Monday, 20 July 2015

Shevardino Redoubt - Prelude to Borodino

After several Shako scenarios from the 1813 campaign I decided to travel further east for this week's battle.  The scenario concerns the battle for the Shevardino redoubt, a bloody affair that took place two days before the mighty clash at Borodino.  Kutusov had taken up a position flanking the Smolensk - Moscow road along which Napoleon was advancing.  However, his left flank was 'in the air', vulnerable to a flanking march along the Old Smolensk road which ran via Utitsa.  A hasty fortification was constructed at Shevardino and Neverovsky's 27th Division was stationed there.  The existence of the fortification was reported to Napoleon, who, after a quick reconnaissance, ordered that this outpost should be captured, to give his forces more room to deploy for the forthcoming battle against the main Russian army.  Kutosov's intentions are unclear, he may have wanted to hold the position to get a better idea of Napoleon's deployment, though in later, official reports he declared the redoubt 'insignificant'.

Initially, the Russian forces consist of 16 battalions of infantry; (Neverovsky with 8, and the two jaeger 'brigade' each of 4 battalions and three skirmisher stands); 8 regiments of cavalry, (Sievers and Emmanuel with 2 regiments of dragoons each, Duka with 3 regiments of cuirassiers and a single regiment of hussars with Gogol) and 4 guns, (Neverovsky has 2 field batteries plus a heavy battery in the redoubt and Gogol has a horse battery).  Reinforcements in the shape of Mecklenburg's grenadier division (8 battalions and a field battery) arrive on turn 5.

Scenario Map
The French start with three divisions of infantry (Compans and Teste with 8 battalions each and Krasinski with four battalions), each division also has two skirmisher stands and a field battery. Accompanying the infantry is Bruyere's light cavalry division of 4 regiments and a horse battery.  In addition there is an 'army gun' from the Corps reserve artillery.  Substantial reinforcements are available, on turn 2 Solaniki's Polish light cavalry (2 regiments); turn 3 a further battery from the corps artillery; turn 5 Marchand's division (4 battalions),  a further artillery battery and St Germaine's cuirassier division (4 regiments); turn 7 Wathier (4 regiments of heavy cavalry) and Morand with 8 battalions of infantry.

For the Russians the objective is to hold the redoubt until nightfall, (turn 12), for the French to capture and hold the redoubt by that time.  Streams and woods hamper movement as per the usual Shako rules.  The hills are 'rolling' and do not affect movement.

The initial deployment from the French side
The god of dice decreed that Steve should command the French forces and he lost no time in pushing forward.  As Gortchakov, the Russian commander, I was caught in two minds as to whether to use the jaeger to slow the French advance, or to pull them back and preserve their strength; a recipe for disaster which was not slow in coming about.

On the Russian left, Gogol was in an unenviable position, trying to hold back the Polish infantry to his front, whilst menaced by Bruyere's light cavalry to his flank.  His artillery did inflict some damage on the French 1st Chasseurs, but the French horse artillery replied in kind, hitting the Alexandrinsk Hussars.  Although outnumbered the hussars charged forward, but were met by the French 2nd Hussars.  The ensuing melee was brutal, the Russians were decimated and the survivors driven from the field.  With their blood up the French cavalry galloped on towards the 1st battalion of the 15th jaeger.  Fortunately for the jaeger, their officers saw the threat and quickly formed square.  A close range volley and the steady hedge of bayonets stopped the hussars in their tracks and they had to fall back to recover their order.

The jaeger stand firm
The remainder of Gogol's infantry were trying to slow the advance of the Polish infantry through the woods on the Russian left, but in spite of their efforts the Poles did maintain their progress.

Voyeikov, on the Russian right did not have to worry about cavalry, but he was facing more than double his own strength in infantry.  He attempted to move further to his right to concentrate on opposing Compans and his jaeger did inflict some casualties on the opposing voltigeurs, but the massed columns of French infantry ploughed on.  As the skirmishing screen was pushed back the formed Russian battalions came under attack.  The 2nd battaliion of the 26th jaeger in particular seemed singled out.  Hit by a close range volley, it was then charged by the first two battalions of the 10th line and driven back in disorder.  What Gogol and Voyeikov both needed was cavalry support and Gortchakov had that matter in hand.  Aides had been sent to Seivers and Emmanuel with orders for them to advance and attack the French forces.

Shevardino Redoubt
In the centre Neverovsky's infantry were for the moment spectators to events, though the French artillery from Teste's division was firing at them, joined by the corps artillery as it arrived.  They were reassured by the fire of their own guns which soon found the range as Teste's infantry began their advance.  The French infantry had the task of pinning the Russians in place ready for the flank attacks from Krasinski, Marchand and Morand.  Heavy casualties were inevitable, though the chance of 'la gloire', capturing the redoubt themselves and gaining a legion d'honneur was a spur to their advance.

For Gogol the preoccupation was survival.  Two of his battalions had been forced into square by Bruyere's cavalry and they were now being subjected to canister from the French horse battery.  His other two battalions, supported by the jaegers were attempting to hold the Polish infantry in check, but weight of numbers was forcing the Russians back  His artillery was firing at the French cavalry with some effect, but that proved its undoing.  Galled by the fire from the Russian guns the French Chasseurs charged.  A final close range round of canister did not stoop them and they swarmed round the guns sabreing the gunners.  Too late, the dragoons from Sievers command moved forward forcing the chasseurs to fall back.  Gogol now had no artillery and as Bruyere's regiments fell back to reform they were replaced by Sulkowski's light cavalry, a regiment of hussars and one of uhlans.  Their appearance forced the jaegers to remain in square and endure the rounds of canister from the French horse artillery.  The Neu Russland dragoons from Sievers' command  charged down a gentle slope and caught the 4th chasseurs as they reformed, driving them from the field.  Before them was the horse artillery, still pulverising the squares of jaeger,  Without pausing to reform the dragoons swept on.  The French officer commanding the horse artillery was a seasoned veteran and quickly saw the danger.  Swiftly the guns changed their target and the dragoons ran into a hail of canister.  Stopped in their tracks the dragoons fell back to recover, but as they did so they were hit in the flank by the uhlans from Sulkowski's brigade and driven from the field.

The Polish uhlans drive off the Neu Russland dragoons
On the French left Compans had made steady progress against Voyeikov, not allowing the jaeger screen chance to set up a defensive line and sending columns against the formed jager battalions.  Emmanuel's dragoons brought some respite.  Their very presence forced the French infantry into square, but Emmanuel was too seasoned a campaigner to risk charging steady infantry in square; instead he left it to Voyeikov's jaegers to fire close range volleys and extract some revenge for the earlier losses.  However, the dragoons were too few in number to stall all the battalions and Voyeikov's left was coming under heavy pressure.

In the centre, Teste's battered battalions were closing on the redoubt.  In the lead was 1st battalion of  the 2nd line, but as they breasted the works they were swept away by a round of canister.  In their wake came the 2nd battalion, who also suffered the same fate.  Teste was having more success on the flanks of the redoubt.
The French attack the redoubt
  Neverovsky had had to redeploy the artillery on his left to meet the threat from the enemy cavalry and this reduced the fire on the French infantry as they neared the redoubt.  The 3rd battalion of the 2nd line advanced through the closing volley of the Suzdal regiment and fell on them with the bayonet.  The first battalion of 'Suvarov's Own' had to give ground and rally behind their second battalion.

More reserves were now arriving on the field.  Gortchakov was delighted to see the ranks of grenadiers from Mecklenburg's division marching forward and he directed them to support the hard-pressed Voyeikov and Emmanuel.  Duka's cuirassiers were sent to the left flank to help Seivers and give Gogol the time to pull his battered regiments back.  However, the French too brought more men to the field.  St Germaine's cuirassiers trotted forward and were directed by Napoleon to support Compans.  On the French right Marchand's infantry arrived, threatening Gogol with envelopment.

Neverovsky grew increasingly concerned about his left.  The Riga dragoons, Sievers remaining regiment had tried to stem the tide of French and allied cavalry but had been driven back in disorder.  As they fell back they were caught by the Polish uhlans and, like their fellow dragoons destroyed as a fighting force.  The uhlans charged on and overran the 1st battalion of the Ashperon regiment on Neverovsky's left.  This battalion had been trying to flank Teste's advance and was unsupported.

Duka's cuirassiers tried to intervene.  The Ekaterinoslav regiment charged the Polish hussars, confident that the weight of their charge would overwhelm their opponents.  However, the Poles were not to be intimidated; fighting with a desperate fury they forced the cuirassier to give ground and eventually retire.  To the right of the hussars their fellow regiment had not been so fortunate.  Still disordered by their charge they were no match for the Russians as the heavier horsemen from the Military Order regiment crashed into them.  However, the success of the cuirassier was short-lived.  The Polish hussars sought to avenge their fellow regiment and charged the Russians; once again they prevailed and Duka's counter-stroke lay in ruins.  His remaining regiment, the Little Russia Cuirassier had moved further to the left and saw Marchand's battalions moving against the rear of Gogol's hard pressed troops.  Although lacking supports, the colonel of the regiment felt that he should do all he could to save the infantry and he ordered the charge.  Marchand's troops had plenty of time to see the approaching cavalry and quickly formed square.  Seeing this the officers tried to rein in their men, but their orders were not heard.  On swept the Russian cavalry into a hail of close range volleys from the French infantry.  Unable to penetrate the squares the cavalry milled about losing more casualties before eventually falling back, shattered as a fighting unit.

Duka's cuirassier driven off by Marchand
This failure sealed the fate of Gogol's remaining men.  Assailed to their front by Polish infantry, with French infantry to their flank and rear and with the remnants of the allied light cavalry still capable of forcing him into square, he could do little other than order his men to lay down their arms.

On the Russian right pressure was mounting.  St Germaine's cuirassier had now reached Compans and quickly appreciated that if Emmanuel's cavalry could be driven off before Mecklenburg intervened then Veyeikov would be overwhelmed and Neverovsky's position put in jeopardy.  The bugles sounded and the French cuirassiers moved forward in column of regiments.  Although they realised that the odds were against them the Russian dragoons counter-charged, led by the Charkov regiment.  The impetus of the French was unstoppable and the Russian unit simply disintegrated under the impact.  Their supports, the Moscow regiment fared better, but they had to fall back to reform after having suffered heavy losses.  Voyeikov's regiments were swept away in the general rout and the Russian right was in peril.

Just in time the grenadiers took up position alongside Neverovsky's infantry forming a new defensive line.  For Gortchakov he now had to decide if he had done all that honour required.  Would further losses be justified merely to hold this exposed position?  Although a failure, Duka's charge had bought time to withdraw.  With only an hour of daylight remaining there would be little the French could do to exploit this victory.  For his part Napoleon greeted the victory after so many setbacks and rewarded selected survivors of Bruyere's and Sulkowski's commands with legion d'honneur for their part in the battle.  Not forgotten were Teste's infantry who had made the frontal attack on the redoubt at such heavy cost.

An intriguing game which, although weighted in the French favour, did give the Russian commander opportunities to inflict heavy casualties (which I of course spurned).  The French reinforcements on turn 7 were not required as the result was obvious by then and they would not reach a position to intervene.  In retrospect the game may have worked better on a larger table (8 x 6) giving particularly Gogol more distance from Bruyere's cavalry.    

1 comment:

  1. Very interseting AAR - thanks for posting. Might need to visit this game myself!