Refight of Quatre-Bras, 16th June 1815

As yesterday was the 203rd anniversary of the Battle of Quatre-Bras, I thought I might post up a report from a refight I did with the Minions back in March of this year.  Napoleonics has always been my ‘first love’ when it comes to wargaming and this game was an attempt to ‘corrupt the young’, as they players were aged roughly 13-15.  Some were less ‘corrupted’ than others, but we had a good game and most of them seemed to enjoy it, despite the constant distraction caused by their mates playing ‘Fortnite’ in the next room!

Rules used were Napoleon’s Battles (4th Edition) by Partizan Press.  At W.A.S.P. we’ve played the 1st Edition since they were published by Avalon Hill in the early ’90s, with various house modifications.  We never even knew there was a 2nd and 3rd Edition, but saw an advert for the 4th Edition last year, just as my 1st Edition was starting to disintegrate into dust.  We were pleased to find that ‘great minds think alike’, as they seemed to have independently included all of our house modifications!

Napoleon’s Battles is a ‘grand tactical’ ruleset, in that the smallest tactical unit is a brigade (or large regiment) and each base of models represents 480 infantry, 360 cavalry or one battery of horse artillery or heavy artillery (light and medium foot artillery is factored into the infantry factors).

Further information on Napoleon’s Battles 4th Edition can be found at http://napoleonsbattles.org/

Scenario Outline

To save boring you with the history, here’s the Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Quatre_Bras

The scenario starts at 1400hrs, with the Prince of Orange overseeing the defence of Quatre-Bras crossroads by Perponcher’s 2nd Netherlands Division.  Perponcher’s troops have been steadily falling back to this position in the face of Marshal Ney’s advance and are still somewhat dispersed.  Perponcher has two large brigades (Bijlandt’s and Saxe-Weimar’s) and these are each split into two units for game purposes: Bijlandt’s Brigade is split into Line Infantry and Militia portions, while Saxe-Weimar’s brigade is split by regiment (the 2nd Nassau-Usingen Regt and the Orange-Nassau Regt).  The Prince of Orange has the option of adjusting the starting deployment slightly by repositioning each unit within it’s ‘goose-egg’, as shown on the map below.  Bijleveld’s horse battery may be deployed anywhere within one of the ‘goose-eggs’, while Orange and Perponcher themselves may be placed anywhere on the table.

The French II Corps, commanded by General Reille and overseen by Marshal Ney, starts in the positions shown, deploying into battle formation as they clear the town of Frasnes.

Each red/black division on the map-border indicates 1,000 yds, or 1 foot on table.  As our table was only 4.5 feet wide, we had to chop the eastern fringe off the map, including the villages of Sart-Dames-Avelines and Thyle.

The Prince of Orange is clearly on a sticky wicket at the start, but Allied formations are marching to the scene from the direction of Brussells and Nivelles.  Coming from Brussells are elements of Uxbridge’s Reserve Cavalry Corps (1 Netherlands and 1 Brunswick Light Cavalry Brigades), Picton’s 5th Division (2 British Infantry Brigades), The Brunswick ‘Black’ Corps (3 Infantry Brigades) and Kruse’s Nassau Reserve Contingent (1 Infantry Brigade).  Coming from Nivelles are Cooke’s 1st Division (2 British Guards Brigades), Alten’s 3rd Division (1 British and 2 Hanoverian Infantry Brigades) and elements of Cole’s 6th Division (1 Hanoverian Infantry Brigade).  The Duke of Wellington meanwhile, will arrive on the Somreffe road on Turn 1, having returned from his meeting with Blücher.

Ney and Reille have 3 Infantry Divisions (Foy’s, Bachelu’s and Prince Jerome’s) and 1 Light Cavalry Division (Piré’s), for a total of 6 Line Infantry Brigades, 1 Light Infantry Brigade and 2 Light Cavalry Brigades.

Reinforcements for the French include Kellermann’s III Cavalry Corps with 2 Heavy Cavalry Divisions (L’Héritier’s and Roussell D’Hurbal’s), with a total of 1 Carabinier Brigade, 2 Cuirassier Brigades and 1 Dragoon Brigade) and possibly Lefèbvre-Desnoëttes’s Guard Light Cavalry Division, with 2 Guard Light Cavalry Brigades.

The Game

Once again, this was an ‘away’ game and depended upon my extremely shabby terrain and bad photography, so my apologies for the poor quality of the photos!

Above: The Prince of Orange takes control of the situation at Quatre-Bras.

Above: The regular army half of Bijlandt’s Brigade occupies Gemioncourt Farm, closely supported by Bijleveld’s Horse Battery on the high ground to the east.

Above: Saxe-Weimar’s Brigade (the Orange-Nassau Regt in blue and 2nd Nassau-Usingen Regt in green) redeploys to a more concentrated location on the southern edge of Bossu Wood, overlooking Grand-Pierrepont Farm.  In the distance, Bijlandt’s Militia can be seen massing near Quatre-Bras and the Prince of Orange.

Above: With Marshal Ney out in front, Reille’s II Corps deploys into battle formation as it emerges from Frasnes.  Nearest the camera, Bachelu’s division forms to the right of the road, with Piré’s cavalry covering the right flank.

Above: Foy’s division takes up position on the left of the formation, while Prince Jerome’s division and the reserve artillery keep to the road.

Above: Piré’s cavalry move swiftly past Pireaumont Farm, in an attempt to seize control of the bridge at Thyle.

Above: However, Lord Uxbridge has arrived with Van Merlen’s 2nd Netherlands Light Cavalry Brigade, the Brunswick Cavalry Brigade and Van Pittius’ Horse (half-strength) Battery and also recognises the importance of seizing the river crossing.  Neither side gains the upper hand and sit glowering at each other across the Materne Pond (or in our case, the Materne Bog, because I don’t have a model pond).

Above: Bachelu’s Division, with the bulk of the French artillery in support, moves up to bombard Gemioncourt Farm, in preparation for an assault.  In the distance, Foy boldly ignores the presence of Saxe-Weimar’s troops in Bossu Wood and makes a bee-line for Quatre-Bras.

Above: Foy’s gamble may well have paid off, as Saxe-Weimar’s boys initially had a serious command & control problem.  However, with the arrival of Wellington to take command of the army, the Prince of Orange now has the freedom to gallop over and personally take control of Saxe-Weimar.  Galvanising the Naassauers into action, the Prince leads them against Foy’s exposed flank.

Above: Back at Quatre-Bras, the Duke of Wellington is now in firm control of the situation and the previously-isolated Dutch Militia find themselves massively reinforced by Picton’s 5th Division (Pack’s Highland Brigade and Kempt’s Brigade, plus the 9pdrs of Sympher’s KGL Horse Battery).

Above: Further Allied reinforcements arrive in the form of the Duke of Brunswick’s ‘Black Corps’.  The Brunswickers are ordered to reinforce Bijleveld’s Battery, on the high ground to the left.

Above: As Bachelu’s Division deploys in front of Gemioncourt, their supporting 12pdr artillery begins to whittle down Bijlandt’s defending infantry.  However, Bijleveld’s Horse Battery is similarly causing much havoc among the packed ranks of Bachelu’s right-hand brigade (Campi’s Brigade).  A French horse battery attempts to deal with Bijleveld, but does not have much luck.

Above: Recognising the danger presented by Saxe-Weimar’s Brigade to the French left flank, Ney orders Jerome to immediately attack and drive off the Nassauers.  However, Bauduin’s Brigade immediately runs into a hail of fire from the 2nd Nassau and is stopped in its tracks.  Soye’s Brigade (consisting of two units – the 1st & 2nd Regts of the Line) hurries forward to support Bauduin.

Above: The view from the Prince of Orange’s position with Saxe-Weimar’s Brigade.  The Prince has lost his opportunity to drive in the French left flank, but has succeeded in drawing off the French reserves, thus giving time for the Allied centre to strengthen its position.

Above: Back at Quatre-Bras, the Duke of Wellington, Duke of Brunswick and General Picton consolidate their grip on the crossroads.

Above: Lord Uxbridge’s cavalry take up position near Thyle Bridge.  Van Pittius’ Battery takes a few pot-shots at the French cavalry, but does no damage.

Above: An overview of the battle at approximately 1600hrs.  In the centre, the French artillery continues to batter Gemioncourt as Bachelu’s infantry wait for the order to assault.  On the French left, Jerome is attempting to strike back at the Nassauers. while Foy attempts to continue the advance in the face of stiff fire from Picton’s division, which is rapidly forming a solid line between Gemioncourt and Bossu Wood.  Nearest the camera, the opposing light cavalry have essentially cancelled each other, though the Brunswickers are moving forward and might be able to tip the balance on that flank.  In the distance, the leading elements of Kellermann’s III Cavalry Corps (Guiton’s Cuirassier Brigade and a horse battery) have arrived, while the head of an Allied column has appeared on the Nivelles Road.

Above: With the Allied left wing stiffening along stream and high ground east of Gemioncourt, Piré attempted to disrupt the Allied manoeuvres by launching a charge across the stream.  However, Specht’s Brunswick Line Infantry Brigade (with the sky blue and yellow flags) was able to form squares and beat off Wathiez’s lancers, who quickly scurried back across the stream, to the safety of Piraumont Farm.  To add further insult, Bijleveld’s Dutch Horse Battery then managed to knock out the opposing French horse battery and Heinemann’s Brunswick Horse Battery was also now inserted into the line to further discomfit Bachelu’s Division.

Above: On the Allied right, Picton’s division had now formed a solid line flanking the Dutch Militia and now had further reinforcements in reserve, as well as forming in Bossu Wood on their right flank.  However, Kempt’s Brigade was starting to suffer casualties to accurate French artillery fire coming straight up the road.

Above: Cooke’s 1st Division (Byng’s and Maitland’s Guards Brigades, Kühlmann’s KGL Horse Battery and Beane’s Horse Battery) arrives at Quatre-Bras and is placed in reserve by Wellington.  They are closely followed by Best’s Hanoverian Militia Brigade (from Cole’s 6th Division).

Above: Jerome, now recovered from the initial clash and reinforced by a brigade from Foy’s Division, starts to turn the tables on Saxe-Weimar’s Nassauers.

Above: Marshal Ney, frustrated at Jerome’s lack of progress, arrives to take control of the situation and leads the division across the stream.  However, Ney is shocked by the tenacity of the Nassauers and comes VERY close to being beaten off.  Nevertheless, after  hard-fought fight, the Orange-Nassau Regiment is completely dispersed and the 2nd Nassau, accompanied by the Prince of Orange, flee for the safety of Von Alten’s Hanoverians.

Above: With the left flank secured, Foy’s division resumes the advance, now accompanied by Guiton’s Cuirassiers.  Piquet’s Dragoon Brigade and Lefèbvre-Desnoëttes’ Guard Light Cavalry Division have also now arrived.  The massed French guns are now causing massive casualties in the Allied lines; mainly on Kempt’s Brigade and the Netherlanders defending Gemioncourt Farm.

Above: With the walls of Gemioncourt being beaten down and the defenders demoralised, Bachelu finally throws Husson’s Brigade against the thick farm walls.  Bijlandt’s men are swiftly ejected and the Allies can only look on in horror as the keystone of their line falls to the French!  Nevertheless, the Dutch and Brunswick horse artillery continue to hammer Campi’s Brigade.

Above: Battered first by French artillery and now by close-range fire from Husson’s French infantry in Gemioncourt Farm, Kempt’s Brigade is rapidly becoming combat-ineffective.

Above: Guiton’s Cuirassiers move forward with the intention of taking advantage of the effective French artillery fire, but the mass of French horsemen immediately attracts the attention of Sympher’s 9pdrs and the Cuirassiers are quickly thrown back in disorder.

Above: Alten’s 3rd Division moves past the Prince of Orange and the rallying 2nd Nassau and moves into the Bossu Wood to shore up the Allied right flank.  Behind them, Best’s Hanoverian Militia form up, ready to support Alten’s advance.

Above: It is now around 1700hrs and the remainder of the reserve cavalry have arrived.  In particular, the Guard Chasseurs à Cheval insert themselves between Foy’s Division and Gemioncourt Farm, in preparation for a charge on Kempt’s disintegrating brigade.

Above: anticipating the collapse of his centre, Wellington forms a second line with the two Guards Brigades and the Brunswick Cavalry Brigade.  This is fortuitous, as at that moment, Kempt’s Brigade collapses and Sympher’s Battery is silenced by the superb French gunners!

Above: Timing their charge perfectly and led by Lefèbvre-Desnoëttes himself, the Guard Chasseurs à Cheval smash into Bijlandt’s Dutch Militia!  The Brunswick Cavalry Brigade counter-charges, but the Guard Chasseurs contemptuously brush them aside and then rout them with ease, along with the Dutch Militia and Sympher’s KGL gunners!  Seeing a line of redcoats to their front, the Chasseurs charge on into Byng’s Foot Guards.  In the ensuing pandemonium, General Picton finds himself in the path of the rampaging French horsemen!  He and his staff succeed in cutting their way out of the maelstrom, but Picton is seriously wounded in the process and is carried from the field to have his wounds treated.  This is a serious blow for Wellington, who considered the Welsh war-horse to be indestructible.

Above:  The Guards, being made of somewhat sterner stuff, coolly form squares and send the Chasseurs packing!  Disaster narrowly averted, the Guards form the new Allied front line and prepare to receive the next assault.

Above:  The situation at around 1830hrs: The battle pauses following the French cavalry charge, as the French infantry advances to contact on the left wing.  Routed elements of Picton’s, Perponcher’s and Brunswick’s Divisions rally around the crossroads, while Kruse’s 1st Nassau Regiment arrives from Brussells.

However, once again our mums had called us in for tea at a critical point in the game!  It didn’t help that the Fortnite-fest going on next door was a massive distraction for my teenage players, but full marks to those who stuck to their guns and enjoyed somewhat more cerebral gaming!

So we had to stop short of a clear conclusion, but the general opinion of the players was that while the French had knocked holes in the Allied centre and right flank, the Allies still had plenty of infantry and artillery and were in a strong position.  The nature of the terrain also made it very difficult for the French to exploit their massive cavalry advantage.  In campaign terms, the French judged that they would find it very difficult to further push their attack without suffering unacceptably high casualties.

Personally, I think that Jerome could have pushed back Kielmansegge’s Hanoverians in the woods with relative ease, while Foy’s two brigades, in concert with some heavy cavalry, could have mobbed Pack’s Highlanders in very short order, while the massed French guns and cavalry harassed the Guards… This might be a scenario to revisit in the future, kicking off from this final situation…

Thanks to all who played!

The models are all from my own collection, being mostly AB Figures, with a few units of Old Glory 15s (namely the Dutch Light Dragoons, the Brunswick Horse Artillery and the Hanoverian infantry).

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic Wars, Scenarios. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Refight of Quatre-Bras, 16th June 1815

  1. norm says:

    Thanks, I really enjoyed the photographs and text, this is one of my fave battles.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Thanks! Yes, I must have played this scenario half a dozen times, as well as at least once at 1:20 with General de Brigade rules and once at 1:50 with WRG 1st Edition Napoleonic rules.

  2. Tony Miles says:

    Another great post. Only played this battle once myself, 28mm using Shako II rules. One of the very few times I have been the French. Ours was also a well balanced battle, result If I remember correctly very similar to yours.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Tony. Yes it’s a curious battle – the French lack sufficient infantry to really push hard, while the Allies lack sufficient quality and cavalry to really push back.

  3. Miltiadis says:

    I just saw your wonderful game here. I have played the Quatre Bras several times. It is one of my favourite battles. I read your battle report and I think that the French didn’t press very hard. At 18.00 I see they haven’t passed the stream and they were pounding Gemioncourt for hours before storming the farm! Jerome was not very lucky with the Nassauers but still he had to press forward! I mean, attack attack and attack with anything you have. This is what Ney did and he almost won the battle […hmmm well, some people say he lost it, anyway]. Nice report anyway.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers! Yes, to be fair I did try to cajole the 13 year-old Minions into a bolder approach, but they were very unfamiliar with the period and the rules, so it was probably asking a bit much of them. 🙂

      Yes, personally I’d have led Bachelu’s division straight into the assault, with Ney at the head, as well as throwing Pire over the stream to dislodge the Dutch battery and delay Allied reinforcements. There’s no guarantee of taking Gemioncourt, but with two brigades plus Ney in the assault and a re-roll marker on standby, there’s roughly an even chance of taking it without prior artillery prep.

      Sometimes as umpire, you just want to take the troops off the players and ‘do it properly’… War is Hell…

      But then I normally lose catastrophically… 😉

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