Oporto 1809 – Breakfast at Soult’s – Scenario AAR

Back in August we (Marc, Steve, Adam, Dave and myself of Mos Isca Wargames club) play-tested the ‘Breakfast at Soult’s’ scenario that I’ve just put up on the Lasalle scenario wiki.  Steve of Clifton Road games supplied the tables, scenery and space to allow us to fight this big battle. This was also the first game in which we had a chance to use my DIY buildings and scenery (see previous posts in the Peninsular war scenery header at the top of this page).

As I’m writing this report a good month after the battle was fought I’ve probably missed out loads of details, however, I’ll comment on the photos and  try and piece together the events that unfolded. This battle had it all. Rather than the foregone conclusion of the historical events (i.e Wellesley’s troops took the city and the French troops escaped) this battle had quite a few unexpected surprises. Read on….

May 12th 1809 – The Second Battle of Oporto. Marshal Soult who had easily stormed and taken the city from the Portuguese (in the first battle of Oporto March 28th 1809) heard that the British were on their way to re-take the city under the command of General Arthur Wellesley. Soult assumed however that Wellesley would attack by Sea and ordered his forces and gun battery’s  to face West. Unfortunately for Soult, this wasn’t Wellesley’s plan –  as he decided to attack by land entering via Villa Nova (on the opposite side of the river to Oporto).

The night before the battle, Soult stayed up late in his HQ and drew up plans for his troops withdrawal – along the North Eastern road out of Oporto. I’d imagine quite a few glasses of port were drunk that night as Soult didn’t wake until late next morning…

Meanwhile the British on the opposite side of the river were contacted by a local Portuguese citizen who told them about four wine barges (hidden from French view). Seizing the initiative, three British Battalions under the command of Hill (Paget was injured so had to hand over command to Hill) crossed the Duruo in the wine barges and fortified the old Biship’s Seminary.  It was an hour before the French realised what was happening. By then at least 1-3 full battalions  had entered the Seminary. Some history books indicate that 1 battalion started in the Seminary, others indicate three.  For the purpose of this game however we declared that 2 battalions had already entered the Seminary but in the scenario I’ve now changed this to 3. Basically it’s up to you how many units you  think should be in their to begin with.

Foy, (who was standing on the bank opposite Wellesley’s convent) saw red coated troops crossing in the boats. in response to this he immediately sent his ADC to alert Marshal Soult of the attack, then sending in his 17e Légere division to attack the Seminary.

Wellesley had sent Sir John Murray’s further upstream (East) to cross and then cut off the French retreat (North East road). However, in the actual battle Murray spent most of his time sending in skirmishers to harass the French lines and neglecting his mission to stop the actual retreat.  It was just as well that the British 14th Light Dragoons seized the initiative and spared Murray total disgrace. The French army fled the battle,  leaving 300 dead, 1, 500 wounded and abandoning their artillery pieces.

Initial board set-up (above). Note the additional table for the French ‘Escape road’ to the North East. British and French troops deployed in their starting positions. We planned to put more buildings on the table but in the end just used a few more grey building markers (grey flat placemats).

British Turn 1 (game turn 1)

The British players rolled to activate Murray (needing double 6’s) but to no avail. The empty wine barges (behind Seminary) were rowed back to the British side of the river. No further actions were taken allowed to be taken by the British player this round.

French Turn 1 (game turn 2)

Foy’s ADC mounted his horse and headed out from his starting potion to alert Soult about the British crossing the river and fortifying the Bishop’s Seminary. Foy sent three battalions of the 17th Light Infantry and two battalions of the 70th Ligne advancing towards the Seminary.

British Turn 2 (game turn 3)

The British artillery battery’s were authorised to fire from this turn onwards. However, as the French light battalions weren’t yet in range, the guns aimed at the French troops guarding the quayside, but causing no damage.

The British player rolled to activate Murray but again no joy. One full battalion (4 bases) went across the river and disembarked from the boats, but no further movement was allowed this turn.

Meanwhile the troops in the Seminary manned the walls (2 to wall) and aimed their muskets at the advancing French light battalions. They could hear the pounding of drums getting ever so closer.

French Turn 2. (game turn 4)

The ADC continued on his course to warn Marshal Soult, The light battalions neared closer to the Seminary but still out of musket range. They were now aware of the danger facing them on the brow of the hill (on the opposite river bank) . One battalion of the 70th Ligne that remained on the brow of the hill decided to advance towards the North Eastern road instead of joining their Light Infantry brothers on the march towards the Seminary.

British Turn 3. (game turn 5)

British rolled to activate Murray, but without success! The artillery battery’s were now in range of the advancing French light battalions. Firing both batteries they only caused 1 disruption to the (1st) 17th battalion. Hill’s division (inside the Seminary) were still not close enough to use their muskets so they’d have to wait until the French were within range (another turn by the looks of things..)

The last of Hill’s battalions (the 66th) climbed the Seminary walls and took their positions ready for the imminent attack. The unmanned wine barges headed back to the other British side of the river ready to ferry the next units across.

No other actions were taken this turn.

(above) The last of Hill’s battalions climb the Seminary walls. The unmanned wine barges head back across the River Duruo to pick up the next British battalion.

French Turn 3. (game turn 6)

The French still had no firing this turn. Their artillery was still moving through the narrow streets to get in a good position to fire next turn.

This round Foy’s ADC reached Soult and succesfully rolled to wake him. Soult immediately issued orders his troops to form an orderly retreat along the North Eastern road. However, some of his troops were ordered to support the light battalions attacking the Seminary. In addition, his troops along the quayside start to move away from their positions (heading into the centre of the city).

This round the  17th Légere advanced to right outside the walls of the Seminary  but would have to wait until next round to attack the troops within. The French 8 pounders had also reached a good position on the hill to unlimber. They would be able to fire next reaction phase.

British Turn 4: (game turn 7)

The British players failed to activate Murray again this round but started their firing to the horror of the French players.

The British artillery fired first, picking on the French guns (as they would fire this turn). The result was a good one for the British, causing the battery to limber and head off back to it’s starting position (within the city).

At the same time two full British battalions (behind the Seminary walls) opened fire on the French infantry (about to charge into close combat next phase) causing another two disruptions (totalling three so far)  to the 1st and one to the 2nd 17th Light Infantry battalions.

In the movement phase, another battalion crossed the river in the wine barges but the British troops to the West (in front of Wellington’s convent) had to stay in place as not all of the French troops had yet moved away from the quayside. (note, the moment the French troops leave the Quayside, the Portuguese citizens swarm across the British side of the river in their boats that were previously guarded by the French).

The scenario at this stage stated that if Murray wasn’t activated by turn 4, Sir Stapleton Cotton would lead his cavalry division to cut off the French retreat. Therefore, as this was turn 4 and no Murray activated, Cotton and his men rode out from their starting positions behind the Seminary.

No other British actions this turn.

French Turn 4: (game turn 8)

The Light battalions outside the Seminary walls opened fire on the troops within but only causing 1 disruption on one of the British battalions. This phase however three French light infantry battalions stormed the walls against three British battalions. Whilst the numbers were equal, the French had more disruptions and the British were classed as entrenched behind the Seminary walls. Not good odds for the French..however…………..

The French actually did it, as 3 battalions were ganging up on one British battalion their combat dice came up with an overwhelming decisive victory. They broke the defenders (The Buffs were taken out of the game) and advanced into the Seminary grounds.  Note that this battle was played before submitting the final scenario. As a direct result of this playtest I added the new rule stating that the ‘British troops are entrenched inside the Seminary’, therefore ensuring that this shock event wouldn’t happen so easily in another battle.

The British players were stunned and this was one of the turning events in the battle. The French were on course to denying the British one of their key objectives and possibly allowing the French to force a draw.

Meanwhile all of the French troops in the city headed toward the road whilst the troops manning the quayside headed towards the Seminary. The quayside was now totally free of French troops (which would be important during the next British round).

The lone 70th ligne battalion on the North Eastern road continued on their way, the front of their march column would touch the very edge of the table by next round…

British Turn 5: (game turn 9)

With a shocker of the last French round still ringing in the British players ears they rolled to activate Murray…and succeeded! Another shocker, but a timely one indeed. Rather than move towards the  rear of the French troops attacking the Seminary, they opted instead to cut off the French unit that was about to leave the board (as this was really their objective). Unfortunately their pace was slow going as they were only on foot. Still quite  a distance from the French unit on the road.

Above: The second shocker of the game…Murray activated on two 6’s!

The British artillery now had to choose new targets as their previous ones had entered the Seminary enclosure. However, they were spoilt for choice regarding targets and something akin to a duck shoot, they happily pounded away at their poor French victims left in range (86th line infantry).

Meanwhile in the Seminary fierce musket firing ensued. The British were starting to feel a little bit lonely within the walls but luckily finally destroyed the 1st battalion of the 17th by delivering the final disruption. The 2nd French battalion had one disruption but the 3rd battalion were still disruption free

The troops that had just fired stood their ground as welcome reinforcements climbed over the Seminary wall to offer help for the next round. Surely by next round they’d get rid of the French troops once and for all!

Sir Stapleton Cotton’s men crossed the river further East.

Above: Sir Stapleton Cotton’s men cross the Duruo further downstream. (note: Yes, those are French troops behind the red coated British-  as we didn’t have enough British cavalry to hand!).

This was the phase where the Portuguese citizens swarmed across the river in their boats (intent on ferrying the British troops across who were stranded on the other side). Another welcome sight for the British. Things were now falling into place (despite the Seminary incident). The troops would be able to cross in turn 6.

French Turn 5: Game turn 10

The troops inside the Seminary fired at the British troops issuing another disruption but that was all.  With no other French units firing (as all the British troops were down on the ground from their firing steps, so not visible to the rest of the French troops outside the Seminary) the movement phase would determine who owned the Seminary.

Movement phase. Finally, the first French unit escaped off the table! Meanwhile the last two French units in the Seminary declared a charge towards the 48th Regiment of Foot. The remaining French troops outside the Seminary decided that its was pointless assaulting the building as they realised that they’d have to get more troops off the board to stand a chance of salvaging a draw. Therefore, they turned and headed for the road.

British Turn 6: Game turn 11

The British artillery fired again at the troops outside the Seminary, eliminating two French battalions (that dreaded bouncethrough). Meanwhile back inside the walls, the 48th and the 66th fired at the charging French and delivered another disruption to both units (3 now to the 2nd 70th Light and 1 to the 3rd).

Murray’s division were still out of range so had advanced closer to the road. They’d be in range next round and got into firing positions behind the low stone walls.

Meanwhile, Sir Stapleton Cotton’s men were making good progress and would be able to cut off the refugees by next turn.

Further upstream, 2 full battalions (8 boats) crossed the river and disembarked. Downstream another British battalion had crossed in the wine barges and were heading towards the Seminary to support their red coated brothers.

French Turn 6:  Game Turn 12.

The French troops who were on the road opened fire on Murray’s units to no effect. There was no more firing this turn.

Inside the Seminary the last stand of the 17th played out against two units of the British……the French lost badly, loosing one unit – 2nd  70th Light and another disruption to the 3rd 70th Light  (well, the Brits did have Daddy Hill lending a helping hand).  With only one unit left inside the walls, things weren’t looking good for the French.

Meanwhile the French units on the road opened fire on Murrays division delivering one disruption each to two of his battalions.

British Turn 7:  Game turn 13

This round Murray’s men opened fire on the French escapee’s. As their men were lined up along the road, they were all able to fire. This resulted in another French battalion being annihilated!

In the Seminary, the two British fired at the last remaining French battalion and wiped them out to the last man.

meanwhile, their  artillery opened fire and continued to dish out yet more disruptions..all in all the disruptions were never ending and being dealt out by the dozen each round.

Cotton’s cavalry charged onto the road to cut off the fleeing French. They weren’t able to charge into any units, but didn’t need to worry as Murray’s men had the roadside covered.

Meanwhile two British units advanced into the City from the quayside and the Portuguese boats went back to pick up more British units.

French Turn 7: Game turn 14

The French units that had just been fired on by Murray’s men replied in kind but failed to deliver any hits.

The movement phase simply consisted of marching more units along the road (and on the ridge of a hill as there wasn’t enough room on the road) but it would take another turn to get one more unit off the board….

British Turn 8: Game turn 15.

The thundering booms of the artillery destroyed yet another French battalion.

Murray’s men dished out another two disruptions to the fleeing French then in the movement phase charged the refugees,  intent on finally putting a stop to the French retreat .

At the same time, Cottons division charged head first into the lead French unit, ensuring that they were trapped beyond all hope!

French Turn 8: Game turn 16

The French players looked at the turn marker and laughed. They decided to roll now to see if there would be another bonus turn after this one but no, this would be the last turn…in hindsight,  probably a good thing for them anyway!

Before opting to fire, the French players made that all important Morale check….and failed!

The game ended there. Overall, we all agreed this battle had it all, comic relief and surprises all in one. This was certainly the best Lasalle game we’ve had yet.  As this was such a big battle I doubt we’ll rush to fight the next one. Lasalle seems to be more fun when playing scenarios, rather than just fighting it out for the sake of it or for boring objective markers.  It may be a while before I write another one, although…

My wife and I will soon be  flying out to Spain for our friends  wedding. Staying in a certain Catalonian town that was the subject of a rather big siege during Napoleon’s time….Camera and note book already packed ….watch this space :0)

At last…I can finally get back to painting. Here’s what’s on the painting to-do list:

Painting  to-do list:  (in order). Bold indicates what I’m working on at the moment…

  1. French 17th Légere  III battalion(band)
  2. French 8th Dragoons (I battalion)
  3. French 1st Hussars
  4. French 22nd Chasseurs (I battalion)
Next post I’ll get back to the fun stuff…..

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