Thursday, 23 June 2022
Dresden. The Game. 1813.
DRESDEN 1813. Planning and organising this game started back in the summer of 2021. With over 8,000 20mm Napoleonic figures this was going to be the largest battle hosted at the farm. Background: Napoleon asked St Cyr if he could hold Dresden for 48 hours, while he took the rest of his army on the offensive. When St Cyr replied that he didn’t fancy his chances Napoleon had little choice and hurried back to support his Marshall. Dresden was at the time a key garrison town with important transport links and he had to prevent it being taken by Schwarzenburg’s army which was approaching from the south. The genius of the man is shown clearly in this battle. His initial move to Dresden was a defensive measure. However, he quickly studied the situation and rapidly came up with an offensive strategy, while the Allies barely had time to blink. Few of Napoleon’s battles show attacks on both flanks, but his ability to move troops into position providing him with the flexibility to alter his plan, is testimony to his quick thinking on the spot. It was the Allies, however, who made the first move….eventually. Historians differ on which of the Allied components attacked first. Page 159 of Nafziger’s Dresden 1813 book it says “Austrian columns moved to the attack. Russian and Prussians were still en route.” While page 200 of Petre’s 1813 campaign book states that “the first of the Allies to attack were the Prussians against the nearest part of the Gross Garten.” So…clearly room for interpretation when re-playing the battle! The problem with playing this out as a wargame with miniatures, is to overcome the obvious tendency for the Allies to “right the wrongs of history” and rush the French and thereby prevent them deploying from Dresden. Back in 1813 the Allies disagreed on strategy and hesitated. When they did attack in force it was too late. The game will attempt to reflect this differing of opinion in the Allied camp. The Brief: We had the pleasure of 22 players (and 2 umpires), 18 of whom attended both days. All arrived promptly and both sides were briefed together and separately. Rules were home grown and had only been play tested once in the previous 12 months. A run down on the terrain was given and also command and control: Higher command was represented by commanders with white tabs showing a name only. Napoleon, Ney and Murat could support any sub commander. Schwarzenberg could support any Austrian sub commander, Barclay any Russian sub commander and Kleist any Prussian sub commander. The sub commanders had a coloured tab at the end of the label and this colour was repeated for the units under their command for ease of keep an eye on your units. This colour coding for unit tabs was a welcomed inclusion. Movement and musketry firing ranges were halved within the Gross Garten. 2 skirmish stands could occupy the Palace. Artillery firing at units within the Gross Garten counted as firing at a target behind a wall. Artillery ranges were unaffected. Artillery was not permitted inside the Gross Garten perimeter, as Napoleon had ordered all the gates to be blocked up. Russian units in the Blasewitz wood could remain hidden whilst in the woods being represented by green cards (blinds) so the precise composition of the unit was not be known to the enemy. Victory Points: Gross Garten. 15 points. Each Dresden suburb building, including flank buildings in the Friedrichstadt and Hopfgartens 3 points. Any other building or redoubt held: 1 point. Each whole brigade removed: -3 points. Any brigade retreat or retiring: -2 points. What the other side didn’t know: This was the fun bit. The French brief was fairly straight forward. St Cyr’s 3 Divisions, the Dresden Garrison, Teste and Pajol as well as the Old Guard would already be deployed. Those waiting off table knew what they commanded and could choose which entry point to enter the table. (out of 11 possible entry points including a pontoon bridge being built across the Elbe by French engineers) What they didn’t know was which move those units would be let loose. Whole Corps had to deploy in a similar area. Eg Marmont, Victor and the Guard Cavalry. However, Murat’s cavalry could be broken down and dished out in smaller helpings. One battery from the Guard reserve artillery (3 FT batts and 1 HA batt) could be left behind to the north of the Elbe on the NE flank. This was a significant task and work would be completed, they were told by the colonel in charge, by move 7 on Day 1 assuming no enemy forces were preventing work taking place. The bridge would be capable of taking infantry, cavalry and artillery, though this option was never taken up. Deployed brigades could be pulled back into Dresden (off table) and re-deployed to any of the 11 EP’s with two moves notice. The Allied brief Initiative would be thrown for as usual, the winner choosing who plays first. Then the Allies would throw again before their turn (1D8) and the result would determine if all their forces could move forward as they might wish, reflecting the uncertainty in the Allied camp. This would be relevant for an unknown number of initial moves (4 in fact) out of the 20 scheduled (the duration of this hesitancy was not to be revealed to either side). There were four different sectors of the battlefield: A/ West of the Weisseritz stream.(Austrian) B/ East of the Weisseritz stream up to the Prussian sector (also Austrian) C/ Prussian sector. D/ Russian sector. Result of the dice would be as follows for first two moves: Moves 1-2: throw 1-2: one sector only can move. 3-5. 2 sectors can move. 6-7: 3 sectors can move. 8: All sectors can move. Moves 3-4: Throw a 1: one sector can move. 2-3: two sectors can move. 4-6: three sectors can move. 7-8: all sectors can move. All Allied artillery was limbered. Allied reserves would deploy as one block between the Weisseritz River and the Landgraben along the back line A-E. Prussian and Russian reserves could not deploy before Day 2. Klenau’s Corps, they were told was on its way but no one knew when it might arrive. Both sides knew it was coming from the W/SW. The Game. The Allies threw well (+7) in the opening two moves, to lift their gloom of uncertainty. This allowed them to move 3 out of the 4 sectors. It was just a case for the C-in-C, who consulted his commanders throughout the game, to choose which sector would be sacrificed. In the end it was the Russians. Roth and his jagers would have to wait. The French were baffled as to why the Russians were not moving but Kleist wasted little time in advancing his Prussian Corps an initial double move to get into the Gross Garten. Ditto for the Austrians on the left flank who moved quickly to seize Cotta and advance towards Redoubt 5, which was held by Teste and his 4 battalions. The Allies threw a +1 for move 3. All sectors, bar Kleist, had to stop. Some French commanders were perplexed. Were the Allies waiting for Klenau? No one knew. By move 3, 3 sectors were on the move again and by move 4, the restrictions on movement for the Allies were lifted. Full steam ahead. This, in hindsight, had been the opportunity for the French to fan out from Dresden, at least on the flanks. All French forces were deployed during Day 1 as follows: Mortier’s Young Guard were earmarked to take back the Gross Garten. Ney’s Young Guard were deployed to help Claperede’s 43rd Div face the Russian threat, but this meant placing the YG into the woods, which they were ill equipped to do against Russian jagers, losing their +1 by becoming disordered. Drouot’s batteries were sent to the centre to help the Dresden Garrison, many of whom did not see any action at all (lucky Saxons and Westphalians especially as their Commander’s morale rating was a -1). The Old Guard under Friant supported the Dresden garrison in the centre and waited for the Austrian columns of Hessen Homburg, including Colloredo’s massive Division of 320 figures, to advance. Victor was despatched to help Teste at the junction close to redoubt 5. Marmont moved west against Gyulai’s Austrian Corps and given that this was also where the French Guard cavalry deployed, space was tight. So tight in fact that it resulted in delays getting onto the table and Razout’s Division (45th Div) under St Cyr was withdrawn back to Dresden to make space and redeployed later in the fight for the Gross Garten. Pajol could have moved quickly to slow the Austrian advance but didn’t. Believing the threat from Klenua to be real, and seeing Mesko’s advance Guard appear opposite Cotta on move 4, he hesitated. Surely the rest of Klenua’s Corps would soon arrive? Doumerc and Chastel also hesitated. This allowed the Austrians to move up and squeeze the ability of the French infantry belonging to Marmont and Victor to deploy more readily. Pajol followed Razout off the table to be redeployed later. The cream of the French heavy cavalry under Bordesdouelle deployed to both sides of the Gross Garten in an attempt to slow the Prussian advance. However, by the time they arrived and started to attack, sufficient Prussian artillery had already unlimbered to give the advancing French cavalry a bloody nose. The Cuirassiers were badly mauled and Von Lessing’s Saxon cavalry also took a hammering just north of the Gross Garten. The Saxon horse artillery was able to deploy and fire but their gunners were seen running for cover into the squares of Mortier’s Young Guard when large columns of Prussian and Russian cavalry came too close. The first troops to be annihilated were Teste and Dubreton’s 4th Div in Victor’s Corps. Redoubt number 5 was keenly contested and proved a pinch point for the French. Teste could have tried to seize the Kohler Gardens and the small wooded area to at least slow the Allied advance early on but he held back. This prevented Victor from deploying properly and so Victor’s troops faced an enemy not only from the south including Chasteler’s Austrian Grenadiers, but also from the west from Weissenwolf. Meanwhile the Allies were under pressure on the left from sheer French numbers and overwhelming cavalry and fell back losing troops in the process despite the support from Lederer’s Austrian cavalry, who were ultimately wiped out and replaced with Russian reserves. Wurttemberg and Westphalian horse artillery coupled with the foot batteries belonging to Marmont did most of the damage once they had room to fire. In the eastern sector Roth finally got going and occupied the Blasewitz Wood supported by Wittgenstein’s HQ comprising Dragoons and a Bug Cossack regiment. Mezentzov’s Russian infantry also deployed and moved towards Windmill Hill where they faced the Young Guard of Ney. The battle for the Gross Garten was a bloody affair and hard fought. The Young Guard threw both Curial and Barrois’ 1st and 2nd Divisions into the thick of it but they were up against all four of Kleist’s Prussian Divisions. Pirch eventually succumbed and was destroyed. His troops had had enough while Prince August on the left flank also had to withdraw from a failed test. It was left to Von Klux and Zeithen to hang on. Badly battered they anticipated losing the Gross Garten concerned that if the Old Guard could be sent across in time to support the Young Guard, their occupation would be short lived. Despite Razout’s Division being relocated to help save the Gross Garten, they were no match for the advancing Allies, with two or three battalions being ridden down by Gallitzen’s Reserve Russian Cuirassiers. Two Russian Cuirassier regiments launched themselves at the heavily defended Dresden outskirts just where Drouot’s batteries were camped and were destroyed in seconds without ever reaching the French lines. But by the time the Old Guard were sent to the Gross Garten it was too late. The two Divisions of Young Guard were a spent force and forced to retire, their squares breaking up in the process, so those unfortunate Saxons horse gunners no longer had anywhere to hide and were cut down by the Allied cavalry. The Russian and Prussian Guard elements were there in time to support Kleist’s beleaguered troops. The Gross Garten would stay in Prussian hands till the end. In the centre Nostitz’s cavalry managed to support the Austrian infantry attack towards redoubt 4 and 5 and the Dresden outskirts, with one battalion of Austrian infantry managing to cross a hedge into the outskirts itself. But redoubt 4 held and repulsed the Austrian attacks. Chevich’s Russian Guard cavalry in reserve moved via Plauen to support the Austrian left. Roth’s jagers successfully cleared the Blasewitz wood but were exhausted in the process and the final battalion removed. Russian Dragoons and Cossacks took their place in the wood in the final moves. Ney’s Young Guard (Decouz and Roquet) were unable to make headway, especially after Mezentzov’s foot battery successfully deployed on Windmill Hill. Reserve Russian and Prussian artillery together with swarms of Roder’s cavalry punched a hole towards Redoubt 2 and this also fell into Prussian cavalry hands. There were no French reserves left to plug the gaps. However, the Allied left was beginning to crumble, but a Grenzer battalion from Crenneville’s Division was seen hanging on in Cotta and another remained in Rosthal at the end (one of Bianchi’s Hungarian battalions). No support, other than crossing the bridge at Plauen, could help the Austrian left on Day 2 as the Weisseritz river was now unfordable. The adverse weather in fact on Day 2 affected the French as much the Allies, with no musketry firing on a score of 1-2 on a 1D8. Soggy powder does not bode well when faced by enemy cavalry. Finally there was the Saxon civilian aka Head Gardener who managed to get himself caught up in the cross fire between the Young Guard and Kleist’s Prussians in the Gross Garten. Before being mortally wounded his dying words were apparently….. “will you please get off the grass.” The Victory points. So, it was time to check the scores for victory points. In fact the French still held the Dresden suburbs, the Friedrichstadt and Hopfgarten and redoubts 1, 3 and 4. Total 28 points. However, they failed to take the Gross Garten. Mortier needed support at the critical time, but the quality of the Old Guard did not arrive in time. 20 moves can go by very quickly. The Allies held a scattering of villages and took redoubts 2 and 5. Total 24 points, but crucially it was the losses that swung the battle in favour of the Allies. The French had lost 12 whole brigades (-36) versus the Allies 7. (-21). So the final scores were +3 to the Allies and -8 for the French. A close and hard fought game that frankly if we played again, could easily have gone the other way. Had the Allies scored poorly in those opening 4 moves, restricting their deployment and had some of the French been more aggressive with their cavalry it might well have been very different. The power of hindsight! It was not easy for many of the commanders a few of whom were new to the rules, but everyone picked up the pace of play quickly (it is not that fast anyway!) and all combatants engaged with each other extremely well. Very little debate and no meltdowns! Massive thank you to all that attended including James who did a sterling job at umpiring. Borodino for June 2023.