Thursday, August 23, 2012

Busaco (Reyniers Assault) - 27th September 1810 - Part One

I've written about the Battle of Busaco before, but for those you without photographic memories.

"The Battle of Busaco is not one of those Napoleonic battles that live in my imagination particularly. I have no strong feelings about, it lacks the resonance of Waterloo, the romance of Assaye, the miniature quality of Maida or the piractical flair of Vittoria. I shall give the barest of outlines and then get down to the meat of the matter. 

It is in some ways the stereotypical Peninsula battle, the British are on the defensive and deploy the majority of their force in a reverse slope defence, which was then assaulted by the French. But I am getting ahead of myself and falling into that newspapermans trick of telling the end or at least the middle of the story at the beginning. The strategic situation is as follows; it is 1810 and the French hold Spain more or less. Wellington has retreated from Spain into Portugal, where the French have far more limited options as to how they may approach. Napoleon ordered Massena, the French commander, to drive Wellington out of Portugal. This makes sense if you imagine that Spain is a square, while Portugal is a smaller square in the bottom left hand corner, the edges of which are made up of the sea and mountains. Without these mountains, there is every possibility that Portugal would simply have ended up as more Spain. 

The French advance and take after siege several forts along the border and then begin to march on Lisbon. Wellington picks a position, Busaco ridge, and meets the French upon it. The French are unable to properly scout the position or establish where the British troops are concentrated. They launch an attack in the centre under Reynier thinking they are hitting the flank of the British position. They become heavily engaged and are beaten back. Ney on the French right, hears this and believing that his comrades are winning launches another attack which is driven off in turn with a volley and a  bayonet charge. 

The French then withdrew to their original positions and proceeded to attempt a flank march, while Wellington fell back towards the Lines of Torres Vedras, a huge line of fortifications."

The battle we're talking about here is Reyniers assault which opened the battle.

General Du Gourmand surveys the scene

I was in an uncharacteristically generous mood and decided to allow General Du Gourmand to play the British for a change as I'd made him play the baddies the last few times we'd played. I knew that I would have to play aggressively to win in this scenario, but thought that my best course of action would be trying to focus on the weaker Portuguese units. I also hoped to use my cavalry superiority to hamper his ability to manoeuvre.

With that in mind, I sent a squadron of Dragoons and one of Chasseurs splashing though the river in order to threaten the isolated Portuguese brigades on the British right.

Du Gourmand countered by pushing his artillery and light infantry forward on his left, ready to light up my troops as soon as they closed.

None daunted, my brave lads carried on...

...while Du Gourmands redcoats held their fire.

My rivers prove again that they are not to be trusted as they come apart while the Dragoons take up residence in the Bodega

The Royal Horse Artillery start to shell the advancing French columns...

...but swiftly run out of ammunition (are effected by a Short of Supplies card) and have to return to the baseline to "bomb up".

Sadly, General Du Gourmand serves me in my turn and due to a botched order the Dragoons are sent packing.

The view from the British left, steady boys.

The Portuguese on the British right breath a sigh of relief as the Dragoons disappear back over the river. The Chasseurs retire to the Bodega, there was obviously something good in there...

Vive l'Empereur! 

I throw my French battalions forward, taking a double move with a Bayonet Charge card. This move would make or break my plan, if it succeeded there was every liklihood that General Du Gourmand would be unable to muster a suitable response.

But at what a cost, I wiped out two British battalions, but the battle backs left one of my units very vulnerable. It was good, but would it be good enough?

The French "break in" further into the British position, driving back, but not wiping out the Fourth Foot. Meanwhile the 4th Dragoon Guard hover menacingly on the other side of the hill.

The British counter-attack when it came was brutal. 

I'd advanced my light infantry into the cottage in the foreground, where they were shot by the Portuguese and then charged by the Connaught Rangers. The Rangers didn't manage to evict them and were bogged down, trading volleys, but elsewhere General Du Gourmand managed to extract his weakened units before I got to them and hit my advanced battalion, the 8ieme Ligne I think, causing some casualties. 
I failed to make much headway in my turn, whereupon General Du Gourmand visions of Knighthoods dancing before him, set to work dismantling my attack. Where the Irishmen of the  Connaught Rangers had failed, the mongrels of the Kings Royal Halberdiers succeeded. The second battalion 8ieme Ligne was broken and the first battalion taken in the rear.

To add insult to injurty the Fourth Royal Dragoon Guards had decided to join us and were now threatening the 31ieme Legere.

All in all it was looking rather grim for Johnny Frenchman.


  1. More Naps fun, really enjoying this, especially as we are heading to Spain wih our Naps project


  2. I quite like those hills - any chance of a post on terrain?

  3. Splendid stuff - perhaps a stiff Cognac is needed

    En avant!

  4. Wellington St in Islington or if you wish Penton was renamed Bursaco St after this battle, my Grand Parents both lived there in the late 1800s.
    Bursaco St was demolished in 1939 as part of slum clearance, the levelled site I believe was partly used for Air Raid shelters so the War connection remained.