Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Some Thoughts On Deployment Intervals

Four French battalions converge on the British garrison at Aveiro. Are they using intervals in their deployment?
Bill Protz and I were having a conversation today about the use of intervals in Napoleonic warfare, or more precisely, the lack of the use of intervals in Napoleonic wargames. This came about as a result of the game that we played on Saturday August 3, 2013 at Bill's house.

On the French right flank of their army, a division of 4 battalions (72 figures each or 360 figures in total) formed up in a massive column (see the picture above), sending three battalions over the bocage, disordering the battalions, and hurling into the thin red line of British (the 52nd Light Regt, I believe). The French had nearly 216 figures (with 72 figures in support ) to fight with maybe 70 British. Any guesses which side won the melee?

If you guessed the French, then you were wrong. As I understand it, four of the five battalions in the first wave of the attack failed their morale and routed back over the hedges. Eventually, they were able to reform and renew the attack, finally capturing the little village  of Aveiro, but at the cost of more than half of their troops.

Now let us take a look at how General de Division Morand deployed his battalions during the opening moments of the Battle of Auerstadt in October 1806. Notice how Morand has deployed his battalions in a sort of checkerboard manner with considerable intervals between each unit so that they have the flexibility to change formation into line, column or square, as the situation required.

Morand's Deployment at Auerstadt. From Napoleon's Finest, Davout and  His 3rd Corps, Combat Journal of Operations, 1805-1807, Military History Press, 2006, page 66.
A closer look at the map indicates that the interval between two columns of grand divisions was 250 yards side by side, and 90 yards between the second and third rows of battalions. Furthermore, each battalion formed in column of grand divisions occupied a frontage of 44 yards and a depth of 88 yards (see diagram below). And to top things off, Morand has used the l'ordre mixte by deploying two of his legere battalions in front of the division: the 2/13 Legere on the left is in a serre en colonne formation (close in column) as protection against a likely Prussian cavalry attack, while the 1/13 Legere is deployed to the right in a line formation. Both battalions have deployed their skirmishers to their front and there is a section of two 4-pounders limbered between the two Legere battalions, ready to deploy.

Now my scan of the diagram cut off the right hand side of the page, so let me tell you that after the first line of 13 Legere battalions, Morand has deployed the four battalions of the 51 Regt. de Ligne and the 61e Regt. de Ligne in the second row of the divisional formation. Each regiment of two battalions has a two gun section of artillery deployed between the two battalions.

The third row of battalions (1/17 Line and the 2/30 and 1/30 Line are also deployed in columns of grand divisions with three more 2-gun sections of artillery limbered in support. Every battalion in the division has its skirmishers in front of the parent battalion.

Symbol and scale key showing foot print required for a French column of divisions (Colonne a Grand  Distance). Diagram is from the same book as the first diagram.

I am not trying to be critical of the way that the French tabletop commander deployed his battalions or of his decision to rush the town of Averiero with overwhelming force. It made a certain amount of sense from a wargaming standpoint, but the wargame deployment was quite different from the deployment that a French General a Division would have employed in battle.

I want you to take another close look at the intervals that Morand used at Auerstadt as he advanced towards the Prussian army. Now think about how that might translate to the table top. Just off the top of my head, I would estimate that one of my stands of 12 French infantry occupy a frontage of 4 inches and so a column of divisions would have a frontage of about 8 inches. So at the very minimum, our table top general should have had 8 inches of space between each battalion. The 8 inch interval could have then been filled by another battalion deployed behind the first row of battalions, ready to support the pending melee with the British. Of equal importance, there would have been a gap through which the front French battalions could have retreated or routed through when they failed to win the melee.

Had this checkerboard formation been used:

   (British Line is Here facing the French (M) )

      ^                           ^                           ^

MMMM                MMMM               MMMM
MMMM                MMMM               MMMM
MMMM                MMMM               MMMM

              MMMM                MMMM
              MMMM                MMMM

... then the first row of three French battalions could have engaged the British regiment in line. They now have an avenue in which to retreat, if needed. Even after routing, the British are disordered from being in the melee and now the second wave of French battalions (2 btns) can charge in and have the advantage since they are in good order whilst the British are disordered.

This is something to think about the next time you are playing in a wargame: am I using enough interval between my troops in a manner similar to their historical deployment, so that if something bad does happen, my troops have an avenue of retreat. Then the second wave of battalions can move in to finish off the opponent.


  1. Interesting stuff. However in defense of my fellow French player, sending the second wave of two battalions would still have had to be done by going thru the bocage and thus they too would have been disordered.


  2. I would say that much depends on the scale and detail of the game being played.

    Such openings are important in a game like Naopleon's Battles, while they are nearly worthless in SHAKO. Since the game mechanics do not account for such detail.

    Further a scale of game like Fast Play Grand Armee would not even care about such details as they are lost at the scale of the game.

    The point here is one of game vs. simulation. While not all games are truly detailed simulations, very few detailed simulations are very entertaining games.

  3. Mike: the second wave of French would be holding back for a turn, hence returning to a state of good order after crossing the bocage

  4. I think I'm right in saying that in the early Napoleonic period which you cite (1806)the French were still capable of forming line and using "order mixed" when appropriate. The wide interval would allow for any battalion to form line and fill the gap between columns and deliver more firepower. I'd be intersted to know whether such large intervals were still thought necessary later on when the poorer quality of troops made attack column the most common formation.

  5. Jim and I are using a 1:10 scale of miniatures to actual men. It then becomes possible and visually desirable for us in the future to form columns of divisions separated from another column of divisions by customary historical intervals. I see the good point of not doing this at ratios of about 1:50 or more.

    For decades I formed 1:20 battalions in columns of divisions immediately adjacent to each other without a space separating each battalion from the next one side to side. This was done in one sector of the game mentioned. At first I thought yes that's okay. We've done this for decades in Wisconsin anyway.

    After the game mentioned, it dawned on me we've never used intervals in such an attack. Plus, a column of divisions was supposed to march forward and then form line to fire.

    Intervals were needed to form line, square, position a battalion gun and have room for skirmishers to fall back and we suppose to have a gap for routed friends to fall back through. Not possible without intervals.

    I rechecked Paddy Griffith's French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics 1792-1815 diagrams and associated text to validate the above in case I got something wrong.

    The attack in the game resembled a Column of Battalions; battalions in line each one behind the other.

    Just trying to introduce a little more history and eye appeal.


  6. Scotty Bowden's Napoleon's Grand Armee of 1813 (p.61) mentions inexperienced French infantry spent three days a week forming columns of divisions going in and out of same to form squares. Reasons: Lack of experience and low numbers of French cavalry before the Armistice.

    Without intervals separating battalions formed in columns of divisions, it would not be possible to form a hollow square.


  7. I failed to point out that much of the problems the French experienced in my example were due largely to some incredibly bad dice rolling on morale checks. Had one or two morale checks gone the other way, then it is likely that their strategy would have worked.

    I used the picture and situation more to demonstrate the use or lack of intervals in our wargames, not to criticize the strategy employed.

  8. It would appear that the great truth of good rule sets which are designed to reflect history has taken hold: if you do not follow historical models then you will lose a lot more than you will win.

    Every other single set I have played with the exception of Otto Schmidt's OGABAS demand that if you are going to deploy, then space has to be committed by the player to that end. Even in Empire II the player must follow the laws of physics. If you wish to go from column to line, then space must be committed to that end. No space - no formation change.
    Your use of Morand's deployments was very well done. Kudos.