Tuesday 8 May 2018

French Revolutionary War ‘Vendee’ Campaign. Day 7, The battle of St. Nazaire

Back to the War of the 1st Coalition this week with another game from my imaginary Vendee/Emigre invasion campaign. Casting readers' memories back, the Allies have successfully landed and established a foothold on the mainland despite the best efforts of the Republicans. While things have not gone exactly to plan the main Allied  force is now outside St Nazaire, dithering, not sure what to do. Well, the English commanders know but the commander in chief the Emigre Comte d’Hervilly is a bit of a tosser and hasn’t a clue. A couple of days of doing nothing other than set out some rudimentary siege lines hasn’t got the army very far and the Republicans have brought up troops from Nantes to try and drive the enemy into the sea.
The main gate of St Nazaire
The ever present Republican telegraph station outside St Nazaire.
St. Nazaire is very lightly defended as most of the garrison has already been deployed and taken severe losses trying to push the Allies out of their beachead at Pouilliguen. Allied losses have also been high. All of the local ‘Chouan’ volunteers have dispersed since the hard fought defence of Pouilliguen. Apart from the the garrison of Pornichet and the troops on the western end of the beachead at Pouilliguen, there are precious few reinforcements available unless there is a marked improvement in the campaign. Even the British government isn’t ready to sacrifice more Emigres and a few more English regiments without some chance of success.

So, we have a strong Allied force outside St Nazaire. Actually, the Emigre units are almost all 'small' in the rules. The Republicans are present in some strength, although the majority of the battalions are newly raised conscripts and the cavalry are pretty poor. For once it is the Allies who must attack and destroy the Republican army, and the Comte d’Hervilly has finally been galvanised into action by the arrival of the Republican troops on his flank.

ALLIED (ENGLISH & ÉMIGRÉ FORCES) Commanded by General le Comte d’Hervilley (6)

1st brigade : Major General Sir Rafe Ambercrumble ( 8 )  
3 btns Footguards
Royal Artillery – 1 x 12pdr, 
Royal Irish Artillery - 1 x 3pdr 

2nd brigade: Colonel Arthur Weasley (8)
79thFoot**, 92ndFoot**
2 squadrons  15th Light dragoons
Royal Artillery – 6pdr

3rd brigade: Major General le Comte de Choisil (8)
Choisil Hussars*
Salm-Kirkberg Hussars*
Royal Emigrants (with battalion guns)**
Mirabeau Fusiliers
Damas Fusiliers (with Rotallier Artillery manning battalions guns)
Perigord Lt Inf*
Salm-Kirkberg Lt Inf
Rohan Infantry*
Salm-Kirkberg Horse Artillery – 3pdr

* small units
** large units

Cavalry Brigade: Brigadier General Emmanuel Grouchy ( 8 )
8thCavalry (poorly mounted)
23rdCavalry (poorly mounted)
Horse artillery – 3 x 6pdr

General de Bde Alonso Fonde-Lepatrie ( 7 )
2 Demi Brigades – 6 btns (Newly raised/untested)
Combined Grenadiers

General Hercule Trecon (8 )
Demi-Bde legere – 3 btns
Demi Bde de Ligne – 3 btns (Newly raised/Untested)
Foot Battery – 3 x 8pdr

To maintain some continuity John took the Republicans, who were tasked with breaking the so-called siege while the Allies had to drive off the Republican relief force, which would precipitate the surrender of St. Nazaire.

Men of the Royal Artificers working on the newly started 1st Parallel.
The main English siege battery.
The western ravellin covering the approach to the gate into the town.

So, let battle commence. I will let the photos do the talking along with their accompanying captions from this point. John got to go first.
The Allied army deployed ready to advance. Emigres in the foreground, then the Guards brigade, then beyond the bridge and camp two battalions of Highlanders and the 15th LD. The town is on the southern edge of the table.
The Emigres failed their first command roll and stood rooted to the spot.
The Guards also failed their first command roll. The Scots beyond the bridge didn't and advanced towards the enemy.
The Republican cavalry (8th and 23rd regiments) under Grouchy (he really was  involved in putting down the Vendee revolt) sweep forward.
John rapidly pushed his horse artillery forward then deployed them in front of my Scots battalions.
In turn 4 the 79th Foot (out of shot fleeing) were forced to take a break test after taking a hammering from  the Republican artillery and failed it, taking the 'low road' to Scotland no doubt. This left the 92nd in a rather exposed and perilous position. Bugger!
John was able to push his infantry into the village without any interference from me as  I  failed our  command rolls, again, and again, and again!
Republican skirmishers edging forward to the north of the village
After failing several command rolls the Emigres then managed a blunder and most of them withdrew to the table edge. In fact, in the first seven turns the Emigres blundered once and failed their command rolls on six (YES SIX) occasions! 
Thankfully the Guards started to advance on the village.
Then on turn eight the Perigord Lt Inf advanced towards the oncoming Republican troops.
Johns horse artillery was being steadily reduced by fire from my cannon and the surviving Scots battalion. One section was destroyed and another forced to redeploy somewhere safer. The third section was shaken and disordered but I could not get rid of them. John's foot artillery (just in shot top left) concentrated on the 92nd and forced a break test on them. Predictably  I failed and the battalion streamed to the rear in rout.
Trying to buy some time, I declared a charge on the Republican cavalry but I misjudged the distance  and stopped short. The next turn the 8th Cavalry charged the 15th LD. In a brutal melee the casualties were in my favour but as the Republicans were supported and got a HC+1 bonus I lost and had to take a test, withdrawing from the combat. The Republicans were shaken and unable to pursue. The 15th were also shaken so that meant my right-hand brigade under Colonel Weasley, to which they belonged, was shattered. On the plus side, Gen Grouchy was severely wounded and captured by the withdrawing English dragoons.
The Emigres finally got moving and the Loyal Emigrants advanced on the enemy looking splendid!
With the departure of the Scots and light dragoons the only units covering my right (and the siege works and camp) were two sections of Royal Artillery (a 12pdr and a 6pdr) and one of the Royal Irish Artillery (a tree pounder). The pressure was now on me to get stuck in with the Guards and Emigres to save the day. I was confident that this was doable as most of the Republics were classed as untested and newly raised and therefore were very brittle.
The Choisil Hussars, led by the Comte de Choisil himself force a battalion of Republicans into square.  Sadly the Comte  was shot from the saddle during the charge. Happily, although out of the game, he survived with a flesh wound and a sore head.
The 3rd Guards advance pushing back all before them.
Johns pesky artillery trundled forward supported by two battalions of light infantry.  
The Allied siege lines laying open for the Republican cavalry to sweep down on them. Thankfully John thought better of that idea as the 8th were still recovering from their fight with the 15th LD, while the 23rd (in pink facings) were just a bunch of Parisian Lady Boys! Grouchy's replacement was felled by a random cannon ball sometime around this time.
The Choisil Hussars, minus their Count, before withdrawing. Even a Republican square  was too tough for them to handle, especially as when they tested to check their random stamina John threw a six, giving them a stamina of four!
The Emigre advance in full swing. The Mirabeau Legion (in black) to the fore and to their right the Salm-Kirkberg Light Infantry.
The Loyal Emigrants could make no headway against the skirmishers, supported by battalion guns, lining the hedge.
The Mirabeau Legion continue their advance, driving the Republicans in front of them like sheep. General Alonso Fonde-Lepatrie was mortally wounded in the rout. The real sheep  were  made of sterner stuff.
The Guards stormed the village and drove the already shaken and disordered Republicans out. Text book style.
John threw another battalion forward, forcing the Perigord Light Infantry skirmishers  to evade.  This battalion was then forced into square by the Salm-Kirkberg Hussars. The wounded Comte de Choisil's replacement was killed leading the charge.
John then sneakily charged the Mirabeau Legion in the flank and broke them.
The Salm-Kirkberg Light Infantry then found themselves isolated with Republicans on both flanks (admittedly  the battalion on their right were in square) with horse artillery to their front. A quick blast of canister into their already depleted ranks was enough to see them run.
By now the Republicans were in control of the siege lines and had overrun the camp.  The Royal Emigrants were about to fail a break test and the Perigord Light Infantry and the Rohan Light Infantry were engaged with the Republicans in the camp and their artillery coming up on my right. The Guards were doing fine and were still pretty much intact, but the Emigre brigade was close to breaking. With the siege lines and camp in enemy hands I decided that although the Guards could possibly have beaten whatever John chose to throw at them it would be wise to order an orderly withdrawal while I still could.
Well, that was warm work. Literally as it was boiling outside. I reckon that it was a closer game than the narrative might suggest as John's battalions were starting to crumble under the incessant pressure of the Guards and Emigres. However it was a good victory for John and an excellent outcome in terms of the campaign. The Allies have been forced to abandon the siege and will now have to retire back to their supply depot at Pornichet, pursued, not particularly hotly, by the Republicans. The Guards and Emigre cavalry will be able to cover the retreat admirably, keeping the pursuers at bay.

This leads me nicely into the next and possibly final battle of the campaign where the Allies will attempt to evacuate their troops while under attack from the Republicans. 


  1. A most beautiful table for a most beautiful period to play...I enjoyed reading this!

  2. Wow, stunning table and great looking game. Love the fortress - what make is it? I also love that your games room has a ground floor window to the garden

  3. thanks Peter. The fortress is an old Magister Militum piece. V heavy but durable. The warehouse is scratch built. Yes it was great having the Patio doors as it was very scorchio yesterday and no breeze. warm work indeed!

    1. Warehouse? I meant Gateshouse

    2. I was wondering, I didn't remember a wharehouse but that's a very nice gatehouse! Durable terrain is very good, V heavy not so good when you are ordering from overseas..sigh.

  4. Another cracking game of a cracking campaign. Nice that you feel it is drawing to a natural conclusion. Looking forward to the (possible) final installment.

    1. Thanks Steve. I expect it'll be played out to a natural conclusion very soon.

  5. A great looking game Colin - the early French Republican period is really colourful and this idea for a campaign was a very clever way to get all those émigré units onto a table top!

  6. Vive la France. A glorious victory, with the forces of reaction and the roast beefs seened off and the citizens of Nazaire saved.

    I feel the principal credit must go to the captains of the two artillery batteries, who acted with dash and scientific accuracy (rolled plenty of 6s)and drove off first the Highlanders, then the artillery and finally the Emigre mercenaries. Another few blasts of canister may have seen of the Guards to boot but poor light and exhaustion intervened.

    General Grouchy commanded the (new and untried) Cavalry well (they passed every command role)and was able to see off the fericous British light dragons, but at such a price (Grouchy was a casualty in the melee). After his loss the brigade was too dazed to do more (failed every command role bar the last one)

    I feel victory may have also been swung by hte dice gods deserting Colin for a long period of the game, but that wont feature in my report back to Paris

    The brunt of the fighting and losses fell on the newly raised Demi Brigades (Newly Raised and Untried? under BP). They were good at skirmishing and basic formations, slightly surprisingly surviving several cavalry charges but a little brittle under direct attach by the better quality British and Emigre foot units. The skirmishers however were able to wear down thier opponents whilst ensconst in the hedgerows. A close run thing!

    Jean Le Rouge, Aide de Camp to General Grouchy.

  7. Another excellent game put together by the gracious host

    1. My pleasure. Now there’s a story to tell about the dice rolling as you know. Until the next time M. Le Rouge.