Sunday 22 December 2019

The Allied retreat from Flanders, 1794

Paul, Conrad and I played a French Revolutionary Wars game here at The Burrow on Friday. This wasn't a historical refight but a scenario based extremely loosely on the Allied retreat from Flanders and Holland in the winter of 1794/95. I took command of the reactionary forces of oppression (the 'Allies') while Conrad was the Republican French. Paul umpired as we were using his Panoply of War rules. My mother-in-law made the soup.

The basic premise was that the Allies had to capture and hold three objectives, namely the bridge, the town and the village/farm complex. The latter held badly-needed stores. I was technically trying to be in a position to exit the eastern edge of the table before the jaws of a Republic trap closed and prevented our escape into Germany. Both armies had one brigade on the table, a dice roll randomly deciding which, and where it was deployed. Other brigades would be available to join from turn 2, as many as possible subject to a successful activation roll, and again their entry point was randomly decided. The ground was covered in snow and it was very cold so the stream and dyke were frozen. The former was just counted a rough ground while the latter would bear the weight of infantry but wasn't guaranteed to do the same with cavalry and artillery. The raised causeways/roadways provided cover and obstructed line of sight.

What follows is an account of how the battle unfolded, or unravelled if you were me!

My best brigade ended up being the one already on the table, which was a stoke of good fortune, as was its  deployment point close to the bridge and the town.

However, seen from this angle there are lots of raggedy French marching up the road towards the town, well placed to  take it and cut me off from my exit point. Still, I managed to quickly push my converged flank companies battalion forward towards the town.

A slight traffic jam on the causeway as the Guards' leading battalion deployed into line, thus wasting some time in favour of parade ground precision.
The whole table as seen from the East. The buildings in the distance represent the other objective, the farm complex where there is an Allied supply dump.
Turn 2 and reinforcements start to arrive. The British cavalry find themselves stuck on the same road a their comrades in the Guards. The only option was to angle off to the left and try and get round the side of the town to threaten the enemy flank.
Conrad's reinforcements all arrived at the far Western end of the table; a brigade of mediocre light cavalry and another of good light infantry with a battalion of less good volunteers attached.
The only other reinforcements the Allies got was a small brigade of Hanoverians (Not the Garde for this game).
Conrad's legere advancing through the woods towards the farm/vilage.

Back at the other end, Conrad's original division was made up of seven newly raised Levée battalions and a battery of artillery. They soon reached the town and occupied the tower and the brown and yellow buildings. My Flank battalion had already occupied two buildings on the other side of the town square.
Conrad's raw infantry wasted no time charging the buildings held by my flank battalion and drove them out!
Reinforcement time again, and my Dutch brigade arrived. Meanwhile the Guards had been sorting themselves out to the right of the town in anticipation of a major French assault. The Allied Austrian brigade also made an appearance on the road running along the causeway. Two small units of Grenz and one of Freikorps advanced up the road while two batteries of artillery followed them. There were no French reinforcements this turn.

The leading Hanoverian battalion reached the village and occupied the building on the right. The French are  poised to try and drive them out.
My Emigré brigades chose this moment to arrive on that flank. Several battalions of rather dodgy  (with one exception) infantry and two equally dodgy regiments of hussars and a better regiment of lancers, the 'Uhlans Britaniques'.
Supported by an ineffective battery of artillery, the French try and drive off the Guards.  The Guards (thankfully despite my dreadful dice rolling) held and forced them to retreat. 
Sadly for me six battalions of veteran French then entered the fray on the road leading to the town! At least  my cavalry were flanking the French levy who were forced into square and the Dutch were advancing. My Grenz and Freikorps had even been ordered forward successfully while one of the Austrian batteries began shooting at the French columns. The other battery had crossed the bridge and deployed to take pot shots at the French assaulting the village/farm. 
The Emigré infantry were advancing slowly towards the farm. Only the lead unit, the  Royal Emigrants were any good. The Emigré cavalry has advanced confidently to close with the supposedly inferior French cavalry.
The Uhlans Britanique and the French Heavy Cavalry charge each other. My uhlans  had become disordered  during the charge and were therefore at a disadvantage. No surprises then that they were pushed back, bumping their supports back in the process. What an embarrassment to be defeated by these inferior egalitarian types.
A view from the West along the table. In the foreground both sides' cavalry regroup for another  glorious charge while the farm is being closely contested by the French and Hanoverians. One battalion of the latter tried to retake one of the buildings and was driven back with heavy losses, effectively out of the game, while one French battalion around the back of the farm was similarly battered and forced to pull back.

Conrad pushed six battalions of veteran infantry along the causeway. They drove off one of my Grenz units and the O'Donnel Freikorps but were taking fire from the other Grenz battalion and the Austrian artillery down the road. The Guards repositioned themselves to meet the French columns.
The French commander and his aide say "I don't think we shall need this today Citizen, unless for any  English Milords or Royalist traitors who fall into our hands!" The Representative of the People stands by silently.
Conrad's attack on the Allies around the town would have been more successful had his artillery been able to perform better. Sadly the dice did not show any signs of egality, fraternity or liberty and mostly missed!
The English cavalry wasn't really tested in the battle but they did seal off the French  right and force several battalions into square, where they stayed for the remainder of the game under largely ineffective fire from the Royal Artillery. My Guards flank battalion managed to capture the yellow house so we now held 60% of the town.
Too late, the Dutch brigade made an appearance, their tardiness possibly caused by the expectations that before very long they would all be serving a different master as a puppet state of France!. very pretty though. Before anyone says it, I know the flags are wrong but information on Dutch flags for the last quarter of the 18thC is sadly lacking. 
We had to call it a day at that point as Conrad and Paul had planned to go to the model shop in Chester-le-Street on the way home to buy/collect lots of boxes of 1/72 Streletz/Zvezda figures for the War of the Spanish Succession before they're unavailable. The town and the farm were still contested, but I'd held onto the supplies long enough and had also captured the vital bridge across the frozen dyke. However, the French had suffered fewer units lost so in the final reckoning had achieved a marginal victory(**). The performance of the Guards was a disappointment, as was that of my Emigré cavalry when facing truly dreadful French, but thats the joys of a wargame when anything can happen. 

I hope Conrad and Paul enjoyed the game as much as I did. I've got the hang of the rules now and have warmed to them significantly. They certainly provide (and provided in this case) a most challenging game requiring much more thought than if we were using, say, Black Powder. Now, I like BP muchly, especially for large multi-player games, but for more 'intimate' affairs Panoply of War work really well. 

Thats it gaming wise until after Christmas but I have another planned for after New Year. If anyone is at a loose end between Christmas and New Year and fancies a game, let me know.

(**) Paul asked me to carry on with the game solo before packing it all away to see if a more decisive result was possible for either side.  I shall have a go and post the results in a few days. Apart from that may all my readers and followers have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas and a Happy and safe New Year.