Saturday, April 18, 2020

Combat of the Côa, July 24th 1810

My regular Peninsular War gaming partner and co-conspirator Brian North and I battled out the Combat of the Côa this week - Covid19 style through a Facetime video link up! The scenario was one that I had just finished writing and play-testing solo last week, so it was great to have a live if somewhat disembodied opponent at the table for this go around. The scenario has since been polished up even more. A link to a downloadable pdf can can be found here.

Gaming in the age of Covid19

For those who might be interested our interface worked something like this. Brian was at his home, linked up with his iPad and computer while the table and toys were here in my house. I had my iPad, and we connected through Facetime. Mostly I had the screen recording the table, rigging up a little base made up of a heavy bookend and small bungy that allowed me to quickly move the iPad about the table and hold itself up, giving Brian a very exciting battlefield eye view of the action while I moved things about. On his turn he would give me direction, I would scan the iPad over his set up afterwards for an aerial view to get his approval, before moving on to my move and doing the same. 
My hight tek iPad set up, with a bungy cord and a weighted book end.
The only other tool we used was a map on foam core with pinned units that I updated every few turns, photographed and e-mailed to Brian along with three photos of the left, centre and right of the battlefield. 
Foam core mounted map with pinned units.

As the person running the show I kept up a running commentary of what I was doing and facilitated any needs Brian had of seeing different points of the battle. Sometimes this also meant moving his troops as directed and then allowing a tweak once he saw how they were positioned. I also took it on to make sure that his units didn’t fall out of command by being careful about the placement of his commanders.
It all worked surprisingly well. The only tweak we made was that as the facilitator I was exhausted by the end of the day and we agreed spreading it out over shorter sessions was the way to go.

The Scenario

The scenario map showing the start positions for the Light Division. This is the version we played although the scenario and map have been revised since.
The game was played out on a 10.5’ X 6’ table with 1/72nd scale toys. Our rule set was Over the Hills, certainly our favourite for battalion level Napoleonics. The scenario (linked on my OTH scenario page) was based on the action on the Côa when Crauford, unwisely lingering on the west side of the Côa in support of the Almeida border fortress in the face of Massena’s invading army, was caught unawares by Ney’s entire 6th Corps. Belatedly realizing the size of the force in front of him, he was forced to beat a hasty retreat over the Rio Côa, executing one of the most difficult maneuvers an army can attempt, a succesful withdrawal over a single bridgehead while under attack. The scenario differs from most as it is almost entirely maneuver, with the Anglo-Portuguese force rewarded for a successful withdrawal over the river and the French rewarded for thwarting that as much as possible.

The Battlefield

The walled area where much of the action takes place and key to the Allied withdrawal.

The bridge over the Côa, over which all of Crauford’s Light Division needed to withdraw.

The Battle

Crauford’s Light Division, arrayed in line of battle, with the 43rd on the division’s left (foreground), the two Caçadore battalions in the centre and the 52nd on the right ( top). The 95th is skirmishing in front. The bridge they need to retreat to is in the upper right, with the walled areas bordering the road on the right.

The French advance in column, with Ferey sending the 32nd Legère off to his left to try and outflank the 52nd.

Our pin map showing Crauford’s opening positions, with Ferrey attacking Barclay’s brigade (left) while Simon engages Beckwith (right). Crauford’s guns and cavalry are on the road at top retreating towards the bridge.

Simon’s troops, breaking into open order behind a dense screen of skirmishers, attack Beckwith’s brigade.

As Ferey’s lead troops charge the 95th, the Rifles melt away (right centre top) evading back towards the walled areas. The 52nd and 3rd Caçadores also fall back in skirmish order.

Beckwith’s brigade also retreats as Lamotte’s light cavalry threaten Crauford’s left (bottom right).

Simon’s troops surge forward, skirmishing with the retreating Rifles.

Lamotte’s cavalry enters the fray, charging in on the 43rd's flank. They are shelled in enfilade from the guns in the Almeida fortress, but still manage to come within spitting distance, threatening the 43rd.

Barclay’s Rifles reach a walled orchard, and stop to fire at the pursuing 82nd.

Ferey’s 32nd Legère try to gain the 52nd’s flank as the British retreat brings them to the rough ground sloping down to the Coa.

Beckwith’s brigade (except the Rifles, still skirmishing with Simon’s skirmish screen) reach the safety of the walled areas before the French horse can make contact. Beyond them the two Portuguese battalions and Barclay’s Rifles are now all lodged behind walls.

The 52nd, on Crauford’s far right, form line on reaching the rough ground leading to the Coa.

Crauford, afraid that the French horse might try to get in behind Beckwith's retreating 43rd, calls the KGL Hussars off from retreating and sends them back to confront the French horse. Just in time, as Lamotte, his pursuit barred by the tall orchard walls, turns his attention towards the road. 

Beckwith continues to pull his brigade back as Loison’s troops prepare to enter the walled area.

Things heat up on Crauford’s right as Ferey’s troops, in open order, stream down from the high ground. The 52nd stand fast, with their Rifles and the 1st Caçadores formed up to their left. In order for access to the bridge to stay open it is vital that this flank hold.

Beckwith’s Rifles in retreat.

Loison’s guns, slowed by rough ground, finally unlimber above the Coa and begin some long distance and ineffective shelling of the enemy.

Simon’s troops swarm down to the walled area but Beckwith continues to put distance between him and the French.

Overview. In the foreground Lamotte and Anson's cavalry square off while above that Beckwith begins to put some space between him and Simon. At the top Barclay, needing to protect the road leading to the bridge has stopped and formed up, offering battle to Ferey’s massing troops.

On Crauford’s right the 52nd take advantage of the 66th, whose battalions have bunched up in their pursuit of the enemy. A hard fought battle sends 4/66th and 6/66th back in a rout, but leaves the 52nd badly battered. Ferey forms up the 32nd and 5/66th in column and charges the 52nd while the 82nd engages the Rifles. The 52nd are routed and flee across the river but the attacking French are too beat up to pursue.

Lanmotte leads the 3rd Hussars in a charge against the KGL who countercharge. A vicious fight sends both sides reeling back badly battered. Lamotte is killed in the fray.

Meanwhile, on the road to the bridge, one of the British supply wagons have overturned - blocking the road!  French prisoners try to right it at gun point.
The retreating 3rd Caçadores are forced to make their way around. The British guns and Dragoons have already crossed the bridge and taken up supporting positions on the far bank. 

The KGL, seeing that all the infantry have almost made it to the bridge and are safe from cavalry attacks, make a break for the bridge. They escape the pursuing French cavalry but are destroyed by enfilade fire, receiving a volley as they storm past the advancing French infantry.
Below the 43rd and 1st Caçadores have made it to the river edge, while the Rifles cover the retreat from a forward positionand the 3rd Caçadores slip over the bridge.

The French cavalry give pursuit, but Crauford’s division has disappeared into the Coa’s valley.

3rd Caçadores march away to safety, with the Royal Horse Artillery now firing in support from the west bank of the Coa.

The 43rd fall back from the knoll to the banks of the Coa. Simon’s troops are still well out of contact and Ferrey’s brigade too beat up to pursue.

The 43rd follow the 1st Caçadores over the Coa, with Barclay’s 95th forming the rearguard. The Rifles endure a bit of desultory sniping from the approaching French but slip away intact well before Loison can make contact.

Final overview. The 43rd crossing the bridge with the Rifles forming a rear guard. Simon’s troops, intact but never able to close, too late come pouring down towards the river. Both sides lost one unit (Crauford lost the KGL Hussars while Ferey lost his battered 32nd to artillery fire) and the French also suffered the loss of Lamotte. Because Crauford managed to get all but one of his units over the Coa, the Anglo-Portuguese score a very narrow win!


  1. Great idea using a map as well as the table view

  2. Thank you. The map idea isn't mine, actually, Brian had read about it in some wargaming article. But it was really key to the absent player staying on top of the big picture.

  3. A fantastic 'rendition' of Coa and excellent example of play-by-internet Bill. Your terrain is outstanding and lovely figures. It's a great battle to recreate with its rearguard action and race for the bridge, isn't it? Sounds like yours lived up to expectations.
    How was the experience for Brian? I'd imagine that it would be more of a true commander experience (direction from afar) and that would add tension and excitement, but one would miss the tactile and visual joy of 'being there'?

    1. Thanks for the kind comments, James. You are right, it was a terrifically fun battle to play. I have tweaked the scenario since so that the end game is even more dramatic as Simon's troops are able to be more closely involved instead of just giving chase the whole game.
      Brian says he enjoyed it very much, and although not the same as "being there" it was a satisfying approximation. The Facetime really allowed him to see exactly where his units were going and tweak them as necessary but I think you are right, the map allowed him to think big picture as a commander as well. As he lives half the year (with all his toys) half way around the globe, we will certainly do this again with him in the driver's seat.

  4. A great looking and well executed game, well done.

  5. Great looking terrain and figures!

  6. Great looking terrain and figures!