Monday, April 11, 2016

Albuera 1811: Pt. 2 AAR

After reading Guy Dempsey's outstanding book Albuera 1811: The Bloodiest Battle of the Peninsular War, I was determined to recreate this battle in miniature. The actual battle was a very close affair, and featured some of the most vicious fighting of the Napoleonic Wars. There were also some interesting situations that affected the outcome immensely.......Blake's uncooperation with Beresford, Colbourne's flanking maneuver that allowed the Vistula Legion to emerge out of a rainstorm and wreak havoc, and Cole's decision to attack with his reserve division to finally win the battle were some of the more memorable incidents.

I also regularly use Carnage and Glory 2 as well as General de Brigade for gaming the Napoleonic Wars, but I have been interested in the March Attack rules for some time now. March Attack are grand-tactical in scope, but utilize the infantry battalion as the primary unit for maneuver (which I love--I never became accustomed to the brigade as the smallest unit on the table). The scale of March Attack was also perfect for the southern flank of Albuera (at 60 yards per inch, it allowed me to recreate this sector of the field on a 6' x 5' table). My thoughts (and some house rules I added) on how well March Attack worked are summarized at the end.

So....after researching the maps in Dempsey's book (as well as maps in other sources) I created the terrain which featured the northern and southern knolls as well as the other rolling hills of the field. Turn one was to start at 10 am, after the French under Girard had crossed the Albuera stream and the Spanish under Zayas and Lardizabal had redeployed to meet this threat. Marshal Beresford had already given the order to Stewart's British brigade to redeploy behind the Spanish line on the reverse slope. Stewart's brigade was to enter the north end of the table in column on turn one. Historically, the British under Colbourne began their flanking maneuver at 11 am, shortly after Girard's columns hit the Spanish. Therefore, I had to time it right to mirror the historical result; after more consultation of period maps and measurements, I think I got it right.

I also wanted to recreate the battle with a strategic mindset of the different commanders and not the "fight to the last unit" philosophy of most games.

The initial deployment of the French V Corps and Werle's reserve brigade

The initial orders and OOB's are detailed in my earlier post concerning the scenario description. The game commenced with the French V Corps advancing to attack the Spanish deployed on the ridge line. Latour-Maubourg's cavalry advanced to support Girard's left flank. As the French deployed a battery on the southern knoll, it came under artillery fire from the Spanish, but to no effect. Meanwhile, on the allied side, Colbourne's leading battalions entered the table's northern edge behind the Spanish-held ridge.

Turns two and three saw Girard redeploying his first brigade into Ordre Mixte, instead of charging straight ahead in attack columns (as was done historically). This maneuver seemed to make more sense tactically, but it did give the British under Colbourne time to solidify their redeployment in support of the Spanish. It gave me some appreciation for Girard's historic attack in column; the French had surprise on their side and the goal was to rout the Spanish as fast as possible before reinforcements showed up. French artillery on the southern knoll opened up and light casualties were suffered on both sides.

Girard's lead battalions advance toward Zayas' Spanish

Girard's battalions close to attack the Spanish and a nasty firefight erupts between the Spanish and French. Casualties mounted immediately and Zayas needed to attach to the Spanish Guards to keep them in the line. Meanwhile, Stewart's division forms a solid line behind the Spanish and waits. Historically, this was the point that the British moved around the Spanish line and attacked the French flank. We decided to benefit from our knowledge of history and stick to Beresford's original orders and use the British as a solid support.

The cavalry of both sides are both on support and watch each other's units in anticipation.

The French attack the ridge line as Stewart's British infantry calmly look on

At this point, the heavens opened up on turn four as heavy rain falls on the field.

The rain limited musketry and artillery casualties, but the action was so heavy that casualties continued to mount. Zayas narrowly avoided a leader casualty roll as he attempted to keep his Spanish in the fight. British skirmishers added to the Spanish and the French, now at a skirmish disadvantage, suffered more casualties.  The 1/34th Ligne attempted to charge the lowly Voluntarios de la Patria unit on the extreme right flank but failed its closing check and ended up disordered in front of the Spanish unit in line.

Subsequent turns saw more casualties between the French and Spanish units, with the combined grenadiers, in particular, being roughly handled by Lardizabal's Spanish. Pepin's 2nd division of V Corps redeployed and attempted to shoot the gap between the allied cavalry and infantry, threatening to outflank the Spanish. At the end of turn 5, one of the French battalions (the 2/40th Ligne) succeeded in charging the Spanish artillery on the ridge and routed it completely.

The French combined grenadier battalions retire in the face of withering Spanish musketry

Lardizabal's Spanish infantry celebrate the repulse of the French grenadiers

Pepin's 2nd division attempts to maneuver around the flank as Girard's division continues to engage the Spanish on the ridge

Turn 6 saw the British begin to counterattack the French where the Spanish line ruptured. The 31st Foot advanced and threw out a hail of musketry that rocked the 2/40th Ligne (which had just broken through the Spanish artillery). The Voluntarios de la Patria battalion routed, but the 3rd Foot was there to plug the gap. Colbourne's artillery also redeployed on the extreme right and commenced a withering fire into Pepin's lead columns.

The British, under Colbourne, block Pepin's advance around the flank

At this point, Pepin's division was beginning to stack up. Marshal Soult ordered Latour-Mauborg's cavalry to immediately attack the allied cavalry to allow the French infantry room to envelop the allied infantry. Also, as Pepin's division was now within engagement range, the French once again assumed skirmisher superiority and focused their skirmish attacks on the British infantry anchoring the extreme flank.

The Spanish infantry was beginning to break, but the British under Colbourne admirably plugged all of the gaps. The 31st Foot, after its opening volley, charged the hapless 2/40th Ligne, sending it reeling. The French cavalry confidently charged the allied cavalry and engaged the Spanish horsemen in front. Unfortunately, for the French, the Spanish cavalry overachieved and won 3 of 4 engagements, driving Latour-Mauborg's dragoons back. This was surprising.

French cavalry engage the allied cavalry

The rain had lifted by this point, making British musketry even more powerful as the Spanish suffer a morale test and Zayas' infantry finally retired behind Colbourne and Abercrombie's brigades. On turn 7, although the French cavalry finally sends the Spanish cavalry to the rear, the British 13th Light Dragoons catch an enemy dragoon regiment in the flank on an opportunity charge and shatter it. With only the Vistula Legion and the 2nd French Hussars untouched, Soult reluctantly orders Latour-Mauborg's cavalry to retire. In a final charge to cover the French retirement, Latour-Marborg is severely wounded leading the Vistula Legion, adding to the French woes. At about the same time, Girard is wounded leading a charge as well, and exits for 3 turns.

Stewart's infantry advance toward the worn French battalions after Zayas retires

On turn 8, the strategic situation looked grim for French victory. The British under Stewart were advancing in a solid line to the top of the ridge, continuing to be supported by Lardizabal's Spaniards. The allied cavalry was victorious, but would not activate an attack order from Beresford (twice!) to pursue the retiring French horse. Pepin's 2nd division was stacked up and could not maneuver due to the solid British infantry and the close threat from allied cavalry. Also, the British infantry advancing to the top of the ridge were relatively fresh and the French battalions were worn due to the combat with the Spanish. Thinking strategically, Marshal Soult saw little chance to break through and ordered a retreat from the field  in order to fight another day.

With Werle's reserve infantry and French cavalry still able to counter any pursuit, the decision to retreat with minimal loss made sense from a strategic standpoint.

A very tough fight ! Casualties were high on both sides. After walking wounded were returned (March Attack has a system for this) the allies suffered 4,700 casualties, primarily Spanish. The French suffered 4,200 total casualties.

The decision to form Stewart behind the Spanish holding the ridge allowed the allies to counterattack the French. Zayas' Spanish, although defeated, held the ridge long enough to allow the British to form an unmovable wall of veteran infantry to block the French. The allied cavalry also got lucky in repulsing the French cavalry......if the French were successful in the cavalry action, Pepin's 2nd division would have room to maneuver around the extreme right flank of the British. But it didn't happen. The fight was very bloody and had a very historical resolution. The game played like an account from a history book and seemed very realistic.

My thoughts on March Attack?  These rules are intended for large games, not smaller tactical actions. I did add a few house rules, but felt that the rules overall provided an excellent system in which to replicate a battle as large as Albuera.  The mechanisms that I really liked about March Attack were:

- An easy, yet realistic, method of changing corps and divisional orders
- Skirmishing was abstracted on the divisional level, but added to the overall strategic feel
- Melee was abstracted and decisive, but made sense in each instance
- Grand-tactical movement for unengaged formations was realistic. Movement distances dropped as each division approached engagement range (9")
- The rules were streamlined and split into strategic as well as tactical phases
- For a grand-tactical system, the infantry battalion is still used versus a brigade unit
- March Attack can be easily used for a campaign

There were a couple of things that I thought were missing from the rules. These could easily be taken care of with house rules.

- Wounding or death of leaders had little impact on morale.
- Even with the rallying of units mechanism after the battle, casualties seemed a bit high. The rules are advertised as "bloody".....they lived up to it.

I added some minor house rules in order to tweak the rules as I saw fit:
   1. I cut an attack column's fire rating down to 1/2 CV, and a company column down to zero.
   2. I added a +1 modifier to British infantry firing in a 2 rank line.
   3. I started melee modifiers out at a 3:2 mass advantage (+1) rather than at 2:1.

Will I play March Attack again for larger battles?  Absolutely !  It was fast moving, well though-out, and clicked most of my boxes for the grand-tactical scale. For smaller actions, I'll stick with Carnage and Glory 2 and General de Brigade, but I'm looking forward to my next "large" battle with March Attack.


  1. Mad Mac -- great report and great terrain. It's been a while since I looked at March Attack, but one thing I recall is that an army with the skirmish advantage could conceivably just stay in place and let their skirmishers wear down the enemy formations. With enough patience, there would be no reason to ever commit your main force if you had the advantage. This struck me as a bit odd, as a skirmish-poor army in a defensive position could be forced to attack just to stop from being whittled away to nothing by French skirmishers. Do you have any insight/opinion on this? (Perhaps I misunderstood the rules.)

    1. Hi GN.......thank you so much for your kind words.....I really appreciate your comment........the skirmish phase allows one side, in a sector of the battlefield, the ability to inflict "light" casualties.....and the key word is "light".....on some selected enemy units. In every turn of Albuera, the max casualties that were inflicted on one side or the other was only 2......

      Where the skirmish phase really comes in handy is that you can inflict an extra casualty or 2 to weaken an enemy unit prior to the charge/movement phase.

      So, in summary.....the skirmish phase is never overwhelming.....but it can be irritating to an out skirmished opponent and even add to a prepared charge situation.

    2. GN.....also, if a division, like 1806 Prussians, were defending against a French division with skirmisher advantage, the French division still has to close within 9" in order to use skirmishers.....even one Prussian battery will cause more casualties over time than the French the French probably wouldn't sit there and be exposed to artillery fire just to cause light skirmisher casualties over time.....

    3. Thanks for the insights on skirmishers. I struggled to pick up MA because I found the rulebook organization confusing. IIRC, it doesn't follow the turn sequence, meaning I was flipping all over the place trying to figure out what to do next. I really was drawn to many of its concepts, but just didn't have the patience to fight the rulebook to figure it all out!
      On a different topic: Can you tell me more about your terrain? Is that a homemade mat? How did you make it? Is the river a commercial product?

  2. Hi GN......Yeah, I've heard that from others about the rulebook....the turn sequence makes sense though and is very logical. As for the terrain....thank you first of all.....the mat is a plain green mat on which I have sprinkled woodland scenic flocking on....2 different colors, earth and basic green....I also flock my bases with both so that they match the table mat. After I do that, and create a mixed color effect, I have some dyed sawdust that I sprinkle to give it a rough texture....and then I finally put some small pieces of lichen in certain spots. The end result is a very natural/rough field. As for the rivers, my good friend Doug Kline of Battlefield Terrain Concepts makes can contact him on his

    He's a terrain master ! Take a look at an earlier blog post " Prelude to Leipzig"....that was the table he set up for that one.....just beautiful stuff.

    Thanks again for your kind comments....take care.