Saturday, April 9, 2016

Albuera, May 16, 1811: Part 1, the scenario

Albuera              May 16, 1811

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

Independent commands
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 

Brigade Lardizabal
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

Brigade Loy
Escaudron de Granaderos     Conscript      284 men
Escaudron de Instruccion         Militia            132 men
Provisional de Santiago         Militia          338 men
Husares de Castilla                Militia          411 men

Brigade Penne-Villeur
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

Brigade Long
3rd Dragoon Guards             Guard             374 men
4th Dragoons                        Veteran           387 men
13th Light Dragoons            Veteran           403 men

Division Stewart     Average Command Capability / Normal  Inspiration  

Brigade Colbourne
3rd Foot                     Veteran           755 men
31st Foot                    Veteran           418 men
2/48th Foot                Veteran           452 men
66th Foot                   Veteran           441 men

Brigade Abercrombie
2/28th Foot                Veteran            519 men
2/34th Foot                Veteran            596 men
2/39th Foot                Veteran            482 men

Brigade Houghton
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

Brigade Myers
1/7th Fusiliers             Elite               714 men
2/7th Fusiliers             Elite               568 men
1/23 Royal Welsh Fusiliers        Elite          733 men        

Brigade Harvey
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


  1. I have run this battle three times with different groups and always find it to be a game balanced on a fine knife edge. I look forward to reading how it plays out for you.

    1. Thanks was a very close battle.......very bloody.......I did have the benefit of hindsight though......I advanced Girards infantry in mixed order, which slowed the attack a bit.......we also did not repeat Colbourne's flanking maneuver, so the Vistula Legion was not able to repeat its famous charge......working on the battle report now.