Sunday, 14 June 2015

200th Waterloo anniversary refight

Over the next three days, I will be fighting out the Waterloo battles using the Fading Glory boardgame by GMT and at the end of each day, this post will be update with the latest installment of action.

The posts will be narrative based, with the game generating the story. The account will be written up as the fighting develops. The outcome will only be revealed in the last post, which naturally will be made on the big day itself - June 18th.

Blücher - Commander of the Prussian army

If readers want to know a bit more about the actual mechanics of the Napoleon 20 system, useful links have been added to the Resource Section at the foot of this post, that give a detailed analysis of the system.

Please hit the 'read more' tab for the rest of this ongoing post.

Background - Having abdicated in 1814, in the face of overwhelming allied forces on French soil, Napoleon had been exiled to the island of Elbe. In February the following year, Napoleon escaped and landed on the shores of France, quickly re-establishing himself as the head figure of both the country and its military.

Europe was galvanised once more into creating a coalition to defeat Napoleon, though their demobilised forces would take several months to concentrate and provide a co-ordinated response. Two allied armies were already in the field within striking distance of France. The Anglo-Allied army under Wellington and the Prussian army under Blücher.

They were not seeking an early battle with Napoleon, rather, they were waiting for the substantial forces of Russia and Austria to arrive and for Wellingtons ranks to be swelled by returning regiments. Unsure as to how Napoleon might strike, Wellington's forces were dispersed to cover the more likely military targets (such as Ostend, Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent), but Napoleons intended aim was to destroy both armies in the field quickly before the coalition grew too strong. To that end, the Allied strategy of dispersal played into his hands.

There was in anycase a natural fissure between the two Allied armies despite their close proximity to each other, as the Wellington wanted to protect Brussels, in which direction also lay his lines of supply, while Blücher's line of supply lay further east. Napoleon was intent on striking each force separately and causing them them to fall back on their respective lines of communication, making them less capable of providing mutual aid to each other and allowing Napoleon to destroy each in detail, shattering the immediate threat of coalition.

The area of operations

15th June 1815.

At 3 AM, French forces formed in two wings, started manoeuvering towards the Sambre River. First contact with Prussian outpost forces occured at Thuin, causing some delay, but the French were able to push on to the Sambre, taking the bridge at Marchienne-au-Pont at bayonet point. By 11 AM the left wing had taken Charleroi and they were advancing northwards along the Frasnes - Waterloo road (ultimately leading to Brussels).

Napoleon

By 6 PM, Dutch-Belgian troops had been pushed out of Frasnes, retiring northwards to the hamlet of Quatre Bras. French cavalry pursued and managed to get onto the crossroads briefly, but with light fading and without support, they fell back towards Frasnes, where the French army settled for the night.

In response, the entire 2nd Netherland Division started to deploy around the Quatre Bras position, to prepare for the inevitable French push.

On the right, Napoleon had advanced along the Fleurus - Sombreffe road, engaging the Prussian rearguard at Gilly by 6pm, with fierce fighting resulting in the Prussians losing around 1200 men before retiring in the direction of Ligny - Sombreffe.

Word had filtered back slowly to Wellington's headquarters that the French were on the move. Wellington's first orders had been for the Dutch-Belgian troops to concentrate at Nivelles, as he believed that this was a primary French objective, but the commander at Quatre Bras realised that this order required the abandonment of Quatre Bras and that it was here that was under greatest threat. He remained in place and sent despatches to Wellington to appraise him of the most recent developments.

That evening, Wellington was being entertained at a ball given by the Dutchess of Richmond. At Midnight, he was told of the French pressure at Quatre Bras and he realised that the allies may have been caught somewhat on the backfoot as Napoleon was about to get the first part of the wedge into place that would divide the two Allied armies. Accordingly he sent out additional orders for some further redeployment towards Quatre Bras and many of his senior officers immediately left the ball to arrange their forces.

The scene was now set for the French to take Quatre Bras and pin the Anglo-Allied force, while on the right Napoleon would attack and destroy the Prussians in the area around Ligny and Sombreffe.

16th June 1815

Morning - Anglo-Allied regiments had already been on the march for several hours by the time Wellington left Brussels at around 7 AM. He travelled down to Waterloo. From there the road forked, one road going to Nivelles and the other to Quatre Bras. He remained cautious, alert to the possibility that the French attack was a feint and that the true objective was further west via Nivelles and so he wasn't going to be rushed into organising a concentration of force at Quatre Bras.

His army was still dispersed, though Brunswick had been ordered to Genappe, which was a natural choke point and Picton had been ordered to Quatre Bras. Arriving at the small hamlet, Wellington found the situation at Quatre Bras to be quiet. He rode across to visit Blücher's positions, which were roughly 6 miles away.

Mid-day - The Ligny / Sombreffe position had been pre-determined by the commanders as a possible good location to manage a defensive battle due to sturdy buildings and the boggy ground that sat around the streams. The Prussian army comprised of four corps and three of them had already fed into the Ligny position, but the fourth (Bülow's IV Corps) was delayed through either a vague or misinterpreted order.

There was a gap on Blücher's right flank, around the position of Wangalée, which he had reserved for the arrival of the 20,000 men that Wellington had said would be available from his army to support him.

Wellington arrived at around noon. In view of the fact that his own forces were still so dispersed and that he had not yet formed a final opinion as to ordering a full concentration on Quatre Bras, such a promise of support looked difficult to fullfill within the timescales that Blücher was working to - not an insignificant consideration since the French were already clearly building up their forces in front of the Prussian position and attack looked both likely and imminent. Before departure, Wellington maintained his commitment to providing support, with the proviso that he could only do so if not fully engaged himself.

Wellington rode back to his lines leeaving Blücher in expectation that in addition to his three corps on hand, his fourth corps was on the way, that the Anglo-Allies would soon be amassed at Quatre Bras and sending him aid.

Napoleon had managed to cause Wellington to pause long enough, that at the moment of attack, the Anglo-Allied / Prussian forces had not united into a cohesive whole.

In front of Quatre Bras, the Dutch-Belgians, had spread out to appear to be in greater numbers than was really the case, fighting well when probed. This served to make Ney cautious and he did not begin his attack until around 2 PM, giving the Allies precious time to have their reinforcements get nearer to the battlefield

Afternoon - at around 2 PM French attacks started at both Ligny and Quatre Bras. Napoleon was convinced that Ney would be able to take Quatre Bras and hold Wellington and with a single corps and accordingly he ordered Ney's other corps (D'erlon) to move across to the Ligny battlefield to envelop the Prussian right flank.

Ney Pushed forward to attack Wellington's 1st Corps, using his Cavalry to drive into the enemy flank and turn them away from the hamlet, but even as 1st Corps fell back, reinforcements trickled into Quatre Bras at a rate that would keep it out of Ney's hands unless he could also commit the corps (D'erlon) that Napoleon wanted to strip from him. He immediedly dispatched riders to advise Napoleon that Wellington was concentrating his forces at Quatre Bras and requested that he be allowed to keep D'erlon.

The cavalry push Wellington away from Quatre Bras, but reinforcements are on their way.

At Ligny (below) Napoleon faced a strong defensive position. He increased the pressure on the Prussian flanks, but had to deploy Guard units to get enough numbers into the line to break into the positions.

Blücher is confident that his line can hold against the initial assaults

(Below) The speed of the attack took the Prussians by surprise and their flanks bowed back, isolating Ligny in the process.

Ligny is under threat.

Prussian I Corps (von Ziethen) counter-attacked repeatedly to open the vice that was locking around Ligny. The formations of both sides took serious casualties as the French stubbornly refused to yield. Eventually the right Prussian flank was cleared, but both attacker and defender had fought to breaking point and neither could remain in the line (below).

The Prussian flank is wide open

In just a two hour period, the Prussian army found itself in potential ruin with its right flank unprotected. Certain that he could just rely on his cavalry to envelop the now exposed Prussian position, Napoleon countermanded his earlier order to Ney, instructing him to use D'erlon to ensure that Wellington did not come to the aid of Blücher.

Dusk - Ney resumed his attack on Wellington with renewed enthusiasm, pushing 1st Corps back towards Genappe and importantly away from the Prussian right flank, but Quatre Bras remained in anglo-Allied hands.

At Ligny, V Cavalry Corps (Milhaud) moved to close the ring on the town, but they lost their bearing and fell slightly short of creating a full encirclement. Prussian II Corps (Pirch) refused to budge from the town as retreat would leave them dangerously exposed. Again, both sides were relentless in their contest for Ligny and over the course of several hours, they ground each other to breaking point. Eventually Pirch gave way, coinciding with Blücher falling from his horse. He was retreived unconscious and carried back to Sombreffe.

The French had won the battle, but the cost has been high and only their cavalry were in any state to take up the pursuit.

Evening - Napoleon sent I and II Cavalry Corps in pursuit of the retreating Prussians and the newly arriving VI Infantry Corps was allocated to the right wing to help keep that pressure up and ensure the Prussians were cleared from the field. Napoleon and the Guard moved towards Tilly, keeping a central position to both wings.

Complete collapse of the Prussian position

The reserve artillery was ordered to transfer across to the left wing to support Ney for the inevitable battle that would occur the next day.

Ney, was actually still engaged around Quatre Bras, having put something of a lack-lustre performance in. His attempt to have cavalry push through Bossu Woods to outflank the Anglo-Allied had failed and followed with the rout of the cavalry due to being used inappropriately.

Night - Wellington, pleased that his two corps had held the French at bay all day, decided to abandon Quatre Bras on hearing the news that the Prussians had been heavily defeated. He fell back towards Genappe, aware that Uxbridge (cavalry) had just arrived at Nivelles and would be moving to protect his right flank from enemy cavalry penetration by the following morning. During the early hours, he also received news that Brunswick had arrived and was resting near Waterloo. He now knew that there was still had a fighting chance to stay out of the clutches of the French, as their focus would inevitably switch to his army.

Slowing in the dark, Prussian III Corps reached Mont-Saint Guibert, where Blücher was reorganising the broken regiments and stragglers of II Corps. As the troops prepared for some rest, he met with Gneisenau (Chief of Staff) and discussed operations for the next day. They were only a mile way from the point where the River Dyle only becomes crossable by bridge. They had to decide whether to move now towards Wellingtons positions and ignore their own lines of communication, or whether to fall back on Wavre, which would still give crossing points to join Wellington later - if indeed his allies were still in the fight the next day.

Under cover of darkness, the Prussians begin to rally

Gneisenau was for falling back to Wavre and beyond if necessary, to protect their base from the French, but Blücher was keen that the two armies should unite at the earliest opportunity. The men agreed that they would wait for Wellington's situation to be better understood. They did get the good news that Bülow was approaching Wavre, his Fresh corps would allow the Prussians a greater range of options and to remain independent if necessary.

Wargame notes - 16th June. French morale is at 4 and the Allied morale is at 5. This parity has only occurred because both sides have had heavy losses, which has balanced out the impact on the morale track. The 'better weather' Random Event has also been drawn, so those showers are not going to deteriorate into torrential rain and storm, which means the streams (not major rivers) will remain crossable at any point. The 'Brunswick' card was also drawn early, which gave a 1 in 6 chance of his corps arriving each Allied turn. At Ligny, the two main battles each gave Exchange results, removing two Prussian and three French Corps from the map. This devastated the Prussian army, but certainly hurt the French in equal measure, since they still have much to do

17th June 1815

Morning - The day opened with storms. Heavy downpours turned the landscape to mud, making movement much more difficult. Importantly all the waterways became heavily swollen, making them impassable except at bridges. The consequence of this was immediately felt by the Prussians, who were now cut off from the Anglo-Allied army, making their only viable option to fall back towards Wavre and seek bridged crossings over the Dyle River.

First though, II Corps had to extract themselves from Mont-Saint Guibert as they were surrounded on three sides by water and the French III Cavalry Corps were blocking the escape route.

II Corps find their escape route blocked

Wellington was having a better time of it. His II Corps had arrived at Nivelles and the French were having difficulties in transfering forces over to their left wing because of the rain.

Mid-day - The rain showed no signs of letting up and the French found it difficult to move up to engage Wellington. Attacks were put in where possible, but the French cannon was hampered by their shot falling onto soft ground.

Ney and the artillery move up, but they will be repullsed

Following their one success (the routing of Uxbridge) they were in no position to follow up the attack. Worse, their attack from Quatre Bras was a disaster and they had to fall back from the hamlet, saved only by the fact that Wellington had no intention of re-occupying it. Finally III Cavalry Corps routed, leaving the Anglo-Allies fully disengaged. French morale was weakening as the futility of the piecemeal attacks became apparent.

Afternoon - Napoleon's right wing lost contact with the Prussians. On the left, Ney re-engaged Wellington's left flank, but he simply lacked the support to make any meaningful gains.

The Prussians see off the cavalry threat and manage to continue their manoeuvre towards Wavre

Dusk - The downpour persisted and Ney was pushing too hard. His I Corps routed as his under-strength assault against Genappe failed.

Evening - Concerned that the right flank are not pressing the Prussians, Napoleon sent Grouchy to take charge of the pursuit, a decision that perhaps should have been made much earlier in the day, as Grouchy would be unlikely to find the forward units much before noon the next day. Everywhere had turned to mud and all progress was slow.

Grouchy prepares to transfer to the right wing

A final attack was made against Genappe, with no greater success than earlier attempts. Both II Corps and the Reserve artillery fall back.

Night - As calm fell across the battlefield, the French were left frustrated by their lack of progress. Bedevilled by bad weather and let down by some poorly co-ordinated attacks, their oponents had barely felt under pressure and had managed to consolidate their positions and gather reinforcements. Wellington had his line anchored on Genappe and Blücher was seriously considering going over to the attack against the meagre forces that pursued him.

His problem was that he had no idea how Wellington was doing and he assumed that with such a small force pursuing him, that Wellington would be having difficulties facing the bulk of French forces. He decided that rather than advancing into the unknown, his forces would fall back, defend Wavre with one corp and sent two corps towards Waterloo. This at least had the merit of being something that both commanders had previously discussed and combining the armies would be the only real way of defeating the French army on the field.

 

The situation at the end of 17th June. The allies remain a substantial obstacle

Wargame notes - 17th June. Despite my comments at the end of yesterday that storms had been avoided, the first card drawn of this turn was the 'weather worsening card' and although this was reversed towards the end of the day, the effect was downpour on every turn, reducing combat values, movement rates and making all waterways impassable except by bridges. A full day of this weather has really hurt the French and they found it particularly difficult on Ney's wing to get to grips with Wellington, especially as the weather also reduced the effectiveness of the artillery reserve. French morale stands at 4, while the Allies are comfortably at 6.

18th June 1815.

Morning - If the French were hoping to wake to better weather, they were sorely disappointed. The heavy rain continued leaving the ground muddy everywhere. In an effort to break the stalemate at Genappe, Napoleon deployed the Guard. They easily took the town, routing most of the defenders in the process (see the routing unit far right on the photo below).

The Guard take Genappe

Wellington's response was bold and decisive, he wanted that position, it being the corner-stone of his defence. He immediately counter-attacked with two corps and as many local reserves as he could muster. The attack overwhelmed the Guard who were pushed out of the town in something close to panic. It was only the intervention of the French cannon that prevented a disastrous rout.

The Guard are pushed back

At the same time, Uxbridge with infantry support cleared the woods of enemy cavalry, routing the French III Cavalry Corps. The French were becoming hemmed in amongst the swollen streams (see above photo).

The French are pushed out of the woods

Mid-day - To regain the initiative, Napoleon ordered fresh attacks into Genappe and tasked IV Cavalry Corps with regaining a foothold on the woods. The fighting in the rain was intense and desperate. The defenders at Genappe broke and fled the field, but Napoleon lost the best of IV Cavalry Corps as it made repeated attacks into unfavourable terrain. Uxbridge took advantage of the chaos to threaten the French rear and attacked the still fleeing III Cavalry Corps, pushing them back, but he lost control of his regiments and they advanced deeper into enemy lines.

Uxbridge harries the routing French cavalry

Wellington's I Corps continue the struggle against Genappe, but wisely were pulled back once it was clear that without support, some of their regiments were in danger of becoming shaken.

The Prussians were still falling back on Wavre, but the rain had slowed their movement to a snails pace. At this rate they would never get to Wellington's position within the day.

Afternoon - Napoleon's mood deepened, the continual rain had been worth an extra corps to the Anglo-Allies, neither was the pursuit of the Prussians being executed with any particular vigour. II Cavalry Corps had tried to maintain contact, but they were easily repulsed.

The Prussians are close to Wavre

On the left wing, following the actions of Uxbridge, the two armies had rotated ninety degrees (see below photo), into an awkward position that denied the French an opportunity to concenrate their attacks (partly due to the muddy ground), but which favoured the Anglo-allies who were able to pull back to the woods and re-organise.

Uxbridge causes the lines to change facing

Blücher, increasingly frustrated at 'doing nothing', stopped retiring and turned to face his pursuers.

The Prussians snap back at their pursuers

Dusk - The rain stopped. After one and a half days of continuous downpours, the break in the weather was palpable. The French wasted no time in trying to put to good use what remained of the day. Grouchy had at last caught up with IV Corps and he led them against Prussian IV Corps, while his cavalry pressed the rest of the line. He was pushed back, but his cavalry drove home, pinning the Prussians and preventing them from countering his IV Corps, giving them time to re-organise.

On the left, I and II corps, supported by artillery, moved against Wellington's II Corps in the woods, totally breaking those regiments and clearing the wood. At last there was something to revive the flagging French morale.

Evening - As the last of the cloud disappeared, the French felt that at last they are getting the upper hand. Uxbridge was pushed back to Nivelles, counting himself lucky not to have lost his regiments to rout (again!), but the Guard, II Corps and the artillery reserve caused grave harm to Wellington's I Corps, which fell back and the Reserve, which routed as far as Hougomont (below photo).

The reserve are about to rout

On the right, Grouchy got his first success with the rout of Blücher's II Corps, which had already lost many of its best men and officers at Ligny on the 16th. Grouchy followed up to maintain the pressure.

In truth, exhaustion was taking its toll on both wings. Despite French success, they still had regiments routing from lively exchanges with stubborn defenders.

Night - Remnants of broken regiments and stragglers from II Corps had been streaming back to Mont St. Jean and were being re-organised and personally directed by Clinton and Colville to take up blocking positions in front of Waterloo.

Ney moved to Nivelles, but the French army had not managed to get any further north than just beyond Genappe on the left and on the right Grouchy was not strong enough to seriously deal with the Prussians.

For their part, the Prussians had been left frustrated by not being able to do very much at all. Certainly their plans had to include protecting both Wavre and Hamme from French occupation, but the intended objective of uniting the two Allied armies seemed remote

As the fighting died down, both sides appraised their situations. The Allies had lost around 27,000 men, the French perhaps about 30,000. While all three armies were still in the field, it was the French who were in the greatest difficulty as they did not have the strength to prosecute another days fighting or have any realistic prospect of fully defeating either one of the Allied armies.

Reluctantly, Napoleon had already decided that his forces should disengage and return across the border into France.

Wargame notes - 18th June. During the morning, Wellington attacked with reserves, this is just a mechanic that adds +1 to the dice at the cost of a one level drop on the morale track. There is a comment to say that the Guard may have routed had it not been for their reserve artillery. This is true, the attackers had rolled a '6' which on the face of it was a rout result. However artillery can lend 1 point of strength to an adjacent deffender and this was enough to push the differential column 1 way in favour of the French, to get a withdraw result instead of a rout.

On the afternoon turn both sides had a morale level of 3. The freedom for the Anglo-Allies to pull back and not instigate any combats allowed their morale to increase by 1, which at that stage of the game mattered as a straight win from enemy morale collapse looked increasingly unlikely. The situation was later reversed during the French dusk attacks. The success of the attacks lowered Allied morale and increased French Morale to a 4 against 2 advantage - however, under the victory conditions, this still amounts to a draw.

A draw feels about right on the board from a gaming perspective, but politically, it would be the end of Napoleon's aspirations to revive his fortunes.

Two days of continual rain was a cruel turn of events for the French. There were several moments when units could not quite put in a strong attack because of movement penalties and the French artillery lost its ability to attack at double strength - those two things taken together, made the rain a friend of the Allies and it did influence the outcome of the game

The initial victory at Ligny was a resounding success, despite their own losses and there is an arguement to be had whether the French should have pursued them with greater force, as capturing Wavre and Hannes, would have yielded overnight morale penalties against the Allied morale track - perhaps even crashing it to zero (for an auto win) if further losses could have been piled onto the remaining Prussians. The question would be whether Napoleon's left wing could then have withstood the attentions of an increasingly stronger Wellington.

Once again, the Napoleon 20 game has given a very enjoyable game. Thank you to GMT, Victory Point Games, Joe Miranda and Lance McMillan for all the energy put into getting this series of games out.

 

Thank you to everyone who followed this account over the past 4 days.

Resources:

Replay of Waterloo with system notes. LINK http://battlefieldswarriors.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/waterloo-20-replay.html

Replay of Borodino LINK - http://battlefieldswarriors.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/borodino-1812-napoleonic-20-system.html

 

 

4 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed following this, so well done to all concerned:)

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  2. Thanks. Looking across the various figure and boardgame forums, there has been a lot of 200th Anniversary material put out, so I know it can be hard keeping up with all the post and therefore I am particularly appreciative of those who have followed this lengthy account.

    It was fun to do and breaking down what is generally a single session game into 3 separate plays was also an interesting thing to do. I would find myself leaving the game and literally wondering what the next day would bring and getting two days of rain did give a sense of 'oh when will this stop', so going through that and writing it up as a storyboard did get me more involved in the play. All good!

    Steve, I have been enjoying your Black Powder games, an eye opener for me as I didn't realise that they could be used to put on the smaller game. I did have the rules, but traded out, thinking they needed big tables. I wish I had held onto them.

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  3. Great stuff really enjoyed this many thanks

    ReplyDelete