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Ponte Murcella, 1810


The Napoleonic Wars, General de Brigade, 28mm

This was another game based on a Charles S. Grant scenario, from the venerable Scenarios for Wargamers. Why someone doesn’t reprint this little gem is beyond me. Come on Baz Ryan – how about it? Anyway, this game was all about the bridge. A small force – a British one in our case – was holding a bridgehead on the north bank of an impassable river, deployed within the line X-Y. At least one unit had to be south of the river though, and under the bridge was a small party of engineers, carefully strapping barrels of explosives to the stonework. trying to capture the bridge before it went “boom” was a slightly larger force – we made them French for this game, who were heading towards the bridge from two of the three table edges.Of course, no Charles S. Grant scenario is ever straightforward. We rolled for when the charges were ready, even though the British player knew it would be some time after Turn 8. Then, when he wanted to light the fuse there was no guarantee it would go off when the British player wanted it to. it might take another turn ort so, or the fuse might splutter out. Worse, the French might spot the vulnerable engineers, and shoot them before they could light the fuse. The French had problems too. They had to decide which two roads they wanted to enter on – north, east or west. they wrote down their order of march, and then pulled a domino. That decided when the head of each column would appear on the tabletop. Sometimes, for this kind of thing I use a selection of dominos, rather than dice. That way you can offer the players a selection, with some of the lower value dominoes taken out. The two French players – each commanding a column – turned over a 5 and a 6 spot domino, so that was the turn they’d appear.The British had a brigade of four battalions of line, supported by a battery of guns and a detachment of riflemen. They also had a light cavalry brigade, two regiments strong. For their part the French appeared with six infantry battalions, a detachment of skirmishers and their own gun battery. Their cavalry brigade had three regiments in it – two of dragoons and one of chasseurs-a-cheval. The British began the game with one battalion on the south side of the village, their gun battery on the southern bank to the east, and everyone else or around the north part of the village. The cavalry brigade were stationed off to the left, between the village and a small wood. The first French column to appear entered along the eastern road, and quickly drove off the British line battalion posted on top of the small hill. The next turn the French appeared on the north road, with the cavalry in the lead. The KGL hussars were already pulling back over the bridge, as the British players (myself and Alan) were trying to “collapse the bag”, without leaving troops stuck on the wrong side of the river when the time came to blow the bridge.This didn’t work too well, as the French infantry fairly stormed forward, pressing the British back as they came. The British 16th Light Dragoons launched a gallant charge that repulsed a regiment of French dragoons, but true to form they didn’t rally, and kept on charging the retiring enemy towards the north. Inevitably the British riders got crumpled by the rest of the French cavalry – the 15th Dragoons and the 16th Chasseurs. At least by the end of the melee we British players didn’t need to worry about how to withdraw the unit over the bridge!  The 3rd Foot (“The Buffs”) had been the battalion posted on the hill, and they were charged, failed their morale and returned into the village. The British rifles also withdrew over the bridge, on the heels of the 48th Foot, which meant that everyone apart from the poor old Buffs and the dead light dragoons were safely over the river. Almost time to blow the charge…The engineer reported everything was ready, but it wasn’t a moment too soon. The French advance was in full spate, and the building and walled garden the Buffs had withdrawn into was soon surrounded as columns of French entered the village and raced towards the bridge. A French gun battery unlimbered facing the river to the east of the Buffs’ hideout, while to the north two French columns formed up to assault the British stronghold. In the end they didn’t need to. Skirmish fire caused enough casualties to force a morale test, and the Buffs had to retreat. With nowhere to go they might have fought on, only their morale dice was so poor that wasn’t a sensible option. Instead they surrendered, watched in horror by their British comrades across the river.Only by now it wasn’t just the British on the south bank. The leading battalion of French stormed across the bridge, and entered the half of the village that lay on the southern bank of the river. It was then that the British players gave the order to blow the bridge ….. and nothing happened. A die was rolled you see, and the wrong numbers came up. In other words, there was a problem with the fuse/ Another nail-biting turn went by, with the artillery duelling across the river, while the British troops in the tow poured fire into the Frenchmen in the streets and on the bridge. More French troops were massing now, and in another few turns the British would be outnumbered on the south bank. That was when we rolled the die again. KABOOM! The bridge erupted skyward, taking the best part of a battalion of French with it.The bulk of the French army were left standing impotently on the north bank, unable to save their comrades who had already crossed the bridge and entered the village. Now it was the turn of a French battalion to suffer the ignominy of surrender. The game ended with a smattering of musketry and long-range artillery firing, but essentially the battle had run its course. Technically the British won, as they prevented the French from crossing. However, their casualties were high – higher than they could really afford – and so the game was declared a draw. The British were lucky – the French had played well, and really should have won outright. In the end it all came down to a single die roll – or a Royal Engineer officer, a pile of gunpowder and a spluttering fuse…

 

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