King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Leipzig Campaign : Battle of Olbernhau Pt. 2

It goes without saying that this blog has been stalled for some time while I have had my hands full with work and kids.  I have had the AAR for the Battle of Olbernhau (see previous post) mostly completed for some time, but it has been languishing forgotten in the limbo of the "drafts" file.  In the effort to re-start things in motion around here, the first order of business is to publish it! 


Battle of Olberhau After Action Report 


The town of Olberhnahu with forested hills to the east (rear).  The Allies enter the table from more or less this position moving from right to left, then turning sharply west (left)

As outlined in the previous post (here), our scenario revolved a hypothetical encounter of the French IX Corps and the Allied Army of Bohemia just west of the town of Olbernhau, southern Saxony, in August 1813.  The battle game is preceded by the approach of the town by Count Pahlen III’s Russian hussar division, moving in from the south.  Olbernhau, a mining and metal-working town, is of strategic importance in this scenario as it sits like a cork in a bottle on a secondary route between inner Saxony and Bohemia, between broad and flat valleys leading northwest toward Marienberg and much narrower passes that climb past cliffs and gorges before falling, once again, to the south and eventually to the city of Chomutov.  As well, the town of Olbernhau marks the location of a couple of bridges over the Flöhe river which flows north toward Dresden.  As a cross-roads, Olbernhau is an inevitable objective in this scenario for both the Allies and the French who wish, respectively, to gain access to Marienberg and inner Saxony, or to deny such access to the other.

As a prelude to the encounter, Count Pahlen and the Russian hussar division arrives, approaching the town in road column from the south.  Barclay de Tolly will arrive as well, as the commander of the Allied reinforcements.

Count Phalen's Hussar division approaches Olbernhau from the south (middle right).  The village of Ansbach is at the extreme upper right (west).  The foreslopes of the Erzgebirge mountains are seen to the left (west) with the village of Neuschönburg on the west bank of the river. 

The hussars pass quickly through town and send a French light cavalry patrol (not shown) galloping hard to the west to warn GdD Lorge and the French force of the Russian arrival.  Alerted to each other’s presence, the two antagonists must now deploy and formulate a plan of action.

Turn 1 : The Russian hussars deploy west of Olbernhau

Turn 1 : The French cavalry division deploys formed up east of the town of Zoblitz, to the west of Olbernhau

Turns 1 to 3

The French were in fact belatedly forewarned of the possible presence of the Allied advance guard and are already moving toward Olbernhau.  Once the Russians were spotted, the Gen. Lorge, and his brigade commanders formulated a simple plan to engage them: On attaque, d’abord! They advanced with haste so as to catch the Russians, and any units following on, in their deployment area west of the town.  Using their weight of numbers, the French could pin and destroy the Allies forces in detail before they could effectively deploy, or at least stall their advance past Olbernhau.

Turn 1: The Russians are spotted and the French light cavalry division is spurred into action

Realizing that his side would start the encounter at a numerical disadvantageFmL Prohaska’s plan (the Allied commander in chief here) was to maneuver his cavalry to the north, toward an adjacent and more constricted valley.  There, they might turn and force a fight on a narrower frontage with a flank protected by a forested slope.  He would thereby draw the French away from the deployment area and expose their rear to reinforcements (hopefully) arriving in due time.  

In turn 3, the Russians had some good fortune.  On the first roll for reinforcements, the Cossack division was successfully summoned. They arrived on the table in turn 4 but would remain far from the fight for a few turns thereafter while they maneuvered into the battlefield.  The Russian hussars still had to make do on their own.

Turn 2:The Russian hussars (centre, just to the left of the town) are all deployed and attempt to run for the valley at the left of the photo.  The french have closed with them and an attack is imminent.  The Hussars wheel to meet the French.  South of Olbernhau (right), the Cossack division arrives on the table in road column.

The French advance turned out to be surprisingly rapid.  Count Pahlen concluded that his dash to the north was going to be cut off and that he needed to wheel his cavalry in time to face the French on the plain just northwest of Olbernhau, or be caught unready.

Turn 3: The French have covered about 3km in the time it took the Russians  clear the town, deploy from road column and being their maneuver west!  There is not enough time for the Russians to secure their flank with the hills to the north, so Count Phalen orders his hussars to turn face and form a serviceable line of battle to meet the hard-riding French light cavalry

Turns 4 to 5

The Russians turned in time to be able to squarely face the French.  The French advanced in a loose arc, attempting to envelope the Russians.  Their advance brought them into initial contact with two units on the Russian left flank.  The remaining Russian regiments made a counter charge on three units of the French centre.  A sixth French regiment was maneuvered for an eventual flank attack or to be well placed to pounce on any defeated or recalled Russian units.  A nasty plan intended to crack the Russian division more quickly!  The seventh French unit, the over-sized 22e CàC unit, was held back as a reserve. With a successful initial charge and survive breakthrough, the large unit would be well placed to cover for regiments recovering in place and survive counterattacks.  
Turn 4: Crash!  The two cavalry forces meet in an initial melée, with the French in the background and the 22e CàC in a reserve position
All sides being Morale Rating 4 units, no one had an advantage in this initial combat other than that of brute numbers.  Nevertheless, the Russians did very well.  In the critical encounter in the centre (outnumbered 2 to 3), the Russians managed to win all the combats based on a couple of fortunate dice rolls.  The French centre was completely driven back with losses, while the Russians managed to saw off the two combats on their left flank, and suffered only the lightest possible losses in doing so.  

The Russians suddenly found themselves in an excellent situation as the defeated French units fled back behind the 22e CàC.  Only one (!) of the five defeated French cavalry units rallied so the 22e's role as reserve was now essential.  The Russians gained the initiative and managed to charge the 22e CàC with two hussar units.  If the Russians could defeat the 22e, they would be able to conduct breakthrough charges on the French units defeated the previous turn.  Unrallied and disordered, these units were pretty much sitting ducks and once defeated, the Russians would then be on almost equal terms in the engagement.  The Russians also attacked the isolated hussar unit attempting to the turn the Russian right flank.

The double attack on the 22e CàC was disrupted by a support charge by the single other French unit that was still in command.  As luck would have it,  the single other French unit that was "in command" at this point was actually capable of intervening in the melée! Their die roll was weak, but they cut off the advantage of numbers the Russians held for this instant.  This time it was the French who were victorious.  The 22e was saved by the narrowest of margins, a +1 modifier on a tied die roll based on the fact that they were the larger unit!  All the Russian attacks were rebuffed.  Whose idea was it to give the French this big unit anyway…?

Turn 4: the Russian counter-attack is thwarted!

The French commander concluded the turn by recalling the hussar unit on the flanking mission, as it was now completely alone and in danger of being cut off and surrounded.    

Our adversaries' first clash was sharp and dramatic but rather bloodless for the number of units involved.  The Russians had to fall back to the outskirts of Olbernhau and there they attempted to rally and recover their units (with little success).  The French were pretty much in the same position as they were only able to rally one of their defeated regiments.  The two armies were both paralysed for the moment, one would presume that the first charge had rendered several senior regimental officers hors du combat and that troopers were dispersed and slow to find their parent units in the post-battle confusion.  

In the meantime, the Russian cossacks continued to move slowly up into the playing area.  The Cossacks were in fact attempting to flank the French force by taking a wide route over the forested hill to the south of Olbernhau.  The French were as yet unaware of their exact location as they were crossing forested hills and still out of direct sight.

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Turn 6 to 8

Both sides finally recovered the bulk of their forces and reformed during turn 6 and a new round of attacks was initiated in turn 7.  

Knowing that enemy reinforcements were inevitable, the French renewed their attack as best they could with only four of their seven units in action, the last three still refusing to rally after an number of missed morale rolls (some great Russian good luck here).  The French advanced quickly to attack the leading two Russian units near Olbernhau, attempting to keep the battle away from their own "fall back" area, where their unrallied units dawdled helplessly. The Russians were obliged to commit their last unit in command into the melee as well; one unit on their side also remained unrallied.  This second combat was both critical to the outcome of the battle and very evenly-matched.  

Turn 7 : The two sides slug it out once again in a chaotic melée

The combats of the Russian right and centre were resolved first and here the Russians were clear victors.  Three French regiments in the centre were each beaten soundly, including one melee where the Russians were outnumbered two to one.  One French hussar regiment (the grey-uniformed regiment in the centre) that had come out badly in the first combat, was mauled once again and broken outright.  The Russians managed to draw the first real blood in the engagement, Brave and Gallant Lads!  

The end of the second round of melees : the Russians on the left and the French at right.  The 22e CàC  save the day at the top of the photo

The combat on the Russian left, involving two Russian hussar regiments attacking the stalwart 22e CàC, was more complex.  The advantage of size saved the 22e once again here, as the combat roll for both sides was tied but the French won with a +1 bonus for being the larger unit, the Russians were driven off with light losses.  Things still looked good for the Russians however, as the two regiments of the Russian right, victorious this turn, had an optional break through move, and both were able to contact the 22e.  The 22e was faced with a second two-on one attack in the same turn!  This was a moment of high drama for the battle for, if the 22e was broken, all the French would be falling back or unrallied and there was nothing to stop the Russians  from getting in among them like wolves in a hen house.  The dice were rolled once again and once again they fell ever so narrowly in the favour of the French.  The 22e was victorious once again and it was now the Russians who were entirely in a shambles!

In the meantime, the Russian reinforcements were coming into play.  The Cossack division was now beginning to emerge from the wooded hill on the south of the battlefield, somewhat behind the French flank.  This must have been a nasty surprise to the French commander.  By now their piquets would have reported some enemy troops in the woods but having these reports turning into the arrival of fully six Cossack units behind their flanks should have been enough to throw cold water on the French commander’s ardour.

Also, after many failed rolls for further Allied reinforcements, the first Austrian infantry division was finally on the field, approaching Olbernhau from the south.  

Turn 9 to 11

Both the French and Russian regular cavalry sides were more or less paralyzed for a turn while they rallied defeated units and reformed once again.  The Cossacks managed to reform and loose disorder markers, for the most part, on the edge of the open battlefield while the 22e CàC was held back by the French in order to face off any attack mounted by the Hussars to the front or the Cossacks to the rear. 

On the subsequent turn, the dice went in favour of the French, as two unrallied units in the French rear finally did rally, just in time to be able to turn and attack the Cossacks.  One destroyed its target outright and the other lost a very close battle (one pip) due to being already badly.  Both were recalled/fell back for recovery closer to the rest of the French force.

Meanwhile the rest of the French maneuvered for a third attack on the Russian regular cavalry, involving four units.  This was a last-ditch effort to break the light cavalry division before the arrival of the Austrian reinforcements and before the Cossacks could cut off their line of retreat.  
Turn 10, the final cavalry melee ; both sides pour in all available units but this time the French were too much for Phalen's desperate and depleted Russians

The Russians were able to counter with only three units (the rest were unrallied) and this time exhausted and outmanned, the Russians lost across the board.  Two units were broken while another was now in bad shape.  The division’s remnants were now attempting to rally on the very edge of the river delimiting the eastern edge of the battlefield.  The division was now badly shaken and, on a die roll, its orders shifted to “full retreat”.  That is diplomatically saying that the division was finally routed!

The French commander Gen. Lorge  had brought his opponent to its knees and surely was surely tempted to continue a breakthrough move to finish off the helpless Russians.  However, he was an experienced and cool-headed officer and realized that by pursuing he would blow his remaining good units, and allow the Austrian cavalry, now about to enter the battle field to his rear.  His force was still essentially intact though badly beaten up and fragile, and unlikely to survive an encounter with fresh forces.  He angrily threw his pipe toward the Russians and ordered his division to withdraw to the west, brushing off the Cossacks and leaving the field to the Austrians.  Surely a there would be a citation in Le moniteur to come!
The French at the end of the battle; the cavalry having attacked in two directions in turn 10, consolidates on the scene of the original cavalry battle (centre) and judiciously withdraws before the Austrians (arriving to the south (top left) contest their honour.  Olbernhau and the remnants of the Russian hussars are at left, the Cossacks on their somewhat/possibly effective flanking mission are at right.  

Final Result of the battle of Olbernhau: French minor victory for Ge. Lorge (the Russian cavalry was broken but managed to hold on until reinforced, thus enabling the Austrians to gain the Olbernhau bridgehead in the end).  French losses : 1 Hussar unit (the rest of the units were almost all badly worn).  Russian losses : 2 Hussar units, 1 Cossack unit.  14 damage points allotted to the French, 15 to the Russians.  Citation to the French 22e Chasseur à Cheval, who broke up the successful Russian attacks at the beginning of the battle (and perhaps saved the French side twice) and who acted as the rallying point for the French throughout the battle.  Plus, 1 Russian hussar unit broken at a cost of not a single point of damage to themselves!    One can only admire Count Pahlen and the Russian hussars who held the field until reinforcements came and who held the possibility of imminent victory twice in his hands only to lose it, this was a heroic battle by them.  Surely the Emperor will bestow a new title on the Count and honours upon the division. 

The final state of the Russian light cavalry division, mauled and about to rout (across a bridge no less!) just east of Olbernhau

Leipzig Campaign : Battle of Olbernhau Pt. 1

During the first turn (Aug. 18) of the Leipzig campaign hosted by MurdocK, and while French forces menaced far-off Berlin, an engagement was precipitated by the movement of both French and Allied forces into the Erzgebirg mountains bordering southern Saxony and northern Bohemia. MacDonald had sent a strong cavalry division ahead of XI corps south into the Marienberg area of southern Saxony, while FmL Prohaska and Gen. Barclay de Tolly lead elements of the Army of Bohemia into the same area north from the Bohemian town of Chomutov, across the centre of the Erzgebirg mountains and through the Saxon town of Olbernhau. The French cavalry advance guard was probing east of Marienberg and encountered leading elements of de Tolly’s command in the vicinity of Olbernhau. My campaign colleagues kindly allowed me to play the out the game resulting from the encounter. Now that marking course work etc is done, I'm finally getting round to posting the report.

I interpreted the scenario as a meeting encounter resulting from the hasty advance of both sides to gain the strategic Olbernau bridge, once patrols of both sides contacted each other. The French were in a position to arrive en masse while the Allies bumbled along in dribs and drabs.

Sketch map of the general Marienberg area, a 1km grid is marked in red. Wooded areas in uniform grey, hills in grey with gradations, streams and rivers in blue, roads and tracks in black.

The French objectives in the game (as perceived at any rate by me, their opponent) were to locate elements of the Army of Bohemia in the process of marching somewhere through the Erzgebirg mountains into Saxony and to hold them up in the mountain passes until MacDonald’s IX corps, hanging back in a defensive position, could march to the scene to force a pitched battle. The Austrian objective was to get through the mountains quickly while avoiding, in so far as possible, a large-scale battle until they escaped the confines of the passes. Both armies converged in a broad valley ESE of Marienberg, southwest of Dresden.  Marienberg represents more or less the end of the enclosed valley/steep high hill terrain on the north slopes of the Erzgebirg mountains.

The Forces Involved : France: (all present at the start of the game)

5e div. cavalerie légère (GdD Lorge)
12e Bde cav. leg. (GdB Jacquinot) 5 e Chasseurs à Cheval (2 sq) 10e Chasseurs à Cheval (2 sq)
13e Chasseurs à Cheval (2 sq)

13 e Bde cav. leg. (GdB Merlin)
15 e Chasseurs à Cheval (1 sq) 21e Chasseurs à Cheval (1 sq) 22e Chasseurs à Cheval (2 sq)

6e div. cavalerie légère (GdD Fournier)

14 e Bde cav. Leg (GdB Mouriez) 29e Chasseurs à Cheval (1 sq) 31e Chasseurs à Cheval (1 sq) 1 er Hussards (1 sq)
 15e Bde cav. Leg (GdB Ameil) 2e Hussards (1 sq) 4e Hussards (1 sq) 12e Hussards (1sq)

 Detached from XI Corps : 28e Bde cav. leg (GdB Montbrun) 4e Chasseur à Cheval (Italy, 2sq) Würzburg Chevaulegers (1sq) 2e Chasseurs à Cheval (Naples, 4 sq)

And, from the Army of Bohemia (Commander-in-Chief: Gen. Barclay de Tolly, General-Intendant: FmL Prohaska)

1st Hussar Division: GL Count Pahlen III

Brigade: Gmr Rüdinger Grodno Hussar Regiment (6 sq) Soum Hussar Regiment (6 sq)

 Brigade: Col. Schufanov Loubny Hussar Regiment (2 sq) Olivopol Hussar Regiment (4 sq)

Following on at unpredictable intervals throughout the game:

 Turn 3 or thereafter: Cossack Division attached to Army Headquarters of Barclay de Tolly 3rd Bug Cossack Regiment Tabunzikov Don Cossack Regiment Kireva Don Cossack Regiment 1st Tula Cossack Regiment

Arriving as individual divisions on Turn 4 or thereafter :

Austrian 3rd Army Abtielung: Feldzeugmeister Graf I. Gyulai

1st Division: FmL Crenneville Brigade: Gm Hecht Warasdiner Kreuzer Grenz Regiment (1 btn) St. George Grenz Regiment (1 btn) Klenau Chevauleger Regiment (6 sq) Rosenberg Chevauleger Regiment (6 sq) 1 6pdr Cavalry Battery 2nd Division:

FmL Murray Brigade: Gm Herzogenberg Erzherzog Ludwig Infantry Regiment (2 btn), Grossherzog von Würzburg Infantry Regiment (2 btn)

Brigade: Generalmajor Reichling Weidenfeld Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Ignatz Infantry Regiment (2 btn) 2 6pdr Brigade Batteries

3rd Division: FmL Weissenwolf Brigade: Gm Czollich Kottulinsky Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Kaiser Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Brigade: Gm Grimmer Kollowrath Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Fröhlich Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Austrian Artillery Reserve 1 6pdr Position Battery 2 12pdr Foot Batteries

As is clear in the OOB, the French force was a mix of squadrons from disparate regiments, while the Russians are mostly whole or nearly whole 6 squadron regiments.  Collectively, the french force out-numbers the hussar division both in terms of numbers of squadrons (23 to 18) and total men (a ratio of about 1.68 french troopers to 1 russian).  Using the troop ratios as my primary guide, I converted the historical order of battle into the abstracted cavalry « regiments » used in the Shako ruleset (which always have a consistent number of bases) as follows :

French : 7 regiments of Light Cavalry (Morale rating = 4). 

As an experiment, to compensate the french for a couple of squadrons «lost» in the conversion process, I gave the 22e CàC two extra bases, making this an extra large unit and giving them the capacity of absorb two extra casualties, while keeping their morale the same.  This is not in the official Shako rules, we’ll see how it works.

Allies : 4 Regiments of Light Cavalry (Morale rating = 4). 
This is a large and reliable division but an out-manned one in this scenario.  Their job is to hang on long enough for the infantry to come to their rescue!  It might have been simpler to have had 5 french to 3 russian cavalry units but I felt 7 to 4 gave the possibility of a grander and less fragile game. 

Also :

5 Regiments of Cossacks (Morale rating = 2). 
Back in my old club days using Shako, we gave the Cossacks the capacity to move through woods and some other kinds of bad ground as cavalry skirmishers, disordered and at half movement.  In these conditions they can only engage in combat with skirmish stands and must halt and reform for a turn before contacting a formed unit or be destroyed (1 killed stand = 1 casualty).  I used this amendment in this game as it gives a semi-historical purpose for these pesky troops on the battlefield.  I see that some other more interesting ideas for special rules for Cossacks are discussed on the Shako group yahoo forum.

The Austrian Divisions were converted to a Shako OOB following exactly the list given above; 1 btn REG for each btn listed and Div. 1 has 2 regiments of Light Cavalry (Morale = 4 ; both the Austrian chevaux-léger regiments fielded six squadrons).

A view of the modern landscape around Ansprung, part of the battlefield.  Fairly flat and open for being mountainous! 


The game was played out in a valley setting intended to be more or less typical of those south and east of Marienberg.  The placement of terrain on the game table was loosely based on the Zobltiz-Ansprung-Olbernhau area as represented in a late 19th century map I found online, although I compressed the east and west extremities of the game map relative to the real map.  The battlefield area has diverse terrain including hills and a stream, forest, villages and an expanse of open, relatively flat to rolling cultivated land (the battlefield itself) in the midst of the valley. I made a brief effort to “scout” out routes suitable for transporting artillery and battalions using my old map and Google Maps.  This can be a revealing exercise if the strange "street view" utility or geo-referenced landscape images are available, tools that can serve to gain an idea of the real lay of the land.  The Olbernhau route seemed to be the most appropriate route as the river valley was wider and more populated than other routes through the mountains, suggesting the presence of a more important road.  The land flattens and opens as one passes north of the frontier on this route.  There were also contiguous areas of cleared, cultivated land as well as villages and towns associated with the mines for which the region is famous.   Other modern roads in the general region seemed steeper and were completely hemmed in by very narrow ravines and forest.  These seemed less appropriate for artillery trains and the like and one imagines these roads would have been avoided if, as much as, possible.  All hills are considered wooded.
Between Olbernhau and Ansprung (above), the countryside opens up from narrow congested valleys in the Erzgebirg mountains to wider valleys with flat cultivated fields and wooded hills.  This  countryside would have been suitable for conventional 18th-19th century battlefield tactics, though the battlefields themselves would have been quite compact.  The hills are all wooded.  The higher and steeper ones would have been real barriers for the movement of troops, even lights, but most are simply slow going

As an aside, the map reading exercise was informative as it made clear just how difficult passage of the Erzgebirg mountains would likely have been in 1813, even if there are multiple passes and the "mountains" themselves resemble stout hills more the Alps.  In reading about the campaign, one is struck by the slowness of the Austrian advance before the Battle of Dresden and the difficulty of their retreat thereafter.  This Erzgebirg mountains are challenging terrain through which to move an army in anything but one road column at a time.  The ground chosen for this battle seems by far the most forgiving between Dresden and Chomutov.

In the attempt to give as much lattitude as possible to the meeting engagement, it was played on the floor of our basement family room (conveniently open and unfurnished as I was in the midst of installing new flooring).  I set up a vaguely trapezoidal game space approximately 12’ long x 6 to 4’ wide, representing a couple of valleys.  In the end, most of this space was not used in the battle as the French thwarted the initial Allied attempt to manoeuvre to use it.  The battle was thereby confined to a space over 6’ by 4’, something approximating a field 4km by 2km.  I had to pull out old terrain cloths to cover the game area, which was for me a very large field.

Close up of the "real world" map that guided the scenario with set up areas of the two sides.  The battlefield on the table top actually did resemble the map, though the distance between Ansprung and Olbernhau was reduced somewhat.


French Deployment:

The French setup area was at the western end of the map, north of the village of Ansprung. Their main force is  presumed to be making its way east from Zoblitz when its scouts return at the gallop with news that the Allies are about to move into Olbernhau.  Their starting orders are to advance toward Olbernhau. New orders will needed upon the start of the game.

Russian Deployment:
The Russian 1st Hussar Division were obliged to deploy onto the eastern end of the map by moving through the town of Olbernhau, following their route of march (from the southeast).  The moment the first Russian unit clears the town, the engagement is on, the game clock starts, the Russians can form themselves up into battle order and the French can move.  The Allies' starting orders are to occupy the open land west of Olbernhau.  

Presumably officers of each side spot each other with telescopes once the Russians have cleared Olbernau; both sides can issue new orders after turn 1.  

Allied Reinforcements Arriving After Turn 3:

Cossack Division:  This division is to arrive on turn 3 or sometime thereafter (a die is thrown at the beginning of each turn for arrival the following turn).  The Cossacks will arrive on the road south of Olbernhau and then can deploy out of road column as they please; they are not required to pass through Olbernhau as were the hussars.  Skirmishers and marauders, the cossacks may maneuver as they please and can pass through forests with the conditions mentioned above. 

Austrian Infantry Divisions and Artillery:

The arrival of the Austrian divisions and artillery is unpredictable and determined by drawing one card from a pile of cards beginning in turn three.  Each Austrian formation has their own card, these are shuffled with 8 blank cards representing some inexplicable delay on the road.  These divisions must march onto the table via the south road and thence directly to Olbernhau, where they can deploy and join the fray following the same restrictions as the Hussar division.


The French goal was of course to eliminate the Russian cavalry division as early as possible and then gain control of the Allied deployment area west of Olbernhau.  There, they could pick off units attempting to deploy out of road column in a hurry or force the Austrians to halt their advance.  They were to a) delay the Allied advance to Marienberg and b) destroy as much as possible of the army as it passes through the Olbernhau choke point.   The orders of the French command were to attack aggressively.

The Allies’ goal was to the keep the outnumbered Hussar division alive and functional as long as possible, at least until reinforcements can come up.  The Cossacks could best be used to outflank the French and catch them in a pincer while they are engaged with the mainline troops.  The infantry must deploy out of road column upon arrive or passing Olbernhau.  They should do this as promptly and across as broad a front as possible; if they can deploy properly, they are probably far too strong for the French who ought to be already worn down after engaging the hussars and the Cossacks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bordurian raiders strike at King Ivan's rearguard

During his desperate march through the snow and the night back toward Klow, King Ivan left a small rear guard at the small town of Orehovo.  This was a wise move in the circumstances, as his force was flagging and increasingly disordered and would surely have been destroyed by a well organized rear attack.  Orehovo had modest fortifications constructed by the Bordurians to protect the bridge leading to Klow, defenses that dated back to the before their campaigns against King Karel II (before 1645).   With a fort and a bridge at its back (to the east), Orehovo was an ideal place to block pursuit and it was in fact the last place where Ivan could reasonably hope to do so with the men at his disposal. 

Ivan’s rear guard was quite small, consisting of a squadron of huszjar light cavalry (Syldavian hussars, rather good men but there weren’t many of them), a substantial battalion of militia infantry typically used as light infantry (the steadier of the two battalions of militia marching with him) and four light cannons, their crew and impedimenta.  The commander of the Syldavian detachment was the Ritter Janusz Borzoi, who was known more for his courage and efficiency than for his creativity. 

Orehovo is marked by the letter "D" on this map showing the route of King Ivan"s  pursuit of the Zympathian raiders and his hasty return to Klow
Pursuing the Syldavians were the bulk of the Bordurian troops stationed in Zympathia who weren’t already amongst the besieging forces at Klow.  These troops comprised two ortas of arnaut irregular infantry, one orta of provincial conscript infantry, a strong troop of light cavalry and two very light cannon and their crews (the guns were fixed to sledges).  They were commanded by the Sanjak-bey of Zympathia, Omer Isacovic, a leader who had a long career of raids and skirmishing but who was in fact a headstrong and mediocre commander.  

The same night as Ivan passed through Orehovo, Isacovic sheltered his men in a tiny farming hamlet near the town and began to harry the Syldavian post with fire from his muskets and light cannons.  The Syldavians had relatively little rest as they had to man sentries, build barricades and put out a couple of small fires.  Isakovic had twirled his moustaches as he hatched a plan for a quick attack on the town under the cover of darkness but soon thought twice about it once Ritter Borzoi trained his handful of cannon into the dark in the direction of the skirmish fire.  Surprised, Isakovic realized that he had no idea how many Syldavians were still in the town and decided to wait for the chance to survey the town in person in the morning light.  In the meantime, he ordered his men to keep pressure up on the town and helped himself to the comforts of a commandeered farmhouse. 

Also having profited from a hot meal and the shelter of the town, Ritter Borzoi looked out into the darkness around Orehovo, where here and there the sparks of musket fire flashed.  He could see the town was essentially surrounded except for its eastern edge, along the Bejsu Reka river near its discharge into the Wladir River.  A bridge spanned the Bejsu Reka, leading eastward to Klow.  How many Bordurian troops were out there?  Could he hold the town and the bridge?  Failure to do so would mean that King Ivan's army would be ambushed or attacked on two fronts.  Succeed in holding off the Bordurians for even a few days might save the King's army and lead to a promotion...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Crossing the Spree River, south of Potsdam

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

I'm going to admit in public here to a sort of dalliance with an old flame.   You probably know who I'm talking about; she is sophisticated and elegant and also maddeningly complicated and always out of reach, an infamous femme fatale...  That's right, Napoleonics.  She showed up in town unexpectedly and after one little flourish of a pelisse I found the King's Shilling in my hand, for the second time!  Soon I was painting up a few units to fill out armies I had more or less put aside ten years ago.  Is this a mid life crisis? ; ) 

In the 1990's, Napoleonics were my consuming interest.    I painted quite a lot of figures and tried a few different rules sets and even a campaign or two before the flame cooled (or was it my eyesight declining?) and I moved on.  I returned to wargames after a walkabout and have been very happily working on early to mid Horse and Musket (NYW to SYW) ever since.  However, on a whim back in the fall, I responded to Marauding MurdocK's on-line call for players for a Leipzig campaign and have been lucky enough to take part in an interesting process since then. 

We are well underway now, having wrapped up the game trial and embarked on the real campaign. I'm on the side of the Allies and currently in the boots of Schwartzenberg himself, commander of the Army of Bohemia (a task that looks to be a real challenge). 

 It has been quite  lot of fun for me so far, especially to see how David (Mr. MurdocK himself)  has set up his on-line campaign.  It is my first such; David is quite clearly the veteran of many.  We are doing our moves by email, using the Cyberboard campaign system, which is something I had not seen before, a program for handling campaign moves, army organization, etc.  We have been playing the battles in various fashions; on tables, in groups, remotely in pairs, and solo through the aid of the internet. All in all, the campaign group has been trying lots of different ways of collaborating and it is a great learning experience for me as I try to keep up to them. 

During the preliminary round, I played the part of Lt. Gen. Freiherr von Bülow, commander of the Prussian IV corps of the Army of the North.  We fought a large battle in defense of Potsdam when Reynier's IV corps attempted to cross the river Spree and attack Potsdam.  That battle was a Prussian victory due largely to weight of numbers but the bulk of troops on both sides were spent afterwards and had to collect themselves.  The Corps of the Oder however came out of it in good shape and, the day after the first battle of Potsdam, they were ordered to push south, in order to gain a bridgehead on the south side of the Spree and to further disrupt or destroy the isolated Polish Cavalry brigade recovering itself there.  This was a small and simple scenario which could have been resolved by an abstract roll of the dice but it nevertheless had potential to make for an interesting game, as both sides had clear vulnerabilities.   

The game was played solo by me  with my 15mm collection rescued from their ancient boxes and dusted off, using the Shako ruleset.  I played the french following detailed orders and a description of objectives sent in by Eric, the French wing commander.   I actually played the scenario out a few times in order to learn something from it, I'm going to review the first try here which was far and away the most interesting.  I'd like to note that all this happened several weeks ago, and I'm only now getting around to posting on it. 

The French forces, as formulated for Shako, included:

7th Light Cavalry Division: Général de division Sokolnicki 

 -19th Light Cavalry Brigade: Général de brigade Tolinski

  •  1 unit of Hussars (Poles)
  •  1 unit of Lancers (Poles)
  •  1 full battery of Horse Artillery

The Prussian forces included:

Corps of the Oder, commanded by Generalmajor von Wobeser 

1 Infantry Division, commanded by Oberstleutnant von Plötzcomprising:

  • 6 battalions of Landwehr Infantry

1 Cavalry Bde, commanded by Oberst von Jeanneret, comprising: 

  • 4 units of landwehr cavalry

Artillery reserve 

  • 6pdr Foot Battery #22 (1 full battery)


1 bty (1/2 bty foot and 1/2 bty horse artillery from Prussian IV Corps Reserve Artillery (these must stay north of the Spree and west of the bridge)

Although it is a very one-sided order of battle, it made for a interesting scenario.  The Polish troops were too few to hope realistically for a complete French victory but were well capable of giving the Prussians a very bloody nose then escaping.  The Prussians heavily outnumbered the Poles but their force was composed of landwehr infantry and cavalry stiffened by regular artillery.  They made for fragile and cumbersome formations and were vulnerable to an embarrassing collapse if, for example, a couple of lost melees resulted in failed morale checks for the small divisions.

The Set Up
The battlefield comprises the bridge over the Spree (a feature at the center of the action in the early phases of the first battle of Potsdam) and the plain south of the river.  The river cuts E-W across the north third of the battlefield.  A built up area is located east of the bridge.  I diced arbitrarily to fill out the space south of the river with other terrain  but came up with open plain with some low rolling terrain to the extreme south.  This  did not figure in the battle as it played out. 

Battle Plans
The Prussian orders were to cross the bridge in road column, deploy into battle formations and then advance toward the French.  The infantry were to move in an arc to the SE, allowing them to take the town if needed, and the cavalry moving on a wider arc into the field's centre.  After a little thinking before the battle (OUCH!) and some unease about hanging the whole attack on a single landwehr battalion holding the bridgehead by having to clumsily form square while under cavalry and artillery attack, von Woebser decided to move aggressively, putting the landwehr cavalry across the bridge first.  von Woebser anticipated having to defend the bridgehead itself while his forces were deploying immediately upon their crossing.  With their much greater speed of movement, he hoped that the cavalry brigade would clear the bridge more quickly, create a more fluid target for the French cavalry and give some space for the infantry to cross and themselves deploy.  In particular, von Woebser distrusted the capacity of the infantry to stand up to an attack by regular cavalry.  Successful charges  followed by successful breakthrough charges by the two French cavalry units on unprepared and unsupported battalions would surely rout the entire division. 

Eric, the French commander, provided a set of well thought-out orders that gave clear parameters for playing out the French side of the action.  The French were to set up in the south center of the battlefield and then advance into the "shadow" of the town, where they could protect their flank and hide from artillery fire. Rather than contesting the crossing under cannon fire, they were to wait, using artillery fire where possible and giving ground if needed, waiting for a chance to attack with advantage.  An attack order was timed for when two Prussian units had crossed the  bridge. The cavalry were to avoid exposing themselves to artillery and to preserve their own artillery at all costs. A retreat was anticipated when four or more Prussian units had crossed the Spree.

The Corps of the Oder massed in road column awaiting to cross the Spree River bridge.  Figures are a bit of a haphasard mix including some nice old Minifig and Old Glory landwehr infantry and AB and Old Glory regular cavalry masquerading as landwehr cavalry.   

The game started with the Prussians winning initiative and forcing the French to move first.   Then, three Prussian landwehr cavalry moved across the bridge and fanned out to both sides.  A turn was needed for them to change formation into regular formations and while they did so the last cavarly unit crossed, followed by the infantry.  The french were now already committed to move and would have only a short opportunity to act before the Prussians had enough men across the river to force the French to revert to defensive (withdrawal) orders.

The battle begins with the Prussian landwehr cavalry crossing the Spree

The French move up their Horse battery to fire upon the deploying Prussians while remaining outside of cannister range from the C. of Order battery and outside of effective range of the Pr. IV corps artillery.  The French plan is working well, they are safe from the big Prussian guns for the most part but they will soon have to attack or retreat. 

While the Prussians conducted their crossing, the French cavalry advanced into the shelter of the urban area and pushed their horse battery forward to bombard the massed troops at the bridge head.  The French battery did little of note (they stayed out of cannister range due to the presence of enemy cavalry) aside from gaining a stagger on a cavalry unit.  In return, the Prussian guns managed one stagger on a French cavalry unit.  The Prussian IV corps guns were out of effective range and began to screen the Prussians south of the bridge, much as the dastardly French had anticipated.

The Prussian cavalry moved, wheeled and deployed into formation (all of this takes them up to two whole turns).  Some cavalry drill reforms are needed! The infantry began to cross the Spree in road column. 

The French side: Figures include Old Glory Russian Uhlans interpreted as Poles, AB French chasseurs à cheval, standing in for Polish Hussars,  AB French horse artillery, Battle Honors Polish Horse artillery (painted as Italian Horse arty) and an Essex caisson.  The Grande Armée is a polyglot affair, and while I have a respectable collection in hand from the old days, I'll have to do a lot of masquerading to meet the requirements of a Leipzig campaign.   

The French seized the opportunity to strike while the Prussians were figuring things out.  They fired off a round of canister (hit and a stagger) and deployed into line.  Off they go, the dashing Polish uhlans!
The Polish uhlans charge into the deploying Prussian cavalry, about to create some mischief.  The Prussian infantry are crossing the bridge in road column, their lead battalion has formed square just in case.  I doubt it would have mattered if things boiled down to that!   
Trying to follow the cautious tone of the French orders, I had the uhlans charge  while the hussars stayed in reserve in case of counter-attack the next turn.  The uhlans fell upon the lead Landwehr cavalry unit who was alone and exposed as the unit behind it was still deploying and maneuvering.  The Prussians (already with a hit and a stagger) were cut down in a rush, it wasn't even close.   "Uh-oh" thinks the Prussian commander...

The victorious Poles chose discretion over valour here, they did not make a breakthrough charge and were recalled at the beginning of the subsequent turn.  Their chances in the second combat would have been just a shade better than 50/50, and a win there would have forced a severe moral check upon the Prussian cavalry brigade.  However, should the Prussians have won the combat or the morale check, the Poles would have been mauled by combat or fire and would likely have been charged in the flank by the fourth cavalry unit to the south, which had advanced in front of the others toward the centre of the table.  The loss of the uhlans would have forced a check on the tiny French force and thus risked the loss of the artillery.  The uhlans retired after losing one casualty from artillery fire. 

The Prussians begin to press the recovering Polish cavalry.  Just for form, the Prussian landwehr infantry being to maneuver and a half battery moves across the river.

The final cavalry combat, the landwehr charges regulars.  Brave lads! 

The Prussians maneuvered forward while the Poles recovered and reformed themselves (this takes a turn for the recalled unit).  The brave hussars remained with the uhlans to support them. Quite noble!  The Polish horse artillery retired to a safer distance.


Gaining the initiative, the Prussian cavalry counter-attacked the Poles, who didn't have time to turn and retreat.  A pair of one-on-one combats resulted.  The odds were even in both, as the Prussians were fresh while the Polish hussars (foreground) had a stagger and the uhlans had a casualty.  Victory in both combats went to the Prussians; the uhlans lost a narrow fight and were thrown back while the hussars threw poor dice and were broken right away (somewhat unlikely event).  This was only chance, it could just as easily have been the inverse.   The Polish brigade passed its morale test easily and retreated in order toward the edge of the table.  The Prussians were unable to come into contact with them again and so were left in total control of the field. 


I now think that in this trial of the scenario, I sold the Polish side a bit short by not doing the breakthrough move or charging with both cavalry units in the initial French charge.  Had I done so, I now think that it is fairly likely that the Prussian cav. bde would have been forced into a morale check at 50% losses.  If they lost that, they would have been off the table and the brittle landwehr infantry division would then have been let on its own.  A cavalryman's dream.  In any case, the cautious plan I used here did not pay off enough to warrant the risk involved, in my opinion, and that is simply due to how I interpreted the French orders in the moment.

Subsequently, I played the scenario out in two different ways interpreting the orders a little differently.  Once I depended on the Prussians to precipitate a determined attack maneuver, and the  Prussian deployment alone triggered the French withdrawl before anything happened (Victoire prusse, alors!).  A second time, I started the Prussian attack by putting the infantry across the bridge first.  In this case, the Poles overran two squares outright and crushed two unprepared landwehr units in line (too terrified to try hasty squares!), bringing about a big morale check that the Prussians failed. Bye Bye to the infantry division. However, the Poles took a beating from artillery and then were themselves routed (they were now blown, disordered and stationary during their recovery) in a counter attack by a Prussian cavalry unit.   Not such a great result for them either.

This was, in the end, a fun and instructive little refresher exercise in tactics, one that gave me much to think about about.  There is no way to hide errors with such small formations.  Many thanks to David and Eric, and to the other collaborators in the Leipzig project; I look forward to seeing the gallant Polish horse disappearing from the battlefield soon once again!