This past weekend, the Waterloo 1815 memorial celebrated the birth of the Duke of Wellington with reenacted maneuvers and firearm demonstrations. It was a blast to experience and after visiting the excellent museum, we went home to execute our own little reenactment – Commands & Colors EPIC style.
Before I begin the battle report, I really must thank Guillaume Gleize for his terrific fan-made Waterloo Epic scenario. It is a very well-designed scenario and incorporates the Prussian reinforcements in an intuitive and straightforward manner. It was an amazing experience to fight out this legendary battle in epic scale immediately after visiting the actual battlefield.
Pre-battle field trip. In the bottom left corner, the commanders from left to right: Anton Bonaparte, Alexander Ney, Rasmus Wellesley, Stanislav von Blücher
As in our 2v2 Epic Eggmühl, we drew lots to distribute the roles for the battle. My brother Anton received the honour (and pressure) of impersonating the French Commander-in-Chief, Napoleon himself. Alexander, always ready for valiant cavalry charge, stepped in the boots of his second-in-command, Marshal Ney. Meanwhile, Rasmus and I ended up swapping roles from our joint Eggmühl triumph: Rasmus assumed the role of the Duke of Wellington, while I was his eager aide-de-camp as well as Prussian commander Field Marshall Blücher.
We allowed free communication between the two team mates, but only the designated Commander-in-Chief was allowed to look at his side’s hand of command and tactics cards (and was not allowed to explicitly say what cards he held). The C-in-C always had the final say on selecting cards, but the execution of each card was ultimately up to the officer who received it. All of this added an extra element of immersion and fog-of-war for the junior officers. It really works excellently!
Now, let the battle report begin.
Order of battle. French start with 6 command and 4 tactician cards. Allies with 5 and 3, respectively. First to reach 15 victory banners wins
The French start the battle in an aggressive position. Their commanders realize that Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Papelotte are worth one victory banner each. They also know that they have little time to waste. Reports indicate that Grouchy might not be able to pin down Blücher’s force near Wavre, and the 72-year old Marschall Vorwärts is determined to come to Wellington’s aid before it is too late.
At the start of every Allied turn, the Allies roll a die. If the result is not a flag, the Prussian force advances one step. At the ninth step, Blücher’s force arrives and augments the Allies with one additional command and tactician card
The battle commences with an infantry force march on the French left. Napoleon is determined to seize control of Hougoumont, perhaps inspired by the visit to the actual farm earlier in the day. Wellington is equally determined to hold the crucial strongpoint. As a result, the bloody fight for Hougoumont would go on to dominate the entire first phase of the battle. The French manage to expel the valiant British troops for a brief moment, but the Allies reclaim it quickly. Several units suffer heavy casualties, but neither French nor Allied units break entirely, maintaining the tension for many turns.
The French open the battle with an advance on Hougoumont, which would prove to be the most hotly contested point of the battlefield.
In the meantime, Napoleon has ordered his well-positioned grand battery to concentrate on the exposed Dutch-Belgian infantry in front of the Allied-controlled ridgeline. These soldiers take a heavy pounding, and even as the Allies scramble to get them to safety, the Emperor inspires his cannoneers with an artillery combat bonus, which helps the French claim the first victory banner of the battle.
The fearsome artillery batteries of “The Little Corporal” claim first blood
While all of this is going on, the right section of the battlefield (from the Allies’ perspective) sees almost no action. The French are content to hold their ground, while the Allies conduct some cautious maneuvers forward. Their intent is to keep the French right checked, while preparing for the much-anticipated arrival of the Prussians.
The situation after the first handful of turns. Almost all casualties suffered around Hougoumont, which remains in Allied hands. The Prussians march on in the distance.
French: 1 victory banner. Allies: 0 victory banners.
With many weakened units on his left and reports of Blücher on the march, Napoleon decides to shift some of his army’s focus from Hougoumont to the central section of the battlefield. Wellington senses the pause in the French advance and seizes the initiative. As a consequence, Allied cavalry successfully routs the French horse artillery near Hougoumont. Meanwhile, Wellington orders the fearsome British Light Riflemen a step forward in an attempt to snipe at Reille and his severely weakened infantrymen. The rifles fail to find their mark however, and French dragoons retaliate with a thunderous cavalry charge. The riflemen swiftly form a square, but a timely decision by Napoleon to break the square seals the fate of the brave Brits.
Wellington’s gambit fails and the invaluable riflemen are lost
The struggle for Hougoumont rages on, sapping strength on both sides with French casualties mounting in particular. Simultaneously, however, the French centre advances menacingly towards La Haye Sainte. The British line infantrymen within the farm walls distinguish themselves thoroughly. First, accurate musket fire fells a slightly weakened French grenadier unit. Then, an inspired decision to strike first at the advancing French bayonets repels the first French melee attack on La Haye Sainte.
The Allies show that La Haye Sainte will not be given up without a fight
Meanwhile, Napoleon orders Ney to probe the Allied left as a diversionary tactic. The Allied forces around Papelotte are well-prepared, however. They unleash a series of devastating musket salvos on the advanced Young Guard, who just about manage to maintain cohesion. At the same time, reports spread throughout both camps that Blücher’s Prussians will join the battle imminently. They have not taken even a single turn’s break in their determined march forward.
Prussians at the doorstep (picture taken at the time of the first French assault on La Haye Sainte)
French: 2 victory banners. Allies: 1 victory banner.
The French advance has been halted in all three sectors. Even though they are behind in victory banners, the spirits in the Anglo-Allied camp are high and rising, while Napoleon and Ney appear worried at the lack of progress. Grouchy’s failure to delay Blücher for even a moment is a cause for much dismay and many swearwords among the French.
Some action takes place in the centre and the French right, where British Guard Grenadiers suffer heavy casualties. Just then, the Prussians arrive on the field with trumpets blazing through smoke-filled air.
Blücher arrives and wastes no time in assaulting the French right
The Prussians confidently charge into the extreme right of the French formation, immediately dispatching a full-strength unit of French hussars. Simultaneous march orders move more of the Prussians forward and towards the centre, all of them eager to join the action.
Napoleon’s confidence is shaken, but not stirred. He persists with a determined assault on La Haye Sainte, and his infantrymen deliver at last. The stubborn British defenders are forced out, and a French objective victory banner is secured soon thereafter. Meanwhile, however, the French suffer losses on both flanks, including near Hougoumont.
French forces at last seize La Haye Sainte, but they suffer heavy losses elsewhere.
Napoleon is forced to virtually give up on seizing Hougoumont after Wellington rallies its British Light Infantry defenders back to full strength. The staunch defenders dispatch a weakened French unit in the vicinity, as the bodies pile up around the smoking farm. Its cost in human lives, ammunition and time spent begin to seem fatal to the French command staff.
French: 3 victory banners. Allies: 5 victory banners.
The Allies feel momentum swinging firmly in their favour. Without pause or hesitation, Blücher’s vanguard advances boldly towards Plancenoit, with the French right being swiftly rolled up. With equal confidence, Wellington orders his units in the centre, including his Guard Heavy Cavalry to advance in an attempt to push the French out of La Haye Sainte.
These aggressive moves do not go unchecked by Napoleon, however. On the Allied left, Saxe-Weimar and his Nassauers are killed by a vicious French bombardment by Napoleon’s Guard Foot Artillery. On the Allied right, meanwhile, highly accurate musket fire on the move by French chasseurs dispatches a weakened unit of infantry.
French Guard Foot Artillery distinguish themselves in the French centre-right.
At this critical phase of the battle, Wellington realizes he has put the precious Guard Heavy Cavarly in harm’s way without much to show for it. They attempt to fall back but are felled by the French infantry inside and near La Haye Sainte.
The Allies are rattled by this loss in the centre, which is looking increasingly vulnerable. However, Blücher restores the Allied sense of momentum with a highly effective bayonet charge on the French right and centre-right.
Blücher and von Bülow personally lead the bayonet charge on the weakened French right, while two other Allied units seek to gain the central ridgeline of the battlefield
With all of this hectic action taking place in the centre and the Allied left, Napoleon successfully maneuvers his units on his far left around Hougoumont and towards the battered right flank of the Allies. He tasks his brother Jerôme with the crucial task of seizing the initiative and giving Wellington a new headache to worry about – before it is too late.
The new threat on his right notwithstanding, Wellington succeeds in his efforts at forcing the French out of La Haye Sainte. Meanwhile, Blücher and von Bülow smell the scent of impending victory and push impetuously towards Plancenoit. The last remnants of the Young Guard continue to elude the two Prussian commanders, baiting them forward – dangerously far ahead from the rest of the Prussian force.
The French army has suffered heavy casualties across the board and have lost La Haye Sainte
French: 8 victory banners. Allies: 9 victory banners.
The morale of the French army and its commanders is on the brink of collapse, but they refuse to accept defeat without one last shot at glory.
A final push in the centre is ordered, spearheaded by the Old Guard – with Napoleon in personal command. The British defenders in the sector take aim and let loose a series of devastating volleys. The Old Guard is stopped in its tracks, then the unit is felled altogether with Napoleon seriously wounded. He is finished as frontline leader, but even as he is rushed away bruised and bleeding, he continues to give out orders, lest his troops lose the will to fight on.
Indeed, Napoleon and Ney now decide to give up the centre and concentrate their efforts on the flanks. They see that the Prussian advance units are far from the bulk of their army. Blücher’s confindent – yet foolhardy – attack on the French lancers near Plancenoit fails repeatedely, and this gives time for Ney to mount his counterattack. French cuirassiers and the Grenadiers à Cheval de la Garde Impériale are unleashed upon the Prussians, while Napoleon orders his Guard Foot Artillery to support Ney’s advance.
The French, led by Ney, pounce on Blücher’s advanced Prussians as the battle for Plancenoit intensifies
Wellington realizes Blücher’s serious predicament. The Duke sends out orders for the remaining Prussians and Allied forces on the left to advance and support the Generalfeldmarschall’s thrust. But the aide carrying Wellington’s instructions is killed by a French cannonball and these orders never arrive. The fog of war thus plays its cruel part and Blücher is neither supported nor ordered to fall back. Soon enough, the Prussians are forced into squares by the flashing sabres of Ney’s troopers. A desperate struggle ensues.
Without an opportunity to order his left wing, Wellington focuses on the weakened French units in the centre with some effect, while fighting off the latest (and sure the last) French attack on his right. In the latter section, French cavalry takes heavy losses, but manages to break through the Allied line and assault its rear. The Allies suffer at the hooves of Jerômes cavalrymen, even though they eventually beat back the attackers.
The fighting in these closing turns is fierce across the entire battlefield. French bravery in the face of overwhelming odds notwithstanding, their casualties have been mounting steadily. Even as Blücher’s units struggle on without support, the Allies reach 14 victory banners, while the French have only 11.
It is all set up for the grand finale as the Allies push forward in the centre, while the French fight on near Plancenoit and on the far right
Wellington orders his infantry in the centre to attack the weakened remnants of the French formation in the sector. However, the exhausted troops fail to land the coup de grâce. The Duke can hardly believe that victory continues to elude him and his men, but he remains cool and confident. There is no way the French will claim four victory banners in a single turn.
Napoleon and Ney know they have only one shot. One opportunity. They would seize it or die trying.
Drawing on his own experience as an artillery officer – and in recognition of the high effectiveness of his cannoneers on the day, Napoleon orders a bombardment. Meanwhile, Ney orders attacks on both flanks, focusing on the beleaguered Prussian squares and on the exposed infantry on Wellington’s far right.
The first to fall is von Bülow’s battered square. The French forces dispatch the exhausted Prussians and force von Bülow to fall back. Then, the French artillery in their centre-left takes aim at the Prince of Orange and his weakened heavy cavalry. The Prince survives, but his troopers are all killed.
The French now need two victory banners to win. Napoleon puts his faith in his most effective unit. A grand battery, led by his Guard Foot Artillery, takes aim at Blücher and his weakened jägers in the Allied centre left. The cannonballs are unleashed and as the dust clears, Wellington sees – to his horror – that the jägers lie dead or dying and that the valiant, but impetuous, Generalfeldmarschall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher lies lifeless on the field.
The French secure a stunning victory as Blücher and his men are killed by Napoleon’s Guard Foot Artillery
The French score the final two victory banners, as the Allied army disintegrates. The Emperor is victorious.
Final result. Napoleon and Nay gain control of the field, as the Allies are routed and the fate of Europe left uncertain
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Absolutely EPIC experience. Wow. Amazing scenario that ensured action across the entire battlefield with many interesting options and decisions to make. In the end, we, the allies, were punished by advancing too far with an element of the Prussian army without having sufficient “Order Left” cards to back up the attack. The draw of the cards (including the courier rack) at the end was disappointing, but of course, we should have allowed the main body of the Prussian reinforcements to catch up before committing. Mistakes are punished in this wonderful system. It all just seemed so easy as the French left seemed to disintegrate and the one-block Young Guard just too juicy a prey to let up. In the end, the French cavalry and artillery reserve proved decisive, even as their infantry force had been almost completely destroyed. Amazing.
That final French turn just left us all breathless and almost without the ability to comprehend the sheer epicness of the turnaround. Even in defeat, this battle will live on as a memorable and highly enjoyable experience. Thanks again to Guillaume for the scenario and to my friends for this five-hour epic that easily achieves legendary status within our C&C group.
Victors Alexander Ney (left) and Anton Bonaparte (right) seize the day in unforgettable fashion