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.
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'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 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 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.
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).
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.