Saturday, 18 July 2009

At the Colonel's Table, Part 3: by Don Houghton, Wargamer's Newsletter 90 September1969

The second campaign at the Colonel's Wargame table was to be a much more grandiose affair. This time we would fight a full scale battle - not just a Brigade skirmish, as he was pleased to put it. (Readers may recall that the 'Brigade skirmish', my first encounter with the Colonel, ended in my complete rout and the decimation, amongst other casualties, of a battalion of the 16th Regiment of Food, the Bedfordshires!). I shuddered to think what might happen to any Corps under my command under similar circumstances.

During the week, I received, by post, a most impressive map and a set of detailed instructions. The Colonel is always very interested in the 'character' of any specific battle. By this he means whether it is to be a Waterloo-type fight, an Austerlitz-type, a Peninsula-type or whatever. He then very carefully designs the terrain to meet these specifications. On this particular Sunday, we were to fight a fictitious Peninsula-type battle. However, there was a certain freedom of choice in regards to the troops involved. The Commanders could pick any units of their respective armies that fought up to the end of Waterloo. This rather confounds the purists, but does allow for more scope and imagination in planning the battle. Each Commander forms his Corps on a point system (specific point-values being allotted to various units) and he can favour a preponderance of Infantry, Cavalry or Artillery as he wishes.

Once more chance dictated that I should command the British Forces. The instructions outlined my task very clearly. It was assumed that I was engaged in a fighting retreat towards Corunna. I had to get my Corps through a valley road that led to the sea and safety. However, the Colonel's French troops had somehow managed to get round to the front of me and lay between my Corps and my destination. I had sixteen game moves to get my forces passed him.

Map detail: (as illustrated) Corunna lies to the N.E. A fairly straight road from the S.W. corner leads up to the N.E. In the centre of the fictitious battlefield there is a bridge crossing the Golondrina River. The river flows from the S.E. corner and off into a due North direction after the bridge. The Golondrina is fordable in three places, one spot north of the bridge and two south of it. The tiny hamlet of Filomela nestles about the bridge. On the western side, close to the British base line, are the lower slopes of Monte Petirrojo. To the east are the Heights of El Gavilan.

Order of Battle. We chose the following troops:

British Corps:

Two Battalions of Line Infantry (22nd and 55th of Foot).
One Highland Battalion (92nd of Foot).
One Guards Battalion (Coldstream) .
Two Companies of the 95th (Rifle Regiment) as skirmishers.
Three Companies of Royal Marines (as Light Infantry).
Two Regiments of Light Cavalry (one Hussar, one Light Dragoon) .
Two Regiments of Heavy Cavalry (Royal Scots Greys and 1st (Kings) Dragoon Guards).
Six Batteries Royal Horse Artillery.

French Corps:

Two Battalions of Line Infantry (42nd and 49th of Foot).
One Battalion of Chasseur de Montagne.
One Battalion of the Imperial Guard.
Two Companies of Voltigeurs as skirmishers.
Three Regiments of Light Cavalry (Polish Lancers, Hussars and Chasseurs a Cheval).
Three Regiments of Heavy Cavalry (Two of Cuirassiers and one of the Empresses Dragoon Guards).
Three Batteries of Field Artillery.

It is immediately apparent that the Colonel favoured his Cavalry arm, whilst I, remembering the disastrous effects of his Artillery in the last campaign, leaned to¬wards the guns. But in my dash to the north east I wanted to be able to move them quickly, so I chose Horse Artillery. When I first saw his Order of Battle I congratulated myself on having no less than six batteries, bearing in mind his awesome display of cavalry. Perhaps I could cut them down before they got in amongst my infantry. Perhaps....

I arrived at the Colonel's home at about eleven in the morning. Politely, but very definitely, I refused his offer of a stiff whisky before we crossed swords. I wanted my head clear and my wits sharp this time. The Colonel was in a rare good humour. He guffawed with monotonous regularity and kept on slapping his thigh with the palm of his hand, as though thumping a cavalry boot with a horse-whip. I took that as a hint. I was going to watch his Cuirassiers with an eagle eye.

The table was a joy to behold. He must have spent nearly the whole week setting 5 up the terrain. The village of Filomela looked tranquil and peaceful as it slumbered .: innocently beside the Golondrina River. The two main heights, El Gavilan and Monte Petirrojo, on either side of the road were massive and brooding. (Students of the Spanish Language will have noticed that the Colonel named all the physical features after species of birds - a strange choice for this hell-fire-and-shrapnel character, I thought). All too soon this gentle panorama would be swarming with men locked in mortal combat - in some ways it was a great pity. In his own way the Colonel was a great artist and builder, odd, therefore, that he should have spent most of his professional career either in battle or preparing for battle.

This time I had brought my own troops and he inspected each unit as I brought it out of my travelling case. He thought they were, in the main, a pretty mouldy lot (and indeed they were, in comparison to his beautifully detailed and painted figures) but he did pass a grudging compliment on my Guards and Highlanders. I only hoped they would do their uniforms justice when it came to the crunch!

His troops were already deployed behind his base line. Mine would appear from the south, the entire Corps arriving during the course of three moves.

The campaign began at twelve noon on the dot. The guffaws and the thigh slapping stopped - but the Colonel did give out with a snort when I won the toss. So to battle.

1 scanned the slopes of Monte Petirrojo and decided to locate no less than three of my six batteries there. Consequently the first of my troops to arrive was the R.H.A., escorted by the Scots Greys. Next I sent my Light Cavalry Brigade full pelt N.E. along the Corunna road, bound for Filomela and the bridge. I badly wanted to secure that position as early as possible. My Riflemen and Marines advanced fairly slowly along the western bank of the river, anxious to command the first fordable area of the river south of the bridge.

For his first move the Colonel seemed to ignore his infantry completely. He sent his Light Cavalry Brigade towards the Heights of El Gavilan. His Heavy Brigade, and I suspect, the pride of his army, he sent immediately to the river bank north west of Filomela and close to the fordable area north of .the bridge. Obviously it was the flanks of my approaching Corps he wanted to threaten. One solitary battery of his artillery followed slowly behind the Light Brigade on to the Heights.

My batteries on Monte Petirrojo began to get into position. I placed them so that they could command the village and its bridge and also cover the northerly threat from the Colonel's Heavy Brigade. The Scots Greys formed up behind the artillery and would remain there to guard the guns in case Monte Petirrojo was assaulted by infantry or cavalry. The downward slope would give them good impetus if they had to charge. I brought up another two batteries to cover the southernmost fordable strip of the river and they took up position behind the Riflemen and Marines. Next I brought in my Guards Battalion, The Coldstreamers would take up a position in the centre of the field just north of my base line and form my main reserve, supported by the 1st Dragoon Guards. In the meantime, my Hussars and Light Dragoons were approaching Filomela rapidly. As for the bulk of my infantry, they would appear in the next move, Highlanders in the van, from the south west along the Corunna road.

I stood back from the table and was well satisfied with my dispositions. But then the Colonel smiled and I had a horrible feeling, in the pit of my stomach, that I was marching into some sort of trap. For the life of me I couldn't yet see what it was.

His Heavy Brigade continued its advance and crossed the river at the northern fordable strip. His Light Brigade gained the Heights of El Gavilan and yet another artillery battery joined them up there. From their position on the slope his Lancers, Hussars and Chasseurs a Cheval were already threatening my own R.H.A. battery, the 6 Riflemen and the Marine skirmishers.

And now came his infantry, uniforms a blaze of colour, eagles glittering in the morning sunlight. They approached in a long, extended line their right flank resting on the lower slopes of El Gavilan and their left hugging the eastern bank of the river. They made a fine and impressive sight. They were, also, an almost impregnable wall laying across the road that would lead me to Corunnal Slowly they moved on to¬wards Filomela - and the first of my forces they would balk would be the.Light Cavalry Brigade attempting to secure the village and the bridge. How the hell could my Hussars and Light Dragoons make any sort of impact on the Colonel's infantry with mass of village houses blocking any chance of a charge? And, anyway, I had nothing at all to support my cavalry. My own infantry was far too far back to help them. Only the Coldstreamers, whom I had hoped to keep in reserve, had any chance of reaching them. So I deployed my Hussars on the left hand side of the road and my Light Dragoons on the right to the south of the village outskirts. For a while there was no chance at all of me securing Filomela.

The Colonel's Cuirassiers wheeled and began to advance due southward. I could see his plan now, with awful, crystal clarity. The mass of his infantry would bear down on me from the centre whilst his two cavalry arms would deliver a right and left hook from the flanks.

And then.... the Colonel's wife asked if we might call a truce for an hour. It was lunchtime - and so great had been our concentration that we hadn't even heard her come into the room. Reluctantly we had to leave the table. Up to this point not a single shot had been exchanged.

I remember I didn't talk very much over that excellent lunch. There was some¬thing nagging at my mind, something about that battlefield and the situation it presented. It was some elusive point that just refused, for the moment, to materialise. The Colonel, too, was a little less exuberant than he had been half an hour ago. Both our thoughts were concentrated on the forces soon to join in battle. The Colonel's wife, sensitive to all moods, remained the quiet and gentle hostess. We had, I recall, a bottle of cold Chablis with the meal - but by the time the cheese came round there was still a good third of the bottle left untouched.

So we went back to the table. I won't bother too much about describing the respective moves in detail. Instead I shall give an outline of the battle as it progressed.

1 comment:

Stryker said...

More great stuff Clive - keep them coming!