Friday, December 3, 2010

Aspern-Essling: the battle

The First Day

After an initial briefing of the Austrian team we transferred to the main hall and were able to see for the first time what the French had over the river. I was immediately relieved: the French did not have all three Cuirassier divisions over the river, indeed they looked to have only one and some bits and pieces of light cavalry. Instead they had thrown the main weight of their forces onto their left to garrison Aspern and its environs. 

            The Austrian plan then unfolded. Hiller and Bellegarde began to ponderously roll onto the table and take up positions before Aspern. The assault on day one began with some hard fighting on Hiller's part as he attempted to approach the walled churchyard and the rougher ground to the south. He had a tough job here as the French defence was heavy and the fighting was intense. Bellegarde, meanwhile, was to attack Aspern's western elevation between the churchyard and the bund. It took him some time to wheel his Korps into position and prepare a division-level attack. 

            Then Hohenzollern's Kolonne came on to the table and began to cautiously maneouvre into position parallel to the bund whilst using his cavalry as a linking arm between his formation and Bellegarde. As he was undertaking this move the French launched their Cuirassier over the bund against him and, in almost a direct mirror of history, his infantry closed up their files and the cuirassier proved unable to penetrate his masses. As the cuirassier faded back over the bund, Liechtenstein was deploying his cavalry on Hohenzollern's left. A cavalry battle then began to develop as Liechtenstein's reserve covered the left of Hohenzollern's Kolonne and the right wing of IV Kolonne as it advanced against Essling.

            What was now clear was that the French had robbed Peter to pay Paul: Essling was lightly defended. The unknown figure of Brett Smith was quite clear that this gift was to be exploited and began a determined and ultimately successful, assault on Essling.

'Who are that lot?'

This was music to my ears as Rosenberg arrived with V Kolonne. Napoleon was clearly not expecting this formation and it was clear that the arrival of Rosenberg had thrown a real spanner into the works of the French plan. It was by now very clear that they had opted for plan C (see my previous post) and V Kolonne was in the way. As Rosenberg's infantry assaulted the walled garden east of Essling his cavalry faced off a growing force of French horse between Essling and the river. IV Kolonne happily transferred all its cavalry to V Kolonne's area too giving Rosenberg four big regiments to slow up the French.

            But by this time the day's assault against Aspern had not gone the way of the Austrians: Hiller was stalled and Bellegarde's assault had been repulsed.   

But the effect had been to tie down the French and stop them shuffling troops over to Essling. Hohenzollern had seen off the French cuirassier and had started rolling towards the bund. Essling, though, had seen a significant Austrian breakthrough. Brett Smith had gained control of most of the village using a combination of artillery to blast breaches and big Austrian battalions to assault. V Kolonne had not taken the walled garden, but had bounced the French out, so both sides peered at each other over the no-man's land of the place itself.

            And what had I done? Very little is the answer. The local column commanders had proved perfectly capable of running their own battles and I pretty much left them to it. Despite the odd hiccup the overall plan was working well. I had every cause to be satisfied with the day's results: Essling had effectively fallen, V Kolonne had stymied the French line of advance and the assault against Hohenzollern had failed. Even though we had not succeeded in taking Aspern, the assaults had tied down the French nicely. The only really significant thing I did was to bring up the Grenadiers behind Hohenzollern towards the end of the day. Overnight I stitched together an ad-hoc division of survivors from Hiller's and Bellegarde's lead assaulting divisions to act as a reserve to the right wing. Otherwise the line was tidied and redied for morning.

Day 2

It became obvious on the morning of day two that the French had decided to try and break through on their right as originally planned. There was really no choice now, as Hohenzollern and Liechtenstein nicely filled the gap between Essling and Aspern and looked like a formidable challenge for any French units electing to struggle over the bund. They had also erected a battery on Lobau to fire on Rosenberg's flank: Guard 12lb were going to be very uncomfortable for him. It was at this point that gamesmanship intervened...

Fate Cards and Supersulk

Now I am not a particularly impatient man, but I do get very irritated indeed by unfairness. When the game started the two commanders were given fate cards at the initial briefings. We were told by the umpire that attended our briefing that they had to be distributed by the CinC to all players before the game started: the CinC could not hold any back. So this is what I did. For day two we got another set of cards to be distributed in the same way. So far so good. But, early on day 2, an umpire spotted that the French CinC was distributing cards at need during the battle: in other words cheating. 

            The response to this was that the umpire whose idea this was decided to remove the cards from both sides. I was incandescent with anger at this. We, my entire team, were being penalised because the other side had been cheating. I was angry, more angry than I had been in years: only a game I know, but this was more about fairness and justice than actual quibbling over an angle or a dice throw. So, for the next few hours I opted out. When I am angry this is by far the best approach: I took out my little computer notebook and did some work for 3 hours until I calmed down. Liechtenstein ran the battle. 


Eventually I calmed down and returned to the table. what I saw was hardly displeasing. On the right the French had set fire to Aspern and abandoned it, the flames rather than the French were the obstacle. In the centre Hohenzollern and the remains of the reserve cavalry had closed up to the bund. Essling was now totally in Austrian hands. Rosenberg with V Kolonne had been bent back ninety degrees but was still anchored on Essling to his right. Behind him now was one of the two Grenadier reserve divisions, and he had effectively contained the French assault without collapsing. 

            Of the French, meanwhile, there was now a stream of infantry heading for the bridge over the Danube. The centre was screened by French cavalry ready to pounce on any Austrian unit trying to cross the bund with the consequent disorder. 'You could win big here, John' one of the umpires said to me, but I am too much of a Habsburg general to want to risk the army in questionable maneouvres, and crossing the bund in the face of cavalry was one of them. In fact I had achieved my own objectives as set out in the Dispositionskarte: a limited but clear victory over the French.


As Richard Shilvock commented after the battle 'It was a good, clear plan and all we had to do was follow it'. This was in response to me thanking the Austrian team for their time and skill. the key command appointments seem to have all worked well: no-one was out of their depth. Tom Burke as Rosenberg had the most difficult job, but my faith in him was well rewarded when his line bent in the face of the main French attack, but did not break. The plan, in that sense, worked pretty much as written. We had not taken Aspern, but would have occupied the smouldering ruins at a later stage. 

            Meanwhile, freed from having to command troops as at Eylau and Sacile, I was able to concentrate on actually commanding the battle. This was a big relief, especially as the commanders proved more than capable of doing their bit effectively without my intervention. The fact that I could be absent from the field for 3 hours just underlined this. A good game, but with a big speed bump in the middle.


Aspern-Essling: An overview


The next big game was going to be Aspern-Essling, a very different kettle of fish from Sacile for a whole host of reasons. It was due to be a two-day event, our first in the group. The upshot of this in my case was I volunteered to sleep in the hall at Liphook to keep an eye in the figures rather than splash out on a vast amount of insurance. With my inflatable mattress and plenty of bedding I was perfectly happy to do this. Besides, as some of the figures were going to be mine it was as much a matter of self-interest than anything.

Pre-game issues

There were, broadly, two of these. The first was the rules for Mass. The French at Sacile had been unhappy about the rules for Mass (column to solid square within a quarter move) but the use of rapidly forming solid squares was going to be critical to Aspern-Essling in my view: ask any French cuirassier...This involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with David Shepherd regarding how these rules were going to work. I dug my heels in on this point as I had been using Austrians for over 20 years and felt that I was right, borne out by the evidence.
The second one was with Trevor Maroney over the map. Initially Trevor had the ditch and bund curling around the outer edges of both Aspern and Essling creating a moat around both villages. Not only was this inaccurate according to all of the half dozen maps I had, it was also going to make attacking the villages almost impossible. This involved a flurry of emails including scanned maps plus evidence of my own eyes (I had walked the battlefield myself in 1994) and Trevor finally changed it.

As an aside, during the 1994 visit I had gone to the excellent museum at Deutsch-Wagram but also the Granary at Essling. In here was a large, inaccurate and confusing diorama of the battle under a perspex cover. It was staffed by an Austrian civil servant in his official long green coat. He was, however, not allowed to have the lights on except when people visited the place. Otherwise he was condemned to live a troglodyte existence in the sepulchural gloom of the Granary. Must be one of the worst jobs in the world...

The Austrian Team

I also was quite careful about the Austrian commanders. Approaching the French positions with independent columns meant that more initiative than usual was going to be required from many of the column commanders, whilst as Charles I could not spend my time running around like a wet hen if I actually wanted to control the battle. That meant a careful choice of commanders had to be made.
One of the most critical was the role of Hiller. As his column was going to be first on the scene and be on the extreme right it needed an experienced player, also it would reflect Hiller's garnered experience. This role was admirably filled by Colin Boulain. Colin is a very experienced player (he had been Eugene at Sacile and Napoleon at Friedland for example) and a safe pair of hands. I could trust him not to do anything rash, and have him act as advisor to Bellegarde: their joint task being to reduce and take Aspern. Bellegarde himself was played by Charles Morris, a young player but one who had been gaming since Austerlitz in 2005. I had no qualms about giving him a big corps, particularly as his overall task was quite clear and Colin was on hand to advise.

Reducing Essling fell to IV and V Kolonne. The overall commander of both was Rosenberg-Orsini, in effect the general commanding the left. Rosenberg historically, and in the game, spent his time exclusively with V Kolonne. I desperately wanted this command to go to Tom Burke, son of another club member (Peter Burke who was umpiring) and I had made him promise last time I saw him to take part in the Austrian team. He forgot. So I spent a little while rescuing him from the clutches of the French, eventually getting his dad to intervene and remind him of his undertakings! In the end he had a great game, was tested and came through very well. V Kolonne, meanwhile, went to a player I had not met before; Brett Smith. I would have preferred Bill Scott to fill this role; he had played Frimont at Sacile and was both a known and talented quantity. But he was playing Lannes, which had me concerned that his tactical skill combined with David Ronaldson's attacking energy would be a difficult combination to contain, never mind overcome. In the end I need not have worried, indeed Brett turned out to be a skilful and determined player whose performance was outstanding.

That left the centre, and the third key appointment: the role of Liechtenstein. Not only was he commander of the Reserve, he was also Charles' deputy and one of the few Austrian generals who historically matched Charles for aggression and energy. In the game as it unfolded the role became more critical than it would normally have been. This role was filled by another relatively new player; Richard Shilvock. I had, though, played with Richard before and was comfortable with him as 2IC. Sandwiched inbetween Richard and Charles was III Kolonne under Hohenzollern-Hechiggen. This went to Alex Shepherd. Alex as a player is also young, but because his dad, David, is also a club member (and was also umpiring) he has participated in a lot of games. He had been in charge of a division at Sacile and I wanted him to have a significant command and role at Aspern-Essling. That said I was still unsure that Alex could handle a totally independent command, so III Kolonne would be ideal, as I would also be able to readily intervene.

There were other, more junior, commands played by other players under these column commanders. But I have never been keen on using the long screwdriver, so I left the issuing of orders to junior commands to the column commanders themselves.

Thoughts and planning

Aspern-Essling is a battle 'of a type', and is remarkably similar to Dresden in initial setup: one army is emplaced with its back to a river, the other is approaching it in a series of concentric columns. There is little need for reconnaissance as the attacking army knows exactly where the enemy is. There is little room for manoeuvre either as the structure of the battlefield precludes this.
With these and other thoughts in mind I began to think about planning. One criticism often thrust at Charles is that he was drawn to the villages like magnets, whilst what he should have done was mask the villages and throw a wedge inbetween. I looked at this option and discarded it as being too risky. I did not know what the French were going to be allowed to have over the Danube on the start of the game, but I could not discount the possible presence of three cuirassier divisions under an aggressive commander (Ronaldson) carving up disordered Austrian infantry as they struggled over the bund. Another factor was that shuffling II Kolonne over to the left would take a very long time, more than enough time to allow the French to realise what the intention was and counter it with plenty of artillery and heavy cavalry.

So, it was back to the original plan of attacking the villages. But this had to be married to preventing the French from crossing the bund. That meant that the attacks on the villages had to either carry them, or be threatening enough to draw the French away from the centre. So the following nebulous plan formed: Hiller and Bellegarde would reduce Aspern. Rosenberg would reduce Essling: the assault itself being the job of IV Kolonne whilst V Kolonne worked it's way behind Essling and take the walled garden. The Granary was to be avoided. In the centre the Reserve cavalry would repel French cavalry attacks over the bund, these were anticipated and would be launched to disrupt the movement of III Kolonne. This last formation was to advance steadily to the edge of the bund and bottle the French up behind it. The Grenadiers would stay in reserve around Brietenlee to be called forward as needed.

The overall aim was to imprison the French behind the bund and wrest control of the villages from them. This would trap them in a very constrained area where they could be pummelled by artillery.


I had also tried to consider the options open to the French. Looking at things from their perspective there were only really 3 options. The first was to create a 'fortress' from the villages, along the bund and using the walled garden behind Essling as the perimeter. The problem with this was the Austrians could simply roll up the guns wheel to wheel and pound away. Besides, any army with Ronaldson and Scott in it was not going to settle for such a supine option.

The second option was the historical French one, to break out of the constraints of the position by advancing over the bund with cavalry and then as many battalions as they could lay their hands on. In other words an attack in the centre and then pivoting on Aspern whilst the cavalry covered the right.

The third option was a right hook behind Essling towards Gross Enzerdorf and then veering left to roll up Rosenberg whilst lightly holding the centre and retaining the villages.

I was not worried about option one, in fact it would have been as if I had written the French plan myself. Option two would have seen the French in a head on collision with III Kolonne and the reserve cavalry in the open. A potentially risky situation and would throw my plan out of gear, but would offer the option of destroying the French in the open. The winner of such a brawl would be the luckiest general. Option three would allow my plan in the centre to proceed relatively unmolested. But it would give Rosenberg something to think about. It would also be far more awkward to reinforce Rosenberg than it would be any developing situation in the centre.

Such were my thought processes as I prepared to fight the battle. I drew up yet another Dispositionskarte, issued it to my senior staff, and waited for the game weekend.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Aspern-Essling: Dispositionskarte

Realising, reading back, that I have not included anything about Aspern-Essling I feel that I should as there are lots of pics and material. But, as at Sacile, I tried to issue the usual 'Army Disposition' before the game. This was the alternative to clear orders!

General Opinion

The Imperial Hauptarmee will assemble on the Marchfeld in preparation to repulse any attempt by the French army to cross the Danube. After repulsing the French on the Schwarze Lackenau their crossing points have narrowed. It is the opinion of the Hauptarmee headquarters, given observations from staff officers on the Bisamberg, that the French will next attempt to cross from Lobau island in the vicinity of the villages of Aspern-Essling. It is the intention of the Generalissimus, Erzherzog Karl von Habsburg, to take advantage of the strategic vulnerability of the French army and administer a sharp check to the Corsican ogre as he attempts to cross the Danube. Two Korps of the army will not be present. The V Korps under FZM Furst von Reuss-Plauen will cover the river upstream in the eventuality that the crossing in the Aspern-Essling area is a feint. The III Korps under FZM Kollowrat-Krakowsky is to strike out of Bohemia in the direction of Linz threatening the enemy's lines of communication.

The events of the evening of 20th April

On the evening of 20th April our advance guard forces under FML Graf Klenau encountered a French reconaissance in force north of the village of Essling. The French were repulsed with losses and we are confident that they have little idea of the proximity or scale of our army arrayed so closely to them.

The morning of the 21st April

The french forces have begun crossing the Danube in force. Observations from the Bisamberg highlight two key points. Firstly, the French bridges are not formal pontoons, but instead appear to be somewhat rickety structures that are already showing signs of stress under the pressure of the river which is swollen by snowmelt. Secondly, the French seem to have concentrated on the deployment of a great deal of cavalry to the detriment of infantry. This implies further their ignorance of the proximity of our army. This is to be divided into five attacking columns plus the Reserve Korps.

Army Orders Dawn, 21st April

The I Kolonne of FML Hiller

I Kolonne is tasked with assaulting and taking the village of Aspern from the south and west including the Churchyard. The Kolonne is also tasked with outflanking the village to the south and take the Gemeinde Au with its light forces, interdicting French attempts to reinforce Aspern.

You are to co-ordinate your attacks with II Kolonne.

The II Kolonne of General der Kavallrie Graf Bellegarde

II Kolonne is tasked to assault and take the village of Aspern from the north and west. The Churchyard is to act as the dilineating line between I and II Kolonne, and it is to be the responsibility of I Kolonne.

II Kolonne is also to act as the hinge for the wheeling advance of III Kolonne.

The III Kolonne of Feldmarschalleutnant Graf Hohenzollern-Hechiggen

III Kolonne is tasked with a wheeling assault, hinging its right flank on II Kolonne and its left on the Reserve Cavalry. The Kolonne is to advance deliberately to position itself parallel to the ditch inbetween Aspern and Essling.

Once in position III Kolonne is to conduct a solid and predictable advance against French forces arrayed along the ditch. The Kolonne is to carry the ditch in conjunction with II Kolonne assaults on Aspern.

French cavalry attacks will probably attempt to break up this movement. Caution and care is advisable while conducting this maneouvre.

The following two Kolonne form the Left Wing under the overall command of

Feldmarschalleutnant Furst Rosenberg-Orsini

The IV and V Kolonne are tasked with taking the village of Essling. These Kolonne are to be co-ordinated and under the overall command of FML Rosenberg-Orsini.

The IV Kolonne of Feldmarschalleutnant Dedovich

See above, orders to be issued by FML Rosenberg-Orsini

The V Kolonne of Feldmarschalleutnant Furst Hohenlohe

See above, orders to be issued by FML Rosenberg-Orsini

The Army Reserve of General der Kavallrie Furst Johann Liechtenstein

The Army Reserve is to deploy its reserve cavalry to cover the gap between the left flank of III Kolonne and the right flank of IV Kolonne. The first task of the reserve cavalry is to fend off any French cavalry attacks attempting to disrupt the deployments of III and IV Kolonne. In this task you are to co-ordinate with the commanders of III and IV Kolonne.

Once this deployment is achieved you are to act as a screen between III and IV Kolonne, taking advantage of any targets of opportunity that may present themselves.

The Grenadier division is to form an Army Reserve south of the village of Breitenlee.

Army Headquarters

This will commence the battle accompanying III Kolonne headquarters.

Generalmajor Graf Wimpffen



Befehl ist Befehl!

The Prussians are coming

Having not posted for a while I have sort of lost track of what pics I have posted and done since early 2010. In wargaming terms, having stumbled to victory at Sacile, I smoothly achieved victory at Aspern Essling which must count as the only game where I have been in the big chair where everything went according to plan.

That was followed by command at Auerstadt where defeat was pretty much guaranteed when the French were not only allowed to deploy Bernadotte’s Corps but also two Dragoon divisions: depriving the Prussians of the cavalry superiority, infantry superiority that, added to the C2 limits I imposed on myself it was an inevitable and comprehensive defeat.

But that meant I had to paint up more 1806 Prussians. In effect I doubled my infantry strength and there were also lots of cavalry units. Below are the Wangenhein Kurassier and the Prittwitz Husaren, both part of Lestocq’s corps that was hanging around in Poland. This force had a terrific amount of cavalry but a very limited number of infantry units. So my Prussian force from 1806 now comprises two infantry brigades with four musketeer and one grenadier battalion each, three battalions of fusiliers plus some jager. The cavalry force is now 11 battalions strong.

For 1813 I want to try for Kleist’s corps and would like to use Calpe miniatures to flesh it out as much as possible. Not having used Calpe before I ordered some samples; Jager and Landwehr cavalry. I have managed to get the Jager finished, the cavalry are just on the stocks right now (along with some Austrian Cuirassier and Jager) and pics will follow.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

V Kolonne Line Regiments

Infantry Regiments of V Kolonne

There were four infantry regiments within V Kolonne making a total of 12 battalions. But although the six Hungarian battalions were very strong, the six Polish battalions were considerably weaker. The painting of these units was very enjoyable; after the sea of white in IV Kolonne having six big Hungarian battalions to do was real fun. I also bought IR44 in shako rather than helmet with an eye to Wagram and then any 1813 games as well.

The Hungarians: IR2 ‘Hiller’ and IR33 ‘Colloredo’

Both IR2 and IR33 were solid Hungarian regiments originally raised in 1741 among the vast expansion of Hungarian troops offered by the Hungarian Diet to the beleaguered Maria Theresa in the War of Austrian Succession. All Hungarian troops were volunteers throughout the wars. Hungary was very similar in its political structure to England. Although there were some large families of magnates like the Esterhazys, Gyulais and so on the true political power lay with the gentry who dominated the Diet and saw themselves as the guardians of Hungary’s political rights. It was this group that blocked any attempt to extend the Landwehr to Hungary, relying on the neo-medieval insurrection as well as preventing any effort to impose any form of conscription in the Hungarian Crown lands.

Of course, the Hungarians were volunteers in the same way as English troops were volunteers: bribing local girls, providing free beer at markets, detachments of smart troops and a band at local fairs, anything to draw in local peasantry and get them to sign up.

IR2 had the somewhat dubious honour of having FML Hiller as their Inhaber. Hiller was unpopular amongst his peers, being considered something of a politician and rather sly. That said Hiller was very popular among the troops under his command. How Hiller, a German commoner, related to and had any influence over his Hungarian regiment is open to question. Inhaber were sources of pensions as well as being able to make promotions and appointments of subalterns.

IR33 was in a more interesting position. Anton Szataray had been colonel of IR33 and his performance in the Balkans in front of the Kaiser gained him an appointment to Generalmajor in 1788. Although defeated at Renchen, he was a key performer at Wurzburg in 1796 and defeated the French at Weisloch in 1799. He was Inhaber of the regiment until 1804, and died 4 years later. His successor, Heironymous Graf von Colloredo-Mansfeld, was a very different kettle of fish. Coming from a large military family, he was the nephew of two Austrian generals and had numerous contacts, his father had been Vice Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire. In general both the appointments of Colloredo and Hiller marks a move away from appointing Hungarian magnates as Inhabers of Hungarian regiments and appointing whoever to whatever regiment, integrating the Hungarians into the overall structure.

The Poles: IR44 ‘Bellegarde’ and IR46 ‘Chasteler’

Both these regiments, like IR9 and IR55 in IV Kolonne were originally raised in lands that had been lost to the Empire by 1809 and had been transferred to Galicia to recruit among the Poles.

IR44 had originally been Italian, one of only three Italian regiments from the Theresian period, one of which was abolished in 1751, and IR48 became Hungarian in 1798. IR44 soldiered on as Italian until the loss of all Italian territories in 1805. Then, like the Walloons, it was drawing on Polish recruits. It did not do too badly in this regard and maintained its strength in 1809 and 1813, but not at the levels of regiments recruiting in Bohemia or Moravia for example.

IR46 had an equally unusual history. Originally it began as the regiment of the Tyrol, by drawing together all the local militia battalions and regularising them. Although the independent-minded Tyroleans were happy to serve as skirmishers, they were far less keen to serve in the ranks and the regiment recruited heavily in south Germany. Like the Hungarians and Italians the Tyroleans were exempt from conscription. But the loss of the Tyrol to Bavaria meant that the regiment was, again, transferred to Galica. Unlike some regiments, and like IR55, it struggled to get recruits. Again it was abolished after 1809 as part of the requirements of the peace treaty with France.

Enjoy the eye candy