Saturday, August 27, 2011

Montblanc town released!

Montblanc, 4th October 1713

Finally, we were able to find a day in last week suitable for playing the battle resulting after the Catalan moves of this 12th campaign turn. That turn's initiative had been won by the Catalans, who had moved their armies first and performed a 2-horns approach to Montblanc town, thus blocking the scheduled Spanish withdrawal from that risky, unprotected place. This way, Spaniards were to perform in battle as defenders, while the Catalans were expected to attack from two different sides, at two different moments of day.

The battle was to be fought following Beneath the Lily Banners -our first trial of this ruleset-, albeit played in 15mm instead of the provided 28mm.

This one was a hard-to-play scenario given the dramatic unbalance of forces, that were overhelmingly favourable to the Catalans; so that we essayed to balance the clash a little bit by giving two different objectives to each side. The Spanish Army occupying Montblanc (deployment area A in the schema above) was given orders hold the town, as well as to take and secure the bridge at area D. This alternate target would have granted them communication with Tarragona city, and therefore could eventualy allow a safe retreat from battlefield if needed. No withdrawal was possible for them except through that bridge, for a huge mountain range behind the town blocked any retreat through their own deployment side.

This force was lead by an over average general (Vallejo, +1) assisted by an average sub-general (Velasco, +0). They shared command of a small force consisting of 1 Line Cavalry regiment in fairly good condition, 2 Dragoons regiments under strength and 3 Infantry battalions -two of which had been so heavily battered by previous fightings than were merged into a single battalion before battle. The Spanish commander main goal was to have 3 batteries at hand -one of them, heavy.

On their side, the Catalans (all whose regiments were at 100% strength!) would enter battlefield in two separate columns, the earlier one by point B in march column, the latter by point C deployed at will. Their battle targets were slightly differing from those of the Spaniards, because they had logically orders to take Montblanc town, but they were not given explicit orders to prevent an eventual Spanish retreat instead. Otherwise, their second objective was no other than capturing the Spanish batteries -a major goal to the Catalans, whose army is still lacking artillery enough... Such difference of objectives would theoretically allow the Spanish side greater chances to get a decent result from such an unbalanced clash.

The first Catalan column was lead by an average general (Nebot, +0) and consisted of Nebot's own regiment, 2 Mountain Fusiliers battalions, 2 Line Infantry regiments and no artillery. They would appear by point B at first turn in march column. The second Catalan force was commanded by an above average leader (Bellver, +1) who was assisted by a second-in-command (De Ramon, +0). Under their orders were 1 Line Cavalry regiment (St. George's), 1 Mountain Fusiliers battalion, 1 Line Infantry regiment (the hardened Valencians of Desemparats Regt.) and the elite regiment of Royal Catalan Guards. Besides, they enjoyed the support of 2 batteries -one of which was light. That force was allowed to enter already deployed, but their arrival moment was uncertain. It was agreed for them the arrival system followed in FoW: at each consecutive turn after 4th, it should be rolled an increasing number of D6. On a 6, the column would finally arrive.

We also rolled die for the hour-of-day start of battle. To our surprise, it resulted to start at 1:00 PM! Given the period of year, first days of October, we concluded that night would fall upon battlefield before 20 turns -at a rate of 15 minutes per turn... It was for sure an unexpected, additional complication for the Catalan side.

The Spanish C-in-C decided to assign his second in command a small force defending the town (the reformed Infantry battalion, with support of one of the Dragoons regiments and one field battery) while making the rest of his army to march towards the bridge in the following order: Dragoons first, the Line Cavalry just behind and the Infantry afterwards. Although assigned to himself, he left inside town his two batteries, in order to prevent eventual Catalan progressions by the center of battlefield. Although it seemed to work quite well at first, this later proved to be a fatal error, because at a later stage he'd have no chance to simultaneously give orders to so distant units. He'd better have split his own force into two, leaving command on one of them to a promoted colonel.

As said before, the Spanish initial deployment -with three batteries hampering any movement by the center of battlefield-, seemed to work quite well at first. The first Catalan column suffered heavily from the artillery fire and spent most of the first hour trying to form under fire. Nebot was an experienced cavalry general, but his lack of experience at leading foot units contributed by no means to soften his troops situation (repeated very poor command dice results). However, he had been wise enough to split his own command into two, so that Colonel Amill was given command of a brigade formed by his own regiment and that one of Colonel Molins. Amill proved to be an excellent Mountain Fusiliers brigadier (+1), as honestly reported by Nebot himself. Thanks to his initiative, the Miquelets brigade was able to evade the artillery fire and reach to the bridge environs just in time, when the Spanish Dragoons were about to secure it by crossing.

The rest of Nebot's column had to bear a stopless artillery fire for almost two hours before general Bellver column finally arrived. The flanking force entered table completely deployed, with St. George cavalry at left, a Mountain Fusiliers battalion at center and a light battery at right -with the two Line Infantry regiments and field artillery just behind. The Spanish line had no chance to conform to such irruption and their dismounted Dragoons suffered a flank cavalry charge that very same turn, with quite expectable results. The Spanish left flank then seemed to be dramatically close to a collapse, but the converged battalion of Toledo Regiment managed to close the gap, in spite of their depleted ranks, thus allowing the routing Dragoons to rally and re-form, while their own field battery not only kept the Catalans away for a good while, but even succeeded to silence the enemy light cannons. Both sides then suffered heavy losses from repeated musketry volleys, with the Spaniards slowly giving terrain, albeit too slowly for General Bellver's aims...

Such extraordinary sacrifice should have sufficed to allow the Spanish main force to take and secure the bridge, and afterwards to start a general withdrawal off table towards the safety of Tarragona city... But at this crucial point is where the supposedly clever dispositions of general Vallejo proved to have been a fatal mistake: had he split his own force into two commands, he'd have had time enough to directly manage the bridge fight, while a promoted colonel would have started in time withdrawal of the batteries remaining in town.

Therefore the Spanish right wing was incapable to secure the bridge by keeping away the Miquelets, who had time enough to reach close musketry range and pin the enemy Dragoons. Had the Spanish Line Cavalry regiment been given in time orders to cross the bridge, they would have easily swept those ragged bandits away... But now any crossing attempt would mean falling into the deadly volley of an entire brigade. Even worse, general Nebot finally managed to dispatch all his Line Infantry behind those brave Mountain Fusiliers, thanks to the presure relief after the dramatic events on the opposite flank. The Spaniards were now holding the bridge, but had no crossing chance.

Sunlight was about to fade behind the horizon, when both commanders dispatched couriers to each other. After a long, intense negotiation, general Vallejo was conceded to leave Montblanc town at the sound of drums and fife to the safety of Tarragona city, with the condition to leave on the battlefield one medium battery (already abandoned by their crew) and the heavy siege cannons -a major prize for the Catalans! However, this time their units had suffered quite severe losses, so severe than some Miquelets regiment will likely have to be re-formed or disbanded shortly...

In the end, it was a thrilling and fun experience for both players (Jordi and myself), who have enjoyed the tested ruleset so much that we're likely adopting it from now on. It means a lot of supplementary work for us, because our small 9 figures Foot battalions must be doubled in size, and all our 3 bases Horse units must be added a fourth stand... but we believe it worth the effort!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Troubled journey (3): Grace of The Almighty

Provence-Dauphiné border, 24th August 1713

As the stage coach continued on its way to Pierrelatte town, Claire Baizanville still watched with growing concern the old monk, who was listening attentively to the explanations of Marquis de Vilana. Then the monk started speaking in turn; after introducing himself as Brother Vincent from the Cistercian Order, he said:

-I'd say, my dear Monsieur Villars (emphasizing intentionally the surname under which Vilana was hidding his real identity), that my memory is fair better than yours. True that old age must have caused havoc on my person unlike you, who seem not to have changed much over the years. I'd even say that the weight of your most recent responsibilities seem to have had little effect on you.

Was the old monk suggesting he knew Vilana? The man devoted a brief glance at Claire while apparently pondering his next words: -I must admit your presence in France is a real surprise to me, Mr. Villars... Knowing such responsibilities, I can only guess one single reason justifying your presence here...

Astonished, Marquis de Vilana hurriedly started speaking again in an attempt to divert Brother Vincent's musings, but he was interrupted by a discrete hand gesture of the man, who also drew a reassuring smile: -Sir, don't ever get afraid about me, your secret is safe. If I'm right about your mission, then I ought to say that yours is an extremely daring maneuver. As a matter of fact, not less than mine...

Inside the stage coach, only pouring rain disrupted the deep silence following the old monk's words. Marquis de Vilana's mind was working at full speed, his mind trying to identify the face of that so-called Brother Vincent. The monk finally broke the silence, his face just barely outlined in the growing darkness: -This happy coincidence can only be attributed to a grace of The Almighty, no doubt it's a heavenly signal He's sent to guide us in a crucial moment. Let's meet for dinner tonight and then we'll have the opportunity to speak openly. Tonight.

Meanwhile, the day slowly started giving way to night. Through the windows it could already be seen the town of Pierrelatte, calmly lying under the huge shadow of a rocky mass.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A misjudged Lady

Vilafranca del Penedès, 3rd October 1713

In a large room of the Baltà Palace old royal residence in Vilafranca town, that had been enabled ad hoc to host his headquarters, General Basset was studying with concern the reports of several scouts and spies, all of them giving account of the inexorable progression of the new troops sent in Catalonia by King Philip V.

Entering south from Valencia, a huge column formed by 10 Infantry battalions and 3 Cavalry regiments had already got the gates of Tarragona city -just a few miles south of Montblanc area, where the Catalans were about to deliver a major battle. Entering from the Ebro River valley it had been noticed a second army, smaller but perhaps more dangerous than the former one: under command of Guillem Ramon de Moncada, Marquis of Aitona, 2 battalions of King Philip's Foot Guard and the Horse Guards were marching resolutely towards Cervera town, along with a number of other Foot and Artillery units -threatening this way a second Catalan major army, currently busy in taking Cervera.

The Marquis of Aitona, who had recently been appointed as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish Army in Catalonia, was a more capable and daring leader than his predecessor, Duke of Popoli. This had kept Catalan commanders increasingly worried, although Catalan political leaders were by far the most deeply concerned about Marquis of Aitona: as head of the powerful House of Montcada, he was a Lord of the highest rank among Catalan nobility, whose influence and authority might weaken significantly the commitment and fighting will of several other houses. Only Lady Elisenda Folc de Cardona, Countess of Prades, had the necessary capability for counteracting the influence Montcada would undoubtedly exert upon Catalonia's High Nobility -but she was on her way to Vienna, so that...

-Your permission, Sire?

-Ah, Lieutenant Colonel Hauteville! Please take a seat. What news are you bringing?

-Bad news, I fear -Loys de Hauteville replied, very serious.

-And then?

-News from Vienna. Lady Elisenda's retinue was attacked last week on the Austro-Venetian border, by an entire troop of mercenaries. A lady in the retinue was murdered.

General Basset silenced. A troop of mercenaries? Lady Elisenda's retinue? Coinciding with the Marquis of Aitona's appointment?

-The countess...?

-Lady Elisenda is in good shape, fortunately. I actually got these news through a letter from her. The assailants murdered her lady-in-waiting, likely confusing her with the countess herself.

Despite his republican convictions, General Basset breathed with relief. Lady Elisenda's death would have been a serious setback to the Catalans' fighting will, as well as to their internal cohesion.

-I'd also like to acknowledge you about something else, Sire -Hauteville continued-. In her letter, Lady Elisenda expressed her intention to rename the regiment of her own, that one I have the honor to command, and she asks for your permission for such a change.

-Oh, what is the new name she has thought of?

-Fiona McGregor Regiment, Sire. On behalf of her sadly deceased lady-in-waiting.

Basset raised eyebrows in surprise. An aristocrat lady, naming her own regiment after a servant? Decidedly, he had misjudged Lady Elisenda. He ought to study her more closely later, if finally back from Vienna...

Monday, August 08, 2011

Big battle at Montblanc

All fronts, 2nd October 1713

Fortuna Audaces Iubat, it is commonly said. And so it seems to be applying to Catalan commanders lately, because their agility in taking the initiative for the second consecutive week has finally achieved a couple of goals coming soon. The most outstanding of both, the significantly co-ordinated two-horns moves simultaneously performed by the columns of General Bellver from North, and General Nebot from South, resulting in the encirclement of a whole Spanish army around the town of Montblanc. The Spanish commander had actually noticed the dangerous enemy approximations, so he had ordered his own army to withdraw from that area towards Tarragona city, but he had no chance to anticipate the lightning Catalan moves blocking them. There is no way for the Spaniards to avoid a huge battle for the control of Montblanc -a key town connecting Tarragona and Lleida plains. Catalan forces under Generals Bellver and Nebot consist of 2 Heavy Cavalry units, 4 Infantry regiments, 3 Mountain Fusiliers battalions and 2 batteries, while the exhausted forces under the capable General Vallejo are composed just by 1 Heavy Cavalry unit, 2 Dragoons regiments, 3 Infantry battalions -one of which, so badly battered that is to be likely merged into another one before battle- as well as 2 batteries.

A few miles north of that action, Marquis of Poal's column has been ceaselessly pursuing an enemy column consisting of Spanish Dragoons and a battalion of Botiflers (=Catalan collaborationists), who had sought refuge inside Cervera town after a bloody skirmish happened last week. Determined not to allow the enemy to fortify themselves behind Cervera walls, Marquis of Poal has ordered his own column to immediately assault the town with a total force of one Dragoons regiment, some squadrons of Hussars, two Infantry regiments, one battalion of Mountain Fusiliers and a couple of Aragonese Volunteer companies.

A part from those two above, most of Catalan operations have consisted of the arrival of supplementary reinforcements in Vilafranca del Penedès town, currently under fortification by General Basset, as well as some minor moves at rearguard to prevent eventual gaps. It is worth to be noted that Colonel Bac de Roda has been finally persuaded to convert his Volunteer Miquelets battalion into a Line Regiment, which will be given the name of IR 15, Saint Scholastica in behalf of the patron saint of Vic town -where most of their men are from, along with Bac de Roda himself.

As the calculated manteinance expenses for a regiment of Line Infantry would fall far beyond Bac de Roda's actual possibilities, he has restricted investment to necessary pieces of equipment only, leaving his men's former clothing unchanged so far -with just the addition of olive green facings, in order to give a not-so-loose-uniformity appearance. Lacking their Colonel the necessary funds, he has also decreed the regiment flags to be necessarily simpler than usual until financial requirements are met.

Even more good news for the Catalan side: it has been recently known that a small privateers fleet has just anchored at Gibraltar; they're carrying two of the regiments belonging to the British Expeditionary force formed some weeks ago at Rotterdam. Their arrival in the Balearic Islands is expected for next week. The third regiment is still staying at Rotterdam, where it has just been completed with a Horse squadron.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Re-starting it all

Back from a short week of holidays in a lost Pyrenean valley, with my batteries conveniently re-charged... These vacation days, mostly spent at trekking from a mountain to the next one, visiting small towns or enjoying appetizing meals, have nevertheless deserved to us some unexpected unveilings, such as that one shown in the picture left: a nearly unknown monument to General Moragues, a Catalan hero of the War of Spanish Succession. This is set at the small park sorrounding the Town Hall of La Pobla de Segur, in Lower Pallars County (=Pallars Jussà). This was an emotive discovery, because there is only one commonly known monument to General Moragues -the one set at Sort, capital town of Upper Pallars County (=Pallars Sobirà).

It has come the time to re-start our Imagi-Nation's activity. Let me shortly explain in advance the main issues affecting our what-if Catalonia, which can be resumed as follows:

1) From the strategic/military point of view, we've started a new wargaming turn, the twelfth one, corresponding to the week of 2-8 October 1713. The turn resolution has brought to us the result of two possible battles, one of which can be refused by the weakest side, while at the second one there is no escape chance -and it will be a big battle, even bigger than that one of Vilafranca! Reports to be posted soon ;)

2) From the diplomatical/roleplaying side, we are to hold the third and last session of the adventures of Marquis de Vilana and Claire Baizanville in their secret journey from Monte-Cristo to Versailles in search of a separate peace with Louis XIV. RPG session to be likely held this weekend -or next week at most. Chronicles to be continued shortly, from the point where we had left it.

3) And finally, our third thrilling front is that one open at Vienna Court, where Lady Elisenda is about to be received by His Imperial Majesty Charles VI (read the last posting on this matter). What is He about to let her know about His plans on the Principality's future?

Wow, what an amount of work for just one single Summer season... and what a lot of fun! :D