Saturday 10 September 2022

Colborne’s Doom at Albuera - with Soldiers of Napoleon

Continuing a series of historical re-fights, testing scenarios and ideas of how they might work, as well taking away the player’s ability to choose their own force, this would be a scenario from the Battle of Albuera in the Peninsula. Not the entire battle, that isn’t what SoN seeks to recreate, instead an hour or two, this time on the far right flank of the Allied line, as the French launched their first flanking attack, taking the ‘southern knoll’ high ground and attacking the Spanish line holding the ‘northern knoll’, and to include the fateful arrival of Colborne’s British brigade in a counter-attack that turned into a disaster as it was caught by surprise by the French cavalry in the one of the battle’s most famous events. Having worked out the forces, made a simple map of the battlefield and added a few extra special rules to help recreate the action (like the heavy rain storms that blew through on the day), it was time to crack-on. This time, for a change, flipping a coin, I got the French.

The first turns would see my two infantry brigades advance on the Spanish lines, and having deployed my columns, they attacked en masse, whilst the guns deployed onto the southern knoll’s high ground and opened fire with some effect on the Irlanda (Irish) volunteer battalion. It seemed, give the weakness of the Spanish line, especially on their left (with just 2 militia battalions and 1 4 pdr gun), the French would overwhelm them. Not so. As my columns closed in, sending out skirmishers to harass the Spanish, who could do little back, a sudden withering volley from the Spanish line turned two battalions into a bloody mess, including my best (the combined grenadier battalion leading the attack on my right). Reeling back to rally, the French were suddenly in disorder and losing stands. Even the militia battalions in line (with some good rolls) blasted my columns into a mess. My voltiguers had done good work, but the Spanish had rallied as well and completed their ‘hold the line’ objective. Nowhere did the French reach the Spanish and in response a few of my line battalions formed into lines to try and respond with their own volleys… the Spanish were fighting hard and well ahead on VPs.

On turn 3, the British reserve brigade arrived on the Spanish right, Colborne’s 4 line infantry battalions and their 6 pdr guns, these pressed forwards to counter-attack and it looked like they might flank the French attack and threaten the guns on the knoll. I had 1 reserve infantry battalion to throw in their way.

That was, until the French light cavalry arrived, the full Vistula lancers regiment and 2 small hussar units rode in, in columns of march for speed but with a ‘well drilled’ special event, raced forwards and smoothly deployed into lines, ready to attack. The British were sitting ducks, no time to form square before the lances were lowered and the charge! sounded. In the French cavalry crashed, predictably, through the British in lines, winning both melees and causing a lot of disorder (they weren’t lucky enough to capture the colours though, but it was close).  As the British pulled back and rallied to save themselves, a quick rally on the professional and elite cavalry saw them back in good order again. Using a consecutive order (sometimes its worth taking the hit, for the gain), they charged again, into 2 different British battalions and again, it was carnage (well, the hussars just won, by dint of being better quality troops than line infantry). Still, 2 more melees won and the British had to rally again, the cavalry attacks had earned 10 VPs in a turn and the French had turned round the earlier Spanish lead on VPs.

On the right, after much difficulty, and another Spanish withering volley, two of my infantry columns finally charged. One was defeated and pushed back, the other, the doughty grenadiers won and pressed on victorious, the Spanish militia that had flayed them with repeated volleys now running for their lives.  

By the end of turn 5 it was very close, but the French had just broken the Spanish (a good ‘How Goes the Day’ rolled also helped). The Allied break point  was 20, the French had 22 VPs. The French break point was 20, the Allies had 20 VPs… so a very marginal win to the French.

The game had played out very close to the actual day, the French infantry attack floundered against unexpectedly tough Spanish resistance, but Colborne’s counter-attack had been shredded by the lancers and hussars… still, with a bit more luck or maybe just not bad roll at the end, it could have been different. Great fun. 

French guns are dragged up onto the southern knoll. Target rich environment ahead.

Vielande's brigade advance on the French right, confident of a swift victory.

Brayer's brigade in the centre, 6 battalions in attack column (have are 'bis' troops though).

Vielande's attack approaches the hillock, held by 2 Spanish militia battalions and 1 4 pdr gun.

French fire support.

The weak Allied left needs reinforcements, the reserve Navarre volunteers are on the march to their aid.

On the Allied right, Colbornes 4 battalions arrive at the march.

The French winning the skirmishing duel in the centre. But closing the gap into musket range hurts a lot, from the Irlanda and Patria battalions.

To counter the British counter-attack, the French cavalry, led by the mighty Vistula lancers, gallop on at top speed.

Well disciplined, they form line to attack. Hussars cover their right flank.

Back on the hillock, the Spanish militia have held out and driven back Veilande's columns with withering volleys.

The Irlanda battalion, disordered but fighting on and holding back the French columns as well.

Charge! The lancers go in, and tear Colborne's redcoats to shreds. A second charge saw all 4 British battalions withdrawing in disorder and needing several rally cards. Guard lancers (treated as here), are very good troops.

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