Game Reports

Quatre Bras 16th June 1815

Posted by C M Dodson on 19 Oct 2020, 18:42

Quatre Bras. Went the day well?

The re- fight was based on the premise that the action started at the same time as the original and with the forces available at that moment.

There is a lot of controversy over Ney’s failure to close up his command prior to receiving the Emperor’s order to occupy the crossroads.

However, I think it is fair to say that having been given the command on the afternoon of the 15th, with only Colonel Hermes as an ADC, Ney would have found it difficult to corral his command efficiently.

Furthermore, 1st Corps having marched twenty eight miles, skirmishing with the Prussians since a three AM start on the 15th June, would have been in need of rest and refreshment.

Also, uncharacteristically, Ney seems to have ‘lost’ his offensive spirit and ‘grip’ at a time so important in operations where maintaining the initiative is paramount. It is has been suggested that he might have been hung over, but was no doubt tired.

The Duke maintained that he was in charge of events at Quatre Bras as part of his overall plan, despite being ‘humbugged’.

However, having ordered the Army to concentrate on Nivelles, if it were not for the disobedience of Constance Rebecque the small Allied presence would not have been reinforced and defeat would have been inevitable.

This was essentially an encounter battle with reinforcements being fed in by both sides as they arrived as per the original action.

I used a variable dice roll to see if the arriving units had any further delays in order to introduce uncertainty.

Also, to reflect the impetuous Ney’s habit of getting ‘stuck in’, as opposed to managing, the French heavy cavalry reserve had to find him to announce their arrival as well as be instructed as to their orders by courier. The courier had to literally travel to Neys approximate operating area and then roll a 4/5/6 to find him. Then they had to get back. This created more chaos and led to a serious delay in their use as per the original battle.

One of the other delaying factors is the nature of the battlefield itself. The streams that run across the battlefield are hedged and in an era of ordered formations this created delays as the French advance had to form up after crossing each of these obstacles.

The tall crops were another impediment to movement and I pinched an idea from the Black Powder rules. Depending on the die roll the unit either advanced at a normal rate, half rate or stalled, unable to execute movement when in the rye.

This led to the French cavalry destroying the 5th Belgian line early in the fight as it was unable to form square due to a terrible dice roll. I feel that this variable reflected the fate of some of the British units later on in the original action.

The undulating nature of the battlefield is another factor that escapes a lot of war gamers. The various ridges provide dead ground and this along with the crops meant that, at least initially, there was very little in the way of targets for the French artillery to engage.

This also proved to be a problem for the British artillery as the French advance was concealed by the crops and terrain.

Another problem was that the battlefield, especially by the crossroads is a very small area. This is exacerbated as you approach the junction because the wood is very close. Stoney’s wonderful pictures bear testament to this.

Whilst reinforcements arrived at opportune times the ability to deploy them as the defensive line contracted proved at times problematic.

I saw another Quatre Bras war game where this problem was solved by expanding the ground area to accommodate the units. An interesting, but hardly authentic solution!

The lake also has the effect of splitting the battlefield in two and means a circuitous route in order to outflank the Allied position. Nevertheless this was achieved, cutting Wellingtons line of communication with Blucher.

The forest provided the other route to the crossroads. However, the terrain here mitigated the French initial superiority in numbers by destroying cohesion as they attacked. Skirmishing was effective but in itself could not provide a knockout blow.

The D’Erlon effect was discounted as these troops did not reach the battlefield until after the action had finished. Ney’s insubordination in recalling these troops against the Emperor’s order seems incredible but that is another issue.

As per the narrative, the French came very close indeed to securing their objective.

The Netherlands Division sacrificed itself to buy the most important of battlefield commodities, time.

Picton’s veterans fought well as did the Brunswickers but the French pressure was not really arrested until the timely arrival of Alten.

1st Guards Division allowed the Duke to reverse his fortunes and without fresh reserves the French advance was halted.

The French light cavalry in particular, like their originals, performed well in ‘pinning’ the Allied troops and exposing them to efficient French musketry.

Kellerman’s advance, supported by the infantry was instrumental in breaking up Picton’s command but was too little and too late.

The casualty rates were on par with the original action with the Netherlanders and Picton’s Division being especially battered. The ever busy French light cavalry lost about a third of their strength.

The original action is widely seen as an Allied victory and the Duke, perhaps characteristically, claimed the credit when in reality he was blessed with insubordination and fortune.

His ‘promise’ to assist Blucher, when in reality his command was strung out was disingenuous.

However, personally, I think that Ney’s offensive action guaranteed that Wellington has his hands full on the 16th and as a result he fulfilled the role ( discounting D’Erlon) allocated to him by the Emperor.

My re-fight, even with the variables introduced, loosely followed the original action and my conclusion is that only an earlier start by a fully closed up command would have bought the result that Ney personally sought.

Chris
C M Dodson  United Kingdom
 
Posts: 1467
Member since:
01 May 2015, 18:48


Return to Game Reports