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Almeida et Bussaco 1810» Forums » Sessions

Subject: Bloody Draw at Bussaco, September 27, 1810 rss

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Eric Stubbs
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Introduction
Almeida, Bussaco, and Coimbra are the 30th – 32nd games in the Jours de Gloire, a successful and long-running series of Napoleonic tactical battles, each produced on the bicentennial of the original battle. The game covers some of the key events of Massena’s 1810 invasion of Portugal, in which he sought to defeat Sir Arthur Wellesley’s Anglo-Portuguese army and drive the British from the Iberian Peninsula.

I played the historical scenarios for each battle and kept notes to write session reports. I posted Almeida separately, this one covers Bussaco, and Coimbra will be the last.

For more details on the game, please see Marco’s video!

For a rules overview, please see the session report for Almeida.

The Battle
September 27, 1810: Arthur Wellesley has drawn up his Anglo-Portuguese force in a strong position on the rough and hilly Sierra do Bussaco. On his extreme left is Cole’s division, in reserve: next to them is an Independent division of Portuguese, with the King’s German Legion strengthening them. The center is held by Crauford’s Light Division, anchored on the Bussaco convent, and Spencer’s division. After a gap lightly held by dragoons, Picton’s and Leith’s divisions hold another area of high ground, and Hamilton and Hill’s divisions are kept to the far right, in reserve and very distant from the main action.

Opposing this army is Marshal Massena. Against the British left, he has Mermet, Loison, and Marchand’s divisions, with Solignac and Clausel’s infantry and Montbrun and Lamotte’s cavalry in reserve. Marshal Ney supports him with command of several infantry formations. Against the British right are arrayed Heudelet’s and Merle’s divisions (commanded overall by Reynier), with Soult’s cavalry supporting. Massena’s objective is to drive the Anglo-Portuguese off the hills and continue the strategic advance.

Each side gains VPs for eliminating enemy units, as well as routed units at the end of the game and demoralized formations (defined as a formation having no good-order units remaining to it, either from disorder, rout, or elimination) at the end of the game, as well as for the other side committing reserves. The French gain VPs from occupying a certain hex beyond the convent, representing a major breakthrough.

7 AM
Massena considers his options for a while and then orders Loison into action, pushing forward while moving the artillery up to help weaken the enemy line. Mermet also moves up in support. On the Anglo-Portuguese side, Leith shifts to his left to support Picton, the Independent formation realigns as well, and Wellesley moves his field HQ to control the critical point of the line.

Marchand’s division presses forward to join Loison and Mermet, but does not yet engage. In response, Spencer’s guns on the ridge boom, sending lead into the forward elements of Marchand’s forces, disrupting some of them. In the resulting confusion, Spencer strengthens his forward line. Picton’s guns also blast away at lead troops of Heudelet’s and Merle’s divisions and discomfit them. Crauford’s Light Division also bulk up their forward line while on the French side Mermet inches forward.

Heudelet’s men advance cautiously, while others recover their good order. On the other side of the field, the Independent formation experiences good success with its artillery against Loison’s men. Even more effective is accurate fire from the 95th Rifles, which kills and wounds French officers, throws units into disarray, and further unhinges French assault plans. Regardless, Loison’s men attempt an attack on Portuguese skirmishers in a nearby orchard, but fail.

Unfortunately for the Light Division, Marchand’s artillery shreds the Rifles and the 43rd Foot with canister shot, and his infantry follow up with musketry and bayonets, routing both units. Elsewhere, Merle reorganizes his men, then essays an attack on Picton’s division. Shrugging off artillery fire, the 2e and 4e Léger charge up the slope and throw back Lightburne’s brigade. The élan of the 2e Léger carries them forward, routing Lightburne and some of Picton’s artillery. Heudelet’s nearby men are inspired by this example of courage and launch their own attack, which is less successful. Picton’s counterattack with Mackinnon’s troops pushes back the 70e Ligne.

8:45 AM
Neither commander gains the initiative, but on the French side, Heudelet’s forces attempt an attack but delayed orders results in confusion. Merle’s men are more fortunate, gaining the ridge and battering Picton’s men; his follow up attack drives more of them into flight. Picton is in a desperate situation and his division is likely shattered, but his men work their guns bravely against Heudelet’s troops.

Meanwhile, Portuguese guns of the Independent formation send Loison’s men fleeing as Marchand’s troopers throw the rest of Crauford’s Light Division out of the orchard and Crauford tries to put his men back in order, with limited success. Spencer’s guns disrupt Marchand’s infantry further and his troops mount a small counterattack that routs the wavering 76e Ligne. Crauford’s soldiers at least stop routing, while Mermet’s forces mill around, hampered by the rough terrain and Spencer’s counterattack. All they accomplish is forcing some of Spencer’s Portuguese out of the woods they earlier occupied. Loison and Marchand reorganize their men.

Leith attempts to come to Picton’s aid, with some measure of success, though Heudelet’s guns boom again and his men successfully charge and cause further damage to Picton. Mermet and Loison reposition and reorder. Some of Marchand’s fleeing men cause brief disruption among the French reserves, but this is nothing compared to the demoralization of both Picton’s and Crauford’s divisions.

10:30 AM
Wellesley seizes the initiative and orders Spencer to attack again. Artillery fire blasts the French and Pakenham and Stopford launch a vigorous assault with Portuguese support, sending the French into disarray. They decline to press the attack harder, wary of overextension. Crauford’s men stiffen their spines, and Leith continues his efforts to salvage the wreck of the British right. This goes badly awry when two Portuguese units fail to support their comrades and the elite 2e Léger routs the Royal Portuguese Legion.

Marchand responds to Spencer’s attack with grapeshot into the woods, killing and disordering Pakenham’s men, but otherwise his troops hold firm: apparently Marshal Ney has something in mind…

Heudelet’s men are tired and most cannot recover their discipline just yet, but his guns wreak havoc on Picton’s remaining artillery and some Portuguese militia, and the 31e Léger obliterate the battered formations and advance. Leith responds by throwing men into the gap, but the 2e Léger continues its rampage, routing Mackinnon and coming in behind Leith’s men as the 4e Léger and 36e Ligne attack up the slope. They initially drive back Leith’s Portuguese but are halted by a stiff defense as the press the assault. Nearby, Soult’s cavalry rides down some hapless militia from Picton’s division.

Several French units try to give the Anglo-Portuguese cold steel with a bayonet charge, with varying degrees of success. For Mermet’s men, it’s a total disaster and gets worse when Stopford overruns Marchand’s artillery in the confused aftermath of the French attack. Stopford quickly pulls his men back and Spencer’s force falls on Marchand’s infantry with all its fury. The panicked French rout and take some of Mermet’s men with them in flight, after which Stopford’s follow up routs the rest of Marchand’s hapless footsoldiers.

Ney’s plans are utterly ruined and he fumes and rages at the setbacks. Instead of a glorious advance with Loison, Mermet, and Marchand, he is now left with trying to re-form shaken and broken formations. At least in this, he is successful.

12:15 PM
A temporary lull falls over the battlefield as formations on both sides try to reorganize and reform for fresh fighting.

Marchand, Mermet, and Loison work to restore order to their divisions, while Leith pulls his damaged formation back, attempting to close up with the rest of the army. The French hold that part of the hill now and will advance along the crest to hit the main British force: Leith can only try to delay it. Fortunately, some of his men do find their discipline, as do the troops of the Light Division, who return to their places in the line with renewed vigor.

Spencer would love to press the attack, but Wellesley knows that Picton has collapsed and Leith is little better, so he orders Spencer back to protect the flank.

The battle lines are thus largely restored to their starting positions, though the French right is still disorganized and the Anglo-Portuguese right has ceased to exist. On balance, the situation for the British is dangerous but not disastrous. Merle and Heudelet’s men will still have to close and attack into tough conditions.

2 PM
Massena decides to commit Solignac’s reserve division, which shifts position, setting up for an attack on the British lines near Spencer as part of a general assault supported by Merle and Heudelet. Picton and Leith recover somewhat and move to shore up the British right. Marchand continues to bring his troops back into order. Mermet shifts position but due to scattered formations and general confusion, there are too many French in too small an area, so it’s hard to organize. Solignac manages to relocate successfully, while Leith and Picton continue pushing their troops to check the advance of Merle’s forces. Soult’s cavalry routs some stragglers from Leith’s formation, while Heudelet advances and attacks a weak spot on the British right, routing the weak troops arrayed against it. However, the 17e Léger’s excessive enthusiasm for the attack has put it into an exposed spot. The indefatigable Stopford reacts quickly to the threat and annihilates the over-bold French unit in two sharp engagements. This leaves him exposed in turn, though. Soult’s cavalry continues its marauding, overrunning some of Picton’s guns, and Merle pushes back some Portuguese that barred his path.

3:45 PM
Wellesley takes the initiative as the long afternoon wears on, and orders Spencer to realign to face the incoming threat from the flank. Crauford’s Light Division shifts as well, which results in a gap that Loison exploits. Despite confused orders, the attack does work, but the Portuguese troops that were affected fall back in good order, leaving the assaulting 66e Ligne exposed.

Meanwhile, Leith and Picton keep harassing the French left, and Soult’s cavalry continue to menace the Anglo-Portuguese rear. Heudelet’s men drive Stopford back but the follow-up attack fails and the redcoats throw them into a reverse in turn. Spencer’s artillery shreds the already-disrupted 31e Léger, and Portuguese troops launch a counterattack that routs the 70e Ligne as well.

Loison continues his own assault by blasting away at a shaky Portuguese unit, but his infantry cannot capitalize on the opportunity. The nearby advance of Solignac is hampered by Heudelet’s men in panicked flight, but his powerful forces still bull their way uphill and crash into the Anglo-Portuguese, though with less effect than hoped. Mermet’s now-organized men press forward to close contact but do not yet engage, waiting for support. For Merle’s part, the daring 2e Léger rout more of Leith’s men and destroy more of Picton’s artillery. Solignac renews the attack, but the Portuguese hold firm on the hill and drive him back, while the remainder of Heudelet’s men to the left are equally unsuccessful.

5:30 PM
With the light starting to fade, both armies know they are nearly out of time, at least for today’s fighting. The battle narrowly favors the French but could still tip against them, and Massena hungers for a convincing victory. He thus seizes the initiative, while Wellesley decides it is finally time to commit Cole’s reserves on his far left.

Loison attacks with all his fury, driving a wedge into the Independent troops in front of him, but in pressing his assault he has likely overextended. Merle’s 2e Léger waxes overconfident and tries to unhinge Spencer’s defense but fails. An attack by the 4e Léger is more successful, crumpling the line and causing a small rout. Spencer reacts by having his guns smash Solignac’s Hanoverian and Irish brigades, then attacking to drive them back.

Suddenly Stopford’s men and some of the Independent Portuguese rally to the words of their officers and give the French a volley and cold steel, forcing Merle’s and Loison’s men into reverse. Spencer capitalizes, his artillery mauling Solignac’s men and sending them into flight, after which Portuguese infantry overrun his artillery.

On the British left, the King’s German Legion drives all before it, devastating Loison’s men and restoring the Anglo-Portuguese line. Heudelet’s men are in bad shape and pull back. Leith’s men continue to plug gaps in the line, and his scattered men regain their discipline. Mermet launches a desperate attack but it fails. Cole finally joins the battle: his guns break more of Loison’s men, and his infantry advance. Unfortunately, orders are not delivered properly and Campbell’s men mill around without destroying Loison’s artillery.

Lightburne rather embarrassingly fails to defeat the 2e Léger, despite attacking them from behind, but otherwise the French retreat: Solignac and Mermet both fall back. Crauford firms up his line, and the 95th Rifles break another French unit with their accurate fire.

As it happens, that is the last major action of the day. As evening sets in, the Anglo-Portuguese hold their positions but are battered and weary. Likewise, the French are spent, and Massena orders a general withdrawal, though he plans to recover and try again the next day.

Aftermath

Final VPs: French 18, Anglo-Portuguese 14, which is a draw by the rules. The state of the field agrees: Three French formations are within one unit of being demoralized and most others are in bad shape too, but Picton’s division has ceased to exist, and Leith’s isn’t much better.

Final thoughts: I liked this battle quite a lot, and it seesawed back and forth more than I expected when sizing up the situation at the start. Heudelet and Merle managing to lever Picton and Leith right off the hill was dramatic, and the exploits of the 2e Léger just kept getting crazier. On the British side, Stopford's brigade was the clear MVP. I found that artillery flip-flopped wildly between totally useless and insanely effective, but that's the dice for you.

The only note that rang a little false was having to pay VPs to commit Cole's division: it was right next to units that were getting battered by the French, but as long as said French didn't actually attack it, it wouldn't engage without spending the VPs. Other reserves were far enough from the action that it seemed reasonable for them not to commit without specific orders.
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Alan Sutton
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This is a very cool AAR.

Being familiar with the game I am familiar with the units. The level of detail is great.

My favorite is the superfluous but amusing comment about Lightburne's embarrassing failure in attack late in the day.

The French decision to attack from where they were (at some points where the Allies are strongest) mirrors Massena's actual attempts. And a broadly historical result I think? Maybe more detrimental to the Allies than historically?

My last game of this saw the French shift to their left a bit before attacking.

They won that game but mainly because the Duke came down off the ridge to attack their centre. Then he got smashed.

Big mistake.



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Eric Stubbs
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Moruya23 wrote:
This is a very cool AAR.

Being familiar with the game I am familiar with the units. The level of detail is great.

My favorite is the superfluous but amusing comment about Lightburne's embarrassing failure in attack late in the day.

The French decision to attack from where they were (at some points where the Allies are strongest) mirrors Massena's actual attempts. And a broadly historical result I think? Maybe more detrimental to the Allies than historically?

My last game of this saw the French shift to their left a bit before attacking.

They won that game but mainly because the Duke came down off the ridge to attack their centre. Then he got smashed.

Big mistake.





Glad you enjoyed it! I pointed out Lightburne's attack because I did find it funny (even with the flanking bonus I think he ended up at a 2 due to a horrid die roll) and because it added to the legend of the 2e Léger, who were almost unstoppable in this battle.

In the actual battle, Heudelet and Merle's men were driven back and counterattacked by Picton, whereas here the French smashed first Picton and then Leith and tried to turn the Allied flank, which ended up failing. Apart from that it the course of events was broadly historical, and the aftermath was pretty similar: both sides were beaten up (the Allies more so than historically, for sure), and Wellesley would probably withdraw from the position.

As the Anglo-Portuguese I did mount limited counterattacks, but anything more was too risky, as you saw in your game.
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