Sunday, March 26, 2017

Rossbach: The Flank March

The aftermath of the French attack on Schortau
Historically, Rossbach was a Prussian triumph, a battle fought not just against inferior French and Imperial troops, but by Frederick against a pair of French and Imperial generals who probably had no business being on the field.

That may not be the case on my table.

The Rossbach scenario in Prussia's Glory has a number of very interesting special rules, intended to create historical pressures on the players and cause them to take somewhat historical actions. Chief among these are:

  • The Allied player can not activate his army as normal, as there is no overall army commander. Instead, he rolls every turn, and on a "1" can decide to voluntarily activate and move to attack the Prussians or a victory point location. When he activates, he can claim an immediate morale bonus of up to +8 points - but can not increase his total morale higher than 14.
  • Once the Allied player chooses to activate, he must move to place three line infantry units adjacent to the Prussians or a VP location within six turns. He must move all of his units east of the entrenchments within five turns. Failure to move out of the entrenchments in time cancels the bonus (-8 morale) and inflicts a further -8 morale point penalty. Note that this -16 point penalty is enough to immediately put the Allied player in territory where he has to start checking if his army is demoralized.
  • Failing to move three line infantry units adjacent to the Prussians of either of the two VP towns (Reichertswerben or Kayna) within six turns of activation causes the Allied player to forfeit the morale bonus, provided all of his units are east of the entrenchments.
This has the effect of pressuring the Allied player to make the historical advance from his camp around the Prussian flank, or to at least pitch into the Prussians. The Allied player doesn't have to make this move; he can sit in the trenches and wait for the Prussians to attack. But he's perilously close to the map edge, doesn't have much room to maneuver, and routing units don't have far to go to end up removed from the board.

There are also rules aimed to discourage both sides from simply sitting pat. There were real pressures on both armies to do something. The rules simulate this by:
  • After each movement phase in a turn, the Allied player rolls 1D6. On a 5 he loses two points of morale, and on a six he loses three. However, if he has moved his units toward the Prussians that turn, he does not make this roll. 
  • Similarly, after his movement phase, the Prussian player rolls 1D6 and on a six, loses two morale points.
  • Once combat has happened, the time pressure rolls stop.
So, there's good reason for both sides to move, and fairly early. Both are in good defensive positions though, so there's also a lot of pressure to stay put. The Allies are faced with the choice of moving against Reichertswerben or Kayna on the Prussian flanks, cutting Frederick's line of communication, or sitting in their entrenchments on the Schortau Heights waiting for a Prussian attack. The Prussians have to decide to either attack the strong Allied defensive position, or sit tight, hoping the Allies will move and make themselves vulnerable. Overall, there's probably more pressure on the Allies to move than there is on the Prussians to do so. If neither side moves, the game concludes pretty quickly with a draw.

In the case of my game, the Allies were very lucky. They rolled a "1" for army activation on the first turn (0830). Given that the only chance for an Allied victory almost requires them to attack, I decided to emulated Hildburghausen and launch the Allied army on a march around the Prussian left toward Reichertswerben. This immediately boosted the Allied morale to the maximum.

Initial positions and subsequent maneuvers at Rossbach

The Allied army is made up of several corps, or wings, as follows:
  1. A main body of "French" troops under Soubise. This is the largest formation and is composed of both infantry and cavalry. In addition to French regiments, it contains Swiss and German regiments as well. As part of the "infantry" group this wing needs to roll a two or less each turn to be effective.
  2. A smaller infantry formation under Hildburghausen. This is the Imperial Reichsarmee made up of troops from German states that didn't side with Prussia, Hanover, and Great Britain. Also in the "infantry" group.
  3. A body of Imperial cavalry under Baden, acting as the Advanced Guard. Baden has the ability to command any Allied Cavalry unit within three hexes of his location. This wing is in the "cavalry" group and must roll a three or less each turn to be effective.
  4. Two detachments of primarily light troops, a mix of infantry, Croats, and hussars under St. Germain and Louden. These two wings are combined into their own group, which must roll a three or less to be effective each turn.
In 1757, the Allies advanced St. Germain and von Louden into positions on high ground facing the Prussians, with the intent of fixing Frederick in place and screening the Allied flank march. This didn't work; Frederick essentially ignored these formations and turned his army to attack the columns on his flank. It made sense to me then that the Allied demonstration would need to be stronger. Therefore, I launched St. Germain towards Schortau and von Louden, supported by some artillery, at Leiha and Rossbach.
First blood goes to the Allies
St. Germain, closer to his objective than von Louden, opened the battle at 1030 with an attack on the village of Schortau by the La Marine and Touraine (Conde) infantry brigades, versus Mayer's Frei battalion and Meinicke Dragoons. In bitter fighting, Mayer's battalion was wiped out, but the La Marine brigade was thrown back in disorder with casualties. Prussian Dragoons still held the village, but were heavily outnumbered. St. Germain kept his cavalry on the Heights in reserve, in a position to exploit a breakthrough if it came.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Allied army scrambled to get out of the trenches and moving toward Reichertswerben. Ideally, the Allies would put their troops in column and march quickly around the Prussian left. Being in column adds +4 to a unit's movement factor, and allows the unit to ignore all terrain effects except for marsh, heavy woods, and impassable bodies of water. For an infantry unit with a typical movement allowance of just three hexes, adding the four additional hexes makes a huge difference towards being able to reach an objective. Conversely, being in column confers serious negative modifiers in combat, and so it's a formation you don't want to use close to the enemy if you can avoid doing so.

Unfortunately, one of the requirements for moving a wing from line to in column is that the wing needs to be effective, and the Allies have pitiful effectiveness ratings. So, in the initial turns the poor Allies were left to try and disentangle themselves from their entrenchments not just in line, but also while being ineffective - which reduces movement to half of normal. 
The Allied Army moving around the Prussian left, while St. Germain and von Louden demonstrate toward Shortau and Leiha
By 1100 the Allies have themselves sorted out and are moving toward their objective, while St. Germain and von Louden attempt to distract the Prussians. Screening the Allied columns are the Imperial and Austrian cavalry of Baden, also in column.
Whups! The Allied Cavalry moves in column within range of the Prussian horse.
With the clock ticking, the Allies have to move their troops as quickly as possible on their objective. After the 1030 to 1130 turn, they only have two more hours to get everyone east of the entrenchments, and a total of three hours to get either to Reichertswerben or to have three line infantry units adjacent to Prussian units. This doesn't seem like a terribly tough thing to do, except:
  1. Neither St. Germain nor von Louden have a total of three line infantry units between them, so they can't achieve the required objective, and
  2. the Allies are likely to end up with Soubise's and Hildberghausen's wings ineffective for at least part of the available time. Even being in column, being ineffective seriously reduces movement. Once in line, these wings will move very slowly and might not be able to get back in column in time to reach the objective and maintain the morale bonus.
So I want to keep the Allied wings in column as long as possible, but avoid moving them too close to the Prussians while in column. I don't want to replicate the mistake the Allies actually made.

The Prussians haven't been sitting on their hands this entire time, either. Frederick was able to activate the Prussian army during the 0930 turn, and seeing von Louden maneuvering on his flank, immediately sent Seydlitz off around Rossbach. The intent was to cover the Prussian left, but soon the Prussian cavalry sighted the Allied Advance Guard under Baden.

Prussian cavalry charging Baden's Imperials while they are still in column
Seydlitz being Seydlitz, the Prussians charged.

The Imperial cavalry desperately tried to deploy from column to line to meet the Prussian charge. This is done by comparing the initiative ratings of the two opposing wings, adding the result of a 1D6 roll by each side, and seeing who has the higher number. The Prussians with an effectiveness of 5 versus the Allied 3 were already at an advantage. The Allies continued what was becoming a streak of poor rolls, and ended up with a final number significantly less than the Prussians. Seydlitz's charge pressed home into the undeployed Allied ranks.

The Prussian Cuirassiers and Hussars not only smashed and routed the Allied Szechényi Hussars, they were able to execute a sweeping charge that allowed them a second attack against another Imperial regiment, routing it as well and wounding Baden.

At the end of the 1030-1130 turn, things are decidedly not going in the Allies favor. They have a long way to go, the Prussians are activated, and the Prussian cavalry caught the Allied Advanced Guard in column and routed half of it, wounding the primary Allied cavalry commander in the bargain. Incredibly, the Prussians are about to make a subtle but critical mistake that will set the stage for a dramatic turn of events much later in the battle.