Sunday, February 6, 2011

Alcaniz 1809

It was time. Time for the 25mm Napoleonic armies to come out and play again, and this time it was a small Peninsular battle: Alcaniz, 23 May 1809 between a Spanish army commanded by Blake, and a French army commanded by Suchet. As usual Adrian and I used our favourite rules set Volley and Bayonet by Frank Chadwick.

(Incidentally, why do we love these rules? Because we are able to refight historical battles at the appropriate level. It's not to our taste to be fighting battles at regimental and divisional level, putting out skirmishers, worrying about going into square etc. VnB allows us to command armies, and therefore focusses ut attention on thois things that would have been the concern of army commanders rather than Divisinal or Brigade commanders. It's a matter of personal taste, I guess.)

Anyway, Alcaniz is a smaller battle in VnB terms, and was a good excuse to drag out the 25mm napoleonic armies. The Spanish under Blake are trying to stop the French under Suchet crossing a river into a town. They have taken up defensive positions on two pieces of higher ground in front of the river and bridge, with a division deployed on their right holding the large area of high ground.

The French advance.


The French diviison in their centre advances towards the high ground held by the smaller of the Spanish divisions.


Meanwhile the Spanish division  on the right withdraws back to the village on the high ground, but is quickly threatened by the French cavalry.


Spanish cavalry has managed to get arounbd the French left flank, and Spanish infantry have advanced from the Spanish left to threaten the French right flank. The French re-deploy some of their brigades to counter this. However the Spanish surprise the French by attacking the flank of the brigade seen here in the left centre of the picture. The French brigade was driven back in the attack. This was the first of several successful local Spanish counterattacks in the game.


The first French attacks, on the high ground in the centre, get underway.


The French lap around the right flank of the central Spanish defence, but are bounced back initially in the face of staunch defence.




The French cavalry first threatens the Spanish rear, but the French commander then withdraws them to his own rear to counter the threat of the extant Spanish cavalry.


By this stage in the battle the Spanish have been pushed off the central heights, and the Spanish line has been turned at right angles to its initial position.




The Spanish have had to reform their defensive line, with three battalions of artillery holding a large section of the line, surrounded by mostly M4 troops and miltia, and just a few regular army regiments.


The Spanish cavalry by this stage was exhausted (having engaged in several successful combats against French infantry, and the French cavalry), but stayed to try to protect the flank of the shrinking Spanish line.


The final French assault against the Spanish line broke through the Spanish line, leaving the entire Spanish army exhausted.

'The Australian Light Horse'

'The Australian Light Horse', Roland Perry, ISBN 978-0-7336-2748-3




I've just finished reading this 512 page work. The book, published in 2009, is one of the best accounts I've read of the Palestine campaigns of the Light Horse, and makes an excellent companion to Terry Kinloch's 'Devils on Horses', his account of the NZ Mounted in the Middle East, or perhaps I should state that the other way around, as the NZ Mounted constituted one brigade in the ANZAC Mounted Division which was of course composed mostly of ALH.




Perry's account is in fact three stories: an account of the Australian Light Horse, Lawrence and the Arab revolt, and Chauvel as a military leader. Perry mantains that Chauvel might in fact be rated as one of the best  'cavalry' commanders of all time, and certainly commanded one of the largest cavalry forces ever seen, with the Desert Mounted Corps peaking at over 33000 men.

Amongst his fascinating conclusions is his extended comment of the impact of the Australians' extraordinary victory at Beersheba, which Perry claims laid the foundation for  post war middle east developments by creating the base for the the remainder of the extraordinary victories in that theatre.

Perry also offers some fascinating insights into the tensions between Chauvel and Lawrence during the liberation of Damascus, and is not afraid to 'call a spade a spade' with his comments on Lawrence's duplicity with the Arab cause,  and his sparing use of the truth in some sections of his famous 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom'.

Perry even affords several pages for the unfortunate affair at Sarafend in which a NZ sergeant was murdered by Arab thieves, resulting in some serious summary judgement by the New Zealanders supported by a number of members of the Australian Light Horse. He is not afraid to lay a part of the blame for this at the feet of Allenby for his dismissive treatment of Chauvel's requests for support in investigating the case.

This is an excellent and extremely readable account of the Australian Light Horse. I thoroughly recommend it.