While I waited for a revelation as how to extend my table so I can use the Hal extension with the other maps I played the one map Hal Battle – Wellington and the Anglo-Allies v half of Napoleon’s army. Essentially Waterloo plus the Hal forces, but no Blücher or Grouchy who are tussling off map to the east.
As this is a hypothetical scenario the setup is essentially Allied near Hal, French to the south-west. So you have to make all the decisions, and cannot blame your historical predecessor for their erroneous army deployment. It also means you really have to look at the map.
An important rule point to note for this game is I used the ‘Thursday Night Gamers’ Cavalry Charge House Rules – a copy can be found in the files section of the BGG entry for Napoleon Retreats.
The victory point locations are Tubize (south west off my photos), Hal and the crossroads to the north-east of Hal. Anglo-Allied supply is basically from the north edge of the map. The Stennette stream runs up the centre of the map Hal. From Lenbeeck it becomes a river (if ever in doubt between a river and a stream on a TLNB map check how the crossings are portrayed) and flows on north-east to Brussels. At Hal it is joined by an unnamed stream flowing from the village of Beerthe to the west. The stream is lined with marshes and orchards, with wooded terrain (but with a good trail network) to the west fronting the small gap between Beerthe and Bellinghe. To me it makes the obvious defensive line to stop an advance from the south.
My Wellington rejected the idea of a French flank march down the east bank of the river to threaten Brussels – they would be exposing their supply lines while his were protected – and also risk being sandwiched between him and the Prussians. It was also unlikely they would try assaults across the four river bridges from Hal to Eysingen. So he deployed the 1 and 3 Netherland and 4 British Divisions to cover the river and Hal, with the Dutch cavalry in reserve. The rest of his forces he deployed to cover the stream – 3 British, 2 Netherlands, 5, 2 British and the Brunswickers. The right flank was open [as the rules say you can only deploy so far from Hal], but 1 and 6 British and the Cavalry were in reserve. The Hanoverian Brigade of Beaulieu was busy looting in St-Peetes-Leeuw, but otherwise all Allied forces were alert.
My Napoleon immediately dismissed the idea of a river crossing opposed by an equal sized army. He decided to make a flanking move to the left. I Cavalry would swing wide, II Corps would hold the English at the stream while I Corps drove them back from Beerthe, the Guard would be in reserve and VI Corps would watch the right wing. The III and IV Cavalry Corps would be used as necessary.
The Hal Battle – deployment
11am saw Ney send of Pajol’s I Cavalry and I Corps, then visit Napoleon to rouse him to action. Uxbridge deployed his light horse to cover the gap on the right flank and Wellington began shifting his reserves in that direction.
At noon the French attack struck. Pajol pushed back the Allied cavalry; II Corps pushed the Brunswicker back from the stream, but feeling exposed did not pursue. Wellington moved the Dutch Cavalry Division onto line, moved 3 British from Hal to the right and replaced them with 4 British.
Around 1pm the Imperial Guard brigade commanders, impatient with not moving, asked Mortier if they should march to the sound of the guns. Mortier said he had strict instructions to move only when the Emperor instructed him and stayed put. And Soult at Imperial Headquarters never thought to order him up in the Emperor’s name. So the whole of the Guard stayed put for three hours. VI Corps did not move either [‘March to the Guns’ card countered by ‘March Confusion’ card resulting in the Guard not moving for three hours. VI Corps just failed every Command roll]. Many have said this error cost Napoleon the battle.
Around Bellinghe the French cut off Dornburg’s Light Cavalry Division, only for Pierre Soult’s men to be routed in turn. In their enthusiasm I Corps artillery had advanced into Beerthe; the Dutch cavalry overran them. Soyer’s Brigade pushed the Brunswicker’s across the stream, before being forced back themselves. And the 5 Division of II Corps was repulsed from the stream, fell back and had such a press of troops behind them they became fatally disordered [Rookie error – always allows space for your troops to retreat, if only by letting the stack behind get displaced. But if the troops are three hexes deep …..].
To try and break the deadlock Kellerman’s heavy cavalry charged the Dutch lights and the British and Brunswick light cavalry. Both charges were repulsed, with the French cavalry blown and out of action for the next hour, but the infantry follow up saw the Dutch cavalry retire. The village of Beerthe held out with hand to hand combat in the streets and part of the French 7 Division was routed when the massed II Corps artillery failed to dislodge the British units on their flank. As the Dutch Cavalry pulled back to make space for the British Guards, the British Heavy Cavalry now charged. They were also blown, but the Guard pushed D’Erlon’s men back.
The Hal Battle – 2pm
Milhaud now planned to charge the British Guards; however when the British Horse artillery drive D’Erlon’s units back he thought better of this. Pajol’s men were also bombarded; Pajol himself lost his right leg and was carried off wounded. As the day wore on the struggle around Beerthe continued; one side pushing the other back, then being repulsed, while the village hold out. Delort’s heavies charged the Dutch light cavalry, who managed to drive them off, but becoming disorganised were then routed by D’Erlon’s infantry. Feeling the pressure Wellington now called across the 2 Netherland Division. The British heavies charged again, the French were forced into square and the British Guard routed Delort and the infantry they were with.
Ney now hurried south and personally ordered the Guard forward; the VI Division had also received order to advance to Hal. At 6pm, as the day heated up, the sound of thundering hooves was again heard as all the French heavy cavalry charged the British Guard and their supporting horse artillery. This time the attack was successful; as the British broke under the pressure. The 2 Netherland Division was pushed back, isolating the 6 Division in Beerthe; Somerset’s Heavy cavalry charged Jamin’s Brigade and with the Dutch routed them. The British right flank had become a cavalry screen and VI Corps was, unsuccessfully, probing the centre.
The Hal Battle – 6pm – Has anyone seen my right flank?
Taking Beerthe held up the French advance on their left. Their attacks as night came on were all pushed back; the British Light Cavalry and Horse Artillery used brilliant tactical manoeuvring when they drove off an attack by both French Heavy cavalry Corps. VI Corps broke into Hal, and were evicted, losing 21 Division to a diversionary attack which was cut to pieces [Don’t attack at 1:5!]. The Young Guard kept up the pressure – Michael’s Brigade crossed the stream, only to be routed by the Kings German Legion. Gauthier’s Brigade tried to overrun Gold’s isolated artillery battery, so as the outflank the Hanoverians; the artillery so cut up the French before being driven off that they were unable to advance and fell back in disarray. [Exchange result]. Ompteda’s KLG men were flanked and routed. In a final push Ney led the Young Guard over the stream, only to be thrown back, the Marshal himself was killed by a musket ball in the stomach.
With night arriving Wellington disengaged and fell back toward Brussels, there to meet the Prussians, who by now must have overwhelmed the other French wing. 18 June was not the end of the Hal Campaign, but the beginning of the end.
The Hal Battle – 8pm – A Dammed close run thing
Adding it all up the French lost 33 SP, the Allies 32. Two Allied Divisions were demoralised, to no French at the end of the day. With the Allies holding Hal and the crossroads VP were 5 to 15. Both sides lost virtually the same number of VP to card play, leaving the final result 8:10 or a Coalition Marginal Victory.
As Napoleon I messed that up; not getting the Guard further forward sooner - although that was partly down to luck. As Wellington I tried a linier defence which was stretched to breaking point as the French pulled my forces to my right. So both sides have much to learn. The Thursday Night Gamers cavalry rules lead to more charges in one game than I think I have done in all the others I have played – 10 in all, although only two were successful in eliminating the enemy.
And finally I did not, as the French, soften up the Allies with my artillery. Mind you I am not sure how effective that would have been. Piling up each Infantry Corp’s artillery gives you 6 SP, plus the 12 SP for the Guard. The Anglo-Allies have more powerful artillery, generally 2 SP per division so counter-artillery fire will give you around 5 SP per attack. So a 1:6 chance of inflicting a loss, and a Defender Retreat is only any use in the Reaction Fire Step if you have someone close enough to follow up into the vacated hex. So let’s look at the map – black line is the Allied line, red the artillery Lines of Sight. And the French don’t have enough artillery to have an effective number of guns in every hex.
Hypothetical Hal gun line
With your guns two hexes back so you can bombard and your infantry behind so as not to get in the way, they have to spend 5 MP to get forward and cross the stream via or into a marsh. And the Allied units in the orchards and village will still be sitting there, immune from bombardment and a potential threat to your flanks. You could concentrate your artillery to attack with more SP and have more chance of inflicting losses. But how long do you have as the French to sit there and peck away at the enemy – who may well be organising their own excursion with their numerous light cavalry round your left – or even a raid on your rear on the right?
Well, that may be for next time. One cannot let a new game sit unplayed for too long so from one hypothetical battle to another - Fismes in Napoleon Retreats.