Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The retreat at Cha de Biaxo - 1810

Jez had set up the scenario for this week's game of Napoleonics, a pleasant novelty for me as I would for a change be fighting blind without a knowledge of what might be going on behind the scenes.  Of course this also means putting your trust in someone to come up with a fair situation, and this is always something I'm aware of when writing my own games up.  Still at the top of today's post, I'd have to say he did a pretty good job with just a couple of head scratching moments.

Anyway, orders arrived in the middle of the night at General Lilywhite's headquarters to the effect that scouts had identified that the local French division he had been trying to bring to battle was escaping by a bridge over the river there.  Lilywhite knew his brigades would not all be ready in time for an early attack, so rather he decided to ensure they would arrive in cohesion during daylight.  To that end, he sent his Cavalry brigade and a Flying column of a battalion of Scots and three companies of Rifles to slow up the withdrawal of the French.

The French by this stage had already begun to withdraw from the field; but their numbers were suspiciously low and it was clear there must be other forces in the area.

Indeed Lilywhite's flying column spoke with the locals and heard talk of cavalry movements nearby, as well as rumours of the French mining the town and massacring villagers.  The other main discovery of the lead force was booze, tonnes of it apparently!  The British advance ground to a halt, until the main infantry Brigades arrived some two hours later in uncharacteristic columns as demanded by haste and the terrain.

Sadly, any attempt at a unified advance was hamstrung by the quality of the British commanders, Hopton in particular - leading the cavalry - was a barely competent half-wit; though the other commanders were in general unsensational at best.  Bunting-Smythe's Brigade of militia stiffened by Guards and artillery soon found itself heading in the wrong direction and creating a huge hole in the lines.

At about this point, large sections of the village erupted in flames as the mined buildings began to explode.

The French were organising an effective defence, and appeared to be preparing to blow the bridge behind themselves.

The British cavalry was rushed forward by Lilywhite's personal intervention; and just in time as a demi-brigade of French Dragoons appeared on their right.  Thankfully the French commanders were not of the top tier and the French arrivals wuld repeatedly turn out to be lions led by lambs.

Some of the French dragoons charged the British Light Dragoons forcing them to retreat; however they then impetuously ran on in to the Maria Louisa Hussars, expecting an easy victory.  They did not get it though, and were destroyed by the Spanish; unaware perhaps of their fury at the discovery of civilian dead in the field...

By this stage Stalybridge's line brigade had entered the village to the west whilst the Militia brigade had found its' way back to the battlefield.

But equally, more French infantry blessed, if only from the British standpoint, with the worst military commander ever to be able to dress himself, had arrived on their left to support the Dragoons.

As the flying column moved through the west of the village they were befell by three miseries; firstly the galling fire of the French on the opposite side of the river; including cannon, took its' toll.  Secondly the mine in the convent exploded causing dreadful casualties in the highlanders, who were only yards from the walls around it.  And finally the few survivors were distracted by discoveries of more demon drink.  when another formation of Dragoons appeared on their left the Flying column was a spent force and began to retire.

Not before a company of Riflemen charged the Dragoons to the right and wiped them out, at heavy loss but with the capture of an enemy Brigadier too.

The Light Dragoons on Lilywhite's right put in a charge on the French infantry, who failed to form square but held the cavalry at bay.  The British cavalry returned with Spanish support, containing the enemy but not defeating them.  The Line Brigade to the west deployed guns to devastating effect on the Dragoons, leaving only the French Hussars at the bridge as the French cavalry contingent.  Yet more French infantry stragglers, including Westphalians appeared.

The Line Brigade managed to advance through the village and continued to harry the French engineers and line units, where the flying column had left off.  On the right the Guards pushed through and tried to take on the French lines, which were allowing several regiments to retire.

The French had the better of the engagement but by this time the British were in a position to cut off the retreat, and so the French commander ordered a general disengagement from the bridge, which to their regret had to be left intact.

The British, despite no end of setbacks and some bloodied noses, had managed to seize the bridge intact, destroy a brigade of cavalry and cut off two regiments of French foot.  However the loss of the Highlanders, the Light Dragoons and two companies of riflemen was considered a serious blow by the cautious General Lilywhite.  The Spanish and Portuguese forces, with the remarkable exception of the Hussars had performed dismally, and in general the commanders had failed to show any grit.

Any tactical victory the British could claim, would strategically favour the French.

A long and closely fought game, Jez felt the a couple of elements could have been improved to make the rearguard action more balanced.  The fighting quality of the stragglers was considered too high, being full strength, but this was balanced by the control level of their commanders.  Jez rolled a D6+3 on arrival for each of these and as it turned out they were never better than a 'six', even when I made him re-roll a '1' as simply too low!

The mines also proved to be deadly to my forces, but largely due to their exploding once I was thoroughly ensconced in their buildings.  Rather more debilitating was the effect of the alcohol apparently lying everywhere, which directly or indirectly caused about as many losses as the enemy.

Still, overall, it was fun not to know all the secrets at the start, and not to have to do all the explaining.  Thanks Jez, let's do it again soon!

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