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Subject: Smolensk – storming a city. rss

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Andrew Hobley
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Napoleon against Russian (NAR) is the latest offering from Kevin Zucker in his Library of Napoleonic Battles (LNB) series. The box contains four maps – two of the Smolensk area which join up, one of Borodino and a half size map for Maloyaroslavets - and the usual counter, play aids, game rules and scenario notes (See my review of La Patrie en Danger 1814 for more details of this). As ever the maps are works of art. Here is a detail of the whole city of Smolensk – the red lines are the walls which can only be crossed at the grey gates, and at the bastion. Artillery has no effect on the walls, or units behind them. I’ve also included the back of two of the optional packs of cards, very atmospheric.

The city of Smolensk

Is there another game of a Napoleonic battle which is essentially an old fashioned storming of a city?

I did find when playing a little difficult to work out where the hexes were in the city once it was covered in counters; since then I’ve gone over the city hex sides very gently with a pencil (sacrilege!).

I should add that I am a fan of this series; there are some critics, but I like the rules. And if you have a rules question not only is there BGG, but an active COMSIM forum for the game.

LNB games usually feature two scenarios for each battle - the Day of Battle (the actual clash) and Approach to Battle (the day before as the armies gather). Maloyaroslavets has only one scenario as the battle was an encounter engagement; for Borodino there is the attack on the Shevardino redoubt, the main battle itself, or three days linking the two scenarios. For Smolensk there the Day of Battle or the Approach to Battle on both maps, the battle of Valutino (on the east map only), an Approach to Smolensk using only the west map, or a mini campaign on both maps from 16 to 19 August. Given how much map there is, and that both sides are essentially moving west to east the mini campaign looks as if it will use most of both maps, and give a real feel for the manoeuvring that went on.

A whole lot of map – the 1 Division Young Guard marching on at left, Bagration’s 2nd army marching off at right and the rest battling it out over the city in the middle.

For me the logical thing when starting is to begin with the first scenario and work my way to the end – so getting the feeling of the campaign. So it is the Day of Battle for Smolensk, starting at 1pm on 17 August 1812. Barclay and 1st Army are mostly assembled north of the city, on the far bank of the Dnepr; a mix of III, VI and VIII Corps garrison the city and the suburbs. Bagration’s 2nd army is marching east, heading off map. The French are gathered round the city, Ney and III Corps to the west, Davout and I Corps and Poniatowski with the Poles of V Corps the south, Murat and the cavalry are to the east.

The set up.

Victory will go to the side which inflicts most casualties and holds most key victory hexes. The problem the French have is all the VP hexes (with one exception) and most of the Russian units are north of the impassable river. There are two bridges – one in the city and one a few hours to the west. There are fords, in particular two kilometres to the east of the city and another further upstream. But unless the Russians cross them, or scouts find them (if using the cards) the French do not know the fords are there. The French have a bridging train, but erecting a pontoon bridge cannot be done into an enemy occupied hex and takes at least two hours, so allowing time for the enemy to appear at the far end!

So to (solitaire) battle, using the optional cards. Davout’s I Corps started badly scattered [card play], with Davout himself four kilometres away in the woods to the south-west! This delayed the assault, but Napoleon himself launched the I/2nd Division at the Roslaval suburbs, while the Poles cleared the Nikolski area. Ney then cleared the western suburbs. I/2 division broke through the Molokhovkiye Gate; Dokhturov counter-attacked, but was himself forced back and by 4pm I Corps had captured the city.

French assaults.

The city taken.

Napoleon then sent I Corps east, III Corps to threaten a pontoon bridge crossing to the west and the Poles to assault across the city bridge into the St Petersburg suburb, while artillery bombarded the Russian defenders either side of the bridge.

The Poles managed to cross the bridge, which the Russians had damaged. Barclay had difficulty assembling an adequate garrison [he could only put one Corps into command at a time, so to move the remains of Dokhturov’s Corps away from the bridge left the risk the other Corps commanders would fail their initiative rolls and not fill the gap], but personally led IV Corps units to hold the Poles. The Poles repaired the bridge and sent reinforcements, who advanced further into the suburbs. II and IV Corps attacked, drove the Poles back to the bridge and cut off and destroyed one brigade. The Poles crossed again, but were driven back so violently the units collapsed trying the cross the bridge [failed their retreat over a bridge roll]. The Russians again damaged the bridge, and when French artillery set the suburb aflame the Poles gave up their attempts.

The Poles across the bridge and the struggle at the ford to the east.

Meanwhile another struggle developed. Around 2pm scouts had found the fords to the east of the city. The French cavalry moved the secure the nearest, Nansouty and I Cavalry Corps crossing around 2:30 pm. This was potentially very dangerous for the Russians– the main road to the east runs along the river and the French could get between the two Russian armies. The Russian III Cavalry Corps was nearby and led by General Pahlen attacked, driving the French back, although Pahlen was captured.
Hearing the French had crossed Bagration turned back with VII Corps [card play for Alternative Reinforcement], Karpov’s Cossacks joined the fray while Barclay sent Konstantine with V Corps to help. This was the start of a struggle over the ford, the French cavalry crossing and being thrown back three times before around 5pm a final French cavalry assault failed.

By now I Corps arrived and the French cavalry headed south and crossed the ford at Prudyshcevo to threaten the Russian line of retreat. Davout led I/3 Division across the ford and drove back the Russian counterattack. I/1 Division crossed, but was driven back by the Russian V Corps and I/3 assailed from four sides and isolated was destroyed – Davout had already recrossed the river so was safe.

Night fell with Smolensk in French hands and cavalry across the river to the south. The Russian army was certainly not beaten, but another retreat looked likely.

Nightfall.

Adding up the losses both sides were equal, but the Russians controlled more VPs so a Russian Marginal victory with a 12 VP advantage. If I had not foolishly (in scenario terms as no VP hexes were at stake) advanced I/3 Division to destruction it would have been a French marginal victory.

I realised after the game was over why the city had fallen too quickly. I had forgotten that enemy zones of control do not extend into chateau hexes – and all the city hexes inside the walls are chateaux hexes. So any Russian losses from ‘retreat into ZOC’ should not have happened. I also realise as the Russians in the city are mixed 1 and 2 Army units they should not have co-operated their counter-attack; perhaps their desire to save Holy Smolensk over-road the game rules!

It was a fun game. An interesting puzzle – how to get north of the river. Historically abandoning Smolensk without a fight would have been a moral disaster. But as the 10 VP hex for Smolensk is north of the river why not should the Russians not abandon the city and force the French to have to cross the bridge, rather than losing units holding the city? The French don’t have time to do much in the way of manoeuvres, and if they cannot find the fords ....

I now have the approach to battle set up to play. So let us see if either side manages a river crossing to threaten the others supply lines.
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Martí Cabré

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Seems like a gorgeous scenario.
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kevin halloran
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Cheers for this. I have the other LNB games but have held off on this one hoping to spot a copy cheaper than the Gameslore asking price of £85.
 
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