Monday, June 27, 2022

Retreat from Smolensk - Napoleon's Battle (1)


In the early April morning, the Emperor Napoleon I ordered forward his whole army: three army corps, one cavalry corps and the Imperial Guard to cross the stream and to drive back or destroy the enemy.  No less eagerly, the Russians surged forward to meet them. The Prussians were very soon up, and not long after, the leading Austrian formations could be descried among the woods and hills to the south.

The following narrative closely matches the text and vice versa - at least as far as I could match the two.

Straight off the march, the Prussian corps mounted the Haliniez Heights, the two landwehr Divisions holding each end of the ridge, with the Corps artillery in battery between them.  The wood in front of the position rather restricted the guns' arc of fire, but, together with bend in the stream, was more inconvenient to the French.  The Vachva itself was no great obstacle - occasioning only a slight delay when crossing, but the angle opposite the Haliniez Wood the stream made to the southwest made its traverse awkward in the face of an enemy. 

Even so, that did not stop the III Corps light horse and 25th infantry Division building up an assault upon the Brandenburger Landwehr holding the north end of the Heights.

To the Prussians' left, a Russian Division of Grenadiers formed line with a gun battery to face the French IX Corps, whilst a further Division made for the unoccupied Golynets village which was hoped would provide a useful bastion of defence, should it be required.  Ahead of the grenadiers, the Division of dragoons charged the French skirmishers that had just crossed the stream, and flung the survivors into it and beyond.  

The remaining four Russian infantry, and single cuirassier Divisions, and two artillery formations veered to bypass Golynets to the south. This rather tended to block out the Austrians' push onto the field. However, between the two woodland tracts, General Siegenthal's formation of landwehr, freiwilliger and freikorps had formed lines that threatened the flank of V Corps's advance. At once Prince Poniatowski ordered his light horse to eliminate the menace. We might have guessed how it would go: the Austrian second-raters stopped cold the light horse charge and send the whole formation scurrying to the rear.

To the left of V Corps, the Imperial Guard were also on the march, light horse, and the Young Guard, skirmishers deployed in grande bandee to the fore. Riding forward to try conclusions with the Guard lights, the Russian cuirassiers came under a destructive gunfire from the Guard artillery.  By the time the clash came, the Russian heavy horse had been much weakened by the bombardment.

The Brandenburg Landwehr Division, meanwhile, had formed square betimes and seen off the attack by the III Corps light cavalry.  But this placed them at hazard against the skirmishers and column of 25th Division crossing the stream and advancing up the slopes.  The remainder of III Corps and IX Corps, under a telling fire from Russian and Prussian artillery - some 64 cannon) were still yet to cross the stream in force.  The Russian dragoons had ridden off, minus a considerable number of troopers, and the grenadier column readied themselves for an attack of their own.

The whole French front to the right of the 80 guns of the Guard batteries were by now well across the stream and grinding forward: the Imperial Guard, V Corps and the III Cavalry Corps. Directly in front of a 32-piece battery, the Young Guard were taking a steady attrition of casualties, but carried on with resolution. The whole heaped up mass on this wing looked set to carry off the much thinner Russian force. But that was to reckon without the Austrians. Slowly their increasing presence was to be felt.

By the time the Guard light horse and Russian cuirassiers came together in the long anticipated clash, the latter had already taken heavy losses from incoming gunfire. The light horse had also taken slight losses from the musketry from Golynets, but remained in far better shape. At the first impact, the Russian formation shattered, its remnants fleeing to the rear, their fight finished for the day. The French had achieved some recompense for the discomfiture of the V Corps light horse earlier.

The news Napoleon was receiving was equally encouraging on his northern flank. Twenty-fifth Division had thrown the a Prussian Division right off the Haliniez Heights. But before that could be exploited, a body of heavy horse appeared over the crest to threaten the French column. In his left centre, 10th Division of III Corps and 26th Division of V Corps had crossed the stream and were advancing in skirmisher-covered columns towards an Allied line made up of Prussian artillery, Elbe Landwehr (in column) and Russian grenadiers (in successive lines).  

To the right of the road, 12th Division, IX Corps, supported by the Guard artillery, attempted the storm of the Golynets village.  The attempt was made under the cannon of a powerful Russian park.  Despite the help from the Guard artillery, 12th Division failed to break into the place, and fell back in complete confusion back across the river and all the way back to Yamnitza, a good half a kilometre or half a verst from the stream. 

The Russian cuirassiers having been roundly defeated, the Guard light horse found themselves facing a Divisional infantry square hard by the village. They also felt it incumbent upon themselves to leave the scene of their victory, and left the space in the line to the Middle Guard. These gentry were already across the stream and facing the village, the column seemingly preparing to storm the place. Marching close by the square were the Young Guard and the 16th Division of V Corps, with heavy supports of horse and foot, seemingly about to break through the whole Allied line.

In fact the two divisions were marching into a dangerous salient, and the 16th Divisional column was marching across the front of a Russian 32-piece battery (represented by 1 gun and 4 gunners and the trapezoidal stand). The supports on this flank had been delayed by the Austrians' intervention on the flank. The Dragoons thrown in to crush the Austrian landwehr fared no better than had the V Corps light horse, and an Austrian park was already in battery action against the French (Polish) 18th Infantry Division.
At about now, Dame Fortune was bestowing her smiles upon the Allies, as the French casualties were mounting faster than their own.  Beaten down by musketry and gunfire, on both wings, the French were being beaten back across the stream.  One Division (12th) having been routed from in front of Golynets, IX Corps other (26th) also fell back considerably depleted.  The 10th Division of III Corps also fell back to conform.  Meanwhile, 11th Division, fronting the awkward angle of the stream, and hesitating to join in the advance, continued to stay right where it stood.  

The dangerous situation in which the Young Guard and 16th Division had found themselves persuaded their commanders to pull them back - back to their start lines west of the Vechva. Even the Middle Guard was drawn back from Golynets village. The only actions that remained were the face off between 17th Division and the leading Austrian Division of Bianchi. The Austrians getting the better of this encounter set their opponents back towards the stream.

(Aside:  V Corps was actually an exclusively Polish formation.  I don't have Polish figures.  I am not very apologetically using French figures their stead.)

But the French had one success to cheer about: the final defeat of the Austrian landwehr. Seeing the defeat of two successive Divisions of cavalry - Polish lights and French Dragoons, Murat threw in the 3rd Cavalry Division's cuirassiers. No sooner ordered, than done; the cuirassiers quickly overran the Austrian semi-regulars...  

... and then they found a Division of Austrian cuirassiers, coming the other way, and closing fast...

To be continued.  Is this the closing phase of a battle that for the French no more than a tactical draw, not far removed from a defeat?  Are the Allied about to go over to attack?  The conclusion of this encounter, next time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Club Napoleonic - A Black Powder play test.

General view of the battlefield after the first move or two
The 'Retreat from Smolensk' narrative taking far longer than I anticipated to get itself written up, methought to fill the gap with this action from last weekend.  This game was played at the Woolston Club - a 'playtest' of the Black powder rule set.  The occasion and the scenario were arranged by Paul 'Jacko' Jackson (Painting Little Soldiers).  He and I played the Allies - his Prussians, and my Austrians.  Opposing us were Mark 'Chasseur' Ottley and his French troops.
My Austrians - Minifigs, except for the limbers,
and the Hungarian grenadiers - Hinchliffe
The following pictures I took throughout the day.  It was something of a set piece, with the French purportedly holding a rearguard against slightly superior Allied forces.
Flanquers of the Guard defending a farm. 
This was the only one I took of the flanquers, and 
I forgot altogether to take one of the marins.

French main positions.

Prussians advancing.

Marshal Mark in command - I just had
to take a pic of that Napoleonic hoody.

Austrian columns advancing.

Mark's 'Polish Cossacks'

Mark's infantry drawn up...

... and what about these carabiniers, eh?

Austrian attacks going in.  I do like to attack!

Powerful Prussian columns closing in...

Battle has become general almost all along the line

More close quarter fighting on the Austrian front.

I stopped taking pictures from this point.  The French right was pretty much driven in, and the battalion and battery in front of the village overrun, but the effort exhausted the Allies.  The French were still in possession of the villages at the end of the day.  

The rule set was similar to the 'fast play' set Mark has been using for his battles - one can see where he got some of his game mechanics from, at any rate.  The action seemed to flow pretty well, on the whole.  I did find the 18-inch musketry range pretty disconcerting - but the movement rates were commensurately generous.  Definitely a rule set for big tables, I think.  I'm also not a fan of 'saving rolls'.  In my own sets I don't use them, but instead use a 'rounding' or 'normalising' system similar to that used by Charles Grant for his 18th Century War Game.

But these were quibbles.  I had an enjoyable day's action, with convivial company.  My thanks to Paul for arranging the game and transporting me and my troops; and to Mark as an amiable adversary.


Friday, June 17, 2022

Retreat from Smolensk - Napoleon's Battle


Concerned about the retreats and defeats of his far flung army corps to north and south of his main line of withdrawal from Russia, the Emperor Napoleon began to perceive his own retrograde march had so far been too leisurely. Possibly this was due to the force immediately pursuing his main army - commanded by Prince M.I. Kutuzov himself - was not so very powerful; and the pressure, though unrelenting, was not heavy enough to hasten the Grande Armee on its way. The II and VI Corps of Oudinot and St Cyr were still hightailing it towards Konigsburg; and the battered  I, IV and VII Corps, under the commands of Prince Eugene and Marshal Davout southeast of Minsk, were reeling westward pursued by the Austrian Army of Archduke Charles and a Russian army under Admiral P.V. Tchitchigov.

It was when intelligence arrived at Imperial headquarters of the imminent arrivals of  a Prussian corps from the north and an Austrian force from the south that Napoleon concluded that he needed to administer a sharp check to the pursuing Allies that they might be induced to keep their distance.

Sending General Junot with VIII Corps on to seize, secure or build crossings over the last major obstacle, the Beresina River, and Marshal Murat with much of the cavalry to keep the line of retreat clear of marauding cossacks, the emperor resolved to make a stand behind the Vachva River - a slight stream that lay athwart the Grande Armee's march.   From behind this minor obstacle, he intended to strike out and damage the Russians enough to ensure a leisurely journey back into Poland.

Napoleon had with him:

Grande Armee:

Imperial Guard - Marshal Bessieres
Division Old Guard - 24 figures (4800 men)
Division Middle Guard - 24 figures (4800)
Division Young Guard - 24 figures (4800)
Division Heavy Horse - 12 figures (2400)
Division Light Horse - 12 figures (2400)
Division Light Horse - 8 figures (1600)
Sapeurs of the Guard -  8 figures (1600)
Guard Artillery - 10 figures, 2 guns (2000 gunners, 80 cannon)

    Total Imperial Guard = 122 figures (24,400)

III Army Corps - Marshal Ney
3 Infantry Divisions (10th, 11th, 25th) @ 24 figures = 72 figures (14,400 men)
1 Light Cavalry Division - 12 figures (2400 troopers)
Artillery Park - 4 figures, 1 gun (800 gunners, 32 cannon)

    Total III Corps = 88 figures (17,600)

V Army Corps - Prince Poniatowski
3 Infantry Divisions (16th, 17th, 18th) @ 24 figures = 72 figures (14,400)
1 Light Cavalry Division  - 12 figures (2400)
Artillery Park - 4 figures, 1 gun (800 gunners, 32 cannon)

    Total V Corps = 88 figures (17,600)

IX Army Corps - Marshal Victor
2 Infantry Divisions (12th, 26th) @ 24 figures = 48 figures (9,600)
1 Light Cavalry Division - 12 figures (2400)
Artillery park - 4 figures, 1 gun (800 gunners, 32 cannon)

    Total IX Corps = 64 figures (12,800)

III Cavalry Corps - General Grouchy
3rd Heavy Cavalry Division (Cuirassiers) - 12 figures (2400)
6th Heavy Cavalry Division (Dragoons) - 12 figures (2400)

    Total III Cavalry Corps = 24 figures (4800)

        Total Grande Armee = 386 figures, 5 guns (77,200 men, 176 cannon)

What with detachments and the cossacks marauding on the flanks of and ahead of the invaders' retreat, Prince Kutuzov had immediately with him a force rather less powerful than the army he was chasing. Some days before he had sent out the call, answered by Russia's allies, a Prussian Corps from the north, and a large force of Austrians from the south. At the moment Napoleon's army turned at bay, both contingents were still on the road: the Prussians on the point of arriving; the Austrians still a few kilometres distant.
All together, the Allied Army comprised:

Russian Army - Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Illarionovitch Kutuzov
5 Infantry Divisions @ 24 figures = 120 figures (24,000 infantry)
1 Light Infantry Division  - 16 figures (3200)
1 Cavalry Division (Cuirassiers) - 12 figures (2400)
1 Cavalry Division (Dragoons) - 12 figures (2400)
Army Artillery - 12 figures, 3 guns (2400 gunners, 96 cannon)

    Totals: 172 figures (34,400)

Prussian Corps - General Ludwig von Yorke
1 Line Infantry Division - 24 figures (4800)
2 Landwehr Divisions @ 24 figures - 48 figures (9600)
1 Heavy Cavalry Division - 12 figures 
Artillery Park - 4 figures, 1 gun (800 gunners, 32 cannon)

    Totals: 88 figures (17,600)

Austrian Detached Corps - Feldmarschall M. Kienmayer
Advanced Guard:
    Brigade Light Horse - 16 figures (3200)
    Brigade Freikorps/Landwehr - 18 figures (3,600)
3 Line Infantry Divisions @ 24 figures = 72 figures (14,400)
1 Cuirassier Division - 12 figures (2400)
Artillery park - 7 figures, 2 guns (1400 gunners, 56 cannon)

    Totals: 122 figures (24,400)

        Allied totals: 382 figures, 5 guns (76,400, 184 cannon)

The armies overall were very nearly equal in size, but with the French enjoying a considerable superiority in cavalry numbers; the Allies having the greater numbers of infantry and artillery - at least, once the Austrians were up.  

The pictures in the remainder of this post show the armies lined up: the Prussians just arriving upon the field; the Austrians not yet arrived. Each turn I would throw one die for the Austrians, whose army would arrive on table on a roll of '6'. As it transpired the Austrians arrived quite early on. For this battle I used my own Big Battles for Small Tables rule set. I invited Paul 'Jacko' Jackson to play one side; he chose the French.   

The final picture shows the battle well under way, the Russians advancing in the centre to seize Golynets village. The narrative will continue another time...

To be continued...

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Retreat from Smolensk - Action at Malenkovo

On the same day that Prince Eugene was being driven by a jubilant Austrian army from the area around Zonkovo, some miles to the east a detached force commanded by Marshal Davout was battling against a superior force of Russians. A Division of I Corps was stationed at a town called Ovritch close by the west bank of the river Slinsky. About a mile to the east of  the river, and on a parallel course, flowed a small stream Malinski, itself a quarter mile east of the village of Malenkovo. The French had installed in this place a small garrison of an infantry regiment, with a light cavalry regiment keeping watch and ward over the road east across the stream. In and around Ovritch, lay 2nd Division of I Corps, and further west still the main body of I Corps.

As stated in the previous posting, this action was an upscaled version of the #20 scenario, 'Taking the Initiative', from S. Asquith & C.S. Grant Scenarios for All Ages. This scenario I upscaled.  It still features a build-up from a clash of outposts to a regular battle.

(Note: The observant reader referring back through the above link will observe certain narrative inconsistencies.  As it would take too long to correct them, put it down to the usual histriographical inconsistencies and errors that crop up from time to time...)

The Forces engaged were:


I Corps
Commander: Marshal Davout
3 Infantry Divisions, each with 24 figures
1 Light Cavalry Brigade, with 12 figures
1 Dragoon Brigade (from VI Cavalry Corps), with 12 figures
I Corps Artillery Park: 4 figures, 1 cannon

Totals 100 figures and 1 gun representing a corps of 20,000 plus 32 cannon.


Commander: Admiral Tchitchigov
4 Infantry Divisions, each with 24 figures
1 Heavy Cavalry Brigade (cuirassiers), with 12 figures
1 Dragoon Brigade, 12 figures
1 Park: 4 figures, 1 cannon

Totals 124 figures and 1 gun, representing a corps of 24,800 plus 32 cannon

The action begins with a dragoon and two infantry regiments leading the Russian advance across the Malinski stream to attack the village.  The narrative will be taken up with the pictures.  I recommend using the slide show to follow the story. 

The result of this battle was an undoubted victory for the Russians, and something of a disaster for the French, driven pell-mell from the field with heavy losses.  Retreating to the northwest, Davout managed to link up with Eugene's army as they continued their withdrawal into Poland.  

Meanwhile, several tens of miles to the north, The emperor had interrupted his retreat not far west of Mogilev on the Dniepro River, turning to offer defiance to the pursuing Russian Army under General Prince Kutusov himself...

To be concluded...