General Du Gormand fraternising with the enemy, as is his wont
A fortunate set of coincidences meant that the brothers Von Casey and General Du Gormand were available for a game last week. It was a short notice sort of affair and with that in mind, we played the first scenario from the Command & Colours: Napoleonics books, Rolica.
Rolica has a wonderful "world turned upside down" feeling about it. The stereotypical Peninsular battle involves the redcoats clinging to a hill while the French pelt them with columns, a caricature to be sure, but not unrepresentative. Rolica on the other hand, is a holding action on the part of the French General Delaborde. Wellesley has advanced on Lisbon and the French are desperately hoping the reinforcements will show up so that they may face the British with something like equal numbers.
With that in mind Delaborde picks a strong elevated position and decides to fight a delaying action. He holds the ridgeline until such time as he sees that his position has been outflanked and then retreats in good order to a second holding position. It's a curious thing, a battle (admittedly on the first half of a battle), where both sides achieved their objectives. Delaborde bought himself some time and kept his army together in the face of larger numbers. Wellesley faced the French for the first time that century and pushed them off their hill. He also didn't lose to an army that had a habit of victory in his first independent command against a European foe.
This is something I've noticed, particularly when writing Kriegspiels. In the absence of written game objectives, players can often be satisfied with what would seem to be quite ambiguous results. I've run games where both players achieved their stated objectives and because they didn't realise that the other fellow also believes that he's won, they can end the game feeling rather uppish.
But back to hard pounding.
(figures by Strelets, painting by Mark Bevis)
The scenario calls for two British objectives to be placed at the rear of the French position. This was an excellent opportunity to show off some of my French ephemera, like the Strelets army band displayed above. I really like these fellows, mainly because I love brass bands and I recall what a treat it was to have the Garda band playing at our graduation. Anyone who has ever doubted what the fife and drums were for should see the electricity that ripples through a body of men when marching to music.
Never has William looked more like a man of destiny
General Du Gormand and I retired to the front room, leaving the Brothers Von Casey in possession of the field for the planning stage of the battle. Our initial hand of cards was a very strong one, including a card called "Le Grande Manoeuvres". This allowed us to move four units a distance of four hexes. Powerful, but it would leave them open to an immediate counterattack as being fagged out from their exertions that wouldn't be able to battle. Our plan was to use this card to advance on the left to threaten the undefended French objective and force the Frenchers to weaken their line.
French foragers at the rear of their position, no doubt laden with the loot of plundered homes and churches - in this instance marking a second objective
(figures by Strelets, Irregular and Uwe Wilde, painting by Mark Bevis)
One of the disadvantages of the French army in Portugal was its weakness for looting. A major sore point of the Convention of Cintra, the rather shameful treaty signed shortly after Rolica (though there were several battles to go), was the French were allowed leave with their property, including the loot which they'd taken from the Portuguese. I ran a very successful Kreigspiel a few years ago about a group of British junior officers escorting a convoy of French wagons to a port to be sent to France.
It helped somewhat that due to poor operational security on the part of the French, we knew that they felt that their right flank (marked by the band at the rear of the house) was safe as we would be unable to threaten it for several turns. How wrong they were...
(pipe by Petersons of Dublin, cigars by Jose L Piedra of Cuba)
The bold move on our left continued, while the French pummelled our centre with long range artillery fire. This move did not have the effects they were hoping for and led to a rethink. In the foreground, you can see the speakers which were providing musical accompaniment, a selection of marches by the band of the French Foreign Legion and the band of the Coldstream Guards.
As redcoats begin to threaten their left, the French players grow pensive and begin to rethink
As the British flanking maneuvre began to develop, the French realised that their right flank was hanging badly in the air. The choice had to be made to attempt to shore up their right or to launch a spoiling attack somewhere else?
As the redcoats close in the French band suddenly
remember how to play "The British Grenadiers"
and it all looks a bit grim for our Portuguese brethren
But faint heart never won fair lady and the French launch a counterattack that could turn the tide of battle. Two battalions of French line move forward, supported by a squadron of Chasseurs a Cheval to threaten the British right, held by the undoubtedly brave, but somewhat inexperienced Portuguese troops. The Portuguese colonel is in two minds, to receive the charge in square, whereupon he will be slaughtered by musketry from the French foot or to try and stick it out in line and be ridden down.
A hard choice.
To be continued...