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...


  1. You’ve got a decent sized battle going on there Ion. The battlefield (tabletop) looks nice and I trust all will go well for Kutuzov and the allies. Let’s hope the Cossacks (presumably far, far off-table) can cause further troubles on the French flanks and to their rear, adding to Napoleon’s woes. Of course, it is understandable why Boney would want to put a stop to the Russians constantly “snapping at his heels”.

    I like your map. It is well drawn and looks very reminiscent of the old maps from the likes of print magazines such as Lone Warrior or Battles For Wargamers (showing my age there). The map is impressive - I like your artistic style.

    I look forward to reading more and discovering the outcome of the battle.



    1. Thank you for your kind remarks, Geoff. Actually, my cartography is usually of a higher standard than this, but at least it's legible, and its purpose of course to help orient the reader.

      Apart from laying down a context for the battle, much of the background is also an attempt plausibly to explain the presence of Prussians and Austrians, and the absence of so many Russians. And the whole 'Retreat from Smolensk' series was intended as a species of prologue, or prequel, to the 1813 'War of the Nations' to take place in Germany. I'm thinking that there might be a parallel campaign in Belgium, probably with Marshal Brune commanding the French; and contingents from Britain, northwest German States and Prussia. Sort odf 'Hundred days' but without Napoleon.


  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    I love your battle reports … and this one looks like it is going to be a stonkingly good one! The sheer size of the armies you are fielding gives the impression of a large Napoleonic battle, and I am envious that I just don’t have the space to emulate it.

    I am looking forward to the next instalment …

    All the best,


    1. Bob -
      It is remarkable what one can 'fit' on a 6' by 4' table! It was a pretty ding-dong sort of affair, too.

      Mind you, using the PW Napoleonic set, one may stage even bigger battles with fewer figures. I had over 750 figures on this table; for my not-much-smaller Waterloo battle I reckon there wouldn't have been much more than a third of those numbers, on a table 2/3 the size.

      But I like now and then to go all 'Old School', just for the look of the thing...

  3. A very splendid sight, I look forward to the next instalment.

    1. Hi Paul -
      I think I took too many pictures! At any rate, the narrative IS in the pipeline - taking far more time than I anticipated.

  4. A splendid spectacle! I'm looking forward to the battle report. I'll be rooting for the French!

    1. Cheers, Mark -
      Is that because I was commanding the Allies? :-D We'll see how things transpired...

  5. A lovely looking game there for sure and look forward to reading the next instalment of the action.

    1. Hi Steve -
      Plenty of action in this one!

  6. Chiming in with more praise of the effort to prep and field a big game. Great set up and eye candy. Table thumper is our local term.

    1. pancerni -
      It was a fine action, all right, and quite a good 'fit' for the size of my table.