Monday, February 17, 2014

Battle of Pirna

Bayreuth Dragoons and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Prussian Leib Guard. Minden Miniatures. (click pix to enlarge)

The Opening Set Up

The game scenario revolved around the idea that during the Prussian invasion of Saxony in 1756, the Saxons elected to break out of their fortified encampment at Pirna (rather than starve themselves into submission) and link up with von Browne's Austrians, who had marched in from neighboring Bohemia to rescue them.

The table was divided into three zones: a center zone where regular troops and cavalry were allowed to set up, and two flank zones on the extreme ends. Allegedly, only light troops were allowed to set up in these flank zones.  

Initial set up of forces, Austrians on the left and Prussians on the right. Good picture of two brigades of Prussian infantry in the center at the start of the game.

Prussian right flank guarded by their cuirassier brigade. Prussian commanders wonder whether or not their right flank is safe.

Apparently it is not, as the scenario allowed the Saxons to start the game on the Prussian flank, unbeknownst to the Prussian players. Fun.

An overview of the action, circa the second or third turn. The first musketry volley are about to be fired in the center.
There seems to have been some honest miscommunication between the game judge/scenario designer and the Prussian players. They were under the impression that only light troops could begin the game in the two flank zones. A brigade of Saxon infantry were allowed to deploy in the "Light Zone" at the beginning of the game and the Prussian command was told that the Saxons were to complete a march back to one of the rear tables behind the Austrian battle line. Thus it was a little bit disconcerting to watch the Saxons deploy from march column into battle line on the first turn. Faster than you could say "Bob's your uncle", the Prussian line was forced to bend at a right angle in order to seal off the threat to their right flank. Game, set and match Old Bean.

Over the course of the game, the Saxon infantry and cavalry kept working its way around the flank and rear of the Prussian right wing, causing the Prussians to divert much needed forces to face the rear to ward off this potential threat.  This proved to be critical to the outcome of the battle. Think in terms of the fighting at Plancenoit during the battle of Waterloo, and you can see the predicament that the SYW Prussians were in.

Now I have gamed enough over the years to know that once your battle line has a bend, salient or angle to it, there is something close to a 90% probability that you are not going to win the battle. Why? Because it becomes very easy for the opponent to attack the bend in your line from two sides. The defender has little chance unless he has superior forces in the vicinity or he is very lucky with his dice.

The Battle in the Center - Shock and Awe

The Prussian commander in chief was focused on events in the center, where a particularly vigorous Austrian infantry attack had the Prussians back on their heels. He ignored appeals from the Prussian commanders on the right flank to send over the cavalry reserve ; however, Frederick figured that the 5 regiments of heavy Prussian cavalry, 1 regiment of hussars, and the pending arrival of the third Prussian infantry brigade on the right side of the field would be sufficient to button things up.

The first volley of the game is about to be delivered in the center of the battlefield as Prussians and Austrians are virtually eye-to-eye in this sector.
The Austrians launched a surprisingly vigourous attack in the center with about 6 battalions of regular infantry and a battalion of Croats that occuppied the wooded area in the center of the table. From here, the Croats continually peppered the flanks of the Prussian battleline and helped to weaken the Prussian front line. In retrospect, the Prussians would have been well served to send in a battalion of infantry to neutralize the Croats.

Firefight begins in the center of the battlefield. You can see the Croats occuppying the wooded area and threatening the Prussian flank.
The Prussians drew the first firing card of the game and delivered a deadly volley into the advancing Austrians in the center. The Austrians shrugged that off and returned fire and both sides settled into a slug fest for the next several turns. Gradually, the Austrians gained the upper hand and wiped out the first Prussian line of two battalions. They then turned their attention to the second line of two battalions. At about this time, Frederick sent two battalions from the refused flank to bolster up his center. 

Austrian advance their reserves in the center of the field and they would eventually punch a hole through the Prussian center.

Croats in the woods pose a threat to the Prussian center. The Prussian infantry is some strange "open order" sort of formation that shouldn't be allowed for the SYW period.

The end game: Austrian cuirassiers punch through the Prussian center, where there are no reserves left to counter them.
The battle of attrition in the center began to turn in the Austrians favor, and in a well timed move, the Austrian commander, von Browne, sent in his last reserve of cuirassiers (the O'Donnell Cuirassier Regiment). The O'Donnell cuirassiers punched their way clear through the center of the Prussian line, sabering artillery crew men and routing off two depleted Prussian battalions. Frederick moved his last reserves of one battalion of guards and a couple of squadrons of cuirassiers to form a last line of defense in the center. In his mind though, he knew that it was time to withdraw his army from the field and survive to fight another day.

The Grand Cavalry Melee (right-center of the Prussian line)

As is want to happen in 18th Century wargames, there is always some huge cavalry scrum taking place on the battlefield. Generally, as a commander, you just hope that you can neutralize the other side's cavalry so that it does not become a factor at the end of the game. I have no idea of the size of the Austrian-Saxon cavalry contingent, but it was probably comparable to that of the Prussians.

The Prussians had four cuirassier regiments (80 figures total), one heavy dragoon regiment (20 figures), and one regiment of hussars (20 figures). You can see the initial cavalry deployment in the picture below.

The opening deployment of the two sides' cavalry on the Prussian right-center of the field. You can see the commencement of the infantry fight in the center of the field as well as the wooded area where the Croats held sway during the battle.
Knowing what Austrian forces I brought to the game (2 x 24 cuirasseirs and 1 x 24 dragoons) and counting the Saxon figures in the picture above (I see 52 Saxons in three regiments above), there was probably an edge in numbers for the Austrians. I am guessing about 80 Prussian heavy cavalry versus 124 heavy Austrian-Saxon cavalry. Under these circumstances, I think that the Prussian cavalry commander, Kurt, did very well to hold his own against the veteran Austrian commander, von Protz. 

Both sides were getting whittled down by the continuous back and forth of the cavalry melee. The BAR rules that we used provide a realistic ebb and flow to cavalry melees, so it is important to maintain some reserves.

Prussian Left Flank - all quiet

The Prussian left flank was the "refused flank" and no, that did not mean that the Prussian refused to attack in this sector. They were held back on purpose. Three battalions were eventually sent to the center to bolster that area, as the Austrian musketry was making short work of the Prussians. On the far left, inside the Light Zone, von Zieten sent a mixed force of hussars and jagers to deal with a similar Austrian force of Croats and Hussars. On the second turn, Zieten drew off half of the Bayreuth Dragoons and a battalion of grenadiers from the reserve to see if he could force his way around the Austrian right flank.

Center-left zone of the table. Prussians forces were "refused", holding back as a reserve if needed.

Prussian left flank - the "light troops only zone". Minden Black Hussars and half of the Bayreuth Dragoons attempt to turn the Austrian right flank.

Austrian hussars decide to leave the field and let their grenadier brethern handle things from here.

Near the end of the game, the Prussian right wing decides to advance to try and relieve some of  the  pressure in the center of the field.

It was a hard fought game with plenty of ebb and flow throughout the course of the game. At various times it seemed that one side or the other was gaining the upper hand, only to see the cards and the dice gods decide otherwise a turn or two later. I think that the "surprise deployment" of the Saxon army on the Prussian right flank was successfully checked throughout the game, however, it was at the cost of drawing off valuable infantry reserves that might have made a difference in the battle's outcome.  Sometimes, you just have to make lemonade from the lemons that are handed to you and adapt to the conditions on hand.

At various times during the game, I felt like I was "channeling" Rod Steiger as Napoleon in the movie "Waterloo". I would walk over to the right flank to see what was going on and watch what seemed to be an ever-growing force of Saxon infantry and light cavalry roaming around the rear area of our lines. There seemed to be enough Prussians available to counter this annoying threat (and light cavalry and light infantry can be truly annoying if used correctly). The Prussian players kept asking me to send more cavalry to them from the reserve and I'm sure that the thought "what do you expect me to do, create more troops out of thin air" entered my mind more than once.

Ultimately, I think that the Austrian victory was due to their vigorous attack in the center coupled with the timely charge of the O'Donnel Cuirassiers.  Frederick probably overlooked the importance of occuppying the wooded area in his center, which provided a covered staging area for Austrian attacks.

The Erbprinz Friedrich of Hesse Seewald observes the action at the Battle of Pirna with his Leib Garde and the von Glasenap musketeer regiment.

A small contingent of Hesse Seewald troops made their first appearance in one of our games, however, they were not actually used in the game, being posted in the rear area for "disinformation" purposes. Had they been approached by the Austrians, I would have simply removed them from the table and told the Austrians that they were not really there. 


  1. This is one of the very best AARs I've read on-line. The pictures are excellent but more importantly what transpired is clearly and concisely conveyed by the narrative. One question - while you mention a difference in available cavalry, what was the difference in infantry battalions? In artillery batteries?
    Once again, nice job!
    A/K/A The Celtic Curmudgeon

  2. (Whispered) "Why Elba??!!"

    Best Regards,



    Looks like a fantastic game by the way.

  3. Here are totals:
    Gd. Inf: 60/37
    Con. Gren: 30/60
    Line Inf: 240/212
    Jagers: 30/0
    Croats: 0/60
    Total: 360/369
    Superior Huss: 50/0
    Other Huss: 0/30
    Medium Cav: 52/72
    Armored Cav: 84/84
    Hs. Gren: 0/4
    Total: 186/190
    3 Pdrs: 4/4
    6 Pdrs: 0/2
    12 Pdrs: 2/2
    Points Per Side: 847.8/861.6
    Bill P.

  4. Oops. I forgot to mention an additional 120 Prussian and 120 Austrian line infantry should be added to the preceding totals.
    Bill P.

  5. Outstanding BatRep and terrific game layout! Beautiful work!

  6. Out of curiousity, what rule system was used? And what was the rationale behind allowing the Prussians to deploy in open order against the Croats?

  7. The Prussian player next to me was not deploying the battalion within the scope of the rules, ie it is not allowed. The Austrian player across from him was doing the same thing with his line battalion in the woods, so since they were both doing it, I let it go. But I will definitely mention this before the next game.

    The rules used were Bill Protz's BAR rules.

  8. @ Celtic Curmudgeon : I didn't want to leave the impression that the Prussians were outnumbered. It is more a matter of them spreading out their cavalry across the battlefield while the Austrian cavalry was concentrated in one section of the field. Give the Austrians credit for having a better battle strategy.

  9. Very nice AAR and a really awesome looking game!


  10. Beautiful set up, game and battle report. Thank you for the post

  11. Inspiring stuff! And plenty of photos for my desktop backgrounds!!

  12. Great looking game and battle report

    -- Allan

  13. Really good report and lovely photos, thank you

  14. Thank you everyone for the kind comments. Those Minden figures are certainly photogenic.