In early 2015 I was feeling ‘the urge’…
I had fallen out of love with Napoleonics some 12 years earlier, following my involvement in producing a series of Napoleonic mega-games, first for AB Figures’ Wargamers’ Weekends and then with the General de Brigade crowd at the National Army Museum. I was all Napoleonicked-out and hadn’t played a Napoleonic game or painted a single Napoleonic figure since 2002 (the gap being filled chiefly by 15mm WW2 and 28mm American War of Independence).
However, with the approaching bicentennial, the sap was rising and I decided that I was going to play Waterloo on the day of the anniversary! However, I still needed quite a few troops and a lot of terrain! I tentatively tried painting a unit of KGL Hussars from the mound of 2,000-odd unpainted AB Figures’ Napoleonics that had composting in a corner since 2001… Could I still paint them…?
The answer was YES, but the first thing I noticed was that my eyesight was a lot worse than it was when I last painted them! Nevertheless, found that I actually enjoyed it and despite the pile of unpainted lead, a massive order was soon winging its way to Fighting 15s for all the 1815 stuff that had been released in the intervening years (which was A LOT!). Another order went to Tiger Terrain for their incredible series of ‘scale-adjusted’ Waterloo buildings.
At this time, my local town museum in Narberth, Pembrokeshire, were looking for some way of commemorating the bicentennial of Waterloo and highlighting the local men who were known to have fought there (including Sir Thomas Picton), so my offer of doing the anniversary game at the museum was eagerly snapped up by the curator.
In the meantime, polystyrene was bought and the ultra-messy process of carving polystyrene contours was soon underway with the help of my good friend Martin Small and my Minions Carwyn Savins, Oli Crees and Will Poole.
12 weeks later, we’d built and painted a 10×6-foot terrain board, three farm complexes and a pub, 250 infantry, 180 cavalry, 30 guns and 120 gun-crew, re-based around 500 figures, re-mortgaged, sold the kids and almost got divorced…
Above: The Duke of Wellington and his staff observe French movements from the centre of the Allied line.
Above: The Allies are drawn up along a low ridge straddling the Charleroi-Brussels highway. Forward of the ridge are three fortified farm complexes, which will serve to obstruct any French assault on the Allied lines. In the west (foreground) is Hougoumont, in the centre is La Haie-Sainte and in the east (distance) is Papelotte-La Haie.
Above: Another view of Hougoumont, as seen from General Picton’s position on the ridge. The regimental colours of the British Foot Guards make a brave show. In the foreground, the Light Infantry of the King’s German Legion prepare to defend La Haie-Sainte.
Above: A view of the Allied centre. Nearest to the camera stands General Picton’s 5th Division, with Bijlandt’s Netherlands Brigade (from Perponcher’s 2nd Netherlands Division), in a somewhat exposed position in front of the line. On the other side of the crossroads is Alten’s 3rd Division, with the bulk of Lord Uxbridge’s Cavalry Reserve Corps.
Above: Our local hero, Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton stands resplendent in a distinctly non-regulation frock coat and top hat, while brandishing a brolly. A tough, extremely capable and proven commander, Picton was Wellington’s second-in-command at Waterloo though was suffering the effects of two ribs, broken by a French musket ball at Quatre Bras two days earlier. Historically he was shot through the head while leading a counter-attack, though he would survive our battle, despite the near-destruction of his division.
Above: On the Allied right, we again see Alten’s 3rd Division, with Clinton’s 2nd Division, Kruse’s Nassau Contingent and several British and German cavalry brigades in support. Mitchell’s Brigade (detached from the absent 4th Division) is stationed west of Hougoumont and Chassé’s 3rd Netherlands Division is on the extreme right flank.
Above: The time is now 11.30am and the ground has finally dried out sufficiently, following the night’s heavy rain, for the guns to open fire without burying themselves in mud. The Emperor Napoleon (just visible on his white horse, next to the inn of La Belle Alliance) watches as his Grand Battery opens a devastating cannonade on the Allied centre.
Above: The astonishing weight of fire from the French artillery quickly silences the Allied guns stationed along the eastern half of the ridge. Picton withdraws his division to the relative safety of the rear slope. Perponcher’s Netherlanders meanwhile, are quickly driven from Papelotte-La Haie. The French surge forward to attack the weakened Allied left.
Above: As the infantry of General d’Erlon’s 1st Corps advances through the corn, the armoured Cuirassiers of Milhaud’s 4th Cavalry Corps gallop forward. Galloping with them are several horse artillery batteries, who move forward to engage the Allies more closely. In the distance, the Emperor waits with his massive reserve (Lobau’s 6th Corps, Kellermann’s 3rd Cavalry Corps and the three infantry divisions of the Imperial Guard) to see what develops.
In the west, General Reille decides that Hougoumont, defended by the British Guards, is simply too tough a nut to crack and instead decides to isolate and by-pass that particular fortress. He orders Prince Jerome Napoleon (the Emperor’s brother) to mount a diversionary attack, along with Piré’s cavalry, around the western flank of the Allies.
Above: Chassé’s 1st Netherlands Division move forward from Braine-l’Alleud to support Mitchell’s beleaguered brigade near Hougoumont. The Netherlanders feel secure on their hill, though their confidence is soon shattered by Piré’s lancers, who break them with ease! This French attack succeeds in drawing Allied reserves right, when they would have been more useful on the left!
Above: As Picton withdraws from the crest of the ridge, Milhaud’s Cuirassiers surge forward! The Grand Battery also now turns its attention to the isolated German garrison of La Haye-Sainte.
Above: One of Picton’s brigades (Kempt’s) suffers terribly from the French artillery fire and starts to waver. Seeing an opportunity, Milhaud orders Wathier’s Cuirassiers to charge! In reply, Ponsonby’s ‘Union Brigade’ of Dragoons (represented here by the ‘Scots Greys’, which was one of the three regiments present in the brigade) launches a counter-charge. Regrettably, Ponsonby’s men suffered a storm of shot and shell from the keen-eyed French artillery and are sent reeling back to their own lines. The jubilant Cuirassiers scatter Kempt’s infantry and charge on, almost capturing Wellington himself! Their rampage is finally halted by Somerset’s Household Cavalry Brigade.
Above: Unrecorded by our camera, the French Guard Light Cavalry Division also had a field-day on the extreme eastern flank; they sabred and lanced their way through two brigades of Hanoverian militia, two British light cavalry brigades, three horse batteries and the entire Netherlands Cavalry Division before retiring back to Papelotte.
Above: Unperturbed by the collapse of their allies on either flank, Lambert’s British brigade stands like a rock in the midst of the unfolding disaster on the Allied left wing.
Above: The situation on the Allied left wing, as seen from the French side; In the foreground, Kellermann’s 3rd Cavalry Corps is moved forward to exploit the success on the French right. In the distance, the survivors of Picton’s 5th Division and Perponcher’s 2nd Netherlands Division rally near Mont St Jean, while the ‘Black Brunswickers’ move up to hold the line.
Above: As if things couldn’t get any worse for Wellington; a huge cheer erupts from the French as La Haie-Sainte falls! However, Napoleon has now received reports of Marshal Blücher’s Prussians marching to engage his right flank! However, they are still some three hours’ march distant and he is confident that he can break Wellington first!
Above: Despite the deteriorating situation on the Allied left (and still no sight of Blücher’s Prussians!), the Allied right remains 90% intact, with considerable reserves that could be moved to support the right. However, Napoleon anticipates the danger and orders Marshal Ney forward with 6th Corps to assault and pin the Allied right.
Above: In the foreground, Foy’s uncommitted French division continues to threaten the Guards in Hougoumont. the rest of Reille’s 2nd Corps meanwhile moves around either side of the farm to join Ney’s assault on the Allied right. The Imperial Guard meanwhile, polish their best uniforms in preparation for tomorrow’s victory parade in Brussels.
“On to Brussels!” “Vive l’Empereur!”
Above: The time is now 2pm. With his left in danger of collapse and with still no Prussians in sight, Wellington considers his options: With the bulk of the army still intact, he could mount an effective rearguard, allowing the army to withdraw on Brussels and then to evacuation at Antwerp, should that be necessary. The other option is to continue the defence, at ever-increasing cost, in the hope of relief by Marshal Blücher. If relief does not arrive, the army will surely be destroyed… What to do…?
Sadly, it was time for the museum to close and time for our re-fight of Waterloo had run out and we could only speculate what might happen next.
Would Blücher arrive to save the day? Possibly…
But for now, The Emperor Napoleon was master of the field of Waterloo!
I should add that during this game we were visited by BBC Radio Wales and I was forced at bayonet-point to do a radio interview… This was then picked up by BBC1 TV, who then rang the museum to invite us to come on the One Show (the BBC’s flagship daily magazine programme) that evening, to appear next to Dan Snow and describe the battle using our game! Sadly, it would have taken about an hour to dismantle the game, five hours to get to London and two hours to set it all up again and the programme was due to broadcast within four hours, so we had to decline!
But that’s not the end of the story, as the game was shipped down to W.A.S.P HQ for a ‘proper’ two-day re-fight over the following weekend, so there are more Waterloo Witterings to follow…