Friday, September 11, 2009

1813 Campaign: Battle of Bayreuth

I've been somewhat busy at work lately and I haven't been able to update the blog or, especially, our Napoleonic campaign (damned career keeps getting in the way of my hobby....must realign the priorities!).

Turn 6 in the campaign has come and gone and another battle was fought, this time between elements of the Army of Bohemia and le Grande Armee (sud). Napoleon had pushed his 4e Corps d'Armee into the mountains in northern Bavaria to, it seems, secure the northern flank of his push into Bohemia and Prague. General de Division Bertrand, commander of 4e Corps, had followed the Emperor's orders and was confronted at Bayreuth by an advancing enemy force made up of the entirety of II Prussian Corps, commanded by General-Leutnant von Bulow. This Prussian move had been ordered by Prince Schwarzenberg in order to discover any French presence near Bayreuth (seems they found it!).

The campaign map: Bayreuth is on the eastern end of the map, north-west of Prague.

Not only did Bulow find an enemy presence but immediately resolved to attack the French as they moved on Bayreuth. Bertrand's cavalry patrols, more numerous than the Prussians, discovered von Bulow's movements and Bertrand was able to maneuver his divisions to effect a flanking movement on the unsuspecting Prussians. As the game began, the Prussians were on the defensive in response to Bertrand's flank surprise.

French Army
CinC: General de Division Bertrand

4e Corps d'Armee (Bertand)
  • 31e Division (Berg)
  • 35e Division (Berg)
  • 39e Division (Hesse-Darmstadt)
  • Cavalerie Division (Berg/Hesse-Darmstadt)
Part of the cavalry division of 4e Corps: Berg and Hesse-Darmstadt light cavalry). Front Rank figures from the collection of Andy Lunny, painted by Steve Thompson.

Allied Army
CinC: General-Leutnant von Bulow

II Prussian Corps (von Bulow)
  • 1st Brigade (infantry)
  • 2nd Brigade (infantry)
  • 3rd Brigade (cavalry)
Bayreuth Garrison (1 Garrison Point)

The Prussian commander decided to deploy with his right flank anchored on the dominating hill and town, occupied by the resident garrison troops. The French deployed to face the town and their flanking forces, one division of infantry and the light cavalry division, moved to hit the Prussian right flank. The French deployment seemed, at first, to be a little disjointed with such a large gap between the two wings of the corps. But the first French moves showed that the initial deployment before the hill and town was only a ruse to pin the Prussian left flank. Bertrand immediately began moving the two infantry divisions facing the town laterally towards the flanking force.

As the French were making their lateral movement, the Prussian commander saw an opportunity and began moving his cavalry and left-most infantry division forward to try and interdict the French move. Initially, this movement proved successful. Bertrand's infantry divisions moving across the front of the town and hill were pinned by the rapid Prussian cavalry movement. The future looked bleak for the French infantry, especially the right-most division. At this moment, the Prussian cavalry commander was felled and the impetus of the attack stalled. This proved to be the pivotal moment of the battle. The French were able to recover and continue the movement to link up with their flanking comrades. Meanwhile, part of the French cavalry division on the flank moved to the north of the hill to attempt to counter the Prussian cavalry. They arrived just as the Prussian commander went down and were able to push back the confused Prussian cavalry.

Once the impetus had left the Prussian attack, the French were bale to quickly recover and continue their attack. The combined arms of the French made the Prussian response static (the Prussian cavalry had been made practically useless with the loss of their commander and the interdiction of the French light cavalry). Von Bulow saw the writing on the wall and resolved to pull his already battered corps from the field. Unfortunately, his force was becoming more and more confused and the orders did not reach all. Most units, to their honour, stood resolutely in the face of increasing French pressure. Eventually, the Prussians fled from field, but not after causing some heavy casualties on the French as well.

The German cavalry of 4e Corps again, with accompanying horse artillery.

Tactically, the Prussian player played the game well, daring to move out against the initial French lateral movement in front of the town and hill. If his cavalry commander had not been killed at the most important point of the attack, the game would have been markedly different. But these are the moments upon which the fates of nations ride!

In campaign terms, the Prussians suffered a Decisive Loss and lost 35 National Will Points and French gained six NWPs. This is not the worst result (that being a Crushing Loss), mainly because the Prussians were able to inflict a fair number of casualties on the French to mitigate the final result somewhat. Perhaps the worst part of the loss for the Prussians is that five units were destroyed and removed from II Prussian Corps order of battle. There is a mechanism for their replacement but it is dependant upon a number of factors and is definitely not a reliable source of reinforcement. For the time-being, II Prussian Corps is severely mauled and has received some heavy negative modifiers (it also suffered from the pursuit, since its cavalry contingent had been knocked about severely).

You can see the entire battle report and OBs (and the campaign rules) here.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Spanish Buildings

While at Historicon this summer, I picked up a few Spanish-style buildings from Brigade Games for our Carlist Wars project. Of course, these will work equally-well for my Napoleonic collection (and my slowly growing Spanish army). The buildings are made of familiar yellow-ish resin and are well-cast with only very minor imperfections, such as tiny air bubbles. When they came out of the bags they smelled quite strongly of moth balls but most of this was done away with by a good scrub in dish soap. This, of course is normal procedure anyway to rid the pieces of any mold-release agents and oils from my hands, while scraping them. There was, in fact, little scraping to do to make the pieces fit together. Inevitably with resin castings, there are going to be areas that don't fit snugly, and these models are no exception. A quick scrape and carve, especially along the long joints of the walls does the trick nicely. I used No More Nails to glue the pieces together and LePage's wood filler to close the gaps. The bases are cut from 1/8" MDF with a jig-saw, with the edges sanded to get rid of the sharp edges.

I design my bases to hold four 50mm x 50mm figure bases, since my entire Napoleonic collection is mounted on these. When we use Field of Battle rules, one unit may occupy a structure (meant to represent a built up area, city block, or building complex), and having bases that each neatly fit one unit eliminates any ambiguities about what is and isn't in the buildings. The models were glued to the bases with No More Nails. I plan to add extra walls and fences to the bases to add some variety and chronicle the progress here. For the time-being, here are some shots of the basic models glued to the bases.

This is a small stable with removable roof. The wooden doors are cast as separate pieces and will be painted apart for easy access then glued in later. I plan to add some cobblestones to the yard and fences to surround it.

A small house or shack, again with a removable roof. I haven't decided what to add to the base but probably some combination of walls and fences.

Another small house, this time two-story with removable roof. This one will receive a high wall to surround the yard.
This will be the centerpiece of my little Spanish village. The building itself is two stories, although I made only the lower roof removable. The wall sections come as a separate pack. Unfortunately, Brigade Games was out of the gate section at Historicon so I plan to scratchbuild a gate to the yard. The joins between the wall sections (at the corners) will also receive a filler post of some sort.

This is the beast I eventually want to purchase from Brigade Games. How cool will this be in skirmish games?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sharp Practice: first game

Vidal and I were able to play our first Sharp Practice game last night with our growing Carlist Wars collections. We've been furiously painting for the last few months (well, furious for us) and decided it was about time to get the figures on the table. Unfortunately, our stock of Spanish-style terrain is severely limited but this will be corrected shortly. I picked up several Spanish buildings from Brigade Games at Historicon. I plan to chronicle the building and basing of these buildings here....eventually! Anyway, back to the game.

This was a first attempt with Sharp Practice so we weren't too concerned with context for the scenario. In a nutshell, a local parish priest in Carlist territory had learned that a government force was on its way and he decided to remove any valuables from the church before their arrival. To protect his mule train, the priest called upon the local Carlist commander, Mayor Juan Armas da Montanna and his able subordinate Capitan Enrico "Grande Pistole" Silva, for protection. In basic terms, there is a small parish church away from which a mule train is scurrying (maybe not the best descriptor) under the protection of a small Carlist force. A larger Cristino force, commanded by Teniente Coronel Alfredo Salazar del Pene Grande, is moving on the village with the intention of capturing the booty.

Before we began, we rolled for the different Big Men qualities. In Sharp Practice, the events of the battle and its narrative are driven primarily by these Big Men (variously referred to as heroes and villains). From Sharp practice, by Richard Clarke of Too Fat Lardies:

"The central premise of the rules is that success on the battlefield is generally down to the leadership of a small band of men, of all ranks and social stations, who drive other less dynamic souls forward to achieve their goals. It is these Big Men and their actions that stand tall in the pages of military history...."

Big Men have a variety of characteristics that are rolled for in various ways. Many of these characteristics have little impact on a straightforward tabletop battle unless the context is defined beforehand. For instance, if a simple attack-defend scenario is what's on offer, a Big Man's propensity for avarice or his personality trait of "ladies man" probably won't come into play. But if there were a small band of intrepid British riflemen detailed to rescue a Spanish Contessa from a remote hacienda while holding off a marauding band of Frenchman from looting the local church, a Big Man's propensity for entertaining women at the most inopportune times may come into play. A junior NCO's avaricious nature may cause him to pocket a few valuables from the church before the French arrive while his commanding officer is wooing the noble lady. This may, of course, anger the locals and bring the wrath of the local guerilleros down upon them all.

We decided to record the characteristics of our big men and carry them forward into other games, ala Dungeons & Dragons. We haven't yet decided how this will affect future games but this approach will, at the very least, provide extra context for our games (thanks Vidal, for that most excellent idea!). I can now follow my artillery sargento primero, who projects the appearance of a good-looking and strapping "cock o' the walk" (SP term...really). While his outward appearance and actions cause his men to love him dearly, he also has a less attractive side. Underneath that accomplished mask lies the heart of a greedy thief who will stop at nothing, including a lady's virtue, to enrich himself. And he has one particular aspect to his character and life that is unknown to anyone, and which he guards strenuously, especially from his commanding officer: he is the younger son of a prince of the realm!

You can see a Big Man Characteristics Sheet below (this one for my most senior officer at the moment):

As for the game, the Carlist infantry was able to hold back the superior numbers of the Cristinos and allow the mule train to escape the area with the church's valuables. Notable incidents saw a Cristino Big Man badly wounded while leading a unit of Marine Infantry into the village. After taking some serious casualties, the Marines were forced to move back to relative safety leaving the teniente primo (first lieutenant) behind! While it may seem odd that the marines did not even try to drag their leader back with them, the fact that he is sickly little twit, universally detested for his high-born manners, explains their lack of desire to put themselves at risk to save him. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the teniente survived and is now resting comfortably in a local abbey, nursing his wound. The marines, however, may not be happy to learn that he will soon rejoin the regiment!

In the churchyard, a band of Carlist skirmishers was holding off the fire of two Cristino guns posted on a nearby hill and the attention of a unit of Provincial Guard Grenadiers. Their stalling action allowed the wagons of valuables to safely leave the churchyard but eventually the Guard commander grew tired of their intransigence and ordered a charge on the walled enclosure. Overwhelming numbers and the presence of a Big Man with the Guards drove the Carlist skirmishers back from the church with serious casualties. Lesson learned? Have a Big Man in the Fisticuffs, if possible! These guys can make a tremendous difference to events, just as Richard Clarke notes above.

Some photos below of the action.

An overview of our obviously inadequate Spanish terrain. This will improve soon with the addition of appropriate buildings etc. I'm usually not a big fan of having charts and rules on the table during a game but since this was a first run-through of the rules, I don't think either of us minded.

Cristino infantry column with a screen of skirmishers moves towards the village.

Cristino marine infantry in column.

The Grenaderos de la Guardia Real Provincial moving forward with foot artillery struggling to keep up with their gun.

Carlist infantry defending the churchyard.

The game was quite fun and the rules easy to pick up. We'll definitely be doing this again! Maybe my Teniente Coronel can find a woman to marry who will satisfy the ambitions of his stern and officious father, the General!