Friday, 25 September 2020

Deeper into the Seven Years War

After the dramas of the Bellona Bridge battle, I am encouraged to continue progress with the Seven Years War collection.  I really don't know an awful lot about the period, so some background reading is certainly in order.  Thanks to David Crook, I was alerted to the Naval and Military Press summer sale,  and especially 'The Wild Goose and the Eagle', a new edition of Christopher Duffy's 1964  biography of Marshal von Browne - a bargain at about £7 !

I am admittedly going slowly, but there's plenty of interest. Browne represents a phenomenon of the time, the exiled  'Wild Geese'  Irish Catholics  making  careers in the various armies of Europe, after their fathers left Ireland following the overthrow and defeat of James II, and with 'no other patrimony than his sword'.  Britain's loss was perhaps  Europe's gain, especially for the Catholic powers such as Austria, France and Spain. Interestingly though, even while the Jacobites under The Young Pretender threatened the Hanoverian regime in Britain fifty years after James, English commanders and even  King George would welcome a man such as von Browne into their camp and councils, when sent as an envoy of their Austrian ally, and were happy to deal with him.  As an officer in the Austrian army of the time, he was bound to see varied  campaigning - not just in Silesia and Bohemia but on the Rhine, in Italy, the Alps and Provence, and against not just Prussians but French, Bavarians, Spanish and Turks. Every chapter  opens a new campaign, and there is masses of interest and inspiration here.  I also really like Duffy's style - how about this, on the encounter at Mollwitz : 

'Frederick had attained his surprise by crossing the Neisse at Michelau and Lowen, but the victory would probably lie with the army that first accomplished the mechanics of processional deployment from column of march into line of battle : a process which, before the innovations of the last years of the Ancien Regime in France, may be compared with the ordered complexities of music before its liberation in the integrated harmony of Haydn and Mozart. At least we should not deny a very considerable technical competence to the minor 18th century masters, whether of music or war'.

You really don't get that sort of thing in your average Osprey.

I also very much like the maps, which  are Duffy's own drawings ( see below ) , and for once a book which gives accounts of military campaigns has maps and diagrams  which adequately illustrate the theatres of war and fields of battle. My favourite so far, I think is von Browne's daring, if unsuccessful,  attack on Velletri, near Rome in 1744, attempting to surprise and capture King Charles of Naples.    

I do like these hand-drawn maps

Finally a chance find in the bibliography : 'DE LACY-BELLINGARRI, The Roll of the House of Lacy, Baltimore,1925. A Most misleading and unreliable work, which should not be read on this or any other connected subject. Mentioned here only as a warning' .

 In the same sale were a couple of the recent Helion books on the same period - 'Between Scylla and Charybdis'  on the Saxon Army , and 'For Orange and the States'  on the Dutch Army.   I have an idea that these might inspire me to recruit  some mercenary units to join in my campaigns, in addition to the Austrians and Prussians.  I especially like the idea of fielding some regiments from Saxony.  Total cost for the three books in the 'summer sale' was about £20 - not bad!

The auld enemy 'time and space, time and space' has got in the way a little recently, but I have had a few opportunites on sunny September afternoons for painting.  I have accordingly got started on the second half of the Austrian Botta infantry regiment. Also, in what feels like another big step forward, I have half a dozen cuirassiers of the Austrian regiment Erzherhog Ferdinand primed and ready. They will have nice cheerful red facings to their white uniforms, and should look splendid. Painting horses may be an interesting challenge -  but hey, they are mostly brown, aren't they? Same colour as muskets...

Primed and ready..Cuirassiers

That's enough for the moment, I hope all are keeping well despite the looming 'second wave' of you-know-what. If we are all to spend the winter indoors, I suppose we will just have to get on with our hobbies. 

Keep well, everyone.

Friday, 4 September 2020

Bridge on the Bellona - down to the wire!


The Austrians have it all to do..

We left the battle for the Bellona Bridge at an interesting point - Prussians holding the bridgehead, Austrians needing to advance, but nervous of  cavalry threatening their flank. It looked like Von Jemanden's Prussians just needed to sit tight, shoot down the Austrians coming forward, while the Uhlans and Horse Grenadiers created mayhem on the flamk. Losses of 4-2 Strength Points in the Prussians' favour, both sides Exhaustion Point of 9 SP. What was Austrian General Dachs to do? 

On Turn Seven, Dachs won the initiative die roll went first - and decided to trust to his musketry and cannon fire.  Every Austrian unit stood and gave fire. The gunners, having unlimbered on the hill with a good field of fire,  contrived to miss with their first shot of the game, but the infantry's muskets found their mark. As volleys rolled along the line, both battalions of the Botta regiment scored hits and took Prussian SPs from Horse Grenadiers and Uhlans;  the Rifles took 1 SP from their Prussian counterparts;  and 2nd Jaeger battalion forced 1st Prussian fusiliers to retreat. Good shooting - and it brought the  score to  5-4 in Austria's favour.  Quite a turn around, and as it transpired, more to come.

On the Prussian turn, a positive start as 2nd Fusiliers' volley forced 1st battalion Botta to retreat, whereupon the same battalion  was attacked  by both regiments of  Prussian cavalry  (stung by the flurry of Austrian fire, they acted on instinct - charge!).  Things looked bad for 1st battalion Botta - and in their first engagement, too. 

1st Botta's trial by cavalry: 'stand firm, men!'

... and then the dice took a hand. Two separate melees, one for each cavalry unit, the foot having to face the jeopardy of die-rolling twice in succession, their only consolation being that neither horse unit had  been able to get round their flank, so the die scores would be unmodified, no plus or minus factors.  

The dice rolled - as is right and proper, low scores are bad.  In both combats, no-one rolled better than a two!  Both sides suffered a hit in each combat; once a hit is scored, the effect is diced for, and for 'average' troops the result is: 1-3  lose 1 SP,  4-6 retreat one hex or lose 1 SP.  All four rolls came up  1 to 3.. so that's 1 SP loss for both cavalry units, and 2 SP lost for the 1st Botta battalion.  The foot could take this - just - having 1 SP left. The Horse Grenadiers, too  had just 1 SP remaining,  but the Uhlans had lost their final SP, and were broken.  When the dust had cleared, the 1st Botta stood resolute if battered, and the power of the Prussian cavalry had been shattered.   With that, Turn 7 ended, and the total Losses were : Austrians 6, Prussians 7. The Prussians had suffered  5 SP losses in a single turn, and were only 2 SP under Exhaustion Point. How suddenly fortunes can turn about..

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the next few turns were rather quieter. In Turn 8, the Austrian gun and all foot units on both sides gave fire, scoring hits a-plenty, but no losses - no less than 4 Prussian units were forced to retreat, and their depleted  Horse Grenadiers fell back to nurse their wounds. On subsequent turns the Prussians held their ground as best they could with not particularly accurate fire, while General Dachs ordered a general advance , then another massed volley on Turn 10.  At this point, the disadvantages of defending a river line became apparent, as the Prussian 1st Fusiliers took a hit and 'retreat'  result , but with their backs already to the river, could not retreat, and had to take 1 SP loss. Score now 8-6 to Austria;  Prussians only one point under Exhaustion, with five turns remaining, not a good position at all. 

Turn 10 - Prussian backs to the River

Turn 11 sealed their fate : in the artillery fire phase at the beginning of the turn, the Austrian gunners aimed at the Prussian rifles - scored a hit. Roll for effect - retreat or lose 1SP,  but again, no place to retreat. So the Prussian rifles lost their last SP,  but also reached their army's Exhaustion Point. No more attacking  moves after this turn; could they hold the Austrians off, keep them more than three hexes from the bridge, and still claim victory? 

Austria won the initiative, and elected to keep firing - a further 1 SP taken from Prussian 1st Fusiliers.  Prussians next - last chance to attack! It started well - their 2nd Fusiliers' fire finally destroying the  1st battalion of  Botta, and Frei Korps forcing 2nd Botta to retreat. This allowed the Horse Grenadiers a last chance to strike back   - charging at the rear of 2nd Botta. Surely they could do some damage, and slow the Austrian advance?  Well, not by throwing a '1' to their opponents '5'.. Roll for effect - almost inevitably,  the Horse Grenadiers lost their last SP and were destroyed - the end of the Prussian cavalry.  Three out of 6 units gone, a loss of 11 SP to Austrian 7, it's almost all over, surely ?   

Last charge of the Horse Grenadiers..

Not quite. Under Bob's Cordery's Portable Wargame rules, reaching Exhaustion may be taken as losing the game, but under Neil Thomas'  One Hour Wargames  scenario victory conditions,  until and unless  Dachs' Austrians could get within three hexes of the bridge, Prussia would still hold the bridgehead - and win the game. Could they hang on?

The three remaining Prussian infantry units doggedly held their ground, von Jemanden directing their fire - until Austrian 1st Jaegers' fire hit 1st Fusiliers, von Jemanden at their head - and he was wounded. Another 2 SPs down for a wounded commander - and 1 SP from the Fusiliers. And then yet again, on Turn 13,  a further loss for 1st Fusiliers saw them destroyed in their turn - and their General wounded AGAIN !  Only 2nd Fusiliers and Frei Korps left,  their commander barely alive,  and their losses now at a massive 17SP  to  Austrian losses of 8SP.   But still, despite everything, holding the bridgehead, two turns to go..

Turn 14;  General Dachs kept a cool head, 'no need to hurry, men, don't just rush forward, give them more musketry!'  The remaining Prussian Fusiliers were forced to retreat again, sheltering in the woods, while the Frei Korps lost yet another 1 SP  and were forced to retreat - back onto the bridge they went. And finally - Turn 15, the last gasp.  The Austrians won the  initiative - nothing for it now but to advance.  No less than three units made it to within three hexes of the bridge. With only two Prussian units left, unable to charge forward owing to Exhaustion, and only the Fusiliers  able to fire - they missed -  it was hopeless.   The twice-wounded Von Jemanden was escorted away, 'a broken man'. Well, he was only Somebody or other..

As it ended,  a Prussian catastrophe - or was it?

With the final tally of losses at Austrians 8 SP, Prussians 18 SP, and only two Prussian units out of six remaining - one of which was trapped in the woods and unlikely to regain the opposite river bank - it looked like a complete disaster for the Prussians. But, look at the victory conditions: 

"Victory is achieved by there being no enemy units on the North bank of the river, within 12" [three hexes ] of the bridge". 

Of course the Prussians could not win, as multiple  Austrian units bore down on the bridge. But the 2nd Battalion, 44th Fusilers still lined the edge of the woods - only two hexes from the bridge!  So, going by the book,  the Austrians could not win either , and  the game was a draw.

As may be apparent, I had a great time with this game; I hope you've enjoyed following it.  The Scenario ( number 5, 'Bridgehead'  from Neil Thomas'  One Hour Wargames )  was excellent, a real challenge for both sides, and I couldn't have asked for a closer finish, despite the huge disparity in losses.  In particular I think the random entry of the second and third bodies of Austrian troops made for plenty of uncertainty - things might have gone quite differently if Austrian units had arrived at the woods, near the river, early on.  See Ross Mac's   and Maudlin Jack Tar's recent games of the same scenario!

 A couple of small notes - observant readers may have noticed pennies and tuppences used as markers. I thought I'd try them to mark 1 and 2 SP losses from units, rather than removing bases, thus keeping units looking suitably  impressive on the table. The coins were an improvised measure, but I think worked OK - though perhaps they could be coloured - either brightly  ( maybe red )  to make losses very apparent,  or equally perhaps green, to merge into the scenery and not divert the eye. 

Also on the rules, I wonder about cavalry vs. infantry melee?  In Bob's original 'Portable Napoleonic Wargame' , Cavalry get a big die roll modifier for attacking Infantry in Line - Napoleonic infantry deemed to be vulnerable unless in square. I removed that, as 7YW infantry in line should be able to drive away cavalry with disciplined volleys - but I think they should perhaps be more vulnerable if taken in the flank or rear.  Perhaps some additional modifiers when cavalry charge the flank or rear of  infantry in line?  I'll have a think. 

So strictly, the Bellona Bridge Battle was a hard-fought draw;  but General Dachs, as he advanced in expectation of accepting the surrender of the Prussian Fusiliers, and watched the Frei Korps retreating over the bridge, thought he knew better..

Keep well, everyone.


Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Bridge on the Bellona

It begins : 'Uhlans - Charge!'

As we left things last time, a  Prussian raiding force had advanced  down from the hills of Peco (thanks, MS Foy!)  and sent its von Kleist Uhlans dashing across the bridge over the River Bellona, in a bid to secure a bridgehead.  General Dachs' Austrians were scrambling to concentrate and repel the invader; this is becoming an unfortunate habit.

Von Jemanden's Prussians began with the Uhlans facing two  Austrian units ( 1st Battalion Botta regiment, plus their Rifles ) :  thereafter a new Prussian unit would arrive along the road each turn until Turn 6. Meanwhile the Austrians would be reinforced by two units on each of turns 3 and 5, each group arriving at randomly-selected entry points. Tricky for both sides - the Prussians would be outnumbered on turns 1,  3 and 5, while the Austrians would not know where their next reinforcement would be arriving from. Fifteen turns available - victory to the side able to prevent any enemy unit standing within 3 hexes of the bridge on the North bank. 

Turn 1, and the brave Uhlans knew what to do - charge!  Straight into to the Botta regiment. But even for Uhlans, charging frontally on formed line infantry is risky, and they lost 1 Strength Point in the resulting melee - first blood to the Austrians.   Next turn, the Uhlans backed off, but lurked threatheningly on the Austrian right  flank, which perhaps they should have done in the first place. Meanwhile the Prussian commander arrived, leading his  1st battalion 44th Fusiliers across the bridge. 

Turn 3 saw the second group of Austrians arrive - 2nd battalion Botta regiment,  and 2nd battalion Jagers, accompanied by General Dachs  - the dice deciding that they would enter on the road from the North, just as the first wave had done. The Austrians felt  a little more secure, but had to turn both battalions of Botta to face those lurking Uhlans. Meanwhile Prussian Fusiliers advanced, joined by their Rifles unit - all three units over the river. 

Turn 4,  Uhlans flank charge on Botta: dangerous!

Next turn, von Jemanden won the intiative die roll and moved first - and the Uhlans struck again, managing to maneuvre for a flank charge on 1st Botta, and taking 1 SP from them, too. In my modified version of the 'Portable Napoleonic Wargame'  rules, this would result in a 'break in' to the infantry formation, giving a big advantage in any further round of melee. But the Austrian battalions worked together as a regiment should -  on their turn the 2nd battalion's musketry forced the Uhlans to retreat, while the first battalion was able to withdraw in good order.  Austrian position stabilised, but a nasty scare, and  the Prussians were well forward, with their 2nd Fusilier battalion already crossing the bridge in support. Losses only 1 SP apiece after four turns.

Austrians fully deployed, but Prussian have the bridgehead

Turn 5 brought the last Austrian troops into the field - their gun, and 1st Jager battalion, arriving on the Eastern edge, at the foot of the hill. Thus they made a coherent force, but rather far back from the river - just where the Prussians wanted them?  The Uhlans continued to threaten on the flank, and more Prussian cavalry arrived - Von Kleist Horse Grenadiers.   With no cavalry to counter them, things could get tricky for General  Dachs. Prussian 1st Fusiliers now opened fire, and took 1 SP from 2nd Jaeger. 

Turn 6 was a high point for von Jemanden's Prussians, their two cavalry units advancing to threaten the open Austrian right, and their musketry and rifle fire taking 1 SP from  2nd Botta and 1 SP from the Austrian gunners.  Dachs'  return fire was less effective, 1st Jaeger taking 1 SP from the Prussian Riflemen.    That made it 4-2 to the Prussians, with the Austrians a long way  from the bridge and threatened by massed cavalry on their flank. To prevent the Prussians winning, the Austrians needed to fight their way forward - a difficult proposition. 


Austrians on the back foot, cavalry to their flank: how to advance?

Could Dachs' infantry mount an effective assault from this unpromising position, while fending off those nasty-looking cavalry?  

Find out next time folks, in another exciting instalment..

Keep well, everyone.