Sunday, 11 February 2018

Campaign Battle of Baylen

We have just completed an interesting wargame, which bore no relation to the historical battle of Baylen.   This one was part of our Linares campaign, which is set in southern Spain and has the objective of taking and holding “our” Baylen.

It is the fourth battle of the campaign.   The previous three were all won by the French.   Both armies have suffered considerable casualties from the earlier battles, and as a result most brigades involved have fragile morale and reduced combat effectiveness.

It took place on the thirteenth day of the campaign.   For the first ten days the French advanced towards Baylen, defeating all four of the Spanish corps in the process. 

However as they advanced they had to detach infantry brigades to garrison each of the towns they captured, in order to secure their lines of supply.  The militia garrisons of those towns had taken to the hills and were now active guerrilla bands. 

With the Spanish army in retreat it appeared that Marshal Suchet had only to continue his advance in order to secure a complete victory.  However on day eleven he received a report that one of the towns in his rear had fallen to the guerrilla, and that its garrison had been surrounded and forced to surrender.   His supply line was cut and he was forced to send one of his four corps back to open and secure it.

The other three corps were ordered to concentrate in and around Baylen until they could be resupplied.

General Giron rallied his four defeated corps and attacked before the French could either resupply or gather their four corps together.   Three of his corps were deployed in front of Baylen, a fourth was half a day’s march to the west.   They would arrive on the battlefield at midday (move 5 of 12).

The battle opened with the French slightly stronger than the Spanish, particularly in cavalry.   However they had to hold a strong reserve to counter the arrival of the Spanish fourth corps.

Until midday the two armies skirmished.  This was the time when the French artillery needed to pound the Spanish infantry, in the hope that already weakened by battle casualties they would break and run.   Unfortunately the French gunners were not up to the task.   They inflicted a few casualties but the Spanish infantry held their morale.

By mid-afternoon (move 7 of 12) the fourth Spanish corps had arrived, linked with the other three corps and were ready to advance.

Three Spanish corps were ordered to attack, and a fourth held in reserve.   As they neared the French positions they suffered more artillery casualties and one of the infantry brigades broke and routed.  Fortunately the rout did not spread.

The town of Baylen was taken by late afternoon, and the Italian garrison ran away.  They were quickly joined by the rest of the Italian corps.   With a large hole in the centre of his positon Suchet was forced to order a general retreat.

The game was interesting because it was really decided by guerrilla activity before the battle took place.   Although the Spanish outnumbered the French in infantry and artillery, they were weak in cavalry.   In addition most Spanish infantry brigades were poor quality, and most has some casualties.

The French were not much better.   All three corps carried battle casualties, but two were better quality than the third.   The French and Polish corps were considerably better than the Italian corps, which was of similar quality to the Spanish.   The Italians were placed in and around the town, which gave them better cover.   However when they started to take casualties they were unable to maintain their morale.

This type of battle is typical of our campaign based wargames.  In this particular one the French started with overwhelming superiority in quality though not quantity.   Each town they captured resulted in another guerrilla band.   Each days march forward resulted in longer and more vulnerable supply lines.   Eventually they ran out of steam and found themselves isolated and their supply lines cut.   Unwilling to retreat the French commander had to send one of his four corps back to reopen his supply line.   This gave the Spanish commander his first real opportunity to win the campaign.

Despite the Spanish superiority in numbers both armies started the game with an equal chance of winning.   Much would depend on how effective the French gunners were in the early part of the battle.   Much would depend on how effective the French cavalry were against the Spanish infantry.

In the end the game was decided by good luck with critical combat or morale dice throws.

Very interesting wargame and great fun to play.


Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

It is interesting to see the effect of having to garrison places and cope with guerrillas had on the advancing French force. This drives home the point that battles that are fought as part of a campaign are much more interesting - and realistic - than simple 'line up with everything you've got' one-off battles.

All the best,


thistlebarrow said...

Hi Bob

Thanks for your comment

I have only played wargames derived from a campaign for the past 12 years or so, and I would noter go back to "one off" games.

I can understand how gamers want to game historical battles. But the more I researched actual battles the more I realised how difficult they would be to reproduce on a wargame table.

There is a certain satisfaction in setting up a game like Waterloo or Leipzig and the visual impact can be very impressive. We have played both at Peter Guilders WRG many years ago, and they were ceretainly impressive. But both were very disappointing as a game.

However each to their own. And it would be boring if we all wanted to do the same thing.



Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


Interestingly, I have taken part in re-fights of both Waterloo and Leipzig ... but they took place in a lawn using 54mm figures!

The sheer size of the battlefields meant that none of the different corps commander had much idea what was happening outside their sector, and once or twice people got caught out my enemy troops suddenly seeming to appear on a flank or towards their rear. Some players had a steep learning curve, and very soon screens of light cavalry began to be deployed both to mask advancing troops or to act as an early warning screen.

The problem with most tabletop wargames is the ability commanders have to see everything that is happening at a glance. It is only in really big games - such as the multi-table MEGABLITZ battles - where this does not occur.

All the best,


thistlebarrow said...

Hi Bob

Leipzig in 54mm sounds interesting. I would have liked to see that.

I agree with the "fog of war" element of big games. And it is a great experience to take part in a large battle with masses of model soldiers and lots of players. However I personally found that the game part of the experience left a lot to be desired.

When we played at Peter Guilders there were about 20 players, half of them complete strangers. My opponent had very little grasp of the rules, and was completely overwhelmed by the large numbers of figures he commanded. The result was a very confused and frustrating game, which went on for two days. By the end of the first day I would have happily conceded defeat just to get out of the game.

It would have been a different experience had we all belonged to the same group or club and had used the rules together before taking on Leipzig.