Sunday 23 June 2024

Santander Campaign – Day Four

Campaign Map

French attack Soncillo
French occupy Laredo
British retreat to Santander

10 French army – occupy Laredo
11 French army – rally and regroup at Ramales
12 French army – attack Soncillo

1 British army – retreat to Santander
2 British army – rally and regroup at Medina
3 British army – defend Soncillo

13 brigade – return to village
14 brigade – return to village
16 brigade – return to village
17 brigade – capture convoy and 6 days supplies
19 brigade – attack convoy but routed with 10% casualties

Battle of Soncillo – End of Move 2

The French had to cross the river Ebro to reach the walled town of Soncillo.
Crossing a defended river line is one of the most difficult military tasks.
Fortunately the allied army were deployed near the town and out of artillery range of the river.

The French managed to cross the river, behind a cavalry screen
They quickly drove back 6th British corps in the centre and occupied the hill
It took longer to drive the Spanish out of the farm on the left, but they did just before nightfall

5th British corps fought hard to hold the woods. At nightfall they held the top right hand corner, but had lost three quarters of the woods.

The French occupied two of the three game objectives and won the battle

French have lost 4 infantry and 1 cavalry casualties (1700 men)
British have lost 9 infantry and 1 cavalry casualties (3700 men)
Spanish have lost 2 infantry and 1 cavalry casualties (900 men)


The table consists of 3x3 two foot scenic squares. The top three have Soncillo flanked by two woods the centre three have the game objectives of farm, hill and woods. The bottom three have the river Ebro, with one bridge in each of the three squares. The river can only be crossed by one of those three bridges.

Third British Army occupies the three centre squares. If they deploy as far forward as they are usually allowed their guns would be within range of the three bridges, as would their cavalry. This would make it impossible for the French to cross.

I decided that the British and Spanish would deploy on and around the three game objectives. They would therefore be out of both artillery range and cavalry range of the three bridges. This worked well, though 24th French corps cavalry did suffer casualties from the British artillery in the woods. Fortunately they passed their morale test and continued to screen their infantry and cavalry as they crossed the river.

The river caused a delay in the French advance, and would have caused serious problems if any of the French brigades had routed during the early stages. Fortunately this did not happen.

The game worked well, though the large woods on the right did cause a problem. Normally the four sections are too close to allow artillery to deploy and move around. I made an exception for this game. The problem was that the four sections became four individual strong points. So the French had to regroup to attack each section. This took so long that they only managed to take three of the four sections. By holding one quarter the British held the whole objective.

It’s interesting that despite the 477 battles we have fought as wargames since this campaign started in 2009, we still learn something new from almost every game.


  1. Thistlebarrow,

    I always enjoy reading the more detailed battle reports on your 1813 Campaign Blog after I've read the campaign synopsis here ... and this seemed like a particularly interesting scenario.

    If the British had occupied a position close to the bridge, might the battle have gone a different way? Trying to make an opposed river crossing is always difficult, but if it can be done well, it can be very decisive.

    Reading this, I was put in mind of the Battle of the Douro or the Crossing of the Douro in May 1809. Wellington managed to surprise the French by making his assault where the defences were weakest, and Marshal Soult was unable to muster sufficient defenders quickly enough to throw the Anglo-Portuguese army back.

    This victory led to Wellington being made Baron Douro of Wellesley (later Wellington) in the County of Somerset on 26th August 1809. This was the same day that he was also made Viscount Wellington of Talavera, and of Wellington in the County of Somerset. He was made Marquess Douro on 3rd May 1814, and this has been the courtesy title held by all the oldest sons of the Dukes of Wellington ever since.

    All the best,


  2. Hi Bob

    Thanks for your comments, as always.

    I particularly like your comment about the 1813 Campaign Blog. As you know I don't take comments on that blog, so I have no feedback at all. I have always assumed that no one reads it, and that I really do it for my own benefit. That was the purpose, and I am quite happy if that is the case. I really consider it like a personal diary - but of the campaign. However it is nice to know that someone else has a look and enjoys it.

    Turning to the river crossings in wargames. I believe that in real life an opposed river crossing is one of the most difficult military operations. In a wargame it is even harder! I allow three bridges, which is probably more than usual in a wargame, and certainly more than would be available in real life. In my game a whole corps has to cross each bridge. There are six brigades in each corps, all in a very long line waiting to cross the bridge. If the leading brigade receives casualties, fails its morale and has to retreat they must move through the entire column. This would take two or three moves. So the only viable answer is to allow the attacker to establish a bridgehead before the defender can attack. To achieve this the defender was not allowed to deploy closer than 12" from their end of each bridge. The attacker was then allowed to move first. So he could at least get his cavalry over to the enemy side of the river, and also either artillery or infantry in support. There would still be a problem if one of the three cavalry brigades routed over a bridge, but there would at least be a bridgehead.

    To my mind its largely "wargaming". That is to say adjusting the situation to try to achieve a historical effect. With your experience of writing wargame rules I am sure you will understand exactly what I mean?

    Finally the crossing of the river Douro. I have been fortunate to visit Oporto, and to stand where Wellington/Wellesley directed the crossing. You really do have to admire his nerve. It is a very wide and fast flowing river, and it was heavily defended on the northern bank. I am confident he would not have attempted it, had not been made aware of some wine barges which were left unguarded on the far bank, but upriver and out of sight of the French in Oporto. There was also a monastry on the French bank, which would serve as a stronghold to protect his bridgehead. It is a facinating read, and particularly so have seen he ground. I would strongly recommend a visit.

    best regards



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