Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Battle of Gospic (Bilaj), May 1809.

Games in September are going to be few and far between because of family commitments, but Steve and I did manage to get together for this Napoleonic scenario.  The details came from the Napoleonic pages on TMP, but I tweaked it a little for the Shako rules.

The overall situation is that Marmont has been ordered to advance with his forces in Dalmatia, moving towards the Danube valley and then to join the main army near Vienna.  In recent days he has checked an attack by local Austrian forces and then advanced through the Velebit Mountains and moved NW towards Gospic.  Austrian forces have tried to hinder his advance along the narrow valleys but the various blocking positions have taken by the French.  Among the prisoners taken by the French was GM von Stoichevich, the Austrian commander.  He was succeeded by Oberst Rebrovic von Razboj, who concentrated his forces behind the Licca river and destroyed all the bridges in the area, except the one behind which his forces awaited the French.  The Licca and its tributaries flowed through deep, narrow channels which meant that they could only be crossed at bridges  Marmont's scouts had reported the destruction of the bridges, but suggested that the one at Barlete over the Jadova, a tributary of the Lissa may be practicable and it would outflank the Austrian forces.  Recognising that attacking equal numbers across a bridge would probably result in heavy casualties, Marmont combined all the light companies and sappers and sent them ahead to try and seize a bridgehead at Barlete.  He accompanied the remaining two brigades of infantry and the baggage train.  The train not only contained supplies and the pontoons but also the wounded from the earlier skirmishes.  News came back that the light troops had indeed managed to push back the Austrians defending Barlete and had established a bridgehead allowing the sappers to begin to build a bridge.

Early on the morning of the 21st May, Rebrovic's scouts reported that the French were crossing the plain beyond Bilaj towards Barlete.  He had received news of the French success at Barlete in the early hours and realised that it would take too long to move his forces to cover the flanking manoeuvre.  Rebrovic took the bold decision to cross the Licca and attack the French column, hoping to seize the wagon train and force Marmont to abandon his advance.  His forces were predominantly 2nd rate reserve units and border troops, but he suspected that he had a slight numerical advantage and the French would be hampered by the wagon train.  In all Rebrovic had 3 Grenz battalions. a composite unit made up of companies from various line battalions, 6 landwehr/border battalions and a light battery.  Marmont's troops were all regulars, but the two brigades were separated by the wagon train and the ranking Medical officer, Surgeon Pasteur was adamant that regular troops would be needed to defend the train and the wounded.  Marmont has to decide how many of his 10 battalions to detach for this task.  He has to bear in mind that Austrian irregulars have been operating in the hills and the sight of undefended wagons would be too tempting for them.  It is also essential that no supplies/equipment is lost.

Marmont's force on the march
The main French force had just emerged from a wooded valley and begun to cross the plain towards Barlete when reports came back to Marmont that two columns of troops were emerging from behind the low hills near Bilaj.  He immediately ordered his leading brigade of 5 battalions commanded by Montrichard to form line to meet this attack and cover the advance of the wagon train towards Barlete.  Orders were sent to Launay, commanding the 2nd brigade to detach two battalions to act as wagon guard and use the remainder of his command to support Montrichard.  Rebrovic's plan was for his left hand column under Jellacic to pin Montrichard in place, whilst his other column (Meyer) would concentrate on the remaining French forces and the wagon train.

The Austrians advance past Bilaj
Advancing at their best speed the Austrian columns quickly closed the distance between them and their opponents.  The French artillery quickly found the range and ball shot carved deep gashes in the white clad ranks.  However, led by the Grenz units the Austrians maintained their pace, deployed into line and engaged the French in musketry.  Marmont watched as the wagon train made agonisingly slow progress across the field and his infantry line struggled to maintain its position.  Montrichard's men  also had to deal with the Austrian artillery which now opened up on their right flank.  The 5th legere suffered heavy casualties from canister and was charged by the reserve battalion of the Chasteler regiment.  Under intense pressure, the French gave way; Jellacic urged his men forward to exploit the opportunity and seize the train.

The 46th defend the wagon train
Just in time, the two battalions of the 46th Line, who were acting as wagon guard, formed line and fired a volley which stopped the Lindenau battalion in its tracks.

On the other flank, Meyer was attempting to move around Montrichard's line.  Unfortunately, the commanders of two landwehr battalions were drawn towards the conflict and came under accurate artillery fire.  As they halted to recover the remaining battalions of Launay's brigade could concentrate on the leading battalions of Meyer's command and crushed them with devastating musketry volleys.  They then moved around the flank of the still shaken Landwehr and overwhelmed them too.

The end is nigh for the Salzburg Landwehr battalion
With half his force streaming to the rear and his remaining brigade column struggling to maintain it's position  Rebrovic had no choice but to withdraw and let the French continue to Barlete.

We ran the scenario again after lunch, this time with the Austrians starting closer to the French marching columns.  This resulted in a closer game, but the French just managed to hold on (again). The determining factor was the better French morale, they could be 'staggered' but they recovered more easily than the 2nd rate Austrian units.

Historically, Marmont did not wait for the Austrians, but attacked and Rebrovic took up a defensive position on the hills.  He managed to hold his position and inflict significant casualties.  However, overnight, the Austrians decided that in view of the shortage of ammunition it would be best to fall back.  So they destroyed the bridge and retreated to Gospic.

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