Fresh from one hypothetical scenario, the Battle of Hal, to another. Chronologically the first battle in the box is Fismes, a fight that never happened. Blücher is falling back in front of Napoleon; heading towards Laon. Historically the French garrison at Soissons surrendered and the Army of Silesia was able to use the bridge there to cross the river Vesle. But here we have the situation where the garrison holds out (as everyone agrees it should have) and Blücher has to cross the Vesle at Fismes, with all of the other bridges across the river having been destroyed.
A quick question on ComSim confirmed that Napoleon cannot repair the damaged bridges (his rag tag army would have been short of proper engineers, and also has no pontoon train). So it is a race for the crossing at Fismes.
Fismes - setup
Blücher has the Prussian I Corps and Russian IX already across; the Russian VI Corps is heading for the bridge covered by the Prussian II Corps. The Cavalry Corps is spread out along the stream from Fismes to Courville and Crugny. I decided to place roadblocks at St Gilles and by the trestle from the Chézelle Farm to Fismes. The French force is mostly Guard, Young in two Corps under Ney and Victor, Old under Mortier and the Cavalry under Nansouty. In my game Napoleon started ‘asleep’; the Coalition all in command. The only VP hex is on the north side of the river by the Fismes bridge.
Slipping on the ice the French advanced slowly as the Coalition pulled back – Blücher had decided he needed to get his army away, not confront Napoleon with a river and only one crossing splitting his forces. On the left the Guard, VI Cavalry and VI Corps were very slow to move off, while Ney with his small Young Guard force advances cautiously. On the French right the Russian cavalry were pulling back; the Guard cavalry crossed at Courville while the II Young Guard struggled with the road block at St Gilles. Unfortunately for the Coalition the Russian cavalry were paralysed by the approaching French, and stretched out along the stream the Guard cavalry outflanked and routed several brigades.
Woken by the gunfire Napoleon ordered forward his left flank units. On their own initiative the 20 Old Guard Division crossed the stream and drove back the right flank of the Prussian I Corps. As ice gave way to frost the Guard cavalry overran more Russian units. The II Prussian Horse artillery and the brigade of Pirch were overrun by the Old and Young Guard. All the other Coalition forces had by now crossed at Fismes and the Russian artillery made approaching the bridge a daunting prospect. Klix’s Prussian Brigade, cut off by the advance of the Guard Cavalry, threw back the Old Guard, escaped into Fismes where, despite barricading themselves, they were finally overrun.
Fismes – end of day, a bridge too far
The Coalition lost 16 SP, the French none. But with the Coalition having 5 VP for holding the bridge, less 2 for card play the VP were tied at 3 all. A Coalition Marginal Victory. Overnight the Coalition will destroy the bridge and slip away, towards Laon and the Chemin des Dames.
Interesting and a quick game. I’m not sure what would happen if the Coalition pull I Prussian Corps back to try and defeat the French. With only one bridge, and one flank of light cavalry it could all end in tears. But this is for another day; on to Craonne.