|"Tout soldat français porte dans sa giberne le bâton de maréchal de France"|
Returning to Cold Steel after playing Dark Age skirmish games was like having a full English roast after indulging in one of those meals at the place run by the Scottish clown; It's nice to have something uncomplicated and disposable once in a while, but my preference is for something a bit more substantial.
|Dark Ages skirmish|
I certainly got a substantial meal in my last game at the Croydon venue!
I'm playing one of the French armies based in the north in the Basque country. My job was to head west from Bilbao in the direction of Santander, into Prussian controlled territory. My cavalry had been scouting out ahead of the main body so I knew there was a substantial Prussian force ahead of me. I could tell that the enemy's force was larger than mine (roughly a third larger), but not the composition. Last Saturday our armies collided in a classic meeting engagement around a village. Both armies started with their advance guard on the board and then rolled to see when their respective main bodies and rear guards entered the board.
I was playing Andrew B. with his 1815 Prussians, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. I would have had my work cut out for me in any ordinary club meeting anyway, but this battle had consequences, so I didn't want to go down in a blaze of glory. I was hoping to be able to get my main body on the board early to be able to give his advance guard a bit of a mauling before his weight of numbers could tell. Hopefully, I'd be able to use my better quality troops to punch a hole in his masses and force a way through to Santander. I knew that he'd have more cavalry so I'd have to be careful of my flanks, and use the terrain to my advantage.
First off, I lost the initiative to Andrew who promptly marched straight ahead and occupied the village. I now had to spend time dislodging him before I could make any progress westward. His advance guard consisted of lots of infantry, a landwehr cavalry regiment and a battery of horse guns. Mine was made up of two elite light infantry battalions and ALL my cavalry. I took a risk having 3 under-strength light cavalry units and no horse guns, but I hoped to make up for that with the infantry and foot guns. At this stage, it looked like my advance guard was going to be overwhelmed by his, but luckily I rolled a 6 for my main body to come on in turn 2.
|The advance guard...advances.|
|Andrew gets to the village first.|
|That's just his advance guard!|
|My advance guard takes up a line from woods to hill in front of the village.|
|Lancers suffer first casualty from accurate artillery fire.|
My light infantry and lancers bore the brunt of Andrew's artillery fire while my infantry and artillery plodded onto the field. Once my main body closed up, the lancers moved forward to threaten Andrew's infantry. One battalion formed square, while another moved up in closed column. My lancers decided to try the opportunity charge, which was successfully carried out, stopping the infantry but, in turn, leaving them blown and disordered. Andrew used this opportunity to charge my lancers with his landwehr cavalry in his next turn. I'd planted my tiny chasseur unit out on the flank for this purpose and counter-charged with my blown lancers supported by the chasseurs. It was just enough to turn defeat into stalemate!
|My main body deploys on the edge of the board...|
|...and then moves off towards the enemy, covered by the hussars.|
|"Allez, allez! En avant, mes enfants!"|
|The corps commander oversees deployment on the hill in support of the light infantry from the advance guard.|
|Lancers charge the advancing closed column.|
|The landwehr cavalry charge the blown lancers, but also have the chasseurs to deal with!|
I thought now was the time to go on the offensive, as Andrew's main body had entered the board. The infantry square beside the guns now copped a charge from the two battalions of light infantry. even though one of them was much reduced by artillery fire and copped more casualties from defensive fire, both battalions charged home and forced the square into retreat and ended up in the flank of the battery.
|The square is charged. The heads of both columns are moved up while we work out the pre-melee results.|
|The pre-melee is successful, despite defensive fire from guns and square.|
|The light infantry occupy the ground in the flank of the artillery battery. There's still a shed-load of Prussians to deal with, though!|
|All together now! "Why are we waiting? Oh, why, why, why?"|
Andrew's cavalry made their presence felt, first by charging my pitiful 3-figure chasseur unit (a little over a squadron's worth), sending them packing. The chasseurs attempted to evade their atteckers, but were caught on the hop. His other dragoon regiment then targeted my lancers, inflicting a loss on them and forcing a retreat with casualties. Things were starting to look a bit crook for the French.
|Nut, meet sledgehammer...|
|The lancers go in again, lucky to survive the combat.|
I finally got the immobile regiment through the woods and angled at the village, but by that time his supports were well and truly available. 3 battalions moved out in closed column to act as a block and were charged by Andrew's (seemingly endless supply of) cavalry, throwing them back into the woods with disorders. The 2 battalions which charged the supporting battalion outside the village failed to carry through their charge and stopped short with disorders. Double D'oh!
|You tell'em, Homer!|
The disordered and dispirited battalions left high and dry were then charged in turn and sent packing in a broken rabble to the rear. However, the victorious Prussians were in a position ripe for counter-attack, themselves.
|"Er... boss, I think I'd rather not charge home; those Prussian bayonets look a bit too pointy"|
|"What do you think about Prussian bayonets now, vous chiens lâches!"|
|The victorious Prussians ended deep in the woods without any backup!|
|After poking their heads out of the woods, the Prussian cavalry sends the rest of the regiment back to safety among the trees.|
|My light infantry continued with their sterling work, fighting greater odds to a standstill!|
By now I'd come to the decision that I needed to break off before I was enveloped by his overwhelming numbers. I thought I should quickly go on the offensive to give myself some room to maneuver before disengaging. I was rapidly running out of reserves, while Andrew had plenty of un-engaged units. I still had one veteran regiment and an artillery battery in the rearguard to come, but I knew that Andrew had much more than that in his.
I selected the two battalions which had routed my poorly executed assault on the left as my first target for counter attack. Firstly, I marched one battalion of light infantry into their flank and fired, forcing a morale check on the Prussians. They failed it and retreated. The second light infantry battalion repeated the process, and caused a casualty as well as a failed morale test. Two-for-two so far. Next, I targeted the battalion on the right flank of the village with a 3 battalion charge. As Andrew's infantry were currently masking his battery, my charging infantry were safe from close range canister. The charge successfully took out the targeted battalion, the artillery battery and the infantry in the nearest BUA (built up area)! When on a good thing, stick to it: I then followed this success with a charge on the infantry to the front of the hill which had so conveniently masked their own battery. The numbers of breaking and retreating units counted as big negatives to the morale of the surviving units, so Andrew was facing a big ask in this combat, so I was surprised he opted for a counter-charge rather than standing and firing. I suppose he was banking on his troops breaking before contact was made, therefore preserving more of their numbers than if they stood to take what was coming to them. Anyway, the result was predictable; all 3 battalions high-tailed it for the rear.
Fire in the flank #1
Fire in the flank #2
Heads of columns moved into contact while we sort out the pre-melee.
|Pre-melee was passed, so onto the combat!|
|Infantry column and artillery battery disposed of.|
(Blurry combat action photography)
|Prussians breaking with 60% casualties!|
|My infantry took the breakthrough deep into territory recently vacated by the Prussians.|
Prussian officer: "Where'd they go, Fritz?"
Fritz: "Dunno, sir! They woz 'ere a moment ago!"
|When you're on a roll...|
The 4 battalions on the hill charge down to be met by the Prussians...
|...who promptly turn and flee!|
It was at this stage that I asked for a divisional morale check, seeing as I had caused 8 battalions to advance to the rear. What eventuated was beyond my wildest dreams: his whole division ended up breaking! Never mind that he had two more, one of which was still to enter the fight, plus all his cavalry. Still, I had the breathing space I wanted; I just needed to make the most of it!
That's where I almost made a complete dog's breakfast of it. Trying to prevent his cavalry from interfering with my withdrawal, I neglected to realise that my hussars were within opportunity charge range of his dragoons. So when I tried moving them, he charged. I tried to evade, but also made a hash of that, narrowly avoiding being caught mid-change of formation. Still, the results were bad enough; the hussars were smashed, routing off the board with 70% casualties! That was the signal for his other dragoon unit to charge my lancers, who then suffered a similar fate. By this stage my rearguard had entered the board and immediately adopted anti-cavalry formations, ready to screen the withdrawal of the rest of the army. Behind Andrew's cavalry, the (large) Prussian rearguard advanced to plug the gap made by the routing Prussian division.
|Not what I wanted to roll...|
|Not what I wanted him to roll, either!|
|On the left flank, the rear-guard battery unlimbered, with infantry square support to the rear. Prussian cavalry was making its threatened flanking move at last.|
|The rest of the rear-guard marched to the center in closed column.|
|The dragoons flee from a pasting...|
|...only to be caught in the rear to hurry them on their way!|
I'd been more successful than I'd dared to hope, but was lucky I didn't lose more troops to Andrew's superiority of numbers.
There was also another campaign game fought between Robin's French army and Vana's Austrian army in eastern Spain somewhere in the Ebro valley. I think that ended inconclusively with a rainstorm bringing a conclusion to the action, though the French had been doing the bulk of the attacking.
* Clayton's - "The drink you have when you're not having a drink"