Friday, 5 September 2014

Kukrowitz - a Shako 'Big Battles' scenario

For the last couple of years the Gentlemen Pensioners have put on a Shako 'Big Battles' scenario at the Gauntlet show run by the Deeside Defenders.  This year, Steve very kindly offered to host a similar game, which made things a lot easier with regard to transporting the figures and assorted paraphernalia. How do you follow Bautzen, Borodino and Leipzig?  After considering several  options I eventually decided on creating a 'what if..' scenario set in 1813. This avoided me having to use Prussian troops to make up the numbers at Austerlitz for example, or to have troops in late war uniforms at the earlier battles.  The template for the 'Kukrowitz' was Znaim, the final battle in the 1809 Wagram campaign.

This is a map of the area from the Allied side of the table.  It is not an exact representation of the terrain that was on the table, but contemporary maps were not always accurate.  The two c-in-c's each received a map to help with their planning.  The French, commanded by Napoleon, had four corps commanders, Ney, Oudinot, Marmont and Bertrand, with the corps commanded by Victor due to arrive after 4 or 5 moves.  Three cavalry corps and the Guard arrived at the end of play on Saturday.  The Allies also had four corps commanders, two Russian, Miloradovich and Gortchakov, an Austrian, Kolowrat and Blucher for the Prussians.  Allied reserves were available and the elite Reserve Corps, commanded by Grand Duke Constantine was due to arrive at the start of play on the Sunday.

Prussian and Russian troops on the Zuckerberg
 The scenario had the Allied army retiring after their defeat at Dresden.  The Austrian rearguard was being pressured by Ney, whilst Napoleon was marching hard to move round the flank and trap the Allies against the Thaya river.  To make matters worse for the Allies their sole line of retreat was blocked by a problem with the army's supply train and they would have to hold a defensive position for the whole day (the two days gaming).  Blucher had his troops in the vicinity of Winau, stretching onto the Zuckerberg.  To Blucher's right was Gortchakov and then Miloradovich, whose troops were deployed from the Zuckerberg, through Zuckerhandel and onto the Klein Berg.  Kolowrat's Austrians were deployed on the Klosterberg and in front of Alt Schallersdorf and the Kloster Abbey.  Ney faced Kolowrat across the Thaya.  Marmont was ready to assault the Klein Berg and Bertrand was with Oudinot on the French right.

Excelmans charges the Austrian line.

 Napoleon had issued attack orders to his corps commanders and true to his nature Ney was happy to oblige.  His light cavalry, led by Excelmans and Briche were quick to cross the bridge and move at speed towards  the Austrian lines.  To the right, Grouchy led his dragoons across the ford and deployed ready to charge the Austrian guns on the Klosterberg.    Unfortunately for Excelmans, Frimont's Uhlans were supporting the Austrian infantry and the uhlans were quick to advance through the lines and countercharge the French cavalry.  The French were caught by surprise and driven back.  Carried away with their success the Austrians charged on into Briche's horsemen.  However, disordered from their melee they were driven back with heavy loss.  Briche's men retained their control and fell back to reform.  Although costly, the cavalry attacks had covered the advance of Verdier's division towards Alt Schallersdorf.  Grouchy had formed up his division and now charged the guns on the Klosterberg.

Grouchy charges up the Klosterberg
The Austrian gunners were sabred, but isolated, the French dragoons fell back to reform. Behind Grouchy more of Ney's infantry were crossing the Thaya.

The Baden infantry division crosses the Thaya

   On the French right, Oudinot was advancing on the Prussians.  There were some losses from the Prussian artillery, but the infantry continued to move forward.  To Oudinot's left, Bertrand was sending his troops up the slopes of the Zuckerberg.  Franquement's division was charged by Kochin's cavalry and bundled back down the slopes. The Russian cavalry reined in and fell back to reform. To Franquement's right Neubronn's division charged home on the Prussian guns.  As the Wurttemburg infantry swept through the guns they were charged by Roder's cavalry.  Disorganised, they stood little chance as the horsemen hacked about them.  Only a few of Neubronn's men made it back to the French lines.  Bertrand's corps cavalry was also attacking the ridge but the Russians formed square and drove them off with heavy casualties.

Kochin's cavalry sweep down the slopes of the Zuckerberg
Marmont was making slow progress against Miloradovich's troops.  His cavalry were destroyed by the Russian cavalry and the first wave of infantry was driven back with heavy losses.

After three moves all the French attacks had been repulsed and the Allied line was holding, but undaunted, the French resumed their attack.  First, Oudinot sent in Scheeler's division against Winau, they were beaten back, but a Gazan's division was ready to take their place.  The failure of Bertrand's attack on the Zuckerberg had encouraged the Russians into a limited counterattack.  One of Gortchakov's infantry divisions was threatening the flank of Bertrand's line. To counter this Pino's Italians were moved to a blocking position.  As they redeployed they became the target for all the Russian guns on the Zuckerberg.  Vast gaps were torn in their ranks and Bertrand had to pull them back, but the division was so damaged it took no further part in the battle.  Bertrand's position was now perilous.  His cavalry were much weakened, his infantry battered and the enemy seemed as strong as ever.  To his relief he saw fresh troops arriving.  Napoleon had directed Victor's corps to strengthen the French right.   

Ney had not been deterred by the failure of his first attack on the Klosterberg.  Briche's light cavalry charged forward against Schaeffer's division.  The Austrians tried to form square, but were caught in the manoeuvre and stood little chance against the French cavalry.

Oudinot's advance on Winau

Kolowrat sent a message off to the Allied headquarters requesting reinforcements; but so early in the battle his pleas fell on deaf ears.  As a precautionary measure Kolowrat garrisoned Alt Schallersdorf and the Kloster Abbey with men from Splenyi's division.

On the French right, Gazan's division drove the Prussians from Winau and then defeated a counterattack.  Blucher was now in serious trouble, with his left threatened and struggling to maintain contact with Gortchakov's troops to his right.  He also sent off an aide to Allied headquarters requesting reinforcements.  His plea was accepted and the Prussian grenadier division and the Prussian heavy cavalry were soon marching towards Winau.  Reports of Victor's arrival in support of Bertrand resulted in the Russian reserves heading off towards Kukrowitz to bolster the position on the Zuckerberg.  With a second plea arriving from Kolowrat, saying that his line was under extreme pressure, being accepted by the Allied command, all the Allied reserves had now been committed.

The Russian reserves move forward

Marmont made a second attempt to drive Miloradovich from the Klein Berg, only to see his infantry driven back down the slopes in confusion.  Fortunately, help was at hand, as Ney's infantry, led by the Baden division stormed the Klosterberg and drove Abele's division from the hill, creating space for Marmont to deploy more men in future attacks.  With Abele's defeat, the French now had control of the Klosterberg. With Dubreton driving Splenyi's men from the Kloster Abbey and Vial capturing Alt Schallersdorf, Ney felt confident that he had the Austrians on the run.

The French attack on Alt Schallersdorf
But Kolowrat had other ideas.  He ordered Splenyi to counterattack and try and regain the abbey.  The Austrian infantry moved forward with a will, but were unable to dislodge the French.  They suffered heavy casualties in the melee and fell back, taking no further part in the battle.  The light cavalry also made charges, forcing the infantry to form square, which made them excellent targets for the Austrian guns.  All this bought time for the Austrian reserves to march up. Nostitz's cuirassiers lost no time in charging the French on the Klosterberg, but could make no impression on the solid infantry and had to fall back to reform.  However, Kolowrat had had time to form a solid defensive line in front of Edelspitz, linking up with Gortchakov's men on the ridge behind the Klein Berg.

Kolowrat forms a second line

Blucher was struggling to contain Oudinot.  Dombrowski's Polish division was making headway against Jagow's division, which contained a large number of Reserve Infantry regiments and Militia.  The inexperienced troops could not stand against the veterans and fled from the field.  Pirch's division tried to stem the tide but was swept away by a combination of the Poles and Oudinot's light cavalry.  A yawning gap opened in the Prussian lines, which the arriving reserves struggled to fill.  Only the assistance of some Russian reserves allowed some semblance of a line to be re-established.

The Guard arrives
 With play drawing to a close late on Saturday afternoon, the French reserves arrived.  The Imperial Guard, accompanied by three corps of reserve cavalry.  Napoleon allocated Victor, Oudinot and Ney one corps of cavalry each; retaining the Guard under his personal command.  Although the French had taken heavy losses in the day's play (70 stands to the Allies 57), they had made significant gains on both flanks.  In the centre, where Bertrand (and latterly Victor) , had repeatedly attacked the Zuckerberg, only small gains had been made; but, with almost all the Russian forces drawn into this sector it gave the French the advantage of numbers on other sectors.  The Russian Guard, commanded by Grand Duke Constantine was due to arrive on the Sunday morning and the deployment of those reserves would be vital to the Allied cause.  Ideally they would oppose any moves made by the French Imperial Guard, but other priorities may arise on the morrow.

When we assembled again on the Sunday, the newly arrived Grand Duke Constantine had a brief opportunity to weigh up the best course of action and decided that he would like to move towards the likely target of the French Imperial Guard, Kukrowitz. However, the plight of the Prussians on the Allied left and the need to safeguard the road meant that two elite infantry divisions were sent in this direction.

The Guard cavalry attack
 Refusing to protect the Guard, Napoleon launched his cavalry towards Gortchakov's infantry covering Kukrowitz.  Scherbatov's division quickly formed square and their bayonets were steady enough to force the elite horsemen to fall back.  The Russians had no time to celebrate their success as the massed columns of the guard infantry marched towards them.  Quickly reforming to meet this new threat the Russians welcomed the supporting fire from their heavy batteries and could see the Russian light cavalry of the Guard  heading towards them.  However, nothing could stop the advance of Napoleon's elite infantry.  They swept the Russians aside, overrunning the supporting batteries and cleared the way towards Kukrowitz.

Marmont made a third attempt on the Klein Berg.  This time he was successful, slowly but surely, pushing the Russians back.  As the Russian infantry retreated the French beat off attacks from the Russian cavalry and claimed possession of the heights, renaming it the Marmont Berg.

The French take the Klein Berg
 Oudinot wasted no time in putting his reserve cavalry to use.  The cavalry galloped forward and in concert with the infantry launched a series of devastating attacks on the thin Prussian lines.  In no time at all the Prussian grenadiers and reserve cavalry had been swept from the field and Constantine had to direct even more resources to try and secure his left flank.  Blucher's command now consisted of a much weakened cavalry division and the remains of the division which had garrisoned Winau, plus an artillery battery.  This battered remnant clung to the Brunberg heights, but could do little to influence the battle.

Ney attacks the Austrian squares
 Kolowrat meanwhile was doing his best to keep the enemy at bay.  His cavalry made repeated charges against the French guns which Ney was attempting to bring forward to aid his advance.  Several batteries were destroyed and whilst there was no danger of Alt Schallersdorf and the Abbey being recaptured by the Austrians, Ney's troops were making little progress.  Indeed, Ney was throwing his newly acquired cavalry corps against Austrian squares in a desperate attempt to make further gains.  At the Zuckerberg the carnage continued with Victor beating off Russian attacks and continuing to pin Gortchakov in place whilst Oudinot and Napoleon worked round his flanks.

After two hours play the balance of the game had shifted dramatically.  The Allies had lost 10 divisions, pushing their total stands lost beyond 120 (their army breakpoint was 160).  Meanwhile the French had lost only a further 15 stands.  

With his eyes set on Kukrowitz, Napoleon ordered his Guard to continue their advance.  With Friant leading the way the infantry bypassed Zuckerhandel, leaving Marmont's troops to mop up resistance there. The Guard cavalry advanced on the flank of the infantry and the Chasseurs and Lancers charged the lights cavalry of the Russian guard.  In a close melee, the French prevailed, driving the Russians back.  To the right of the lancers the Guard heavies rode down a Russian infantry division which failed to form square in time.  Friant's grenadiers entered Kukrowitz unopposed, the Russians sent to garrison it arriving too late.  As the Russians formed up to attack the village they were caught in the flank by Houssaye's dragoon division and totally destroyed.  This proved the decisive loss for the Allies as they reached their army breakpoint and their orders would then automatically be changed to withdraw.

Dombrowski's Polish division attacks the Russian Guard
 The day belonged to the French.  With the Allied army in such a battered state and their supply train vulnerable perhaps it would end the campaign in Napoleon's favour and Leipzig would never have been fought!

This had been a thoroughly enjoyable game, with much of that due to the Gentlemen Pensioners who played in the right spirit.  Thank you to the two Johns, the two Garys, Ian, Roman, Chris, Nick, Phil and Will for all your efforts.  Not forgetting Steve, who combined the role of host with that of umpire to such good effect.  My apologies to the commanders who may feel I have not mentioned some significant events, but especially on the Sunday morning things were happening so quickly it was difficult to keep track of them all.  

Further photos, including some panoramic views of the battle, can be found on Will's blog together with Bertrand's take on the battle!  In addition, a strategic overviewfrom the French perspective can be found on Phil's FoG blog.  Both well worth visiting.


  1. 'Ah! I wandered (sic) what happened elsewhere' said the Austrian Commander!
    A really enjoyable wargame and a very good weekend indeed - Red House hospitality and camaraderie to the full.
    Many thanks
    Anonymous Synonimous Zim.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I thought the same - a very good 'pull together' narrative ...

    I thought the game worked very well. Such a sprawling wargame, but coherently run to a clear conclusion in 3 sessions (I made it turn 10 when the Allies broke, but, in the excitement, I might be wrong by 1 either way) ...

    Big battle Shako (the Ayers/Shuttleworth way) certainly allows the 'big game' to work without losing the flavour of a Napoleonic battle.

    A success!

    EDIT apologies for the delete/repost - it was the easiest way to correct a typo, that's all ;)