Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Battle of Maida - 4 Jul 1806 - 20mm

Reynier's 1ere Legere advances on the British Combined Light Bn

Next up in my decadal battles series was the Battle of Maida, 4th July 1806. This was the only major battle the British fought in Italy, and was part of a small, and highly successful, operation aimed at disrupting the French plans to invade the British defended island of Sicily. Richard Hopton's book is the go-to information source - I picked mine up at a show for £5!

Stuart had landed with about 5000 men just up the western Italian coast, 80 km from the Straits of Messina. Reynier marched with about 6000 men to meet him. As Stuart marched up the flat Maida valley (as in Maida Vale!) Reynier descended, possibly unwisely, off the valley side to meet him.

The nice things about this battle is that it's about 8 bn a side, the British have two small batteries of 3/4 pdrs, the French just one. The French have a regiment of Chasseurs, and that's it. Here's a nice map from NapNuts:

Given the small size I decided to play this scenario twice. First in 20mm with 18 figure battalions (so about 1:33), and then in 6mm (1/300) with the same ground scale with 90 figure battalions (so about a 1:5 ratio). In the latter case since the ground scale is 10cm = 100m (using hexon hexes), so 1:100, it means we have only about a 1:3 error between figure and ground scale. I used Steady Lads Steady as usual, but given the small numbers I decided to also allow musketry (which is usually wrapped in with the melee/charge rules), but used the existing firefight rules to do it.

Initial Deployments - British on left
Both sides start deployed in echelon and in line, as was historically the case. This meant that the first clash was (bottom half of image) between the British Combined Light Battalion and the French 1ere Legere. The firepower of the British line and the gun batter was enough to see off the first French battalion. Alongside, 2/1e Legere came up against the slightly untried 81st who flinched and withdrew. But that left 2/1e momentarily stranded and Wateville's English Swiss in the reserve Brigade marched swiftly up and into the flank of 2/1e who retreated back.

Whilst this was going on in the centre the French Swiss (yes, both sides!)  and Poles marched steadily forward but again the fire from the second British battery and the 78th Highlanders they were unable to make an impression on the British line, and were soon withdrawing with losses.

On the British left flank the French fared better since the Chasseurs could come forward and force the British grenadiers and 27th into square. But the French battery of Griois (who provided one of the best eye-witness accounts) was too weak to make any impact unless it could get really close. The French 23ere Legere also came forward in support, but the scrub on this flank really slowed things.

That was pretty much the first hour/3 turns.

Returning to the British right flank the Light Battalion surged forward against the two weakened and one full strength (but disordered) battalions of Compere's Bde, forcing them all back and sending the Brigade into Compulsory Withdraw orders. In the centre Oswald's Reserve Bde pushed forward through Acland's disrupted Bde of the 78th & 81st and started chasing the Poles and Swiss back. That brigade (Peyri's) was also soon into Compulsory Withdrawal. But before the turn could end (and it would then be game over since the French had 2 of their 3 Bde's withdrawing) Reynier was able to use a command point to rally one of the Polish battalions and stave off the end of the game.

On the left flank the Chasseurs unwisely decided to charge the Grenadier square but were beaten off and had to withdraw. This meant that the Grenadiers and 27th could come back out of square and advance, helped by the 20th Line who had just arrived on the table (they were late marching up from the beach having been involved in a diversionary attack elsewhere).

The 81st advance - but bring up the rear after initial losses

In the closing turn - #7 - Oswald finally made contact with Peyri's fragile Poles and Swiss, and that was it, game over as both the battalions exited the board.

The subtitle of Richard Hopton's book is "15 Minutes of Glory", and the real battle lasted about 8.30 to 10.30, so the wargame was about the right duration, and gave the right result!

Curtains for the Poles, who performed better than in reality

The really interesting thing for me though was that in the whole wargame there was not a single melee! In each case when someone went to charge either their charge faltered or their opposition fell back. Reading Hopton's book this appears to be exactly what happened in the real battle. Hopton says "It was very rare that two lines of infantry charging with bayonets fixed would in fact run into each other....Maida has in the past been offered as an exception to this rule... [but]...bayonets did not cross at Maida ..[and]...Dyneley [commanding one of the British batteries] confirms..that the French 'turned tail' and fled before they reached the British bayonets".

Indeed Hopton highlights that the fact that the casualties were extremely low. He reports that the British lost only 45 soldiers (including one officer), and had 280 wounded. French  losses were around 700 killed/wounded and 1000 prisoners. This all seems in line with what the wargame showed. He also notes that the highest British casualties were in Acland's Brigade, as in the wargame, and that they were saved by Watteville's Swiss - again as in the game.

The end state

When I wrote Steady Lads Steady I had this issue of bayonets rarely crossing front-of-mind, and designed the "assault" rules accordingly with a three phase, but quick, firefight-resolve-melee sequence to try and capture this and have a fairly high "resolve" threshold. It's always worked pretty well in bigger games, with many charges either not going home or having their target evaporate, but this is the first battle where NO assault resulted into an actual melee, and it was nice it did it on a battle that is documented as one where exactly that happened.

So the 20mm figures can be put away and the 6mm one's brought out!

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