Saturday 27 August 2016

Seven Weeks War of 1866 150th anniversary game

This week (24 August) saw the 150th anniversary of the end of the Seven Weeks War in 1866 between Prussian and the North German Confederation against the Austro-Hungarians and their largely South German allied states. What better excuse to get my collection out on the table again for a fictitious, enjoyable and hopefully testing game for both sides? I was also keen to ensure that both sides stuck to the tactical doctrines of the time, even if that did mean the Austrians would be expected to form into attack columns and carry out frontal charges against the Needle Gun-wielding Prussians!

Joining me were Conrad (Cairns), Dave Jarvis and John the Red. Robbie was away in Grimsby for a refight of Ramilles and John was still unwell. Conrad and Dave actually volunteered to be the Austrians, so John and I took the army of dastardly Prussian automatons. The armies were pretty well balanced in terms of infantry but the Austrians had a clear 2:1advantage in cavalry (really useful.....not). The artillery were also evenly matched numerically, but  half of the Prussian guns were 12pdr smoothbores. Half of the Prussian artillery was also in their reserve and wouldn't be available until all the rest of the army had entered the game as the Prussians tended to keep their artillery reserve in the rear in 1866. To accommodate the exceptional accuracy of the Austrian artillery I allowed each gun to re-roll one miss each time it fired. I allowed the Needle Gun-armed Prussians 4 firing dice and they could re-roll any misses to represent the high rate of fire they were able to maintain. On reflection I perhaps should have only allowed this at close range. One 'Prussian' brigade was actually made up of a hotch-potch of troops from Brunswick, Lippe, Saxe-Coberg, Saxe-Alternberg and Anhalt who were not rated the same (i.e. quite as good) as the Prussians. The Austrian force included a brigade each of Saxons and Hessen-Darmstadters, the latter for no other reason than to make up the numbers.

The Saxon brigade deployed on the ridge. Their jager were to prove to be a nuisance to the Prussians for the entire battle, as were their two artillery batteries.
The Austrian light cavalry brigade, a regiment each of Dragoons and Hussars.
The Prussian advance guard enters the table through the town and moved rapidly towards the Austrian left flank.
The Prussian advance guard on the attack right from the outset of the game.
The weakly held Austrian left flank. Behind the river (which took half a move to cross) were just a single battalion of infantry in the village, a 4pdr battery and a battalion of jager in the wood. To be fair the fire from the gun and the jager did cause the Prussians to halt their advance for a little while.
The battlefield as the Prussians deploy onto the field. John has moved his allied brigade of various German states' troops onto the table. Conrad's Saxon jager gleefully shot the Brunswick battalion up so badly it had to retire and the Lippe battalion was pinned behind a wall, while the rest of the brigade made for the cover of the woods and dead ground behind the hill. 
An impressive site. The main Austrian force; six battalions of regular infantry supported by a battery of 4pdrs. One of the regiments (i.e. three battalions) were Italians so were classed as lower quality unenthusiastic troops.
The Prussian right closed with the Austrian left quickly and their fire soon kept the entire wing disordered and in a state of disarray.
Prussian hager trading shots with their Austrian counterparts. The Austrians got the worse of the exchange as they were taking fire from Needle Guns at close range.
The main Austrian force advancing off the ridge.

One Austrian regiment veered off to try and reach the safety of the sunken road in the centre.
More Prussians arrived on their right and immediately  pressed forward.
Three battalions of Austrians in close column charged our centre, held by battalions of North German troops. The one taking the brunt of the attack (Saxe-Alterberg) were not armed with Needle Guns and after a brief melee were pushed back in disorder. The Austrians followed this success up by driving off another supporting unit (Saxe-Coberg-Gotha) which they caught in column and also drove back. The Austrians looked like they had a chance to break through the Prussian centre.
Dave moved one of his reserve battalions forward to cover the arrival of the Hesse-Darmstadt brigade, led very cautiously by Hessian Sharpshooters.
Meanwhile the Prussian right had stormed the hill and driven off the Austrian jager and artillery. The Hessian sharpshooter battalion moved to counter the threat but they too were driven off.
The melee in the centre which took place in the woods.
The Hessians finally get on the table but remain in column of march as Dave didn't throw low enough for a third move which would have seen them deploy into line.
The Austrians gain the dubious safety of the sunken road.
The Prussians swarmed over the outnumbered Hessian sharpshooters on the hill with ease.
Conrad moved his light cavalry forward to support the Austrian troops battling in the centre.
The Hessians had to arrive in march column through a narrow defile.
The Austrian reserve cavalry; two regiments of cuirassier and one of uhlans.
More deadly to the Prussians was the Austrian reserve artillery, well they would have been if Dave hadn't masked their fire for two moves as he advanced and forced them to redeploy.
The fight in the centre continues with the Austrian locked in combat with the Saxe-Alternberg fusilier battalion.
The Saxons under Conrad on the ridge. Immobile.
Conrad tried several times to get the Saxons to advance but failed his command test each time!
At least the Saxon artillery continued to do damage to John's German's opposite.
The Prussians had some cavalry; a brigade of two regiments of dragoons.
And a mixed brigade of hussars and cuirassiers that blundered back off the table no sooner than had they arrived!
The village on the Austrian left and its isolated garrison is surrounded by the Prussians.
The Prussian right advancing.
More Prussians now in possession of the wooded hill on the Austrian left.
The Prussian cuirassiers eventually made a reappearance.
The Prussian commander and his staff.
A lull in the fighting allows this Brunswicker time for a picnic. Who said war is hell?
Meanwhile, John had formed his remaining German battalions into line to face the oncoming Austrians in the centre.
More importantly, the Prussian reserve artillery finally made it onto the battlefield right where they were needed, immediately facing the whole punched through the Prussian centre by Dave's assault.
A wounded Prussian is taken to the rear.
The colourfully impotent Austrian light cavalry being held back in readiness for a suicidal charge no doubt.
The Prussian dragoons passed a 'follow me' order and thundered over the river and into the flank of the leading Hessian march column. The Hessians were broken (of course) and the dragoons were poised to perform a sweeping advance when we realised that the Austrian brigades in the centre and on their left were both over their break points, and the Hessians were about to be rolled up back down through the ravine.

Conrad and Dave graciously conceded the game at that point and its safe to say that a good time was had by all. The Austrians very nearly broke though the Prussian centre but the destruction of their left and the refusal of the Saxons to move put them in an untenable position. We decided that their numerically superior cavalry would be able to cover the withdrawal of their army to fight another day.


Thursday 25 August 2016

Balkans interlude: A Crimean War game

If I start this piece by saying that the scenario was set up as a race against time for both sides. Would the Russians manage to defeat the numerically and qualitatively inferior Turks before they were reinforced? Or would the Turks hold the Russians up until their reinforcements (either more Turks, British or French) turned up? As it played out it was slightly (as in very) different as the Russians managed to bodge up their attack before either the Turks were beaten or were reinforced. The Russian attack was blunted and the attack collapsed quite rapidly as two brigades were broken and a third was largely off table due to a blunder, a truly sad day for the Russian bear! Robbie came up for the game. John had planned to have been there as well but he was not well.

Robbie's instructions as the Turkish commander (Rodd Pasha) were:

"You are besieging Russian forces in the Bulgarian town of Silislava. Due to storms and supply issues the Allied army has remained in and around Varna rather than continue with the planned investment and capture of Sevastopol in the Crimea. They are presently supporting the Turkish effort to drive the Russians back across the border. To the north of the ridge and entrenchment is the town of Silislava. To the south is the estuary of the River Vulasychytolova. West are your Allies and to the East is a Russian Corps attempting to relieve Silislava. You must not allow your troops to be driven off or to loose the entrenchment and the vitally important siege train."

Once the Russian attack commended Robbie threw a D6 each score each turn, an odd number resulting in a randomly decided reinforcement arriving either on the west road or on the ridge.

 The field of battle. The blue wall is north. We were fighting more-or-less down the length of the table for a change. Bad idea Colin. The Russians would enter either through the ravine, on a road to the right or the road on the eastern table edge.
 The main Turkish entrenchment. The garrison was a battalion of regular infantry and two siege guns manned by British Royal Artillery.
 One Russian brigade entered through the ravine and quickly got slowed down by the squeeze and poor command rolls and hovering Bashi-Bazouks who even dared a charge into the flank of one of the Russian columns as they moved into the wooded hills! They bounced of course but it was annoying and slowed me down.
 My Cossacks had driven off more Bashi-Bazouks, freeing up the road for the entry of my hussar brigade and a further brigade of infantry.
 My artillery slowly made an appearance and eventually the heavy batteries deployed on the slight rise (near the sheep). Unfortunately they were masked by my cavalry and infantry and unable to engage immediately. When they did it was largely ineffective. I had been banking on the Russian superiority in artillery (4 large batteries of two models each as Russian batteries had 12 cannon) and 16 battalions of Russian infantry being able to punch a hole through the Turkish line.
 Robbie's reinforcements were slow to appear (thankfully) and the first unit was a weak brigade of Turkish Reserve infantry. not very good. In the meantime Robbie had managed to bring both of his infantry brigades and two cavalry brigades up into line.
 The Turkish cavalry chanced their arms and attacked the Russian hussars and Cossacks but were driven back, although not without shaking one of my hussar regiments which was forced to withdraw. My Cossacks then advanced against the retreating Turks but were charged by a fresh unit and hit in the flank by another. Not surprisingly they were broken. I now had half of my cavalry out of action (I forgot almost to the end of the game that I had a brigade of two Ulan regiments to bring on, by which that time was not going to make any difference other than to say that at least my retreat would be covered.
 The main Russian gun line. This represents only half of my artillery as the other half of the brigade was stuck on the road on the other side of the village.
 The Russian corps commander (me) couldn't get anything right, even with the religious support. 
 In desperation I launched eight battalions of infantry against the Turkish line to attempt a breakthrough before the reinforcements arrived. By now there was also a regiment of French Chasseurs d'Afrique and a brigade of English infantry approaching so I needed to move fast. Sadly, the assault had some temporary success but overall failed as some good shooting by the Turks took the edge of the Russian columns and all of them were either broken or shaken within two turns.

So there you have it. The Russian defeat had taken barely 3 hours for me to engineer. To be fair the Turks put up a spirited and active defence, even the Bashi-Bazouks got into the action. Stars of the show were the Turkish cavalry who did excellent work slowing down my advance. Of course, IF half of my third brigade hadn't blundered off the table and IF I'd been able to get my massive artillery superiority into action sooner, and IF I'd not been so impetuous to launch my assault columns in frontal attacks on some pretty tough Turkish infantry supported by artillery then maybe the result would have been different. We shall never know. It was an enjoyable way to get my arse kicked by Johnny Turk and it was nice to see them do so well on the table again. I just need to do a little rebasing and organising and they will be up to scratch with the rest of my Crimean collection. I must also finish off my remaining Russians (a brigade of dragoons and some Naval infantry) to even the odds.

In terms of the rules Black Powder as always worked well. I make the regular Turkish infantry 'tough fighters' and the Russian infantry all have a stamina of 4 which I think reflects their ability to take a great deal of punishment.