The Siege of San Sebastian (1813)

Sunday 29 September 2019 witnessed our refight of the Siege of San Sebastian (1813) at Rob's War Room. Phil was umpiring, and by consensus was considered to have outdone his own high standards with the terrain, which looked spectacular.

The town of San Sebastian was situated on a headland in Basque country, northern Spain. It was one of the last outposts of Napoleon's French, and a target for Wellington's army. The game replayed the second siege, which ended historically in a British victory.

Brian, Paul (a guest from Ohio, USA), Noel, and Patrick were on the French side, defending the town. Rob, Doug, Philip, Greg, and Kyle (Rob's nephew) were on the British team, aiming to capture it.

In what proved to be a packed game with much going on, the British were arrayed in three main groups of units in lines of circumvallation south of San Sebastian. While Doug and Greg/Kyle approached the walls along saps, Rob's Portuguese had to traverse mud flats to reach two breaches from the previous siege. Meanwhile, Philip commanded a flotilla of boats manned by sailors and marines. The French placed their garrison, and awaited the assault.

Turns 1-5

Play began at 11.30 am. The British fired artillery at the fortifications and Doug and Rob's skirmishers moved off. Doug set off a mine in the hornwork, which made a breach. Rob began to move his Portuguese infantry onto the mud flats. Philip's boats were initially slow to get going, aiming to assault the headland from the northwest. Doug channelled his infantry through the sap, while Noel fired his French guns from the fort at Greg and Kyle's troops. Doug's troops moved up to the glacis. Rob had by now lost 6 skirmishers to Paul's 1 during his assault. By turn 5, Philip's boats were moving parallel to the coastline, and coming under fire from Brian's artillery (1 boat was lost, with sailors treading water!). Doug's skirmishers mounted the mine-hit hornwork (but were blocked by a single heroic French infantry unit), with his infantry moving up to the glacis. Noel set off a grenade, killing 3 of Doug's skirmishers!

Turns 6-10

Rob continued his trudge across the mud-flats towards the town walls, but had lost 9 skirmishers to Paul's effective fire (skirmishers had up to 8 actions each!) Philip lost another boat to Brian's fire, and spent time trying to salvage his floundering sailors. Doug, Rob, and Greg and Kyle continued to make progress advancing towards the fortifications. Rob's infantry started to take casualties, however. Philip landed two boats by the quay near the castle 'Mota'. Meanwhile, Doug moved infantry up to the hornwork walls, and Patrick deployed French infantry on the walls to face Rob's Portuguese assault. Doug endured another grenade attack near his mine-breach by turn 9, with Greg/Kyle's troops now close to the glacis. Philip was under the cosh by turn 10, with two more sailor bases overboard to Brian's fire from the walls, though Brian lost a skirmisher to Philip's infantry landed at the quay.

Turns 11-15

On turn 11, Rob's infantry was just 4 inches from the walls. He also managed to knock out a dangerous French battery on a nearby tower. Patrick threw a grenade at Rob's and Greg/Kyle's troops, but failed to do damage. Greg/Kyle were now going over the glacis. Philip had by now lost 4 boats, but he moved his marines along the quayside, with another boat as decoy continuing further along the town walls to the south. By turn 13, Rob's Portuguese were closing in on the breaches in the walls. Greg and Kyle's infantry began to mount the hornwork. Brian responded to Rob's assault by deploying six infantry units behind barricades thrown up within the town walls. Brian's deployed infantry destroyed two of Rob's infantry units as they passed through the first breach in the walls. By the end of turn 15, Rob had lost all but one skirmisher, and 6 of his infantry units. Doug's infantry, meanwhile, were moving up the hornwork, outflanking the heroic French infantry blocking the mine-breach position.

Turns 16-21

By turn 16, 7 infantry and 4 skirmishers from Greg and Kyle's command had mounted the hornwork. Philip silenced a French battery with fire from his marines ensconced in a tower at the quay. Rob continued to funnel men into the wall breach, but had by turn 17 just four of his 13 units unsuppressed, and soon lost two more destroyed to French fire. Kyle was making progress against Patrick's infantry on the hornwork, however, and Rob had managed to destroy the two French batteries near the breaches. Philip began to scale the western town wall with his sailors (who nimbly dealt with a short ladder - according to legend!) to which Brian reacted by deploying more French infantry. The sailors managed to get onto the battlements, however. Doug destroyed Patrick's unit blocking the mine-breach. By now the French were deployed on all four sides of the walls, and coming under increasing pressure. A mine was detonated by the French under Rob's position, but did no real damage! A grenade attack was more successful, inflicting 8 casualties on Rob's assaulting infantry. Philip now had 3 units on the western battlements, while Rob doggedly continued his assault on the breaches. Noel switched sides when Philip went home at 5.15pm, and through luck and innate genius managed to take two towers on the walls with his sailors in an amazing action! (There is indeed a God, Brian!) Rob continued to take casualties from Patrick and Brian's defenders.

By close of play at 6pm, the French still held the inner town and a gate to retreat to the Mota castle at the tip of the headland. Rob's casualties had been heaviest, with 9 infantry and all but one skirmishers destroyed. But he had made a brave assault, while the other players pinned the French down and tightened the noose. All in all, the town had not been taken. But it could be called a draw - with the French having nowhere to hide and only one place to run - with the British on the verge of victory.

Thanks to Phil for umpiring, rules, figures, and terrain; to Rob for hospitality, and to all who played, in what was a memorable club game.