Friday, 31 August 2012

Borodino's Church: Wargaming Borodino 2012 (8)

I always enjoy posting to this blog. In fact, like most of us(?), I have to stop myself from spending too much time posting articles and reading and admiring the handiwork of others. I have a little 'rule' that it is to be done outside of work hours, but I am gladly breaking my own rule today.

I have just received two photos of our version of the Borodino church from Julian. This is my first viewing of the completed, scratch-built model that he finished this week. I was so impressed with his handiwork that I had to post it immediately. I think/hope you'll agree with me that he has done a wonderful job and it is a fine feature of the battlefield. Would you believe that he had no confidence in his terrain making skills prior to this? Fortunately, for us, he is now 'fired up' to make some more pieces. Next project is the convent-church at Maloyaroslavets!

For comparison, below is a repeat posting of the photo of the taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky in 1911.

Julian decided, quite appropriately in my opinion, not to put the pagoda on the church as a) it dominates the battlefield already, b) his reading of the Kutuzov 'kneeling incident' suggests that there wasn't even a set of raised steps. He surmised that the architectural style of the pagoda looks more late 19thC compared with the rest of the church.

Thanks Julian! I look forward to seeing it in 'the flesh'. It makes a fine piece of real estate over which our little plastic friends will contest come the evening of the 7th!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Spoilt For Choice: Wargaming Borodino 2012 (7)

Remember when the choice of figures was Airfix or Minifigs and little else? Those days are now a distant, nostalgic memory. We are truly spoilt for choice with a huge range of figures—be they of plastic or metal—produced by a large number of manufacturers. There are scales and sculpting styles to suit everyone. Or, like us, you can field figures from a range of manufacturers and enjoy the diversity.

To celebrate this diversity, the quality of figures available and excellent painting done by, principally, Mark, here are a few photos of figures, from different manufacturers, extracted from our Borodino battlefield.

Esci-Italeri Russian Infantry/Grenadiers, Zvezda Cossacks & Hat Dragoons
Esci-Italeri Russian Grenadiers
Hat Grenadiers & Horse Artillery Limber, Italeri Grenadiers, Zvezda Artillery & Ammunition Wagon 
Strelets Grenadiers in Greatcoats
Strelets Grenadiers in Greatcoats, Zvezda Grenadiers & Artillery 

Strelets Hussars & Hat Dragoons 
Ykreol French Infantry (painted as 1st Provisional Croatian Regiment
Zvezda Cossacks (Life Guard painted as Bug)
Zvezda Russian Grenadiers
Zvezda Russian Grenadiers (another photo)

Mars Dragoons, late uniform (this photo is actually from our Eylau game although the unit is on the Borodino table!)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Borodino Set-up: Wargaming Borodino 2012 (6)

Exciting times! Yesterday we set-up for our Borodino game which we will play on the 200th anniversary, 7th–9th September.

Most of the Russians are on the table. The exceptions are Borozdin II's 1st Cuirassier Division, Duka's 2nd Cuirassier Division, Uvarov's cavalry and Platov's Cossacks. The latter two will arrive for their flank attack at the end of turn 1, but don't tell the French (e.g. me!). On the French-Allied side, the infantry corps, with the exception of Junot's VIII Corps, are on the table (at least partially). None of the reserve cavalry are on-board yet. Nansouty's I Reserve Cavalry Corps is yet to be placed on-board (behind Davout). The rest of the Reserve Cavalry will come on during the game!

The majority of the 5 000-odd figures that we require are ready. We'll be madly trying to get these ready with at least a basic paint job (à la Quarrie*, " isn't too much to ask of anybody a black shako, red or blue jacket, and grey or white trousers, with perhaps a touch of pink for face and hands, and black for shoes and musket—is it?"). Failing that we'll be improvising with alternatives. Some eagle-eyes will notice the lack of the Borodino church in the photos. Our scratch-built version has come along really well (thanks to Julian), but was too wet for the photos when we "pulled up stumps" last night, so we are gonna keep you in suspense on that one!

Anyway, a picture tells a thousand words, so here's a few thousand.

Firstly a memory jogger. Here was the battlefield when we finished it back in July.

Now, here is the same view (nearly) from the south east looking over the woods at Utitsa. The flêches are in the centre of the picture, just beyond the woods. In the centre background, on the large ridge, is the grand redoubt.

Two photographs of the view from the opposite, south west corner of the battlefield (taken without and with flash), looking at the French-Allied dispositions. In the foreground are the troops of Davout's I Corps. Beyond them is the Shervardino hill with the Guard in the rear and Ney's III Corps beyond it up to the Kolocha Stream. To the north of the stream are the lead elements of Eugène's IV Corps. This is a huge formation as it was supplemented by two divisions from Davout and Grouchy's III Reserve Cavalry Corps (all currently off-board). Borodino village is in front of Eugène's troops (sans the church). Further north still is the 'open ground' over which the 'surprise' attack of Uvarov and Platov will appear.

Switching our attention to the other end of the table, firstly looking from the north-west. Ornano's cavalry of Eugène's Corps is in the right foreground and forms the northern flank of the French-Allied army. Borodino village and bridge are in the centre of the photo with the Bakhmetyev III's division of Osterman-Tolstoy's IV Corps behind it on the east bank of the Kolocha. The large ridge bearing the grand redoubt can be seen beyond (to the south east) of Borodino and the Kolocha. Note the jägers in front of the Russian position.

Looking from the north east down the main Smolensk-Moscow post road we have Korf's II cavalry corps in the right foreground. To the left (south-east) of the road are the Russian reserve artillery and Imperial Guard.

Now, a few close-up views of some of the dispositions. Firstly of the Russian army, beginning with the Imperial Guard infantry (foreground) and reserve artillery behind.

Next, the view looking from Eugène's position across the Kolocha to Gorki in the distance. Borodino village and bridge can just be seen at the left of the photo.

A close-up view of Gorki with earthworks below the hill. Kutusov is to the right of the village, on foot wearing a brown greatcoat.

At the other end of the Russian position, Voronstov's 2nd Combined Grenadier Division of Bagration's  2nd Western Army, stationed behind the flêches. The edge of the earthworks in front of Semeyonovskoye can be see in the bottom left corner of the photo.

Over on the French side, a jägers-eye view of Delzons' division of Eugène's corps.

Napoleon on Shevardino hill with Ney's troops in front and to the right of the photo (left of the great man). Davout's corps (Dessaix's division) is to the left of the hill (on N's right). The Imperial Guard can just be seen behind the hill.

As expected and true to the 'real thing', it is a packed battlefield at the start. We are pleased with our 'oblique' transect across the battlefield (rather than the usual wargamer's approach of one army on one long table edge and the other on the opposite side) because it has allowed us to get most of the Russian on-board at the beginning while still giving the French-Allied army room to deploy and manoeuvre to the attack. The armies are very close and densely packed, as they were, but it is possible to easily make out the corps and divisions and to move the figures.

It is great when a plan comes together. This one has been months in the making and has only been possible with some contributions from our 'benefactors' and, chiefly, due to years of sustained effort on the part of Mark who has contributed the vast majority of the figures for this game.

Only 19 days to 'B' day. Better get those last figures finished!

*Quarrie, B (1974) Napoleonic Wargaming. Airfix magazine guide 4. Patrick Stephens Ltd, Cambridge, UK. p. 6. 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

A fine memorial

Book Review: Crossing the Berezina, A Victory During The Retreat, by Francois-Guy Hourtoulle, Denis Gandilhon and André Jouineau
I was so pleased to collect this book from our PO Box today that I had to read and review it immediately! This wasn’t a big task as Crossing the Berezina, A Victory During The Retreat is predominantly a picture book. The combination of the uniform plates, reproductions of famous paintings and diagrams all in a beautifully produced, hardcover publication make it a wonderful book to drool over. This, plus the details of units, commanders and, with cavaets, the main text, make for a useful source of information and a fine memorial to Francois-Guy Hourtoulle.
It was only when I became aware of the publication of this tome that I found out about the death in 2009 of Dr Hourtoulle and his editor at Histoire et Collections, Denis Gandilhon. This unfinished book was completed by others at Histoire et Collections, “ offer it to you without betraying the joint wishes of these two specialists...”. Fittingly, the book commences with a brief dedication to Francois-Guy Hourtoulle, outlining the three stages in the life of this amazing man; in the military, medicine and as an author.
At the heart of the book is the uniform plates by André Jouineau. These are presented, in colour, grouped by troop type, and provide examples of units in an array of uniforms, from full dress to greatcoats. The figures represented are predominantly from the ranks, but NCOs, officers, trumpeters, fifers, drummers, standard bearers and sappers are also shown, along with the flags or guidon’s for many of them. With a few exceptions, the figures in the uniform plates are shown in profile for cavalry units and front-on for the infantry. In all cases the figures wear regulation uniforms, rather than the assortment of uniform items, civilian dress and whatever else could be found that we know was improvised by the men of both armies, most particularly those in the retreating ‘grande armée’.
A few of the individual figures are the same as those in the sister volume, Borodino-The Moskva: The Battle for the Redoubts, but the majority are of troops from completely different units to those that are presented in that book. Particularly pleasing is the large number of French allies that are represented: Polish, Italian, Swiss, Croat, Spanish, Portuguese, Bavarian, Westphalian, Würtemberger, Saxon, Hessian, Badener, Cleve-Berger, Neapolitan, Prussian, Austrian, Danish and Illyrian (plus the Mediterranean and Walcheren Regiments).
The book also contains large, clear reproductions of many of the most famous paintings of the retreat, the battles and the crossing, the majority of which are in full colour. Eighteen of these are printed at approximately the size of half of a page (around 16 cm x 19 cm), while the remainder are either printed on a full page (four paintings, including Peter von Hess’ “Crossing of the Berezina” on the cover of the book) or as a double-page spread (a further four paintings). The size and clarity of these reproductions makes them ideal for closer inspection of the details in each painting. 
The book also includes clear reproductions of uniform prints from Knötel, Philippoteaux, Chappell, Job and some unspecified artists (one of which is by Rousselot). Once again, the vast majority of these are in colour. Lastly are the numerous pictures of some of the main commanders of the two armies.
Another feature of the book is a ‘sidebar’ entitled ‘The Heroes of the Bridges’, which covers four pages. Here Hourtoulle lists the officers and men of the engineers and pontonneers who were responsible for the construction of the two bridges over which the French-Allied army crossed the Berezina, with a brief biography of each. There are also illustrations of the structure of the trestle bridges and of a campaign forge plus paintings of Elbé and Chasseloup-Laubat and of the crossing point on the Berezina, shown in summer. This is a fine piece of research and a fitting tribute to those brave men who made the crossing possible.
The orders of battle, which are a standard feature of the books of this series, are also present here. Those for the three Russian armies, or part thereof, that were present in the battles around the Berezina, list, for each division, the names of the units and their strength. It is not specified what stage of the battles these strengths reflect, but the numbers of troops and statements in the text suggest that they are ‘initial’ strengths in early to mid November. The order of battle for French-Allied army is fully detailed, providing the names of generals, staff officers and unit commanders, with a one-line to one-paragraph biography for each, the units that were included in each ‘higher order’ formation and, in most cases, estimated strengths. Together these provide a useful and detailed source for planning wargames or researching units or commanders.
Having waxed lyrical about the good features of the book we come to its weaker points. The first of these is the maps, of which there are three. The first shows the manoeuvres of the four armies in the area bounded to the east by Orsha, the west by Smorgoni, the north by Lepel and south by Minsk/Mogilev. The second is a reasonably detailed map, complete with the positions of troops, showing the battles of Studianka and Stakhov-Brili. The third is in the same style as the second and, quite strangely, shows the second Battle of Polotsk (which is barely mentioned in the text). These three maps are good, but are too few in number and are not clearly linked with the text.
Unfortunately, the weakest point of the book is the text. I have enjoyed reading Hourtoulle’s other books, with his conversational style, copious use of quotes from eye witnesses, interesting insights and strong statements. While there are glimpses of those features in the text of Crossing the Berezina, much of it is disjointed and somewhat confusing. More critically there are several errors, such as the naming of Lambert as the commander of the cavalry sent by Chichagov (Tchichagov), following his capture of Borisov on 21st November, to reconnoitre Oudinot’s approach (it was in fact Phalen), the statement that the bridge building began on 26th December (it was 26th November) and the assertion that the soldiers in the mass grave that was uncovered in Vilnius in 2001 were massacred. Scientific investigation of the site has shown that the majority died either from typhus and other diseases that were spread by the lice that were rampant amongst the retreating soldiers and/or as a result of illness caused by the sudden intake of food in previously starved bodies. The reasoning for these mistakes and the confusing flow of the text seems to be that the publishers decided to make minimal additions or changes to Hourtoulle and Gandilhon’s unfinished manuscript. While this is to be applauded, a little firm editing would have improved the publication no end.
All in all this book is a fine memorial to the soldiers and civilians, from both sides, who suffered, fought and died in the winter of 1812 and also to Francois-Guy Hourtoulle  and Denis Gandilhon. Notwithstanding the errors and omissions in the text, it is a fine addition to their many works that will give pleasure and inspiration, plus much useful information, to the many wargamers and history buffs for whom, like the authors, the Napoleonic period generates great interest, passion and considerable debate.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Excellent coverage of a little researched topic

The Battle of the Berezina: Napoleon's Great Escape, by Alexander Mikaberidze
(Images courtesy of the publishers. Please do not reproduce without first seeking permission)
This book is an fine companion to Mikaberidze’s other book from this series; The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon versus Kutuzov. The Battle of the Berezina: Napoleon's Great Escape picks up from and complements that previous tome, while at the same time standing alone as a separate book.
The Battle of the Berezina has the standard format of all of the books in this series, viz. the background to the campaign, the detailed ‘Campaign Chronicle’ (which comprises the majority of the book), a brief chapter discussing the aftermath and a concluding chapter. Missing thought are the expected, useful appendices.
The background provides, a short, descriptive summary of the causes of the 1812 campaign and the main events leading to the retreat of the French-Allied army, but Mikaberidze also goes well beyond this. He highlights key aspects “in order to understand what happened on the banks of the Berezina in the last days of November”. These include the key Battle of Maloyaroslavets, the escape of the French army at Vyasma and Krasnyi (Krasnoe) and, most importantly, the “St Petersburg plan”.
This plan, devised under the influence of Kutusov’s false claims of victory at Borodino, called for Wittgenstein to drive the French-allied army of St-Cyr to the Nieman while Chichagov combined with Tormasov to drive the “Saxons into the Duchy of Warsaw, the Austrians into Galicia, the Prussians and Württembergers across the Nieman”, before turning to the Berezina to act as the anvil for Kutusov’s hammer, thus effecting the destruction of Napoleon’s ‘main’ army. The problem, as MIkaberidze relates, was that the plan was initially based on a false premise (victory at Borodino), it required co-ordination between widely separated armies and, due to his distance from the front and out-dated information, Alexander sent orders that did not reflect the situation in the field.
Mikaberidze adds further to this scene-setting in the concluding part of the background in which he presents biographies of the key Russian commanders: Kutusov, Chichagov, Wittgenstein and some of their main subordinate commanders: Lambert, Langeron, Czaplic and Sabaneyev. The biographies of the latter group introduce these lesser-known commanders to the reader. Those of the former serve the same purpose, but also provide background to what contributed to the poor co-ordination between the Russian armies in the battles around the Berezina; chiefly the rivalry and mistrust between Kutusov and Chichagov and the fact that Wittgenstein was in command of the largest army and first major independent command of his career.
The ‘Campaign Chronicle’ begins on 11th October with Chichagov’s manoeuvring against Schwarzenberg, his occupation of Minsk and the bloody capture of Borisov. In the first third of this section of the book (some 69 pages) Mikaberidze describes the manoeuvring and actions around the ‘fronts’ created by the three Russian armies; the southern (Chichagov’s 3rd Western Army), northern (Wittgenstein’s 1st Independent Coprs) and central (Kutusov’s combined 1st and 2nd Western Armies) area, between 11th October and 25th November. The last two-thirds, some 97 pages, is dedicated, fittingly, to the crossing of the Berezina and associated battles, between 26th and 30th November.
Mikaberidze’s fine prose is in clear evidence as he relates these momentous events of nearly 200 years ago. His narrative reads like an historical novel, while losing none of the required detail and accuracy. Each action and battle are described in detail, interspersed with numerous quotes and anecdotes from the memoirs of participants, adding further colour and interest to this fine piece of non-fiction writing.
Throughout this section, Dr Mikaberidze builds on his theme of the opportunity lost by the Russian generals, to present a tale of poor co-ordination, spurred as it was by the poor relations between the generals, the unrealistic plan of campaign and the out-of-date orders from St Petersburg. 
The ‘Campaign Chronicle’ also includes several tables of estimated strengths of ‘corps’, ‘divisions’ and brigades’ of the former Grande Armée (though sadly none for the Russian armies). In addition, the text contains numerous references to specific units or higher order formations of the armies of both sides, providing the number of men at arms at crucial stages of this phase of the 1812 campaign. Such information is invaluable for the wargamer who wishes to recreate the battles on the tabletop.
Despite the failure of the Russian commanders to push their advantage sufficiently, the losses of the ‘Grande Armée’ during the battles around the Berezina and the crossing make for salutary reading. These are detailed in the ‘Aftermath’ chapter, which includes tables showing the estimated losses reported in various sources and of the losses of officers from the ‘top 15’ infantry and cavalry regiments. Russian losses, which are “less well known due to sketchy reporting” and were about half those of the French, are merely given as a range. The book ends with a concluding chapter in which Mikaberidze assesses critically the performance of the Russian and French-Allied armies and, particularly, of the commanders.
Map 4: Berezina Battles
The book is supported by excellent maps, clear black and white plates and detailed notes and bibliography. There are four maps showing the area of the Berezina, key lines of operation, Action at Borisov and battles around the Berezina. The maps are clear and detailed and help to locate places mentioned in the text. Furthermore, they provide a useful resource for wargames to help with planning a campaign and/or scenarios. This is also the case with the plates, which, in addition to reproductions of paintings of some of the key commanders from both sides and some of the dramatic paintings of the Berezina battles and crossing by Orange, Kossak, grenadier Pils, Myrbach and Adam, feature six photos of views of the Berezina and the surrounding floodplain in the area in which the battles occurred.

An example of one of the six photos reproduced in the plates ("The view from Brili to the Berezina")
Unfortunately, there are no orders of battle, save what is provided in the text and tables in the ‘Campaign Chronicle’ section (mentioned above). This may be understandable given the state of units and higher order formations in the former Grande Armée, but is a surprising and disappointing oversight for the Russian armies. While the information seems to be provided throughout the text, an appendix containing orders of battle, at least for the Russian armies, would have added greatly to the book.
This book is a well written and researched account of some of the most dramatic, but often overlooked events of the 1812 campaign. I will be interested to compare it with the late Francois-Guy Hourtoulle’s “Crossing the Berezina, A Victory During The Retreat”, which is on its way to me now.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

A Revised List

I have recently re-arranged and expanded the list of links to included all of the wargaming blogs of which I am aware at present. I now have them all listed and will add a brief description over the next little while.

Is your blog in the list? Click on this link to our Links: Wargames Blogs page, or simply click on the tab above, to see and please let us know if it is not.

This will never be the definitive list, but we'd like this page to link to as many others in the wargaming "community" as possible. How long will this list get?!