Sunday 21 April 2024

Wavre Refight 28mm

Here's a report on the refight of Wavre at Christchurch Wargaming club here in New Zealand yesterday, together with some thoughts on the scenario and rules for it. :)

Paul and Ion commanded the Prussian defence, while Chris, Andrew and Andy attacked as the French.
Chris and I supplied most of the French figrures with a few supplied by Jonathan. Paul, Alan and Jonathan supplied the Prussians, and huge thanks to Alan and Jonathan who did so despite being busy with other affairs!

For a quick video overview of the battle, see this!

Forces and Scenario

This is one of the lesser known, but theoretically important actions during the Waterloo campaign, with Marshal Grouchy pursuing the Prussians north to Wavre to try and prevent them joining up with Wellington's Army at Waterloo. This followed the allied defeats at Quatre Bras and Ligny on the previous days.

Historically the French attack started at about 4pm, which was really too late to interfere with Prussian troop movements towards Waterloo. So as is commonly done, this game was a slightly hypothetical "what if" game asking what could have happened if the French pressed the attack earlier from about noon. In recognition of this also, while in the historical battle for the Prussians, Borcke's Division marched off and left Thielmann to it, we said that since the French attack started 3-4 hours earlier Borcke would have been recalled and available for the Prussians.

Rules were 321 rules as usual, available in tab on top right of this blog.

Regarding troop gradings for the scenario - firstly, the Light battalions for the French I graded as veterans, partly for balance reasons, but also because the French fought hard and did manage some (temporary) successes in capturing the bridges at Wavre. Theoretically light battalions were a class above line, though this arguably more of a theoretical than practical distinction in the later Napoleonic period.

The Swiss battalion was graded as veteran because they were made up of ultra-loyalists to Napoleon who stayed with him after the rest of the Swiss had gone home. They also attacked the barricaded Bridge of Christ at Wavre so relentlessly and repeatedly that they were essentially wiped out in this battle, which implies much higher morale than is common.

All the Prussian Landwehr were rated as regular rather than recruit or raw in this battle, as they also fought hard, particularly Luck's division at Wavre itself, and it seems unlikely that many of the French recruits would be of better morale.

The Prussian defence was also somewhat odd here, though of course they were suffering from some confusion in retreat and we have the benefit of hindsight.  They barricaded only the central but not the west Wavre bridge. Giving the Prussians the benefit of doubt, I thought perhaps this was due to the location of this west bridge meaning that it was more adequately covered with artillery fire so this is reflected in the map setup. 

The Prussians only bothered to start barricading/damaging the wooden Bierge bridge later in the day, such that they had to complete this under French fire. Rules used include options for this to be done by Sapper units, but here it was done by regular infantry units so I doubled the time needed (to four turns).

Stengel was theoretically guarding/observing Limal, but did a very poor job of this for some reason, with a four rider wide column of Pajol's Hussars charging across the Limal bridge and brushing aside a Prussian picket line to capture it.  On the second day, Stengel also marched off leaving Stupnagel's right flank open. Thus Stengel has only a token presence in the battle, and I also had a rule that the Prussians couldn't advance further west than the West end of the Rixensart woods until alerted by arrival of Pajol's Hussars on turn 3.

Scale: Each square is 60cm, and 90cm is 1km. So battlefield was about 6km x 2km.

French at Wavre 18th June 1815 - Grouchy 1 Reroll

III Corp Vandamme
(1 reroll)


8th Division (Lefol)  2 Vet Light, 7 Line, 1 Foot Bty

10th Division (Habert)  1 Vet Swiss Line, 7 Line, 1 Foot Bty

11th Division (Berthézène)  1 Vet Light, 7 Line, 1 Foot Bty

Reserve Artillery  2 Hvy Bty

IV Corp 

(1 reroll)

C8-9 Res 2

12th Division (Pecheux) 7 Line, 1 Foot Bty

13th Division (Vichery) 7 Line, 1 Foot Bty

14th Division (Hulot) 1 Vet Light, 6 Line, 1 Foot Bty

7th Cavalry Division (Maruin) 2 Hussars
Reserve Cavalry Division (Jacquinot): 2 Dragoons

C2 Res5

21st Division (Teste)  4 Line, 1 Foot Bty

C2 Res3

4th Cavalry Division (Pajol)  2 Vet Hussars, 1 Horse Bty

II Cav Corps - Excelmans
C10 Res2

9th Cavalry Division (Strolz)  3 Dragoon, 1 Horse Bty

10th Cavalry Division (Chastel)  2 Dragoon, 1 Horse Bty

Prussians at Wavre 18th June 1815 - Thielmann 1 Reroll

III Corp


9th Division (Borcke) 1 Vet Leib Line, 3 Line, 7 Landwehr, 1 Foot Bty (A8-9 Res5)

10th Division (Kampfen)  3 Line, 4 Landwehr, 1 Foot Bty (A8-9)

11th Division (Luck)  6 Landwehr, 1 Foot Bty (A-B, 8-9, north of river)

12th Division (Stupnagel)  4 Line, 6 Landwehr, 1 Foot Bty (A-B, 6-7, north of river)

1st Cav Division (Marwitz)  2 Uhlan, 1 Horse Bty  (A9 Res2)

2nd Cav Division (Lottum)  2 Dragoon, 1 Horse Bty (A9 Res2)

Reserve Artillery  2 Hvy Bty (A8)


Limal Garrison 1 Landwehr. Not part of Thielmann’s Corp, lacking orders, garrisoning Limal and cannot leave.

The Battle

A look towards the west down the talble. Vandamme's French Corp on the left, with Luck and Kampfen's Prussian Divisions on the right.

From the French lines of Vandamme, looking towards Wavre which is garrisoned by Luck's division.

Vandamme's Corp formed up for attack, with massed artillery ready to bombard Wavre.

From Prussian lines as the first French assaults go in across the central Bridge of Christ in Wavre.

French players pusing the attack.

Assaulting Wavre.

Pajol's Hussars moving to the attack west of Bierge.

The defenders at Bierge as the French start massing artillery against them and assaulting the bridge.

Behind the Bierge poistion Dragoons head West to defend this flank.

Looking down the table Wavre to Bierge. Borcke has just arrived to the north of Wavre.

At Bierge and note French columns moving towards Limal. 

The French take one of the bridges at Wavre....

And at Bierge...

French columns at Limal heading towards Bierge.

And the French flanking attack arrives at Bierge and starts overwhelming this position.  Luck's Division has lost half its number and one section of Wavre north of the River is captured by the French.

However, it is too late, night is falling, and the French are already falling back at Waterloo as the main Prussian force attacks them in the flank. Grouchy has failed to capture Wavre in time, and while the battle might be a tactical draw, the strategic situation is a loss.

Conclusions and Afterthoughts...

Well that was as expected! This is a very tough ask for the French under all the rules and scenario reports I've reviewed, even if you give the French the advantage of starting the attack at noon rather than 4pm. The players seemed to have fun which is the important thing of course and Chris and Andrew were high fiving as they captured bridges! But this is one of those battles where the victory conditions are best balanced as "can you do better than the historical result" than anything else I think!

I did review several other battlereports of Wavre I found online, played in different scales using a variety of rules, and in none of them did the French manage to capture Wavre in time even when giving them an advantage of extra time.

To give the French an even better chance you could start the attack at dawn, though this would really just result in the decisive attack happening from the West as the French swarmed over the Limal bridge as happened historically, especially the next day on the 19th June 1815. It would be best to represent this area with more table space if so also, and by giving Stengel bit more of a role and having Borcke arrive earlier.

Damnable Bridges?

A key question in this battle - is how hard should it be to capture a barricaded bridge??

I reviewed odds ratios after the battle. The French historically made 13 assaults across the bridges and succeeded 5 times, though they were eventually thrown back across the river everytime. That implies a 38% chance of success in an assault against a barricaded bridge (for this battle at least).

In my 321 rules, some key odds/chances for a successful assault across a barricaded bridge (or into a village section), defended by infantry and assaulted by infantry are approximately:
  • 20% chance of success: Attacker has equal morale and disorder status to the defender
  • 30% chance of success: Attacker has equal morale and better disorder status than than the defender
  • 50% chance of success: Attacker has one higher morale than the defender (so send in the Grenadiers!)
  • 13% chance of success: Attacker has one lower morale than the defender

And also:
  • 40% chance of causing at least one disorder hit to the defender if equal morale.
  • 66% chance of causing at least one disorder hit to the defender if one better morale.

Plus generals can personally lead assaults or defence which further boosts the chance of success though at not insignificant risk to the general themselves!

This also fits with the general military rule of wanting 3-1 odds if attacking a defended position. So if you can concentrate 3 battalions against one in successive attacks they will eventually grind down the defenders and capture the position. The trouble being that the Prussians here could easily rotate out their weakened defenders and replace them with fresh troops, such that a single Prussian division could hold up two French Corp for half a day.

In this refight the French made 15 assaults against the Prussians, and succeeded only three times. The French dice rolls were a bit unlucky, though also the assaults were not as optimised as they might have been in terms of using the veteran units available to their full effect. However, Chris (Vandamme), did make good use of his massed artillery to bombard Wavre and cause heavy casualties to the defenders to the extent that the Prussians eventually evacuated two of the village sectors. In the rules, a heavy artillery battery at effective range has a 33% chance to cause a hit and medium artillery a 22% chance to cause a hit on a unit in a village sector per turn. This can build up steady attrition when you have multiple batteries firing as Vandamme was doing. A battery also has a 2.7% chance of setting village area on fire when bombarding at effective range (double ones, though we likely missed checking on that and I'll excuse it due to everything being damp after the previous nights torrential downpour...!). Artillery could also have been moved to close range to double their fire effect on the village, but that would also have put the artillery crews within musketry range of the defenders so is a risky tactic.

If a village area is assaulted from two or more facings it is much easier to capture, and looking at historical battles attacking a village from the flank as well as the front seemed to be the main method of achieving its capture. However, in this battle the French can't do this due to the river, and furthermore if they make it acorss the river to capture a built up area, the Prussians would typically be in an excellent position to retake it via this method. Indeed something like this seems to have happened each time the French made it across in the historical battle. I think if I was to redo this scenario rather than having a bridge barricade and then village sectors after that, I would rule that the central Wavre village sector included the barricade and was thus captured at the same time if successful. Thus if the French somehow captured and held for a turn, they would have a slightly better chance of moving in more reserves - though not much better.

Overall the odds ratios in the my rules and most others I looked at seem to be about right to give a historical result for this battle.* Wavre is one of those battles that are worth playing more for interest in the historical situation I think (and likely only once!), given how much it boils down to a crapshoot of hoping for lucky attacks across bridges and an obvious flanking manoeuvre. Nonetheless as I said the players seemed to have fun, and these big Napoleonic refights are all about the narrative, spectacle and daring moments, so that is the most important thing! Thanks for reading :)

*Incidentally I checked the Valor and Fortitude (V&F) rules from Perry on this (which are also just four pages long and reasonably quick which is style of rules I favour for big games!). They state bridges count as highways, which must be traversed in march column, but your melee factor drops to 1 die in march column. I highly recommend houseruling the V&F rules to be the same as my own rules here, i.e. so that your combat factor if assaulting across a bridge in march column counts as an attack column in that situation - as otherwise you may as well not bother trying to attack!

Quick Book Review...

Lastly I also got this fine volume from my wife for my birthday today! 

Seems impossible that you could fit so much information into one book, but a quick review suggests it is actually pretty useful and comprehensive. E.g. these are typical pages as examples, here covering Austrian and Prussian Hussars for the later periods (and earlier also covered).

It even has some brief background to the role of the various nations in the conflict, and also goes right back to the revolutionary period when it comes to history and uniforms.

It will no doubt have errors as all such books do in light of more recent research (this is dated 2006 first printing, and not sure if this later 2023 printing has been revised). However, it still looks like a great overview and I would recommend it if you want a single big book on Napoleonic uniforms (and general background history). It will get you a long way into the details I think, and I shall enjoy perusing it.


  1. Thanks for the entertaining day, Mark. I couldn't help comparing with my own Wavre of five (?!) years back. What impressed me most was the level of research you put into the thing.

    I also think it ought to be possible to attack defiles (the Bridge of Lodi!). I thought 'Vandamme's' method: deep columns with heavy artillery support probably could not have been improved upon. Perhaps he might have brought his guns into short range, covered by infantry lines, peeled away the infantry to discover the guns, and then really pound the defenders. Not a lot in it really.

    By the way: the odds of rolling two sixes from four D6 dice is 7.64 to 1 against. Just thought I'd clear that up... ( :-) and have my Spock moment).

    1. Thanks Ion good to have you along!
      And yes those odds are correct, though I can't remember exactly why we were wondering about it lol. Or rather that's the odds of rolling "at least" two dice equaling six, with odds of exactly two sixes on four dice being 8.64 to 1.

    2. Well, 1 chance in 8.64 - which is 7.64 to 1 against - different ways of expressing the same thing.
      But, leaving that aside, the probabilities of forcing barricades that you have suggested are offered by the 3-2-1 rule set seem reasonable - even the 50% shot by elite shock troops against pressed shopkeepers and street beggars. Since we don't really know, that's the best we can do.

  2. You are getting some spectacular games in Mark. Also, a nice gift from your wife there. I have one from the same series on the AWI which is quite useful to fill in the gaps, although there were a couple of errors I picked up on quite early.

    1. Thanks Lawrence, yes I expect I will have the same experience with it!