Saturday, July 22, 2017

A story of gore, and blood-letting galore - A Tale of Yore.


Looking southwards along French lines
 along the Elster River, Dolitz village in the foreground,
Markkleeburg in the distance.  The village of Dosen
is just visible to the left of the picture. 
When you get invited around to someone's house to play a big Napoleonic game using their kit: table, figures, terrain and all - well, it's a no-brainer, innit?  I spent last Tuesday afternoon and evening (July 18) at Mark's place (author of the blogspot Chasseur), fighting a tough battle, using a rule set General d'Armee, one I had not tried before.  General de Brigade it is not, though the authorship - David C.R. Brown - is the same.
Developing Austrian attack on the Markkleeburg bridge.
After the first half dozen moves, Paul ('Jacko' of Painting Little Soldiers) arrived and joined in, whilst Mark relegated himself was able to devote his energies to directing the play.  Neither Paul nor I had played this rule set before, and I find it not at all like General de Brigade, yet the thing went with a swing.  I think in the 8 hours from 2pm to 10, with a break for a meal and cups of tea (and I seem to recall a cold beer somewhere in there - actually Haagen Lager, one I've not tried before, easy on the palate, very drinkable), we probably got through maybe 15 turns - each side.
The cavalry fight between the Baron Ott Hussars and
French light horse.  Already battered by gunfire, the
Austrians, in defeat, still handed out some hard knocks.
Allowing he didn't want a straight 'pick-up' sort of game, Mark had set up an interesting looking scenario, loosely based on a incident during the 'Battle of the Nations' at Leipzig, October, 1813. This was an Allied attempt to wrest the village of Markkleeburg from the hands of the French (Poles, actually) on the first day.  The details of the scenario set-up and orders of battle you will find here, so I'll keep my description brief.  Given the choice, I opted for the Austrians. Just because I like Austrians.  And I prefer attack to defence anyhow.


Austrian Brigade across the river from Dolitz.  I was never clear in
my mind how I was going to use the cavalry.
The village of Markkleeburg lies on eastern bank of the River Elster.  The River itself is uncrossable except by bridge.  As the action begins, a couple of Austrian brigades, with attached horse and cannon are approaching from the west.  The total force upon the west bank comprised seven line battalions, two landwehr(?), two jager, one dragoon and one hussar regiment, and four gun batteries, one of which comprised 12pr heavies.

Looking north along the river line.  This must have been taken
early in the day, for the field is innocent of a single Austrian,


Apart from going around, over or under, the only way to get to the other side of the river was to force a bridge crossing.   The way to do that is to set up a large battery (masked by infantry), with it batter down the bridge defenders, then storm across the defile with infantry. 
Much later, and the river bank firefight.  Not unexpectedly,
the veteran Poles got the better of these exchanges - not helped
by the Austrians' failure to keep their fire discipline.

The Markkleeburg bridge was the obvious target, though I expressed enough interest in the Dolitz bridge to tie down a French brigade there.  The latter was one awkwardly placed bridge, from the point of view of an attacker, but I rather think I ought to have shown a bit more aggression than I did in that direction.

You can see how these pictures got out of order, eh?
The French and Poles await the Austrian approach from the
west bank.
Of course, given the numbers,  the Allies were not relying for victory upon this attack upon narrow defiles.  The main attack was to come from the south whence, I was reliably informed, several Austrian brigades were approaching.  These comprised 3 infantry brigades (one Hungarian and one German line brigade, the latter with an attached battery; and a brigade of grenadiers), a 'light' brigade (3 light horse regiments, light infantry {grenze or jager, I don't recall which} and a horse battery), and a 'heavy' brigade of two cuirassier regiments and supporting artillery.
Magnificent French and Polish light horse.
Now, Mark made no claim to play balance in this scenario.  Although the Austrians had the superior numbers of foot, they had none in horse or guns.  Nor had they in quality, though the grenadiers were, at least potentially, a formidable formation of veterans.  The French also had two 'leadership' advantages.  The first was that in any initiative determination, the French (actually the Polish Prince Poniatowsky) could count an extra pip on his 2D6 dice roll.  The second was that they also had one extra ADC, whose function was to get the troops into motion.  As it transpired, until the last 5 game turns I don't think I won a single initiative roll,  Then I won the last five in a row.  Extraordinary.
Dolitz: a tough nut.  The bridge nestling in a
reentrant river bend made this an awkward
objective.  It took much longer to develop an
attack, here, but it tied down this whole brigade.
Further, most of the French and Poles began the action on table, just two formations to be brought on. The Austrians began with just the forces west of the Elster River on table; those approaching from the south yet to reach the field.
Arrival of the Austrian Advance Guard Division: three
light horse regiments, horse battery, and a battalion
of grenze.  The grenze performed pretty well on the day.

It was to be a long time before they did so, at that.  I needed two 'ADC's to bring on one formation, and that still required a die roll of  '6' for the first couple of turns. At that, to activate the 'off table, reserve ADCs, I needed to roll 5s or 6s.  Well, they weren't going to happen in a hurry, eh?  Failing on turn one, the next opportunity would not arrive until Turn 4, as in the two intervening turns I found myself with precisely one ADC available. During that time, my brigade commanders seemed hesitant to commit themselves to any action, and matters developed painfully slowly.  Mind you, I was getting through my moves quickly!  
The skirmishers at Dolitz  eventually drove  off
the French guns
Eventually the light brigade arrived, and shortly thereafter the Hungarian brigade.  How I wished they had thought to bring cannon with them (Mark had given them none - probably deliberately; a battery this soon might have made a big difference in battering down the Markkleeburg garrison).
From behind French lines east of Markkleeburg

The light brigade I tended to assign something of a screening role.  This did the Baron Ott Hussars no favours, as, mounting a small rise northeast of Markkleeburg, they drew the attention of a battery of ordnance hard by the town.  This can be where inexperience with a rule set can kick in.  Brigades that became 'HESITANT', I tended to ignore, but though one can't do anything much positive with such recalcitrant fellows, they don't have to do nothing.  So, instead of retiring discreetly to the reverse slope, the Hussars of Baron Ott had miserably to endure the long range bowls until a unit of enemy light horse felt sufficiently emboldened to try conclusions with the sabre.  There could be but one outcome, despite the Austrians' gallant counter-charge to meet their doom.  They were swept from the field and dispersed, but not without administering some hard knocks of their own.  The French horse thoughtfully betook themselves back whence they came.
German line arriving behind the Hungarians.
Tensions had meanwhile been mounting around Markkleeburg.  West of the town, the Austrians had lined the river bank with musketeers in the hope of at least sweeping aside one of the opposing Polish regiments opposite.  But they also served to mask the formation of a massed line of cannon of both line brigades and the Reserve artillery at effective range.  The advent of the Hungarians closing in from the south forced the local Polish commander to sideslip one of the riverbank defenders to the south to face them.  This presented a flank, so it seemed to a column of Hungarian Insurrectio infantry.  Do you think I could persuade the local commander to launch a coordinated assault all along the line?  Not a sausage.  After a bit of thought he flung in his Insurrectio battalion on its own, and the Polish infantry promptly and bloodily flung them back out again.
The coordinated Brigade  INFANTRY ASSAULT requires two ADCs to get going, and then required a roll of 3 or better on a D6 to succeed. When the Insurrectio went in, I didn't have the 2ADCs available, the next turn the order failed to register upon the bewildered mind of the local commander, so it was not until two (further) turns had gone by before the Hungarians could start mounting really testing assaults.  By that time, the Insurrectio were pretty much spent as a fighting force (having taken 11 'hits', one fewer than the number required to disperse them outright).
French chasseurs-a-cheval charging the Austrian Advance
Guard battery.  This didn't go well for the French.
All the same, I was stacking quite a bit of weight upon the Markkleeburg battle, with the German line infantry brigade coming in on the Hungarian right rear.  Were I to do this again, I would have brought the Hungarians in on a much narrower front, the skirmishing troops pushing through the trees beside the riverbank, as before, but with the columns 'two up', the Insurrectio taking their place in the second line.  The Germans could then have adopted a similar formation to their right, behind their own skirmisher screen.  Hindsight, of course.
The fight for Markkleeburg bridge.  One Austrian battalion has
collapsed and departed, the remaining one will do so shortly.
Already preparations are afoot to send in deep columns
supported by the massed artillery.
Meanwhile, it was hard to know what to do with the Austrian horse.  I didn't expect all that much from the light horse (though I might have done them an injustice there), and when the heavies arrived, placed them on the right flank beyond Dosen village.  There I hoped to tie down the large body of infantry that materialised beyond it to the north - the Young Guard, I believe.  After the action I was dissatisfied with the cuirassiers' performance and my handling of them, both.  Fact is, once, after an effort of urging, they at last got close to the effective range of the enemy artillery, further forward they would not go.  It is true, though, that they did not receive a high priority on my list of orders.   In hindsight, I have no real reason for dissatisfaction, for those two regiments, with the aid of the light horse and their grenzer infantry, tied down a considerable portion of the whole French Corps in the area..
Pressure building against Markkleeburg.
Shortly after seeing their comrades get the better of Austrian Hussars, a second French light horse unit sought to emulate that success by charging an Austrian battery that had been galling a 'provisional' battalion guarding the east flank of the Markkleeburg village.  This one went rather less well for the French.  The storm of canister into which they rode proved too much, stopped them well short of the gun line, and back they went, a much chastened body of light horse.
Polish infantry disordered by the Austrian cannonade.
Although The local commander had placed some hopes upon the two battalions lining the river bank to see off at least one battalion of defenders, it was not to be.  After sustaining the unequal fight for several hours, one, then the other, broke, and fell back, scattered, to the rear.
Looking westwards from beyond Dosen village.  I counted
eight enemy infantry units in and about this village.  All tied down
by my light (Advance guard) and heavt Brigades.



But that, of course, served to unmask the batteries that the Austrians had lined up within effective range of the opposite bank.  The bombardment was rapidly fruitful.  As two line battalions formed up into deep columns, the bridge defenders were taking a fearful battering.  The Polish veterans fell into confusion before at last breaking and scattering.  

'Vorwaerts! Marsch!' the time has come to force the crossing.
In fact, so quickly had the defenders lining the riverbank vanished, that it seemed that the deep infantry columns might not be able in time to reach the bridge, and storm across it, before reinforcements could arrive to prevent it.
At about this time, the last French reinforcements arrived:
The Empress Dragoons and the Red Lancers of the Imperial
Guard.  The magnificence of these troops would grace
any battlefield.
Fortunately none did.  I will break off the narrative here to make some comment on the time scale. Now the ground scale is the familiar 1:1000 - that is to say 1mm represents 1 meter.  To my mind that suggests a time scale of 1: √(1000) = 31.7 approximately.  Rounded to a convenient scale, that suggests one turn represents about half an hour.  That seemed about right to me.  I didn't count the turns, but estimate we played through 15 or thereabouts - call that seven and a half hours - pretty close to the elapsed time for the game itself.  
Across the bridge goes the leading column.  A battery has been
thrown forward in support.  
Meanwhile, near Dolitz, the Austrians had seen of the battery defending the bridge.  Austrian infantry lined the river bank and began to subject the garrison to a heavy fire, returned with spirit by the defenders.  Austrian cavalry began to form deep columns in anticipation of the chance to make the attempt.  Although one formed the impression that the temper of the defenders here was somewhat brittle, there were quite a lot of them.  I needed to hurt them rather more badly than they had yet received to be willing to chance my arm...
Markkleeburg under pressure from west and south.
At last a semblance of a coordinated assault began to form about Markkleeburg.  The lead battalion came storming across the bridge, just as the Hungarians developed a second, more serious attack on the town itself.
But of a mess here.  The Hessen-Homburg Hussars try to
clear the way for the grenadiers to advance.  But they have
arrived rather too far over to the right...
And here is where I rather think I made the mistake that might have cost the Allies the battle.  The final brigade, the powerful grenadiers having at last arrived, I brought them on too far over towards the right, in front of Dosen, withal. Can't think why. Had I brought them on 'two up' on either side of the horse artillery in the above picture, they would have added to the pressure, and might successfully have prevented the disaster that once and for all repulsed the Austrian attacks.
Confusion in front of Dosen.  I really made a mess of this.
Storming across the bridge, an Austrian battalion fell upon the flank of the Polish infantry then being engaged by skirmishers to their front.  Already much tried, the Poles could not withstand this rude irruption, and broke at once in rout.
Where the action is.  Behind the hill, a  Hungarian line
 infantry unit looking very sorry for itself 
The simultaneous assault upon the town, however, was less successful.  Despite its heavy losses, the garrison simply refused to buckle, and back went a second assault.
Approaching French and Polish light cavalry.
Then a third.
Polish line infantry hit in the flank by a charging column.
Was what followed inspiration or desperation?  Perhaps one can lead to the other.  With the pressure mounting and assaults coming in, it looked as though Markkleeburg must soon fall to a concerted Austrian assault. That vital bastion taken, the Austrians would then be in a position to unhinge the French lines in both directions, north and east, and hence use to good effect their numerical superiority in foot. Normally I don't much like storming towns and villages.  They can often be difficult strong points, and costly in time and troops even when successful.  But the shape of this action left no real choice:  the bridge that had to be crossed led straight to Markkleeburg. That place had to be taken.  The rewards for its capture I hoped would be commensurate with the effort.
The moment before the decisive clash.  A Hungarian line
and a German column about to be hit by cavalry.  The
Germans managed to form square betimes. 
It was at this juncture that Prince Poniatowski flung in his cavalry, just as the Germans were following up a failed Hungarian assault with one of their own. Ill supported by Hungarian fire - they had lost their discipline (which reduces the effectiveness of their musketry), the Germans failed in their turn.  Three direct assaults (Mark thinks four) seen off by the battered garrison - heroic defence! But... plenty more where they came from, eh?
The Hungarians scattered, a supporting German
column comes in for close Polish attention.

No.  Now was the moment for a desperate charge.  A veteran regiment of Polish uhlans and a unit of French (?) chasseurs galloped in.  The latter took on a German column that had already taken some knocks.  The infantry formed square betimes, and comfortably saw off the Frenchmen. No problem there. It was the Poles that did the business.  At first strike, they scattered the Hungarians - blinded by their own smoke - to the four winds; following up, swept aside a German column, then, heeding not the waft of incoming canister, rode over the German brigade's guns.  On 2D6 the guns rolled a 5 - enough to inflict a 'casualty' (in game terms) - not enough, in all likelihood, to stop the charge.  It didn't.

Austrians pouring across the bridge...
Such damage might have been borne, but the effect on the Hungarians in particular was disastrous. Already in action for several hours, and having several assaults (at least three) rudely flung back, the rout of one of their battalions was enough to tip the whole brigade over the edge.  The whole formation broke off the action and fled.  It was touch and go whether the German line would follow them
A suddenly naked - and sad - looking battlefield.  
That was the battle over, pretty much:  one climactic charge, and all efforts of the Allies had come to naught.  This was the kind of thing that could enter legend.  The battlefield south of Markkleeburg was looking depressingly bare of Austrians after that.
The fields north of the Markkleeburg-Dosen road
look more densely populated than those south of it!
In the next turn or two, I did try to see what might be  achieved on other sectors of the battlefield, but if anything could have been done there, it probably would have been earlier anyway.  I did try to get the cuirassiers off their chuffs, and even got them to twitch in the direction of the enemy, but wiser counsels would probably have prevailed.  What could two cuirassier regiments do against four battalions of the Young Guard?  As for the battalion that had successfully stormed the bridge, suddenly the east bank was looking a very lonely place.
Late in the day, Austrian skirmishers press onto the
Dolitz bridge.  But it is far too late.
We called the battle at this point:  a decided French victory.  It is probably no exaggeration to suggest this was a victory snatched by a single regiment of Polish uhlans in the moment at which the outcome was teetering in the balance.
Most of the units that began the day west of the Elster
are still there at its end. 
If one must lose a war games battle - and as 'Coffeehouse' Burletzki remarked to 'Meister' Kohnlein after his sixth straight loss in six-game chess match 'One can't win every game' - let it be in heroic fashion, such as this, even if the 'hero' was on the other side of the field.  Although a little disappointed at the suddenness of the denouement - and the thoroughness of it - yet it had all the elements you would want of a rattling good story.

Unfortunately, the first 5 pictures got themselves out of order, from which impregnable position, they would not be shifted.  I can't say much in favour of their quality, neither.

Thank you, Mark, for a great day's war gaming, and to Paul for such a congenial adversary.



10 comments:

  1. Epic BatRep! You weave a very compelling and interesting tale of this great encounter.

    Much appreciated!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I had intended it to be brief...

      Delete
  2. Excellent entertaining report thank Ion! Will add a link to this on my own post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Mark. I hadn't intended my narrative to be quite so... erm ... expansive...

      Delete
  3. That is a serious collection of very pretty toys. Well set up . Glad the beer was drinkable too!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All Mark's toys and accessories up to and including the venue.

      Delete
  4. A grand battle Ion and a grand report too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I forgot to mention it was played on a 6ft by 12ft table, and, all up, somewhere between 1400 and 1500 figures by my rough estimate.

      Delete
  5. Now THAT is a Wargame!

    The enthusiasm of the report reflects the excellence of the game and company.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I don't get to play these very often, it's true I greatly appreciated the occasion and the company. Thank you for your comment.

      Delete