Wednesday 17 February 2016

The Battle of Hastenbeck

I suppose any hobby is supposed to be time consuming. After all, an alternative word for hobby is pastime. But last weekend certainly brought home to me how significantly a biggish wargame can impose on the time and space you have available. 

I had already spent a good many hours in previous weeks working out the forces to be used for a representation of Hastenbeck (in particular whether I had enough stuff to do the battle justice), and also deciding how I might represent the terrain. Despite this it was full day's work on Friday (fortunately a day off) to clear the dining room, set up the table, put out the troops and complete the paperwork. That was from 0900 to about 1630. And then about the same time on Saturday for the game itself. This is not to pretend that the hours spent were anything other than extremely enjoyable, particularly the day of the game. But not many of us ordinary gamers can give up this much time for their hobby on a regular basis. Thank heavens for a supportive and understanding wife!

Why Hastenbeck?
I have always maintained that there was more to most SYW battles than lining up two armies opposite each other with infantry in the centre and cavalry on the wings. Hastenbeck is a battle that demonstrates this in spades. The terrain and tactical situation generated an asymetric battle with an outflanking move at its core, where confusion and uncertainty were as important in dictating the outcome as the intentions of the opposing commanders.

In brief, a defending Allied force composed of units from various German states was attacked by a French force that significantly outnumbered it. Relying on difficult terrain and entrenched gun positions as force multipliers, the defenders still left a vulnerable flank which was duly exploited by the attacking forces. The fog of war nevertheless led to a situation where the French nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It seemed to me that this would be an excellent battle to try and represent.

Of course, I didn't have any French and German troops, but my Austrians and Prussians would be substituted. If it's good enough for Charles Grant, it's good enough for me.

Getting It Together
The black rectangle shows the area to be represented on my 7.5' x 6' table.
It turned out I did have just about enough infantry to put the battle on, and I reckoned I could manage the slightly unusual terrain as well. Of course, some good old bathtubbing would be required, with a ratio of around 4 to 5 real units represented by each wargame unit. My Prussians would be the Allies under the Duke of Cumberland, with the French played by my Austrians, supplemented by the left-over Prussians. I had to make the odd compromise, so the list of forces I present below is an ideal one - in the game as I played it the odd substitution of light infantry for formed, grenadiers for line infantry had to take place, which you might just notice in the photos.

The terrain was created by placing a bunch of 20mm thick TSS terrain pieces (which I have collected over the years) under an 8' x 6' S&A Scenics felt gaming mat. Getting things just right was slow work, but the result was better than I hoped. One level formed most of the high ground, with a second layer for the Obensberg.

There was a further problem - despite all my preparation, the time for a run-through before playing this battle with some invited friends just wasn't available. So there were bound to be glitches. I'll discuss the problems I thought occurred at the end of the post, but for the moment the forces, scenario rules and victory conditions are presented as played. Many thanks to Steve, Jon, Adam and Paul for taking the time to come over and make it a great day's wargaming. There were, therefore, 2 players a side with myself as umpire/rules advisor/teaboy.

The best online account of this battle is (as usual) at the Kronoskaf website. I also used the accounts in Savory's His Britannic Majesty's Army in Germany, Charles Grant's Wargaming in History Volume 4, and Frank Chadwick's Battles of the Seven Years War Volume 2. For those with none of those sources, the following introduction to the battle is offered. The map is from the Kronoskaf site, courtesy Christian Rogge. The rules (need I add?) would be Honours of War.

Hastenbeck, 26th July 1757
The Duke of Cumberland's Army of Observation:
30,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, 35 field guns.
Represented by: 11 infantry units, 4 cavalry units, 6 guns (Prussian models)

The Duc d'Estrées' Army of France
50,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry, 68 field guns.
Represented by: 17.5 infantry units, 5 cavalry units, 11 guns (mostly Austrian models)

For the last 2 weeks the Duke of Cumberland has been retiring before a French army superior in numbers. Reaching a good defensive position near the village of Hastenbeck, he has decided to stand and fight.

The Duke's army consists of Hanoverian, Hessian and Brunswick troops. He has decided not to occupy the villages of Hastenbeck and Voremberg, but to form a defensive line on the hills north of them. The marshy Haste stream covers his right flank, and his left is anchored on the steep wooded heights of the Obensberg. He holds his cavalry behind his right flank as he judges this to be the only part of the area suited to mounted action. His centre is strongly held with infantry and artillery but the Obensberg is only lightly held with a small force of jaegers. This may be a mistake!

The French army is commanded by the Duc d'Estrées, Marshal of France. Seeing that Cumberland intends to fight, he has used the previous day to bring up and deploy his full army. Reconnaissance has revealed Cumberland's weakly held eastern flank, and the Marquis de Chevert is to lead a force through the woods on the extreme French right to take the heights and outflank the Allied position. D'Estrées intends to pound the Allies with his more numerous artillery whilst Chevert makes his advance, and then launch his infantry into an assault against Cumberland's centre when the time is right. The ground is not suitable for an attack by the French cavalry, and this is held behind the infantry of the centre and left, ready to exploit success.

It is now 0800 on the 26th, and the morning mist is clearing. D'Estrées has deployed his artillery forward in good positions and their barrage can now commence. He awaits the sounds of fighting from the Obensberg to show that Chevert is engaged before he advances his infantry. Cumberland believes he is well placed to receive the French attack. Is he right?


The Army of France

Commanding General – Le Maréchal d’Estrées

Left Wing Infantry - Duc de Broglie
3 infantry battalions (one of these foreign)
2 grenadier battalions
2 medium artillery batteries
1 light artillery battery

Infantry of the Centre – Marquis de Contades
5 infantry battalions
2 heavy artillery batteries
2 medium artillery batteries
1 howitzer battery

Right Wing Infantry – Marquis d’Armentières
3 infantry battalions (one of these foreign)
1 dismounted dragoon regiment
1 medium artillery battery
1 light artillery battery

Extreme Right Wing Infantry – Marquis de Chevert (dashing)
2 infantry battalions
2 small light infantry battalions
1 small grenadier battalion
1 light artillery battery

Left Wing cavalry – Duc de Brissac
2 heavy cavalry regiments

Right Wing Cavalry – Duc d’Orleans
3 heavy cavalry regiments

33.5 units,  Army Break Point 16

The Allied Army of Observation

Commanding General – The Duke of Cumberland

Left Wing Infantry – Lieutenant General Imhoff
1 infantry battalion
1 small infantry battalion
1 grenadier battalion
1 small grenadier battalion
1 heavy artillery battery
2 medium artillery batteries
1 light artillery battery

Infantry of the Centre – Lieutenant General Wutginau
3 infantry battalions
1 medium artillery battery

Right Wing Infantry – Lieutenant General Zastrow
3 infantry battalions
1 light artillery battery

Cavalry of the Centre – Major General von Einsiedel
1 cavalry regiment (independent)

Right Wing Cavalry – Major General von Zepelin
2 cavalry regiments

Reserve, Extreme Left Wing
1 infantry battalion (independent, under Colonel Breidenbach [dashing])
1 cavalry regiment (independent, under Colonel Dachenhausen [dashing])

On the Obensburg
1 jaeger battalion (independent, under Major von Freytag)

21 units,  Army Break Point 10.

Forces Notes
The French cavalry are all standard-class 'heavy' cavalry units, as per the national characteristics section in the rules. Similarly, the Allied cavalry are all standard class dragoon-style units. Cumberland's artillery suffered from poor training and ammunition supply problems, and was out-performed by the French guns. Therefore it is classed as inferior. All generals are dependable unless otherwise noted.

Scenario Notes
The Haste stream is marshy with boggy banks and counts as a fordable river. All hill slopes are gentle except for the west and south slopes of the Obensburg, which are steep (marked on the table by using pine trees rather than deciduous trees). 

All French forces are deployed on table and are available for use from move one.

The Allied commands of Imhoff and Wutginau cannot be moved until move 3, when they (or Cumberland) realise the threat to their left flank. The cavalry and the command of Zastrow cannot be moved until move 5. The two reserve units of Breidenbach and Dachenhausen will arrive on the road on the extreme Allied left flank in march column, the exact move being decided by the umpire (in the end I went for move 5).

Game Length
The actual battle ran from about 0800 until around 1600. However, Cumberland ordered his army to withdraw at 1300, and the last hours of the real battle were spent with the Allies withdrawing and the French in confusion as reports of Allied counter attacks and outflanking moves caused d'Estrées to falter. Using Honours of War, I expected that 8 moves should see the action decided one way or the other. 

The Game In Pictures
The game is set up and ready to start. The view is from the south-east, with the commands of Armentières and Chevert seen closest to the camera. The built up area in the centre of the picture is Voremberg, with Hastenbeck in the background.
Contades 'grand battery' is ready to bombard the Allied positions, with his infantry positioned behind.
The infantry to their left are from Broglie's command.
The infantry of Wutginau (left) and Zastrow (right) await the French onslaught.
An entrenched battery covers the exits from Hastenbeck.
Two more batteries cover the centre of the Allied position, on either side of the Schmeide Brink.
For those lucky enough to own Savoury's book, these are his batteries 'B' and 'C'.
Battle commences. The French right has advanced - the Obensberg is captured (foreground right), and the nearest Allied battery is assaulted by French infantry. In the background, Hastenbeck has been occupied.
Contades' infantry wait in the dead ground behind the main French battery.
The order to advance will not be long in coming.
A mass of French infantry push forward against the Allied centre and left.
Hastenbeck was left undefended by Cumberland. The problem for the French would be advancing beyond it in the face of the Allied infantry and artillery.
Here, Allied infantry, including a unit of jaeger, throw themselves
into a last ditch defence of the exits from the Obensberg position. They were unsuccessful.
The Allies are thrown back. The Allied artillery fall back from the central gun position
before the guns are overrun and destroyed.
The Allied guns have been re-positioned but still look exposed to the French flanking forces. The cavalry have reacted at last, but how much will they be able to do against all that French infantry? Nevertheless, it is possible to see that the French infantry have not had it all their own way - some units have had to retreat and re-group.
Final positions. Five moves, about 4.5 hours of gaming, and Cumberland decides the game is up.
Time to leave the field of battle before his whole force is consumed. In the foreground you can see that the
Allied reserves have finally arrived, but too late.

Post Match Punditry
The players had enjoyed themselves, banter had been exchanged, and a historical result had been obtained. The French superiority in numbers and their tactic of an outflanking move had worked as in the real battle. Making the Allied guns inferior had created just the right amount of imbalance in the artillery exchanges. So what's not to like?

Well, the Allied reinforcements had been brought on much too late and had not had the effect they had in the real battle. And the post-battle discussion confirmed the feeling everyone had - the Allies were bound to lose under the scenario conditions I had created. No one really wants to fight a game they have no chance to win. Also noteworthy was that the Allies had lost 7 units out of their breakpoint of 10 by the end of the game. The French had lost only 1 unit. There is plainly too much of a disparity here. The Allies have little chance to get the French anywhere near their breakpoint.

This is the classic problem when re-creating an historical battle. How much can you tweak it to artificially give a balanced game without making it so unlike the original battle it's not worth the name? As with any hobby, how you tackle this is really down to personal choice. My assumption here is that Cumberland was not fighting just a delaying action - he intended to throw the French back by achieving a defensive victory. So here's my take.

An easy solution is simply to reduce the size of the French force. Personally, however, I take pleasure in representing the actual forces engaged, so this was rejected. My amendments to the scenario as played would therefore be as follows:
  • The Allied reserves (Breidenbach and Dachenhausen) should arrive earlier. Move 3 looks about right. Then they have a real chance to disrupt Chevert and make the French attack pause.
  • The Allied commanders can react sooner. Imhof can react on move 2, Wutginau on move 3, the cavalry and Zastrow on move 4.
  • The Kronoskaf account indicates that Armentières was delayed slightly by veering into the woods to his right. Represent this by making him Dithering.
  • Two infantry battalions were included in Contades' command for convenience, when in fact the brigades these units represent are usually given as forming a reserve. So, take the the two right hand battalions of Contades' force which started just south of Voremberg (see first photo), and make them a new reserve command under d'Anlézy. This reserve starts on the French baseline and cannot move until move 3.
  • Amend the victory conditions. The Allies force a draw if they can cause the French to lose 8 units (25% of their force).
I think these changes should give the Allies a chance to disrupt the French attack and cause them more casualties. Perhaps they might even fight them to a standstill.

Game Length Revisited
As I have noted above, the game was concluded after just 5 moves. My first reaction was that the claim in the HoW blurb that 'a lot can happen in one move' appears to be justified! Setting that aside, I compared the length of the actual battle with how many moves it might take to resolve it using HoW. The conclusion was that in this case a move represented about 40-50 minutes of real time, compared with the 10 minutes of non-bathtubbed games. There is a notable correspondence here with the ratio of one wargames unit representing 4-5 actual units. This is really no surprise, as the ground scale has clearly been changed in setting up a big battle like Hastenbeck. We may have kept all the rules distances the same, but those units are still covering a much greater actual distance than they do when we use a ratio of one wargames unit equals one actual unit. Anyway, for the record, the decisive part of the battle, which I take to be about 6 hours between 0800 and 1400, should be covered by 9 moves using HoW.

It was interesting to compare these conclusions with Charles Grant's refight of Hastenbeck. He sticks with a move representing 15 minutes in all his games, regardless of size. He then uses the number of moves to calculate what time it is in his games, and for Hastenbeck his number of moves appeared to be around 20-25 (the exact number wasn't mentioned in the book). I've always been surprised at how many moves games using the Grant rules appear to take - I can only assume Hastenbeck took a couple of days of gaming to complete, or at least one very long day. Perhaps anyone using these rules can shed some light here.

And Finally...
If you've actually read and followed this whole post, well done and thank you. So often I just skim through the pictures in other people's blog posts, checking them out to get an idea of how the other guy does things without really attending to the detail. I assume that's how most people approach my own posts. I have included some detailed discussion in this account because developing and playing historical battles is very much a favourite part of the hobby for me, and I hope like-minded gamers may find some value here.

Currently, I'm hoping I might find the opportunity to run this battle a second time and see how the alterations pan out. I'll be sure to let you know if I do.


marinergrim said...

A thoroughly good read Keith. Especially since you give such an insight into your thought processes behind the organisation of the game and the post game debrief.
I think I'll take all this on board and use it for a large WSS game and see what we can achieve.
Many thanks.

Colin Ashton said...

Keith, a good report and an excellent looking game - just love all those RSM's! Really useful to understand how you planned the game. I like being able to get a big game over with lots of action in about 4-5 hours which is why I used to like BP and now HoW.

Independentwargamesgroup said...

Good account Keith,
I have found that 'inferior' artillery is a real pain to use. Its nice to see large RSM armies in use. They are for me the best figures for the Seven Years War.

Ross Mac said...

Great report.

I have always found the western front under appreciated by many. It also seems to have seen mors nonstandard battles than standard ones.

Steve J. said...

I can safely say that all of us had a wonderful days gaming at Keith's, with Jane providing us with a wonderful meal at 'half-time'. The table and figures just looked wonderful and really did give the feel of a large scale battle.

Your suggested tweaks to the scenario sound about right, but as mentioned on the day, you really need to play a scenario 3 or more times to make sure everything 'works'. Count me in if and when you want to re-fight this. I'm sure the other chaps would be all too happy to oblige:)

Stryker said...

When we ran vintage Waterloo last year we were lucky enough to have a couple of dry runs first and this really helped to make the game successful on the big day. I found it was useful to start the planning process with the number of turns I thought would be possible and work back from this. I've seen many Waterloo games in which the Prussians never get a chance to fight so in our game they started fighting from turn one and although not historical it worked very well as a game.

Your game looks great and we'll worth the effort!

tidders said...

Super looking game, great report

Jim Walkley said...

Good to see you back on the battlefield again Keith. I really enjoyed reading the account and looking at the tremendous pictures. My own gaming has been curtailed for a while due to accommodating son and family whilst they wait to move into their new house. The upside is that my favourite opponent will be near. I don't think I have enough space or figures to try this game - unless perhaps in 2mm (sorry). Or perhaps try different sections...anyway it was a stimulating read.
On a slightly different tack, you must be pleased to have seen several very positive mentions of Honours of War on various blogs.
Best wishes

Keith Flint said...

Nice to hear from you Jim. Yes, reaction has been mostly positive, which is very pleasing. Time to get working on the Napoleonic supplement and start making some serious money!

Phil said...

Most impressive pictures of a most impressive battle, splendid lines of bettle!

ChrisBBB said...

Keith, great looking game and it sounds like it was a splendid day's gaming. As you can imagine, I enjoyed your reflections on the scenario design process - I've wrestled with similar issues enough times myself. I always think a decent historical refight like yours gives a far richer experience than a generic line-'em-up and is well worth the (considerable) effort. I'd love a chance to have a go at this or another such with HOW some time.


Keith Flint said...

Thanks gentlemen.

Chris, I'll take you up on the offer of a game. I'll think about some dates, either at the club or maybe my place. But I seem to remember an email (which I can't find) saying you were going to be unavailable for a while in the near future.

If you do fancy a game, drop me an email.

Anonymous said...

Great Report!
But I think the French infantry and cavalry are rated too well. All those heavy casualities had some reasons (bad Shooting, bad tactics AND bad communication).

That's why we will play Honours of War for WAS a Little bit different. French cavalry and infantry will be inferior, austrians Standard and british troops superior. All the accounts of Fontenoy and Lauffeldt tell the same Story. French made brave charges but the redcoats stood like a wall. Even if the French victory was the case (Fontenoy for example), the French losses were high and the French had no Chance to poursuing.

OK, it will be a hard Task to win with the French. But the French can rely on numbers.

Thank you a lot for you interesting Report.

My 7YW said...

Dear Keith,

Thank you so much for taking the effort to present your HoW Hastenbeck scenario. Its very interesting and was apparently good fun for all involved. I'm on the point of playing Hastenbeck with our group, though, this time using Voley & Bayonet rules. However, HoW rules remain at the top of my new rules to try out list & now I'm seriously considering to try out the rules with your scenario. One question: Did you also downscale firing ranges with your bathtubbing process, or did you leave all ranges as the the normal game scale?


Keith Flint said...

Hi Christian, sorry not to get back to you earlier.

We used all the normal game ranges. This does of course create scale inaccuracies, but in game terms it has worked in all the bath-tubbed games I have played. Reducing ranges in proportion to actual battlefield size would mean reducing moves as well, which would make the game very slow to play.

Which just goes to prove that really this a game based on, or 'representing', Hastenbeck, rather than a simulation.

My 7YW said...

Hi Keith,

Thanks for your response. It's much apreciated, despite being a bit delayed. No problem. That happened to me on my Blog as well before.


Amtmann B. said...

Thats one of your most impressive reports. You managed to simplify the historical battle perfectly to bring it on the table but you saved the characteristics of the historical encounter.