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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Leipzig Campaign : Battle of Olbernhau Pt. 1

During the first turn (Aug. 18) of the Leipzig campaign hosted by MurdocK, and while French forces menaced far-off Berlin, an engagement was precipitated by the movement of both French and Allied forces into the Erzgebirg mountains bordering southern Saxony and northern Bohemia. MacDonald had sent a strong cavalry division ahead of XI corps south into the Marienberg area of southern Saxony, while FmL Prohaska and Gen. Barclay de Tolly lead elements of the Army of Bohemia into the same area north from the Bohemian town of Chomutov, across the centre of the Erzgebirg mountains and through the Saxon town of Olbernhau. The French cavalry advance guard was probing east of Marienberg and encountered leading elements of de Tolly’s command in the vicinity of Olbernhau. My campaign colleagues kindly allowed me to play the out the game resulting from the encounter. Now that marking course work etc is done, I'm finally getting round to posting the report.

I interpreted the scenario as a meeting encounter resulting from the hasty advance of both sides to gain the strategic Olbernau bridge, once patrols of both sides contacted each other. The French were in a position to arrive en masse while the Allies bumbled along in dribs and drabs.


Sketch map of the general Marienberg area, a 1km grid is marked in red. Wooded areas in uniform grey, hills in grey with gradations, streams and rivers in blue, roads and tracks in black.







The French objectives in the game (as perceived at any rate by me, their opponent) were to locate elements of the Army of Bohemia in the process of marching somewhere through the Erzgebirg mountains into Saxony and to hold them up in the mountain passes until MacDonald’s IX corps, hanging back in a defensive position, could march to the scene to force a pitched battle. The Austrian objective was to get through the mountains quickly while avoiding, in so far as possible, a large-scale battle until they escaped the confines of the passes. Both armies converged in a broad valley ESE of Marienberg, southwest of Dresden.  Marienberg represents more or less the end of the enclosed valley/steep high hill terrain on the north slopes of the Erzgebirg mountains.


The Forces Involved : France: (all present at the start of the game)

5e div. cavalerie légère (GdD Lorge)
12e Bde cav. leg. (GdB Jacquinot) 5 e Chasseurs à Cheval (2 sq) 10e Chasseurs à Cheval (2 sq)
13e Chasseurs à Cheval (2 sq)

13 e Bde cav. leg. (GdB Merlin)
15 e Chasseurs à Cheval (1 sq) 21e Chasseurs à Cheval (1 sq) 22e Chasseurs à Cheval (2 sq)

6e div. cavalerie légère (GdD Fournier)

14 e Bde cav. Leg (GdB Mouriez) 29e Chasseurs à Cheval (1 sq) 31e Chasseurs à Cheval (1 sq) 1 er Hussards (1 sq)
 15e Bde cav. Leg (GdB Ameil) 2e Hussards (1 sq) 4e Hussards (1 sq) 12e Hussards (1sq)

 Detached from XI Corps : 28e Bde cav. leg (GdB Montbrun) 4e Chasseur à Cheval (Italy, 2sq) Würzburg Chevaulegers (1sq) 2e Chasseurs à Cheval (Naples, 4 sq)

And, from the Army of Bohemia (Commander-in-Chief: Gen. Barclay de Tolly, General-Intendant: FmL Prohaska)

1st Hussar Division: GL Count Pahlen III

Brigade: Gmr Rüdinger Grodno Hussar Regiment (6 sq) Soum Hussar Regiment (6 sq)

 Brigade: Col. Schufanov Loubny Hussar Regiment (2 sq) Olivopol Hussar Regiment (4 sq)

Following on at unpredictable intervals throughout the game:

 Turn 3 or thereafter: Cossack Division attached to Army Headquarters of Barclay de Tolly 3rd Bug Cossack Regiment Tabunzikov Don Cossack Regiment Kireva Don Cossack Regiment 1st Tula Cossack Regiment

Arriving as individual divisions on Turn 4 or thereafter :

Austrian 3rd Army Abtielung: Feldzeugmeister Graf I. Gyulai

1st Division: FmL Crenneville Brigade: Gm Hecht Warasdiner Kreuzer Grenz Regiment (1 btn) St. George Grenz Regiment (1 btn) Klenau Chevauleger Regiment (6 sq) Rosenberg Chevauleger Regiment (6 sq) 1 6pdr Cavalry Battery 2nd Division:

FmL Murray Brigade: Gm Herzogenberg Erzherzog Ludwig Infantry Regiment (2 btn), Grossherzog von Würzburg Infantry Regiment (2 btn)

Brigade: Generalmajor Reichling Weidenfeld Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Ignatz Infantry Regiment (2 btn) 2 6pdr Brigade Batteries

3rd Division: FmL Weissenwolf Brigade: Gm Czollich Kottulinsky Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Kaiser Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Brigade: Gm Grimmer Kollowrath Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Fröhlich Infantry Regiment (2 btn) Austrian Artillery Reserve 1 6pdr Position Battery 2 12pdr Foot Batteries


As is clear in the OOB, the French force was a mix of squadrons from disparate regiments, while the Russians are mostly whole or nearly whole 6 squadron regiments.  Collectively, the french force out-numbers the hussar division both in terms of numbers of squadrons (23 to 18) and total men (a ratio of about 1.68 french troopers to 1 russian).  Using the troop ratios as my primary guide, I converted the historical order of battle into the abstracted cavalry « regiments » used in the Shako ruleset (which always have a consistent number of bases) as follows :

French : 7 regiments of Light Cavalry (Morale rating = 4). 

As an experiment, to compensate the french for a couple of squadrons «lost» in the conversion process, I gave the 22e CàC two extra bases, making this an extra large unit and giving them the capacity of absorb two extra casualties, while keeping their morale the same.  This is not in the official Shako rules, we’ll see how it works.

Allies : 4 Regiments of Light Cavalry (Morale rating = 4). 
This is a large and reliable division but an out-manned one in this scenario.  Their job is to hang on long enough for the infantry to come to their rescue!  It might have been simpler to have had 5 french to 3 russian cavalry units but I felt 7 to 4 gave the possibility of a grander and less fragile game. 

Also :

5 Regiments of Cossacks (Morale rating = 2). 
Back in my old club days using Shako, we gave the Cossacks the capacity to move through woods and some other kinds of bad ground as cavalry skirmishers, disordered and at half movement.  In these conditions they can only engage in combat with skirmish stands and must halt and reform for a turn before contacting a formed unit or be destroyed (1 killed stand = 1 casualty).  I used this amendment in this game as it gives a semi-historical purpose for these pesky troops on the battlefield.  I see that some other more interesting ideas for special rules for Cossacks are discussed on the Shako group yahoo forum.

The Austrian Divisions were converted to a Shako OOB following exactly the list given above; 1 btn REG for each btn listed and Div. 1 has 2 regiments of Light Cavalry (Morale = 4 ; both the Austrian chevaux-léger regiments fielded six squadrons).





A view of the modern landscape around Ansprung, part of the battlefield.  Fairly flat and open for being mountainous! 


Setting

The game was played out in a valley setting intended to be more or less typical of those south and east of Marienberg.  The placement of terrain on the game table was loosely based on the Zobltiz-Ansprung-Olbernhau area as represented in a late 19th century map I found online, although I compressed the east and west extremities of the game map relative to the real map.  The battlefield area has diverse terrain including hills and a stream, forest, villages and an expanse of open, relatively flat to rolling cultivated land (the battlefield itself) in the midst of the valley. I made a brief effort to “scout” out routes suitable for transporting artillery and battalions using my old map and Google Maps.  This can be a revealing exercise if the strange "street view" utility or geo-referenced landscape images are available, tools that can serve to gain an idea of the real lay of the land.  The Olbernhau route seemed to be the most appropriate route as the river valley was wider and more populated than other routes through the mountains, suggesting the presence of a more important road.  The land flattens and opens as one passes north of the frontier on this route.  There were also contiguous areas of cleared, cultivated land as well as villages and towns associated with the mines for which the region is famous.   Other modern roads in the general region seemed steeper and were completely hemmed in by very narrow ravines and forest.  These seemed less appropriate for artillery trains and the like and one imagines these roads would have been avoided if, as much as, possible.  All hills are considered wooded.
Between Olbernhau and Ansprung (above), the countryside opens up from narrow congested valleys in the Erzgebirg mountains to wider valleys with flat cultivated fields and wooded hills.  This  countryside would have been suitable for conventional 18th-19th century battlefield tactics, though the battlefields themselves would have been quite compact.  The hills are all wooded.  The higher and steeper ones would have been real barriers for the movement of troops, even lights, but most are simply slow going



As an aside, the map reading exercise was informative as it made clear just how difficult passage of the Erzgebirg mountains would likely have been in 1813, even if there are multiple passes and the "mountains" themselves resemble stout hills more the Alps.  In reading about the campaign, one is struck by the slowness of the Austrian advance before the Battle of Dresden and the difficulty of their retreat thereafter.  This Erzgebirg mountains are challenging terrain through which to move an army in anything but one road column at a time.  The ground chosen for this battle seems by far the most forgiving between Dresden and Chomutov.

In the attempt to give as much lattitude as possible to the meeting engagement, it was played on the floor of our basement family room (conveniently open and unfurnished as I was in the midst of installing new flooring).  I set up a vaguely trapezoidal game space approximately 12’ long x 6 to 4’ wide, representing a couple of valleys.  In the end, most of this space was not used in the battle as the French thwarted the initial Allied attempt to manoeuvre to use it.  The battle was thereby confined to a space over 6’ by 4’, something approximating a field 4km by 2km.  I had to pull out old terrain cloths to cover the game area, which was for me a very large field.


Close up of the "real world" map that guided the scenario with set up areas of the two sides.  The battlefield on the table top actually did resemble the map, though the distance between Ansprung and Olbernhau was reduced somewhat.


 

French Deployment:

The French setup area was at the western end of the map, north of the village of Ansprung. Their main force is  presumed to be making its way east from Zoblitz when its scouts return at the gallop with news that the Allies are about to move into Olbernhau.  Their starting orders are to advance toward Olbernhau. New orders will needed upon the start of the game.


Russian Deployment:
The Russian 1st Hussar Division were obliged to deploy onto the eastern end of the map by moving through the town of Olbernhau, following their route of march (from the southeast).  The moment the first Russian unit clears the town, the engagement is on, the game clock starts, the Russians can form themselves up into battle order and the French can move.  The Allies' starting orders are to occupy the open land west of Olbernhau.  

Presumably officers of each side spot each other with telescopes once the Russians have cleared Olbernau; both sides can issue new orders after turn 1.  

Allied Reinforcements Arriving After Turn 3:

Cossack Division:  This division is to arrive on turn 3 or sometime thereafter (a die is thrown at the beginning of each turn for arrival the following turn).  The Cossacks will arrive on the road south of Olbernhau and then can deploy out of road column as they please; they are not required to pass through Olbernhau as were the hussars.  Skirmishers and marauders, the cossacks may maneuver as they please and can pass through forests with the conditions mentioned above. 

Austrian Infantry Divisions and Artillery:

The arrival of the Austrian divisions and artillery is unpredictable and determined by drawing one card from a pile of cards beginning in turn three.  Each Austrian formation has their own card, these are shuffled with 8 blank cards representing some inexplicable delay on the road.  These divisions must march onto the table via the south road and thence directly to Olbernhau, where they can deploy and join the fray following the same restrictions as the Hussar division.

Objectives

The French goal was of course to eliminate the Russian cavalry division as early as possible and then gain control of the Allied deployment area west of Olbernhau.  There, they could pick off units attempting to deploy out of road column in a hurry or force the Austrians to halt their advance.  They were to a) delay the Allied advance to Marienberg and b) destroy as much as possible of the army as it passes through the Olbernhau choke point.   The orders of the French command were to attack aggressively.

The Allies’ goal was to the keep the outnumbered Hussar division alive and functional as long as possible, at least until reinforcements can come up.  The Cossacks could best be used to outflank the French and catch them in a pincer while they are engaged with the mainline troops.  The infantry must deploy out of road column upon arrive or passing Olbernhau.  They should do this as promptly and across as broad a front as possible; if they can deploy properly, they are probably far too strong for the French who ought to be already worn down after engaging the hussars and the Cossacks.

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