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Subject: Borodino – “never mind manoeuvres, go straight at em” rss

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Andrew Hobley
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Some readers will recognise the quote is actually from Nelson, and used in quite a different context. But it feels right for this slugfest of the unstoppable force of the French army hitting the immovable object of the Russian defences – with no attempt by Napoleon to go round the edge.

Force and object

The setup is as below, the battle of the 6th September with a historical French assault against the Russian lines. The wheel shaped counters are the Russian fortifications (and one French one), the three in the centre are the flèches, the one behind them is the village of Semyanovskaya and the one above is the Raevsky Redoubt. Two other fortifications to the right of Borodino and the burnt bridge were joined on the first turn by a third to the south; Dokhturov’s men dug very quickly to build a new redoubt. Towards the bottom of the picture the French/Polish V Corps can been seen, heading for Utitsa. Bagration’s Second Army is deployed to hold the flèches and the redoubt, III Corps is out at Utitsa and Barclay and First Army hold the Kolocha river, when Kutusov thought the main French assault would fall.

Setup

Unfortunately for the French Eugen’s IV Corps started in a road column and took several turns to close up for battle. So the action began at 8 am as the French I and III Corps attacked the flèches, taking all three. This saw the start of a titanic struggle as each fleche changed hands several times. The French managed to hang on to the northern fleche for a couple of hours before being thrown out by a counter attack led by Borozdin, VIII Corps commander. Ney personally led a fresh assault, but was shot and killed* at 11:30 trying to rally his troops as they fell back. It was not until 2pm that III Corps, now led by General Ledru managed take the fleche, capturing Lieutenant General Borozdin, lost the fleche and recaptured it, as its garrison escaped under cover of the 2 Army Artillery reserved, massed around Semyanovskaya.

11am The French attack intensifies.

The struggle for the centre and southern flèches raged back and forth, the centre changing hands five times and the southern seven. Davout and Bagration both led their men, at some personal; risk [only one infantry unit can advance after combat, unless a leader is stacked with the units, in which case all infantry and the leader advance. So if you don’t risk a leader only one unit advances into the flèche, to be attacked by four or more enemy and driven out.]. At noon covering fire from artillery saved Davout from elimination by flanking Russian forces as the southern fleche fell to the Russians and Bargration. Leading the counter-attacking Davout drove the Russians out, and only the gallant actions of an aide-de-camp saved Bagration from being spiked on a French bayonet. It was not until 3pm after seven hours of fighting that the French finally secured all three flèches.

Just to the north IV Corps was ready for action at 11am. Borodinio was taken, but the first assault on the Raevsky Redoubt was thrown back. The French did not risk a further assault for some hours, and suffered from Russian artillery fire. Finally, at 3pm, with the southern flank secure, IV Corps took and held the Redoubt at the same time as Semyanovskaya was taken by I Corps.

3pm The southern defences are taken.

By 3pm the Russians had been driven back to the other side of the Semyanovskaya ravine and VII and VIII Corps had suffered badly. But V Corps moved down to bolster the line with VI Corps in reserve behind them and the Russian centre was solid.

Meanwhile on the northern flank at 12 noon the Russian I, II, III Cavalry Corps and Platov’s Cossacks crossed the Kolocha river and attacked the French cavalry of Grouchy’s III Cavalry and IV Corps. II Cavalry under Montbrun was despatched as a French reinforcement. Despite Kutusov himself appearing to direct operations the French were too strong. The Russians were held, Platov himself being killed when a Cossack unit was driven back. A further Russian attack in the late afternoon caught IV Corps cavalry and routed them, but at the end of the day both sides held their positions.

An affair of cavalry

One effect of the cavalry attack was to hold up the French attack on the Gorki redoubts, as the left flank of IV Corps was threated. But by 4pm the French were ready and the assault went in – to be hurled back along the line. The French persisted and after two hours had captured all the defences. Dokhturov was saved by an aide-de-camp from being badly wounded, but Kutaisov (1 Army artillery commander) was captured when he took a First Army Reserve artillery battery too close to the northern redoubt.

What of Poniatowski and V Corps down south? After a slow start he, with Latour’s IV Polish cavalry corps to his south attacked Tuchkov’s III Corps at Utitsa. This proved to be a harder fight than the Poles anticipated. The Moscow militia entered the fight in the woods to the north and pushed back the French. Nansouty’s I Cavalry entered the fray, charging the militia several times, but in their close columns the militia drove the heavy cavalry back, and retired in order from the supporting attacks. Eventually Junot and VIII Corps had to intervene and the militia were finally eliminated around 4pm.

The village itself changed hands several times, catching fire during one French attack. Eventually the Poles held the village, but they had suffered considerable casualties and had the worst of the battle.

Karpov’s Cossacks guarded the Russian southern flank, until Latour caught them and routed them. The Russian IV Cavalry Corps, which had been doing sterling work in the woods south of the flèches moved south, and blocked a very late attempt by the French cavalry to raid the Russian rear.

A private fight for the Poles

So by 7pm the Russians had been evicted from their prepared defences. But they still stood between the French and Moscow. Both sides [and the gamer!] were exhausted. The French did not want to risk trying to push into the Russian masses again, the Russian were happy to stay on the defensive. As cannon on both sides engaged in target practice night slowly fell.

7pm Ready for round two as guns batter the opposing lines.

Adding up the losses the French had lost 20 SP, the Russians 24. That did not tell the whole story – 19 French and 14 Russian units had been reduced, either eliminated and rallied, or reduced by shock combat or artillery. One Cossack corps and the militia were demoralised. The French controlled eight improved positions (1 VP for each), giving VPs of 29 to 10, but when VP for cards played were added in the French ended on 21 and the Russians on -6, so a French Strategic Victory! It sure did not feel like one.

So as a game was it fun? No – but that nothing to do with the designer and the system, but Napoleon and Kutusov going head to head. Improved positions (which double the defenders) are hard to take; especially when garrisoned by a whole Russian division. So why not manoeuvre? And both side should have. I shall return, but to play the three day campaign game. There are at variations possible for both sides, the Russians can set up in a more balanced way or launch a big counter attack with their left; Napoleon could try to cross the Kolocha as Kutusov expected, or make a right hook as Davout wanted.

My main recommendation if playing the day of battle is get some good tweezers – given the unit density you will need them!

For the French Moscow lies a few days march away. Take the capital and the Tsar will surrender and the war will be over. What can go wrong?

* In TLNB if a leader is in with units forced to retreat (or in an enemy ZOC alone) a roll of 6 means they are captured and out of the game. My own house rule says if a 6 is rolled roll again, 1 – killed, 2-3 wounded, 4-6 captured; -1 from roll if enemy units advance after combat. If wounded roll at the end of the game, 1-2 dies of wounds, 3-4 misses next battle, 5-6 recovers and returns. Pure fluff of course
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kevin halloran
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Andrew, thanks for the report which I enjoyed immensely.
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Lawrence Hung
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Awesome! Great write up with photos!
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Kevin Zucker
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Hi Andrew,

Glad to see this colorful AAR. Pictures look great! Can you give a more detailed account of VPs? As the designer I am curious about those things.

I see the following:

a) Sps Elim: 0
b) Corps Demo: 6 French
c) Baggage: 0
d) Control: 10 French, 10 Rus
e) Cards: ?
f) Leaders at night: 0
g) Commanders: 0
h) 0

Total: 16 French, 10 Russian, plus card VPs.

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Andrew Hobley
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Kevin

VPs as you calculated, but you need to add (or subtract) -

Control French 8 Improved positions = 8VP (21.15)
Cards French -8 Russians -16 so give French +21, Russians -6. Convert scores of zero or less to 1 (26.22) to give 21:1 so (just) more than a 2:1 ratio and a French strategic victory.

I don't have a note of where the SP losses came from; but all the French, but IV Cav, had at least one on map unit reduced (I 7 units, IV 3 and V 4), for the Russians II and IV and 1 Army Arty had no reduced on map units and indeed no losses; VIII had four reduced on map units (and from memory more actual SPs off the board).

A second day of battle would have seen the French push the Russians back had they stood - but the Russians would retire ASAP.
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Kevin Zucker
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Hi Andrew,

Very well calculated, and I appreciate what you are doing. Does it seem that the Russians had got beaten on the disparity on VPs for the cards?

Of course, the French did take all the I.P.s so that isn't too shabby.
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