Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Portable Napoleonic Wargames - Army action

Wavre battlefield as translated into my table.
Having played out Bob Cordery's Brigade, Division and Corps level actions in a species of 'mini-campaign' (see previous three postings ), it was no great leap to see how the Portable Wargames concept would go with an 'Army Level' action.  This brought me to another, actual, Hundred Days engagement, that between Marshal Grouchy's 'Right Wing' of the Armee du Nord on one side, and the Prussian III Corps plus Cavalry Reserve on the other.

The map, taken from the Hofschroer volume (Vol 2, The Waterloo Campaign), very conveniently fitted onto the grid map as shown here.  Now, I keep in my files a copy of a blank grid array of the dimensions of my grid table.  Printing a transparency of this, I laid it over the double page map spread.  From there I drew onto a grid array on paper the locations of roads, forests, towns and rivers.  Possibly photocopying would have been quicker, but the join between the pages might have presented a problem.   As will become apparent, I would probably have been better also to have left off the small settlements represented by a single 'block', and maybe the woods north of Carmelues as well.
The Map - see text for method of generation.
The forces were organised as follows: 

Prussian Forces at Wavre 18-19 June 1815
III Army Corps, Generalleutnant von Thielmann 6SP
9th Brigade: Generalmajor von Borcke 2SP
8th (Leib) Infantry 3 Bns 3SP
30th Infantry 3 Bns 3SP
1st Kurmark Landwehr 3 Bns 3SP
1,2/ 3rd Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry 2 Sqns 2SP
18th/35th Foot Batteries 16 cannon 2SP
10th Brigade: Oberst von Kemphen 2SP
27th Infantry 3 Bns 3SP
2nd Kurmark Landwehr 3 bns 3SP
3,4/ 3rd Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry 2 Sqns 2SP
11th Brigade: Oberst von Luck 2SP
3rd Kurmark Landwehr 3 Bns  3SP
4th Kurmark Landwehr 3 Bns  3SP
1,2/ 6th Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry 2 Sqns  2SP
12th Brigade: Oberst von Stulpnagel 2SP
31st Infantry 3 Bns 3SP
5th Kurmark Landwehr 3 Bns 3SP
6th Kurmark Landwehr 3 Bns 3SP
3,4/ 6th Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry 2 Sqns 2SP
Reserve Cavalry: General von Hobe 4SP
1st Cavalry Brigade: Oberst von der Marwitz 2SP
7th Uhlan (Light horse lancers) 4 Sqns  4SP
8th Uhlan (") 4 Sqns  4SP
12th Hussar (Light horse) 4 Sqns  4SP
2nd Cavalry Brigade: Oberst Graf von Lottum 2SP
5th Uhlan (Light horse lancers) 4 Sqns 4SP
7th Dragoon (Medium horse) 4 Sqns 4SP
9th Hussar (Light horse) 4 Sqns  4SP
20th Horse Battery 8 cannon 1SP
Detachment from I Corps: Major von Stengel 2SP
19th Infantry 3 Bns  3SP
6th Uhlan 3 Sqns  3SP
Reserve Artillery: 
Reserve Foot and Horse Artillery 27 cannon 3SP
Total units (incl command)  34
Total Strength Points 98
Prussian III Corps, Cavalry Reserve and Stengel's detachment.

French Right Wing: Wavre 18-19 June 1815

Command: Marshal Count Grouchy 6SP
III Corps: General of Division Count Vandamme 4SP
8th Division: General Lefol  2SP
15th Light 3 Bns 3SP
23rd Line 3 Bns  3SP
37th Line  3 Bns 3SP
64th Line 2 Bns 2SP
10th Division: General Habert 2SP
11th Line 3 Bns 3SP
34th Line  3 Bns 3SP
70th Line  3 Bns  3SP
22nd Line  2 Bns 2SP
2nd Swiss 1 Bn 1SP
11th Division: General Berthezene 2SP
12th Line 2 Bns 2SP
56th Line 2 Bns 2SP
33rd Line 2 Bns 2SP
86th Line 2 Bns 2SP
III Corps Artillery  16 cannon 2SP
16 cannon 2SP
IV Corps: General of Division Gerard 4SP
12th Division: General Pecheux 2SP
30th Line 2 Bns 2SP
63rd Line  2 Bns 2SP
96th Line 2 Bns 2SP
13th Division: General Vichery 2SP
48th Line 2 Bns 2SP
69th Line  2 Bns 2SP
59th Line 2 Bns  2SP
76th Line 2 Bns 2SP
14th Division: General Hulot 2SP
9th Light 2 Bns 2SP
11th Line 2 Bns  2SP
44th Line 2 Bns 2SP
50th Line 2 Bns 2SP
IV Corps Artillery 19 cannon 2SP
19 cannon  2SP
7th Cavalry Division: General Vallin 2SP
6th Hussar Light horse 3 Sqns 3SP
8th Chasseurs Light horse 3 Sqns 3SP
Attached from VI Corps:
21st Division: General Teste 2SP
8th Light 2 Bns (?) 2SP
40th Line 1 Bn 1SP
65th Line 1 Bn 1SP
75th Line 1 Bn 1SP
Division Artillery 8 cannon 1SP
Attached from I Cavalry Corps
4th Cavalry Division: General Pajol Soult 2SP
1st Hussar Light horse 3 Sqns 3SP
4th Hussar Light horse 3 sqns 3SP
5th Hussar Light horse 3 sqns 3SP
Division Artillery 6 cannon n/a
II Cavalry Corps: General of Division Exelmans 4SP
9th Cavalry Division: General Strolz 2SP
5th Dragoon  Medium horse 4 Sqns 4SP
13th Dragoon Medium horse 4 Sqns 4SP
15th Dragoon Medium horse 4 Sqns 4SP
20th Dragoon Medium horse 4 Sqns 4SP
10th Cavalry Division: General Chastel 2SP
4th Dragoon Medium horse 4 Sqns 4SP
12th Dragoon Medium horse 4 Sqns 4SP
14th Dragoon Medium horse 4 Sqns 4SP
17th Dragoon Medium horse 4 Sqns 4SP
II Cavalry Corps Artillery  12 cannon 2SP
Total Units (incl command) 62
Total Strength Points 154
Armee du Nord Right Wing, commanded by Marshal Grouchy

If you have read The Portable Napoleonic Wargame, you will quickly have noticed a departure from the author's scheme of Strength Point (SP) allocation.  In these list, I made no SP adjustment for troop quality, and assigned 1 SP per battalion of infantry, 1 SP per squadron of cavalry, and 1 SP (very roughly) per 8-10 cannon.   I have to admit to a certain unease with these allocations, particularly in respect to the cavalry.  For the sake of 'play balance' - not that this action was so very 'balanced' anyhow - every unit was classed as 'average'.  I could have made the landwehr units 'poor' (according to the Bob Cordery nomenclature), but felt that as things were their prospects were problematical at best.
Mid afternoon, 18 June 1815.  III Corps about to assault
Wavre, II Cavalry Corps close by;  IV Corps marching up the
road.  Pajol and Teste Divisions moving west towards Limal.

There were a few other issues that cropped up that I would like to address here.

1. Map and Time Scale.  
This ground scale for this battle indicates that 10cm - the width of the hex-area across the flats - represents about 250m - 1:2500.  According to my own scheme of determining time scale, that suggests 1:50 - near enough to fudge it to 1 turn (each player) representing 1 hour.  The game rules indicate infantry movement rate at 1 grid area per turn, cavalry at 2.  During this battle, I stayed with this, but I believe that adding 1 grid area to both would be reasonably in keeping with the time scale - an infantry pace of about 2.4km/h.

Positioning of respective troops at the outset of the action.
2. Orders System:  
This became something of a problem with the army level game, especially when, in one early turn, not one French formation obeyed orders.  Not one.  Even before then, the distant Divisions of Teste and Soult had been proving 'sticky'.  In the end I decided to determine how orders went by proximity to Corps, rather than Army, command.  That didn't much solve the Teste/Soult problem, but at least the other formations began to move with a bit more freedom.  If a whole Corps was under the same orders (III Corps attacking Wavre; IV Corps marching up the road towards that town; Exelmans's Cavalry Corps down the river road to La Motte and Limal), then if the Corps commander were accompanying any part of the formation, it would automatically obey orders.

This might have been a problem, then, for Generalleutnant von Thielmannm, whose four Division-sized Brigades was scattered about in and behind Wavre, not to mention the 'independent' Stengel detachment in and around Bierges.  But as their brief was defence, with only local counter-attacks being ordered, this was less of a problem than it might have been.

This whole idea can have some interesting effects.  Early in the battle, with an Army Corps more or less in a single body, under single orders, one need scarcely roll dice to determine whether orders are carried out.  As time goes by, however, that cohesion is apt to break up, whereat it becomes less certain that orders to specific units will get through. 

Early stages of the Wavre battle.  III Corps attacking the eastern
suburbs of the town, Exelmans's cavalry marching to Limal, IV Corps
waiting for the road to clear to assault Bierges. Soult's light horse (slowly)
 nearing La Motte; Teste's Division hasn't moved.

3. Combat system:
Having already run into some problem with the combat system, methought an amendment was indicated.  Let's begin by stating the problem, as I saw it.  I first observed this in connection with cavalry, but it applies I think to all 'close combat' in the Army Corps game.  I haven't checked with it applies to the other two game systems (though they are very similar).

In combat, the two sides roll a die each to determine their own combat unit's response.  Let's call the 'initiator' of the combat 'RED' and the 'respondent' 'BLUE'.  Let's take an example of a RED cavalry Division of 3 elements in column, accompanied by a General, moving into contact with a BLUE cavalry Brigade in line (two stands side by side in the same grid area, also commanded by a general).  RED attacks the right hand element. Both sides roll a die.
RED rolls '1', BLUE a '2'.  Dreadful rolls.

RED: Die roll = 1, +2 (1 each for supporting elements), +1 (General with), -1 (enemy's supporting element to a flank) = 3.  No effect.
BLUE: Die roll = 2, +1 (supporting element), +1 (general with), -2 (for each enemy supporting element = 2.  BLUE takes a hit (Die score modified to 1 or 2 results in a 'hit').

That BLUE takes a knock seems reasonable, but what this combat shows is that RED was completely invulnerable.  I'm fairly sure Bob didn't mean that to happen, but I think I can see why he added for own supports and subtracted for enemy supports. What I wanted to do was to ensure that all close combats however advantageous, involved at least some risk, but with as small an amendment as possible.  At this point, I've decided against the idea I put forward a few days ago.  I believe the following proposal is as close to Bob's intention that doesn't leave formation invulnerable.

What I propose is this.  Supporting elements impose a negative upon the enemy die score.  Instead of adding to their own die score, however, supporting elements also cancel the negatives due to enemy supporting elements.  Surplus supporting elements add nothing to own side's combat score, though still subtracts from the enemy. Taking the example above:

RED: Rolled '1' + 1 (General with) -1 (enemy support element) +1 (one of own support elements cancels the negative due to enemy support element): Modified score = 2.  RED takes a hit.  A roll of 2-6 would have had no effect.
BLUE: Rolled '2' + 1 (General with) -2 (enemy support elements) +1 (own support element cancels one negative due to enemy support elements: Modified score = 2.  BLUE takes a hit.  A roll of 3-6 would have had no effect.

Note that had BLUE no supporting element at all, a roll of '1' by RED would still have cost RED a hit.

Let us add one support element to both sides:

RED is a Division column of 4 regiments, moving into contact with an enemy (BLUE) line of 2 elements side by side, with a third element behind, all in the same grid area.  Generals accompany both formations.

RED: Rolls '1':  +1 (General with) -2 (enemy support elements) + 2 (2 of own support elements cancel enemy support elements): Modified score = 2.  RED takes a hit.  

BLUE: Rolls '2': +1 (General) - 3 (enemy support elements) + 2 (own 2 support elements cancel 2 negatives die to enemy support elements); Modified score = 2.  BLUE takes a hit.

I used this system throughout the Wavre battle, and it seemed to work quite well.  I must admit, though, that I would like a 1-point bonus for linear formations, such as BLUE's in the above examples - probably as a negative for opponents.  A three-element deep column vs two-element wide line would be an even match.  It's  a thought.

Next time: the Battle narrative - and anything else that comes to mind!
To be continued...


  1. Great stuff Ion, looking forward to it!

    1. Cheers, Mark. Soon... The pix are all there - I just have to make a selection.