Saturday, February 2, 2019

Battle of Roliça, August 17th, 1808

There are a number of Peninsular battles that I have wanted to try out that are for the most part better suited to a battalion level game rather than the brigade level Age of Eagles II rules that I have been playing. Roliça is one of those, essentially a division per side although the British outnumber the French by a considerable amount. This however is counter-balanced by the victory conditions, which give the British a fairly short time to achieve their objectives and the French two positions, one very strong, from which to thwart them.
Historically Delaborde was essentially fighting a delaying action until French reinforcements could arrive from Abrantes. Wellesley, knowing this, opted to attack without delay when he saw Delacorde taking up his positions on the high ground adjacent to the village of Roliça. When Delaborde saw that the British were attempting to outflank him he adroitly retreated to his second position on a ridge further south, steep and assailable on only narrow fronts.

This scenario was played on a 6' X 9' table using 1/72 scale miniatures. Brian North and I played with Brian's home grown rules and based the scenario on one which can be found here on JJ's Wargames. This game gave me the opportunity to trot out all of my newly painted British along with the red-coated Swiss and my Portuguese Caçadores done especially for this scenario. We only got through the first half but will reconvene for the battle for the ridge sometime in March.

1.The British advance on Roliça

The British advance on Delaborde’s first position adjacent to the village of Roliça. The French Line (1/70th and 2/70th) along with a couple of companies of the 4th Swiss and the 26th Chausseurs (out of picture bottom right), under the direct command of Delaborde occupy the high ground west of the village while the two battalions of Legér are massed in and around Roliça under the command of General de Brigade Brennier.
The British advance with Hill’s brigade on the right (bottom - 1/5th, 1/9th and 1/38th), Nightingale’s centre (29th and 1/82nd) and Fane’s on the left (top) opposite Roliça. 
Crauford’s brigade (1/50th, 1/91st and 6th Caçadores) advances in reserve behind Nightingale along with the Allied horse (20th Light Dragoons and Portuguese cavalry).

2. The French lines as seen from the southern ridge

Delacorde has no intention of making his stand here, on the high ground next to Roliça (upper right) when he has a much stronger position on the ridge to the south (south of Columbeira, seen here lower left). His intention is only to delay the British long enough to allow the rest of the Army of Portugal to deploy across the front of the British march on Lisbon.

3. French right in Roliça

Brennier positions his troops in Roliça with one battalion of light infantry in skirmish formation in and around the village while the second waits in column to the rear.

4. Fane's brigade advances on Roliça

Fane’s Rifle companies (2/95th and 5/60th - here dressed as 95th!) advance on Roliça in skirmish formation while the 38th follows up.

5. British Rifles skirmish with Brennier's Léger

6. Wellesley surveys the battlefield

From the high ground north of Roliça Wellesley watches with satisfaction as his troops deploy in this, his first Peninsular battle.

7. Crauford and Nightingale in the British centre

8. Hill advances on the Roliça high ground

French and British skirmishers exchange fire as Hill’s three battalions advance with the hope of enveloping the French flank.

9. French cavalry driven off

Delaborde sees an opportunity to harass the British right and sends in his 26th Chauseurs under command of one of his ADC’s, but after driving in the Northumberland’s skirmishers, the British line forms up and sees them off smartly with a telling volley.

10. Fane's Rifles move in to seize the north side of Roliça

Meanwhile on the right Fane send in his Rifles to engage the French skirmishers scattered around Roliça and seize the northern most houses. The British gain a foothold in these houses and engage in skirmishing with the French who occupy the southern half of the village.

11. Overview

At the bottom Fane’s rifles skirmish with Bennier’s Legér around Roliça while (centre) Nightingale moves to force the French off the high ground with Crauford in reserve. The British cannon engage the French artillery which begins thinning Nightingale’s and Hill’s ranks.
At the very top (British right flank) Hill’s 5th sees off Delaborde’s cavalry after a failed attempt by the French horse to rattle the British flank.

12. British and Portuguese cavalry move to support right flank

Wellesley sends one of his ADC’s over to lead the 20th Light Dragoons (using Hussar stand-ins) and Portuguese horse against the French on the British right, before they can regroup and charge again while the 5th forms up to charge the two companies of Swiss (red coats in the hedgerow!) skirmishing on their flank and holding up Hill’s advance.

13. Hill and Nightingale push forward

As the British push forward Delaborde gradually withdraws his troops from the high ground. The French cannon fire continues to tell on the British lines, while a deadly skirmish battle rages between the two sides. 

14. Brennier's Legér abandon Roliça

As the troops on Brennier’s left fall back Brennier himself, (left side of picture), on the loosing end of the skirmish battle for Roliça, also begins to withdraw the two battalions under his command.  Fane throws the 45th and his Rifles into an assault on the town, hoping to drive out the Legér left behind as a rearguard, but the first attempt is driven off.

15. Allied cavalry drive off the 26th Chausseurs

The opposing cavalry clash on the British right  and again the 26th come out on the loosing end. Meanwhile the 5th (upper right) are spared having to rout out the 4th Swiss who, vastly outnumbered and seeing the British forming up for the charge, throw down their arms and surrender.

16. Overview

On the right side of the picture the French can be seen in full withdrawal from the British as they retreat to their second position on the ragged ridge south of Columbeira. Final rounds of the British cannon destroyed the French battery, so Delaborde will be fighting the next phase of the battle without artillery.
At the top centre Crauford assumes the lead from Nightigale’s tired troops, who shift left. Under a hail of small arms fire, the last of Brennier’s Legér still in Roliça bolt from the houses and rejoin their parent battalion, also in full withdrawal. Fane’s brigade regroups from its fighting for Roliça and hustles up on the British far left.
Hill also follows up on the British right, but more slowly, having taken the brunt of the French artillery fire, as his troops accept the surrender of the Swiss, bottom centre.

17. Wellesley watches as the French retreat from their first position towards the southern ridge

18. The last French bolt from the village

The French rearguard left in Roliço falls back upon its supports

19. French withdrawal

The distance between the French and British widens as Wellesley realigns his troops, throwing Crauford’s fresh troops into the advance in the centre.

20. Delaborde observes the withdrawal

21. British form up in preparation for the second phase

As the French retreat to the high ground of the steep ridge south of Columbeira, the British form up behind their skirmishers in attack columns in order to negotiate the narrow gullies that give access to the top of the ridge.

The aftermath of the first half saw both sides trading off equal casualties, mostly through skirmish and cannon fire as the French refused to be engaged in this forward position. Probably the French would have come out the better except for the loss of their Swiss, who surrendered en masse (as they did historically).

Part 2 to come when Brian returns to Canada in March to resume our battle. Stay tuned!


  1. Hi Bill.
    Looks like an interesting position in the game. I look forward to part II as from my own experience whether the French can delay long enough is all down to what state they are when they get into position on the Southern Ridge and I see the Swiss have already thrown in the towel. Bon Chance as they say!

  2. Thanks Jonathon,
    It was a real pleasure to use your scenario as a jumping off point for this game and I look forward to playing more of yours in the future.

  3. Great looking game Bill, must get round to this battle sometime, especially as have JJ's scenario book to work from.

  4. Thanks, Anthony.
    Why did I not know JJ has a scenario book??? Must look into that...

    1. It has just released on Kickstarter for the Over the Hills ruleset. Should be fairly easy to convert to other rules.