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.   

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