Wednesday, 7 November 2018

2nd Battle of Oporto - An introduction

The next battle in my Peninsular War project is the 2nd Battle of Oporto, or the crossing of the Douro, 12th May 1809. 

I have several books that include the battle but do not cover it in any great detail. After hunting around the internet I stumbled across JJ's Wargames blog who had created a scenario for this battle. It seemed ideal and only needed a little tweaking for the different scale and rule system. The full scenario can be found here -

Once again I am going to highlight the versatility of 6mm, especially when space is at a premium. JJ's original scenario, which included a representation of the Douro that I intend to replicate, was played out on a 9' x 5' table. My game will be on a 4'6" x 3' table!

I will again be using a modified version of General de Brigade rules. For this game skirmishing will be introduced. It will be done in an abstract way without actually deploying skirmish figures, a very fiddly proposition in this scale. I will be using the GdB mechanism with a touch of Grande Armee by Sam Mustafa and some of my own tweaks.

Briefly: I will be allocating an SK (skirmisher) value to each unit which collectively forms a Brigade skirmish screen when not acting independently. This will be based on GdB's system of 1D6 for 6 first rate skirmishers, 1D6 for 8 second rate and 1D6 for 4 chosen men of the 95th Rifles. So a French infantry battalion of 36 figures will have one light company of 6 = SK1 or 1D6. A British line battalion of 30 will have one light company of 3 = SK1/2 and so on. 

It will be assumed skirmishers are thrown out ahead of an advance to screen the main body of troops. When in range dice are rolled as per GdB with a '6' scoring a hit. When the main body moves within 6cms of the enemy the skirmishers are automatically recalled. They cannot be deployed if enemy cavalry are within 9cms of the parent or target unit. 

There is more detail to it than this but gives you an idea of how it is going to, hopefully, work. This particular battle should be a decent test bed not being too large that it could get bogged down. 

On to the scenario and orders of battle -

Scale - 6mm
Figures - Baccus
Rules - General de Brigade
Table size - 4'6" x 3'
Figure ratio - 1:20

The battlefield
Continued -

Terrain has fairly gentle slopes, allowing access and free movement to all arms (on this occasion I did not depict any slopes). Vineyards, light scrub and open woods. 

Rivers – The Douro River is un-fordable.

Built-Up Areas [BUA] – All structures are stone.
Cover - 'Buildings'

Seminary – Classed as church or chateaux in melee.

Roads - Troops must be in March Column or limbered to gain road advantage. Artillery moves at half speed if not on a road.

Start time 10.30

This scenario represents crossing of the Douro and the Soult’s retreat from the city of Oporto. The
3rd and 48th regiments of foot with Paget have managed to cross the Douro in wine barges undetected by the French. At the start of the game they already occupy the Bishops Seminary and its grounds.

The KGL Brigade plus the 14th Light Dragoons under the command of Brigadier General Sir John
Murray have already crossed the river further east using the ferry at Barca d’Avintas and will enter the table as an off table flank force, with a randomised arrival time (turns 4 - 6), on the French side of the river (see photo).

Sir Arthur Wellesley has set up his artillery batteries on the British side of the river, able to support the troops in the seminary. They may not open fire until turn 2 when French troops are observed deploying forces to contest the Bishops Seminary. The remaining Allied troops are in reserve awaiting the first opportunity to cross the river.

Sir Stapleton Cotton’s division will remain in reserve off table at the ferry and will be set up as an off table flank force to appear by turn 4 on the French side of the river.

General Foy has set his HQ in Oporto together with his ADC. His brigade is set up throughout Oporto on the tabletop. All other commanders including Marshal Soult and French troops are off table in and around Oporto to the west.

Test for initiative as normal but restrict activity to the sequence listed below in the first five turns.

British Turn 1
No actions allowed this turn. French spot battalions in the Seminary. Seminary troops finish building fire-steps. British wine barges behind Seminary sail back to the British side this turn.

French Turn 1
Foy (who is standing on a hill opposite Wellington’s artillery) spots the red coated troops crossing in the wine barges. He sends his ADC to warn General Soult. To counter this he calls up the nearest troops he can muster. The ADC mounts his horse and has to reach General Soult’s HQ (which is at least 2,700 paces away from Foy’s position). This will take the ADC two turns (half speed moving through the narrow streets of Oporto) on his horse. Three battalions of the 17th Light and one artillery battery advance on the Seminary. They start moving from their deployment area this turn.

British Turn 2
British artillery batteries may open fire this turn, battalions in the Seminary may act and one
battalion can cross in the wine barges this turn but be aware that the French can now potentially fire
their artillery directly at the Seminary.

French Turn 2
Only Foy, the three 17th Light battalions, artillery and ADC are active this phase.

British Turn 3
Artillery, battalions in the Seminary, battalions crossing in boats can act.

French Turn 3
Foy’s three units of the 17th Light and 70th Line may continue on their way toward the Seminary. The ADC reaches Soult’s HQ. Soult is still asleep. To wake him roll a D6. On a 4, 5 or 6 Soult wakes and orders his troops to abandon the city. If successful all French troops leave their current posts (including the troops guarding the Portuguese boats and head into the city centre towards the road out of town).
If unsuccessful, Soult dismisses the reports of red coated soldiers (entering the Seminary) as just
their own Swiss troops and goes back to sleep. The rest of the army maintain their positions until the French player gets another chance to roll again next turn.
In the next French turns continue to roll to wake Soult needing a 3, 4, 5 or 6 (chances increased by 1
each turn). The very moment that the French troops leave the waterfront, it is assumed the Portuguese start rowing their now unguarded boats over to the British to ferry them across.

British Turn 4
Start moving the British Cavalry Regiments commanded by Major General Sir Stapleton Cotton along the road as indicated on the map.

British Turn 5+
Normal Movement

Rules for Portuguese Boats and British wine barges
It will take two full turns per crossing, i.e. to embark (turn 1), move across the river and disembark
(turn 2). Two battalions can cross the river in the Portuguese boats and another battalion can cross
using the British wine barges.
Example, Turn 1 the wine barges return from the French bank to the British bank and troops board
the boats. Turn 2 the boats cross to the French bank and troops disembark, Turn 3 the boats return
to the British bank, etc, etc.
Sherbrooke’s and Paget’s divisions will cross the river near the spot where the bridge of boats used
to be and can land in any vacated waterfront . They will follow French troops as they vacate Oporto and can move around them if the opportunity presents itself. You’re free to choose which units cross next. 

Tactical Objectives and Victory Status:

Hold the Seminary uncontested, by occupying the Seminary building with at least one unit under
orders. (See notes on Battle for the Seminary).
Prevent the French victory conditions.

Take the Seminary, by occupying the Seminary building with one unit under orders
Get 50% of French troops off the table along the route indicated in the photo under orders.

Battle for the Seminary:
The Seminary acts as an objective in this battle. Whilst the British are in occupation, the French must have at least one brigade under orders within charge range, to contest it. Thus to prevent the
British claiming an uncontested occupation, which would be truly shameful to French arms, the
French are required to contest the Seminary for at least five turns. This acts as an added incentive
for them to keep attacking it. The French are immune from this test once they have five turns
contested or alternatively if they miraculously clear the British out of the Seminary! Adherence to
the proximity test will cancel out the British “Hold the Seminary uncontested” victory condition.
Taking the Seminary will improve the final outcome of the French Victory status.

Orders of Battle

NEXT: The After Action Report


  1. Look forward to reading the next instalment. JJ's blog is quite useful isn't it, I got a lot of info for my clubs Talavera game from him. Backed the Kickstarter for his scenario book of early Peninsular War battles too.

    1. Thanks Anthony. JJ's blog certainly is useful and has saved me a good deal of time! Talavera will be played soon, although I have a good few more figures to paint before I do so may be a little delayed. I will take a closer look at JJ's Talavera scenario.

    2. Looks good, Jon> It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Oporto was perhaps the low point of Soult's career!

      I backed the scenario book as well, even though it was for a rules set I neither own nor use!

    3. It's an interesting scenario to play. A little out of the ordinary as Soult has to safely extract his army from a deteriorating situation. Yes he did not come out of that well!

  2. Good meticulous planning as always - looking forward to the dice falling :-)

  3. Lovely looking table

    Take care