Monday, December 13, 2010

Siege/Garrison Guns

An army just isn't complete without some of the more specialist troops: Pioneers, Engineers, bridging train, siege train...

Having some brass cannon and the wheels from Airfix Ancient Britons chariotry, I bethought myself to construct a company of heavy artillery for sieges and/or city defence. Rather than duplicate for each army such a company that would seldom be required, this troop is intended to be generic.

As I do have a zillion Airfix RHA figures, I can at least create the train personnel for each nation! At that, many of them will no doubt make fine pioneers as well...

Infantry of Altmark-Uberheim

At last! The infantry of the Electorate of Altmark-Uberheim is complete - or very nearly so. Way back in February, I showed pics of the early stages of this project.

Progress was steay until june, but then, partly owing to a discouraging cock-up, partly through loss of motivation (and other things taking up much of my time), the thing hung fire until just over a week ago. And now, at last, we can unveil the foot troops ready at the behest of Kurfurst Draco zu Spitzensparken to go forth conquering and to conquer. Well, try, anyway.

Lined up on part of my little work-table are:
To the right and nearest camera, the 49th (Sers) Fusiliers;
Beyond, 15th (Garde) lead a battalion of Pandours in the service of Altmark-Uberheim;
At centre picture, we look down the line of 22nd (Prinz Moritz von Anhalt) Infantry; and behind them is the 25th (Ramin) Infantry Regiment.

The other half of the table is covered almost completely by the other 5 battalions of the Electoral Army:

From nearest, the Regiments are:
- 1st (Winterfeldt) Infantry;
- 18th (Prinz von Preussen) Infantry - Prinz Heinrich von Brandenberg-Prussia not too proud to be inhaber of one of Altmark-Uberheim's fine infantry...
- 4th (Kalnein) Infantry
- 2nd (Kanitz) Infantry
- 10th (Knobloch) Infantry.

A couple more views..

Friday, December 3, 2010

Peninsular War Campaign...

For the last few weeks, a bunch of Christchurch wargamers, sinking their identities into various well-known personages of the Peninsular war, have been engaged in a struggle for power over the Iberian Peninsula. The last three posts have described some of the action in that campaign.

Here's the cast of characters:
Marshal Massena, Prince of Essling: Ion (Me)
Marshal Soult, Duke of Dalmatia: Andrew Taylor
General the Duke of Wellington: Colin Foster
Marshal Beresford (Commanding the Portuguese): Ross Fraser
Anybody and everybody Spanish not friendly to France: Paul Jackson
God of War (Mars) - or maybe Goddess of Battles (Bellona): Barry Taylor

Of course, each character has a number of other non-players (NPCs) under command. Messena commands the Armee du Nord, broadly speaking active in Old Castile, Estremadura, the area around Madrid, and Portugal. Under Massena's command are Marshal Ney (VI Corps), General Reille (II Corps - soon to be taken over by Marshal Bessieres) and Genl Junot (VIII Corps). One has the sense of being spread rather thin!

This is partly due to the scaling down of the armies. Any any given time the French Empire had committed something like 250,000 to 300,000 to this theatre. We are making do with forces representing maybe a fifth or a quarter of those numbers. Clearly the whole Peninsula has been scaled down, as has the time scale (though each Campaign move is called a week).

Much of the early action has taken place in Marshal Soult's extended bailiwick: Zaragoza surrendered; Genl Suchet successfully stormed Barcelona; the confused and scrambling combat at Castalla was followed up by the pursuing French successfully forcing a river crossing at Xativa.

There has been little fighting in the northwest, though that seems likely shortly to change. Gathering under VI Corps command as large a force as he dared - in view of the vulnerability of his lines of communication and the need for garrisons to hold down the countryside - Massena undertook to carry out the orders that had been issued direct from Paris: take Portugal. Marching by way of Almeida, Guarda and Covilha, Massena penetrated as far as Abrantes, whereat his scouts reported the presence of large Anglo-Portuguese forces - perhaps 15,000 troops, more than half of whom were British - upon the hills on the far bank of the Tevo River.

With a force little more than what the enemy seemed able to assemble, Massena declined to attack, but offered battle where he stood. The Iron Duke mysteriously drew off most of his force south to Santarem, but Messena refused to be drawn. A quick strike by Marshal Ney towards Fatima yielded no results; and at the end of March Massena began gradually to pull back northwards.

There were two reasons for this. Faced by a strong enemy force whilst isolated at the end of an exiguous line of communication was not a situation that Messena felt could be long endured (yes, I know: Massena did indeed endure such a situation during the winter of 1810-11, but I wasn't going to have with that!). Somehow a better opportunity needed to be sought. But equally compelling was news of an Anglo-Iberian landing somewhere near Gijon, on the Biscay coast. The reported numbers of Allied troops involved suggested this was no mere raid, but a serious effort to (re)conquer Old Castile. Could II Corps meet this threat? A worrying situation to be sure, yet those that knew him began to discern a faint gleam in the Marshal's eye. Dispatch riders with heavy escorts rode off in numbers with orders to the various commanders throughout Northern Spain. The game was afoot!

Meanwhile, General Junot has been conducting an offensive of his own in barren Estremadura. It has been a lonely journey - hardly a Spaniard has been encountered in the entire province, though there was rumour of enemy light cavalry moves south of the Rio Guardiana. At last, approaching Badajoz, VIII Corps has run into a small brigade strength Spanish corps that seems ready to defend a river crossing - a single bridge with nary a ford by which to bypass the defile. A small action seems imminent in that remote part of the world.

Action looks likely in northern Portugal as well. Forced to abandon Viseu, Massena is planning a strike in that direction in the hope of bringing on an action. It seems fairly clear to him that he can not much longer retain a foothold in Portugal, but, perhaps to avert Imperial wrath in Paris, he wishes at least to cross swords before moving back into Spain. Besides which, the Guarda crossroads is a fine point upon which to strike out at foes coming from different directions, whilst at the same time not an easy place to get past if the Allies want to carry the war into Spain. The strategic value of such a point is not lightly to be given up!

On the other hand, there remain those enemy troops in Old Castile that require attention...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Barcelona Falls!

Such were the headlines that blazoned the Moniteur at the beginning of April, 1810. Zaragoza had surrendered at discretion, but the determined garrison of Barcelona, despite two breaches being torn out of the crumbling city walls, were determined to defend the city to the last...

A view of Barcelona in more peaceful times...

The map shows the city of Barcelona, flanked by the Citadel to the east, and Fort Joie hard by the town to the southwest. Heavy siege batteries in both places were still active. Though those at Fort Jouy was largely masked by the city walls against an attacker coming from the north, the Citadel guns could reach two-thirds to three-quarters across the north face. That left a fairly narrow corridor through which the assaulting columns could advance, safe from the heavy ordnance in the outlying works.

However, as these were served solely by artillery, the French commander, General Suchet, decided to take the city by storm, leaving the more heavily fortified fortifications to 'wither on the vine'. He had available some 5000 infantry, a single battery of 8pr guns, and 1200 light horse. Besides the single battery company in the Citadel and in Fort Jouy, General Giron, commanding the garrison, had just 2200 poorly trained volunteers and militia, and a company of 8 light guns.

Storming the town
General Suchet opened the ball with a powerful attack in depth upon a narrow front. Supposing (rightly) that the breaches had been mined, he elected to storm the wall beside the major breach near the North-West tower, ignoring completely the minor breach in the centre of the north face as too hazardous to approach under the flanking fire from the Citadel.

Gen. Giron declined to defend the walls, instead placing a garrison in each of the Western, Central and Eastern Districts. A fourth small volunteer battalion he kept in reserve hard by the Eastern District, behind the light guns placed to enfilade any attacker who crossed the walls. The maze of streets in Western District, just behind the major breach, proved to be extremely tough to attack, and although the first to come under assault, it's defenders held out for a very long time.
Fall of the Central District
A battalion sized attack cleared the Central District surprisingly quickly, though only after a stiff fight. This left the flanking Districts isolated from each other. Rearranging his forces, Giron flung his Eastern District garrison in a spirited counterattack that, to everyone's surprise, recovered the lost ground.
Spanish counterattack recovers the Central District (briefly)
Before this unexpected success be consolidated, a renewed French attack flung the Spanish out again. With the scattering of this battalion, Giron was forced to deploy his last battalion in defence of the Eastern District.
It was shortly after that that the Westen district finally succumbed.
With two-thirds of the city in his grip, Suchet prepared with care his attack on the District remaining in Spanish hands. Left with a single small battalion of volunteer militia (400 men - 4 stands), Giron determined to fight to the last. The other three battalions had scattered among the streets and alleys of Barcelona; his guns had been overrun. It was a brave 400 that stood to meet the final assault.
The final assault

It was a fitting climax to the day's action. Four battalion columns stormed into the Eastern District, and were met by a withering storm of musketry. Losses mounted sharply on both sides; nearly half the Spanish defenders fell, but took an even heavier toll upon their assailants. Appalled, the French fell back to regroup.

Before they could renew the attack, however, a ragged Spanish militia officer approached with a flag of surrender. General Giron had been severely wounded, and, for their bravery, the scant remnants of the defenders had had enough.

The French were jubilant. Barcelona was theirs.

Action at Castalla - 2

To resume the pictorial narrative, we begin with a general view looking north. Close to, the regular light infantry wait patiently for the attack by enemy horse and foot. Though safe enough for the moment in their orchard, thay can contibute very little to their beleaguered comrades in the town.
In the middle distance, three Spanish battalion columns prepare for an assault to drive the French out of the town, and hence leaving the way clear for McCullagh's command to break free.
Alas for the Spanish, the assault fails to achieve more than a slight weakening of the French garrison at the price of heavy losses. One attacking battalion breaks and flees out of the town (purple bead).
The second attempt to clear Castalla of Frenchmen. The defenders hang on grimly. But each assault weakens the garrison. It can not hold forever.
Apparently endless Spanish columns, hastening to the fray.
1st Ultonia and 2nd Alicante, having chased the French light infantry out of their orchard and across the small stream between groves, are surprised when the latter turn upon their pursuers. Slightly ahead of their comrades, 2nd Alicante bear the brunt of telling French musketry, losing two stands.
Can artillery blast the French out of Castalla?
Attack upon the light infantry defending the east orchard. Though taking losses, the French throw back their opponents with ease.
Delaborde arrives witgh his Division. Now McCullagh is in trouble, caught for the moment between fires. As for 1st Ultonia and 2nd Alicante, even if their comrades escape with the guns, these two battalions are doomed... unless they scatter and the survivors nake for the hills...
The 'lost battery' approaches the town ... still firmly held by the French garrison.
At last success! A third assault pitchforks the much reduced garrison out of Castalla. One company rejoining its parent battalion in the castle; the 200 (2 stands) remaining of their sister battalion falls back south of the castle. The road now lies open.
The general advance of Delaborde's Division. But it's too late. The enemy are able to make good their escape.
In this, the first action of the campaign, the Spanish took much heavier losses than did the French, but they could claim a solid strategic success: they saved the guns.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Peninsula Campaign...

For the last several weeks, now, I have sunk my identity into one Marshal Messena, commanding the 'Armee du Nord' in Spain and Portugal. The year is 1810, the campaign began in March, and April is about to begin.

My co-commander is Marshal Soult (Andrew Taylor - Armee du Sud). Arrayed against us are the Spanish armies of the Supreme Junta (Paul Jackson) whilst the role of the Iron Duke is of course played by an expatriate Brit, Colin Foster. Overseeing proceedings as Deity of one's choice, is Barry Taylor.

Now, so far not much real action has taken place in the North of Spain. Massena gathered together an army to invade Portugal and made it as far as Abrantes before deciding that further progress was unlikely to be achieved except at ruinous cost. Things have reached something of an impasse there, for the time being.

There seems to have been some activity on the Biscay coast, with rumours of a large-scale Allied landing, but this body of enemy troops seems to have disappeared into the hills of Old Castile.

Meanwhile, Marshal Soult's forces, extending from Cordova as far north as the east end of the Pyrenees, have been rather more active: Zaragoza has surrendered, and Barcelona invested. But the first real action came at Castalla, not far south of Valencia.

Combat at Castalla

The French occupation of Castalla town and its nearby castle proved something of an embarrassment for ther Spanish, as a brigade sized column under General McCullagh suddenly found itself stranded on the Jumilla road with and its sole line of retreat cut. A French Division, approaching up the road from the southwest, threatened to squeeze McCullagh into surrender. Accompanying this Spanish Brigade was one of their few heavy batteries. That, they could ill-afford to lose. Accordingly, Spanish columns at Xativa and Alicante were ordered to Castalla, with strict instructions to open the road through the town and effect the escape of McCullagh's command.

Meanwhile, the local French commander found himself approached from three different directions with only the infantry of his brigade to defend the place. He had neither horse nor guns. Northwest beyond the Pass of Biar, however, approaching along the Almarna road, a battalion of veteran infantry was escorting a battery of 12pr guns, a welcome reinforcement for the action that followed.

Rather than going into a full narrative of events - better done elsewhere - I shall give a brief summary with accompanying pictures.

Looking north towards Onil, with Castalla to the left. Spanish troops advance from north and southeast. The French regular light infantry contest the advance of horse foot and guns in the foreground (reducing the battery to 6 guns), whilst in the middle distance, the Spanish close in upon the town.
Some distance south west of Castalla, the Veteran Light infantry observe from the cover of an orange grove the approach of McCullagh's command , marching to escape...
Having arrived through the Pass of Biar some distance behind its escorting infantry, French 12pr cannon - their sole artillery in this action - scores a brilliant opening salvo. Ten D6s to roll, sixes to hit: 5 hits. Two hits eliminate a stand, so the 6-stand unit is reduced to 4, with a hit registered on one of the surviving stands. All things considered, the Spanish light horse stood up well to this punishment, but it meant the French artillery were henceforth safe from attack.
McCullagh's command, arrivibng on the field. Two battalions are dispatched to deal with the nuisance light infantry in the orchard that lies a short distance from the road.
The Spanish assault upon the east face of Castalla with three battalion columns is at once successful. The 4 companies defending that part of the town are driven across the main street into the western half. There, they were much harder to evict.

T0 be continued...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Order of the Imperial Eagle

I pulled the last two posts about this order, as I realised it was going to be a bit of a while before I could make good on it. My apologies, in particular for failing to reciprocate at once the honours awarded to the good Archduke Piccolo.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Order of the Lion

The Archduke Piccolo humbly and with gratitude feels honoured to accept the award from the Kingdom of Katzenstein the prestigious and most exalted Order of the Lion (see right). It is now on display in the awards cabinet in the Rathaus in Schnitzel, and the Archduke will of course be wearing this honour upon all State occasions. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Delaborde's Report on the Action at Santa Maria

From: General Delaborde, at Santa Maria.
20 September, 1810

To: Marechal Massene, Prince d'Essling
Cuidad Rodrigo.

[Note: the pictures accompanying this report were taken by Colin Foster, whose rule set we were using. Check out the link to 'Vive l'Empereur', Colin's blogspot for a further accounts of the action (Delaborde's report is also there, but without the pics), and several more pictures.]

Your Highness:
I have the pleasure to report that we have successfully carried the village of Santa Maria along with the vital nearby road nexus to which your highness attached great importance. The Allies put up their usual stiff fight, but word has reached us that this only meant heavier losses to them, and made their defeat the more difficult from which to recover. Their retreat has been marked by much abandoned equipment and stragglers picked up by our pursuing cavalry.

Upon the evening of 18 September my Division, with attached cavalry and horse guns, lay a couple of miles east of the village we had been instructed to take. No sign of the Allies showed itself, but peasants in the vicinity that we questioned assured us that they were indeed ensconced in or near the place, but in what strength or composition we were unable to elicit.

A brief conference with my Chief of Staff (General de Brigade Geoffrey Sansnomme) led to the following plan being adopted (Map 1)
The dashed line was where we conjectured the Allies to form; the dotted line the extension we hoped to induce by our flanking manoeuvre.

Under my own hand were the Brigades of Merlot and Medoc (4 battalions apiece), who were, with the support of the 8pr guns of the foot battery, to conduct a holding attack directed against the village and it flanking enclosures.

The inexperienced Dragoon Brigade (2 raw regiments), under its very able commander, General Milhaud, would cover our open left flank.

Meanwhile, a task force of our best troops were sent to develop, engage and if possible envelop the Allied right flank [this force, though not large, was given no raw troops: half the infantry were veteran; the light horse experienced]. The hope was to commit any reserves the enemy might have available, to stretch their line and thus weaken the entire northern flank. This force was alloted the Brigades of Solignac and Thomieres (3 battalions each), Colbert's light horse (2 regiments), and the horse battery. As we deemed the task beyond the capacity of our gallant Brigade Commanders, Chief of Staff Genl. Sansnomme was charged with carrying out this vital mission.

Finally, I also retained under my own hand the veteran grenadiers of Margaron's small Brigade (2 battalions only). This was to be our masse de rupture with which to effect the breakthrough at or near the hinge we hoped would develop in the Allied line.

The approach march began prompt at dawn 18 September. It was not long before the Allied guns revealed themselves as they brought the heads of Genl. Thomieres's columns under fire, after which the left-hand battalion of Merlot's Brigade (which had marched up the Perdido Road covering the foot artillery) also drew fire once it passed through the defile west of the hamlet. Meanwhile, my foot artillery swung off the road to deploy behind a convenient stone wall.

We received an early surprise when 4th Dragoons passed close by a dense wood and were shot up by a battalion of 95th Rifles ensconced therein. Fortunately, Genl Milhaud was able to keep the shaken recruits in hand, and drew them off to the south, still with the view to finding the Allied right. The Rifles, themselves coming under canister fire from our 8pr guns that had deployed betimes, withdrew into their thick woods, after which nothing further was seen of them for a considerable space of time.

All this while, Col. Sansnomme was making rapid progress. Though under a galling gunfire from the ridge north of Sta. Maria, Thomieres brought his brigade close, preparing to carry the eminence by storm. Swinging right around the line of hills to the far north, Colbert was able to see into the enemy right rear, where two battalions of Portuguese and two small horse regiments had drawn up at right angles to their main line to face him [Actually there were three. The map shows only two, but the picture confirms there were 3 Allied units, each of 4 stands, equalling Colbert's 2 x 6-stand units]. This was exactly as we had planned.

Colbert soon brought his horse guns into action on the ridge flanking that which Thomieres was about to assault, and a brisk cavalry action soon developed on the extreme right of our line.

Progress on my front was rather slower than I had hoped, held up by a wood facing Sta. Maria, and the awkward angle of a V-shaped wall, which took the ordre mixte of Medoc's brigade a considerable while to negotiate. All the same, it served to fix the Allies in position: none dared succour the beleaguered northern flank in the face of the immense array before them. The British showed two battalions at the angle in the village, and another in the enclosures at the southern end, facing Merlot's left flank battalion of 47th Line Infantry. [It transpired there was another battalion in the village, making a continuous line from the north angle to the southern enclosures. We never actually discovered this hidden unit!]

The 47th was to come under tremendous pressure late in the day. Although keeping out of musketry range of the enemy, they had no answer to the gunfire from the ridge, to which own counter-battery in response was about as effective as one might expect, though perhaps it kept up the spirits of the 47th infantrymen. But when the enemy rifles re-emerged to their flank, and the 47th swung to face them, they strayed into the musketry range of the enemy foot in the enclosures. Losses swiftly mounted, yet the gallant 47th were to hold and protect Merlot's flank for far longer than we had good reason to expect. By this time, Milhaud's little force, which might have been of assistance, had swung right around the enemy line, and was approaching Sta. Maria from the south. Breasting the rise of the hill just to the south of Sta. Maria Ridge, however, they were disconcerted to find a stream flowing in the valley between them and the open flank of the British artillery.

However, all was set for the final push. (Map3)

Merlot and Medoc were finally clear of the obstructions, but prudently kept out of musketry range of the village, hoping to draw the enemy out.

Thomieres had been subjecting the Allies (a battery and a British and a Portuguese battalion) to a terrific assault. True, two of his battalions were to withdraw battered from the fight, but his remaining unit gallantly, and to good effect, carried on the unequal struggle.

On the far right, Colbert, though equal in numbers and doing a fair bit of damage, got rather the worse of the cavalry fight. This was no very serious disaster so far as the overall battle was concerned, as the much weakened enemy horse could make no head against Colbert's horse battery, and were soon seen off. All the while, Solignac's Brigade was drawing ever closer to the Portuguese line.

The remnants of Thomieres's brigade was still in action when the first of Margaron's Grenadier battalions ranged alongside and flung themselves up the slope. They brushed aside the weary and much reduced British battalion facing them, smashed into the Portuguese unit beside them, flung them back, and in a trice had cleared the eastern face of the ridge.

At the same time, Margaron's 2nd grenadier battalion, and the 25th Line of Medoc's Brigade stormed into the angle of the village itself. The British there defended with their usual phlegmatic vigour, but the ferocity of the French attack carried them back through the village and beyond, much reduced in numbers and morale.

The breakthrough against the enemy left-centre was complete and decisive. The Portuguse Brigade, what was left of it, was isolated to the north-west of the village; such British that remained intact, to the south. The Allies rather hastily began to pull out. Colbert's Brigade being in no condition to pursue, the task was given Milhaud's troopers, who bagged a considerable number of stragglers.

Though Thomieres's Brigade took heavy losses, and Colbert's troopers were much knocked about, our losses were rather light taken overall, compared with the damage inflicted upon the enemy.

We are holding the ground about the village against possible enemy counter-attack. I await your further instructions.

I remain as you find me,
General Delaborde.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Three Generations...

Still shaking down my wargaming programme - hard to organise when surrounded by plenty of gamers who are not of like mind to oneself. I thought I'd show the three generations of Minifigs that make up my French army. Actually, there are other manufactures as well, some of which I don't remember, all making for a fairly polyglot army.

I began collecting lead Napoleonics at the end of 1974, with 2 9-figure battalions of line infantry and 2 9-figure battalions of 'Young Guard Voltigeurs', which I painted up as Westfalen Grenadiers.

These have since been repainted, of course: as the 17th Line Infantry. The Grenadier company belongs to a later generation of Minifigs, as are the drummer and flag bearer, but the rest are from that first purchase.

I had also taken to leaving the roundels with the unit numbers uncoloured on my flags, which are all hand drawn and coloured. Two reasons for this: it looked good; and the numbers were easy to read. I found that the felt pens used for creating overhead projections gave nice bright colours.

Although my army is/was intended to be generic, its early basis was Marshal Lannes's V Corps at Austerlitz. However, it has since well outgrown that formation!

A buddy happened to be specialising in the army of Hessen-Darmstadt, and sold me a similar number of older Minifigs - 36 cruders, smaller, and more fragile French figures, but at least it doubled the size of my army. With them I got 36 (yep) figures of Black Brunswickers...

Here, the 15th Light Infantry form line, supported by the column of 33rd Line. In my army, all regiments are represented by a single battalion - a form of added scaling that allows for larger formations to be fielded.
The unflocked stands in 15th Light are not of course Minifigs, and, having picked them up a year or so ago in a 'Bring and Buy' sale, have no idea of their provenance. Maybe the knowledgeable reader will tell me. At any rate, these 'foreign' figures were enough to build up the 1st Generation Minifigs remaining after the formation of 33rd Line into the 15th Light. The kneeling firing figures make fine Chasseurs, though not a whole lot shorter than their standing compatriots. At that, 15th Light is only 5 companies (20 figures) strong, rather weaker than my standard 24-figure battalions/regiments.

As my collection of Minifigs - plus a Division's worth of "Front Rank" figures bought in 1990 - increased, I was inclined to 'retire' these older Minifig figures. But they kept some sort of existence as the 13th Light infantry for quite a while, then as 'garrison troops' for campaigns. But lately, I have recalled them as integral to the Army as a whole. Waste not, want not...

When in 1980 I bought some more French and began my Austrian army (through 'Tin Soldier' in Sydney (Australia)), I discovered that the whole Minifig range had been redesigned. Very nice, crisp figures, a pleasure to paint.

Here is the 'new' 13th Light Infantry. By way of variety, as the rest of the army in in the 'Advancing' pose, I thought I would have a couple of companies 'Firing'. One became the Voltigeur company, the other, one (or half of two) of the Chasseur companies. Here the two 'firing' companies form a skirmish line protecting the column of the remaining four.