French Army Command & Structure for Beginners


Definition of terms: Strategic movement: The movements which brought the army to the battlefield. Battlefield strategy: The general plan of attack.

Grand Tactical Movement: The movements of large military organizations on the battlefield (Corps & Divisional). Tactics: The movements of small units: Brigades, Battalions & Companies.


The French Army is the most difficult to command of the three armies engaged in the 100 days Campaign because with them lies the burden of attack. For the beginning, even experienced player, coordinating all the various arms into a smoothly functioning offensive machine is difficult. However, there are ways to succeed. Most importantly, the beginning player must recognize Napoleonic structure and understand that the Napoleonic wargame is fundamentally different from any other. The reason for this is that the three Generals in command of the armies engaged in the 100 days campaign were all military geniuses of the first order. The military structure you inherit from them at Ligne and Waterloo can serve you as a base of operations for a full day’s Napoleonic struggle. The beginning player should strive to maintain this inherent organization for as long as possible. This will not necessarily lead to victory but you will never be badly beaten if you do so, even against the most experienced players.


Structure: The French Army structure at Waterloo is a classic example of perfect Napoleonic organization. With the centrally located Brussels road as the median axis, the French Army is absolutely balanced left, right and center. French II Corps and III Reserve Cavalry Corps are to the left. The I Corps and IV Reserve Cavalry Corps are to the right. In the center is a powerful reserve: VI Corps and its sturdy attached cavalry as well as the Imperial Guard with its cavalry arrayed right and left. Use the full screen map to gauge the structure. One feature of the Talonsoft battleground system is the jump map. Flash the jump map on and create an image of the French Army in its original dispositions. As the battle progresses, look frequently at the jump map. As the initial image slowly and progressively disintegrates, as it must, you will see the gradual deterioration of your original structure. As your structure erodes, so does control. In the beginning, all your units are in command and all are mutually supportive. As you commence to move thing around, structure breaks down and when it does, your problems multiply and the military situation becomes a mind-bending maze of arduous and often seemingly impossible decisions. Thus the essential problem: How does one wage a Napoleonic battle knowing that we must move units to attack and win, while maintaining the original Napoleonic organization for as long as possible?


The answer to this intrinsic problem is to fight the battle with as few units as possible, relying upon ECONOMY to defeat the opponent while reducing one’s own organizational and command problems. For example, the French Army at Waterloo consists of 12 infantry divisions, 24 brigades, and c. 75 infantry battalions which usually detach hundreds of skirmish companies. There are also 10 cavalry divisions, of 21 brigades, which can be broken down into, again, at least a hundred squadrons. If you begin the game, as many experienced players do, by moving every unit, you have therefore hundreds of both tactical and strategic problems to deal with every time you crank up. Not only is this very time consuming, but the myriad of decisions you need to make both on a small unit tactical level (zones of control, formation changes, enemy fire etc.) and large scale strategic level (where to go with each large scale organization, are they in command?, are they mutually supportive?, etc.) will, especially for the beginning player, lead to organizational problems, strategic errors and eventual rout & defeat. When you play the French in the Twin Battles (PTW) add on another 10 divisions of infantry and 6 divisions of cavalry. If you put every unit on the road immediately, you are faced with more than enough decisions to baffle even the most experienced wargamer, if not the military genius. Since most of us are not the latter (myself included), they way to reduce decision making and the prospect for error is to discern the structure we inherit from Napoleon and to maintain that construction for as long as possible. Fundamentally, you begin the game with an army assembled for you by a military genius. That makes you a genius on game turn one, if not later.


I’ve made these arguments before in the Napoleonic Forum and dissenting voices say that the French deployments at Waterloo are flawed because Napoleon did not know the Prussians were coming from the east. However, none of those voices could ever logically offer better dispositions. One suggestion was to deploy the centrally located VI Corps further east. However, that only reduces French flexibility with no appreciable gain; since at its central position VI Corps can deal with the Prussians but also be used left and center if one chooses to deal with the Prussians in another way. Another suggestion was to deploy II Corps further west to facilitate a turning movement left. This idea comes without appreciation about just how difficult it is to deploy 80,000 men for battle sans enemy interference: For if you move too close or fundamentally threaten the enemy’s position they will start shooting. The trick is to gauge that fine line correctly and to then successfully deploy the army so that one’s strategic vision, which is the idea behind the dispositions, may be carried out upon one’s own fashion, in a rapid or leisurely manner. If you think army deployment is easy, use the scenario editor and place the French Army at dawn in the vicinity of the Brussels road and Placenoit and attempt to deploy against an active opponent.


The efforts to discredit Napoleon’s deployments at Waterloo are illogical and it is apparent: One only needs look at the dispositions to see the inherent balance and power therein. Prussian arrival is a problem to be sure. However, it can be dealt with from the present dispositions. What’s more, Prussian arrival should be looked upon as an opportunity! Since your opponent probably has never actually proficiently deployed an army for battle; because we usually get them deployments ready made, and since he is probably pressed to assist the British/Dutch Army, you can almost count on your opponent to screw it up! With the Guard in reserve, you have a good occasion to jump on him and turn a seeming defeat into victory or at least a draw. The key here is to be prepared to play a full 44 game turn battle. Most players are not primed emotionally and psychologically to do this. It takes a long time, real patience, protracted strategic planning, guts and endurance. People want to play these games for fun. A 44 turn, gut-wrenching battle, which may take 6 months or longer to play, is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most players are more used to a 12 turn Panzerblitz/Squad Leader tactical kind of game in which we close rapidly with the enemy with all available force and seek quick resolution before the clock expires. A Napoleonic Battle of Nations is something completely different.


The Napoleonic battle is an OPERATIONAL game. An example of a military operation is the German 1944 Ardennes Offensive. The original deployments of the German divisions determine the subsequent military movements. The Napoleonic dispositions do the same on a smaller scale. The structure you inherit from Napoleon on June 18, 1815 should determine your ensuing strategic and grand tactical movements. Remember, the deployment you see for the French Army is not a mere snapshot of a brief moment in time, showing the transient location of the French Army on its way from someplace, to another place. The army configuration at 11:00 AM June 18, forms the basis for your operation. Again, it’s important to stress that you don’t have to do this. One of the joys of wargaming is the ability to alter history and to do whatever one wants. However, if we wish to enter the realm of 19th century military movements, and capture the spirit and mood of a Napoleonic battle, then we need to plan and execute our battles within the structure of the 19th century military operation in which the original location of the army was a steady anchor, a positional benchmark, determined by the commander to be the best place from whence the army might best carry out the strategic vision. For us, the dispositions we inherit can make out task easier to attain if we at least attempt to recognize the structural foundation for the day’s battle. If we rip it apart from the get go we are like reeds in the wind, whom by chance might be blown into the bosom of success, but then perhaps not. With Napoleon’s deployments as our bedrock we can know we are always on sure ground. Anyone who doubts these assertions should read the plentiful battle maps available in David Chandler’s great book on the Napoleonic wars. A brief study will show that once an army was deployed for battle, the units of that army seldom moved very far from their original dispositions, even in battles that lasted a few days.


Command: Army command begins Napoleon & Ney at Waterloo with Grouchy also in Army Command in PTW. Those fellow’s command rating (small “c” on the unit icon) are “C” and “B” respectively, which means Napoleon has 4 chances in 6 (on a six sided die roll) to pass on his modifier to the next level of command (Corps) with Ney, and Grouchy 5 of 6. Their hex range is unlimited and so too for the numerous French Corps commanders, All those fellows have unlimited range as well, and your command problems only become tangible on the Divisional & Brigade levels. Each of your Division commanders must be within 6 hexes of the Brigade commanders who must be within 3 hexes of their individual Battalions to pass along the modifiers, which by now, due to the concise and well structured French command system, is 5 chances in 6 for a successful re-ordering of any disordered battalion, and 6 of 6 in PTW, provided the units are “in command.” This is why, many times, you will see your command report say, for example, 35 units undisordered out of 35 units checked. The program will not check units in woods, town or rough terrain hexes. If you keep undisordered units in clear terrain they will almost always reorder, provided to don’t get Ney & Grouchy killed.


I can’t stress too much, how important it is to maintain the command structure. This is the single most important aspect of TS Napoleonic wargaming. Once a unit disorders and is outside the appropriate command link, it will re-order 1 chance in 6 and you can wait a long time for that to happen; sometimes the whole game. Units become disordered sometimes when they pass through obstructed terrain, after melee and most often, when they take casualties during an enemy fire phase. In the enemy DEFENSIVE PHASE if your unit fails a moral check (6-sided die roll based upon your battalion’s moral), it will disorder. Regular infantry, which have a moral of “4” will disorder on any roll higher than that. ELITE INFANTRY (moral of 5,6, 7,& 8 ) will never disorder in an enemy defensive phase unless they suffer from high fatigue and/or are hit in flank. In an enemy OFFENSIVE PHASE, units always disorder if they take a hit and rout if they fail the moral check. So, regular infantry will rout on a roll of “5” or more, while ELITE will only rout if there are extra modifiers applied. For example, disordered units check moral with a +2 modifier, attacked in flank in another +2, so a disordered ELITE unit with a moral of “7” attacked in flank will have a cumulative +4 added to the die roll. So it’s possible they can rout too. The French Army has three problem units: One is the 1st Infantry Division who’s 1st Brigade commander went over the hill. To keep this brigade in command you must keep its units within 3 hexes of divisional commander Quiot, which means this division had a limited range of operation. A good chore for this brigade is to hold the town of La Belle Alliance. With skirmishers in front, enemy fire will always be reduced –3 on a twelve sided dice roll. The Brits can fire away at long range all day and not score a hit. Another similar brigade is The Empresses’ Dragoons, the 2nd Brigade of the Imperial Guard Heavy Cavalry. Like the 1st Infantry, the Empresses’ Dragoons must be within 3 hexes of divisional commander Guyot to remain in command. The third is the 14 Infantry Division assigned to IV Corps on the French right wing in PTW. Division commander Hulot must stay within 3 hexes of 1st Brigade units to keep them in command. With these exceptions, French divisions have a wide range of operation, much further than their Allied counterparts. A centrally located French divisional commander can deploy for action units 18 hexes in range left and right compared to 12 for a Prussian or British/Dutch commander. It’s a big difference.


Battlefield Movements (Grand Tactics): Take a look at your deployments and don’t try to do anything radically different from what Napoleon set up. The Twin Battles (PTW) is an interesting military problem for the French. On the left wing, before Quatre Bras (QB) the battle is a meeting engagement, i.e. the forces are not deployed but instead meet in a fluid battle of maneuver. On the right wing, the French are deployed for battle and your best bet is to simply use the units as Napoleon intended: Use III Corps & the attached 7th Division of II Corps to attack straight through St. Amand town and village and break through. Just take a look at the map, see the direction your forces are pointed at and send them in. Use one brigade per division to achieve your ends, keeping one in reserve. Bring up the artillery reserve, attached to the Guard, to support the attack. Same with IV Corps: Send one division in to take Ligne, keep one in reserve, and send Hulot’s 14th division forward to defend against a Prussian player who might attack you with Prussian III Corps. Your artillery batteries set to fire with III & IV Corps are all well placed and avoid moving them automatically, even if they have no apparent targets, just in case the Prussian counter-attacks. Remember, the Prussian army is very powerful and in the hands of an experienced aggressive player, he can come at you. Those big 24 pound “A” batteries before Ligne & St Amand village are in good position to counter any threats out of the town.


In PTW your most significant strategic decision is where to move I Corps, which is strung out on the road to QB. Napoleon wanted to shift this outfit east to fight the Prussians. If you decide to do this, use different routes to march the four divisions of I Corps east. Move Durutte’s 4th Division east on the road to Mallet. Margonet’s 3rd Division, and Donzelot’s 2nd Division on the main highway and Quiot’s 1st Division on the road to Villers-Perwin. Gather together the disparate elements of III Reserve Cavalry Corps and march them east too as a powerful cavalry reserve. This gives you wide avenues of approach and strategic flexibility since you can never really know, initially, what the enemy is about. This leaves II Corps, a very powerful outfit, against the British/Dutch and you might as well know that against even a moderately competent opponent, II Corps does not have the strength to take QB. So here is the yin and yang of military decision making; if you beef up II Corps with elements of I Corps you may then take QB but an intelligent and aggressive Prussian player can successfully attack your left. Whatever you do, try to concentrate your forces at the place where the decisive action will be fought. Keep the entire Guard in reserve until the late afternoon when the intervention of this massive reserve can turn the tide. With the exception of the artillery, most of which should be moved up immediately to support III Corps, don’t even move the Imperial Guard for the first hour of play, and then move it only onto the east-west path bye Martinrou, shielded from enemy long range artillery, to give the Guard the ability to rapidly intervene in any direction. Late in the game, when both armies are at the point of collapse, the introduction of the Guard can be a sledgehammer blow to the enemy. Again, let me stress, do not move the Guard near the front in the early going. There, the temptation to use units of the Guard to solve minor tactical problems can often be too strong to resist. The Guard should be your STRATEGIC RESERVE, used late in the game as an intact fighting force.


WATERLOO:  Again, take a look at the direction the units are pointed to and attack with them in that direction. The single most important object for the French is the capture of the Hugomont orchid. Prolonged enemy occupation of this terrain is a dagger pointed straight into the heart of your position. Once you take it, you are free to attack left and right around Hugomont and to occupy the high ground behind the chateaux and to then establish an artillery presence up there. With that, the enemy has no choice but to withdraw to the north edge, with no reverse slops to protect him from your artillery.  Moves to the right, against the Smohain, La Haye, Papellotte complex of farms and chateaux are a waste of resources. Hold there, defend La Belle Alliance and smash the enemy right with II Corps, & VI Corps. Don’t worry about the Prussians as they are most likely to arrive late and self-destruct.


Sooner or later, every French player wants to move left from the get go. If you do, you need to SHIFT your army. Just pushing Prince Jerome’s 6th Division against the Dutch is not enough: Napoleon’s “brother” will soon find himself isolated and overwhelmed if you don’t support his movement with a massive shift to the left. THE SHIFT is like a dance; The various forces involved must move in unison, concert with one another, so that the essential structure of the army remains intact. Foy’s 9th Division should follow and support Prince Jerome, and Bacelu’s 5th Division should follow and occupy the area vacated by Prince Jerome. Units of the VI Corps would then fill in the gaps left by the departing 9th & 5th Divisions of II Corps. Many players also use the Young Guard (the 3rd Division of the Imperial Guard) to support the move left. While this is an historical aberration, it is legitimate as a “what if.” Still though, the orchid must be dealt with,  and, eventually, your forces must attain some leverage for attack into the enemy position, i.e. they got to stop moving left, and head north to break through: Much like a running back on an American football sweep, the attack must stop stringing out and “hit the hole.” As you disperse your once concentrated army, you are open to enemy counter-attack, especially out of the orchid and environs. Fundamentally though, the reason you should not waste too much personal time on such movements is that your true purpose as a wargamer should be to attempt to make the game system work properly within the context of proper homage to history. It is possible to manufacture a successful attack out of Napoleon’s deployments, using COMBINED ARMS TECHNIQUES.  Rely upon firepower (artillery & infantry in line) and shock attacks (melee with infantry in column & cavalry) to overwhelm the enemy at the decisive point. Once the orchid is taken, this can be to the left or right of the Hugomont chateaux. But the key is to MAKE THE SYSTEM WORK in your favor without the feeling that this can only be done by using 20th century mechanized infantry movements on roads.


FIRE COMBAT vs., SHOCK (MELEE) COMBAT: You should rely upon fire to defeat the enemy rather than shock combat. Shock combat seems easy but the units that engage in it rapidly lose effectiveness through the accumulation of fatigue. A unit in line formation can deliver a steady stream of effective fire for hours while a unit engaged in shock combat can be used up in less than one hour. Also, since your command structure is so solid I would be very wary of using my officers to positively affect the outcome of shock attacks. On cavalry charges/attacks, allow the officer to accompany the charge and ‘drop him off” astride one company to the rear of the attack. From there, he can keep the attacking cavalry in command without risking personal injury. However you do it, the +1 modifier is not worth the risk of permanently eliminating an officer who’s capable of a “B” or “A” command rating to be replaced with Col. Anonymous rated “F.” Also, since your command structure is of such high quality, don’t be afraid to operate with your infantry units in line formation: Move right through that obstructed terrain hex. Even when disordered a battalion in line will deliver heavy firepower. Your command structure will reorder them next turn providing not too many of your officers were killed leading charges. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to place units in line whenever the enemy is nearby. Avoid the over use and over dependence upon cavalry and you should do all right: A cavalry strength point loss is worth 8 times! that of infantry. Good Luck. JE