Sunday, October 29, 2017

The 1705 Moselle Campaign - Part I

Marlborough poised on the Moselle for an attack on Saarlouis, waiting on Allied reinforcements

A few weeks ago I responded to a question on Facebook concerning artillery organization during the 1705 Moselle Campaign during the War of Spanish Succession. After doing a little research from my ever-growing library of books on 18th Century war, I was intrigued enough to want to game out the campaign itself.



The situation on the Moselle and the Rhine at the beginning of the campaign
The only game that I have that covers this period at an operational scale is Campaigns of Marlborough from Wargamer Magazine, dating back to 1987. I gave this a try a few months ago and just bounced off of it. Aside from some really ugly counters (some of which were misprinted, to boot), the rules are confusing.

The Durch face Villeroi in Flanders
Nonetheless, I elected to give it another try. My curiosity about the campaign had been piqued. The campaign itself ended up mostly not being fought on the Moselle: Marlborough's allies failed to reinforce him and as usual, the Dutch freaked out and called him back to Flanders. This resulted in the Passage of the Lines of Brabant and the Battle of Elixheim.

A quick description of the game: hexes are ten miles, and the game turns represent two weeks. Counters represent armies, detachments, siege trains, magazines, fortified lines and forts, and leaders. Army and detachment counters are of no fixed size, with off-map tracking of strength points. Each strength point is approximately 1000 men. Armies can be freely broken down and reformed during the phasing player's movement phase, creating and absorbing detachments as needed.

Armies are at a significant disadvantage in combat if they cannot trace a Line of Communication (LOC) to their designated magazine. Magazines can be moved to new friendly controlled locations using a two-turn process. Battle happens when two stacks occupy the same hex, and the defending side can't (or doesn't want to) activate to retreat. Combat can be devastating to an army if it loses.

A particularly interesting mechanic is that of interception. The non-phasing player, if he can activate the primary leader of his army, can move up to four hexes to intercept a moving army or detachment of the phasing player and provoking a battle. In turn, the phasing player can retreat from this interception, spending some of his remaining Movement Points. In turn, if the non-phasing player still has Movement Points available and the Phasing player is still within range, another interception can be attempted, etc.

Winning the game involves generating victory points by capturing fortified towns and cities, and eliminating enemy strength points through battle. In my prior attempt at play, it felt like there were some good ideas in the game but the rules were so opaque and the combat system so nonsensical to me that I couldn't really get my head around it.

La Motte and Berwick move to reinforce Villarsat Metz.

In this game, the French opened the campaign by sending detachments taken from their armies in Flanders and on the Rhine to reinforce Villars in Lorraine. The French strategic stance during this campaign is mainly defensive. They are rebuilding after Blenheim and the loss of Bavaria and are in no shape to take the fight to the Allies.

A tough June for the French
I'll be honest: I can't really remember why I moved a French force under La Motte north toward Marlborough. It was a much weaker force. I think I intended to move it into Luxembourg, and thereby threaten the LOC from the British army to their magazine in Treves.

Whatever the reason, it didn't' work out. Marlborough intercepted, fought a river crossing battle, and mauled the French detachment. Not only were the French forced to retreat, they lost heavily in the pursuit and La Motte himself was captured. It wasn't completely insane for the French to make that move. Attacking across a river or bridge reduces the attacker's strength to one-quarter of his total Strength Points, which as I recall was an even match with the French strength. The difference really came down to the difference in leadership between Marlborough and La Motte.

It was that battle where the system really started to click for me. The narrative of Marlborough moving to intercept La Motte and defeating him with a surprise crossing of the Moselle...well, it was just so darn Marlburian. It was during this battle the I really managed to understand how the combat and loss system worked.

In the end, La Motte's former detachment fell back on Thionville. In the second half of June Baden defied history and not only marched from his position on the Rhine (after relocating his magazine to Zweibrucken) but successfully besieged and took Saarlouis, the initial Allied objective for the campaign.

Marsin crosses the Rhine to attack Rastat

The thing I think I most enjoy about war during the Age of Reason is that it really is the essence of Maneuver Warfare. Armies are expensive and difficult to replace. Kings are not wild about them being destroyed. War is about capturing cities and towns and making your enemy retreat. Months of subtle feint and maneuver can proceed actual battle...if open battle happens at all.

So as June turns into July, the French know that their main hope of defending Lorraine is to lure some of the Allied strength away from the Moselle back to the Rhine and to Flanders. Baden's move to Saarlouis leaves only weak Imperial forces along the Rhine, so marsin moves north to besiege Rastat. The French hope that this draws Baden or the approaching Prussian/Hessian corps away from the Moselle and to the Rhine.

The Elector move to Namur
Other French machinations are afoot in Flanders. The Elector of Bavaria takes almost half the remaining army there, along with a siege train and moves to Namur. The army magazine moves with him. What can the French be planning?