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 To be absolutely honest, and because I am aware of the bigger picture in the campaign, I probably would have withdrawn the Austrians as quickly as possible, or not even made an attempt to sent reinforcements to Kinsky who could have been ordered to burn his baggage and stuff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 we 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 Colberg decided 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.

9 comments:

  1. Absolutely brilliant as always Colin. Your collection is a wonderful selection of great looking figures and the table always looks so perfect.

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  2. Cracking action and as always a lovely looking game.

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  3. Super looking game and AAR! your tech savvy and gaming energy should inspire many a lonely gamer.

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  4. A great way to spend a Saturday. Many thanks, Colin. Hard fought and nip and tuck. The rules mechanism for command and control proved a challenge for the players as did the scenario.

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  5. For sheer eye-candy, this can't be beat, and well done on coordinating the fracas via the ethertubes. Nicely done.

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  6. What a fantastic couple of battle reports! You've really encouraged me to crack on with my painting schedule and cheered me up a bit too. :-) Well done matey.

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  7. Great looking game and well managed by the sound of it despite the Internet ­čĹŹ

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