Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Dawn Attack By The French Right Wing At Talavera

At dawn on July 28th 1809, the French right wing lurched into action for a second time against Wellington and the Spanish General Cuesta at Talavera. Overnight and after a day of limited fighting where the Cerro de Medellin (Medellin hill) had changed hands twice, Victor's I Corps of 18,000+ men had re-assembled and resumed their attack for the strategic point at the end of the British line.

Rich White the chief scenario designer for John Tiller Software's Bonaparte's Peninsular War, has chosen to capture this moment by designing a 6 turn scenario (15 minute turns) which covers this French attempt to seize the high ground.

The scenario description is here: 

Talavera 28th July 1809 - French Dawn Assault. This scenario is designed for a French player against an Allied A/I. Despite the failure of Ruffin's night attack, Victor felt that it was essential to capture the strategically crucial Cerro de Medellin as this would leave the British left wing outflanked and thus effectively render the Allied defensive position untenable.

Initial scenario deployment.

The attacking French force includes a Grand Battery of 48 guns (more than half of the French guns at Talavera) assembled opposite Medellin hill on Cerro de Cascajal in the center of the French advance. Over 18,000 French soldiers will also participate in the attack, a mix of B and C quality troops.

The width of the attack is 1.8 kilometers and it is anchored by a division of cavalry at the interior end of the French lines.  That division of Dragoons is led by GD Latour-Maubourg who will make a name for himself leading Polish lancers and the 2e Hussars against Colborne's brigade at Albuera in 1811.

Arrayed against the French are 3 British divisions in successive lines with only 200 meters between between them and the French forward line in some places.  There are 9 British guns and just under 12,000 men in total.  The Light Division is not present, though they arrive later that day after a forced march of 40+ miles to cover the retreat of Wellington's army back into Portugal.  A number of famous commanders will fight for Wellington at Talavera: Rowland Hill, Alan Cameron, John Mackenzie, JC Sherbrooke, Henry F. Campbell and others.  The quality of British troops present is similar to the French: a mix of B and C troops.

What is interesting to me about this dawn attack is the result: a bloody draw where Wellington will lose over 25% of his force, with most of his casualties coming from the three British divisions. The French will lose 18% of their deployed force.  The human costs are enormous with over 7,000 dead on each side.

As in other battles, Wellington will use the terrain to his advantage, he will order his men to lay down while the French Grand Battery bombards his lines, swarms of skirmishers will be deployed ahead of the French advance to frustrate their plans and yet Wellington will fail to achieve the results that he does at Bussaco, Salamanca, Vimeiro, etc.


After gaming this part of the battle and reading about it, I think Wellington fails because of the French commander's decision to use the cover of darkness to mass his force in close proximity with Wellington before resuming his attack.

The overall French commander Jean-Baptiste Jourdan does not want to make a concerted effort against Wellington and Cuesta, preferring to attack here and there along the line.  It is his subordinate Marshal Claude Perrin Victor who urges an attack.

A competent commander (C Leadership and Command ratings), Victor is well versed in Napoleonic tactics.  Victor will earn his Marshal honorific after his time as a Chief of Staff to Jean Lannes.  Lannes' V corps will earn honors at the battle of Jena during the 1806 campaign.  

Instead of a battle of coordinated movements where French commanders always lose to Wellington (because of the quality of British troops and Wellington's superior knowledge of the battlefield), Victor moves in close and punches Wellington as hard as he can.

In the end, Wellington will hold the field and win a short-lived tactical victory, but he will lose strategically when his army will be forced to retreat back into Portugal to avoid being cutoff by Marshal Soult's opposing force.

For a short and very eye-opening look at the costs of Napoleonic fighting up close, I encourage you to try this scenario.


Joseph Meighan said...

Your write ups on your various battles in Spain are fantastic. I found your Blog via Doug's Cry Havoc blog. I purchased Peninsula War and plan to try this battle out myself. Outstanding stuff keep it coming :)

Chris said...

Wow, thanks Joseph for your comment! I am really enjoying Peninsular War. I've had it in my games folder for I guess years now, but only dabbled in it. I've made a promise to myself to play as much of it as I can. Again, thanks for the kind comment.

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