Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Battle of Tarvis May 1809; a Shako scenario

This week's scenario is from the 1809 campaign by Eugene's Army of Italy.  Following the success at the Piave, Eugene's troops are pushing the Austrian forces back through the mountains.  Archduke John is desperately trying to unite his scattered troops and has detailed VIII corps under FML Albert Gyulai to hold the Tarvis position.  West of the town the narrow valley is blocked by the Malborghetto Fort which is garrisoned by Grenzers.  Confident that the pursuing Italians and French will be delayed by the fort, Gyulai has taken up a position in some earthwork sjust to the east of the Schlitza river.  He has two brigades of infantry; Von Gajoli with 5 line battalions and Marziani with two landwehr battalions and a grenzer battalion.  His cavalry consists of a single unit of uhlans which is stationed by the road east by the Weissenbach river.  This road is his line of communications with Archduke John.  Von Gajoli's troops are holding the earthworks facing the Schlitza and are bolstered by a battery of artillery.  Marziani was originally held in reserve by the Wallerweissenberg, but yesterday afternoon Italian infantry were seen advancing from the south and Gyulai moved Marziani to protect his flank.  The landwehr and grenzer are now holding the village of Klein Kruth and and the works to the east.  Italian troops also appeared at Tarvis, locals had shown them tracks through the hills which bypassed the Malborghetto fort.  Fortunately, only infantry have been able to use the tracks, but Gyulai is still outnumbered 2:1, though he has artillery and cavalry.
A messenger has been sent to Archduke John requesting reinforcements, but so far only an order to hold the position has been received.   The rivers are fordable for infantry and cavalry but not artillery.

The two Italian divisions are Bonfanti (6 battalions) and Fontanelli (8 battalions).  Barguay d'Hilliers, the commander has orders from Eugene to attack and pin the Austrians in place whilst the main force attempts to capture the Malborghetto fort and allow cavalry and artillery to come to his aid.

Marziani's position
A dice roll determined that Steve would command the Austrians and I would have the Italians.  I decided to try and stretch the defence by an attack all along the line and hope to create a gap I could then exploit.  As Fontanelli's men advanced they came under accurate fire from the Austrian battery, the 3rd Croat regiment in particular taking heavy casualties.  In the centre the Irish Legion charged across the bridge and ignoring the volley from the 3rd battalion of the Weidenfeld regiment surged over the earthworks.  The Austrians were pushed back in disorder but fortunately for Gyulai he had another battalion of the Weidenfeld regiment in support and this counter-charged, forcing the Irish back over the works.

Bonfanti ordered his battalions to advance in echelon, with his principal attack being against the most easterly earthwork whilst a second attack was directed against Klein Kruth.  The village was held by the Salzburg militia who performed heroically; driving back the Italian infantry three times before finally having to give ground.  Bonfanti's main attack was disrupted by the fire of some battalion guns placed between the earthwork and Klein Kruth.  These were eventually overrun, but only after inflicting heavy casualties on the Italian infantry

The Irish Legion attack
Fontanelli had ordered some of his skirmishers to try and subdue the crews of the Austrian guns and slowly but surely the Italian light troops picked off the hard-working Austrian gunners,  A more pressing concern for Fontanelli was his left flank.  The infantry were forming up to attack the redoubt on the end of the Austrian line when the Austrian uhlans intervened.  With no artillery of cavalry to counter this threat, the Italian infantry were forced into square.  Although this protected the remainder of the Italian line, it did make those units juicy targets for the volleys from the redoubt and the Austrian skirmishers.  Losses rose steadily but the Italians stood firm.

An Austrian counter-attack
Having secured the village of Klein Kruth, Bonfanti urged his men forward again.  The Chasteler regiment on the right of Von Gajoli's line was overwhelmed as three battalions attacked it.  The Grenzer defending the eastern earthworks were forced back as the Ist Italian Light Infantry charged forward.  Marziani struggled to form a new line to protect the flank.

Bonfanti's division advances
From the heights of the Wallerweissenberg, Gyulai was delighted to see the leading elements of Frimonts corps approaching the battlefield along the northern road towards Tarvis.  Less welcome was the sight of Sahuc's Light Cavalry division approaching the town from the west, the Malborghetto fort must have fallen.  Renewed attacks by Fontanelli had forced Gyulai to fall back from the earthworks, but he still had sufficient force to form a line.  Frimont's appearance had diverted the Italian reinforcements northwards so there was a chance that Gyulai could withdraw east before a pursuit could be organised.

Here we ended the game.  Gyulai's force had lost over half it's strength and withdrew.  Barguay d'Hilliers had also suffered heavy losses.  Although no units had been removed, fully half had only one strength point remaining.  A couple of effective volleys could have imposed divisional tests on both Fontanelli and Bonfanti.  The reinforcements arrived too late to make a decisive impact on the battle, but they consisted of

Frimont       4 line battalions and 1 grenzer battalion


Sahuc         3 regiments of Chasseurs a Cheval

Desaix        5 line battalions

The mechanism we used for the arrival of the reinforcements was

Austrians to accumulate 20 points by rolling a d6 at the end of each move

French  at the end of each move each commander rolls a d6, French need to win for fort to fall
Turn 1 and 2  Austrians get +1 modifier
Turn 3 and 4  straight roll
Turn 5 and 6  French get +1 modifier
Turn 7 fort falls

When fort falls, French commander rolls a d average and that is the number of moves before reinforcements arrive.

In our game the reinforcements both arrived after 5 game turns, which is quite soon, but with the losses suffered by the original troops, much longer and both sides would have had divisional morale tests.

The length of the Austrian position meant that there were gaps for the Italians to exploit, and we felt that the redoubts were too restrictive for the Austrians.  Some thought will be put in to try and create some special rules to cover them.

We did run the scenario again, swapping commands and the Italians achieved a decisive victory.  This was aided in no small part by the destruction of the Austrian uhlans when I ordered them to charge. The Italian infantry formed a hasty square and the fate of the light cavalry was sealed


1 comment:

  1. This is a favourite campaign for me harking back to reading Epstein's "Eugene 1809" published by the old Empire Publishing house in the 1980's. Great to see such a wonderful and different aspect of the 1809 campaign against the Austrians being played out so well!