Friday, 25 February 2011

Banja Luka

Our most recent game was a first venture into the continuing eighteenth century wars between Austria and the Ottoman Empire using the Konig Krieg rules. The battle of Banja Luka was chosen, the attempted Ottoman relief of the Austrian siege of this vital fortress. The rapidly advancing Ottomans arrived on the field just as Hildeburghausen, the Austrian commander was moving his main force into position to attack. They therefore found themselves sandwiched between an Austrian force in field entrenchments and Hildeburghausen's force.

Ali Pasha, the Ottoman commander, decided to attack Hildeburghausen with two thirds of his force and directed the remainder towards the Austrian entrenchements. The walls of the fortress facing the river were weaker than the rest of the defences and this is what had persuaded Hildeburghausen to deploy his main siege battery facing that section of wall. A small bridge also crossed the river at this point and provided the defencescould be subdued it provided a good place to attempt an assault. It was this siege battery which was the target for the secondary Ottoman attack. There was also a smaller Austrian battery and camp on the other side of Banja Luka, communications with this were via a ford, just beyond the town.

As the main Austrian force began to deploy into line the auxiliary Ottoman forces of Azabs and Wallachs surged forward, followed by the Janissaries. Those facing the main siege entrenchments were into action first and ignoring the volleys from the defenders closed to close quarters. After a fierce melee the first wave was repulsed, just in time to be caught in the flank by Austrian cuirassier who had moved forward in support. This unit of cavalry had sustained casualties from a light battery which the garrison of Banja Luka had dragged forward to support the relief force, but undaunted, had charged home. Pursing the routing Ottoman troops the cavalry also overran a supporting unit, but was halted by the Janissaries in the third line.

More Austrian cavalry moved forward, but, just in time the Spahis arrived, though Ali Pasha directed most of those to the attack on Hildeburghausen, who was hoping the Austrian infantry would hold their nerve as the Ottomans continued their advance. All along the line the volleys rang out as the Ottomans came in range. Some of the units halted or fell back, but enough continued to come to close combat. Ali Pasha hoped to pin the Austrian line long enough to get

his cavalry on their flank and then roll them up. Hildeburghausen's only cavalry was a unit of hussars which although successful avoiding melee for a time, eventuallycharged the leading Spahi unit and routed it. They then dealt with a supporting light cavalry unit in the same way. It was just as well they did because the Austrian infantry had now to face the Janissaries, who charged home through deadly volleys. In the ensuing melee the Austrians prevailed, but the neutralising of the cavalry threat played a large part in their victory.

The threat to the siege works was also removed as the Austrian cavalry forced back the Ottoman troops. One unit of Janissaries was driven into the river and only a few survived the swim to the far bank. Ali Pasha himself only narrowly escaped capture, his lifeguard dying to a man to cover his flight. Looking around, Ali Pasha decided that the day was lost and ordered his remaining cavalry to cover the retreat of his battered infantry. As Hildeburghausen was receiving the congratulations of his staff for his decisive leadership, a rider from the hussar unit observing the southern face of the town rode up to say that the garrison of Banja Luka had sortied and were even now attacking the detatched camp in that sector. Catching the defenders off balance, the first wave suffered few casulaties as they swarmed over the works, routing the defending Puebla regiment. Von Browne the camp commander had moved his reserves forward, but the speed of the collapse of the battalions of the Puebla regiment meant that they were caught deploying and the lead battalion was all but destroyed.

The second battalion, personally led by Von Browne, managed to get into line, but even he couldn't get them to stand against the Ottomans. One battalion of Puebla did reform and covered the retreat of the camp followers and wagon drivers, but the camp was lost, together with the siege artillery.

Historically the Austrians were defeated, in our game they triumphed (in the main) with relative ease. It could be that the factors Koenig Krieg allocates to the Ottomans means that they are always going to struggle, especially against heavy cavalry.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Battle of Coventry 1642

This week we refought an early action from the English Civil War. In August 1642, prior to the Battle of Edgehill, Charles I approached Coventry and was refused entry. He attacked it, but was repulsed. The game used a small number of figures, but resulted in a close encounter that was in the balance until the last roll of the dice.
The defenders consisted of a unit of the trained band, which their colonel divided, putting the musketeers on the walls, covering the gate and the pikes held back to counter attack any Royalist incursion. To their right the mayor had raised a local militia to cover a breach made by the royalist artillery. Two light guns were available, one covered the gate, the other the breach.

The King, with a bodyguard of Gentlemen Pensioners, had a unit of foot (Penderell's), a forlorn hope of dismounted dragoons, a unit of firelocks and a unit of horse. Two light guns covered the gate and the field guns were on a hill, quite a way from the walls.

The King's plan was simple, demonstrate an attack on the gate, but put the main effort into carrying the breach. The line of stakes seen in the photograph represent a muddy ditch, passable to infantry, but not cavalry.

Stepping forward with purpose and covered by the dismounted dragoons, Penderell's advanced on the breach. They were supported by the battery on the hill, but the guns had little effect, other than to bury themselves in the ground, or thud into the old town walls. The defenders were unscathed and as the Royalists neared the wall, casualties began to mount.

Over by the gate the 'demonstration' had had more effect. The light guns had opened a telling fire on the trained band holding the wall and the firelocks had advanced to add their fire. However, by advancing the firelocks had drawn the attention of a sniper in the gatehouse tower and two of the officers were casualties. The royalist sniper, 'Old Ned' was ensconced in a house near the gate, waiting for a suitable target. With officer casualties rising he was ordered over to the firelocks to try and subdue his opposite number. Gathering his tackle together, he ambled across the street, confident he was far enough away from the walls. Just as he neared the cover of a barn he was felled by a shot from the parliamentarian sniper. One-Nil to the parliamentarians! Fortunately for the Royalist cause, the sniper seemed to lose his touch after this feat and he inflicted no further casualties on the firelocks. The King was further encouraged by the arrival of a further unit of horse and a small company of dragoons.

By now the attack on the breach was well under way. The forlorn had moved aside and Penderell's pikes struggled across the ditch. As they reformed they were astonished to see the local militia charging towards them. A confused melee took place in the breach, with the locals putting a gallant, but ultimately doomed, defence. Penderell's musketeers scaled the walls, hooping to gain a secure lodgement in the town, but the Parliamentarian commander had moved forward his pike reserve and they charged the unfortunate musketeers. Another one-sided melee ensued with all the musketeers killed or captured. Penderell's pikes now found themselves in an awkward position. A parliamentarian light gun was close enough to employ 'hail' shot against them, which caused severe casualties; they were also now threatened by the trained band pikes, who outnumbered them. Confusion reigned and they began to edge back towards the ditch. The Royalist main attack had stalled, but what of the 'diversion'?

Encouraged by the decline of fire from the walls, the firelock's commander sent a message back saying the way was open for the cavalry to burst through the gateway. Needing little encouragement the cavalry surged forward. The light gun 'defending' the gateway fired one ineffectual shot before the gunners ran and the cavalry broke into the town.

All that faced them was the remnants of the trained band musketeers, but they stood their ground, fired a volley and managed to hold the cavalry. This gave just enough time for the pikes to get back and join in the melee. A fierce fight now began on the streets near the gate. On cue the Parliamentarian reinforcements arrived, threatening the flank of the Royalist position. Luckily, Charles' advisers had prevailed upon him to keep his reinforcements in hand for just such an eventuality. A confused cavalry melee now took place, with the Royalists having the advantage of numbers and quality of troops. These advantages prevailed and the Parliamentarian cavalry quit the field almost as quickly as they had entered it, but importantly, they took with them the Royalist cavalry who refused, or were unable, to rein in. The cavalry, which could perhaps have helped in the town, had gone. Charles had been passive in command, leaving matters to his officers, who he assumed knew best. His opposite number had been far more active. He personally had led reserves to where they were wanted and he was again to be on the spot when it mattered.
Gradually the royalist cavalry had made progress, they were on the point of breaking through the rapidly thinning line of infantry. Colonel Braford gathered half a dozen officers together and turning to them cried "let us charge together for Coventry and our cause". Charging down the bloodied street they struck the Royalist cavalry. Hemmed in as they were the Royalists could not see how many were attacking, only that their line of retreat was threatened, losing heart, those that could, escaped, the rest were captured. Coventry had been held for Parliament.