Friday, December 26, 2014

An Eyrie of Eagles ... Part 2

Continuing from the previous posting:
Karkharowski's Grenadiers attempt to storm Spas Convent.
Given the objective in the first instance of taking the Spas convent, General 'Prince Wittgenstein' placed his trust in his best available troops, the large formation of grenadiers forming his Reserve Division commanded by Karkhowski.  All four brigades, in 'masse' formation, at once charged the Convent before the French (II Corps) and Deroi's Division of the Bavarian (VI Corps) could hope to supervene.

The Commander of the Bavarian (VI) Corps, General Gouvion St-Cyr anticipated an early attack and placed General Wrede in direct command of the Convent garrison - some 2880 infantry supported by 8 cannon (8 infantry stands plus a gun stand, with Wrede 'attached')*.  St-Cyr himself stood on the hill on the far side of the ponds with the Division's second Brigade and the remainder of its artillery.  
The first assault on Spas.  In the backgound, Russian cannon
move up.  Legrand's French Division and the cavalry can be
seen on the Bavarian left beyond the hill.

In command of the battle as a whole, Marshal Oudinot directed Deroi's Division to the support of Wrede's right flank, whilst the available elements of his own II Corps - Legrand's Division,  the Corps cavalry and a single gun battery, came up on the left.  For his part, Wittgenstein concentrated almost all his troops between the great woods and the North-east road.  This implied his Reserve Division being left in the rear (off table and therefore subject to 'Reserve Movement', with the problems that implied).

Deroi's Division  coming up upon
Wrede's right
Karkhowski's assault beaten back.
As the Karkhowski's grenadiers stormed the Convent, the garrison had to rely upon its own resources. Outnumbered three to one (30 infantry stands - over 10,000 infantry) in 4 'masse' columns versus 8 infantry and a gun stand) the garrison fired ineffectually.  On came the Russians like an ocean wave - but the wave met after all a firm rock.  The attached leader (+1) and defensive walls, though not very strong (+1) reduced the disadvantages of numbers (-3) and quality (-1 net) to a mere -2 overall.  The die rolls in favour of the defenders (+4) was enough to throw back the attackers.*  But this was by no means a repulse - not yet.  The grenadiers drew back to reorganise for a second attempt.
Wrede's Second Brigade on the hill being directed by
Gouvion St-Cyr in person.  Doumerc's cuirassiers have
been intercepted near the distant woods
by Russian Cossacks and Hussars.
West of Spas, Wrede's other brigade had formed, together with two batteries upon the hill overlooking the ponds, the Corps commander himself overseeing it.  As well he might, for this brigade was to come in for a destructive bombardment from eventually no fewer than five Russian batteries.  One of the Bavarian batteries was silenced early, and eventually wrecked, whilst the infantry was also knocked about.   But in choosing not to deploy west of the great woods near Prismenitsa, Wittgenstein began quickly to experience serious traffic problems.  Pressing Berg's Jagers into these thick woods, he had to send his heavy horse through the village itself,  whilst the defile between there and the tall timber was barely wide enough to accommodate the columns passing through it.  
Looking east, this time.  Berg's Jagers advance slowly
through the dense woods, too far off to intervene in the cavalry
Concerned about the approach of the French cuirassiers, Wittgenstein ordered his light horse to charge the Cuirassiers.  A real death ride as it seemed to be,  its purpose was simply to gain time and space for the following infantry columns.  As it transpired, the light horse did very well indeed, carrying out two charges before at last being scattered to the rear.  The first charge ended with the narrowest victory for the cuirassiers, the cossacks and hussars withdrawing only a short distance. Rallying 'with elan' the following turn, they flung themselves back into the fray, but this time the margin was too great.  All the same, the time thus gained was invaluable to the Russians.
The Grenadiers' second assault easily and destructively beaten

Where has the Russian light horse gone?

All this while, the action around Spas had continued unabated.  Deroi's move to Wrede's right flank had been somewhat dilatory ('Cautious' result on the tactical move chart, the leading brigade two moves in succession). Fortunately, the second assault was enfeebled by the failure of the flanking brigades to rally betimes.  After a little hesitation Karkhowski flung in the two centre brigades.  The storm of canister and musket fire that greeted them told heavily ('Telling Fire' on the 'Volley and Cannonade' chart against both brigades - the Bavarians' shooting was superb on this occasion - both brigades lost a stand and were disordered).   The heavy loss and disorder left the defenders with the advantage in the close order scrimmage that ensued (a net +5).  The attackers were unceremoniously flung back, leaving over a thousand prisoners in Bavarian hands (the 'Bayonet and Sabre' roll was a massive 10-1 in my favour!).

General view of the action.  Deroi's command
fronts up to the stream on the eastern flank, the
trailing brigade already having crossed.
Unperturbed by this shattering defeat, and though one brigade was now spent (reduced from 9 to 4 stands) and another worn (reduced from 6 to 4), Karkhowski was not so easily deterred. Deroi's Division was not yet so close, even though the trailing brigade were now crossing the stream hard by the convent, that one more attack could not be mounted.  Placing two batteries to face Deroi, Karkhowski flung in his third attack.
As Karkhowski prepares a third assault on Spas, only two
batteries face Deroi's whole Division.
He had managed this time to rally all his brigades (though now just 23 stands remained of the 30 with which his Division began), and in they went.  Once again the advantage lay with the attackers (a net +1 I think, +2 if Karkhowski attached himself to one of the brigades).  Although the shooting was moderately successful, it was the close combat about the convent walls that decided the issue (The Bavarians out-rolled the Russian combat dice a third time - by a margin sufficient to fling back the attackers).  
Behind the Grenadiers, Sazonov's huge Reserve line infantry
Brigade moves up.
On the other wing, having thrown back the Russian light horse, the cuirassiers rallied for an assault upon a dangerous line of three batteries in front of Prismenitsa village.  Though showing little elan (The roll on the 'Disorder' chart was enough to rally the heavy horse, but allowed them to move at only half their standard rate.  This was just barely enough to reach the nearest battery.  In they went.
French cuirassiers charge the guns.  Now that I look at it closely
I see 7 stands there, and I know I lost just the one in the charge...
The charge was attended by a fearful risk: three Russian light batteries shooting into masses cavalry at point-blank range.  Having already lost a stand to gunfire early on, the elite cuirassiers might well have been reduced to less than half strength, disordered and spent before even making contact! Three Russian light batteries at 11 fire points - 33 total.  Geoff rolled a D10: a four!  It could not have been much better for me, and might have been a whole lot worse: a ten would have cost 3 stands and left the horsemen spent before the close combat.  The cuirassiers lost a stand and were disordered, but with General Doumerc himself leading the charge they were in a trice among the gunners with pistol and sword.  Though deadly shooting at close range, artillery aren't all that much chop when things get up close and personal.  Defending with trail spikes and rammers, the gunners were no match even for disordered armoured horsemen (a net +3 as the unit was elite).
French cuirassiers charge the guns.  There ought to be 6 stands in
 the picture as well as General Doumerc.  I do not know how that happened...
The result was as might have been expected: the three batteries driven back through the village and silenced. Behind this charge, rank upon rank of Oudinot's infantry could be discerned approaching Prismenitsa as rapidly as might be.  It was at this point we found it was time to call a halt to the battle.  But there remained the matter of the 'breakthrough charge' against the infantry column between village and wood.  We decided to play this out.

But before moving on to this attack, it is possible we made a mistake, here.  You will recall that the Cuirassiers could reach only the nearest of the three batteries.  Now, while it is true that their proximity meant that the other two batteries were collateral participants in the close combat (which made the odds 3:2 rather than greater than 4:1, I am not sure whether the battle results ought to have applied to all three or only the contacted one.  If the latter, a breakthrough charge would have carried the horse onto the remaining two batteries.

Reviewing this action I also perceive that in the heat of battle the loss of one stand reduced the cuirassiers from seven stands to five.  Yet I recall still thinking of the unit as 'fresh'.  I can only surmise that I started thinking the unit began with 6 stands, removed the second stand thinking I had not done so already, and therefore (correctly, as it happened) continued thinking the unit 'fresh.' That seems a plausible enough explanation... How easy it is to stuff things up!
The cuirassiers' breakthrough charge.  
A little earlier, Wittgenstein' had considered ordering this column into battalion squares, but decided against it.  In general, this is regarded as a species of reaction to a cavalry charge, but the rules do permit voluntarily adopting this formation.   For all their rarity, there are occasions in which it might not be such a bad precaution.  This was such a situation.  So close were the cuirassiers when they broke through, that the infantry had too little time to form square.  

The dice were rolled: 4-4. 
+1 leader (Doumerc) attached
+2 cavalry attacking infantry from less than 5 inch (600yd) away
+2 armoured heavies
+1 breakthrough charge
+2 elite
+2 elite brigade (my only elite unit!)
-2 outnumbered 2:1 (this would have been true even with the 6 stands the horse should have had)
-2 disordered
-1 stand lost during current fire phase (i.e. during charge on the guns).
Net Total: +5 plus die roll +4
+1 supported formation
+2 'fresh' unit
+1 regular unit.
Net Total: +4 plus die roll +4
The final score, then, would have been 9-8 to the horse, which would have forced the infantry back a space (2" or 240 yards).  That would have ended the cuirassiers' charge.
The close combat dice rolls - Geoff''s best result all day!
You can see why I am not a fan of all this plussing and minusing: it is so very easy to overlook some vital factor.  Even just now it took me three - no four - goes before I began to get a consistent answer.

Not that a (slightly) negative result would have concerned Marshal Oudinot (me) over much.  The charge was to cover the infantry's advance anyhow, and the result rather better than expectation.  At this point Geoff and I agreed that this was something of a French victory overall, it being unlikely that the Russians could now carry the convent with Deroi's Division well placed to inconvenience the Russian left flank. Geoff allowed he enjoyed this game, which was very generous of him as his luck with the close combat dice was so generally poor.  His shooting was pretty good though.  But then, so was mine ... now and then ...

A couple of interesting points emerged for me that went for (I think) to explain some historical  as well as game command decisions that at first sight might seem poorly motivated.

1.  Leaving troops to be shot to pieces without much chance of retaliation.  This was the position I placed Wrede's second brigade, with General Gouvion St-Cyr close by (but not 'attached').  This brigade, even with two batteries attached, came in for a lot of attention from the Russian ordnance;  5 batteries eventually, which cost it at least one stand and a battery wrecked.  Its return fire from two light batteries came nowhere near compensating.  But placing the brigade behind the hill might have persuaded 'Wittgenstein' to concentrate his batteries against Spas, softening up the garrison for the major assault.  So Napoleon's leaving the Conscrits of the Guard to be shot to pieces 'for nothing' at Craonne (1814) begins to make sense.  Sort of.

2.  'Death rides.'  The apparently suicidal attack of the Russian light horse was in my view amply justified by the time it gained, and helped to clear the front of the advancing infantry.  That the French cuirassiers were still able to attack was simply a piece of luck for them.  Sometimes you have to order your troops to carry out impossible tasks that the tasks others have to undertake become feasible.  So for the comparatively slight risk to his small Polish escort, Napoleon hoped to gain valuable time at Somosierra Pass (1808) by ordering these 88 troopers to attempt the passage.  The failure of this effort cost no time (though the 60 men lost was something) but its success would have gained much.

3.  That 'Wittgenstein' undertook his initial attack without artillery preparation was in my view a good decision as (a) the odds of success with his first attack was nearly 4:1, with French and Bavarian supports to distant to help; and (b) once established in the Convent, the Russians would have been very tough to prise out again.  That might well have been the winning of the battle, right there.

*  My asides in game terms (as distinct from the overall battle narrative) are denoted by italics.  This convention I adopted long ago, but perhaps I ought to have explained it before now.

No comments:

Post a Comment