Monday, July 26, 2010

Gross-Huntersdorf, 4 May 1813 - continued...

The scene was set, if the script unrehearsed,and the actors rushed towards centre stage. In the face of imminent attack from the south, the French units began to swing off the road and deploy. Leaving its Voltigeur company lining the stone walls in the southwest quarter of Uszublunder, the remainder of 13th Light passed through the place and drew up immediately to the east, where they formed square alongside 9th Hussars. The immediately following 30th Line quickly manned the buildings and walls in the southeast quarter of the village and pushed forward the light company.
The 1st division artillery deployed outside the village close by the 13th Light Voltigeur company, sooned joined by the battalion column of 51st line, with the battle line of the 61st extending Cabernet-Sauvignon's front somewhat short of the Norrpuszikat Wood. Into this gap clattered the 12-pounder guns of the Reserve artillery.

Behind them on the road, Beaujolais's 2nd Division had arrived on the field.
Seventeenth light had interrupted it's march to advance upon Norrpuszikat Wood, whilst 34th Line marched on to draw up upon the left flank of the 17th Light. At the rear of the column, 88th Line formed line facing the West Wood, covered by the Divisional artillery, 7th Cuirassiers, and the 17th Light Voligeur company just within the trees fringing the west Wood.

Meanwhile, the Allies were surging forward all along the line.
The Prussian jager plunged into the West Woods where they were to prove for the rest of the day a considerable nuisance. The lonely Voltigeur company of 17th Light facing them were soon joined by that of the 88th Line, but in the face of greater than 2 to 1 odds, drew back out of the trees. The former made off to rejoin their parent unit, by then moving through the Norrpuszikat Wood; the latter rejoined its own unit.

In the centre, the Prussian Line Brigade passed close by Norrpuszikat Wood hoping to overrun the French 12-pounders...
... whilst the Russian Brigade had seized Uderballen. On the east flank, the Allied Dragoons cantered forward between Uderballen and the enclosure, with the French 13th Light patiently awaiting them in the distance.
The action developed in the east to begin with.
In the face of the mass of Allied Dragoons, 9th Hussars evaded the enemy charge. Declining to press the matter here with cavalry, on account of the 13th Light Infantry battalion square, the Allies brought up the 21st (Russian) Jagers to pepper the French line. The Finland Dragoons instead swung westwards across the face of the village, the French 8pr battery firmly in its sights.

It was at this time, near the West Woods, that the remainder of Beaujolais's 2nd Division was deploying to face the woods. The 34th Line marched on to join 17th Light in the battle for the Norrpuszikat Wood, ranging up on its left.
The rear of Beaujolais's column, the 88th, drew up alongside the 8pr battery, which had given up its watching brief down the defile and now faced the West Woods, within which enemy Jager were expected at any time to appear.
As it happened, the threat from the Jager developed very slowly. Beaujolais was able eventually to pull the 17th Light Voltigeurs out of the line and send them off to rejoin their parent unit by then in action in the Norrpuszikat Wood. The Prussians got somewhat the better of a brief and indecisive exchange late in the day, and successfully tied down superior numbers, but for the most part there was little action in this part of the field.

The Allies having opened the ball on the eastern flank, it was the French who initiated proceedings in the centre. The Reserve Artillery soon enough dropped into effective action near the woods, and opened a galling fire upon the 16th Prussian Infantry.
Shortly thereafter, three companies of 17th light lined the edge of Norrpuszikat Wood and opened a short range destructive fire upon the other Prussian Line infantry.
But the Prussians had been awaiting just such an action. The carefully loaded first volley shredded the French lights as much as the trees and undergrowth. The short range skirmisher fire was just as destructive, but the Prussians proved the better able to withstand the pressure. The French skirmishers soon faded back deeper into the woods.
There was no respite for the 6th infantry. As the French Lights disappeared into the tall timber, out came the battalion column of 34th Line, smashing into the northern end of the 6th's battle line. Somewhat disordered by the passage through the open woods, the French attack was less effective than it might have been, but the Prussians staunchness was nevertheless sorely tested. Hanging on by their toenails, the Germans refused to yield. After a tough, protracted fight, they were again victorious, and saw the second attack recede into the forest. Yet it was a much reduced regiment that congratulated itself upon its valiant defence.

Meanwhile, the action was developing apace between the Wood and Uszublunder village.
Braving the popping fire of the 13th Voltigeur Company and elements of 30th line, the Finland Dragoons drove on towards the French battery deployed close by the village. Fifty-first Line hastily formed square, but the artillerymen rose to the occasion. Already somewhat reduced by the incidental incoming fire, the Finns found the canister fire too much, and made off hastily, half their numbers remaining on the field.

But now the climax of the action was approaching. [Unfortunately this was when my camera chose to let me know the batteries were dying].
The Prussian 16th Infantry having been driven back with heavy loss by the Reserve artillery, Cabernet-Sauvignon ordered forward the French 51st and 61st line against the approaching Russians. The 61st closed to within mere paces of the enemy before both sides exploded into action with devastating opening volleys. Scything each other down in windrows, within minutes the Russians were reduced to half their numbers. But the French found they had to do with the same infantry that had caused such trouble in the Falsover action: the Astrakhan grenadiers. Somewhat outnumbered, battered by artillery, the Grenadiers fought magnificently. They gave at least as good as they got - inflicting some 45% of their own numbers upon the enemy. But the French musketry was no light ordeal for all that: a little over 40% of their own numbers told upon the Russians. All the same, the appalling carnage was too much for the 61st Line, who broke first and ran back to the Uszublunder highway. Almost as badly shaken, the Russians also fell back, though precariously maintaining their order.

As this mutual slaughter drew to a close, the 51st Line thought to try conclusions with the Russian Murmansk Infantry. The Finland Dragoons having been seen off, this French unit had resumed its column formation. Meanwhile, the Murmansk Infantry had been advancing into the teeth of a telling French artillery fire. Perceiving - or imagining - that the Russians had been somewhat shaken by this artillery barrage - (I have no 'shaken' rules as such, but it is a way of interpreting the state of a unit that has taken losses in figures) - the 51st Line Infantry swung impetuously into the fray. Now the Russians could avenge their losses. In the teeth of an effective short range volley, the Frenchmen closed the range. In the ensuing close quarter fight, the Russians barely managed to contain the superior French numbers. The column was halted, but no more. Murmansk Infantry, still presenting a bold front, felt themselves compelled to drop towards Uderballen.
By now the Allied assault upon the French line had faded away. There were no reserves upon which von Jaxen could call. The Allied line infantry had taken a fearful beating, mostly from the galling French gunfire (the Allied artillery had been largely ineffective all day). Of some 4000 infantry that formed the Allied centre, rather fewer than 2000 remained with the colours. Emboldened by their success in the centre, the 9th Hussars thought also to try conclusions with the Prussian Dragoons, which unit had been somewhat weakened by musketry from French infantry emerging from the village.

This clash of arms was to be the closing action of the day, and served perhaps to hasten the Allied retreat. Inconclusive as it was - honours were shared - the Prussian horse made of hastily, though the French Light Horse were glad to call it it a day.

Overall it was a fearful butcher's bill for both sides, though if Dubonnet's Corps appeared more than a little worn, von Jaxen's was looking very ragged. Against French losses of almost 1000, the Allies had 1800 to deplore, 450 of them prisoners [this translates in my campaign rules from the Prussian loss of 54 figures (and a lost battle) to the French 39].

For all that, the Allied commander had some grounds, if not for satisfaction, at least to find a silver lining. His army was still in being, and, according to dispatches received from Prinz von Blucher's headquarters near Leipzig, he might expect reinforcements sometime in the next few days. In the meantime, he had delayed the French advance for 24 hours - and a day might be all that was needed to turn the campaign around...

For more pictures, check out the 'Painting little soldiers' link to the right of this column...

Meanwhile, the cognoscenti might recognise in this action a scenario similar to that in East Prussia confronting the General Lehwaldt in August, 1757, faced with an invasion by much larger numbers of Russians. In obedience to emphatic orders from his master, King Frederick II, Lehwaldt brought the Russian Army into action at Gross-Jagersdorf...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Battle of Gross-Huntersdorf, 4 May 1813...

Following up the successful action at the Falsover River on 28 April, the French Corps under Marshal Dubonnet marched rapidly eastwards, hoping to reach Berlin well within the fortnight. After the hard fought battle for the river crossing, the French encountered minimal opposition that faded away to nothing before the week was out. Indeed, the enemy seemed entirely to have disappeared, the 9th Hussars' scouts losing contact at the beginning of May. What did that portend?

The Prussian commander, Paulus von Jaxen, might have lost the battle, but he was not to be beaten so easily. Outnumbered as he was, he could not hope to hold the French for long in a frontal battle. Casting about for some means to equalise the disparity in numbers, he began to edge his forces away to the southest, instead of directly eastwards, and kept a wary eye out for any opportunity that might present.

Marshal Dubonnet took a direct approach. Let the enemy bring on a battle: the advance upon Berlin would surely bring it about. Keeping his cavalry busy scouting ahead and to the right flank, he marched rapidly eastwards, alongside the River Havel. Early on the morning of 4 May, after the previous day spent traversing what seemed to be ideal ambush country, his leading troops were passing through Uszublunder towards more open country beyond. It seemed to be another peaceful morning's march.

From a halcyon hike to the volleying of orders to meet a sudden threat was a matter of minutes. Scouts espied Allied troops to the south bursting through Gross-Huntersdorf and nearby Muttschullen; the foot and guns swung southwards to meet threat; the French cavaly and light infantry companies had already been deployed to guard against just such an eventuality.

As the French army busked itself for the coming fight, Dubonnet's cartographic engineer scribbled down the following sketch map (the unit numbers were added in later).

The situation at the outset can be discerned in the following pictures:
The view from Beaujolais's 2nd Division, towards the village of Muttschullen. Heading towards the West Woods are the 3rd Jager, behind the 2nd Silesian Hussars prepare to move off eastwards, possibly into the defile between the woods. On the other side of the village, 6th and 16th Prussian Infantry are advancing rapidly into action, accompanied by the two Allied 9pr companies.

The following picture shows the other end of the Allied line. The Murmansk Infantry are marching straight through Gross-Huntersdorf itself, Astrakhan Grenadiers passing east of the place. Close by the Finland Dragoons are being followed by the 2nd West Prussia Dragoons, with the 21st (Russian) Jager forming the right flank of the line.

A general view of the field from the North-West...

... and one from the Southwest:

Clearly, Von Jaxen's plan was to hit the French on the march as hard as he could whilst they were still strung out along the road. Could the French react betimes?

The Allies had with them"
1 Grenadier Regiment,
3 Line Infantry,
2 Jager (each foot unit 20 figures strong);
6 Dragoon squadrons,
3 Hussar squadrons (each squadron 4 figures strong);
2 9pr companies.

Superior by 3 to 2 in horse, the Allies were badly overmached in the other arms. The French had
5 Line Infantry,
2 Light Infantry (24 figures apiece);
3 Cuirassier Squadrons,
3 Hussar Squadrons (each of 4)
2 8pr companies,
1 12pr company.

It would be a tall order for the Allies to overcome their formidable and more numerous opponents. General von Jaxen was determined to try...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Napoleonic Campaign continues...

Pressing on from his victory and successful crossing of the Falsover River, Marshal Dubonnet urged his XIV Corps eastwards towards Berlin. As he advanced, there appeared signs that the Allies, led by General Paulus von Jaxen, were edging off towards the south-east - no doubt in an attempt to draw the French away from the Prussian capital. Not to be drawn, the French Marshal continued in an easterly direction.

It wasn't long before the 9th Hussars lost contact with the Allied army. The enemy had vanished. The Marshal hurried on, but, as he approached the region about Grosshuntersdorf began to apprehend the possibility of ambush. Between that place and the river, the countryside, though flat, was extensively wooded. The forests, though large were rather open - kept that way by local magnates, one supposes, for hunting. Altogether, it was ideal country to spring a surprise.

Gingerly skirting this dangerous country, with the cavalry and voltigeurs of the light regiments watching to the south, it seemed by the time the leading infantry of 13th Light had reached the village of Uszublunder, that perhaps the Allies were not in the offing after all, but awaited them somewhat farther on.

In a rush, the reports began coming in. Suspect movements to the south; enemy horse, foot and guns rapidly approaching; troops debouching from Grosshunterdorf with considerable speed. The Marshal was only too conscious of his forces strung out along miles of road.

This was going to be nip and tuck.

A general view of the march, looking North-east, with General Cabernet-Sauvignon's
1st Division just entering Uszublunder in the distance, and the leading elements of Beaujolais's 2nd Division just enetering the picture. The Cavalry maintain a watching brief to the south.

Here are more pictures of what seemed like a pleasant early morning stroll...
General Cabernet-Sauvignon's Division enetering Uszublunder, led by 13th Light. Its voltigeur company lines a village stone wall. To the South-east, 9th Hussars keeps a wary eye out towards the south...

Thirtieth and Fifty-first Line Infantry, and the 8pr Artillery company following the Lights towards the village.

Now looking to the centre of the column; trailing 61st Line is the 12pr battery, then the lead unit of Beaujolais's Division: 17th Light.

Following 17th Light infantry, the 2nd Division artillery is just entering the field. Yet to arrive are 34th and 88th Line infantry. Meanwhile, 7th Cuirassiers, led in person by General Morlot, has two squadrons deployed forward, alongside the voltigeurs of 17th Light, watching for enemy approaches from the south. Will they give sufficient warning of an attack? Marshal Dubonnet is close by with his staff...

Game on tonight...