on skinny little bases, which can sit comfortably in trenches and on walls and covered ways. This may seem a bit extravagant, but it gives me a really useful job for some Lamming figures that don't really have a home, and other various spares from the Deep Boxes. In particular, a good number of marching figures and "standing firing" fusiliers, which normally I don't use, can get a gig at sieges.

I'm not doing anything fancy with these - just a quick touch-up if needed, some fresh varnish and stick them on the skinny bases. Initial target is about a dozen such units for each side - normal units from my standard collection will be fine for tactical events like storms and sallies, if numbers are short!

I'm also adding to my collection of trench sections and gun emplacements, and some odd-shaped earthworks pieces to serve as a fausse braie for the medieval walls of places like Ciudad Rodrigo (Vauban never got as far as Spain, as far as I can see - the proper Vauban kit will come in very nicely for the WSS...).

Once again, I've bought in scenery pieces from that fine chap Fat Frank, still going strong in his eBay shop. You can get your trenches made to order, with or without sandbags!

I'm sure there will be more pictures soon - in the meantime, I hope you are well, and keeping safe.