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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Meeting Your Waterloo with “Blücher”

”It is an amazing thing when you bring together good friends, a beautifully detailed 8’ x 12’ terrain board, thousands of awesome looking 15mm miniatures, and a great set of wargame rules to tie them all together to play out one of the most iconic battles in history. That’s what happened when a group of Kentucky wargamers refought the battle, the full battle, of Waterloo in commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the historic battle.

The Waterloo Battlefield in 8' x 12' glory!

The host for this event was Mike Pfanenstiel, perhaps the most prolific wargamer in the state of Kentucky. Mike had built an amazingly detailed and massive wargame board of the Waterloo battlefield and populated that board with over 4000 15mm Napoleonic Miniatures in 91 different units. It was a splendid visual spectacle, even before dice began to roll.  We are truly blessed to have a wargamer like Mike as part of our group!
The French are ready to commence the assault!

To relive this most famous of battles, we used “Blücher” by Sam Mustafa as our rules sets (See my previous rules review). Coincidently, Mike was the lead for the Kentucky playtest group for this rules sets. Mike Pike was is main sparring opponent for these playtest efforts with some lesser support from me in the earlier stages. It was great having a lot of playtester experience going into this game, but really the rules are so easy and straight forward that our two new “Blücher” players, Don Blevins and Charles McKellar had no issue jumping right in a full up Waterloo as their first experience with these rules.

The Allied right has goo depth to their defensive position.
So with the table set and forces arrayed we settled into the following player assignments.

Don – “Napoleon” I Corps, Old Guard, & half of the Cavalry Reserve
Mike Pfanenstiel – “Reille/Lobau” II Corps, VI Corps, & the Grand Battery

Myself – “Wellington” I Corps & Cavalry Reserve
Charles McKellar – “Hill” II Corps, Brunswick Division
Mike Pike – “Blucher” All Prussians and “Uxbridge” with control the British Cavalry Reserve until Prussian arrival when I’d take control of the British Cavalry.

Mike Pfanenstiel already had most forces in their historical deployment positions which expedited us getting right into the game eliminating a lot of pre-game set up. My first decision as “Wellington” was the garrisoning of the forward positions.  I sent a KGL, historically, in to La Haye Sainte. I place the Nassau Brigade in the Hougoumont perimeter, but instead of putting the elite British Guards Brigade in Hougoumont itself, I kept that unit in the main line and opted to place a Dutch-Belgian brigade there in its place. On the British left, I elected not to garrison La Haie and Papelotte, keeping units there in the main reverse slope line under Picton.

KGL Garrisons La Haye Sainte.
The Nassau Brigade and a Dutch Belgian Brigade Garrison Hougoumont.

Close up of the Nassau Brigade  occupies  Hougoumont.

The French initial moves varied somewhat from the historical plan.  d’Erlon’s I corps advanced on Picton’s position.  But rather than send Reille’s II Corps to attack Hougoumont, it marched past it and drove right for the right of the British I Corps. The French indeed would not assault either La Haye Sainte or Hougoumont in battle, rather they would use the Grande battery to sequentially obliterate the defenders of these positions.  Finally, the French sent Lobau’s VI Corps hooking around the west of Hougoumont towards Hill’s II British Corps.

Reille's II Corps "shoots the gap" between La Haye Sainte and   Hougoumont.

This left only the Imperial Guard and Reserve Cavalry Corps uncommitted and in general reserve.
The French Grand Battery nearly annihilated the KGL Brigade in La Haye Sainte in a single volley! I was fortunately able to withdraw with one point of strength remaining. It was too early to start losing full units, so I abandoned La Haye Sainte.

Don pushed d’Erlon’s I Corps against Picton’s position, but rather than push on the ridge with bayonet, the French settled into a protracted skirmish duel, which through lucky rolls actually worked.

d'Erlon's I Corps advances against the British left.

Picton's main line is ready to receive d'Erlon's I Corps but has little local reserves.

A nearly destroyed KGL Brigade evacuates La Haye Sainte, which Reille quickly sends a II Corps unit to occupy.

 d'Erlon's I Corps enters in to Picton's skirmish  zone.

The east end of d'Erlon's and Picton's line.

Reille's II Corps sustains some harassment damage from the Nassau Brigade in Hougoumont, but this won't last long as the Grand Battery, having cleared La Haye Sainte, has now turned its attention toward  Hougoumont. 

Lobau's VI Corps, led by horse artillery,  has arrived after swing to the west around Hougoumont.

Reille's II Corps starts to take damage from the British right.

d"Elron's II Corps on the British left is also starting to feel the heat from British skirmishing.

Picton and d'Erlon's lines extend east toward Papelotte. Stretched to the fullest,  neither Picton or d'Erlon have local reserves.

Unable to withstand the bombardment of the Grand Battery, the Nassau Brigade move's to threaten Lobau's flank.

 Lobau's Horse Artillery, ends the Nassau Brigade's foray.

Protracted skirmishing on the British left  actually ends up favoring the French as they start to gain the upper hand over Picton.

Reille's II Corps, now reinforced by a Cuirassier Division from the French Reserve hammer the British I Corp's right...but the British and their allies repel these assault and even send in a Cavalry Brigade on a counter attack.
There is a large gap in the British I Corps position between La Haye Sainte and La Belle Alliance, a division from the French Guard may have unhinged the British position, but dust clouds to the east from the Prussians seem to  fixate the focus of Napoleon.

Napoleon has sent in the Guard Light Cavalry to investigate the dust clouds to the east.

Uxbridge sends in the  British and Allied light cavalry on Picton's left, try to turn the flank of d'Erlon's line in an impetuous charge against broken ground.

Simultaneously, Uxbridge sends  in the British Heavy Cavalry against the d'Erlon. The French have just been flat out shooting Picton's line and the cavalry must be used to alleviate pressure on the infantry.

Picton tries to rally his infantry line while Uxbridge's British Cavalry slams into  d'Erlon's French Infantry.

The Guard Light Cavalry confirms Napoleon's fears...the Prussian have arrived from the hour earlier than historical expectations!

Wasting no time, the Guard Light Cavalry hurl themselves into the Prussian vanguard, doing all they can to delay and disrupt them.

The French Guard light Cavalry, find themselves being equaled buy normally inferior Prussian horsemen.

Uxbridge's light cavalry on British left is repulsed, but the French infantry are disrupted and disorganized and will not be able to press an assault against Picton's line.

On The British I Corps right, light cavalry threatens Reille's II Corps.

Bulow's IV Prussian Corps starts to envelope the French Guard Light Cavalry.

Lobau's VI Corps prepares for an assault against Hill's British II Corps on the Allied right.

Desperate calls for assistance from the French Guard Light Cavalry convince Napoleon to commit the rest of the Guard to stop the Prussians.

Picton finally open up a whole in d'Erlon's I Corps with combined musketry and cannonade.

The last stand of the French Guard Light Cavalry.

Just as Bulow's IV Corps finally neutralizes the French Guard Light Cavalry. Pirch's II Prussian Corps arrives.

“Blücher” encourage Bulow's troops to annihilate the remainder of the French Guard Light Cavalry.

Wellington moves to the left to assess Picton's situation, meanwhile Ney tries to rally d'Erlon's troops for a final push on the British left.

Napoleon inspects the Guard's deployments to meet the rush of Prussians.

Reille's II Corps is rendered combat ineffective leaving the right half of the British I Corps to support Hill's British II Corps.

With Napoleon focused against the Prussians, Ney draw on the last French reserve, a Cuirassier Division to bolster  dErlon's I Corps in a final push against the British left.

The British Infantry in Picton's sector accumulate significant damage.

Lobau's VI Corps make some progress pushing into Hills position.

The Prussian IV and II Corps eagerly push on to attack he French Guard.

Horse Artillery from one of the Reserve Cuirassier Divisions softens up Picton's line before the horse charges in.

Attired units in Picton's sector have to pull back or be destroyed.

Wellington asses that he will need to deploy the last allied reserve, the  Brunswick Division, to sore up Picton's sector from the relentless French pressure.

Lobau and Hill continue to brawl on the British right.

Just as the crisis hits the British left, Wellington comes up short on command points.

At this point in the battle I could tell that the left was just barely hanging I wanted to bring over the Brunswick Division to reinforce the British left, but the French had pushed far enough forward to keep that from happening. So instead of using a strategic move to pull the Brunswick Division from the British Right, I had to use tactical moves for the Cavalry Reserve in the center and pull them to the left.

British Reserve Cavalry from the center, rushes to Picton's aid on the British left.

The Prussian momentum (command) points at this point were even worse than the British!

The RHA Battery on the left, send their French counterparts packing with a "box cats" roll!

Alas, lead elements of Ziethen's  I Prussian Corps arrives, just to the east of Picton.

Lobua's VI Corps continues to great success at battering Hill's force. The Brunswick Division is now committed to support Hill. Maybe it's a good think that Welling was not able to pull them to the left like he wanted, because they are needed here now.

Ney unleashes his Cuirassier Division on Picton's last British Infantry unit and the RHA Battery, the British repulse both charges.

On the right of the British I Corps French assaults fair no better than they did on the British left.

More British Cavalry come to the aid of what's left of Picton's command.

Lobau's VI Corps presses hard against the  British right but now are facing the fresh Brunswick Division while Hill's British and allied unit try to regroup behind the Brunswick line.

Back on the left, Picton continues to inspire the Highlander Brigade.

Ney's Cuirassier come over the ridge in a second charge, the Highlanders hold again but the RHA battery is run off. Fortunately for Wellington, he had just brought up a British Cavalry Brigade behind the RHA Battery avoiding catastrophe yet again.

What is left of Reille's II Corps and the western Cuirassier Division just cannot make a dent on the British I Corps right.

The Brunswick Division and rallied allies now start to push back Lobau's VI French Corps.

Reille, Lobau, and the Cuirassier are all now spent. The British center and left are secure as the French cannot afford to risk losing more units  on this front.

Far to the east. the Prussian IV and II Corps start to bloody the Old Guard.

Undaunted Prussian Landwere hurl themselves at the elite French infantry.

In Picton's sector, the British Cavalry seizes the initiative and routs the Cuirassier who had nearly broken through the "Thin Red Line."

The Old Guard is pressed hard by a tidal wave of Prussians.

Napoleon himself directs the defense of the French Guard Corps.

Huzzah!  The Prussian finally destroy a brigade from the Middle Guard.

The British center and right are now totally secure.

Ziethen's Prussian I Corps now fall in along the left of Picton.

With the aid of the newly arrived Prussian's, Picton can finally relax knowing that his sector has held.

And with that darkness fell and the battle was over!

 Wellington breathes a sigh of relief. The French have been halted even if not broken and the day is saved!
Mike had achieved what has to one of fundamental wargamer dreams of all time, build and host a wargame of the complete Waterloo battle. He succeeded magnificently! To be sure it was not perfect, but it was simply mazing in what the wargame and its players accomplished overall.
From the Wellington perspective, I’ve got to say the rules and scenario did an excellent job throwing command and control dilemmas and army level decisions at me.  I felt the pressure for sure and nearly lost because of mismanagement of my reserves. I’m certain I’ll do things a little differently next time we play this scenario though I’ll likely be on the French team for the next round. 
What I really liked was starting off with more or less the historical deployments, but then leaving a lot of room for changes in strategies and movements from there. The French plan to employ Lobau’s VI Corps to the west of Hougoumont was a great “what if” option to try out even if it was not as successful as hoped for. Throwing in the entire Imperial Guard against the Prussians may also have been, in hind sight, excessive, but in the end that’s what wargaming is all about. Mike had provided us the opportunity to really explore the battle and its full possibilities.
Tom has been playing wargames since the late 70’s, and Flames of War since 2007. He maintains a gaming website for the BattleVault Gamers of Kentuckiana and posts and moderates WWPD as Iron-Tom.

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