Wednesday, November 05, 2014

1806 Campaign: day 3: Battle of Gera

In the last week we have got through to day 3 of our 1806 campaign.  The French have stormed through the Thuringerwald while the Prussians, caught by surprise with a scattered deployment have reorganised their scattered forces to meet the onslaught.  The campaign is being fought with hidden movement and incomplete information.  This difference this makes is profound, the Chiefs of Staff in particular have become quite obsessed as they ponder the conundrums of decision making on incomplete and confusing information fed to them by a notoriously mendacious umpire.  Every turn involves much emailed correspondence between the members of each staff as they thrash out their plans of operation.  The blog will have to wait to the end to get a detailed account of the campaign as secrecy is vital.  Mark dropped out of the French team to take up battle umpiring duties - deemed necessary by Peter by the complex nature of the first battle.
This is the campaign map.   When battle is joined, the main features are taken from this map and detail added from google earth. This battle is in hexes 0908 & 0909.  The French have advanced through the Thuringerwald on the eastern side of the map.  Their right has marched north through Hoff & Plauen sweeping aside the cavalry screen and has swung left to march on Gera. The French centre has advanced north towards Gera through Schlieux.  Prussian forces are already in the 0909 hex at dawn.  There has been contact between cavalry screens in the Rudolstadt-Saalfeld area on days 1 & 2, but no action there today.   
At dawn on day 3 there is French light cavalry in the Gera hex and Prussians in the Polnitz hex marching towards Gera.  Neither side knows the enemy order of battle in detail.  We expect it to be based on the historical, but varied to some degree to produce uncertainty.   At the start of the battle each side knows pretty well when their own forces are going to arrive on the battlefield, but have no detailed info on the enemy.  What info they have comes via the umpire  from cavalry scouts, reports from spies, some previous near contacts of Division/Corps in adjacent hexes and making judgements on how the umpire might have warped the other side’s historical order of battle.   As a Prussian I was pretty sure there are at least 2 French Corps coming down the Plauen road and a large Corps approaching from the south.  That’s all we knew at the start.

Because the battlefield extends over 2 hexes, and the expected numbers of troops involved, the umpire has decreed that the battle be fought with 6mm figures.   Our Hail Napoleon variant of Hail Caesar is to get its baptism of fire with 6mm figs here.  We would have liked to have had a practice battle in 6mm before a major engagement, but the campaign moved too fast so we had to jump straight into slightly unfamiliar territory – not unrealistic at the start of a war.   But our experience of our other extensions of HC has always been good and the changes required for 6mm are not that great.  Hail Napoleon is structured so battles can at different ground and figure scales depending on the scale of the action.  Our intention is to fight army sized actions with 6mm figs, corps sized actions with 15mm figs and divisional sized action with 28mm.  Our 6mm system has a ground scale of 8”=1km and the units are brigades of about 2400 infantry or 1200 cavalry, or batteries of 16 guns.   This makes our 10’x6’ table about 15km x 9km - about 2 hexes.  For 15mm figs the ground scale is 16”=1km and the units are demi-brigades of 1200 infantry, regiments of 600 cavalry or batteries of 8 guns.  So we would fight a 30,000 man a side battle with 15mm figs on a 7.5km x 4.5km area, or a 60,000 men a side battle with 6mm on a 15km x 9km area – each with the same number of units, so either can be fought in an evening.   Our 28mm figures could be used for small actions of 15,000 men a side, with units being 600 man battalions, 300 man half regiments of cavalry & batteries of 6 guns on a 4km x 2.5km area, but we don’t expect the campaign to produce any such actions. 

Pic taken from the southwest corner.  Gera is at the north edge.  A French Corps has marched onto the table on the Plauen road on the east edge.   The 9th Saxon division is in the centre of the table.  The 5th Prussian & 8th Saxon are on the road behind them.

Due to an oversight in campaign orders, the Saxons are stuck in the middle of the table for 2 turns until HQ arrives.  The other 2 divisions march up the road past them.  The Prussian 7th division has come on the far left hand corner, but has not yet been put down as the French can't see it.

What we now know is Soult's Corps, has got to Gera before us, but Steve is attacking it.  The Prussian cavalry has moved to force some of Soult's infantry into square as the 5th's infantry & artillery  follow up.

The 5th division is engaged Soult's left.  The Saxons are advancing but very slowly.  Steve's infantry is losing the fight for Gera, but with 3 batteries and 3 heavy cavalry brigades still there Soult isn't breaking out that way.

Meanwhile at the south end of the table masses of French are pouring onto the table.  The Saxon cavalry has caused a delay by standing in front of the pass while their infantry form up around Polnitz.  But one French division is moving quickly down the right of the wooded ridge.  However, Prussian reinforcements have arrived too.  The 6th & 4th divisions have come onto the table on the left.  It was apparent now that the Prussian high command had wrongly assumed the main French thrust to be through Plauen.  Napoleon was coming up from Schieux - and at a much faster rate than they considered possible.

The Prussian cavalry is being used to slow down the French advance by forcing them out of march columns & into square. 

At the southern end Mark is adjudicating as Chris attacks James' Saxons - which are somehow holding on. Prussian cavalry continue to delay the French infantry on the left.

As the ring closes in on Gera, with 9 batteries of artillery being assembled, Soult decides to make his escape over the river while he can.   At the same time the 8th Saxon has broken and the French take Polnitz,

The French have a command rating of 9 to the Prussians 8.   It doesn't sound like a lot of difference, but it is very significant.   The relative speeds of the French & Prussian infantry on the battlefield was very obvious.   The Prussian system of having their cavalry split up among mixed divisions has been much criticised, but on this battlefield, Murat's cavalry corps was nowhere to be seen while the Prussian penny packets of heavy cavalry were where they were needed to slow down the French advance and buy the time needed to surround and retake Gera.

It was a long and exhausting evening - going on to 11.30.  It was a big battle to be the first test of Hail Napoleon for 6mm, but as always with our Hail Caesar variants it did the job.  There were about 160,000 men in this battle, but we got through almost all of a 16 turn day in about 4 hours.

The umpires will translate the battle losses in broken, shaken & damaged units into permanent losses for the campaign.  The Prussians had the infantry of the 6th broken & the 8th Saxon.  The rest had few casualties.  The Saxons took a few with them, but nothing serious.   Soult's force had only a couple of units broken, but the rest had heavy casualties and were mostly shaken.  Soult might have held out in Gera, but he also might have lost his entire corps if he'd tried to hold out.  Napoleon wasn't going to get there before nightfall, and the Prussian ring was tightening and 144 guns being brought up.  

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