Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An extended front

Central Catalonia, 22nd November 1713

So this is the campaign situation right now, at its hotest front:



Quite logically, Marquis of Poal has chosen to withdraw his army (A) face to Marquis of Aitona's superior forces (D) --thus denying them any immediate chance to fall upon and destroy those.

Balance of forces all along the front line --some 50 miles from south to north-- are as follows:

CATALANS

(A) Marquis of Poal at El Bruc heights, leading:
4 Dragoons Squadrons
2 Hussars Squadrons
4 Infantry Regiments
1 Miquelets Regiment
4 Independent Companies of Fusiliers and irregular Miquelets
1 Pioneers Regiment (a penal battalion in fact)
2 Light batteries

(B) General Prado heavily entrenched at Vilafranca town, with:
1 Horse Squadron
4 Infantry & Marine Regiments
2 Miquelets Regiments
1 Battalion-sized unit of Sometent (=peasant militia)
1 Medium battery
1 Light battery

(C) General Desvalls commanding Cardona fortress with:
2 Dragoons Squadrons
1 Infantry Regiment
1 Heavy battery

Besides, there are a few scattered units, like Fiona Mc Gregor IR (1), the Royal Catalan Guards lead by De Ramon (2), or Saint Eulàlia IR (3); or even smaller, hardly significant detachments all around.

SPANIARDS

(D) Marquis of Aitona at Igualada town, commanding:
2 Horse Guard Squadrons
2 Horse Squadrons
2 Dragoons Squadrons
2 Foot Guard Battalions
7 Infantry Battalions
1 Heavy battery
1 Medium battery

(E) General Areizaga at Montblanc town, leading:
2 Horse Squadrons
2 Dragoons Squadrons
3 Infantry Battalions

(F) General Lanzos at Penedès plains with:
6 Horse Squadrons
2 Dragoons Squadrons
4 Infantry Battalions

(4) General Carvajal at Cervera town with:
2 Horse Squadrons
2 Light batteries

Worth to be noted the presence of two armies else, out of map but very close to its area:

Duke of Popoli garrisoning Balaguer town (4 hexes E to Cardona fortress):
2 Dragoons Squadrons
3 Infantry Battalions
1 Heavy battery

General Velasco garrisoning Tarragona city (2 hexes S to Montblanc town):
1 complete Infantry Battalion
3 depleted Infantry Battalions

As you can see, this is a far from easy-to-handle situation. King Philip's forces do clearly outnumber those of the Principality --but these are holding strong points actually or potentially easy to defend, placed at key points in the Spanish route toward Barcelona city. Your thoughts and suggestions to either side are warmly welcome! (either public or private).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Déjà vu

Igualada, 21st November 1713

At the headquarters of Marquis of Aitona, commander of the Spanish army in Catalonia, a group of high officials are carefully studying a map spread on table.

At one point General Torremayor exclaims, satisfied: --We have the rebel army just a few miles away; when we catch them, it will be their end!

Contrary to what one might expect, Marquis of Aitona expression is stern and worried. He briefly shakes head to deny and replies: --We shall not be able to do so. They can slip from our faces without any difficulty. Their 2 regiments of Dragoons, as well as their Hussars, can hold our own cavalry with no effort, while the bulk of their army withdraws undisturbed. What does it mean, gentlemen?

The officers then look at the map again, perplexed. Its is General Bracamonte who finally responds in a low voice: --Well... they will get to El Bruc pass, where they can entrench themselves on the heights.

Marquis of Aitona sternly nods: --True. And now look at this, gentlemen. Look at the moves to their rear. Their Engineers battalion has just arrived in El Bruc, along with several batteries.

--Obviously, they intend to fortify their position there. --Torremayor says.

--And, as they have completely fortified Vilafranca too... that means...

--It means that they're about to completely block the two main routes to Barcelona. It's a repetition of the 1711 battle.

Silence hangs over the meeting attendees. Many of them still remember the terrible events of Prats de Rei, the most massive and terrible battle in this long war, which spread in a thirty miles front for over two months (September-December 1711). As on that occasion, the Catalans now intended to block them over a vast frontage --this time, without the Imperial assistance, though.

True that the front's northern flank was relatively unprotected --but there ominously stood, to perpetual ridicule of King Philip, the undefeated fortress of Cardona Castle.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lettre de marque (3): On sail

Balearic Sea, 20th November 1713

Antoni Ginard walked absently through the central gangway, both hands linked to his rear, while considering their next step. It was a brilliant autumn day. The southwestern cape of Majorca Island slid smoothly by the port side of the galley. A quick glance to the foresail confirmed him that a soft Mestral wind remained constant. Oars would not be needed until they reached Palma harbour.

He leaned on the rail, taking a look to the oarsmen deck. Just three feets under the gangway were the heads of the galliots. Two hundred and fifty-five oarsmen, one third of them, free men. These last occupied positions closer to the central line of the hull, in their respective benches, acting as bogavants and directing the efforts of all the people in his oar, when needed. One could barely distinguish between ones and the others looking for their chains. In any other aspect, it was a weather-beaten, homogeneous mass of stinky humanity, organized in the tight geometrical disposition dictated by benches, oars and narrow deck.

Ginard observed young Mateu moving among the resting oarsmen, making them drink some kind of beverage. Adding him to the galley crew had been one of his firstly decisions while still anchored in Mataró. Of course, he was not a real doctor. Or at least, not in the formal sense of word. But both his medical knowledge and his genuine will to relieve suffering of the others had nothing to envy to what any true doctor whom Ginard had ever met in the past could demonstrate. Not to say that true doctors would prefer solid ground to any hell-smelling galley. He knew he could consider himself fortunate to count with a man like Bernat in his crew. It would be needed to keep an eye on him, though. Sometimes, his dedication could border the obsession.

Ginard resumed his slow walking to the bow, while his eyes tried to perceive any unusual detail. The Americo Vespuccio galley proved to be in pretty good shape. He had taken this first journey from Mataró to Palma as a chance to get used to the ship. He had explored the different galley performances using either oars, sails, and combination of both. Galleys were not amongst his favourite vessels, but Ginard was pretty aware this galley would have to be his working tool in the next weeks.

Their first problem would be weather, of course. Winter was at the gates. The short freeboard of a galley meant that the ship could take water in even a moderately rough sea. And, even worse, when faced to significant swell the long and narrow hull of the galley could cause the ship to break into two. In winter, the yet hard living conditions of a galley crew would get worse, not to talk about all kind of diseases eventually falling upon the galliots, with their nearly non-existent protection against weather. As a compensation, this same shallow draft and oars would allow Ginard to take full advantage of their knowledge on Eastern Iberian coastal waters. They'd be able to navigate through obstacles that would be impassable otherwise, a useful resource to flee from heavier and more powerful ships, or for choosing any unlikely place to disembark. And, most probably, it seemed reasonable to consider that the Spanish galley fleet would remain inactive while in her usual hibernating season.

Considering all these factors, Ginard felt himself inclined to short sorties, perhaps no more than four days long, using quick hit and run tactics while trying to take profit of any good weather period, as well as keeping ship and crew in their best possible condition. Calm winds and shallow waters would be their allies. His galley would be as a glass knife, sharp but fragile. He ought to look for the right conditions to make every blow to count.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Dilatory manoeuvre

Madrid, 20th November 1713

As expected, King Philip held an urgent meeting with his Council of State to deal with the increasing diplomatical pressure on the Kingdom for putting an end to war. It was agreed that such pressure had become too insistent and risky to ignore. However, the recent victories of the Spanish Army on the field strongly suggested that Catalan resistance was close to breaking down.

It was finally agreed a dilatory manoeuvre, hopefully enough to keep calm the Chancelleries of Europe for a while: a formal request would be sent to Catalonian authorities for a first round of peace conversations, to be held at Cartagena in Christmas Day.

--Nothing must be passed to that Lady Elisenda, however --Alberoni remarked sharply--. She must be kept unaware of such invitation.

The French Ambassador, who was a permanent member of King Philip's Council of State, reluctantly agreed to send word to Versailles asking for Princess Elisenda to be retained in Paris with some etiquette excuses. Not without a previous bitter discussion, however.

Simultaneously, orders would be delivered to the supreme commander of the Spanish Army in Catalonia, so that a significant victory ought to be sought before Christmas Day, through an ultimate offensive over Barcelona.

So, following the orders received, Marquis of Aitona put his army on the march on Igualada, where the Catalan column of Marquis de Poal had withdrawn the week before. Reinforcement troops from Lleida and Tarragona were also called for, and the Spanish southern Army was mobilized again toward Vilafranca, where another Catalan force had entrenched itself deeply.

The cards were on table. The following month would be decisive.