Tuesday, 30 October 2012

An armchair tour of Salamanca

DVD Review: Salamanca Andrew Duff, Julia Page, Tom Dormer and Tim Saunders
This is a personal, armchair tour of the battlefield complete with detailed descriptions of the campaign, manoeuvring prior combat, stages of the battle and its outcome. Filmed on location, and in summer, it enables the viewer to see what happened at each point on the actual battlefield. The use of overlays of coloured blocks or unit names helps to make it clear precisely where on the landscape a particular action occurred.
As with the Waterloo series by the same group, this DVD features simple video backing and film of re-enactors. While I appreciate the focus on content rather than CGI, I do not find video of half a dozen re-enactors a convincing representation of massed troops in a Napoleonic battle. That said, one appreciates the effort of these dedicated enthusiasts, especially when shown close-ups of the uniforms. The crack produced by a volley from just a few muskets is LOUD! One can only guess what it would have sounded like to have had thousands of them, plus tens of cannon firing over the course of several hours!
The presenters are all battlefield guides and extremely knowledgeable of their subject. You won’t get the ‘slick’ presentation style that one sees on the History Channel, nor the buxom, pleasing-to-the-eye tele-historian’s who grace the mass-market history programmes here; the focus is on content! The commentary is descriptive and objective, although I was surprised, and slightly frustrated, at the anglicised mis-pronunciation of Spanish, Portuguese and French names and places, particularly from people who specialise in guided tours of these battlefields.
All in all an interesting and useful DVD. We’ll be referring to it often as we plan our belated bicentennial game of Salamanca.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Mother of All: Wargaming Leipzig 2013 (1)

Having completed, Borodino, we are now getting really ambitious and turning our attention to the big one; Leipzig. This is one of those wargaming ‘dreams’; something that I had never previously envisaged even contemplating doing. Our combined wargaming resources and the effort that we now know, thanks to Borodino, we can bring to such a project gives us some confidence that we can make it happen. We may not be ready by October 2013 though!
It is a daunting challenge.
The Battle of Leipzig, “Battle of the Nations”, was fought over four days. In its entirety the action occurred over an area of around 10 km x 10 km. It involved about half a million men; around 150 000–190 000 French-Allied and 300 000–350 000 Allies, these latter comprising Russians, Austrians, Prussians, Swedes.
We’d like to do our version of Leipzig at a figure scale of 1:50 and on a ground scale of 2 mm to 1 m. We have about a year to get ready if we are to stage it in time for the bicentennial next year and we are going to need every day of that!
Our first challenge is the table. At first we thought that we’d do the battle on the floor of the ANF HQ, thus taking advantage of the entire area of about 5 m x 5 m. While that would solve the problems of the size of table required and the restriction caused by the maximum reach of players operating from the edge of a table, the problems of player comfort, potential for treading on figures and what to do with the current contents of the ANF HQ have lead us back to the table.
The majority of the action was limited to an area close to 10 km x 8 km so, at our scale of 2 mm to 1 m—and taking a bit of licence, we can use a table 4.8 m long and 3.6 m wide (Map 1). That is the same length as our table for Borodino and 1.6 m wider. This second dimension introduces another problem: how does a player reach the centre of a table that is 3.6 m wide?!
Map 1: First draft of our proposed table for the Battle of Leipzig showing approximate positions of the initial forces on 16th October 1813.
Our proposed solution to this is to use a ‘donut’ approach along with some ‘notches’ in the table (Map 2). The hole of the ‘donut’ is an area of 800 mm x 800 mm that can be lifted out of the table, thus creating a ‘man-hole’ inside the table from which a player can reach figures. This hole will be around the town of Leipzig (grey hatched area on map). We also propose to have several ‘notches’ cut out of the table to allow players to reach the areas that cannot be accessed either from the table sides or from within Leipzig. The perimeter of the resulting table is indicated by the red outline on the map. By these two means it should be possible to have all figures within about 1 m of the players (as indicated by the magenta arrows on the map).
We estimate the town of Leipzig will cover an area of 400 mm x 400 mm on the table, so will require 16 sets of 100 mm x 100 mm town sections. That will keep our master builder Julian in gameful ‘employ’!
Map 2: Proposed table for the Battle of Leipzig showing player reach (1 m) from the table edges and from within the Leipzig ‘man-hole’.
Having ‘solved’ the problem of the table, our next challenge is the armies. We are looking at big numbers. We should have sufficient Russians and French-Allies already; or at least very close to it. The gaps that we need to fill are Prussians (mainly cavalry and artillery), Austrians and Swedes. By our preliminary calculations we will require over 2 000 figures to represent the Austrians and Swedes. These need to be done from scratch! I am working on the detailed orders of battle using Nafziger and Pigeard (below).
Always have a Plan B
At this stage we are aiming to do the entire battle for the bicentennial. It becomes evident that we are not going to make it for 2013, the fall back is to do the Mockern and Wachau/Liebertvolkwitz sectors of 16th October 1813 as separate battles around October 2013 and then to do the entire Battle of Leipzig in 2014.
We’ll keep you posted!
Nafziger, G (n.d.) French Order of Battle for Leipzig, 16-19 October 1813. The Nafziger Collection of Orders of Battle, file name 813JIA. http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/CGSC/CARL/nafziger/813JIA.pdf
Nafziger, G (n.d.) Allied Order of Battle for Leipzig, 16-19 October 1813. The Nafziger Collection of Orders of Battle, file name 813JIB. http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/CGSC/CARL/nafziger/813JIB.pdf
Pigeard, A (2009) Leipzig : La bataille des Nations (16-19 octobre 1813). Napoleon 1er Editions, St Cloud, France. 82 pp.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Links to our wargaming community

I spent my self-allocated blogging time this weekend updating the links on this blog. It's a slow and enjoyable 'job', checking all of those blogs, looking at some of the great posts that people have on them... leading to more links, comments and the like!

To see the revised list, please click on the tab Links: Wargames Blogs above.

One result of all this browsing is further links to Borodino games and other bicentennial activities on our 'sister' blog Wargaming Waterloo 2015.

Nothing to do with this post: French horse and Polish foot artillery

Still nothing to do with the post: Provisional Croatian Regiment

Nor this: Guard Artillery
I'd like the list of links to be as exhaustive as possible, at least regarding non-commercial, wargames blogs. Please let me know if a link to your blog, or one of your favourites, is missing. Also, please tell me if you'd like the description changed.

There are also some updates, mainly links to some sites relating to dioramas, under the tab Links: Wargaming Clubs, Militaria plus more

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Battle Report: Wargaming Borodino 2012 (12)

NOTE: This is the full report of our bicentennial game of Borodino originally posted in October 2012.

Other posts about our bicentennial game of Borodino include:
• the initial report done soon afterwards,
• a list of links to the files that we used in the game, and
• a pictorial report of the game posted one year on.

After all the planning, we began our big Borodino bash at about 21:00 AWST on Friday night, the 7th September, 200 years to the day; albeit about 12 hours later than the beginning of the battle on that fateful day in 1812. Initially we had four players; Stephen, Mark, Julian and me, but knew that we had two more commanders arriving at 'first light' on Saturday. I was always going to be on the French-Allied side, but everyone else wanted to be Russian! Julian decided he would join me while Mark (aka Kutusov) and Stephen (aka Barclay de Tolly) would take the Russians.

Bird's-eye view from a tree in the Utitsa woods. The bird must have been wondering what all these humans were up to...

Initial positions Stroganov's grenadiers

Starting positions viewed from the south-west: Poles of V Corps partially in right foreground, Davout's I Corps in centre,  with Bruyere's and Valence's divisions of Nansouty's I Reserve Cavalry Corps behind them

Initial positions viewed from the north-east: Russian reserve artillery on the left, combined grenadier battalions of V Corps in the centre with Korf's II Cav in front of them
Initial view of Borodino village from the Russian lines, Bakhmetyev III's 23rd Division in the foreground

Initial positions in the centre of the battlefield. Flêches at the top right, Grand Redoubt in the left distance
Initial positions of the Russian army (troops are behind the flêches)
Ornano's cavalry division occupying the extreme left of the French-Allied line
Three close-up photos of Mark's Hat Bavarians, for Ben :-)

Amazingly, with all the planning and preparation, I had arrived on that Friday evening with only a hazy battle plan. This formed into what I thought was a clearer plan of action as I surveyed the table while we set-up the off-board troops of the French-Allied army. My eventual plan was pretty close to history (as our set-up, victory conditions and restrictions encouraged). Poniatowski was to clear Utitsa and become the right flank of the attack, Compans' and Dessaix's divisions of Davout's corps were to attack the flêches from around the south side, Broussier ("the bruiser's") division of Eugène's corps was to assault and take Borodino while Delzons’ division (IV Corps), supported by Morand's, was to assault the Grand Redoubt from the north supported by Ney's corps from the south. I conferred with Julian (aka Prince Eugène) and explained my plan. "I'm not sure, but if it comes off mon Empereur it will be a great plan". Fabulous moral support there from my reluctant sub-commander!

“Kutusov's” plan was, obviously, to defend the key points of the Grand Redoubt and flêches, using tactical reserves as necessary. He also intended to move troops to support the guard jägers in Borodino, or to retake the town if it had been captured by the Franco-Allied forces. Further north, Platov and Uvarov's flank attack was to create as much mayhem as possible on the left flank of Napoleon's army. In the south, Stroganov's grenadier division would move to support Konovnitsyn’s defense of the town and mound of Utitsa.

After completing the final set-up, admiring our work and issuing orders we began this much anticipated game.
Inspiration: Roubaud's panorama
View from the north early in the battle; no sign of Platov and Uvarov... as yet
Early stages of the battle, from the SW
Taking our time, and plenty of photos, we played the first two turns (hours) of the game on that first night. When 'stumps' was declared in the early hours of Saturday morning, Borodino had been captured and was still held by Broussier's division and pleasing progress had been made towards the three key objectives of the Grand Redoubt, flêches and Utitsa, with minimal losses to Russian artillery. As a bonus, Karpov II's weak cossack 'division' on the extreme Russian left (south of Utitsa) had been broken. "We could not have expected it to have gone any better for the French", Eugène remarked.
IV Corps attacks Borodino and advances towards Grand Redoubt
French capture Borodino
Bug Cossacks, Karpov II's Division
Polish hussars and chasseurs confront Karpov II's Cossacks (lancers in retreat after having lost first mêlée)
Kaminski's Polish hussars in their successful attack

Mark's beautifully painted Strelets hussars, Saxons doubling as Poles (note stagger and blown markers)
Ney's III Corps (centre and left) and Dessaix's division mount their initial attacks
View of same from Russian lines

Next day, Peter and Rod joined us as planned. After explaining the situation of the battle, determining which troops they would command—Rod the Russian centre and left (i.e. Bagration's Second Western Army) and Peter the attack on Utitsa (i.e. Poniatowski's Poles)—and giving them a brief introduction to the rules, we began again.

The relative luck of the French-Allied side from the night before now seemed to have evaporated. Razout's division of Ney's corps was mauled by Russian artillery fire from the vicinity of Semenoskoye. These losses were too much for Razout's men, who failed morale and retreated on Turn 4 (0900).

Approach of Platov and Uvarov
Initial attack on Grand Redoubt
Dessaix's initial attack on flêches

Russian defense of Utitsa
Attack of V Corps
Zayonchek's skirmishers go into action
The battle entered its ‘arm-wrestle’ phase over the next two turns (1000–1100), with successes for both sides. In the north, Eugène’s troops were fighting desperately on three ‘fronts’. Uvarov and Platov's flank attack was going well; Ornano's cavalry division n'existe plus and Chastel's cavalry was in trouble. Broussier’s men had thus far resisted all that the Russians could throw at them across the narrow Borodino bridgehead and continued to hold the town. However, the attacks by Delzons’ and Morand’s divisions on the Grand Redoubt were repulsed with ease by Rayevski’s men.

Platov and Uvarov's attack
Platov leads his men to the attack
Platov's Cossacks with Uvarov's I Cavalry Corps in support
Cossack's on the attack
Uvarov's Life Guard Hussars

La Houssaye's dragoons advance to meet Russian threat
Russian counter-attack on Borodino
Compans' troops attack Konovnitsyn and Stroganov's defenders

View of same from south of Utitsa
Girardin's chasseurs retreat having failed to break one of Stroganov's grenadier units on the Utitsa mound
Zayonchek's attack on Utitsa builds
The most significant Russian successes came in the centre, care of Siever's cavalry. The whole of Ney’s corps, was looking decidedly fragile after Wollwrath's chasseurs and lancers were ‘brushed’ aside by the Russian horsemen and then the Kharkovskii dragoons, thanks to yet another ‘6’, rode down a square of Württemberg infantry from Marchand’s small division.
Kharkovskii dragoons attack Württembergers in square. Note 6 on die...
... and the result

All was not disastrous though thanks to some promising developments for the French-Allies in the south, where Kniaziewicz and Compans combined to push back Stroganov’s grenadier’s before Utitsa; although the Russians still held the town. Crucially though, Compans was allowing his division to become more and more engrossed in the “side-show” of Utitsa, at the expense of his attack on the flêches.

Lithuanian (Litovskii) uhlans attack flank of Dessaix
Turn 7, 1200, was a great one for the Russians. Not to be outdone by the Kharkovskii dragoons, Sievers’ Lithuanian (Litovskii) uhlans effectively broke Dessaix's command single-handedly after riding down not one, but two squares that had been hastily formed by the harassed and weakened infantry units from that division! To add to the insult to Ney’s prestige, Wollwrath's cavalry division failed to rally and routed off table. There was now a large gap in the French-Allied centre. 

Poniatowski and staff
Yet it seemed that the situation could be stabilised, at least, and perhaps even turned to a better outcome. I was speaking to Peter (Poniatowski) following the dramatic events described above, and just prior to our break for a late dinner. It seemed to me that we could send in a hammer blow from the south to presssure Utitsa and the flêches in the form of his troops and Compans' and Friant’s divisions (from Davout, aka me) supported by the reserve cavalry which had just been ordered, successfully, to drive between the flêches and Grand Redoubt.

Ah, but how quickly things can change...

The Russian successes from Turn 7 continued into Turn 8 (1300). Following up on their previous success, units of Kniaziewicz’s and Compans’ divisions once again attacked Stronganov’s grenadiers, this time only to be broken by the stout defence of the St Petersburg grenadiers. The only glimmer of light for the French-Allied forces came from Pajol's hussars that broke a unit of Russian hussars and followed up to break the Lithuanian uhlans (the victors of mêlées in Turn 6).

The biggest blow to the French-Allied cause came in the Command Phase when a ‘1’ was rolled for Compans’ division, leading it to fail morale and to retreat. A comparable test for the Russians saw Mecklemburg’s division, which was defending the flêches, pass morale at 1/3 losses.
Russian defensive lines late in the battle
Nansouty's reserve cavalry corps

French reserve cavalry on the move
From the Russian side. The attack was too late to have the desired effect 
Frian't final, successful attack on the Grand Redoubt
The period from 1400 to 1600 was a tough few hours on the French-Allied side. Osterman-Tolstoy’s IV Corps regained Borodino, Broussier's division (Eugène’s IV Corps) was finally broken and Zayocek's division (Poniatowski’s V Corps) was initially demoralised (1500) and then broken (1600) along with Delzons division (IV Corps). The cavalry mêlées in the centre which initially pitted Pajol’s French light cavalry against Sievers dragoons and then Borozdin II’s 1st Cuirassier Division resulted in Russian victories. It was not completely one-way traffic though as Mecklemburg's division retreated from flêches, Paskevich’s division (Rayevski’s VII Corps) and Bakhmetyev I’s division of Osterman-Tolstoy’s IV Corps were demoralised and Konovnitsyn’s small division retreated from the Utitsa woods. We called an end to the day’s gaming at that point (2 am on Sunday morning). We had one more turn of the game left to play at that point; if we bothered.

The last straw, three 6s when a 4 or below required 
The result was not good for the Vistula legion!
Of course, things always look different in the cold, hard light of day and I/we realised that we'd kick ourselves if we did not complete the last turn, however futile and painful it may prove to be for the French-Allied side. Just as well as it turned out to be quite a monumental final turn.

The flêches were taken by Friant’s troops and Ponitowski’s men finally captured the Utitsa mount. The run of inopportune die rolls continued for the French-Allies when Eugène, attempting to form square with three battalions of the Vistula Legion rolled three 6s (requiring 4 or below to succeed)! In the north, IV Corps was looking terribly fragile with only the Italian Guard and Gerard’s division remaining as effective fighting forces. At the end of the turn (Command Phase) Mecklemburg's division rallied as did Konovnitsyn’s. Stroganov’s grenadiers were demoralised and Kaminiski's cavalry (Polish V Corps) retreated.

Battle's end: view from NE

Battle's end: view from north
Battle's end: view from south

Battle's end: view from SW
Battle's end: Grand Redoubt
So ended our bicentennial Borodino game. While it did not go in any way according to plan for the French-Allies, it was a near perfect action for the Russians. By our scenario the result of the game was a Russian tactical victory (see previously posted description). This seemed appropriate as, while the French-Allied attack was severely blunted, there was a large part of the army that remained unengaged. On the Russian side, the front-line troops had suffered great loss, but more than half of the army was unengaged. Had we had the time, energy and inclination, it would have been interesting to have continued the battle until dark on that September day (another three or four turns). Oh well, another time...!

As regular readers of this blog will know, we had been planning and preparing this game for months. All of the time that went into it, including the three days of playing the game, were well worth it.

I’d like to make special mention of Mark’s efforts to make this game possible. For him this game was over 30 years in the planning. It would not have been possible without his superhuman effort in painting the extra Russians that we needed for the battle. He painted about 900 figures in six months, peaking at nearly 100 in a week! Unfortunately, I did not work as steadily on the French-Allied units and failed in my 11th-hour attempts to catch up (the undercoated and partially painted figures in the photos are all down to me). Julian’s Borodino church deserves another mention. It was a real feature of the battlefield and of the photos. A final thanks to Rod, Peter and Stephen for being part of the game and to Stephen for his photos, many of which feature in this post.

Having completed this little effort in 2012 our thoughts and attentions are now turning to the big one; Leipzig in 2013, hopefully also at 1:50 and 2mm to 1m!

This is my last post about our game to commemorate the Borodino bicentennial. I will close it with some photos of various units and other 'points of interest' from the game.

Duka II's Russian 1st Cuirassier Division

Lorge's heavy cavalry division (Saxon heavies leading)

Miffy enjoying spring sunshine, oblivious to the events occurring inside

Some Russian gunners had time for a lie down!

While others worked hard to bring guns into action

Russian artillery reserve; idol all day

Sievers hussars (represented by the Pavlograd Hussars)

Sievers Akhtyrskskii Hussars

Junot's VIII (Westphalian) Corps in reserve all day
The skies above Borodino!

A Vulcan does a fly-over

Another view

Crowded skies


Our version of Buçaco ridge