Friday, 10 December 2010

Action at Steinbrugge

Thanks to the thaw we managed to meet for a game this week and returned to the Seven Years War, with the Action at Steinbrugge; a small scale action in Pomerania. The Swedish army was advancing tentatively southwards, hoping to profit from the main Prussian army's pre-occupation with a large Russian force advancing from the east towards Berlin. All that stood in their way was a scratch force of second-line Prussian units who had orders to demolish the bridge at Steinbrugge. The Swedish force, commanded by GL Lantingshausen, comprised of 2 brigades of line infantry (8 battalions), a battalion of grenadiers, two units of light infantry, 3 batteries of atillery (two of which were light) and a brigade of heavy cavalry. This general view of the battlefield is looking towards the west, the complex of buildings in the centre represent Schloss Steinbruggen. The Prussian commander, Colonel Belling, garrisoned the Schloss with a battalion of grenadiers, a brigade of fusiliers covered the approaches to the bridge, supported by two light batteries. His two units of Hussars were posted to the east of the Schloss and a unit of Frei Korps 'secured' the southern approach to the bridge. All Belling had to do was wait for the sappers to do their job, then fall back over the bridge and then demolish it. Oh, and it would be useful to inflct heavy casualties on the Swedish forces, whilst minimising his own losses.

Belling felt reassured in his dispositions when a message arrived from the grenadiers that the Swedish army was advancing straight down the road from the north, curiously no cavalry was reported. Undaunted, he ordered the Werner Hussars to threaten the flank of the Swedes. No sooner had he ordered this manouevre than another report from the grenadiers reported that the Swedish cavalry was approaching from the west. Confident that the wood protected the flank of his fusiliers, Belling held his position.

The Swedish infantry attack on the Schloss, nine battalions strong, was now forming up and Lantingshausen sent forward a small unit of skirmishers to test out the grenadier garrison. Concentrating on the Schloss, the light infantry did not see the Prussian hussars to their left flank. Seizing their opportunity, the hussars charged and dispersed the Swedes with little loss to themselves. Surging forward they then charged a line battalion, hoping to cause confusion and delay to the Swedish advance. However, the Swedes stood their ground and the Prussian charge failed and it was the the hussars who had to retreat in confusion. The grenadiers in the Schloss fired volleys at the advancing Swedish battalions, but this did not halt their progress. Seeing that he could not hold the whole of the perimeter the major of grenadiers decided to hold the main hall on the southern face of the schloss. Unfortunately his runner did not reach the captains of the flank companies and it was a rather disorganised 'fallback'. Seeing the enemy crossing the wall the Major countermanded his order and decided to charge. A surprisingly telling volley caused heavy casualties amongst the grenadiers and the determined Swedes were victorious in the resulting melee, causing an ignominious retreat on their more illustrious opponents.

Meanwhile the Swedish cavalry had moved forward towards the crossroads. One unit had moved near the river to pin the fusiliers' flank, whilst the light artillery and more light infantry moved up in support. The Swedish cavalry commander was impatient, after all, their opponents were mere fusiliers, not proper infantry. One charge could win the battle. Forming the dragoons into line the colonel then led them forward. The crew of the Prussian light artillery decided to seek security in the formed unit rather than fire a last minute salvo. Sweeping forward the dragoons were met by a devastating volley, which almost brought them to a halt. Before they could recover, a second volley emptied yet more saddles and they retired in confusion.

Belling was relieved to receive a message from the captain of sappers that the bridge was now ready for demolition. It was time to fall back before the Swedish infantry got too close, even now the enemy light infantry were sniping at his gunners. In addition, a second unit of light infantry had marched unobserved into the wood flanking the fusiliers' position. One battalion had formed up ready to march south when a courier arrived in great haste. His despatch altered everything.

Belling could not retreat. Just beyond the river a supply train was moving slowly eastwards to resupply the garrison at Stettin. He had to deny the enemy any chance to advance and capture this prize. Taking his aide to one side he dictated an order for the captain of sappers, "explode your charges now". He then told the aide to cross the bridge, witness the effectiveness of the demolition and then ride south to reaasure the commander of the supply train that the Swedes could not attack him.

Turning again to the battle he watched his gallant fusiliers try and stem the tide of Swedish infantry. They fought well, but once they heard the explosion and saw that the bridge was no more, the fight went out of them and surrender was inevitable. Lantingshausen could not savour his victory because he too received a despatch. A large Prussian force had sortied from Stettin and was threatening to cut him off from his base, so an immediate retreat was necessary. The day thus ended with both sides able to claim a victory, the Belling could point to the destruction of the bridge and the casualties suffered by the Swedish elite units. Lantingshausen had captured the majority of the Prussian force.

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