Friday, 2 March 2012

The Empire Strikes Back?

Our scenario this week was set in the Seven Years War, in the period following the battle of Kunersdorf. Frederick had rushed to try and make good the losses he had sustained in that battle and one source was the various 'satellite' armies in the west. The army of Prince Heinrich in Saxony had therefore been stripped of most of its regular troops. Seeing this, General Stahlberg, commanding the Reichs Armee decided the time was ripe for an invasion of Saxony, with the aim of capturing Dresden.

Alerted to the advance of the Reichs Armee, Prince Heinrich moved his troops to a position where he could contest the crossing of the Blau Wasser and block a move on Dresden. He had two brigades of fusiliers (8 battalions,) one battalion of Frei Korps jaegers, one battalion of grenadiers, two light guns and a brigade of cavalry consisting of a regiment of dragoons and one of Hussars.

The Reichs Armee had 14 battalions of line infantry, two battalions of grenadiers, a regiment of cuirassier and one of dragoons and one heavy and one light gun. As he neared the Blau Wasser the only Prussian unit Stahlberg could see was a light gun which covered the only bridge over the river. What he could not see was a brigade of fusiliers behind the Church hill to his left flank and the cavalry and remaining fusiliers behind the woods behind the light gun. The Prussian grenadiers were in the village of Brunhof which lay just beyond the woods. Prince Heinrich's jaegers were in the broken ground to the Prussian right of the bridge.

Uncertain of the fordability of the river Stahlberg advanced his cavalry on his right together with a brigade of infantry and one battalion of grenadiers. The artillery advanced up the road with a view to taking up position either side of the bridge to support any crossing. To the Reichs Armee left a brigade of foot plus the second grenadier battalion moved forward, hoping to cross the river and then secure the church. The remaining six battalions would march straight up the road.

Reacting to the Stahlberg's manoeuvres, Prince Heinrich ordered his cavalry forward to oppose the enemy horse should they cross the Blau Wasser. He also sent a courier to the infantry on his right with orders to contain any forces which crossed in the vicinity of the church hill. Orders were also sent to the colonel of grenadiers to bring his battalion forward to support the light gun covering the bridge. Meanwhile, the lead elements of the Reichs Armee reported back to Stahlberg that the Blau Wasser was fordable and he gave the order for the advance to continue. The river was fordable, but with more difficulty than expected and as the Reichs Armee heavy cavalry formed up on the Prussian side they were charged by the Prussian dragoons. Caught at a disadvantage, they were quickly bundled back across the river. The Prussian cavalry reined in, reformed and waited for further enemy pushes.

Over on the Reichs Armee right the infantry were crossing unopposed, the Prussian fusiliers only now moving into position. However, the Reichs Armee infantry were placing themselves in a loop of the river with insufficient room to deploy. By now Stahlberg was supervising the deployment of his artillery, the heavy gun to the left and light gun to the right of the bridge. The light gun was in range of the rifle armed Frei Korps jaeger ensconced in the broken ground. The bullets were soon zipping round the ears of the crew and not a few were becoming casualties. The first Reichs Armee battalions were now crossing the bridge, straight into canister range from the Prussian light gun. The front ranks of the column dissolved into chaos under the artillery fire and the green troops broke and ran back over the bridge. Undeterred, a second battalion advanced only to receive the same treatment. However, they were made of sterner stuff and continued on up the road. Ignoring a second round of canister they charged the gun, if they captured this, the road to Dresden was open. The Prussian grenadiers were only just getting into position to support the gun and could not intervene. Prince Heinrich was saved by the alertness of the Hussar colonel who moved his men forward to attack the flank of the Imperial infantry. Caught unawares the infantry had no chance and were driven back in short order.

On his right, desperate to establish a bridgehead on the far bank of the river, Stahlberg pushed forward a battalion of grenadiers. As they struggled to reform,they were charged by the dragoons. A volley emptied a few saddles, but could not stop the Prussian horsemen. Although they fought bravely, the grenadiers were pushed back, again the dragoons reined in and reformed. However, they were now in range of the Imperial artillery and the guns soon began to inflict casualties.
Aware of the limited cavalry resources available, the dragoon colonel pulled his men back from the river. Once out of range he reformed his ranks, but his retreat had given time for a brigade of Imperial infantry to cross and also the reformed regiment of cuirassier. Once again the dragoons charged and once again the cuirassier were defeated. The colonel was a casualty in the melee and as the remaining officers tried to restore order the Imperial infantry exacted some revenge for the defeat of the grenadiers by firing a telling volley. With the increasing casualties (over 60%) the dragoons fell back and took no further part in the action.

The crisis of the action was now approaching. The Prussian centre was struggling to 'keep the cork in the bottle' and push back any Imperial attacks across the bridge. The left flank infantry brigade, although undamaged now faced attacks by up to 6 battalions of infantry with cavalry support. Only on the Prussian right were matters secure. The brigade there was holding its ground and had driven two battalions back with c30% casualties.

Prince Heinrich ordered the Hussars to charge the flank of the Imperial infantry moving against the central light battery. This they did with valour, but a steady volley halted them in their tracks and a second drove them back. To restore the line, the grenadiers moved forward. To their left, the Imperial cavalry commander saw an opportunity to attack the grenadiers flank and ordered his men forward.

Fortunately for the grenadiers the Hussar colonel had reformed his men and although outnumbered by the heavy cavalry moved to support the grenadiers. Their attention focused on the grenadiers the dragoons were surprised by the hussar charge. The right flank slowed, uncertain which unit to attack and indecision changed to consternation as the Prussians closed. Unwilling to stand and fight, the Imperial cavalry broke and ran.

Stahlberg recognised that the day had gone against him. He ordered his units to fall back and make camp for the night. Prince Heinrich, although the victor realised that he would have to fall back towards Dresden. He was still outnumbered and now short of ammunition. However, his fusiliers, often derided as second class had stood their ground and won a victory. Morale was high.

The scenario was fought using the Koenig Kreig rules and Prince Heinrich had a +2 for initiative. This gave him a big advantage in either taking advantage of firing first, or requesting Stahlberg to move and then reacting to the Imperial moves. Stahlberg was not helped by having a truly dreadful run of dice. Both sides had 2nd rate line units, but the requirement for the Imperial troops to attack always ceded the first volley to the Prussians.

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