Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Camp Cromwell's 1806 Campaign: The Prussian perspective

Campaign Umpire:             Peter Williams (in Canberra by email).
Battlefield Umpire:             Mark Oakford.

French Players:                    Mike Nash (Chief of Staff)
                                               Chris Arthur
                                               Nick Bowler
                                               Peter Collidge

Prussian Players:                 Jim Gandy (Chief of Staff)
                                               Steve Jendrich
                                               James Fyfe
                                               Barrie Macdonald
                                               Byron Combes

Apart from the Chiefs of Staff, the players were not allocated specific commands.  The players on each side would act as a team devising strategy with the Chief of Staff acting as coordinator and in charge of communications with the umpire.  Battles to be fought by whoever turned up on the night.  As the campaign progressed, the Chiefs of Staff on both sides morphed into Commanders in Chief.

The Set-Up

Historically, the Prussian army had started an advance on the French and their army was scattered over the countryside when they discovered that Napoleon had mobilised faster than they thought possible and was coming towards them in great strength.
The campaign started with the Prussian’s 11 all arms divisions totalling about 145,000 men scattered across the theatre of war (their ID# are shown on the map at the start).  They had intel that the French were advancing into the Thuringerwald with an army of about 175,000 men in 8 Corps.
 The King of Prussia has insisted to his Staff that the army must not show weakness and cannot retreat behind the Sommerda-Jena-Gera line.  2 of the divisions (8 & 9) are unwilling Saxon Allies.  The possession of Leipzig is important, not only counting in the victory conditions, but also the Saxon troops will desert if Leipzig falls to the French.
The French have a big numerical advantage in infantry and their troops are more experienced.  The Prussians have better cavalry than the French, but it is spread out among the divisions, not concentrated in one Corps like the French.  They have much more artillery than the French, but half of it is small pieces distributed to the infantry where it partly makes up for the skill difference.  The French army & leaders have better command ratings than the Prussians.

Initial Prussian Strategy

The Prussian staff had a vigorous debate before settling on a plan.  The adopted plan was to concentrate in two armies:  Army East around Schlieux 0910 & Army West at Rudolstadt 0610.   The plan offered a prospect of catching a French Corps isolated as it emerged from the Thuringerwald to provide a battle that would convince the King that his staff knew what they were doing and lift his arbitrary ban on a retreat north of Jena-Gera.

Days 1 & 2

The concentration of Army West was always going to take some time, but some divisions had reached Rudolstadt by the end of day 2.  Army East was much less scattered and quickly consolidated and rested behind a heavy screen of hussars waiting for intel from the cavalry & spies. 
The intel told us that there were French in strength at Saalfled 0712 in the centre, approaching Schlieux 0910 from the south and pushing down the Hof-Plauen-Gera road in the east. 

Day 3

In the west, the concentration of Army West continued.
The speed of the French advance in the east told us that the French were working under different forced march rules than we had.  There was clearly a need for action to prevent Army East being outflanked.  Again there was argument in the Prussian staff over alternative plans 1) to retreat west and join Army West near Jena. Or 2) Attack the French advance guard at Gera before Le Grande Armee could intervene.  The army moved en-masse towards Gera hoping to smash the French advance guard before the main French army, believed to be south of Schliex, could intervene.  The result was the battle of Gera. 
In this battle, better French command and dice got them into Gera before us, but by the end of the day Soult’s Corps was all but surrounded in Gera and beat a precipitous retreat over the river to the north.  Meanwhile, a delaying action at Polnitz prevented the French main army joining Soult.

Day 4

Soult’s retreat from Gera & the gallant rear guard action at Polnitz was enough to convince the King of the seriousness of the situation and lift his embargo on retreat north of the Jena-Gera line.  The Prussians had two choices the next day: 1) To continue the battle chasing after Soult while holding Napoleon off, or: 2) Break off to the west, cross the Saale to join Army West.  Brunswick decided on the safer option 2), thinking that Soult would simply slip away to the east anyway and the junction of the two Prussian armies would be considerably delayed if Army West headed north.

Day 5

The Prussians completed a safe crossing of the Saale.  The gallant Saxon 8th division, heroes of Polnitz were sacrificed in a delaying action at Jena & the two Prussians wings were finally together.

Day 6

As the Prusssians continued their move north on the west side of the Saale, they discovered that the French were attacking Leipzig in strength.  Only part of the French army had followed them west, Soult and Bernadotte launched an assault on the badly maintained medieval walls.   Outnumbered 4:1 the garrison comprising 5,000 Prussians & 5,000 unwilling Saxon militia put up a fight for a while, but once a breach was made it was soon overwhelmed.  The loss of Leipzig meant that the remaining Saxons deserted the Prussian cause and the French gained a victory condition. 

Days 7 & 8

The Prussian army recrossed the Saale at Mersberg & Halle.   With Leizig lost their main hope of gaining some kind of victory was to get the army to the Elbe intact to join the Russians who are supposed to be on their way.   There was again dissention in the Prussian camp with two plans on the table: 1) Move to Magdeburg. 2) Move to Bittefeld & thence to either Dessau or Torgau.   Brunswick chose 2), even though it was more risky, as the further west the crossed the Elbe, the better the spin was to make the movement a strategic move rather than a retreat.  Brunswick fully expected the march on Bittefeld might run into a French army moving west from Leipzig, but considered that enough French were in the west to make this an acceptable risk.  As it happened no French were encountered near Bittefeld.

Day 9
Brunswick turned right at Bittefeld to make for Torgau and the Russians.  Between Bittefed & Eilenburg the Prussians finally found the French marching out of Leipzig towards Bittefeld.   It was soon apparent that Soult & Bernadotte, who had taken Leipzig a few days before had been reinforced by Davout and part of Murat’s cavalry corps.  The actual numbers on the field favoured the Prussians by a good margin, but Brunswick feared that more French were on the way, either through Leipzig or from Halle in his rear.  His first priority was to clear the path to Eilenburg and secure a line of retreat to Torgau.   The French on the other hand were reluctant to attack until reinforcements arrived.  As a result, there was only limited combat this day. 
As it happened, the only French reinforcements to arrive this day was Ney’s corps from Halle and that arrived too late to get engaged.  So it could be argued that the Prussians should have attacked the French while they had the advantage of numbers, but it was a big battlefield and the Prussians had to march their army down a single road across the front of the French so it took most of the day before the Prussians were deployed facing the French.

Day 10
Both sides held their ground overnight.   The French stayed to fight as they had approximate parity in numbers and reinforcements on the way.  The Prussians stayed to fight as they saw a slim possibility of pulling off a last gasp campaign victory.   While outnumbered in the campaign, they have almost every man of their army on this field while much of the French are in the west, though no doubt marching this way.  The Prussians also knew that their cavalry superiority on the field should allow them to retreat should the battle go badly.
At dawn the Prussians advanced on Bernadotte on their left and Soult in their centre.  The first attack on Bernadotte went badly and it was soon apparent that the French reinforcements were coming up much sooner than was hoped for.  The attack was called off and the battle became a fighting withdrawal for the Prussians.  The superior Prussian cavalry covered the retreat and by noon the French gave up the chase. 
The Prussians lost a few more men in the 2 day battle than the French, but the French losses were mainly in cavalry, the Prussian’s in infantry.   The Prussians were able to withdraw to the fortress of Torgau and safely cross the Elbe where they can wait for their Russian allies to arrive.

The Battles

The campaign produced 4 battles, Gera, Leipzig, Bittefeld & Eilenburg.   These are described in detail on blog posts of 2nd Nov, 11th Nov, 19th Nov, 25th Nov & 2nd Dec.  The battles were fought using Hail Napoleon, our house ruled adaption of Hail Caesar for the Napoleonic period.  The system allows us to use 28mm, 15m or 6mm figures at different ground scales, so small battles could be fought using 28mm figs, corps sized actions using 15mm fig and large battles using 6mm figs.  Leipzig, the smallest battle was fought using 15mm figures with a ground scale of 16” per km.   The larger battles which had about 100,000 men a side, were fought using 6mm figures with a ground scale of 8” per km – making the table 15km x 9km.   

Campaign Result

According to the campaign victory conditions the French gained a minor victory.  However, the Prussian players felt well pleased with them themselves for having done so much better than the 1806 Prussians & thought the victory conditions were a bit easier on the French than for them.   Outnumbered as they were, 175,000 to 140,000 it was always going to be hard for the Prussians to force a battle on their terms and win it decisively.   Their secondary objective of holding Leipzig until day 12 was also a big ask.
Regardless of the result, all involved thoroughly enjoyed the campaign.  Hidden movement and imperfectly known details of the enemy add a completely new level to wargaming.  Such a system relies on an experienced and skilful umpire and in this Peter did a grand job.     

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