Sunday, 28 April 2013

Deepdale 1315

No, this not the result of an early kick-off outside Preston North End's ground, but an episode from  early 14th century Lancashire.  Ill-feeling towards the de Holland's by other Lancashire families, had spilled over into open warfare.  The rebels had raided de Holland estates in southern Lancashire and then turned their attentions northwards.  Thomas, Earl of Lancaster had ordered the sheriff of Lancaster to assemble some of Lancster's own retinue,plus the posse comitatus and put down the rebellion.  The two forces met near Preston in early November 1315.

Very little is known of the battle apart from the result, which was a decisive victory for the Earl's men.  We are planning to put on this game at the Phalanx show at St Helens in June this year and therefore have begun some play testing with the WAB  rules,with the aim of getting used to them and also identifying any 'tweaks' which may be needed.

So, we assembled  a motley collection of medieval figures and tried out one of the historic alternatives, where a vanguard of the Earl's forces attacks the rebels before the main body arrives.  The contemporary accounts suggest that this vanguard was soundly beaten, but when the main body appeared, the rebels were quickly routed.  The vanguard, although outnumbered, had a greater percentage of mounted knights and overall the Earl's men were of better quality.

Some outstanding shooting by the raw rebel archers initially drove off the vanguard's crossbowmen and the two bodies of mounted knights crashed into each other. There then followed a prolonged melee in which neither side managed to inflict any casualties.  The rebels manoeuvred a second unit of knights into a position where they could charge the vanguard's flank. Against the odds, this charge not only made little impact, but the vanguard inflicted sufficient casualties to rout their opponents.  After further rounds of ineffectual 'hacking and slashing' we decreed that both units of knights would fallback to reform.

The main body of the Earl's army now arrived and found the rebel forces somewhat disorganised.  A second body of knights charged a unit of rebel peasants.  As the peasants feared any formed enemy they had to take a panic test, which they failed.  As a result they rolled three d6 to see how far they would flee.  The knights had begun their charge from 12 inches away, so any total of 5 or more would save the peasants, they rolled three ones and were cut down.

This event set the precedent for some rather eccentric die rolling which resulted in over half the Earl's force heading for the baseline as they failed tests.  By the end of the battle each side had two units of infantry left and the rebels were deemed to have won, simply by not being driven from the field.

In the post battle review we decided that the units would have to be larger, not only to increase the chance of inflicting casualties, but also to stand up to losses better.  The saving throws also seemed rather generous for the knights (only being killed if a 1 was rolled).  So it is back to the drawing board to see what alterations we can develop to make things less of a lottery.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Kulm: Day 2

My apologies for the delay in completing the report on the Kulm scenario. Refighting day two took two sessions and family holidays intervened.  The last post closed with Vandammme's attack thwarted by the arrival of Russian reinforcements.  Overnight, he too received reinforcements and confident in the imminent arrival of St Cyr and/or Mortier resolved to stand on the defensive, pending their arrival.  The two divisions which had fought so hard, Revest and Dupas, were pulled back to act as the reserve and took up their positions in and around Kulm.  Philippon now held the right flank facing Straden with Dumonceau in the centre astride the high ground on the road between Kulm and Priesten.  Corbineau held the left flank facing Karwitz; to his right stood the light cavalry of Gorbrecht.  Chastel's light cavalry were positioned near Kulm to assist Philippon or Dumonceau.  Vandamme had called forward all his artillery to strengthen the line, a decision  which would pay dividends as the day progressed.

Osterman had also received further reinforcements.  On his left, near traden were the grenadiers of Rubin's division, supported by Rosen's guardsmen and Schavitch's cavalry.  Schachafskoi's division was between Straden and Priesten with Pischnitsky's men in support.  Between Priesten and Karwitz stood Mesenzov with Pahlen's light cavalry astride the Tepltz road.  Further back Osterman had two small cuirassier divisions (Duka and Kretov). Schwarzenberg had promised Austrian troops and they were expected to arrive to the right of Karwitz. Berg's division and the reserve artillery would arrive from Teplitz once the confusion of the retreat through the mountains was sorted out.  The allied plan was simplicity itself; a pinning attack against the french centre (Dumonceau), whilst Rubin and Mesenzov moved around his flanks to capture Kulm.  The Austrians, with Pahlen and Kretov's cavalry would move round the French left and cut the road behind Kulm, enveloping Vandamme's forces.

The Austrian troops were delayed, but Osterman decided to attack anyway and after a brief bombardment the Russian infantry moved forward.  Beyond Straden the grenadiers crossed the stream and began their advance towards Philippon's troops.  Their columns came under concentrated artillery fire and as they deployed into line they masked their own guns giving some relief to the French infantry.  In the centre, Schachafskoi's men also suffered from the French artillery, it seemed that every ball caused casualties; before they had reached the stream the front line battalions had suffered 50% casualties and the second line moved through to take up the advance.  On the heights, Dumonceau's front line was suffering, but his second line, behind the crest was virtually intact.  As Mesenzov's men moved forward seeking Dumonceau's flank, Vandamme ordered Dupas' division to' plug the gap'.  Also, seeing the chance of restricting the allied cavalry, he ordered Corbineau to seize Karwitz.

Pahlen's men were moving to the right of Karwitz and Gorbrecht could hold them in check, but not if the Russian cavalry reserve intervened.  After initial skirmishing as the allied cavalry crossed the stream, the French seemed to be getting the upper hand and Ostermann sent an aide with orders for Kretov's cuirassiers to support Pahlen.  However, in the nick of time, the Austrians, led by Nostitz's cavalry entered the fray.  The extra numbers forced Gorbrecht to fall back, but allied progress was slowed by the lack of space to deploy, the stream and the attentions of French artillery on the hill between Kulm and Karwitz..

On the Allied left the attack by the Russian grenadiers had stalled.  Philippon had pulled back most of his infantry to the shelter of the hill and his artillery was doing all the damage.  Rubin was struggling to hold his division together as the casualties mounted.  Vandamme saw an opportunity to further disrupt the Allied plans and ordered Chastel to advance to threaten the flank of the grenadiers.  As the light cavalry moved forward they came within range of the Russian guns and paid the price, particularly the 3rd Chasseurs, who were the lead unit.  This small success was totally overshadowed by the fate of Schachafskoi's division.  Already weakened by losses following the battle of Dresden and subjected to artillery fire on their advance the Russian battalions melted away as they came within canister range.  The hillside below Dumonceau's troops was carpeted by Russian dead.  It was too much and the Russian infantry began to fall back.  The division took no further part in the battle, taking the task of garrison of Priesten.  To cover Schachafskoi, Osterman ordered Pischnitsky to advance and attack the ridge to the right of the road.  This would also support Mesenzov who was making slow progress now that Dupas' men had come into the line.  

Karwitz had become the prize in a race between Hessen Homburg's Austrians and Corbineau's Frenchmen.  Fortunately for the Allies the Austrians won.  The men of 1st battalion Weidenfeld had barely taken up their position within the village before the first French attack was launched. Their volley stopped the men of the 23rd Ligne in their tracks and they fell back to regroup.

As he surveyed the field, Vandamme could feel reasonably satisfied; most of the allied attacks had stalled, their centre was being bled white by his artillery, only on his left was there any concern and for the moment Gorbrecht was keeping the Allied cavalry boxed in.  However, his thoughts were rudely interrupted by the arrival of a dusty and dishevelled courier.  "The Prussians are here!" he reported.  "They are blocking the Pirna road and coming this way!".  "Where the ***l are St Cyr and Mortier" shouted Vandamme, "they are supposed to be supporting me".  He surveyed the field again.  To his front more Russians were approaching from Teplitz, to the right were the wooded heights and mountains and to the left masses of enemy cavalry.  The only option was to try and breakout through the Prussians.  Aides were sent with orders to Dupas and Corbineau to break off action and retire on Kulm.  Gorbrecht and Chastel would have to do what they could to aid Dumonceau and Phillipon holding the line whilst Revest, Dupas and Corbineau dealt with the Prussians.

Osterman was becoming increasingly concerned by his losses and welcomed the sight of Berg's division advancing with the reserve artillery.  Schavitch was ordered forward to help Rosen's guardsmen against Chastel and space was cleared for the deployment of the artillery reserve.  Then an aide pointed out that Mesensov's men seemed to be falling back.  There was no mistake, Mesensov's division had broken and was retreating between Priesten and Karwitz leaving Pischnitsky's division isolated.  On the French side Dupas was savouring the moment.  A large gap had now opened in the Russian line, victory was still within their grasp.  Then an aide arrived with fresh orders.  Dupas read them with disbelief "we've got the b*****s on the run! what does he mean, retreat?"  The aide took him to one side and queitlyexplained about the Prussians.  With a heavy heart Dupas gave the order and his division began to pull back.

On the Russian left Rubin's grenadiers were a spent force.  Only small groups remained with the colours as men were scythed down by artillery fire.  Then Chastel's troopers charged.  Squares were formed and the cavalry beaten off, but a more severe test needed to be faced.  The survivors were now lashed with canister.  The squares shrank, but endured.  Chastel charged again and the grenadiers were swept away.  However, any pursuit was brought up short by the solid ranks of Rosen's guardsmen and their supporting artillery.  

Pischnitsky's division continued to attack Dumonceau.  Showing great determination they reached the crest of the ridge and pushed back the first line.  Their success was their undoing, as with both flanks in the air they were almost enveloped by the counter attack and tumbled back down the slope and across the stream.  Officers struggled to restore order and the division played no further part in the battle.  Dumonceau was now coming under increasing pressure as the Russian artillery reserve came into position and began to bombard his position.  His right was threatened by two of Rosen's guards battalions and Schavitch, who was now taking up position to oppose Chastel.  The latter ordered the lancers to charge the leading guards battalion.  They caught it before it could form square and destroyed it.  Their blood up, the Frenchmen carried the charge towards the supporting guards unit, Preobrazhenski.  This also failed to form square, but the veterans took on the  lancers and drove them off.

Now was the time for Schavitch to strike, but one of his units charged the guns on the hill.  Like so many other frontal attacks on artillery this resulted in a bloody failure, with the remnants of the unit routing back across the stream.  Seeing the rout the other two units of cavalry also fell back, leaving Rosen's flank open again.

However, on the allied right affairs were progressing more satisfactorily.  Nostitz had eventually managed to push Gorbrecht's men back, making room for Pahlen and Kretov to swing to their left and threaten the flank of Corbineau's division.  Three more attacks had been made on Karwitz, each one with determination, but each repulsed by Weidenfeld.  The flank was covered by the 8th legere, but the presence of Pahlens cavalry forced them into square.  They now became a target for Pahlen's horse artillery and suffered accordingly.  Corbineau's own artillery was placed on the high ground beyond Karwitz and it swept the ground over which Pahlen and Kretov would have to advance.  A unit of Uhlans had managed to work their way round to the rear of the hill, brushing aside light infantry in the process and in a combined charge with the Kaiser Cuirassier regiment they put the artillerymen to the sword.  It was about this time that Vandamme's aide reached Corbineau with the order to fall back.  "How am I supposed to do that?" he asked, pointing to the cavalry on his flank and the masses of Austrian infantry pressing forward. 

We drew matters to a close at this point.  Vandamme's left was lost, but three divisions, (Dupas, Revest and Phillipon) could have tried to break through the Prussians.  Dumonceau would have had to do what he could to hold off any pursuit.  The Russians were a spent force.  Four of their infantry divisions were badly mauled and would be out of action for some time.

The Shako rules again proved their worth.  The command element was particularly useful on this occasion, with the aides carrying orders, which when they arrived did not always take account of the changed circumstances.