Saturday, 28 April 2012

Polotsk, Aug 1812

After a long absence the Napoleonic collection was dusted off this week as we re-acquainted ourselves with the 'big battles' version of the Shako ruleset. The action chosen was the 1st battle of Polotsk, where the northern flank force of the Grande Armee, under the command of Oudinot clashed with the Russian I Corps, commanded by Wittgenstein. Both sides fielded approximately 20-30,000 men (figures for those present vary from source to source). It may have been better to use the standard version, giving approx 30-40 battalions per side; but with only a evening to play the scenario, (the games table doubles as the kitchen table), a more streamlined ruleset was required. Also, with a large Borodino game planned for the summer an extra 'training session' with the big battles variant would be very useful.

Historically, Polotsk was a two day battle. The first day was a Russian victory, pushing back the French and allied forces. Wittgenstein then decided to wait for reinforcements before recapturing Polotsk itself. Oudinot had been wounded in the fighting and command passed to St Cyr. He decided to counterattack, using his Bavarian troops to hit the Russian left whilst the French troops pinned the centre.
Hidden by the lie of the land, the Bavarians moved into position to attack the infantry division commanded by the Prince of Siberia. Following a short artillery barrage, Leroy's division advanced and quickly pushed back the surprised Russians. However, Wrede, with the supporting division was delayed by formation changes and making room for the Bavarian artillery to redeploy after being masked by Leroy's troops. All this gave time for Wittgenstein to respond and he quickly moved forward his grenadiers and dragoons.

In the centre St Cyr ordered Legrand and Verdier to move their divisions forward against Vlatov's division. To their left, Merle's infantry also advanced, accompanied by the cavalry, Chastels's Hussars and Chasseurs, plus Doumerc's Cuirassiers. As the French infantry advanced they came under increasingly heavy artillery fire, whilst the French artllery's attempts at counter-battery fire proved ineffective. Chastel moved his light cavalry around the Russian right, only to find himself opposed by the light cavalry commanded by Repnin. Just before they charged, the French were fired on by the Russian horse artillery and the consequent disruption counted against them in the ensuing melee. Their own artillery had been firing canister at Vlastov's infantry in preparation for a joint attack by Merle and Doumerc and so the Russian light horse went into the melee at full strength.
The melee was won by the Russians and the French fell back to try and regroup. Following up, the Russians overran and captured the French horse artillery, taking the guns with them as they fell back to reform.

However, the French had a chance of a decisive breakthrough. Vlastov's infantry on the ridge were now attacked by both Doumerc and Merle; any French success would prove fatal to the Russian division. (The rules state that a division outscored by an enemy cavalry division is automatically broken, ie destroyed). The dice were rolled, with the French having a +2 advantage, but Doumerc was outscored by 1 and Merle could only draw. In the re-roll the Russians won and both French divisions had to withdraw.

To Merle's right Legrand was still advancing towards the ridge, into the teeth of the guns. The casualties were causing disruption and Wittgenstein launched Balk's dragoon division in a counter-attack. The ensuing melee would be a close run thing with the Russians having the advantage of no casualties and the French greater numbers; again, any Russian success would spell doom for the infantry division. However, this time the dice favoured the French and Balk's cavalry withdrew.

But what was happening to the Bavarians? StCyr was anxious that the flanking manouevre begin to draw troops away to aid the battered French divisions. Leroy had continued his advance, but only slowly, concerned that Wrede was too far back to protect his left should Berg's infantry division move against him. The presence of the Russian grenadier division seemed to have pinned Wrede to the spot and the repositioned Bavarian artillery was having little success in driving back the Russian infantry. After some prompting, Wrede did move forward and encouraged, so did Leroy. The latter was surprised to see the reformed division of the Prince of Siberia advancing towards him. However, the Bavarians had prevailed once, why not twice? especially as the Russian division was now weaker. Again the Bavarians had the advantage (+2), but the dice favoured the Russians and the Bavarians had to fall back. Historically Leroy was killed and Wrede took command of both divisions. In our game the beaten division refused to rally (ie failed it's morale rolls)and took no further part in the game.

 The lack of pressure on the left allowed the whole Russian gun line to concentrate on Legrand's divison. Battered in the crossfire of 7 batteries of guns the division was destroyed. A final attack by Wrede against Berg attempted to salvage something from the day for the French, but this too was beaten back and St Cyr ordered a withdrawal back into the defences of Polotsk.
Wittgenstein could visit his battered, but victorious men and encourage them with news of impending reinforcements. In several ways the game followed historic events. The initial Bavarian attack achieved surprise and some success; but the loss of key commanders caused delays. The French attack in the centre was caught in an artillery cross fire and the infantry suffered heavy losses. A Russian cavalry attack launched to relieve pressure on the Russian line was successful and bought time for a Russian withdrawal.

The scale of the game did cause problems. Having only 6 or 7 units means that the loss of 1 can have a significant effect. The Polotsk scenario is perhaps at the lower end of the range that can be used for the 'big battles' version of Shako. Also, although I followed the ratios for artillery, the number of guns did seem excessive. Perhaps instead of 1:16 a ratio of 1:24 may be better?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Battle of Kassassin 1882

This was one of the minor battles before the more famous Tel-el-Kebir where the British defeated the Arabi rebellion against the Khedive of Egypt.
An Egyptian force under Arabi Pasha was attempting to destroy the lock gates on the Sweetwater canal at Kassassin. The gates were defended by a small force under General Graham. Unknown to the Egyptians, the British artillery were short of ammunition (with the exception of the gun mounted on a railway truck) and had also summoned assistance from the cavalry stationed further to the rear.
Arabi decided to demonstrate against the naval units defending the sweetwater canal, whilst making his main attack on the open right flank of the British line.

The Egyptian cavalry began their advance, but were hampered by soft sand (ie low movement dice) and the infantry and artillery were able to keep up with them. On the Egyptian right the 4th battalion moved along the line of the railway by the canal, making good progress until it came into range of the British artillery. The close column suffered heavy casualties, forcing a halt and a change to skirmish formation. Fortunately, the Egyptian artillery now came into action and their fire suppressed the fire of the naval infantry and forced them to adopt a skirmish formation. However, the British artillery now concentrated on the Egyptian guns and soon the gun were surrounded by wounded or dead crew and smashed equipment.

In the centre the 3rd battalion began to deploy into line and exchange fire with the British line.

Unsupported, it became the focus for fire from most of the British line, plus two guns and casualties rose rapidly. But now the flank attack was in place; the cavalry prepared to charge and the British formed square. Egyptian artillery accepted the target with glee and the square although shrinking remained resolute in defence. Graham was growing uneasy; his right was outnumbered three to one and could not hold off a combined cavalry and infantry attack. Then, out of the desert came a rapidly moving cloud of dust and the British cavalry arrived in the nick of time. To make matters worse for Arabi the British cavalry were in position to attack his native cavalry, which they did with elan.

Initially the tribesmen held their line, but the lances of the British cavalry opened up gaps and soon the native horsemen were streaming to the rear. To the left of the lancers the Household cavalry arrived and they took on the regular Egyptian cavalry. Again the result was a decisive British success. The British flank was now secure and the lancers pressed home their advantage by charging the 1st battalion which guarded the Egyptian guns. The Egyptians fired a volley, but when this did not stop the horsemen, they took to their heels.

Acknowledging defeat Arabi pulled back, the gathering gloom deterring British pursuit.

The game followed the historical events quite closely as the 'midnight' charge of the British cavalry secured victory and became part of Victorian military folklore and art

Monday, 16 April 2012

Battle of Schleswig

Following the Battle of Bov the Prussians were 'invited' by the Diet to enforce the Diet's recognition of Schleswig and General Wrangel organised an advance to the north. It was now the Danish forces who were outnumbered and to buy time they fought a delaying action. General Wrangel's plan was to outflank the Danes as the Schleswig troops had been at Bov, but poor staff work and a 'gung ho' attitude resulted in a poorly co-ordinated frontal assault.

A general view of the Danish position. The main line of defence was the old boundary 'wall', (actually an earthen bank but here represented but stone) with reserves held on the low hills to the rear. The lake on the Danish left was too shallow for naval vessels, but the line of retreat lay along its northern shore.

Wrangel's plan was to pin the Danish in place and then his flanking force would roll up the line; what could go wrong? On the first move Wrangel received a dispatch from the flanking force commander indicating that the going was very difficult and the maps supplied were inadequate. Further he was unable to say when he would be in a position to attack. In light of this Wrangel made a new plan, advancing on his right to cut the Danish line of retreat. The attack would be led by the Prussian troops, supported by other Imperial troops whilst the Schleswig brigade would pin the Danish right.

As the Prussians advanced the danish general pushed forward a jaeger battalion to harass their flank. This moved through the fields began to fire on the right hand battalion of the Prussian attack. A battalion of Prussian jaeger were sent to deal with this irritation. Exceeding his orders to contain the enemy skirmishers, the Prussian jaeger officer charged his opponent. The Danes had the benefit of cover and position and easily repulsed the Prussians who fell back in disorder and had to be rallied by Wrangel himself. Emboldened, the Danish jaeger pushed forward to take the small village on the Prussian right and began to fire at the supporting artillery. Wrangel had to take one of the battalions from the attack on the main line to tackle the jaegers. Forming column, they moved forward, fired a volley and charged. Only to find that the Danes had decided to fall back of their own accord, (actually they failed a morale test).

Meanwhile, the 3 remaining Prussian battalions were not doing too well. First one was forced back by artillery fire and then a second. This left only the 1st battalion of Kaiser Franz gallantly advancing.

In the centre the Imperial troops were making slow progress, cautious that the Danish cavalry may move out and attack them. On the Prussian left the Schleswig troops were also cautious. Their jaeger were sniping away at Danish jaeger and the cavalry had already suffered casualties from the Danish artillery.

The Danish commander was receiving regular reports on the progress (or lack of it) of the Prussian flank attack because his right wing cavalry were shadowing the enemy. On the other side of the field Wrangel had had no further communication from his flanking force and was in the dark as to their progress. However, he had more than enough to do. After rallying the jaegers he had to rally the line battalions falling back from the Danish artillery fire. He managed to find time to send an aide to order the Imperial troops to attack in the centre. This they did, and, as expected, the Danish cavalry attacked. The infantry fired ineffectual volleys and routed.

Their blood up, the cavalry charged the second line of infantry. One unit stood firm and fired a volley which shattered the danish charge. A second unit did not stand and only the intervention of the Oldenburg Dragoons prevented total collapse.

One crumb of comfort for Wrangel was that Kaiser Franz had reached the boundary bank and crossed it. They were fortunate that the troops holding it were understrength, but it was a success and it needed to be supported. The rallied Prussian battalions were sent forward again as Danish reinforcements moved to attack Kaiser Franz. A prolonged struggle began with the odds stacked against the Prussians.

Over on the Danish right troops began to move towards the centre. The Schleswig infantry attacked, only to be met with concentrated artillery fire and forced back. Their cavalry fared no better. The Imperial forces in the centre took time to recover from the cavalry attack and could not intervene. A courier had arrived to deliver a message to the Danish commander that the Prussian flanking force was now in a position to affect the battle and he took the decision to pull his troops back while he could.

Unfortunately for Wrangel his flank attack was on the Prussian side of the earthen bank and was no real threat to the Danes. He could only watch as his enemy pulled away. His Prussian infantry reached the bank where the battered remnants of Kaiser Franz greeted them with taunts about only arriving when the job was done.

The day belonged to the Danes. They had inflicted heavy casualties on their opponents and pulled back relatively unscathed; a textbook delaying action.

Friday, 6 April 2012

GNW Swedes

A couple of months ago I posted a picture of some homecast 40mm GNW Russian dragoons which I had repainted. Those figures were previously in the collection of my long time wargames opponent Alasdair Jamison. Here are some photos of the Swedes from the same collection which Alasdair very generously passed onto me. They are veterans of many battles over the years and hark back to the 'old school' period of wargaming.

The Swedish army being led forward by His Majesty Charles XII.

The Brigade will advance!

The feared Swedish horse

Attack column

Monday, 2 April 2012

Bloody Barons

We have had a few games with this rule set now and one thing you can be certain of, nothing is certain! The allocation of 'purses' (points), meant that I was the attacker and therefore started with all my troops on the table. My opponent had to roll dice to determine which of his forces arrived and the dice let him down. All his Household troops were delayed, plus his mounted retainers. In addition only one of his foot units reached the field at full strength. As we deployed I was faced with enemy facing me on the wings, but not in the centre.

Subsequent special events meant that my generals were placed on the baseline and the general commanding my left flank, (with which I had intended to attack), was 'in a huff' and would not do very much until 'motivated' by the commanding general. Threatened with execution perhaps? However, I decided to advance my centre, comprising my Household troops and gain ground before the enemy centre arrived. From this point on Lady Luck went on her holidays. The commanding general moved with great reluctance (ie low dice rolls) towards his recalcitrant subordinate, but just far enough to make it difficult to motivate his own troops. My mounted Household troops did advance but suffered heavy casualties from the enemy artillery and fell back in disorder. On my right the levy troops engaged in a long range archery duel with their opposite numbers, neither side causing much damage throughout the battle.

The left wing did eventually get moving and the mounted retainers charged a small body of enemy foot. Against the odds, they lost and routed from the field. This rout affected one of the supporting foot units which became disorganised and was then hit by a veritable 'arrow storm' which eliminated half its bases. In no time at all my left wing was reduced from 22 bases to fewer than 10 and the strategy now was to hold onto the hill and deny victory points to the enemy. This they manged to do, defeating a determined enemy push.

Indeed he was now moving from defence into attack. The troops which had been delayed now arrived and the pressure on my centre increased. A unit of foot was routed, forcing my handgunners to retire and the rout encouraged my artillerymen to flee the field. My mounted Household troops charged their opposite numbers and were soundly beaten and, you guessed, routed. The only remaining unit in my centre, the Household foot charged the enemy's Household foot. In a tight melee they lost by one base. The morale dice decided their fate. Being elite, they would need to pass on only one of the four dice to be rolled (ie get lower than a 4). I shook the dice and looked at the result, double box cars, 4 sixes on 4 dice. The foot routed and the day was lost.