Wednesday, January 23, 2013

1806 Campaign -- Put up them dukes -- and final thoughts

I don't actually have an awful lot to add to Harvey's analysis of the campaign. I'm not even sure I have any quibbles.

What I do have is a bit of amazement that my campaign plan actually came together more or less intact. That, I would not have predicted.

I do think that the course of the campaign illustrated how important the principle of Simplicity is in war plans. It's among the principles of War of a very good reason. Wargames, in general, do not do justice to all of the principles of war equally. Instead they tend to overestimate the impact of some while leaving some others neglected -- to the detriment of those who want to use their wargames to better understand the real thing. 

In particular, I think wargames generally do a poor job with Simplicity, Security and Unity of Command and its only when you take part in a large multi-player game like Harvey's that you get an inkling of how important those principle can be. The kind of gamer who likes wargames is often the sort of person who likes intricacy and details and is therefore perhaps a little less likely to undertsand the virtues of a simple plan. Indeed, I think we all know players who glory in coming up with very complicated plans. And in wargames sometimes they will work!

Less so in real life and in this campaign I think it can't be emphasized how important it was to the eventual French victory that the initial plan was  simple. It could be described in a few words -- feint left, move right.

Still, at the end of the day, the overall commander's influence over events is limited and its up to the subordinates to carry out the plans and here, I think, I was very lucky. Before the Great Reveal I told Harvey that I thought all the subordinate commanders seemed to have done well, as far as I could see. Now that I've seen the whole story, my opinion is strengthened. While I might not have approved every single minor move, I see no big errors and overall I see a lot that was extremely praiseworthy. For the most part all the marshals showed flexibility of mind, commendable initiative and yet exclleent adherence to orders and the campaign plan.

Of the right corps commanders, all performed excellently, and it is really hard to single out individuals from among such an august group,

Marshals Murat, Ney and Soult did extremely well finding and fixing the enemy, often fighting successfully while outnumbered. Marshals Augerau, Bernadotte and Bessieres all landed powerful offensive blows that shattered their opponents.

But two of the marshals, I think , even managed to rise to heights worthy of special recognition.

The first of these is Marshal Davout, who executed lengthy marches with skill and occupied the single most exposed position of the campaign and held his ground against all comers. His steadfast defense of his position provided the fulcrum which leveraged all the power of the French army into an irresistible force.

So, in recognition of Marshal Davout's critical contribution to the overall victory, the Emperor Napoleon awards him the honor of Duc de Zeitz, named after the site of his exceptional stand.

Tom Thorenson aka Davout, Maréchal de France, Duc de Zeitz

Marshal Davout is an extremely hard act to top, but the performance of his colleague, Lannes, was even more remarkable. Lannes fought a battle at Gotha, disengaged from that battle, forced marched across the entire theater, fought and won another battle at Jena and then turned around and fought yet a third battle, also at Jena, that stymied the last best chance of the Prussians to salvage a victory.

His handling of his corps will be studied as an example of the operational art for generations to come. It might compare to the Valley Campaign of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, but that would be anachronistic, as 
Jackson won't be born for another 18 years!!

So to honor Lannes, the Emperor Napoleon names him the Duc de Jena, which he is entitled to flaunt at local wargame clubs for the rest of his days.

Paul Fish, aka Lannes, Maréchal de France, Duc de Jena
. Altogether this was a great experience. I want to thank Harvey, again, for all the work he put into this project and I'd like to thank all the players who took part as well. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts about the campaign as well.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1806 Campaign Day Eight -- Decision at the Battle of Altenbourg

Fighting breaks out along the main front and continues around Jena

By the time Napoleon rode back to Soult's headquarters he was already having misgivings about his plan to put Murat in charge of scooping up Ruchel's exposed troops. It seemed that neither his corps commanders nor the Prussians were in a mood to delay the decisive day any longer and by dawn heavy fighting was already starting to break out along the entire front.

Finally Napoleon cancelled his previous day's orders, mostly out of courtesy, because Nappy expected the decisive moment was at hand and the battle would be decided before Murat or anyone else on that flank could react to any changes. Murat, Ney and Lannes were on their own.

Battle rages along the entire front from west of Zeitz to Zwickau. While defeated, Brunswick's troops are not captured, causing some anxious moments for Davout. Meanwhile Ney and Lannes turn about to face a new threat from the West as Ruchel approaches Jena.
Things now started to happen at a rapid clip. Unbeknownst to me, Lannes and Ney were having to react to the approach of more Prussians under Ruchel, as well as dealing with Saxe and Wartens. I was getting worried reports from Davout about the remnants of Brunswick's forces in his rear area, but to his credit Davout kept his cool and held his ground.  I judged that nothing that happened on the left flank would have an immediate impact on the main front, where the fighting was becoming very intense!

The pugnacious Blucher pesters Davout, who is also under heavy pressure from Kalckreuth's command. Ney and Lannes fighting a  meeting engagement with Ruchel at Jena and Murat's missing cavalry reappear on the map to the West. Meanwhile, Napoleon has noticed something on the main front, where the battle rages ....
Shortly before noon saw Ney and Lannes dealing with Ruchel to the West and Davout assailed from front and rear on the main army's left flank. here the marshals earned their batons, as everyone kept their wits about them and refused to panic. Ruchel and Kalckreuth demonstrated the sort of aggressiveness that would have caused Napoleon serious trouble had it occurred earlier in the campaign -- but now it was a case of too late, if not too little. 

It was too late because Napoleon had returned to Soult's position to observe the raging battle and through the smoke he discerned that there appeared to be a small gap in the Prussian line between Zechaltz and Grawert's commands with a clear path to the artillery reserve beyond. And the Guard was near at hand, just a few hundred yards away, having had their orders to join Murat cancelled. Napoleon's instinctively knew this was the moment! He rode over to Bessieres and pointed to the gap and ordered the Guard to attack. He rode on to Murat's nearby cavalry and ordered them to follow the Guard. This was the roll of the dice -- everything would depend on the outcome of this attack.

The second Battle of Jena occurs to the West while the Prussian left flank begins to give way in the east and the Guard hits the center.
As the Guard disappeared into the smoke of battle in the center, victory was already beginning on the far right as Augerau and Bernadotte overwhelmed the Prussian left before Altenbourg.  Any chance of the Prussians stabilizing their front disappeared under the bayonets of the Old Guard and Bessieres swept all before him.

The Prussian front crumbles under a powerful assault. Kalckreuth finally starts to drive Davout back, but soon finds the army melting away to his East. Ney and Lannes check Ruchel at Jena.
By one in the afternoon the Prussian army is melting away in flight. Davout was hard-pressed at the end, grudgingly giving ground to Kalckreuth's attack, when suddenly the advancing Prussians saw their flank supports running away. Meanwhile, the second Battle of Jena was a temporary stalemate, although Ney and Lannes were about reaching the end of their ropes. Had the battle continued, Harvey said they would have been in trouble. But the battle didn't continue ... as the Prussian army was in rout, covered by a rear guard.

Kalckreuth holds his ground while the French pursue
Tomorrow -- final thoughts and a couple of new dukes

Monday, January 21, 2013

1806 campaign Day Seven -- Battle of Jena

Dawn breaks with Hohenlohe's troops nowhere to be seen, but Brunswick and Ney well engaged.
This day saw action occurring in three different areas. The quietest was the main front, as the Prussian main body under Hohenlohe settled into a new defense line and the main body of the French army followed. Davout was the quickest out the gate, but the other corps commanders also started edging forward.

Napoleon, realizing that a major battle was unlikely this day, took advantage of the lull to ride over to the left flank and finally get a first-hand look at what was happening over there.

This is what he found when he arrived at Ney's headquarters :

Lannes had already been given leave to go north to cooperate with Ney and he did an excellent job of it, swinging around Ney's flank while he pinned Brunswick in place and slamming into Brunswick's flank.

Napoleon decided to stay an observe the battle, taking dinner with Ney. By the time dinner was finished and Napoleon was ready to head back to the main front, the battle of Jena looked fairly well won:

As Napoleon rode south to return to Soult's headquarters, where he planned to spend the night, he came across this scene:

While Suchet was hard-pressed, Napoleon thought the widely separated elements of the Prussian army could nor possibly be in effective communication with each other and that there was a chance to continue to defeat them in detail.

Ruchel had stirred enough through forced marching to become a factor in the main front, running into a portion of Murat's force along the road to Neustadt. Murat's troopers were too tired from a straight 48 hours in the saddle to be more than a speed bump -- but a speed bump was sufficient. Ruchel was about 12 hours too late to play the dangerous role that he could have played. Events would prove that he arrived on the scene just as the campaign was being decided elsewhere.
As elements of the French army close in on Hohenlohe's position, Ney and Lannes fight a neat little action around Jena. Meanwhile some of Murat's troopers find Prussians on the road behind them.

Still, Ruchel's appearance did provoke Nappy into making a rash call of the sort he had promised himself he wouldn't make. Based on Lannes and Ney's reports I judged that Brunswick had been neutralized and therefore ordered that Lannes keep up the pursuit while Ney turned around to deal with Saxe and Wartens. Murat was given overall "tactical command" to oversee the encirclement of Saxe and Wartens using his own cavalry reserve and Ney. I told him I would send the Guard as well. After dispatching these orders Napoleon returned to Soult.
Lannes outflanks Brunswick.

Well, it was a nice plan on paper, but in reality, none of it happened. Ney was, it turned out, almost fought out and Lannes got a sudden desire to seize Weimar and therefore stopped pursuing Brunswick. Murat didn't actually have most of his corps present. Two divisions were with the main army and three were floating around far to the west. One of the two actually present was in the process of being destroyed and so he had just one tired bunch of troopers available. Oh, and Nappy changed his mind a few hours and decided he had a better use for the Guard.

Tomorrow: The Battle of Altenbourg

Sunday, January 20, 2013

1806 Campaign Day Six -- A battle that didn't happen

The battle line takes shape as the French corps arrive

Day Six was shaping up pretty satisfactorily as far as Nappy was concerned. Soult seemed to have fixed the Prussians in place at Gera and the rest of the army was coming up rapidly. Orders were dispatched to Bernadotte to fall in on the right of Soult while Davout was to fall in on Soult's left. Augerau was told to take position on Bernadotte's far right while Lannes and Bessieres were to be the army reserve. Ney was off somewhere on the left watching the far left flank while Murat had been told to hasten East w8ith his corps -- on the theory that Ruchel would be too late to influence the main battle, even if he stirred.

Some of those were good and accurate calls, some were not. I was still -- and would be for another day or so -- operating under a mistaken notion about my left flank. I was under the impression that Ney, Lannes and Murat were all operating farther north that the actual case. It may be because their reports were unclear. It might have been because my mind was muddled. The bottom line, however, was that Napoloen's orders did not have an accurate basis in fact when it came to the Left flank. That things turned out OK over there was largely attributable to the good decisions of the marshals on scene with an assist from the Prussians, who also seemed to not have a good idea of the actual state of affairs.

My overriding objective was to try to hit the Prussians with a coordinated multi-corps assault. This necessarily took time to set up and  my plan was to launch a four-corps simultaneous assault at dawn along the river line by Gera, with two corps in reserve to exploit a breakthrough.

So, while most of the troops were in position by that afternoon, I didn't want to start fighting so late in the day, being concerned that nightfall would rescue the Prussians from the consequences of a defeat.

This didn't mean there was no fighting. Inded, there was jpoustinga long the front all day as the two sides struggled for position. Meanwhile Ney was fighting his own little war with Brunswick aroudn Jena. While he was holding his own, the two sides were two evenly matched for one of the other to achieve victory.

Early afternoon. Skirmishing all along the front. Murat starts moving some troopers east while Lannes and the Guard come up
Around this time Lannes started lobbying to be released to join the fighting around Jena. I was reluctant because I really intended on using him to add weight to Davout's attack, acting under the mistaken impression that Lannes was several miles north of his actual position. Lannes pointed out that he didn't have a clear path to Davout as there was a battle in the way!

Meanwhile everything was in readiness for the next day's battle. Disturbing reports from Davout about enemy troops in his rear prompted me to change my orders from the original double envelopment to an attack by echelon starting with Augerau on the right. While I was uncertain about the Left flank and made plans to go there myself to check it out, I was confident that Augerau and Bernadotte was poised for a great victory. The Guard's progress was a little slow, but I figured they'd show up in time to be useful the next day.

Harve's Powerpoint notes some failures of reconnaissance this day. Among them was Ruchel not detecting the departure of half of Murat's cavalry and some other intel failures. But among them was the french failure to detect that the Prussians were about to pull out overnight! This is not entirely accurate, as there were some reports sent up by some corps that hinted at the possibility. I decided that it was too late to do anything about it, however, and if the Prussians were not there in the morning, well, we'd just have to adjust.

The Prussians pull back!!!
And in the morning the Prussians were, indeed, gone!!

As it turned out, they hadn't gone far and the decisive battle was just delayed.

While disappointed at the delay, overall I considered the Prussian retreat as a big moral victory and I think it actually set the stage for the decisiveness of the Oct. 18 battle.

There are several reasons for this view.

First, it wasn't a big enough withdrawal to change the overall dynamic. I think if you're going to make a move like that then you need to go big and make it a significant move. Instead the Prussians merely fell back a few miles without any meaningful change in their dispositions.

Secondly, it kind of left Brunswick in the lurch and robbed the Prussians of any benefits they might have gotten from being on the immediate flank of the French army.  As it was, Davout was put under  a lot of pressure on Oct. 18.  Having Brunswick so much closer might have made a big difference.

Thirdly, it actually gave the French needed time to make the blow more powerful. The Guard had time to come up, as did a portion of Murat's cavalry. With the Guard present, I was better minded to consider Lannes arguments for using his corps differently than I had intended.

The one untoward development -- which was unknown to me at the time -- was that Ruchel was starting to stir. I am not sure why some of Murat's cavalry pulled back to defend the passes to the south of Gotha. It was contrary to my instructions and it had the unfortunate effect of easing the pressure on Ruchel. He came closer to playing a spoiler role in the upcoming fight than I would have liked.

Overall, however, I don't think the Prussian retreat did much for their chances.

It did mean, however, that the next morning would bring some scrambling.

Tomorrow: The Battle of Jena

Saturday, January 19, 2013

1806 Campaign Day Five -- Missing Blucher

Blucher advances to find himself nearly surrounded! Meanwhile, despite being outnumberd 2-1, Soult holds his ground in front of Gera.

There was an interesting little drama on Oct. 15 that I was completely unaware of at the time.  Oct. 15 was basically another day of marching for most of the French army. Murat was still occupying Ruchel's attention at Gotha and Soult was jousting with a considerable number of Prussians at Gera, but most other Frenchmen were slogging along dusty trails.

Apparently around this time the redoubtable Gen. Blucher decided to push forward to see what he would find and soon found himself nearly surrounded by marching columns. He was, literally, in the middle of the entire French host!

Now, I don't know if any French formations spotted Blucher -- I don't recall getting any reports if they did -- but it's quite clear that Blucher spotted the French and hightailed it out of there just before the door shut behind him. I don't suppose he would have lasted long if there had been fighting, being outnumbered a dozen to one. This was the first in a series of missed opportunities for both sides that would occur over the next few days in the vicinity of Jena. The situation there was extremely fluid. It's also a good illustration of how a limited information umpired game is a very different animal from a regular board wargame. Absent some sort of "idiot rule" it's hard to see how something similar Blucher's adventure and the mutually hanging flanks that you'll see in the next couple of days would happen in your typical board wargame.

Blucher manages to escape. Meanwhile Hohenlohe seems to miss his last best chance
By late afternoon, Blucher has managed to extricate himself from his predicament as the French continue to close up on the main front. Looking at the map, it appears to me that this afternoon was Hohenlohe's last best chance to take the offensive and defeat at least a portion of the French army. While I no longer think a decisive victory was possible, he could have at least mauled one French corps. Soult was heavily outnumbered and had a substantial force off his left flank as well. I can only assume that the Prussian commander didn't have enough accurate reports to see the opportunity or time enough to issue the necessary orders. Within a few more hours the chance had passed, however.

Tomorrow -- The Battle that didn't happen

Friday, January 18, 2013

1806 Campaign -- Day Four Approaching a decision Oct 14

Lannes disengages on the left while the bulk of the French army approaches the final battlefield on the right

On the fourth day of the campaign both armies started closing on the final field of confrontation.

Lannes adroitly disengages from Gotha and forces marches east while Murat prepares to perform some Houdini magic of his own in front of Ruchel.

On the right, Soult sticks his head in a bit of a noose, but the Prussians don't seem to recognize the opportunity, which is not surprising. In truth, I think the danger is actually less on this day than it was a day earlier because the rest of the French army is coming up. Soult wouldn't have to hold out for too long before Ney and Bernadotte were there.

From Nappy's point of view, things were very, very foggy about what was happening on the far left flank. Indeed, it's safe to say that for the rest of the campaign I had only the vaguest notion of what was really going on there, despite the voluminous dispatches from Lannes and Murat. If anything, the large number of reports made it really hard to sort out what was really happening, given the inevitably lengthy delays and the disjointed order of arrival. Their reports seemed to indicate to me that they had captured Gotha and its crossroads and driven Ruchel back a bit, so I thought they were going to be heading east along a much more northerly route than they actually took. For quite some time I believed that Lannes and Murat were on the army's left flank when they were actually approaching from the left rear.

Meanwhile, based Soult's reports, I decided that Hohenlohe probably represented the probable location of the enemy main body.  While there had been no sightings of Brunswick as yet, the lack of any evidence of him being around Gotha led me to conclude he was probably operating in support of Hohenlohe and would turn up soon or later on that front..

 Tomorrow: Missing Blucher!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

1806 Campaign -- Battle of Gotha

The Battle of Gotha opens on the left flank, while Hoehnlohe pulls back to Gera on the right.

As dawn broke on Oct. 13, the crack of musketry could be heard on the outskirts of Gotha as Marshal Murat and Marshal Lannes hurried their troops to the front where Ruchel was attemptoing to hold the crossroads.

While I don't know the details of the fighting -- perhaps the commanders involved can comment -- the maps reveal a battle that ebbed and flowed. Lannes and Murat were able to threaten Ruchel's flank, but they were not able to roust him from position, probably because the French force was short on infantry. While there were clouds of French cavalry about, only two divisions of infantry were present, and Lannes was further constrained by Napoleon's instructions not to get too entangled. Given how Lannes handled later battles, it's quite possible he might have driven Ruchel from the field if given a free hand.

Meanwhile, on the right, Hohenlohe disappeared again, and Soult looked to regain contact. The rest of the French units hit the road again, having largely digested Napoleon's new instructions. With Murat's contact of the Prussians on the left, Napoleon felt his feint would stgart to work, now that it had been detected. He was unaware that the capture of Murat's messenger had revealed his plans to the Prussian commander and robbed the feint of its effect.

Augerau was on his way to relieve Soult's right flank guard units and Ney was starting to pick his way through the pass leading to Saalfeld to take up  position on the left flank. Meanwhile Davout was beginning a remarkable force march to rejoin the main body of the army. Unknown to me, the Prussian army was also on the move, although probably a day too late.

As night falls on the Gotha battlefield, Ruchel's troops have pushed the French back to the hill crests. Meanwhile the rest of the French army is on the move toward the right flank and the Prussians are stirring as well.
 Tomorrow -- A day of movement

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

1806 Campaign Day Three -- Hesitation?

On the left, Murat finds Ruchel, while on the right Soult and Berndotte lose contact with Hohenlohe at dawn.
The third day of the campaign saw most soldiers in both armies more or less idle.

In the French Army, bemused soldiers looked up from their cooking fires from time to time to see yet another earnest young man in a fine uniform gallop past on a well-lathered horse. There were so many that at least one corps commander was prompted to wonder if one of his colleagues has broken up a cavalry regiment for messenger services.

While the movements were small on Oct. 12, they were significant.

On the French right flank, Hoehnlohe had fallen back during the night, and Soult began a cautious move forward. I'm not sure why the Prussians fell back, but in my opinion this was one of the turning points in the campaign. Instead of aggressively fighting against Bernadotte and Soult, and calling in Brunswick for support, this surrendered the initiative and enough ground on the far side of the passes for the entire French army to deploy.

Looking at the map, I can also see that I had left Bernadotte and Soult somewhat exposed. The main body of the French army was really too far away to be in real supporting distance, so it's possible that the Prussians missed an opportunity to achieve a decisive battlefield superiority over a portion of the French army. This was unintentional on my part and unrecognized at the time. As will become apparent, I did my best to keep the elements of the army within supporting distance as a rule and this window of vulnerablity soon closed.

Meanwhile, over on the left, Murat made contact with elements of Ruchel's command near Gotha. Murat and Lannes, needed no more encouragement and were swiftly drawn like moths to a flame to confront the enemy.

By nightfall Soult has regained contact with at least part of Hohenlohe's forces while Murat starts to bring his troopers forward. Note that most other units in both armies have spent the day in place.
Tomorrow -- The Battle of Gotha, 13 Oct. 1806

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

1806 Campaign Day Two -- Confusion and contact

Bernadotte and Soult encounter the enemy (right) while Lannes and Murat encounter each other (left). Meanwhile the Prussians seem to be spreading out.

On the second day of the campaign the French forces continued to sort themselves out in conformance with the campaign plan.

Over on the left, or northwest flank there was apparently some confusion as Lannes and Murat closed on the town of Meiningen. Evidently a lack of clarity in my orders caused Lannes and Murat to think I had some information that Meiningen was occupied by a substantial enemy force and they approached the town in battle order. There were no Prussians there, and I had no notion there would be, but that's not what they thought I said.

The confusion at Meiningen is prominently featured in Harve's PowerPoint briefing and apparently it seemed like a big deal to the commanders involved, but from my point of view it appears to be a fairly minor episode in the scheme of things. There were several instances of columns of troops running into each other and disputes over road space. None of these ended up being especially significant and were not entirely unexpected. I tried to steer the various corps along parallel routes but there were spots where the road net was inadequate and I was still learning, myself, how much space the corps took up while marching and the rates of progress to be expected.

In any case, Lannes and Murat soon sorted things out and continued North. Around this time they started lobbying Davout to hasten to join them as well, a plea that he didn't heed, to his credit. Lannes and Murat showed a commendable fieriness, but I reiterated to Davout that my plan was to bring him back East. If Lannes and Murat had been hard pressed, Davout and Ney were in position to come to their support. This might have happened if Brunswick had gone west and reinforced Ruchel as part of an offensive. If that had happened I might have been forced to adjust my plans.

One of my solutions for the problem of command and control under the circumstances of 19th Century campaigning was to allow, indeed, encourage, the corps commanders to communicate and coordinate with each other. I think many commanders might have been uncomfortable giving up so much control -- and there certainly were risks in this policy. A weak or obdurate subordinate could have caused havoc. Still, I felt the risk was worth running. Trying to run some strict top-down chain of command would have been too inflexible given the time delays in communication. The campaigning on the left flank over the ensuing week would be very fluid and was generally too far away from my location to keep up with. As it turned out, Lannes, Murat and Ney were able to work together very well with little direct supervision on my part. This was extremely helpful because it meant I was able to allow this secondary portion of the front to take care of itself. for the most part.

I think this was even more realistic than a more formal military style approach would have been. Military professionalism was still evolving in the early 1800s. While modern military men have formal training, common doctrines, large staffs and swift and regularized communication protocols, these were generally lacking. Napoleon's famed staff was barely adequate to run a division or a brigade by modern standards. And then, of course, you had egos to contend with and even as emperor, Napoleon didn't have the tools of state that 20th century dictators had at their beck and call. Reading accounts of Napoleon's campaign sounds a lot like herding cats -- or wargamers! No, it seemed wiser to let the corps commanders have considerable flexibility to deal with their local circumstances without attempting to provide detailed instructions. They didn't always do as I might have wished, but I wasn't going to upbraid anyone for acting as they saw fit. Overall this approach was successful.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the army marched to and fro, the significant action was occurring on the right flank as Bernadotte and Soult ran into elements of Hohenlohe's forces. It appears from Harve's map and from the reports I eventually got from the two corps leaders that they were each able to concentrate their corps against one division of the enemy and drive them back. I don't know the details of the fighting, but it seems like it was more heavy skirmishing than a full-sized battle. Maybe the leaders involved can elaborate.

In any case, during the night the Prussian troops fell back, so Bernadotte and Soult accomplished their initial mission of securing the passes so the rest of the army could deploy on the other side of the hills instead of fighting their way through. This was a key element in my entire campaign plan and I was quite pleased the next day as it became evident things were going according to plan.

Tomorrow: Day Three -- Hesitation?

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!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Friday, January 4, 2013

Impossible to game out

USS Gambier Bay under fire from a Japanese cruiser, visible at right

Came across, again, the incredible Battle off Samar while doing some research on another topic.

Military History is full of forlorn hopes, last stands, surprising victories and heroism. But even amidst such legendary company as The Alamo, Thermopylae, Rorke's Drift and Camaron, I think the Battle Off Samar stands alone.

You really can't find a set of naval wargame rules that are going to allow the saga of Taffy 3 to occur.

On the one hand you have Taffy 3. Six CVEs with a couple dozen aircraft each, armed for the most part with GP bombs and depth charges. Three Fletcher class destroyers and four destroyer escorts are the screen. A number of aircraft from neighboring CVE task forces and land bases eventually also help out.

On the other you have a Japanese surface action group with four battleships (including Yamato), six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 11 destroyers. Oh, and the Japanese have Kamikazes.

And it's broad daylight. Morning as a matter of fact, so the Japanese have essentially all day.

I mean, really. How can that turn out any other way but a complete massacre?

And yet, not only did Taffy 3 survive, losing just two CVE, 2 DD and a DE, but the Japanese lost 3 CA as well as retreated!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I Am Napoleon

I am Napoleon!

Or at least, I was "Napoleon" for the duration of a fascinating year-long PBeM campaign run by my good friend and decades-long wargamer buddy, Dr. Harvey Mossman.

An excellent preview of the campaign, from the perspective of one of the corps commanders is viewable here. This excellent journal by Marshal Davout allows me to discuss the campaign without tooting my own horn too much.

Oh, yeah. I won.

(Napoleon can't be humble, you know.)

This sort of thing can be among the most rewarding wargame experiences ever. They are hard to pull off, not least because they require an extraordinary amount of work and dedication by the umpire/GM/organizer. How Harvey, a practicing medical doctor, found the time to do this, I'll never know.

I've played, literally thousands of board wargames since I started the hobby back in 1969. I only recall a few. And I've probably played in a hundred or so miniatures games in that time. I remember a few of those as well.

But I remember every one one of the few free kriegsspiels I've taken part in. They're so absorbing that they become as much a part of your life as that great vacation you took, that fun club you were in, that demanding college course, special dates you went on, your favorite birthdays.

I took part in another Napoleonic campaign once. I was the Prince of Orange in a Waterloo campaign that used the old AH map but Trevor Dupuy's QJM method for combat. We lost. I was the Japanese commanding admiral in a naval kriegsspiel based on a carrier battle that might have happened around Wake Island in 1941. I won that one. I ran a modern naval scenario using the Harpoon 4 rules to manage a large submarine battle between Soviet and NATE subs under the Arctic ice cap.

As a wargamer, the first principle to remember is to forget everything you know about wargames as much as you can. It's a completely different experience. You don't know the rules, for one thing. You certainly don't know much about what's going on -- and the enemy side is not the only mystery.

As Napoleon I had to steel myself for operating in an extremely murky environment. This is far more realistic than any other wargame experience you might have -- even taking part in a normal umpired or double-blind game. Yes, if you play Axis & Allies double blind you may be surprised -- but you at least know the rules. Not so in this case. All we had to guide us was general historical experience. The exact mechanics of the rules, combat resolution and movement were not shared.

The specific campaign that we refought was the 1806 campaign that led historically to the battles of Jena-Auerstadt. Naturally things played out somewhat differently this time, but perhaps not as differently as one might have expected. Once again it appears the campaign culminated in twin battles -- in this case Jena-Gera.

In part this was because I decided that the real Napoleon's strategic judgment was correct and so I endeavored to try to achieve a similar result. While I had the advantage of hindsight, however, so did my opponents, and I was afraid a simple recreation of Napoleon's historical approach would be too easily countered. So I decided to try to mask the fact I was copying the master by some initial feints and counter-marches.  I'm still awaiting Harvey's debriefing, so I don't know for sure how well that all worked -- but he has indicated that it had less effect at the beginning than I might have hoped but the effects proved much longer lasting than expected.

While I imitated Napoleon's strategy, my model for command style was more Ulysses S. Grant. While many of the corps commanders were frustrated at times at what they saw as a reticence to share intelligence and lay out detailed plans, I felt the end result vindicated my approach. The reality was that, due to the limitations of Nineteenth Century Command Control and Communications, anything I passed on to subordinate commanders was likely to be so outdated as to be positively unhelpful. By the time a report got to me at GHQ, it would be between 6-24 hours hold. Sent back down it would be another 6-24 hours old by the time the corps leader saw it. If the information was only 12 hours old it might be useful -- but if it was 48 hours old it was more likely to mislead than inform.

Likewise with my plans. As it was, I ended up sending out some confusing orders and counter orders despite my best efforts to avoid falling into the trap implied by the formula: Order + Counter-order = Disorder. I don' t think it happened too often, but had I attempted to micromanage or explain in explicit detail every step of my thinking or the evolution of my plans in real time I think it would have been a real mess at the receiving end.

Instead I preferred to let the subordinate commanders use their best judgement based on the facts on the ground as they saw it with some general guidance on my part. In fact, I had no explicit plan. Aside from a general line of advance and the hope I could achieve a good central position when contact was made, my plan was basically to keep everyone well in hand and in supporting distance so that when contact was made, nobody was in danger of being overwhelmed. And that's how it worked out -- which is immensely satisfying.

As I noted, we haven't had the "Great Reveal" yet, so I don't know what happened on the other side of the hill except for a few hints from Harvey, my own observations and the insight we derived from a single intercepted message. It appears, however, that the Prussians allowed themselves to become too spread out to properly react to the changing situations. It appears, based on what positions were reported to me, that some important parts of the Prussian army were not present on the battlefield when it counted. During the climactic battle on the last day, in contrast, every French Corps -- all eight of them -- were engaged. I viewed achieving that as my job as the overall CinC. How well they fought was up to the corps commanders, but I believed that I had put them in a position to win.

I'll say more once the the "Great Reveal" happens. I'm not  a big one about the Ws and Ls. I'm much more focused on just enjoying the process when I game. I don't denigrate winning, but it is really just one part of gaming for me. I will admit, however, that winning this sort of game is very, very satisfying. It appears I was blessed with no troublesome subordinates and I was rewarded for putting them in a position to win with an actual victory. But even had the battle gone the other way, I felt that I had done my part.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cool doings on New Year's Day in Norwich

As part of a citywide celebration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that also included bell-ringings and historical portrayals,  Norwich hosted a 100-gun salute by six CivilWar-era field pieces on the waterfront.

To say that it was "way cool" would be an understatement. Actually it was damn cold temperature wise, but that's another story.

In any case, it was fascinating as the six guns, belonging to four New England re-enactment groups, fired 100 times to commemorate the signing. It took about an hour for the entire shoot.

There was a good mix of weapons, two 12 lb mountain howitzers, a 12-lb Napoleon, a 10 pound Parrot, a 12 lb James Rifle and a 6 lb Model 1841 gun. The four re-enactment groups were the 2nd Conn. Light Artillery, Battery B, RI Light Artillery, the 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery and the Mounted Artillery of New England. In the Civil War, "light" artillery regiments manned the field artillery, while the "heavy" artillery regiments were used in forts. Towards the end of the war, many of the heavy artillery units found themselves used as infantry.