The 1805 Army Is Dead

It seems proven in history that over long wars armies deteriorate in quality.  Casualties, fatigue, expired enlistments take their toll on the quality of officers and men. In World War II, the German army attempted to compensate for this historical truth, by increasing the firepower of German divisions in the face of manpower shortages.  The 1944-5 Volksgrenadier divisions are a result of this, as was Hitler's obsession with super weapons.

Recently, I've been playing the John Tiller Series title Peninsular War solo and head to head against Doug at Cry Havoc.  So far, I(we) have stuck to the later 1811 scenarios where the French are focused on quelling rebellion and a resurgent Spanish army.  In my soloing and in my playing with Doug, the quality of French troops has come into question in every scenario.

French troops rout at Cogorderos June 1811

In John Tiller gaming terms the French are mostly C and D quality troops for the later year scenarios and it shows on the battlefields. In the Cogorderos scenario (screenshot above) and at Arroyo dos Molinos, Doug and I witnessed French troops wilt under fire from comparable Spanish troops and higher quality British troops under Hill.

Historically, at Cogorderos, a French brigade commander named Valletaux makes a questionable decision to attack a strong Spanish force across a very narrow front and at Arroyo dos Molinos, the French commander Girard has a brigade of infantry and a regiment of cavalry surrounded by a British corps that has stolen a march on him in bad weather.

Interestingly, the bad leadership is modeled into the French commanders "Command and Leadership" ratings in the game.  Valletaux is a E commander (on a scale of A to F and F being the worst) and Girard is a D.  By contrast the British commander at Arroyo, Hill, is rated a B.

The next place I wanted to look in-game is at the campaign of 1808. My favorite battle of the Peninsular War, is actually Wellington's second and last battle with the British-Portugese Army.  It takes place at Vimeiro, where he surprises the French Army of Portugal under Junot.

Junot, who makes a very questionable decision to split his army into three columns in the face of a relatively unknown enemy, has a C command rating and a C Leadership rating. Inexplicably, the JTS scenario designers gave Wellington a D command rating and a B Leadership rating at Vimeiro, (Napoleon at Arcole (one of his comparable early battles) has a B command rating and a A Leadership rating).  Tracking command ratings for leaders in JTS games probably merits another blog post, so I am going to shelve my shock at Wellington's D rating here and focus back on unit quality.

The British troops at Vimeiro are mostly B and C quality (though the Rifles present are A quality). The French field a mostly C quality force, though the Reserve Grenadiers under Kellerman are A quality troops. Is this historically correct?  From my reading, I think so.

The battle displayed quite a bit of bravery by both sides.  The French were surprised that the British held the village in the face of a determined French force and the mystique of the French Eagles. The British were surprised/impressed by the disciplined French advance against the concentrated British fire from their positions at Vimeiro.

The only questionable thing in game terms is Wellington's D Command rating and the historical fact that Junot thought he could split his army into three.

However, the in-game French troops are only marginally better in 1808 than the 1811 army, so I did a little research and came across two interesting comments.

The Napolun website has this to say about French troops in Spain:

According to David Gates there was a tremendous variety in the quality of soldiers that Napoleon committed to the Peninsula at various stages of the war. The first French army to march into Spain in 1808, for example, was predominantly composed of inexperienced conscripts. 

Baron de Marbot writes: "But it was easy to perceive how astonished they were at the sight of our young infantry soldiers. The moral effect was wholly to our disadvantage, and as I compared the broad chests and powerful limbs of the Spaniards who surrounded us with those of our weak and weedy privates, my national pride was humbled. Though I did not foresee the disasters which would arise from the poor opinion of our troops on the part of the Spaniards, I was sorry that the Emperor had not sent into the Peninsula some veteran regiments from the Army of Germany." 

Bessiers' corps contained just 2,000 reasonably seasoned soldiers, whilst the cavalry was particularly weak, out of 12 troopers, a mere 1,250 had had any real previous experience. Junot's "Army of Portugal" was little better either, only half approached veteran status. Bloodbaths like Eylau, wiped out much of the cream of the French army and by the time the Peninsular War was in full swing many of the troops that had won Austerlitz and Jena were dead.

According to these sources then, the quality of French troops in Spain during the 1808 battles and then again during the later period of 1810-11 seem to be modeled accurately by the JTS scenario designers.   The quality of the 1805 Army, which arguably was a pinnacle of training and quality for Napoleon, was indeed gone by the Peninsular War.

Those 1805 troops that had survived Austerlitz, Eylau, Jena-Auerstadt, etc had gone home, were with Napoleon in the East or were possibly selected for the Vieille Garde (Old Guard) if they met the requirements set by Napoleon.  Those requirements are detailed below:
  • under 35 years of age at entry
  • at least 10 years' service
  • at least three campaigns (some had as many as 12 campaigns)
  • had to face enemy fire at the front and survive
  • had to be over 6 ft. Shorter Candidates went to the Chasseurs de la Garde
It is interesting to consider what might have happened if Napoleon's 1805 army hadn't bled out over the fields of Austria and Germany.  Might they have pacified Spain for Napoleon? Perhaps.  They certainly would have made the fighting more interesting, but the underlying factors that helped fuel the Spanish/Portugese insurgencies still would have been in place.  Britain's mastery of the waves was also a contributing factor on the peninsula and that would not have changed with the presence of the Old Guard.

If you are interested in gaming the Peninsular war online, the best game I know of is Peninsular War by John Tiller Software.

If you are interested in reading more about French troop quality and the Peninsular war, (like I am), consider purchasing the David Gates book  The Spanish Ulcer.