Monday 10 August 2020

French Revolutionary War Campaign: The Prussian operation to raise the siege of Courtrai. Or not...

 Yesterday (Saturday in case I’m late in posting this) I set up another remote game via Skype, tins cans and string. Readers may remember that in the French Revolutionary War campaign I’ve been running the Austrians found themselves besieged in Courtrai. The Prussian contingent was the closest Coalition force and had been marching towards Courtrai for five (campaign) days. Alerted to their presence in the area General Houchard, commander of the French Armee du Nord, ordered the best part of two divisions under Generals Pichegru and Jourdan to intercept the Prussians. The uncertainties faced by both sides, ie the fog of war,  led to some blindfolded fencing between the opposing forces. The Prussians plonked themselves on the road between Mouscron and Courtrai (see map) on  15 September and awaited the advance of the much feared Prussians. On 16 September FML Knobbelsdorff was only 10 miles or so South of Mouscron and was aware of the presence of the French blocking his route to Courtrai,  but rather than a rapid advance to catch them, timed his advance so as to give himself a full day to attack, thus essentially delaying battle until the following morning. Unbeknown to the Prussians this gave the French time to prepare some earthworks for their artillery and for a further brigade of infantry to join from the troops remaining at Courtrai which had been despatched by Houchard the previous day. Click here for an overview of the campaign map.

So on the night of 16/17 September the opposing armies were encamped only a few miles apart. Vigorous and effective patrolling by the Prussian light cavalry gave them the upper hand the following morning the French positions were known to Knobbelsdorf in some detail,  before he had to deploy his troops for battle. By 10.00 on 17 September the Prussians were deployed and began their attack.

Seeing that the Prussians had refused their left flank and relying on the hope that the Prussian attack would be slow and uncoordinated, Pichegru ordered his right flank to advance rapidly and threaten the enemy rear and lines of communication, while shifting his remaining troops to the right, over the causeway covered by his artillery and cavalry. The French would then use the causeway as a barrier to hinder any Prussian attempt to attack them. Knobbelsdorff’s plan was to try and outflank the enemy left with a wide flank attack, but his chief of staff argued that this would split his army, allowing each half to be overwhelmed by the then superior French. A compromise was reached where the flanking movement became a proposed hammer blow against the French left by over half of the army, while the remainder pinned the enemy centre. Speed would be vital to the Prussians if their plan was to be wholly successful, otherwise the French would be able to reposition their forces as per their plan. As usual both sides' plans went out of the window once battle was joined, so I shall allow the following photos tell the story.

The French army stretching away into the distance, taken from their right flank

The Prussian left, having elected not to deploy any troops beyond the causeway and ditches as these were thought to be significant barriers to movement.

The Prussians positioned their reserve artillery on a hill in the centre of their line. An ideal position to bombard the French with impunity.

Here we have the French left, anchored on a hastily dug redoubt for a company of 8pdrs. Beyond the guns are four brigades of French hussars, dragoons and chasseurs a cheval, most of which were still carrying losses from earlier engagements.

This is the Prussian right! Three large regiments of cuirassiers and dragoons and nine battalions of infantry supported by two companies of artillery.

This is a shot taken of my computer screen showing John the Red (in the red) and Shaun helping to move the troops. Note the croupiers stick being used by Shaun.

The Prussians began a general advance along their whole line. Here, the 'advance guard' brigade of fusiliers and fedjager move slowly towards the French.

On the centre and right both infantry brigades advanced rather more slowly that the overall Prussian plan called for. The one on the right contained two battalions of Guard (IR15) and strangely elected to march through the woods, slowing it down significantly. The Prussian heavy cavalry thundered slowly forward, a fearsome sight no doubt.

The Prussian KR 7 has just charged and driven off a regiment of enemy light cavalry but was unable to exploit this victory. The other regiment (KR11 Leib Karabiniers) were in support and took heavy losses from French artillery. With hindsight they probably should have charged as well.

A shot down the line from the Prussian right, taken at about the same turn as the cavalry melee.

Meanwhile over on the other flank the French cavalry brigade was hesitant and very slow to advance. Both they and the infantry were supposed to be advancing quickly to swing round on the Prussian left wing. At this rate the battle would be over before they were in position.

The French reserves belatedly arrive. A motley bunch of old regular battalions and newly raised volunteers.

The action in the centre, so far confined to skirmishers trading shots with each other and some long range artillery fire.

A French battery on the causeway caused a few casualties on the Prussians, but not enough to stop their advance .

This sturdy looking redoubt housed a battery of 8pdrs which proved very effective against the Prussian centre, almost singlehandedly halting it.

The Prussian cuirassiers and dragoons had the French commanders worried due to the size of the regiments. The cuirassiers on the left drove off a regiment of chasseurs a cheval but were unable to exploit their victory. The other cuirassier regiment found itself pounded by two companies of French horse artillery and was forced to pull back with very heavy losses.

The Prussian right from a different angle. Their cavalry were simply not aggressive enough, but these things happen in war(games).

French horse artillery pound KR11 Leib Karabiniers, forcing them to pull back.

On the Prussian left their light cavalry failed to move to start with. when they did, they ignored the Prussians coming up on their left (wisely so) and proceeded to deploy in the centre ready for a lightning charge.

Prussian reserve artillery; two batteries of 12pdrs. They were hesitant the first move and in subsequent turns caused more casualties on themselves through very low dice scores and 'fatigue casualties' than they did on the enemy!

The Prussian attack in the centre grinds slowly to a halt.

The commander of the Prussian right wing marched his infantry (including two battalions of IR15 Garde) through a wood, effectively taking them out of the battle.

Prussian skirmishers and horse artillery trading ineffective shots with the French.

The Prussian reserve brigade of three grenadier battalions was deployed in the rear of the right wing and failed to move until turn 4 due to poor command rolls. 

At this point (after lunch in real time and T4 in the game) the Prussians had a staff conference (implying a prototype version of Skype no doubt) and decided to withdraw as more French infantry was now arriving and the Prussian numerical advantage had been lost. I was happy for the game to finish where it did in the context of the campaign. Dave as the Prussian CinC had a fairly good plan but it was badly executed by him and his subordinates. We were using Gen d'Armee as usual and the plan had been to give the infantry 'assault orders' in T1 and then they could be  left to goose step forwards and do their stuff, while the cuirassiers etc. launched themselves at the enemy cavalry. 

Mind you the French plan went out of the fenestre as well due to some critical poor command rolls on their right and their inability to actually follow Pichegru's orders quickly enough to redeploy.  A shame really. The Prussians missed their chance of victory by not attacking the previous afternoon/evening when they had superiority in numbers, and by not following the plan the next day they were scuppered.  In some ways this turned out to be a Valmy Part Deux, which is an ok result. At least the Prussians were able to extract their army without any pursuit by the French who were very wary of doing so.

Man of the Match goes to Kaporal Wilhelm Schussel (look it up). who dropped more cannon balls on his and his mates feet than were fired at the enemy.

Many thanks to everyone who took part (Steve, Richard, Dave, Paul & Nigel) and for John and Shaun for adopting the 'Battle of Britain fighter control room' job of moving the figures around as my back and general immobility was getting in the way. Big thanks to Mrs Carryingsonupthedale for keeping the technology going, and since then working out a solution to do it better with fewer issues.

I am sure that we shall have another campaign battle in two weeks time so watch this space.


  1. A most spectacular looking game Colin, bravo! Sir.

  2. The game looks great. The result seems a bi5 of a fizzle but very historical for this campaign! Failed on my google of Schussel.

    1. Thanks Peter. According to Google translate it's German for butterfingers.

    2. And here’s me trying to figure out if there’s a Goethe reference! My artillery has had similar hamfisted artificiers.

  3. A splendid affair as always Colin...
    Unusual to see strategic common sense ruling the day... in a wargame 😂
    Of course you could have gone the extra mile and had Ashton’s helping angels dressed as ADC’s....

    All the best. Aly

  4. Fabulous looking game! Very inspirational!

  5. Hi Colin- I've never seen such a huge number of miniatures in 28mm for the French Revolutionary War - magnificent and well done indeed. Retirement is a great bonus! Best Wishes. KEV. (Sydney-Australia).

    1. Thanks Kev. That’s only part of collection!