Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The French Invasion of 1810, by Harold Gerry, part 1: Wargamer's Newsletter #99 June 1970

Heavily damaged in an unparalleled hurricane, the English Channel Fleet (greatly reduced in numbers) has entered Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham to refit. This will take about 4 weeks.

The French, using what forces they have available on the coast, have decided to carry out an improvised invasion, with the general idea of doing as much damage as possible and, if luck favours them, of forcing England to sue for peace.

Caught unprepared, the French are severely limited as regards transports. They have no idea where the British forces are deployed as a result of the new situation. On the other hand, they will have the initial advantage of having better-trained troops.

French objectives:

a. to capture at least one portion of the Fleet or destroy its dockyard.
b. take London (in which case Government must sue for peace, ceding Kent, Surrey and Sussex to France to be set up as a Southern Confederation Republic).
c. to clear the maximum number of counties of their defending troops, to allow Republican sympathisers to come forward, form volunteer regiments, and set up puppet government centres.

English objectives:

1. to defeat invasion forces.
2. to save the refitting fleet.
3. to hold London

(From earlier attempts at campaigns, it seemed that a vital aim should be to spread the objectives, so that neither side could win unrealistically by simply mass¬ing everything in one area (ignoring everywhere else) and having one huge Leipzig-type battle. Hence the idea of having the English fleet split up and the bait held out to the French in the form of raising Republican regiments. We then built in re¬wards for resting units, and penalties for charging about too far and too continually - a common fault in wargaming campaigns.

The French will have 20 transports initially operating from Brest, 5 in Boulogne and 5 in Dunkirk. Each transport holds 12 infantry figures (480 men) OR 5 cavalry OR 2 field batteries OR 1 siege battery.

The first landings will be assumed to occur on May 1st, 1810, thereafter ship movements will be calculated as 60 miles a day with one day lost either loading or unloading. Beach landings are not possible. Landings must be at recognised harbours, likewise embarkations. French cannot land in the Thames estuary between Harwich and Whitstable exclusive (because of shoals).

Forces available will be those owned at beginning of campaign by the players. In addition, both sides are assumed to be well supplied with engineers except in yeomanry-only armies, and each side will have 2 siege batteries (not replaceable) positions of which and movements of which will have to be specified initially. Also any corps of more than 200 figures of all arms will be assumed to have basic bridging.

1 figure = 40 men. Regulars initially - French 1,000+; British 750+.

Naval warfare will be disregarded for the four-week period. At the end of this, if the English have two fleets ready in undamaged dockyards (the 3 dockyards are fortified and cannot be taken by direct assault) rules will be agreed regarding poss¬ible actions at sea taking into account the weather, etc. It is assumed that the available French fleet is sufficient to defeat one section only of the English
Suggested Movement Procedure: (12-hr, day).

Movement 3 miles per hour on roads (only roads marked red existed in 1810), half-speed across country. Siege trains 2 miles per hour.

For each county they occupy (territory behind their front line, at least ⅔ of way across country) the French can also raise one regiment of Republican Volunteers. 2 dice, 1½ points.

The English can have one yeomanry regiment (infantry or cavalry) per county. These will require over a day to assemble and equip, SO can only start out on the morning of the second day of the campaign.


After any battle, three-quarters of the casualties return to colours next morning.

One quarter of losers casualties are prisoners, and permanently lost, if the winner outnumbers loser more than 5 to 3 in cavalry points.

Apart from prisoners, all casualties are replaced automatically if a unit is rested for 2 weeks in camp or billets.

Movement in excess of an average of 18 miles a day will require 1 halt day after every 3.

Any unit moving for more than 8 hours in any one day will drop to ⅔ speed if in action in the next 24 hours.

Magazines and Communications.

British will be based OD magazines (for powder and shot etc., food being no problem in S. England) at Colchester, Bedford, Maidstone, Aldershot, Salisbury, Taunton, Plymouth, Gloucester. Armies can operate up to 50 miles from a magazine, so the loss of any of these will mean the withdrawal of the army based thereon from the area affected.

The French will be based on their initial captured bases, and will establish magazines as they move inland, each to cover a forward area of about 50 miles.

Raids against communications (bridges etc.,) can be disregarded, although players who are ahead of schedule on their main battles and have to wait until actions are fought in other parts of the country can blow-up actions against outposts, crossroads into table battles on almost a man-for-man basis. The only parts of lines of communication which will have to have a. specific garrison allotted (besides magazines of course) are pontoon bridges over very wide rivers such as the Thames below Oxford or the Severn below Worcester.


As both sides will be supplied with news from informers, players should notify their opponent in advance of the forces likely to be acting against him in that area. To represent layman's exaggeration, he may exaggerate +25% or under-estimate by up to -25% if he wishes.

Fortifications and sieges

Localities can be fortified with a redoubt every ½ mile plus linking entrenchments at the following rate: 1 day per 250 yard frontage.

To avoid siege complications, it can be assumed that a garrison in fortifications can hold off up to twice its strength in attackers indefinitely. Both sides can be assumed to have a supply of light cannon (for defensive use in redoubts etc) which need not be deducted from the army's artillery numbers. Garrison should be at least 1 man per 2 yds of frontage.

Siege battery can destroy 1 redoubt and 100yds trench/glacis at each side in 3 days. The fortified town is then summoned. Defender can elect to march away with honours of war to own territory. If he does not, attacks on breach can be represented by each side throwing 1 dice per infantry battalion or cavalry regiment or field/siege battery. Side with highest total on all dice wins. Attackers losing throw twice in succession raise the siege. Defenders losing once are made prisoner.

Fortifications can be destroyed at the sane rate as they are built.

The initial stage of the French invasion of Britain was not at all the British expected it to be. Instead of one, or maybe two massive landings, the French landed four very small forces and only one medium-sized army, the latter at Lyme Regis. Three forces landed along the Welsh coast of the Bristol Channel , and it is convenient to discuss these first, as their activities were over on day 5.

A Dragoon regiment was split to land half at Pembroke harbour and half at Swansea with the aim of sweeping quickly through the nearest counties and raising rebel regi¬ments. At Pembroke the Dragoons, on emerging from the harbour area in the afternoon when they had partly rested their horses after the sea crossing, ran into the local militia cavalry regiment, which had been ordered to muster at that very town A sharp fight followed for half an hour, the better French training carrying all before it at first, but in the end succumbing to sheer numbers. 120 unwounded men out of 200 managed to regain their ships, to return to France.

The Swansea ½ regiment of French swept inland but had similar bad luck, their line of march taking them into the scouting area of a militia force assembling at Llandovery, and the militia set off in pursuit as the French fled towards Monmouth to try and rejoin the main landing under Marshal Augereau, due to reach Monmouth about that time. So the Dragoons were unable to halt and raise the local Republicans effectively. Glamorgan rebels did begin to muster, but these were overwhelmed by the pursuing militia without a fight, and sent to prison camps at St. Kilda.

However, the Swansea French did succeed in reaching Monmouth, and with these 200 cavalry and his own 960 infantry and two batteries Augereau took up a good position just north of Monmouth in the afternoon of May 5th to try and hold off an army of 800 cavalry (militia) and 2,880 militia infantry which were reported advancing down from Ross on Wye. For unwittingly, the Paris staff had sent Augereau exactly in the direction of the most effective militia concentration in the West Midlands, which was complete by May 4th just as Augereau was approaching.

The French batteries and infantry deployed on the end of a steep ridge which ex¬tended roughly West-East to about ¾ mile from the river Wye, the cavalry in reserve. The English infantry had to advance over open country at first, and the batteries in half an hour had killed or wounded 280 men, with no loss to the French, as the militia had no cannon. But Augereau then began to be apprehensive about a turning moving further along the ridge by the English cavalry, and swung one battery and much of his infantry to face these. So just at the point when they might have been deluged with grape, the militia were able to climb the slopes with quite tolerable losses. The militia cavalry swung round behind the French, and Augereau decided the ridge was untenable. The French fought well, but the militia infantry, wisely keeping at long range, used their indifferent musketry to steady effect. The French cavalry were routed towards Monmouth by the militia cavalry, but the batteries beat off the latter before losing half their gunners to the militia infantry. One French battalion struggled back into Monmouth, the remaining gunners abandoning their guns as the English swept in behind them. English cavalry blocked the South end of the streets, infantry came in from the North, and French resistance came to an end. Augereau escaped with some officers and got away from the coast in a fishing boat, but all his army was captured or killed. The main action lasted 1½ hours.Two standards and two batteries fell into the hands of the English.

In Cornwall, a French force of about 1,800 men of all arms landed at Falmouth, and moved across Cornwall unhindered, raised a Republican regiment at Launceston on May 5th, and moved onwards towards Tavistock on May 6th, joined by the half-regiment of cavalry which had managed to escape from Pembroke some days earlier. Launceston was set up as a magazine for further penetration into Devon, and fortification begun. A messenger got through from Ney's force retiring from Taunton to Exeter, to say they were hoping to hold Exeter long enough to allow the Falmouth force to do what they wished in Devon.

This possible stroke of luck for the Falmouth force had come about as follows: a main force of 4,800 infantry, 1,300 cavalry and 24 guns under Marshal Ney had land¬ed at Lyme Regis at dawn on the 1st May, and pushed inland rapidly next day, to find their way to Taunton blocked (about 4 miles from that town), by an English army of about the same size although including both Guard and militia units, in an awkward position at Hatch Beauchamp where some woods straddled the road. In Ney's absence owing to illness (brought on by squabbling with his Saxon corps commander von Munchausen), on the morning of May 3rd von Munchausen led his force in a flanking march against the extreme right of the English position. The English hastily brought their centre and left through and behind the woods, but in the meanwhile lost a third of their batteries under skillfully concentrated counter-battery fire from the Saxon guns. Now outgunned by 2 to 1, the English decided to draw back about ¾ mile and await the arrival of a flying column sent from Salisbury to assist the Taunton force, and which was already within 5 miles. Casualties amounted to about 800 each, including 200 dead. On the arrival of this force in his rear, von Munchausen led his troops across to the main Taunton-Exeter road through Wellington, where they halted until dawn on May 4th. The English pursuit did not overtake them on May 4th either, and the French/ Saxons reached the eastern edge of Exeter in the late afternoon.

(It should be interposed here that this French force was originally intended to march north from Taunton and link up with a landing at Avonmouth which took place on May 3rd. Of course this proved impossible owing to the way in which the French were heavily outnumbered in the Taunton area, and the Avonmouth force, unsupported, failed to establish any permanent bridge head. The day after they landed, some militia regiments were due to march through Bristol on their way South, and these pushed the one French regiment back into Avonmouth and then with great determination broke through the French entrenchments round the village, taking about 800 casualties. The French kept back much of their force in the streets for counter-attacks instead of manning the trenches fully, and the militia were able to outshoot the units in the trenches and make them break. One battalion of the French barricaded themselves in the docks and held out until dawn on May 7th when, no ships appearing from France, they embarked on some of the local vessels and made their way down the coast to Falmouth after vainly trying to contact French units in Wales. They reached Falmouth on May 10th. Losses (killed only) 120 men out of the 960).

The further instalments of this series will appear here in due course.

Those interested in campaign systems for the Napoleonic period may be interested in following Paul Leniston's
Napoleonic Wargaming blog.

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