08 February 2022
Words and photos by Jon Sutherland. Game by Loughton Strike Force Wargames Club
Each Command Decision aims to offer a series of playable options in timeless military scenarios. Command Decision is designed so you can read the situation and figure out your own command decisions if you were leading the troops on the ground. You can either work through the various options or use the mechanics to create the precise circumstances of the table top engagement. The scenarios may have particular historical themes and settings, but you can easily adapt the mechanics to suit your own preferences and collections.
On February 26, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped exile on Elba and on March 20, he returned to Paris, met by delirious crowds. Louis XVIII fled the city and Napoleon launched what would become known as his Hundred Days campaign.
La Haye Sainte, a walled farmhouse compound sits at the bottom of an escarpment on the road from Charleroi to Brussels. Up the road is La Belle Alliance, the headquarters of Napoleon Bonaparte and his 70,000 plus army. Facing him is a coalition of units from across Europe led by the Duke of Wellington either side of the Brussels road, stationed beyond the ridge behind the farm.
ROLE & COMMAND
You are Major Konrad Ludwig Georg Baring, born in Hannover in 1773 and an officer in the King’s German Legion. You command the 2nd Light Battalion and have been tasked with fortifying and defending the farm complex. Your men are supported by some of the 1st Battalion, a Nassau regiment and the light company of the 5th Line KGL. Most of your men are armed with the Baker rifle.
Sometime during the night someone thought it would be a great idea to wrench the courtyard doors off their hinges and break up the wood for a fire. You take possession of the farm just after first light and cannot know how long you have before the French attempt to sweep you aside. It is clear that both Napoleon and Wellington can see the strategic importance of the farm and you must ready your men and defences.
WARGAMING THE PHASES
This is really too good an opportunity to miss after putting in all of the effort to set up the table. You could play the battle running from around 1300 to 2100 as a series of half hour turns (this would give you 16 turns), or you could play out the game as a series of set-pieces to recreate the phases of the battle in and around the farm. The following table suggests how this can be achieved:
The first thing to point out is the need to “pinch” the battlefield. This is a game that will benefit from being run length-wise with the farm about half to two-thirds up the table away from the French start line. You want to encourage the players to be engaged in and around the farm complex which lies length-wise up the table on the left of the main road. Wargamers being wargamers will avoid awkward defensive positions and try and work their way around them and orientating the table this way
helps to ensure that this is the last thing they are able to achieve.
The ground should be fairly flat until after the farm where it starts to rise onto an escarpment, the position of the main Allied lines. The farm should be the dominating feature of the tabletop, so make sure you include the gardens and walling and give the whole complex a fairly big footprint.
The terrain should have scattered trees here and there, but mostly the ground will be a selection of fields with some hedges. Don’t forget to include the orchard that was alongside the farm.
ORDERS OF BATTLE
These orders of battle list combatants that were involved in and around the farm.
The French should be allowed to fire eight guns at long range at the farm for a maximum of three turns (or until their own infantry blocks the target). The French should also have access to at least one cuirassier unit to attack any defenders that are foolhardy enough to try and come out of the farm to engage the French.
PLAYING SKIRMISH STYLE
The other alternative to a traditional set piece or phases is to tackle the fight around the farm as a skirmish action. This allows you to play the game on smaller table and to focus all of the action around the farm itself and inside the buildings. Ideally you could play the game using Sharp Practice or another set of skirmish rules. The French should attack in two waves, simulating the first by the 54th and 55th and the second attack by 13th.
* Note: These figures are available to the Allied player if the French cuirassiers get within charge distance of any Allied unit; they begin the game at the edge of the table.
Both Warlord Games and Italeri have their own La Haye Sainte boxed sets with the farm and figures included. The figure contents do differ with the Italeri one offering you 32 British rifles, 32 British infantry, a paltry 32 French infantry and three guns and crews in addition to the farm itself. The Warlord version has an MDF farmhouse, a metal Major Von Baring, 15 metal King’s German Legion, 5 King’s German Legion light infantry and 36 French Light Infantry (30 plastic and 6 metal). They also do a super deluxe version (at £347) with additional figures including 6 French Voltigeurs, Marshall Ney, 4 French casualties, a mounted French Officer and an extra 36 French Infantry, 6 Luneberg Light Infantry, 6 x 95th rifles and 36 Hanoverians plus some other bits and pieces. With the exception of the cavalry and a distinct lack of artillery, this set provides you with pretty much everything you’d need to fight the whole battle.
Both Leven and Irregular Miniatures have the farm complex in 6mm. Hovels and 4 Ground make 15mm versions. Brigade Models sell a 2mm version of the farm. Cigar Box has a La Haye Sainte Gaming Mat.
These can focus around the defence of a pivotal centrally located strongpoint in the middle of the battlefield. World War Two lends itself to this kind of thing with German festung on the Eastern Front or key bunker complexes on the Atlantic Wall. Early examples include the Egyptian camp at Kadesh, defensive positions around Richmond and Petersburg in the American Civil War or back in Napoleonic times, the Great Redoubt at Borodino.
LA HAYE SAINTE: FACT CHECK
It was Ney’s second attack that really saw the heaviest fighting around the farm. He attacked with around 1800 men and hit the west side of the farm: the fighting was intense, but the defenders were running out of ammunition. French Lieutenant Vieux at the head of some engineers broke through the main gate and Baring ordered his men back into the rear garden. On the ridge, the Prince of Orange sent the 5th and 8th Line Battalions K.G.L. forward. They hit the flank of the 13th Legere and were then hit themselves by French Cuirassiers. The 8th were so badly mauled they barely played a role afterwards. The Allies fell back to the ridge and the Prince of Orange sent Colonel Ompteda to reform the 5th and attack again, only for the battalion to be cut down by French cavalry. Ompteda died in the kitchen garden.
The French held the farm for some time, but – when the Old Guard broke later in the day – some retired into the farm’s orchard and tried to reform. The Allies forced them out of the trees and the remnants of the farm garrison fled with them.
At Waterloo, the French lost over 33,000 men (killed, wounded or captured) and the Allies and the Prussians around 22,000.
The last words should be Baring’s: “The Division, which was terribly tired and had suffered infinitely, spent the night lying on the battlefield, and of the 400 men with which I had entered the battle I now had no more than 42. According to who I could ask, the answers came: dead! - wounded! - I freely admit that I instinctively wept tears at this news and also at so great a bitterness I felt helplessly take possession of me.“
Cigar Box’s La Haye Sainte Gaming Mat
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