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.

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