Monday, 7 September 2020

French Revolutionary Wars Campaign: Battle of Turcoing, Rearguard Action

 We gathered, via the wonders of technology, for the final phase in what had turned out to be a monumental campaign battle around the fortress city of Turcoing. Readers will be aware of the result of the main action (click  here  if you missed it) and of the narrative behind this phase of the battle as outlined  here.

I won’t repeat anything here (well, much) that’s already been written. Suffice to say that a mixed force of Prussians, Austrians and Bavarians was detached from the commands of FML Von Knobelsdorf and FZM von Kaunitz to hold a larger French corps under Generals Pichegru and Jourdan at bay while an attack by the French General Marceau-Desgraviers on their rear was dealt with. 

Numerically the infantry and artillery in both armies were pretty evenly matched, but somehow General Pichegru and Jourdan had collected between them the vast majority of the cavalry available to General Houchard’s Army of the North, which incidentally was marching to join them from Courtrai as fast as their weary legs could carry them, having withdrawn to the right bank of the Lys and removed their pontoon bridges. “First the Austrians, now the Prussians, and only then the English” to quote Houchard. This was a strategically sound plan. The French controlled all the crossing points over the River Lys south of Ghent, this preventing the English from interfering in operations on the right bank. The main Austrian army had been captured when Courtrai fell, so Knobelsdorf was now firmly in Houchard’s sights.

Anyway, I digress. The Coalition rearguard was under the command of the Prussian FML Prinz zu Baden, deployed in a thin line along a low ridge facing roughly North. By some quirk of fate the rearguard had been assigned the entire reserve artillery remaining to the Austrians in the campaign. The attacking French lost some time by deploying fully before attacking, but that didn't seem a critical issue at the start of the battle. The Coalition were given two turns of pre-game bombardment to allow for the fact that the French were deploying within range of their heavier artillery, but this proved to be pretty ineffective. Here are some photos of the game which will hopefully explain how the battle unfolded. Battle commenced at 2pm campaign time.

The French right wing cavalry moved in an arc to try and outflank the Coalition line.

Facing the French was a single regiment of Austrian Grenz Hussars.

The hussars charged the French heavy cavalry but predictably were beaten in the melee and forced to retreat. The French regiment did however take heavy casualties. A second regiment of French heavy cavalry then drove the Grenz from the field leaving the Coalition left flank open.

A close up of the Grenz Hussars specially at the request of one of my readers. Hinchliffe figures.
On the right the Prussian cavalry face the advancing French. The odds were pretty even so I don't know why the Prussians didn't dig their heels in and charge. Of course, what the Prussians didn't know was that several of the French cavalry were already carrying three, four or even five hits from earlier in the campaign.

On the Coalition right the Prussian cavalry brigade failed to move for the first two turns and then decided to pull back behind the infantry to avoid being swamped by the French cavalry. I wouldn't have done that but sadly I wasn't playing. The French 'Polish Legion d'Acronistique lancers' charged the Prussian 8th Hussars and broke them. 

The routing Prussian 8th Hussars, causing their brigade to falter and retreat away from the enemy.

In the centre the French were advancing en masse so the Prussian infantry brigade obliged by advancing to meet them. Meanwhile the French artillery had spent much of the game so far engaged in counter battery fire rather than taking aim at Prussian infantry arrayed before them in three lines! The counter battery fire was effective insofar that the Saxon 12pdr battery was left with only one strength point remaining (7 lost out of 8).

Meanwhile the Coalition artillery was sending ball and canister into the face of the advancing French, causing grievous losses and breaking one battalion. The Prussian artillery as usual caused more damage to itself than the enemy and also went low on ammo at a critical point of the game.

Back to the Coalition right their cavalry had retreated after their 'faltering' test. That left the Bavarians (lovely flags, nice uniforms, silly hat, not very good) facing a company of French horse guns and four regiments of French cavalry on their flank while a brigade of French infantry advanced on their front.  They hastily formed square.

The much battered Saxon artillery with a plethora of targets in the centre.

Another shot of the Bavarians facing a brigade of French infantry.

A long shot of the table, at approx 4pm campaign time.

The French left massing to attack the Bavarians. 

The French cavalry facing the Bavarians planned to launch a charge, aiming to hit the Coalition main battery in the flank. This would entail riding across the front of the Bavarian infantry. Meanwhile their horse artillery started causing casualties on the squares.

The Bavarian 'bloody angle'


The French cavalry charged the Bavarians, forcing another battalion into square but they failed to roll up the Coalition artillery, and the 3rd Hussars were broken in the process.

The main French assault as seen from the redoubt.

The French charged, with several battalions in support which ought to have helped. Sadly it didn't and the column was repulsed, as was a second attempt the following turn. The lesson here is that a steady fresh line ought to beat of even a well supported attack in columns with relative ease, which they did. This French brigade had by now lost four battalions in the attempted assault, but had each time passed its 'faltering' test with flying colours.

On the Coalition left the French were unable to make much progress with their infantry, due in part to becoming hesitant rather too often and also the effectiveness of the Austrian artillery facing them. They did however drive the Austrians out of the wood on the left and the hamlet in the centre of the table. At the edge of the photo is a Freikorps battalions (Wurmser), holding the village is the Carnville Legion, in line to the right of the guns is I/IR51 Graf Gabriel Splenyi while in the foreground are Grenz IR No 8.

The Austrian artillery.

Towards 5pm campaign time, after seven turns, the French centre had been shattered, with four battalions destroyed out of seven in one  brigade, which was demoralised after its failure to shift the Prussians. It was only on both flanks that the French had made any headway, not surprising given their unusual superiority in cavalry. The Coalition right was just holding, as was the centre,  but there were French cavalry, lots of it, ready to pounce on the Coalition left flank. However, Pichegru decided, probably wisely, that nothing was to be gained by continuing the attack as the Coalition rearguard had clearly done its job. Added to that the fact that most of the Armee du Nord’s cavalry were attached to Pichegru and Jourdan, they were both mindful that their mounted troops, which had already suffered heavy losses throughout the campaign, could not be squandered in further attacks. 

Pichegru ordered his division to pull back, covered by his cavalry, while Jourdan’s battered infantry did likewise. The latter’s cavalry did however harass the Austrian brigade on the left of the Coalition line as it withdrew, and even managed to cut off and capture two entire battalions of Freikorps, netting almost 1000 prisoners in the process. The remainder of the coalition forces, did not pursue and withdrew to rejoin the main army to their rear, covered by the splendid Prussian infantry that had almost single handedly stopped the French attack in its tracks. The Man of the Match Award went to II/IR 15 Garde for their ass-kicking performance in the last quarter of the engagement.

Losses were heavy for the French, in strength points they lost almost 25% of their total, and the Coalition were not far behind when their prisoners were added to the total. A very sanguine battle but a critical one for the Coalition to win. Had the French broken through, which was on the cards and certainly expected by the Coalition commanders, they would have arrived in the rear of the main Coalition force outside Turcoing whilst they were dispersed across the battlefield engaged in mopping up after their earlier crushing victory over the French. Also, if the French hadn't waited to deploy but launched themselves straight at the enemy they could have prevailed as their superiority in cavalry would have pinned the Coalition down while the infantry prepared to assault from the march. I reckon it would have been a risk worth taking but then I obviously see both sides of the campaign.

The Coalition and French armies will no doubt need time to recover from the battle on 18 September. I know I do!

Thanks to everyone for taking part, and to my wife Katherine for sorting out techie issues at the start. I do still like Gen d'Armee but am always open to trying new sets. Not for the duration of this campaign though as most players are comfortable with them and getting used to the nuances they contain. 


6 comments:

  1. An entertaining account of a remarkable battle. As young Mr Grace would say: “You’ve all done very well”
    Gen. Knobbelsdorff

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  2. Great looking table, I love the “I wouldn’t have done that comments”! It’s interesting also how the fog of war limited Allied knowledge of the weakness of the French cavalry.

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  3. Another cracking battle in a superbly well run campaign. Hats off to all involved.

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  4. Well done for your stamina Colin. Pity the French could not complete their winning streak in your campaign it might have given you a rest!

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  5. Entertaining and colourful, just what's needed amidst all this real world malarchy, thanks.

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  6. Splendid looking battle again 🙂

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