Monday, 30 December 2013

Combined Operations in the Sudan

The last post for this year returns to the Sudan.  The Brigadier has received reports that the Ansar are gathering stores and munitions at a small Nile-side village to the south of the British headquarters.  In his opinion, a swift moving force, supported by the steamer 'Victoria' could attack the village, seize or destroy the accumulated stores and munitions and be back at base before the Ansar reinforcements arrive.  For this foray he called on Lieutenant Bolitho of the Royal Marines to command steamer and Bluejackets; whilst the mounted column would be commanded by Captain Bertram Yoxall Eckersley, recently transferred from the 33rd regiment (Duke of Wellington's).  The captain was popular with both his brother officers and the men under his command; (the latter referring to him by the nickname "By Eck").  Although new to the Sudan, Eckersley had served for 5 years in India and was experienced in dealing with native opponents.

Bolitho and Eckersley planned to attack the village shortly after dawn, closing on the objective during a night march, taking advantage of a full moon.

This is the view from behind Eckersley's force.  The objective is the village in the distance by the banks of the Nile.  Bolitho's steamer is just out of shot.  Eckersley decided to advance directly towards the objective, but needed to be sure his left flank was secure and therefore asked the 2nd squadron of the Lancers to send scouts towards the compound.  Scouts also investigated the broken ground between Eckersley and the river village.  For his part, Bolitho had orders to check the wadis running into the Nile and disperse any Ansar lurking there.

As the cavalry scouts neared the walls of the compound shots rang out.  Turning quickly, the scouts fell back on the main body and the whole squadron retreated.  As they did so ragged volleys were fired from the compound, obviously, it had a garrison and also, the sound of the shots would alert the river village.  Eckersley called forward C company of the mounted infantry and ordered them to engage the Ansar with rifle fire.  The field gun added its fire to that of the infantry.  The Ansar quickly found that the British infantry were out of range for their firearms, but, that they were within range of the British.  Losses began to rise and the fire from the compound slackened.  Before Eckersley could take any satisfaction from this, a lancer trooper galloped up with a report of Arab cavalry gathering beyond the compound.  Scanning the area with his binoculars Eckersley saw a growing cloud of dust and then a large body of camelry swept into view.   The 1st squadron of lancers were scouting out the advance and reacted to the arrival of the enemy by forming line against this new threat and then moving towards them.  The thin sound of cavalry bugles carried across the desert and through his binoculars Eckersley saw the lance points lower as the two units came together.    Then all was obscured as the dust rose about the combatants.

Suddenly a few camel riders burst from the cloud and fell back towards the compound.  Then a mass of cavalry and camelry moved in the same direction.  All order lost the British cavalry did as it had done for almost a century, forgot orders and pursued the enemy.   As had happened many times before this proved its undoing.  There was a large body of Arab cavalry behind the camelry and that absorbed the shock of the British pursuit and then began to lap around the lancers.  Realising their predicament the officers attempted to restore some order, but it was too late.  A small body managed to cut their way out of the melee and gallop for the main force, but over half the squadron was lost.

Meanwhile D and E companies of the mounted infantry had continued to advance on the river village.  Scouting their way forward they had covered half the distance when a gun, concealed in the village opened fire. Fortunately, the shot went wide and caused no damage.  More serious was the body of Ansar which rose out of a wadi and surged towards d company.  Bolitho had been making slow progress towards the village.  He had ordered the engineer to try and hold the steamer against the flow of the river so that they could support Eckersley with the fire of the machine gun and the rifles of the Bluejackets. This proved its worth now as all the fire of the men on the steamer was concentrated on the Ansar.  Many men fell, but the mass surged on.  D company was directly in their path and opted to stand and try and drive them off by rifle fire.  However, the broken terrain made forming a proper firing line impossible and before the mistake could be rectified the Ansar were upon them.  Caught in the broken terrain the British fought in groups rather than in a steady square and suffered heavy casualties.

 The battered remains of D company fell back towards Eckersley, pursued by the victorious Ansar.  However, the pursuit was now caught in the crossfire of the British artillery and E company.  Unable to withstand this volume of fire the Ansar fell back.

Pressure now began to increase against C company.  Although they out ranged the Ansar in the compound, the latter now received reinforcements and this second unit began to move round the flank of the British. The British artillery was fully employed trying to drive off the Arab cavalry and also a unit of Hadendoa which had appeared from behind the compound and could offer no support.  Turning to face this new threat C company had time to fire two volleys before the wave of Ansar hit them.   Spears and scimitars clashed with bayonets and a fierce melee took place under the blazing sun.  Bravely they fought, but C company were fighting against overwhelming odds and in the end they perished.

With two thirds of his infantry dead, together with half his cavalry and sensing that there was now no chance of reaching the village, Eckersley ordered that the signal rocket to retire was fired.  Covered by the remaining lancers the battered remnants of Eckersley's force retreated.  For his part Bolitho had done what he could.  The presence of the 'Victoria' had flushed the Ansar from the wadi and the fire from the steamer had inflicted heavy losses.  However, he could see three fresh units of Hadendoa near the village and the Ansar artillery had begun to get the range of the 'Victoria'.  He therefore ordered the helmsman to turn upstream and head back to base.

Not a good day for the British.  We had been experimenting with a new method for the arrival of reinforcements and it seemed to assist the Ansar more than the British.  All the cavalry arrived within the first three moves; which really hampered the advance.  Also, the although the Hadendoa arrived at the far end of the table, they also arrived quite early and made it very unlikely that the British would achieve their objective.  Some of the blame must rest with Eckersley (ie me) because I neglected to put the mounted infantry in square which would have helped them when facing the Ansar.  (it would also have helped if they had not been in broken ground).   

Monday, 16 December 2013

Soave, 29th April, 1809. A shako scenario

Historically, this was a minor encounter in Eugene's campaign against Archduke John with action spread over two days . For the Shako scenario I 'beefed up' the French frontal attack and also allowed Sorbier's force to appear on the Austrian flank.

John has just received news of the battle of Aspern and has orders to fall back towards the Danube valley to support Charles against Napoleon.  To cover the withdrawal he orders VIII Corps (Gyulai) to hold the line of the Alpone river whilst the remainder of the army falls back towards Vicenza.  The wooden bridge at San Bonifacio has been dismantled, but the stone bridge at Soave is still intact.  Reinforcements can be called up, but doing so gives victory points to the French. The Austrians score victory points for holding Soave, breaking enemy divisions and preventing the French from establishing a bridgehead at San Bonifacio.

Eugene has ordered the divisions of Grenier and Broussier to pin the Austrians in position with a frontal attack.  Broussier has a unit of engineers who are tasked with building a bridge to allow progress across the Alpone.  A brigade of Italian troops, (three units of guards plus a light battalion and a regiment of dragoons) have been sent on a flank march to cross the Alpone upstream and then advance on Soave.  The cavalry brigades of Pully and Grouchy are held in readiness to exploit any success.  Eugene gains victory points for controlling Soave, breaking enemy divisions, building a bridge at San Bonifacio and passing the reserve cavalry over the Alpone to pursue the Austrians.

Gyulai placed most of his strength in Soave, with skirmishers and Frolich's cavalry to watch over San Bonifacio.  After a short bombardment the infantry of Grenier's division surged forward,led by the combined elite light companies and the 3rd Croat regiment.  These doughty fighters ignored the volley from the 1st battalion of the Weidefenfeld regiment and charged home.  After a short tussle the Austrians were bundled back over the bridge into the eastern half of Soave.  Scarcely pausing for breath the Croats pursued them sensing that victory was in sight.  They were rudely awakened as crushing volley was fired into their ranks as they crossed the narrow bridge.  The defenders of eastern Soave (2nd battalion Weidenfeld), were keen to avenge their colleagues in the first battalion and a second volley forced the Croats to fall back to reform. On the southern flank of the village the Austrian artillery was inflicting casualties on the approaching columns of infantry.  As the range shortened the gunners changed to canister and losses began to rise.

At San Bonifacio Broussier was carefully screening his engineers from the fire of the Austrian jagers.  Deploying two battalions of the 8th legere as skirmishers the fire of the French began to overwhelm their opponents.  Broussier's artillery targeted Frolich's cavalry brigade, forcing it to fall back further from the river.  Unhampered, the engineers began their work constructing a temporary bridge over the Alpone.  With hindsight, now might have been a good time to summon Meyer's brigade forward to bolster the defence at San Bonifacio, but for the moment Gyulai had all his attention focused on the battle for the town of Soave.

Intent on giving the Austrians no chance to mount their own attack to recover the western half of Soave, Grenier turned to the elite light companies and commanded them to drive back the defenders of eastern Soave.  Formed up in column and led by their senior captain, the French levelled their bayonets and crying 'Vive l'empreur' charged over the bridge.  This time the volley from Weidenfeld could not halt the attack and a vicious melee took place in the packed streets.  The impetus and elan of the French proved too much and the Austrians were driven from the town.  However, Gyulai had moved supports forward and sent in a counter attack.  Battalions from the Chasteler and Weidenfeld regiments both attempted to regain control of the town, but the Frenchmen held on and the Austrians had to fall back.

It was at this point that Sorbier's flanking force appeared on the Austrian flank.  (From the end of turn three both commanders rolled a d6.  If the French rolled higher then Sorbier had defeated the Austrian flank guard and could advance.  After turn 6 the French would receive +1 to their roll, turn 7 +2 etc. In the event it was the end of turn 5 when the Italians entered the field).  Gyulai now had real problems.  He knew that he had to hold the French back for a full day (12 turns) to allow the baggage and artillery park to move towards Vicenza.  Reluctantly, he now ordered forward Meyer's brigade from the reserve and sent it towards San Bonifacio; he also sent an aide to Frolich with orders for the cavalry to move north to counter the dragoons accompanying Sorbier. In the gap between the hills and Soave, Gyulai placed the first battalion of Weidenfeld in square.  On the hill the first battalion Lindenau covered their flank,but was faced by the advancing line of Velites and Grenadiers of the Italian Guard.

By Soave the 2nd battalion of the Reuss-Greitz  found it self in an impossible position.  It was exchanging volleys with a battalion of the 23rd Line across the Soave whilst both flanks were threatened by the enemy.   With no supporting units nearby the battalion could do little but surrender when charged by the elite light companies and the 2nd Italian light infantry.On the southern side of Soave the 3rd battalion of the 23rd Line charged the rear of the Austrian artillery; silencing both batteries and relieving the pressure on Broussier's skirmishers who were defending the engineers.  However, the job of building the bridge was almost complete and as the lead battalions of Broussier's division formed up to cross the first units of Meyer's brigade (three battalions of Deutschmeister) appeared from  behind Villanova.  Charging forward the Austrians closed on the French infantry .  The 2nd battalion of the 10th line fired a volley which halted the attackers in their tracks, but their neighbours were not so lucky, having to rely on the bayonet as their opponents closed on them through the smoke.  In a close fought melee it was the French supports which decided the result and pushed the Austrians back.  Although unsuccessful, the attack had gained time for Meyer to send a battalion into Villanova.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that we had to call an end to proceedings, being beaten by the clock.  However, the result was unquestionably a French victory.  They had captured Soave and established a bridgehead at San Bonifacio.  The Austrian position was difficult and they would probably have had to call on yet more troops to hold the French pursuit away from the baggage train (giving the French more victory points in the process).  The way was also clear for the French to pass their reserve cavalry over the Alpone.  

Monday, 9 December 2013

RECON at Pudsey

The final wargaming outing of the year was to the RECON show at Pudsey.  I was with the Lance & Longbow Society and we reprised the Deepdale game which had first had an airing at the Phalanx show in June.  As I mentioned in an earlier post the location of the battle moved (if it is good enough for Hastings..).  The new 'best guess' can be seen in the photograph below.

Top right are the northern limits of the town of Preston, with the rebel forces under Banaster moving onto the open moor.  In the distance is Vavasour's force from Pontefract, hoping to link up with Nevil's men.  The forces of Nevil (left) and Strickland (foreground) have been placed on the table but do not actually arrive until two moves after Vavasour comes into action. A detachment of rebel archers is in the field to Vavasour's left. 

Vavasour takes the first move and as with our previous staging of the game belies his impetuous grading and advances in a steady fashion, totally ignoring the harassing fire from the archers.  However, on seeing Banaster and the mounted knights Vavasour decides to bring the rebellion to a swift conclusion and moves into contact.  The first round of melee is drawn, but in the second Vavasour (as in history) is killed and is knights rout.  The sergeants following, ignore this reverse and carry on their advance towards the foot knights of Banaster's reserve.  In a prolonged tussle they are unable to make much progress against these tough fighters and the remnants of the sergeants eventually pull away and take little further part in the action.

Banaster's pursuit of Vavasour's knights leaves his flank open to attack by Nevil's knights who have just arrived on the field.  However, the sheriff is slow to take advantage of this opportunity and this gives time for part of Banaster's group to face the lumbering charge.  Again the initial charge is ineffective, but in the subsequent round Banaster's men are forced back.  Nevil's knights follow up confident in their ability to win the battle.  Against the odds, Banaster manages to absorb the pursuit and then counter attack.  Nevil's men are overrun (ie they were outscored on the pursuit die roll). 

Meanwhile, the infantry on both sides are advancing towards each other.  Nevil's crossbowmen are targeting Lee's battle, whilst his bowmen concentrate on Bradshaw.  The main infantry force of the sheriff  is advancing steadily towards Bradshaw, who now has Strickland's force also bearing down on him.  To cover the flank of his attack Nevil launched his mounted reserve against Banaster's knights.  Again, the rebels manage to withstand the first onslaught and then regain the initiative.  Nevil's men rout, Banaster opted to pursue and once again out rolled the sheriff, another unit of knights eliminated.

Seeing an opportunity, Lee gathered his mounted bodyguard around him and charged the now unprotected flank of the sheriff's infantry.  The result was predictable,caught unaware and at a disadvantage the infantry could not withstand the charge of the mounted men and broke, running for the 'safety'of the Forest of Fulwood.

Strickland's sergeants had by now charged Bradshaw, but were unable to gain any advantage against the solid phalanx of infantry.  With losses rising they fell back, straight through their supporting infantry, who promptly routed.

By this time Nevil could see that the day was lost and galloped north with a few retainers, leaving his infantry to fend for themselves against the rebels.

My thanks to Steve, Will and Bob who played the game and to the visitors to the show who stopped for a chat.  Mention must also be made of Dave, who not only sorted out the booking, but kept us supplied with cups of tea on the day.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Entzheim - a Grand Alliance scenario using the Ga Pa rules

Ever eager to reduce the number of different rules sets we use, our battle last week tried out the Ga Pa rules with my Grand Alliance collection.  Normally we use the Wargames Holdiay Centre rules, but have found that the differing methods used for calculating cavalry and infantry morale caused some odd results.

Those seasoned campaigners, the Comte de Salle Forde and Graf von Grommitt entered the field again and the scenario featured an attempt by the Comte to carry out a flanking manouevre and breach the lines defending the Palatinate.  The Comte had carrried out a night march and arrived with his men at the ford crossing the Entzerbruch; a small watercourse, but possessed of marshy banks and only crossable at a few locations.  His forces were in two brigades, each containing infantry, cavalry and a field gun.  The Comte was with the reserve brigade, leaving the initial attack in the capable hands of the Duc de Fromage,who determined that he would lead the attack with his infantry, secure a bridgehead, and then exploit it with his cavalry.

The Graf was too wily an opponent to leave any crossings unobserved and had ordered earthwork to be constructed covering the ford of the Entzerbruch.  A field gun was positioned in this work and a short distance behind a Danish battalion in Palatinate service was camped.  In the grounds of the nearby  Entzerschloss two battalions of Palatinate troops were camped and further back at Entzheim itself wee the two squadrons of the Veningen Gendarmes.  This detatchment of troops was under the command of Major Waldstein, whilst the Graf, with the Hessian brigade was off table and would arrive a number of moves (determined by a di10 roll) after the first round of artillery fire.

Fortune favoured the Comte and the French forces found that an early morning mist was still hugging the course of the Entzerbruch.  The first battalion of infantry cautiously approached the ford, hoping to catch the defenders off guard.  Unfortunately, the sentries had just been changed and their senses had not been numbed by the chill, the French were spotted as they reached the river (the die roll favoured the Palatinate troops) and a warning shot was fired.  The Duc urged on his men, knowing that they needed to secure a bridgehead quickly.  Out of the rapidly thinning mist, the first round from the Palatinate artillery flew high overhead and buried itself  in the marshy ground.  Needing no further encouragement, the French infantry increased their pace, eager to get out of the arc of fire of the artillery.

On the Palatinate side, all was chaos as the Danish infantry struggled to form up.  Away at the schloss, Waldstein hastened to the infantry camp to take command of his men. (The need for commanders to roll a die to have their orders carried out does cause some 'friction' to a commander's  plans.  In retrospect with this scenario we could have reduced the chance of success for a couple of moves to simulate the unexpected alarm).  In the village the horsemen were also rushing around, gathering equipment and saddling their horses.

The constricted ground near the ford caused bunching of the french infantry and made it difficult for them to deploy.  The Duc ordered them to make towards the grounds of the Schloss, (which would take them away from the artillery), to give room for the cavalry.  After finding the range, the Palatinate artillery began to inflict heavy losses on the French.  The Solre regiment in particular was driven back by its losses as it tried to form line.  The cavalry fared no better, the first squadron of Vaillac was caught by a close range salvo which drove it from the field.

It was at this point that the Comte arrived with the reserve brigade.  Assessing the situation he saw that the Duc's infantry were moving to a position flanking the Palatinate battery.  Also, Waldstein had moved his infantry forward to support the artillery in the earthwork, leaving the schloss undefended.  If the Duc's cavalry could pin the Palatinate infantry, or even drive them off,  he could enjoy an early lunch in the inn at Entzheim.

What the Comte did not know was that his opponent, von Grommitt had also arrived on the field (lucky dice for the palatinate yet again!).  Four more battalions of infantry and four squadrons of cavalry were marching forward to reinforce Major Waldstein's troops.  They were sorely needed.  The cavalry of the Duc de Fromage had eventually formed up and now charged the Palatinate grenadiers.  A steady volley from the grenadiers checked the first attack.  The second squadron of Spanish cavalry now charged whilst the first squadron reformed.  Again, a volley drove them back.  The commander of the first squadron sensing that time was short, ordered another charge.  The cavalry swept forward and this time the grenadiers' volley was ineffective.  Closing to combat the troopers swung their swords and cut into the infantry formation.  The grenadiers broke and ran back towards the men of the Palatinate Life Regiment, a traditional unit which still boasted a good proportion of pikes.  However, the men of the Life regiment, seeing the grenadiers rout and also the French cavalry bearing down on them, also ran.  It looked as if the way was now open.

Fortunately for von Grommitt, the Palatinate cavalry, the Veningen Gendarmes had formed up to the right of the grenadiers and now charged the Aubusson cavalry regiment which was supporting the Spanish horse.  The lead squadron of Gendarmes was defeated, but the second squadron managed to defeat both squadrons of Aubusson.  Von Grommitt had deployed his infantry to recapture the grounds of the schloss from the French infantry.  The breakthrough by the Spanish horse threatened to roll up this line.  Galloping forward von Grommitt rallied the Palatinate grenadiers, just in time to face a charge by the Spanish horse.  Although a ragged volley, the Palatinate fire was just enough to stall the disordered charge of the cavalry, buying time for von Grommitt to also rally the Life regiment. The French cavalry were now isolated and faced fresh squadrons brought up by von Grommitt.  The French infantry in the schloss grounds now faced superior numbers of Hessian infantry and the Comte's reserve infantry would have to advance in the face of fire from the artillery in the earthwork.  With all surprise lost and losses rising, the Comte decided that he would have to withdraw and enjoy the meal at the inn at Winnnergam instead.

This was the least successful of the Ga Pa battles.  Possibly due to the smaller number of units, but perhaps more to do with the constricted nature of the battlefield.  The French found it really difficult to make progress against the artillery in the earthwork.  The rules would seem to work better on set piece battles rather than what is in effect a large skirmish.  The solution? Perhaps paint up some more troops? It is perhaps a case of using the Wargames Holiday Centre rules  for these smaller scale scenarios.  All part of the learning process.