Monday, 7 April 2014

Battle of Riga, 17th June 1701

It is back to the Great Northern Wars for our battle this week, which represents the Swedish attack on the Saxon army which was besieging Riga.  The overall situation can be seen in the map below.

Riga lies on the eastern bank of the Dvina river and when news of the approaching Swedish army arrived, the Saxon commander, Von Thielau placed his forces on the western bank to oppose any Swedish crossing.  Charles XII ordered boats to be gathered and planned to send a strong force over the river to cover the building of a pontoon bridge to allow his whole army to cross to the western bank. Our scenario concerned the attempt by the Swedes to establish a bridgehead on the western bank.  They began with 4 infantry battalions, (one of which was guard). Eight further units were available, 5 units of infantry, two of horse and one light battery.  These would arrive by boat in two 'waves' each of four units.  The composition of each wave would have to be decided by the Swedish commander before the game began.

The Saxons had 5 battalions ready to attack, with two more plus a regiment of dragoons close by.  A further reinforcement of Russian troops, 12 battalions and 4 regiments of dragoons, plus two batteries of artillery would arrive later.  Victory condition for the Saxon/Russian forces were simple, drive the Swedish forces back into the river.  For the Swedes, all(?) that was required was to establish a bridgehead to cover the construction of the pontoon bridge.

The table layout was very basic.  A two foot length of one of the long (6ft) edges was designated as the beach on which the Swedes would land. This was at the northern (right hand top) corner and along the adjacent short (4ft) edge was a swamp and wooded area.  A gap of 12" was left for the arrival of the Saxon reinforcements.  A river flowed between the two long edges of the table, with a ford on the left hand edge.  If the Swedes established a line along this river it was taken that they had formed the required bridgehead.  The Russian force would arrive at the bottom left hand corner.

The first wave of Swedish infantry come ashore
Before the action started each commander rolled an average dice (in secret), to see how many turns would elapse before their first reinforcements would arrive .  The dice had already decreed that Steve would take the part of Charles XII and I would be Von Steinau.  Both of us had decided that attack was the best policy so the two infantry lines were soon in musketry range.  All the Swedish line infantry were rated as veteran, whereas the Saxons were trained.  However, the Saxons were rated better for musketry whilst the Swedes had the edge in combat.  As the first volleys were exchanged the honours were fairly even, both sides had units disorganised by the casualties from enemy fire,although, significantly, the Swedish guards were unaffected.  The guards surged forward and the Saxon regiment Von Der Goltz was seen to be wavering.  Von Steinau quickly galloped over to stiffen their resolve.  As he rode up to the unit a second volley from the guards inflicted further casualties.  Amongst them was Von Steinau, who had to be led to the rear to have his wound dressed.  This left the Saxon army 'out of commnad' for two moves.

Von Steinau is wounded
Seeing their commander carried from the field, the Von der Goltz regiment routed, but their supports, regiment Ansbach-Kavanagh, stood firm.

In the centre, the Smalands regiment was encountering stiff opposition from regiment Von Thielau. The first battalion of Smalands was shredded by two devastating volleys from the Saxons and took no further part in the action.  (Some lucky Saxon dice imposed two step losses on the hapless Swedes destroying the unit).    Into the breach marched the second battalion of Smalands only to receive casualties themselves and they had to fall back to reform.  Meanwhile on the Swedish left a prolonged fire fight was developing; neither side being able to gain the upper hand.

Fortunately for Charles, the first wave of Swedish reinforcements now arrived, two units of infantry, a unit of cavalry and a light gun.  Reinforcing success, the infantry were sent forward to support the attack by the guards.  The artillery was sent to the left to help the Jonkopping regiment and the cavalry were sent forward to plug the gap left by the Smalands regiment.  Fortunately for the Saxons they too received some reinforcements.  Even better, they arrived in a position which threatened the flank of the Swedish guards.  However, without orders, the leading unit, the dragoons, charged the Swedish line.  The guards waited until the horse were in close range and then fired a telling volley.  All impetus and order lost, the Saxon dragoons fell back and took no further part in the action.

The Saxon dragoons are driven off
They were not the only cavalry to suffer.  In the centre, the Swedish cavalry advanced too close to the Von Thielau regiment and suffered heavy casualties when the infantry fired a volley.  This unit too was out of actiion for the rest of the battle.

Von Steinau was now able to return to take up command and not a moment too soon.  His left wing was streaming for the rear, regiment Ansbach-Kavanagh also having been routed by the Swedish guards.  The infantry which had arrived with the dragoons was still holding its position, but had no orders and was threatened by the guards and also the two supporting infantry battalions.  His centre was advancing, but had both flanks 'in the air' and on the right, his own regiment was beginning to suffer from the attentions of the Swedish artillery.  The first priority was rallying the battalions from the left and this he achieved, forming a line which now threatened the flank of the guards.

Further Swedish reinforcements now arrived, three infantry battalions and a cavalry regiment.  The infantry moved forward and began to envelop the Von Thielau regiment, whilst the cavalry moved to the left where there was more open ground.  Von Steinau could see in the distance the leading units of Repnin's Russian troops, but he knew that it would take some time before they could affect his battle.  His troops had fought well, and were becoming weary but they still possessed a bite.  The Swedish guards now became victims of their success.  Advancing too far from their supports they staggered under volleys from the reformed Swedish left wing and also the reinforcements.  Outnumbered four to one even these elite troops found their limit and much reduced in numbeers they were driven from the field.

The Swedish artillery fires on Von Steinau
On the Saxon right Von Steinau's own regiment had held the line valiantly, but they too were reaching their limit.  Under the combined fire of the Swedish artillery and infantry the first battalion broke and the second suffered heavy casulaties.

Unfortunately, with the battle in the balance we ran out of time.  My wargames table is not a permanent fixture,so we cannot leave the battle to continue next week.  I did run through a couple of moves on the following morning before tidying the troops away and this found the Saxons driven off  just before the Russians arrived.  With work on the pontoon bridge already under way and facing the Swedish forces alone, Repnin decided to fall back. Victory for the Swedes, but at a price, veteran troops are difficult to replace quickly.

Historically, the Swedes did far better, inflicting twice as many casualties on the Saxons as they received.  They also subdued a redoubt which had been constructed to provide artillery fire against any  landing.  In the event I decided to ignore the redoubt, which was just as well for the balance of the game.


  1. A fascinating battle and tabletop encounter. Reminds me of those C.S. Grant bridge-building scenarios.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes Schwartz

  2. Excellent, I have to organise a GNW game on Thursday and this might just meet the need


  3. Where did you get the Riga map. I would be interested in seeing that more closely?

    1. Hello Steve
      I have been looking in my files, but I can't find where I downloaded the map from. My hazy recollection is that the source was an atlas of military history which had been digitised and put on the web by a German(?) library. I was originally searching under the battle of Dunamunde. Sorry I can;t be of more help.

  4. A close-fought re-fight of the historical version David. Were the Swedes a little too tentative compared with the history, or merely less lucky?!
    Your game is inspirational stuff for me/us as I hope that we'll have our first play-test game of Gå På in a month or three and the Battle of Düna/Riga could be just the ticket. Those numbers of figures/units that you used should be within possibility for us by then.

    1. Hello James, it is difficult to be quite as gungho as Charles XII; most gamers exercise a modicum of caution. Good luck with the Ga Pa test run. What scale of figures are you using?