Monday, 19 June 2017

French Revolutionary infill

This Thursdays blog includes a report on Saturdays WDW game.  Whilst reading it I suddenly realised that you, my readers, would be lacking the background necessary to fully understand the situation.  So I went back hunting for Chris' previous report and found it (sent to me on the 27th May).

Sorry that there are no pictures.

My (French) Revolution game - 1794 Tourcoing

"The strategic situation in May 1794 was that the French had raised an army of 730,000 - a vast number for the time; and the equipment shortages were coming to an end.  Lazare Carnot - the famed "Organiser of Victory", wanted to arrange for a large army to drive the Allies out of the Low Country. There were rumours that the Austrians wanted to be out of the war so that they could filch more of Poland, instead. The year began with allied victories; but by the beginning of August, the French , for the first time in years, proved able to form square. On balance, I felt the French foot deserved regular status. All had skirmishers, as at this period, whole brigades  - even line ones - could dissolve into skirmishers. The cavalry were still, for the most part, bad. From Blenheim down to the revolution, the French moved from having a lot of cavalry in a cuirass to just one regiment - the 7th Cavalry (and no, their sweethearts did not wear a yellow ribbon...). By this time, no British regiments wore armour. However, some 7 years war surplus cuirasses were dug out of store and issued to The Blues for the campaign. They were so impressed that they went back into store at the end of it.

The situation was that the Austrian army was nominally under the command of the Emperor, with General Mack - the man who caused the disaster at Ulm in 1805 - making the plans. As the French were strung out from Lille to Courtrai, York agreed, against his better judgement, to launch a co-ordinated attack with the Austrians with a view to cutting off 50,000 French in the North, and compelling them to surrender, trapped against the Lys and Scheldt. No sooner had he agreed it, than Mack decided to divert some of the Austrian army with a view to besieging Lille. For good measure, Mack decided upon an over-complicated plan, involving six separate columns to converge on the French. This was how the Austrians did things; and it is worth considering it was an Austrian plan of this kind which caused the defeat of the Russians at Austerlitz. Given Archduke Charles in the south had 50 miles to cover, it is no surprise his wing did not make it. The main fighting on 17th May was done on the ridge in the centre of our battlefield, by the British and Hanoverians and Hessians.  The end of the day saw them holding Mouveaux, Roubaix, and Lannoy, the three villages we depicted. If the Austrians in North and South could move quickly, there was every chance a large part of the French army could be cut off and destroyed, ending the war in the Low Country. Orders were issued accordingly on the night on 17th May by the Emperor's HQ. However...

In the South, Kinsky just ignored the orders. The Archduke suffered an epileptic attack over night; his staff did not want to disturb him; and so not a single man moved until mid morning - by which time the opportunity was gone. Clerfayt started late, but took two villages and began to push down the road to Lille. However,  two Chasseur battalions turned up at a crucial moment, and so he gave up. In the centre, the overstretched British and Allied forces did a good job holding the ridge, despite being over extended. The French managed to take the central village eventually - Roubaix - and this effectively forced a withdrawal. The Southern village was nonetheless held by Hessians against 9,000 French. As the guards retired, they effectively gave them the opportunity to escape. Both the Guards and Fox's brigade performed prodigies throughout the campaign, here and at Famars, and this was why I gave them re-rolls. They out fought and out shot the French to such an extent I considered making them "impulse" infantry. This is in stark contrast to some of the British regiments which turned out later in the year, which were pretty poor. However -  they had to retire; and that is not a victory.

The overall result was an allied loss of 3,000 - 930 of them British. The following week, the French were heavily defeated at Tournai. However, the damage was done; the Austrians pulled out, to nick more of Poland, and the British went home believing the Austrians had deliberately taken virtually no part in the battle.

I decided that for our game to work, we would have to let the allies have a better chance of getting the Austrians in. The rules suggest the French should be columnar, and the Allies linear. This means the French foot move very much faster. The initiative system does not work terribly well for allied armies trying to attack in this period. I settled for giving Clerfayt and York zero initiative, and allowing them to use this for movement - and I apologise for not having made this sufficiently clear. Although I imposed a penalty on Kinsky, amazingly, he moved with more haste than the Archduke.

The result:
In the North, Bob and Adam came within an ace of not merely holding the French, but driving them back and cutting off part of the French army. The single most deadly French unit on table, Stu's Carabinier Brigade, dissolved an allied cavalry brigade, and sabred an infantry brigade. Trapped between allied cavalry and an intact infantry brigade volleying into its flank and rear for three firings, it nevertheless suffered  not a single stand lost. This is why I do not like D10s and favour re-rolls for better units. Bob and Adam managed to set up a very good attack into Stu's flank (Souham); but the dice prevented what could have been a devastating counter attack. Fighting on this flank effectively stabilised out, pretty much as in the real battle. Interestingly, most of Clerfayt's force was allied units paid for by English gold.

In the centre, perhaps wisely, Mark, John and Andy by passed Roubaix (Centre) and and Lannoy (south). This resulted in  the Hessians in Lannoy being surrounded by a sea of French, just like the Hessians in the real battle. While Jim, as York,  did very well to hang on so  long (hence my "Man of the Match" award), Mark's constant attacks kept the allied forces concentrating on the gap between Mouveaux and Roubaix, thus preventing them providing support to Mouveaux, which eventually fell to Stu's attacks. Mark did well in containing the best allied unit - The Blues and Royals - from doing more damage than they might have done. Given their special rule re charging and re-rolls, this was a unit potentially capable of carving a path right through the French line from one end to the other. Further south, John and Andy passed forces each side of Lannoy, just as the French did. This left the Hessians surrounded; and, coupled with the fall of Mouveaux, gave the French a breakthrough, cutting the allied line in two. John managed to drive the guards Brigade back and take a stand from it, despite my attempts to rig the scenario in its favour.

In the South, Dave got Kinsky moving quite fast, unlike Kinsky himself. This resulted in Chris North, who took over Kinsky, getting the chance to deliver a devastating charge with an elite Hussar brigade against one of Andy's demi-brigades. Result? The French were driven back... into the safety of a Marsh, and the Hussars then had to retire.  Andy had moved up another brigade to flank the Hussars. This was crucial, as it prevented Kinsky moving further north and  preventing the breakthrough in the centre and North.

In the South, Dave as the Archduke, had problems getting his infantry moving consistently. Andy took advantage of this to drop his infantry back to safety. Dave, seeing where things were going, settled for rushing his cavalry forward. This included one of the strongest units on the field - the 10 base strong Austrian dragoon brigade. Supported by two elite Hussar brigades, this could have really hurt. However. we timed out before it could get into combat...

I think they all did better than they thought they did. I thought initially that the casualties were 4:3 in the Allies favour. When the losses resulting from the fall of Mouveaux were added in, it was much closer. The allies lost three batteries - all from York's force. this compares reasonably with York's actual losses of 19 guns out of 28.  Not a single French gun was lost.

Our battle ended with stalemate in the north - like the original. We had a broad breakthrough in the centre -like the real battle. Unlike the real battle, we had an allied cavalry division cutting in behind the French and their main supply base - Lille - in the south.

SO - the question you have to ask is this: with their army split in two, would the allies stay where they were? With allied cavalry cutting them off from their supply base in Lille, would the French hold their ground or fall back? A Wellington would have stayed put, resulting in the French having to drop back; a Napoleon would have pressed on, forcing the allied wings to drop back.  On balance, given the real generals, I back a fall-back by the allies. Both sides get bragging rights."

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