Wednesday, 29 June 2011

First Newbury

Our latest battle was First Newbury. We last fought this over 20 years ago, and quite a few of the figures seen in the photographs took part in that early battle too.

The basic layout can be seen below, Round Hill in the centre, with Wash Common in the far distance. The Royalists deployed on the left of the photograph, the Parliamentarians on the right. Rupert, with the bulk of the cavalry, was on the Royalist left (Wash Common) facing the Parliamentarian general, Stapleton. Both sides had most of their infantry in the centre commanded by Astley (Royalists) and Skippon (Parliamentarian). The Royalist right (Vavasour) and Parliamentary left (Middleton) had mixed commands and faced each other across Skinners Green. Both sides had their artillery in the centre.

The battle opened with a preliminary bombardment which inflicted a few casualties on each side. The Royalisyinfantry then began to move towards Round Hill, their progress hampered by the hedges and enclosures. Vavasour began to move forward also, hoping to exploit the advantage of his better quality cavalry. Rupert, uncharacteristically, was slow to move forward, spending some time re-arranging his squadrons. However, when all was to his satisfaction he took his position at the head of his Lifeguard and signalled for the advance to be sounded. On the parliamentary side, Skippon decided to reinforce Round Hill and Essex began to re-deploy his two regiments of foot to secure his flank in case Stapleton's Horse were defeated by Rupert. The artillery continued to fire and the Royalist dragoons and the Parliamentarian musketeers on Round Hill both suffered increasing losses.

On Wash Common Rupert led the Royalist charge and either by accident or design selected as his opponent the regiment of Sir Arthur Hazlerigg, Stapleton's strongest unit. With his Lifeguard he took on the 'Lobsters' in a melee which swung back and forth. Other cavalry units joined the fray and soon 75% of the cavalry force on this flank was committed. Being in the front rank of battle carries its risks and in our version of Newbury, Rupert paid the price, being cut down in the melee. Undaunted, or perhaps driven by a wish for revenge, his men fought on and began to gain the upper hand over their opponents. Then Stapleton too became a casualty and the Parliamentary horse began to give way.

The routers were pursued by one Royalist unit, but two others managed to retain their command and regroup.

On the other flank Vavasour was also making some progress, but he was hampered by hedges and enclosures near Skinners Green. He could only engage Middleton on a narrow front, but the better quality Royalist horse began to gain the upper hand over their opponents, pushing them back and allowing the Royalist foot to come forward.

In the centre Astley's regiments were finding it tough, advancing on a narrow front into musketry range due to the enclosures and then having to deploy for the advance up hill against the Parliamentary foot; suffering casualties all the time. Penderell's and Blackwall's regiments were in the first line and both needed encouragement from Astley before they launched their attack. Penderell's went in first and their impetus gained them a foothold on the top of Round Hill, but, before they could consolidate they were counter attacked and pushed back down the hill. Blackwall's also reached the summit and attempted to engage in a firefight with Skippon's musketeers, but it was an unequal struggle and they too had to retreat.

Two more Royalist foot regiments attempted to move around the Skinners Green flank of Round Hill but were engaged by one of the London Trained Bands. In the ensuing firefight Skippon became the third general to be killed. The infantry fight in the centre was a slugging match in a constricted area with little room for manoeuvre. Parliament had more infantry and the advantage of terrain and was holding its own. Even an attack by the infantry of the King's Lifeguard could not capture Round Hill. This was not the case on the flanks.

On Wash Common Essex was struggling to hold his position. He had summoned a third regiment of infantry to help, but that had been called back to shore up the opposite flank and he therefore had to commit his last cavalry reserves to hold off a Royalist push which threatened to completely encircle the Parliamentary army. His own infantry regiment had been forced to 'form a body' to face off the enemy cavalry and it was fortunate that the Royalist had no artillery with them to take advantage of this juicy target.

On the opposite flank Vavasour had advanced to his left and now threatened the rear of the Parliamentary position. His cavalry had become disorganised by the long fight with Middleton's regiments, who had belied their status and fought with determination. However, his infantry were in good shape and with no enemy cavalry left they could advance freely.
Fortunately for the Parliamentary army the wargaming night now fell and they were adjudged to be able to pull off under cover of darkness. Essex's hopes of reaching London were dashed so the strategic victory lay with the King, but the heavy casualties, and the loss of Rupert made for a sombre supper that night in the Royalist camp.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Naseby, Phalanx and Bautzen

A very busy wargames weekend with two games and a visit to the Phalanx show at St Helens, all part of the AGM of that august group, the Gentlemen Pensioners. On Friday, the Naseby game, using the basic Armati rules ended with a very narrow victory for the Royalists , with the opposing left wings, (cavalry and infantry) being broken.
The St Helens show offered its usual range of demonstration and participation games and a very busy Bring and Buy. It was good to have the opportunity to chat to local gamers and also buy those essential items from your shopping list.
The Bautzen game on Sunday was quite a large affair on a 12 x 6 table using the large battles version of 'Shako'. We had tried Borodino a couple of years ago using the divisional level rules but got bogged down in the more detailed procedures. Although the umpires had tried two scenarios with the rules, this would be the big test and generally they came through ok. There were suggestions for alterations regarding the way artillery is dealt with in melee and the control mechanisms for corps commanders caused some problems. We will look at ways to tackle these should another large scale Napoleonic battle be planned.

This is a general view down the table from the southern end with the Russians along the Blosser Wasser stream. Krekwitz and the heights held by the Prussians extend to the north with the Russian reserve on the hill to the right. In the far distance are the forces under Barclay de Tolly protecting the allied army's right flank. The allied plan was to hold the line, inflict damage on the French and if necessary fall back to the second line based on the strongpoints of Krekwitz and Preititz. The French were hoping to pin the allies in place and then Ney, advancing from the north could roll up the allied line.
Ney's force had a large percentage of raw troops and they really struggled to make any progress against the Russians and Prussians. They were not helped by the constricted terrain and the number of guns they faced; nor by Ney's ability to consistently roll low dice.

Bertrand was following orders and attacking the Prussians on the Krekwitz heights. Although outnumbered the Prussians stood their ground and beat off the first wave of attacks, inflicting heavy casualties. One French success was achieved by the heavy cavalry of the Guard who overran one of the Prussian batteries. Bertrand tried again and under cover of the infantry attack moved forward his artillery. This attack was more successful, but Morand's division was again repulsed by Pirch, who rather recklessly then decided to attack Bertrand's guns. As the Prussians came down the hill they were met by salvoes of canister which totally disorganised them and they took no further part in the action. In the centre Napoleon was pushing forward with the Guard and the 2nd Cavalry Corps to sweep away the Prussian reserve cavalry and support the flank of Oudinot's Corps.

The French deployment meant that Milarodovich's corps had no troops facing it, but as it had defend orders it required a change of orders from Wittgenstein (the Allied C in C) before it could attack. With the large table it took quite a few moves for the order to arrive and allow the Russians to re-deploy. Oudinot meanwhile was moving towards the line of the Blosser Wasser, which was a significant obstacle, the defence being supplemented by redoubts and other earthworks.

Milarodovich did send his Cossacks on a raid through the woods to threaten the flank of Oudinot's advance but Rostov's command became involved in a confused and indecisive melee with one of Oudinot's divisions and the advance was not delayed to any great extent.

In the northern half of the battlefield the Prussian divisions were beginning to suffer increasing losses. Jagov and then Zeithen were overwhelmed by the troops sent up the Krekwitz heights by Bertrand and Marmont; though they exacted a heavy price from their attackers. This left Blucher with only the reserve division of grenadiers and guards to hold the hill, supported by three artillery batteries. His cavalry were recovering from their tussle with Napoleon's guard cavalry and then were needed further north to hold the flank when the divisions of Kleist and Yorck began to give ground before the corps of Ney and Lauriston. (Will McNally was taking the part of Ney and his blog has a report on the battle). After heavy fighting the French captured the Gleina redoubt and began to regroup for the advance on Preititz. This delay allowed the division of grenadiers dispatched by Wittgenstein to move in as garrison and provide a further obstacle to Ney's advance.

In the centre a prolonged struggle was taking place between the opposing reserve and guard cavalry divisions in which the advantage swung one way and then the other. The French guard Chasseurs and Lancers began to suffer heavy casualties, a worry for napoleon because it would be difficult to replace these veterans.

Slowly, the French were making progress in the south with Miloradovich beginning to be forced back and the link between the allied centre and left flank becoming very stretched. However, Wittgenstein now had his second line, comprising his elite reserve divisions in place in the centre and they would stop any possibility of pursuit.

In a final attempt to clear the Pussian reserve division from the Krekwitz heights, Napoleon sent in the Old Guard division under Roguet. To almost universal surprise, (except, of course Roy, who commanded the Prussians) the French elite were defeated.
As the wargaming day came to an end the result was close to the historical one. The allies would have to retreat, but the French were in no real condition to organise a pursuit. One advantage for the French was the virtual destruction of the Prussian component of the army, historically, they had manged to escape. The OOB on Nafziger (link above) shows quite a high proportion of regular units in the Prussian force, without those quality troops, the later campaign culminating at Leipzig may have had a different outcome. On the debit side the French cavalry, particularly that of the Guard had taken heavy losses. Already short of cavalry, this would have exacerbated an already difficult situation for Napoleon.
Checking the 'kills' recorded on the command stands the three front line commanders of the allies lost over half their strength, the majority falling on the Prussians. The French losses fell mainly on Ney's command of second rate troops; with Bertrand and Oudinot also losing divisions. The French had higher losses, but they had the larger force and had been attacking. The allies had achieved their aim of standing on the defensive and fighting the French to a standstill. Strategically and politically a drawn battle would encourage Austria to throw in their lot with Prussia and Russia when hostilities resumed after the armistice.
On reflection it mayhave been better to allocate more space to the northern flank and less to the south. The cramped position and number of artillery batteries meant that there was no scope for manoeuvre and this severely handicapped the French. We may also have to look at the rules on concentration of artillery fire for future games.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

SYW Baltic scenario

The campaigns between Prussia and Sweden during the Seven Years War tend to be overlooked

in favour of the major battles between Frederick and Austria and Russia. Our scenario was based on an action at Schweinmunde, (now Swinojscie in Poland). A Swedish force was attempting to capture forts covering the access to the Baltic Lakes. A small Prussian force of 1 grenadier battalion, 2 battalions of line infantry, 4 of fusiliers, a Frei Korps battalion and a unit of Frei Hussaren garrisoned the small town of Schweinmunde and its accompanying forts. There was a small ferry allowing communication between the two banks of the channel linking the lakes with the Baltic sea.

Schweinmunde garrison with ferry in background.

The Swedish force was in two parts. The main attack consisted of 8 battalions of line infantry, with two light guns and a unit of hussars and was to seize Schweinmunde and it's accompanying fort. The second attack was to be landed by boat, covered by the bomb ketch Thor. Their task was to secure the main fort on the western bank. With these secured the Swedish navy would be able to sail into the Baltic lakes.

The Swedish attack on Schweinmunde advances. Thor can be seen in the background.

When the Swedish force came into view, the Prussian commander summoned reinforcements to Schweinmunde, ordered the Frei Korps into the woods to flank an attack on the town and requested the Frei Hussaren to scout southwards on the western bank to contest any landing.

As the Swedes came into range, the Prussian guns defending Schweinmunde opened fire. Almost immediately they began to cause casulaties, no doubt aided by markers placed by enterprising artillery officers in preparation for such an attack. Undeterred, the Swedes continued to advance and came into musketry range. Now, aided by some very lucky dice throws, losses amongst the Swedes began to mount and the first line broke. The Swedish general was in no mood to break off the attack and continued to advance. The Prussian commander moved one battalion of the Itzenplitz Regiment forward and they contested the Swedish advance. A crashing volley caused a further Swedish battalion to retreat.

But the Swedish artillery was now getting the range and the other battalion of Itzenplitz was forced to retire into the cover of the town. Their place was taken by the grenadiers.

Meanwhile the naval landing was progressing. Thor was approaching the western fort and began to lob mortar shells towards it and the barges with the second Swedish force were nearing the shore. Again, the dice did not favour the Swedes. The first Prussian salvo against the Thor caused heavy damage to the superstructure, not enough to force the Thor to turn away, but sufficient for the captain to become concerned as to how long he would be able to remain and cover the landing. The Thor's fall of shot was determined by the "rubber band" method. This invovled the captain of the Thor standing by the table and tossing the rubber band towards the intended target. Any figures within the band were casualties. The first shot was short, the second long, but the third caused casulaties amonst the defending fusiliers. All the while the barges were nearing the coast and with some relief the infantrymen jumped ashore and began to form up.

Unknown to the Prussian commander, a small naval party had already been landed further down the coast and they had moved to cover the disembarkation of this force. They were to take up position in the woods inland to deter the Frei Hussaren from interfering with the landing. However, due to delays they were not in position soon enough and the hussars swept by them and threatend the jager who were the first ashore. The jager at first stood their ground and their fire emptied quite a few saddles and wounded the colonel of the regiment. Taking advantage of the confusion the jager fell back to the boats. The hussars came forward again, less confident than before and suffered yet more casualties from the jager, who then retired behind the regular infantry, who had now been given time to form up. Frustrated in carrying out their orders the hussars had to fall back; enduring the catcalls not only of the Swedes, but also the fusiliers in the redoubt.

The duel between the shore battery and the Thor continued, with the captain of the latter now getting his range, although the damage to his vessel was increasing. One shell exploded right amongst one of the defending battalions, inflicting a morale test. It was at this point that the previously good dice deserted the Prussian commander and the fusiliers failed the test and fell back.

The next shell fell amongst the staff and killed the brigadier, causing yet more confusion in the redoubt. By the time order had been restored the Swedish advance had begun and the storming party was aproaching the southern ramparts. However, a further telling salvo from the shore battery caused so much damage that all available crew were allocated to plugging leaks in the hull and this convinced the Thor's captain that he should move further offshore.

In Schweinmunde the defence's fire was beginning to slacken. Despite their heavy losses the Swedish force had silenced the Prussian's light artillery and the grenadiers had been subjected to close range fire from the Swedish artillery which had reduced them to half strength. The anticipated flank attack from the Frei Korps had come to nothing; (their commanding officer claimed at a later inquiry that he had got lost in the wood due to inadequate maps!). The only reserve, a fusilier battalion moved round the side of the town and advanced on the Swedish artillery. They captured one battery, but were caught in the flank by the Swedish foot and had to surrender. The fusilier's advacne had opened the way for the Swedish cavalry to try and seize the ferry and thus isolate the defenders of Schweinmunde.

Amonst the cavalrymen that day was a young ensign by the name of Blucher, who was to make quite a name for himself. Seeing the cavalry approaching the ferrymen delayed just long enough (encouraged by a few well directed bayonets), to take on board the remnants of the grenadiers and then cast off for the western bank. The Prussian defenders of Schweinmunde had no option but to surrender and seeing this, the Prussians on the western bank fell back, spiking their guns and left the field to the Swedes.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Trouble in the East

This week's action was a scenario involving Muscovites and Cossacks created out of the troubled period in the early 17th century. Mucovy had decided to annex some Cossacks lands and as preparation, ordered the local Boyar, Prince Dmitri Pozharski to construct some works to defend a river crossing. One redoubt had been completed on the northern, Muscovite bank and work on the second had begun.

This work had not gone unnoticed by the local Cossacks of the Bolotnikov clan and a force had been assembled to destroy the works and push the Muscovites back over the river. Warned of the approaching Cossack force by his scouts, Pozharski moved his whole force south of the river to support the small detachment of streltsi covering construction. his force consisted of his own feudal cavalry, a unit of horse archers and three understrength streltsi units. In the already constructed redoubt was a field gun. As a precaution Pozharski had sent a messenger to Ivan Dolgoruki, a local boyar and distant cousin, requesting assistance.

Taras Bolotnikov, head of the clan, had gathered three units of cavalry supported by two units of horse archers, a unit of Zaporozhian musketeers, the lcoal levy, some registered cossacks and a light gun. His plan was for the infantry to secure the part constructed redoubt whilst the cavalry defeated the Muscovite cavalry.

Pozharski was confident his feudal cavalry would defeat their Cossack opponents and moved to closely direct his horse archers who were raw and newly raised. His concerns were well-founded as the lefthand unit was out-manouvred and pinned against the river, where it was cut down. The second unit was unsettled by arrows from the cossack horse archers and as Pozharski attempted to restore order the enemy charged. Pozharski and his standard bearer were engulfed in a swirling melee, where he and his men were outnumbered two to one. Fighting desperately, Pozharski looked for asistance from his feudal cavalry, but they were invovled in their own struggle with the main body of Cossack cavalry. Unable to escape, Pozharski went down fighting.

Meanwhile the attack on the southern redoubt had been progressing. The light gun had been inflicting casualties on the streltsi who could ill afford the losses. They managed to stop the first attack by the levy but the defenders were stretched very thinly and the Zaporozhians were moving around their left flank. Fortunately this brought them within range of the field gun on the northern bank and losses began to mount. Having defeated a second levy attack the Vorontzov Streltsi moved to support the Ivanov Streltsi who were invovled in an unequal firefight with the Zaporozhians. It was at this moment that Dolgoruki arrived with his reinforcements, a body of feudal cavalry and two units of streltsi.

The Muscovites were clinging on to the part contructed redoubt and the feudal cavalry were still fighting the main cossack cavalry, but the cossack horse archers were beginning to move across the river by a minor ford, threatening to attack the northern redoubt from the rear.

Bolotnikov saw the Muscovite reinforcements arriving and sent his last reserve of cavalry to attack the feudal cavalry as they came across the ford, delaying their advance as long as possible. Dolgoruki for his part sent one unit of streltsi to defend the northern redoubt and gave orders to the second to deploy to cover the ford from the northern bank. He then led his cavalry forward across the ford. On the far bank they were met by the Cossack cavalry and found it difficult to deploy to use their superior numbers and another protracted melee began.

In the redoubt the Zaporozhians had finally driven off the Ivanov Streltsi and closed up to the part completed works. The Vorontzov streltsi charged forward but were met by a telling volley and then driven back by the Zaporozhians. As the streltsi attempted to reform they were charged by the levy who had taken advantage of a gap in the defences to enter the works.

Still disorganised from their failed charge the streltsi were swept away by the levy and organised resistance in the part completed redoubt ended. The few remaining streltsi ran for their lives towards the ford. Dolgoruki had made some progress, driving off the cossack cavalry, but was now coming under fire from the levy musketeers. He struggled to form his men up to charge this 'rabble' because they could see streltsi running for the ford and also cossack horse archers on the northern bank. As the feudal cavalry milled about Bolotnikov gathered the few cavalry remaining from the successful fight with Pozharski's cavalry and charged. Caught at the halt and in disarray Dolgoruki's men broke and were pursued to the ford by the jubilant cossacks. The two undamaged streltsi units deterred any Cossack move across the river, but they were happy to take away the wagons of stores and an artillery piece from the redoubt

We used a few amendments to the 1644 rules for this 'eastern' scenario. Instead of charging in squadrons the feudal cavalry charge as a body and only count their second rank if the melee continues. This second rank does not get any impetus.

With small numbers of figures it is possible to have 'rubber swords' melees which go on and on with no casualties. In these cases two rounds of melee with no casualties result in both sides falling back.