Monday 25 May 2020

French Revolutionary Wars Campaign. The Battle of Courtrai

Following on from the previous post the Burrow reopened for business on Saturday, albeit through the use of technology, in order to play out a campaign battle that needed to be resolved so we could move on. The French (and for the benefit of the Emigre player,  I mean the Armies of the French Republic and not the French Emigres, who, although French as well, will be referred to as Emigres).  What follows is a suitably sanitised/censored account of the scenario and the battle, as I don’t wish to let slip too many, or even any, secrets relating to the campaign in general. That I leave up to the players. You know who you are.

Austrian positions in blue, French under Souham in red. The french will also arrive from the south under Pichegru while Colberg will enter from the north.
Several days have passed since the battles at Hondschoote on 4 September (here) and Bissinghem/Menin on 5 September (here) as well as the lifting of the siege of Dunkirk by the Anglo-Hanoverians. In campaign time it is now 9 September 1793. The armies of both sides have been blooded and so far, despite their successes on the battlefield and the capture of Menin and Ypres, strategically the well thought out and boldly executed French plans have fallen just short of their objective of destroying the Coalition forces in the Austrian Netherlands. This is due largely to Coalition players really getting into character, some very fortunate troop movements that so far have just managed to foil the French 'grand plan', and some even more fortunate extreme random event dice scores rolled by me (which I can’t share just yet).

So. The Austrians and Emigres are in and around Courtrai. The Emigres are out of it for the time being after their crushing defeat on 5 September. Austrian losses on that day were also heavy when considering the few numbers of troops engaged. An isolated Corps under Kinsky is entrenched four miles south of Courtrai on the east of the River Lys. Houchard ordered the division of General Souham to attack Kinsky from the East while Pichegru  attacked from the South. Souham’s light cavalry were to cut the line of communication between Kinsky and Courtrai thus preventing a retreat and/or reinforcements from arriving.

That was the plan. It worked to a point insofar that the French light cavalry did indeed try to slow the advance of the Austrian reinforcements which fortuitously Colberg had standing to ready to move on either bank of the river. However the French were attacked by a brigade of cuirassiers and uhlans that had been detached from Kinsky’s command specifically to keep the route open. The French hussars gamely tried to put up a fight but were outclassed and routed. Two regiments fled and the remaining two wisely pulled back. Job done, the Austrian cavalry returned to Kinsky's beleaguered division, followed up by the reinforcements led by Colberg.

Souham's heavy cavalry brigade. The only decent cavalry in the entire Armée du Nord. The 8th Cavalry suffered heavily from Austrian artillery fire until it decided to withdraw out of range while it had the choice.
Souham's 2nd infantry brigade were advancing very slowly towards the Austrians, and barely made it past the hedgerow just visible on the right. The Representative of the People may well be having words.
Souham's 1st brigade advanced much more briskly towards the Austrians lining the road.
Colberg arrived with the heavy cavalry and the Army Reserve Brigade of grenadiers just in time to to take the pressure off Kinsky's worn troops.
The I/KundK IR No. 2 holding the entrenchments facing south supported by a battery in a redoubt. The II btn. of the  IR No 2 is out of shot to the right. The French cavalry seen in the background took heavy losses from this battery, and another off to the right, while the infantry battalion shown here was under fire from a battery of French 12pdrs.

Pichegru's infantry charged the wood on the left of the village, driving out the Austrian jager holding it who took refuge in the village. Then another French battalion charged and drove the jager out of the eastern half of the town. The other half was held by battalion of Austrians.

The French broke through the Austrian defence when the battalion referred to  earlier  failed to stand when facing a charge. The Austrians lost a casualty in the retreat which took them to their dispersal point so they were removed from play. Pichegru order his victorious infantry to follow up, but they fell short of their next target and themselves became a target for a battery of Austrian 12pdrs and then a charge by the Austrian cuirassier. The French were unable to form square but in the charge response phase threw very high while the Austrians threw very low. The result was that the cuirassiers failed to make contact and withdrew. Not good.
Souham's 1st brigade was made up of several battalions of 'les blancs', regiments from the Ancien Regime  now fighting for the Republic in the defence of France. The leading battalion broke through the Austrians holding the road who were forced to retreat. The big puff of smoke marks where as a result of one of several 'destiny' rolls from Souham the nearest enemy brigadier was hit by a stray shell and killed. That the brigade then passed its faltering test must have been a blessing to the Austrians and annoying to the French. One of Pichegru's brigade commanders met a similar fate, but again his troops were unaffected.
Seen from behind the Austrian positions, the grenadier brigade is slowly shaking out into a line to block the two gaps in their line. Behind is a scratch brigade, newly formed from damaged battalions from the battlefield on 5 September.

By this time we'd been at it for nearly six hours and not quite got to a definite conclusion. There was still everything to play for as the French and Austrians still had large numbers of uncommitted troops. Everyone's keen to carry on next Saturday. I was very happy with that idea as (a) I was becoming knackered and my damaged back was really starting to hurt, (b) its quite an effort to move all the troops for everybody and follow their instructions and also umpire/facilitate the game and (c) the technology was starting to fail due to a weak internet signal from around 3pm.

I'm going to send all the players photos of the battle as seen from their perspective as well as (more importantly) casualty returns for each of their units as some were getting pretty close to the wire.

If anyone is interested, aided by my techno-wizard wife, we created a pretty good setup. One webcam provided a panoramic view of the table from the North side. Another (an iPad connecting via WiFi) did the same looking down the table from the East. Finally I had another iPad operating as a roving camera for close ups and so forth. I hadn't thought of using iPads as cameras, especially as this method meant there were no cables for me to fall over, but with the right software it all worked out pretty well until we 'lost' the roving camera.


  1. A gallant effort, your enthusiasm and energy shames me I have to say. Really enjoy seeing pictures of the game in progress! Thanks!

  2. well done Colin, rest up and I look forward to more combat next week.

  3. Cracking stuff Colin, one can't beat the spectacle of a large black powder era game. Impressed by all the techno stuff, I struggle just posting stuff on the web.

  4. Well done Colin great looking game and a Stirling effort on the campaign.....more to come

  5. Well done Colin, Katherine and friends - 6 hours on video must be quite a strain! It all looks fantastic.