Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Battle of Maida

The Battle of Maida by William Heath

One of the things on which you can rely is wargamers inherent need to tinker (yes you Cordery, see me after class), so it came as no surprise to me that only a week or so after the arrival of Command & Colours: Napoleonics, new scenarios started to appear.

What did surprise me was that the first was one I had considered writing up for myself, the Battle of Maida.

This is a battle that has always held a fascination for me, though one I'm hard put to satisfactorily explain. It was a small fight, a skirmish really in Napoleonic terms, though but it did give a boost to the morale of a British army that* had been staggering from disaster to cock up and back again for the previous decade.

In brief, the strategic picture was as follows, the British and Neapolitans were in possession of Sicily, while a French army was menacing Naples proper. The Neapolitan royal family, who were some queer fish, had fled to Sicily, but were eager to regain power on the mainland of their kingdom, while the British were happy enough to maintain Sicily as a naval base. The French who are doing a capital job of alienating some of the worst ruled people in Europe by being their usual charming selves have beaten down almost all resistance except for a fortress at Gaeta and an uprising in Calabria.

The British decided to land a force of some 6,000 men commanded by General Stuart in Calabria to annoy the French. The French despatched a force of similar size under General Reynier to crush the British. General Reynier's force was made up of scarlet clad Swiss, two battalions of the Polish-Italian legion, some light infantry, a single battery of horse artillery and a handful of cavalry. General Stuart who after landing seems to have done very little beyond waiting for the enemy turn up, met this force with a mixed bag of infantry and three guns of the RHA.

The French advanced in column, attempted to form line and were shot down by British infantry who then counter attacked with a bayonet charge. The French fled the field, but were not pursued by a British army entirely destitute of cavalry.

And that is it, albeit it in very broad strokes and recounted from memory.

The attractions of Maida are I think, the compactness of the action, the fact that neither General covered himself in glory, which leaves the player in the enviable position of showing how it *should* have been done and the exotic troops involved, Swiss fighting on both sides, Corsican Rangers and what would eventually become the legion of the Vistula. Only the lack of cavalry prevents it being the perfect wargaming engagement in my view.

For those who would like to know more, I recommend The Battle of Maida by Richard Hopton, which I borrowed from Donogh. An interesting companion to this is Counterpoint to Trafalgar: The Anglo-Russian invasion of Naples by the magnificently named William Flayhart. This was again stolen from Donogh, who was so lacking in common decency that he stole it back, damn his eyes.

Hopton does the job of a craftsman and describes his battle well, but Flayhart is even more interesting in that he manages to write a gripping book that is the anthesis of what one expects from a Napoleonic history book. There are no battles, little glory and a lot of diplomacy and skullduggery. Don't let the lack of violence put you off, it's fascinating stuff and vividly illustrates the problems of coalition warfare.

Maida is also interesting in that it has had an enormous influence in the historiography of minor tactics of the Napoleonic era. You can find a discussion of this particular academic donnybrook here.

But the fact remains that I have been pipped at the post and Mr. Laurence Cutner of Canada finished his Maida scenario first. I haven't played it yet, though it has been receiving favourable attention on Board Game Geek.

You can download it here.

*Barring some success in Eygpt.


  1. 'Please sir ... it wasn't me ... it was that other boy!'

    All the best,


  2. Great stuff as always, Conrad.

    Reading your blog is like a step back in history to another, better time.

    We could do with more like you!

  3. Dear Joy,
    Have wargamed Maida many times. Interesting small battle with unique units . Plays well over and over.
    And yes, hexes rule amongst sane men!

  4. Cordery - stop snivelling boy and pull yourself together. You'll miss your student led class in comparative basket weaving and it's portrayal in Western film.

    Jubilo & Phil - I'm often accused of being a dinosaur, a little odd for a chap of thirty, but it's no great matter.

    I've never gamed Maida, though I hope to give it a go in the very near future. Who knows, I may even knuckle down and write my own scenario.