Operation Epsom – 27th June 1944

This was a fairly rare opportunity for some face to face wargaming for me.  Some years back I used to host weekend gatherings of some reenactor friends for team wargames while my dearly beloved was away at Sci-fi conventions.  We gamed, if I remember the sequence well, a 1944 airborne/land river crossing operation (possibly one of the cancelled run-ups to Market Garden), Gettysburg, Albuera, Napoleon’s invasion of Kent, the (in this case failed) crossing of the Meuse 1940 and Vimeiro 1808.

Gradually the lads became less available as their families expanded and grew more needful of their company at weekends.  One who has maintained the interest, but not the available time, now has a son at university who expressed an interest in playing a game after a four year break.  As he was home for a while and I am now retired a mid-week game was possible, albeit with just the two of us.  Fortuitously this coincided with the Memsahib taking her horse away for a week’s residential course, so we could claim occupation of the dining room.

[Aside:  When we bought our house the large dining room was earmarked both as a sewing room and a wargaming room.  We should have bought a large haberdasher’s cutting table for duplicate purposes, but we also have a need to host the biannual family Christmas dinners and other convivial occasions, so a dining room it remained.  My interior decorator, Mrs GeneralWhiskers, did design and mainly build a cupboard which could be described as “Ironing board storage”, but which actually hosts six old flatpack wardrobe doors that can be assembled into a 5ft x 7ft tabletop]

I had a week’s notice of the impending game, and I knew that as usual, whatever we did I would need to paint and re-base models and prepare terrain.  I have spent years re-basing 6mm soldiers in various configurations until I hit on a standard of 2cm x 2cm x 1mm MDF for everything (of which more later).

My opponent, BJ, likes tank battles.  For simplicity – one of the criticisms of my games weekends is having to learn a new set of rules every time – I decided to use Richard Borg’s Memoir ’44 game system translated onto a “Kallistra Hexon” terrain with 1/300 models.  Searching the scenario books I found Operation Epsom which had a map of 13 x 17 hexagons, or approximately 5ft x 4ft.  This was the one.  I dug out the models and found – shock! horror! – I owned no Tiger tanks at all.  Emergency order to Irregular Miniatures (one of the fastest suppliers I know) for a couple of Tigers – only one needed, but planning for the future – and some other specific models where I had usable alternatives within the game rules but I like to play with the correct tokens!  The other modelling point was that many of my WW2 infantry had already been re-based onto circular plastic counters in ones, twos or threes in an experiment with Rapid Fire rules and instead of my early war 2cm x 2cm bases with four figures I had a load of 1cm diameter bases with two figures each.  I compromised.  Only I can tell the difference without examining the underside (when flocked) between a rifle unit on a green plastic counter, a machine gun unit on a yellow counter and a mortar unit on a red one.  MG and mortar bases were re-based yet again onto 2cm x 1cm x 1mm MDF bases with three figures instead of two for rifle bases.  The owner would need to check only if the associated weapon appeared to point upwards or forwards.

I laid out the terrain.  I had to create some new road and stream sections, simply by scraping off flock with a sharp knife and painting the road or stream.  Roads are covered with fine sand while the paint is wet.  I use MFI tester pot “pebble” as the preferred colour for my roads after observation of what roads look like from aircraft overflying Europe.  Streams are painted blue, then soot, with PVA glue added when dry to give a “wet” effect.

The River Odon is at the scale of the battlefield (1 hex = ca 1500m) no more than a stream and is designated as a “fordable river”.  Next problem: not enough slope hexes for both Hill 112 and Hill 113.  Emergency order to Kallistra who in this case beat Irregular to the delivery, but I blame the Post Office.

Well done Sally at Kallistra and Ian at Irregular Miniatures!  “I’ll be back”

And so to the game:

The game table laid out for action with all the gaming aids.
The game table laid out for action with all the gaming aids.

One of the advantages of using Memoir ’44 is that if you have the basic rule set, everything else you need for clarification is available online, including an FAQ section and a card database for all troop types, actions, terrain, etc.  I printed as many of the relevant cards (by default at four times the original card size) as I thought I needed, and kept the I-pad handy pre-linked to both FAQ (downloaded PDF) and card database sites in case further clarification was needed.  BJ is a computer geek so this was not seen as any problem when we needed to halt the game for five minutes to check a rule.

This battle is a hard nut to crack for the British player.  Checking the Days of Wonder website afterwards I found the results are 2:1 in favour of the Germans, who historically stopped Monty in his tracks at Hill 112 after a costly advance by the British.

Our game starts on 27th June, after the capture of Cheux and Mouen and focuses on the crossing of the River Odon and the drive on Hill 112

The British view south.  Red captions are British objectives.
The British view south. Red captions are British objectives.  Click to enlarge.

The British commander has six designated objectives, each worth one “Victory Medal”.  Victory Medals can also be gained by eliminating enemy units.  The target for both sides was 11 medals to win the game.

The German view north.  Mouen, captioned in blue, is the only German objective.  Click to enlarge.
The German view north. Mouen, captioned in blue, is the only German objective. Click to enlarge.

The Germans would earn their 11 medals mainly by wiping out the British attackers.

BJ chose the British side, which meant that my job was – as I perceived it – to sit tight and shoot everything that came into my lair.  Would that it were so easy!

For those unfamiliar with the game system, it is card-driven.  Each side has – in this case – six command cards.  One card may be played each turn allowing 1, 2, 3 or all units in one sector of the battlefield (left, centre, right) to be activated.  Other cards specify options such as “issue an order to all infantry” and many of these cards confer bonus dice in combat.  The dice are marked with symbols so that, for example, to hit a tank unit one must roll a tank symbol.  Each unit type has its own characteristics, bonuses and limitations, which is why the card index is so useful.

BJ started the battle with a general armoured attack in the centre followed by an attack on the right flank by infantry who skirted the German minefield by moving slowly through the woods.  I met his armour with my highly effective 88mm AT gun unit in the centre which spent the evening failing to miss until finally overrun.  As his tank units forded the Odon they had to halt just within range of all my artillery, so I picked them off one by one, bringing up my tank destroyers to help out.  One noticeable failure was my Tiger tank unit which was supposed to be hard to destroy (every hit is re-rolled with a 1/6th chance of an effective strike), but which was knocked out by the first enemy shot!  Michael Wittmann earned a wooden cross rather than an iron one.

The British attack across the Odon begins to stagnate.
The British attack across the Odon begins to stagnate.  (Red lines are British, blue are German)

Try as he might, BJ failed to break through my defensive line, but it was a close run thing, ending with an 11:10 victory for the Germans.

The end of the battle.  BJ was somewhat enthusiastic with marking his wrecked tanks with
The end of the battle. BJ was somewhat enthusiastic with marking his wrecked tanks with “smoke and flames”

This was a record.  Not only had we finished the battle in the allotted time but we had the whole of the next morning free.  We decided to reset, swap sides and start again.

Day two

After a hearty breakfast this time I took the British side, and we had both learned from our opponent’s failures of the previous evening, so we set to.  As we were now on a time budget we dispensed with the niceties of casualty markers, ruins and “smoke’n’flames” (and therefore also with photographs).

I began with an attack on the right flank by clearing a route through the minefield with my flail tanks and grabbing the first objective of Grainville for one victory medal.  I followed up by using my bridging tank unit to make a third “free” crossing of the Odon NE of Tourmainville and sent tanks, including a unit of Churchill AVRES armed with petard mortars, across to take that village for a second medal.  From then on things began to go downhill for me.  BJ had the clever idea of placing his command unit (I did not have one) on a hexagon spanning both left and centre sectors, so that every card he played for either of these sectors would activate one extra unit.  Why did I not think of that yesterday?

He began to push me back on the right flank.  This was not a major problem because the victory point for capturing a village is not lost if the village is retaken, unlike the two hill objectives.

I pushed on in the centre.  He moved his dreaded “88s” into Tourmainville for better defensive protection against infantry and tank attacks, but not against my heavy artillery, which picked them off.  I then concentrated on the left flank with the aid of an RAF Typhoon squadron which proved to be very helpful.  But I learned that with this game system it is rare that you can be effective in one sector without taking your eye off the ball in another.  BJ advanced on his left, my right, to great effect, particularly with the Tiger tank unit that had been so easily destroyed the previous evening.  Every attempt I made on this unit merely forced it to retreat out of range of the supporting troops I was trying to concentrate on destroying it!

Towards the end of the game, with the scores standing at 9:9 and then 10:10, both of us abandoned all pretence of a historical game and focused on destroying the easiest target to get that final, elusive point to win.  It took four turns before BJ spotted what I had already seen: an artillery strike on my unprotected supply truck would clinch the game.

So game two also ended with an 11:10 result for Germany.

We agreed that it had been fun.  The game system is easy to grasp, well supported by the creators and largely accurate, but is in the end a game, not a historical representation.  I am using the Memoir ’44 system for my refight of World War Two in its entirety as covered elsewhere in these pages and I will be looking eagerly, but carefully, at more of the expansions, particularly the D-Day Landing kit.

The Battle of Luso 23rd June 1808

This is a report from my play-by-email campaign.  The situation is that Sir Arthur Wellesley has established his headquarters at Busaco Palace, and his force is under attack by General Delaborde advancing from Coimbra to the south.  Delaborde opted to approach Busaco from the southwest.

The game was played solo over about a week of evenings using home-grown rules featuring plastic counters on “Advanced Squad Leader” boards.  I developed the game as something to play while on a solo caravan tour of Spain in 2010.  The scale is approximately 1 hex = 20 yards and one company token occupies one hexagon with no stacking allowed.

This illustration, taken from a previous game using this system shows the look..

British and French battalions on the board
British and French battalions on the board

Our battle was fought using five ASL boards side by side; the resulting layout is shown here.

The battle map.  French approach from the bottom left.
The battle map. French approach from the bottom left.

In the campaign the corps commanders, as well as receiving reports from their own officers, receive by fast courier copies of reports from “The Trumpeter”, a newspaper which carries all battle reports and other interesting incidents.  here is the report from Luso as published.

The Battle of Luso, 23rd June 1808

Luso is a small town just west of Busaco. The country is hilly with numerous small woods and copses and winding roads in the valleys.

Busaco, in the east, is a town with a palace to the south surrounded by parkland. Between Busaco and Luso is a ridge penetrated by a single winding road that branches to north and south.

Luso nestles between three hills and can be accessed by road from all four points of the compass. To the west is another ridge of hills and then a large convent with an extensive orchard to the south and gardens to the north.

Apart from the convent gardens and the park of the Busaco palace there are few areas where a battalion can form an unbroken line. Fighting broke down into company actions.

Here are the stories from the British commanders as told over dinner on the evening of 23rd June, which your correspondent attended.

Major Nobber, 1st Battalion, 9th Foot

General Bowes ordered me to take the 9th from Busaco around to the north of Luso and attack from that direction. We formed column of march and followed the northernmost road out of Busaco, followed by four guns of the Royal Artillery. At the road junction we took the road to the north. Our advance was screened from the French by the buildings and small stands of trees.

We left the road and climbed a hill overlooking the north of Luso to prepare for an assault, forming line on the southern slopes of the hill. To our right 32nd Line from General Hill’s division also formed line and we charged the enemy who was forming up opposite us. We were repulsed, the enemy having the advantage of the walled gardens, so we commenced shooting at close range, which drove them back into the village. I advanced the battalion on a two-company front, taking fire as we moved forward. We made contact with the enemy again and he having the advantage of the enclosures we were forced back. I moved as much of the regiment as I could into the walled garden of a large house and we began to trade volleys.

As the French began to fall back again we recommenced the advance, hampered by the narrow streets. Several times we advanced only to be repulsed by grenadiers from behind walls and hedges. I was beginning to lose more men than I could afford in this attack. Eventually I withdrew the battalion to the large house on the north-east of town and awaited the support of the 45th, but the attack was called off.

Lieutenant Smerdon, 1 Battery Royal Artillery

In the battle I commanded A and B Troops of the battery, stationed to the north end of Busaco.

We accompanied the 9th Foot towards Luso, but deployed onto the slopes of a hill to the right of the road from whence we could bombard the north-east side of the town.

We unlimbered the guns and opened fire, setting light to a wooden house at the north end of the town.

We continued to fire at the infantry in the gardens around the burning house.

As we saw our infantry moving south into the village across our line of fire I decided to shift my position to the next hill westwards to support their advance.

We had just deployed the guns when a messenger from HQ arrived recalling us to Busaco.

Lieutenant Wells, 1 Battery Royal Artillery.

C and D troops of the battery were guarding the western side of the Busaco Palace, from where we could hear the firing to our west. After some time a messenger from HQ ordered me to take the guns forward to a position from which I could fire upon the south end of Luso. We limbered up and moved westwards over the spur of a hill, there being no easy road. Eventually we reached the small hill commanding the road south from Luso. We deployed the guns but our only target moved out of range so we swung the guns to point directly north into Luso. We fired a few shots with little effect and then received the word to return to Busaco.

Major Cosgrove, 1st Battalion, 6th Foot

Some time after the sounds of battle reached us in Busaco General Nightingale sent word that I was to advance westwards towards Luso in support of the attack. We marched out and headed for a large hill with a commanding ridge. On reaching the ridge we formed along the crest. We were joined there soon after by some companies of 52nd Light Infantry, who took post on our left flank until ordered back.

Major Lidford, 2nd battalion, 95th Rifles

I moved my four companies forward from the Busaco Palace onto the ridge between Busaco and Luso. Reaching the ridge I deployed all the companies into skirmish order and sent them forward onto the lower slopes, ordering them to take advantage of the woods wherever possible. As they came into range they opened fire on the French infantry arranged along the eastern side of Luso, and infiltrated some of the houses and many of the woods in that area. From these positions they were able to keep up a telling fire on the enemy from between 20 and 40 yards distance. Several sections of the enemy line began to crumble.

I moved the men up to within 20 yards of the enemy line wherever it was possible to do so while remaining in cover. My 2nd Company occupied a large house at the north-east end of Luso commanding the road.

The French fired some volleys at the centre of my line, but we lost a mere handful of men as most kept their heads down and sheltered in the trees. I kept pushing forwards in short runs, keeping the men under cover as much as possible. However, we got a little too close for comfort and lost half a dozen men to enemy volley fire. I pulled back some 60 yards to regroup, and then moved forward again into the buildings at the south-east end of the village.

The enemy once again retired from our fire. I moved 4th company around to line some hedges at the south of the village and they soon had some customers as the French tried to leave by that route. As the French began to make their move to the south I put my companies into positions commanding the road and soon our rifles were felling his men like skittles.

After a while fresh French infantry and cavalry arrived. The 52nd retired behind our line and we also fell back to the outskirts of Busaco where I now have my piquets.

 General Hill, divisional commander

My headquarters was in the convent west of Luso, from where I intended to fight a rearguard action against General Delaborde’s division, while putting pressure on the French garrison at Luso.

I ordered the 32nd Foot to move from the convent to attack Luso from the north-west. The 52nd Light Infantry were already moving along the winding road towards the southern end of Luso. My third infantry battalion, the 2nd Queens, was ordered to hold the orchard for as long as possible and to make a fighting withdrawal, supported by the 20th Light Dragoons.

I had the support of two small units of Portuguese Cavalry, which I deployed to the west of the Convent to protect my flank.

The 2nd Foot held the French back with skilful fire and movement tactics, but it became clear that we should be cut off from the army. I evacuated the convent and ordered the brigade to move to Luso.

The 2nd had a deal of difficulty moving across the hill and there was a great danger that the battalion would be cut off as I spotted French light infantry moving northwards up the road between us and the town. I spurred my horse and reached the 32nd, who I ordered to block the road.

The French came on and the 32nd met them in good style, sending them back down the road faster than the came up it. I then received your orders to abandon the attack on Luso and retire to the main force.

Major Milton, 1st battalion, 32nd Foot

I formed my battalion on the straight road leading through the convent gardens towards the north and marched them out. At the end of the road was a hedge bordering a cornfield. The pioneers forced a gap and the grenadiers led the way through the field eastwards to climb a hill to the north-west of Luso.

We breasted the ridge in column and moved down onto the road leading from Luso to the north-west. Crossing the road we began to climb another hill. The 9th foot appeared on the next hill so we formed line facing south.

Enemy infantry came out of the village and began to form line facing us, so together with the 9th we charged before they could organise properly. After a brief struggle we reformed and commenced an exchange of volley fire. The enemy fell back into the village, and we followed up. They continued to fall back to the south as we advanced, but then they occupied a defensive position in a hedged enclosure near the middle of the town. I managed to move two companies into the north-west corner of Luso to defend against any French attack from that point, where we met the sorry remains of the 20th Light Dragoons. The dragoons took shelter in a courtyard and we saw that they were being pursued by a squadron of French dragoons. I formed the battalion into square on the hillside north-west of the village.

General Hill then arrived and informed me that the main threat was now light infantry moving north up the road. I formed the battalion into line to meet any skirmishers coming through the woods and sent my lights into the north end of the woods to intercept the Frogs.

We managed to get a couple of companies astride the road and when the French arrived we sent them packing with many casualties.

We were joined by the remains of 2nd Foot and together we retired by the road to Busaco.

Major Salcey, 2nd battalion, 52nd Light Infantry

On the road towards Luso I received orders to attack the town from the west in line. My rear would be supported by the 20th Light Dragoons and the 2nd Foot. I was to expect 32nd Foot to appear from the north-west.

As I approached Luso my grenadier company came under fire from French skirmishers deployed between two copses near the south-west corner of the village, causing two casualties.

I advanced the grenadier, 1st and 2nd companies to form a firing line while the remainder of the battalion came up. I advanced the line as well as I was able through the wooded terrain. At the same time I detached the light company to the right flank to deal with enemy skirmishers.

5th Company moved into the woods on my left while the remaining companies moved along the road to the north to search for a more open place to form for an attack.

Whilst doing so the battalion was fired on by skirmishers from the woods to their right, causing several casualties and some confusion. Behind the skirmishers French line troops were advancing between the copses. We gave them a volley that stopped the advance.

5th Company, the light company and grenadiers moved forwards through the woods in open order while 2nd company advanced in close order towards the French, supported by 1st Company. A brisk fire commenced between my own skirmishers and those of the enemy. We soon drove them out of the woods.

The skirmishers followed up and occupied some of the buildings to the west side of Luso, from whence they continued to fire, causing a number of casualties to the enemy.

1st and 2nd companies charged the enemy line. After a fierce struggle in which I lost over a hundred men the French fell back. I reformed my skirmishing companies and we pushed eastwards into the south end of Luso. General Anstruther arrived and congratulated me on the achievements of my battalion.

We were now able to move along the road through the south end of the village, where we came across enemy infantry, both line and light, moving south. After a brief exchange of fire we pulled back to consolidate and reform. I placed my grenadiers on the hilltop while the remaining companies began to pursue the French.

A squadron of French dragoons appeared and charged the grenadiers and General Anstruther who was with them at the time. The grenadiers fired a volley and then retired to the battalion. The dragoons cut down a few, but retired when they saw the whole battalion forming square. The square was formed in difficult ground, around a small building and with a copse protecting one corner. General Anstruther and his staff sheltered within our ranks.

At this point a French infantry battalion marched down the street. Their lead company poured a volley into my square and the dragoons charged again. The square crumbled and the cavalry swept in, slaughtering all around, including General Anstruther and all his officers.

The 95th came to our rescue, firing at the rear of the French horsemen and they retired, allowing me to reform the battalion to meet the new threat from the French infantry.

By now I had little more than two companies left, so I retired to the east and joined the 6th Foot on the ridge west of Busaco Palace. We refused the flank, facing south in case of further cavalry attacks from that direction. No further attack came and we were ordered back to Busaco.

Major Holdenhurst, 1st battalion, 2nd Foot

I deployed the battalion in line to the south of the convent, extending my light company in skirmish order into the orchard towards the Luso Road, which I intended to use as a route for withdrawal. 20th Light Dragoons were stationed on a hill some 150 yards to my left.

On the approach of French cavalry the light company reformed on my left. I ordered them to occupy a building just behind the left of my line, and moved the battalion to the left in line into the orchard. French skirmishers began to move forward through the orchard so I fired a battalion volley that dropped a few and curbed their enthusiasm somewhat. However, seeing the numbers of the enemy gathering beyond the south wall I began a steady withdrawal by company around the east of the large convent building. As the companies moved to the left they halted periodically to fire at the enemy and keep them at bay.

4 and 5 Companies had a problem in that to withdraw with the rest of the battalion they would need to pass between the smaller building containing the light company and the enemy skirmishers. They solved the problem with a bayonet charge that drove the French back through the orchard. This left the two companies somewhat exposed to musketry from the enemy behind the wall and they fell back in disorder.

I reformed the battalion, fired a volley and then withdrew my first three companies.

The enemy came on again, led by his grenadiers. I still had the light company in the building at the north of the orchard and they combined their fire from the windows with that of the line to try to hold back the enemy charge. Alas the firing was unsuccessful and we fell back, chased by the enemy grenadiers.

Seeing enemy infantry advancing along the hedge to the east of the orchard I formed a line behind the stone wall facing east and commenced to fire volleys at the hedgerow. The light company in the building was now guarding my right flank.

At this point General Hill ordered me to form the regiment up and march towards Luso with all speed. As we were marching east along the road we were attacked by Dragoons, our own cavalry having apparently abandoned us. We shot maybe ten of them, but they came on and we were forced to withdraw up the hill from the road. We reformed as a reinforced line on a low ridge. The enemy infantry formed for an attack on us in this position from the south. We commenced volley fire, while moving to the left by companies. As the French continued to come on we charged downhill to meet them. They fired a volley and we recoiled. They came on and the battalion split up in confusion. My grenadier company was cut off from the main body by a small wood and fought a running battle with the enemy’s grenadiers. The Lisbon cavalry came dashing to their rescue and the other Portuguese horsemen formed a defensive line. As the French came on the Portuguese cavalry charged, receiving a tremendous volley and followed by a furious melee. However they managed to protect my grenadiers from further attention as they rejoined the battalion. The battalion formed alongside the 32nd Foot and we then received the order to return to Busaco. We fought a running battle through the north of Luso and returned here.

Major Greenholme, 20th Light Dragoons

From my three squadrons who landed in Portugal only 95 men were fit for duty. We formed as three troops (one from each squadron) on a hill to the east of the convent occupied by General Hill.

French dragoons appeared on the road in about squadron strength. They looked like our old adversaries from Boialva, but one Frenchie is much like another. We charged them in the flank from our position on the hill and scattered them. A small number – maybe a troop – reformed some 80 yards back.

I wheeled the regiment to form a blocking line across the road. Two squadrons of the enemy charged us while his third attempted an outflanking manoeuvre to our right.

We fell back 80 yards and reformed on the hill crest. The French dragoons continued to work around both flanks so I fell back again. The enemy followed on and we clashed. Honours were even in the melee, but he had more men to lose than I. We retreated towards Luso, where we found shelter in a courtyard. The horses were exhausted so we tied them up and formed a dismounted piquet guarding the road at the north-west of Luso. We continued to exchange fire with the French dragoons in houses across the road until receiving the order to retreat to Busaco.

Capitan Valugas, 6th Portuguese Cavalry

My regiment and the troop from the Lisbon Police Cavalry moved from the Luso road back towards the convent as ordered by General Hill. We were to protect the English right flank as they withdrew.

When we arrived at the convent we observed that the French were already threatening to envelop the building. I ordered my regiment to guard the western side, outflanking the French infantry and keeping just out of effective musket range but threatening to charge anyone who moved onto the open ground or path around the building. I sent the Lisbon Police to guard the north side of the building in the same way.

The enemy posted a company to fire on us from behind a hedge and I lost several men to their musketry. Eventually we received orders to fall back to the north-east to protect the withdrawal of the 2nd Foot who were in some difficulty with enemy cavalry.

When we reached the long ridge we found that the British infantry were in desperate trouble. I formed a line and prepared to charge the French infantry. They fired and my second squadron scattered. The other two squadrons charged, but with limited success against the grenadiers.

The remains of my men formed a protective cordon around the British grenadiers and after some difficulty we managed to escort them towards the east and Luso. We met up with 32nd Foot who had just received orders to retire, so we marched with them back to Busaco.

And the following day I attended upon the French and received these tales:

Major Berthelot, 3e battalion, 12e Regiment d’Infanterie Legere

Approaching from the south-west we came to a convent occupied by English infantry. I lined my grenadier company along the walls and hedges to the south-west of the convent and its orchard. As the other companies began to arrive I ordered the grenadiers over the wall into the orchard in skirmish order. They advanced to within about 40 yards of the enemy and opened fire, which the enemy met with a volley. The enemy then began to retire. I ordered the grenadiers to maintain the distance of 40 yards and keep up the skirmishing fire while I moved the remainder of the battalion around to the west of the convent.

Two companies of the enemy infantry suddenly charged through the orchard with the bayonet. My grenadiers reformed quickly and a couple of volleys from the supporting companies behind the wall drove the enemy back in confusion.

My left flank was threatened by enemy cavalry so I refused the flank, placing 1st Company behind a hedge with a good field of fire to the left. The remaining companies began to move forwards into the orchard vacated by the British. The enemy continued to fall back, so we fired again to help them on their way. On the left the enemy cavalry was just out of effective musket range, but we fired at them anyway to stop them from coming closer. One squadron moved into the open and we felled about half a dozen, so they moved back into cover.

On the right flank my grenadiers closed to contact the enemy infantry. His line was now reduced to 3 companies as the others retreated. I sent 2nd company to the right along the hedgerow to the east side of the orchard and 3rd company and the voltigeurs moved into the orchard in support of the grenadiers. The grenadiers took some casualties but continued to attack. The enemy fell back with heavy casualties, and the grenadiers followed up.

I continued to move my battalion around the east side of the orchard to cut off the enemy’s retreat. I was still worried about the cavalry on my left so two companies remained there as a shield.

The remainder now formed to assault the British infantry who had been forced off the road by our dragoons. We had to climb a hill towards the British position on the ridge. The enemy began to move to his left, so I extended the line to our right and was able to overlap his flank.

The enemy in desperation charged us. We fired a volley and then they hit us and a fierce fight ensued. I believe that we and the English lost about a hundred men apiece.

Eventually the enemy retired and we pursued to the top of the ridge. One of his companies was separated from the others by a small wood and was trapped. We attacked, but were in turn charged by Portuguese cavalry. We killed a number of them but they managed to escort the infantry to safety.

My voltigeur company by this time had crossed the hill and were advancing north on the road towards Luso. There they were mat by two companies of redcoats, whose fire forced them to retreat.

I reformed the company but the English retreated and we marched into Luso.

Major Seillon, 3e Regiment Provisional de Dragons

Advancing along the road towards Luso from the south-west we encountered British skirmishers in the orchard of a convent to the left of the road. At our approach they reformed into close order and rejoined their battalion in front of the convent.

From our right 1st Squadron was charged by British light cavalry. They struck us in the flank and my men scattered, but reformed moments later to face the enemy at about 100 yards distance. 2nd Squadron advanced in support.

I moved 1st Squadron to the right to outflank the enemy. 2nd Squadron formed to their left, but was not in a position to charge because of stone walls and a copse to the front. The enemy attempted to block the road but this only gave us the opportunity to charge with 1st and 2nd squadrons. 3rd squadron moved to the left to outflank them.

The enemy withdrew onto the top of the hill, so I continued my outflanking movement. I sent 2nd squadron to the left and 3rd squadron to the right while 1st squadron faced the enemy. The enemy cavalry fell back so I was able to move forward and cut the road between their infantry and Luso. I attacked enemy infantry marching in column and they retreated to the north, where the 12e Legere were sent to deal with them.

I continued with the regiment towards Luso in pursuit of the enemy light cavalry. To the south of the town we spotted a lone company of infantry on a hill. We charged with one squadron, taking fire from some concealed riflemen to our right. The enemy fired a sharp volley, but we made contact and after a short struggle they retreated to the rest of their battalion that we could now see behind them. We retired to reform.

The British formed a rough square but at that point the 32e Infanterie de Ligne arrived and opened fire on the square. We charged in again with 1st and 3rd Squadrons. The square broke and we got into the middle, killing a general and several aides.

The 2nd squadron had moved north into Luso where they dismounted and occupied some houses, engaging in a firefight with the British cavalry.

We took no further part in the action, as the fighting now became house to house.

Major Uglas, 2e Battalion, 86e Regiment de Ligne

My battalion was in position along the western side of the village of Luso. The voltigeur company on a hill to my left spotted British infantry advancing in column along the road from the south-west. I sent the voltigeurs forward in skirmish order to delay their approach and moved No. 4 company left to occupy the hill. As the enemy approached, 4th Company moved to enfilade them. I extended the line by moving the Grenadiers onto the hill to the north. 1st Company moved right to replace the grenadiers and 2nd and 3rd companies moved forwards to hold the centre near the junction of the west road. These companies immediately came under volley fire from enemy infantry and I was forced to withdraw about 20 yards.

In the woods my light company was skirmishing with the enemy light troops, keeping up a brisk fire. They advanced to within 20 yards of the enemy, but the enemy fire drove them back out of the woods. The enemy moved forward into the houses, but they now came under fire from my companies formed up in line.

My voltigeurs managed to get within 20yards of the enemy, while a desperate hand to hand struggle ensued between 1st and 2nd companies and the enemy who had charged them. We were forced back with over a hundred casualties, but we also left many English bodies behind us.

We moved back into the town under pressure from the British from north and east. As my casualties mounted I decided to break out to the south but found the way blocked by riflemen who were in the trees and hedgerows. They began to take a toll of my men. Please advise the Emperor that we could use some of theses weapons.

Two of my companies took up good defensive positions in enclosed gardens to the north of town, from where they repulsed several attacks by determined British infantry.

Eventually we were relieved by 32e Ligne.

 Major Ortèvres, 3e Battalion, 15e Regiment d’Infanterie Legere

My battalion was deployed in line along the road on the eastern side of Luso, facing Busaco. My attention was drawn to some parties of British riflemen advancing over the ridge to the east, but they disappeared behind the trees as they reached the lower slopes. I ordered the regiment to load their muskets and stand ready. Some time later we saw the grasshoppers in the woods opposite my position and fired a volley. It appears that it was ineffectual as there was a sudden explosion of return fire from the woods and houses. I lost about 50 men and some companies fell back in disorder towards the centre of the village. The riflemen advanced but we reformed, fired several volleys and drove them back out of the village.

On my left flank a battalion of redcoats appeared over the crest of the hill about 60 yards from my light company. The company faced them and opened fire.

I moved 3rd company around a building that had been set alight by enemy artillery fire to extend the north-facing line. My other companies advanced to the road again and took shelter behind the walls and hedges, keeping up the fire on the elusive greencoats.

Two battalions of enemy infantry charged down from the hills on my left flank. We met them with a volley, which stopped the charge, but then the two battalions began firing at close range, and with enemy artillery adding to the fire from the hill to our north-east, I pulled the two companies back further into the village.

At the south end of the village my men were also beginning to suffer from the attentions of the rifles. Companies began to disintegrate, but in a hand-to-hand scuffle we sent some of the rifles back the way they had come. I decided that it was time to attempt to break out to the south and rejoin General Delaborde. Our way was blocked by more riflemen behind the hedges.

After some exchanges of fire my Grenadier company forced a way south. The rest of the battalion was now skirmishing amongst the houses in the middle of town.

We continued to exchange fire with the riflemen until eventually we were relieved by 32e Ligne from the south-west and the British withdrew.

Major Gambetta, 3e Battalion, 32e regiment d’Infanterie de Ligne

The battalion was ordered to march to Luso, which we approached from the south-west. Ahead of us the 3e Dragons and 12e Legere were already engaged.

As we entered the south of Luso we found a British square drawn up against the 3e Dragons.

Unable to deploy in the street I opened fire with my grenadier company and caused some casualties. The dragoons charged and broke open the square doing terrible damage. The British retreated, leaving the way open for our entry into town. I sent the voltigeurs to join the fight in the centre of town while we chased the enemy out of the south. The British had clearly had enough and pulled back to Busaco.

22nd June 1808. A Skirmish at Almanza

This is a report from the Play by Email campaign that I run.  This battle was fought as a test for my home-grown rule set “Est-il Heureux?” which I use for battle demonstrations at Napoleonic reenactment events.  The game is played on a two foot square card table, ruled into two inch squares.  An aerial view of the battlefield is below.

A plan of the field at Almanza.
A plan of the field at Almanza.

Skirmish at Almanza, 22nd June 1808
At Almanza, in the province of Leon in northern Spain, two squadrons of French chasseurs a cheval have been camped outside the town for a few days.
They had previously attempted to enter the town but the local militia turned out and barred their way.  Since then they have been foraging for supplies and waiting for reinforcements.  On the night of 20th June a party of guerrillas attacked the French camp and both sides suffered losses.
On the evening of 21st June a deputation of local men came to the town hall demanding that something be done about the raids on their farms by the French cavalry, and the Mayor mustered almost 400 militia for a determined attack in the morning.
On the morning of the 22nd, as the militia began to march out of the town’s west gate, a third squadron of chasseurs appeared on the road from the south.  The French with between 250 and 300 men now felt strong enough to attack, particularly as the enemy had moved outside the town walls.

The area around Almanza is generally flat with scrub and small copses.  The town stands on a plateau.

Two squadrons of chasseurs mounted up and moved out of camp towards the town, while the newly-arrived third squadron moved west to join them.
There was a detachment guarding a bridge on the west road which also moved towards the town in scouting order to threaten the militia’s flank as they deployed to meet the main attack.  A few of the cavalry were shot during this approach, but not enough to give them any problem.

The first squadron of chasseurs charged the Spanish as they were deploying.  Unable to form square in time, the militia managed to fire a volley and several cavalry fell from the saddle.  The attack stalled.

The Spanish on the western flank fired again at the skirmishing cavalry and forced them back.

On the southern flank the French formed up again for a charge on the centre of the Spanish line, which responded by forming square.  The French charged, and although many cavalry were lost, the square was broken and the survivors were cut down.

A party of guerrillas left the town by the south, planning to move on the French flank.  Meanwhile the Chasseurs who had broken through entered the town by the now unguarded west gate and made their way towards the main square.  In this they were interrupted by groups of guerrillas in the houses and alleyways.  A confused skirmish took place and all the French were killed or fled.

Outside the town the militia renewed their fire and eventually the Chasseurs pulled back.

Casualties: Spanish 29, French 62