Saturday, July 28, 2018

Foz d'Arouce Post Mortem

British clearing the woods
Foz d'Arouce.  A small village in Portugal of little consequence except for a clash between Wellington and an insubordinate Ney in 1811.  Pursued by Wellington on his retreat from Portugal, Massena ordered Ney to bring his command to the north bank of the Ceira River to join the rest of the French Army and destroy the bridge.  Thinking it too late in the day for a British attack, Ney disobeyed orders and left his command on the south bank of the river.  With the river in flood after heavy rains, Ney put his command in great jeopardy.  When Wellington attacked late in the day, Ney had to scramble to stabilize the situation for which he, alone, was to blame.

In the first fight at Foz d'Arouce, Ney and his French command were handed a serious defeat.  Those Frenchmen not drowned in the swollen river either perished at the hands of the British, laid down their arms in surrender, or routed away to the north bank of the Ceira.  It was a bloody rebuke to Ney's insubordinate actions.  For a reminder of the first combat at FdA, please see, BatRep: Combat at Foz d'Arouce.

With a refight on the agenda for Friday Night at the Fights, what could be expected in a rematch?  In this action, Jake once again took command as Wellington while I accepted the heavy task of reversing Ney's misfortune.  Anyway, on to the game.
Ney is surprised by Wellington's aggression so late in the day.
Mermet in foreground.
Marchand in background defending Poisao.
Elements of Picton's Division pass through a
small village on march to Foz d'Arouce.
While initiative swung back and forth early on,
 musketry exchanges on the French right
favor British fire discipline.
Even with British fire volume at times overwhelming,
 French resolve and diligent command allow
wavering French to fall back to regroup.

As French fall back due to the heat of British volleys,
 fresh troops move up to take their place.
Marchand's legere tangle with Portuguese
Cacadores in a close range firefight.
French legere blunt the attack of Craufurd's Light Division
on the French right.
With legere protecting Poisao, the British cannot mount
an effective attack against the crucial village. Yet.
On the French left, Picton's Division begins forming battle
 line with a goal of carrying the wooded heights.
Musketry exchanges again tend to favor the British.

Two battalions of French line are pulled off the hill
as a reserve.  Their gap in the line is replaced by the
second battalion of legere.

British horse artillery take up position on the rocky high
ground opposite Poisao to threaten the Poisao garrison.
French prepare to defend the wooded heights while
reinforcing the valley between Mermet's hill and Poisao.

Casualties are rising on both sides of the battle
lines with the French suffering more.
Casualties increase in a close range firefight.
Facing overwhelming pressure, Mermet's command retires
 off the hill to take up a new defense line.
  Well, all fall back except for one battalion of legere.

That one, gallant battalion of French lights
charges into the masses of British troops.

Shocked by the French audacity, the lead British line
 recoils back through its supports.
  Victory may be fleeting but the charge is inspiring.
The bold charge of the French lights allows the remainder
 of Mermet's command to temporarily consolidate
 on a new line of defense.
Back on the French right, all is not quiet.
Marchand's command has been giving ground slowly
 while disrupting Craufurd's attack plan.

Counter battery fire from Marchand's guns in Poisao cause
concern to British guns exposed in rocky scrub overlooking

 the village.

Action is hot in and around Poisao.
First, British lights evict French from the village with a
devastating volley.  Before the British can secure the village,
 fresh French reinforcements reclaim the village walls.

In another example of derring-do, a battalion of
French legere charges into a wavering British line
regiment straddling the arroyo.  The legere lost its eagle

 in the charge not due to combat but due to faulty workmanship.
  The eagle simply fell off the standard during the advance.

Calmly, the British take aim and deliver a punishing volley.
The French are disordered but continue forward.
Having seen the effect of the volley, the British give out
a cheer and counter charge!

In the close combat, the British overpower their shaken foe.
The legere retreat!
The defense of Poisao.
Seeing the rising pressure to Mermet on his left,
 Ney orders Marchand to begin a controlled retrograde
 from Poisao.  Effective counter battery from the British guns
 on the hill convince Marchand's gunners that now is the time
 to  limber and withdraw.
In a measured retrograde, Ney's force slowly gives ground as it
 converges on the bridge.
At the time the order came to pull back, all objectives were still in French hands.  Clearly, the pressure and strength applied by Wellington, would not have kept the objectives in French hands overnight.  Wellington and the Anglo-Portuguese are awarded a second victory at Foz d'Arouce.

Even with a more forward French defense than seen in Game 1, the French in this game sustained fewer casualties and held the objectives much longer.  More than half of Ney's command was in the Dead Pile at the end of Game 1.  Although this game unfolded in a very similar manner, only two French battalions had scattered by game's end.  This version of the battle lasted for ten turns before play was stopped due to time.  The first playing was stopped before seven turns could be completed with French capitulation.  Interestingly, the two reinforcing battalions the French received in this game had no impact on play.  Neither got caught up in the action and were underutilized.  

The Anglo-Portuguese force was a formidable juggernaut.  It advanced steadily and dished out much punishment.  British fire discipline gave the Allies a decided advantage.  Since such superb fire tendency is additive to Combat Effectiveness, perhaps, the British ought to be re-rated to meld the two?  Initiative played a role in this game.  While initiative swung back and forth for the first few turns, after about Turn 5, Wellington seized the initiative and held it throughout the remainder of the game.  Wellington's command structure and capability lent itself to the dominating attack presented.  On the British right, the two commands worked in tandem to one-two punch Mermet's command.

For the French, this is a tough scenario win.  Perhaps an early, aggressive French player can mitigate some of the British advantages?  The two instances when French legere charged into close combat, both were successful in halting a British advance.  While only one such charge was tactically a success, both did the job of breaking up and disordering the British attack.    

As in Game 1, Game 2 saw the British position their two horse guns on the heights overlooking Poisao; a perfect placement for artillery.  What if the French had utilized Lamotte's cavalry to take the ground before the British could arrive?  The French provisional light cavalry likely would be expended in this endeavor.  That plan might be worth pursuing.  As it was, Lamotte's cavalry took no active roll in the battle beyond being a target for British guns.

Congratulations to Jake for a well-played and deserved victory for the Anglo-Portuguese.  As always, it was good fun.

After two playings of the scenario, it might be easy to imagine Massena's displeasure upon hearing that Ney had taken up positions on the south bank of the Ceira River to offer a fight.  After witnessing two successive French losses, I feel his pain.


  1. Despite the outcome, what a wonderful game!

  2. Lovely armies and a fine re-telling. Interesting that the extra two French battalions did not have an impact.

    1. Thank you, Norm! The inability to get the two extra battalions into the fray boils down to commander ineptitude. Mine!

  3. I always love reading your battle reports, Jon!

    1. Great to read, Scott! Glad you enjoy the battle tales. Always more fun when you can join in.

  4. What a wonderful looking game and report Jonathan!


  5. A great looking game and miniatures.

  6. Very nicely done, and the French certainly performed better this time out, even in a losing cause.

  7. It was a great game, and a challenging scenario for the French. Your French ended up fighting a valiant delaying action. I tried a different approach for the British this time with trying to use the KGL to envelop from the Right. It was nowhere near as effective as driving them up the center to split the French commands. I think the two added French Battalions could be essential in defending the bridge if Crauford is able to advance as quickly as he did in the first game (or the real battle.) They didn't participate in this game, simply because the British were not able to advance as quickly on the left as they did in the first outing.

    I agree there needs to be a way to deny the British guns the central height. In retrospect it seemed the French cavalry served that role as being the target of the guns for two turns which probably resulted in as much damage as they would have received storming up the hill.

    Again, great game and a scenario worth another try at a later date.

    1. The French may have fought a valiant delaying action but your Anglo-Portuguese were masterfully handled. The French were back-footed early on and you made sure they remained so.

      Interesting point you make about Lamotte's cavalry. Might as well go out attempting to achieve glory than be shot from the saddle in reserve.

      Very fun game even in defeat! If we pull FdA out for another go, I suggest you give the French command a whirl.

      For now, we turn our attention to a period of Zorndorf study.

      Thanks again for a very enjoyable evening.

  8. What a great looking game, Jonathan, and a great presentation too.

    1. Thank you very much, Mark! Glad you enjoyed the BatRep.

  9. Really enjoyed the play by play. What rules did you use?

  10. Lovely looking game, pretty difficult for the French to pull anything off,but at least you did better this time!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks! The actual action was difficult for Ney to pull anything off too.

  11. Very fun AAR. Game and figures look great! I think this is an above average scenario. It’s one of the great things about wargaming that the same scenario will play differently. Sounds like everyone had fun playing, which is the real victory. 😀. Well done To you Jon, and your players.

    1. Thank you, Stew!

      This is a scenario wherein you can either judge the outcome against history or repeated playings. The French performed better in Game 2 than Game 1 but the game result did not overturn the historical outcome. I gained valuable insight into the historical battle and the situation in which Ney placed himself.