As in a bad sequel, the once defeated and exiled Napoleon Bonaparte has once again seized power and disturbed the peace of Europe. Surrounded by enemies closing in on France and naturally inclined to the attack, the Emperor of the French has taken the bulk of his forces on a lightning attack into Belgium, driving a wedge between the allied armies of Prussia and a British led coalition army. Both have been defeated, but the war is far from over as two days later all three armies close in on some fields just south of Waterloo.
Further in the tradition of bad movies, the bad guys (aka the French) outnumber the stalwart redcoat defenders who have pledged to defend their ridge until the “cavalry” (the Prussian army) can come to their aid. For the emperor, the time to strike is now or never.
Seeing red (pun intended), Napoleon has forsaken all the fine art of maneuver that history has later made his hallmark and gone for the full-frontal assault. D’Erlon’s I Corps is just the type of blunt instrument the emperor needs.
The French objective is to capture a portion of the ridge for subsequent cavalry and infantry formations. This has to be accomplished within 8 turns. A secondary objective is to capture the fortified farm of La Haye Sainte, which threatens the flanks of any advancing formations and provides a good firebase onto the ridge.
Order of battle French:
Charlet’s brigade: 4 line battalions
Bourgeois’ brigade: 4 line battalions
Schmitz’s brigade: 3 légère battalions, 2 line battalions
Aulard’s brigade: 4 line battalions
Traver’s brigade (elements of 13th cavalry division): 2 regiments of cuirassiers
Grande battery: 8 batteries (immobile during the game)
Order of battle Allied:
Ompteda’s brigade (KGL): 2 line battalions, 1 light battalion, 1 battery
Kempt’s brigade: 3 line battalions, 2 rifle companies (small), 1 battery
Bylandt’s brigade (Dutch militia): 3 line battalions
Pack’s brigade: 4 line battalions, 1 battery
Ponsonby’s brigade: 2 dragoon regiments (reserves on turn 4)
Somerset’s brigade: 2 guard dragoon regiments (small) (reserves from turn 2 onward)
Best’s brigade (Hanoverian): 4 line battalions (reserves on turn 4)
The British were set up similarly to the actual battle, with all three batteries and the dutch militia on the ridge and the rest of the forces kept in reserve just behind this. The riflemen from Kempt’s brigade were in forward positions and the KGL light battalion was occupying La Haye Sainte. Somerset’s dragoons would be arriving from the north-west corner any time from turn 2 onward, Ponsonby’s dragoons from the north on turn 4 and Best’s brigade from the north-east corner on turn 4.
The French artillery was on a hill slightly forward of their infantry. The infantry were in attack columns lined up along the whole front. The main strength was on the French left nearby La Haye Sainte. Here battalions were lined up in two waves with the légère battalions in skirmish order screening the advance. Aulard’s brigade on the right was the only section of the line where the battalions were only in one line and without a separate skirmish screen, they were deployed in mixed order with the battalions’ own voltigeurs up front. The cuirassiers were the only formations deployed to the left of La Haye Sainte – intent on securing the flank.
The battlefield can be seen from the north-east corner in the picture below. The French are attacking from the south.
The French left:
The thunderous roar of the grande battérie paused only for a moment, before the air was filled with the sound of hundreds of drums pacing the advance of thousands of feet. The attack had begun. The attack was well coordinated and determined as every French infantry brigade managed to roll three commands. The four battalions of Charlet’s brigade started the show by assaulting La Haye Sainte. Meanwhile the whole line advanced towards the ridge in the cover of their skirmish screen. D’Erlon himself led the attack, giving a combined order to numerous brigades in order to ensure the line wouldn’t break up.
Shooting was quite ineffective with the French artillery concentrating on counter-battery fire, disordering one battery and the skirmishers harassing the riflemen to their front. The British return fire was equally ineffective. The first assault on La Haye Sainte was repulsed, but the second wave made some headway and set the farmhouse on fire. (We played the farmhouse as a standard building but if the attackers won, the defenders morale and static building bonus would drop by one. On the other hand, the defenders would pass their first break test automatically).
The French left:
Turn 2 saw the French commit two more battalions from Schmitz’s brigade to attacking the farmhouse from the east (a combined 6 battalions vs. 1!). Bourgeois’ brigade in the center was ordered to assault the Dutch militia on the center, but delays in transmitting orders and difficult terrain resulted in a slow advance to within musket range. Sensing this hesitancy, Aulard’s brigade (on the far right of the French line) was commanded to conduct the assault instead of simply providing support and protecting the flank as originally intended. Shooting continued to be ineffective, though the British artillery continued to sustain damage from the légère battalions and French artillery.
The assaults were a mixed success, with the defenders of La Haye Sainte being routed and the farmhouse captured. On the other hand the Dutch militia proved a tough prospect for the overconfident French, who were forced to retire in disorder.
The second British turn saw mainly static firing on the advancing French, although Ompteda’s brigade (right) and Somerset’s cavalry brigade (which entered the table from the north-west corner) advanced onto the ridge on the British right. Some battalions from Pack’s brigade on the British left also moved onto the ridge and opened fire on the French. The firing caused some damage particularly on the French right (Aulard’s brigade).
The following French turn saw a renewed assault with even more vigor. This time Bourgeois’ brigade (center) managed to close with the enemy in a dense formation, while Aulard’s brigade (right) was complacent in supporting this assault and liking its wounds (disorders from previous turn and some rallying from damage caused). Charlot’s and Schmitz’s brigades on the French left now resumed the advance on the ridge, leaving behind a mauled up battalion to hold the farmhouse. The skirmish screen of légère battalions engaged the enemy by assaulting the forward rifle company and engaging the British artillery in a close range firefight. The cuirassiers were ordered to engage the advancing British dragoons, but failed to engage.
Attack on the Dutch militia by Bourgeois’ brigade (with Aulard’s battalions supporting and on the left and rear of the picture).
The British right:
Close-range skirmish fire proved deadly and the British artillery was neutralized.
The légère also proved their worth in the assault, routing the pesky and annoying 95th rifles defending the sandpit while at the same time screening the main force:
The cuirassiers failed to engage:
On turns 3-4 Bourgeois’ brigade (center right) finally manages to rout the Dutch militia and a battalion of Aulard’s brigade (right) charges and routs the British battery protecting the flank. Pack’s brigade makes a furious counter-attack on the British left though, driving back one battalion and badly mauling another:
The guard dragoons on the British right seize the initiative and charge the cuirassiers, who are caught wrong footed. The 4th regiment of cuirassiers are routed in what is a thoroughly shameful performance.
On turns 4-5 the swirling cavalry mêlée escalates as the infantry are drawn in. The second regiment of French cuirassiers charged the infantry of Ompteda’s brigade and forced them into a square, thereby protecting La Haye Sainte from attack and giving an excellent target for the French artillery. Shortly afterwards the British cavalry counter-charged only to be decimated by the furious French.
Meanwhile Best’s Hanoverian brigade arrived from reserve on the British left. With great precision they took up positions to counter-attack the strung-out French right, which was already in a very bad shape.
Turn 4 also saw the French make even more headway on the ridge, only to witness Ponsonby’s cavalry reserve enter the field.
On the French left the cuirassiers finally clear the field of the British cavalry while Charlet’s and Schultz’s brigades get properly stuck in. The British line on this flank was now perilously thin:
While two French battalions charged a lone battalion from Kempt’s brigade on the French left, the légère opened up on Ponsonby’s cavalry. The fire disordered the 6th dragoons two turns in a row and thereby prevented them from charging:
The center of the field was a mass of chaos with a furious firefight between the two armies and several French columns in strong positions on the ridge. The British cavalry was a serious problem for any further actions though:
The Scots Greys wasted no time in assaulting the French who formed a battalion square (which held out for 4-5 rounds of combat!).
To the shock and horror of the French, the assault on the central-left portion of the ridge takes a horrible turn when the two battalions assaulting the British lose a round of combat and both rout, taking with them a third battalion of légère. Mon dieu! (fortunately the French still had reserves)
The Hanoverians on the British left got stuck in and began to drive back the French, who were hanging on by tooth and nail (virtually all four battalions of Aulard’s brigade were shaken or disordered each turn with frantic efforts to rally the battalions going on).
Furious fighting for the central portion of the ridge:
With the help of the cuirassiers and the remaining battalions of the reserve the last British defenders are mopped up on their right flank:
On the British left the French are driven back ever further:
The 6th dragoons also managed to close in on the French, whose central position was becoming ever more untenable with the pressure of this assault and the disintegration of their right flank:
Final position on the French right – a lost cause:
But La Haye Sainte and the left flank portion of the ridge was firmly in the hands of the French:
We called this a marginal French victory, with a sufficient though small bridgehead achieved in the vicinity and cover of the now French controlled La Haye Sainte.
This was a fun game not only thanks to a great and sporting opponent, but also due to the greatly adapted and thought out scenario and the attention to historical detail (though we didn’t constrain ourselves to simulating a historical event). The game played out nicely with different outcomes in various sectors of the battlefield that also nicely affected each other (particularly with the use and redirection of reserves).
The game wasn’t an example of the finer tactics with the French essentially bludgeoning their way onto the ridge, but this didn’t make it any less fun. The game also included memorable events such as a “rally” command on the desperate French right going horribly wrong with the battalion conveniently misunderstanding (blunder) the general’s commands as an all-out retreat.
We also tried out some of the new rules from the BP supplements Albion Triumphant 1 and 2, which worked out nicely and didn’t bog the game down.
Lessons learned include using hills that are easier for game play the next time we play a scenario centered on fighting on and around hills.
Thanks to Antti for a well adapted and researched scenario and for making a great model of La Haye Sainte farm.