Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Battle of the Somme film

On Saturday I visited a local museum which was screening a contemporary documentary film of the Battle of the Somme film.  The Imperial War Museum had digitally remastered the original which it holds in its archives.  Many of the images which crop up in programmes on the Somme seem to have been taken from this film.  It is in five parts, with 2 covering the build up to the battle and three of the first stages of the battle.  The cameramen (who were on the War Office 'strength') had the film back in London for editing within two weeks and the final version was on general release in cinemas before the end of August 1916.

Some scenes were obviously staged for the cameras as propoganda (eg , smiling 'tommies' marching up to the front line), but there are some which capture the mood with more realism.  Information on the Somme film can be found on the Imperial War Museum website  (the links relating  to the film are neat the bottom of the page.)

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Caldiero: the final phase

My apologies for the delay in posting the final report on the Caldiero scenario, but events conspired against me.  The previous post on Caldiero ended with Lotheringen and Pino fighting for control of Gambion on the French right flank.  In the centre Tolstoy was hanging on to Caldiero in spite of being pressed hard by Gardanne, but Duhesme's reserve division was poised to join the attack. Orlov was struggling to hold his position against Verdier and further to French left Mesenzov was being pounded by Massena's grand battery and threatened by D'Espagne's light cavalry.  On the French left, Molitor and Remesov continued their long range bombardment of each other.  Pahlen's light cavalry after driving off Molitor's skirmishers had returned to the ridge awaiting further orders from Bennigsen.

Play started with the expected French cavalry attack on Mesenzov, preceded by a final bombardment from the grand battery.  D'Espagne's cavalry swept up the slope and caught the 1st battalion of the Kexholm regiment attempting to form square.  The 1st Chasseurs hardly paused as they charged through the disorganised mass, scattering it beyond recovery.  Beyond lay the 12lb battery which had inflicted heavy losses on Verdier's infantry and the cavalry now closed on them.  They were met by a devastating discharge of canister which emptied many saddles and the few bold chasseurs which reached the guns were driven off by the crews.  To the right of the 1st Chasseurs, the 3rd Chasseurs had attacked Mesenzov's divisional artillery.  This had already been weakened by fire from the grand battery and offered only feeble resistance and the French cavalry swept over them.  However, behind the guns, Mesenzov's infantry had formed square, presenting a formidable barrier to further progress. Reluctantly, the 3rd Chasseurs fell back from the ridge to reform, leaving the huddled masses of Russian infantry to the tender mercies of the French guns.

The first wave of D'Espagne's troopers attack Mesenzov

The 1st Chasseurs charge the guns
Meanwhile on the French right, Lothringen's attack on Gambion was making a little progress.  The 3rd battalion of the Weidenfeld regiment had driven back the 1st battalion of the 1st Italian line regiment, but was then counter-attacked by the 2nd battalion of the same regiment.  Already weakened by musketry the Austrians broke and fled from the field.  Fortunately for Lothringen, the Lindenau regiment was able to hold the Italian surge,  The 2nd battalion of the Weidenfeld regiment pushed back 2 battalions of the 4th Italian line regiment and closed up to the outskirts of Gambion, although the village was still in Italian hands.

In the centre, Caldiero was also now in Italian hands.  The Grenadiers of the Italian Guard from Duhesme's division had driven out the 1st battalion of the 15th jaeger and given new heart to the battered divisions of Gardanne and Verdier.  Both now moved forward to attack again.  Gardanne was held by Tolstoy, mostly due to splendid spirit of the Lithuania regiment, which drove off attacks from two battalions of the 46th line; inflicting such heavy losses that they had to leave the field.

Caldiero falls to the Italians
Orlov was under more pressure.  Not only were Verdier's battalions pressing forward, but the second wave of D'Espagne's cavalry had moved forward in support.  In particular the 4th Chasseurs, having dispersed a unit of skirmishers, charge the 2nd battalion of the Smolensk Infantry Regiment.  These had just enough time to form square before the cavalry reached them.  Faced by the steady bayonets of the Russian infantry, the French cavalry had no option but to fall back to reform.

The Russian square halts the French cavalry
This proved to be the high watermark of Massena's attack.  He had control of Gambion and Caldiero and Tolstoy, Orlov and Mesenzov were all under heavy pressure.  However, D'Espagne's men needed time to recover and Massena only had the remains of Lasalle's division (two regiments) to pin Mesenzov and guard against an attack from Pahlen.  From his position by Mesenzov, Bennigsen had sent a courier to Pahlen with orders to attack the French cavalry.  Orders had also been sent to Berg, who commanded the grenadier division to move forward and retake Caldiero.  Berg reacted first and his six battalions of grenadiers moved forward with purpose.  After a delay, Pahlen ordered his men forward, but the leading two regiments, the Siberian and Polish Uhlans both suffered casualties from the French artillery.  When charged by Lasalle's regiments both were driven back in disorder. Pahlen's second wave stopped the French advance, but suffered heavy casualties in doing so.  The end result was that most of the cavalry on that sector of the field was now spending time recovering and it was down to the infantry and artillery.

At Caldiero Orlov was not waiting for Berg's grenadiers, he ordered the 2nd battalion of the 21st Jaeger to attack the Italian's holding the village.  This they did with elan, driving off the Italian guardsmen and reclaiming the centre of Bennigsen's position.  With the cavalry threat temporarily removed Orlov attacked Verdier again, breaking the 4th battalion of the 2nd Line and forcing the division to fall back to recover.  Massena had therefore to deploy Duhesme's remaining battalions to prevent Orlov moving any further forward.  This stopped any renewed attempt to recapture Caldiero.

Orlov's jaegers recapture Caldiero
Around Gambion, Lothringen had at last managed to deploy his infantry to advance around the village.  However, his first attack was met by devastating volleys from the battalions of the Italian Light regiments.  Lothringen's leading battalion, the 2nd battalion of the Weidenfeld regiment was shredded by the fire and this attack stopped almost as soon as it started.

This seemed a logical time to draw the game to a close and declare the result a draw, as it was historically.  The French attack on Caldiero had been repulsed with substantial losses, (Gardanne and Verdier having lost half their battalions), but Gambion still remained in Italian hands.  The divisions of Tolstoy and Mesenzov were too battered to exploit any French withdrawal.  Orlov too had lost almost half his battalions.  Berg was too far back to intervene and Frimont's cavalry had any forward progress  opposed by the French reserve artillery and squares of Gardanne's infantry.  Bennigsen had half his artillery batteries overrun some guns may be salvaged, but dead crew are more difficult to replace.

Many thanks to Steve for taking the role of Massena and making the game so enjoyable.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Britcon 2016

This weekend we attended BRITCON in Manchester and put on the Bauge game we ran at the Rage event at the Armouries in April .  The show was quite well attended and seemed pretty busy, especially when the competition gamers had a break.  There was a good range of traders and the bring and buy had plenty on offer (particularly if you were a fan of the Ancient period).

We managed to run through the game twice and on each occasion the English prevailed, but at the cost of losing the vast majority of their mounted troops, "it was the archers what won it!" as they say.

The end for the Duke of Clarence, leading his knights across the bridge

Salisbury takes on the Scottish pikes

The French knights attack
Our pitch was in the entrance hall and a good number of people stopped to chat to us about the game and the rules.  There were other games on offer, mainly Napoleonic.  A large (16' x 6') 15mm Austerlitz game by the Mailed Fist group caught my eye

A Waterloo game used far larger (54mm) figures to represent the attack on La Haye Sainte

A demonstration game promoting the "Hordes of Models and Buckets of Dice" set of rules was on the adjacent table

Many thanks to Steve and Dave for organising the Lance & Longbow attendance at the show and Gary, John and Will for helping run the game.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Battle of Caldiero part 2

Our second session began with Gardanne renewing his attack on Caldiero and the Lithuania regiment which was supporting the village on the left.  A determined attack by the two battalions of the 46th regiment got through the closing volley from the Russians and closed for melee.   Two more attacked the divisional artillery on Lithuania's left flank.  Although the infantry drove off their attackers with heavy losses, the artillery, which had been weakened by skirmisher fire was overrun and the French infantry were poised to move around the flank of the infantry defending Caldiero.

Gardanne's attack meets with some success
However, Frimont's cavalry were supporting Tolstoy and Lothringen and saw an opportunity to charge.  The Merveldt Uhlans surged forward and caught one battalion of the 54th regiment before it could form square.  In no time the remnants of the battalion were streaming from the field, with the majority of their comrades having been killed.  The Uhlans reined in and with great discipline, fell back to reform after their charge.  Gardanne was forced to form part of his division in squares to protect the flank of those who were still attacking Caldiero.  The only thing threatening Frimont's troopers was the fire from Pino's artillery which wanted to dissuade them from intervening in the struggle for Gambion.

On the other side of Caldiero Verdier was having more success.  Led by the 2nd Line and 5th Light his troops overwhelmed Tolstoy's artillery and pushed back the 1st battalion of the New Ingermanland regiment.  The 2nd battalion tried to stem the tide but was also driven back with heavy losses.  Their stand, although costly, did give Orlov's battalions enough time to advance and block any further progress by Verdier's men.  In addition the Frenchmen came under fire from the artillery on the ridge and began to suffer heavy casualties.

Verdier's men break through

Orlov's men deploy and await the attack
One worrying development for Bennigsen was the artillery battery Massena had assembled opposite Mesenzov.  This had quickly found the range and was inflicting significant losses on the troops manning the ridge.  Mesenzov was bringing forward his reserve battalions but these also suffered as the ball shot 'bounced through' the front lines and ploughed into formations further back.

Lothringen's men were now contesting Pino's for control of Gambion.  Although he had superior numbers Lothringen could not deploy them to advantage and had to resort to a head on attack.

Massena now began to move forward his reserves.  Duhesme's eltes advanced up the road towards Caldiero, whilst D'Espagne's cavalry moved to the right to support Verdier.  Here they were joined by the remnants of Lasalle's men.  Mesenzov's men on the ridge began to look vulnerable.

Duhesme's men advance

The French cavalry gather.
A preliminary attack by Verdier's infantry had been repulsed by Mesenzov, but the Russians were now exposed to a potential counter attack.  At this point time caught up with us again and with things nicely poised Steve and I can look forward to a conclusion being reached at our next session.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Battle of Caldiero, 1805. A Shako scenario

It seems a long time since the Napoleonic collection managed to get onto the table, so the latest battle was based on the Battle of Caldiero, an action from the Italian theatre in the 1805 campaign.  A French army under Massena was facing an Austrian force commanded by the Archduke Charles.  The armies were fairly evenly matched, though the French were outnumbered.  This had led to a stand off, with the two armies watching each other across the Adige river.  When news arrived of the French victory at Ulm, Massena decided to attack, perhaps in anticipation of the Austrians withdrawing.  Archduke Charles had indeed intended to withdraw, but Massena's attack forced him to make a stand and by driving back the French, give himself time for an orderly retreat.

 Here is a map of the battlefield.  We used Steve's table which is 8' x 6'.  The Adige is unfordable and the marsh impassable; the hills are steep enough to give defenders the +1 bonus in melee.  Not having sufficient Austrian figures for Archduke Charles' forces, they became Austro-Russians under the command of Bennigsen.  On the left was Lothringen with 10 battalions of Austrian infantry and a foot battery.  On the right, under the command of General Stroganov, were the divisions of Remesov  (8 battalions and a foot battery) and Mesenzov (10 battalions and a foot battery).  In support was Pahlen's light cavalry division of 4 regiments.  Around Caldiero under Bennnigsen, were the divisions of Tolstoy and Orlov, both 8 battalions and a foot battery.  The reserve stood by the road from Caldiero to Verona and comprised Berg's grenadier division (6 battalions) and Frimont's light cavalry division (4 regiments and a horse battery).  The army gun has been deployed to support Tolstoy at Caldiero.  Bennigsen's objective is to hold his position and inflict such damage on the French that he can withdraw unhindered back towards Vienna.  His initial orders are for the centre and right to stand on the defensive with Lothringen advancing to capture the village of Gambion and thus threaten the flank of any attack on his centre.

Massena has the divisions of Gardanne (10 battalions and a foot battery) and Verdier (9 battalions and a foot battery) in the centre.  On his right is Pino with 8 battalions and a foot battery; supporting Pino is Lasalle's Light Cavalry division (4 regiments).  Molitor is on the left with 8 battalions and a foot battery.  In between Verdier and Molitor is D'Espagne's Light Cavalry division (4 regiments and a horse battery).  As a reserve Massena has Duhesme's Grenadiers division (4 battalions) and two foot batteries, one of which is a heavy battery.  Massena's objective is to capture Caldiero and then advance down the road to Verona.  His initial orders are for Pino to capture Gambion, covering his flank and Verdier and Gardanne to attack straight up the road.  Molitor is to threaten the Austro-Russian right but not attack.

Terrain in place, awaiting troop deployment

Lothringen ready to advance

The French right, Pino and Lasalle 

Verdier and D'Espagne

Mesenzov holds the ridge
One advantage for the French is that they have the ability to move and change formation, whilst the Austro-Russians can move or change formation.  The Austro-Russians are also a linear doctrine force so any supports have to be in line formation.

Massena's plan unfolded with his centre moving purposefully towards Caldiero.  In their dense columns they suffered from that attentions of the enemy artillery, but they grimly plodded on. Moving forward in support, Lasalle's impetuosity got the better of him and seeing Tolstoy's men in line he ordered his leading regiments to charge.  However, the Austro-Russians had artillery support and their flanks secure they did not form square.  A closing volley and a resolute wall of bayonets drove back the French cavalry with heavy losses.

Lasalle's ill-fated attack
 The race for Gambion was developing, with Lothringen and Pino both urging their men forward.

Pino's men near Gambion
Lothringen's men are losing the race
In their columns, Pino's men reach the village, install a garrison and push forward the skirmishers to harass the Austrian attack.

Meanwhile in the centre Verdier and Gardanne are closing in on Caldiero.  As the pressure increased, Bennigsen ordered Orlov forward to support Tolstoy.

The French attack Caldiero
All this time the divisions of Molitor and Remesov had stood watching each other; action was limited to skirmishing between the lines.  However, the French skirmishers were more numerous and some were able to start targeting the line of infantry on the crest of the ridge.  As losses amongst the officers increased, Remesov needed some help in driving off the skirmishers.

At this point our first gaming session came to a close.  Half the day had been taken up with setting up the terrain and deploying the troops, so it was a case of "to be continued...."

Overhead shot of the closing position, French on the lower half of the picture.