Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Linz-Urfar 17 May 1809

During the Spring of 1809, the Austrians rose against Napoleon in a somewhat over-optimistic attempt to throw off French dominance and reverse the defeat of 1805. The initial Austrian invasion of Bavaria took the French off-guard, but Napoleon reacted quickly, concentrating his army and defeating the Austrians under Archduke Charles at Eckmuhl on 21-22 April.

As Charles withdrew towards Vienna Napoleon and his Saxon and Württemberg allies chased after them along the Danube. Not quite a month after the defeat at Eckmuhl, Charles dispatched Kolowrat's Austrian III Corps to attack Napoleon's extended lines of communication at the town of Linz, where the Wurttemberg troops and Saxons under Vandamme and Bernadotte respectively had established a bridgehead across the Danube.

JTS scenario background. I am playing the historical variant of the scenario.

I tend not to enjoy playing the JTS Napoleonic games solo as much anymore because the AI isn't that good and it seems pointless moving all of those counters for a game that isn't that challenging (PBEM versus a skilled opponent is a completely different deal!). This morning though I was inspired by Chris' recent post about the Battle of Casal Novo that he played using the Command Control feature of the game.

I'd tried Command Control once or twice before but didn't really get it. After reading Chris' post I decided to give it a try again and after a few false starts finally wrapped my head around the mechanism and was able to play a very interesting game.

The battlefield of Linz-Urfar
I played Kolowrat's Austrians in this game. The historical variant of the scenario replicates Kolowrat's overly complex plan, attempting to have the three divisions of his Corps carry off a concentric attack on the bridgehead from three different directions. In this plan, the 2nd Division attacks down the road from the north, the 3rd Division along the road from the east through Katzbach, and the 1st Division through the woods to the west.

Typical of the Austrian armies of this period, however, Kolowrat's divisional commanders are unable to coordinate their attacks successfully. My three divisions will arrive on the field piecemeal and separated by several hours of time. The challenge will be to attack in such a way as to threaten or destroy the bridgehead without being defeated in detail.

At 2:00 PM 2nd Division arrives on the field and is ordered to attack the village of Harbach. A line of Württemberg skirmishers and cavalry block the way; 2nd Division will need to sweep them aside and press hard for the village.
2nd Division flanks the enemy line. By 3:15 the attack has made decent progress despite a series of cavalry charges by the Württemberg horse. Squares and concentrated artillery fire makes short work of most of the charges.

By 3:45 PM 2nd Division has mostly cleared the initial line of Allied defenders and presses on toward Harbach. It doesn’t look like the French and Germans are ready to let the village go without a fight. Württemberg infantry and cavalry mass in defensive positions nearby.

Finally at 4:00 PM, two hours after the beginning of the battle, 3rd Division arrives on the east road. Only a single brigade is present so far but they immediately begin advancing on Katzbach as per the battle plan. Meanwhile, 2nd Division pushes skirmishers toward Harbach.

Skirmishers from 1/Württemberg IR38 and 1/Manfredini IR12 enter Harbach at 4:15. The remainder of their parent brigade, 1st of the 2nd Division are close behind followed by 2nd Brigade. Ominously though there are significant Allied formations nearby.

Attacks by Württemberg skirmishers and cavalry quickly force the Austrians to abandon the village. It’s going to take a more sustained attack by 1/2 and 2/2 brigades to hold on to the village.

While the Austrians reorganize in the center for another attack on Harbach a second brigade of 3rd Division shows up. Skirmishers penetrate the village despite the presence of Allied infantry while the main body moves up for a more substantial attack.

Disaster at Harbach! Through a combination of massed artillery fire and Württemberg and Saxon cavalry charges 2nd Division’s attack is repulsed. All of 1/2 brigade and parts of 2/2 brigade flee from the pounding guns and swirling horsemen to take refuge on the higher ground to the west. The skirmishers and light cavalry to the north still have the remaining brigade of the division tied up fighting to keep the line of communication back to Kolowrat and safety clear.

2nd Division is in no shape to continue the attack on Harbach. Reluctantly, Kolwrat orders the scattered brigades to consolidate on the higher ground west of the village and take up a defensive stance.

As 2nd Division reels back from Harbach, 1st Division finally arrives in the woods to the west. Despite the lateness of the hour their lead brigade, all that has arrived so far, moves to take up a position to the right of where 2nd Division is attempting to reorganize.

While 1st Division slowly pushes through the trees, 2nd Division renews its attack on Harbach. There’s little time left before nightfall, but one last hard push may take the objective. Along the road to the east, 1st Division is still entangled with the Allied skirmishers around Katzbach but has managed to push part of a division along the road and take Domach.

While the Austrians didn’t manage to retake Harbach, the attacks in the center and west were enough to draw sufficient Allied troops that 1st Division was able to take and hold not only Katzbach and Domach but Steeg as well. With the Austrian divisions nearly linked up as dusk fell, Vandamme and Bernadotte were forced to take up defensive positions around the bridgehead and send messengers to Napoleon requesting reinforcements. Much of the Württemberg cavalry was dead on the field, significantly reducing the offensive capabilities of Vandamme’s Corp. The Allied bridgehead was still very much intact but Napoleon’s line of communication had been effectively threatened, endangering the advance on Vienna.
Gaming notes: The Allies lost due to a combination of allowing 1st Division to grab the objective towns along the road and serious cavalry loses incurred defending Harbach. Allied cavalry losses accounted for 280 Austrian Victory Points, almost half of the total. It’s debatable if the cavalry charges were really worth the losses. Losing Harbach itself would have cost only 200 points. In the end either result would have still resulted in an Austrian Minor Victory.
I quite enjoyed playing with Command Control. Doing so really gave the game a more Napoleonic feel. Not being able to micromanage every battalion made the game feel more like Scourge of War or Command Ops. Its unfortunate that more JTS/HPS players don’t make use of this game mode; I’d like to see Tiller add some more sophisticated controls to better replicate the experience of a 19th Century general.