Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Battle of Rolica

Battle of Rolicia 17 August 1808

The battle of Rolica was fought on 17 August 1808 and was Wellesley’s first battle of the Peninsular War. A few days earlier he had landed in Portugal, and was marching towards Lisbon when he met a much smaller French army under general Delaborde. The French retreated from their first position when outflanked by the British and took up a much stronger one just south of the village of Rolica.

Wellesley – 16000, 470 cavalry, 18 guns

Deleborde – 5000, 300 cavalry, 5 guns

Wargame Orbat

Wellesley has four British and one Portuguese infantry brigades

Delaborde has three French brigades

Neither side have any cavalry

Wellesley – 104 infantry and 4 guns

Delaborde – 96 infantry and 3 guns

Wargames table at start of battle

The French occupy their second position on the three hills south of Rolica. One brigade is deployed to cover each hill.

The British have reorganized having taken the first French position.

Battle Report

British left

1st and 2nd brigades form the left wing and are advancing to the left of Rolica along the main Obidos to Lisbon road.

British right

3rd and 4th brigades form the right wing and are advancing to the right of Rolica.

French left

1st brigade holds the ridge on the left of the French position. It is too small to hold the whole brigade and two battalions are held in reserve.

French centre

2nd brigade holds the main ridge which overlooks Rolica. Delaborde has placed himself behind this ridge to commit his reserves as the battle gathers pace.

French right

3rd brigade holds the right of the French position and the Lisbon road. This is the widest gap in the hills, and likely to be the focus of the British attack.

French left

The British 4th brigade and two guns pin the French left, whilst the 3rd brigade advances towards the centre hill.

French centre

Another view of the 4th brigade on the left and the Portuguese brigade on the right both moving towards the centre hill.

French right

Wellesley’s main attack, 1st and 2nd brigades, start their advance along the Lisbon road. The Portuguese brigade advance to pin the French infantry on the centre hill and prevent them moving against the main attack.

French left

4th brigade continue to pin French left, 3rd brigade approach the centre hill

French centre

The fight for the centre hill is going against the French. On their left they have lost a firefight, and on their right the Portuguese have driven back a second battalion.

French right

The French have lost their right flank. Two battalions are in rout and the artillery is shaken and have abandoned their guns. Delaborde has just ordered this wing to retreat, and with the remaining battalion is trying to cover the withdrawal.

French left

The French continue to hold the left hill, but the 4th British brigade are advancing towards them to stop them sending support to the centre and right

French centre

The Portuguese brigade is in rout, but elements of both 2nd and 3rd British brigades have won their fire fight with the French defenders. The battalion on the left is shaken, and the one on the right in rout. The artillery crew are also shaken. Delaborde is approaching the brigade commander to order him to withdraw.

French right

The whole of 1st French brigade is in rout, including the gunners. Wellesley’s artillery are screened by the advancing infantry, but they are no longer needed. The leading battalions of 1st British brigade are in line and are advancing to prevent the French from rallying. 2nd brigade have been ordered to advance on the centre hill, and can be seen on the left advancing in line.

British Victory

The wargame has repeated the historical victory for Wellesley. Both sides have suffered medium casualties, but it is a clear British victory.

1st French brigade is still capable of fighting, but 2nd and 3rd are both broken and in retreat. Between them they have lost 21 casualties and six of the 8 battalions are in rout.

The British have lost 7 casualties, but all of their 11 battalions are battle worthy. Only the two Portuguese battalions are in rout, with 9 casualties between them.


  1. Hi Paul,

    I am looking forward to your peninsular BR's. Your site is a good resource for the wargamer, especially someone new like my self.

    Might I suggest that in addition to your report on your game that you fill in a bit more information about the OB. Your site than would become invaluable as a reference for the battles that you plan to re-enact. This is a pretty small OB and many of us would like to game it at the battalion level rather than the brigade level as you do. A bit more info about the terrain would also be appreciates.

    Just a thought,


  2. Hi John

    Thanks for your comment.

    I am glad that you are finding the blog useful.

    I am reluctant to put too much information on the battle report for two reasons.

    First it would make the report even longer than it is.

    Second I am not refighting the actual battle, and I would not really want to confuse anyone on that point. My wargames are based on the historical battle, but do not try to recreate either the exact terrain or the exact order of battle. You will find that historical battles are often very one sided, and do not lend themselves to an enjoyable wargame. For example at Rolica Wellesley outnumbered Delaborde bgy three to one. In a wargame this would result in a very one sided walk over for the British!

    if you would like to know more about the terrain you might like to look at Walking Napoleonic Battlefields, where I recall my visits. The one for Rolica can be found by clicking on the blog above right and then on the lapel for Rolica. It includes photographs I took of the battlefield during our visit.