Wednesday 31 March 2021

I hosted a game on Saturday. Suvorov in Switzerland: The Battle of Altdorf, 25 September 1799

It’s been a few weeks since I last laid a game on for the Virtual Burrowers, due largely to me struggling with a spike in the nerve pain I get in the back and all points south as a result of crumbling vertebrae No’s L5 and L6. 

Anyway, as I was back to my 'normal' I took the guys to a remote Alpine valley in late September 1799 where the Russian army under General Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov encountered a French blocking force intent halting the Russian withdrawal from Northern Italy through Switzerland to join with General Rimsky-Korsakov in Zurich. This plan would change when Korsakov's army was defeated outside Zurich on 25/26 September. Surrounded by the French, and having to struggle through high mountain passes in atrocious conditions, Suvorov’s army was to fight and win 12 battles in 17 days as they marched through Switzerland, loosing a quarter of their army, yet they reached the safety of Upper Germany while skilfully avoiding the closing net of vastly superior French forces.  Conrad, Paul and Neil were the Russians while Richard, Shaun and Mark took the French. We used Black Powder 2 with my usual house rules, as they are by far the easiest set to use (as the host) when running a game using Skype and live streaming through multiple cameras. (The way it works means that each player can chose which camera to use rather than me having to switch each time someone wants a different view).                                                                                      

From “Suvorov in the Alps”, by Tom Garnett. Superb book if you can get it. Six scenarios plus lots of background. Try Caliver Books. 

The Russian objective was simple. Cross the fast-flowing creek (impassable to artillery and cavalry) and capture two stone bridges and the village of Altdorf, all located on the French baseline. Altdorf was the destination of the main Russian supply column, which was marching there by a different route, and was due to meet up with the main body of the army, so the area HAD to be cleared of the French!

The Reuss river is impassable, as are the wooded mountains and the two rocky outcrops. The woods are classed as heavy. The fields and orchards provided light cover for troops within their boundaries. 

What the French were unaware of was that the Russians would be reinforced by a small Austrian force of four large but lumbering battalions which would arrive sometime from turn 2 onwards from the mountain pass to the East. 

The leading French brigade formed up behind the creek. A fifth battalion, of Legere, is just out of shot to the left.

French horse artillery. They proved to be a highly mobile and effective unit, popping up  all over the French left to stem the Austrian advance.

Cossacks looting Attinghausen - clearly with the blessing of the Church.
The French reserve under Richard - Dragoons, horse artillery and combined grenadiers.
The French first line under Mark. The battalion seen in column was withdrawn to the reserve before the battle started.
The open ground on the French right and the Alpine pass beyond.

The French reserve quickly pushed forward to counter the marauding Cossacks.

After a moment of hesitation Paul's Russians cross the creek, covered by the borrowed 2pdr Piedmontese mountain gun. 

As the Russians mass to cross the creek Shaun's brigade pushes two battalions and his artillery forward.

The Russians ready themselves to attack.

The Russian secret weapon, a Catusha!

Both sides exchanged some damaging volleys of musketry and canister across the creek.

The initial Russian thrust is halted.

Turn 3 (they were late) and the Austrians began to arrive.

They left the pass and quickly deployed to face the French cavalry and reserve.

Richard's dragoons had to content themselves with chasing off the annoying Cossack skirmishers while the horse artillery prepares to batter the Austrian squares. 

The French commander receiving a pep talk from the Political Officers attached to his HQ.

The French first line was broken or pushed back allowing the remaining Russians (another six battalions) to cross the creek.
Exhausted dragoons after west another attempt to ride down the Cossack skirmishers.

A battalion of French is broken. They take their supporting artillery company with them as they rout.

One minute the gunners were there serving their guns, the next they'd vanished!

Conrad split his brigade. Three battalions headed for Attinghausen, securing the bridge and driving off the battalion of Frenchmen defending it. The others marched straight up the road to Altdorf, taking advantage of the disorganised nature of the French defence.

The battlefield from the West, towards the end of the action.

Shaun's brigade was doing sterling stuff holding off the advancing Russians but when their exposed right hand battalion was charged and broken it was game over. 

French horse gunners beating a hasty retreat

We agreed that the Russians were the undoubted victors. Mark’s French brigade was broken with over half its units destroyed. Shaun’s brigade was buckling and Richard’s reserve were getting the better of the Austrians so would maybe be in a position to finish them off before the Russians could, should they chose to, intervene. With no cavalry to speak of the Russians wouldn’t be able to mount an effective pursuit, and that wasn’t their goal anyway. 

Historically the Russians held off the French long enough to meet up with their supplies, but after learning of the defeat of Korsakov at Zurich, were then forced to divert to the high snowbound alpine passes in order to avoid the closing French net. Ten battles and ten victories later the survivors reached the safety of Upper Germany and the start of the long march home.


  1. Excellent. Terrific layout, nice figures and a good write up. Thankyou.

  2. This is terrific. Suvarov is inspiring or terrifying. An unusual period with great uniforms and dramatic scenery. What's not to love except the players not being there due to the pandemic. I was interested too in your comments on the Black Powder rules which I've not used for a while - I have the first edition.

    Like the old beer commercial - the best post on the best subject by anyone [probably]
    thanks for sharing - n case you didn't notice I loved it.


  3. Great write up as always , must try and het my 15mm chaps to refight this one, as usual you are an inspiration.

  4. Grand to see you back Burrowing! As expected an epic clash with hordes of figures on show. Wargaming as it was always meant to be!