Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Schlacht bei Ritterbruch - Part I

Initial set up of forces at Ritterbruch, with the French on the left and the Prussians on the right. The Preecewald woods is seen off in the distance and beyond that is the Monument Hill where we place our victory columns from battle past.

On Saturday March 8, 2008 Der Alte Fritz and his Prussian army travelled north to Brown Deer, Wisconsin and the Chateau de Chevert to fight our first large battle of 1758/2008. The game was played using Bill Protz's Batailles de l'Ancien Regime, or "BAR" for short. The French had a slight numerical advantage of +5% due to their recent victory at the Muhlenberg in January. In our campaign, the victor of a battle gets a +5% advantage in his next battle, and if he wins that one, a +10% advantage in the subsequent battle. We had 8 players with approximately 900 infantry points and 450 to 500 cavalry points per side. The game lasted 5 hours and ended with a definite victory for the Prussians.

The Layout of the Land: Please refer to the picture above for a general overview of the battlefield. All directions (left/center/right) in this battle report will be from the Prussian perspective. The French deployed on the left side of the table and the Prussians defended the right. The wooded Preecewald dominated the right flank of the table and beyond the woods there was a passageway or roadway that would allow either side to advance to the opponent's back table area. Moving any units onto the opponent's back table was worth 5 victory points. So this passageway had some strategic importance.

The center of the battlefield was completely open and quite conducive to maneuvering large amounts of infantry and cavalry. The center area contained two roads and the exit points of the roads were worth 5 victory points each. So a strong push into the center could result in a victory.

The left center was also open without any significant terrain features. In the foreground of the above picture one can see a windmill. This feature anchored the left wing of the Prussian battle line. Behind the windmill, on the back table, was the town of Ritterstadt. Here the Prussians deployed a dragoon regiment, the Garde du Corps cuirassiers, and a battalion of the Guard infantry to hold down the flank.

The town of Ritterstadt on the back table. The two battalions of Guard infantry are on the left, and the Garde du Corps are on the right of the picture. In the background, elements of CR2 Prinz von Preussen cuirassiers are seen shifting over to the Prussian left to counter the growing French cavalry threat.

On the extreme left on an adjacent table, there was a causeway that led to the bridge across the Ritterbrucke river. The bridge was worth 5 victory points. As with the passageway on the far right, so too did the causeway lead to each sides back table area, where 5 victory points could be earned simply by placing a unit in that area.

Prussian Strategy: King Frederick knew that he was outnumbered and that he didn't have enough troops to cover the whole battle front. He reasoned that it would be difficult for the French to effect a break-through in the center, so the two roads (+5 points each) were probably safe. Just to be sure, the King set up a reserve of two 60-figure cuirassier regiments and two battalions of the Guard to use where needed. He placed his most experienced light infantry general (Jim Harms) on the right to contest the Preecewald and to hold the passageway. Harms (5 btns) and George Rust (4 btns plus access to the Guard infantry) were tasked with holding the middle and allowing the honors of attacking to go to the French. On the far left, Rob Oldenburg was given a strong task force of 4 battalions of infantry (including one elite and one grenadier battalion), 3 six-pounders and a regiment of dragoons. The King took personal command of the cavalry. He reasoned that the victory would be gained by holding the Prussian side of the table and capturing the 5 points at the Ritterbruch bridge. So Oldenburg's task force was the key to victory.

French Strategy: General Chevert (Bill Protz) seemed to have in mind a strong attack on the Prussian left flank, a holding action in the center, and the hope of a quick strike down the passageway beyond the Preecewald on the far Prussian right. The majority of the French and Austrian cavalry was deployed in the left sector of the table and Der Alte Fritz could see immediately that this was going to cause him some serious trouble.

The Great Cavalry Melee On the Left Flank

This is the unpleasant sight that Der Alte Fritz saw threatening his left flank. He only had two regiments of cavalry available to stop this looming hoard of French heavy cavalry.

Once the forces were set up on the table, Der Alte Fritz had a sinking feeling that it was going to be a long day. The Prussians were at a distinct disadvantage on their left. A mass of French cavalry were advancing towards the flank (112 French against 72 Prussian horse). If the French numbers prevailed, then the left most Prussian infantry brigade of von Rust would be caught in a vise with cavalry on its flank and 7 battalions (versus his 4 btns) to his front. Accordingly, Frederick began to send elements of CR2 cuirassiers (a 60 man regiment) to the left flank beyond the town of Ritterstadt. He could only hope that he would have enough time to even out the odds.

The melee begins and CR2 arrives in the nick of time. DR2 Jung Krakow dragoons can be seen at the top already engaged with the French Commissaire-Generale regiment of cuirassiers. The first 3 squadrons of the Gelbe Kurassiers (CR2) at the table edge, are actually in melee with the Saxon Rutowsky Cheveau-legers across the table gap. The remaining two squadrons of CRs can be seen arriving in support, while the Garde du Corp form a second cavalry line in the center. Note the checkerboard pattern of deployment providing lanes for cavalry to retire or rout without running down friendly forces.

The Saxon Rutowsky cheveau-legers (40 strong) pitched into the first three squadrons of CR2 (36 strong) and the first round of melee was a tie. Frederick fed the other two squadrons into the fight on the next round of melee and the weight of numbers caused the Saxons to fall back. The Gelbe Kurassiers followed up their attack and put the Saxons to flight, capturing their standard in the process.

To the left of CR2, the Prussian dragoon regiment Jung Krakow (DR2 - 36 figures) crossed swords with the French Commissaire-Generale regiment. The first round was a tie - both sides losing the same number of figures. Thus, the melee continued into the next turn. Both sides threw in their second line of cavalry. The French Regiment Royale (36 figures) joined the fray as did the Prussian Garde du Corps (CR13 - 36 figures). This melee lasted a couple of turns before the Prussians prevailed, causing the both French regiments to rout back 24 inches. All of the Prussian cavalry pursued and drove the French off the field, capturing the standards of both the Commissaire-Generale and the Regiment Royale.

The French cavalry have been driven off the field, but wait! Now the Austrians are joining the melee, with similar sad results for them.

All of the Prussian cavalry were now disordered from the series of melees. In BAR, you can remain stationary for one turn to get back into good order. In the picture above, you can see a squadron of the Jung Krakow dragoons resting while their comrades fight off the Austrian curassiers (on the right) and the hussars (on the left in the background). The Austrian cavalry commander wheeled his 30 figure Modena cuirassier regiment and charged into the disordered Gelbe Kurassiers. This seemed like a good move, attacking disordered cavalry, but the Prussians were on a roll, literally, as their dice were hot and given them an advantage to go along with their superior numbers. The Modena cuirassiers were pushed back. This enabled Frederick to throw in a fresh squadron of dragoons and another squadron of the newly arrived Black Hussars (HR5). Again, weight of numbers favored the Prussians and the Austrians were cut down and their flag was captured.

The fateful end of the Austrian Modena cuirassiers at the hands of the mass of Prussian cavalry. Weight of numbers and fresh squadrons in reserve proved to be the difference.

The last remaining Austrian cavalry unit on the field (in this sector at least), was a regiment of hussars that stood little chance of stopping the Prussian Garde du Corps (seen in the picture above fighting the hussars). Had the game continued past this point, the Austrian hussars would have shared the fate of the rest of the allied cavalry.

The Garde du Corps close in for the kill against the Austrian hussars. Light cavalry can only fight two ranks deep compared to three ranks for dragoons and cuirassiers. So the Austrians were at a disadvantage in this melee. Note that the Garde du Corps have now crossed all the way across the center table and will have some juicy infantry targets to deal with after the hussars have been driven off.

I don't play the cavalry commander very often, being more comfortable with the infantry, so the outcome of this grand cavalry melee surprised me. My opponent, Bill Protz, is probably the best cavalry commander in our regular wargame group. He has beaten me like a drum in all previous cavalry battles, so when I saw the initial deployment on our left, I thought that perhaps our Prussian goose was cooked. Fortunately, I was able to redeploy the 60 figure CR2 regiment on the cavalry field and equalize the numbers. Watching Bill's tactics in many a game past, I learned the importance of having a second line of cavalry reserves that one can feed into the existing melees to their front. Weight of numbers and fresh troopers make a world of difference.

As for the Garde du Corps, they were "veritable Caesars" as Frederick the Great might have said. They captured two standards, drove off three enemy cavalry regiments and were well positioned to threaten the French infantry flank by the end of the game. As a consequence, I awarded a battle honor to the Garde du Corps as well as one for CR2 to honor their exploits in the battle.

I will continue the story of the infantry battle in the center and in the Preecewald on the far right tomorrow.


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  2. As I was just about to turn in for the night I checked your BLOG and am rewarded by your splendid photos, narration and compliments. Yes, indeed, twas a magnificent Prussian victory. No question about it. Congratulations again Jim!
    As a footnote about BAR cavalry dynamics, one can change speeds by turn from trot, to canter and gallop and back again. Each speed level provides different melee modifiers. Trot gets a +1, canter a +2 but gallop is variable with results of 0, +1, +2, +3 or +4 based on a throw of 1xD6. I knew my unarmoured Rutowskis would engage armoured horse and luckily I got them into contact with the Prussians whilst the latter were cantering with a +2 modifier. I went in at the gallop hoping to get at least a +2 or better a +3 or better still a +4 melee modifier. I only got a +2 modifier! Next door the Commissaire Générals threw a 1 and got a ZERO! Ach!
    The rationale per Warnery's writings is, if one goes in at the gallop there is a greater chance for loss of impact, cohesion and so forth. Thus the Commissaire Générals had a tough nut to crack but still got a draw in the first round. Anything but a zero on the above throw would probably have meant the Prussians would have lost more men, would have been shoved back 6" followed by the Saxons and then a Prussian morale test.
    People have told me over the years that cavalry speed changes and the chess-like contemplations to get a speed advantage is a lot of fun. I originally put this in Wargamer's Guide To The English Civil War and transferred it to BAR. It is fun, full of tension and unpredictable results. I would rather command cavalry than anything else.
    Wonderful game and good people too. Thanks Jim.
    Kindest Regards,
    Bill (Chevert)

  3. Excellent battle description and photos. It was very helpful to a new owner of BAR to actually see them in action. Best regards...Bill

  4. Jim,

    Congratulations not only on your victory, but on the photos and account of it.

    Bill, I do appreciate reading your thought processes about rules (i.e., your differing speeds and why you have it). Thanks.

    -- Jeff

  5. Jim
    Excellent photographs and commentary- I await the infantry battle with interest....
    best wishes

  6. Jim,

    Congratulations on the victory, sounds like it was a fun game! Very well written description, it made me feel like I was there. Just to place the record straight since I have played against Jim several times, he is a VERY GOOD player. I have learned both cavalry and infantry moves by watching what he has done to me. :-)


  7. As I prepare my forces for battle, reading these excellent reports has enhanced my understanding of the dynamics of BAR. Plus the wonderful photos give me impetus to paint more figures.

    Many thanks,


  8. Bravo, sir! My compliments on your splendid victory...

  9. To All: one of my objectives in this particular posting was to give the reader a better feel for the dynamics of the cavalry rules (which may seem complicated, but in fact are rather simple). Hmm, I might do an on line step by step example of some movement and fire and melee examples from the BAR rules to help others understand them better.

  10. Excellent report and pics! I think you did convey something of the dynamics of the cavalry rules. Some step by step examples would be great.