Waterloo

by Martin Rapier

Well, everyone wants to do this one at least once, last time I did Waterloo was in 1987 when we assembled every Airfix figure we had and spent all weekend playing it, at a 1:200 figure scale. That was fun, but time is too short these days. So, here is a slightly scaled down Waterloo - the scale is roughly 1 base = 6000 infantry, 3000 cavalry or 60 odd guns. It is intended to be run with one player for each major command (Napoleon, Grouchy, Blucher, Wellington & Thielmann) although in the event we managed to pack more players in. The rules used were a Napoleonic DBA variant at the grandiose scale above. Ground scale as 1" = 600 paces and each turn was an hour. The aim of the game as to do both Waterloo and Wavre simultaneously, so that Grouchy actaully had some chance to influence events on the main field, whilst Thielmann would have to pin them down. Napoleon meanwhile would have to break Wellington before Bluchers main body intervened.

Briefings and map.

The table was setup pretty much as above, with 1" = 600 paces (so it was quite small). The rivers were fordable for infantry and cavalry, but not for guns. The woods were 'bad going' and impassable to artillery, apart from the Bois de Ohain in the centre. The built up areas conferred the standard defensive beneftis, whilst Hougoment and La Haye Sainte were designated strongpoints, which made them a bit tougher. I deliberately precluded a left hook on the part of the French, as in an open game (all forces deployed on the table) it would be too easy for the French to deduce if it was feasable, and would not give the Prussians much of a game.

Waterloo

June 18th 1815

Background.

Napoleon was forced to abdicate in 1814 when his Empire was finally defeated by a European coalition, and he was exiled to Elba. He escaped in 1815 and returned to France, but despite his peaceful overtures, his old enemies rallied and set about creating a new coalition to remove him from the throne. Forced into military action, Napoleon decided to try and destroy the Anglo/Dutch and Prussian armies massing in Belgium. In a brilliant strategic move, he managed to place his Armee du Nord between the British and Prussians, and threated to defeat them in detail. The Prussian main body was defeated at Ligny, and the British pinned at Quatre Bras.

Entrusting the pursuit of the defeated Prussians to Marshal Grouchy with two infantry and two cavalry Corps, Napoleon led his remaining infantry and cavalry against the Anglo/Dutch, who had determined to make a stand on a ridge just south of the village of Waterloo. The English would be swept aside and Brussels would fall, after all they were bad troops led by a bad General….

The French win if they defeat the Anglo Dutch Army and move enough troops off the field up the road to Brussels to take it. Defeating both the British and the Prussians would be an even greater victory! The Allies need to defeat the French main body, and other result is a draw.

Special Rules

All rivers count as ‘bad going’ and may only be crossed by artillery at the marked bridges (which may not be destroyed).

The Bois de Ohain is bad going, but is passable to artillery.

The game starts at 11.00am and finishes at 8.00pm.

Units which rout off the map may still be rallied and brought back.

Crestlines considered linear obstacles for combat.

Each Army has a break point, once this is reached they must withdraw from the battle and are considered defeated.

Allied Briefing

Forces and deployment.

Anglo/Dutch – all troops regular unless indicated. Break on 6 elements destroyed.

HQ (Wellington), 10 x infantry (half raw), 2 x foot gun, 2 x light cavalry, 2 x heavy cavalry, 1 x baggage. Deploy on or north of the Mont St Jean ridge, and can occupy Hougoment (SP), La Haye Sainte (SP) and Papelotte (BUA).

Prussian Main Body. (Prussians break on 7 elements destroyed).

HQ (Blucher), Ist, IInd and IVth Corps (6 x regular infantry, 8 x raw infantry, 2 x foot gun, 1 x light cavalry, 2 x heavy cavalry). Deploy on the Wavre ridge. One Corps (max five inf, 1 gun 1 cav) may deploy west of the ridge but east of the Lasne.

Prussian IIIrd Corps.

HQ (Thielmann), IIIrd Corps (2 x regular inf, 2 x raw inf, 1 x gun, 1 x light cav). Deploy north of the Dyle between Wavre and Limale inclusive.

French Briefing

Forces and deployment.

Left Wing. – all troops regular unless indicated. Break on 9 elements destroyed, Guard units count double.

Army HQ (Napoleon), Ist, IInd and VIth Corps, IInd and IIIrd Cavalry Corps, Imperial Guard. 10 x infantry, 1 x foot gun, 1 x light cavalry, 1 x heavy cavalry, 1 x cuirassier. 2 x elite infantry, 2 x elite heavy foot gun, 1 x elite light cavalry, 1 x elite cuirassier. 1 x baggage. Deploy on or south of the La Belle Alliance ridge.

Right Wing.

HQ (Grouchy), IIIrd and VIth Corps, Ist and IVth Cavalry Corps (6 x regular infantry, 1 x foot gun, 1 x light cavalry, 1 x heavy cavalry, 1 x cuirassier). Deploy south of the River Dyle and east of the woods.

The Game

We managed to assemble a fair number of players:

Wellington (John Armatys), Blucher (Tim Gow), Thielmann (Bob), Grouchy (Nick), Ney (the other Bob) and Napoleon (Kevin Tingle). Both sides deployed simultaneously behind screens, after a certain degree of conferring. Apologies to all concerned if my memory of deployments and movements is at fault.

 

The British set up in traditional manner, occupying Hougoment and la Haye and the reverse slope of the Mont St Jean ridge. They did not occupy Papelotte, preferring to keep a small infantry reserve.

Thielmann adopted the obvious defensive posture, occupying Wavre and Limale, guns in the centre and his cavalry in reserve. Blucher meanwhile lined up his forces into three massive columns ready to march to Wellingtons rescue.

Grouchy set up in a very aggressive manner, a column of four infantry divisions preparing to simply batter their way across the Dyle and into Wavre. Napoloen and Ney decided to attack in force on their right flank, massing a large Grand Battery, and assembling the bulk of their infantry and cavalry into three large columns, aiming to crush the British utterly before the Prussians could intervene. (of course if they failed, they would expose their right rear flank to the Prussians).

The battle opened with a cannonade from the La Belle Alliance ridge, while the ponderous columns made their way forwards. At Wavre, Grouchys first attack failed in bloody disaster, as the veteran French infantry found that even Prussian militia were capable of defending river crossings from villages when they were not subjected to any preparatory fire. The Allies awaited events, and Blucher set his columns in motion.

At Waterloo, the artillery fire was relatively indecisive, however the first French attack was beaten off by the Allied infantry and a heroic cavalry charge by a single Allied cavalry briagde which routed the entire French cavalry! The French had lead their multi-Corps column with the Guard Light cavalry, who proved incapable of standing in the face of the British heavy cavalry, and their rout took all their fellows with them. The British duly plunged after them into the middle of the French Army, and their brief victory was ended as they were overwhelmed from all sides. They had seriously disrupted two of the three main French columns however.

At Wavre Grouchy threw more fresh troops in, a vicious close range musket/artillery duel resulted in the French artillery being destroyed, and the assault troops were thrown back once more. One unfortunate division did get across the river, only to be routed, its retreat path taking it down the west bank of the Dyle. Immediately the Prussian light cavalry spotted their chance and set off in pursuit, cutting down the fugitives.

Back at Waterloo the French reorganised. Their right hand column occupied Papelotte, throwing off flank guards into the Bois de Ohain, and the other two columns moved forwards once more. Wellington meanwhile tried some offensive action of his own, the British troops sallied forth from Hougoment, overunning the French guns and turning their left flank. In the centre however, the French Grand Battery set La Haye Sainte on fire.

The fighting at Wavre began to wind down as the French ran out of infantry and the Prussians continued to hold their positions. The main Prussian force was entering the Bois de Ohain, but having great difficulty negotiating the stream and woods. Meanwhile the French columns shook out into line and launched a shattering attack on the British left flank, La Haye Sainte was overrun, the defenders being wiped out, the line on the ridge wavering and then routing in the face of the French veterans. The only formed Anglo-Dutch units left were the attackers from Hougoment, and Wellington and his staff. The way to Brussels was open!

At this moment of supreme triumph (Napoleon and Ney were both extremely pleased with themselves at this point), nemesis struck in the form of the Prussians. The French right, rather than holding its positions, had, under Neys instructions, actually advanced into the Bois de Ohain to do battle with the leading Prussians. Heavily outnumbered, the French broke in the desperate close quarters fighting. They routed directly back, crashing into the right flanks of their comrades poised to advance over the ridge in pursuit of the fleeing British, and themselves fell into rout and disorder, running across the front of the ridge. Seeing his opportunity, Wellington hurled his staff stand into the fleeing French, cutting them down. This was too much for the French, whose Army now passed its break point, and the battlefield dissolved into a mass of fleeing French units.

Napoleons comments at this point are unrepeatable, but rarely had defeat been snatched from the jaws of victory in such a way (the British were one stand from their breakpoint at this time), and the table erupted in exclamations of horror/delight, and much to everyones amazement, a roughly historical result. A 'close run thing' anyway!

Thanks to everyone who took part and helped make it a memorable evening, especially to Kevin 'Napoleon' Tingle who actually wants to try it again.....