With the terrain for Wavre still set up from our game earlier in the week we were able to revisit the battle, this time as a multiplayer affair. The Prussians were to be commanded by Jon and Adrian, while the French were commanded by Alastair and I.
As previously, elements of III Corps were launched at Wavre and spurred on by Grouchy. They took first the suburbs on the southern bank before ejecting the Prussians on the northern bank. Below, at 3pm the situation as III Corps begin to advance on Wavre. Bierges is visible in the centre and Limale on the extreme left.
Repulsing Prussian counterattacks Grouchy began to slowly reinforce his hold on Wavre. A tenacious French advance on to the fields north of Wavre was later countered by Prussian Landwehr and Berthezène’s Division was driven back through Wavre. In the process the bridges over the Dyle at Wavre were finally lost.
Around Bierges things were equally desperate. Here Vandamme, commander of III Corps, took a slightly more cautious approach. Rather than execute an immediate attack he first bombarded the Prussian defenders on the opposite bank using a combination of 12 pounders supported by lighter horse artillery as well as the batteries allocated to various infantry brigades. Thielmann countered with his own artillery, though it was less effective. As Prussian casualties increased replacement Prussian regiments were pushed forward. At this point Vandamme ordered the first of a series of attacks that would last for several hours. Below, the situation around Bierges just prior to the crossing of the Dyle at this point.
Around 8.30pm a bridgehead over the Dyle was secured at Bierges. Eventually comprising two brigades of from Pecheux’s 12th Division and Domon’s cavalry. Grouchy moved between his troops encouraging his veterans. The French were subjected to a desperate counterattack around 9pm that forced some French formations back across the Dyle. Undeterred, the bridgehead was reinforced and as darkness began to intervene Shoeffer’s brigade and III Corps heavy artillery, having repulsed another Prussian counterattack, held Bierges and the associated bridge across the swollen Dyle River. As last light fell Hulot’s Division began to cross the Dyle.
Alas at Limale the battle was unfolding very differently. The Prussians 19th Line, not part of Thielemann’s III Corps, held the village. The Prussians deployed forward of the village on the banks of the Dyle. With the Prussians soon to be reinforced by additional troops the French attempted to secure the crossing by coup de main. A series of attacks began around 5.30pm with later ones supported by artillery. Around 7.30pm, and having suffered heavy casualties, the Prussian 19th Line broke. However, the Prussian defenders had by now been reinforced by the Prussian 12th Brigade (Division) and later by elements of the Prussian cavalry reserve. Constrained by enemy positions only two French brigades were to establish a fragile footing across the Dyle. Alas, each was thrown back by determined Prussian counterattacks. In all five French attacks across the Dyle would have been made with all eventually unsuccessful.
Below, one of the many failed attempts to cross at Limale.
As darkness fell on the 18th of June the butcher’s bill was significant. Two Prussian Divisions of III Corps had collapsed or been eliminated, while a third was exhausted. Only Luck’s weak Infantry Division and Hobe’s Cavalry Division were combat effective, and then only marginally. French losses were equally horrific with many divisions suffering significant casualties. Some in particular had suffered terribly. Habert’s Division had collapsed, while Berthezène and Vichery’s Division were exhausted. It was true that a bridgehead had been achieved. However, with the decision at Waterloo soon to be known, both commanders opted to disengage rather than renew battle on the 19th.
Another excellent refight of Wavre. As previously the game ran to around four hours of playing time and covered the fighting from 3pm to 10pm or seven turns of play. There are of course only limited tactical options in this battle, being only three places to cross the Dyle. Yet all players were faced with on-going problems of when to attack, how to attack and how to reinforce success. Wavre, Bierges and Limale all require different approaches. Truely fascinating…