A couple of Sundays ago I had the absolute pleasure in having been invited round to Andy’s shed of war for a large 15mm Napoleonic game of General de Brigade. To say that I was looking forward to this game from the moment that I received the invite and the date was set for the game is an understatement. I had heard about the quality of the games that he had put on in the past so was chomping at the bit to be involved. I’m extremely glad to say that I was not disappointed in any way, it was a truly fantastic days wargaming.
As soon as I entered the shed that the game was being played in (I reckon these places should have a snappy name as ‘shed’ doesn’t quite cut it really, does it?) I was confronted with a truly great spectacle. Even if I didn’t know what battle was due to be fought I’d have known straight away from the terrain on the table, it could only be Plancenoit. Andy had done a marvellous job in constructing the bespoke terrain for the refight, really bringing to life all the maps of the area that I’ve studied in the past. The thousand or two figures already lined up ready would have given another clue if needed. Honestly I’m afraid my pics do not do the scene justice!
After a bacon roll and a cuppa, supplied by Mrs T. and very much appreciated, Andy got to the briefing and explained the ADC rules that we would be using to us – we were using standard GdB rules but with house rules concerning ADC’s to activate/change orders – and both sides got their heads together to plan the upcoming fight.
I was on the Prussian team with Del and Martin. We would be taking control of Bulow’s IV Corp tasked with taking the village of Plancenoit and we had 20 turns in which to do so. Del wore the C-in-c’s hat and would be responsible for the assault on the village with 15th and 16th Brigades under command. Martin was to take the right flank responsible for defeating the French to our front with the 13th and 14th Brigades. I was to take the Cavalry reserve, Corp Artillery and Tipplekirch’s Brigade of II Corps when it arrived, my orders being to support Martins assault on Lobau’s line whilst seeing off the French Reserve battery in the centre with our own Reserve artillery to hopefully open a gap in the centre of the French position to be exploited later. The dastardly French were controlled by Andy, Simon and Des who just had to hold on as best they could and prevent us from taking the village. They were in command of Lobau’s VI Corp with some Young and Old Guard types scheduled to turn up some time or other to make things harder for us.
So with plans made, tea and bacon consumed we got at it. The first thing that we noticed as the Prussians was that we would have problems making our numerical superiority work to our advantage as the terrain and troop density meant that we would have to attack in ‘waves’, passing one unit through another. This was certainly the case for Martin and myself as our units were activated to a schedule so we had to get moving with what we had on hand first and then follow up with the rest when it became available, which was actually quite a realistic problem to have and added to the flavour to the game I thought. Anyway Del started by moving forward to the village and started prepping the defenders for the assaults that were about to start and then continue for the rest of the day and Martin launched his lead Brigade towards the line of French on the right flank. I opened the bombardment of the French battery and started off well inflicting losses straight away whilst my huge Landwehr Cavalry Brigade advanced to support Martins lads by covering their open left flank.
The battle soon turned into a proper slogging match with both Martin’s and Del’s Brigades repeatedly coming to grips with the French defenders before narrowly being beaten back. In the fight for the village Del managed to take the church a good few times but was always pushed out immediately by fresh French units or a swift counter attack from a rallied battalion. Much the same was happening in the fight for the rest of the village, as soon as he managed to defeat one battalion another countered his disorganised men and bundled them back. With the cramped frontages available to deploy in he just couldn’t make his superior numbers tell against Simon’s defenders and when Andy’s Guard turned up it made it even harder. This to and fro action went on all day and showed just how hard the fight must have been in reality and followed the pattern in accounts of many village fights I have read from the period.
Outside the village Martin soon came to grips with Des’ Division guarding the northern part of the line and here too a tough fight broke out. Des was taking advantage of the terrain and had his men behind hedges which was helping in his defence and Martin couldn’t quite get to grips with the French in a co-ordinated manner enough to break them. This was mainly down to the difference in quality of the units I think with some of the Prussian battalions failing to charge home a few times leaving those that did in the lurch somewhat. All was not lost though as the defending French had been steadily losing men and once Martin’s lead Brigade was hors de combat he committed his fresh one.
Meanwhile I had managed to destroy the French Reserve battery in the centre and had advanced my Landwehr cavalry forwards as ordered and pretty soon were confronted with a mass of French Cavalry that had appeared to the rear of Des’ infantry. I knew I didn’t have the qualitative edge but my idea was to tie them up so as to prevent them from attacking Martin’s lads and maybe wear them down before my Regular Brigades could be brought forwards to help finish them off. With the loss of the French Heavy artillery Simon was forced to re-deploy forces from the defence of Plancenoit to cover the approach the gap made and managed to seal it off before we could get any forces forward to take advantage, again thwarted by space issues – we just couldn’t move our units quick enough.
After a lovely lunch that battle carried on in much the same vein, Del and Martin bravely grinding forwards but just not breaking through whilst I had been involved in a cavalry scrap and had charged a couple of Des’ battalions with my Landwehr Cavalry (which nearly went my way even though they were in square!) before they broke and the fight was taken over by the Regular brigades. I did manage to get Tipplekirch’s Brigade on the table but the were stuck in a ‘traffic jam’ of units so it took ages to get them forward, some command and control problems didn’t help either! Pretty soon though it just started to feel like that we weren’t just going to do it and when it got to 6pm we called it a day with the French holding all along the line even though they had taken a battering, especially outside the village.
The main problem we had, we thought, was that we just couldn’t get our units into the fight quick enough. With such a large density of force on such a constricted front all it took was a bit of friction and everything snarled up, not that I’m complaining about it a game without this sort of thing is just too easy I reckon and wargaming is supposed to be a problem making exercise as well as fun. The battle also showed just how difficult it must have been to take a village in this time, I’m sure Del was knackered by the end of play! There were also those close calls that luck just favoured the enemy and if they had gone the other way might just have led to a different result but c’est la guerre as those Frenchies might say.
Even though we didn’t come away with the win it was a truly great days wargaming and I can’t thank Andy enough for the invite, and big thanks too go to Mrs Thomlinson for the fantastic hospitality and for keeping us fed and watered all day. As I’ve mentioned before the terrain was absolutely superb and the figures we used from the collections of Martin, Andy and Del weren’t too shoddy either. But, as always, the thing that makes these days really great are the chaps that you share them with so many thanks go to Andy, Martin, Del, Simon and Des in playing the game like true gents. Hat doffed all round, and very much looking forward to the next one already!
PS Some more pics taken by Des can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/247145792126789?view=permalink&id=784110201763676