Monday, 19 March 2012

Twin Battles of Pultusk & Golymin, 26th December 1806

Battle of Pultusk, 26th December 1806
Just under 204 years to the day (19th December 2010) we played a game based on Pultusk, one of the 'twin' battles that, along with Golymin, was fought in Poland on 26th December 1806. The battles of Pultusk and Golymin, which were only about 15 km apart, were fought in knee-high mud and involved rear-guard actions by separate wings of Benningsen’s Russian First Army. These battles marked the beginning of the winter campaign of 1806-7, which culminated in the terrible Battle of Eylau.
The scenario was produced for the Shako rules and was designed to enable the battles to be fought simultaneously. However, for simplicity and ease we chose to fight them as two separate actions, beginning with Pultusk (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Map showing the initial dispositions of the French (blue) and Russian (green) armies for the Battle of Pultusk. The squares are 300 x 300 mm2, ground scale 1 mm equals 1 m.
At Pultusk, Lannes attacked a superior Russian force under Benningsen. This was our first attempt at designing a scenario for Shako and, unfortunately, we did not quite get the scale right. This resulted in a cramped battlefield as can be seen in Photos 1 and 2 below. The imposing strength of Benningsen’s force before Pultusk is in clear evidence.

Photo 1 and 2: The lead elements of Suchet’s and Treilhard’s troops of Lannes’ corps move to attack Baggovout’s 6th division occupying the left of Benningsen’s position before Pultusk.
The battle opened with a cavalry mêlée which saw Treilhard’s light cavalry driven off by Baggovout’s dragoons, leaving the flank of Suchet’s infantry column exposed to attack from the Russian cavalry (Photo 3 and 4).

Photo 3 and 4: The Kiev & Pskov dragoons proved too strong for Treilhard’s light cavalry, exposing the flank of Suchet’s infantry.
While the battalions on his left flank formed square to protect them from the Russian cavalry, Suchet’s remaining battalions attacked the Russian position on the ridge in front of Pultusk which was heavily defended by troops of Sacken’s 5th division in successive lines (Photo 5).
Photo 5: Suchet’s right-hand battalions form square to meet the threat from Baggovout’s cavalry whilst the remainder of the division attack Sacken’s position on the ridge.
Regrouping after their mêlée with the French light cavalry, Baggovout’s cavalry attacked Suchet’s column, dispersing the French artillery, but failing to break the squares protecting the French right flank (Photo 6).

Photo 6: The Alexandria Hussars from Baggovout’s 6th division easily disperse Suchet’s artillery, but are unable to break the infantry squares.
After being held up by Suchet’s column, Becker’s French dragoons counter-attacked against their Russian counter-parts from Baggovout’s division, successfully driving them away (Photo 7, 8 and 9).

Photo 7, 8 and 9:  Belated success for the French as Becker’s dragoons defeat their counter-parts from Baggovout’s 6th division.
This minor success for the French marked their ‘high-watermark’ of the battle. The attack on the ridge faltered and, with no way French will take ridge, attack called off.
Benningsen’s troops had held firm and the game was declared a major Russian victory.

Battle of Golymin, 26th December 1806

Pleasingly we got the scale right for our re-fight of Golymin, the second of the 'twin' battles of 26th December 1806. This battle saw a large French force, sans artillerie, attacking Gallitzin's rearguard in front of the town of Golymin. Historically Gallitzin conducted a great defensive action and held the French at bay. In our version Mark did even better!
Figure 1: Map showing the initial dispositions of the French (blue) and Russian (green) armies for the Battle of Golymin. The squares are 300 x 300 mm2, ground scale 1 mm equals 1 m.
The French began with part of Murat's reserve cavalry (Lasalle, Milhaud and Marulaz's light cavalry brigades and Klein's dragoon division, all without artillery) against Gallitzin's own large, mixed-arms Russian division (complete with six batteries of artillery, two of them heavy) and two small brigade-sized formations from Dokhturov and Pahlen's divisions (photo 1). The beau-sabre's of the French light cavalry did what they do best and attacked the Russians, focussing on Pahlen's 'brigade' (21st jagers, Soum hussars and Little Russia cuirassiers) on the Russian left. Unfortunately, for the French, the combination of some devastating artillery fire (Mark's dice were 'on'!) and well-timed charges by the Little Russia cuirassiers saw Marulaz's brigade break in turn 1, with Lasalle's and Milhaud's following by turn 3 (photo 2).
Photo 1: The dispositions at the beginning of the battle viewed from the Russian lines. Gallitzin’s 4th division is in strength in front of Golymin with Pahlen’s cavalry on the left. Murat with part of the reserve cavalry (Milhaud and Marulaz's light cavalry brigades and Klein's dragoon division) are the only French troops on the board.

Photo 2: Pahlen’s cavalry, supported by accurate artillery fire, have driven off Marulaz’s and Lasalle’s brigade and are manoeuvring to complete the defeat of Milhaud’s troopers.
In the centre, Klein's dragoon division (1st, 2nd, 4th and 14th regiments) attacked the right of Gallitzin's main Russian division (photo 3). They were faced off by the Moscow dragoons from Dokhturov's 'brigade', supported by the St. George cuirassiers, Pskov dragoons, Polish uhlans  and two regiments of cossacks (Grekov IX and Grekov XVIII) from Gallitzin's division. This support was not needed. The Moscow dragoons, who shall henceforth be known as “the mighty”, fought off the 1st and 4th dragoons, then charged and pushed back the 2nd (photo 4). Fresh from this success, “the mighty” regrouped and counter-charged against an attack by the recently rallied 1st and 4th dragoons, pushing them back again. Full of self-belief, they charged on to attack the 2nd dragoons once more, this time breaking them (photo 5)!

Photo 3, 4 and 5: Klein’s dragoons attacked the right of Gallitzin’s position, only to be countered and driven off by the Russian cavalry led by the “mighty” Moscow dragoons.

Meanwhile, the French 14th dragoons charged and broke a Russian foot battery. They rallied and charged the St. George cuirassiers, who were supported by the Polish uhlans. It was a close run thing (all rolled a 1!), but the 14th dragoons were broken.
Thus at midday and midway through the battle the Russians had a clear upper-hand. Klein's two regiments of dragoons are all that is left of the once sizeable French cavalry force. The Russians are in command of the north and east of the battlefield (photo 6 & 7). It was looking pretty worrying for the French, but two divisions of Augereau's VII Corps were coming through the woods to the south, traipsing through the mud (seen in photo 3 and 5 above). In addition, elements of Davout's III Corps were expected to arrive before the day's end. Could these infantry, without artillery support, combine with Klein's shaken dragoons and snatch victory from defeat?

Klein’s dragoons attacked, in an attempt to wrest the initiative from the Russians. The 1st charged against the mighty Moscow dragoons, and the 4th dragoons against the Polish Uhlans. Both of the French units were driven back in closely fought battles, but this defeat was enough to break spirit of the units and they fled the field. Thus Augereau’s infantry was left without cavalry support...

Photo 6 and 7: The situation at midday, half-way through the battle (right) and a close-up of the remains of Klein's dragoon brigade (below).

The French infantry slowly moved through the woods and debouched on the other side to attack Dokhturov’s small division, while throwing out squares to protect the right flank from cavalry attack. Finally the French had some success, Desjardin’s 17e légère pushing back Dokhturov’s Moscow musketeers.

Photo 8 and 9: A rare French success as Desjardin's 17e légère push back the Moscow musketeers.

The last hurrah (and laugh) was to go to the Russians who decided to attack the French infantry squares that were protecting Augereau’s right flank with the Little Russia cuirassiers and 'the mighty' Moscow dragoons (photo 10 & 11). The dragoons broke the square of 1/44e ligne (of course!) and then attacked two squares, of the 1/14e ligne and 2/44e ligne, but were forced to retreat. They rallied easily once they reached the Russian front line once more. The cuirassiers were not as successful and were pushed back, although they too rallied.

Photo 10 and 11: The Little Russia cuirassiers and "mighty" Moscow dragoons attack French infantry squares, the latter breaking that of the 1/44e ligne.

Photo 12: Davout's troops arrive on the battlefield too late to impact on proceedings
Thus, as with Pultusk, this was a smashing Russian victory—and a cracker of a game!. It was amazing (and a lot of fun) that the one regiment of Russian dragoons almost single-handedly one the battle. They would have been promoted if the battle had been part of a a campaign.

Photo 13 & 14: The situation at the end of the battle

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