Albuera – A Shako Battle Report

James Falkus, Rich Wilcox, Chris Harrod and I wanted to try out Shako II. Because of my recent enthusiasm (Spanish Units at Albuera) I suggested the Albuera scenario from Fields of Glory (FOG). FOG is for Shako I and some aspects of the scenario bug me but nobody had the energy to make up a different scenario and we hoped it would be a good game anyway. It was!

James and Rich had played Shako I a lot but many years ago. Chris and I hadn’t really played Shako I at all but had played one game of Shako II recently. James and Rich picked French – a choice I suspect was based on their previous experience of Shako. I took Spanish leaving Chris with Anglo-Portuguese. So two novices against two hardened French veterans; in hindsight the outcome might have been predictable.

Pre-deployment

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French Pre-deployment

In Shako the troops are plonked on the table before orders are written. You can see the French flanking forces massed on the near edge of the table. Latour-Maubourg’s Cavalry division on the left and three infantry divisions on the right (Girard, Gazon, Wrele). The remaining French division (Godinot’s) is in the top-right of the photo sandwiched between Albuera village and the wood.

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Predeployment

Here’s a shot of the whole table. Anglo-Spanish on the left and French to the right. Lumley’s Anglo-Spanish cavalry division is facing the French horse in the fore ground. Zayas’s infantry division is facing the flanking French infantry. Ballasteros is on the hill behind Zayas and facing Godinot. Alten, with only one battalion of Kings German Legion, is in Albuera. He is backed up by Hamilton’s Portuguese division on the hill near Albuera. Stewart and Cole are on the road at the left of the photo.

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Village and KGL

James painted the buildings for Albuera village. Very nice they are too.

Plans

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Allied Deployment

Once orders were written we deployed our troops. The French, by and large, just left their troops as they were originally. Chris and I hadn’t been so careful when we initially put them down so took the opportunity to adjust lines and facings.

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French Cavalry Deployment

The thing that surprised James and Rich the most was I had Lumley’s division facing the rear – you can see them on the hill in the middle distance. In fact their orders were to attack on an arc away from their starting point (and the French) then immediately back towards the French infantry through the gap between Lumley’s hill and that of Zayas. Why you ask? My idea was to slow up the French advance. If the Allied cavalry stayed on the hill the French cavalry would reach them on turn 2 and French numbers would tell immediately. If they advanced the disaster would just happen quicker. If they retreated they would expose Zayas’s flank. Actually the feigned retreat worked well and Lumley’s division survived the battle despite being outnumbered by the French cavalry.

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French Infantry Deployment

The massed French infantry had orders to attack. Nuff said.

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Zayas’s Deployment

Zayas’s Spanish division was to be anvil against which the French hammer pounded. I made a few errors in the battle but one of the glaring ones was that I left the left flank of this division in the air. To be fair I thought they were anchored on the river but it turns out those Frenchies are quite maneuverable enough to squirm through very small holes.

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Ballasteros’s Deployment

The scenario notes demanded Ballasteros be deployed facing Godinot across the river and start under Defend orders. I planned to send him an Aide-de-Camp as soon as possible so he could reinforce Zayas. Unfortunately I deployed this division badly. I took the dictate to face Godinot too much to heart and had the division lined up in defence facing the river and a non-existant threat. That meant when Ballasteros turned towards the real threat the units were in column and all higgledy-piggledy.

Phase 1: French approach

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French Advance

The French launched their attack on turn 1. By turn 2 they were on Lumley’s hill. Notice that Lumley has pulled back off the hill and two of his regiment – the British heavy and light dragoons – have done a right angle turn to face back towards the French. The Spanish regiment, De La Reina, is bravely facing the two French regiments on the hill.

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French Advance

Two of the French infantry divisions (Girard, Wrele) advanced furiously towards Zayas. Gazan stayed in the rear as reserve.

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Stewart to the rescue

As the fighting developed the British reserves marched as fast as they could across the table. We had Stewart’s division marching forward in line of battle. This slowed them down but we thought it would give them an opportunity to shoot off any threatening French cavalry.

Phase 2: Lumley’s Hill / The Cavalry Battle

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Cavalry Battle

The two cavalry divisions were the first to clash. They came out pretty evenly really. The British heavy dragoons destroyed a French regiment (Polish Lancers) and drove back a second. A French dragoon unit drove back the Spanish cavalry and destroyed the British Light Dragoons (ouch).

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Cavalry Battle

The same scene from a different angle. In the fore ground you can see the French regiment that had been forced back by the British heavies. I was happy enough with this result because it left the heavy dragoons supporting the right flank of Zayas’s division on the hill.

Phase 3: Zayas’s Hill

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Zayas braces for impact (blurry)

On the hill the French skirmishers and artillery were beginning to take their toll amongst the Spanish infantry.

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Allied reserves mass

By this time Allied reinforcements were flooding towards the front. In contrast to Stewart’s ordered lines in the foreground you can see Ballasteros’s division in disordered columns on the hill.

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French Assault

The French infantry came on in a rush. Zayas’s men drove back four of the enemy battalions in the first assault but his right flank battalion broke. In the far distance, between the hill and the river, you’ll see a line of infantry. This is a French battalion that had marched past my battle line in column then turned (with the free French turn) into line facing my left flank. Now that was going to be painful.

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Godinot runs

Near Albuera Godinot and Hamilton were having a fairly bloodless dance. However Godinot was under timed orders and after some turns he about faced and headed for the woods. He was obviously going to try to flank Zayas and Ballasteros so Chris changed the orders of Hamilton to counter this. But the Portuguese couldn’t move fast enough to prevent the French Hussars hitting the flank of Ballesteros’s division as it moved up to support Zayas

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Zayas is no more

You can see the, now blown, Hussars in the dip between the hills. Actually there was no “dip”; the two hills in the centre were meant to be one big hill but I don’t have such a large feature. With two flank attacks and massed battalions to their front Zayas’s division was wiped out. Ballasteros quickly followed.
James used the blown Hussars to hold up Hamilton’s Portuguese as they advanced around the marsh. It seems, in Shako, that infantry can’t force cavalry to move no matter the state of the cavalry. That means even blown cavalry are an effect foil to enemy infantry.

Phase 4: Stewart’s Hill

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Stewart faces cavalry

While Zayas was facing the French infantry Stewart was facing Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry on Lumley’s orginal position (now renamed Stewart’s Hill). Chris was tempted to go into square but I said “No, just shoot him off”. It almost worked. Chris got in a volley in as the Frenchies charged and did considerable harm (he staggered both attacking regiments and inflicted kills). But then the melee dice failed him completely, despite very favourable odds, and he lost both of his front line battalions. None-the-less, at my urging, Chris bravely pushed on with his remaining two battalions and took the hill from the disordered French cavalry.

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Stewart’s Hill

Now, however, he had both Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry and Gazan’s infantry to worry about. As the French cavalry dressed their ranks the British lines on the hill successful drove off an attack by the French elite infantry. (OK, Stewart had some help from the British Dragoons.)

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Allied reserves move up

Cole’s division began to arrive as Stewart was fighting it out on the hill. (You might notice the Spanish flags of these “Red Coats”. Actually they’re British Auxiliary Legion from the First Carlist War. I’d told James to bring too few figures so we improvised.)

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Massed French

The French were massing more and more troops on Zayas’s hill but the drama was played out with Stewart’s division.

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End Game (Blurry)

The game ended when Stewart’s division dispersed. A “Glorious” French victory.

Conclusions

As I mentioned in the introduction the scenario bugs me. Chris Leach does no favours for Zayas’s division and the British Fusiliers in terms of morale. Zayas’s men were well trained and included Guards units but get rated as REG and SR. And the Fusiliers were considered elite troops but are rated as REG. In contrast Gazan gets a battalion of EL; I assume this is the 11 coys of Combined Grenadiers in the division, although they were actually with Godinot’s brigade in the real battle. Chris also halves the number of troops on the table. But really these are just quibbles.

The scenario was actually a pretty good simulation of the original battle and made for a fantastic game. It looked great and was immensely fun. The action was furious and there was no opportunity for boredom. The number of troops was manageable – more would have been a struggle.

Our recreation overturned history in a few ways:

  • French victory (three Anglo-Spanish divisioned destroyed against no French divisions)
  • Relatively few French casualties (just four units lost)
  • The Polish Lancers were ridden down by the British Dragoons and didn’t get to slaughter any British infantry (although other French regiments did a fair amount of slaughtering)

Three blitzed Anglo-Spanish divisions actually gave the French a “Glorious Victory”. This might actually be an understatement. But the result reflects the better ability and luck of James and Rich.

And perhaps most importantly I learnt some valuable lessons about Shako

  1. You have to watch those ultra-maneuverable French columns. Particularly when they are anywhere near your flanks.
  2. Plan ahead so that your divisions are in the right combat deployment when you need them to fight.

James has this to add

A really fascinating read, especially as history is normally written by the victors. From a French perspective we decided to be aggressive as possible to keep the Brits on the back foot and the timed moved with the division facing off the village worked a treat. A small inaccuaracy – it was Hussars from that division that rode down two Spanish units in line, not the Polish lancers. They were wiped out earlier by the very resilient and gallant British cavalry.

Our only real error was delaying the French divisions advance towards the hill on our far left. It was timed to allow our cavalry to first wipe out the Brit cavalry which they avoided by a cowardly but timely retreat. If they hadn’t started the game facing away from us we would have caught them in the rear, so I tip my hat to whoever worked that one out. Our plan was simple and didn’t need much adjustment. The schwerpunkt was the two Spanish divisions defending the hill and that’s where we concentrated our forces. By the time the British rolled up the defensive line was pretty much broken and the reinforcements were just getting caught up in the rout of the Spanish. If we had delayed the rolling volleys of the British would ha ve sent us back to froggie hell. A very enjoyable game and in the balance for most of the battle.

References

Leach, C. (1997). Fields of Glory: Napoleonic Scenarios for Shako Rules. Quantum Printing.

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