Wednesday, 12 February 2020

The Battle of Mollwitz, part 2

So, about a month after re-playing Charles Grant's version of this battle (see previous post), I turned to representing Mollwitz with as many historical factors taken into account as possible. I won't bore the reader by recapping the background circumstances of the battle, which can easily be discovered online. But the historical factors I tried to include in the wargame itself will be outlined. First, however, the map of the battle as wargamed is shown below.

At Mollwitz, 21,000 Prussians attacked 19,000 Austrians over a flat April landscape covered in snow, apparently up to 2 feet deep in places. The Prussians outnumbered the Austrians in infantry (about 16,000 to 10,000), and their infantry was also significantly higher in quality, much of the Austrian infantry being described as recently recruited and poorly trained. On the other hand, the Austrians had more and better cavalry, outnumbering the Prussians in this arm by about 9,000 to 4,000. The situation in artillery was also interestingly asymmetric, with the Prussians having 46 guns against just 10 Austrian. I should indicate that most of the fine detail here is provided by the outstanding account of the battle given on the appropriate page of the excellent Obscure Battles blog.

On that April day in 1741, the Prussians, under the combined command of Frederick the Great and the Count Schwerin, advanced slowly over the snow covered ground towards Mollwitz. They managed to cramp their left flank uncomfortably against the Kleiner Bach, with the left flank cavalry forced to deploy on the far side. The Austrians had been expecting the Prussians to approach from the north (failures in reconnaissance being a feature of the campaign), and had to re-deploy their infantry quickly in reverse order, with those expecting to be on the left flank being on the right, and vice-versa. This unsettled a force already suffering from lack of training, and unfortunately also provided with wooden ramrods rather than the more modern and durable iron ones in use by the Prussians. 

Having advanced into artillery range, the Prussian battery Lehwaldt began to fire on the Austrian left flank cavalry under General Römer. To avoid this fire, and to cover the still-deploying Austrian infantry, Römer moved away to his left and set himself up for a flank attack against the Prussian right.

This is where my re-fight commences, as shown on the map. Römer is ready to strike at Schüllenberg, whose weak cavalry is shored up with some grenadiers under his command. The rest of both armies are ready to engage, with hussars pushing ahead on the southern flank and the Prussian artillery nicely positioned to pound the Austrians before their infantry advances. 

This would be a good time to show the forces in use. This is not a big battle, but some 'bath-tubbing' was still needed, with one model battalion or regiment representing about 2 real ones. I was, however, a little generous with the cavalry which I represented at a ratio of about 2:3 where it suited me, to get decent numbers on the table. S = superior, R = regular, I = inferior.

Austria: C-in-C Neipperg

Left Wing Cavalry (Römer, dashing)
3 cuirassier regiments (S)
1 dragoon regiment (R)

First Line Infantry (Göldy, dependable)
4 infantry battalions (I)
1 grenadier battalion (R)
2 light batteries (R)

Second Line Infantry (Harrach, dependable)
3 infantry battalions (I)

Right Wing Cavalry (Berlichingen, dithering)
1 cuirassier regiment (S)
3 dragoon regiments (R)

Independent Cavalry
1 hussar regiment (R)                                              19 units:  Break Point 9 units.

Prussia: C-in-C Frederick (dithering), Schwerin

Left Wing cavalry (Posadowsky, dithering)
1 cuirassier regiment (R)
1 dragoon regiment (I)
1 hussar regiment (I)

First Line Infantry (Marwitz, dependable)
5 infantry battalions (R)
2 grenadier battalions (S)
2 field batteries (R) (Bty Dohna)
2 light batteries (R)

Second Line Infantry (Leopold, dependable)
4 infantry battalions (R)

Right Wing Cavalry (Schüllenberg, dithering)
1 cuirassier regiment (R)
1 dragoon regiment (I)
1 grenadier battalion (S)
2 field batteries (R) (Bty Lehwaldt)                               21 units: Break Point 10 units.

Scenario Conditions
Neipperg is placed in front of Mollwitz. Frederick is behind the Prussian right wing. Schwerin is with the Prussian centre.

Effect of snow – no grazing fire is allowed. No charge movement bonuses.

A pre-game bombardment will take place. The Austrian light guns start the battle deployed, whilst the Prussian light guns start limbered.

The Austrians have the initiative on the first two turns. Thereafter roll for initiative with no modifiers.

Frederick and Schwerin will act as dual C-in-Cs – in effect the Prussians have an extra commanding general at the start of the game. Frederick will leave the battlefield when Schüllenberg’s brigade has lost 2 units (see below).

The Wargame
With the historical conditions in place, this is a tough battle for the Austrians to win. In the real battle, Römer thrashed Schüllenberg's cavalry but the Prussian infantry shored up the flank and little further progress was made, with Römer himself being killed. However, the initial disaster had looked bad for the Prussians, which led Schwerin to encourage Frederick to leave the battlefield. Nevertheless, Schwerin then ordered forward the well-drilled Prussian infantry who advanced remorselessly, firing all the while - some sources estimate they may have been firing 4 volleys per minute to every 2 from the Austrians. With Berlichingen's cavalry unable or perhaps unwilling to intervene effectively against the left flank of the enemy infantry, the Prussian musketeers eventually put the Austrian centre to flight. To have a chance in the wargame re-fight, the Austrian cavalry on both flanks would need to intervene more decisively.

I represented the terrain with an old white sheet for snow, plus a bit of snow flock (you can get anything these days) to tart up the buildings, trees and roads. An 8' x 6' table would have been ideal with 28mm figures, but my 7.5' x 6' table sufficed. I was able to tempt 4 wargaming friends over with promises of home-made cake (not baked by me, thankfully), and so we had a nice set-up with 2 gamers per side and myself umpiring. Post of Honour were of course the rules in use. What happened in the game is shown in the photos below.

Set-up 1. Pampitz in the foreground, with the Austrians defending Mollwitz in the background.
Set-up 2. Römer's cavalry near Grunningen waits to strike the Prussian flank.
Neipperg takes up position behind his centre on the outskirts of Mollwitz.
The cream of the Austrian cavalry await their moment.
Battery Dohna prepare to bombard the Austrian line.
The game starts, and Römer's charge goes in. He has good initial success against the weak Prussian cavalry.
But the Prussian players are already putting together a strong infantry flank guard of grenadiers.
On the other flank Berlichingen strikes hard at the inferior Prussian cavalry across the Kleiner Bach.
The Prussians put up a stiff fight, enabling their infantry to form a secure line on the other side of the stream.
The Prussians are moving infantry to the flanks to fend off the Austrian cavalry.
This has weakened their centre which has lost formation somewhat. The Austrians are daring to hope.
All to play for, but Paul and Craig seem a bit concerned with the odds against Römer.
It turns out they were right. History is repeated as the supporting Prussian grenadiers
stand fast and blast the attacking cavalry with musketry. Römer's horsemen are decisively seen off. 
Harrach marches the second line infantry out to fill the gap in the Austrian left flank.
In the far background the Austrian right wing cavalry can't breach the Prussian infantry flank guard.
An indecisive Austrian hand hovers over their dragoons.
The Prussian infantry reforms and begins to move forward in a solid-looking line.
The crunch approaches. Can the Austrians hang on, or will Prussian quality triumph?
At last the 2 lines are in musket range, and the Prussians are soon in the ascendent.
Note the orange dice behind the Austrian line, indicating 'weakened' units.
And they're gone. Harrach's units rout and the Austrian left flank is wide open.
At this point the Austrians had also lost more than half their units. A Prussian victory! 
An Historical Outcome
There had been a large and rather fun cavalry fight on the Prussian left flank which never happened in 1741, but apart from that history had pretty much repeated itself. It was pleasing to see that the rules could cope with a strongly asymmetric battle and produce the expected outcomes. On the other hand, there was plenty of interesting gaming and a few tantalising glimpses of a possible reversal for the Austrians, which kept everyone involved.

I missed a few points of the rules, but nothing that would have changed the outcome. It's always surprising how, even as the rules author, the interest of the game and the accompanying banter can divert your attention from the straight and narrow. I think everyone had a good time, although I have a sneaking feeling that my visitors thought the true highlight was my wife's cake, warm from the oven. Thank you guys for coming over yet again and creating a great day's gaming. I enjoyed myself immensely.

Another historical re-fight beckons later in February, this time the Battle of Maida, 1806. See you again soon!

Monday, 13 January 2020

The Battle of Mollwitz, 10th April 1741

Reflecting on the success of the re-fight of 'The Battle of Sittangbad' (see previous post), my thoughts naturally turned to doing something similar for my next game. What could be more obvious than to draw inspiration from the companion book to Charge!, namely The War Game, written of course by Charles Grant and published in 1971. In this book the 'big battle' was the representation of The Battle of Mollwitz.

Re-reading the very full and enjoyable account in Mr Grant's book, it was obvious that although he had done his research and had assembled historically appropriate forces, he had allowed the players to deploy however they wanted and had also decided not to bother with the issues of troop quality which were (for me) one of the most interesting factors in the real battle. As a consequence, the battle as fought by Charles Grant and his friends, whilst being obviously most enjoyable and a fine spectacle, bore very little resemblance to the actual battle. Having done a bit of online research, I wanted to try and include all the various historical factors which made Mollwitz so interesting.

What to do? Rather obviously, I decided on playing two games, one based firmly on the 1971 re-fight, and another where I tried to be a bit more historical. This post deals with the former. I'll save most of the historical stuff for the next post, but basically Mollwitz was the first battle of the War of the Austrian Succession, and also Frederick the Great's first battle. It was reasonably small, featuring total forces of about 20,000 on each side. The Austrians had more and better cavalry, the Prussians had more and better infantry. Along with other fascinating features such as the snow-covered landscape and Frederick leaving the battle prematurely when the Prussians were losing (only for the Prussians to win in the end), it is a battle full of interest for the wargamer. The best online source is on the rather wonderful 'Obscure Battles Blog':

For the Grant battle, some of you may remember the 2013 re-fight at the Partisan show, featuring (among others) Charles S. Grant, Stuart Asquith and Henry Hyde, as well as the original figures and buildings. Phil Olley's 'Classic Wargaming Blog' retains a fine record of the event:

My own re-run would of course be nowhere near as grand. but I would try and stick with the same terrain and deployment as in 1971, whilst using my own rules. For those not possessing the book, the map from The War Game is shown below - Austrians at the top, Prussians below:

As with the Charge! rules, the Charles Grant rules as used for Mollwitz have little or no role for Generals or Brigadiers, or much in the way of organisation below army level. However, to use my rules a bit of brigading was needed, and the forces were organised as below. The numbers relate to the units on the original map.

Prussia (Frederick/Schwerin)

Left Wing Cavalry (Posadowsky)
1 cuirassier regiment (27)
1 dragoon regiment (28)
1 hussar regiment (29)

Infantry Brigade (Marwitz)
2 infantry battalions (25, 26)
2 grenadier battalions (23, 24)
1 field battery (20)

Infantry Brigade (Leopold)
4 infantry battalions (18, 19, 21, 22)
2 field batteries (20 x 2)

Right Wing Infantry Brigade (Schülenberg)
2 infantry battalions (16, 17)                                                    16 units

Austria (Neipperg)

Cavalry Brigade (Römer)
2 cuirassier regiments (10, 11)
2 dragoon regiments (12, 13)

Cavalry Brigade (Berlichingen)
2 hussar regiments (14, 15)

Infantry Brigade (Harrach)
1 grenadier battalion (9)
2 infantry battalions (6, 7)
1 field battery (8)

Infantry Brigade (Göldy)
4 infantry battalions (1, 2, 4, 5)
1 field battery (3)                                                                         15 units

Scenario conditions
All generals are dependable. The combined Prussian army commanders count as one general. All units are regular except the grenadiers and cuirassier which are superior.
Hills are gentle. The line of trees between Grunningen and Hermsdorf counts as an obstacle, blocks LOS, and should generally be treated as the edge of a wood. Units must be in contact with the trees to see or be seen through them, or to fire or be fired at.
The first side reduced to half strength loses. 

And so there we were. My local friend Roy was good enough to come round and play out the resulting contest with me - he took the Austrians, I was the Prussian commander. I set up the table as per the Grant map, (a 7.5' x 6' table was in use), and my 16 figure infantry units and 8 figure cavalry units fitted in quite well with the book deployment. However, I will be the first to admit that the magnificent spectacle of the original table, as re-created for the Partisan show, was far in excess of anything you see here.

The Game

And they're off! The Prussians grind forward, whilst the Austrians deploy their infantry into line and
commence a threatening flanking move with their cavalry.
Prussian fusiliers move forward through Hermsdorf.
Roy used his superior cavalry to much greater effect than the players in the original battle.
Whilst the cuirassiers and hussars move in, the dragoons circle out to the Austrian extreme right,
 to exploit the inevitable victory.
The Prussians shake out into line. I misjudged the positioning of my infantry flank guard,
which was to have disastrous consequences.
Overview as the game entered its middle phase. In the background the Austrian cavalry is poised for success.
The Austrian infantry are nicely deployed, and the Prussian guns begin to engage.
Roy assumes an expression of appropriate smugness as the Prussian cavalry goes under.
The Austrian dragoons on the left of the picture are ready for the exploitation phase.
Oh dear me. There don't appear to be any Prussian cavalry left!
And there is nothing between the Austrian cavalry and my gun line!
The Prussian infantry plough on, hoping for a miracle.
But with no advantage in quality or numbers, a successful frontal attack seems unlikely.
By the next move, a grenadier unit has to turn around to face the cavalry threat to the Prussian flank and rear.
The orange dice indicate a number of attacking Prussian units are already weakened by Austrian fire.
End phase. Everything starts to go horribly wrong for the Prussians as the Austrian hussars
prepare to charge the hurriedly re-deploying (and horribly exposed) Prussian guns.
Well, that wasn't supposed to happen. A sequence of murderously effective Austrian volleys sweeps
a swathe of Prussian infantry units from the table in front of Mollwitz.
A further overview as the game ends on move 7.
The Prussians have been comprehensively defeated.
Oops. Where did all the Prussian infantry go?

Roy's tactics were straightforward but ruthlessly effective. If I had deployed an infantry flank guard on the left of the Prussian infantry line, I could have made more of a fight of it. Perhaps I should have also tried to strike the left of the Austrian line near Grunningen as the Prussian forces in the 1971 battle, but I'm not sure this would have worked.

A very enjoyable 3 hours of wargaming (including the preparatory briefing and the usual bit of chat before we started). My own 'historical' re-fight is scheduled for about three weeks time. Of course, the term 'historical' should be taken with a large pinch of salt - playing with toy soldiers always has an extremely limited relationship to the events of real battles. Anyway, we'll see if the Prussians can do better and repeat their victory from 1741.

See you then!