Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Catalan Thermopylae

Montblanc, 3rd November 1713

One of the two battles brought up by current turn of our campaign was gamed last saturday. It had to be an actually significant fight, for the Spanish command had finally met an opportunity to virtually crush a big portion of the Catalan Army, that had become pinned between two converging Spanish columns, with no chance of evasion.

The Catalans chose the only reasonable action they had at hand: blowing up the bridge of the road one of the Spanish columns was advancing along, and entrenching themselves in a tight line around Montblanc town, where a battle was to take place for the second time in a handful of weeks.

Their forces consisted of:

[Ratings following "Beneath the Lily Banners" - Characters: inspirational, good, average & plodder - Units: guards, elite, drilled, raw & tribals]

On their side, the Spanish OOB was as follows:

Map above shows the tricky battle area. The southernmost enemy column had spent a couple of weeks encamped a few miles away from town, so that they would likely have found a suitable river crossing point alternate to the demolished bridge. They were expected to enter battlefield from South (=left) early in the morning. The fearful column led by Marquis of Aitona was supposed to enter from North (=right).

With this in mind, General Bellver ordered De Ramon to deploy the Guard and Disempared regiments at the northern outskirts of town, supported at left by all their Cavalry under Nebot's command, while he took the rest of units with him and deployed them just South from town, face to the narrow passage where the biggest Spanish column was to come in.

Day started with a light rain that wouldn't hamper manoeuvre or fire. The southern column was the first one to arrive in battlefield (it was thrown a die to decide which of them would), and started advancing with confidence, tightly packed in two lines between the impassable mountain at their left and Francolí river at right.

Then it came the first disappointment reason for Marquis of Aitona: both Carvajal and Torremayor resulted to be a couple of real incompetents! (their skills were still to be tested in battle. Both dice gave to the Spanish player the worst possible result!). This would be significant later, when the lack of manoeuvring space for troops would have needed a clever minded command...

Spanish foot first line soon started suffering a heavy poundering from the Catalan battery, but they stubbornly insisted advancing, in the confidence the new bayonets they'd just been delivered would give them a decisive advantage in mélée (This was a random event coming to worsen things for the Spanish side: they wouldn't know, but rings of the brand new bayonets wouldn't fit around musket muzzles... so that all infantry in this column would actually have a -1 to mélée!

(Note the small green dice attached to each unit. As I haven't had the time to double most units size for adapting them to BtLB, we've solved the issue by symbolizing the lacking figures by those. Red dice are casualties).

Marquis of Aitona wouldn't arrive until one quarter to two hours after the battle had started. Some excess of confidence made him to ignore the road at first and order his units to start entirely deployed --except for the battery, that was kept riding on road.

At about noon, the Spanish southern front had become seriously disorganized, because some first line battalions finally got shaken and disordered under heavy artillery fire, thus hampering the advance of the units behind them. Some managed to close up to enemy musketry range however; but such was far from a co-ordinated assault, and their approaching attempts were awarded a Catalan deadly series of volleys by the section. Exhausted and decimated, those few battalions fell backwards, bringing even higher confusion to the units at their rear.

And then someone had the most unbelievable occurrence. A green signal flare was erroneously sent up in full view of the Army. That was the pre-arranged signal for a general retreat, so that obediently all Spanish units started withdrawing in face of the enemy. Everybody ...except Marquis of Aitona himself --who was on the very verge of resigning and seeking political asylum in France...!!

It took not less than half an hour (two turns) for the Army to realize it had been a false alarm and turn back... By then, lines had been brought into chaos, with the artillery trains hampering the infantry movement.

Nevertheless, General Carvajal extracted some energy from his wounded pride, and managed to finally co-ordinate all his four Squadrons into an "all or nothing" charge against the Catalan left wing. One of the Miquelets battalions defending that wing broke and disbanded. Unsupported, the second battalion failed to unleash their defensive volley and were crushed by the Spanish Horse. The Catalan left wing volatilized in half an hour.

Their brilliantly performed charge was a useless effort however, given the exhaustion of the Spanish infantry. Under Catalan Foot heavy pressure, their battalions started breaking so that one of them even routed.

On his side, an increasingly enraged Marquis of Aitona injected speed on his Spanish Guards and made them fly by road until close to enemy musketry range, where they redeployed again and started an exchange of musketry fire with the Catalan Guards, while waiting for a link with the victorious cavalry of Carvajal. Meanwhile, the Spanish Horse Guards had managed to distract all the Catalan heavy horse in a touristic ride by the outskirts of town...

It had become late in day however, too late. As sunlight quickly faded away, musketry fire disminished and fully stopped with the dark. Angry and frustrated, Marquis of Aitona returned back to the Spanish camp, wondering how the hell things could go that wrong... True that the Catalan defence line had been broken in their belly, so that access inside town was possible, but how long would the Horse Guards be able to keep the enemy cavalry at bay? How to prevent these from cutting his own supply lines?

No, this wasn't the best day in Marquis of Aitona's career.


Archduke Piccolo said...

Quite an interesting and difficult situation for the Catalans - and a close run thing. Could this be a 'Miracle of the Marne' situation to save Catalonian independence?

Soldadets said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Soldadets said...

Quite of a complicate situation for everybody. The Spanish C-in-C Marquis of Aitona has to handle an excessively undecisive result as well, with little margin for his decisions to be seen as an acceptance of defeat...

Far more complicate if we also take into account the international events just happened this week/gaming turn, such as death of Queen Anne of Britain, or separate peace negotiations held at Versailles...

Ugh, didn't anyone invent an engine to solve such equations?

Salvador said...

I found something that could be much useful for you.

It is called 18th century Wars of Absolutism, being a seemingly full system encompassing camapigning, land and naval big and small battles, with companion specific campaign booklets deepening into rules aspects and examples.

This is the link to the Caliver books WOA page:


And here are two links to a review and author's interesting response to it in The Royalist Roundhead blog:



The blog owner plays another WSSS ImagiNation and is readying a campaign involving his and sevral others, so its relevance for your (rhetoric?) wondering may be obvious.