Sunday 20 October 2019

The Bridge At Atzbach

At the present time, Wargaming, Soldiers and Strategy is definitely my favourite wargaming magazine - by a long way. Miniature Wargames is just too full of sci-fi, fantasy and steam-punk for my taste, and Wargames Illustrated is, well, a bit too much like Wargames Illustrated. All crash-bang-wallop and the excitement of consumerism.

Established readers of this blog will know I am a sucker for a good map and a good scenario. Imagine my pleasure when WSS 104 provided both in an article by Henry Hyde, from his series entitled 'Tabletop Tactics'. There were in fact 2 good scenarios in the article, both based around the effect of bridges. I will overlook the fact that Henry called the article 'A Bridge Too Far' (clichéd, Henry, far too clichéd!), and merely say that my attention was drawn to the first, in which a bridge over an uncrossable river had to be taken by assault. The map for this is reproduced below - my thanks to editor Guy Bowers for allowing me to use it.

The map from WSS104, reproduced by permission. © Karwansary Publishers 2019.
The defenders were confined to the country north of the bridge, the attackers were to come from the south with the intention of taking the bridge and then exploiting northwards to take hill D and farm C. 

In past games, assaulting bridges has presented itself to me as a bad option for a scenario - they are just too easy to defend, with attackers being easily shot down as they try to cross. But I reflected that my experiences derived from games where taking a bridge was part of a larger game, with the result that usually not enough forces were available to do the job properly. Henry sensibly indicated that the attacker should have 2 or 3 times the strength of the defender, and with this in mind I decided it would be interesting to see if a bridge assault could indeed be made to work as a wargame. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that Henry was quite correct, and it could.

To further test my Napoleonic rules, I set the game in that period. I would have to use my 28mm SYW figures (see previous post), but for a solo game that would be fine. The forces and scenario were as follows:

French Forces (attackers)
Light Infantry Demi-Brigade: 3 battalions + horse artillery (all superior)
Infantry Brigade: 6 battalions (regular)
Cavalry Brigade: 2 dragoon regiments (regular)
Artillery Brigade: 3 field batteries (regular)
Independent Cavalry: 1 Hussar regiment (regular)

16 units, Break Point 8 units.

Austrian Forces (defenders)
Infantry Brigade: 2 battalions (regular)
Infantry Brigade: 2 battalions (regular)
Light Infantry Brigade: 2 Grenz battalions (regular)
Cavalry Brigade: 1 cuirassier regiment (superior), 1 hussar regiment (regular)
Independent Artillery: 2 field batteries (regular)

10 units, Break Point 5 units.

The French can deploy up to 12" from their baseline, but may also deploy on hills F and G if they wish. They have to take the bridge in 8 moves or break the Austrians in the same timescale.
The Austrians can deploy anywhere north of the river. They must successfully defend the bridge for at least 8 moves, and try to  break their attackers.
The river is only crossable at the bridge. The bridge, hill D and farm C are each worth 1 unit. In my game the farm is represented by a ruined monastery.

The Game
As you can see, I only gave the French a 60% advantage in numbers. As with the game in my previous post, they would also have the advantage of the 'French System', and better command. I didn't honestly think greater French numbers would have much effect, as bringing them to bear would be difficult. Some  extra artillery might be very useful, but they already had 4 batteries to the Austrian 2. The time limit was intended to give the French a reason to get on with their assault, rather than  just pounding the Austrians with artillery until half their units were broken!

How to deploy the Austrians was a bit of a puzzle, but in the end I lined the river near the bridge with the Grenzers, with a field battery supporting them firing straight down the road across the bridge. The line infantry and cavalry were in depth behind, with the other field battery on hill D with a decent field of fire.

The French plan was to shoot their way across the bridge. The field batteries would pound targets near the bridge, and the line infantry would move forward to the river and shoot at anything on the opposite bank. When the time was right the elite light infantry would charge across, supported by their horse battery.

Deployment. I used my normal 6' x 5' table, and moved the river slightly south in order
(I hoped) to give more room for a decent battle after the French were over the river.
The French have moved up, and it's time to try a charge across the bridge.
This was fairly easily repulsed, with the attacking unit routed. Not enough preparation it seemed.
The same turn from the Austrian side. Two line battalions had moved up and were
giving the French a lot of trouble.
A couple of moves later and the French try again, with the horse battery supporting.
You can see that the Austrian battery directly covering the bridge has been routed.
It was desperately close, with every die roll counting, but the French managed to get one light battalion
in place, causing just enough distraction to allow a regiment of dragoons to cross as well.

This was the end of the 8 moves. The Austrians had lost 4.5 units, the French 6, and the bridge was just about in French hands. A last minute French victory. I couldn't resist another turn to see if they would hang on to their tenuous bridgehead.

Check on the far side of the Toll House and you'll see an Austrian line battalion has routed and taken a supporting
Grenz unit with it. The Austrians are now broken and the French victory is confirmed.

Most scenarios try to create a nail-biting finish where both sides are in the game until the final move. This was achieved, but I think the game would be better if some fighting on the far side of the river took place. To this end, it might be good to weaken the Austrians slightly, so I would take away one of their line battalions and form a single brigade of 3 battalions. It might also be an idea to lengthen the game to 9 or even 10 moves.

Anyway, I was pleased with the scenario (thanks Henry), as well as how the rules handled it. The next challenge is to read more books and broaden my knowledge, so that I can represent other armies and other campaigns of the period.

'Til next time!


Jonathan Freitag said...

Neat scenario! Taking a bridge by storm is a tough ask for many rule sets and attackers alike.

Archduke Piccolo said...

In my view, forcing defiles - such as bridge - presents an interesting problem. Defending them ain't easy, neither! If defending, I like to cover the bridge with cannon. If attacking I like to cover the bridge with cannon. But, especially if you're attacking, getting the guns up there ain't so easy!

Natholeon said...

Plenty of great Napoleonic bridge actions - Arcole immediately comes to mind, and then in a different direction, the Berezina. It's great that 8 turns brought the game to a knife's edge. Possibly allocating each of the terrain features some victory points (bridge 10, hill 5 and farm 5) would clarify success a bit more.

Keith Flint said...

I agree Natholeon. Note I give the bridge, the northern hill and the farm/monastery a value of one unit. I should have explained in the post that when one of those objectives is taken, it means the opposing side counts as losing a unit towards their breakpoint.

Norm said...

Really enjoyed this and am going back in to read it again now. I agree on the mags, I have forever been a 3 mag buyer, but as of this month have decided to drop to just WWS - I would take out a subscription, but I really dislike the opinion columns, which I think have outlived their usefulness.

Keith Flint said...

I do rather enjoy the opinion columns myself. They do sometimes regurgitate the same ideas in a slightly different form, but they also sometimes enhance my view of the hobby. Certainly, of the 3, WSS seems to be the magazine that deals with historical wargaming the best.

Steve J. said...

Nice scenario which is rather similar to a Grant & Asquith one, but with a slight twist. Always tricky to attack or defend a bridge, but a nice challenge.

Re: wargames mags, I agree that WS&S is the best of the bunch, but I long ago found little of interest in it, so didn't renew my subscription. These days I find more inspiration from various Blogs that I follow.

Mad Padre said...

Henry is one of the gems of the hobby. Your blog likewise. Much food for thought in this post, thanks for it.