Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Blesankovic 1812

This fictitious scenario is set during Napoleon's ill-fated Russian campaign.  When we played the Borodino game in July one of the few things which the Shako rules didn't seem to cater for was corps on defend orders being able to manoeuvre.  The players suggested that this hampered the defence and was unhistorical as divisions would not be left unsupported by neighbouring formations.  Therefore we looked at the problem and came up with a few ideas.  Divisions could manoeuvre within the Corps Commanders 'zone' (18"), even under defend orders, as long as they did not go beyond the front of the unit nearest the enemy.  At an army level, Corps could be given a command to move to a specific location and then revert to defend until new orders arrived. To try out the modifications the Blesankovic scenario was drawn up.

 To buy time, Barclay de Tolly has taken up a position behind a tributary of the Dvina river at Blesankovic, not far from Vitebsk.  His force of three small corps has to delay the advancing French long enough for the First and Second Armies of the West to combine near Smolensk.  Barclay's position is within a loop of the river. To his left is a low hill and a lake, in the centre the town of Blesankovic and on the right another low hill near the river as it flows to the Dvina. Scouts have reported that the corps of Ney and St Cyr are advancing towards Blesankovic, what they have missed is that Davout's corps is also in the area, approaching the Russian left.

In the centre, Tolstoy's corps is deployed with Neverovsky holding the town of Blesankovic and Bahmatyev's division in support behind the town.  The artillery is forward supporting Neverovsky and Denisov's light cavalry cover the gap between Tolstoy and the corps of Dokhtorov to the right.  Dokhtorov has deployed Kaptsevich forward holding the river line and Likhachev on the low hill to the rear.  Emmanuel's light cavalry have been held centrally, where they can support either flank.  Barclay has place Bagration's corps in reserve.

St Cyr wasted no time and pushed forward his infantry straight towards Blesankovic.  The artillery had little effect on the defenders, though the French did suffer casualties as they struggled across the river under canister fire.  Dessaix attacked Blesankovic with Morand on his right charging a Russian heavy battery.  Ledru crossed the river heading for the gap between Tolstoy and Dokhtorov.  Although heavily outnumbered, Neverovsky's men held their ground and with losses mounting and no progress being made (ie low dice) Dessaix's division fell back to regroup.  Morand also had to fall back as his men failed to reach the Russian guns (low dice again).  St Cyr's light cavalry, commanded by D'Ermeonville, had crossed the river with Ledru and once reformed charged Denisov's Uhlans.  After a vigorous fight the Russians prevailed and the French cavalry broke and galloped for the safety of the western bank of the river.  With their 'blood up' the Russain cavalry espied Ledru's division, still forming up after crossing the river.  Lowering their lances, the Russians charged and drove the French back in disarray.  So, all St Cyr's men had now been repulsed  and the officers were frantically trying to restore order.

Ney had made better progress against Dokhtorov.  The Russian infantry had been deployed in the open and Kaptsevich's men in particular had suffered from the attentions of the French artillery.  The Russian guns had also found their targets, but problems with ammunition (throwing double 1) meant that the Russian guns fell silent just as they were needed.  Delzons division stormed across the river and fell on Kaptesich's men.  After a brief, but bloody struggle the Russians were driven back in disorder and this created a large gap in the Russian line.  Likhachev was fighting Broussier's division and had forced them to retreat, whilst Emmanuel's cavalry had had to move to the Russian right to counter a move by Pajol's light cavalry. 

Fortunately for Barclay, Tolstoy had given orders for Bakhmatyev to move forward to support the right flank of Neverovsky.  This manoeuvre placed Bakhmatyev in front of the victorious Delzons and delayed French progress. Barclay was just about to order Bagration to support Dokhtorov when scouts arrived to say that a third French corps (Davout) was approaching the Russian left.  Not knowing the strength of the French attack on his left, but seeing the danger to his right, Barclay ordered Bagration to occupy the low hill by the lake and hold it against any attack.  But he stripped Bagration of one of his infantry divisions (Olusiev) to help Dokhtorov contain the attack by Ney.  With his Cossacks and Dragoons leading the way, Bagration moved his troops to the left.

Dokhtorov needed all the help he could get.  The French and Russian cavalry had fought each other to a standstill and both sides fell back to regroup.  The loss of Kaptsevich's division had also resulted in one of the Russian batteries being overrun and now a third French division, that of Compans, was moving forward to attack.   Compans' men crossed the river and moved against the low hill to join Broussier's attack on Likhachev.  In their way were two batteries of artillery.  The French infantry muttered a silent prayer and followed their officers up the hill into the mouths of the guns.  Perhaps the gunners were unnerved by the steady French advance, but the volleys of canister were poorly executed (low dice) and the French closed in to melee the gunners.  The artillerymen were defeated but the delay caused allowed just enough time for Olusiev's division to join the fray.  Unfortunately, Olusiev's haste meant that he was in a very restricted formation when the melee started.  The French lapped around the Russian flanks causing disruption to add to the casulaties and before long the Russians were falling back.  Likhachev had by now prevailed over Broussier and the French were so battered that they took no further part in the battle. However, he now faced Compans and a regrouped D'Ermeonville.  In the nick of time Emmanuel's men arrived to take on the French cavalry; catching them unaware and driving them from the field.  The success was only temporary, as Compans overcame Likhachev, securing the hill and causing such casualties that  the division played no further part.

St Cyr had returned to the attack and this time is men crossed the river and drove Neverovsky from Blesankovic.  Neverovsky's artillery was lost and the centre was now in French hands.

On the Russian left, Klasov's Cossacks reached the hill at the same time as Davout's dragoons (Triare and La Houssaye).  Sensing an easy victory, the French galloped forward, but the wily Cossacks evaded, drawing their opponents forward and out of formation.  They were then it by Sievers dragoons and driven back in disorder..  Behind the French cavalry were two veteran divisions of infantry.  Keeping formation these men reached the crest of the hill. Bagration could see that he was outnumbered, but looking behind him he could see that the rest of the Russian army needed time to regain formation following the hammer blows by Ney and St Cyr.  Therefore he ordered Wurttemburg's infantry and Sievers cavalry forward in a desperate attack.  Sievers men were met by a solid wall of bayonets presented by the French veterans and could make no impression.  Wurttemburg's men advanced up the hill bravely, but met a more numerous and determined foe.  After a fierce melee the Russian survivors fell back down the hill.  Karpov's Cossacks screened the Russian retreat from the prowling French dragoons, but the day was lost.  The Russian army fell back, disorganised and defeated.

Reflecting after the battle we felt that the 'manouevre' option had worked reasonably well and will try it out again before testing it in a 'big battle' setting.   

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Freeman's Farm 1777

To be fair the game was more 'based on' rather than an accurate representation of the battle of Freeman's Farm. The aim was to try out the Black Powder rules with Steve's AWI collection.  Each army consisted of three brigades; Eccles, Moriarty and Thynne being the British commanders and Tempest, Shore and Sheridan the Americans.  Commanding generals were Frazer Stewart (British) and Arnold Benedict (American).  The objective for both sides was to take and hold Freeman's Farm.

Things got off to a slow start, particularly for Stewart, whose brigadiers had great difficulty getting their battalions moving.  This allowed Shore to get one battalion of Continental infantry into Freeman's Farm along with a light gun in support.  However, bad staff work (ie high dice) meant that the rest of the brigade were still on the baseline.  Benedict intervened and managed to get one unit of riflemen to move forward into a field behinf the farm, but the rest of the brigade remained rooted to the spot.  On the American left, Tempest had moved a unit of riflemen into a wood and had plans to seize the hill to the left of Freeman's Farm. The first unit of infantry stepped forward to the foot of the slope, but the rest of the brigade stayed put.  Sheridan, on the right did secure a hill with a unit of infantry and supported it with cavalry and artillery.  He also began to move forward towards the woods covering the British left.  The opposing brigadier, Thynne, responded by moving forward his light infantry and his elite companies.

Perhaps stung into action by the American moves the British bestirred themselves, but not too much, that wouldn't be British.  Eccles quickly advanced a battalion onto the hill Tempest's troops were approaching.  Disregarding the American artillery supporting Tempest's men, the British formed into column of attack and charged home.  The American volley failed to stop the British and without any infantry support the continental infantry were soon back where they started and the British held the hill.  However, the British now had a unit 'out on a limb' and it became the target for fire from several of Tempest's units.

In the centre Moriarty had ordered the Hessian grenadiers forward to support their jaegers, but after crossing a hedge, the grenadiers' progress slowed, perhaps because they couldn't understand their orders? (actually bad movement dice again).  However, Stewart intervened and two battalions of British regulars moved towards Freeman's Farm.  Still lacking support, Shore's men stood their ground and a fierce struggle developed.  The advantage swung back and forth, but eventually the Americans' morale broke and they fell back ceding the Farm, minus the barn, (garrisoned by riflemen).
Those riflemen held off British attacks and Shore responded by sending forward units to retake the  farm.  These were countered by a battalion of converged grenadiers, who expected to prevail against the  Americans.  The dice decided otherwise and another prolonged struggle began.  To the left of the British grenadiers the Hessian grenadiers found themselves fighting desperately to hold back a flank attack sent through the woods by Shore.

On the American right Sheridan's men were finding it difficult to hold their ground once Thynne managed to get organised. They were saved by the inability of Thynne to move his artillery forward; the front line units kept becoming disorganised by the American's fire and were unable to redeploy to create the necessary space.  However, the combined elite companies did move forward and attacked the militia supporting Sheridan's gun.  This move did expose their flank to the American cavalry, but again staff work broke down and the order to charge never arrived (or perhaps the cavalry had been standing in the same position so long they had taken root?).  Against the odds the militia held, even though their supports did not move forward and the units to their left fell back.

It was on the British right where the action was decided.  Eccles had moved his men forward (with the exception of some rather reluctant cavalry) and one battalion was pushing back the riflemen in the wood.  A second attacked Tempest's artillery whilst the other two conducted a long range musketry duel with Tempest's continetal infantry. Goaded by the fire one of the units charged their British opponents but were met by concentrated artillery fire in addition to a close range volley.  The heavy losses stopped them in their tracks and a second volley ensured that the few men who survived moved swiftly to rear and off the field. (they routed).  Almost at the same time the riflemen were pushed out of the woods and then charged.  They too fled the field.  The artillery was overun by the British and Tempest's last remaining unit fell back due to losses from the British musketry

With his left shattered and the farm lost all Benedict could do was try and salvage what he could from his army and leave the field to the British.

As a first run through the rules seemed to work reasonably well.  There were a few occasions where the full rules were referred to, but generally we managed with the quick play sheets.  The movement rules did hamper the initial advance on both sides; but then again you cannot expect a battle to work like clockwork can you?  Once the combatants got within close range (12") the initiative rule meant that decisive action could take place.  Some of the units did seem 'brittle', but a re-reading of the rules later did show that we treated them more harshly than we should.     


Sunday, 19 August 2012

Midlands Trip

Had a few days away in the Midlands.  Visited Lichfield and Ashby de la Zouch and found quite a bit of useful information to generate some small scale ECW encounters. The garrison at Ashby were active in raiding Parliamentarian convoys and also had their provisioning parties attacked by enemy cavalry.  Lichfield was the scene of three sieges.  I hadn't appreciated the importance of the area as a link between the Royalist sympathisers in the West and North East.

We also made time to visit the National Memorial Arboretum which is quite close to Lichfield.   The site is maintained by the Royal British legion and I would recommend everyone to visit.  The central feature is the Armed Forces Memorial which recognises the members of all arms of the services who have lost their lives since the end of World War II.  The sheer number of names on the memorial stops you in your tracks.  We tend to perceive the post-war period as one of peace, with isolated campaigns; the truth is that there is barely a year since 1945 when the services have not been in action somewhere. 

The Armed Forces Memorial from the RAF Memorial

Of course there are dozens of other memorials, to units, or campaigns.  To see them all and walk around the whole site would take at least half a day.  If you get a chance, visit the site. 

The magnificent bronzes within the Armed Forces memorial

Friday, 10 August 2012

Montmirail 1814

Back to the Napoleonic period this week with a  scenario taken from "Fields of Glory" by Chris Leach, published by Quantum, New York.  1997.  Montmirail was one of the series of battles fought in early 1814, as Napoleon tried to keep the far more numerous allied armies at bay. The map below comes from Chris Leach's book

The scenario is built around the control of the villages. Historically the allies needed to control the road to move their heavy artillery and baggage.   Le Tremblay (lower left) is in French hands and is worth 4 points, the other three (Marchais, Les Genereux and Fontenelle) have allied garrisons and are worth 2, 2 and 3 point respectively.  The army controlling the villages with most points wins.

I took the role of Napoleon and commanded a smaller, but better quality force with two guard divisions (Friant and Michel) and more and heavier cavalry.  The onus was on me to attack and casting aside any pretence of subtlety I resolved to launch Friant's division at Les Genereux village and cover his flank with the cavalry of Nansouty and Guyot.  Ricard was to garrison Le Tremblay.

The allies were initially on defend orders and Sacken was hampered by having only 1 ADC to deliver orders and a widely dispersed force.  His first orders were to Lieven's division to redeploy to cover the rear of Les Genereux village and stop my anticipated flanking manoeuvre with Nansouty and Guyot.  Then the ADC set off on the long ride to Pirch's command with orders that they move towards Les Genereux and threaten the flank of any French attack.

Meanwhile Friant's men were advancing on Les Genereux.  Although they came under artillery fire they were fairly confident that they would eject the garrison (the 1st Battalion of the Kexholm regiment) quickly.  The first wave of Young Guard swept forward and as you might expect received a bloody nose from the Russian defenders.  Undaunted they went forward again, this time with supports.  Again, they were repulsed.  All this taking place under the eyes of the Emperor himself.  A third attack was launched by Friant, this one led by a battalion of the Marines of the Guard, with Young Guard in support.  They were also thrown back; this was getting beyond a joke!  Fortunately, some progress was being made in the area between Marchais and Les Genereux.  Two Young Guard battalions and a battalion of Old Guard were pushing back Sass's supporting battalions.  This cleared enough space for a fourth battalion to join in the attack on the gallant Kexholm battalion.  A fourth attack was also thrown back, but finally, at the fifth attempt the village fell to the French.

Whilst all this was going on a fierce cavalry melee had been taking place in the area between Les Genereux and Fontenelle.  Although having all the advantages, the French did not have everything all their own way.  The Grenadiers a Cheval  were caught by a salvo of canister and suffered sufficient casulaties to make them fall back to regroup.  The Hussars were caught by some Cossacks and forced to retreat in some disorder and a regiment of cuirassiers overwhelmed the Ashperon regiment, catching it before it formed square; but whilst it was reforming, it was caught by the Alexandrinsk Hussars and driven from the field.  In the meantime Guyot was watching the Pirch's Prussian division   and although suffering some casualties from their artillery he seemed to be deterring any advance.
The Grenadiers a Cheval had charged the New Ingermanland regiment in Lieven's division, destroying the 1st battalion, but the loss of the cuirassiers meant that Nansouty's division had to take a morale test, they rolled a 1, so they were forced to retreat.  Lieven was also required to take a command test and he also rolled a 1, so his division left the field.

The French reserves had now arrived and Napoleon sent Defrance with the Guard Light Cavalry to tackle the newly arrived Prussian hussars. The Polish Lancers and Chassuers a Cheval swept forward with a confidence bred of many past successes.  They were soundly beaten.  The Lancers were completely destroyed by the Brandenburg Hussars, whilst the Chasseurs were also out-fought by the Silesian Hussars.  So,like Nansouty, Defrance was falling back in retreat.  Suddenly Guyot was outnumbered and all he could do was to slowly fall back and attempt to cover the flank of the French infantry.

Michel had been ordered to attack Marchais, preventing Russian forces  from concentrating for a counterattack on Les Genereux.  Sacken was moving Bernodossov forward to support Sass and Scherbatov and Tallitzen was still uncommitted.  A fierce struggle now took place between the two villages and Russian hopes soared when Kexholm regained possession of Les Genereux in a counter attack.  Fortunately for Friant he had a battalion of Guard uncommitted and they surged forward, pushing out the gallant Kexholm again and regaining the village for the French.  Michel sent in his two Young Guard battalions against the Alexopol regiment defending Marchais and after a brief struggle, this village also fell to the French.  There were two determined attempts to regain Marchais, but both failed and the game ended with a French victory by 8 points to 3.

This was a closely fought game with the control of the villages in dispute for a considerable time.  The French had the advantage of having troops which could recover quicker due to their elite status and this offset the 2 to 1 advantage the Russians had in numbers.  Both sides lost approximately half their strength (measured by strength points). The Russian casualties fell mainly on the two divisions defending the villages plus their supports.   For the French, Friants Guard division lost two thirds of its strength, though only two battalions were completely lost, three others were close to exhaustion.  In an historical context this sort of Pyrrhic victory would have been unsustainable to the small french army, the casualties amongst the guard troops could not be replaced with men of equal quality.