Friday 26 February 2016

Wissembourg (ish) 1870 - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

As planned Dave and I started our Franco-Prussian War narrative campaign this week. Having played enough games of Bloody Big Battles, we felt confident enough to branch out and tweak historical actions to suit the time and space available to us, as well as developing them as the campaign unfolds.

To kick things off we decided to fight the Battle_of_Wissembourg, using the information contained in Bruce Weigle's '1870' rules as the basis for the OOB, deployment and table layout. The scenario in his book also contains 2 different options for the forces available to the French as well as altered victory conditions for the Germans. In the end we settled upon the following, really just reducing the number of German Corps available from 3 to 2 and giving the French more leeway in terms of where they deployed their units:


French 1st Div
1st Regt 5S Trnd LB
2nd Regt 4Trnd LB
3rd (Turcos) Regt 4S  Trnd LB (all can skirmish)
RA 2 (includes Corps and Div arty)
Mitrailleuse 1 (combined Corps miltrailleuse)
Cavalry 2 Trnd (can be sperate units or combined together)

2 x German Corps, each as below:
Corps Assets
1st Div
1st Bde 7S Trnd NG
2nd Bde 6 Trnd NG
Cav 1 Trnd
2nd Div
1st Bde 6 Trnd NG
2nd Bde 6 Trnd NG

The French would deploy all of their units first, up to the line of the Lauter river and in Wissembourg  and Altenstadt if they so wished. The Germans would deploy their 1st Corps opposite the stream, with their Divisions coming along on alternate Turns. The German 2nd Corps would randomly toll to see what road they came along on the adjacent table edge. Not only does this give the Germans uncertainty as to when and where their units arrive, but also to the French. After all, historically the French had no idea that they were facing 3 German Corps! the Germans would deploy onto the table as follows:

Turn 1 ... French deployed and German 1st Corps/1st Div deployed.
Turn 2 ... 1st Corps/2nd Div and Corps Arty
Turn 3 ... 2nd Corps/1st Div
Turn 4 ... 2nd Corps/2nd Div and Corps Arty

Victory Conditions
The French simply cannot win this scenario, so they have to delay Germans for as long as possible and if necesary, withdraw from the battle with as many units intact as possible. The Germans have to capture Wissembourg and Altstadt to secure their lines of advance and inflict as many casualties on the French as possible, all within 6 Turns.

The following map from 1871 should give a good idea of how the battle actually developed as well as the general topography, towns and villages. Note: I left the railway off as I simply didn't have enough track to represent it well enough.

The Game
Once again Dave was the Prussian and I the French.  I chose to deploy the Turcos Regt in Wissembourg and the 2nd Regt in Altenstadt, supported by the Miltrailleuse. The artillery deployed on the heights to give a good field of fire, with the cavalry on either wing and the 1st Division held in reserve.

The French deployed with the German 1st Division just arriving.
Dave modelling Bruce Weigle's 1870 book and doing something...unusual with his mouth...
The Germans advanced towards Altenstadt whilst their artillery deployed on the hills above Wissembourg.
The French in Altenstadt fire at the Germans, but immediately go Low on Ammo! the French reserves and one artillery unit advance towards the sound of gunfire.
The German 1st Division closes in on Altenstadt and as the firefight develops, the Miltrailleuse is Reduced and Silenced! Not what the French need at this early stage in the battle, especially as the German 2nd Division arrives in support.
Seeing the German 2nd Division arrive, the French reserves move back up the hill to try and get away from the Krupp gun line and to wait and see how the attack develops. The French send a Hussar cavalry unit across the Lauter River and up the hill to try and threaten the German gun line.
The French 2nd Regt in Altenstadt under a lot of pressure, especially without the Miltrailleuse to support them.
The German 1st Division closes in...
...and assaults Altenstadt...
...successfully driving out the remnants of the French 2nd Regt who are now hors de combat.
A pivotal moment in the game as the German 2nd Corps arrive on the extreme right of the French flank, effectively unhinging their defensive position. Certainly a Teutonic shift (Dave's phrase)!!!
The French Chasseurs a cheval and Miltrailleuse Battery are in an extremely vulnerable position.
With Altenstadt in their hands, the Germans move towards Wissembourg and the Turcos garrison.
Despite being under pressure, the French are still in a relatively good position at this point.
The Turcos form in depth to face the expected German assault.
The Miltrailleuse Battery retreats into Oberdorf to try and threaten the German 2nd Corps flank.
Combined fire from the Krupp guns and German infantry see the sudden demise of half the Turco force, but at the expense of the Germans all Low on ammo.
The French position is now untenable with the loss of half the force in Wissembourg.
With the German 2nd Corps pushing forward, the French start an orderly withdrawl of what remains of their force.
With Wissembourg soon to fall, the French artillery empties their caissons before preparing to limber up and withdraw.
As the German 1st Corps flanks Wissembourg, the French withdraw off the table.

Post Game Thoughts 
Well the French were able to make a good fight of it, right up until the moment that they lost half of the 3rd Turcos Regt. This loss left them with no choice but to withdraw off the table, ready to fight the next battle in the campaign. A great game and one that gave us plenty of things to reflect upon:
  • We both thought that the scenario worked well. It was closely fought and although the French have no chance of winning, in campaign terms a good delaying action may have repercussions later on.
  • The Germans do not need 3 Corps for this scenario. 2 is more than enough and in the relatively short time frame of the game, they will have no effect upon the result other than looking good on the table.
  • The random deployment of the German 2nd Corps worked well as neither off us knew where they would arrive. As it turned out, both Divisions arrived at the same point and the worst one from a French point of view. If they had arrived at the same point that the 1st Corps deployed from, then there is a good chance that the French would have delayed both German Corps long enough to allow the MacMahon's 1st Corps time to form an effective defensive position at a place of their choosing.
  • The loss of half the 3rd Turcos Regt put pay to any effective French resistance. Just prior to that we had both said that they were in a good position and could probably hold out for some time! Next time I'll keep my mouth shut...
  • As this is part of a campaign, I was very careful how I used my reserve infantry. Initially I advanced them but then, wisely as it turned out, withdrew them to higher ground to await to see how the battle developed. In the end I was able to save the reserves as well as all of the artillery, including the Miltrailleuse Battery and the Chasseurs a cheval.
  • My lone hussars cavalry unit did manage to do enough to threaten the Krupp gun line. Dave was forced to turn half of them to face the cavalry, which meant that they were unable to shell Wissembourg. I'm pretty sure that this helped prolong the defence of the townas if they had been able to add their weight of fire, the Turcos would have succumbed to the sheer weight of fire much earlier.
So our first campaign game is out of the way. The Germans didn't suffer many casualties and the French were able to salvage enough of their force for it not to be too detrimental in the next game.  The plan is to fight a version of Froeschwiller, with a reduced table (effectively leaving off the top and bottom of the BBB map) and to bathtub the units so that we can hopefully finish the game in an evening. Fingers crossed we will get to play this in the next week or so, subject to work commitments. Personally I can't wait.

Friday 19 February 2016

The Battle of St Privat - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

As planned Dave and I met up this week for our first eagerly anticipated game of the Franco-Prussian War, using his re-based 6mm H&R miniatures. We chose the Battle of St Privat as although it was part of a much larger battle, the action at St Privat was pretty much a battle in its own right. In terms of OOB etc, we plumped for the information from the Volley & Bayonet scenario, but also referenced those in Bloody Big Battles as well as Bruce Weigle's Grand Tactical Rules 1870.

Broadly speaking the German Guard Corps would lead the attack towards St Privat, which was defended by the French 6th Corps. On Turn 3 the 12th (Saxon) Corps would arrive on the German left flank, with both German Corps requiring to clear the French from St Privat and its enirons by the end of Turn 7. A tough ask given that they would be advancing across open countryside and would need to close quickly with the French to allow them to use their needleguns. However the ace in the German pack was their Krupp artillery guns, that could shoot further and more effectively than the French ones.

So onto the battle!

Both sides deployed for battle. For the French deployment, I used the information contained in the 1870 rules.
The German Guard Corps looking towards St Privat and Roncourt.
A soldiers eye view, which is pretty daunting, with not an ounce of cover to be seen.
The German Guards advance swiftly, trying to cross the open fields as quickly as they possibly can. The Krupp guns deploy in St Marie-aux-Chenes to support the infantry.
The French 4th Division in reserve by Jerusalem (left village) with the French 1st Division in St Privat (centre), which has been fortified and are supported by Corps artillery. On the far right the French 3rd Division are in Roncourt.
The German Guards on the right flank close quicker than either of us expected.
A firefight develops around Jerusalem as fire from the French disrupts the rest of the German Guards as they try and close on St Privat.
The 12th (Saxon) Corps arrive, to support the push towards Roncourt and the weak French right flank.
The massed ranks fo Krupp guns force much of the French artillery back off the ridge, severely hampering the French ability to disrupt the German advance.
The Prussian commander in confident mood as he texts Moltke that things are going according to plan...
The German Guard Corps are held in front of Jerusalem and St Privat, but the danger is definitely from the 12th (Saxon) Corps around Roncourt.
The French 3rd Division feel somewhat out numbered.
As the 12th (Saxon) Corps surge forward, the Krupp artillery re-deploy to bring their guns to bear towards St Privat.
Hand-to-hand fighting erupts in Roncourt...
...whilst the German Guards try to gain control of Jerusalem.
The French 3rd Division in Roncourt are now under severe pressure from the 12th (Saxon) Corps.
Both French flanks are under attack whilst the centre is bombarded by the Krupp artillery. Can the French hold out long enough to gain a draw?
After vicious fighting in the streets of Roncourt, the French 3rd Division cease to exist and the 12th (Saxon) Corps exploit forward, threatening the flank of the French 1st Division in St Privat. Despite a gun line to protect the French 1st division, things are not looking good.
Jerusalem is still safe in the hands of the French 4th Division.

Despite the French left flank at Jerusalem safe for the moment, the rest of the French position has become untenable and they decide to make a tactical withdrawl.

Post Game Thoughts
Well that was a hard fought game that hung in the balance until the end of Turn 6, when the destruction of the French 3rd Division and the loss of Roncourt effectively ended the game. Although we could have played for one more turn and theoretically the French might have gained a draw, their postion was hopeless, hence us calling it a day.

So once again another good game of Bloody Big Battles and nice to be playing the Franco-Prussian War. As always a few thoughts on the game in general:

  • Dave had played this scenario before and knew that it was imperative for the German troops to close as quickly as possible with the French. They could not afford to stand off and indulge in a shooting match, as they were out ranged and in the open.
  • The Krupp guns are really devastating and Dave postioned them very well, so that they could support the attacks on both Roncourt and St Privat. They effectively silenced the French artillery early on, whick limited the French ability to hamper the German advances.
  • This is a nice little scenario that requires minimal terrain but gives a very good game. I'm sure other battle from both the 1866 and 1870-71 campaigns can be broken down in a similar manner for an evenings gaming.   
  • Although not in the BBB scenario for Gravelotte - St Privat, we used Army and Corps commanders to help get things moving. Without them I think that it would have made the Germans task to hard. The only to tell though would be to replay the scenario without them. 

So what next? The plan is for some more Franco-Prussian War goodness, but we have yet to decide on a battle or part thereof. Whatever we choose I hope it is as closely fought as this one.

Wargames Terrain

Having played plenty of games of Bloody Big Battles of late, one of the issues I have been having is how best to represent the terrain of some of the battlefields. For many some foam blocks or other similar items under a gaming mat will suffice to represent hills etc, with felt roads, rivers and woods adding in the important detail. However I've come to the point where despite the best will in the World, this 'system' fails for many of the more complex battles that occured during the 1866 and 1870 campaigns for example. A recent game of the 2nd Battle of Plevna was an example of this.

So how best to resolve this conundrum? Being a designer and modelmaker I've been pondering this issue for some time now. I want a table that looks nice but also accurately reflects, as best as one can in a game, the terrain that the battle was fought over. Specifically the contours of hills, the path of the rivers etc.

After several ideas floating around in my head I thought I'd give an almost 'old school' type of system a go. This would consist of painted mdf boards cut to the relevant shapes for the hills, then everything given a coat of green paint. Over this would be painted the footprint of the woods, the rods, rivers and towns as required. To try this out I simply knocked up a sample section of board at work, adding in some details just to try things out. The results can be seen below:

6mm mdf sheets cut to shape and stuck together.
A road, river and village were added for detail. These were hand painted on but would probably be masked and sprayed on to speed things up.
The woods simply marked out by a different colour and standard wargaming trees added on.

For around an hours effort I must say I'm very happy with the result. The colours need tweaking which is quite easy to do and I could add in fields and different areas of colour etc to give a more detailed look if required. i actually like the simplicity of the whole. I may even get some 2D mdf trees laser cut to add to that simple 'old school' effect. 

The only downside with this system is that I lack the storage space for multiple boards. One option os to go the whole hog down the cartographic route and simply paint the contours on as per a map. That way I could have a different battlefield on each side of the board. Again I need to experiment to see if I would be happy with this.

This system also works rather well  for making some generic terrain tiles, say 2' x 2', that can be interchanged as required. This gives plenty of scope for different arrangements and would be perfect for fictional battles. Again, I need to explore this further as I've seen many fine examples of this system.

So now it is simply a case of me getting my act together and producing a full size table  so that I can really try the various options out.