Monday 16 December 2019

The Battle of Brienne, 29 January 1814

On Saturday I hosted another Napoleonic  game organized by Mike using some his incredible 1/72 plastic collect. Mike kept the scenario a secret from the other players to add a little mystery and anticipation before the game but obviously I was 'in the know' as I had to set the table, not that Brienne would have meant a great deal to me other than as a very tall plus-size woman in Game of Thrones. Click here for an account of the real battle. Read on for our version.

John the Red and Paul were the French while Conrad and I were the Allies (Prussian and Russians, although the only Prussian on the table was Blucher). I had the dubious honour of being Blucher. The French had to fight their way through the Russians and exit off the bridge for an outright victory. The capture of Brienne, the chateau and the destruction of the enemy all yielded points should that optimistic goal not be realised.

In order to make things interesting we factored in some weather rules. It was late January and it had been snowing so there was a chance it might again. The battle also started mid-afternoon with darkness descending quickly so time was not on Napoleon's side.

As usual I will let the photos tell how the game unfolded, and a tense close-run thing it was too. We diced for the weather and low and behold it was snowing lightly at the start, which reduced visibility to 24".

The armies deploy. The Russian reinforcements are not yet on the table. The French were faced with having to fight their way down the table!
Russian reserves marching towards the battle.
The Chateau de Brienne, garrisoned by three battalions of Russians. 

The town of Brienne was held by six Russian battalions and three artillery batteries. I kept one in reserve to the rear of the town. Cossacks and hussars can be seen beyond the town. Five further battalions of Russians were deployed behind the chateau in the woods.
Paul's cavalry division advances towards the town.
One of Paul's cavalry brigades; four regiments of dragoons.
The dragoons got too close to the town and took heavy casualties from our artillery before they were able to shake out into line. First one, then another, then another regiment broke and fled to the rear to escape the cannonade. Not a good start for the French.
The Russian cavalry were mainly cossacks so not a great deal of use in a battle. 
The setting winter sun cast long shadows on the ground as the French dragoons retreated, followed by several other cavalry regiments that were also caught by our massed artillery before they could deploy. At least there was room for their infantry now. The best part of an entire corps of French cavalry had been knocked out of the battle. Lots anyway.
A French infantry corps advancing along the road towards Brienne. I think there were some Young Guard in there somewhere but can't be sure.
There are an awful lot of French marching towards us.
Napoleon is on the field, more French cavalry have appeared, supported by even more infantry, many of whom start filtering through the woods to outflank our position.
Meanwhile our reinforcements are making slow progress.

The French had driven off a Russian battery that had been supporting the troops in the chateau and were now within striking distance. (Note, these were representing the Imperial Guard, but we were using the Dutch Guard as thats what was available).
The French assault on the chateau was strongly resisted but eventually they were able to drive the defenders from the chateau walls and break into the courtyard area.
In the distance French light cavalry, supported by skirmishers in the woods, can be seen driving off our cossacks.  A French division was also poised to assault Brienne. The church had been set alight, forcing the defenders to pull out, and our artillery was under fire from French batteries out of the picture and skirmishers. Eventually both Russian batteries were silenced and the French could attack without being blasted into next week with canister.
The Guard took complete possession of the Chateau, driving the entire garrison away broken.
The garrison of the chateau in the foreground streaming to the rear. Blucher had been in the chateau but left just before it fell. He and senior Russian officers are  planning a counter attack. Conrad's corps can be seen arriving in the far distance. The snow was still falling, and it was also starting to get dark so visibility was down to 12".
The French launch a charge to try and drive the Russians from the town, and successfully rout the defenders on the crossroads.
The euphoria of victory was short lived for the French in Brienne as the battery of guns I had held in reserve was in position to hit them as they tried to reform at the crossroads. They also took fire from troops in the remaining buildings. Darkness was falling quickly and visibility was down to 6", apart from troops within 12" of burning buildings who were illuminated by the flames.
The French were driven from the town, and their commander cut down by a canister shot.
Yet another French assault to clear the town of Russians. Night had well and truly fallen and time was running out for the French.
My Russian reserve cavalry held the ground close to the bridge. There was no place for them in the confusion of fighting in the dark and snow, illuminated only by the flames of burning buildings. 
In the penultimate turn the snow began to fall heavily, reducing all movement and visibility and preventing muskets from firing. I don't have a photo but the Russians managed to set fire to part of the chateau, and made a last ditch bayonet charge to try and dislodge the French. Sadly it failed, but it would only provide temporary respite for the French as more and more fresh Russian troops were available. Unfortunately with night time upon us and the weather deteriorating the battle was over.
The game was very close but it was a strategic win for the Russians and tactically a marginal Russian victory. To be honest it was the French who insisted that the Russians had won, as Mike had been inclined to give it to them, but who are we to argue.

An excellent game played with the usual good humour and necessary levels of sledging when appropriate (the verbal sort not the alpine variety). I quite like the rules (based Neil Thomas' set iirc) as they're very easy to pick up and give a good balanced game. I'd prefer Black Powder but that's just me. I'm quite taken by Mike's enormous collection of 1/72nd scale figures. I had always planned to replace my long gone Russian Civil War 28mm collection with 1/72nd scale plastics, and might just do that.

Assuming my back continues to improve I have another game on Friday. French Revolution somewhere in Flanders I think.


  1. Plastics? Surely not!😉Nice looking table though. Thanks for the calendar which arrived on Saturday!

  2. I think I recognise some of those plastics ... Great looking battlefield!

  3. Hi. I m pretty sure the consensus was a draw after the Umpire suggested a marginal French win. Napoleon would of course be proclaiming victory and dispatching the 30 or so captured cannon as proof back to Paris! The snowy conditions obviously got to us, as have come down with nasty cold. Bon Noel. Jean le Rouge

    1. And how would Napoleon get all those cannon back to Paris? The arsenal of Mother Russia is so great they have already been replaced. As to the result, you are probably correct but Blucher has employed Count Domink von Cumminz as a spin doctor.

  4. Lovely to see an 1815 game played and in 1/72 too. Excellent!

  5. Napoleon in the winter of 1814 probably at his best and most capable with a small army. Excellent.

  6. A spectacular and atmospheric game, lovely pictures...waiting for French Revolution now!

  7. That's a large battle with a very nice collection of mostly classic 1990s 1/72-plastic-miniatures. Well done, indeed!