Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Battle of Tudela, November 23, 1808

Last weekend we got together for our annual summer Big Game, a tradition that has been going on for about ten years now. It means two solid days of gaming a larger scenario than usual with multiple players (in this case two per side) on a ridiculously big table. It is accompanied by a great deal of bonhommie, punctuated by some amazing food and hopefully (rarely but this time successfully!) coming to a conclusion before we all collapse from gaming exhaustion at the end of the second day.
This year we decided to tackle our largest Napoleonic scenario to date, the Battle of Tudela. This was the culmination of a few years painting work, getting to finally play a scenario that I had written about a year ago. The intervening time was spent finishing the 1000 figures that I needed to field the two armies and playtesting the scenario.
The Battle of Tudela on 23 November 1808 saw an Imperial French army led by Marshal Jean Lannes attack a Spanish army under General Castaños. The battle resulted in the complete victory of the Imperial forces over their adversaries. The combat occurred near Tudela in Navarre, Spain during the Peninsular War.
Spanish casualties according to Oman were estimated to be about 3,000 killed and wounded and over 1,000 prisoners out of a total force of 33,000. The French and Poles lost no more than 600 dead and wounded out of a total of 30,000. This is one of the battles whose name was engraved on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
This scenario was based on the original forces and deployment that occurred historically, but subsequent play was at the players' discretion. Because it was a given that the Spanish would lose, a game mechanic was introduced that would allow the Spanish under La Pena in Cascante to march in support if the Spanish leader was able to get to their location. Historically Castaños headed out to command La Pena to do just that but French cavalry spotted him and gave chase, causing him to flee to the shelter of the olive groves and never reach Cascante.
Probably the most interesting task for the Spanish was to deploy over the Rio Ebro before the French consolidated in front of the gates of Tudela (figurative "gates" as it had none!) Because of the low quality of the Spanish troops their maneuvers were painfully slow, and required good humour on the part of the players. Thankfully, thanks to Tim Shannon, that was in good supply.
The game was played out on a 12'X 7.5' table, most of the 12' just being the four miles between Cascante and Tudela. We played with 1/72 scale figures and used the AoEII rules, with a stand representing 360 soldiers. Most of the figures are HaT with a smattering of other manufacturers in the mix. The scenario can be found here.

The scenario map with key troop movements marked on. The Spanish lines (red) primarily ran from Santa Barbara to south of Tudela with reinforcements marching but never arriving from Cascante. The French (purple) entered the board at two locations, those entering at Point B arriving halfway through the game. The Grand Battery is the small square in the centre of the French lines.
Because we were playing this in 1/72 (scaled up 1.5 from 15mm play) we removed a foot from the top of the table and another foot from the left.

The Battlefield

The River Ebro is in the foreground with the bridge over to the town of Tudela. Castaños forces start the battle in and around Tudela, with a large proportion of O’Neille’s corps, The Army of Aragon, having arrived the night before and still undeployed east of the Ebro (bottom of board). At the top of the board can be seen Cascante, where La Pena’s strong division of the Army of the Centre held the line of the Rio Quieles about four miles further west.
The Quieles travels east to west across the battlefield (top to bottom here) but offers no real impediment to crossing. Castaõs position is anchored on Tudela, with the low hills east (above) and the higher ground around the ancient castle on Santa Barbara (out of picture to the right of Tudela) providing favourable ground to defend.
The land north of the Quieles is relatively open but south of the smaller river it is largely olive groves.The Rio Ebro is unpassable, save by the bridge at Tudela.

The Spanish

Army of Aragon

The Spanish Army (under Castaños) roughly equal the French, with more infantry but fewer horse and cannon and their forces split between Cascante and Tudela. The Tudela forces are still largely undeployed when the French arrive and much inferior, consisting mostly of newly levied militia. Shown above is O’Neilles’ (originally Palfox’s) Army of Aragon with three divisions (eight brigades) of infantry and a fourth division (two brigades under Roca) attached from the Army of the Centre. This force also includes two small brigades of horse and four batteries of cannon.

Army of the Centre

La Pena’s force in Cascante numbers a strong division (four brigades) along with a small brigade of horse and three batteries of artillery. These troops are of higher quality, including Royal Guard and the Irlanda Regiment, but unfortunately they never come into play!

French Army

The French army, under Lannes, is mostly composed of de Moncey’s III Corps, supported later in the battle by the 2nd Division and cavalry of the VI Corps. They number five divisions (12 brigades) of infantry and three large brigades of horse. The infantry is mostly composed of French line infantry with a single elite brigade under Miozinski of Poles of the Vistula Legion. The force is supported by ten batteries of cannon.

1. Spanish deployment
The battle begins with the Spanish deployed more or less as they were historically. Having no cavalry watching the advance of the French army (!) Lannes arrives unexpectedly in front of the Spanish position on the morning of November 23, 1808. Castaños had planned to make his stand at Tudela with his left flank anchored on the Ebro and the rest of his forces holding the higher ground defined by the two hills, Cabezo Malla and Santa Quiteria that run west from the town and south of the Rio Quieles. He had hoped to be rapidly joined by La Pena’s troops four miles west in Cascante.
However Palfox’s Army of Aragon had arrived late on the previous day and chosen to bivouac east of the Ebro. Thus they were found only partly debouched over the bridge into Tudela when the French arrived! Things were further complicated by the departure of Palfox that morning, when the first shots were fired, leaving O’Neille (1st Division) to take charge of the army while Fiballer assumed command of O'Neille's division.
Roca and Fiballer’s divisions were already over the bridge and in the process of deploying in and around Tudela.

2. Spanish deploy on Santa Barbara
With news of the French arrival, O'Neille pushes Fiballer's division (foreground) up into the high ground of Santa Barbara (this is rough terrain and offers significant advantages to the defender) while Roca’s division (troops in white) shakes out into supported lines north of Tudela (right).

3. Seizing the high ground
As Fiballer gains the high ground, they wheel to face west as they spot the French approaching from the northwest.

4. Marching over the Ebro
The bridge over the Ebro serves as a bottleneck as Castaños struggles to get O’Neille’s remaining troops over the river and deployed before the French arrive. But the Spanish troops, mostly newly raised levies, do not move quickly!

5. French deploy in front of Tudela
The French arrive in stages on the field, with Wathier’s Polish Lancers first on the scene, followed by Morlot’s 3rd Division and Musnier’s 1st. Seeing the Spanish well established in the hills they choose not to try and force the high ground around Santa Barbara but instead to form their line of battle in the low ground northwest of the town.

6. In charge the Poles
Hoping to bring things to a rapid conclusion before the Spanish can properly deploy Lannes sends his élite Poles against Roca’s division. The Spanish return a deadly fusillade and send the Poles reeling back with losses.

7. Deploying south of the Rio Quieles
Painfully slow, the Spanish levies begin to deploy in the hills south of the Quieles (top left). With the French already at the gates of Tudela and French horse (Vistula Lancers top right) crossing the river, Castaños tries to establish a blocking line south of the town.

8. Lannes surveys the Spanish lines

9. Spanish militia deploying along the ridge of Santa Quiteria west of Tudela

10. Overview
In this overview you can see the Spanish line now more or less in good order from the heights of Santa Barbara (centre right) arcing up to Tudela and then south blocking the road to Cascante (upper left). Bad maneuver rolls have stalled the Spanish crossing of the bridge with Villalba’s division and the Spanish horse still tied up east of the Ebro.
Meanwhile the French begin to get their cannon deployed in their centre while Lannes sends his Polish Lancers over the Rio Quieles to threaten the Spanish left.

11. Protecting the south flank
Saint-Marc places cannon in his line south of the Quieles.

12.  The long road to Cascante
Meanwhile Castaños (bottom centre) wonders why La Pena has not responded to his request to march east and join up. Somewhat confident that he now has as good a battle line as can be expected, he leaves the army under O’Neille’s supervision to personally rouse the laggard La Pena out of Cascante (top). But it is a long and in the end fruitless ride to Cascante to try and get La Pena’s troops marching to the sound of the guns!

13. Trading cannon fire
 Back at the battle, after the first disastrous charge of the Poles, the French redress their lines and bring their cannon into action. But their marksmanship is off and the Spanish return better than they receive, thinning out Morlot’s ranks on the left.

14. Spanish push the French left
Seeing more and more French approaching across the plains, O’Neille decides to try and push the French off the high ground on the Spanish right. Only a couple of weak brigades hold this flank, protecting the French cannon, so O’Neille maneuvers his line cavalry onto their flank while advancing Fiballer’s brigade towards their front.  The French, rather than give battle, fall back from the heights to consolidate around their cannon.

15. Roca charges the French right
Meanwhile on the Spanish centre in the open ground in front of Tudela, Spanish cannon play havoc on Mathieu’s Poles. After disordering the enemy with cannon fire Roca charges in, sending the Poles reeling backwards once more. But the charge leaves the Spanish centre in a precarious position as the brigade fails to withdraw and is slammed with artillery and musketry fire until it routs and flees the battlefield, marking the end of the high water mark for the Spanish.

16. Villalba reinforces Spanish left
Finally Villalba’s division manages to cross the Ebro and deploy in the Spanish line south of Tudela. But all appears quiet here so the cannon are withdrawn from the lines and sent to support the Spanish right.

17. Overview
Out of picture to the left the French have once more sent their Polish horse across the Quieles to threaten the Spanish left. In response O’Neille elects to shorten his line, wrapping it around Tudela and anchoring the Spanish right on the Ebro itself. One brigade occupies the area of town closest to the French (top left of town) while a second tries to deploy in the southern section south of the Quieles. This allows the Spanish to pull one of Saint-Marc’s brigades out of the line and march off to the Spanish right, where it appears the hammer is about to fall. But the Spanish are so unwieldly that one of Saint-Marc’s brigades stays strung out along the Quieles until its almost too late while Villalba’s troops mill about in front of the town and fail to deploy within the relative safety of its buildings.
Meanwhile the remainder of the French forces, including Legrange’s are forming up outside of Tudela, biding their time.

18. Well, I hope he brought doughnuts…
Best line of the game from one of the Spanish players when Castaños, having been gone for most of the fight, has successfully (but belatedly) delivered his orders to La Pena in person and is now galloping back towards Tudela. But his way is blocked by the Polish Lancers who, ravaged by a failed charge and Spanish gun fire have been sent by Lannes to slow down any movement of La Pena’s troops from Cascante. Castaños spends the remainder of the battle trying to circumnavigate the French troops now operating freely south of the Quieles and never makes it back to his lines. (For this scenario we introduced a game mechanic that doesn’t allow unattached leader stands to be within 6” of the enemy without an intervening friendly brigade.)

19. Digeon’s dragoons south of the Quieles
With the Spanish cannon withdrawn to the north, their lines collapsing on Tudela and no movement of the Spanish from Cascante  the French begin to push troops across the river.

20. La Pena departs from Cascante
Meanwhile, after a further hour’s delay, La Pena finally begins to march his troops out of Cascante and towards Tudela. (Bad reserve movement rolls kept the Spanish stuck in Cascante for two more crucial turns!)

21. The long road to Tudela

22. The Spanish right
Meanwhile, back in Tudela the Spanish see the French forces steadily strengthening before them with a new division and yet more artillery arriving in the lines. O’Neille redresses his own lines, with the far right settling out with a single infantry brigade and cavalry holding the forward spur of high ground they had seized earlier while the rest of the line falls back on the hills around Santa Barbara.

23. Overview of Spanish left
The Spanish line is caught in a dangerous position when one of the bridges (centre left) fails to fall back and reform in front of Tudela. Fortunately the French are unable to exploit the opportunity due to a bad maneuver roll while upper right yet more French infantry march into line.

24. Waiting for the onslaught 
La Roca’s surviving brigade wait outside Tudela for the French to attack.

25. Fiballer’s militia is driven from their position
The French begin their attack by driving Fiballer’s militia from their forward position on the Spanish right.

26. Forming the Grand Battery
Meanwhile, with enough guns finally on the field, Lannes has his artillery ADC form up a Grand Battery of five stands in the centre.

27. French switch their attack to south of the Quieles
With the battery formed the French suddenly and swiftly switch the focus of their attack to south of the Quieles. Having struggled the entire fight just to deploy the Spanish commanders can only watch with envy as the French army maneuvers effortlessly across their front.

28. High ground seized, cavalry routed
On the Spanish left the high ground is seized and the cavalry routed as Fiballer’s battered brigade falls back on the Spanish main line.

29. Irlanda Regiment marching to Tudela
Meanwhile, in fits and starts and many delays, La Pena’s troops march on towards Tudela…

30. La Pena’s guns go into action against Vistula Lancers
Sent ahead, La Pena’s cannon are forced to unlimber and engage Wathier’s lancers that are guarding against the Spanish approach. Although they are successful in holding them at bay it further slows down the guns' approach to Tudela.

31. Overview
The French Grand Battery goes into action, destroying one of the Spanish cannon and damaging another before turning its attention on Villalba’s militia holding the eastern most part of Tudela, softening them up before the final attack. 

32. Spanish defence of Tudela
At top centre a brigade of Villalba’s militia have occupied Tudela (buildings stripped away) but are repeatedly shelled by the French cannon. To their left (centre) the Spanish have finally massaged their troops into some sort of supported line before Tudela although the brigade lower left continually fails to occupy that part of the town. But it turns out all for nought…

33. Tudela stormed
In the centre right a French column storms Tudela driving out the militia defending this part of the town. 

34. Spanish outflanked
In a breakthrough charge the attacking French column drives into the side of the next supporting Spanish brigade and sends them reeling back as well, placing the column firmly behind the enemy. The rest of the French converge on the southwest side of the town, forming up for the final assault.

35. House to house fighting in Tudela
Two battered brigades of Spanish fall back disordered into the eastern section of the town as the French hit the remaining Spanish simultaneously front and rear.

36. Final onslaught
Digeon’s dragoons and two more brigades of infantry slam into the defenders as a third French brigade hits them from the rear. With its retreat cut off one brigade lays down its arms and surrenders while the second is driven back to the banks of the Ebro.

37. Spanish driven into the Ebro
Caught between the Ebro and the French dragoons, a second Spanish brigade lays down its arms.

38. O’Neille watches his corps’ destruction
From his vantage point atop Santa Barbara O’Neille watches as one after another of his brigades routs across the Ebro or lays down its arms in surrender. With morale broken the entire right wing of the Spanish army, still intact, also collapses and flees the field and the battle is suddenly over.

39. End of battle
This final overview shows Tudela vacated by the Spanish, the four defending brigades having routed over the bridge or surrendered. The Spanish right wing, too, has routed with only a couple of brigades still holding firm in the centre. But now testing at -8 on their maneuver rolls, the future of those still holding is not in doubt either and the Spanish commanders throw in the towel.
La Pena’s forces are still four turns away from entering the battle, which meant the French did not have to tell off troops to hold them at bay. A tardy exit by Castaños to rouse La Pena coupled with some bad maneuver rolls kept these troops from entering the fray - historically La Pena never left Cascante and retired with his force almost completely intact. However, the Spanish not having their commander in chief in Tudela for most of the fight further hampered a chronic inability for the Spanish levies to maneuver effectively and made it even easier for the French to out maneuver their enemy.
In retrospect it may have been a mistake for the Spanish to collapse their left flank on Tudela rather than hold the line of the Quieles (as was done historically) and for them to commit two entire divisions to the hills north of the town, as it enabled the French to put the defenders into a pincer movement in Tudela with no avenue of escape.
The Spanish managed to fight almost to nightfall (18 of 20 turns), improving on the historic record and actually giving better than they got for the first half of the battle. But with the increasing arrival of more French, the formation of the Grand Battery and the no show of La Pena, they were doomed from the start. Even a moral victory (one intact brigade still in contention around Tudela) was denied them and the French scored a resounding, if predictable, victory over the hapless Spanish.


  1. Thank you for this battle report.
    The figurines are superb, the table is beautiful.
    Long live 1/72

  2. That looks like a smashing game. Sounds like fun, though I can understand why you can only do it once a year.

  3. Would you post the actual OOB used for others to try out?

    1. I just did, Drew. I meant to include it in the scenario and have revised it so its now available. I did a few other tweaks as well - go to my AoE scenario page on this site for the download.

  4. A cracking game report Bill - always a real pleasure to catch up with your Peninsula "campaign"

  5. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for that. And just so you know, the British ARE coming!

  6. Great looking game and scenario. Thanks for sharing.