Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Battle of Sacile: A Gamer's Perspective

The Table

I have decided to write two battle summaries, one by myself as a gamer, the other the victory despatch of Archduke John. My POV as a gamer will of course be coloured and biased, I was the Austrian CinC after all...Also, importantly, the Umpires had introduced the concept of victory conditions based on occupation of villages.

Initial moves.

Austrian infantry advance over a bridge

For me things began to go wrong before the game started. The right-hook I had planned was clearly going to be in trouble as the French had advanced the division of Grenier far beyond their original positions. The result was that any Austrian right hook was going to be constrained by lack of space: although we would ordinarily place extra tables to extend the space if fighting was going to take place, the wall of the hall was not going to allow this. So far ahead were the French that the Grenier player also complained that he had been placed too far ahead.

Another little niggle was that the umpires had got confused between Ignaz and Albrecht Guylai when it came to assigning players. The upshot was that the player commanding the Corps, Ignaz, was an inexperienced lad who I had wanted to play Albrecht. This would not have been a problem had he not been asked to make a series of decisions about the approach of IX Korps which saw him fatally split the formation over a linear obstacle. I swapped the players over, but the damage had been done. Here too, my own opaque orders in the Armeedispositionskarte played a role.

On the Left.

Austrians advance on Pieve

I had intended to hold on the left, but Frimont decided that there were opportunities to be exploited. Starting with his own division he gradually drew on the division of Albrecht Gyulai starting with the brigade of Colloredo-Mansfeld. Heavy fighting took place around the village of Talponedo with the Austrian troops gradually breaking and routing Severoli's Italians and pushing back Seras' infantry, continuing their advance on Pieve. VIII Korps had succeeded in wresting a key objective from the French and was pushing forward, but the terrain was difficult and the advance was slow.

The Centre.

The Austrian centre

In the centre Albrecht Guylai was first of all to take the village of Ronche, on the road from Rovereto to Fontanfredda. This was rapidly accomplished by the infantry of GM Berelat, who quickly advanced down the road and settled in, much to the discomfiture of the French around Fontanfredda who saw Ronche as a key objective they needed to gain. The place became even more important once the French lost Talponedo. Berelat's infantry drew up before Fontanfredda on the left of Ronche, whilst on the right FML Reisner's Grand Battery deployed with a view, in my mind, to pummelling Fontanfredda. This never happened. It became clear that even large batteries, some 12lb, were not going to scratch the place, a factor which led to some hasty rules re-writing at the next rules session. French efforts to eject Berelat's men continued through much of the day, and at one stage the Austrians were thrown out of Ronche, only to re-occupy it within a few moves from the disordered French. These attacks on Ronche weakened the French defenders of Fontanfredda which made the place look vulnerable to assault.

The Right.

The Austrian Reserve

The left wing was where the French redeemed themselves. With Besanez' infantry and the corps artillery on one side of a stream and Reichenberg's forces on the other things did not look great, especially as the Austrian deployment was so badly constrained by space. On the immediate right the Austrians began lining the stream with guns and infantry from Marziani's brigade as Grenier and all the French cavalry devastated Reichenberg. Archduke John led an attack by IR3 against Fontanfredda, which should have succeeded, but an umpire decision which totally contradicted the rules allowed the French defenders to instantaneously form from skirmish order to line behind a stone wall and repel them. If they had stayed in skirmish order (as the rules say) they would have been ejected. But you do not argue with umpires, their decisions overrule the book...

Meanwhile Reichenberg and Volkmann were effectively destroyed. Lack of space was the main reason as units pushed back disordered others in a hideous traffic jam. I was a little peeved at this, but short of demolishing a wall to make room for more tables the battle had to be fought on the table as designed.


Gajoli begins moving to the left

It was at this stage I made a critical error. I was now faced with a situation where my expected attack by IX Korps had stalled but VIII Korps was doing well, so I switched the emphasis to Frimont's attack. In so doing I robbed Albrecht Gyulai of his only uncommitted brigade, that of Gajoli, and sent it to get in Frimont's way instead. The result was the centre was now held by a thin and debilitated cordon of troops under Berelat. The French pushed a hussar unit down the road past Ronche and split the army in half. This, I reflected, would teach me about keeping reserves in the right place. That said it was not disastrous. Although Grenier was still pushing on his moves were taking him away from the villages that were victory points. The French in and around Fontanfredda were equally exhausted and Ronche was once again in Austrian hands. Also, looking at it, Gajoli was just a few moves from the centre, as was the Grenadier brigade of Altensteig. Any French moves along the Ronche-Rovereto road would have been caught in a pincer of two uncommitted and Fresh brigades. Meanwhile, Frimont with the troops he had would have gradually ground down Seras' French and reached the bridge leading to Sacile with all arms, rather that a tiresome but not really threatening French hussar regiment.


Severoli routing

Victory was awarded to the Austrians. Although the attack by Grenier had wrecked IX Korps light forces the drive had taken large numbers of French troops away from the VP rich area. Meanwhile the Austrians had taken Ronche and Talponeda putting them ahead in the VP stakes. I also learned some valuable lessons here: more clarity in my initial orders alongside a greater awareness of reserves and not being stampeded into using them too soon and for the wrong reasons.

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