Sunday, 9 August 2015

Black Powder: Waterloo

Last Saturday marked this summer's gaming highlight, as seven gamers came together to re-fight the battle of Waterloo using Black Powder rules. With roughly 5000 miniatures on the table, the game reached epic proportions. We used an L-shaped table as displayed below, with pretty much every battalion represented on the table except some Prussians and some Imperial Guard.

The L-shaped battlefield

We used the historical set-up

Our scenario was an improved version of the one we used a few years ago to re-fight the battle (the battle report can be found here). The game went extremely smoothly and fast, mainly thanks to the experience of our gamers, the good scenario design and our streamlined house rules and playing style (eg. no "follow me" commands). It took us some 3 hours to set up the board and miniatures and 10 hours to play 16 turns at a leisurely pace.

Dutch troops hold the ridge

The Anglo-Allied army was mostly deployed on the reverse slope

The French were clearly superior in the amount of heavy cavalry they could field

The Imperial Guard await off-board in reserve

Napoleon surveys the battlefield

As befits this gentlemanly game, we had an ample supply of high quality beverages

Opening moves

Napoleon had amassed a grand battery on the ridge opposing Wellington's centre. The battle commenced around noon with a massive volley from the 80 cannon. Soon afterwards, the French launched their first assault on the ridge with d'Erlon's I Corps. D'Erlon's objectives were to first gain control of the farm of La Haye Sainte and, using this as a forward base, seize control of the centre of the ridge and the Brussels road.

The assault got off to a good start, with the French divisions marching forward menacingly. The defenders of La Haye Sainte cleared off remarkably easily, with some lucky shooting from the French artillery and skirmishers routing the defenders!

D'Erlon's Corps, supported by Milhaud's Cuirassiers begin their advance

The defenders of La Haye Sainte are blasted from several sides

La Haye Sainte is rapidly abandoned by its KGL defenders

At this point thigs started to go wrong, with GdB Quiot misinterpreting his orders and redeploying his division to the West of La Haye Sainte (two blunders in a row!). This gave Wellington ample time to send in fresh forces to reoccupy the farm. The reserves proved to be a much tougher nut to crack, tying down Quiot's division for an additional six or so turns and causing them some casualties. The remainder of d'Erlon's command had their own difficulties, with the mud and poorly communicated commands slowing their advance down considerably. Durutte's division on the extreme right also got bogged down assaulting Papelotte, which was at best a secondary objective.

Quiot blunders and intermingles his forces with Reille's Corps

Papelotte under attack

Whilst d'Erlon's assault was taking place, Reille's II Corps had orders to capture the chateau of Hougoumont on the extreme left of the French line and to tie down Anglo-Allied reserves from reinforcing their centre. The assault started out well, with the British and Hanoverian skirmishers cleared from the orchards relatively speedily. Then, as with Quiot, GdB Jerome Bonaparte blundered. Reille had intended to bring up artillery to soften up the defenders before a general assault. However, Jerome's over-eager infantry launched their assault prematurely. This left Reille with little choice but to launch an all-out attack that would drag on and cause large casualties to the French.

Jerome launches an assault on Hougoumont

French skirmishers clear the orchards around Hougoumont

View of the battlefield around turn 4

Throughout the early afternoon Napoleon had been receiving worrying reports of a large army manoeuvring on the French right. Soon it was confirmed that this was the Prussian army, who had eluded the French army under Grouchy and were racing to Wellington's aid! On turn 3 the forward cavalry elements of Bülow's IV Corps started to arrive. These were followed on turn 4 by two Prussian infantry brigades (which were more like division-sized) followed by the third and fourth brigades on turns 5 and 6.

Lobau's French Corps was dispatched to counter this new threat and rapidly deployed in and around Plancenoit.

The first Prussians enter the field on turn 3

Subervie's cavalry engage the Prussians

Assault on the ridge

With the Prussians advancing on the French flank, it was time for the French to get a move on. D'Erlon's advance had been extraordinarily slow, but finally on turn 5 his forces were in place to assault the ridge.

The Anglo-Allied forces on the ridge proved to be a tough nut to crack and far too many Frenchmen had been tied down with attacking La Haye Sainte and Papelotte. The French assault was soon checked. The Anglo-Allied counter-attack by Picton's reserve infantry and British cavalry in both the front (the Union brigade) and the flank (Vivian's brigade) hit the French hard. Supported by Milhaud's cuirassiers and fighting stoically, the French infantry held their positions. However, it was only a matter of time before d'Erlon would be overrun!

D'Erlon's Corps assaults the ridge

Cuirassiers fight with the 95th Rifles on the ridge

Picton counter-attacks

D'Erlon's Corps is assaulted by cavalry of the Union Brigade

Cavalry fighting on the extreme right of the French line (behind Papelotte)

As the situation started to heat up on the French right, Napoleon decided to commit more forces. The Imperial Guard was mobilized, with the grenadiers of the Old and Middle Guard starting their march to d'Erlon's aid whilst the chasseurs of the Old and Middle Guard were sent to assist Lobau in stalling the Prussians.

Reille's Corps was heavily committed in assaulting Hougoumont and, to protect their flank, Kellerman's heavy cavalry and the cavalry of the Imperial Guard had hedged forward. Now, with d'Erlon's situation turning bad real fast, Napoleon decided to unleash this cavalry reserve to relieve pressure on the beleaguered infantry.

The awe inspiring cavalry assault turned out to be the decisive factor in the battle. The infantry of the Anglo-Allied right wing rapidly adopted squares in order to stave off this threat. One poor brigade, sent to relieve Hougoumont, was caught in the flank and massacred. Anglo-Allied cavalry attempted to drive off the French but were no match for the French. This was not helped by the fact that Wellington's reserves were reluctant to follow orders and thus the counter-attacks came in piece-meal.

French heavy cavalry trot towards the ridge

Wellington's right wing prepare to receive the French cavalry onslaught

Dutch light cavalry foolishly charge the Empress Dragoons

British forces march forward to relieve Hougoumont...

... and get cut to pieces by the French cavalry

French Guard Cavalry make a breakthrough

While the fight for the ridge was heating up, the Prussians started appearing in ever greater numbers East of Plancenoit. Jacquinot's cavalry division from d'Erlon's Corps and Subervie's cavalry division from Lobau's Corps did what they could to delay Blücher before being swept aside. However, the Prussian advance was very slow, even lethargic. Lobau put up a good show at delaying the Prussians with his light infantry, which was helped by the Prussian Landwehr failing to understand their orders.

Prussians advance on Plancenoit

French light cavalry waylay the Prussians

The fight escalates 

By late afternoon (turn 10) the fighting for the ridge had reached a crucial point. D'Erlon's Corps was collapsing, with one brigade after another routing in quick succession. However, this was not enough to stave off disaster for Wellington's army. French cavalry had penetrated Wellington's centre and now proceeded to attack the Anglo-Allied infantry from the rear. Foy and Bachelu's infantry divisions had followed closely in the wake of the cavalry assault and now proceeded to assault the hapless Anglo-Allied squares.

At this point, after hours of gruelling combat, La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont were finally captured. Hougoumont had not yielded before being completely enveloped and assaulted from four sides. These successes freed up several divisions of infantry who proceeded to add their weight to the assault on the ridge.

The picture was complete at six o'clock (turn 12), when the grenadiers of the Imperial Guard launched their own offensive a little East from La Haye Sainte. Wellington's line buckled but held. The Guard was counter-attacked in the flank but this was off little consequence. As night began to fall the position of the Anglo-Allied army was grim. The remnants of Wellington's left and right wings were fully tied down in fighting overwhelming French forces to their front whilst French cavalry were in the process of enveloping both flanks.

Hougoumont falls after putting up a tough fight

Anglo-Allied squares are assaulted by French infantry

The Anglo-Allied right wing is in serious trouble

French breakthrough at the centre of the ridgeline

D'Erlon's attack has been repulsed as the Imperial Guard prepare to launch a second assault

Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard

The Imperial Guard assault the ridgeline

Imperial Guard are outflanked but remain undaunted

French Cuirassiers hold envelop Wellington's lines

The Prussians could do little to prevent the destruction of Wellington's army. Their assault on Plancenoit was taking too long, with the counter-attack by the Guard Chasseurs division and a few Cuirassier regiments despatched from the French centre being enough to push them a bit further back.

The fighting for Plancenoit heats up

Chasseurs of the Imperial Guard launch a counter-attack near Plancenoit


The day's fighting had been brutal, particularly for the Anglo-Allied army. Wellington's army had largely ceased to be, especially on his right flank. As can be seen from the tally sheet below, which we used to keep track of losses, 59 out of some 88 Anglo-Allied units had been routed. The remaining forces were separated from each other, with half being forced to retreat East with the Prussians whilst the remainder would be falling back towards the sea.

The French army too had suffered losses, with d'Erlon's I Corps effectively destroyed and the Young Guard mauled pretty bad in the fighting for Plancenoit. French losses amounted to 51 out of 128 units (the Guard Cavalry is not shown on the sheet below).

The Prussians had got the least of it, with the French mostly just delaying them rather than causing actual losses. The Prussians had lost only 12 out of 46 units. However, with the French in firm control of the battlefield and significantly outnumbering the remaining Prussians, there was little for them to do except retreat East.

All in all, it was a great game and the best way to spend a Saturday with one's friends. Thanks for all involved. Quelle affaire!

Tally sheet used to mark losses

The Anglo-Allied right at the end of the battle

The Anglo-Allied left at the end of the battle

Plancenoit at the end of the battle

Piré's cavalry division, never committed during the battle, is ready to pursue the fleeing Allies

Final view of the battlefield


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  2. Absolutely great account of the fight! And nice pictures too.