Monday, January 14, 2013

1806 Campaign -- Great Reveal and Day One

So the "Great Reveal" has occurred. Sadly I was not able to attend the actual event and will have to rely on Harve's great PowerPoint Presentation, some conversations with him, my own recollections and the remarks of some of the other players in order to reconstruct the events of this remarkable experience.

The revealed command structure was interesting. For the most part each French Corps has a single commander, except that Davout and Soult were played by the same person. Undoubtedly this made coordination between those two corps a bit smoother, but as I had no idea that they were the same guy there was no reason for me to try to unfairly take advantage of it. As it turned out the two corps ended up next to each other by chance. (EDIT: GM informs me that Soult was actually played by four different individuals over the course of the campaign. The first three dropped out for various reasons and Davout only took over running the additional corps at the end. This illustrates one of the difficulties of running this sort of an event. Over the course of a year among a group of 20 or so individual, life is going to happen, and maintaining 100% continuity will be unlikely.)

On the other hand, Murat's Cavalry Reserve had two subordinate commanders, who controlled 3 or 4 divisions each.

The Prussian side was more complicated, largely because the Prussians historically had not yet moved to a corps-based organizational scheme. Given the number of players available, this meant that the Prussian were organized into ad hoc "corps" where each subordinate commander controlled about three division-sized formations. The army as a whole was broken up into three army-sized groups, each under its own commander, with one of those commanders (Hohenlohe)  also acting as the overall commander.

The initial set up was thus:

Initial deployments: From West to East in Green for the Prussians Ruchel (3 units) Brunswick (6) and Hohenlohe (5); In blue for France Lannes by Schweinfurt (3 units) Murat (7) and Bernadotte (4) by Cobourg, Davout (4), Augerau (3) and Ney (3) by Bamberg, Soult (4) by Bayreuth and the Guard (2) in the center.  The number of subordinate units depcited varies somewhat on the other maps. At this stage of the campaign I think the GM simply missed a couple. The Guard, for example, comprised three units, not two, right from the start. All the maps are from Harve Mossman.
From my point of view as Napoleon, I didn't like some aspects of the initial positioning. I preferred to lead with some different units than the historical Napoleon did. But overall, I was inclined to follow the real Nappy's campaign strategy. The problem, as I saw it, was that if the Prussians realized what I was doing they would concentrate against my army as I passed through the border defiles and defeat the corps in detail. A look at the map shows that the Prussians were, in fact, in position to do this very thing! Hohenlohe and Brunswick, especially, could have gathered together into an overwhelming force. While I didn't know the Prussian dispositions, the danger seemed clear to me.

My solution was to feint in the West with Murat and Lannes (with Davout in range to help if they got into difficulty) while the other corps debouched through the passes of Thuringia in the East. Murat and Lannes would then disengage and move east to rejoin the main body. I expected a major battle somewhere in the Jena or Gera area or north of it.

The plan:

Oct. 10

 And so the plan was put into motion:

Lannes and Murat march on Meiningen, Bernadotte and Augerau move towards the passes, as does Hohenlohe while the rest of the French army in also on the move to implement the plan. Already we can see the risk that aggressive Prussian action could have made forcing the passes very difficult.

Now, what I didn't not know at the time, and was stunning to me when I found out, was that my entire campaign plan was compromised from the start. Evidently Murat had composed a message to his generals laying out the entire campaign plan on the first day -- and the messenger was captured!!!

I can't emphasize enough how dangerous a development this was. Not only did it mean my feint was a waste of time, but it gave the Prussian high command the exact information it needed to do the thing I most feared and concentrate against a portion of my army as it was vulnerable crossing the passes.

That this did not turn into a campaign ending disaster was apparently due to the fact that the Prussian commander believed that if "something is too good to be true, it isn't," and chalked up the intercepted missive as an attempt at deception!! While I find it hard to believe that this open window into French plans didn't provide some assistance to the Prussian, they did not act on it with the alacrity required to forestall the French plan as a whole.

The first day was spent in marches with no contacts. Murat and Lannes headed to the northwest, Davout slid west and the rest of the corps started moving northeast while sorting themselves out on the roads. This initial portion of the campaign was, I think, also useful for getting players into the swing of things before it had too much of an impact on the game. Players began to learn the capabilities of the troops while marching and how to properly format their instructions so that the GM could translate it to the map.

I don't know what the Prussian overall plan may have been, but note that Hohenlohe did, in fact, move up to contest the passes while Brunswick and Ruchel moved generally east where they would be in a position to back up Hohenlohe.

Tomorrow: Oct. 11 -- Confusion and Contact!

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