Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Battle of Lago Bosco in 1810

A company of Royal Horse Artillery go into battery near the village of Lago Bosco, near the Spanish-Portuguese border, circa 1810. Click pix to enlarge the view.

On November 19, 2011 we played the inaugural battle in der Alte Fritz's new War Cave with a battle from the Napoleonic Wars in Spain, circa 1810. We had four players with Bill P. and Earl K. playing the British side, while Keith L. and yours truly played the French side. I actually wanted to play on the British side with Bill so that I could command my new 83rd Regiment, but then that would have placed the two most experienced BAR Napoleon players on the same side, so we split up.

The scenario was inspired, somewhat loosely, by the events in the book Sharp's Enemy, by Bernard Cornwell. It was November 1810 and the campaign season was coming to a close, with both sides going into winter quarters - the French in Spain, and the British quartered in Portugal. The British had established a number of forward posts along the main roads and mountain passes that separate the two countries. One such outpost lay at the mouth of a narrow defile, at the village of Lago Bosco in Spain.

The French were to make a reconnaisance in force with a brigade of infantry and a brigade of light cavalry. Their objective was to sieze and control the pass before the British could react and stop them. A small British force raced to the village to support the light infantry (2 companies of the 5/60th ) manning the post in Lago Bosco.

French Forces
4 battalions of infantry (Veterans) 72 figures per battalion
1 company of Baden Jagers (12 figures)
1 battery of foot artillery (3-8pdrs and 1 howitzer)
1 regiment of dragoons (4 squadrons)
5 squadrons of chasseurs a cheval

British Forces
2/83rd Foot (78 figures)
Royal Marines (32 figures)
2 companies 95th Rifles (24 figures)

2 squadrons of hussars (24 figures)
2 squadrons of light dragoons (24 figures)
1 squadron of KGL hussars
1 more squadron of light dragoons
1 section of Royal Horse Artillery (3 x 6pdrs with 15 crew and 3 limbers)

As you might surmise by the comparative rosters shown above, the French outnumber the British infantry by about 2 to 1. The objective of the British was to possibly prevent the French from passing through the defile, or failing that, to hold them at bay for 8 turns (which in theory would provide time for elements of the Wellington's army to come to the pass and stop the French from capturing this important terrain feature). Given the sizeable difference in forces, I set up the table with a lot of terrain features and fall back positions from the pass to the town. I envisioned that the British light infantry might delay and then fall back towards Lago Bosco.

The French enter the defile with light cavalry screening their advance. A company of 95th Rifles peppers the column with long range riflery. The French responded by facing the green jackets and blowing them all away with their high-powered first fire. In the distance you can barely make out a walled farm house that was manned by the light company of the 83rd and the Royal Marines.

Things did not start out well for the British. They had placed the rifle-armed companies of the 95th on both sides of the defile, but they opened up their fire too soon and too close to the French column that was advancing through the defile. The French 1/12e de Ligne lost a couple of figures, then turned left into line and fired about 70 rounds of musketry into the Rifles on the left hand hill, wiping them all out. The 1/12e then decided to scale the hill since it was no longer occuppied. This would pry open the British control of the valley.

A view of the imposing French column, from the British point of view, as they emerge from the defile. In the foreground you can see the light company of the 2/83rd on the right and some Royal Marines manning the walls of the farm compound. Again, note the French cavalry screen to the front.

RHA deploy facing the mouth of the defile, supported by the grenadier company of the 2/83rd. In the distance, you can see several squadrons of British light cavalry waiting to pounce on the French when they deploy on the plain.

The French deploy their artillery battery and elect to blast a hole in the walls of the farm compound, rather than assaulting it with infantry. The orange flashes are blinking LED lights from Warlord Games in the UK.

...and the walls came a tumbling down. The Marines decide to evacuate the compound after seeing the French artillery reducing the walls to rubble. At this point, the RHA also retired and fell back behind a protective ridge.

The fox is on the run as the hounds surge forward across the plain, infantry and French dragoons in close support.

In the picture above, you can see two French battalions. The one just coming off the hill, on the right, took three turns to get down a 12" slope. In BAR rules, you deduct two D6 from your movement for descending a steep slope and the French normally move 12 inches in line. As God is my witness, the French general rolled dice scores of 12, 11 and 10 in succession indicating moves of 0", 1" and 2" on those three turns. While that was going on, the French battalion on the left had marched around the base of the hill and was still ahead of the fellows who were clinging to the hill. :)

The British cavalry commander, Lord Paget (Bill P.) decided that there was nothing more that it could do now that the French were advancing out of the defile in force, so he ordered his brigade to retire behind Lago Bosco and cover the retreat of the infantry and horse artillery.

Captain Richard Sharp and Sgt. Harper point the direction, to Captain Hew Grant of the RHA, that the rest of the army is travelling. Elite Miniatures RHA figures and Sharp & Harper "specials" sculpted by Richard Ansell for Too Fat Lardies as a give-away for purchases of their "Sharpe Practice" rules. Sharp and Harper will march again soon.

So the British were pried out of their blocking position at the mouth of the defile by a skillful and methodical plan of attack by the French commander. They held off the French for 8 turns, so in that respect, they had succeeded in buying time for the rest of the army. The French were the victors by virtue of their control of the deflile and it seemed likely that they would probably roll over the defenders inside the town of Lago Bosco.

Some observations on my part: I had thought that the 2:1 advantage of the French could be negated by the terrain. My big mistake was in allowing the French to scale the heights of the hill on the left side of the defile. Once the French owned this position, the British defense was no longer tenable and they had to fall back or risk being cut off from the town. I should not have allowed any troops other than light infantry to scale the hill.

The British could have used one more battalion of regular infantry in all liklihood.

The player commanding the 95th Rifles was kind of new at all this. He has played BAR games with us for the SYW, but had never had a rifle-armed unit before. I have found that most gamers do not know how to use rifles at first. The advantage of the rifle is its long range compared to that of a musket. Rifles should be able to pepper away at the enemy, whilst they themselves are out of range of musketry. Thus rifles should never get too close to the enemy as their advantage is negated. Thus the first company of rifles was blown away by a single volley (first fire bonus too) of the French infantry. I have no doubt that the British player will take this lesson to heart and employ the rifles to better effect in future games.

This was a tough scenario for the British. I had minimal expectation that they could stop the French, but I though that they did well to hold them off for 8 turns. Had I not allowed troops on the heights over looking the defile, they may well have stopped the French. Bill P. later told me that he had contemplated massing all of his British cavalry at the mouth of the defile and lauching them into the French as they marched through the defile. That might well have worked and it would have been interesting to see how that tactic would work out.

The butcher's bill was very light for a BAR game. As French cavalry commander, I lost 22 horsemen and our infantry lost 9 or 10 soldiers. Most of the British losses were to the 24 cavalry that were stationed near the mouth of defile. I don't recall that they had many infantry casualties. So it really turned into a battle of maneuver, rather than one of fire. All in all, an intersting battle. A few tweeks in the scenario could make for a very fun game.


  1. This looks like a great battle. Good one, love the figures and Sharp well that just tops it.

  2. Very nice table and figures. Good battle narrative along with the description of game mechanics. I like it.

  3. A magnificent display - looking forward to the next installment.

  4. Thanks for a great report and photos. Good to see such big battalions in action.

  5. Excellent posting! Everything worked together very nicely and reflected your usual care and sensitivity to the visual element of the game.
    The report read very nicely, too, and gives a definite sense of how this battle went.

  6. Nice to big battalions in action in the peninsular

    -- Allan

  7. Really nicely done, great figures, terrain and AAR. Rifles commander unlucky to loose the lot to volley fire in open (skirmish?) order at the edge of a wood. I think it must be a first - as usually its how many French the Rifles accounted for!


  8. Doc: the rifles faced 72 Frenchmen taking their first volley which is a +5 in our rules, even with a -2 for elevation difference, that is going to result in a lot of hits.