|The Band of Brothers fighting the Battle of Weissenfels. Der Alte Fritz Himself is in the front row in the olive green cardigan. BAR rules author Bill Protz on the far left second row, with baseball cap.
On Saturday May 14, 2016 a group of ten wargamers converged on the town of Woodstock, IL to revive the annual Big Battalion SYW Game. We hadn't done one of these games for a couple of years now and Bill Protz and I both agreed that it was time to put on a big show again. If you click on the label "Big Battalion Game" at the end of this article, or click on the same named label in the left hand column of this page, you will be able to find all of our previous Big Battalion Games.
The Back Story to the Battle
Today's scenario was loosely based on the Napoleonic battle of Aspern-Essling in 1809, however, it was transferred back in time to 1758. The back story was that with Frederick off to the east fighting the Russians at Zorndorf, the Allies (France, Austria and Saxony) decided that it was an opportune time to invade the Brandenburg heartland from the west. Accordingly, French Marshal Soubise joined forces with the Austrian General von Loudan in wesetern Saxony, west of the Elbe River and one of its tributaries the Saale River. However, Frederick caught wind of the invasion plans and hurried part of his army back from Zorndorf, meeting up with a contingent of Prussians, commanded by Prinz Moritz of Anhalt Dessau, just to the south of Berlin.
Frederick endeavored to quickly march west and intercept the Allies and bring them to battle. The campaign covered much of the same territory as the Rossbach campaign in 1757, so Frederick knew the territory very well. The Saale River proved to be an obstacle to the Prussians, with the French having destroyed most of the bridges at various crossing points. Frederick knew from experience, that the Saale was crossable at Weissenfels. So by forced march, the Prussian reached Weissenfels before the Allies and Frederick's engineer quickly threw a couple of pontoon bridges across the Saale. The Prussians had managed to shift half of their army across the river when Soubise, exercising a bit of unexpected initiative, ordered an all out assault on the Prussian bridge head, hoping to trap the Prussians against the Saale.
The Prussians occupied two key towns on the west bank of the Saale: Altenburg - on the Prussian left flank, and Eisenberg - on the Prussian right flank. Prussian Major General von Hulsen commanded the contingent of troops defending Altenburg and Prinz Moritz was charged with defending Eisenberg plus a neighboring town of Schaumburg. General of the Cavalry von Seydlitz guarded the bridge head in the center of the Prussian line with a brigade of cavalry and a battery of ferocious 12-pound Brummers guarding the pontoon bridges.
Here are some pictures of the key defensive positions of the Prussian deployment, west of the Saale River.
|The village of Altenburg (Prussian left flank) - click to enlarge.
|Prussian bridgehead is established on the west bank of the River Saale.
|The village of Eisenburg on the Prussian right flank.
|Another view of Eisenburg, with Prussian horse artillery deployed outside of the town.
The game was played using Bill Protz's rules, "Batailles dans l'Ancien Regime" (or BAR for short) with 28/30mm infantry battalions and cavalry regiments using a 1:10 figure to man ratio. This means that one casting/soldier figure represent ten actual men. Infantry battalions were mostly 60 figures based in three ranks (as the soldiers actually were formed) and cavalry squadrons were 12 figures, leading to some five squadron regiments having 60 horse and riders.
The game sequence in the rules is 1) movement, 2) contact into melee, and 3) firing. A deck of cards is used to determine which side gets to move and fire first. For example, a black card (Prussian) would be drawn at the start of the turn and so all Prussian units could move or declare charges. Once all the troops have moved, another card is drawn from the deck to see which side gets to fire first. As a result, there is a certain randomness to the movement and firing. There is also an opportunity for one side to get a run of firing cards each turn that could give it a decided advantage because the side that fires second must remove casualties (some can be saved using Saving Throws) and will likely fire back with fewer figures.
The Allies had a relative advantage in numbers with about 30% more figures than the Prussians. This is what I call an "Asymetrical Game" involving unequal forces. Oftentimes we use similar forces, or Symetrical Game, but this time I wanted to try something different. My hope was that the defensive positions afforded by the villages of Altenburg and Eisenburg would be enough to offset the Allies numerical advantage.
Allies (6 player):
27 battalions of infantry
45 squadrons of cavalry
90 pounds of artillery
Prussians (4 players):
21 battalions of infantry
33 squadrons of cavalry
72 pounds of artillery
Approximately half of the Prussian army was on the west bank of the Saale, while the other half had to cross the pontoon bridges each game turn and hopefully build up a sufficient mass of troops to fend off the Allied attack.
|Rules author, Bill Protz, explains how they work to a new player. Note the masses of French cavalry and grenadiers on the table.
Victory Conditions: the winner would be the side that controlled two of the three major villages by the end of game.
Initial Deployment of Forces
The Allies deployed with all of the French infantry on their right flank, tasked with capturing Altenburg, all of the French grenadiers and cavalry in the center, and the Austrian army (infantry and cavalry) positioned on the left flank opposite the villages of Eisenburg and Schaumburg.
|Austrian army deploys on the Allied left flank (Prussian right)
|Prussian cavalry crosses the pontoon bridge over the Saale to build up the forces on the west bank.
The Austrian Attack on Eisenburg and Schaumburg
The Austrian army had 10 musketeer battalions, one battalion of converged grenadiers and one battalion of converged light Croats. They also had 2 cuirassier, 1 dragoon, 1 horse grenadier and 1 hussar cavalry regiment in their mounted contingent.
|Austrian assault on Eisenberg - situation shown at the Half Time Break.
|The village of Schaumburg, located next to the Saale River, guarded the back door into neighboring Eisenburg.
|Austrian light Croats descend on the lonely outpost at Schaumburg.
|This is what is coming behind the Croats. All of the Austrian cavalry four battalions of musketeers.
The Prussians put up a gallant defense of Schaumburg throughout the day. They began the day with one battalion of fusiliers, 5 squadrons of hussars , one 6-pound artillery piece and 3 companies of dismounted Black Hussars. Eventually though, the weight of numbers enabled the Austrians to capture and occupy the village by the end of the game.
And by game end, the Prussians contolled only one quarter of the village of Eisenberg, so it was declared to have been captured by the Austrians.
The Battle for Altenburg on the Prussian left flank
the Prussians crammed two battalions of musketeers (IR5 Alt Braunschweig and IR18 Prinz von Preussen) into Altenburg along with a pair of medium 6-pound cannon. Some jagers lurked in the woods behind the town and two more battalions would eventually be thrown into the town. Prussian Major General von Hulsen skillfully defended the town throughout the day. As one of his battalions would be worn down, he withdrew it from town and replaced it with a fresh one.
|The initial French deployment facing Altenburg.
|Prussian Seydlitz Cuirassiers prepare to charge into the flank of the French infantry deployed in front of Altenburg.
|One of the few highlights in my sector of the battle was the charge of the Seydlitz Cuirassiers which drove off one French battery (temporarily) and routed the La Marck Regiment, which it hit in the flank.
|However, the French quickly stabilized their battle line as the Seydlitz Cuirassiers were themselves badly mauled in the combat.
The Grand Cavalry Battle in the Center
As is often the case, the grand cavalry battle is what decides the game and it happened in this one too.
|French (left) and Prussian (right) cavalry face off in the center
|The epic cavalry melee in the center - French on the left and Prussians on the right. Best looking melee picture that I've ever seen.