First Victories – Vimeiro AAR part 1

First Victories – Vimeiro AAR part 1

This is a part 1 of a three part replay of Vimeiro scenario 4, which is the free-form scenario from First Victories. We will be publishing the second part next Monday.

This replay will feature the full Brigade Game rules save the optional Limited Intelligence rules. The battlefield is fairly constrained and just about everything will be visible, making that rule largely moot.

Though I won’t do anything drastic, I will follow a different plan than Junot. A detailed analysis of Junot’s plan is included in the scenario book for Vimeiro.

The French plan of battle is to attempt to defeat the bulk of the British forces on the Ventosa ridge while masking Vimeiro until such time as it can be attacked concentrically from three sides. This plan has several advantages. Facing the British on the ridge reduces the ability of the British to use terrain to their advantage. In the open the British will be more vulnerable to cavalry as well as rolling shot from artillery fire. The French will also have the high ground making it easier for them to march down slope and to use the reverse slope in the event of a retreat.

To accomplish this plan the French will send Delaborde’s division to the heights along with Margaron’s cavalry division. Loison’s division will move forward to Vimeiro, waiting out of cannon shot of Vimeiro, but sending his skirmishers forward to help soften up the British on Vimeiro hill. The French Reserve under Kellermann will loiter in the vicinity of Toledo to await events. His force will either wait to join the final assault on Vimeiro, or if the opportunity arises to take the British forces on the Ventosa ridge in the flank. The Reserve consists of four crack battalions that can quickly break through an enemy line.

The British will counter this by avoiding sending Craufurd’s and Trant’s brigades on a long flanking march to nowhere. Instead they will be put to use in the line.

Wellesley’s force at Vimeiro numbered about 19,300 while Junot’s force was around 13,000. However, Wellesley willingly gave up his numerical advantage during the critical part of the battle by sending Craufurd and Trant on their long flank march and by leaving Hill on the far side of the river. By doing so he took almost 7,000 men from the battle, granting Junot a slight edge in numbers present on the field of battle during the hours of actual combat. Had Junot executed his battle plan more effectively he might very well have ended Wellesley’s Peninsular career in it’s infancy. I have not found any author that has noted this simple fact in any history or analysis of the battle, which in my opinion says something about the scholarship of this period.

Wellesley has often been portrayed as being nearly infallible with regard to his military prowess, when in fact he sometimes made serious mistakes for which his enemy was unable to reap the benefits. No doubt Napoleon would have considered him lucky in the fatalistic sense of being a man of destiny. Fortune favors the prepared and Wellesley was a careful planner throughout his military career, but in this case Junot did not follow the course that Wellesely expected forcing him to improvise. Sending Craufurd and Trant on their long march was one of those mistakes and we’ll avoid it in this game.

Figure 1: British Setup

Figure 1 shows the British setup. The setup around Vimeiro is the historical one. Fane is in Line of Battle in front. Anstruther is in double LOB with the rear line in open column so that they can quarter-wheel to face right or deploy to their front.

On the heights Ferguson, Nightengall and Bowes are in Grand Column ready to move forward and deploy. Ferguson and Bowes are Right in Front, so that they can deploy to their left. Nightengall is Left in Front so that he can deploy to his right. See these threads on Board Game Geek discussing the Brigade Game command rules and Order of Battle. Moving in Grand Column is much easier than in Line of Battle. Units simply play follow the leader allowing them to move around difficult terrain with relative ease. While Line of Battle requires paying attention to maintaining line of sight to the directing unit as well as the difficult of traversing obstacles and changing direction.

8:20 AM Turn

Since at this point in the game, the forces are far apart, so we won’t bother to deal with initiative and orders. We’ll just bring on the French and move the British forces.

In this scenario the French can assign Brigade groups to an entry area each turn. The French entry areas are along the south edge of the map while those of the British are along the west and north. Entry area D is the right choice for the battle plan and the French will bring on Delaborde’s division on turn 1. The cavalry will enter next turn, because they can move faster. Loison’s division will enter on turn 3 and the reserve will follow on turn 4.

On the British side the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Brigades will deploy in their historical position to await the French. Historically, Ferguson was entrusted with the command of the British left. Acland will enter on turn 1 and Craufurd will enter on turn 2 and move to fill the gap between Ferguson’s brigades and Vimeiro. Trant will enter on turn 3 and move according to circumstances.

Figure 2 shows the turn 1 moves. The French enter in Grand Column on either side of the trail to Toledo. The trail is reserved for the artillery. The French enter Right in Front so they can deploy towards their left, which is the flank the British are on.

Ferguson deploys into Line of Battle (blue arrows). Nightengall moves forward three hexes and then deploys into Line of Battle (orange arrows). All the battalions remain in column.

To deploy into LOB from Grand Column a brigade must perform an evolution. In this case, Ferguson will deploy to his left using the Direct Route Method of deploying. This means that the leading unit will stand in place while the rear units move to their left into their proper place in the LOB. This is shown in Figure 3. After performing this evolution the brigade makes an Evolution Check. They rolled a 0 and failed, which means all units in the brigade take a disorder check. 1/40 Foot is disordered. Nightengall does the same except to his right, because he is leading by the left. Nightengall’s brigade passes their evolution check.

Bowes ascends the hill and Acland enters at entry area A in Grand Column, Right in Front.

Figure 2: Turn 1

Figure 3: Direct Route Deployment

8:40 AM Turn

The forces are still distant so we’ll skip the details of initiative and orders again.

The French go first. Delaborde continues on his march and Margaron’s cavalry enters at entry area D with both brigades in grand columns leading by the right.

The British have to get Ferguson’s Brigade in order before they go from battalion column into line. 1/40 Foot fails to get its ranks back in order so Ferguson just moves forward closer to his final deployment position.

Nightengall moves forward three hexes and then forms his battalion columns into line formation. One unit fails its formation change disorder check. Otherwise he’s good to go.

Bowes moves up the hill. Acland and Craufurd follow.

Figure 4: Turn 2

9:00 AM Turn

The forces are getting closer so we’ll do initiative and orders. The British win the initiative and decide to go first in order to get their house in order before the French arrive. Each side receives one order. Since, the British won the initiative the French place their orders first. The French give an attack order to Delaborde and the British give an attack order to Nightengall.

The British fail to rally any troops during their rally phase.

During their move things get worse as Ferguson’s entire brigade falls into disorder after they form line from their battalion columns. They are in poor shape and still need to wheel their brigade to get into position. With his brigade in such disorder, this is now a risky maneuver and leaves them quite vulnerable to cavalry.

Nightengall holds position and throws out some skirmishers. Bowes deploys into line of battle. He passes his evolution check and then forms line from battalion column. One unit fails its formation change disorder check. He is more or less ready to go.

Acland gets out of road column and forms battalion columns. Craufurd begins to do the same. Trant enters at A. He is in Grand Column with left in front so that he can form LOB by a simple quarter-wheel which is all the raw Portuguese units are allowed to do.

The French cavalry under Margaron heads across the valley and up the hill to the Ventosa ridge.

Delaborde’s division veers to the right so that they can deploy to their left. They need room to deploy and want to be clear of the village of Toledo so they do not have to move through it or wheel around it. As can be seen with Ferguson’s Brigade, evolutions can lead to disorder and possible destruction. It’s best to perform evolutions only when absolutely necessary. In this instance, it probably would have been better for the French to enter left in front, so that they could deploy to their right. They could do this anyway and deploy inverted, but that may cause trouble in the future, so we’ll burn the extra turn of movement to get in position.

Loison follows in Delaborde’s footsteps and enters at D. For his deployment it makes sense for his brigades to be right in front so he can deploy to his left. He’ll place the head of his column just west of Toledo and then deploy into LOB.

9:20 AM Turn

The French win the initiative. They receive two orders, while the British receive one. The French decide to go first so they can try and take advantage of the disorder in the

Figure 5: Turn 3

British ranks. The British place a reserve order on Ferguson so that they may refuse combat if necessary. The French place attack orders on Brenier’s Brigade and Margaron’s Division of cavalry.

The French are all in good order so no rally checks are necessary. Artillery is still out of range.

Proceeding with the French Movement Segment, they have yet to deploy into Line of Battle and will begin that task this turn while out of range of the enemy artillery. It turns out the cavalry are just a little bit too far away, even with force marching, to get into position to charge this turn. The difficulty of the terrain and the time to get into a proper line of battle make it just out of reach. So they move up to the top of the hill and form up into line of battle. To do this they had to force march a couple of extra MP to conduct the evolution. Time is the one element in a battle that can never be regained and if luck holds at least some of Ferguson’s units will remain in disorder next turn. It is worth a little risk to press on.

And, in game terms, it makes sense to limit the total number of disorder checks a unit has to take. Thus, force marching and doing the evolution, or pressing on to get across difficult terrain more quickly may result in a higher chance of disorder, but reduces the total number of disorder checks reducing cumulative risk. In real terms this equates to stopping to dress the ranks less frequently. Force marching may cause fatigue and Margaron’s Brigades will need to make a Fatigue Check at the end of the turn. The two French cavalry brigades manage to get into line of battle using the processional method and passing their evolution checks handily. Only one squadron of the 7 squadrons is disordered from force marching. Their luck holds for now.

The infantry proceed a little more methodically. Brenier’s Brigade moves up the slopes part way and deploys into double line of battle using the direct route with the light battalions out front. They pass their evolution check. Thomières Brigade marches on up the slopes, but does not yet deploy.

Loison moves towards Vimeiro, while Junot and Kellermann’s Reserve Division enters at entry location D to take up position near Toledo. Kellermann forms Grand Column with its Right in Front.

Ferguson, who had a reserve order, moves next. Given that the French were not able to move forward far enough, Ferguson will stay put. He can’t form square, because his units are in disorder and he doesn’t want to risk a passage of lines with Bowes due to the risk of further disordering both his troops and Bowes. He will have to tough it out and hope to rally. He also does not deploy skirmishers due to the presence of enemy cavalry where they prove somewhat of an embarrassment. His half company of the 5/60 Royal Americans will enter the hamlet of Fontanell with Ferguson’s artillery. They form up and make a disorder check which they pass.

Now for the British half of the turn. There are a number of disordered units to rally after a number of maneuvers were bungled. However, all British units rally save three units in Ferguson’s Brigade! If they get the initiative next turn they may just get organized in the nick of time to face the French.

Brenier’s Brigade is just within the long range artillery band of Nightengall’s mediocre British 6 pounder guns. They will take a shot at 3/4 Légère B. Their FS is 2, but apply –2 for long range, but +1 because the French are in column. They mark off one round shot ammo from the ammo sheet and fire. They roll a 14 which misses by a wide margin. The battery has no howitzers so their fire is complete. The battery in Fontanell does not have a clear LOS to the Brenier’s Brigade. Their LOS crosses a de facto military crest, because the troops are on the top elevation level of that part of the ridge.

In the British Movement Segment, Ferguson cannot move, because his opportunity to move was in the Reserve Segment of the French turn. Nightengall stays put. Bowes Brigade moves up to support Ferguson. His leftmost unit takes a disorder check, because of the extra MP cost to get through the scrub. Acland moves forward skirting the top of the Ventosa ridge to get into position to deploy behind Nightengall. Craufurd’s Brigade moves to fill the gap between Vimeiro and the forces on the ridge. Trant moves to back up Craufurd. Wellesley calls the scant British cavalry to Fontanell. They are out of command and it will take them longer to reach Fontanell. The troops around Vimeiro remain in position. The pieces are falling into place and next turn should see some action.

The last thing to do this turn is for Margaron’s Brigades to check for fatigue. If they roll a 0 they will increase their fatigue level. Both pass with a roll of 2.

Ready for more? Check out part 2 of the AAR.

Terry Doherty
Author: Terry Doherty