Monday, September 22, 2014

Age of Eagles: Rearguard Action at Chyornoi.

Rearguard action at Chyornoi - overall picture at the outset
of the battle.  All the following pictures are taken from
the Russian point of view - probably not the fairest
photographic coverage...
Last weekend (Sunday afternoon), Geoff and I had a second outing of the Age of Eagles game system for Napoleonic Battles, and, with a more careful reading of them, attained a much more satisfying game, with plenty of action.  Not bad in maybe 5 hours play!  In the following narrative I will pause here and there to comment on the play and game mechanics.
Sketch map of the action.  North is to the right, the Chyornoi
town, at the top of the map lies on the east-west road; Sinoi
village close by the bend in the river of the same name.  The Russians
are approaching from the east. 
We set up a quick scenario based (very loosely) upon the Krasnoi action of 17 November, 1812.  A glance at the pictures will indicate this action did not take place in the Russian winter, but at some other place and/or time.  In pursuit of the French Army, the leading Russian Corps of Miloradovitch caught up Marshal Davout's rearguard Division (Morand) close by Chyornoi town.  There the Marshal had paused to round up stragglers and send them off westward.  Before departing the scene himself, the Emperor had placed under Davout's orders a Division of the Imperial Guard, commanded by Marshal Mortier himself.  To guard the nearby Sinoi River crossings, a small brigade from Davout's Corps stood close by the stone river bridge east of the town, whilst a further small brigade of the Imperial Guard held the nearby Sinoi village, on the opposite bank where the river trended westwards.

I decided that this was going to be an asymmetric set up in order to get as broad an experience of the rule set early as we could obtain in an afternoon.  To get into action quickly, it doesn't do to have both sides deploy on their respective table edges.  We did that last time and only barely got into action (see here).  The small outlying brigades would bring the Russians (mostly) early into the fight.  In large measure this was to offset the French advantage in leadership.

The forces were as follows:


G-o-C Marshal Davout (+2)

Morand's Division (I Corps): G-o-D Morand (0)
Bridge guard: R4/3/2 (Regular fresh/worn/spent).  This Brigade had to begin the game with at least one stand physically touching the bridge (there was no other restriction on its placing or subsequent movements).
3 Brigades: R7/5/4
Artillery: Heavy foot battery attached to bridge guard
Heavy foot battery close by Chyornoi;

Mortier's Command: Marshal Mortier (0):
Garrison at Sinoi guarding ford: E4/3/2 (Elite fresh/worn/spent) This brigade garrisoned the Sinoi village, from which it could effectively defend the crossing.
2 Brigades: E7/5/4
Artillery: 1 heavy foot battery;

Beaumont's Cavalry Command (0):
Cuirassier Brigade R4/3/2;
Dragoon Brigade R4/3/2
Light Horse Brigade: R4/3/2

Army Troops:
Reserve heavy foot battery to be assigned as 'Davout' chose (it was attached to Mortier's command).

Overall, this represented a considerable force of over 17,500 horse and foot with about 32 guns in four gun batteries.


G-o-C: Count Miloradovitch (-1)

Tukmakov's Division (-1):
1st Brigade: R5/4/3
2nd and 3rd brigades each: R7/5/4
Battery heavy foot artillery;
Podgaets's Division (-1):
4th and 5th Brigades, each R7/5/4
Battery heavy foot artillery
Razuvaev's Division (-1):
6th, 7th and 8th Brigades, each R7/5/4
Battery heavy foot artillery
Karpov's Cavalry Division (-1):
Cuirassier Brigade, R5/4/3
Dragoon Brigade, R5/4/3
Battery light horse artillery;
Kuzmin's Cavalry Division (-1):
Dragoon Brigade, R5/4/3
Cossack Brigade, Irregular Light Horse: C5/4/3 ('Conscript' fresh/worn/spent)

The whole represents a force of over 23,000 troops, also with 4 gun batteries, but these comprise a total of possibly 48 guns.

Looking across the Russian Right, and Tukmakov's and Karpov's commands.
The French bridge guard can be discerned just beyond the trees, and the rest of
Davout's command and Beaumont's cavalry close by Chyornoi town.
For this action, the Russians enjoyed the advantage of numbers overall, and a 'qualitative' edge in artillery.  Probably their biggest advantage in the event might have been that, owing to the advance positions of two isolated enemy brigades, nearly the whole force began in the 'tactical zone'.  Against this, the French enjoyed an overall qualitative superiority of its infantry.  Not only was a high proportion of it 'elite', but, as 'Impulse Infantry' as defined by the rules had stand-for-stand double the fire power of the 'Columnar' Russians.  All the French foot were capable of skirmishing as well, unlike any Russian infantry in this scenario.
Looking south from behind Russian lines.  Between the wooded
areas, Podgaets's Division; and approaching Sinoi village,
 Razuvaev's Foot and guns, and Kuzmin's Horse.  The village garrison
is elite, but outnumbered more than five to one.
Finally, though the superior French leadership was to some extent cancelled out by the Russians beginning with only two or three units in the reserve zone (compared with most of the French), Davout's +2 modifier gave them a big advantage in the Initiative Rolls at the beginning of each turn. Miloradovitch's (as all the Russian generals) modifier was -1 - a +3 French edge to determine in any given turn which side went first. In the event, I believe Miloradovitch 'won' the initiative just the once - but did he choose a decisive moment!

Razuvaev's Brigades storming Sinoi.
 The isolated garrison hadn't a prayer, and
its broken remnants hastily quit the place as the triumphant
Russians surged through the streets.
Given the situation: a rearguard action by the French, the onus was on the Russians to attack. This being congenial to me, I took a very aggressive line throughout.  For the most part it paid off, but not everything was to go the Russians' way.

Tukmakov's Division advanced briskly, each Brigade in successive lines (supported line in game terms) towards the stone bridge, though 1st Brigade began somewhat hesitantly and was to remain in echelon back for the rest of the day. Covering Tukmakov on the right flank, Karpov's dragoons and artillery advanced forthrightly enough, but it took a sharp order from the General himself before the Cuirassiers lurched into motion (In 'reserve', this unit failed its march roll in Turn 1, but got going a move later.  It often happens that a unit that fails its 'reserve movement' roll will remain move bound for quite while afterward. I was a bit lucky there...). 

For all the interest along the main road to Chyornoi, the first real action was occurring around the Sinoi village on the opposite flank.  A little hesitation led Razuvaev to consider bring up infantry and guns to shoot the garrison out of village.  But as the artillery was taking some time to come up, and as the early exchanges were ineffectual on both sides, the moment 6th Brigade caught up with its companions, Razuvaev ordered the charge.   It was never quite clear why the garrison commander decided to defend, rather than evacuate the place (Geoff did think about it), but with Kuzmin's Cossacks sweeping into its rear, evacuation was rapidly becoming a problematic option.  Things might have been different had the 2nd Brigade Imperial Guard had marched to their aid, but, for reasons never properly established in the Court Marshal Enquiry subsequent to the campaign,  this powerful formation remained, in march column, completely immobile on the road (This unit I think twice failed its Reserve Movement roll, which was pretty bad luck, and even when the Cossacks approached within maybe a mile (18", assuming the ground scale is roughly 1 inch to 100 yards), moved rather hesitantly.

Outnumbered five to one, assailed from two sides, the gallant but isolated garrison's resistance quickly collapsed.  Soon the triumphant Russians had entered the village and surged through the streets looking for fresh foes, whilst the spent remnants of the defending guardsmen scattered along the river bank.  That was the end of them.

On the Chyornoi front, as 3rd Brigade closed the range, it came under fire from the bridge guard's skirmishers backed by artillery (Skirmishers aren't physically depicted under these rules, but the capacity for skirmishing permits a Brigade to extend its musketry range, at half effect, from 2 to 4 inches).  Lacking skirmishers, the Russians could not reply until they could close the range, and/or its own Divisional artillery could come up.  Even then, Russian musketry and gunnery were to remain ineffectual throughout the entire day.
Podgaets Division storming the ridge line.  This was to prove a
protracted and very bloody battle...

What was happening meanwhile in the centre?
With commendable elan, the  Division of Podgaets advanced between the woods south of the Chyornoi Road, splashed across the stream, and began their climb up the ridge beyond.  So rapid was their advance that the Divisional artillery was left rather behind.  A Brigade (3rd) of the French Imperial Guard had already seized the feature betimes and formed a line to receive the attack. Two gun batteries were hastening up to bolster the defence.  One had indeed almost reached a fine battery position on Guardsmen's right, but had yet to unlimber when General Podgaets unleashed his assault.

With no help to be had from the artillery, the Guardsmen's volleys were sufficient to disorder the oncoming Russians, but not enough to stop their drive.  Still, the Frenchmen presented a solid and staunch front.  The close combat degenerated into a close quarter scrimmage in which losses mounted on both sides, with the outcome long in doubt.  But it gradually became apparent that the scales were tipping in favour of the assailants.  The outnumbered 
The pressure mounts upon Davout's bridge guard.
Help was a long time coming...
guardsmen finally broke, shattered, and were swept down the hill.  Exploiting on, Podgaets's troops overran and captured the artillery as well: a signal victory for the Russians.

Note: This really was a protracted struggle. At that, it was made possible owing to 'Davout's' choosing this precise moment to lose the Initiative Roll. 'Podgaets' was not going to let slip this golden chance!  Fortunately the Tactical Movement rolls were favourable, too. Incoming fire disordered both Russian Brigades as they closed.  In the ensuing combat, the Guardsmen's elite quality and good order went to offset the numbers against them (14 stands to 7: 2 to 1).  'Locked in battle' after the first round (the modified die rolls were even), both sides lost a stand.  A die roll determined that on the Russian side, 4th Brigade took the hit. 

Both sides were disordered by the combat, but as the Russians were so affected already, this simply went against the French.  Now the odds were definitely on the Russians' side, but the second roll - the fight continues in the same turn until a result is determined - also left the combatants 'locked in battle.'  I took the stand lost from the 5th Brigade, and now 12 Russian stands faced 5 Guard.  The Russians were still 'fresh', but the Guardsmen now 'worn' from losses.  With something like a plus-3 differential on the dice roll for the third round, the odds were now heavily in the Russian favour.  The D10s were rolled and the Russians scored much higher - enough to 'drive back' the French down the hill.

Given the opportunity to exploit on and overrun the French artillery (voluntary with this outcome), Podgaets seized it with both hands, and half Davout's artillery went into the Russian bag.

As 3rd and 2nd Brigades close up to the bridge, with artillery support,
in the distance, the Russian brigade of dragoons chances
 its arm against their French equivalents.  
Victories achieved on the southern flank and centre left Marshal Mortier with just the single brigade of the Imperial Guard south of Chyornoi to oppose five Russian plus horse and guns.  But on the northern flank, things were not going the Russians' way.  This was not to be wondered at: as Morand and Beaumont outnumbered the Tukmakov and Karpov except in artillery.

Karpov's brigade of dragoons swept up the gentle slopes of the north ridge, but, emphatically met by a determined enemy, were swept back down the slope and across the river, having lost 40% of its strength (2 stands out of 5 - the extra stand had been no help in the combat).

Apparently galvanised by their dragoons' success, Beaumont's Cuirassiers closed upon the Russian. The French light horse also weighed in.  Outnumbered by more than 3 to 2 (8 stands to 5) the odds of victory were rather against the Russians, but I figured that a victory here would leave the French northern flank very badly placed.  To be sure, the more likely defeat would place the French in more or less and equivalent position, but Miloradovitch felt he whole the risk worth the taking.   He stood to gain more than he was risking.

Karpov's defeated cavalry having fallen back to and over the
river, were subsequently to recover their elan,
and turn once more to face the enemy horse.
The outcome could have been worse: the Russians were given the right about, but only enough to compel a withdrawal.  They fell back to the riverbank.

Note: We messed this up a bit.  It turns out my guys should have withdrawn just 2" (about 200 yards) rather than all the way back to the river. I simply misread the perfectly clear 'Withdrawal' effects.  We did wonder how two-brigades-to-one combats were supposed to be adjudicated, given the twin brigades being of different types (Armoured Heavy Cavalry and Hussars vs Armoured Heavy Cavalry). Nothing seemed to indicate anything but that is was classed as a single combat, one roll determined the outcome, and the the presence of the Heavy Brigade at all gave the French the same modifier as the Russians received.  OK: made sense, and had the virtue of simplicity at least.  How more complex combats are adjudicated will be left for another day!

The actions on the flanks having been resolved, the situation about the Chyornoi road bridge was developing slowly.  The Russian third Brigade, supported by a battery to its right rear was engaging the bridge guard in a musketry and gunnery duel that was rather livelier on the French side (Russian shooting, such as there was, was pretty dismal desultory all day - they seemed keener on the bayonet!) .  It wasn't too long before 2rd Brigade (Russian) were looming up on the right flank of their comrades.  But Mortier had formed up one brigade on the north ridge, and was bringing another to fill the gap between them and the bridge guard.  He had found it difficult to put his troops into motion early on - Marshal Davout had himself to direct forward the brigade in the town.  But at last the french were forming a coherent line.

Panaramic view of the scene south of the Chyornoi road.
Razuvaev has carried the Nisoi village; and Podgaets the ridge.
Marshal Mortier has turned his remaining Imperial Guards
Brigade towards the town.  But those Russians on the ridge - what of them?

The Russians carry the bridge crossing,
 and fling back the defenders 
The Russian 3rd and 2nd Brigades take the position held by the
defenders.  Two of the latter's 4 stands have been removed
(routed) and the gun should have been as well (captured).
As it transpired, the Tukmakov got in his bridge assault before Morand could intervene effectively.  Disordered in the charge by enemy musketry as much as by the river crossing, and having taken heavy losses already  - the Russians could still count double the enemy (in the earlier fire fights, 2nd and 3rd Brigades lost a stand each, and 2nd Brigade was to lose two more in the charge. That was a serious matter, as it left them with a -2 modifier for the subsequent close combat, and 2nd brigade was now spent.  Fortunately 3rd Brigade still counted as 'fresh', and having in consequence more stands in action than the 2nd, could count a +2 modifier to cancel the losses. Overall the French modifiers added up to +1; the Russians' to +2).

To French dismay, the Russians swept into and over the gallant bridge defenders, and captured the supporting battery.  The 'shattered' remnants of the bridge guard fell back and scattered, presumably to join the stragglers in the long retreat.  
Note:  The Russians enjoyed phenomenal luck in the close combats overall.  In the  pictures to the right, you will see the French supporting battery retreating (silenced) with the surviving infantry, but in fact it ought to have been captured given the 'shattered' outcome.  The Russians were also to have been compelled to make a compulsory half move charge towards the closest enemy.  All that did, on account of terrain effects was to bring the Russians clear of the stream.

Kuzmin's Cavalry has rallied - the Cuirassiers with elan, too.
A fine recovery from their defeat.
The Russian right flank remains secure
As night began to draw in (literally: it was just about time for me to go home for dinner) the situation was this:
1. Karpov's cavalry had rallied, the Cuirassiers with elan, and were ready to try conclusions once more with the enemy horse.  
2. Having stormed the bridge, 2nd and 3rd Russian Brigades, yet to rally, were now facing the prospect of a heavy French counter-attack that in all likelihood would recover the lost river crossing.  
An annoyingly fuzzy picture, only partially remedied by the
monchrome effect.  Razuvaev and Kuzmin making slow progress
against nil opposition, but Podgaets's infantry, leaving their artillery
far behind, seems about to fall on the flank of the column
comprising the remaining Brigade of the Imperial Guard 

3. General Podgaets's infantry had also rallied betimes with elan, and, sweeping rapidly down the hill seemed about to pounce upon the march column of the Imperial Guard crossing their front. 
4. Finally, the Divisions of Razuvaev and Kuzmin were advancing rather slowly (problems of Reserve Movement and terrain) to exploit their earlier success.

On the whole we gave the Russians the victory. We did do a quick, I suspect not very accurate, Victory Point count, which came down in Russian favour (9-5, from memory), but it still looked as though the Russian hold on the stone bridge could not survive a brisk counterattack.  Against that, the last remaining Guards Brigade looked to be in deadly peril.  We did try an initiative roll (won by 'Davout') which indicated that the French would at least make a partial recovery, recapturing the stone bridge, and possibly the Guard either making its escape, or even turning at bay and facing off the pursuing Division of Podgaets.  

This was an enjoyable game pretty much from my point of view, and I think Geoff got some satisfaction from it.  We are still somewhere along the learning curve of grasping the rules (and reading the quick-play sheet), but at least this time we were able to get into action quickly, and with plenty of action.  If the Russian shooting was abysmal all day, they performed wonders in the close combats, and rallied admirably late in the day from the disorders of combat.  The French had some trouble getting their Brigades into action, which left the village garrison and bridge defenders unsupported for too long.  I know Geoff did consider pulling these out - the scenario did not forbid him doing that - and had he done so we would have had an entirely different sort of battle.


  1. Top report of a great sounding game Ion. It seems that the French guardsmen emulated their historical countrymen, sacrificing themselves for the sake of the rest of the 'army'?

    1. Cheers, James -

      The whole thing did not go as I expected it would - in fact I imagined at the outset that the Russians had drawn a tough assignment. But the 2nd Guard's Brigade's failure to move for 2 turns, and 'Miloradovitch's' seizing the initiative (winning the initiative roll) at precisely the right moment gave the Russians an excellent chance of pulling of a fine victory.

      I think that had we continued, 2nd Guards might well have turned to face Podgaets's Division and offered a close action. With a very fair chance of driving off the enemy, they would have atoned for their earlier dilatoriness. Having thus bought time a successful counter-attack to seize the stone bridge crossing, Davout would then have been well placed to bring off his command in good order, Razuvaev's command still too distant to intervene betimes. That would have been a good place to stop, with both sides deriving a measure of satisfaction from their conduct of the action, and its outcome.

      A couple of points I did discover after the game, the main one being that according to the book's army lists, Davout's command ought to have comprised 'Elite' infantry, and the armoured horse of both sides ought also to have been 'Elite'. I think that would simply have put victory beyond Russian reach.

      Having said that, I still think that the scenario, as designed on the spur of the moment (based on the vague memory of a recent posting on 'Mad Padre's' blog spot), was realistic enough, and offered a reasonable game balance.