After Albuera - Two Wrecked Armies

Doug at Cry Havoc and I just concluded an epic Peninsular war battle using John Tiller Software's game "Peninsular War."

We chose the 20 turn variation scenario for Albuera which begins shortly after the French Marshal Jean de dieu Soult has launched his main attack against the British General Beresford's right flank.

French and Allied casualties are pretty close to the historical totals.
What Was Soult Thinking

Doug and I have discussed this particular battle quite a bit and there were definitely in our joint opinion some structural issues with Soult's attack:

1) The width of the attack seemed extreme at over 3 kilometers wide (the dawn attack at Talavera by contrast had a 1.8km width).  Soult did concentrate his forces mostly in the south, but the success of this attack hinged on the ability of his northern wing to occupy the British left flank's attention and make a credible attack against the village of Albuera.

2)  British firepower can make the difference.  I am not sure how JTS setup the data files for the Brits, but their volley fire from a line formation can be deadly.  This isn't something that is just game specific and possibly a bias by the designers, this was historically a running commentary from French commanders from Vimeiro on, which is why it is so perplexing that French commanders continued to repeat the same mistakes when facing the British.

3) The terrain isn't great.  Soult moved to contact with Beresford hoping to prevent a junction of Beresford's force with the Spanish General Blake's force.  Unfortunately for Soult, that junction occurred the night before and the French defeat at Albuera resulted.  The ground isn't favorable.  In the north, opposite Albuera, Soult's force of infantry and cavalry had to move across a river and then assault the village up a small cliff.  The elevation change, olive vineyards and the river should have been enough to give Soult pause.  Compounding the terrain issues are the lack of roads connecting the two wings of the French attack.  Lateral movement is difficult and from my perspective as the Allied commander, this really impacted Doug (the French) from launching a coordinated assault until it was too late.  And let me just say, when he finally did in the center, it made me really nervous!

I lost a number of commanders.  Jose Zayas' loss was particularly galling, as he is a hero historically for the Spanish during the battle, having made up for Blake's enigmatic behavior.

Spanish Army Losses Were Appalling

I may have caused a "Minor French Defeat" in JTS gaming terms, but I suffered some real losses on the battlefield.  The loss of General Jose Zayas on the battlefield, one of my best commanders in JTS terms (B Leadership, D Command) really impacted the Spanish ability to resist the French advance.

Doug played the hand Soult dealt him admirably and the Spanish suffered because of it.  The effectiveness and numerical superiority of the French artillery did a number on my Spanish units and then Doug sent in his cavalry (the same guys who finished off Colborne in the real battle) and caused panic and a general retreat back into the units I had in reserve.

At the conclusion of the battle, here is a listing of Spanish effectiveness:

Vanguardia 1643 Effectives or 39% of initial force
3a Division 2680 Effectives or 45% of initial force
4a Division 3804 Effectives or 53% of initial force

In total, 62+% of Allied losses in our battle were Spanish.  I should note that 80 of these KIA occurred after a friendly fire incident in the center, where during the smokey confusion of battle a British regiment from Lumley's brigade fired into the the back ranks of a Spanish regiment.

Confusion Reigns
The Anglo-Portugese-French army is one big mess after this battle.  If we were retreating, French cavalry would have had a field day.
Compare this image to the divisional marking image below.

This image uses a divisional markings view for my Allies. You can see what a mess my lines were.

My routed units fled to the rear, prevented from going closer to French troops by the game engine.  I spent a fair amount of time shuffling my baggage trains to the rear, and "out of ammo" units towards resupply points so I had enough ammunition to offensively impact the battle (I learned that out of ammo units, always have enough ammo for defensive fire which made a big difference).  I tried like crazy to keep units together, but some would rout and re-form and as the battle see-sawed back and forth I had difficulty getting them back to their original commanders.

This kind of confusion made the final game turns very hectic.  Instead of shuffling brigades around the field of battle, I was focused on individual regiments and monitoring their fatigue and where their commander was.  You can see in the image above that the center of my line was a patchwork of brigades and divisions packed into an area less than a kilometer wide.  All of this made me appreciate the scenes I've often read in books about retreating armies and confusion on the battlefield.

This was a great battle but it looks and plays like it was another flawed decision by a French commander, in this case Marshal Soult, to engage the British, in this case Beresford, (with or without Blake).

Doug and I are revisiting Vimeiro next and using my modified scenario for it.  After that, it is on to the May 5 battle of Fuentes de 'Onoro.


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