Is there a limit on the size and scope of a wargame? What is the record for the biggest and best horse and musket game? Did this Australian W200 Megagame go a table too far? On the weekend of the 12th – 14th June, 20 Aussie war-gamers from all over Australia converged on the Hall of Heroes friendly local gaming store, Campbelltown, NSW. Our aim was to refight the Battle of Waterloo in unforgettable style – the wargame of a lifetime. We planned 12 moves, as well as a couple of social events over the course of the weekend.
This project was two years in the making, time to assemble and paint about 6,300 plastic and metal 28mm figures, and prepare over 5 large tables - 30 square meters of professionally modelled terrain. Having met over the last 3 years to replay all the iconic Napoleonic battles on their 200th anniversaries, with a diversion for the 150th of Gettysburg, we have become experts in planning and organising a game of this magnitude!
Everyone contributed something to the project over those 2 years, but I will only single out 1 victim for an honourable mention: Terry, above in the lilac shirt and sunnies, who laboured tirelessly to produce the terrain, supported by Matt, the genial giant who owns the Hall of Heroes. We organised a whip round for Terry for some HoH gift vouchers as a token of our esteem.
We also organised some souvenirs of this once in a lifetime wargame - T shirts and commemorative dice. Although I'm here to tell you they don't throw sixes any better! As befits the commander of the British Guards Brigade, Bryan however out did us all in terms of sartorial elegance! No friendly fire incidents on his table!
During the course of our 2 year painting plan, we tried to ensure that patchwork of units and nationalities that made up Wellington's 'infamous' army were represented. We worked to an orbat of 75% of all units present, ensuring all formations - Divisions and above - were represented. It was really great to do a Waterloo game with so many Dutch Belgian, Nassau, and Hanoverian units represented.
Being fortunate enough to already possess a large number of British and French models, my major contribution to the painting plan was to produce both British Heavy Cavalry brigades. With the only options being metals, I just know that this will be the cue for them to be produced in plastic!
I should also give a shout out to the Hall of Heroes team, Matt and Michelle, and Kym, Gerard and co. who looked after us so well and kept us fed and watered throughout the weekend, including a slap up meal of cocktail snacks and lasagne on the Saturday night prior to the obligatory screening of the Waterloo movie! As always, our Wellington was rarely seen during the game without a brew in his hand...
As French team captain, I spent a bit of time thinking up a cunning plan...As anyone familiar with my blog will know, we have played several large scale practice games in the 2 year build up, not only for rules practice and to test out the scenario, but also to look at tactics - a luxury Napoleon didn't have on the terrain! My first task was to match my team's talents to the commands available, and I think I got that right at least, as everyone seemed to warm to their respective sector and role.
The Emperor's finest below: Troy, yours truly, Vic, Jason, Richard, Mick, Jules, Caesar and Shannon. The last three were our cavalrymen, and Jules was a King's Royal Hussar!
Now my stint at staff college was at a very junior level, but my syndicate's adopted Principle of War was 'Concentration of Force' and this is a maxim I was determined to apply to this game - previous attempts to follow the historical moves of the battle just ended in early frustration for the French team! I left the team in no doubt that we would 'blow-torch' through at the key break through point and crises elsewhere would not be reinforced! I have appended my written orders below if anyone is interested, but suffice it to say that both Reille's II Corps and D'Erlon's I Corps would concentrate and attack where their commands overlapped, west of the Brussels chaussee, supported by all the Heavy Cavalry. Attacking a superior enemy in strong defence position, whilst being outflanked, we could not attempt to be strong everywhere! One aim, one axis of advance, one chance to breakthrough to Brussels and Glory!
The Anglo-Allied and Prussian team - Max, Cam, Austin (Blucher), James, Rob, Philip (Wellington), Bryan, Craig, and Terry. Jim was out checking the piquet lines, but can be seen here, next to his beaut hand built model of Papelotte/Smohain. Obviously Wellington's only plan was to beat the French by hanging on until either Dusk or the Prussians arrived!
The French and Anglo Allies both deployed historically across tables 1 - 4, with the small caveat that Lobau's V Corps was restricted to the Westernmost 2 feet of table 5 until the Prussians had deployed - our Vic is nothing if not an aggressive tactician and in our Prussian practice game he had effectively bottled up the Prussians as they were trying to emerge from the Lasne defile - it would make for a short weekend, and a pretty frustrating game for the Prussian player!
So starting from historical positions, the French with the first move started putting the plan into place. Mick had just one infantry brigade to mask Hougomount, and 2 light cavalry brigades to cover the westernmost flank. He was heavily outnumbered on this table:
And he was facing some pretty tough troops too - the British Brigade of Guards Light Companies and a large Regiment of Nassauers were garrisoning the Chateau itself, supported by the rest of the Guards, 2 more British brigades, and the Brunswick Corps. All fine troops!
On table 2, the French Main Effort, the key was to ensure that the 2 assault brigades from each Corps would advance down table 2 side by side, thus covering each other's internal flanks, and sharing out the inevitable casualties from the wall to wall allied artillery they would be walking into....
This coordination was my major worry, since Black Powder can be very unforgiving if you don't get your orders right, and I Corps and IV Cav Corps had quite some way to travel across laterally from tables 3 and 4. However, whilst their dice rolling could have been luckier, the approach to contact by these 4 corps displayed a high degree of professionalism, making maximum use of low ground to minimise loses from the British 9 pounders, which we had given a long range of 9 feet.
Of course with 4 Corps all making a beeline for the same small patch of real estate, it didn't take long for the Allied team to identify our main effort...
However, using Wellington's phenomenal C2 abilities and special rules, they wasted no time in rushing reinforcements to Table 2 from adjacent tables. Incidentally this lead to a lot of firing and movement across table edges, but our carefully modelled road network allowed this to be worked out reasonably easily. Fortunately for the French, both the Union and Household Heavy Cavalry Brigades blundered their rolls, which prevented a 'Scotland the Brave' renactment! .
This had the effect of denuding tables 1, 3 and 4 of their reserves, but I resisted the temptation to allocate more reserves to exploit these gaps on tables 1 and 4... So Mick had to soldier on alone against the tough line of defence that had coalesced around Hougomont....
And Jason had to battle hard against the tough troops of the 2nd KGL Light Regiment garrisoning La Haye Sainte with just one Brigade. No ammo shortages for these KGL grasshoppers today!
The team on table 2 were working together so well in a demonstration of all-arms coordination in the attack that I asked Caesar to commit the Old Guard Heavy and Light Cavalry Brigades ahead of time - It looked like the road to Brussels would soon be open and I wanted these powerful regiments to be exploiting the breakthrough...
Infantry of D'Erlon's I Corps pushing forward - in column - closely supported by cavalry and guns
However, in the far distance over on table 5 I could just about make out some dark columns approaching - could these be reinforcements from Grouchy? Or, unlikely thought it was, Prussians coming to fulfil Blucher's promise to link up with Wellington with at least 1 Corps?
Actually it was more than a Corps worth of Prussians, and arriving a move early! Lobau's VI Corps had blundered off table 5 in toto, and the Allies not unreasonably argued that Bulow would not therefore had paused for an hour to deploy tactically if his scouts had told him the route was clear. At this point I was privately already beginning to have my doubts if we would be able to adhere to the scheduled 12 moves, and also thought it best to give the Prussian player more of a role. They duly deployed early, but in march columns.
View of the Prussians from the extreme end of the allied line - Zieten's I Korps nearest the camera to link up with the allied line directly, Bulow's IV Korps in the distance further South moving to take the French in the flank!
Much as Vic asked for reinforcements to shore up his defence, I showed no pity either. I advised him to continue trading space for time...one thing about this game, space - we had plenty of that!
Meanwhile on Table 2, our 4 Corps commanders continue to gradually inch forward, slowly breaking down the successive lines of reinforcements Wellington thrust into an extemporised defence.
|The Scots Greys do their thing!|
One incident that sticks out in all of this dust and swirl and clash of desperate battle was the occasion Terry, as Uxbridge, resorted to attaching himself to the Blues to personally lead a counterattack and add a couple of extra combat dice: they lost the combat, and he failed the subsequent casualty roll for his general. He wasn't the only general to fall however, General Foy also met his fate on the field of honour. A little unfortunate, as he is one of our Caesar's ancestors!
|"By God Sir, I've lost my leg! By God Sir, so you have!"|
|The tension mounts on Table 2...|
Wellington at the right place at the right time once again - yet another hasty defence is cobbled together in the nick of time! Merde!
Finally Wellington personally orders in the Union Brigade!
'Now Ponsonby - Now's your time!'
The presence of the 'The Skins' on their flank bolsters the morale of the Nassauers. Clearly two can play at the whole 'all arms cooperation' business!
Sunday morning, Allied/Prussian move 6, and the advanced elements of Ziethen's I Korps linked up with the Allies on their left flank, whilst Bulow's IV Korps were sending their 12 pounder cannon balls bouncing through the French gunlines!
However something of a gap was also emerging on table 3, as Allied reserves were being transferred to table 2. I therefore initially decided to commit only the Young Guard in this sector, to the East of La Haie Sainte, but the difficulties I had in getting them on table, and a sinking feeling that we were not going to get all 12 moves in suggested bringing on the entire Middle and Old Guard too might be the go - 21 Battalions of Elite infantry!
|Meanwhile the Prussians were in contact with our right flank|
|And making their presence felt with cold steel!|
Back at table 2, the sheer concentration of units and intensity of the action was slowing down play, so that by the time our scheduled end time arrived, we had only completed 8 moves. Not everyone was able or fresh enough to play for the several hours it would take to complete 4 more pairs of moves, and by this point in the weekend we had bonded so well it wouldn't have been right to carry on without the whole team. Mortified, I called a halt to the proceedings and we went on to the post mortem and the lengthy process of packing up and putting the store back together!
'Quel massacre! Et sans résultat' Marshal Ney is said to have observed whilst surveying the detritus of the Battle of Eylau.
|Image courtesy of Fairfax Media|
After only having played two-thirds of the game no-one could claim victory, but both skippers were rightly proud of their team's performance and felt victory was still available before nightfall. Certainly the French had retained the initiative throughout, on the Western tables at least, which had not been the case during the practice sessions. Conversely, the Anglo Allied players had risen above their usual passive confidence in their suberb defensive position and scrambled to keep coming up with an effective and active defense. The Prussian performance in advancing 8 or 9 feet in 3 moves against Lobau's dogged defence speaks for itself! Did we succeed in completing the game to a result? No. Did we have a wargame of a lifetime?
Oui! Ja! Jawohl! Yes!