Saturday, July 26, 2014

Frustration at Wertingen

In between work, my week has been filled with the command of vast 19th century armies in Germany. Chris and I have been enjoying a PBEM game of the battle of Gross Beeren in 1813, which is speeding toward what looks to be a climactic clash after half a game of maneuver.

I've also been playing a great deal of solo Napoleonic goodness, set mostly during Napoleon's Ulm Campaign of 1805, during the War of the Third Coalition. This is the campaign that led eventually to the Battle of Austerlitz, probably Napoleon's greatest victory.

The battlefield at the start of the action.  The lead elements of Beaumont's 3rd Dragoon Division are entering along the road from Frauenstetten. The game is John Tiller's Campaign Austerlitz.

Well before the guns crashed at Austerlitz though, Napoleon moved to isolate the Austrian army of the hapless General Mack in and around the city of Ulm.  Napoleon pulled off a stroke of strategic brilliance by enveloping Mack's over-extended position and knocking the Austrian army out of the war right at the beginning. Napoleon was introducing the hidebound aristocratically led armies of Europe to the basics of Maneuver Warfare.

As generals go, Mack was not only hopelessly outclassed by Napoleon, but not a particularly good general even compared to his Austrian peers. Beyond the huge mistake he made by advancing his army so far west, Mack made a multitude of other, lesser mistakes. Among those was sending the Auffenburg's infantry division on an unsupported reconnaissance in force from Ulm toward Donauworth, where Mack had rumors of French activity.

Unlike in the actual action, the Austrians don't defend the village Hohenreichen. Rather than the dismounted assault that actually happened I send a brigade of dragoons to chase off the Austrian cavalry and skirmish with the infantry. A second brigade secures the village while the remainder of the division speeds down the road toward Wertingen.
If you'd like to read an extremely well-written account of the action, take a minute to visit one of my new favorite blogs, Obscure Battles. Jeff Barry, the author not only writes engagingly but does some fantastic maps. Go ahead an check it out, I'll be here when you get back.

By 1:40 PM the Austrian picket force has either been destroyed or driven off, routed. Beaumont's Division has been joined by the leading elements of Klein's Division. 
I've played this scenario about four times now. Aside from being tactically interesting because it depicts an unusual situation  - a primarily cavalry force facing a primarily infantry force - it's a great training scenario because of the difficult victory conditions. Point values for even a minor defeat for the French are high; over 600 points! The objectives altogether are only worth 125 points, so the French player must destroy the entire Austrian force while taking very minimal casualties himself.

Overview of the advance of the dragoon divisions at 2:00 PM. The Austrians are nowhere to be found, but if they aren't on that high ground I'll eat my horse.
Practically, this means making very good use of combined arms tactics. The French cavalry is plentiful, but not very effective against artillery and Austrian infantry in square in good order. The French infantry is formidable but there isn't much of it and it's late to the party. The French artillery is nicely mobile horse artillery, but that also means that it's less powerful than the Austrian foot artillery. The scenario is also not terribly long at just 33 turns.

A little after 3:00 PM and we're through the town of Wertingen. Austrian guns have been spotted on the heights. An infantry brigade in square blocks the road on what is likely the flank of the Austrian position. My infantry support has arrived in the form of Oudinot's Grenadier Division of Lannes' V Corps.
I've learned a lot by replaying the scenario. Napoleonic cavalry is not the same as WWII tanks, for example. Cavalry is really a "glass cannon." Sending cavalry against formed infantry, particularly with artillery support is a great way to produce lots of dead horsies and guys in fancy jackets. It has to be used at just the right time against disrupted and wavering or routed infantry. It can overrun artillery from the flank or rear but will take hideous losses in a frontal charge.

Beaumont's dragoons moving into position while a pair of hussar regiments move west to scout the route of the infantry's advance  
Infantry has to be in the right formation at the right time. In square it's very resistant to cavalry, but very vulnerable to artillery fire. Forcing an infantry brigade to stay in square by deploying cavalry within charge range and then blasting the square with cavalry is a very effective tactic. Infantry in line can put out an impressive volume of fire, but is less proof against cavalry. It's also not maneuverable at all. Infantry in column maneuvers well and is good in melee versus other infantry, but is vulnerable to cavalry. You get the picture - there are very clear interactions between the various arms that dictate particular tactics and formations. I think it's this "chess-like" aspect of warfare in this period I'm finding appealing.

4:30 PM - The dragoons are in place, the hussars have mauled a small regiment of Austrian heavy cavalry, and Oudinot's infantry are moving into position on the Austrian flank. My horse artillery has routed most of the blocking force on the Austrian right, and I've sent a brigade of dragoons to pursue the routing infantry.
My plan in this combat is to first, find the Austrians with my cavalry, fix them by placing my dragoons in a position that forces them to deploy in immobile formations, flank them with my infantry, and then destroy them with a combined assault. The challenge is using each type of force at the right time from the right access to keep my losses low while destroying the enemy.

An hour later and the assault on Auffenberg's column is well underway. Cavalry charges have silenced the Austrian guns, but at a steeper cost than I wanted to pay.  I've seized the heights, killed or captured most of the Austrian commanders, and swept away the forces on the Austrian right.

The final situation. Auffenberg's division has ceased to be. 

Nonetheless, a minor defeat for the French! My casualties are about 4X the historical French casualties, while Austrian casualties are roughly the same as the dead, wounded, and captured in the actual combat.
I came closer to victory this time than in any of my previous attempts! I made two mistakes this time: first, I charged my cavalry too early into the Austrian guns, allowing them to face the charging cavalry rather then the advancing infantry. The Austrian artillerymen wreaked bloody havoc on two or three brigades of dragoons before I was able to run them over from the flanks and rear. Second, I committed my infantry to melee attacks too soon. Rather than using my fire superiority to disrupt the Austrian infantry formations and break their morale I assaulted too soon, resulting in much higher infantry casualties than I should have taken.

Now, if I can just remember all this in my PBEM games I might have a chance...