Friday, January 16, 2009

Battle Report - Shako II Scenario - Vimiero, 1808

Junot to Wellesley - "How do you like me now?"

Last night we gathered at Dallas' place to play a game the Conscripts had not played in quite some time - 15mm Napoleonics! The rules were Shako II, and the scenario was the battle of Vimiero from August of 1808, which pitted a small British force commanded by General Wellesley attempting to hold a line of hills against an ambitious attack by the French commander Junot.

Dallas, Mike F, and Frederick took command of the British forces, confident they would enjoy a Sharpe-novel style battle where the British infantry, fighting in line (of course) hose down the French attackers with lethal musket volleys. Bill, Brian and myself took the place of the French generals, taking a momentary break from hauling away the dinner suite of the Portuguese royal family to try and knock the British out of the Peninsula all together!

The scenario, from the original Shako scenario book "Fields of Glory", featured many small "divisions" (actually small brigades) on both sides and starting positions which placed the opposing commands very close to each other, so the action was almost immediate. Frederick took command of two brigades on the right of the British line, Dallas had another two in the centre, and Mike had two on the left. Dallas also had a brigade off-table, ready to make an entry on the extreme left of the line later in the game.

For the French, Bill and Brian each took command of two brigades on the left of the French line (facing Frederick and Dallas). They were small, but included a good-size contingent of converged grenadiers, which would give the force an elite heft. I had a brigade on the right (facing Mike F and part of Dallas' units), and also a brigade under General Brennier (hereafter referred to as General "WHAT-ever") which was going to be making a flank arrival (against the left of the British line) at a random point in the game. The French also could call on a good-size cavalry division if needed, but doing so would lower the victory level.

The participants will recall that my recollection of game turns passing was utterly daft (my apologies again Bill), but generally the British held firm on their left, holding high ground against Brian and Bill, but in the centre and the right of their line, they advanced (perhaps preferring that high ground to the high ground they were already occupying). This caught me by surprise, and brought my brigade into contact with Mike F almost immediately, while Brian and Bill moved forward under artillery fire and attention from the green-jacketed 95th rifles in skirmish formation.

On the British right, Frederick and Dallas were scoring kills and staggers with artillery, and even some kills with skirmish fire. Brian's formations replied in kind, and between Bill and Brian, one of Frederick's divisions was soon in a morale-testing state. Frederick rolled high enough to keep them on the table, but with many penalties, which would hurt in the close assault. On the French side, Brian passed morale checks handily.

When the moment for melee came, the dice were not favourable to the red (and green) coat cause. Shako II punishes you for missing a point-blank volley at units which are charging, and the Brits had the misfortune to miss most of their volleys, earning a penalty for the melee which followed. The dice were not much kinder in the melee, and the converged grenadiers were soon occupying the high ground.

In the centre, Dallas advanced to cover the town of Vimiero against more French grenadiers from Bill's command, but the grenadiers (backed by the French army battery) ultimately drove them away, and the division broke, leaving the road to Vimiero open.

On the British left it was a clash between my divisions(the largest ones the French had) and Mike F's crack troops, backed by the other half of Dallas' command. I earned some staggers and sucked up some hits from artillery, but the British muskets were remarkably ineffective, and "Operation Dumb Luck" proceeded like clockwork. The artillery gunners in my division, after firing blanks for several turns, located some sort of experimental depleted-uranium case shot and hit the Brits very hard. Up next - roll a "six" for initiative, giving me the chance to remove a stagger that otherwise would have been a hindrance. Step three - close assault against a British line in a superior defensive position. Step four - British fail their point blank volley. Step five - barely win the melee, enough to drive the buggers back!!

On the extreme left of the British line, much entertainment from late-arriving units. Mike F was working to envelop my division in the hills when General WHAT-ever showed up practically right behind Mike's left flank. While Mike did his best to position the units to react to the new threat, the Shako II rules are once again rather merciless. Vegas-level initiative rolls saved them from utter destruction, but the British artillery was charged by cavalry from the rear, and the guns were wiped out. I smelled blood...

Then Dallas shows up with the bloody Portugues Cacadores on my flank!! Dallas' troops smelled blood (I smelled something else) but rather than assume any sort of logical defensive position, I decided a second phase of "Operation Dumb Luck" was in order. I sent a solitary batallion against Mike F's last division. Bill had advised that initiating a melee without staggering the opponent first was dangerous, so I took care of that with some handy skirmisher fire (dumb luck again) and proceeded to win the melee (further dumb luck) after (you guessed it) the British missed their point blank volley!

Dallas still sensed the chance to thump General WHAT-ever, and his Portuguese battalions surged forward, only to be stopped dead by - you guessed it - French musket fire! The staggered units would be exposed next turn to a charge by rested French cavalry in the next turn....

At that point, we called the game at (I think) the end of turn seven (or so). The road to Vimiero was open, two British divisions broken, two more in danger. In the end, British lines holding the high ground are not that threantening when they fail to hit the broad side of a barn with their volley fire. Vive L'empereur!

As a post-script, when collecting the figures after the game, we noticed that we had not deployed the British cavalry (a solitary regiment of light dragoons)! It kind of summed up the night for them. Likely they could have intervened against Bill's grenadiers, and kept the French out of Vimiero, but more likely would have been covering Wellesley as he ran for the boats!

Thanks to all for a great game, and thanks to Dallas for hosting. It was great to get back to Napoleonics once again.

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