Getting the figures together
Three years after we replayed Waterloo using Honour Games’ Blücher, I will be hosting a multiplayer refight of Ligny later in August. I have started organising the units, which has been nice and straightforward using the 100 Days unit cards. The figures are soft plastics from Airfix, Revell, Italieri, Esci, Zvezda and Hät. Some of them are 40 years old or more, since my friend Keith presented me with his boyhood Airfix Waterloo collection.
My original plan at the start of the 1815 project had been to make a separate figure base for every Brigade in the campaign. To be able to refight Ligny, this would have required me to paint up the Prussian III Corps and French III and IV Corps in their entirety. That makes a lot of work and I don’t have that much time to prepare. Also, while there might be satisfaction in completing the whole Orbat, when would I actually play using every unit that took part in the campaign? So I decided to recycle some existing units. First I decided to relabel the French II Corps to cover most of the 3rd and 4th Corps, since one habit veste is pretty much like another. For the Prussians I already had II Corps from the Waterloo game, along with a few I Corps units. If I repurpose my IV Corps units I can make most of III Corps and a fair chunk of I Corps.
However. Ever since I bought David Nash’s Prussian Army 1808-15, published by Almark, back in about 1970, I have loved the varied uniforms of the post-1812 army. I am proud of the fact that every Prussian unit painted to date has the right uniform for the regiment represented. Could I bring myself to relabel Silesian Landwehr as Westphalian, without overpainting the facing colour? Who besides me would notice, still less care if the uniforms didn’t fit? As it turns out, I realised I couldn’t do it. Even if others didn’t notice, I would know that the Prussian uniforms are wrong. I have therefore started a programme of repainting, adapting and adding to my Prussian collection so that every unit is properly dressed.
And there are some great uniforms to recreate. I started with the 28th and 29th Line in I Corps, who until 1814 had been regiments in the Duchy of Berg and still wore their white Rhine Confederation uniforms. I used some of the old Airfix French that Keith had passed on. Next comes the 30th and 31st regiments in III Corps, which had previously formed the Russo German Legion and wore Russian uniform. I have ordered a box of Zvezda Russian infantry to cover these units. For the rest, I am repainting facing colours where this is easy and painting more demanding colour combinations from scratch. I also need to add more Prussian horse so have painted the West Prussian Dragoons and am about to start some Landwehr lancers.
If this sounds like amazing dedication, bear in mind that I represent foot units with only 8 to 10 figures and cavalry with 4 or 5 horsemen. So I can complete a unit in an evening as long as I don’t have distractions. The clock is ticking however and I can’t afford to slack.
Meanwhile, I am thinking about aspects for inclusion in the scenario. There are two main what-ifs: D’Erlon’s I Corps movements and the arrival of Lobau’s VI Corps. D’Erlon barely contributed to the day because of countermanded orders, while Lobau only arrived from Charleroi as the battle ended. Both could have arrived earlier and contributed to the action.
To help decide what, if anything, I do about these absent formations, I have been rereading Colonel Charles Chesney’s Waterloo Lectures, first published in 1868 and reprinted in the 1990s by Greenhill. Chesney is fascinating. His book is not a conventional narrative history of the campaign and in fact he presumes the reader already knows the main events. Chesney’s purpose is to analyse the various myths and assertions about the battle that were already manifold by the mid 19th century. His main target are those historians who placed blame for the French defeat on everybody else but Napoleon.
It is striking how much of the mythology is still current, including in some modern histories of the campaign, not to mention in the entertaining hogwash that is De Laurentis’ film of Waterloo. I suppose two world wars didn’t help the British to give due credit to Blücher and his army, or indeed the Germans under Wellington’s command, for their contribution to victory. In this Chesney is scrupulous: he stresses the immense achievements of the German-speaking troops and places Wellington’s personal relationship with Blücher at the heart of the success. He also argues persuasively that neither Ney nor Grouchy were to blame for the alleged errors of judgement and action that were later used by Napoleon to explain away his defeat.
Where is D’Erlon?
In the case of Ligny and Quatre Bras, Chesney points out that Napoleon’s order to Ney on the 16th was only to detach a Force towards Ligny once he had taken Quatre Bras with both Corps. It may have been unfortunate that due to countermanded orders D’Erlon was unable in the end to contribute on either field, but Napoleon was not counting on his arrival at Ligny, at least for some hours. Indeed, when the head of D’Erlon’s column first appeared in the distance, Napoleon was surprised to see it and delayed an attack on the Prussians until he found out who it was. Given this interpretation, I am not inclined to make D’Erlon’s arrival a particularly significant factor in the scenario.
Lobau’s VI Corps spent most of the 16th in reserve a short distance from the Ligny battlefield and came up too late in the day to contribute to the outcome. In his case I think the French should be able to use him if they wish, since he had not been given a competing task for the day.
Another ‘what if’ is whether Bülow’s IV Corps could have been present at Ligny if he had shown more energy or his orders had been clearer. I think the answer is ‘probably not’. He had the furthest to travel from his cantonments and his orders did not tell him to come to Ligny. It seems to me that the only circumstances in which he could have been present on the field would have been if the army had been ordered to concentrate sooner than it actually was. This takes the ‘What If’ so far into alternative events that we could at that point change any number of factors and end up fighting a different battle altogether. Fine if we were to refight the campaign but we will only be looking at the battle of Ligny.
So in summary, Bülow is out, Lobau can arrive early and D’Erlon might appear but he also might be recalled and/or arrive late, having stayed with Ney until Quatre Bras was taken. I’ll try to turn these possibilities into a series of dice rolls, to keep our generals guessing.
I will be painting hard over the next several days and must then think what we need for the battlefield. There must at least be a windmill for Napoleon’s use....
On our last full day at Waterloo we visited the Wellington Museum in Waterloo town and Napoleon's HQ at Le Caillou. The Wellington Museum is under renovation and felt a bit dowdy compared to the slick venues on the battlefield, but it had real charm and atmosphere, particularly the rooms where Wellington wrote his despatch while his ADC lay dying in the bed next door. The church opposite the museum has several memorials, mostly to British and Dutch Belgian officers and there was one plaque dedicated to all the French dead. We ate lunch at the Brasserie du Couvent, highly recommended for hearty pig-related dishes. We almost gave the Emperor's HQ at Le Caillou a miss but were so glad we didn't as it was another beautifully presented little museum with excellent audio guide.
On the last evening, Keith and I replayed D'Erlon's attack on the dining table of the Gardeners House, using the Cigar Box Battles Waterloo mat, Sam Mustafa's Blucher rules and his 100 days card set. It was a never-to-be-repeated chance to play Waterloo at Waterloo. I will choose figures over cards whenever possible but Sam's unit cards are perfect for a situation like this.
We had a wonderful few days and my enthusiasm for the 1815 campaign is back on fire. I have probably read more about Waterloo than any other battle but still learned masses from the museums and walks around the field. I would never have dreamed it might be possible to be staying in the chateau of Hougoumont, looking out over the courtyard with a glass of wine and some kettle chips. Magical!
Here are some thoughts and pictures after last weekend at Waterloo. As we were staying in the Chateau grounds, I will start at Hougoumont. It looks lovely after the renovation. The refurbished buildings are fantastic and the approach to the South Gate, which was under constant attack on the day, looks as it did in 1815. The North courtyard, missing several buildings that caught fire during the battle, is interesting for the surviving chapel and the memorial to the Scots Guardsmen who closed the gates at a critical moment, trapping a group of French infantry inside and saving the chateau from capture. The walled garden was bigger than we expected and overall, we were struck by how large the combined position of chateau, garden, woods and orchard must have been. The multi media show in the Great Barn was clever, absorbing and actually very moving. It was a highlight of the holiday.
We spent a whole day at the Mémorial in the centre of the Allied position, which covers the Lion Mound, Panorama and museum all in one ticket. We climbed the Lion because it was there but it didn't thrill. The Panorama was impressive. Pause for a Wellington sandwich and beer at the brasserie on site, then back for more. The museum was a revelation, with slick interactive displays and some great use of multimedia. There are dozens of uniformed mannequins, with extensive written and audio information about the armies, men, their uniforms and equipment. The 4D film is great fun. I especially enjoyed being under the guns of a French battery as it fired. The massive shop had a mixture of good books, expensive replica firearms and cheerful tat. The Napoleon T shirts are on sale there; you need to go to Hougoumont to pick up a Wellington.
On day three we walked from the Allied ridge cross country across to La Belle Alliance, then down to Plancenoit and the Prussian monument. Back up to the Brussels road, past La Haye Sainte and on to the crossroads. We had an excellent lunch at L'Estaminet de Josephine, washed down with Waterloo beer, brewed at the Mont St Jean farm.
We came back to Hougoumont just ahead of the 2eme Régiment de Chasseurs à pied, a reenactment group of twenty or so men and a dozen family members dressed as vivandières. The group demonstrated drill and musketry in the chateau gardens off and on for two hours. They were friendly and informative, happy to tell us about the details of their uniform and the life they recreate. Alongside the Chasseurs were a couple of gendarmes, a Guard pontonnier and, a little surprisingly, a customs official in a green uniform. They also serve...
On 6 September we played the Battle of Waterloo again. I wanted to use the battlefield one more time before tidying it away and so invited four new players to come along. As in the first refight, this group were all new to the Blucher rules. In addition, only one of them had played a historical war game before: the others drew on memories of playing Warhammer. They all picked up the rules quickly and we fought the game to a conclusion inside one long day. In this game, the Allies deployed with a strong right flank, expecting a French left hook. The French duly obliged, but held on to a strong reserve including their two Heavy Cavalry Corps. Once the French left had engaged them, the Allies assaulted with their own left flank. The French screened this attack with a very light force and then launched their reserves against the Allied Centre. Thinned out to right and left, the Allies buckled between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. Despite the best efforts of the British 1st Division, the French juggernaut chewed up its opposition and Allied morale broke. While the French had lost a lot of élan points, they had not lost many units so were a long way from their break point at this stage.
It had been a great game and all players said they would happily play again. With hindsight, it might have been better to use another scenario to introduce the rules, as the players learned some useful lessons to their cost. Unit handling got a lot better in the course of the day, especially by the Allies. We agreed to meet again soon for another game. Next time we might try the Battle of Montmirail, 1814, a scenario I’ve played several times with Napoleon’s Battles. I’ll be interested to see how this works with Blucher.
On 12 July our gaming group refought Waterloo, using Sam Mustafa's Blucher rules and my collection of 20mm plastics. See the battle report here. It was a hard fought day in good company, with a clear result by teatime. The perfect day's gaming! All feedback is welcome. Next project report: The first day of Gettysburg, ready I hope in the next week.