King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Friday, November 23, 2012

Battle of Zileheroum Marshes AAR!

Hi all!  These are very busy times at work and at home with little time spent around here, as one can readily see.  My energy hasn't really been in short supply but given a chance to paint, read, catch up on work or get some sleep in the short periods of time I do have to myself after the family is all a-bed, I haven't often found the wherewithall to string more words together on the computer.  You know how that goes.  Anyway, in a spasm of productivity, I did steal the time to continue to discover the shadowy (shady?) History of Syldavia with the 1684 campaign post the other day.   I hit the wall however trying to figure out how the battle would work out when I was saved by a good idea.  Aha! Why not play the battle out in a game and then write an AAR?!  Whoa,  hold on there Jim, you say!  Play out an actual wargame? Sit yourself down and have a drink!  Quite out of character for this blog, I realize...  

I did indeed play out the scenario in a fast game, using figures and materials I had ready it hand rather than dig out treasures stashed in here and there in the basement.  I used the figures I have been collecting and painting for my 18th century Syldavia-Borduria project, which comprise a mash up of 18mm Eureka SYW, AB 18mm figures, and Legio Heroica 15mm 17th century Ottomans. As I keep promising, I will soon introduce these units to you formally.  Most of these are not completely based (sigh)... To this I added some  Old Glory 15mm Cossacks posing as Balkan sipahi cavalry and a couple of units of Venexia 15mm Renaissance I picked up from PhD Leadhead some time back - my compliments to you Mr Travlos, they did you proud!  Obviously over the top with madness or tipple,  I scribbled down a simple and rather imperfect set of rules intending to allow some rugby-like scrums in a small and relatively fast battle and then set up the table.  Without further ado, here is the report.

The Scenario: An encounter on the the Djordjevaro-Klow road, in the Zelheroum Marches about a dozen or so miles west of Klow, during a snowy spring.    Played solo on the kitchen table accompanied by a bottle of St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, chased by a soft pillow and sugarplum dreams.   

King Ivan was in a stationary, defensive position resting while he regrouped his forces before moving to relieve Klow. His force included two understrength regular musketeer battalions, one understrength conscript musketeer battalion, one experienced Irregular battalion, four squadrons of the Dragoon Regiment and two squadrons of the King's kürassiers  (1 cav. unit = 2 sqns) and one battery.  In order to ensure a decent game if the Syldavians fell apart as I thought they might, I added two militia infantry battalions in reserve which are not in my "official" oob, planning to ignore them if they are not needed.  To gain a little time by to distracting and delaying the Bordurians, King Ivan sent out skirmishers to engage in noisy sniping and to light smokey fires here and there in the woods. Their job was to survive with King Ivan and at least half their army units, until night falls.

The Zileheroum Marshes battleground with King Ivan's Syldavians in the foreground, the west side of the table.

Hassan Muhtar Pasha and a strong detachment of his army marched hastily west in search of King Ivan only to learn that he had slipped into the Zilheroum marshes, a region offering good cover and difficult movement.  His forces were in fact divided with an advance guard and a rear guard off table a little to the northeast.  Hassan Muhtar commanded the army and advance guard while his subordinate, the Sanjak Azem Satter, lead the rear guard.  Hassan Muhtar moved quite cautiously in the marshes especially once his patrols encountered Syldavian skirmishers and decoys.  The Pasha finally determined the location of Ivan's camp and arrayed his men to exploit the awkward approaches to his enemy's position.  Hassan Muhtar then became somewhat hasty; the hour was fairly late and he wished to come to blows before Ivan could escape in the dark or gather up more stragglers.  The Bordurian mission was to destroy over half the Syldavian side before nightfall, capture or kill King Ivan if possible, and to keep half of their own infantry units alive for the siege on Klow.  Their cavalry was somewhat expendable in this scenario as they are of not primary importance in the ultimate goal of the campaign, retaking Klow.

Battlefield terrain : long low ridge at right, firm ground along the width of the table in the centre and foreground, two substantial patches of marshy ground in the background, patches of open woods in background and in the Bordurian right centre.

The Bordurians entered the field from the east side, moving into a large stretch of open, low and dry ground extending from their centre  to their right (north).  Marshy ground and open woods dominated their south flank and rear.  The marsh is passable to man and horse but at a penalty.   

The Bordurian horse (2 sipahis, 1 light cavalry and 1 Wallachian elite horse) was entirely on the north flank, with the four infantry ortas, one Janissary orta and a battery in the centre-north.  A very large unit of Arnaut skirmishers is placed in the boggy woods to the south. The Bordurian rear guard does not enter this battle but will figure in what follows later one.

The Syldavians were arrayed along a long low ridge running across their centre and left.  The terrain pieces I used look like abrupt, high hills but they are considered to be low in this game.  Their cavalry was on their left (north) flank opposite that of the Bordurians, which was the only place really appropriate for cavalry on this field.

A poorly focussed image of the Bordurians at the start of battle; four ortas of mediocre to reliable provincial infantry in the centre, one Janissary orta (weakened from their recenr assault on Klow) on the right of the line, horse on the right flank (1 Sipahi, 1 light cavalry in the front rank, 1 sipahi and 1 Wallachian veteran cavalry in the rear),  Arnauts in skirmish order on the left flank.    

The Syldavian left, with a weak battalion of conscript grade infantry and a battery on the ridge and all of the cavalry (2 dragoons, 1 kurassier) on the flank. 
The Syldavian centre, with two units of regular musketeers acting as the keystone of the line.  These are the only period- appropriate figures on the table for the Syldavian side and are Venexia figures  hired from  Mr. Phd Leadhead (ignore the flags, out of place in this game!).   
The Syldavian left flank : a battalion of irregulars (Syldavian mountain clansmen) holding a prepared defensive position in wooded, boggy and broken ground  (sorry, didn't have anything convincing on hand to indicate a barricade).  True and tough irregulars but they are best used for skirmishing and raids.

The Early Game ( Moves 1 to 4)

With the Syldavians on defensive orders, the Bordurians did almost all the movement in the early going.  The Arnauts on the south edge of the battlefield moved straight ahead quickly, into the wooded marshes and then onwards toward the Syldavian irregulars.  Their orders were to engage and overwhelm the irregulars with superior numbers and then enfilade the Syldavian line.  On the Bordurian right, the horse's orders were to engage and eliminate the Syldavian cavalry before the infantry attacked.  Their superior numbers would allow multiple conjoint attacks on a single enemy unit.  Once even a single such unit was destroyed, the Bordurians would be in a position to destroy the rest with 2 on 1 attacks and dominate the centre of the battlefield.  In the centre, the four infantry ortas were to advance to engage the Syldavian centre, maneuvering to bring their superior numbers of units to bear on the Syldavian musketeer battalions in the centre and pitting the Janissaries against a weaker unit.  The Bordurians would have advantages in all three engagements, in terms of numbers of men, numbers of units or in terms of unit morale.

The Bordurians advance.  Their Arnauts enter the boggy woods, the ortas in the centre are beginning to bunch up while attempting to avoid wet ground 

The Arnauts came under fire as soon as they entered into musketry range of the Syldavian irregulars.  The Arnauts had some difficulty hitting the irregulars effectively as the latter were in prepared positions.  The irregulars' musketry was quite effective however and they scored over twice as many hits as they received; the Arnauts took substantial casualties before they could close.  In the centre, the Bordurian infantry advance continued without serious problem, though some minor maneuvering of lines was necessary to all units into line, given the somewhat crowded field and desirability of avoiding wet ground.  Only the Janissaries suffered a little from long distance cannon fire.

The cavalry on the Bordurian right advanced briskly in hopes of defeating the Syldavian horse before the infantry battle started.  Their advance was hindered by the presence of the Janissaries and, unfortunately, the edge of the table.  I didn't really pay attention to that problem at set up and as a result the Bordurians, poor dears, did not have the space to fully deploy and exploit their numerical advantage.  

At a critical juncture while the cavalry forces converged, the Syldavians gained the initiative and used it to hem the Bordurians in with a somewhat risky charge involving all of their units, gaining three one on one skirmishes but leaving no reserves.  The gamble paid off, a dragoon unit on the Syldavian left flank routed the Bordurian light cavalry outright, while the Syldavian kurassiers defeated the Bordurian sipahis in front of them.  In a break through, the kurassiers then charged on into the Wallachian horse and a general melée ensued.  Soon after, a sipahi unit rallied and came to the Wallachian's aid and the two Syldavian dragoons also moved up to join in.  The Syldavian horse were again victorious, all the Bordurian horse were by now battered and in full retreat back to their  starting area.   The outnumbered Syldavian horse was still in excellent shape and for the moment was master of the northern flank of the battlefield. 

The Bordurian cavalry moves up along the north flank of the Janissaries, heading for the outnumbered enemy cavalry.  The Wallachians (in green) hang around in behind, awaiting an opportunity to gain an advantage on the flank of the Syldavian cavalry or to swoop in on a pinned or damaged enemy unit.  

The Syldavian cavalry maneuver forward and around the edge of the ridge to present as wide a front as possible  

The cavalry battle is joined (left foreground), viewed from the Syldavian left.  The Syldavians gained the initiative and attacked the impetuous Bordurians who came a little too far forward the previous turn.  The Syldavians gain one-on-one battles as the Wallachians are stuck in behind and cannot get a clear path to join in.  The Syldavian battery begins to take effect  on the Janissaries while the Bordurian guns have had little effect as yet.

The Syldavian charge goes well for them;  the Bordurian light cavalry and a unit of sipahis are defeated with significant losses while the units of the centre continue to melee.  The Wallachians charge in on the celebrating kurassiers and they become locked in combat.  

The Bordurian infantry (at right) attack is now coming to bear in the centre,  with the Arnauts at the end of their  charge in the foreground.  The Arnauts suffered serious losses as soon as they came into range of the Irregulars.  They failed an early morale check and were halted, losing more men.  They finally rallied  and charged the Irregulars but were mauled once again by a final volley.  The survivors fought the Syldavians evenly despite their defensive advantage but were pretty much wiped out and promptly ran with the Irregulars in hot pursuit.  A game effort by them in the end but without any appreciable effect.  In the background, the Bordurian infantry exchange volleys with the Syldavian infantry.  They too get their nose bloodied at first having done little to the Syldavian side.  
Mid-Game (Turns 4 to 7)

By turn five, the Bordurian Arnauts on the south edge of the battlefield had crossed the worst of the wooded marsh and exchanged a volley with the Syldavian Irregulars. They had somewhat more success this time, scoring a few hits, but paid dearly for it once again when they suffered a halt due to a failed check.  They finally were able to charge the Irregulars' makeshift barricade and fought them evenly in a bloody melee.  Nevertheless, with the casualties they had already taken, the Arnauts had to pass a morale check (and they were not an terribly reliable unit), which they failed.  They recoiled and routed as the Irregulars counter-attacked.    

In the centre, the Bordurian infantry attack was now properly organised and about to encounter the Syldavians.  Two ortas headed for each of the two Syldavian regular musketeers while the Janissaries targeted the battalion of conscript class infantry at the north end of the Syldavian line.  All the Bordurian infantry were in good shape and the attack looked to be a very serious threat to the numerically inferior Syldavians.  Nevertheless, volleys of Syldavian musketry took a great toll on most of these ortas as they closed in; three of the five were bloodied and two were quite badly shot up when their charge brought them into hand to hand combat.  King Ivan's unstinting drill and training paid off in spades here. With the infantry in contact, the battle started to turn in favour of the Bordurians as their big ortas, fearsome and durable, ground away terribly at their opponents in hand to hand combat.  The Syldavian battalions were very quickly evaporating.  In one to two turns of melee, all three Syldavian musketeer battalions had to pass morale checks.  They held and had not yet been pushed back but clearly would break soon if circumstances didn't change.   

Just before coming to blows, the Bordurian infantry takes serious casualties from disciplined and effective Syldavian musketry across the entire battle line.  The Bordurian right centre is crippled by musketry and cannon fire, while the Janissaries on the right trade off with the militia unit before them.  The Janissaries are now in a fragile state.  Nevertheless, the Bordurians make a series of fearsome charges and still have a considerable numerical advantage.  The ranks of the Syldavian musketeers thin very rapidly. 

Late Game (turn 8-12)

The cavalry battle on the north flank abated temporarily while the Bordurians attempted to rally their routed units and while the two Syldavian dragoons units rested and reorganised themselves.  The kurassiers took the opportunity to overrun the Bordurian battery which, unfortunately for them, was nearby and now completely exposed.  Then, the kurassiers also reformed while watching to see what the Bordurian cavarly would do, rally or flee the table.  The Syldavians' orders were to hold off, if not defeat, the enemy cavalry and as such they had to ignore the Bordurian infantry (now well behind them) while the enemy cavalry was still on the field or until they had new orders.

In any case, the Bordurian cavalry units all rallied after some good rolling and the bugles called out once again.  One by one the cavalry from both sides were fed into a new melee.  First, a Syldavian dragoon regiment charged into a heavily damaged sipahi unit and broke it immediately.  It was, in turn, counter charged by the second sipahi unit and the Bordurian light cavalry.  The second Syldavian dragoon unit charged into the light cavalry, routing them in time to save their mates.  Finally, the Syldavian kurassiers charged once again into the bruised Wallachians and this time hurt them badly, forcing them to rout off the field.  At this point the Bordurian cavalry "brigade" failed a morale check (too many casualties to bring enough units back) and the survivors fled the field.  The Syldavian cavalry rested a turn to recover and then began to move back towards their lines, from which, finally, a messenger bearing new orders galloped.

The infantry battle in the centre was now entering its desperate climax.  The Bordurian infantry, especially two units, was beginning to fade, having suffered terribly from musket fire.  Nevertheless, they were decimating  the Syldavians hand to hand combat.  Both sides nearing exhaustion, both army commanders were present in the heat of the action to hold their men, body and spirit, in the fight.  One orta in bad shape broke after a final round of combat while the others thinned but held on.   The Janissaries and the Syldavian conscript musketeers were at the end of their rope and it proved to be the Janissaries who crumbled first.  It was a bit of a shock for all concerned to see the Janissaries overcome by second class infantry but this should not have been a surprise considering the Janissaries were alone on the north flank and had started the battle in a weakened state and had received notable hits from both musket and cannon fire  before charging.

Nearly all the infantry of the centre were approaching 50% casualties at this point and both sides looked t be in dire straits, the Syldavians especially.  The southernmost Syldavian battalion was saved by King Ivan himslef, as the morale bonus recieved from having him attached saved a morale roll for them.  They were saved once again by the timely appearance of the Syldavian irregulars who, emerging from the swamp, charged the stronger Bordurian orta facing King Ivan in the flank.  Their charge was enough to cause that unit to break and run.  The rest of the Syldavian line fought grimly with their adversaries who were in turn saved from a rout by the presence of Hassan Muhtar.  This desperate and bloody affair was finally settled when the Syldavian horse finally arrived behind the Bordurian ortas - their position was untenable and so they fled off the table.  The Syldavians did not pursue given the state of their infantry and because the Bordurian reserves were just off table and judged to be too strong to confront in a poorly controlled pursuit.  The Syldavians survive and are declared victors in this first encounter.

The defeated Bordurian cavalry rallies on their side of the table.  After overrunning the Bordurian battery, the Syldavians continue with their orders and pursue,  looking for a knock-out blow.  A new and fierce cavalry battle develops with Syldavian dragoons and kurassiers joining in late with reaction charges
The critical moment of the fight : the Bordurian and Syldavian infantry are locked in combat while both King Ivan and Hassan Muhtar Pasha have attached themselves to critical units.  Note the two ortas attacking the musketeers at the left; fortunately for them, the Syldavian Irregulars have smartly rushed in to attack one orta in the rear.  Their victory on the right flank now proves to be very important!
One Bordurian provincial infantry orta in the centre routs while another is bravely hanging on.  The Janissaries too are about to collapse.  Nevertheless, the Bordurian infantry all pass their morale checks!  The Syldavians are now also just hanging on due to lucky morale checks and the personal intervention of King Ivan.  A couple of more casualties however and both the centre and left will likely collapse... the next turn will settle their fate.

The Syldavian centre and left holds, just barely, while the Janissaries finally break and run.  The Syldavian right now has gained the upper hand due to the Irregulars' attack.  By now, the Syldavian horse have finally eliminated the Bordurian cavalry and have turned back toard the battle.   

The climax is over.  The remaining Bordurian ortas have hung on for one more turn (one unit at about 33% strength is held on the field by the presence of Hassan Muhtar Pasha and only barely so) while the Syldavian battalions are all at  50%.  Both leaders are in immediate peril as the units to which they are attached are both overmatched.  The Syldavian cavalry, still in relatively good shape, finally shows up in the Bordurian's rear.  The game is over for Hassan Muhtar, the Bordurians retreat without pursuit so we all can go to bed.    

Postscript to a "Near Run Thing"

I'll change my sketched out rules or use "real" ones for the next game.  I was surprised by the Syldavian victory as, on paper, I thought that they were at a real disadvantage.  This seemed really apparent when the Bordurian infantry attack was about to contact the Syldavians, with 2 on 1 attacks or superior upon inferior units across the line.   It was very close however and everything that had to happen for them to win, did happen.  But, if I played the scenario out again right now, I'd still bet on the Bordurian infantry!  There was some fortunate dice rolling early on for the Syldavians and they did not fail a morale check (although without King Ivan attached they would have and with one more turn they most certainly would have lost units).  The Syldavian musketry dice were particularly hot at just the right time and in fact won the game for them, just as Ivan's strategy anticipated! The Bordurian dice evened out in the end but they were pretty well bloodied by then.  The Bordurian artillery was almost entirely without effect, though the Syldavians only had hits on a couple of occasions themselves. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the victory of the Syldavian cavalry which won the day with only minor casualties themselves.  Perhaps I gave the Syldavians too many cavalry units with good morale for this scenario or one too many units.  I certainly did crowd the Bordurian cavalry too much, they never did get a chance to deploy as they should and I didn't handle them with much dexterity.  Also, I deliberately set up the terrain to challenge the Bordurian attack. Perhaps I exaggerated.  

Battle honours have to go the Syldavian irregular infantry for their unaided victory over superior forces on the south flank and the Syldavian cavalry as a whole who had a glorious day.  In particular, the Kurassiers must be named, having routed two cavalry units and overrun a battery.  Not a bad day either for the conscript infantry, having beaten (just) the Janissaries and for still having a few survivors to tell about it.  Finally, the third Bordurian orta was tenacious and hung on for multiple turns with less than 50% casualties, fleeing only when they had horses breathing down their necks.  Battle dishonours go to the Bordurian Janissaries, their Arnauts (shame!) and their artillery who apparently might achieve more without their guns.  However, no doubt the next game will have a different result (so says Hassan Muhtar Pasha, reflecting on  Kara Mustafa's fate...). 

All in all, a fun evening was had chez moi, and this game sets up the next episode very nicely.  I hope you found this report entertaining.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spring 1684 King Ivan presses on to the relief of besieged Klow

Once King Ivan had committed his army to a futile pursuit of the raiders of Orehovo, Hassan Muhtar Pasha found himself free to unite his forces from Moltuja and Polishov and mass them up before the walls of Klow.  Without real interference, they dug earthworks and began to bombard the city’s fortifications.  The small Syldavian garrison left in Klow was heavily outmanned and attempted to fire back while keeping their heads down.  The “siege” (in reality, simply the preparation for an assault) progressed in orderly fashion, though it suffered delays from the start. 
Several of the Bordurians’ biggest guns had become stuck in the snow, ice and mud resulting from the late spring storms that struck during the Bordurian and Syldavian maneuvers.  The bombardment was slower and lighter than planned.  Also, believing them to be fatally compromised, Hassan Muhtar had concentrated his cannons on the same section of walls that Ivan had breached in his attack on the city the previous fall.  However, during the fall and winter, Ivan had acted on the advice of an experienced engineering officer recruited from the Habsburg army and made great efforts to repair the breach rebuild the walls.  This work was not completed but, to Hassan Muhtar’s chagrin, the collapsed wall had been covered by an ample if incomplete earthen bastion that proved capable of absorbing the early bombardment. A few days of determined pounding by the small Bordurian siege battery proved necessary to effectively reduce the temporary defences. 

Impatient to retake Klow and forewarned of King Ivan’s impending return to Klow with the bulk of the Syldavian field army, Hassan Muhtar ordered a hasty assault of the battered walls under cover of darkness.  The assault was headed by a unit of Janissary troops, among the best troops in Hassan Muhtar’s piecemeal army.  The Janissaries succeeded in gaining control of the damaged bastion and a section of adjacent walls but the attackers spent much time and energy fumbling in dark and muddy defensive ditches inside the rampart.  The attack finally stalled under the pressure of hot musketry fire from the men of King’s Musketeer Regiment.  A desperate all-or-nothing counter-attack by that regiment stopped the Janissaries and a unit of mediocre provincial troops sent to reinforce them.  After a few minutes of bloody hand-to-hand fighting, the Bordurians broke and ran.  The King’s Musketeers had repulsed the attack but had suffered at least as badly as had the Janissaries in doing so. 

While licking his wounds the following morning, Hassan Muhtar Pasha received reports from his cavalry patrols that Ivan’s approaching army was now about day’s march west of Klow.  The Syldavians were also reported to be fatigued and disordered, strung out along a long stretch of road with bunches of tired stragglers extended for miles to the west.  Hassan Muhtar was surprised by the news for Ivan had shown unexpected powers as a commander, having managed to bring his army force march his men though poor conditions in time to disrupt the attack on Klow.  Nevertheless, Hassan Muhtar saw that for the moment he had a substantial numerical advantage and he decided to use it.  He ordered the bulk of his infantry to leave the blockage and siege positions around Klow and march west with his cavalry and a battery of more mobile artillery to engage Ivan’s army before he could rest or regroup.  A detachment of provincial infantry and steady cavalry were to remain outside Klow to protect the siege artillery, who were in turn to continue to amuse themselves by bombarding the city. 

Later same day, a little less than a dozen miles west of Klow, in the broken and marshy lowlands bordering the Wladir river channel, Ivan’s army ran into a Bordurian detachment guarding the road to Klow.  An ambush was sprung to which the Syldavian army could only react sluggishly due to the disorder the men had fallen into on their cold and trying forced march.  The Bordurian post was too weak however to stop Ivan and after a sharp skirmish the Syldavians finally brushed their enemy aside.  The experience did however convince Ivan of the necessity to rest, refresh and he reorder his men while he could.   Ivan had halted his army in a place that offered reasonable potential as a defensive position (a long low ridge which skirted the edge of a wide and partially wooded marshy basin).  Ivan had his men set up a camp which he protected with simple timber breastworks improvised in the moment and he get to work reforming his regiments.

Ivan’s army had indeed fallen into disorder during the hurried march from Orehovo.  Cavalry patrols continued to bring up a slow and steady stream of stragglers.  Having personally lead company after company on the road to keep his army on the move, Ivan had more or less lost track of the state of the army as a whole.  He rued both his haste and the mistakes that lead it.  By Ivan’s own estimation, all his regiments were now visibly understrength and there wouldn’t be enough time for all of his lost soldiers to get back into their ranks should the Bordurians, now surely alerted, forced battle.  If they came, he would have to make do.  The only advantages left to him of the winter’s repose were the extra training and drill his men received, and the luck of having reasonable ground to defend. 

In early afternoon, Ivan’s scouts reported that large Bordurian army was closing in.  He sent out skirmish troops to delay and distract the Bordurians and so succeeded in buying some time. By the time Hassan Muhtar finally fixed Ivan’s position, the afternoon was wearing on.  He hastily maneuvered he force into battle line, placing skirmishing infantry in the marshy ground to his left, infantry in his centre and cavalry on an expanse of drier ground to his right flank.  Raising his mace in the air, Hassan Muhtar Pasha confidently gave the order to march straight to the Syldavian lines, where tents and plumes of cooking fires were visible.  The battle was joined!

Coming up next: The Battle of the Zileherhoum Marshes after-battle report.  Yes, that’s right, a battle actually was played over here in Syldavia!