Thursday, 9 September 2021

Battle of Talavera - Turns 25 - Conclusion

As the French columns began to ascend the steep slopes of the Medellin, the British began to open fire as they came into effective range.

On the northern slope the British look on as Ruffin's division begins to approach. The last British artillery battery opens fire plunging shot into the dense columns.

Continued - 

Barrois' 2nd Brigade leads the attack on the northern slopes (top of photo) and comes under sustained fire losing heavy casualties.

Barrois' Brigade becomes the first French units to make contact with the British line on the northern slope with one column successfully holding together through the hail of British lead and striking the tough 88th Line. They are though comprehensively launched back down the slope with one of Barrois' battalions utterly destroyed by a combination of musketry and canister fire from the artillery.

The French fair little better on the eastern slope. Vilatte's division come under heavy fire as the ascend the slope. One battalion attempts to rush to the top risking becoming unformed in the process. It fails, becomes unformed, and suffers under steady musket volleys.

Success for the French occurs during their attack on the British centre. Many French columns falter under the withering volley fire but some make it through. One of Solignac's battalions routs the 7th KGL Line leaving a yawning gap in the British line.

French battalions are rushed into the gap with the victorious French column turning to hit the rear of the British line. The 7th KGL failed to rally and departed the field. One of Mackenzie's battalions destined for the Medellin was diverted to restore order in the centre (just in view at bottom of photo).

Further along the centre the British were comfortably seeing off the French attacks.

The view from the French side showing the British vulnerability in their broken line and the struggle for the Medellin.

Worse was to come for the British with the rout of the 2nd KGL Line widening the gap. Columns also now threatened the flank of those battalions holding the Medellin.

Bad news for the French came from further along the centre where Laplanne's brigade, having lost two more battalions to the devastating musketry of the Guards in particular, broke leaving just one battalion left.

French columns on the Medellin were also suffering badly. Those that made contact were thrown back and one battalion was destroyed.

On the French left, a dragoon regiment has charged the last of the British cavalry, the 14th Light Dragoons lead by Cotton. The British cavalry was defeated and would subsequently fail its rally test dispersing from the field and leaving Wellington with no mounted troops left.

Elsewhere on the left flank the dragoons of Milhaud were now aggressively threatening the British infantry.

One dragoon charge piles into a square only to be easily repulsed.


Two overview photos at the end of turn 27.

Pressed by the Dutch and Milhaud's dragoons, Kemmis begins moving his squares towards the redoubt intending to hold out there. Casualties began to mount as the vulnerable squares were the target of Dutch musketry and artillery.

Worrying for Kemmis was the arrival of a battery now targeting the redoubt.

As Kemmis edged towards the redoubt, his battalion of detachments (middle left) broke under the relentless Dutch musket volleys and will now retreat unformed at the mercy of the cavalry.

However, developments elsewhere overshadowed the events on this flank.

In the centre the French continued to push columns into the breach of the British line as the latter desperately attempted plug the gap with anything they had available.

Wellington now made the decision that he would make a last stand on the Medellin hoping for nightfall. With the exception of Kemmis' Brigade, all units were to make for the Medellin as soon as they are able.

To the right of the photo, the 2/54th Line was ordered to charge the approaching Guards battalion that had been rushed over from the area of the redoubt. The French battalion lost heart and faltered in the face of the advancing Guardsmen. The latter had no such qualms and counter-charged the shaky French column. The 1/3rd Foot Guards lead by Campbell had taken a risk being just one figure away from their dispersal point. They had to win the melee to stay on the battlefield. And this they did in style comprehensively routing the French with heavy loss. 

The melee on the left had a different outcome. The 3/8th Line charged the faltering British 31st Line with the latter routing!

The Guards victory had a dramatic effect on Solignac's brigade. With Solignac dead, the brigade was under the command of a Regimental Colonel who would provide no bonus in the Brigade morale test. That morale test had a 'Broken' result leading to the loss of 3 French battalions who were already outing, retreating or who had suffered over 34% casualties. The rest would retire 18cm unformed.

The removal of those battalions resulted in an altogether different complexion in this area of the battlefield.

Ruffin's Division have made no headway in capturing the northern slope of the Medellin. Several battalions have now resorted to forming line intending to fire their way to the top!

Vilatte's Division were also struggling on the eastern slope.

At last a French breakthrough on the Medellin! On the left, partially out of photo shot, the French 1/54th Line successfully repulsed Tilson's 48th Line from the summit leaving a breach in the British line.

On the right, Tilson's 66th Line heroically stood against 3 French battalion columns, one of which had hit it on the flank. The 66th stood no chance and was effectively wiped out.

Donkin's 87th Line that had been held in reserve was rushed forward (middle of photo) in an attempt to stabilise the line.

The British were now in danger of losing the Medellin.

One of Mackenzie's newly arrived battalions began forming a new defensive line on the southern slope.

While the British line on the northern slope remained secure they were becoming increasingly apprehensive about what was happening to their right.


Two overviews at the end of turn 29. With just 3 turns left it still looked as though the French could do it provided they maintain momentum on the Medellin.

In one wild attack everything changed. For the first time in several turns the British won the initiative. General Hill had joined the 87th Line (upper middle of photo) and now launched a charge at the French column that had initially gained the summit. The French promptly routed before contact.

The 87th continued their charge now towards the two battalions of Cassagne's brigade that had destroyed the 66th Line. With Hill in the lead the two French battalions did not hang around for impact and both broke. In one charge and without loss the 87th had swept the summit clean of French troops.

Worse was to come for the French as they were now faced with panicked troops flooding down the eastern slope of the Medellin. With that panic taking hold several more battalions failed morale tests leading to the complete collapse of the whole of Vilatte's Division. 

The end result with the whole of Puthod's brigade having fled the field and just 3 battalions of Cassagne's brigade remaining. And those would retire unformed in the next turn.

Hill and the victorious troops of the 87th Line look on in amazement at what they had achieved!

Two British battalions failed to rally and fled the field but their defensive line had now been pretty much restored around the Medellin.


Ruffin's Division had taken such a severe battering they were in no position now to force the northern slope. The cavalry could not help out as they were unable to charge up the severe slope.

French cavalry were now pressing the British right flank including Kemmis' Brigade (top left of photo). But it was all too little too late. With what was left of Solignac's Brigade recovering (bottom) the French had surrendered all they had gained in the centre.

From the British side it all looks unexpectedly rosy!



3 overview photos at the end of turn 30. It is now very definitely over for the French. There is little offensive capability left in their infantry let alone the fact there is only 2 turns left until nightfall.

With regard to army morale tests, the French were now over their break point of 149 accumulating 169 points in losses. To demonstrate how close it was the British were also about to pass their break point of 64 with 57 points in losses. More on army morale tests below.

CONCLUSION

To say that game finished on a knife-edge is to put it mildly! I believed the end was in sight for the British when their line was broken in the centre and even more so as several French columns gained the summit of the Medellin. 

The British had precious few reserves and for the 3rd Foot Guards it was an all or nothing charge in the centre that began the catastrophic turn of events for the French. 

Awards really have to go to General Hill and the 87th Line. For several turns the French had won the initiative, but on this one the British succeeded at a critical time. This gave Hill leading the 87th the initiative in charging the French columns. The 87th also happened to be in attack column formation rather than the more usual British line giving them a greater charge range and manoeuvrability. The dice results were almost comical. The 3 French battalion targets of the 87th rolled a total of '4', '2' and '3' respectively on 2D6 in response to the charges. All routed before contact! The 87th on the other hand only rolled just enough to succeed with their 3 charges. On two occasions it was only the presence of Hill (+1 bonus) that lead to success. 

This one action by the 87th triggered the total collapse of Vilatte's division and destroyed any prospect of success for the French.

As can be seen by the losses above, the British were dangerously close to collapse themselves.  I have little doubt that had it not been for the Guards and the 87th in particular, the French would have won. Most of the British battalions that had been holding the centre had suffered heavily and it would not have taken much to break them.

For the French, their problems began earlier in the game. The length of time it took them to clear the Northern Plain (the valley to the north of the Medellin) was far longer than anticipated and drew in Maubourg's reserve cavalry which could have been effective in supporting Lapisse' Division in the centre. This delayed the attack on the Medellin which when it did come required a more hasty, and thus less well co-ordinated, assault up the steep slopes. 

Sebastiani's 4th Corps on the left suffered badly with Leval's Division paying a high price for routing the Spanish and Liger-Belair's likewise for ill-considered and wasteful assaults on the Pajar Redoubt. The end result being the lack of a decisive breakthrough on the British right flank.

Even so, the French were desperately unlucky and demonstrated that as long as they hold their nerve and push through the British musket volleys they can gain the advantage. 

There are some issues with the rules in translating to large battles in 6mm that I am still tinkering with. These are:

Skirmishers

In my early games including Waterloo, I dispensed with them completely feeling that they would bog the game down too much and also very fiddly at this scale.

I settled on a reworking of the skirmish rules contained in Sam Mustafa's Grande Armee but also keeping some aspects of General de Brigade. Each battalion was given an 'SK' value based on its size and the number of skirmishers it could field. e.g. a 36 figure French battalion would have one company of 6 skirmishers which equates to a roll of 2D6 in GdB, or an SK value of 2. The SK values of all the battalions in a brigade are added together to give the Brigade skirmish screen value. 

I stripped out most other aspects of skirmish rules in GdB assuming they will do as trained including recall to their parent battalions etc. As losses occurred in their parent battalions an equal proportion would be lost in their SK value. In the rules skirmishers can deploy up to 18 cm from their battalions and taking that into account along with their range gave an overall distance they can attack an enemy formation. Also taken into account would be proximity of cavalry.

Overall then an abstract way of handling skirmishers that does not bog the game down and does not physically represent them on the tabletop. In this battle I experimented with having a strip of skirmishers represent a brigade skirmish screen. It was not unworkable but I found it added detail for little or no benefit and a little fiddly. 

I will therefore be revisiting my earlier incarnation of skirmish rules with perhaps some adjustments in ranges.

Army Break tests.

This is the first time I have used the GdB army break test in a game of this size. The collapse of the Spanish was perfectly plausible given the number of broken brigades and routing units. The French and British were a little more problematic. The former in particular were never in any danger of fleeing the field and therefore I felt it would be pointless to conduct a break test although it was obvious at this stage that they had failed in their objectives.

I can understand why such tests are built into rulesets to help bring a game to a conclusion where two opponents are involved and there is a limited amount of time to play.

For me though this of lesser value. Before I play the next Napoleonic game, I intend to make a decision on whether I will continue with such tests possibly leaving it purely down to brigade tests and seeing how that plays out. It will be a real test as the next game will be the largest I will have played since my Waterloo game (a French v Prussian affair in the campaign) and interesting to see how it pans out.


That brings to a conclusion my Talavera refight and will shortly be selecting the next battle to play in my Peninsular War project. I hope you found it as enjoyable reading it as I enjoyed playing it.

19 comments:

  1. Blimey, what an end to a cracking game Jon!!! I really thought it was 'Goodnight Vienna' for the British once their centre was breached, as the way seemed open for the French to pour through, but 'twas not to be. I loved the way that the game has turned first towards one side, then back to the other, on seemingly the smallest of actions, but that's what makes this sort of game so much fun to play.

    Your post game thoughts make for interesting reading, especially the Army Break Tests. In our games, probably due to time pressures, we tend to call a game when it looks pretty obvious that one side has won, or the enemy has broken through to threaten the LoC forcing a withdrawal etc. Again the advantage of solo play is you can simply ignore these tests if you so wish.

    As always looking forward to your next game in the campaign, which sounds intriguing and potentially epic...

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    1. Many thanks for that Steve. I almost certainly will go down the route of abandoning the army break test which is how I use to play solo, but have become a little fixated on that method of resolving a battle.

      Yes the game was rather to and fro. Not what I was expecting but more interesting when that happens.

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  2. Steve J is right, this was nail-biter. I had thought the Fench were never going to fail their Army Morale and had written the Brits off.
    Looking at the second of the two overview photos at the end of turn 29 I was struck by how empty the table looked compared to the pre-battle set up photos. This was pretty bloody although I guess the losses include those who had urgent reasons to be elsewhere and not just KIA/WIA.
    Maybe the French were right to call it off in the real fight rather than risk immolating their army when they had other opponents to fight. I think this hints at the reason for Army Break-points/tests; if you're not fighting a campaign why not drive your army into the ground for the win. Unfortunately running a campaign won't guarantee players will act in a more circumspect way as many will still go for broke and then lose interest when they suffer the consequences. Perhaps a deposit to be paid back in proportion to how much of your army survived might do it with the winning side discounting 10-20% of their losses.
    Thanks for a great game / AAR - I will keep an eye open for the next game - do you mind letting on what it will be?

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    1. Many thanks for your views Rob. Yes most of the losses were troops having left the field rather than KIA. A complete breakdown in morale can be pretty dramatic!

      One of the reasons I like campaign games so much is as you have stated here. As in reality you have to consider future events and you cannot simply needlessly throw away units in the hope of gaining a win.

      The next Napoleonic game will be a large campaign battle (Grazzbenn) but that may have to wait until after an impending house move. I am still examining potentials for the next Peninsular War battle. Bussaco is the next involving the Brits but looking at possible French v Spanish actions after Talavera.

      I have not decided yet what will be on the board next. Going to spend a few days catching up painting figures first.

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    2. I you're open to requests I'd love to see some French vs Spanish fights.

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    3. Currently looking at a couple of possibles. Has the benefit of using the figures I have painted up for that battle and particularly having those Spanish figures spend more time in action! I will be updating my 'Collections and Projects' above as soon as I have settled on one.

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    4. You will be pleased to hear Rob that I have settled on the Battle of Tamames, a rare Spanish victory!

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  3. A seesaw affair if ever there was one! Would have sworn that the french were about to carry the day. Shame their victorious cavalry couldn’t be utilised on the northern slopes. Perhaps they could have been redeployed elsewhere?
    Great stuff as ever Jon! Thanks for the ride!😊

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    1. Many thanks Mike. Yes some of the cavalry should have relocated as soon as the allies were defeated when they had the time. Aside from supporting Ruffin's Division (giving them a brigade morale bonus) the plan was to get them onto the Medellin as soon as an opening was forced in the British line. Over-confidence on my part that the French would easily overcome the Brits with sheer numbers!

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  4. Great narrative again - damn those 87th - would have loved for once to see a repaly of a peninsular battle with a french win :-)

    I agree on your thoughts on army morale. I have played with such mechanics in various disguises for the last 30 years, but have come to the conclusion that they add neither enjoyment nor realism to games. In our own clubrules we now have replaced all command break/morale rules (including brigade) with more harsh rules for fleing/withdrawing units affecting others.

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    1. Many thanks Sparta and also for your views on Army break tests. Sorry the French did not win! Unfortunately for them the next Peninsular War battle will be Tamames where they suffered a defeat at the hands of the Spanish! Maybe they will be able to turn it around in my game.

      Interesting what you say about replacing all command morale rules and food for thought. May well give that a try.

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  5. Good evening Jon 149 / 169 points and 64 / 57 points is very close, Hill is to be congratulated.

    Regards Peter

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  6. Sorry to hear you are moving again

    Regards Peter

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    1. Yeah, unfortunately this was only a temp move until finding another place to buy. Only half a mile away... an extremely slow new-build!

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  7. I'm a bit late to the party but oh my days what a great, enthusiastic, well detailed write up and a most exciting AAR. It was definitely edge of your seat stuff and I'm glad I was lucky enough to be late as my patience would have been thin on awaiting each chapter to unfold.
    The gallant charge that saved the day....now that's why we game.

    Excellent work Jon.

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  8. I certainly found it as enjoyable to read as you did to play!
    It was interesting in the end the historical parallels; the charge of the British light cavalry disrupted by the ravine, the strong (initial) performance by the Spanish, the inability of the French to take the Medellin (despite your attacks being better coordinated), a strong British counter-attack on the hill from the south and a counter-charge in the centre.
    The mechanic of using a skirmish rating and separating out skirmish combat is a bit of a 'flavour of the month' amongst authors of Napoleonic rules. I prefer modelling things more directly, if possible. The use of a morale test for higher level formations and of an army does not seem to fit with many accounts does it? Waterloo, as ever, is a bit of an exception.
    I look forward to your next Napoleonic stoush.
    Regards, James

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    1. Thanks for your views James and pleased you enjoyed the read. I am certainly gravitating towards removing army tests and limiting the largest formation test to the brigade. In smaller actions possibly not even that.

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