Sunday, 30 March 2014

Battle of La Rothière—Part 2

My Finest Hour at the ANF?

It’s okay dear readers, I have not suddenly lost all sense of perspective, modesty and unpretentiousness to replace it with overblown hubris, the heading above comes from a compliment from Julian during the second part of our re-fight of La Rothière. It can be said that it probably went about as well as could possibly be expected for the French side; certainly beyond my wildest, optimistic expectations. Like most good results in a wargame it was a combination of a some good decisions and plenty of damned good luck, but more on that later.

In my last report, we’d left the game at the end of the fifth turn (15:00–15:30) and very much in the balance. The allies had captured La Giberie and La Rothière, but the two divisions of Victor’s II Corps charged with holding those towns, Porliers' and Duhesme’s respectively, were putting up a dogged defence against superior numbers of Austro-Württemberg and Russian troops respectively. The French cavalry, Milhaud’s dragoons and the Guard cavalry, had won the better of the day, thus far, in the centre, forcing the allied infantry to remain alert to their presence, so aiding the men of II Corps.

Above is my schematic map of the battlefield showing the locations of the troops at the start of the battle and the reinforcements (dotted rectangles).

Here are a couple of views of the battlefield at 15:30.

Looking from the West, Dienville and the River Aube in the foreground, La Rothière in the centre of the photo. Note the masses of Gyulai’s Austrian III Corps making its way along the west bank.

Marshal Marmont, aka Marc, gathers his forces to defend the eastern flank of the French army against the massive forces of Prince von Wrede (aka Stefan)’s Austro-Bavarian Corps.

In our last session we had completed the set-up and five turns. This time our target was to complete ten turns; if the French could last that long…

This report is constructed, photos permitting, as a pictorial summary of each of the turns that we played. In each case, I’ve worked from east to west across the battlefield, highlighting the main actions and results.

15:30
Hardegg's division (von Wrede) prepared to attack Lagrange (Marmont), whose troops had wheeled to meet the threat.

To the South, Briche's French dragoons faced what remained of Panchulitzev-I's Russians.

In the west, Dufour's (Gérard) front line troops stopped Talyzin's lead Russian musketeers with a powerful volley,

while on the other side of the Aube, Gyulai's two divisions of Austrians approached Dienville.

16:00
In the east, as von Mihaldy's Austrians (von Wrede) closed in, something was stirring in Chaumesnil; bats in the belfry?

No, it was units from Rottembourg's division of tirailleurs of the Young Guard!

Above and below: Hardegg's Archduke Joseph hussars charged two units of artillerie de la marine, one in square and one not, and were beaten back by the French infantry.

Chasseur! The 4e chasseurs à cheval (1st brigade, Doumerc's I Cavalry Corps also commanded by that general) broke Prince Adam's chevau-légers who had followed-up having broken a unit of French infantry.

Above and below: Porliers' division continued to hold its ground, stopping Stockmayer's and von Koch's Württembergers.

Above and below: Briche's dragoons got the better of what remained of Panchulitzev-I's Russian dragoons, and horse artillery.

Next three photos: Drouot moved the reserve artillery up to support Duhesme's hard pressed troops around La Rothière, but they continued to hold their own, driving back the attacking Russians from Bernadosov's 18th Infantry Division.


Above and below: Dufour's line continued to hold strong against Talyzin's attacks.

As Gyulai's Austrians moved ever closer to Dienville.

Looking across the battlefield from the west,

from the south-east,

and from the Dienville-La Rothière road, Petit Mesnil in the centre-right of the photo.

16:30
Chasseur! (II): this time it is the turn of the Konprinz dragoons to suffer at the hands of Doumerc's horsemen.

Some hiccoughs for the French in the centre as the Empress Dragoons failed to break a square of Bernadosov's infantry,

while a brother Russian battalion over-ran Duhesme's divisional artillery.

In the west, Dufour's men continued to stand tall against the attempted attacks from Talyzin's Russians.

The view from the west at 17:00—little changed.

17:00
von Wrede increased the pressure on Marmont's position east of Chaumesnil,

while, simultaneously, Eugène of Württemberg's divisions (von Stockmayer and von Koch) drove harder at Porliers' division of Victor's corps, who were now being ably supported by Dourmerc's light cavalry and Briche's dragoons.

In the centre, Napoleon's "cherished children" (Guyot's 2nd guard cavalry division) charged and broke a battalion of Choglokov's grenadiers, newly arrived on the battlefield,

thereby supporting Duhesme's remaining infantry (1 & 2/56e ligne) who continued to resist Bernadosov's infantry (above and below).

Not to be outdone by the comrades to their left, Dufour's infantry delivered a further telling volley that stopped yet another attack by Talyzin's infantry (above and below).

After their long trek through the snow, Gyulai’s troops were ready for the assault on Dienville.

The only thing standing between them and the right flank of the French army was a few battalions of Dufour’s division of Gérard’s Provisional Corps. They were, however in a strong, position defending the town on the left bank, with only one bridge for the Austrians to attack over. This video, extracted from “Bataille de La Rothiere 1er février 1814” posted on YouTube by Dominique Timmermans, shows the immensity of the Austrians task.
video

The first unit to the attack was the 1st battalion of the IR #37…

but it proved to be as tough as it looked as they were beaten off easily by the defenders.

An important event occurred during this turn. The allies discovered a bad apple in their camp. Perhaps its exposure would see a change in their luck?

17:30
Attacks and counter-attacks in the east resulted in seven mêlées 

Briche's dragoons suffered their first loss, at the hands of a square of Austrian infantry (heavily disguised as Saxons).

Porliers 28e légère were defeated by von Koch's Württemberg infantry, but the other combats went in favour of the French, sending the allied attackers back to lick their wounds.

A cheeky attack by the Polish chevau-légers lanciers de la garde put an end to Lanskoi's hussars as an effective fighting force on this day.

The loss of the allied cavalry in the centre meant that the French guard cavalry were now able to pin Bernadosov's Russian infantry as well as the grenadier divisions of Choglokov and Paskevich (above and below).

His successful defence going to his head, Dufour sent his right-most battalion over to the attack, with dramatic results (above and below). Could the tide be turning?

Meanwhile, Gyulai's Austrian infantry prepared for another assault on Dienville,

Despite a few set-backs, the French centre-left was holding firm, frustrating the allied attackers who were unable, now due to their lack of cavalry as well as their constricted frontage, to bring their numbers to bear.

18:00

In the east, Marmont, Doumerc and Briche took advantage of their successes and moved to the offensive, making limited counter-attacks across the entire front.

In the centre, Decouz's and Meunier's Young Guard divisions (bottom left and bottom right respectively) came up in support of Duhesme's gallant defenders.

Piquet sent the 1e garde d'honneur to take Bernadosov's infantry in the flank,

but the 10e hussars from his brigade were dispersed by the fire of Udom II's position battery,  leaving a gap between La Rothière and Dufour's division.

Hohenlohe-Bartenstein's (Gyulai) next battalion attacked over the bridge at Dienville, only to be repulsed.

View from the west at 18:30.

18:30

The counter-attacks in the west were going well, particularly that of Rottembourg's Young Guard, but the attrition on both sides was beginning to tell.

Moving over to the attack, the already reduced grenadiers à cheval attacked a square of Bernadosov's infantry, and were broken!

Udom II moved to exploit the gap left by the 'departure' of the 10e hussars,

putting more pressure on Dufour's defenders.

Third time lucky; Hohenloe sent IR #60 (Ignaz Gyulay’s) to take the bridge and they succeeded, occupying one half of Dienville!

This all lead to a somewhat changed view from the west of the battlefield.

19:00
As the battlefield became enveloped in darkness, the opposing forces in the east had fought to a standstill.

A last ditch charge from the Empress' Dragoons produced the same result as that of the Big Heels previously!

The sight before Decouz's Young Guard was more uplifting for the French.

First time in battle, the 2e (chocolate) éclaireurs broke a square of Bernadosov's infantry.

Not to be outdone, the 2e chevau-légers lanciers de la garde charged and broke a square of grenadiers, but were driven back by the column behind.

Darkness was a welcome friend for the French at the western end of the battlefield with the allies beginning to break through.

Most dramatically at Dienville, IR #60 easily fought off a French counter-attack and IR #37 (Mariassy’s Hungarian) captured the remainder of the town, thus securing it for Austria and the allies!


Real time caught up on us, so we finished the game two turns earlier than allowed in the scenario. We know, thanks to the US Navy’s Sun or Moon Rise/Set Table for One Year (http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneYear.php), that sunset occurred at 17:40 on 1st February 1814. In the actual battle the fighting continued, in darkness, until around 20:00. We had rules in the scenario for the visibility to steadily decline from 17:30 onwards but, in all the excitement, I/we completely forget about it! Given that oversight, it is probably fitting that we ended at 19:30 (end of the 19:00 turn).

Above and below: two photos of the table at the end of the game. Note von Wrede, aka Stefan, toasting himself in the background.
Level of Victory
The result of the game was determined, as has become our standard approach, by the losses in MR of divisions broken, retreating (1/2 points of MR) or demoralised (1/3 points of MR), and which side held the key towns (with a weighted number of victory points prescribed in the scenario).

Allied
French-Allied losses = 21 points of MR.
Control of La Giberie (40 points), La Rothière (80 points) and Dienville (50 points) = 170 victory points.
Total = 191 points.

French
Russo-Prussian losses 139 points of MR.
Held Petit Mesnil 40 points.
Total = 179 points

Difference in victory points 12 in favour of the allies, which is less than 100, so a draw result.

The MVP for the French had to be awarded to the divisions of Porliers and Duhesme, particularly the units that held out until the end against overwhelming odds; the first and second battalions of the 18e ligne and first and second battalions of the 56e ligne respectively. A pleased and proud Emperor has transferred them in their entirety to his Young Guard, becoming the 13e and 14e Tirailleurs respectively. We shall meet them again on the plateau of Craonne.

It was more difficult to find a clear MVP for the Allies, but I have given it to Gyulai’s Austrian III Corps, particularly IR #60 (Ignaz Gyulay’s) and IR #37 (Mariassy’s Hungarian) who, after marching for most of the game and being the butte of many a joke deriding the likelihood of them doing anything ‘useful’ in the battle, made such easy work of capturing and holding Dienville in their heroic attacks across the Aube.
A Most Pleasing Game
At the beginning of the game I'd said to the others that the aim of the French was to hold on as long as possible. I’d consider it a ‘victory’ if we could still be on the table at the end of the 20:00 (Turn 15). Real time prevented us getting to that ultimate end-point, but the result of a draw at 19:30 (end of Turn 13) was well and truly at the upper end of my expectations.

As the defending army the French at La Rothière have two distinct advantages; interior lines and a good supply of quality cavalry. La Rothière is, in so many ways, the antithesis of Lützen and Bautzen, as we discussed numerous times during the game (having ‘been there’ recently). Marc and I were able to play to those advantages and I think, without meaning to sound hubric, that we did a good job of mounting a positive defence, with limited attacks used to good effect.

We were aided in this by some phenomenal luck. Marc’s “judicious use” of the six on a six-side die (sixes are not always positive in Shako) carried over seamlessly from part 1 to part 2 and I joined him in utilising this fruitful approach. We were ably supported by Markov and Stefan’s habit of rolling three or lower.

It was not, however, all about luck. I know only too well how a partially constructed plan and/or the “least good” tactical decisions can ensure defeat. Having been personally engaged in his ‘western sector’ of the battlefield, I know that Markov was not having his best day in the tactical decision stakes. When I did the rounds to take photos, it seemed that Stefan was doing a similar thing. I suspect that they were both lulled into a less-focussed approach by the superiority of their numbers. It seemed that the plan was simply “to beat the French”, so that, after taking La Giberie and La Rothière early in the game, the next stage of the plan was non-existent, so it was a case of just having a go. Add to that the problems of external lines, limited cavalry and divided command and you have the classic, historically disjointed allied approach to the battle. It’s quite marvellous how these historical re-fights so often work out as they ‘should’, by the nature of the scenario, the history and players playing to type.

I’m not forgetting, in all this self-congratulation, that we did not win the battle! The draw result was a clear allied strategic victory. The onset of darkness would have lead to the withdrawal of the French army, like it did historically, as it was not going to hold on much longer and survive.

Most pleasing of all, it was a visually appealing, hard-fought wargame, played with the usual fair-play and good humour—particularly by Markov and Stefan in the face of a continuous run of turns where they came second in the luck stakes. I can’t think of a much better way to spend two Saturdays of my life, indulging my passion/obsession with a group of like-minded wargaming friends. Thanks to Julian, Mark (Markov), Mark (Marc) and Stephen (Stefan).

13 comments:

  1. Excellent report thanks for sharing

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    1. Pleased that you found it of interest Andrew.

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  2. A 'hard-fighting draw' for the French, isn't it? I am really impressed by your armies, a great, great looking table, I could feel the cold pierce my body...very immersive, great work!
    Best,
    Phil.

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    1. Thank you Phil. I have only just now caught up with the game that you and the 'riflemen' played back in 2012, it was a close one too, wasn't it?
      Readers, visit http://riflemens.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/napoleon-la-bataille-de-la-rothiere-1er.html to find out.

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  3. Good Heavens! what a great after battle report! great photos and miniatures, table looks good as well.
    thanks for sharing...

    cheers,

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  4. What an enormous game! I agree with Phil. Your photos lend a distinct chill to the reader.

    Really enjoyable BatRep.

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    1. The plain polystyrene sheets are an easy way to create a snow battlefield, but they do have the 'right' look don't they?

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  5. I am honoured to have been a part of it. The terrain board has come up a treat in the pictures. I also like spotting for the Minifigs general figure that is used as my Sun of York avatar in the photos; kind of like "Where's Wally?". As for sixes, I put that down to my skill in the game we will not mention - on your blog at least :-)

    Another game I will have to look at translating to Napoleon's Battles for a future refight. Probably 210 anniversary on current rate of progress.

    Great write-up and photos.


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    1. Marvelous game and write up. I think the French have to be pretty happy with a solid draw tactically!

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    2. Those allies never did work out the secret of that dice cup did they Marc?! Just jesting dear reader, just jesting.

      Thanks Peter. I guess that you can tell from the report of the game that I/we were more than happy with the silver medal on this occasion!

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  6. Very enetertaining gents - great report and pictures and now I am looking for Marks figure as well - good onya mate!!!

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