In the first few months of 1811, Wellington had turned back yet another French invasion of Portugal at the Lines of Torres Vedras and had gone onto the offensive, pushing Marshal Masséna‘s army all the way back into Spain. However, Masséna arrived back in Spain to find full supply depots waiting for him, enabling him to quickly rebuild his exhausted army.
Inadvertently taking advantage of Wellington’s temporary absence and General Erskine’s incompetence, Massena then managed to force a supply convoy through Allied lines to resupply the French garrison of Ciudad Rodrigo fortress. He also had a supply convoy ready to push through to Almeida fortress, but Wellington had returned and was now blocking the road to Almeida.
Where the road from Ciudad Rodrigo to Almeida crosses the Spanish-Portuguese border, the border is defined by a long, narrow and easily-defensible ridge, dominated by the ruins of the Spanish Fort Concepcion. The fort had changed hands a number of times since 1808, but had finally been blown up by Robert Crauford’s Light Division during the retreat of the previous year. It was along this long ridge that Wellington deployed his army; his left flank resting upon the ruins of Fort Concepcion and the right flank upon the village of Fuentes de Oñoro at the head of the valley of the Dos Casas. A large and well-organised Spanish Partisan Corps under Julian Sanchez held outposts further south, at Poço Velho and Nave del Haver.
On 3rd May 1811, Masséna made a direct assault on Fuentes de Oñoro, which seemed an easier prospect than launching a direct assault across the deep, steeply-sided and wooded valley to the north (and repeating his drubbing at Bussaco the previous year). However, the densely-packed streets and maze of stone walls around the village proved to be a nightmare for the French infantry and they were eventually beaten back with heavy losses.
Massena spent 4th May demonstrating in front of Wellington, pinning the Anglo-Portuguese Army in place while scouting out a better point to attack. The terrain north of Nave del Haver, although boggy, wooded and crossed by several streams, seemed a better bet; particularly as it seemed to be thinly-held only by Spanish partisans. Ordering Reynier’s II Corps to continue demonstrating across the valley in front of Fort Concepçion, Masséna ordered Drouet’s IX Corps to renew the assault on 5th May, while Loison’s VI Corps and Junot’s VIII Corps (reduced to only one division), together with the bulk of the army’s cavalry under Montbrun, moved south to hook around Wellington’s right flank at Nave del Haver.
Suspecting that something was afoot, Wellington moved Houston’s 7th Division and Cotton’s Cavalry Reserve south to extend his right flank, to occupy Poço Velho and to support Sanchez. However, as dawn rose on the 5th, the seriousness of the situation quickly became apparent! Ordering the 7th Division to retreat immediately across the River Turones, Crauford’s Light Division was sent to cover the withdrawal
It’s here that our scenario starts on the morning of 5th May 1811; Houston’s 7th Division and Cotton’s cavalry are out on a limb, though Wellington can’t afford to send too much to support them, or he’ll risk fatally weakening the position at Fuentes de Oñoro.
This scenario is designed for Napoleon’s Battles rules, which is a ‘grand-tactical’ ruleset where each tactical unit represents a brigade (roughly 1:100 figure ratio). It would also be easily convertible to a similarly-scaled set of rules, such as Age of Eagles. I have also run this scenario at a much larger scale, at 1:20 ratio using General de Brigade rules, during the third and final AB Figures Wargames Weekend in 2001, though the large map made it difficult! Even with 16-foot tables, I still had to compress the frontage by a few feet to fit the entire battle in! The battle also lends itself well to breaking up into smaller scenarios; e.g. the retreat of 7th Division, with the Light Division marching to the rescue and the assault on Fuentes de Oñoro village.
Briefing – Lieutenant General Viscount Wellington
Strategic Situation, April to May 1811
Once again, you have managed to eject a French army from Portugal. This time it was a combination of delaying actions, ‘scorched earth’ tactics and of course your fortified defence lines at Torres Vedras that decided the issue. That notwithstanding, Marshal Masséna, the Prince of Essling somehow managed to stay camped before your lines for many weeks before being compelled to retire. How he managed to find forage in that devastated land, you will never know. Indeed, it would seem that French soldiers can even eat grass when necessary!
With the shattered French ‘Army of Portugal’ sent scurrying back to Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca you had anticipated that Marshal Masséna would not be able to put another army into the field again until at late Summer at the earliest. Indeed, there could surely be hardly a single horse left alive in Masséna’s army, as they all seemed to be lying dead along the Salamanca road (or in the soldiers’ bellies). Therefore, having seen the last Frenchman stagger back into Spain, you felt secure enough to leave your army under Spencer’s command, with instructions to blockade Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo, but to avoid contact with any French field army until you returned (full investment of these fortresses being impossible, as you have no heavy artillery train). With these instructions issued you departed for Extremadura, there to hold conference with Beresford, Blake and Castaños (to discuss operations in that province against Marshal Soult and the fortress of Badajoz).
Upon your return to the army two weeks later, it came as something of a surprise to learn that the idiot Erskine had allowed not only a French supply train to pass into Ciudad Rodrigo unmolested, but had stood idly by while Marchand’s division had also marched into the city! Erskine (a confirmed lunatic) was foisted upon you by Horse Guards to command the Light Division during Crauford’s absence. Thankfully, Crauford has just returned to the army, allowing you to quietly shift Erskine into a line division – blockading Almeida ought to keep him out of harm’s (and your) way.
However, Erskine’s blunder has had further ramifications. Using Ciudad Rodrigo as a base, Marchand is patrolling aggressively and is actively preventing further attempts at blockade. Incredibly, it would seem that Masséna has already managed to refit his army and is once again on the march. According to the spy Mirador in Salamanca, the depots in Salamanca were stuffed full when Masséna’s army staggered in, thus enabling him to quickly get his men back on their feet. He has since been joined by additional troops from the Duke of Istria’s ‘Army of the North’, and has been able to assemble a supply convoy which he now plans to force through your lines to relieve General Brennier’s beleaguered garrison at Almeida.
With a blockade of Ciudad Rodrigo now impossible, all that can be done is to frustrate Masséna’s relief attempts long enough for Brennier to be starved out of Almeida. The line you have selected to defend lies just to the south of the ruined Fort Concepçion and lies roughly north-south along the Spanish-Portuguese border, straddling the main road between Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida. This position is reasonable as to the front of the left wing runs the deep ravine of the River Dos Casas, while the right wing is protected by the defensible village of Fuentes de Oñoro. The line is rather long; about seven miles in all, though it will be difficult for Masséna to turn a flank, as to the left (north) lie mountains and deep ravines, while to the right (south) there is a tangle of streams, bogs and woods. A frontal assault across the Dos Casas would surely result in another Bussaco. The main disadvantage to the position is the gorge of the River Coa, which lies directly to your rear. Any retreat would entail either the passage of the single narrow bridge at Castello Bom (too frightful to contemplate) or the larger bridge just to the south of Almeida, which would run the risk of serious casualties from Brennier’s fortress guns.
Tactical Situation, 3rd to 5th May 1811
At last on the 3rd, the alarm is raised; the Light Division and cavalry have encountered Masséna’s advance guard and are falling back to your main line. It is not long before the French columns begin to appear on the crest of the ridge opposite. The main enemy strength (of approximately one infantry corps, plus cavalry in divisional strength) seems to be opposite Fuentes de Oñoro, though there are two or three divisions opposite Campbell’s 6th Division and Erskine’s 5th Division, to the north.
Toward late afternoon on the 3rd, the French begin to develop an attack; two divisions of infantry advance into Fuentes de Oñoro, where the high stone walls and barricades are bitterly contested by the massed light companies of 1st & 3rd Divisions, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Williams of the 60th Rifles. However, Williams is soon wounded in the fierce and confused street fighting and the light companies are forced to concede ground. With the light companies now only managing to hold on to the top of the village, centred on the church, Cadogan’s 71st Highland Light Infantry charge into the town and sweep the French back across the Dos Casas.
There are no more French attacks that evening, though the Light Division is moved into reserve behind Fuentes de Oñoro as a preventative measure, alongside 1st, 3rd and 7th Divisions who are already concentrated there with Ashworth’s Portuguese, the cavalry and the bulk of the artillery.
Apart from a little desultory skirmishing across the river, very little happens on the 4th. However, there are ominous movements beyond the main French line, which suggest that the French are shifting their strength to their left in preparation for a renewed assault. To guard against any surprises on your right, Sanchez is ordered to extend his scouts out beyond the village of Nave del Haver. Meanwhile, Houston’s 7th Division (consisting largely of light infantry) and Cotton’s Cavalry Division, with Bull’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery under command, are sent to guard the Poço Velho sector. The garrison of Fuentes de Oñoro is stiffened with two veteran regiments, the 71st and the 79th.
It is now dawn on the 5th; a courier has just arrived with disturbing news; the Spanish have encountered French cavalry in divisional strength near Nave del Haver and have been put to flight having hardly fire a shot, damn them! You now realise your error, which could well prove fatal for Houston’s 7th Division; they are isolated, inexperienced, in the open and are faced by a large enemy force of all arms, many times their number. Slade’s and Arendschildt’s cavalry ought to be able to the delay the French somewhat, but it will take more than that to rescue Houston! Summoning Crauford to your headquarters, you give him your orders…
Centre & Right of the The Anglo-Portuguese Army
Lieutenant General, Viscount Wellington
(7 Free Rolls)
Cavalry Division – Lieutenant General Stapleton Cotton 5”E(7)+2 [1F]
Slade’s Brigade 12 BrHC [4D]
Arendschildt’s Brigade 12 BrLC [5D]
Bull’s Troop RHA Br6#
Ross’ Troop RHA Br6#
1st Division – Major General Sir Brent Spencer 4”A(5)+0 [3F]
Stopford’s Guards Brigade 16 BrGD [5D]
Nightingales’ Brigade (Highlanders) 16 BrLN [6D]
Howard’s Brigade (inc. 71st) 16 BrLT [6D]
Von Löwe’s KGL Brigade 16 BrLN [6D]
3rd Division – Major General Sir Thomas Picton 5”E(8)+2 [2F]
MacKinnon’s Brigade 16 BrLN [6D]
Colville’s Brigade 16 BrLN [6D]
Power’s Portuguese Brigade 16 PtLN [8D]
Williams’ Massed Light Companies 16 BrLT [6D]
7th Division – Major General William Houston 4”A(6)+0 [1F]
Sontag’s Brigade (inc. Brunswickers & Chass. Britanniques) 20 BwLT [10D]
Doyle’s Portuguese Brigade 16 PtLN [8D]
Light Division – Brigadier General Robert Crauford 5”E(8)+2 [1F]
Beckwith’s Brigade 16 BrLT [6D]
Drummond’s Brigade 20 BrLT [8D]
Independent Brigade – Brigadier General Charles Ashworth 3”A(5)+0 [1F]
Ashworth’s Portuguese Brigade 20 PtLN [10D]
Spanish Partisan Corps – General Julian Sanchez 3”G(6)+0 [1F]
Partisan Cavalry 12 SpIRC [8D]
Partisan Infantry 16 SpGRL [11D]
1. Bull’s & Ross’ Troops RHA may start the game attached to Cotton, Houston or Crauford, at Wellington’s discretion.
2. The British cavalry numbers incorporate Barbacena’s very weak Portuguese cavalry brigade.
3. Sontag’s Brigade of Houston’s 7th Division had around 900 British Light Infantry (51st & 85th Regiments) and around 1,400 men from the Chasseurs-Britanniques and Brunswick-Oels Regiments. These latter regiments allegedly suffered from rather serious discipline problems and as they represent the majority of the brigade, I’ve classed the unit was Brunswick Light Infantry (BwLT), as they have slightly lower stats than British Light Infantry (BrLT) in Napoleon’s Battles.
4. The Spanish Guerrillas do not count toward overall army strength or against army morale.
5. Wellington may use the optional rule that allows him to be given a ‘React’ marker, as for cavalry, in lieu of a normal move. Wellington may then spend his React marker to move in one of the Reacting Cavalry phases.
Briefing – Maréchal André Masséna, Prince d’Essling
Strategic Situation, April to May 1811
In the past few months, you have seen your army dashed against the ‘Stone Wall’ of the English army at Bussaco, you have seen your army starve before the walls of Lisbon and you have seen your army bled white by the long march back to Salamanca. The Army of Portugal has never before been in such a terrible state of repair; regiments down to merely weak battalion strength, cavalry regiments with only enough horses to mount a single squadron and batteries fully equipped with guns, limbers and caissons full of ammunition, but no horses to pull them. Worse still, you have now been pushed well back into Spain, leaving isolated garrisons in the fortresses of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo.
Having arrived back at Salamanca, you have found replacements to make good your losses and the lads have been issued the last six months’ back pay, which has raised their spirits more than any victory. You have also had two weeks respite in which the men subsequently spent their back pay and are therefore ‘rested’ and eager to get back into the fight (at least that’s what they say to your face). However, the Duke of Istria has so far only delivered one-tenth of the supplies he had promised and has sent only two cavalry brigades and a handful of draught horses out of his entire ‘Army of the North’ (which he says he needs to maintain control of Castile and Léon). Worst of all; the bastard poseur has come along in person to ‘assist’ you in your campaign. He will undoubtedly attempt to lead his Guard Cavalry Brigade in a glorious charge (after the moment of victory, of course!) and thereby attempt to steal your laurels. That preening, hair-powdering fool has never forgiven you for gaining your principality at Essling!
Back to the campaign: thanks to the uncharacteristically slow response of the British Light Division ‘Grasshoppers’, you have already managed to get a convoy of supplies, plus Marchand’s division, into the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, thereby saving that garrison. You now have a second convoy ready to push through to Brennier’s besieged garrison at Almeida.
Your army is once again on the march and is in pretty good shape, having been further reinforced by Fournier’s excellent (though painfully weak) cavalry brigade. However, Junot’s VIII Corps is down to just one division and Drouet’s IX Corps (consisting of a mixture of raw 4th battalions) has been screening Wellington’s army since your retreat. They have not had a chance to rest and are not in good shape at all.
As you advance toward Almeida, the British Light Division and cavalry steadily fall back, skirmishing all the way and inflicting a steady trickle of casualties on your voltigeurs and light cavalry. At last Marchand, leading your vanguard, reports that he has discovered the main English position, stretched over five miles along the ridge between the ruined Fort Concepçion and the village of Fuentes de Oñoro. The English position is protected along its front by the River Dos Casas, which carves out a deep ravine as it flows north from Fuentes de Oñoro and forms a significant obstacle. However, to Wellington’s rear is the almost-impassable gorge of the River Coa. If Wellington is compelled to retreat, he will be forced to cross either the bridge at Almeida (under Brennier’s fortress guns) or at Castello Bom, where the bridge is extremely narrow and forms a significant choke-point. A British withdrawal will therefore at the very least, inflict a significant loss in baggage and artillery upon Wellington, thus crippling his attempts at offence for the remainder of the year.
However, risking a frontal assault across the ravine of the Dos Casas carries with it the risk of another Bussaco, while the depth of the ravine to the north of Fort Concepçion makes an envelopment of the English left impossible. The only options left open to you are; to assault Wellington’s right flank strongpoint of Fuentes de Oñoro where the valley is much more shallow, or alternatively to attempt an even wider flanking movement using your superior numbers of cavalry and roll up Wellington’s right flank from the south (though the boggy and wooded terrain in this area will make co-ordination extremely difficult).
Tactical Situation, 3rd to 5th May 1811
Having spread your army widely across your front to keep the English guessing, you launched your first assault against Fuentes de Oñoro on the 3rd. Ferey’s and Marchand’s divisions were heavily engaged against Wellington’s élite ‘Grasshoppers’ and ‘Amazons’ for most of the evening in bitter house-to-house fighting, but were eventually pushed back across the Dos Casas with significant losses. However, Ferey has managed to retain possession of the houses on the eastern side of the stream, which will serve as a useful launching-point for a future assault.
It has now become clear that Wellington has moved his main strength into position behind Fuentes de Oñoro, though significant forces still remain to the north, thus preventing Reynier’s II Corps and Junot’s VIII Corps from exploiting this shift of position by the enemy. It is time to enact the contingency plan; Montbrun has discovered the right flank of the English line, which is placed at the village of Nave del Haver, some four miles to the south of Fuentes de Oñoro. This outpost consists of little more than a few Spanish irregulars (probably of Don Sanchez’s guerrilla band), while there is a small garrison of English and Portuguese infantry in Poço Velho, approximately two miles to the south of Fuentes de Oñoro. There is little else in this area, other than the occasional cavalry picquet.
You have spent the whole of the 4th shifting your divisions quietly to the south. While Reynier’s II Corps and Drouet’s IX Corps have remained demonstrating before the enemy, Junot’s VIII Corps has been pulled out of the right wing, to form the reserve for your flanking movement. Loison’s VI Corps (less Ferey’s division) is also on the march; its mission being to overcome opposition at Poço Velho and outflank the English position at Fuentes. Montbrun, with all cavalry under command (except Reynier’s and the Guard) is to widely outflank the English position, cover Loison’s left flank, and threaten Wellington’s lines of communication. Once the English right wing is fully engaged, Drouet will strike the killing blow through Fuentes de Oñoro.
It is now dawn on 5th May. The Duke of Istria has disappeared. He’s probably off somewhere trying to get himself some glory! At least he is no longer standing on your shoulder offering ‘advice’ and questioning your every decision. In the distance, the crackle of gunfire announces that Montbrun has made contact with the enemy…
Centre & Left Of The French Army Of Portugal
Maréchal André Masséna, Prince d’Essling
(8 Free Rolls)
VI Corps – Général de Division Louis Henri Loison 8”G(6)+1 [3F]
Division of Général de Division Jean Gabriel Marchand 4”E(7)+1
Maucune’s Brigade 16 FrLT [8D]
Chemineau’s Brigade 16 FrLN [8D]
Division of Général de Division Julien Mermet 4”A(6)+0
Menard’s Brigade 28 FrLN [14D]
Taupin’s Brigade 28 FrLN [14D]
Division of Général de Division Claude François Ferey 4”G(8)+1
1st Brigade (inc. Légions du Midi & Hanovrienne) 16 FrLT [8D]
2nd Brigade 16 FrLN [8D]
VIII Corps – Général de Division André Junot, Duc d’Abrantes 9”G(6)+0 [1F]
Division of Général de Division Jean-Baptiste Solignac 3”A(6)+1
1st Brigade 24 FrLN [12D]
Thomières’ Brigade (inc. Régiment Irlandais) 20 FrLN [10D]
IX Corps – Général de Division Jean Baptiste Drouet d’Erlon 9”G(5)+1 [3F]
Division of Général de Division Michel Claparède 3”G(7)+1
1st Brigade 16 FrPLT [10D]
2nd Brigade 16 FrPLN [10D]
Massed Grenadiers & Carabiniers of IX Corps 16 FrGN [6D]
Division of Général de Division Nicolas Conroux de Pepinville 3”A(5)+0
1st Brigade 16 FrPLT [10D]
2nd Brigade 24 FrPLN [14D]
Reserve Cavalry Division – Général de Division Louis Pierre Montbrun 4”E(8)+2 [2F]
Cavrois’ Brigade (Dragoons) 8 FrLC [4D]
D’Ornano’s Brigade (Dragoons) 8 FrLC [4D]
Fournier’s & Lamotte’s Brigades (Chasseurs, Hussars & Dragoons) 12 FrLC [6D]
Wathier’s Cavalry Brigade (Chasseurs & Hussars) 12 FrLC [6D]
Foot Battery Fr12#
Horse Battery Fr4#
The Army of The North (-) – Maréchal Jean-Baptiste Bessières, Duc d’Istrie 4”E(6)+1 [1F]
Lepic’s Imperial Guard Cavalry Brigade 12 FrGLC [4D]
Garde Volante-Batterie FrG6#
1. Montbrun’s Reserve Cavalry Division may be commanded by Masséna, Loison or Junot.
2. Fournier’s IX Corps Cavalry Brigade and Lamotte’s VI Corps Cavalry Brigade were both very weak and have therefore been combined as a single unit. They were placed under Montbrun’s command, along with Wathier’s Brigade from the Army of the North.
3. The Reserve Artillery Batteries must be assigned to divisions at the start of the game.
4. Bessières had absented himself from the battlefield to look at some entrenchments (!). In his absence, Lepic (to Masséna’s fury) absolutely refused to move the Guard Cavalry without explicit orders from his Marshal. Bessières’ Division (Lepic’s Guard Cavalry and the Guard Horse Battery) may not therefore be moved until Bessières arrives (on French Turn 10 Bessières is simply placed on the table within 4 inches of his units). Bessières may only activate using his own initiative rating of 6 and may not be activated by the C-in-C in the normal manner. Bessières’ units may not be led by attaching the C-in-C. From Turn 10 onward, these units may however, conduct half-moves in the normal manner if Bessières fails to activate.
5. Wathier’s Cavalry Brigade belongs to Bessières’ Army of the North, though has thankfully been placed under Montbrun’s command and does not suffer the restrictions placed on the rest of Bessières’ command. As Bessières largely absented himself from this battle, he may not re-take command of Wathier during this scenario.
6. Ferey’s Division is temporarily detached from Loison’s VI Corps and starts the scenario under Masséna’s direct control.
Above: Terrain Map (each grid-square is 1km and in Napoleon’s Battles represents 12 inches square).
Above: Deployment Map.
Each orange square on the map is a built-up sector and may be occupied by one infantry unit and has a defensive modifier of +3.
The River Turones, running south from Villar Formoso, is only passable to artillery at the river crossings marked where tracks cross the river (a mix of fords and bridges). It is fordable to infantry and cavalry along its entire length as Rough Ground. All other streams are fordable to all troops as Rough Ground.
The woodland shown on the map comprises boggy cork-oak thickets and is impassable to artillery, except on roads. Other troop types may pass through woodland as Rough Ground.
Troops must be deployed within their deployment areas shown above, but may be shifted up to six inches from their starting positions, though no closer to enemy units. Units may be deployed in any formation or facing.
Commanders and artillery units may be deployed anywhere within their army’s deployment zone, but no closer to the enemy than the closest formed unit in that formation.
Game Length & Sequence
The game starts with the French 0700hrs turn.
The game ends with the Allied 1630hrs turn (Turn 20).
The only reinforcement for either side is Marshal Bessières, who may be placed on table within 4 inches of his units (Lepic’s Guard Cavalry Brigade and the Guard Horse Battery) at the start of the French 1130hrs turn (Turn 10).
There is only one victory condition: The French must force Wellington to retreat by breaking Allied Army Morale. Any other result will be classed as an Allied victory.
Unit Labels for Napoleon’s Battles