Monday, 16 December 2013

Soave, 29th April, 1809. A shako scenario

Historically, this was a minor encounter in Eugene's campaign against Archduke John with action spread over two days . For the Shako scenario I 'beefed up' the French frontal attack and also allowed Sorbier's force to appear on the Austrian flank.

John has just received news of the battle of Aspern and has orders to fall back towards the Danube valley to support Charles against Napoleon.  To cover the withdrawal he orders VIII Corps (Gyulai) to hold the line of the Alpone river whilst the remainder of the army falls back towards Vicenza.  The wooden bridge at San Bonifacio has been dismantled, but the stone bridge at Soave is still intact.  Reinforcements can be called up, but doing so gives victory points to the French. The Austrians score victory points for holding Soave, breaking enemy divisions and preventing the French from establishing a bridgehead at San Bonifacio.

Eugene has ordered the divisions of Grenier and Broussier to pin the Austrians in position with a frontal attack.  Broussier has a unit of engineers who are tasked with building a bridge to allow progress across the Alpone.  A brigade of Italian troops, (three units of guards plus a light battalion and a regiment of dragoons) have been sent on a flank march to cross the Alpone upstream and then advance on Soave.  The cavalry brigades of Pully and Grouchy are held in readiness to exploit any success.  Eugene gains victory points for controlling Soave, breaking enemy divisions, building a bridge at San Bonifacio and passing the reserve cavalry over the Alpone to pursue the Austrians.

Gyulai placed most of his strength in Soave, with skirmishers and Frolich's cavalry to watch over San Bonifacio.  After a short bombardment the infantry of Grenier's division surged forward,led by the combined elite light companies and the 3rd Croat regiment.  These doughty fighters ignored the volley from the 1st battalion of the Weidefenfeld regiment and charged home.  After a short tussle the Austrians were bundled back over the bridge into the eastern half of Soave.  Scarcely pausing for breath the Croats pursued them sensing that victory was in sight.  They were rudely awakened as crushing volley was fired into their ranks as they crossed the narrow bridge.  The defenders of eastern Soave (2nd battalion Weidenfeld), were keen to avenge their colleagues in the first battalion and a second volley forced the Croats to fall back to reform. On the southern flank of the village the Austrian artillery was inflicting casualties on the approaching columns of infantry.  As the range shortened the gunners changed to canister and losses began to rise.

At San Bonifacio Broussier was carefully screening his engineers from the fire of the Austrian jagers.  Deploying two battalions of the 8th legere as skirmishers the fire of the French began to overwhelm their opponents.  Broussier's artillery targeted Frolich's cavalry brigade, forcing it to fall back further from the river.  Unhampered, the engineers began their work constructing a temporary bridge over the Alpone.  With hindsight, now might have been a good time to summon Meyer's brigade forward to bolster the defence at San Bonifacio, but for the moment Gyulai had all his attention focused on the battle for the town of Soave.

Intent on giving the Austrians no chance to mount their own attack to recover the western half of Soave, Grenier turned to the elite light companies and commanded them to drive back the defenders of eastern Soave.  Formed up in column and led by their senior captain, the French levelled their bayonets and crying 'Vive l'empreur' charged over the bridge.  This time the volley from Weidenfeld could not halt the attack and a vicious melee took place in the packed streets.  The impetus and elan of the French proved too much and the Austrians were driven from the town.  However, Gyulai had moved supports forward and sent in a counter attack.  Battalions from the Chasteler and Weidenfeld regiments both attempted to regain control of the town, but the Frenchmen held on and the Austrians had to fall back.

It was at this point that Sorbier's flanking force appeared on the Austrian flank.  (From the end of turn three both commanders rolled a d6.  If the French rolled higher then Sorbier had defeated the Austrian flank guard and could advance.  After turn 6 the French would receive +1 to their roll, turn 7 +2 etc. In the event it was the end of turn 5 when the Italians entered the field).  Gyulai now had real problems.  He knew that he had to hold the French back for a full day (12 turns) to allow the baggage and artillery park to move towards Vicenza.  Reluctantly, he now ordered forward Meyer's brigade from the reserve and sent it towards San Bonifacio; he also sent an aide to Frolich with orders for the cavalry to move north to counter the dragoons accompanying Sorbier. In the gap between the hills and Soave, Gyulai placed the first battalion of Weidenfeld in square.  On the hill the first battalion Lindenau covered their flank,but was faced by the advancing line of Velites and Grenadiers of the Italian Guard.

By Soave the 2nd battalion of the Reuss-Greitz  found it self in an impossible position.  It was exchanging volleys with a battalion of the 23rd Line across the Soave whilst both flanks were threatened by the enemy.   With no supporting units nearby the battalion could do little but surrender when charged by the elite light companies and the 2nd Italian light infantry.On the southern side of Soave the 3rd battalion of the 23rd Line charged the rear of the Austrian artillery; silencing both batteries and relieving the pressure on Broussier's skirmishers who were defending the engineers.  However, the job of building the bridge was almost complete and as the lead battalions of Broussier's division formed up to cross the first units of Meyer's brigade (three battalions of Deutschmeister) appeared from  behind Villanova.  Charging forward the Austrians closed on the French infantry .  The 2nd battalion of the 10th line fired a volley which halted the attackers in their tracks, but their neighbours were not so lucky, having to rely on the bayonet as their opponents closed on them through the smoke.  In a close fought melee it was the French supports which decided the result and pushed the Austrians back.  Although unsuccessful, the attack had gained time for Meyer to send a battalion into Villanova.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that we had to call an end to proceedings, being beaten by the clock.  However, the result was unquestionably a French victory.  They had captured Soave and established a bridgehead at San Bonifacio.  The Austrian position was difficult and they would probably have had to call on yet more troops to hold the French pursuit away from the baggage train (giving the French more victory points in the process).  The way was also clear for the French to pass their reserve cavalry over the Alpone.  

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