The Vistula Legion attacks Colbourne's British infantry
For scenario information, I primarily consulted Guy Dempsey's outstanding work Albuera 1811: The Bloodiest Battle of the Peninsular War
Historical Background of the battle: In May of 1811, Lieutenant-General William Beresford, commanding the British-Portuguese forces besieging Badajoz, received intelligence that Marshal Soult was rapidly advancing with his French army to relieve the besieged garrison. A Spanish army under General Blake was also marching to reinforce Beresford, and Soult resolved to strike the British before the allied armies could combine. The Spanish did join with Beresford as he abandoned the siege at Badajoz and maneuvered to Albuera to await the French. Soult arrived at Albuera on May 16 but didn't realize that the allies had combined and now outnumbered the French by a 3:2 margin. The allies were deployed in a defensive line running North-South, centered on the town of Albuera. Soult resolved to attack the allies by feinting in front of Albuera, in order to draw the allies into reinforcing this center sector, but planning to focus his main advance onto Beresford's right flank to the south in a surprise envelopment. Soult entrusted this attack to General de Division Girard, commander of V Corps. As French cavalry and infantry demonstrated in front of the allied center, Girard marched his infantry across the Albuera stream and approached the allied right flank, largely undetected by heavy woods.
Zayas' Spaniards await the approach of Girard's columns
The allied right flank was held by Zayas' Spanish, supported by Lardizabal's division on his left and a combined force of British and Spanish cavalry on his right. Upon detecting the gleam of French bayonets approaching the Spanish position, Beresford gave orders to redeploy the infantry and refuse the flank. Instead of redeploying the bulk of the Spanish infantry, General Blake only allocated 4 battalions of Zayas' command to face the French onslaught. Lardizabal did march to support Zayas' left flank. The Spanish faced the French in time, deploying on a ridge, anchored by a rise known as the northern knoll. Beresford recognized Girard's advance as the main French attack and hurriedly gave orders to reinforce this sector.
Girard advanced his infantry in columns, supported on his left by Latour-Marbourg's cavalry. General de Division Pepin's 2nd division of V Corps was behind Girard's 1st division and Werle's large brigade of infantry served as a reserve. Soult now realized that the Spanish had joined the British-Portuguese, but he felt that he had taken the initiative and had the element of surprise on his side. The French continued to advance towards the Spanish, confident of victory. A southern knoll facing the Spanish was quickly occupied and a battery of French guns were placed on it, beginning a bombardment on the allied position. The scene was set for a dramatic clash.
A map showing the French attack on the southern flank of the allies
The Battle: Girard pushed his division forward in attack columns towards the Spanish infantry lining the ridge. Memories of the recent Battle of the Gevora were in the minds of the French, an action which saw the melting away and subsequent rout of Spanish infantry deployed on a ridge similar to this one. But on this day, the Spanish under Zayas stiffened and let loose a murderous volley which tore into the French columns. Although largely veteran troops, the French infantry hesitated and, instead of pushing forward, attempted to deploy into line formations. Lardizabal's Spanish infantry also held their own against the combined grenadiers that were supporting the 1st division's right flank. A vicious firefight erupted between the French and the Spanish infantry, with the Spanish gaining the upper hand.
Meanwhile, while Zayas' Spaniards were engaged with Girard's French, Major General Stewart was advancing his division, led by Colbourne's brigade, behind the Spanish line on a track that traversed the reverse slope of the ridge. Although Beresford had ordered Stewart to form his division behind the Spanish in support, Stewart saw a golden opportunity to maneuver onto Girard's exposed left flank. Colbourne's brigade executed this maneuver admirably and the French found themselves engaged to the front and to the flank. But Girard's supporting battalions did a fine job of maneuvering to refuse this flank and a hot firefight erupted between the British and the French. The weather at this time decided to play its hand, and a torrential downpour rained down on the troops. Colbourne's British attempted to charge with bayonets but were unsuccessful. Even with the effect of the pouring rain, casualties were mounting on both sides.
As admirable as Colbourne's maneuver was, it was a massive mistake. Marshal Soult and General de Division Latour-Marboug had also witnessed the British infantry's flank up in the air. Orders were quickly dispatched to the Vistula Lancers as well as French Hussars and Dragoons to attack. As the rain slowed, the French and Polish cavalry emerged and swept onto the flank and rear of Colbourne's infantry before they had time to form square. This cavalry charge resulted in the most devastating charge of the Peninsular War. Almost all of Colbourne's entire brigade was effectively destroyed. The British commanders could do nothing but watch the horror. Even Beresford had to fight a lancer off with his bare hands. The French cavalry was eventually spent and instead of crashing onto British squares and several cavalry squadrons that now met them, pulled back.
The fight was far from over. The rest of Stewart's division performed passage of lines with Zayas' Spanish while the French were conducting the same maneuver. The firefight between the French and British erupted again, with casualties extremely heavy.
At this point, both sides were exhausted and totally spent. The British line, in particular, was becoming dangerously thin. Beresford galloped off to find fresh forces to plug into the line. At this point, the critical decision of the battle was made. General Cole, with his Anglo-Portuguese division was uncommitted, itching to get into the fray, but following his strict orders to stand in reserve. An aide to Beresford, Lt Colonel Hardinge, galloped over and convinced Cole to advance and attack the French. Cole did make the decision and advanced with his fusiliers in the lead. His Portuguese troops under General Harvey also advanced cooly and professionally. Seeing Cole's division marching on, Soult knew that he had to stop these troops or the battle would be lost. Werle's infantry and uncommitted squadrons of French cavalry were thrown against Cole. The cavalry was repulsed by the Portuguese infantry formed in line, while the 7th Fusiliers and 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers charged and broke Werle's columns. The battle was seemingly won by the allies at this point.
Soult realized that the time for offensive action was over and ordered Latour-Marbourg's cavalry to cover the retreat of his remaining infantry, which the horsemen admirably accomplished. Indeed, the Battle of Albuera was the bloodiest day of the Peninsular War. The French had lost 5,936 men, while the Allies had lost 5,915 men. Colbourne's brigade of Stewart's division had effectively ceased to exist. The French also captured 5 British colors. Wellington was furious and never again trusted Beresford with an independent command. Albuera was an allied victory, but an extremely costly one. The controversy over the tactical decisions of the battle would continue long after the battle was over.
The Scenario: Our scenario is concerned with the main French attack on the right flank of the allies. It is played on a 6' x 5' table. The rules I used were March Attack, which has just the right scale for the allotted space (1" equals 60 yards). March Attack also utilizes battalions as the basic unit, but is still grand tactical in philosophy. I have attempted to keep this scenario as generic as possible, for conversion to any rules system.
The game begins at 10:00 am and continues until nightfall, if needed.
The wargame table 6' x 5' viewing from south to north. The piano and dollhouse are, sadly, not part of the terrain.
The northern and southern knolls are located roughly in the center of the table.
Deployment: The allied cavalry and the Spanish under Zayas and Lardizabal have detected the French and have completed their defensive deployments on the table. The French V Corps under Girard are deployed in attack columns with the French cavalry supporting the left flank. Werle's infantry is in reserve behind V Corps. Therefore, initial orders are:
Girard and Pepin's divisions are to attack the Spanish position on the ridge, with Girard leading the attack and Pepin following.
The French cavalry under Latour-Marbourg are to support V Corps to the left of the infantry.
Werle's infantry are to support and remain uncommitted to the rear.
Zayas and Ladizabal's divisions are to defend the ridge
Cole is off the table and is to support and remain uncommitted. Cole's division is available to be committed on the 2:00 pm turn. If activation is successful, this force will enter anywhere on the western edge of the table.
Lumley's allied cavalry are to support the Spanish flank and, more importantly, block the French cavalry from crashing into the allied rear.
Zayas' second brigade was held back by Blake and is fixed in place. Only Blake can attach himself to this brigade and maneuver it. This brigade is on support orders and is to remain uncommitted.
Stewart's division, which enters the table on turn 1 (10:00 am) will maneuver in columns to the rear of the Spanish infantry and form a second defensive line while assuming defend orders.
The French deployment, with the cavalry on the left, Girard's V Corps in the center and Werle's reserve command on the right. The units of Lardizibal's Spanish can be seen in the upper left corner.
The Spanish deployment on top of the ridge, with Lardizibal on the left. The rearmost Spanish lines are the rest of Zayas' command, which is fixed in place at the beginning of the game
The allied cavalry, deployed to the right of the Spanish infantry
Terrain: The French have already crossed the river in advancing to the ridge. Most terrain is open. Hills do not effect movement distance, but do block line of sight. Any woods or streams are considered normal disruptive terrain in whatever rules you choose to play.
Weather: Weather played a tremendous role in the battle. Effectively, each turn there was a 25% chance for heavy rain to effect musketry, artillery, and visibility. This "weather roll" is to be conducted as the first step of each game turn.
Allied command difficulties: Although Beresford was the senior commander, he had great difficulty with the Spanish chain of command. Although agreeing with Beresford at the beginning of the battle about refusing the southern flank, Spanish General Blake curiously only turned 4 battalions of Zayas' division with Lardizibal in support and then disappeared. Beresford had no other meeting or correspondence with Blake during the rest of the battle. Therefore, any commands from Beresford to Blake (obviously for Spanish units only) should incur a negative modifier to demonstrate this situation.
Orders of Battle:
Marshal Soult Good Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
V Corps Girard Average Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
1st Division Girard
1st Brigade Brayer
34th Ligne Veteran 2 bns 953 men
40th Ligne Veteran 2 bns 813 men
2nd Brigade Veilande
64th Ligne Veteran 3 bns 1,589 men
88th Ligne Veteran 2 bns 899 men
Combined Grenadier command Vare
Grenadiers Elite 2 bns 1,033 men
8 x 6 lb Battery Veteran
2nd Division Pepin Average Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
1st Brigade Pepin
21st Legere Veteran 2 bns 788 men
100th Ligne Regular 2 bns 738 men
2nd Brigade Maransin
28th Legere Veteran 3 bns 1,368 men
103rd Ligne Regular 3 bns 1,290 men
3 x 6 lb Battery Veteran
Independent Brigade Werle Average Command Capabilty / Normal Inspiration
12th Legere Regular 3 bns 2,164 men
58th Ligne Regular 3 bns 1,641 men
55th Ligne Regular 3 bns 1,815 men
6 x 6 lb Battery Veteran
Cavalry Division Latour-Maubourg Good Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
1st Brigade Bron
4th Dragoons Regular 406 men
20th Dragoons Regular 266 men
26th Dragoons Regular 421 men
2nd Brigade des Eclats
14th Dragoons Regular 316 men
17th Dragoons Regular 314 men
27th Dragoons Regular 249 men
2nd Hussars Regular 305 men
1st Vistula Legion Elite 591 men
Marshal Beresford Average Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
Spanish Army Blake Poor Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
Division Zayas Average Command Capability / Charismatic Inspiration
1st Brigade Mourgeon
2nd Reales Guards Veteran 630 men
4th Reales Guardias Veteran 647 men
Irlanda Regt Conscript 749 men
Voluntarios de la Patria Militia 594 men
6 x 4 lb Battery Regular
2nd brigade Polo, fixed in place moved only by attached Blake
Toledo Regt Militia 577 men
Legion Extrangera Militia 547 men
Ciudad Rodrigo Regt Conscript 445 men
Walonas Regt Conscript 633 men
Division Lardizabal Average Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
Murcia Regt Conscript 706 men
Canarias Regt Conscript 433 men
2nd de Leon Regt Conscript 586 men
Campo Mayor Regt Conscript 673 men
Allied Cavalry Division Lumley Average Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
Escaudron de Granaderos Conscript 284 men
Escaudron de Instruccion Militia 132 men
Provisional de Santiago Militia 338 men
Husares de Castilla Militia 411 men
Carabineros Reales Militia 47 men
Reina Regt Militia 138 men
Borbon Regt Militia 135 men
Lusitania Regt Militia 86 men
Algarve Regt Militia 101 men
Husares de Extremadura Militia 214 men
3rd Dragoon Guards Guard 374 men
4th Dragoons Veteran 387 men
13th Light Dragoons Veteran 403 men
Division Stewart Average Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
3rd Foot Veteran 755 men
31st Foot Veteran 418 men
2/48th Foot Veteran 452 men
66th Foot Veteran 441 men
2/28th Foot Veteran 519 men
2/34th Foot Veteran 596 men
2/39th Foot Veteran 482 men
29th Foot Veteran 507 men
1/48th Foot Veteran 497 men
1/57th Foot Veteran 647 men
6 x 6 lb Battery Veteran
6 x 9 lb Battery Veteran
Division Cole Good Command Capability / Normal Inspiration
1/7th Fusiliers Elite 714 men
2/7th Fusiliers Elite 568 men
1/23 Royal Welsh Fusiliers Elite 733 men
11th Portuguese Line Regular 2 bns 1,154 men
23rd Portuguese Line Regular 2 bns 1,201 men
Lusitania Legion Veteran 572 men
6 x 6 lb Battery Veteran