Dutch border, January 1814

2 April 2011 was another Saturday Frome miniatures game. This time a Napoleonic outing on the Dutch – French border (hah, Belgium doesn’t exist yet!) in January 1814. The Prussians and Russians (Pete and James) are invading mother France (Mike, Richard and myself). We appoint Mike CinC on the grounds that neither of us want the loneliness of command. Rules are 2nd edition General de Brigade (complete with the appallingly bad proof-reading errors – I hadn’t realised that this included misplaced pages and no page numbers; and yet the rules were still published and sold to customers! That publisher will not be getting my custom.)

Stephen (our umpire) gives both sides a fairly minimal briefing – at least we both have the identical difficulty there! Our objective is to push back the Allies towards their side of the board (north), or at the very least stop them advancing. Later, we learn that the Allied objective is to get forces off the southern edge of the board.

Early morning mist obscures the Allied advance, but the French can hear hooves and general movement from the north. We’re deployed well back from the halfway mark with ‘Defend’ and ‘Hold’ orders. The 2 brigades of my 2nd Div are on the left and centre (one supporting 2 batteries of artillery). The centre consists of the aforementioned artillery and a 2 battalion brigade to its right. Our right flank rests on a village and fortress (!) and consists of the 6 battalions of 1st Div plus 2 batteries in the fortress. Since our objective is to attack, we first have to change our orders. This takes 4 turns, owing to crappy command dice rolls, even though the CinC is right next to the 2 Div commander and lead Brigade commander. In my view this is a major rules problem.

By the time we get our orders changed, the mist is lifting – we can now see what we’re up against, and it’s not a pretty sight. The enemy has had time not only to deploy well forward, but to swing virtually their entire force against our left and centre, avoiding our 6 battalions and 2 batteries on the right. As we haven’t been able to change our orders, the 1st Div on the right will take much of the rest of the battle getting into position on the enemy’s left flank. It’s my 2nd Division (7 battalions including 2 of conscripts, plus 2 batteries of 8 pdrs), ostensibly our attacking force, that will have to take the brunt of the enemy attack – 14 battalions of their 18, plus 4 cavalry units (including 2 cossacks). And I have attack orders!

The lead cossacks withdraw and the first lines of enemy infantry advance into effective range of our batteries. First shot of the first battery is 1 and 1 : result is ‘low on ammo, half effect for rest of game’. What a great start! We have ammo caissons in the fortress, but that’s on the right flank and these aren’t going to help in time. The second battery gets a 6 + 6, and the enemy’s brigade commander’s horse bolts to our lines – captured!

My lead brigade has to advance a little, because it has Engage orders now. I’ve deployed in mixed order with 3 up and 1 back, supporting with 2nd brigade from the rear. Eventually the reserve brigade in the centre will get orders to support the artillery batteries (300 metres away!), but our command rolls are still terrible, and this takes far too long.

Enemy dragoons on the left flank cannot charge my leftmost battalion, owing to a useful patch of icy ground, so I anchor the left on this position. The other 3 battalions advance as slowly as possible within my order restrictions. The dragoons charge our skirmishers, who evade behind the main line, and the left battalion of conscripts (having been brought up from the brigade’s second line) manages to form square in response. It rolls to stand; another 1 + 1, which means the battalion retreats! Fortunately the dragoons haven’t got the momentum to reach them, and the rest of the first line is on ice, which prevents cavalry charges. We’re taking casualties from enemy jaeger with rifles and then fight the lead battalions of line infantry. One battalion is forced to retreat, and I manage to extricate the other one (conscripts) in column of divisions, because enemy infantry columns on the flank attack my guns and not the infantry.

Third round of battery firing, my second battery also rolls 1 + 1, so now the whole concentrated artillery brigade is firing at half effect. This does not discourage the advancing Prussians and Russians. We manage to beat off two attacks and support from the flank with a light infantry battalion of the 2nd brigade, but both batteries are overrun. The brigade supporting from the right is stopped by direct attack from 2 more enemy columns, and is also threatened by enemy cavalry to the flank. Fortunately our own cavalry manage a fairly dubious charge in column which disperses an enemy battalion column, and the enemy cavalry fails its morale roll and has to retreat.

On the left flank I manage to change the lead brigade’s orders to Move and the Div orders to Defend for the last turn of the game, while the 2nd brigade is on Assault and re-takes half of the gun position (guns already spiked though). On the right, Richard’s troops are now starting to punish the Russians and will soon threaten to outflank their artillery on a hill in the centre.

So by the end of the game the Russians are in position to get *some* troops off the table, but we’ve forced the Allies to re-think their attack and are threatening to close off this gap and to outflank their left. Stephen says that technically the French have won marginally, having done a bit better than the French on the day. It doesn’t feel like a victory to us – pretty much honours even – both sides could claim a marginal victory I think.

It was a very enjoyable game, though the French felt unduly ham-strung by crippled artillery and very poor command rolls. The Allies were affected quite a lot by having to start their light cavalry at the back of their columns (this was a historical affectation apparently), so that hampered the speed of their advance.

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