Sunday, 8 January 2017

Rearguard action at Muotatal: Suvarov's campaign in Switzerland October 1st 1799

A week after forcing the St Gothard pass and the action over the famous Devil's Bridge and then successfully containing the French at the action at Altdorf on  26 September Marshall Suvarov learned that the army of General Rimski-Korsakov had been decisively beaten at Zurich. After some debate as to what action to take in the light of this news Suvarov decided that his army would continue its march north east through Switzerland to join with the Austrian corps of GM Linken at Glarus, 50km away through a series of passes and defiles. Prince Rosenberg's corps of two divisions was ordered to delay the progress of the French west of the village of Muotatal to prevent them from interfer with the Russian withdrawal through the mountains. At the same time Massena became aware of the Russian army near Muotatal and ordered his forces to attack. The closest French troops were the division of General Mortier. On 30 September Mortiers  leading troops from the 108er Demi-brigade were roughly handled by the Russians. The following day Mortier brought up the remainder of his division, to contact and overwhelm the Russian rearguard. Well, that was the plan.....

The Muotatal River Valley is generally level ground, with several chokepoints, the first being where the steep and thickly wooded Zingelwald Heights meet the valley, and the second is where the wooded Rombach stream flows into the valley from the south. The valley floor was used for farming , orchards and grazing and was dotted with typical Swiss wood and stucco farms and walled fields.The swift-running Muotata stream was very difficult to cross and for this game can only be crossed at the bridges and ford. The lesser streams can be crossed by infantry but are too steeply banked for cavalry and artillery to get across. Fields, orchards and the lower slopes of the mountains are classed as difficult ground. The woods are thick  and can only be entered in skirmish order and only by infantry.

The troops are detailed below. We used Black Powder with the amendments I mentioned in the previous post.  This was a relatively small battle so I was able to use a 1:1 ratio for historical units present and those on the table. The terrain was as close as I could get it to the real valley.

Russian forces under General Prince Rosenberg(9)

Advance guard brigade Miloradovich (8): 1 btn of jager and 1 section of artillery
Main body Division Miloradovich under GM Mansurov (8): 6 btns of infantry
Division Forster (9): 6 btns of infantry, 1 of jager and 2 sections of artillery
Brigade Denisov (9)): 2 squadrons of mounted Cossacks and 1 unit of dismounted Cossacks

None of Suvorov's grenadier battalions were present at this engagement, as they were with Bagration's division and the main body breaking through the French in the army's path as it continued its advance, but as I don't quite have enough musketeer battalions I had to make do with what I had and substitute some grenadiers to make up the numbers.

French force under General Mortier (8)

Brigade Droet (8): 100th and 108th Demi-Brigades (6 btns), 1st Dragoons, 1 battery of artillery
Brigade Brunet (8): 50th and 53rd Demi Brigades (6 btns), 1 battery of artillery

All the French are classed as veteran ('Crack' in the rules) with the exception of the 108th Demi-Brigade.

My friend and recent convert Peter came down the hill on Saturday evening to refight this battle. We fought it down the length of the table, with Russians already deployed at three points down the valley, and the French entering from the southern table edge over the course of the first three moves either side of the big 'Alp' in the background on the photo above and on the road from the right leading to the bridge.
 The Russians deployed in three lines await the French attack.
 My newest regiment of two battalions in greatcoats. These are Eureka minis and not yet included on the catalogue. The flags are by the Flag Dude.
 The Russian second line.
 The Russian first line, a battalion of jager and a section of light artillery.
 The leading French troops arrive under Mortier. Peter didn't manage much in the way of a low enough command roll so both leading units were stuck in march column. The infantry battalion suffered for it and were shaken and disordered by fire from the jager and the light cannon.
 Peter then ordered his dragoons to charge the jager but they failed to get more than one move so were unable to change formation and charge to contact. Two more battalions of Mortier's command advanced and deployed to take the gun and jager in the flank.
 More French troops (three battalions and a gun) appeared around the back of the mountain, making use of a track through the craggy hillside. Obviously an attempt to outflank the Russians.
 I pushed my cossacks forward to slow down the French advance but got too close and were badly shot up by the leading French battalion. 
 The French horse artillery can just be seen in the lower right corner moving to deploy and enfilade the Russians. The remaining artillery deployed on the road but their fire, combined with that of the French infantry was enough to wipe out the Russian artillery in pretty short order.

 Peter pushed his infantry forward to avoid masking his guns. I made a 'follow me' order with my divisional commander and charged his infantry in the flank. I failed to break them and in the next turn was charged in my flank by the French. What followed was a long protracted melee where both sides were unable to break the other.
 More Russians from the second line being led forward by the CinC while the guns from the reserves deployed on the road.
 My CinC then managed another 'follow me' order and led a battalion into the flank of the French. Eventually, the French forced my original battalion to take a break test and it was forced to withdraw, but one of the French battalions was broken.
 Meanwhile the French horse artillery had deployed across the river and began taking ineffective pot shots at the Russian artillery, which returned equally ineffective fire.
 We polished off a couple of big bottles of Leffe Christmas Ale during the game. Very nice.
 Meanwhile my Cossack cavalry had been driven back but the dismounted Cossacks were being very annoying in the woods. Peter deployed two battalions to try and drive them off, but several bayonet charges failed to do anything other than force the Cossacks to evade.
 The Cossacks slowly pulling back.
 Other Cossacks are too busy looting one of the farms.

 The Russian third line didn't move at all during the game. Their commander had moved forward with the guns and the CinC was embroiled in a ferocious melee.
 The Russian second line is left leaderless as both the divisional commander and the CinC were tied up in combat.
 The Russian artillery deployed facing the French over the river.
 The Russians were facing a massed battery of French artillery in what was a very unequal confrontation.
At this point the French centre collapsed and no amount of exhorting by the CinC could get the remainder of the troops to move. Peter threw in the towel although the French were by no means totally defeated and now their artillery were in position they would have been able to concentrate their fire on the Russian infantry with impunity. Nevertheless it would have taken more time than we had left to play and the Russians had successfully delayed the French for 12 turns.

I can't say I enjoyed the game 100%, as the French tactics were wrong and played to the strengths of the Russians. The French artillery ought to have been brought up earlier to blast a way through the Russian infantry in order for their own infantry and cavalry to push forward towards the village. I don't give the Russians first fire and they only shoot with 2 dice as musketry wasn't their strongest point and Suvorov was very much an advocate of the bayonet. They are very tough in melee though, so need to be softened up before trying to beat them in hand to hand combat, which feels about right.

Anyway, I made a mistake with in the game which was unfavourable to the French as I forgot that the Russians were not stubborn as they had an extra point of stamina instead. This made a big difference and would have probably tipped the big confused melee in favour of the French, but its difficult sometimes keeping your opponent 'right', not letting them make too many mistakes, and after a couple of pints of 6.8% beer. I have therefore declared the game null and void.

On Tuesday I shall be relighting Minden in 15mm as Paul is bringing his collection along for what will be a large and no doubt challenging game. Finally, Peter is coming down again next Saturday for the next battle in the Swiss campaign. I hope I will get the rules right this time!


  1. Lovely looking figures. I am seriously tempted by this period.

  2. rarely seen to have played a Swiss campaign of Suvorov. Congratulations. Very entertaining game

  3. Another good looking game Colin. Enjoying following this project a lot.

  4. Colin,
    I would suggest that you let Peter be the Russian commander,any tactical mistakes he may make would be balanced against the quality of the Russian troops.

  5. Another fine looking game, Colin! I always enjoy your AAR and the photos of the armies in action.

  6. A splendid entry for the new year, great report and pics as usual. Look forward to next battle of the campaign very much.

  7. The game looks fun and sharp as well. I love the mountains!