Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Portable Napoleonic Wargames: Wavre

The general view of the battlefield, seen from the north,
looking south-east.
In the late afternoon of 18 June 1815. Marshal Grouchy ordered the attack upon the town of Wavre.  For some hours, the distant cannonade to the west indicated a major battle in progress out Waterloo way - no doubt the Emperor sweeping aside the English army of Milord Duc de Wellington.  Needs must Grouchy's own wing should push through the Prussians in front of him, push on to Brussels and there reunite with the main body of L'Armee du Nord.
Vandamme's III Corps storming Wavre and Nieder-Wavre
assisted by the Corps artillery. Exelmans's Cavalry have been
ordered down the river road, across IV Corps' front.
In the following action, I set up the table as the situation stood at about 4pm, 18 June.  This placed Exelman's II Cavalry Corps immediately behind General Vandamme's III Army Corps facing Wavre.  General Gerard's IV Army Corps was on the road marching up from the south.  The detached cavalry Division from Pajol's Cavalry Corps - actually commanded by General Soult - and Teste's Division from VI Corps were swinging towards the river crossing at Lival.
Seeing a threat developing to the south, the Prussian Cavalry
is directed thereto via the road through the Bois de Rixenart.
Historically , the action began late in the 18th and continued into the next day, drawing to a close as news filtered in from the west that Napoleon had suffered a complete disaster at Waterloo.  Here, I played the thing out as a continuous engagement, although an incident a few moves into the game could perhaps have been due to the onset of evening.
The battle for Wavre.
For quite some time, Vandamme's Corps sustained the burden of battle, as the rest of Grouchy's army regrouped.  That plan was for Soult's cavalry and Teste's infantry, accompanied by several cannon, was to cross the Dile River at Limal, and advance up the far riverbank into the flank of the Prussian position at Bierges.  Exelmans's Cavalry Corps would take the road southwest to Limal and follow them over.  After II Cavalry Corps had crossed their front, the lead Division (12th) of IV Corps would attempt to force the crossing at Bierges.
IV Corps awaits the passage of Exelkmans's
Cavalry.  Teste's Division is far from the action.
This plan ran into its first snag when orders failed to get through to Soult and Teste.  After a bit, Soult lurched briefly into motion, then stalled again.  Exelmans at least was carrying out his instructions, and it seemed belike he would reach Limal first.  At one point, none of the French commands - apart from the elements of III Corps already in close combat - followed orders. Two conclusions were drawn from this: (1) that darkness was drawing in, and (2) let us go back to the original game system in which Divisions were tested according to proximity or distance from Corps command, instead, as I had been doing so far, from Army Command.  This did not, however, solve the problem of Soult's and Teste's orphaned Divisions.  The latter never did cross the Dile...
Prussian Cavalry Reserve on the march.
Seeing how things were developing, when the battle reopened, Thielmann ordered the Cavalry Reserve to take the road through the Bois de Rixenart to the more open spaces to the south and contest the onset of the French cavalry from that direction.

Nearly all of Wavre has fallen, and 11th Division has forced
the bridge.
By this time the battle for Wavre and Nieder-Wavre was well advanced.  Tenth Division had evicted the defenders - the Leib Regiment - from the eastern suburb of Nieder-Wavre, and was now pushing across the bridge. Drawn into the battle, 30th Infantry had also taken heavy losses, though the French assailants were not themselves coming off lightly.  Eleventh Division had made even better progress, storming the bridge at Wavre itself.  3rd Kurmark Landwehr, still under assault by 8th Division, was left depleted and cut off on the east bank, and part of 10th Brigade retained a toehold in the western corner of the town.
Looking from the north: a general view.
It was clear that the battles around Wavre were to be no quick and light ordeal, Prussian counter-attacks disputing the advance of Vandamme's Corps every inch of the way.
In the foreground, it looks as though the Prussian cavalry will
reach their destination betimes.  Soult's slow moving light
horse has yet to cross the river.

The depleted 15th Light Infantry,
withdrawn from the battle.
To the south, Soult's Cavalry Division was by now clattering across the La Motte bridge into Limal.  The earlier hesitations had taken their toll, however, in time.  Already the lead Brigade - von der Marwitz's - of the Prussian Reserve cavalry were drawn up just north of Carmelues, with General von Lottum's Brigade swinging around to the west and southwest of the place. General Soult began by trying to clear a sufficiently sized bridgehead to allow Exelmans's command to cross, whereat it was expected that weight of numbers would force back the Prussian horse.

Cavalry action imminent west of Limal.
Exelmans's cavalry having cleared the front of General Gerard's IV Corps, the latter were able to mount their own attack in the centre of the French extended line.  The village of Bierges and its river bridge were defended by an infantry regiment (the 19th) under Major von Stengel's command - detached from 4th Brigade of I Corps.  The rest of Stengel's column, 6th Hussars was covering the Prussian flank immediately to the south of there; eyeing with some apprehension the enemy troop movements across the river, and observing sinister activity in Limal, about a kilometer distant.
French Cavalry build-up around Lival.
The cavalry battle between Limal and Carmelues was slow to develop, prolonged, and wasn't going all the French way.  The latter were having to fight their way out of the town and into the open.  Nor did it help that a Prussian horse battery had materialised south of Carmelues, where it could enfilade the French mounted lines.
The french horse might be in a spot of trouble, here.
At this point I thought I would suspend the battle narrative, and discuss some thoughts that this game brought to mind.  The AAR continues in the captions.
Teste's Division waiting idly to cross the river; IV Corps
storming the bridge at Bierges (top).

1.  Close combat - amendment.  The amendment I suggested last time seemed to me to play out very well.  There was never any prospect of combatant invulnerability.  Rather, added protections would halve the chances of a hit at best, but might also increase the possibility of hits being incurred upon an opponent.  I thought the system of rolling for the effects of combat upon your own troops hard to get used to, but perhaps playing the game solo helped there.

The proposed amendments:
Current rule: Increase the D6 die roll score of the figure base initiating the Combat by 1 for each friendly supporting figure base in the same grid area as the figure base initiating the Combat.
Amended Rule: For each friendly supporting figure base in the same grid area as the figure base initiating the Combat, cancel 1 point of reduction to D6 die roll score due to each enemy supporting figure base in the same grid area as the figure base being attacked.
Current Rule: Increase the d6 die roll of the figure base being attacked by 1 for each supporting friendly figure base in the same grid area as the figure base being attacked.
Amended rule: For each friendly supporting figure base in the same grid area as the figure base being attacked, cancel 1 point of reduction to D6 die roll score due to each enemy supporting figure in the same grid area as the enemy figure base initiating the Combat.

In effect, add +1 to the D6 score of each combatant figure base for each friendly supporting element to match a -1 to the score by an enemy supporting element.  This AFTER reducing by -1 the D6 die score for each enemy supporting element.

Note that for these to make proper sense, the list of D6 die score modifications should probably be rearranged.  The reduction of D6 die roll scores due to enemy supporting elements should now head the list, if these amendments were accepted.
Tyhe attack on the towns.
2.  Close combat - During this battle, parts of the French cavalry found itself fighting to exit from a town in the face of enemy horse.  I reckon there ought to be a minus for cavalry fighting in unsuitable terrain - at least a 'minus-1'; and perhaps even a 'minus-2', for the side initiating the combat.
The fall of Wavre.
3.  Initiating combat.  I am assuming that in an ongoing Combat, the 'figure base initiating the Combat' belongs to whichever side happens to be moving at the time.  For instance, the French charge into a town, to initiate a fight with the Prussian garrison.  At the end of the turn, the two remained locked in combat.  The Prussians 'go' next (say), the fight continues (no order necessary) and the Prussian figure base this time is 'initiating' the Combat.  What is happening internally to the action is perhaps a local counter-attack, or some other counter-action, subsumed in the face-to-face attitude of the contending figure bases.

Consider a cavalry fight on the edge of a town, such as occurred between Soult's Division and elements of von der Marwitz's Brigade at Limal.  Let us say that, seeking to prevent the French from breaking out into the open, the Prussians attacked - initiated the Combat.   As their opponents are 'in cover', the Prussians take a minus (-1) on their die roll.  I am proposing that, as the French horse are in unsuitable terrain, they should also take a minus (-1).  In the actual game, I adjusted the score of neither side for reasons of terrain - just for accompanying generals and supporting figure-bases.
Most of 10th and 11th French Brigades push west of
Wavre.  A Landwehr infantry counter-attack
stops 8th Division from crossing at Nieder-Wavre.

4.   Cavalry vs Infantry.  The current rule increases the D6 die roll of the figure base initiating the combat if it is cavalry attacking infantry or artillery.  I have some comments to make on this.

4.1 I assume, once again, that the side 'initiating the Combat' is that whose move it is.  So the cavalry add the 1 in its own turn, not in the enemy's turn.

4.2 I am inclined to drop this rule altogether, not so much 'in principle' as because of a convention I developed for my own games of linking Strength Points to battalions and squadrons.  That was simply a matter of convenience. I could equally well have assigned strength points for every two, or part thereof, of battalions or squadrons. if I had, the action might well have gone a lot more quickly!

4.3  If, however, the differential to be retained between horse and foot, I would again suggest that the foot and artillery take a minus, rather than the horse take a plus.  Suppose a single cavalry unit, accompanied by a general, attacks a single infantry unit in the open.  The cavalry adds +1 for the general and +1 for initiating combat with enemy foot, and is therefore invulnerable.  Presumably in the infantry's turn, that second +1 no longer applies, but it would still be a huge advantage for the cavalry to be invulnerable every other turn.  In my proposed amendment, the -1 for infantry or cannon under attack, applies (I infer) only in the cavalry's turn.
Yet another general view looking southeast.

5. Command.
Because this was in effect an 'army level' action - at least from the French point of view - the extra 'layer' of command  should probably be ignored, or maybe (as in the case of 'independent' formations such as Teste's infantry and Soult's cavalry) the Army commander will dice for units not part of the Army Corps structure.  Because they were so distant from their commander, those Divisions proved a real problem to get into motion.

As time went by, and this is somewhat apparent in the pictures, even successful commands began to break up and lose cohesion.  To begin with, it was scarcely worth rolling a die to see if orders reached their destined ears or were carried out, if but one command applied to the whole formation, it was in contiguous grid areas, and it was somewhere accompanied by its commander.  Once battle was joined, the problem was still not so very apparent, if the Corps' sub-formations were closely engaged (as was III Corps, along the line of Wavre and Nieder-Wavre).  It was once local successes began to be achieved, and the sub-formations becoming separated, that Corps and Army cohesion became problematic.  If anything that was even more the case for the defenders.

I think this very feature, frustrating as it can be, is probably what gives this Corps and Army-level Portable Games rule set its own special character.

6.  The fate of generals.  As it transpired, no generals were killed or injured in this battle (unlike the previous two, in which the cavalry commanders in particular seemed to live dangerously). But there were one or two occasions in which a general happened to be accompany a unit that was destroyed. The 2D6 die roll indicating no harm to the general, he rode off to join another unit of his command, if one were available. But it occurred to me that there might have been a fair likelihood of his being taken prisoner. In those particular circumstances, perhaps we could add that a score of 9 on 2D6, the general is taken prisoner, and loses all SPs.

Bierges has fallen.  12th Div heads towards Limal;
13th Division towards Bois de Rixenart.

7. Movement rates: 
As I mentioned last time, I think, I am very tempted to add one grid area to movement rates in good going or on roads. 
Infantry: 2
Cavalry: 3
Artillery (if limbered): 2, or 3 if exclusively of horse artillery.

This has yet to be play tested.

If Exelmans and Soult were having trouble breaking out at Limal, Gerard's IV Corps was having no such trouble at Bierges.  Stengel's 19th Infantry Regiment rapidly succumbed to the French 12th Division's assault.  Sixth Hussars had long since left the area to help in the cavalry fight south along the river.  Having carried the town, General Gerard led 12th Division down the Limal road in the wake of the Prussian hussars, with the view to levering open the cavalry bottleneck.  The following 13th Division was directed northwards, where they soon became engaged with the left flank of  Prussian 12th Brigade, along with the Prussian artillery reserve.
Prussian Divisional artillery almost surrounded.

By this time, the 9th, 11th and 10th Brigades had been driven well clear of Wavre and Nieder Wavre, the remnants struggling to maintain any kind of line.  First Kurfurst Landwehr were still trying to contest the river crossing at Nieder-Wavre, attempting several times to seize the west end of the bridge.  Once they even succeeded, cutting off parts of 10th Division, and forcing the following-up 8th Division back across the river.  Outnumbered as they were, they could not keep this up for long.  Repulsed again and again, the Prussians were forced to relinquish their tenuous hold of the riverbank.
All along the Dile River, Grouchy's command were pouring across the bridges, with by now little hope for the Prussians to contain them.  At about this point I counted up the Strength Point losses. The Prussians had lost 32 - just one short of their Exhaustion point.  What little was left of the 9th, 10th and 11th Brigades could scarcely even be called 'remnants'.  Of 9th Brigade, only a badly depleted Landwehr regiment remained in action.  I called the action at this point, with the Prussian Corps badly mauled, but the news from the west indicating to Marshal Grouchy that it was high time to pull his forces out.
The French had lost 21 SPs, the bulk of them from Vandamme's Corps.  Around Limal, however, the outnumbered Prussian cavalry had given a good account of itself, 6 SPs lost on both sides.  Everywhere else, the French tide was on the make, and it was hard to see the lone 12th Brigade holding for long.
On the whole, I felt that the action played out quite well, though I rather think I would opt for a less cluttered battlefield another time.  That the thing was set up for a French victory, I admit, and it was intended to test the Portable Napoleonic set for army level action.  On the whole, I found an enjoyable action, though not one for the impatient.


  1. "In effect, add +1 to the D6 score of each combatant figure base for each friendly supporting element to match a -1 to the score by an enemy supporting element. This AFTER reducing by -1 the D6 die score for each enemy supporting element."

    Or, supporting elements cancel each other out, and whoever has the excess gets a bonus.

    1. Supporting elements cancel each other out, and any excess supporting elements cause a reduction in the opposing side's combat die roll, but NOT an addition to own side's combat die roll.

  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    As far as I know, this is the first time PNW has been used to fight an army-level battle, and your battle report shows that it is possible to use the rules to do so.

    I've read your suggestions for rule changes with great interest, and they will help me to develop the rules in the future. In the meantime, I am recommending other users read your suggestions and use them if they so desire.

    If I wasn't up to my eyes building my terrain boards for CARRY ON UP THE NILE!, I'd be setting up my Hexon II terrain and fight a large-scale battle myself.

    All the best,


    1. Cheers, Bob. I thought the thing had to be possible. The Wavre battle seemed to me a fine place to try the idea out. Not conclusive, though: I'll have to look for another action to try the thing out.

  3. I like the style of your gaming table. Where do you get the buildings from?

    1. Hi 'Whiskers'
      Some building are commercial card buildings you often see with model railway layouts, others are from the Usborne 'Make this ...' books (cut out and assemble), still more are home made. What I have isn't really suited to the hex-grid set-up, but they'll do for now.

  4. This whole series has been interesting.

    I struggled with rolling against your own guy, a cultural thing after decades of wargaming, like high is good, low bad - a miniatures thing and common enough in board games. In the end I decided to look upon it as everyone hits automatically but you get a saving throw. Of course it doesn't change anything and the immunity thing struck me as needing to be addressed.

    1. Thanks for your comments Ross. Once I noticed the 'invulnerability' thing, I felt that was a problem that needed a 'fix', but looked for something as close to what I believed to be Bob's intention, in order to minimise the wrench of a major change. For days I came up with a whole series of ideas, none of which, although probably workable, satisfied the central criterion of faithfulness (as I saw it) to the original concept. It was not until I started a game, and an actual close combat situation, that the solution came to me.

      On the whole I would rather the modifications increased vulnerability in some respects if it obviates invulnerability in others. The cultural thing of 'seeing what you did to the enemy' does seem to have a strong hold over 'seeing what the enemy has done to me'. But I remind myself of Napoleon's comment about combat: "Battles occur when two armies meet and try to frighten each other." So the die rolls determine just how frightened my army is compared with yours...

    2. Ross Mac,

      My preference for 'what state are my forces in?' mechanisms comes from playing the original Kriegsspiel (where you have no idea what damage you are doing to the enemy, nor where they are most of the time) and Megablitz. In the latter, forces that were literally on their last legs would suddenly find that their opponents would stop attacking them because the opposing commander was worried about the losses they were suffering. I know that this runs counter to a lot of rules (and the expectations of many wargamers), but it works for me.

      All the best,


    3. With an umpire (or computer) rolling the die secretly, the effect is just right but of course the effect would be the same with the usual wargame approach as long as the die roll and effect were kept secret so that only the enemy's actions are known.

      Something is lost from that hidden information aspect when playing solo but I figured playing with the labels wouldn't affect the result as long as the scores and effects remained the same.

    4. I don't fully go with the complete obscurity of how things are on the 'other side of the hill'. I believe that the behaviour of the enemy in front of you does tell you something of their state. In my view, one's assessment of the state of one's own and of the enemy is only partial, either way - but something is known, or may be guessed at, either way.

      Is the enemy coming on strongly? Can we stop them? Is the enemy standing firmly? Can we break them? This can describe the troops on the ground and determine the success or failure of an attack.

  5. Great report Ion! Good to see these tested out and some options discussed.

    1. Cheers, Mark. Trying to decide on another Army level action. Considering Quatre-Bras, maybe with d'Erlon's Corps turning up.