Notifications
Clear all

Penninsular Battles


denny
(@denny)
Eminent Member
Joined: 9 months ago
Posts: 27
Topic starter  

I have been reading accounts of the Peninsular War battles and I get the impression that the British firing line had a distinct advantage over the attacking French column formations, just from the disproportionate number of muskets that could be brought to bear during the attack. The French columns were repeatably repulsed by the British volley fire before making contact.

Translating this to the wargame, I am asking the question, should the British battalion have an additional modifier to represent the troops being in line and and able to deliver devastating firepower. It seems as though combats between enemy battalions, with the same combat rating will likely be decided on a even dice off.

The battle accounts describing French attacks that I have read about the Peninsular, against steady British forces, didn't seem even odds. 

What do you think?


Quote
David
(@david)
Designer Admin
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 325
 
Posted by: @denny

I have been reading accounts of the Peninsular War battles and I get the impression that the British firing line had a distinct advantage over the attacking French column formations, just from the disproportionate number of muskets that could be brought to bear during the attack. The French columns were repeatably repulsed by the British volley fire before making contact.

That is a common impression, and one that is easy to get from the dominant western histories of the period, which are overwhelming written by or influenced by English writers or source materials. I'd put forward that the reality is far more complex and less distilled.

Posted by: @denny

Translating this to the wargame, I am asking the question, should the British battalion have an additional modifier to represent the troops being in line and and able to deliver devastating firepower. It seems as though combats between enemy battalions, with the same combat rating will likely be decided on a even dice off.

Well, obviously we came to the conclusion "no"… but to provide some more context on how we got there…

Posted by: @denny

The battle accounts describing French attacks that I have read about the Peninsular, against steady British forces, didn't seem even odds. 

What do you think?

Terrain played a big part in the Peninsula War, as did the high level command decisions that ESR is focused on. Additionally, it seems that by most accounts (French, English, and German) the Peninsula War is the first time the French face a similarly active and effective skirmish line as their own.

Some of the major issues at play – many of which are abstracted in ESR are.

The short answer is:

We came to the conclusion that the French losses in the Peninsula War were not as simplistic as a +1 tactical advantage to the British, and instead any advantage should be addressed through more nuanced ratings, force compositions, effects of terrain, and use of terrain.

Hope that helps, below are some semi-rambling thoughts (not complete or exhaustive) on some of the points that drove our design the direction it went.

 

The longer answer is:

We strongly believe there is a dominant narrative that the English have a uniquely innate style or trait that allows them to defeat the French while no one else could, despite the French using the same tactics everywhere and always. This effectively says that the continental Allies are all ineffective while the British army stands alone as the sole force that can defeat the French and does so because line vs column. We believe this narrative is overly simplistic and clearly false, since the French are beaten by continental opponents beginning as early as 1807 and it is not accomplished by using the "line vs column" special ability.

The longer answer would include some of the following considerations:

• The role of fire discipline; arguable the British win because they have phenomenal fire discipline, holding their fire until the French columns are at point blank range and then "blowing the head off" the column and causing it to stagger, then retreat! However, the Prussian army of 1806 has excellent fire discipline, certainly no less, yet in 1806 it is ruined, despite the claim that the French use the same battalion level tactics in both events and that battalion level tactics decided the day.

• Heavy defensive skirmishing; it does appear largely agreed that the British use heavy defensive skirmishing and this at least commonly neutralizes the French skirmishing advantage, preventing the French attacks from having strong cover by which to both maneuver and deploy. This is addressed by Unit and Formation characteristics in ESR.

• Terrain; the battles of the Peninsula War feature different use of terrain by the belligerents than do the continental engagements. Multiple Peninsula War battles have the French attacking up very steep slopes and in some cases what observers term to be nearly cliffs. This obviously can be addressed on a scenario level through rating of terrain, designation of Strong Points, and in some cases, special rules and conditions for a given scenario. We do see that the French struggle against very strong defensive positions and stubborn defenders in the continent as well: Eylau and Borodino are easy examples to point to.

• Reduced grand tactical combined arms; in a continental battle, it is common for a significant amount of artillery to be used offensively, and a supporting body of cavalry to charge in to exploit a successful infantry assault. The macro and micro terrain of the Peninsula War drastically reduces the use of artillery and cavalry. Neither has an easy route to the battlefield, resulting in far less guns and generally lighter guns being used, and not only less cavalry, but less variation in cavalry – almost no heavy cavalry are utilized in the Peninsula War when compared to the continent. Additionally, the micro terrain of the battlefields makes the use of both of them far less practical. Part of this is then obviously reflected in the available Army composition for a given scenario, and the rest can be addressed by the terrain rating and potentially special case rules for a given scenario.

• Tactical intent is abstracted; the predominant British view is that the French attacked in "columns" – which itself is not terribly descriptive as most armies, the French included, had several forms of a column used for different purposes. In fact, the British method during this period mirrors the French: Both maneuver in a column and deploy into line behind a screen of skirmishers before going to contact in line. Of course this is not universal practice, there is variation determined by the commanders present in the tactical action based on what they see as each possible and advantageous.

• The role of firefights; Lastly, there is a question of why there is a supposed firefight contest between the defender and the attacker. The notion of the British advantage commonly rests on the British line having more muskets than the French column, but also that the French columns are too bunched up to deploy into line. These two parts are at odds with each other, as if the French columns are bunched up, than the net frontage of the British defense and the French attack is going to be equal but for perhaps the flanks or other isolated locations – this would mean the shallow nature of the British line should show some failure points as the French have depth. We should see a consistent narrative where the French flanks fail and the British center depletes, with presumably some victories for each but generally conforming to that mode – but that isn't generally what is described. The other core issue is: Why is there a firefight? Is it because the French are trying to go to contact in column? That is not generally their method. Is it because the French are always terribly coordinated and unable to remain at interval to allow deployment into line? Seems strange that it would happen universally in Spain but effectively never on the continent. Is it because the French are trying to conduct a firefight in some non-line formation? That seems terribly strange.

-David


ReplyQuote
denny
(@denny)
Eminent Member
Joined: 9 months ago
Posts: 27
Topic starter  

Very interesting discussion, and the points you make, all make sense. Terrain in many of the battles was a major factor and in game terms, would qualify as a defenders strongpoint in many cases. The book that I was reading was a brief account of each battle and so the author didn't do any really analysis of the action. So it is good to hear your take and I do agree. Thanks David.

Its going to be fascinating refighting these battles when Iberia s3 arrives!


David liked
ReplyQuote
Share: