Tuesday 19 July 2016

The Relief Of Obschutz

It's been a couple of decades since I last managed to set up a 10' x 6' table in my own home. The good-sized loft conversion I used to have back in the day in our old house was converted to a bedroom after a couple of halcyon years. But some recent measuring indicated that by removing just about all the furniture a 10' x 6' table was possible in our present dining room. What's more, the dining table itself turns out to be just the right height to match up with my 3 fold-up gaming tables to provide the required area. 

This auspicious occasion clearly needed to be properly exploited, and I managed to arrange for 3 other old friends to take part in the intended game, giving 2 players a side. The scenario was developed from one that featured in issue 40 of the free online magazine Warning Order, called 'Relief of a Siege'. I added some more forces and stretched the terrain a bit, but the game I set up was very much the same as published. Thanks to the Wasatch Front Gaming Society for continuing to produce such a great free magazine. Of course, I couldn't have an anonymous town as the objective, so I looked through some military history books until I found the sort of name I wanted.

The terrain is shown by the map, along with the main movements which can be matched up with the orders of battle given below. Each grid square is of course 1 foot.

The Austrian blocking force and besieging force are shown in their starting positions.

The Relief Of Obschutz
Austrian Brief
The Austrians are besieging the small but important town of Obschutz. The Prussian relief force has arrived earlier than expected and the Austrians are struggling to respond in time. The line of wooded hills to the south east of the town provides a natural first line of defence, and a reinforcing column has been despatched.

Austrian Forces under General Clerici   16 units, Army Break Point = 8

Blocking Force – Major General Brettlach
3 infantry battalions, 1 dragoon regiment, 1 Grenz light battalion

Reinforcing Column – Major General O’Kelly
3 infantry battalions, 1 medium artillery battery

Reserve – Lieutenant General Romann
Infantry Brigade, 2 infantry battalions under Major General Salburg
Cavalry Brigade, 2 cuirassier regiments under Major General Luzinsky

Part of the Besieging Force – Major-General Wolffersdorf
1 infantry battalion, 1 grenadier battalion, 1 howitzer battery.

Special Rules
Reinforcing Column: (starts in deployment area as shown on map). O’Kelly has just received a message from Lieutenant General Romann telling him the troops approaching from the south east are Austrian reinforcements. In his confusion he will do nothing for the first move, before the sound of firing reveals the true situation.

Reserve: (starts in deployment area shown on map). Lieutenant General Romann is feeling a trifle liverish this morning after a heavy night with his officers. He discounts news of a Prussian relief force and decides to have a hot chocolate before returning to bed. Then maybe it will be time to review the troops. The protests of Salburg and Luzinsky finally take effect but they cannot leave camp until move 4. Romann will take no part in the ensuing action. Salburg’s Bavarians count as standard quality

Besieging Force: Wolferrsdorf is reluctant to allow his units to leave the siege lines to help fend off the Prussians, fearing a sally by the Prussians in the town. No units may leave the siege lines until move 4. If more than 1 unit then leaves the lines, roll for a Prussian sally, which sets up in contact with any part of the town walls:
1 = town militia, 2-4 = Freikorps battalion (2 available), 5-6 = small regiment of hussars.
Roll again each subsequent move until all have left the town. If the roll is for a unit that has already moved out, nothing happens.

Prussian Brief
The Prussians are hurrying to the aid of their comrades who are besieged in the small but vital town of Obschutz.

Prussian Forces under General Sprecher   21 units, Army Break Point = 10

First Line infantry
3 grenadier battalions and 1 medium battery under Major General Kleist
4 infantry battalions and 1 medium battery under Major General Driesen

Reserve Infantry
2 infantry battalions under Major General Splitgerber

First Line Cavalry
1 cuirassier regiment and 2 dragoon regiments under Major General Einsiedel

Reserve Cavalry
2 hussar regiments under Major General Zepelin

2 heavy batteries under Colonel Waldau
2 howitzer batteries under Colonel Breidenbach

Light Troops
2 small jaeger detachments (both independent)

All forces are on table in the Prussian deployment area, and are ready to attack from the first move. A brief bombardment will be fired at the start of the game. Prussian units sallying out from the town are not counted for calculation of ABP.

Victory Conditions
The first side to reach its Army Break Point loses. If the Prussians lose 5 units the Austrians have managed a draw. Any Prussian unit that exits the table along the road by Obschutz, or is otherwise able to enter the town, costs the Austrians 1 ABP.

The Game
The plan concocted by Jon and myself (as the Prussians) was classic in conception, bold and aggressive in execution, and had the additional advantage of being totally foolproof (see map above). Whilst the grenadier brigade assaulted the gap in the hill line frontally, the other leading infantry brigade would push past the Austrian right flank to unhinge the position. Meanwhile, the cavalry of the first line would have swept round the other Austrian flank. Any attempt to set up a coherent defence behind the hills with the reinforcing column would therefore be frustrated by these flanking forces. Finally, the reserve cavalry and infantry would push forward to exploit as required, and complete the inevitable destruction of the Austrian reserve.

Simple! Jon and I gave the Austrians 7 moves before the coup de grace would be applied. 

The Austrian faction (Steve and Craig) with their unofficial advisor Stuart Asquith.
Stuart is clearly frustrated that the Charge! rules are not in use.
The Prussian flanking cavalry are passing in front of them along the table edge.
The objective. The Austrians never felt the need to draw units away from the siege lines around Obschutz.
The Austrian blocking force frustratingly refused to stand on the ridge in order to be surrounded and destroyed.
Instead they fell back and fought in the cover of the woods behind the crests. Much good it would do them!
The outflanking Prussian cavalry came completely unstuck. The Austrian reinforcing column swung across towards them and backed them against the table edge, raking them with musketry and canister. Then the Austrian dragoons excelled themselves with a spirited charge which swept away 2 of the already badly damaged Prussian units.
The Prussian infantry advance eventually removed all the infantry of the Austrian blocking force. One of the defending Hungarian units became the victim of an 'inspiring' command roll, leading to a suicidal charge against superior Prussian forces. Another defending unit can be seen to the right of this photo attempting to fight off 2 Prussian units at once - it also was destroyed. The Prussian heavy guns have moved forward on the right flank.
The Prussian cavalry had achieved one thing - they had drawn the Austrian reinforcing column over to their side of the table, leaving a gap available on the Prussian left. Some stalwart command rolls by the Prussian reserve infantry had them double-moving rapidly into the attack, giving the Prussians superiority in numbers as the Austrian reserve finally lumbered forward. Some desperate pointing action by Craig couldn't prevent the Bavarians giving way.
Back in the Prussian rear, the Grenz light infantry battalion had been isolated in Altenberg. As the Prussian infantry moved away, the Grenzers tried a sally against the nearby Prussian heavy battery. The Prussian gunners calmly turned their guns around and blasted their attackers with canister, sending them tumbling back to the village with heavy casualties.

Overall, the game was a cracker - perhaps the best I have played this year. Playing along the length of the table gave opportunities for both sides to manoeuvre, and when the fighting occurred it was decisive and bloody. The move 7 deadline was predictably missed - the Austrians had managed to destroy 5 Prussian units by move 9 and so could claim some sort of draw, but they had lost 6 units themselves by this point (about to become 7), and there was a gaping hole in their front south of Obschutz. So Obschutz was declared relieved, but the Prussians had been given a bloody nose and the Austrians had fought with skill and guts.

Amongst the players, the game was played in just the right spirit - plenty of banter, a friendly atmosphere, but some concentrated wargaming. There was good and bad luck on both sides - the Austrians for example had rolled for 2 'dashing' commanders, which gave them an extra edge. In contrast, the Prussian howitzer battery rolled an almost endless sequence of ones, leaving them way in the Prussian rear when they should have been lobbing shells into the Austrian reserve. They were under Jon's charge, and his resolute insistence on using his own dice was almost certainly to blame. But on the other hand it was his rolling of sixes which sent the Prussian reserve infantry bounding to the front in the final moves. Such are the fortunes of war.

The original magazine scenario was fought out on a 6' x 4' table using 15mm figures, so you don't need a big set up to play this excellent scenario, which I thoroughly recommend.

'Til next time!

Thursday 7 July 2016

Wargaming With War and Peace

To celebrate passing the halfway stage in this very entertaining book (I'm on page 797 out of 1358 at the time of writing), I thought I might share a couple of Mr Tolstoy's views on history in general and military history in particular. And if you didn't already know, Tolstoy was a Russian artillery officer in the Crimean War.

I thought that would get your attention. Lily James as Natasha Rostov.
Lily James is officially the best looking woman in the world. Apart from my wife.

His account of Austerlitz occurs quite early in the book and is notable for its description of the confusion and chaos of a Napoleonic battle. Take this passage for example:

After riding up to the highest point on our right flank, Prince Bagration started off downhill, where a continuous rattle of gunfire rang out and nothing could be seen for the smoke. The further they descended into the hollow the less they could see, but the more sharply they could sense the proximity of the actual battle. They began to come across wounded men. [...]. They crossed the road and started down a steep incline, where they saw several men lying on the sloping ground. Then they were met by a crowd of soldiers, some of them not wounded. These soldiers, gasping for breath as they hurried uphill, took no notice of the general and went on shouting to each other with much waving of their arms. Ahead of them through the smoke they could now see whole ranks of grey coats, and once the commanding officer set eyes on Bagration he ran off after the retreating mass of soldiers, shouting for them to come back. Bagration rode up to the ranks, where noisy sporadic fire drowned all speech including the officer's shouted commands. The air was thick with gunsmoke. The soldier's faces were all animated and smudged with gunpowder. Ramrods plunged in and out, powder was poured into pans, charges came out of pouches, guns fired. What they were firing at couldn't be seen for the smoke that hung undispersed by the wind. (p.192).

And much later in the book he writes this:

A good player who loses at chess is genuinely convinced that that he lost because he made a mistake, and he goes back to the opening gambits to find what that mistake was, forgetting that his every move throughout the whole game involved similar errors, no move being perfect. The mistake that he concentrates on attracts his attention only because it was exploited by his opponent. How much more complex than this is the game of war, which has to be played out within specific time limits, and where there is no question of one man's will directing events through his control of soulless machinery, because everything develops from the interplay of infinitely varied and arbitrary twists and turns! (p.787).

My point being, when you are playing Honours of War and you throw a 1 for your command roll, stop bitching! It's realistic!