Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vorwärts meine kinder!

I've been bitten by a Napoleonic bug. Recent posts by JC and Chris prompted me to take a more serious look at this era than I have for several years.

16e Division of the V Corps defending the village of Ludwigsdorf during the action at Lowenberg. My defense has smashed a Prussian cavalry brigade and is preparing for the attack of a Prussian infantry brigade.

I own a few Napoleonic games, specifically JTS' Campaign Leipzig, AGEOD's Napoleon's Campaigns, the Matrix versions of the old Talonsoft Battleground: Napoleon series, and Frank Hunter's Campaigns on the Danube. This gives me a nice mix of grand tactical and operational games for the era. I've never really played them much, though, being more drawn to 20th century armored warfare and the American Civil War. Certainly there are some similarities between ACW warfare and Napoleonic warfare, but there are enough differences caused by the half century of time between the two eras as well as the very different geographies to make them feel very different.

If nothing else, the Napoleonic wars were fertile ground for painters of battlegrounds.
Wanting to try something I could use for PBEM gaming, I've focused this week on JTS's Campaign Leipzig. The basic game engine is the same as other Tiller games, with some modifications to better reflect the era. The good news is that I don't have to struggle with learning the game engine.

Unfortunately when I started playing, this was pretty much the situation in terms of my understanding of Napoleonic tactics.

About an hour later at Ludwigsdorf. The Prussian infantry commander seems smarter than his "no guts, no glory" cavalry leader colleague and has decided to try and flank me. This has not gone particularly well for him.
I also find it tough to intelligently play grand tactical games when I don't understand the context of the battle within the larger campaign. It helps me a lot to be able to interpret my force's mission in the scenario in terms of the larger aim of the campaign. I had some understanding of Napoleon's early campaigns in Italy, the Ulm campaign, that he fared no better in Russia than the Nazis did, and the Waterloo campaign. The entire campaign of 1813 was a blank to me, and so making sense of the bushel basket of scenarios offered up by Campaign Leipzig was tough.

In addition to hundreds of paintings of battlefields, there are hundreds of books on the Napoleonic era, too. I like the Osprey books for the clear narrative of the campaign and usually excellent maps. I did make the mistake of buying this one as a Kindle title. While Osprey has made an effort to present the maps so that they are easier to view on an ebook reader or tablet, it just isn't the same as being able to study a map in a paper book. I've moved all of my other reading to ebooks, but for military history, I still find paper books a better choice.

I did get a much better sense of the overall campaign and why it was fought from this book. It also gave me some idea of how Napoleonic forces were generally employed, and what constitutes Key Terrain on the Napoleonic battlefield.

The writing style is like if  H.P. Lovecraft had decided to write history for the Imperial War College
A Colonel F.N. Maude wrote what's apparently considered a definitive work on the campaign around the beginning of the 20th Century. There are some excellent maps in this volume, but I'm finding the writing style heavy going. Colonel Maude also has an interesting set of pre-WWI Imperial British opinions about soldiering that are...illuminating? a "how did your men not mutiny and shoot you?" sort of way.

In the little bit I have read, Maude has made some excellent points about the necessity of fire superiority on the Napoleonic battlefield. He discusses not just how it won battles in that era, but how the lack of understanding of the need for it created the (in his words) "tragic" battlefield situation in the American Civil War. I found it interesting that an author writing over a hundred years ago was well acquainted with the idea of fire superiority and that he was talking about the need to develop it in battles fought a hundred years before he was writing. I'm beginning to realize that at least in the broad perspective, Napoleonic warfare is subject to the same general principles as modern warfare. While specific tactics may differ the Napoleonic commander needed to understand the same sorts of things a modern commander needs to understand. Wellington certainly never heard of OCOKA, but there's plenty of evidence that he understood it.

Further south, two French divisions hold off a series of attacks by Prussian and Russian cavalry and infantry forces. While the Allies have significantly more cavalry, I've concentrated significant artillery in the area. Protected from cavalry charges by infantry squares, I'm able to use this artillery to create local fire superiority and break up the cavalry formations.
I've had great fun playing scenario "003. Action at Lowenberg" this week now that I have a slightly better grasp of what I'm doing. I'm nearing the end of the game with a pretty overwhelming French victory. I chalk that up to an AI that's not regarded as particularly strong in this game series. The AI failed to concentrate anywhere and did a poor job of using combined arms, a necessity on the Napoleonic battlefield.

Of course, from what I'm reading that's probably a pretty damn accurate behavior for many of the commanders on both sides during this campaign. By 1813, everyone was in pretty rough shape.

My current reading
I'm hoping to get a PBEM game going soon and get a real challenge. Chris has picked up Campaign Leipzig too, and he's studied this a lot more than I have. I'm looking forward to it!