Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Retreat from Smolensk: Part the Fourth.

Resuming this series of Napoleonic postings...
2nd Reserve Division under pressure from French foot and horse.

The Battle - a brief account.

As the French Army waited on the heights, the Austrians advanced all along the line, albeit rather cautiously on their exiguous right wing.  On the left, Zonkovo village proved something of an obstacle.  The middle Divisions of the successive Corps on this wing had to drop back behind their left wing Divisions to pass west of the place, whilst the respective right wing Divisions passed by the east.  The village itself was left for the II Corps artillery to pass through.

General view of the Austrian right.
The upshot was that the 3rd Hungarian Division, in striking the French right, had to sustain alone  its attack against the French right flank for over an hour, until the 2nd ranged up on its left.  Until then the French were managing to hold, but with odds increasing to two to one, found themselves being forced back .  The rearward move accelerated until the Division broke, and fled incontinently from the field.
General view of the Austrian left.
To their right an artillery duel and bickering skirmishers kept the 2nd and 3rd Divisions free from encumbrances as they drove back the French.  Meanwhile, the Hungarian 1st (Grenadier) Division encountered the French 5me to the left of the Clxix village that formed the centre of the French line. The Hungarians got the better of the tough and costly struggle that ensured, supported as they were by the heavy (12pr) ordnance of the Army Reserve artillery.  
Enveloping the French right.
No sooner had the French infantry given way, after a three hour (3 turn) defence, French Cuirassiers took up the fight.  Forming square betimes, the wearied and battered Hungarians shrugged off the heavy horse.  But the effort had depleted the Grenadiers' last reserves of strength.  Intervening personally, the Archduke drew the battered Division out of the line, that 1st Divsion I Corps could sustain the action.
Gudin's 3rd Division taking on two
Hungarian Divisions.
The Reserve Corps undertook the attack on the French centre, mainly to inhibit the defenders shuffling troops across to uphold their beleaguered right.  First Grenadiers carried the village itself at the first rush, but there they stalled.  Though they gave up the place quickly enough, General Broussier quickly rallied his Division into forming a new line a short distance to the rear.  For almost the duration of the action, the Austrians we unable to debouch from the village.  
Leading Division (3rd) of Austrian I Corps approaching the flank
of the French 14me holding up Austrian grenadiers in the
village.  But French Dragoons are about to intervene...
Fortune favoured them in similar fashion immediately to the east of the village, where the French IV Corps artillery stood. At first coming under attack from the understrength 2nd Grenadier Division, they found themselves having to deal with Austrian heavy horse as well. Chancing their arms, the Austrian Cuirassier brigade stormed the gun line, sabred the gun crews, and made off, leaving the grenadiers to deal with the counter-attack that came, all too soon. 
Where have all the lancers gone?  But the
second line of 2nd Grenadier Division has
drawn the attention of two French...
Under attack from French lancers and infantry the grenadiers sustained a stout fight until well into the afternoon.  They had considerable help from accurate gunnery from their artillery park (the gunfire of both sides was pretty good all day).  All the same, it was only when the archduke felt himself, late in the battle, able to divert troops from the left that the pressure in this sector eased.  
Early afternoon: general view of the battle.
It was just as well, for the exhausted grenadiers had broken by then, and retired in confusion well to the rear.  All the same, they had sustained their line long enough to compromise any chance on the French restoring their fortunes by a victory in this part of the field.
Action on the Austrian right.  They could not have sustained this
fight for much longer!
Throughout the action, General Reynier had found himself skewered on the horns of a dilemma. Unable effectively to reinforce the crumbling I Corps and battered IV, he itched to counter-attack the slender forces that seemed to be confronting him.  To advance from the slopes to the plain below seemed, however, to exceed his orders (that is to say, seemed to be beyond the parameters of the scenario).  
Austrian Cuirassiers come to the aid of the grenadiers.

The defeat of 13me Division forced his hand to the extent that he ordered 21me Division to counter-attack the 2nd Reserve.  After an interval, he flung in the 22me as well,  Below establishment as they were (20 figures instead of my 'standard' 24) these Austrian grenadiers eventually drew the attention of two enemy infantry Divisions and the Lancer Brigade as well.  Small wonder that by early afternoon, they had had enough.
Final clash on the French right.  Hungarians get the better of it,
and Gudin forced back towards the centre.
Reverting to the decisive action on the French right, Dessaix's Division had been swept from the field with the Hungarian 3rd and 2nd Divisions following up in pursuit.  To plug the gap and sustain the right, General Gudin brought his 3rd Division round in rear of the wood, and engaged the two Austrian.  
The Dragoons strike an Austrian Divisional column
before it can deploy. Limbered Austrian artillery have
strayed too close to the sharp end...
Into the gap between the Hungarians and the village of Clxix, swept the Austrian I Corps.  Third Division aimed for the open space between wood and village; whilst 2nd Division, with nowhere else to go, undertook the trek through the dense foliage of the wood itself.
The early clash - honours even.
His right flank crumbling out of existence, Prince Eugene flung in his last reserve that remained in the centre - his Brigade of Dragoons.  They caught a hurrying Austrian column before it could deploy into squares (I may have to implement a special masse rule for the Austrians).  Although the infantry stood for a time, they finally broke (phenomenal dice rolling by the French dragoons!).  In the ensuing pursuit, the Dragoons then caught the I Corps artillery limbered up and hurrying forward. Wiping out most of the park, the victorious dragoons then made off, with Austrian Uhlans in close chase 
Austrian grenadiers, having entered the village easily enough
finding it hard to exit the place.
Small successes like these could not disguise from Prince Eugene's discerning eye, that the battle as a whole was already lost.  Though Gudin held his own at two to one odds for an hour, that could not last.  Reynier's counter attacks, though gaining some ground, were becoming more likely to exacerbate than mitigate defeat.  
2nd grenadier Division, second line: barely hanging on!
The dragoons had been his last reserve: nothing remained to stem the French tide.  When Broussier's Division's attempt to bottle up the Austrian Grenadiers in Clxix at last collapsed, and Gudin's Division was being driven in towards the centre, that was the signal for a general retreat.
Reynier under pressure.
The Austrians were cock-a-hoop, as you can imagine.  It had been a decisive victory, in little more than half a day, and a disaster for the French.  Aghast upon hearing the news, the Emperor Napoleon gave vent to an explosion of rage, and briefly considered sending his step-son home.  But, as ever when faced with reality, Napoleon kept the Prince on, and recast his plans for his continued withdrawal from Russia.
The small brigade of Austrian chevaulegers
attack the squares of 23me Division.  They have been
fairly successful by the look...
Meanwhile, what of Marshal Davout, and his encounter with Admiral Tchitchagov's Corps to the east of Zonkovo?  Even if successful, could he get by the victorious Austrians now occupying the villages of Zonkovo and Clxix?
French 21me Division advances, having at last
defeated the Austrian grenadiers.  The 22me Division was
not so lucky, having been caught whilst still in column


As I mentioned in a previous posting, this was an experiment to see how a large-scale battle might be enacted on my small, 4ft by 4ft 5in (122cm x 134cm), table.  I'm not sure it was a complete success, but it wasn't a total failure either.  The main problem in this action was the difficulty in articulating the defence.  Perhaps if the hill line was brought 6 inches (15cm) closer to the centre, that would have been enough to give the French the needed flexibility.

First Division I Corps, hitherto unengaged, hurries off towards
the right flank, where Reynier's Corps is looking threatening.

The Big Battles for Small Tables still needs a lot of work.  Here are some of the problem areas

1. Combat still favours column over line.  I have some refinements in mind that, rather than play around with the combat mechanics as such, gives the line some options that will increase their effectiveness.  In order for this to happen, though...
Exploiting on from their defeat of the Austrian infantry,
the Dragoons overrun the I Corps artillery.  but here come the
2. ... I am beginning to think the IGoUGo system will have to be adopted.  Now, I am very much in favour of simultaneous moves, or systems that come very close to it (such as that used in the Italieri sponsored Operation Overlord rule set of several years ago).  The fact is that simultaneous moves is very hard to do right in solo play.  
At any rate, the effect on combat is that a defending line will be able more easily to throw forward its flanks in its own turn to offset the one or two figure limitation on overlapping files able to shoot.
3.  Cavalry vs infantry is very hard to get right.  They will beat lines and columns, all right, and attacking squares is a losing proposition.  That's fine.  Although the French Cuirassiers beat the Hungarian grenadier squares in this action, the circumstances made this credible: The Hungarians had already taken a battering whilst defeating the French 5th Infantry Division, and already lost 25% of its strength.  The Cuirassiers were fresh and counted as elite (though so did the grenadiers).  Although the dice rolls of the first encounter were even, those of the second heavily favoured the French, and brought the Hungarian strength down to 50%, enough to break them.  Mind you, the Cuirassiers were not in very good condition afterwards, neither.
The French right and centre have fallen to pieces, Prince
Eugene Beauharnais signals a general retreat.
A great victory for the Austrians!

4.  Morale/Reaction.  I was going to keep this at simply the 50% rule and/or the outcome of close combat.  This will have to change, no question.  Morale rolls will also go some way to modify the present advantages of column over line in close combat.

5.  Command and control.  Some work is needed here, as well!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Battlefield accessories...

Taking a diversion from the Napoleonic, I have been reviewing lately my World War II inventories. This has meant building nine - no: ten! - out of my backlog of unmade kits, refurbishing several  other models that had been damaged or had bits missing, and putting together three four-horse artillery teams, and taking an inventory of my German equipment (another posting coming up!).  I also looked into some of my battlefield 'accessories'.
My first real attempt of constructing dragons' teeth
obstacles.  They turned out to be a bit on the tall
side.  About two-thirds that height would look about right.
Recently, one of my favourite blogs talked about 'dragons' teeth' anti-tank obstacles. Commenting on the posting I expressed the opinion that bits of egg carton might make a fine set of dragons' teeth. The picture below shows the central dividing cones cut out and before mounting on card (above).  It seems that I have no picture of the thing completed and flocked, but you get the idea.  There was no need to texture or paint these things: what you see here is what you get! For the moment this is the only section I have.  It is well over-scale for 1:76 scale figures, so the next lot will be much shorter. Research indicated, though, that these sorts of defences varied considerably in height anyway.  
Egg carton with the centre cones cut out.

A pair of UK Achilles tank destroyers tentatively approach
some angle iron obstacles.
While we are on the topic, here are my 'angle-iron' anti-tank obstacles and wire entanglements. I've added my recently made Armourfast Achilles tank-destroyers by way of scale.  The AT obstacles are made in fact from balsa wood concave corner beading, painted a mix of black, silver and rusty brown.
These have been placed upon sections of three emplacements, but I have a single emplacement stand which can replace one of the triple sections to represent a gap in the line of obstacles.

Obstacles in stands of three.
The balsa beading was simply glued together with PVA in the arrangements shown, then glued onto the card bases.
It might have been a good idea to have trimmed the
bottom corners to give a better notion of these obstacles being
anchored in the ground!

In the following picture, the angle-iron obstacles have been backed up by wire entanglements.  These are made from plastic sprue.  I cut 3cm sections of sprue, gluing the in pairs in an 'X' shape. I cut a notch at midpoint of each piece for reasonable sized surface area for bonding.  Then the 'X's were paired off and linked by a 4cm cross-piece in a 'saw-horse' arrangement.  These sections I might have left 'as is', but as I was needing wire entanglements, I felt some embellishment called for. They being the muddy-brown colour they were, i didn't trouble to paint them, neither.
Anti-tank and anti-personnel.

A line of wire entanglements showing how the scour-pad steel
has been looped 'under and over'.

The 'wire' I supplied with kitchen pot-scouring pad.  Sections of this I pulled out of the pad, cutting them off with a wire cutter.  Before looping the wire, however, I glued the sections to card bases, which I then flocked.  These sections I threaded under and between the legs of the 'X's, along the stand, and looped back over the top.

No gluing was necessary.

The right hand picture above illustrates the method.  Although the result is a little exaggerated, and probably not quite the way wire entanglements were constructed, they have the look of the thing!

Achilles AFVs penetrating a gap in the wire...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Retreat from Smolensk - Part the Third.

Situation on the Austrian right centre, as the Grenadiers of
I Reserve Corps assail the ridge line.
 Last time I listed the things I intended to talk about in this, and possibly subsequent postings.  Well, here goes...
General view of the Austrians piling the pressure on the
French right and centre.

  1. The 'Retreat from Smolensk' as a 'logical' campaign
    At the moment, among other war games projects that from time to time capture my attention, I am in the throes of play testing a set of rules for Napoleonic battles for my solo play, and enjoyment. The play testing has taken the form of what I call a 'logical campaign'.  No map movement is involved: just the battles.

Second Hungarian Division ranging up alongside to help
 the 3rd's battle with the French 4th Division.

Most examples of such campaigns have created something resembling a fencing piste, with specific scenarios depending upon the outcome of the one preceding and determining the type of action to follow.  I've chosen a different method, much more open ended.  In effect the campaign runs on three fronts: North (Retreat from Riga), Centre (Retreat from Smolensk) and South (Austria defects).  The overall narrative is not random, but generated from my imagination (which, come to think of it, might not be so distinguishable from randomness, at that).  

The Austrians have heaped up a lot of strength on their left flank.
The reasons for choosing such a big theatre and a fictitious strategic situation has to do with:
  1. Making use of the range of Allied armies I have available: Austrian, Prussian and Russian;
  2. The limited size of my Russian army as presently constituted;
  3. Opportunity for a wide range of military situations and encounters that might be enacted on the table.
Right now, I am really just beginning to build up my Russian army, which at the moment comprises 4 x 24-figure infantry units (Divisions); a small body of Jager (14 figures only) and one cannon (Corps artillery park - four gunners, plus a howitzer).  No cavalry.  Although the figures I have are metal, I am hoping someone like Perry or Victrix  will start doing some Russian Horse soon in 28mm plastics.  

On the east flank, General Reynier finds himself in a dilemma -
to counter-attack or to reinforce the centre.  There is not much
room for the latter option, yet orders seem to obviate a
 counter-attack that takes him off the high ground.

The Russian army I plan to build will comprise something like 6 or 8 infantry Divisions, at least 3, possibly 4, cavalry brigades (Cuirassiers [maybe], Dragoons, Hussars, Cossacks), and 3 or 4 cannon. This still leaves my projected Russian army smaller than than the Prussian and Austrian armies, but I am limited in my resources.  The fact is, I never envisaged my Austrian army to reach anywhere near the size it now is; and the Prussians resulted from an unlooked-for windfall.

First Grenadier Division, having carried the centre village,
finds it hard in the face of determined French resistance
to debouche therefrom.  This situation was to  remain stymied
until almost the close of the action
Does that mean the Russian army will be relegated to a 'bit part' role in this Retreat from Smolensk campaign?  By no means!  Already I have in mind the next battle of the series, fought no great distance from the action unfolding here.  I had to ask myself:
  1. What happened to Marshal Davout and two of his Divisions, that he could not be present at this battle?
  2. Where was Prince Eugene's 3rd Division?  
  3. Where were the I and IV Corps light cavalry?
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The answer was the Russian, Admiral Pavel Vasilievitch Tchitchagov, his army hurrying westward to link up with the Austrians. Getting wind of this, Marshal Davout left the bulk of his infantry with General Morand to support Eugene, and hurried eastwards with two Divisions and the I Corps light horse to intercept Tormasov's advance.  By way of reinforcement, he diverted a belated Division and light cavalry of IV Corps, together with some artillery.  

In his hurry, the Russian Admiral has allowed his troops to become strung out along the road. This leads to a meeting battle in which the Russians have the superior numbers, but the French, arriving by two roads, build up the faster.  I have always liked war gaming encounter battles, with troops being fed into the battle as the arrive, to shore up a crumbling defence or maybe exploit an enemy weakness.

At any rate, the action will smaller than the Austrian battle - smaller even than the earlier Prussian action...

Ist Corps advancing behind the Hungarians.

The programming for this 'Hill defence' battle as per C.S.Grant's Programmed Wargame Scenarios book
For this action, I chose the very first scenario, "Hill Line Defence": presenting 'the player with a defensive force occupying a low hill line and an attacker already deployed off the line of march and about to commence the battle'.

Austrian uhlans, awaiting their chance to stick it to the French.

Having selected the BLUE (French defenders) and RED (Austrian attackers) forces from the available lists (I could have diced for them, but didn't), I adapted them to my organisations, as indicated in my previous posting. The battlefield itself was randomly drawn from a matrix of 9 'sectors', three each of Left, Centre and Right (from the attackers' point of view).  I made the hamlets or farms of the original into something more substantial, which, given the size of the table, probably wasn't so smart. It led to a crowded field being even more crowded.
French 14th Division caught in flank by Austian heavy cavalry.

For the rest, both armies' behaviour was largely, though not entirely, governed by the programming of the scenario.  As instructed, I began with the RED force.   As the approaching Austrians' awareness of the enemy confronting them amounted to no more than their mere presence, and little, if anything, of their dispositions, the commander, the Archduke Charles, formed his plan:
  1. The light infantry were split into three small bodies of 8 figures, one for each of the three sectors.  Re-reading this scenario now, I ought to have included the uhlans and chevau-legers in this distribution, which called for 'all light troops' being 'divided equally across the front' on a die roll of 1-3, or 'divided equally between the flanks' on a die roll of 4-6.  I rolled a three.
  2. The attackers had to choose from 6 options as to plan and distribution of troops, the selection being random:
    Throw 1 - Attack left:                     Left 60% Centre 30% Right 10%
    Throw 2 - Attack left and front:     Left 40% Centre 40% Right 20%
    Throw 3 - Attack front:                  Left 20% Centre 60% Right 20%
    Throw 4 - Attack left and right:     Left 40% Centre 20% Right 40%
    Throw 5 - Attack right and front:   Left 20% Centre 40% Right 40%
    Throw 6 - Attack right:                   Left 10% Centre 30% Right 60%

    The die roll of '1' determined that the Archduke had decided upon on a massive blow from his left flank.  

French 4th Division having been routed and driven off,
The Hungarians advance into the French rear flank.
Fifth Division hurried to head them off.  Meanwhile the Germans
of I Corps swing swing round to roll up the French line.

 3.  Then it was a matter of how would the attack proceed.  The main attack was pretty clear: advance, drive in the enemy flank, then roll up the line from the west.  But what about the Centre and Right?  The options were:
  • Throw 1-2 - light troops and those not in main attack will advance and cause maximum nuisance and stretch the enemy line;
  • Throw 3-4 - light troops ... (etc) ... will do little more than hold their initial line and will be 'cautious' and 'unimaginative';
  • Throw 5-6 - light troops ...(etc) ... will be drawn [in the direction of the main attack].
I rolled for the last option, but as it happened the crowded battlefield inhibited moves to the left and the main point of the attack.  I interpreted this as the central troops - mainly I Reserve Corps involving itself in an attack immediately to the right of the main attack, that is to say, against the centre village and the high ground to their left of it.

The brigade squares of  the leading Division of Austrian
I Corps (Grenadiers) counterattacked by Cuirassiers.  Third
Division is hurrying to lend a hand.
Finally, there were two main areas, according to the scenario design, in which RED (Austrians) would have to respond to BLUE (French) activity.  They were:
1.  "A French unit (formation: Division or Brigade) has broken or falls back creating a gap in the line":
  • Throw 1-2: Push all available troops whether cavalry of infantry into the gap regardless of what is happening elsewhere
  • Throw 3: Push any available cavalry only into the gap; infantry will continue as ordered or await fresh orders as circumstances indicate;
  • Throw 4: Push available infantry only into the gap;
  • Throw 5-6: Hesitate 2 moves, then push into the gap if it remains.
  • The counter-attack by the French heavy cavalry...

2. "A French Force of more than one unit (Division or Brigade) counter-attacks off the hill feature".

  • Throw 1 - All infantry in small arms, missile and musketry range will recoil out of range;
  • Throw 2-3: Push any available cavalry only into the gap [I find this rather odd - unless one supposes that the enemy counter-attack does leave a gap in their line.  But I have a feeling something else was intended here];
  • Throw 4 - No abnormal action;
  • Throw 5 - Any cavalry within range will attempt to charge;
  • Throw 6 - All forces within missile, small arms or musketry range will rush forward in an attempt to come to grips.
I confess that in the heat of the action I rather forgot about these situations and responses.  They might well have made a big difference to how the action fell out!

The Austrian foothold upon the ridge feature coming under
heavy pressure from the French mounted reserve.

Having sorted these out - though I left the determining of response for when they arose, then I turned my attention to the French forces adorning the high ground.

1. All forces had to be deployed on the high ground, or behind it.  This was interesting as I did think the defenders might have been permitted to deploy skirmishers a little in advance of it.  The village in front of the French right flank also seemed to call for some sort of garrison, however small.  It didn't get one.  

The French 14th Division having been routed, the lancers
have exacted a high toll upon the Austrian dragoons.
The 2nd Reserve Corps Division is coming under attack as well

2. A die roll then determined the distribution of the defenders:
  • Whether the light troops were distributed evenly across the whole front or on the flank sectors was supposed to be determined by a die roll.  This I ignored as impractical for the French army as I have organised it.  In effect that distributed the light troops all across the front; THEN for the whole force-
  • Throw 1 - Left 35%, Centre 30%, Right 35%
  • Throw 2 - Left 30%, Centre 40%, Right 30%
  • Throw 3-4 : Left 25%, Centre 50%, Right 25%
  • Throw 5: Left 20%, Centre 60%, Right 20%
  • Throw 6: Left or Right (50-50 die roll) 15%, Centre 50%, Remaining flank 35%
From memory, I rolled a 2 for the distribution which meant an approximately even distribution across the front.  Given the way the army was organised, the most convenient distribution was 3 Infantry Divisions and an artillery park on each flank, and in the centre, two Infantry Divisions, 1 park and all three cavalry Brigades.

General Reynier, unclear as to his orders, acts on his own
initiative and launches a local counter-attack.  Probably an all out
attack with his entire Corps might have yielded better results!

The overall French plan was then to be determined.  What was prince Eugene's plan?  Here were the options;
  1. Hold the entire feature well forward, giving up NO ground (sic), and in NO circumstances move off the contour even to follow up
  2. Hold the entire feature, yielding no ground as in 1, but will follow up off the contour if advantageous to do so;
  3.  Give ground to maintain a line, but in NO circumstances to commit his reserve;
  4. Give ground to maintain a coherent line, but will commit the reserve to keep the line intact;
  5. Take the offensive whenever the opportunity offers;
  6. Retain at least part of the feature at the end of the day, provided the forces are united at that location.
From memory I rolled a '6' for this.  Given the choice as a player in this scenario, I would have selected Option 5 every time!

Finally, how would the French respond to events?  There were three possible events to which the defenders might have responded:

1. "Enemy flank attack in strength reaches the edge of the ridge."  This I took to be making contact with the edge of carpet cutouts that formed the slopes at the foot of the high ground.

  • Throw 1-2: Denude the other flank to contain the attack;
  • Throw 3-4: Commit the Reserve until prohibited by the orders stated above;
  • Throw 5-6: Weaken the centre to strengthen the threatened flank.
In the event throws 3-4 and 5-6 amounted to the same thing.  As the Reserve (the cavalry in effect) was in the centre, they were committed to counter-attack and restore the line.  The centre infantry, themselves under heavy attack were in no position to intervene elsewhere.  I think I rolled for the last option, but can't recall for sure.

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2. "An enemy frontal attack reaches the edge of the ridge"

  • Throw 1-2: Concentrate all forces in the centre giving ground on the flanks unless specify otherwise (see Eugene's plan options, above)
  • Throw 3-4: Give in the centre in the hope of engaging the enemy on both flanks;
  • Throw 5-6: Commit reserve in the centre, unless ordered otherwise (see Eugene's plan options).
These weren't really applicable to the situation that developed from the Austrian attack on one flank. Nor were the following, though I'll add these for completeness.

Things are looking bad for the French right flank!
3. "An enemy attack along the whole front, or simultaneously on both flanks, reaches the slopes."

  • Throw 1-2: Give ground and retain a line;
  • Throw 3-4: Concentrate on likely breakthrough points, withdrawing all forces from areas not threatened;
  • Throw 5-6: Launch all the reserve plus whatever is available, on one section of the enemy attack.

Heavy cavalry versus infantry squares...

To be continued...