Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fight To The Last Man

I am reading Jac Weller's book, "Wellington in the Peninsula 1808-1814" at the present and came across an interesting statement regarding Marshal Massena's military acumen with regard to knowing when "enough is enough".

"Messena and his professional army now had almost a year's experience fighting Wellington, but had accomplished nothing. He had the good sense at both Bussaco and Fuentes de Onoro not to continue unsuccessful attacks indefinitely and expose his army to total defeat. both Marmont at Salamanca and Napoleon at Waterloo were to make this error." (Page 168).

Think about that for a minute and recall how many wargames you have been involved in when one or more players make some senseless, crazed attack because they either have nothing left to do, having destroyed their own command in attacks, or because of some artificial game deadline that looms, i.e. the "it's 4:30 and we've got one more turn syndrome".

A couple of weeks ago, when we opened up our Peninsula Campaign, we were nearing the end of the game when suddenly the French commander on their right wing called off his attack and pulled his troops back to the ridge. He later told me that he did not want to destroy his brigade and it was apparent to him that the battle would not be won or lost in his sector of the table. He was right, of course, and I tip my hat to him for playing the game straight rather than immolating his brigade for mom good purpose.

It is an interesting concept, don't you think? Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the comments section of today's blog posting.


  1. Not only is it commendable, it is also one of the arguments in favor of "campaigns" (where casualties carry over).

    -- Jeff


  2. I agree with Bluebear - and argue it's one of the things I appreciate about campaigns, whatever their flaws. Force preservation becomes critical.

    They also promote ruthlessness, however - when you find yourself in the position of being able to inflict disproportionate casualties, there's a good reason to do it.

  3. Yep, far better to be a thinking commander and husband one's troops carefully than to continue banging one's head into the proverbial brick wall and fritter them away. Lord Raglan said something to that effect about his cavalry early on in the Crimea.

    Best Regards,


  4. I am all in favor of force preservation during a game but how did the commanding French general view this potential insubordination?

    Perhaps unilaterally calling off an attack, already in progress, ought not be so easy to execute? Launching a last ditch/last turn assault should be a difficult proposition by worn troops as well. Do your rules account for such fiction?

    Interesting question and a situation I've seen on numerous occasions.


  5. As Marshall Soult, I had informed my commanders that it was a campaign and that though winning the battle was a primary objective, maintaining our force to continue to press the British was imperative. As the battle progressed I was involved at the decisive point of attack and had confidence that my other commanders would make the correct decisions. As it,was darkness fell one turn to early or we would have forced a draw by pressuring with our left. Both our center and right had discontinued their attacks minimizing unnecessary casualties.

  6. Have you looked through Sam Mustafa's Grande Armee set of rules? There, he specifically has rules for the pursuit after the battle, and the success of one's pursuit expressly depends on how fresh a cavalry you have to pursue with, and how much cavalry the enemy has to check your pursuit with. Thus, it's to your advantage not to throw away your cavalry, because you WILL need it later.

    Campaigns have been mentioned, but I have found that the creation of long-term characters do a lot for force preservation. It's one thing to throwaway the faceless masses, quite another to throw away your beloved character.

  7. I echo what has been said above, but would also add the possibility of victory conditions where points are given for not only inflicting casualties, but for not losing too many of your own men.

    On another note it would have been interesting to see what might have happened if Massena had been left in charge of the campaign against Wellington. Napoleon was far too impatient with one of his best Marshals.

  8. It's an interesting proposition and one I've only seen really in campaign games. There's a contemporary warfare ruleset called Force on Force that handles that sort of thing very well - mainly through using weighted victory points. That is that each side receives victory points for different things.

    One could argue that in a peninsular context - territory would count for more than casualties so far as the French were concerned, but that the British player must avoid losses so as to keep his force in being.

  9. I used to attend a club where almost every week there was the '10 o'clock charge' since that was packing up time and with a few minutes to go before that moment arrived certain players would invariably throw everything they had available at the opposition. Quite why they did this I don't really know, apart from trying to inflict maximum damage on the opposition and perhaps win the game. However since there usually wasn't any totting up of points or anything that resembled victory conditions I couldn't see the point. It reduced what was supposed to be a serious game re-enacting a specific period, or battle even, to something superfluous and childish even.There might be a cursory tot up of figures and then a short debate over who had actually won in theory, be it tactically or strategically, based on who had the larger lead pile regardless of what had actually been achieved in the game itself. I think it depends on whether participants are playing within the spirit of both the rules and the period they are trying to represent.Those who try to imitate the tactics and mindset of the day in question may well pull forces back and play in the spirit of the occasion, whilst others just see it as me v you and I 'have' to win, regardless of the style and manners of the period in play..

  10. Volleyfire, I wonder if it's just the frustration of not being able to fight an action to the "finish" (however we describe it) in one sitting, and not being able to keep it set up to continue the next time?

    My old club played a lot of games that ended up that way - it took so long to set up or play that there was a rush to, well, do something to "finish" things right about 5 o'clock.

  11. In addition to the positive value of campaigns, if doing one off games, I like to include a limit on generals where by if they lose a certain percentage of their army in terms of units broken/destroyed/retreated off table, reduced to 1/2, shaken etc depending on the rules, then they must concede and withdraw. I usually go with 1/2 both as a nod to Lawford & Young and as an easy to remember & measure number that allows players to be a bit reckless in a game setting but without fighting to the last man. Exceptions can be made for Last Stand type games. Not as good as a campaign but it has some effect and gives players a reason to keep a reserve and pull back battered units before they break.

  12. As well as campaigns perhaps this is one of the added benefits of multi player games when individual sub-commanders behave not to plan especially if there is an umpire and a time lag when issuing orders. Think of the British cavalry at Minden. Would this actually happen on a wargames table?

  13. Sorry but as USUAL authors get it wrong on Waterloo and Napoleon's decisions. Four things cost him that battle
    1. Starting late and not starting in the morning.
    2. Putting Grouchy on the Right wing and Ney on the Left.
    3. Leaving Davout HIS BEST Marshal in Paris
    4. The Prussians arriveed on his Flank. Wellington was and always should be considered an "average" general at best.