June 17, 2010

The Battle of Almarez, August 6th, 1809

The British won the battle of Talavera, but were forced to retreat all the same as French reinforcements arrived. The British formed a new defensive position behind the river Tagus. All of the crossings were well defended, but that might not have been the case if Marshal Soult had been more decisive. One crossing near the village of Almaraz was held initially only by a force of 1000 Spanish Line Infantry and a small detachment of guns. The bridge across the river is described as "broken" but it was apparently still passable by foot. There was also a ford nearby.

Historically, Wellesley had four days to prepare his defenses and he positioned General Craufurd and his Light Brigade to reinforce the Spanish. At this time, the Light Brigade consisted of the 43rd, the 52nd, and the 95th. He also attached Donkin's Brigade to Craufurd, though this brigade had suffered heavy casualties at Talavera, loosing around a third of it's strength (read 24-man battalions rather than 36). This brigade included the 87th (the Prince of Wales' Own Irish) and 88th (Connaught Rangers) line as well as a handful of the 60th (more riflemen, this time with red facings). Soult dispatched Marshal Ney (finally) to take the crossing, but Ney found it too well defended by the time he arrived.

But what if Soult had been more decisive or Ney was able to pull off one his famous night marches and the French could arrive before the British reinforcements? Say the allies start with only two Spanish battalions and a weak battery of guns on the board when Ney attacks with elements of the Sixth Corp. The British reinforcements would arrive during the game.

This is the scenario Barry and will be running for Historicon. The forces are listed below and have been modified both to meet my collection (the 75th and 45th substituted for the 87th, etc) and to provide enough units for a multi-player battle, though the organization may be modified depending on how many players and commands are needed...

Third Division, Craufurd

Light Brigade
43rd Light (30)
52nd Light (30)
95th Rifles (30)

Donkin's Brigade
88th Line (36)
74th Line (24)
45th Line (24)
60th Rifles (12 skirmishers)

Attached Cavalry
1st KGL (12)
RHA battery (2 guns)

Spanish Brigade
2 Battalions (24)
half battery of foot artillery

Loison's Division Command by Marshal Ney

First Brigade
26th Line (2 battalions, 36 each)
Legion Hannoverienne (2 battalions, 30 each)
Legion du Midi (24)

Second Brigade
32nd Light (24)
66th Line (2 battalions, 36 each)
82nd Line (30)

Attached Cavalry
5th Hussars (12)

Divisional Artillery
1 battery (4 guns)

The rough terrain board layout and is based on a map of the location that depicts the site of a raid on the same area in 1812. Fort Ragusa and the redoubt at the bridge would not have been there in 1809, but the structure on the hill south of the river would be there. The crown of Cerro del Tesoro (Treasure Hill) was the site of the Our Lady of Waters Hermitage. During 1808 and 1809, both the Spanish and French occupied the area and the hermitage was most likely destroyed during the fighting. The Spanish built a strongpoint on the hill in 1808 and the French expanded it into what became known as Fort Napoleon. The Spanish strongpoint can be the abbey I already own (R2E pages 63 and 69) and can be the site of the Spanish half battery (By the way, there is a complete step by step article on the construction process for this model in Battlegames 18).

The Tagus was quite a substantial obstacle during the Peninsular campaign - details from the 1812 raid mention a pontoon bridge 200 meters long (the object of the raid) which would work out to a little over 19 inches! I think in true wargame style, making the Tagus 10 to 12" wide would still look imposing without eating up too much table space. The ford was to the east of the bridge, but though it's existence was known by the French in 1809, it's location was not. The ford was four feet deep and apparently could not be spotted simply from the banks as Oman mentions French hussars failing to find it for several days. Again, depending on the number of players, the ford may be known at the beginning for game purposes so as many people as possible can get in on the action.

The Almaraz Bridge (known by locals as the Albalat Bridge)...

Historically, accounts say the bridge was destroyed by the Spanish, but apparently foot traffic was still possible (maybe by planks laid across the gap or maybe it was only missing a chunk that prohibited guns and baggage trains - not sure). Since I don't plan on making the bridge a permanent part of the river board, I can't copy the bridge exactly, but I can mimic the style of the arches, etc. I have also modeled the bridge with a chunk blown our of it and planks across the gap.

The village of Almaraz was several miles to the north and not really needed, but I modeled a few small cottages to stick in out the way spots for atmosphere. Again, the exact details will be modified on the fly to preserve game balance. I don't normally worry about having perfectly balanced forces, but the object of this game will be to introduce the rules to many people who have never played REPUBLIC TO EMPIRE and give as many people a chance to throw some dice as possible.


  1. Clarence,

    I suspect your terrain will look absolutely stunning.


  2. Clarence, great write up, thanks. I initially thought I was going to miss Historicon. Now I will be there. At least Saturday. Can't wait to see your terrain and either watching or playing your game!

  3. Hi
    Maybe you could find interesting this entry blog about Almaraz:
    P.S. Stunning terrain of course!

  4. Lawrence, as it turns out we most of our games were sold out during pre-registration, but we still have open slots in our Saturday morning REPUBLIC TO EMPIRE game (starting at 9am) and our Saturday afternoon BENEATH THE LILY BANNERS game (2PM). For anyone else (Lawrence says he is coming on Saturday), there are still a few slots for the Friday night game (8PM) as well...

    Thanks for the link Rafael! I have one account of the raid I mentioned and a nice map that I based my layout on, but the photos are great - I wish I had these when I was building the boards! I may have to get a few handfuls of loose moss to represent all the shrubs along the river bank...

  5. Great scenario - its one of the best in a campaign full of such classic encounters. Love the scenics too - that walled church on the hill would be an absolute brute to try and take by coup de main!

    Look forward to your Historicon reports - I'm sure all your hard work preparing for it will be rewarded.