Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gebora, 1811 using General de Brigade

Last week, we abandoned the attic (too damned hot here in Virginia) to set up a 12' x 5' table in the garage to refight one of the small actions of the Peninsular War, the Battle of the Gebora. The action at the Gebora river (alternatively spelled as "Gevora") was an attempt by Marshal Soult to knock out a Spanish army that threatened the ongoing French siege of Badajoz.

The game also gave me a chance to use my recent redoubt purchases from Battlefield Terrain Concepts.

Historical Background

Wellington's British and Portuguese forces had recently barricaded themselves behind the Lines of Torres Vedras in front of Massena's French army. A stalemate occurred, which Massena's forces could not tolerate for long due to supply concerns. In order to relieve the pressure on Massena, Marshal Soult led a large force, primarily made up of units of the Army of the South, to lay siege on the fortified town of Badajoz. Badajoz was located in the Spanish region of Extremadura, reasonably close to Wellington's position. A Spanish army under La Romana was dispatched to raise the siege. While enroute, La Romana died and command passed to General Mendizabal. The Spanish force camped to the left of Badajoz upon the heights of San Cristobal. Unfortunately for the Spanish, no attempt was made to entrench and fortify this strong position.

On the morning of February 19th, 1811, Soult tasked Marshal Mortier with a surprise attack across the Gebora river and against the Spanish position on the heights. Using heavy fog as an advantage, French infantry under General de Division Girard and 2 brigades of cavalry under General de Division Latour-Mauborg crossed the river and surprised the sparse Spanish pickets.

Mendizabal's Spanish were unprepared for a defense and found themselves aggressively attacked by 9 battalions of French infantry of the ligne. Latour-Mauborg attacked the Spanish/Portuguese cavalry located on the Spanish left flank and sent French hussars and chasseurs to envelop the infantry on the heights. The Spanish and Portuguese cavalry literally melted away and the Spanish infantry found themselves flanked by light cavalry and threatened frontally by the French infantry. Forming brigade squares in order to protect themselves from the cavalry, the Spanish infantry were ripe targets for the French infantry and 2 horse batteries. It was a disaster for the Spanish.

7,000 French literally destroyed the Spanish force of approximately 12,000. The Spanish suffered approximately 1,000 battle casualties but 4,000 men were also taken prisoner. The French incurred about 400 total casualties.

The relief of Badajoz failed and Soult continued to besiege the town. The Battle of the Gebora River was a typical example of French superiority over the Spanish in a pitched battle.

The table-top battle

Using the rules General de Brigade at a 20:1 figure scale was a minor challenge, not because of the number of required figures, but due to the ground scale. The Spanish historically occupied a position 2 miles in length. A large table of 12' x5' was required. House rules needed to be implemented to account for the effects of the heavy fog as well.

The San Cristobal heights are located on the right side in this picture

View from the Spanish position towards the Gebora river

Another angle of the table from the southeast corner of the table

House rules

The entry points onto the table-top were randomized for the French. (A die was rolled  for each French infantry brigade). Coordination in the heavy fog was considered to be difficult. Visibility in Turn 1 was considered to be 250 yards, 350 yards in Turn 2, and 450 yards in Turn 3. Beginning on Turn 4, the effects of the fog were considered to be minimal.

Spanish command and control was also assumed to be a challenge historically. Due to the deployment over a 2 mile front and heavy fog shielding the exact direction of the French advance, the Spanish were restricted to changing brigade orders only when Mendizabal (or each independent brigade commander) was able to actually see the French force. In addition, each Spanish infantry and cavalry brigade were limited to Hold orders on Turn 1.

Wellington recommended strongly that the Spanish, upon occupying the San Cristobal heights, entrench and fortify the position. Mendizabal promptly ignored this wise advice. For our scenario, it is assumed that the Spanish artillery are placed in redoubts with a -2 cover modifier.

The Game

After rolling for French randomized entry, Mortier's strategy was to utilize Tactical Marches in order to advance upon the Spanish quickly. If given time, the Spanish might be able to bring their superior numbers to bear. The French plan was to mirror the historical tactics and launch a lightning strike onto the San Cristobal heights.

With fog still shielding the French advance, the Spanish were literally fixed in position without the ability to change any brigade orders. Cavalry was able  to counter-charge though, and Spanish infantry and artillery could maneuver to defend the deployment area.

Spanish infantry and artillery on the San Cristobal heights

Another view of the Spanish position

The Spanish right flank, away from the French advance

Spanish cavalry await the French attack

Phillopon's brigade enters the table-top

French cavalry under Latour-Mauborg advance against Spanish horsemen

By Turn 2, the French cavalry was visible to the Spanish cavalry brigades, but order changes by each brigade commander were unsuccessful. The French continued to advance. By Turn 3, the cavalry were engaged and the Portuguese rolled well and activated an Assault order.

French and Spanish/Portuguese cavalry begin to engage each other

The cavalry lines clashed and the Portuguese Dragoons proved stubborn, winning the first 2 charges. The Spanish horse underperformed though and the French cavalry smelled victory. Latour-Mauborg, by this time, felt that des Eclat's Dragoon brigade was more than capable of defeating the allied cavalry, redirecting Briche's light horsemen against the extreme left flank of the Spanish infantry on the heights. Meanwhile, Girard's infantry steadily advanced against the heights and utilized the horse batteries to punish the Spaniards on top of the heights. As predicted, the Spanish had major command and control issues and continued to be fixed in place.

French infantry advance !

As if responding to a bugle call, all of the allied cavalry began to lose every engagement and melt away ( mirroring the historical result). After an optimistic start, the Spanish and Portuguese horsemen proved to be totally outclassed by the professional French cavalry. The Spanish, and then the Portuguese, eventually failed Brigade Morale rolls and then there were none. The French hussars and chasseurs, by this time, were threatening the Spanish infantry, forcing at least one battalion into square formation.

The Spanish left flank begins to crumble

At the end of Turn 9, as the allied cavalry fled the field, the French infantry charged headlong into the Spanish infantry. Surprisingly, the Spanish proved to be stubborn and threw the French infantry back with strong vollies of musketry. 

The climax of the infantry battle, as the Spanish proved amazingly stubborn

Admirable as the Spanish infantry stand was, with the collapse of the cavalry, the allied force had reached its Falter point of 25% and had to roll for Army Morale at the end of Turn 9. Mendizabal, in miserable fashion, failed his roll and the Spanish retreated off of the field.

Admittedly a tough scenario for the Spanish, the allied infantry superiority could never be brought to bear against the smaller French forces. This allowed Mortier to target the location of the attack....with great effect. Part of the secret for French success was the aggressive decision to attack quickly. If given time, the Spanish could get some brigade orders changed and actually advance downhill to engulf the French (this actually happened in the second playing of the scenario). The French player must be very aggressive and never hesitate.

Fun scenario. The game also boasted accurate results when compared to the historical outcome. As usual, General de Brigade proved to be an excellent rules system for a scenario of this size. Final approximate casualties were 1,000 Spanish/Portuguese and about 250 French losses.

If a more balanced scenario is sought, increasing the Spanish command and control capability should give the intended result. The effect of the fog also hamstrung the Spanish capability to change orders effectively.

Orders of Battle


Marshal Mortier     CIC     Excellent

General de Division Girard         Average

General de Brigade Phillopon     Average
   1/34th Ligne      24 figs       Line
   2/34th Ligne      24 figs       Line
   3/34th Ligne      24 figs       Line
   1/88th Ligne      24 figs       Line
   2/88th Ligne      24 figs       Line
   3/88th Ligne      24 figs       Line
12 Skirmishers    First Class  / Line

General de Brigade Gaud          Average
   1/100th Ligne    24 figs       Line
   2/100th Ligne    24 figs       Line
   3/100th Ligne    20 figs       2nd Line
6 Skirmishers      First Class / Line

Colonel A'levant                        Average
    6 lb Artillerie a Cheval    3 gun stands     Veteran
    6 lb Artillerie a Cheval    3 gun stands     Veteran

General de Division Latour-Mauborg          Excellent

General de Brigade Briche        Average
    10th Hussars      16 figs     Veteran
    21st Chasseurs a Cheval     16 figs    Line
    27th Chasseurs a Cheval     16 figs    Line
     4th  Juramentados               16 figs    Conscript

General de Brigade des Eclats    Average
    4th Dragoons     14 figs       Line
   14th Dragoons    14 figs       Line
   26th Dragoons    16 figs       Line
    2nd Hussars       16 figs       Veteran


General Mendizabal       CIC    Poor

Brigade General Espana      Average
    Union bn           30 figs             Line
    Principe bn        30 figs             2nd Line
    del General bn    30 figs            2nd Line
    1/Tiradores de Castillo bn      24 figs      Conscript
    2/Tiradores de Castillo bn      24 figs      Conscript
    Cataluna bn        30 figs            2nd Line
    6 lb Artilleria Pie     3 gun stands       Line     (2nd Class)
12 Skirmishers       2nd Class / 2nd Line

Brigade General Garcia        Poor
    Rey bn               30 figs             Line
    Leon bn             24 figs             2nd Line
    Barcelona bn     24 figs             2nd Line
    Sevilla bn          30 figs             2nd Line
    6 lb Artilleria Pie     3 gun stands     Line      (2nd Class)
9 Skirmishers        2nd Class / 2nd Line

Brigade General Virues        Average
    Princesa bn        30 figs              Line
    Hibernia bn        24 figs             2nd Line
    Zamora bn         24 figs             2nd Line
    Toledo bn          30 figs             Conscript  
    Voluntarios de Navarro      30 figs      Conscript   (Levies)
9 Skirmishers        2nd Class / 2nd Line

Cavalry Brigade General Boutron       Poor
    Carabineros      (Dragoons)     20 figs      Conscript
    Reina Dragoons (Dragoons)    18 figs      Conscript
    Algarve Dragoons (Dragoons)   18 figs    Conscript
    Hussars Extremadura  (Light)    16 figs    2nd Line

Cavalry Brigade General Madden      Average
    3rd Portuguese Dragoons (Dragoons)     18 figs    Conscript
    5th Portuguese Dragoons (Dragoons)      18 figs   Conscript

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