The Waterloo Kriegsspiel: Turn One (15th of June)

The situation at dawn on the 15th

With the introduction and Turn Zero out of the way, let's look at the campaign proper; Turn One, the 15th of June 1815.

This is post three in a series of seven; the others are:

French Opening Moves

The weather is bright and sunny as the French began their attack at dawn, the Young Guard division under Duhesme driving North screened by Lefebvre's light cavalry. They brush the Prussian pickets aside, and with no significant Prussian presence South of the Sambre, reach the river by 10:00.

Here their scouts report that only a single Prussian division holds the town; unfortunately for the French Vandamme has been slow bringing his Corps up, so instead of risking a frontal assault Marshal Grouchy instead orders Duhesme's men to head East and try and force a crossing at Chatelet.

Over on the French left flank, Marshal Ney has clearly had a little too much vin rouge the night before; he's late to rise, and this delays his attack. Still, he reaches the crossroads at Givry about 10:30 - an hour after his lead cavalry elements, who've driven off the Dutch 2e Brigade de Lichte Cavalerie (Dutch 2nd Light Cavalry, from now on). 

All is now quiet here, so with Reille's Corps marching hard for Binche, he heads West to check on d'Erlon.

d'Erlon has been on the move since 06:00. It's slow going over the tributaries of the Haine, and he's further checked by extensive skirmishing with the Dutch 1st Light Cavalry, but the French bring more cavalry up and force them back. 

The first French infantry reach Mons at 11:30, and Ney arrives around then too. After a short conference with d'Erlon, and having heard from some Dutch prisoners that the Dutch forces are concentrating on Braine-le-Comte, he orders d'Erlon to capture Mons and then attack the British infantry visible on the high ground just beyond.

Anglo-Dutch Opening Moves

Wellington is tipped off about the French advance late on the evening of the 14th; he immediately sends out messengers to his far-flung formations ordering them to concentrate. Most of these messengers arrive around dawn, and the units begin to hurriedly decamp and head for their designated concentration areas.

One key decision Wellington takes is to call up all of his reserves, including those garrisoning Ghent and Antwerp. This is a bold move, but will give him an extra division or so in the field later in the campaign. For the most part the reserves are sent towards Reulx; another aggressive move on Wellington's part, who is working under the assumption that the Prussians will be hit first and so wants to smash the French left wing and come to their aid.

Prussian Opening Moves

In accordance with their plans, the Prussians begin to concentrate on Ligny, passing up the opportunity for a flanking attack by Thielmann's Corps South of the Sambre.

The only major hiccup comes when the courier with orders for Bulow's IV Corps falls from his horse and breaks a leg; this delays the Corps' departure by several hours and most of it barely gets going before dark. 

Attack on Charleroi

Vandamme's Corps finally turn up at the river a little after midday, and around 13:00 storm the bridge, taking some casualties in the process. The Prussians are under orders merely to delay the French, so once a foothold across the Sambre is gained (and their right flank threatened by a division of French infantry who have crossed at Marchiennes) they fall back NE towards Ligny. 

This action is the only serious fighting on this flank all day; the French content to follow the retreating Prussians as far as Fleurus, and to push Vandamme's Corps on to Quatre Bras.

Capture of Mons

Deployments immediately prior to the battle of Mons

By the time the French reach Mons (d'Erlon's main objective), General Hill has arrived with a division of infantry. The latter elects not to try and hold Mons, but to deploy at the top of the steep North bank of the river Haine. Here the road towards Lens passes through the Bois de Brule, which will allow him to fight a delaying action and then melt away through the woods, falling back on the reinforcements that are marching on Lens.

Faced with this picture, d'Erlon begins what will turn into quite a pattern with my players, and decides upon a frontal attack through Mons, across the single bridge that spans the moat on the NW side, and then up the hill, while his light cavalry screen the flanks.

As you might expect, it takes a lot of time to pass ten-thousand-plus men through a densely built fortress-city, and even more to get them across a single bridge. It's gone 2pm by the time the first two divisions are formed up at the bottom of the slope, under fire the whole time from the lone battery of artillery that Hill has been able to bring up.

Still, now that they're all formed up the French infantry rush up the slope, where the British fire proves unequal to the task of stopping them. Hill is slow to realise this, and has to commit his single brigade of Dutch Carabiniers to buy enough time for his infantry to escape - and these men are all captured when the enterprising General Exelmans rushes the now undefended bridge at Nimy and cuts them off.

d'Erlon gains the tactical victory, at the cost of damaging his already weaker infantry divisions and losing nearly four hours; Hill's undoubted strategic victory is spoiled somewhat by the unnecessary loss of a brigade of precious heavy cavalry, and the 71st Foot who he forgot to order out of the fort before it was too late.

Hill retreats back to Lens, where he meets up with the first of his reinforcements. d'Erlon follows him sedately, bringing up three of his four infantry divisions and all his cavalry to watch them by dusk.

The Battle of Binche

The rest of Ney's wing march on Binche; now defended by Steinmetz' 1st Prussian brigade (a division-sized formation), with Alten's 3rd British division on the high ground just to the NW of the village. 

Vastly outnumbered, and completely lacking cavalry of their own, they're easily cut off by the French light cavalry. Their more northerly position and some excellent discipline (I.E some excellent rolling) sees Alten's division recreate the Light Division's famous retreat in square at Fuentes de Onoro.

Steinmetz' Prussians aren't so lucky; trapped in Binche they fight gallantly for hours, repelling multiple assaults, until compelled to surrender at 4pm by French artillery.

The loss of an entire division is a serious blow for the Allies, but French casualties have been heavy too, and the action has delayed the French advance by five whole hours - enough to see Ney call a halt and order his men to make camp in and around Binche for the night.

Final Positions

Positions at dusk, turn one

At the end of the first day of campaigning, the French can feel reasonably satisfied. They're across the two main rivers in strength, have got a Corps to Quatre Bras keeping the Allies from linking up, and are definitely ahead in the casualty stakes.

Still, there's room for hope on the Allied side too. The French have failed to force a decisive engagement anywhere and for the most part reinforcements are well en route and will arrive tomorrow


Popular Posts