Saturday, October 12, 2019

Vimeiro, 1808 Using Carnage and Glory 2

Recently, our group of Carnage and Glory enthusiasts gathered in Newport News, Virginia to fight out Wellesley's first victory on the Iberian Peninsula, Vimeiro (August 21st, 1808). Vimeiro holds a special fascination for me personally, not only as the future Duke of Wellington's first victory, but because of all the potential "what-ifs" of the campaign.

We used the Carnage and Glory 2 computer-moderated Napoleonic system and, as usual, it perfectly simulated our tabletop action. Actually, the final result almost mirrored the historical result, even with a couple of  twists that I threw into the scenario.

British infantry advancing on the field of Vimeiro

Historical Background: In order to enforce Napoleon Bonaparte's Continental system and an embargo of British products and goods, the French Emperor decided to focus on Portugal, a staunch British ally and a nation who routinely ignored the embargo. When threatened with invasion, the Portuguese government did submit to a majority of Bonaparte's demands, but Napoleon ordered the invasion anyway. The Emperor commanded General de Division Jean-Andoche Junot to march over 30,000 troops across Spain into Portugal. Along the way, engineering officers conveniently sketched out every contour and defensive structure in Spain; Napoleon's plans for Spain were also already in motion. 

The march to Portugal was an arduous one through barren country. With only 1,500 half-starved men, Lisbon fell without a shot. While Junot occupied Lisbon and raised the tricolor on December 13th, 1807, he did it without a fight from the Portuguese army, but had to deal with multiple uprisings. Then he settled in to serve as occupying governor and awaited the stragglers of his army to arrive in Lisbon. 

During the occupation, the French had to continuously put down more revolts from the fiery Portuguese. Junot also disbanded the Portuguese army, except for a select few units that were marched to Germany as the "Portuguese Legion." There were also a few remaining Portuguese army units to the north that eventually joined the British. 

On August 1st, 1808, the British under Arthur Wellesley came to the aid of the Portuguese and landed an expeditionary force at Mondego Bay. After taking nearly 8 days to disembark the troops, Wellesley's force marched inland and were met by French General de Division Delaborde at Rolica. Delaborde performed a textbook withdrawal and delayed the British advance. The British declared a victory, but it would be difficult to imagine a more orderly withdrawal under fire by the French. 

On August 15th, Junot set out from Lisbon to meet the British, knowing that a victory against Portugal's revered ally would keep the city quiet. Here is an interesting twist to our scenario. Historically, Junot left 7,000 men in and around the area of Lisbon as a garrison. This action doomed Junot's advance against the British from the start, as his 13,000 troops could never hope to win a battle against 18-20,000 British and Portuguese soldiers. Part of the problem was that the Russian Admiral Simiavin, with a Russian naval squadron offshore, refused to allow up to 5,000 Russian sailors and marines to take up garrison duty in Lisbon so that the French could use all available troops to march against Wellesley. The reason for this was purely political; although the Russians were technically allies of the French after the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, Admiral Simiavin refused to take any action against the Portuguese themselves because they were not technically at war with Russia. 

In our scenario, it is assumed that the Russians do comply with garrison duty, which allows Junot to march out with at least parity in numbers when compared to the British. 

The Battle: On August 21st, the French advanced to attack the British, who were deployed in a defensive position in the rough terrain surrounding the villages of Vimeiro and Ventosa. Historically, the outnumbered French attacked aggressively, but with brigades thrown in piecemeal. The French battle plan was unimaginative, focused on frontal attacks (especially around Vimeiro), and was destined to failure. The French were outnumbered and split their force in multiple directions. The British under Wellesley defeated each brigade in turn and used their numerical superiority to counterattack the French. Although most of the terrain was not suitable for cavalry, the British 20th Light Dragoons managed to maul some retreating French infantry before being countered by French Dragoons and withdrawing to safety.

French Dragoons tangle with British Light Dragoons

Junot's force suffered 2,000 casualties as compared to just 700 British and Portuguese losses. It was an overwhelming British victory. But fate stepped in as the battle concluded; waiting offshore on a British warship, General Sir Hew Dalrymple (who was senior in rank) stepped ashore and promptly relieved Wellesley before a proper pursuit could be ordered. 

Instead of smashing the defeated French, Dalrymple and his contingent offered very generous terms to Junot, allowing him and his army to be escorted back to France, even with their arms. These terms brought outrage in London and there was a serious investigation. For Wellesley's part, he argued fruitlessly against these terms, but was superseded by Dalrymple. Thus, the Convention of Cintra was finalized. Portugal was in British hands. 

Our Battle:  The British were allowed to deploy first up to a line from Vimeiro across to Ventosa. The French, primarily due to a superiority in scouting (due to the 2,000 cavalry that Junot was able to gather), then deployed according to preplanned positions facing the British. 

 The battlefield, on a 12' x 5' table

The British held 2 brigades in reserve at the rear of the table.  Crawford's and Trant's brigades were marching in on the far northwest corner road. Based on the French deployment, Wellesley had to dictate destinations and objectives for these brigades from the outset. Most of the British force was deployed in and around Vimeiro, taking advantage of the rough terrain that the French had to attack through. Acland's brigade was deployed to the rear right flank, as there was a chance that the French could deploy on the southern table edge.  Ventosa was held by 4 British battalions and a battery. The small contingent of British and Portuguese cavalry supported the center between Vimeiro and Ventosa (along with a couple of British units and a battery). 

View from the French left flank facing Vimeiro

The French plan centered on Vimeiro as the primary objective (worth 10 victory points), while a rapid advance was to be made by Delaborde's division against Ventosa in the hope of pulling most of the British reserves to this sector. St. Clair's grenadier brigade was held in reserve off-table in the hope of eventually storming and taking Vimeiro. The cavalry brigades under Marjoram supported both Loison and Delaborde's flanks in the center, as that was the only decent cavalry ground on the battlefield.

View from the French center and part of Delaborde's division on the right

The battle commenced with a general advance by Loison's division on the units supporting Vimeiro. Delaborde's troops aimed for an empty gap in the British line on the ridge between Vimeiro and Ventosa. To slow down Delaborde's advance, the British 20th Light Dragoons attempted to charge Delaborde's infantry, but was countered by French Dragoons supporting this infantry. The British cavalry was defeated and headed towards the rear. 

A strong British position at Ventosa

Meanwhile, Crawford's British brigade appeared on the northwest corner road and aimed for the gap between Vimeiro and Ventosa. Trant's Portuguese brigade began to march to the left of Ventosa . The battle continued for several turns, with both sides taking casualties. In particular, the skirmishers of the 95th and 60th Rifles caused alarming casualties on both the French infantry and the French combined battery that was attempting to shell Vimeiro. French morale amongst the guns began to drop. Fatigue was setting in on both sides. 

British and Portuguese commanders pondering their next move

The Portuguese had deployed in lines on the left of Ventosa. Meanwhile, Acland's brigade had been activated to advance onto the French left flank, threatening the main push onto Vimeiro. Delaborde had arrived at the top of the ridge between Vimeiro and Ventosa, which the British would have to now attack to support their center. But seeing an easy target of Portuguese conscripts on the far British left flank, Delaborde began to advance to attack these troops and Ventosa. Here's where the turning point of the battle took place. The Portuguese recruits not only held their ground, but launched powerful vollies of lead into the French attempting to climb the steep hill. Couple this with heavy casualties on Delaborde's men in front of and to the right of Ventosa, and the French were wavering in this sector. 

Loison's troops were also faltering in the heavy terrain around Vimeiro. Fresh British troops began to arrive as Wellesley skillfully deployed his reserves in just the right spots. The irritating Rifles were eventually forced out of their positions by French infantry and cavalry, but the effect they had on the general advance was devastating. 

 British troops holding Vimeiro

Another view of the French advance against Vimeiro

British guns and infantry defending the right flank around Ventosa

As the battle shifted towards the British, orders were sent to St. Clair's grenadier brigade for a last-ditch attack on Vimeiro. As the couriers galloped, the battle raged on. Delaborde's troops in front of Ventosa were now in retreat, although the British and Portuguese had also taken heavy casualties and were not able to follow up.  The battle for Vimeiro raged on, now with the French left flank beginning to retire in front of Acland's brigade.

With drums beating, the grenadiers of St. Clair's brigade advanced onto the tabletop. With great elan, the grenadiers threw themselves onto Vimeiro…….only to be halted by deadly British fire. Redeploying into line, the grenadiers' advance was stopped, and the French commanders knew the battle was lost. 

The attack of the French grenadiers was halted

Stunned with the results, the French had to grudgingly retreat. The British had held, punished the French attack, and held onto the geographic objectives. After walking wounded were reassessed the following day, the computer concluded that there were 3,119 French casualties to just 663 British and Portuguese. It was a Major British Victory !

The Carnage and Glory 2 system was magnificent, as usual. The keys to the battle were the outstanding deployment of British reserves, while the true heroes of the fight included the 95th and 60th Rifles as well as Trant's Portuguese brigade. These conscripts held firm and surprisingly threw the French veterans back. 

A great time was had by all.  The players made great decisions and although the French plan was slightly different from Junot's plan in 1808, the historical results were eerily similar. 


  1. This is great looking game! Vimeiro is a battle I have fought more than any other Napoleonic battle. Still waiting to see my first French victory.