Thursday, 4 June 2020

French Revolutionary Wars Campaign: Action at Stinkenhondendorp.

While a furious battle was being fought five miles south of Courtrai, another one was developing around two miles to the northeast of the Austrian position. Earlier in the day the Dutch had made a reappearance having spent the past seven days in Ghent. Still reeling after their defeat outside Menin on 1 September they managed to put together a scratch force to send to the aid of Coberg at Courtrai (and to their own Dutch garrison). They had departed Ghent on 7 September and by 9 September were a few miles from Courtrai, just in time to get drawn into the battle developing between the French and Austrians. As you know from earlier posts the Austrians had fended off an attempt by the French cavalry to encircle their small force, and  these reinforcements (led by Coberg in person) had cut their way through to go to the aid of the greatly outnumbered Kinsky. The Dutch were instructed to place themselves approximately two miles off  the flank of the main Austrian position to guard against a further outflanking move. This they duly did, albeit under observation from French light cavalry. However by 4pm were aware of a French force approaching from the southwest which without pause swung into a furious attack against their positions.

Jordan's force will enter within 18” either side of where the tri colour arrow is above. The Dutch are deployed anchored on the hamlet of Stinkenhondendorp, with all their cavalry facing the French left. The other battle is taking place approximately two table lengths to the SW. For anyone familiar with the layout of my home, that’s the distance between my games table and the island in the kitchen.
This is only a small action so I didn't want to waste a Saturday playing it, nor was the game really big enough for the usual five or six players, so in the end I briefed the commanders and requested detailed (or as detailed as they chose) instructions from both, and decided to play solo to get the game out of the way. What follows is an account of the action. It  was very easy to follow the instructions given to me.

In terms of troops involved, the Dutch fielded eight battalions, mostly of recruits due to their recent defeat and large proportion of replacements,  plus two of grenadiers, in three small brigades, two companies of 6pdrs, some Jager, and a brigade of four weak regiments of cavalry and dragoons that were still each carrying four hits from the battle on 1 September.  Jordan's slightly less weakened division was attacking with eight battalions of infantry  (two demi-brigades and two battalions of volunteers), two companies of foot artillery (8pdr and 4pdr), and the residue of his cavalry brigade in the shape of the Hussars du Mort and a company of 4pdr horse guns.  The whole was screened by the usual swarm of skirmishers. The missing units of his division (a further brigade of infantry and his heavy cavalry) were involved in the battle simultaneously taking place a couple of miles away.
W

Jourdan clearly had a weakness in cavalry so sent over half of his infantry across the stream to attack the left flank of the Dutch. Both foot companies deployed in the centre by Le Chien Humide Inn.  The horse guns and hussars wouldn't have stood a chance against even Dutch cavalry in those numbers so accompanied the right-hand infantry attack.

Jourdan had already been in action and when I tested to allocate his command ability he was classed as superior. The Dutch commander was on a minus 1 to start with for being Dutch and having suffered a defeat and resulted in being deemed to be a blockhead. {NB I test for CinC ability each time they are in action and adjust the score with modifiers based on their past record, giving a nod to preconceived national characteristics and way the person playing in character behaves for the purpose of the campaign narrative.  This explains why the Austrian Kinsky was hors de combat in the previous battle. Everyone has bad day.}


The Dutch line.

French artillery and the 83rd DB in the centre.
The 13th DB creeping past the wood.

The 13th race forward, on a 23” bonus + 9” normal ‘forwards’ move!
The 13th throw themselves at the Dutch left.
Meanwhile the 83rd  DB hesitate on the road. Thankfully for them the Dutch artillery fire is  rubbish!
After a hesitant start the Dutch cavalry advance, only to find the hedgerows too thick to cross.
The 13th charge the Dutch twice in succession. Neither of the Dutch stand. The Dutch fail a faltering test and retreat off the table.
This battalion of the 13th are halted and forced to retire.
The next turn the 13DB hit two battalions of the next Dutch brigade in the flank.  Being recruits they cannot turn to face and both are forced to retreat. Their brigade also fails a faltering brigade test and leaves the table.
A pretty conclusive victory but it has to be said that the French won the initiative every turn and made  excellent use of that significant advantage. They also carried out textbook column assaults against flaky enemy troops in line. The Dutch also threw the worst ever series of dice in memory.

Here is the after action report from Jourdan delivered in person to Houchard. [Ed. We have fact checked this report].

“General

I have the honour of presenting you with a total victory as I led my division into the teeth of enemy cannon. [Fact Check: Jourdan didn’t lead his men but spent the battle ‘directing’ his artillery in the centre]. Our forces have driven the Hollanders from the field in complete disarray in a matter of two hours! [Fact Check: combat began some time after 4pm and did not end until approaching 7pm, not including some mopping up and pursuit, so closer to three hours]The 13th DB supported by our cavalry and a battalion of volunteers, using the woods as cover and crossing the stream, charged the enemy left as soon as they were able while the 83 DB and our artillery held the centre. [Fact Check: the cavalry and the 83 DB actually failed to advance as ordered]. The first battalion of the 13th was forced to retreat in the face of enemy grapeshot but of the others, one charged the enemy line, which failed to stand. The battalion behind was also forced to retreat [Fact Check: they only retreated following a short but vicious melee], and the entire enemy brigade withdrew. The 13DB again took the initiative and charged two more enemy battalions, this time in the flank. Again, both battalions failed to stand and so another brigade was forced to retreat, abandoning their guns. [Fact Check: the gunners initially escaped with their cannon but were later forced to abandon them].

 Our artillery performed well, although the cavalry were at first unwilling to close with the enemy. [Fact Check: the French artillery’s performance was with the exception one particularly well laid salvo, below average, and the gunners played safe. The Hussars du Mort were so anxious NOT to suffer Mort that they hung back until the outcome was not in doubt]. The latter however did chase down the retreating enemy infantry and artillery, and were only forced to pull back when faced by large numbers of Dutch cavalry that was belatedly covering the retreat. Two small battalions of enemy grenadiers were unable to escape the field and, taking refuge in the hamlet of Stinkenhondendorp, were later forced to surrender. [Fact Check: The grenadiers actually had to force the French to take them into captivity rather than the way it has been reported. It was only when the French were looting the village that they even noticed the Dutch seeking refuge there].

The enemy cavalry were badly placed and unable to close with the 83rd DB due to the closeness of the terrain, and our skirmishers kept them at a distance, causing some casualties. [Fact Check: four very flakey and weakened cavalry regiments made up largely of recruits were little real danger to an entire Demi Brigade safe behind thick impenetrable  hedgerows]. Despite the best efforts of my men, the Dutch horsemen were able to cover the retreat of the remains of their infantry, but could not save the artillery nor the rearguard. [Fact Check: The Dutch cavalry effectively prevented an active pursuit, largely because there was in fact no pursuit!]

Apart from many prisoners, including a General of Brigade, we have captured 5 enemy colours and 12 cannon. [Fact Check: there were roughly 436 prisoners, of whom 407 were in the two weak grenadier battalions, the ‘general’ was actually a colonel and was badly wounded. The references to colours and cannon are correct]. The losses among my division were negligible. [Fact Check: True apart from one battalion of the 13DB that lost 50% casualties foolishly attacking a Dutch battery. The 83rd DB and the cavalry were barely close enough to the Dutch to get fired at, let alone take any casualties].

Vive la France!

Jourdan”

I can now finish off the admin for 9 September and send up to date strength returns to the various commanders before they decide upon their options for 10 September.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

French Revolutionary Wars Campaign Battle of Courtrai, Second Half.

On Saturday we picked up where we left off last week with this game. It had been building up into a decisive encounter for both sides. Could the outnumbered but largely superior forces hold off and critically damage enough French to force them to withdraw? Can the Coalition stave off defeat? Can the French win without crippling losses? These and other questions will hopefully answered in this post. To be absolutely honest, and because I am aware of the bigger picture in the campaign, I probably would have withdrawn the Austrians as quickly as possible, or not even made an attempt to sent reinforcements to Kinsky who could have been ordered to burn his baggage and stuff and leg it back to Courtrai. That, I knew, was never going to happen so there was going to be a cracking conclusion to the battle.

For a recap on where things were left last week, click [here], but to give a quick overview, an isolated and weak Austrian division had been caught by two very strong French ones from the front and the flank, with only a few reinforcements being available to the former. Rules General d’Armee. Comms via Skype and a fair wind.

I failed my GCE O Level Plate Spinning and Cat Herding exams in 1974 and never did get to resit the former.  I got a CSE Grade 1 in my Cat Herding resit. Years of working in the public sector gave me on-the-job experience of the latter as well! Consequently, I was rather busy facilitating the game and certainly missed a few key photo opportunities. The overall  number of photos are I hope sufficient to carry the narrative on in a way that makes sense to the reader.

We pick up at the 4.30pm turn. The Austrians behind the earthwork had fled. The French cavalry are poised to strike but the Austrian grenadiers are in position to stop any breakthrough.

French heavy cavalry charge! They ride this battalion down as it failed to form square.
Despite the carnage around them the Austrian gunners stood firm for a time but they soon reached their  maximum allowed losses and dispersed, abandoning their guns.
The French cavalry seen earlier in this position were driven off by Austrian artillery and effectively put out of the battle.
The Austrian heavy cavalry brigade of cuirassiers and uhlans ready to stop any French breakthrough.
The Austrian 6th brigade, formed from the shattered remnants of battalions formerly in Clerfeyt's and Kinsky's divisions. These are the final reserve!
Five crack battalions of Austrian grenadiers advance in the centre. A fine sight.
Pichegru ordered this battalion to cross the entrenchment and charge the enemy. They were in turn charged by Austrian cavalry who forced them into square. The cuirassier bounced by one factor!

Fate was on the side of the French as a double 6 resulted in a ‘Destiny’ roll. The Austrian cavalry commander was killed by a howitzer shell. His brigade became faltering as a result.

Pichegru ordered his troops to drive the Austrians out of the Western half of the village, which they did quickly.
Sadly at that moment the isolated French battalion broke due to excessive losses. Pichegru’s lead division were to fail their faltering test and retreat. This wasn’t too bad as it cleared the way for more fresh Frenchmen to advance.
Souham ordered his regulars to continue their advance but the brigade fell back after loosing another battalion and failing a faltering brigade test.  The abandoned Austrian cannon can be seen in the now empty redoubt.

Confusion behind the lines as Pichegru’s retreating brigade almost hit Souham's other brigade trying to negotiate the wood and village and get into the fight.  Pichegru’s brigade was still faltering but managed to rally.
Pichegru ordered his light cavalry to advance towards the enemy, all the while under artillery fire from the redoubt and a large battery in the middle of the Austrian line.
Gridlock behind the Austrian front, as their cavalry are unable to find the space to take advantage of their superior quality and numbers.

Meanwhile in the Austrian camp there is still no sign of Kinsky, who clearly must be  still rather unwell. 
Souham’s heavy cavalry charge the rear of an Austrian grenadier battalion, which breaks.
They follow up into the rear of another battalion of grenadiers who miraculously. beat off the  French!  Clearly their superior discipline enabled them to form rallying knots and force the French to pull back. 
The 23rd Cavalry have been forced to retire after their mad charge, leaving the 2nd Carabiniers ready to  launch themselves into the masses of Austrians to their front. In the distance by the redoubt the Austrian Cuirassier can be seen defeating a regiment of French Chasseurs a Cheval.
The Austrians were still crushed together and unable to manoeuvre properly in the confined space. That seemed quite reasonable and fair under the circumstances.

Utter confusion reigns in the centre.
Pichegru launches another attack by his regular battalions of ‘les Blanca’ this keeping the pressure on the Austrians. Another grenadier battalion is shattered but not quite broken.
The French light cavalry in the centre is blown and has suffered heavy losses in the battle so far, with little respite from aAustrian artillery in the redoubt and another off to the left.
Yet another brigade from Pichegru’s division joins the battle. This was made up of National Guards, a Batavian Legion and  Levee en Masse battalions who had taken ages to get to the battlefield.
Pichegru’s rallied brigade begins to advance again.

Complete air superiority has been won by the French. As Houchard wrote, “the Aerostatier Corps told me me had it. I didn’t know what it meant but it sounded good.”
A general advance by Souham’s division.

The Austrian centre held by two batteries of cannon and cavalry still capable of spoiling the outcome for the French.
The Austrian camp. A potential prize for the French was the bridging train seen here.
Kinsky finally makes an appearance with his drinking buddies and lady friends.
The Austrian centre at the point when Colbert d3cided to withdraw.
The largely untouched Austrian Cuirassier and Uhlans were to play a major part  in covering the retreat of the battered army.
So that was it. The battle started in the early afternoon, 1pm Campaign time, and closed as night was beginning to fall around 7pm although it wouldn’t be sunset until 8pm. I played out the extraction of the Austrians, which they managed masterfully although the cost of another battery of 12pdrs and three battalions of grenadiers who covered the retreat and a battalion of line infantry who were cut off. They also lost the camp, the bridging train and Kinsky was captured. The Austrians made it back to the safety of Courtrai in a sorry state with many units bearing heavy losses. Coberg had thoughtfully ordered two light cavalry brigades to support his force,  but they only arrived in time to assist in covering the retreat and this at least prevented the withdrawal turning into a rout.

The French had pulled off a well deserved (the planning carried out to get to this stage was impressive) if costly victory, but the Austrians had held on for 13 turns. Luck had indeed been on the side of the big battalions as they had been able to soak up quite a bit of damage during the battle, but the more flexible French, with more ADCs to play with, were able to swamp the Austrians with a numerical advantage of three to one in infantry and almost two to one in cavalry. It being a campaign, the boot could have been on the other foot regarding numbers available, but that’s where we found ourselves at the start of the battle.

The French have immediately to attend to a fracas two miles to the northeast, where a division of Dutch have been covering the flank of their force engaged in this battle. Most of Jourdan’s division was marching around the flank of the battlefield when it bumped into this Dutch covering force at around 4.30pm campaign time. With no reinforcements likely while the main battle was in full flow, Jourdan did what any self respecting French general would do and launched an immediate attack. This will be played out solo and by email next week as there are only a couple of players and few troops engaged. I also need a rest.

Back to the main event, the Austrians have pulled back to Courtrai to lick their wounds. The French have pursued, but not too closely due to a lack of fresh cavalry. Whatever else the campaign has proved challenging and provided some cracking games.

The technology. I was grateful for the assistance of my dear wife Katherine in setting this game up. I already owned a webcam and had bought another, but for whatever reason we ended up using one fixed webcam, a fixed wireless tablet and a roving wireless tablet. I had an earpiece and a microphone. There were a few hiccups but in the end the biggest issue wasn’t the hardware, the software (I used ManyCam and Skype through my Mac) or even the competence of the players and me in using the kit. It was the ability of t’internet to cope with so much activity mid afternoon on both Saturdays when everyone and their dogs were downloading movies to watch that evening. In Middlesbrough and Newcastle that certainly impacted on the game as the internet occasionally dropped off, and that buggered up the wireless connections we had between the various bits of kit in The Burrow. In fact for quite a few turns from 3pm onwards the players could only see stuff on the fixed webcam so relied on me to report on what was going on, much in the way an ADC might do in a real battle. As a means of accidentally creating the fog of war it worked well and everyone said it didn’t detract from the game but added to it. The players were all in agreement that the game had been completely absorbing and exhausting, as well as frustrating (hehehehehe). I thoroughly enjoyed the game, the second half more than the first. A great way to spend two Saturdays in lockdown.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Wargames Atlantic Plastic 28mm Afghan Tribesmen

When this package arrived today my usual comment of "I have absolutely no idea what it could be " was entirely true. I'd completely forgotten that way back whenever I'd pre-ordered a box as I thought I could use them to expand my Sikh Wars collection into Afghanistan proper as well as for the 2nd Sikh War.



First impressions based on the box art were good. The option to make 40 figures was and is a big attraction even if I have moved on from 1840s India, for the present.......

Once inside the box, there are eight identical hard plastic sprues, each with five legs and torsos cast as a single piece. Each sprue  also has 13 different heads and enough pairs of arms and weapons to arm each tribesman with either a jezail, a Martini Henry or sword and shield. So, 40 men with jezail, 40 with Martini Henry, 40 swordsmen, or any combination thereof. Unless I’ve missed them, the only absentees I would comment on is an option for command figures, but that’s not a weakness of the set at all in my opinion as it suits my needs. It is providing a cheap way of bulking up my existing forces and I probably have some spare chieftains and flag bearers in my bits box to recruit.

I’ve not had the chance to stick any of the figures together yet due to commitments in other periods at the moment but I’m sure I shall see a return to to the Indian sub-continent by the end of the summer.

Overall then, although I’m not a fan of hard plastic figures that require assembling if only because I normally have better things to do with my time than sticking my fingers together, I do think these are an excellent set. Now, I wonder what the Perry set will be like?

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

French Revolutionary Wars Campaign battle technology update


Some of the participants in the game, as seen through Skype. General Pichegru has even set the background to show a portrait of the man himself.
Yet another player, and the view from the pan-cam showing the entire battlefield. There’s another pan-cam looking down the table from left to right and the iPad on the table is the roving camera for close ups. I am getting to like the idea of limiting players to a restricted view of the tabletop. It makes it more of a challenge for them but it does mean that the minutae of tactics etc at battalion level or taken care of by the facilitator.


Monday, 25 May 2020

French Revolutionary Wars Campaign. The Battle of Courtrai

Following on from the previous post the Burrow reopened for business on Saturday, albeit through the use of technology, in order to play out a campaign battle that needed to be resolved so we could move on. The French (and for the benefit of the Emigre player,  I mean the Armies of the French Republic and not the French Emigres, who, although French as well, will be referred to as Emigres).  What follows is a suitably sanitised/censored account of the scenario and the battle, as I don’t wish to let slip too many, or even any, secrets relating to the campaign in general. That I leave up to the players. You know who you are.

Austrian positions in blue, French under Souham in red. The french will also arrive from the south under Pichegru while Colberg will enter from the north.
Several days have passed since the battles at Hondschoote on 4 September (here) and Bissinghem/Menin on 5 September (here) as well as the lifting of the siege of Dunkirk by the Anglo-Hanoverians. In campaign time it is now 9 September 1793. The armies of both sides have been blooded and so far, despite their successes on the battlefield and the capture of Menin and Ypres, strategically the well thought out and boldly executed French plans have fallen just short of their objective of destroying the Coalition forces in the Austrian Netherlands. This is due largely to Coalition players really getting into character, some very fortunate troop movements that so far have just managed to foil the French 'grand plan', and some even more fortunate extreme random event dice scores rolled by me (which I can’t share just yet).

So. The Austrians and Emigres are in and around Courtrai. The Emigres are out of it for the time being after their crushing defeat on 5 September. Austrian losses on that day were also heavy when considering the few numbers of troops engaged. An isolated Corps under Kinsky is entrenched four miles south of Courtrai on the east of the River Lys. Houchard ordered the division of General Souham to attack Kinsky from the East while Pichegru  attacked from the South. Souham’s light cavalry were to cut the line of communication between Kinsky and Courtrai thus preventing a retreat and/or reinforcements from arriving.

That was the plan. It worked to a point insofar that the French light cavalry did indeed try to slow the advance of the Austrian reinforcements which fortuitously Colberg had standing to ready to move on either bank of the river. However the French were attacked by a brigade of cuirassiers and uhlans that had been detached from Kinsky’s command specifically to keep the route open. The French hussars gamely tried to put up a fight but were outclassed and routed. Two regiments fled and the remaining two wisely pulled back. Job done, the Austrian cavalry returned to Kinsky's beleaguered division, followed up by the reinforcements led by Colberg.

Souham's heavy cavalry brigade. The only decent cavalry in the entire Armée du Nord. The 8th Cavalry suffered heavily from Austrian artillery fire until it decided to withdraw out of range while it had the choice.
Souham's 2nd infantry brigade were advancing very slowly towards the Austrians, and barely made it past the hedgerow just visible on the right. The Representative of the People may well be having words.
Souham's 1st brigade advanced much more briskly towards the Austrians lining the road.
Colberg arrived with the heavy cavalry and the Army Reserve Brigade of grenadiers just in time to to take the pressure off Kinsky's worn troops.
The I/KundK IR No. 2 holding the entrenchments facing south supported by a battery in a redoubt. The II btn. of the  IR No 2 is out of shot to the right. The French cavalry seen in the background took heavy losses from this battery, and another off to the right, while the infantry battalion shown here was under fire from a battery of French 12pdrs.

Pichegru's infantry charged the wood on the left of the village, driving out the Austrian jager holding it who took refuge in the village. Then another French battalion charged and drove the jager out of the eastern half of the town. The other half was held by battalion of Austrians.

The French broke through the Austrian defence when the battalion referred to  earlier  failed to stand when facing a charge. The Austrians lost a casualty in the retreat which took them to their dispersal point so they were removed from play. Pichegru order his victorious infantry to follow up, but they fell short of their next target and themselves became a target for a battery of Austrian 12pdrs and then a charge by the Austrian cuirassier. The French were unable to form square but in the charge response phase threw very high while the Austrians threw very low. The result was that the cuirassiers failed to make contact and withdrew. Not good.
Souham's 1st brigade was made up of several battalions of 'les blancs', regiments from the Ancien Regime  now fighting for the Republic in the defence of France. The leading battalion broke through the Austrians holding the road who were forced to retreat. The big puff of smoke marks where as a result of one of several 'destiny' rolls from Souham the nearest enemy brigadier was hit by a stray shell and killed. That the brigade then passed its faltering test must have been a blessing to the Austrians and annoying to the French. One of Pichegru's brigade commanders met a similar fate, but again his troops were unaffected.
Seen from behind the Austrian positions, the grenadier brigade is slowly shaking out into a line to block the two gaps in their line. Behind is a scratch brigade, newly formed from damaged battalions from the battlefield on 5 September.

By this time we'd been at it for nearly six hours and not quite got to a definite conclusion. There was still everything to play for as the French and Austrians still had large numbers of uncommitted troops. Everyone's keen to carry on next Saturday. I was very happy with that idea as (a) I was becoming knackered and my damaged back was really starting to hurt, (b) its quite an effort to move all the troops for everybody and follow their instructions and also umpire/facilitate the game and (c) the technology was starting to fail due to a weak internet signal from around 3pm.

I'm going to send all the players photos of the battle as seen from their perspective as well as (more importantly) casualty returns for each of their units as some were getting pretty close to the wire.

If anyone is interested, aided by my techno-wizard wife, we created a pretty good setup. One webcam provided a panoramic view of the table from the North side. Another (an iPad connecting via WiFi) did the same looking down the table from the East. Finally I had another iPad operating as a roving camera for close ups and so forth. I hadn't thought of using iPads as cameras, especially as this method meant there were no cables for me to fall over, but with the right software it all worked out pretty well until we 'lost' the roving camera.