Monday, December 20, 2021

The Rock of Maida

Kempt: The Rock of Maida
While the historical Battle of Maida may have been decided in fifteen minutes, Sunday's recreation of the battle witnessed a titanic struggle for supremacy on the Calabrian plain.  When the smoke cleared, the action saw both armies wrecked from their efforts.  As in the historical fight, elements of the 1st Legere had been put to flight and General Compere lay dying on the battlefield. 

In a surprise twist, Matt, my longtime British adversary in our AWI campaigning, opted to lead the French on the attack.

As a reminder, the battlefield is contained within a 6' x 6' playing area.  The battlefield looks like the photo below at the start of battle.  Stuart's British are situated at the top of the photo and Reynier's French positioned at the bottom.
Initial Dispositions

Before plunging into the battle account, first, a brief overview of the combatants.

British army under the command of Major General John Stuart.
Stuart fields an army of infantry and guns with no cavalry.  The flank companies from the foot regiments were stripped and consolidated into two combined elite battalions.  The light companies were combined into one battalion under Kempt on the British right.  Also in Kempt's brigade were the Royal Corsican Rangers supported by additional flank companies deployed in the scrub along the Lamato River.

The grenadier companies were consolidated into one battalion under Cole on the British left.  This meant that all of the foot regiments would be without their elite companies on this day.

In the center, Stuart placed Acland's brigade.  Acland commanded the 2/78 and 1/81, both green.  Oswald was placed behind these three brigades in reserve.  The British battle line was deployed in echelon such that Kempt's Brigade was closer to the enemy than was Cole.  If the French attacked across a broad front, the first blows would naturally fall upon Kempt.  Both flanks were protected by scrub to hinder any attempts at outflanking the position.

French army under General de Division Jean Reynier.
Reynier fielded a combined arms force of all three branches but all artillery and cavalry were on the right under the command of Digonet.  Digonet's command also contained two battalions of the 23rd Legere.  Veteran troops having seen action in northern Italy.

The French left was commanded by General Compere.  In his brigade were two battalions of the veteran 1st Legere and two battalions of the 42nd Ligne.  Both regiments saw action in the Revolutionary Wars with the 1st Legere present at Marengo.

In the center, Reynier placed Peyri's brigade of foreign troops.  Present were two battalions of Polish-Italian Legion and one battalion of Swiss.  The Poles were unreliable, reportedly having been recruited from former Austrian prisoners of war. 

Reynier wants to drive the British back into the sea while Stuart wants to brush aside these interlopers so that he can support the Calabrian insurrection.

Enough of background, on to battle!
The British wait
While Stuart is content to await the French attack,
Compere steps off on the French left.  
Kempt readies the Lights.
The French advance across the plain.
Acland and Cole move up to support Kempt.
Compere sends one battalion of the 1st Legere into the
scrub to eject the Corsican Rangers.
Compere, with three battalions,
is within striking distance of Kempt.
Skirmishing at the Lamato intensifies as the
legere contact the Corsicans.
Choosing to remain in attack column rather than deploy
 into line, Compere attacks!
Kempt's Lights give a good volley but the French push on.
The 42nd cannot reach Kempt in time to join in the assault.
In the heavy firefight, Compere goes down. 
 Dead on the field.
British guns are telling on the 42nd.
Kempt has his hands full!
Peyri advances in the center with the Swiss
flanked by the Poles.
Acland moves up to support Kempt.
Casualties mount in the fight
 between 1st Legere and the Lights.
2/1 Legere waivers and then breaks.
Kempt is not out of danger as the 42nd closes in.
Over on the French right, 
Digonet orders 2/23 Legere to clear
the scrub of the 20th Foot so that the 9th Chasseurs
 can advance unmolested.
1/23 Legere bears down upon Cole's 1/27th Foot.
Again, the French attack in column screened by a swarm of skirmishers.
In the center, the Poles are taking fire from two guns.
They begin to waiver but the Swiss press on.
On the French left, Kempt repulses the attack of the 42nd.
Before the Swiss attack,
the Poles give the British a volley.
The 2/78th breaks and runs!
Its rout is stopped by the 1/81st but for how long?
Furious firefight continues in the scrub on the French right
while the chasseurs look for an opening.
The 20th Foot is driven from the scrub
falling back in search of safety.
While the Swiss press on and drive the British back,
The French center is breaking apart.
One Polish battalion has had enough and breaks for the rear.
The 1/23 Legere reels back from artillery fire.

Kempt, the Rock of Maida, remains.
The 42nd is not finished. 
 Back both battalions go in against Kempt.
Although suffering mightily,
 the 42nd's second effort scatters Kempt's Lights.
For the 20th, there is no safe harbor.
The chasseurs catch them as it retires.
They are cut down to a man.
With the British flanks collapsing and the French center in tatters, neither combatant maintains sufficient reserve to continue the fight.  After about three hours of game time, Matt and I conclude the Battle of Maida a hard-fought draw.

The Butcher's Bill is telling.  Each participant lost in excessive of 40% of its army in this sharp conflict. 
British casualties
French casualties
The game gives me much to think about especially in how forces were deployed and fought.  I came away with some useful insights into the battle.  Before I have time to reflect, the battle must be reset for Tuesday's game.

Thank you, Matt!  That was good fun.


  1. An interesting situation and the narrative falling from it reinforces a line v column classic. Sounds like a tight game with both sides fighting the other to a stand-still. Why did the historical battle conclude so quickly?

    1. The game supported the line v column hypothesis although the Kempt's line was eventually overwhelmed. The problem with Oman concluding that line was superior to column using Maida as an example is that contemporary accounts put the French in prior to attacking.

      Historical battle was over so quickly because Kempt gave the 1st Legere three volleys and then charged. The 1st Legere broke and ran. The French center soon collapsed after the 42nd was repulsed by Acland. After that, the entire French left and center fell apart with only Digonet remaining on the battlefield. The rout of the 1st Legere took about 15 minutes.

    2. Thank you. I suppose it is possible to replicate that in the battle .... but that would be a waste of a good set-up and an entertaining match!

    3. And, we don't really want to constrain the tabletop general into making the same mistakes as his historical counterpart, do we?

    4. See Paddy Griffith's "Forwards into Battle" for the discussion of the line v column argument. Oman is so badly discredited in all periods now his books are really only fit for nice looking bookends.

      I say this as a man with several of his volumes on my shelves.

    5. Richard Hopton's, "The Battle of Maida 1806: Fifteen Minutes of Glory" does an excellent job on setting the record straight on Maida.

  2. Beautiful looking game Jonathan and really like those Front Rank figures!


    1. Thank you! Yes, most figures are Front Rank with some Sash & Saber French too.

  3. A great looking game Jon and unusual to see you in command of the Redcoats for a change! Looking at the origininal set up, if the Brits had had time to move forward on the left to create an unbroken line linking Kempt on the right to the twentieth foot on the left, the French would have been really up against it. Just goes to show, Matt knows a bit more about how to handle French Napoleonic troops than Reynier did!

    1. Much appreciated, Keith!

      I was surprised that Matt chose the French too! I figure Matt as a diehard Anglophile. Had the British been on the attack, I bet Matt would have picked the redcoats.

      I agree that the rest of the British line advancing to come abreast of Kempt is a good idea. That is what I was doing but in places not quick enough. Acland's Brigade is not so resolute.

      Matt is a good attacking general. He was quite pleased to cut apart the 20th with his cavalry.

    2. You have a good tactical eye. You sure about having no interest in a remote game?

  4. An exciting AAR Jonathan. It will be interesting to see how Tuesday's game goes. My feeling is that it won't be such a slugging match.

    1. Glad you lined the battle report!

      It will be interesting to see how Tuesday's plays out. I find it less taxing in the role of umpire and figure-mover only rather than umpire, figure-mover, AND player.

      As for a slugging match repeat, it is possible since the two forces are actually quite finely balanced if played properly (not that I would know what "played properly" might suggest!).

  5. Great looking game. Nice to see some early era units on the table. Thanks Jonathan...can we expect to see the rematch?

    1. Thanks! I should have fielded some French infantry in bicorne. A second playing is scheduled for Tuesday. A rematch with Matt at a later date may be possible.

  6. Sweet Lord! Looking really great!
    Beautiful armies and your rules sounds good!

    1. Michal, I appreciate your encouragement! Thank you!

  7. Superb looking game and nothing better than a hard fought battle.

    1. Thanks, Neil! It was hard fought, for sure. Well, at least I thought so. Matt had me scrambling with the British more than I wished.

  8. Two fine looking forces on the table there Jonathan. A real humdinger of a fight too, Matt appears to have taken a "let's get stuck in" approach?

    1. Oh dear Phil you may have spotted my limitations as a general ! Is there another way ? Than getting stuck in 🤔

    2. Thanks, Phil! Casualties were high in this one with neither able to take command of the entire battlefield. Matt is an aggressive general, no doubt.

    3. Matt, with boldness comes greater risk but greater opportunities for reward. Based upon casualties, I expect both armies would have been exhausted.

  9. A bloody - and beautiful - draw!!

  10. A thoroughly enjoyable battle Jon thanks first for hosting. Nice to see the figures up a bit closer and of course to see the french cavalry catch the 20th in the rear a bloody business. The set up is a tough one for the French with limited scope for outflanking, as you suggested an initial pounding with artillery might have been an option but I was nervous that my more fragile units wouldn’t stand up to the pounding they would get from the British guns reducing their effectiveness. British Skirmishers on both flanks is a real problem for the french. The french columns held but only just under the fire power of those British lines. The rules worked well once I had my head round them, my only two thoughts for you to ponder, the death of Compare should probably have had a greater effect on his brigade ? Secondly the artillery at the end seemed perhaps too robust I’m not sure the gunners having seen the combined lights destroyed to a man next to them would have had the courage to stand and fight surrounded by three french columns even if they were severely weakened. Very minor points as the rules are well thought through. Good luck to Reynier in the rematch.

    1. Thank you, Matt! Happy to see you enjoyed the game! Not as stunning presentation as your works but, for me, sufficient.

      Thanks for your post-game thoughts and suggestions.

      On Compere's death, his death could have affected only the unit to which he was attached or to his entire brigade. In this situation, only the 1/1 Legere saw him go down so only it was shaken by his untimely death.

      On seeing a near-by rout, I had a unit with CE=4+ ignoring a response test for this as with pass-thru. You make a good argument and now a unit's CE has no bearing on seeing a nearby rout same as having a unit rout through. Now, all must test.

      Good luck to Reynier, indeed! If any of today's players read this battle report, they may get ideas on what may or may not work for them.

  11. A splendid looking game Jonathan…
    A close and bloody fight indeed… I find that kind of game is so much better than a straight walkover.
    It’s nice to see your Front Rank toys on the table as well.

    All the best. Aly

    1. Thank you, Aly! Always good to see a close game rather than a walk-over and to get the troops out on the table. We may be seeing more Napoleonics out on the table.

  12. What a great looking game Jon and one full of cracking action too! The scenario is a bit of a 'classic' and one I hope to play with Keith Flint, of 'Shadow of the Eagles', once FtF gaming feels safe again.

    The line vs column is always an issue that generates a lot of debate, but I found Nosworthy's 'Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies' an enlightening read in this regard. A bit dry in places but worth sticking with to understand what happened and why.

    1. Glad you liked it, Steve! It was a fun clash with my sparring partner, Matt. If you do Maida with Keith, be sure to make a report of it. Always fun to compare notes.

      Nosworthy's book is a must have. I have always been curious why the UK and US published editions have different titles.

  13. Great gaming with Matt again, Jonathan! Sounds like the rules worked well with the close final results.

    1. It sure was great! Matt is a terrific opponent no matter which way the die falls. The bloody outcome could have a case of using brute force than finesse.

  14. I like Matt’s approach to this encounter. Brutal and the butchers tally ends up high, but his aggressiveness I think saved an otherwise weaker position.

    Good looking game Jon, looking forward to the replay

    1. Thanks! Matt will enjoy seeing a ringing endorsement of his French strategy.

  15. Now that is a feast for the eyes! A tense and gripping report. If not for the 2/23 Legere forcing the 20th to retire, it might have been a hard fought victory for the redcoats. Just like England to give away the lead at the end!

    1. Excellent! Love to see this!

      I think you are correct. If the 20th had not been scattered at the end, the British would have a good claim for a marginal victory.

  16. I love your very nice size of battle.

  17. A classic look and wargame. Just the right size battlefield and action for 25/28mm troops.

    Will the fist game affect player decisions and plans for the second fight? Staying tuned to find out!

    1. Thanks, Ross! This is a good sized battle for a reasonable gaming session.

      Tuesday’s group will only be aware of Sunday’s action if they read the blog. I am not sure how many do.

  18. Splendid stuff Johnathon, and a good blast to finish off the year.

    Seasons greetings and All the best to you and the family for 2022.

    French Wargame Holidays

    1. Thank you, Matt!

      2021 is not finished yet on the gaming calendar.

      Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  19. Very cool on all fronts. I like it when both armies have fought to exhaustion; usually means a fun time right up to the end. 😀

    Good luck on the next fight.

    1. Thanks, Stew! The battle was up for grabs until the end. Actually, with a draw it was STILL up for grabs!

  20. Beautiful looking troops and a cliffhanger game; excellent! :-)



  21. Hello Jonathan:
    As always your bat reps are well presented, easy to follow, and an entertaining read. What a pleasure to see a table with so many well-painted 28s! A very tough tactical challenge for both sides. Would love to try some remote gaming like this with you when I retire next year! Merry Christmas to you and yours. Michael

    1. Thank you, Michael! I appreciate your encouragement!

      Now, when you retire (didn't you ALREADY retire once?), let me know and we can schedule a game. Bring your buddy James along too.

      I would also enjoy firing up another 1914 game. I learned so much from our earlier VASSAL OaO game and would enjoy diving into that beast of a game once again.

    2. Yes, I flunked retirement the first time! You’ve given me an incentive to do better next time!

    3. Flunked retirement? Better luck next time.

  22. Splendid looking game, great looking Napoleonic troops!
    Best Iain