KRIEGSSPIEL NEWS 62
Readership numbers are still creeping up, and we are now approaching 80 worldwide. This is good in itself, but also because more readers tend to generate more letters and other contributions. All are gratefully received, so please keep them coming.
Together with maps, we’re up to about 18 pages this issue. I really must try to rein things back a bit, as KN is mushrooming out of control.
Most of this issue is devoted to a recent email campaign game run by Richard Madder. This was a hypothetical Franco-Prussian campaign set in NE France in 1801. Players were Paddy Griffith as the Corsican Ogre, and myself as the dashing but elderly Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick.
The game was played on the maps of France produced by Casini in the 1770s, which can now be purchased on CD. These are reasonable detailed, which allowed us both to fight an operational level game, and also to descend to tactical level for the occasional battle.
This was one of the very best games I have played in, largely due to the authentic atmosphere created by Richard.
As with so many email games it came to a premature end, as work commitments finally overtook Richard. There was plenty of incident however, as you will see.
We were so enthused that we have already started the next one, umpired by Paddy.
A reminder that Ben Hutchings’ Tunisia game will take place at his home in Greenwich, SE London on Sunday 21st September. Please contact him direct at mailto:email@example.com if you are intending to play.
Ben has revamped the planned overseas involvement by non-UK readers, and is now looking for input just on that day, from 11 am GMT, in the role of senior commanders. Those there in person will adopt the roles of subordinate divisional commanders.
Following that we have a new game, at a new venue, in Norwich. Date is provisional at the moment. If you’re interested in this please contact me direct at: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, my personal thanks to those readers who wrote in support, after my distressing treatment by the KN awards committee. Alas, there is no appeals process.
1. Forthcoming games
2. The 1801 campaign in France – briefings from Richard Madder
3. The 1801 campaign – confessions of a Pomeranian Grenadier from Martin James
4. The 1801 campaign – the other side of the hill from Paddy Griffith, aka Napoleon
5. The 1801 campaign – thoughts on the game from Paddy Griffith
6. The 1801 campaign – final thoughts from Martin James
7. The man behind the monocle from Tony Hawkins
1. Forthcoming games
Sunday 21st September Greenwich 2.30 pm Tunisia campaign WW2 from Ben Hutchings
Sunday 2nd November Norwich 10.00 am New. Traditional detachments Kriegsspiel
Saturday 22nd November Hemel 2.30 pm Change. Army level campaign game from Arthur Harman
Sunday 25th January 2004 Hemel 2.30 pm Traditional detachments Kriegsspiel
If you fancy running a scenario, let us know, as we are happy to re-jig the list to fit it in. We will also provide assistance with the design and umpiring if you need this.
Games are usually held at Bill’s house. Pick up from Hemel Hempstead railway station (and drop off) can normally be arranged. Games finish around 7 pm. If you are interested in playing, give Bill a ring or email as early as possible before the game so we can plan the numbers. If we know you are coming we can also let you know if there are any last minute changes to arrangements.
For some games we send briefings out prior to the game, so early contact means you are more likely to get a key command.
2. The 1801 campaign in France – briefings from Richard Madder (see Map 1)
The next 2 sections are written from the standpoint of the Prussian commander. I kept a daily diary of my thoughts, hopes and fears. You can see the action unfold, as I did. The nefarious goings-on on the French side will be revealed in Section 4. below. Martin
In an alternative universe in which the political & military realities differ subtly (or brutally) from our own, the French failure to prevail against Austria in 1800-1801 was followed by an opportunistic Prussian invasion at the heart of a weakened France.
By 1st May 1801 the Prussian army of Ferdinand had overrun the French army of Massena protecting North Eastern France, with their northern flank protected by an Anglo-Dutch army they have reached Laon, only 80 miles from Paris!
The First Consul Bonaparte has left MacDonald & Brune to fight a defensive campaign in the South and Moreau to hold the Austrians in the East. Meanwhile he has gathered an army capable of halting Ferdinand and perhaps to defeat it, and marched to Chateau-Thierry.
Date & Weather
It is May 1st 1801. The weather is fine & the roads are good.
Lines of Communication & Supply
Will be principally via Laon, where supply for the next month of campaigning has been amassed. It would be feasible in time to change the supply route to be via Rheims.
This army most definitely marches on its stomach. It is not accustomed to living off the land, anyway the peasants are rather hostile and therefore maintenance of regular supply through Laon (or Rheims) from the Low Countries is essential. Not only that but you must ensure sufficient halts are taken to enable the army to bake bread, say every 3-5 days.
Prussian Order of Battle
C-in-C Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick (age 66)
Schmettau’s Division 12,000 infantry (3 brigs of 4 rgts), 12 guns (6lbers), 600 (1 rgt hussars)
Wartensleben’s Division 8,000 infantry (2 brigs of 4 rgts), 8 guns (6lbers), 1200 (1 rgt hussars, 1 rgt dragoons)
Orange’s Division 8,000 infantry (2 brigs of 4 rgts), 8 guns (6lbers), 600 (1 rgt hussars)
Von Arnim’s Division 12,000 infantry (3 brigs of 4 rgts), 12 guns (6lbers), 600 (1 rgt dragoons)
Kuhmheims’ Division 12,000 infantry (3 brigs of 4 rgts), 12 guns (6lbers), 600 (1 rgt dragoons)
Blucher’s Cavalry Division 2,400 cavalry (4 rgts of 600, 2 of cuirassier, 2 of dragoons), 8 guns (6lbers)
Bridging Train 2 Small Pontoon’s (or one Large Pontoon)
Guard Infantry 2,000 Infantry (2 Rgts), 12 guns (12lbers)
Total 54,000 Infantry, 72 guns, 6,000 Cavalry
• Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick Laon
• Wartensleben’s Division Vaux (nr Laon)
• Schmettau’s Division Chivi (near Laon) Hussars at Urcel
• Orange’s Division Cormincy (nr Berry Au Bac)
• Von Arnim’s Division Berry Au Bac (north of Aisne)
• Kuhmheims’ Division Appies (Eppies, nr Laon)
• Blucher’s Cavalry Division Semilly (nr Laon)
• Bridging Train Laon
• Guard Infantry Laon
General Napoleon Bonaparte commands the enemy. They are organised into the 4 infantry divisions of Angereau, Dusheme, Victor and Suchet, each division is between 9,000 and 14,000 strong and possess few cavalry. They have reserve infantry and artillery which is perhaps 5,000 strong. Most of their 6,000 or so cavalry is in one division under the command of Murat.
Angereau occupies Soissons, probably with an outpost at Fismes & scouts flung towards Chavingon to the NE. The whereabouts of the remaining French forces are uncertain, but we have received reliable reports of large French troop movement north through Chateau-Thierry in the last 2 days.
Schmettau’s Hussars at Urcel report a small enemy cavalry presence about Chavingon.
The object of the campaign is not the conquest of France – that would be asking too much of Prussia’s slim resources. The objective is to force France to return territories on the Franco-German borders taken in the revolutionary wars and to make other concessions.
With this in mind if we can maintain our army unbeaten in a strong position between the R. Aisne and the R. Marne the success of our negotiations will be near certain. Success would be absolutely assured if the French were to be forced into a defensive posture.
3. The 1801 campaign in France – confessions of a Pomeranian Grenadier from Martin James
Before the game started, Richard asked us for our preferred side. To our shame, neither of us opted to be Napoleon, so the thing was finally decided by die roll and I ended up as the venerable Prince of Brunswick.
From the briefing it appeared that the French army was slightly smaller than my own total of 60,000.
I had 5 divisions (Schmettau, Wartensleben, Kuhmheim, von Arnim and Orange), plus a cavalry division under Bluecher. The French were apparently organised in 4 divisions (Augereau, Suchet, Duhesme and Victor), together with the Guards, plus reserve cavalry under Murat. On the downside, they were veterans of the Italian campaigns, whilst my own men were relatively inexperienced.
This final point did register, but not as much as it should have done. To the end, I failed to make due allowance for the nature of my army, and made unrealistic demands on them, as we will see.
As will be seen from the briefing, our orders from on high were to maintain our army unbeaten in a strong position between the Aisne and the Marne to exert pressure on the French while negotiations were underway. HM the King recognised that we were unlikely to have the strength for a march on Paris, but if we could put Napoleon on the defensive, so much the better.
We could not live off the land, and were thus critically dependent on maintaining our supply lines and (initially) on holding Laon where all our reserve supplies were accumulated. I did not consider Laon an ideal supply point however, as it did not enable the army to operate between the Aisne & Marne, and only really threatens Paris from one direction. For this reason I rejected the notion of concentrating my entire force to advance though Soissons at the outset.
I intended to threaten Soissons, and if possible take & fortify it. This would hopefully throw the French onto the defensive, and persuade them that we would take the direct route to Paris. If Boney got there too quickly, we would not press the assault.
As soon as Bonaparte had been identified on that front, we would seize Rheims, and transfer our LOC head to it. The very thought of the switch gave my commissaries apoplexy, but we would then threaten to advance on Paris via Chateau Thierry, Viel Maisons or Sezanne. This would get us between the Aisne & the Marne. It would also pose multiple threats to Paris, in a region where the course of the rivers is less conducive to a French defence.
I aimed to at first maintain 2 wings: one to mask Laon and one to take Rheims, with a mass of manoeuvre of 1 division plus Bluecher’s cavalry switching between the two. If push came to shove, I would seek battle in preference to taking towns.
Once we had switched our LOC through Rheims, I intended to evacuate Laon and concentrate the entire force at Rheims.
There follows a brief daily narrative of events as seen from the Prussian HQ, together with extracts from my thoughts & orders for the next day. Numerous errors of judgement are revealed!
1st May action (see Map 1)
3 divisions plus Bluecher’s cavalry advance boldly towards Soissons, whilst the 2 further east under Orange adopt a defensive posture, but send a small force under Colonel Berger to probe towards Fismes. The latter force is forced to retreat before an estimated 5,000 French who are themselves advancing towards Berry.
Thoughts for 2nd May
The Soissons operation is a feint. If the French are there in strength, I want to keep them there. We will show all our forces, and tonight I want our boys to light as many campfires on the heights N of the town as they can.
The attack on Berger’s force was a surprise. Is this just a probe from a small force in Fismes? Or is it elements under Napoleon? His plan could be to split the 2 wings of my army.
The noble and distinguished Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick
Pilfered from the web at http://www.napoleon-online.com/
On balance, I think it’s more likely to be the former, in view of the poor road network in that area, the rivers, and the distance he would have had to march from Chateau Thierry. Let’s hope I’m right!
I must assume that the French march faster than my boys however.
2nd May action
Our main army reaches the heights across the river from Soissons. Local Royalists say Augereau is in command with 20-40,000, and that Bonaparte was there yesterday with a small entourage. Bad news from the east. Our probing force under Colonel Berger is shattered, and survivors report that 30,000 enemy from Fismes attacked them. Orange has decided to retreat to Berry.
Thoughts for 3rd May
It is still not clear how strong the French are at Soissons, or where Napoleon is.
Berger’s defeat is unfortunate, but no more (says Comical Ali). I suspect that there are fewer than 30,000 French on this front.
We will continue to demonstrate in front of Soissons, but switch Kuhmheim and the cavalry to the east as per the original plan. Hopefully we can win a battle as well as Rheims.
3rd May action
Leaving Wartensleben’s division under Schmettau to demonstrate at Soissons, I take the third (Kuhmheim), together with Bluecher’s cavalry on a 2-day march towards Berry. The troops do not march as far as I expect on the first day. Still, Orange appears to have extricated himself without further difficulty and is now in position N of the Aisne. I hear that 8,000 East Prussian reinforcements are marching from Brussels to join me, but will not arrive for many days.
Early next morning the Frenchies push N of the Aisne, and Orange withdraws before them as planned to Craone. They evidently intend to push up the main road to Laon.
Thoughts for 4th May
We fight. Before engaging, I wish to allow the French to get further up the Corbeny road towards Laon. They will then have a devil of a job to get back. There must be a risk that some Frenchies get to Laon (which is virtually unoccupied). If we win the battle however, I think we can regain anything we have lost there.
4th May action – The Battle of Craone (see Map 2)
All quite at Soissons, but we fight at Craone and win. The French Guard appears on our southern flank from Fismes during the afternoon but then retires. As night falls the main French force falls back to Corbeny.
Our losses for the day amount to 2,500 men, mainly from von Arnim’s men. The French have most certainly suffered a great deal more heavily, and several hundred surrendered.
Thoughts for 5th May
We did well today. One cannot always trust reports, but we captured some guns and several hundred prisoners, and it is likely that Victor’s division is weak and pretty demoralised.
We are also poised to sever his LOC (to Rheims?), so he must be pretty nervous.
It appears likely that the French have only 2 divisions and the reserve cavalry around Corbeny. The Guard will take several hours to arrive if summoned. Augereau & Suchet appear to be at Soissons. Napoleon may well summon at least one of them to join him, but they are even further away. All in all he is unlikely to have more than 20,000 for battle tomorrow, and we still have more than 30,000. With only 3 weakened divisions, he has barely enough troops to man his 3 km battle line.
5th May action
I order further attacks during the night, but little happens! Even when it appears that it the enemy are retreating, my troops still seem reluctant to pursue. Anyone would think they had just fought a battle! In the morning our men set out after the French down the Berry road, with a strong force moving on the Pontavaire road to outflank the French. Unfortunately they discover there is no bridge!
Some Frenchies try to make a stand on the S bank of the Aisne at Berry, but our boys push across bravely – if a trifle slowly. The French withdraw west towards Fismes.
During the evening I hear from Schmettau that the French debouched at dawn from the hornwork on the NE bank of the Aisne at Soissons, and attacked him with some success. Schmettau begins to withdraw towards Laon.
Thoughts for 6th May
I should have looked more closely at the Soissons fortifications. I didn’t spot the hornwork N of the river. Not very bright!! We have to take our medicine there, and trust to Schmettau’s good sense. I cannot be everywhere, and riding over will just mean I don’t intervene on either front for 24 hours.
Again I should have looked more closely at the map. I thought there was a bridge at Pontavaire. Well at last count Brunswick was believed to be 127 years old, so I guess the eyes don’t last forever.
At least I’m still keeping the French moving (another 20 km during the night and today). He surely cannot go on much longer like this. I presume his Guard has now joined him from Fismes.
On the other hand Von Arnim and Bluecher have had a very easy day, twiddling their blasted thumbs at Pontavaire! We should be able to use them to good effect tomorrow.
6th May action (see Map 3)
The French continue to retreat towards Fismes, but eventually make a stand. We attack – rather ineptly – and dear old Bluecher cannot not be restrained from a pointless frontal charge on the French infantry & guns. Another 2,000 casualties and we suspect that the French lost less.
In the west, Schmettau holds his own against French attacks on the road to Laon.
Thoughts for 7th May
Yesterday’s results were disappointing for the main army. Still, I remain reasonably optimistic, as he must be at least as exhausted as me – and probably more. It’s one thing marching and fighting for 3 days when you’re advancing, quite another when you are constantly retreating.
What will he do now? It appears that I have achieved artillery superiority during the afternoon, so he may be thinking about retreating again. This would presumably add to his men’s demoralisation. He may not realise how tired my men are, and fear an assault in the morning.
Where is Napoleon? If he is with the Guard, his best course is to join with Murat & co, or force-march to try and beat Schmettau. The Guard is not strong enough for independent operations I think.
As a contingency, I will make preparations to cross the Aisne at Pontavaire if I need to reinforce Schmettau in a hurry.
Schmettau seems to have done well today (must make sure I fail to mention that in dispatches!). Napoleon and the Guard may appear on his front however. We do have the East Prussians on the way; however they arrive Laon on 8th or 9th May, so may not be able to reinforce him before the 10th May.
7th May action
The French retreated again to Fismes. Over to the west the French attacked us. We continue to trade ground for time there.
Thoughts for 8th May
Napoleon has been identified on the Laon axis. Can I trust this report? It looks fairly definite, and his presence there is plausible – trying to compensate for defeat at Craone with the reasonably fresh divisions of Suchet and presumably Augereau. It looks as though he is moving totally to the defensive east of Soissons and maybe moving his least badly hit units (Murat & the Guard) to reinforce his thrust on Laon. A reasonable plan, if I let him carry it out.
He has possible reinforcements coming from Chateau Thierry. This report may be false, but looks plausible. If they are real, where are they heading? Possibly to Rheims, but then they would be isolated unless he moved Victor and Duhesme to join them. And would he do that fearing I may move on Soissons in his rear? More likely they will concentrate with Victor and Duhesme east of Soissons.
I will march to reinforce Schmettau, but how many troops to take with me? Bluecher certainly, as I intend to fight another battle. I need to leave at least one division in the east to take Rheims. Risk is that a lone division might not be enough, and anyway would be vulnerable to being overwhelmed once the French get their act together again.
I’ll take one infantry division (von Arnim) plus Bluecher to Laon. I’ll also have Schmettau, Wartensleben, the Guards and the East Prussians, who arrive this evening. Hopefully we will fight on the 9th with about 40,000 men.
8th May action (see Map 4)
In the afternoon a message arrives from Orange reporting that Rheims was taken without much organised resistance.
The French SW of Laon have barely moved today. It is confirmed that Napoleon is there along with Suchet & Augereau.
Bluecher and von Arnim march sedately towards Laon via Berry and Corbeny. I accompany them, trying to curb my impatience.
Thoughts for 9th May
Why did Napoleon not attack towards Laon today? Possibly because he was awaiting the arrival of Murat and the Guard. I should assume that he would have them available tomorrow.
Now we have taken Rheims, which was my initial objective, we need to speed our plans for switching our LOC to it. I would prefer to fight the battle first however, as I don’t want to detach troops to escort the logistical tail.
Bluecher and v Arnim did not move as far as I anticipated today. Maybe I underestimated how long it would take to cross the Aisne? Aim is still to fight, but now probably on the 10th with 41,000 men. I will order Schmettau and Wartensleben to pull back (to Laon) in the hope that he follows.
9th May action – The Battle of Laon
Napoleon incommoded me with a pre-dawn attack on Schmettau’s 2 divisions, just as they were preparing to withdraw. This was spearheaded by his Guards. Only the presence of our East Prussian recruits, and the troops I brought with me from the Fismes front, allowed us to hold the line at the very gates of Laon. By late afternoon, the position had stabilised, and we were even able to counterattack. As usual, this did not happen in the way that I had planned – poor staff-work again I guess. So overall a draw, but I was lucky.
Napoleon’s army at Laon appears to consist of Augereau, Suchet, the Guard, and Friant’s division of recruits.
Losses are unclear as yet, but must run into several thousand. Schmettau and Wartensleben have suffered particularly severely, although there are indications that many will rejoin the colours over the next few days.
I also lost my bridging train at Pontavaire today to French hussars. I had foolishly left it without an escort.
Thoughts for 10th May
Will he stand, or will he retreat? Unlike us, he will be short of supplies and probably medical facilities. Friant’s division of recruits has clearly been thrown into battle without much in the way of support.
We will remain on the battlefield overnight. If French remain, we will rest and reorganise tomorrow, and aim to fight again on the 11th. If he attacks, we will defend our line to the last!
My one concern is that the French hussars who destroyed the bridging train may presage a thrust on Laon from the SE with Duhesme, Victor and possibly Murat. If he does not retreat, this may indicate these fears are well-founded. He has clearly cut my communications with Rheims, as I have not heard from Orange.
4. The 1801 campaign – the other side of the hill from Paddy Griffith, aka Napoleon
Rich started this campaign soon after he and I had returned from a detailed inspection of the terrain of the 1814 Champagne campaign. Therefore although he set his fictitious campaign in 1801, I (possibly wrongly) immediately jumped to the conclusion that the situation was loosely based on the events of 1814 – and particularly those surrounding the battles of Craonne and Laon.
The forces available to me looked ‘about right’ for that, although I was encouraged to note that the Prussian forces looked rather less than their prototypes had deployed. Nevertheless it still seemed to me that the Prussians had a numerical superiority, and so I would have preferred to command their army, simply because it looked bigger! Also, having been dealt the French, it rather bothered me during the first few days of the campaign that I was unable to call myself ‘Emperor’ – but only ‘First Consul’.
Paddy showing off on a horse.
Rather demeaning, I felt: so I set a date for my imperial coronation later in 1801, ie considerably earlier than the real one (but I did take care not to let the intended site – the cathedral at Reims – affect my military decision-making in the game).
Anyway, I did try (possibly wrongly) to model my attitudes and mannerisms as closely as possible on those of the real General Bonaparte, with whose life and methods I happen to be extremely well acquainted (far more so, I suppose, than is true of most other historical characters). Hence I was ‘role playing’ a real character in a way that is rarely possible in wargames, and to me that was a major delight of this game. This process included a number of theatrical touches which were not really relevant to the military outcome (I was particularly proud of all the ear tweaking and of course my despatches to Le Moniteur); but it also included a number of operational assumptions that were structurally central to the way I fought the campaign. This is doubtless bad wargame practice, but it was the only way I felt I could play the game, given my vast background reading about the nasty little Corsican monster, together with my recent battlefield tour of the Chemin des Dames:-
Take the offensive at every possible opportunity. This is another way of saying that the real Bonaparte was reckless, and criminally so in the case of the 1814 campaign, which should not have been fought at all (He was the only guy who couldn’t see the whole enterprise was DOOMED). I could not escape his offensive mindset in the game, even though I might have done better not to.
Assume that however strong the enemy may appear, he is actually on the point of collapse in the face of superior French tactical skill and military cohesion. (Didn’t work in 1814 and didn’t seem to in 1801 either!)
In any case, the umpire has probably told the enemy that we are far stronger than we actually are (as was the case in 1814, when the role of ‘umpire’ was played by Gneisenau). I look forward to hearing whether this was correct in the game.
Since we are operationally faced by superior numbers, we must try to make the maximum use of rapid manoeuvre (preferably on the enemy’s rear, although the terrain in this particular campaign made that very difficult).
In particular we should try to maintain a holding force at either side of the campaigning area, while moving a central mass from one side to the other, hitting the enemy with a big force on whichever side he seemed to be weakest.
This last one turned out to be particularly difficult, since my only ‘masse de manoeuvre’ turned out to be a brigade of guards plus a battery of guard artillery! Well, that was all I felt I could afford, since apart from his own guard, the enemy had five infantry Divisions, while I had only four (later we got one more each as reinforcements, which rather cancelled themselves out). Hence initially I felt I had to have two ‘Army Corps’ (Augereau’s and Duhesme’s) each of two Divisions, with one of these Corps posted at each end of the line, ie separated from each other by up to 50 km. This level of force was the minimum that I felt could hold a superior enemy in check.
I initially decided to make my main attack in the East with two Divs (-) left in Soissons on the defensive while two (++) tried to disrupt the enemy towards Berry. My hope was to get among the Prussians around Berry to smash or at least disrupt them, and then march on Laon to get behind the folks who I hoped would be banging their heads against Soissons. It started well with Duhesme’s pretty divisional victory at La Faite (Berger’s defeat, SW of Berry. Martin), but unfortunately my battle at Craone/Corbeny went off at half cock and it turned out the enemy had about twice as many troops concentrated in the area (3 Divs) as I had imagined. I blame poor intelligence for this failure, which might have warned me to be more defensive at Corbeny. Either that, or the poor speed my men could make in getting to Festieux ahead of the enemy at Craonne meant that they were not clear to the north in time – I fell between two stools and was mashed in the middle.
I then took a major strategic decision to change my plan (This type of mercurial change of plan is, incidentally, totally in character for my despicable prototype. As indeed is the experience of defeat to each of his reckless offensives in turn). I left Duhesme at Berry which I wanted him to hold as a defensive bastion while I attacked at Soissons (where I went asap, taking the guard infantry and artillery with me). Augereau attacked out of Soissons in fine style, but alas once again my plans went awry when that idiot Duhesme limply allowed the bridge at Berry to be taken from him without a fight! On the plus side this was drawing 3 Prussian Divs further away from Laon; but on the debit side I felt I couldn’t strip any further troops away from Duhesme to reinforce my effort at Laon (especially Murat’s cavalry). It also left Reims wide open, and I still had absolutely no idea of the enemy’s plans.
Unexpectedly (but not necessarily bad for me) the Prussians appeared to have as little offensive intention as I had lots of it! The enemy pursuing Duhesme to Fismes just let him off the hook when they might have destroyed him. Nor did they trouble Reims for a very long time when they might have captured it effortlessly. Instead, they apparently sent at least a Division back to Laon, which in my book amounts to a massive case of ‘Not reinforcing success’. When I eventually (belatedly) got to hear of this, it seemed to confirm my belief that the enemy was either less strong than I had been told, or was dead nervous about what I was up to (or preferably both!!). A third possibility was that he had somehow cleverly contrived to hide a Div or two down an unnoticed side road leading to Paris or some other key point; but this thought just increased my reluctance to call Murat’s cavalry back from the Fismes-Reims area.
On Augereau’s front I was frustrated by the slow progress he was making around Chavignon-Urcel, or in other words I was once again coming to suspect that these Prussians, however un-enterprising they might be in the offensive, were far from a push-over when on the tactical defensive. That was bad enough when we were trying to cross a minor stream like the Lette; but it loomed ominous in my mind when I remembered the strength of the fortress of Laon (which, pray remember, Paddy Griffith had carefully inspected, in between the beer and andouillettes, only six weeks earlier!). It was only my personal presence and inspired night manoeuvre via Anizy that allowed me to unzip the Lette position, and even then the enemy still showed staunch resistance at Clacy and Chivi (just SW of Laon. Martin). They could not be bumped out of their defences: it required the set-piece battle of Laon on 9 May. All this cost time that I could not afford. I tried to rush Laon but once again the enemy was too stubborn in defence, and even though I thoroughly defeated his original two Divisions (Wartensleben & Schmettau), his reinforcements arrived just too soon. It was Corbeny all over again, except on this occasion I could blame neither poor intelligence nor poor marching speed on the part of my troops: it was all about the tactical ability of outclassed Prussians to defend difficult terrain against even the elite of the French army!
What happened after that is still in the hands of the umpire, although my own orders when last checked seemed to be to pile everyone available into Laon in a desperate last fling.
The Napoleon Options
What else could I have done, if I had not had the real psychology of Bonaparte, and the real events of 1814 fixed so firmly in my head? Well it seems there were three possibilities. The first is that I could have kept my deployment split into two widely-separated Corps, but in a rather lame defensive posture from the first. The hope would be that the enemy would wear himself out against the walls of Soissons and also against Fismes or Berry, or even (possibly best of all?) Reims. That would arguably have cancelled out the enemy’s numerical superiority through attrition, and I could still have manoeuvred between them until one or the other was crushed. The disadvantage was that it left the initiative with the enemy in a way that le petit caporal would surely never have tolerated.
The second possibility was to concentrate everything on the Soissons road and go head-down for Laon from the very first. With the benefit of hindsight I think this could have been a winning strategy, and still consistent with Bonaparte’s mind set apart from the fact that it included no manoeuvres sur les derrieres, but only an unsubtle frontal assault. However at the moment when I would have had to issue the orders to divert everyone onto the Soissons road, I still knew nothing of the enemy’s movements (nor did I know that I never WOULD get to know much!): in fact the only report that I had received was that there were 60,000 Prussians loose around Berry and a further 60,000 solidly entrenched on the impregnable Laon plateau. Even if these figures were greatly exaggerated (as doubtless they were – ’60,000’ has been a magic number for army strengths ever since Viking times), things still didn’t look good for a frontal attritional attack. With a siege train of no more than 12 x 12 pdr, I did not think that even a massive concentration of my entire army of 52,000 could ultimately have made much headway against the Laon fortifications, and the longer that sterile confrontation continued, the more damage the ’60,000’ loose around Berry would have been able to wreak. In fact as it turned out the troops at Laon were on the march southwards, so I would have had a good chance to defeat them in the open before they could be reinforced. In the event I did defeat them outside the Laon walls on 9th May with only a half of my army, but by that time they had received large reinforcements.
Thirdly, I could simply have concentrated my entire army at Soissons (backed by a strengthened garrison at Chateau Thierry) and dared the enemy to come and get me. That might well have been the best way to get a truly ‘decisive’ battle, or at least an ‘equal points’ one, with my stronger defensive position cancelling out his superior numbers. But it simply wasn’t the sort of thing a frantic little ogre would have thought of doing. The whole art of war does, after all, reside in the legs.
5. The 1801 campaign – thoughts on the game from Paddy Griffith
La Route de l’Armee
One of the most charming aspects of this campaign was that it was the very first time in wargaming that I had properly been able to organise the logistic rear of a Napoleonic army, which depends upon setting out a main base from which roads radiate that are protected, at intervals of 2, 3 or 4 days’ march, by a chain of defended posts. This was particularly interesting since we relied on the Cassini map of the era (although supplemented in my case by some personal recces of the ground in 2003). From my base in Chateau Thierry I initially set out a route through La Fere en Tardenois to Fismes and then Berry (and was to be Festieux, if only we’d got there!). Then again there was the route through Soissons to the bridge at Chavignon (and was to be Laon if only we’d got there!). Since we were on the offensive and the Prussians on the defensive, I rather doubt that my opponent had either the chance or the need to develop a logistic system in this sort of way: his main base was Laon and we were snapping around its outskirts all the time, whereas my base at Chateau Thierry remained blissfully peaceful (apart from the occasional self-destruction of one of the cannons retrieved from the Sealed Knot discard pile, for its defence!).
I had no particular problem with the quality of the decisions, especially since many of them were about the actions of subordinates who were remote from my actual physical location (eg I was nearing Soissons when Duhesme screwed up at Berry). That sort of thing is perfectly realistic: it can and should be put down to just “C’est la vie” for any frantic little ogre like myself, especially when he’s pushing his luck to the limits (eg in the run-up to the real battle of Craonne he was incandescent about the blatant surrender of Soissons). So it’s fair enough as far as I’m concerned. Ditto for when your subordinates wake up late, complain of being ‘tired’, or go to bed early – all of which kept happening to me perpetually during this game.
Perhaps the most important issue for discussion about the umpiring was the way the game was integrated into the participants’ ‘work-life’ balance – ie how we can live our real lives without being too much disrupted by the pressing allurements of the game.
The daily matrix of ‘Orders’ from the player to each of his subordinates, and then ‘Reports’ from the umpire back to the player seemed to work very well. My only slight complaint is that I didn’t understand the computer program, so I couldn’t manipulate the lines and columns of the matrix as I wanted to. But then it would have been highly anachronistic for 1801 if I HAD been able to! About one cycle of orders and reports every 3 days seemed to be a good turn-round rate for the needs of the ‘work-life balance’.
Alas the arrangements for battles did not work nearly so well, and I think that on the whole I would have preferred the umpire to just decide the outcome on the battle on the basis of the morning orders (but naturally I hope giving a plus factor for my personal presence at any particular key point!) rather than trying to do it moment-by-moment.
In particular I didn’t really like the way the battle of Laon was done by e-mail. It seemed to me that an essentially straightforward battle (ie I wanted to attack until stopped, then go defensive) was spread out over a 3-day exchange of some 6 e-mails per side, when it could have been done in maybe 2 e-mails, spread over an hour.
Compared to this the battle of Corbeny had worked quite a lot better, when it was done by phone, although in that case I felt it was all a bit too quick yet (once again) disrupted the normal modus operandi. Maybe the same information spread over twice the time would have given players more reflection time – but then again it might have been just as good to use two e-mails. Remember that in 9 game days we only had 2 battles which the umpire felt were important enough to merit this ‘detailed tactical’ treatment, so if we had gone to half days for those events, we would only have extended the game by two game turns, which I feel would have created a lot less ‘work-life’ fuss than the two battles we actually had.
I confess I was expecting at least a few patches of really bad weather, since the weather was mentioned in every set of reports; but then again it was May and we happened to be lucky! C’est la vie – but I’d be interested to know whether it was really just because the umpire overlooked the issue.
6. The 1801 campaign in France – final thoughts from Martin James
The overall tempo of the game with several days of manoeuvre followed by the occasional battle seemed authentic, and is a level of simulation I particularly enjoy. Using the Casini maps to switch between the operational and the tactical worked really well. One could in theory manoeuvre with a view to fighting on ground of one’s choosing. Unfortunately this remained very much ‘in theory’ in my case!
I think Paddy studied the maps to better effect in our game. What balanced it was that I managed to concentrate more men for the large battles. Truly god is on the side of the big battalions.
I agree with Paddy that the game worked best at the operational level. I felt the level of detail was right. So was the amount of intelligence. Enough to draw conclusions, but not enough to know whether they were the right ones! How topical……….
The only suggestion I made was to impose harsher penalties for pushing the troops too hard. The aftermath of the battle at Craone is a case in point. I felt the overall result in terms of losses for both sides in the pursuit were not unreasonable. What seemed odd to me was that (a) after marching, fighting, losing, night retreat etc, Paddy’s men did not lost more severely in straggling, and (b) after similar exertions my own army was still in a fit state to pursue 2 days later.
I have to say that Paddy did not feel that this was a problem though. Things look different from the other side of the hill……….
I share Paddy’s view that the game worked somewhat less well on the tactical side. It may not be entirely coincidental that I felt it worked best at Craone – the one battle I clearly won!
In our post-match discussion, the main issue was the risk that players would attempt to micro-manage their subordinates, thus making more work for everyone and slowing the game. We all agreed that this was not desirable, and that players should content themselves with giving general orders for subordinate divisions, preferably taking account of likely contingencies.
Fine in principle, but the devil may be in the detail, as the player’s view of what should be handled by a subordinate may not be the same as the umpire’s.
I was warned about Bluecher’s reckless proclivities, and one the one occasion I let him out of my sight he did not ‘disappoint’ me!
But what about the rest of them? Can I assume that General von Arnim will provide proper security for his division if I don’t specifically order him to? Will Wartensleben attack in the right way if I don’t deploy his brigades for him? Do I need to order artillery preparation before he assaults that village, or will he think to do this? Better not to take the chance. I’ll write a further 3 paragraphs of orders instead! Aargh!
This issue also arises in our regular Kriegsspiels from time to time.
In the Battle of Laon, things became even more complex. Because of Paddy’s early success, many of my divisions were quite mixed by noon. So by the afternoon, I was ordering attacks by brigades, for lack of anything larger! This must have made things even more difficult for Richard.
I agree with Paddy that the number of ‘time slots’ into which the battle is divided should be limited. I felt that Craone was about right – with 2, the subsequent engagement NE of Fismes had too few iterations (ie only one), and that Laon had too many.
Thanks again to Richard, and also to Paddy as well for a very tense game (and for the post-match analysis). We both had our share of success and failure, and who knows what would have happened next?
Having had the benefit of reading Paddy’s thoughts before finalising this, let me assure him that if Napoleon still wishes to attend his coronation in Rheims, the Prussian Army will be please to make appropriate arrangements!
7. The man behind the monocle from Tony Hawkins
As was spotted by Arthur Harman some time ago, the award of the Reisswitz Monocle is actually based on a cartoon of ‘Rough Rider’ and later US president Teddy Roosevelt.
His diplomatic approach was to ‘speak softly but carry a big stick’.
Tony Hawkins supplies his own favourite Roosevelt quote:
When asked whether he was a good shot, he replied, “No. But I shoot often”.
From David Commerford
Ahoy Matey! Shiver MeTimbers! Tis time to Let The Cat Out of The Bag, sit down for a Square Meal and Splice The Mainbrace!
I would be delighted to Sign on Board, Up Anchor and Get me Sea Legs but solely on the proviso I’m not one of those dammed Frenchies you understand!
Don’t mind if it’s by email or whatever, sounds like fun either way!
God Save the King! (He’ll have to if I’m running the Navy)
Bosun! Clap that man in irons and give him 30 lashes for addressing an officer. What? That’s not harsh enough? Well stop his grog ration instead then.
At least he has the right spirit sir (well over 80 mgs I’d say).
Oh very well. Just take this shilling and make your cross here.
From Geoff Eyles
Re Strange goings on under the stairs.
I am familiar with the expression to ‘contemplate one’s navel’, but to ‘contemplate one’s folly’ is new to me. Perhaps this explains the lack interest in Circassian slave-girls. Or perhaps the least said the better.
Anyway, another excellent KN. Keep up the good work.
Re the naval campaign; I have thought about a game set in the Napoleonic era (or maybe starting in an earlier period) with world-wide naval supremacy as the foremost objective. This game would cover the entire globe [first rule of game design – don’t be too ambitious]. The original idea was inspired by the series of volumes Tide of Empires written by Peter Padfield, and the Napoleonic details filled out somewhat by Dreams of Empire (Napoleon and the first World War 1792-1815) by Paul Fregosi.
Glad you liked it. For some reason I found it more of a chore than usual to get this one out. Hope I’m not in the first stages of editorial burn out.
I have read the Padfield and Fregosi books, and enjoyed the former more. I find Padfield’s style somewhat more analytical. Partly personal preference, but analytical works are more helpful when trying to design a game, I think.
Yes it is strange that most of us Brits think immediately of Napoleonics when considering naval warfare in the age of sail. Perhaps it’s the Nelson factor. Yet in the American War of Independence, the situation was more balanced, and arguably more interesting. Going back further, to the 1670s-90s, the French navy under Louis XIV had over 100 ships of the line, and gave the combined British and Dutch fleets a hard fight of it. The also had fine admirals like Duquesne and Tourville, and a much more aggressive combat doctrine.
Perhaps we should consider a game set in an earlier period. It would be quite a different game. Blockade techniques for example were not as well developed.
From Arthur Harman
I note your comment on playing BattleCry with your youngest. Not familiar with it myself. Do you think it might suit William, if so, where can one obtain them?
Yes I think it might. I ordered it over the net from Boulder Games in North America. Don’t know if there’s a UK stockist, although you might try Esdevium Games or 2nd Chance Games. You tend to pay way over the odds for this sort of thing if you buy in the UK though. On the other hand, it’s a long wait for surface mail, and if you opt for airmail you lose much of the cost saving.
From Tony Hawkins on 19th Century Artillery Ranges and Observation
Following from The Artillerist’s Manual and British Soldier’s Companion (1839-1859)
“Good eyesight recognizes masses of troops at 1,700 yards: beyond this distance the glitter of arms may be observed. At 1,300 yards infantry may be distinguished from cavalry, and the movement of troops may be seen; the horses of cavalry are not, however, quite distinct but that the men are on horseback is clear. A single individual detached from the rest of the corps may be seen at 1,000 yards but his head does not appear as a round ball until he has approached up to 700 yards at which distance white cross belts and white trousers may be seen. At 500 yards the face may be observed as a light coloured spot; the head, body, arms and their movements, as well as the uniform and the firelock (when bright barrels) can be made out. At between 200 and 250 yards all parts of the body are clearly visible, the details of the uniform are tolerably clear, and the officers may be distinguished from the men.”
Very useful, but is it really saying that one cannot distinguish between, say, red and blue uniforms at greater than 250 yds, or merely that details such as regimental facings would be unclear at greater distances?
Quite a difference between the 2 statements.
From Maurizio Bragaglia
I took recently advantage of a book sale by the Bundeswehr Universitaet in Hamburg and bought some excellent books at ridiculous prices. Having seen in the list a “Lehrbuch der Taktik nach etc” by a certain Hauptmann Meckel offered for 12 ? (£ 8) I couldn’t resist buying it.
Loh and behold it was by OUR Meckel and at the end it had the famous map, only it covered much more space than the one publisheb by Bill, at least 27 Km by 19. Do you know if Bill has got it, in case I could photocopy it so that you could post it on the site?
I must say these Germans are real gentlemen, not only they seriously underprice their books (i.e. Schlieffen’s “Dienstschriften” with 100+ colour maps with all the General Staff maneuvers and staff rides during his tenure in 2 case books for 12?!) but the first send the stuff and then require payment!
I’ll copy Bill in so he can comment on the Meckel map. I was certainly not aware of the larger map. This sounds extremely interesting. Bill published a sketchmap of the surrounding area for use in briefings – but I think that came from his fertile imagination.
You’re right about our Hamburg friends. What a splendid bunch of people they are. I don’t suppose they sell booze too?
From new reader Federico Dinucci
By ten years I’m interested in roleplaying games and war games. I played wargames with a group of friends and our professor of contemporary history P.L. Orsi (also a military history expert). I have heard of Kriegsspiel recently. I like the idea of non alternate turn action and the “fog of war” effect. We searched for Kriegsspiel rules on line, and we found Bill Leeson data.
I would like to ask you a question: do you think the 1824 rules (and the 28 supplement) are sufficient to run a game? What about the 1872 (Tschischwitz) and 1884?
We actually have a number of Italian KN readers. It would be nice if we could get a party together and meet up somewhere for a joint game one day!
The short answer is yes. We originally played our games very much in the style of the Reisswitz rules. In recent years we have tended to streamline combat resolution, so as to speed up play, and because we felt the detailed feedback on casualties gave players information they would not actually have in the midst of battle. Martin
I would say that the basic idea of Kriegspiel remained the same from 1824 onwards, but the application of it changed over time according to who was using it. Verdy du Vernois in the 1870’s for instance did not believe in using dice or tables at all. Decisions were made strictly according to how the umpire saw the tactical advantage.
You can stick to the manuals and use the tables to record losses etc. but personally I use them to remind me of aspects of the battle that were seen to be important at the time (presence of a second line, and strength and distance of it for example). Also the fire effect tables can be used to give losses or they can be used to give a good idea of distances and conditions of ground that will give good effect or bad effect. In the 1828 additions a lot of attention is given to troops debouching from defiles and troops escaping through defiles. Bill
(Did you notice Bill’s misspelling of the ‘K’ word there readers? Really Bill, only one ‘s’? That boy’s heading for a ‘smacked botty’ award if he’s not careful. M
From Maurizio Bragaglia again
I was wondering if at one stage we could organize a ‘COW-like’ Kriegsspiel weekend
in England, I could be interested enough to get there for the occasion.
We would need only to find a place offering bed and breakfast and gaming room. We would need to get the players and umpires too of course, but if we announce it let’s 7/9 months in advance and ask people to commit some money we could get enough people.
Good idea re the weekend. It would be nice to see you again in the flesh! Maybe we could entice a few others across the Channel. (For info. COW is an annual event organised in the UK by a group of enthusiasts called Wargames Developments.) Well readers, any takers?
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