Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Retreat from Smolensk - Part the First

Overall view of the 'Hill Line Defence' scenario: 512 figures
on my 4ft by 4ft 5in table.  Too much?  Well...
This posting has been sitting in 'draft' for the last three and a half weeks, pictures only - it is high time I did something about it.  What follows isn't quite what I intended, but at least it gets things moving. I hope.
The French ready to defend the distant hill line.
This thing was an experiment at two levels, not only a major play test of my Napoleonic Big Battles for Small Tables rule set, but also just to see how many troops I could get on a table and still fight a battle.  At neither level was this experiment an unqualified success, but I wouldn't rate it altogether as a failure, neither.
The Austrians have massed on their left flank, The II (Hungarian)
Corps leading I Corps.
The action purported to be one of the major battles during the course of Napoleon's retreat from Smolensk - a narrative I shall take up another time.  To summarize, however, the Austrian Emperor threw in his lot with the Russians to moment it became clear that Napoleon, having wintered his army about Smolensk, was about to abandon his Russian project.  His brother the Archduke Charles was sent post haste to take over operations from the sluggish Prince Schwarzenberg with strict instructions to bring the French quickly to battle in order to hinder as much as possible the retreat of La Grande Armee.
The French I Corps has flung forward its voltigeurs.
Well informed as always of what was afoot in the enemy camp, Napoleon knew that the single French Corps south of his line of march would be insufficient to keep open his western line of communication, and despatched elements of I Corps under Marshal Davout and IV Corps under Prince Eugene Beauharnais to succour General Reynier's command.
Looking along the Austrian line from west to east.
The action that ensued was taken from Charles S. Grant's Programmed Wargames Scenarios (a.k.a. The Black Scenario Book):  'Scenario 1: Hill Line Defence'.  I programmed both sides.  Each army was adapted from the Grant lists to fit my organisation, which gave me the following forces:
Austrian Reserve Corps.  The distant village I made a bit
more substantial than the hamlets or farms in the original.
That was probably not a good decision.

BLUE Force: French, GOC Prince Eugene

I Corps (elements): Commanded by General Morand (vice Marshal Davout)

  • 3 Infantry Divisions comprising 24 figures each;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 gunners.
That forest did not help the French I Corps defence at all...
IV Corps (elements): Commanded by Prince Eugene
  • 2 Infantry Divisions with 24 figures each;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 gunners.
VII Corps: Commanded by General Reynier
A view of VII Corps on the French left flank.
  • 3 Infantry Divisions with 24 figures each;
  • 1 Lancer Brigade with 12 figures;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 gunners.
Cavalry Reserve comprising
  • 1 Cuirassier Brigade (Elite) of 12 figures;
  • 1 Dragoon Brigade of 12 figures.
French Cavalry reserve.  The shallowness of the French
position (coupled with programming restrictions)
made their intervention problematical.
Totals: 192 foot, 36 horse and 3 guns with 12 gunners - 240 figures in all.
(38,400 foot, 7,200 horse and 96 guns with 2400 artillerymen - 48,000)

RED FORCE: Austrian, Archduke Charles

I Corps: 
  • 3 infantry Divisions each with 24 figures;
  • 1 Uhlan Brigade with 12 figures;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 crew.
Massed Austrian foot.
II (Hungarian) Corps:
  • 2 Hungarian Divisions with 24 figures each;
  • 1 Hungarian Grenadier Division (Elite) with 24 figures;
  • 1 Chevau-leger Brigade with 8 figures;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 cannon and 4 gunners.
In contrast to the Austrian western flank, this small and
lonely Brigade formed the extreme Austrian right!
I Reserve Corps:
  • 1 Grenadier Division (Elite) with 24 figures;
  • 1 Grenadier Division (Elite) with 20 figures;
  • 1 Jager 'Division' with 24 figures (of which more anon);
  • 1 Cuirassier Brigade (Elite) with 12 figures;
  • 1 Dragoon Brigade with 12 figures;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 medium field cannon with 4 gunners;
  • 1 Artillery Park with 1 heavy (12pr) field cannon with 4 gunners.
Austrian centre advancing.  Traffic control was a bit of a problem
on this restricted battlefield... 
Totals: 212 foot, 44 horse, 4 cannon with 16 gunners - 272 figures all up.
(42,400 foot, 8,800 horse, 3200 gunners -  54,400).

The sparse Austrian right seemed to call for an early response
from Reynier's Corps.  Prince Eugene's caution (i.e. programming
restrictions) forbade such an action, however.
The Jager formation was split into three and distributed across the whole Austrian front as per the programmed instructions.  For the rest, a die roll determined that the Archduke massed 60% of his strength on his left (i.e. western) flank, with 30% in the centre, and a mere 10% on the right.  This involved (a) a certain tailoring of the army's organisation, but also (b) detaching the chevau-legers from II Corps and placing them on the extreme right flank.

VII Corps saw little action for much of the day...
For their part, the French were arranged, again determined by a die roll, with 40% of the army in the centre, and 30% on each of the flanks.  This symmetry was achieved by the above organisation, and placing I and VII Corps on the flanks, with IV Corps and the Cavalry (including Reynier's lancers) in the centre.

General view of the French looking north-westward from
behind the Austrian right flank.

To be continued...


  1. That's a tremendous looking battle, Ion, even with the lack of snow. :)
    Can you say a bit about your rules and how they treat command and activation?

  2. Well, Michael, right now they don't particularly. I was using the Scenario programming for that purpose. Even then, towards the close of the battle I fudged it a bit in order that VII Corps at least got their sabres bloody and some powder burned. However, as it was a solo game, it did use the IGoUGo convention.

    In general, I may well end up using the Age of Eagles command and activation system for this rule set.

  3. Archduke, I'm not sure I quite grasped the rules, but as a spectacle it certainly worked.

    1. There will be a certain amount of explanation I guess when I do my next posting. This is going to be a longish story, I think - there are a lot more pics, sure, and therefore a lengthy narrative. I'm finding my motivation erratic - not helped by my laying out my WW2 German AFV inventory, and knocking up several of my backlog of kits...