Tuesday 10 September 2019

The French campaign in Alsace Oct-Dec 1793: Part 1

John came over for a game on Monday evening, and with two further all day multi-player games already planned for later in the month I reckoned I'd try and link all the games in a 'mini-campaign' of sorts while still keeping the historical context for the battles which historically took place in the last half of December 1783.

I'll very briefly give the background to the campaign below together with an account of last night's clash and come back to the campaign mechanisms in a later post (i.e. when I've sorted them out). As usual we used tried and tested Black Powder 2 with some appropriate amendments and house rules to better reflect the early years of the French Revolution.

The Background (with links to Wikipedia): 

The Austrian victory under Wurmser in the First Battle of Wissembourg threatened to overrun the territory of Alsace . Lazare Hoche assumed command of the Army of the Moselle and attacked the Prussian army in the battle of Kaiserslauten, but was defeated. The Prussians did not follow this victory up and the French took advantage of this and the lack of cooperation between the Prussians and their Austrian allies. Hoche sent 12,000 troops (two divisions) under General Tapponier through the Palatine Forest to attack Wurmser's right flank at Froeschwiller. On 22 December, Hoche launched a successful assault with five divisions while Pichegru's Army of the Rhine attacked Wurmser from the south. The Second Battle of Wissembourg on 25–26 December would decide the fate of Alsace. Much more detail can be found here.

First clash at the Bois de Marienthal, 13 December 1793:

from Via Victis magazine No 141
A precursor to the more significant battles of Hagenau, Froschweiller and Wissembourg, this wasn't a significant engagement but the small numbers involved and the difficult terrain would I thought lend themselves to an interesting evening game, and a challenge for the French certainly. Two divisions of Lazare Hoche's Armée of the Moselle under the overall command of General Traponier are advancing north towards Hagenau and the Coalition army, General Ferino's division in the lead. A strong detachment of Austrians are holding a not very well thought out position north of the Bois de Marienthal. The Austrians are outnumbered but do have cavalry while the French have none. The French are a mixture of ex-regulars and volunteers of varying degrees of quality and enthusiasm, supported by a single battery of light cannon. As usual, Jean le Rouge took the French and I had the dubious pleasure of commanding the 'Kaiserlichs'. The French enter in dribs and drabs through Weitbruch on the right.

The table at the start. North is the left.
The main line of Austrian defenders.
The French advance guard.
John quickly pushed his advance guard through the woods and began skirmishing with the Austrians deployed in line  outside its northern edge.
An entrenched Austrian battery.
The leading French brigade arrived, with one battalion forming square due to the presence in the far distance of some Austrian hussars.
The French advance was plagued by a number of blunders, some odd manoeuvring that masked their guns and a forgetful commander who didn't order two units of skirmishers onto the table.
The Austrians were taking casualties but so were the French skirmishers. Attempts by me to get the Austrians to launch a bayonet charge to clear the woods fell on deaf (lead) ears.
Austrian hussars on my left wing advance around the woods to outflank the French. 
John decided to ignore his right and pushed almost everything up the left flank, regulars to the fore.
I can never resist the opportunity to charge infantry in line. Sadly we allow some regulars the option of NOT forming square if both their flanks are secure, as was the case here. My hussars were disordered by closing fire and then were unable to break through and forced to retreat shaken. The other unit of hussars were then shot at and forced to retreat shaken and disordered.
Orders finally got through to my light troops, the O'Donell Freikorps, that had been posted in the   eastern half of the Bois de Marienthal.
The other two regiments of Austrian hussars completed their circumnavigation of the wood and came face-to-face with a battalion of regulars deployed waiting for them. 
Predictably I ordered my hussars to charge but they fell short and were to fall victim to French musketry which saw them off. The Austrian hussars were all now shaken and the brigade was forced to retreat off the table.
French columns blundering through the woods.
The French left.
The Austrian artillery poured a wholly ineffective barrage of shot i to the woods to very little effect.
Ooops! One of my battalions breaks after taking fire from the woods and from an artillery battery.
Luckily (?) there was a reserve, hastily redeployed from the other side of the town.
There's something moving in the wood. Also you can see where the commander of my cavalry was shot dead by the French while trying to lead a gallant charge.
The O'Donnel Freikorps attacked the French light infantry but were unable to dislodge them, an attempted charge being ignominiously refused by the FrK.
Austrian artillery from the extreme left deploy in the centre. They don't have a target but there was nowhere else for them to go.
Another battalion of Austrians repositioned from the left to help bolster the buckling right.
Skirmishers cover the advance of two Volunteer battalions as they creep around the Austrian right.
Two more French volunteer battalions moving up on their left.
In desperation I ordered a battalion of Hungarians to clear the woods at bayonet point. 
Only to have more French light infantry take them in the flank.
Another battalion of reinforcements from the extreme left arrives behind the woods.
Just in time for their sister battalion to rout out of the woods right into their path!
The table at the end of the game.
We called a halt at this point. All three Austrian brigades were broken, two in the same (final) turn. Most of the Austrians you can see to the left of the above picture would have been captured as there were by now French infantry edging between them and the baseline, and it would have been difficult to extract the artillery in the earthwork. The cavalry, the Freikorps battalion and perhaps the two Hungarian battalions would have got away, as would the light artillery beyond the town. Were it not for the fact that John managed about five blunders during the game, which usually saw his troops retire precipitously away from the enemy, it would have been far less fun for me. As it was I tried to play it 'as an Austrian' and ended up loosing my entire command, doing far worse than in the real battle over 200 years ago. The terrain was a pain, and not only for the Austrians I have to say, but who in their right mind holds a position with a bloody big wood to their front? An enjoyable evening nevertheless and thanks to John for the game.

I now have to finish piecing together my mini-campaign rules and send some briefing notes out to the players for the game on 20 September as the main Austrian army retreats northwards towards Hagenau.


  1. That made an interesting game Colin. Having spent some time in that part of the world just last year, you have me thinking that might be something that I could replicate.

    1. Its an interesting campaign. 77 yrs later in the same area it was very different for the French.

  2. Unusual encounter & all the more interesting for it!
    Pretty collection & scenery too.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks. Just a small part of what I have. I enjoy them greatly.

  3. Splendid armies for a splendid period!

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Dave. Your old Austrian hussar regiment ran away!

  5. Interesting game and challenge. The command and control problems facing a French 1793 army seemed to come through, if partly inadvertently by my dice rolling. Several blunders and several refusals to move. The regular light infantry essentially won the day, by holding the woods and wearing down the Kaiserliks standing in good order, in the open.I look forward to part II. Jean Le Rouge