Friday, February 24, 2017

Battle of Montebello, 1859

We took a break from our Franco-Prussian campaign.

Thursday evening the Corlears Hook Fencibles played Montebello 1859 again using the Bloody Big Battles (BBB) rules. It’s a short scenario between two very different armies. The Austrians are numerous, of variable quality and sluggish. The outnumbered French are nimble, tough and well supplied with leaders. The game plays quickly enough that we can usually get two played in an evening.  Every turn that the French do not assault the Austrians, the Habsburg player receives a variable reinforcement unit, giving the French reason to be very aggressive. Enough chatter, on to the games.

The game always starts with a charge by the Sardinian cavalry. The question is, will they survive? 

The 74th Line was a trifle tardy coming up. So the French on the spot resorted to cold steel.

In the excitement I neglected to take an unguarded objective.

I had a shot at Foliarina!

The game (7 turns) took two hours. French losses were 1 cavalry base (the other ran off), 6 infantry bases (2 ran away). The Austrians lost 7 infantry bases, 1 ran away. It was carnage.

We broke for dinner. Ken had observed the first game and decided to take the French for the second game. I prepared to umpire but Rick declined a second game. So I got to command the clumsy white-coated hordes. The game began as usual.

I moved up and got some variable reinforcements.

Ken got ensnared in the fight on my right (his left).

I’ve got him now – or do I?

After the guys went home, I realized that my artillery had silenced Ken’s guns at 12” range. The scenario says due to the area being heavily cultivated visibility is reduced to 9”. So my artillery could not have silenced his guns. An artillery battalion deployed would have made taking Genestrello a much tougher proposition. So I believe we have yet another tie. This game also took 2 hours. French losses were 5 infantry bases, 1 ran off. The Austrians lost 2 infantry bases, both in the abortive attack on 2nd Brigade’s flank.

Next week we will return to our Franco-Prussian War campaign (unless Real Life intrudes). We are in the final stretch, with Bourbaki’s desperate attempt to relieve the siege of Belfort. Once that has been done, we will have the final game of the campaign, the battle of St. Quentin where the French Army of the North tried to break the siege of Paris.

After that I think we’ll try the draft BBB Gettysburg scenario. Hurrah, or Yeehaw depending on your sympathies.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Battle of le Mans Jan 10-12 1871

This game was played on February 2 2017. German units are in italics.

Last evening the Corlears Hook Fencibles played a game of the 1871 battle of Le Mans using the Bloody Big Battles rules. Bill commanded his Prussians as always, seconded by Jay on his right. I led my French and also commanded the 16 Corps (Admiral Jaureguiberry) on the right. Ken led the 17 Corps (General de Colombe) in the center and Rick had the 21 Corps (General Juares) on the left. I deployed Chanzy (C-in-C) on the left to help put more of the widely deployed 21 Corps into command radius. Our tired, cold, hungry and sick raw troops were dug in on right and center. Only a couple Prussian divisions were on the field, but scouts reported many more were right behind them. We outnumbered the Prussians overall, but our army was badly frayed.
The battle started with a flank threat against a forward unit (1/16) that had fallen back onto the field in disorder before the Prussian advance (started the game disrupted).
1/16 managed to rally and faced the coming threat.
The Prussians had traffic problems on their left and center, not helped by the woods and steep hills. 1/16 fought on.

Meanwhile on the French left, 21 Corps advanced. There had been a staff foul up. I had not clearly explained the victory conditions. This advance exposed our left rear since an enemy division was headed for that table edge, according to scouts. The advance collided with the Prussian 17 Division, but the 22nd was due further behind our left.
Back in the center, Prussian firefight dice lit up, causing heavy losses.
Bill’s dice, otherwise none too stellar now went into the can. Many of his units refused to move, many of those that did weren’t going very fast. My dice were nothing to write home about but nothing like the trash he was rolling.
Chanzy got 4 Division of 21 Corps headed back towards our left rear, in the nick of time. 21 Corps took over and faced the oncoming Prussians.

22 Division came on, as the winter sun got low in the sky. A storm of rifle and artillery stopped them cold with heavy losses. Rick’s dice heated up.
We had been playing slowly. The excellent wine with dinner might have had something to do with that. Ken had to go and he turned over his corps to me. Jay said he couldn’t stay much longer. There was one turn to go and no one wanted to leave it for next week. Jay and Bill said it was impossible for them to grab 5 objectives needed for a win. They said it was a tie. I said we had a chance for a French win. We looked at the table and found there were 3 places that could be taken. So we played only those parts of the last turn, leaving out any troops that didn’t directly affect the fights. On our left, the 17th Prussian division had badly beaten the 2nd French division the turn before and displaced artillery and mitrailleuse battalions during their exploitation. This put one brigade behind Montfort (an objective town) while another was firing from across the river. We rolled for the French movement. A shot up brigade abandoned the town. The other brigade rallied and faced the threat from 17 Division. Both Prussian brigades charged and were not stopped by abysmal defensive fire dice. They disrupted the garrison with fire as they advanced and then narrowly beat the French. A check showed the French unit had a hit. Raw units become spent after a single hit. This changed the defeat to a more serious one. In any case, Montfort had been stormed and the Prussians had two objectives. One more and they would have a tie.
35th Brigade had only to advance into the village of Champagne and not get stopped by rifle fire. Once into the village it was unlikely that the raw troops in the entrenchments on the hill above the village would get up and throw them out. Bill’s dreadful dice continued. The brigade refused to move. He had a free re-roll from his victory at Beaune la Rolande. He rolled again and again the brigade failed to move. I assume that brigade commander lost any chance of promotion.
9th Brigade of 5th Division rolled a full move and charged the decimated 1/16. But the unit behind them moved more slowly and didn’t support the attack. Another brigade rolled a full move but terrain kept them from getting close enough. An average defensive fire roll was enough to halt the charge – a good thing, since the battered 1/16 would have likely been beaten in a bayonet fight.
With that, the Prussians ended the day with 2 objectives, by the rules of the scenario, a French victory. The French start the next battle, of the Lisaine, with a free re-roll.
In reality, this would allow us to withdraw quietly after dark rather than decamping while the sun was up. Our dignity was intact, if not our army. We lost 14 stands of infantry (3 ran away) of 77. Prussian losses were 4 stands of infantry of 56. We played 5 and a short turn (plus a night turn) in about 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Both sides evinced some confusion during the game. I must pay more attention to clearly describing the victory conditions. The Prussians still need to work on their artillery tactics. We have two more games to end the campaign, which has gone on for a little over a year so far. I discussed playing one more game, the sortie from Paris that I’d bypassed before but Bill sounded like he’s had enough of this campaign for a while. Well, we still have several American Civil War scenarios to play. We could play French vs. Austria 1858 and/or Austria vs. Prussia 1866, or use British and Russian Napoleonic troops as stand-ins for the Crimean war…

This game saw our figure collections taxed. I didn’t have enough Gardes Mobiles and had to bolster the ranks with naval infantry. The Prussians ran out of skirmisher stands and had to use some of the Bavarians. Aside from that we were fine.

Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande Nov 8 1870

This game was played on January 12 2017. German units are in italics.

The Corlears Hook Fencibles continued our Franco-Prussian War campaign with the November 1870 battle of Beaune la Rolande, using the Bloody Big Battles rules. Our campaign is a succession of linked historical battles rather than a full fledged campaign with strategic maps and such. It’s much easier to run, with not much paperwork. Due to an oversight on my part, we played this game out of historical sequence. Our last game, a rare French win (Beaugency) actually happened in December 1870. The effect of that win was the French went into this battle with a free re-roll of any one movement, fire, or assault. The French needed five objectives at game end for a win, 4 for a tie.

Bill commanded his Prussians as usual, aided by Rick. I led my French aided by Ken. The Prussians were outnumbered about 4 – 1 but dug in and awaiting reinforcements – a cavalry division and more important, an infantry division with copious artillery support.

Ken led his 18 Corps onto the field, looking to get around the Prussian left. The Prussian artillery was accurate from the start.
On the second turn my 20 Corps moved against the Prussian right, making good time for the first few turns though smarting under Prussian artillery fire.
Some of Ken’s infantry emptied their cartridge boxes to little effect against dug-in Prussian foot.

I got a unit of Mobiles into Borville before the Prussian division showed up. I thought that would guard my flank well. I had also seized two objective towns without serious fighting, Ken had taken one.

The 5th Division promptly attacked the Mobiles. Scattered rifle fire (lousy fire dice) didn’t slow down the attack, which unleashed a storm of rifle fire, causing loss and disruption. Raw units become spent after a single loss, and the Mobiles, like most of the rag-rag French army, were raw. In the ensuing assault, the Mobiles were thrown out of the town. My response? Assault the heavily fortified town of Beaune la Rolande, worth two objectives. If it worked this bold action would be hailed as brilliant. If it failed other words would be used to describe it.
The Zouaves were incorrectly marked as spent; trained troops can take two losses before reaching that sad state. Spent troops suffer heavy penalties in movement and assault.
Meanwhile Ken built up pressure against the Prussian infantry before him. His heavy fire had little effect – his firefight dice were cold.
I realized the Zouaves weren’t actually spent. The Prussian brigade in the fortified town was disrupted and low on ammo – it was time for the assault. The Prussian artillery in the town emptied their limber chest, killing two stands of Zouaves and sending the last stand to the showers. The last stand of a unit is always removed, barring special scenario rules.
A unit of Mobiles also struck from north of the town, but without the aid of the Zouaves, was driven back with loss. They would soon be hit from the flank by Prussian cavalry. 
The artillery supporting the Prussian 5th Division unlimbered within Chassepot range of a brigade of depot regulars and were roughly handled. One battalion was scattered, another driven back with losses and the third silenced and forced to relocate. But the infantry pressed relentlessly forward, routing French infantry as they went.

Meanwhile Ken struck the brigade in the village of Les Cotelles from both flanks and drove them out. The Prussian infantry rallied and fought their way back in. All of the French thrown out were in front of the position, with all the prior movement to the flanks for naught.
A panic broke out (crap movement dice with negative modifiers for being fragile, like most of the French infantry, and spent, a big minus 2) and a brigade of depot regulars stampeded to the rear, finally beaten into a semblance of a line before they fled the table.
One of Ken’s brigades did flee the field.
The 5th Division continued on their glorious charge, after the artillery in the fortified town silenced the mitrailleuse battalion. They wiped out the early machine gun unit and then exploited over an artillery battalion. Ouch.
On the last turn, Ken ordered two brigades to storm an objective town, having winkled a brigade out of their entrenchments. One brigade bolted to the rear. Another came on like heroes and was stopped by a hail of fire.
Mediocre movement dice prevented a coordinated attack on Les Cotelles, so the situation settled down to a firefight.
We had been thumped soundly.
French losses were some 17 stands of infantry, with another 10 having quit (out of 48) and 2 artillery battalions destroyed. Prussian losses were 2 stands of infantry, 1 of cavalry and 2 artillery battalions. It was the most lop-sided loss rate we’ve seen in the campaign so far, or for that matter in any BBB game we’ve played in two years. It took nearly 3 and a half hours to play the 8 turn game, but we completed it in one evening, not counting the dinner break.

As usual, I forgot to use my free re-roll. The Prussians have usually forgotten theirs. I think we need to use a visual reminder. I have a vivandiere painted up. She’s mounted on a mule carrying a cask of spirits. Perhaps this next to the HQ will remind players. I could have used it when the Mobiles fired their first ineffectual volley at the 5th Division or Ken could have used it on one of the several times he rolled truly lousy fire dice shooting at the dug-in Prussian infantry.

Anyway, the Prussians head to Le Mans with a free re-roll. We likely won’t get to that until sometime in February. In the meantime I’ll have my orderly do something about the Prussian boot prints on the seat of my pantalons rouge.

Campaign score so far: French wins. 2. Prussian wins 6. Ties, 2.