Thursday 17 March 2016

The Battle of Spicheren 1870 - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

As planned Dave and I were able to play out the Spicheren scenario as planned this week, the last of the Frontier Battles of the Franco-Prussian War. Once again we used the Spicheren scenario as contained in Bruce Weigle's '1870' rules as our guideline for Orders of Battle, table layout, victory conditions etc, details of which can be found below:

Orders of Battle

German Army
27th Bde/14th Div [6] Trnd NG
28th Bde/14th Div [6] Trnd NG
Cav [1] Trnd
14th Div BLA [1]

27th Bde just outside Saarbrucken
28th Bde on 27th Bde right flank
Cav in front of 27th Bde
Supporting both Bdes at German discretion

16th Div [3] Trnd NG
Cav [1] Trnd
16th Div BLA [1]
6th Cav Div [1] (NOT part of VIII Korps)
Arrives 1500 in footsteps of VII Korps
Arrives 1500 in footsteps of VII Korps
Arrives 1500 in footsteps of VII Korps
Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VII Korps
Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VII Korps
9th Bde/5th Div [6] Trnd NG
10th Bde/5th Div [6] Trnd NG
Cav [1] Trnd
5th Div BLA [1]

Gen ZASTROW VII Korps (14th Div)
VII Korps BLA [1]
5th Cav Div [1] (NOT part of III Korps)
Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VIII Korps
Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VIII Korps
Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VIII Korps
Arrives 1600  in footsteps of VIII Korps
Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VIII Korps

Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VIII Korps
Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VIII Korps
Arrives 1600 in footsteps of VIII Korps
Arrives 1900 Saarbrucken

French 2nd Corps FROSSARD
2nd Corps FROSSARD

Deployed in 1800 turn at Forbach
1st Div (Verge)
Valaze (1st Bde) [4] Trnd, LB
Jolivet (2nd Bde) [5] S Trnd, LB
RA [0.5]

Valaze deployed between Forbach and Stirling
Jolivet deployed Stirling Wendel
Choose either with 1st or 2nd Bde,
2nd Div (Bataille)
Pouget (1st Bde) [5] S Trnd, LB
Bastoul (2nd Bde) [4] Trnd, LB
RA [0.5]
2nd Div in and around Forbach area
3rd Div (Laveaucoupet)
Doens (1st Bde) [4] Trnd, LB
Micheler (2nd Bde) [5] S Trnd, LB
RA [0.5]

Doens deployed in St Arnaul Wald
In and around Spicheren
Choose either with 1st or 2nd Bde
Cav Div [2] Vet
Supporting Jolivet behind Stirling Wendel
2nd Corps Arty RA [2]
Supporting Jolivet behind Stirling Wendel
2nd Corps MG [1]
Choose either with 1st, 2nd or 3rd Div.

Scenario Details
All hills  are classed as Steep.
All French units are Passive.
Forbach, Stirling Wendel and Saarbrucken are all classed as Towns.
The action starts at 12.00 hrs.
The French deploy first as per the options outlined above. 
The Germans move first.

Victory Conditions
The French have to protect their supply base at Forbach until 18.00 hrs, when they can start to withdraw off the table as they fear an attack by the German 13th Division on their left flank. They have to withdraw in good order.

For the Germans, they need to secure Forbach and the Spicheren Plateau as quickly as possible, to allow their units to push forward into France.

The Game
Having broadly deployed my French markers in the morning, it was just a case of getting the troops out of the case and we were ready for the off. So without further ado...

A broad overview of the table with the units in their positions at 12.00 hrs.
Taken in the morning from Saarbrucken to get a better idea of the different elevations on the table.
As above.
The main French force deployed between Forbach and Stirling Wendel, with the rest on the spicheren Plateau and in St Arnaul Wald.
A slow start by both sides, with the terrain and lack of commanders slowing down movement. The Germans move towards the St Arnaul Wald to try and clear the roads for their re-inforcements that will arrive later.
The advance guard of the German army, the 27th & 28th Bde, form into line in front of the St Arnaul Wald, whilst the French 1st Division moves along the valley towards them. The French 2nd Division attempt to occupy Stirling wendel, but are rather tardy in their movement.
The French 1st Division move into the Spicheren Wald, supported by artillery.
The main French force stalls somewhat as the Germans and French come to blows in the St Arnaul Wald.
Attempting to march to the sound of gunfire...
Battle is joined with the French holding their own for the moment.
Frustratingly slow movement by the French 1st & 2nd Division leaves the French 3rd Division to do battle with the Boche.
The French force seem reluctant to leave the valley.
The Germans are pushed back by the weight of French fire as they attempt to assualt.
15.00 hrs and suddenly more German troops appear on the hills outside of Saarbrucken. This comes as a bit of a shock to the French who move back, glad that they didn't advance too far down the valley.
The French are wary of the sudden appearance of German troops from Saarbrucken.
Once again French firepower keeps the Germans at bay.
As more German troops appear, their 16th Division moves towards the St Arnaul Wald to support the 27 & 28th Bdes. Fearing their supply base at Forbach being overrun, the French begin to withdraw towards it in an orderly fashion.
The French, for once, withdrawing in good order.
The firefight intensifies, leaving the French Low on Ammo but one German unit Spent.
'Too Little, Too Late'. The Germans manage to force the French back off the spicheren Plateau and out of the St Arnauld Woods, but the main force has withdrawn in good order.
Having performed a very successful defence, the French 2nd Bde, 2nd Division withdraws with the Germans too exhaused to persue.

Finally a French victory, all be it a minor one, but a victory nevertheless. Viv la France! Vive l'Empereur Napoleon III!

Post Game Thoughts
Once again a great game and as ever, a very enjoyable one. So why did the French manage a win this time? As ever a few thoughts below:
  • The terrain had a big impact on the game as the steep hills and woods slowed both sides down, making progress slow and at times very difficult.
  • The terrain gave the French a very good natural defensive position. Advancing up the valley was not a real option for the Germans, so they are forced up the steep hills and through the woods, giving the French time to use their longer range fire to its best effect. Deploying the 3rd Division in the St Arnaul Wald was a good option as it helped protect them from incoming German fire until battle was joined.
  • The lack of German commanders early on slowed their units down. This coupled with the terrain issues mentioned above made it quite a hard task for the Germans from the start.
  • The mixed German deployment meant that their units arrived piecemeal and not in an ideal order. A lack of guns (for once) blunted their offensive edge.
  • The Germans had lots of cavalry that basically just got in the way and were of no use in the battle.
  • For once the French did well on their commands rolls (generally speaking) and some poor command rolls and silenced artillery helped them when they needed to start withdrawing.
After the game we chatted about a few options of scenario tweaks that could be made to explore a few 'what ifs?'. They were:
  • The  French have their left flank secured and are pushing on towards Saarbrucken.  Move the action back to earlier in the morning when Frossard's 2nd Corps had advanced nearly to Saarbrucken. Their objective is to enter German territory and take the fight to the damned Boche! This would have given them a great morale boost and probably dented the Germans morale before the campaign had really got going.
  • Keep the scenario as is but widen to the table and allow the German 13th Division to arrive from the West. do the French stand and fight or wirhdraw in the face of this threat. Given how hard it is for the Germans (famous last words) to advance on Forbach, this could make for a very interesting scenario.

Having played out the Frontier Battles part of the campaign, I'm not sure what the next plan is. With Easter imminent and work and family commitments over the next few weeks, it may be a while before we meet up again. If Dave has got his Austrians painted, we may even move to the 1859 or 1866 campaigns...

Friday 11 March 2016

The Battle of Froeschwiller 1870 - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

Following on from our previous opening campaign game, the Battle of Wissembourg, Dave and I met up to play Froeschwiller, one of the major Frontier battles of the Franco-Prussian War. To be able to play to a conclusion in an evening (normally around 3 hours maximum gaming time) we had to reduce the units involved as well as the table area. The latter was quite easy to do as we simply had to 'top-and-tail' the board as most of the action and deployment took part in the central area of the map.  

Reducing the units involved was another matter. Dave with his much greater experience of the period stepped up to the mark and 'bathtubbed' the units involved. We both thought that the 'bathtubbed' OOB would give a good and balanced game, but the proof of the pudding and all that.....

'Bathtubbed' Orders of Battle
German Fifth Army
Gen. von Kirchbach V Korps
10th Div/V Korps [6] Trnd NG
[1] BLA
Deployed between Woerth and Dieffenbach
Gen.von Bose XI Korps
21st Div/XI Korps [6] S Trnd NG
[1] BLA
Deployed at Gunstett
Gen von Hartmann II Bav Korps
4th Bav. Div/II Bav Korps [5] S Raw EB
[1] BLA
Deployed at Langensulzbach
9th Div/V Korps [6] S Trnd NG
[1] BLA
Arrive T1 at Dieffenbach
22nd Div/XI Korps [6] Trnd NG
[1] BLA
Arrive T3 E of Gunstett
Gen von der Tann I Bav Korps
1st Bav. Div/I Bav Korps [6] Raw EB
[1] BLA
Arrive T4 E of Goersdorf
Crown Prince Wilhelm
Arrive T5 SE corner
Wurttemburg Div [2] Raw NG
Wurttemburg Cav[1] Raw
[1] BLA
Arrive T6 E of Gunstett
3rd Bav. Div/II Bav Korps [3]  S Raw EB
Bav Cav [1]
Arrive T7 NE Langensulzbach

Korps Commanders can only add general bonus to their own Korps units … duh!! Crown Prince can add his bonus to all Germans (he is the Crown Prince, that’s why).

CinC Marshal MacMahon
1st Div/1st Corps [4] S A Vet LB
[1] RA
Deployed within 6” of Froeschwiller
2nd Div/1st Corps [2] S A Vet LB
[1] RA
Deployed in valley W of Niederwald
(Reduced forces from Wissem-big-ish)
3rd Div/1st Corps [4] S A Vet LB
[1] RA
[0.5] MG
Deployed L1/L2 within 12” of Woerth
4th Div/1st Corps [4] S A Vet LB
[1] RA
In/between Niederwald and Morsbronn
1st Cav Div [2] A Vet
In valley N of Eberbach
1st Div/7th Corps [4] S Trnd LB
In Elasshausen or 6” W
2nd Res Cav/7th Corps [1] A Vet
Within 12” of Froeschwiller

MacMahon commands all French units on the table even though 7th Corps wasn’t his.

Other than the table reduction and 'bathtubbing', the scenario was as per the Bloody Big Battles book. Simply put the victory conditions for the Germans were that they had to capture Froeschwiller and Reichshofen as well as destroying as much of the French army as possible. For the French they had to hold onto the objectives and avoid being destroyed.

As the French had generally the cream of their army deployed on the table against a German force arriving piecemeal and with raw or trained troops, this was one battle where we both felt that the French had a good chance to halt the Germans and potentially give them a bit of a bloody nose.  

So with the lyrics of La Marsellaise coming to the fore it was time to join battle and bash the Boche!

The French army deployed to the right of Woerth, somewhat spread out and with the hills and woods of the Niederwald seprating their right wing from the centre. The Prussians and Bavarians arrive on the battlefield in a completely uncoordinated fashion.
The 4th Bavarian Division arrives on the hill above Langensulzbach, looking towards the French 1st Division.
Both sides advance as best they can, given the restrictions upon movement placed upon them by the terrain.
The French 1st Division advances to try and block the Bavarian advance, as the Bavarians disappear from sight in the Sulzbach valley.
The race for Woerth appears to be going the way of the Prussians.
Battle is joined right across the table. The French and Bavarians manouevre for best position near Langensulzbach.
Poor French command rolls (two 2s and a 3!) allow the Prussians to gain control of Woerth.
The French right flank starts to withdraw, trading space for time, with the plan to retreat towards Reichshofen.
As the French close in on the Bavarians, elswhere the rest of the French force moves towards or into Froeschwiller to make the best use of the town defences.
The veteran French 1st division close in on the raw Bavarians, with the aim of eliminating this threat to the french left flank.
The French right wing is struggling to move back towards Reichshofen, with the Niederwald lying right across their path.
In the centre the French hope that by holding Froeschwiller, they will be able to halt the Prussians as they have to advance over open terrain.
The French left wing simply disappears under the weight of Bavarian firepower, whilst the French right wing still fails to get moving in a coordinated manner. At least the centre is looking to be in a good position...
The Bavarians are Disrupted and Spent, but at least they have seen off the veteran French 1st Division. If they can rally they will be a serious threat to the whole French position.
As the French hold Froeschwiller, the Prussians move into the Niederwald, pushing between the French centre and right wing.
In a spectacular turn, things really unravel completely for the French. In the centre they are pushed out of Froeschwiller whilst in the Niederwald the Prussians crash into the French cavalry, destroying them and then exploit into the French 2nd Division, destroying that too! The only consolation for the French is that the Bavarians fallback after a poor command roll, resulting in a lone French cavalry unit charging them in the flank and driving them off the table. Pyrrhic victory springs to mind...
The French centre Disrupted and under severe pressure.
The French position is completely hopeless as the mass of German re-inforcements pour onto the table.
The Prussians poised to adminster the coup-de-grace.

In the end of crushing victory for the German forces, with only the French 4th Division on the right wing able to escape certain destruction. 

Post Game Thoughts
Well a game that was pretty evenly balanced changed completely in one Turn! I think it is fair to say that we were both somewhat taken aback by this. C'est la guerre I suppose. Despite this dramatic turn of events it was a great game and a very different one compared to previous games for a number of reasons. A few thoughts below as to why this was:

  • The terrain really played a large part in this game. With all hills being steep and large wooded areas with few roads meant that it was hard to get both sides troops moving. As Dave commmented on post-game, you can read about these battles and the issues faced, but it really comes home to you when you have to play the game as it helps you realise why units did this or that etc.
  • With the French being Passive and having only one Commander, it made it very hard to get them moving. Having the right wing seperated by the Niederwald only complicated things coupled with the terrain issues mentioned above.
  • In contrast the German forces having an abundance of Commanders helped them out in comparison, but even so they still struggled with the terrain. Their left wing in particular at Gunstett struggled until Crown Prinz Wilhelm arrived.
  • Terrible die rolling cost the French their left flank as in contrast the Bavarians rolled extremely well, even though it left them Low on Ammo and Spent. Not a bad trade off when you consider a Raw unit saw off a Veteran one.
  • Almost a repeat of the above at Froeschwiller in terms of French shooting. Failing to stop the assault meant that sheer weight of Prussian number told in the end.
  • The loss of two French units in one Turn off assault in the Niederwald completely seperated the French right wing from their centre.
  • It was interesting to see that things were much harder for the Germans without their massed batteries of Krupp guns. The infantry felt far more vulnerable and couldn't wait for the usual softening up by their artillery before closing on for the assault.
  • Despite the poor French shooting, they were in a good position and things could have gone very differently for the French. This is certainly a scenario that is worth replaying several times to see how things pan out over a few games. It is certainly not a case of one way traffic for the Germans.
  • What would I do differently this time? Really the only thing would be to deploy the French right wing (4th Division) in or as close to the Niederwald as possible so that they could try and move into contact with their centre or head towards Reichshofen early on to form a strong second defensive line. Knowing how hard it is to move troops in that terrain, it would hopefully take the Prussians some time to get close enough to be a threat.

So the next planned game is Spicheren as it is the last of the Frontier battles and one in which the French are initially attacking. This will definitely seem strange but a great challenge and one that I'm really looking forward to.