13 May 1813 –
North Spain – Day 3
orders 2nd army to attack Aguilar
1st army to hold Comillas
4th Spanish to hold
Cabezon, rally and regroup
Battle of Aguilar
The French occupy a very strong defensive position between Aguilar and
the Llanes-Santander district border.
No attempt has been made to garrison the town itself. 23rd French corps occupies a hill
to the north of the main road, 24th Italian corps occupies the hill
south of the main road. General Leval
has created a strong reserve of the artillery of both corps, and an elite
brigade from each corps, in the centre to hold the road and town.
General Hill deploys 3rd British corps against the northern
hill, and 4th British corps against the southern one. He has also created a reserve of the
artillery and cavalry of both corps, plus an elite infantry brigade from each,
also in the centre.
Hill is aware that a frontal attack down the main road would lead to
heavy casualties. His plan is to attack
the two hills, and only when one or both is taken will he attack in the centre.
Each French corps has its cavalry brigade under command, Hill has
concentrated all of his cavalry in the centre.
So the infantry approach both hill in line, with one brigade on the
flank in square. They halt out of musket
range, and send their skirmishers forward.
After a prolonged skirmish fight they eventually take both hills. The French suffer more casualties on the
southern hill, where 4th British corps has two rifle brigades
The French retreat and abandon Aguilar, leaving the British with a
The French suffer 11 infantry, 1 cavalry and 2 artillery casualties
The British lose 5 infantry casualties (2000 men)
The French position was one that Wellington would have
been proud of. Two low hills either
side of the main road, which would provide excellent cover from artillery fire.
However this was not a tactic which my French troops are
particularly suited. They have average
skirmishers, good musket skills and are better suited to column attacks
The British, and particularly the two rifle brigades,
have excellent skirmish skills. But they
are poor at volley fire and only average at hand to hand fighting
In addition the French have longer range guns, which give
them an advantage over the smaller British guns.
It was clear to the French that one or both of the hills
would have to be taken before the main attack could be made on the town. However a considerable force would have to
be allocated to hold the main road, otherwise the British could bypass the
hills and go straight for Aguilar. The
French commander created a separate command of the artillery of both corps,
supported by an elite infantry brigade from each corps. The cavalry were left under the command of
their respective corps commanders.
The British commander felt confident that his infantry
could take the two hills. He expected
the French infantry to deploy behind the ridgeline, out of artillery
range. This would mean that he would be
unable to use his guns to soften up the French.
But he was confident that he could win the skirmish battle, and inflict
some casualties on the main battle line.
He would attack both hills at the same time, and attack in the centre
only when one or both of them were taken.
For the attack in the centre he took command of the artillery and
cavalry of both corps, plus an elite infantry brigade from each.
It came as a nasty surprise to find that the French
cavalry were not deployed either side of the road, so they must be with the
infantry behind the hill ridge. This
would make an attack in column very difficult.
He also found that the French 12 pounder guns could hit
his own 6 pounder guns before they could get within range of the French
gunners. So softening up either the
hills, or the centre, was no longer an option.
He ordered both corps to approach the hills in line, with
a strong skirmish line in front. The
British cavalry in the centre would offer some protection, but one of the three
brigades of each corps would also form square on the flank to protect the
British lines. As the British infantry
approached, the French infantry moved to the front of the hill. By this time the British guns were unable to
fire on them due to their own infantry being too close.
So the battle would be decided by an extensive skirmish
This went well on the northern hill, where the French
infantry were shaken and retreated from the ridge. The British infantry would have to form
column to attack, and the two British brigades got bogged down in hand to hand
fighting. The Portuguese brigade, which
had been in square against the French hussars, now formed column to attack the
flank of the French infantry. As they
did so the French cavalry charged, but were unable to break the
Portuguese. Both brigades broke cover to
The battle was decided on the southern hill. Here the British had two rifle brigades and
one Portuguese cacadore brigade. They
also halted out of musket range and sent forward a strong skirmish line. One French brigade was routed. However one French brigade moved forward in
column and charged the right hand rifle brigade. The riflemen came off worse, and retired
shaken. The second rifle brigade formed
column and attacked the winning French brigade, which was now disordered. The British won the melee, but only
just. However it was enough to force
the rest of the French corps to withdraw.
It is very unusual for skirmish fighting alone to win a
battle in my rules. This is because
skirmish fire is very uncertain. Each
brigade rolls one D6, and needs a total of 6 for a hit. Trained troops add plus 1, riflemen add plus
2. When they fire we place smoke in
front of the brigade, and it is only removed if they don’t fire again next
time. If they do it is minus 1 for a
hit. So even the elite riflemen need a
dice throw of 5 or 6 to hit. Trained
skirmishers need a 6. Poorly trained
skirmishers can only fire on alternate moves.
So this is not a tactic you would normally use, and particularly if the
enemy were supported by cavalry.
However as the British player I could not see any better option.
It is always easy to remember when one player rolls a 6,
or a 1, at a critical part of the game.
It is more difficult to remember the balance of luck throughout the
whole game. I suspect that we both
rolled good, and bad, dice. But my good
ones were at the critical point, and Jan’s bad ones were when she really needed
a good one. So I won the game.