Monday, April 7, 2008

Napoleon's Battles session report

I accepted the post of overall commander for the Russian side in Pater Landry's Battle of Eylau scenario for Napoleon's Battles at this weekend's Havoc convention.
Only two of us on the Russian side had played before. The other experienced player took command of the Advanced Guard under Bagration. The pre-game intent was that I would be in overall command and take direct control of the Prussian detachment under Lestocq when it arrived.
The three inexperienced players shared control of the seven independent divisions in the Russian center and right. (The Russians were not using a corps level of command yet in 1807, which meant some command control problems).
My instructions for Bagration were simple, if difficult to achieve. He was to conduct a delaying action, trading space for time while preserving his force. I expected the French main effort to be on the right flank under Davout and Murat.
The center divisions were to hold in place until the French committed themselves, then look for an opportunity to advance.
I did give them one tactical instruction which proved to be very important. Normally in black powder era warfare (and NB is no exception) it's not cost-effective to engage in counterbattery fire. I do, however, think there's times when this rule should be broken. One of those is when one side has a big advantage in firepower and can concentrate the fire of two or three batteries on one. In this battle the French have only four batteries of 12-pounders, spread all along their front. The Russians have TWELVE 12-pounder batteries. So I told my commanders to try to neutralize the French guns if they could.
This worked out better than expected, because the commanders in the French center took a passive approach and sat under the artillery fire for most of the game without trying to get close. Worse, the French also tried to deploy a grand battery of Imperial Guard horse artillery (five batteries) in front of the Russian line, which promptly got shot up before they could accomplish anything.
The Advance Guard commander did an excellent job and when the first session ended he had managed to delay the French advance while losing almost nothing.
The lack of action on the rest of the battlefield was starting to work against the French because the burden of attack was on them and they were not making sufficient progress.
With the change of session we had to reshuffle commands a bit, with Pete taking over the Prussians while I replaced the advance guard commander. The French also got a new commander, who was far more aggressive than the morning guy.
The afternoon session saw much more aggressive attacks all across the front from the French, which made some progress, but the lack of artillery was a big hindrance.
When the game ended there appeared little prospect of the French taking enough of the geographical objectives to win.
They held Althoff, Eylau, Serpallen and Klein Sausgarten for a total of 160 victory points. The Rusisan were in very firm control of Schmoditten and Schloditten for 352 points. The only question was the fate of Kutschitten. It was held by a brigade of Russian grenadiers and had already repulsed a major corps-sized attack, but the French commander was certain he could take the village. Even with those 115 VPs, however, the French would fall short.
The post-mortem comments seemed to agree that both sides were too passive in the center and Russian right/French left, although I think that tended to help the Russians, given that the burden of attack was on the French. Likewise, most of the other game participants seemed dubious about the counterbattery tactic,. although I think it paid dividends in this case. Part of the reason why everyone agreed that Schoditten and Schmoditten were unlikely to fall was that the French had very few infantry available to assault the towns and NO heavy guns for support. The French did have a lot of cavalry on that flank, but they were of no use for taking any towns.
Peter Landry said he has run The Battle of Eylau several times, with each game being very different. It's a good convention game, with both sides evenly matched.
Napoleon's Battles, as always, provided a good game with a nice balance of historical authenticity and playability.

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