Spanish at Albuera – Better than Conventional Wargaming and V&B Stereotypes Allow

In my recently published Albuera – A Volley and Bayonet Scenario, I used an Order of Battle by Jeff Glasco. For the scenario I did not try to reconcile Glasco’s order of battle with my own Orders of Battle at the Battle of Albuera. Nor did I inject my own thinking on the Spanish forces at the battle and it is the Spanish I want to focus on in this post.

I appears that Jeff Glasco, like most Napoleonic wargamers, doesn’t think much of the Spanish and layers on the disadvantages. This attitude and approach is fairly common in the wargaming community and, in truth, the Spanish armies were often pretty rubbish. But I’m not sure this indictment is warranted for the Battle of Albuera (16 May 1811). I want to highlight and counter some of the anti-Spanish points in the order of battle.

Jeff Glasco’s Order of Battle

Let us start with the the Order of Battle.

Blake’s Spanish Army: Blake (AC)

  • Army Troops:
    • Army Artillery (8-pdr) M4 [ ] Field
  • Advance Guard Division, Lardizabel (DC) (2398) Exhaustion [ ] [ ]
    • Campomayor Light Infantry Bn. M4 [s] NE
    • Canarias Infantry Regt. + 2nd of Leon Regt. M4 [ ] [ ] PT, NE
    • Murcia Infantry Regt (2 bns) M4 [ ] [ ]
  • 3rd Division, Ballesteros (DC) (3525) Exhaustion [ ] [ ] [ ]
    • 1st Catalonian Light Infantry Bn. M4 [s], NE
    • Barbastro Light Infantry Bn. M4 [s], NE
    • Pravia, Lena, Cangas de Tineo Inf. Regts. M4 [ ] [ ] [ ] PT
    • Castropol + Infiesto Infantry Regts. M4 [ ] [ ] PT, NE
  • 4th Division, Zayas (DC) (4882) Exhaustion [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
    • 2nd, 4th Bns/Spanish, 4th Bn Walloon Gds M5 [ ] [ ] [ ]
    • Irlanda Infantry Regt. (2 bns) M5 [ ] [ ]
    • Toledo Infantry Regt. (2 bns) M4 [ ] [ ]
    • Patria/Legion Extranjera/Ciudad Rod. Regts. M4 [ ] [ ] [ ] PT, NE
  • Cavalry Division, Loy (DC) Exhaustion —
    • Santiago Line Cavalry Regt. M4 [ ] Medium
    • Hussars de Castilla + Granaderos Cavalry M4 [s] PT, Light

Castanos Spanish Army: Castanos (AC)

  • Army Troops:
    • Army Artillery (8-pdr) M4 [ ] Field
  • Infantry Division, de Espana (DC) (1778) Exhaustion [ ] [ ]
    • Rey/Zamora Infantry Regts. (2 bns each) M4 [ ] [ ] [ ]
    • Voluntarios de Navarra Light Infantry Bn. M4 [s], NE
  • Cavalry Division, Penne Villemur (DC) (721) Exhaustion —
    • Guard Carabiniers, Reina & Borbon Regts. M4 [ ] Medium
    • Algarve, Lusitania, & Hussars de Extremenda M4 [ ] Medium

(1) All Spanish infantry is represented with either infantry linear (regiment) or infantry skirmisher stands – no infantry brigade stands.
(2) All non-Poorly Trained (PT) Spanish infantry regiments have elites (grenadiers) present, the others do not.
(3) The targets of Poorly Trained (PT) infantry skirmishers receive a saving throw from fire from them but not hits from melee.
(4) All Spanish cavalry is mounted on linear stands.
(5) Regardless of rating, all Spanish Cavalry moves as heavy due to the poor quality of their horses.

Objection my lord! Objection!

Jeff Glasco has assigned the Spanish at Albuera several disadvantages. I believe these are more about wargaming myth/stereotyping than historical reality. I don’t mean to unduly criticise Glasco, I’m more concerned about challenging the wargaming stereotype of “Spanish = Useless”.

Now I have to admit that the Spanish armies in the Peninsular were often pretty rubbish. But they also had some glorious moments, and Albuera must be fairly near the top of the list. It was a damn good showing for Spanish arms.

A few points from the actual battle to bear in mind:

  • When V Corps intentions became clear the majority of the Spanish infantry – all of Lardizabal and Zaya’s divisions and the right brigade of Balasteros’s division – swung south to face the French
  • Zayas sent the light companies of the two Guards battalions and of the Irlanda regiment to contest the Southern Knoll. They drove the French voltiguers off the Southern Knoll at bayonet point.
  • When charged by the French 1st Division (Girard) the Spaniards of Zayas, Ballesteros and Lardizabal held firm and delivered a intense fusillade at short range. The 2nd and 4th Spanish Guards were directly in front of the French columns. Irlanda was on the Spanish right and advanced to fire into the French mass. Similarly, units from the divisions of Ballesteros and Lardizbal moved forward to attack the French flank. Under the Spanish musketry the French columns lost their momentum and would never regain it.
  • Within minutes the Spanish inflicted 400 casualties on Brayer Brigade, in the lead of V Corps. Many officers were killed or wounded including General Girard and General Brayer (wounded), and the two commandants (majors) of the 40th Line (killed). General Gazan, Soult’s Chief of Staff, rode into the carnage to help but was also wounded and retired
  • The second French brigade, under General Veilande, advanced to help the beleaguered Brigade Brayer and suffered similar results from the Spanish musketry
  • The Spanish infantry were engaged in a close range fire fight with vasty superior French attackers for over 30 minutes (up to 60 minutes) – and won.

So I’ll now go through a few points from the Spanish order of battle above and why I don’t like them. Bear in mind we’re talking Volley & Bayonet here.

Inferior Morale

You’ll notice that the majority of Spanish are Morale 4 (M4). Only the Guards brigade and the Irlanda are deemed worthy of a M5.

Contrast this to the Portuguese who are all M5. And the British and KGL who are mostly M6 (with one M5). The French are mostly M5 with three M6 (converged grenadiers, a dragoon brigade, and the Polish Vistula Legion Lancers).

If you believe these relative ratings you’d have to conclude that the Spanish were inferior in quality. However, there is nothing in the accounts of the battle to suggest the Spanish troops were inferior to the French facing them. In particular Zayas and Lardizabal stalled the French assault for a considerable amount of time, unaided, before ordered back to let the British through.

Spanish Infantry on Linear Bases

Rule 1: All Spanish infantry is represented with either infantry linear (regiment) or infantry skirmisher stands – no infantry brigade stands.

This is the one that really bugs me. Spanish infantry are forced onto the old fashioned linear regimental stands and not allowed the new model massed brigade stands like the British, Portuguese and French.

When discussing the cut off point between linear armies of the early part of the Napoleonic Wars (up to about 1807) and later massed armies using “impulse” style of warfare, Frank Chadwick said:

I now believe that the change which enabled armies to fight in the new style had little to do with battalion drill and almost everything to do with permnent division organization.

The formation of the permanent brigade and division – and by permanent I mean for the duration of a campaign – change this picture [of the ancien regime] completely. Units trained, marched, and camped together with the other units of their brigade and division. They knew their brigade and division commanders by sight and temperament, and unit commanders knew the commanders of other nits in the formation. It became possible to break out of rigid battle array and function as separate maneuver brigades while still maintaining formation cohesion and retaining the ability of units within the division to give each other support as needed, because the units and commanders in the immediate vicinity were no longer strangers.

Persuasive as I find this argument, I admit to sometimes ignoring it in the interest of “feel”. … It was the adoption of permanent divisions by the Russian and Austrian armies, for example, which trigger their conversion from linear to massed.

Volley & Bayonet – Road to Glory, p. 120

So the key point is permanently embodied divisions and brigades. Well, I have to point out that the Spanish at Albuera were in permanently embodied divisions and brigades.

Lets start with the Zayas’s 4th Division. They been around since 1810 and were well trained to boot. To quote my own Spanish Units at the Battle of Albuera:

José Zayas formed the 4th Division of the Army of Reserve of Andalusia on the Isla de Leon in late 1810 (Oliver & Partridge, 1999, 2007). Zayas trained the division for six months with his new manual of instruction. This involved adopting new battalion organisation of six companies: four fuslier, one grenadier and one cazadore. There is evidence that his division was also relatively uniformly dressed. Brown and blue were the dominant tunic colours in the division. The division took part in the operations to raise the siege of Cadiz in Feb – Mar 1811, including the successful Battle of Barossa (Chiclana), before fighting at Albuera (16 May 1811), and Saguntum.

Then there is the Vanguard Division under Lardizabal. This formation had been in existence for a year by the time of Albuera.

Lardizabal was given command of the new Vanguard Division in Feb 1811 (Oliver & Partridge, 2007). There is no record of Lardizabal before that time so it is quite likely this was his first active command. Although a new formation the division had some veteran units and in addition they were on the Isla de Leon when José Zayas was implementing his new manual of instruction so probably benefited from this initiative.

The Asturian 3rd Division had also been around for over a year. Okay, Ballasteros let them be a bit carefree with the the supplies of compatriots, but that isn’t a indication of formation.

Ballasteros’s division was Asturian in origin (Oliver & Partridge, 2007). He was appointed Mariscal de Campo by the Asturian junta and given a division of troops with which to advance into Leon. He then operated on the Andalusian border from Feb 1810 until he joined Beresford’s Army for Albuera. The troops had a reputation for ill-discipline and made free with supplies allocated for other units.

De Espana’s Brigade from 1st Division, 5th Army. The battalions were all old regiments suggesting the larger formation had been in existence for some time.

So any down grading of the Spanish infantry from massed brigades to linear regiments cannot be on the grounds of recently formed or non-existent divisions. So it must be in the interests of “feel”. I believe it is actually the wrong “feel” for this battle. I believe Zaya and Lardizabel’s divisions fought exactly like the British. Actually, looking at the battle, I can’t determine a difference between the Spanish and British. March in column. Deploy in line. Preceded by skirmishers. Steady under fire. If the Spanish are linear the British should be too, and nobody is arguing for that.

Spanish Cavalry on Linear Bases

Rule 4: All Spanish cavalry is mounted on linear stands.

Same argument but applied to the Spanish cavalry. The assumption is that they operate in old fashioned linear formation. However, I can use the same counter arguments. Loy’s cavalry brigade was from 4th Army and presumably, like other other formations in the army was long lived.

At Albuera the Spanish cavalry operated with the British and Portuguese. I can’t detect any suggestion that the Spanish operated differently to the others. If the challenge to the Spanish cavalry is that the “division” to which they were attached was ad hoc, the same challenge must be applied to the British and Portuguese.

Now, unlike the Spanish infantry, I’m not suggesting the Spanish cavalry were particularly good. At a key moment they refused to charge and the British Dragoons went in by themselves. However, that is an argument for low quality (Morale) not a different formation.

Another argument for a linear stand might be numbers. However, Loy’s brigade had 1,165 officers and men on the day. And that is a V&B Massed Brigade with 2 Strength Points – like the French or British.

Spanish Cavalry Move Slowly

Rule 5: Regardless of rating, all Spanish Cavalry moves as heavy due to the poor quality of their horses.

Just seems another “Spanish are rubbish” ruling. Most mounts in the Peninsular were “poor quality” irrespective of the rider’s nationality. The one exception were the British horses. But this is acknowledged in V&B by upgrading the British relative to their normal “weight”. The Spanish are already “light” with low MR so adding another rule to penalise them for poor mounts seems, well, a tad anti-hispanic.

Poorly Trained (PT) have no Elites

Rule 2: All non-Poorly Trained (PT) Spanish infantry regiments have elites (grenadiers) present, the others do not.

This is just a way to make PT Spanish even more rubbish in the game irrespective of whether they had grenadiers present or not. As it happens, in Jeff Glasco’s order of battle, some PT units are not NE and some non-PT units are given NE so the rule isn’t quite true.

My guess is that this rule is to ensure about a quarter of the Spanish infantry to be rubbish (PT or NE) and another quarter to be really rubbish (PT and NE). Given the background of the Spanish infantry, and their performance on the day, this seems unwarranted.

Poorly Trained Skirmishers

Rule 3: The targets of Poorly Trained (PT) infantry skirmishers receive a saving throw from fire from them but not hits from melee.

I might have missed something but I couldn’t find any PT skirmishers in the order of battle.

1 thought on “Spanish at Albuera – Better than Conventional Wargaming and V&B Stereotypes Allow”

  1. I come late to this but, infantry skirmishers: Campomayor Light Infantry Bn., 1st Catalonian Light Infantry Bn., Barbastro Light Infantry Bn. and Voluntarios de Navarra Light Infantry Bn. Any shown as M4 [s], NE
    The s in the brackets indicates skirmishers. There is also a unit of mounted skirmishers, not great in a melee.

    I agree about the rating of Spanish troops generally. Albuera was a great day for Zayas’ division. They held off twice their number of French veterans, stayed firm when Colborne’s brigade was virtually destroyed and Zayas had to seek shelter in thier ranks. They finally shrugged off friendly fire when British reinforcements arrived behind them. One issue is that V&B has no command control. The less than stellar work by Blake and especially Beresford was a big part of that day. Yet I have read accounts that try to blame everything on the Spanish.

    The Spanish cavalry did charge after Colborne’s debacle. The charge was driven off easily, but in the confusion Colborne made his escape.


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