- Andrew Hobley(Andrew H)United Kingdom
Having extracted myself from the mud of 1806 Poland I decided June in Belgium would be a nice break. But not in 1815 but 1794.
The terrain is familiar and unfamiliar. Familiar in that it includes the Quatre Bras and Ligny battlefields, but unfamiliar in that the action takes place further south, in the woods and villages marched over when playing the Crossing the Sambrescenario of the Napoleon’s Last Gamble expansion kit.
The river forms the south of the French position. Two key points are the bridge at Charleroi is destroyed and cannot rebuilt, and a Trunk Line (from a supply source to a supply train) can only be traced over “… connected road and or train hexes …” (Rule 17.43). Looking at the fords over the river the trails do not cross the ford, as they do at the bridges. So supply can only be traced over the bridges at Marchienne au Pont, Châtelet and Tegnée (and the two bridges further east, but they are likely to be behind Coalition lines).
North of Chaleroi runs a belt of woods, further north the terrain is more open, but there are no obvious defensive lies. West of the town a stream forms a north-south defensive line. Various chateau/churches/priories/abbeys/convents lie scattered over the area to provide strong points.
The victory locations are Ligny, St Amand and then Marchienne, Charleroi, Gilly and Châtelet, the last four 5 VP each.
Setting up a game for the first time is always interesting, more so when it a battle you have never played or even know much about. And after doing that my first thought was “We’re not in the Napoleonic Wars any more Toto!”
I’ve marked the areas of each side’s initial deployment and the VP hexes in red. First question is where have all the units gone – the battlefield feels very empty? This is (almost) it – there are some reinforcements en route for both sides. The French have 70,000 troops, the Coalition have 52,000, a total of 122,000. Napoleon alone on 15 June 1815 had around 128,000 troops – so that gives an idea of the inflation of armies yet to come and why so many hexes are unoccupied.
Next are the types of formations - columns for the Coalition and wings for the French. Only the French have any divisions, which can stack more than two per hex – but given the gaps in the line I never managed to do this. Initiative values are also lower, 2 or 3 for the French, mostly 3 for the Coalition.
And finally the actual deployment for both sides looks like the sort of thing you find for the Coalition forces at Jena or Arbensburg-Eckmühl - unsupported blobs of troops scattered over the landscape. The battle lasts all day from 6am in the morning to 8pm at night. The weather is not an issue – fine all day for each scenario. This is going to be interesting ….
Played solo, with the hidden units rules; although all markers removed for the photos.
The morning of 26 June saw the Austrians all awake and pushing forward. Jourdan was deep in an argument with Saint Just, the Committee of Public Safety’s Commissar (Représentant en Mission) about what exactly the army should so, while Kléber (commander of the Left Wing) waited for orders.
7am saw the first clashes, Kaunitz’s III Column attacked the French fortified in Heppinges. The garrison held out under heavy pressure, but were finally evicted with losses, having made the Austrian’s pay an equally heavy price. A counterattack by the French Centre column was repulsed and Olivier’s brigade was cut off and routed to the east of the village.
To the west, north of Ransart the French Reserve clashed with Quosdanovich’s second column. An encircling movement by the Republican cavalry almost caught Otto’s heavy cavalry and Spiegal’s Brigade, but Austrian heavies covered the infantry’s retreat before falling back themselves. Seeing he was outnumbered Quosdanovich pulled back across the Hau Wayaux stream; a messenger had arrived to tell him the Hanoverian 1st Division was on its way.
Much to the surprise of the Coalition the balloon L’Entraprenant rose to the skies to observe the enemy advance.
On the left Daurier’s division of the left wing arrived and took up position at Marchienne hotly pursued by the Dutch column commanded by Frederik while Prince William and the rest of the Dutch arrived further north. Keliber’s men took up a line along the stream. Around 9am the Dutch attacked. In the north around the Priory the French and Dutch clashed; the Dutch slowly pushing the French back. In the south vicious street fighting saw the French infantry driven back over the river, but a Dutch attempt to cross the bridge bloodily repulsed. The French cavalry held for a while, but were then pushed east over the stream.
On the French right wing the intermittent advance of the Austrians saw the first clash between the Austrian cavalry commanded by Schwarzenberg (a name we may hear more of in 20 years’ time) and the French right wing cavalry; in a clash in the Bois de Lambusart the confined terrain resulted in heavy casualties to both sides, before the French fell back.
Coburg, the Allied commander, moved to the left wing to push the attack, while the centre forces held their places waiting for the Hanoverians, who were now followed by the Duke of York and his 2nd British Division. On the Allied right the Dutch overran the French cavalry in the north and to the south the road to Charleroi was open, Frederik leaving a unit to hold the Marchienne bridge.
Jourdan ordered a pull back as his forces were in danger of being cut off and destroyed in detail. Championnet’s Center column was ordered to march on Charleoi, while Kléber moved south to try and block Frederik’s approach. In his absence Fusier’s brigade was first hard hit when ambushed in the woods by Austrian artillery and then caught in the flank by cavalry when fending off an infantry attack and routed. The French line in the north-west now consisted of just weak artillery and cavalry.
Kléber oversaw his men push the Austrian infantry in the Dutch column back from St Roch and north up the road while cavalry rushed south to cover Charleoi. The French infantry then swing south and catching the Dutch at Marchienne from the front and rear routed the unit. Suddenly Frederik’s column was isolated. The French had pulled back so quickly the Dutch and Allied centre were slow to follow up and Kléber was able to trap Frederik’s men outside the city against the river and eliminate them; Frederik himself managing to escape.
On the Allied right wing noon saw Coburg managing a big Austrian attack. Lecoubrbe’s brigade was driven from the Lambusart chateau and eliminated, but for a while the French held the chateau on the Fleures road inflicting and taking heavy losses. On the extreme right wing Schwarzenberg and Hardy’s cavalry clashed again in the woods, the result was both sides were exhausted and not fit for any further combat [An Exchange Shock result eliminated both reduced units]. The whole French right wing was now demoralized, but they held onto the Fleures road chateau slowing the Austrian advance. Worried about what lurked in the woods the Coalition center halted. With Charleroi saved Jordan ordered the Centre force to the right wing as Vezu’s infantry brigade and artillery arrived in time from Dinant to reinforce the French right wing.
As the afternoon wore on the Dutch left wing attacked. Heavy losses in the Foret de Lumet left both the Dutch and the French left wing demoralized. With only a weakened infantry brigade, one battery of artillery and two cavalry regiments Kléber fell back towards Charleroi. His right flank was only covered by French cavalry and artillery in the woods. The French center had fallen back to the middle of the woods, on the right the Austrians had pushed the French out of the chateau and into the clear ground. And on the Brussels road the Hanoverians and British, now formed up, hung like a guillotine blade ready to drop – although their first attack on Bernadotte’s reduced brigade in the villages resulted in the Linsingen Hanoverian brigade being routed [1:3 attack and a AE rolled – playing solo with hidden units can still lead to unpleasant surprises!]. Jordan ordered all train units across the Sambre, safe from any Coalition cavalry breakthrough.
The Allies attacked all out along the line. The Dutch pushed the French left wing over the stream and into Charleroi, but could not follow up. The Hanoverians and British pushed down the road and through the woods, reaching the walls of the city, but being held by a firm defence of the Lodelinart churches. Two British cavalry brigades advance too far and were cut off and routed. Austrians reached the outskirts of Gilly, but did not have time to exert enough pressure to take the village, and the French right wing held along the Chatelineeau stream. Night fell as the exhausted French prepared for a retreat.
Having left Kléber garrisoning Charleroi and pulled the rest of the French back across the Sambre Jourdan had a very difficult few days, with Saint Just suggesting it was time he had an appointment with the National Razor. But news came in that, with the Duke of York’s men pulled to Charleroi, great gains had been made along the coast. With their supply lines threatened the British were pulling back and the Austrians were following suit. The French were able to advance, relive Charleroi and take Brussels. The Republic (and Jourdan’s neck) were saved. “Viva La France! Viva la Revolution!”
The balance of losses fell most heavily on the French, 51 SP eliminated compared to 33 Coalition SP. None of the French held objectives fell to the Coalition and adding up the VPs the result was French 20, Coalition 10 (before cards 28:24) so a French Tactical Victory. But if the Coalition had not played the third Alternate Reinforcements card (the British Reserve reached the north of the woods and never came into combat) and had managed to take Gilly the final result would have been French 15, Coalition 18 and a Coalition Marginal victory – and bad news for Jourdan’s survival.
The game had more ‘Shock’ combat results than usual, six along on the 9am turn in seven attack rolls, many of these resulted in reductions of both sides units. Part of this may have been luck, the rest down to fighting in villages and woods. The net result was as the French lost units completely when they had a second shock exchange result their army drained away quickly.
The game, as you can tell by the result, hovered on a knife edge for the French several times. The early arrival of the British meant a forward defence was never an option, and pulling back to gain mutual support – and fill in the big gaps between the units made sense. For the Coalition for the first couple of turns it looked as if the Austrian II Column was about to be encircled and eliminated, only the pressure on the other flanks stopped an all-out advance in the French centre. For the French the left flank is a big concern – to much space to defend from two Coalition attack forces.
A couple of game rules points. Units in Chaleroi cannot be attacked – in 1794 the fortifications were in good order and a formal siege is needed. So to hold those 5 VPs if things get sticky all the French have to do is put one unit in the city – and keep it in supply.
The Alternate Reinforcements I think are too likely to arrive. With 30 Allied cards to play and 10 drawn by 1pm it is a reasonable chance each turn an Alternate Reinforcement will appear. This may need adjustment for the Approach to Battle and the Campaign, as the British and Hanoverians will appear and are a big weight in the Coalition side of the scales.
But this is just tinkering. If you have already got Napoleon’s Last Gamble and the expansion kit then get this expansion to the expansion – for the money you spend you will have (based admittedly on one experience) a lot of good gaming and something different from the normal run of TLNB games. And Wargames.Com has declared this its Game of the Year Historical Boardgamehttp://www.wargamer.com/news/wargamer-year-in-review-2016-ex...]. Congratulations and many thanks to Derek Lang, the designer, for having the idea and carrying it through.
- [+] Dice rolls