Sunday, 26 May 2019

Battle of Craonne, 7 March 1814: can one ever improve upon the Emperor's plans?

The scenario we picked was straight 'out of the box' - thanks to Chris Leach for producing a very easy to set up and finely balanced scenario out of the wider historical battle, optimised for Shako. Here it is:

And the order of battle here, heavy on Imperial Guard as historically:

As numerous historical sources attest, the historical encounter was both 'one of the most desperately contested battles in which Napoleon ever took part' (Maycock) and also one where it very tempting to believe that with a change of plan - something more ambitious, perhaps - it might be possible to outfox the Russians and win a more comprehensive victory than was achieved on the day. 

Such was my intention, anyway, as the surrogate Napoleon on the day. It was, however, an undoubtedly strong defensive position - below, viewed from the East. This was a battle where reputations could be very easy to bury. 

Historically, Ney attacked directly up the slope in the trees visible in the left background of the picture, with Grouchy in support. My plan was for Marshalls Ney and Grouchy to march north, to beyond the wooded area in Leach's map, and only then swing West to attack Gen. Vuitsch, in the left foreground of the picture. If he could be dislodged, I reckoned, then Gen. Laptiev would look dangerously exposed, whilst Gen. Boyer could be relied upon to dislodge Gen. Swarikin from Heurtebise, especially with the eventual support of Gen. Charpentier's troops after Move 5. It was nothing if not simple. But there were evidently huge risks. Who would want cavalry alone challenging a ridge, for example, as Gen. Nansouty would be asked to? 

And my real concern was that Gen. Vorontzov would order an immediate attack and cut Ney off - a risk that I seemed to have averted, as the movement began.

And so the plan was on its way, or rather, Ney and Grouchy were on their way, the latter commanding my favourite French troops, the dragoons. .

At the end of the second move, they had got this far, and seemed out of danger from a flank attack - even the Russian artillery firing had been sporadic and relatively ineffective, whilst the skirmisher exchange had been even-handed:

Apparently there had been orders to the Russian reserve under Gen. Stzawitzski, although what they were, I never found out - I was told they were later contradicted.

Events were about to supersede them in any event. Gen. Boyer, acceding to the command as historically, was about to press his attack on Heurtebise. How long to cross the woods, I wondered, how long?

The next move brought Ney almost into action. The 1st Young Guard Regiment, seen on the left of the picture heading up the 1st Young Guard Division, were to cover themselves with glory in the battle. 

But I can assure you, those Russian lines looked steady and formidable, and with additional defence benefits, this was to be a mighty difficult obstacle. Maybe that gun might be the weak point? It won't get the defence bonus.

I must not omit events on the French left, though. Gen. Nansouty's cavalry were engaged in the wide outflanking manoeuvre they'd been ordered to execute, with the objective of disruption rather than actual achievement. The Guard cavalry had not performed especially well, the Russian 2nd Hussar Regiment distinguishing itself with courage and verve. Here the position at the end of Move Four.

Events then moved apace. Marshall Ney's attack began, and it must be admitted that from now on, the die rolls were with me. In the picture below Marshall Grouchy is in the foreground, rounding the corner and preparing to assist in the attack. How many divisions would they put to flight between them? 

There was the undisputed bravery of the 1st Young Guard Regiment, about to engage in the decisive moment of the day, the storming of the heights by taking the Russian gun and establishing a foothold on the scarp. Gen. Meunier's finest moment: as he said privately of the Regiment, «Ils ont gagné la bataille par eux-mêmes».

Combined arms was the objective, however: 

And combined arms the achievement, as the French gun finally got into action and 5th Dragoons and 1st Young Guard, having gained the heights by overwhelming the gun, between them crashed into hapless Russian battalions.

Marshall Grouchy's dragoons, which had rolled 6 after 6 for initiative and ended up swamped in staff officers, continued to sweep round the flank:

And now indeed the overall position was beginning to look perilous for the Russians, with Vuitsch's division being pushed back and Gen. Swarikin under attack from both Gen. Charpentier and Gen. Boyer, by Turn Six. The mass French artillery, however, though they looked mighty impressive, achieved absolutely nothing during the entire game. Dice can be so cruel.

As late afternoon beams of sunlight crossed the battlefield, the plight of Gen. Voronzov became clear. Here, the overall position on Move Seven.

And here, the desperate defence of Gen. Laptiev, who succeeded in extricating himself, to the general relief of the Allies. 

But with two Russian divisions broken by Move Nine, we decided to call the battle for the French - a victory, but not a glorious victory, which would only have been possible if three Russian divisions had been broken in the same turn. If not, the action would have continued until the end of the day, traditionally twelve turns in Shako, and every Russian division left on the table would have been broken. The numerical advantage of the French, the way that the Russians had been forced into square, was clear:

And equally, the risk to the Russians of being completely surrounded as the gamed ended:

It was time to take stock. For all my boldness, it had become clear that the Emperor had sized up the situation correctly. There was little to gain for all Marshalls Ney and Grouchy's marching, nothing that could not have been achieved equally well by a straight attack on Gen. Swarikin from Move One, which would probably dislodge him and enable pressure to be placed on Gen. Laptiev earlier. I was left with two consolations: first, that I had at least equalled the Emperor's achievement; and second, that I still believe I achieved it with less risk of defeat. A hugely enjoyable day's wargaming, and yet further evidence, should it be needed, of how well Shako can work in delivering outcomes close to their historical equivalents, details of which in this case may be found here: 

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Free e-Books!

To mark the anniversary of le mort de Napoleon, Pen & Sword Books are offering e-book versions of four of their titles as a free download from Amazon.

See post on The Chauvinistic Blog for more details.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Combat at Asch, 8th May 1759

Wilko and I caught up on the weekend for a small and most enjoyable Seven Years' War game. He was 'master of ceremonies' providing all for this small action which came from Volume 1 of Charles Grant junior's excellent scenario books.

Originally a rearguard-withdrawal by the Imperial-Austrian forces (quelle surprise!), Mark decided that they would not over-estimate the on-coming Prussians and we'd run it as a straight fight.

I took the Prussians, lead by General Finck (bringing to mind the "Wizard of ID") and Mark the Imperial-Hapsburgs.

I decided to use the subtle tactic of 'advance the whole line'. with 1st brigade's single grenadier battalion and Belling hussars trying to get around the Imperials left flank, while 2nd brigade's Szekely hussars, a battalion of the Puttkamer regiment and freies bataillon Collignon tried a left-hook through the woods on the enemy's right.

Meanwhile the centre advanced 'a les prussiennes'.

Things seemed to be progressing well, although the Belling hussars refused (twice) to charge the infantry ahead of them.
In the centre I had advanced the infantry ahead of the supporting Horn cuirassiers in what was to be a critical mistake.

Two wins for the underdogs!

Finally, the Belling hussars charged the infantry, taking fire on the way in, but winning the low-odds mêlée. They then sensibly withdrew behind the grenadiers.
(The Imperial dragoons seen in the distance later charged the grenadiers who sent them off with a 'bloody nose', thanks to better dice in a mêlée with dead-even factors).

Not to be outdone, the small unit of Imperial hussars charged the Horn cuirassiers in the flank, won their own low-odds mêlée and rode on to take out one of the Prussian batteries. They withdrew, having scored this considerable prize.

On the Prussian left, the flank force had done better than expected. The Szekely hussars and battalion of the Puttkamer regiment worked through the woods to emerge on the right of the Imperial army, while the freies bataillon Collignon harassed and drove off the lead infantry battalion—I did not get that one in a photo, so you'll have to take my word for it!

In the centre, the lines of infantry had been wearing one another down, neither side gaining the ascendency.

In fact, so much so that both armies needed to take a withdrawal test for 1/3 army losses, which both failed*!

With losses about even, the game was called a minor Imperial-Austrian victory as the captured/destroyed battery tipped the victory points in their favour.

A great little game, lasting a mere six turns, but which provided a lot of interest, nail-biting close combat decisions and loads of fun.

(*I omitted to take the end-of-game photos--oops!)

Sunday, 17 March 2019

One-sided 'Marc' invited us down for a redux game of the Battle of Auerstadt at yesterday's Napoleonic Wargaming Society games day. Wilko had played the game back in January so did not want to get back on the horse and Julian was unable to make it, so it was left to me to 'represent' the ANF. I duly headed down the hill, arriving about thirty minutes behind the scheduled 9 am start (sorry fellas). I was so pleased that I did as it was a most enjoyable game played, as ever, in the 'right' manner.

In a reversal of roles, I'll provide the brief, one-eyed report here ahead of Mark's more detailed report on his blog (hopefully I have the names of the formations about right!).

I arrived in time for the French phase of the first turn. Gudin's division positioned in and around Hassenhausen faced Schmettau’s division and Blücher's ad-hoc advance guard.

Learning from history, Stephen did not go for the immediate attack, preferring to try to soften up the French defenders and await the arriving Prussian masses.

After a time (or was it a few times?) he did, though, send Blücher's fusiliers (heavily disguised as Nassauers—by necessity, there were a lot of 'stand-in' troops in this game, which, of course is not a problem at all and has no impact on play). They did not fare well, copping fire from regiments from Petit's and Gautier's brigades on Gudin's right.

 Meanwhile, Wartensleben’s and Orange's divisions snake towards the front.

Reinforcements were coming to Gudin's aide too, in the form of Vialannes' light cavalry^ and Friant's division, along with the Iron Marshal himself. Note the Prussian batteries in the foreground which were not making much impact due to Stephen's average or worse rolls and my generally above average counter-rolls. I do like the way Napoleon's Battles deals with 'the imponderable with each player throwing a D10.
(^It is interesting that, while Friant, Gudin and Morand are 'household' names amongst Napoleonic buffs, Vialannes is a 'nobody'. I read in one of the accounts that Davout was most displeased with his performance. Little wonder he amounted to nothing, when such a battle and the fact that the few French light cavalry existed at the end should have covered him in (at least) reflected glory!)

The Prussian fusiliers retreated (invoking the extreme sounding 'voluntary rout' under Napoleon's Battles), allowing the "Blücher" hussars to charge in. Gautier's boys formed square (which is more "prepared to receive cavalry" at this scale, as Mark explained), seeing them off fairly easily.

In due course, the three Prussian divisions were almost in position to attack, while the reserve divisions approached in the distance.

First cavalry mêlée! An indecisive affair so the attacking Prussian hussars withdrew to reform. Sounds a lot like the historical action.

More Prussian hussars charged in. Not actually the death's heads lads, but they went for a death or glory charge. Kister's brigade (Friant) got themselves 'organised to receive' and these horsemen too recoiled.

 View from the west (Prussian) side on the eve of the decisive turn of the game.

Vialannes' horsemen charged some of Wartensleben’s infantry who failed to 'prepare to receive' and could not be saved by the supporting dragoons.

The French horsemen then charged the next unit of infantry, who did get organised, sending Vialannes' men back to reform.

The signal was made. Prussian attacks all along the line. Our troops though, held firm everywhere, inflicting some bloody noses.

So we counter-attacked, routing Wartensleben’s boys who had formed 'square' in response to the charge of Vialannes' brigade.

A regiment of Gautier's brigade attacked to finish off their previously unsuccessful assailants (rear of photo), while a regiment of Brouard's brigade (Morand's division) attacked some isolated Prussians who had advanced to fire on some of that division's troops in square (foreground).

The tide well and truly turned, and old father time tarryng-not, we called the game at that point. 

Thanks to Mark and Stephen for a great game. It is always fun when you take the better side and win, but it was mainly because of the way in which we played and Mark's umpiring making it all run so smoothly and easily. All played in a spirit of fun and historical interest—even if I did follow Stephen to the dark side, selling my soul by using two, or was it three?, re-rolls!!

A great day—finished off with some beaut racing at the Motorplex.