Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hohenlinden Battle Report

The battle of Hohenlinden

I have waited to post this until the photos were available so I apologise if it has taken a little time to put this up. Thanks to Colin and Margaret for these. More are available on out Yahoo Group:

Hohenlinden Map

As you can see from my Dispositionskarte posted earlier, I had constructed a plan within the limitations of historical deployments. Reading that document you will also note that there is very little mention of the French, no counter-intuitive analysis as there was for Aspern-Essling. This was quite deliberate. Other than knowing that the French were ‘out there somewhere’ I had no notion of how much they were going to be allowed to alter their deployments so I simply wrote a plan around the basic assumption that they did not exist. This meant that columns may or may not bump into the French anywhere along their line of march at any strength, the corollary being that all columns would advance and that one or two might work their way to their objectives.

As the columns fought what were essentially separate battles I will treat each in separation.

The Right Column: FML Kienmayer 

Kienmayer was being played by David Shepherd, one of the best players, if not the best, in the club. This meant I could leave him pretty much to his own devices and, as he was going to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting, it worked out well. Assisted by Charles Moore as Archduke Ferdinand, his column was supposed to take Forstern and draw the French from the centre to allow the other columns to attack. This column was 100% successful in achieving its objectives.

Archduke Ferdinand arrives

Carving through the Division of GdeD Grenier (Brett Smith) and a significant portion of Bastoul’s Division as well (Asher Ben-Zion), displaying a high degree of aggression and assisted by the remarkable success of Esterhazy’s cavalry from Baillet’s Column (see below) the column drove on relentlessly, ending the game comfortably ensconced in Forstern with Ferdinand’s infantry untouched, this was effectively a cavalry engagement. In terms of drawing French troops from the centre there was no central reserve to draw off, only some cavalry which could be redeployed, without totally stripping the defence of Hohenlinden completely. These gestures were pretty futile and by the end of the game the Divisions of Grenier and Bastoul were effectively destroyed.

Centre-Right: Zweibrucken’s Division

Bavarians garrison Mittach

Glt Zweibrucken, commander of the reluctant Bavarians, was played by the charming Rod Sharp, not a great player, but keen and seemingly made of india-rubber. Zweibrucken arrived at Mittach to relieve Baillet, but there was no Baillet to relieve and there was no indication what had happened to him. Looking at his orders Zweibrucken elected to press on towards Hohenlinden, pushing Deroy’s brigade and Dorth’s cavalry to the edge of the treeline to see the spires of Hohenlinden. At this point an Umpire’s Cock Up intervened as Chaim Ben-Zion, playing Ney said ‘hold on, I have units all along that stream’, pointing to an area of the battlefield that the Bavarians could have seen openly 5 turns ago and had been happily marching past. This effect was disastrous for Zweibrucken. If they had been there then he would have been able to form a defensive line against them, instead they were allowed to march into their positions, threatening his LOC. In effect they were caught on the march. With poor training and morale the French carved through them with a light battalion, a battery and a cavalry regiment on the ‘wrong’ side, cut off from their compatriots. Wrede’s brigade smartly occupied Mittach to deny that to the French. Deroy tried to pull his brigade together in the woods as Zweibrucken’s little advance guard looked very isolated before Hohenlinden. 

Ney cuts Zweibrucken in half

But, as Rod argued at the wash and brush up, Ney’s attacks worked to our advantage as it drew on Baillet’s infantry to save the Bavarians. By the end of the game Ney was the one looking isolated and the Bavarians were back to being a fighting force.

The Column of FML Baillet de Latour

Baillet was due to be played by Steve Sharp, an experienced and aggressive player, assisted by Seb Twinning. At the last moment this was all altered: Steve was ill and Seb had other commitments on the new date. The new team was Ceasar Slattery as Baillet and a new young player whose name escapes me. Inwardly I groaned. The centre now had no shepherd; instead there were two fairly weak players and a newbie. Luckily, Steve Clubley as umpire, watched this area like a hawk and prevented the worst cock ups. Now I have particular issues with Ceasar: although he has now played in more than half a dozen games he seems to have learned nothing. He is also very needy. Both of these demand constant oversight, but in a battle like this that is impossible.  The new lad, who was playing Esterhazy, commenced his wargaming career with the club in great fashion. Carving up the road towards Kienmayer the French had placed a battery covering the bridge, but had crucially placed the supporting infantry battalion to the side, rather than behind it in square. Esterhazy also had the ‘Lucky’ fate card. This combination meant the battery missed and the Kurassier smashed through it into the open spaces beyond, and Esterhazy started to cross swords with the cavalry of Bastoul’s division. He had a great time from then on and contributed significantly to Kienmayer’s breakthrough. 

Baillet's column

Baillet, meanwhile, after some prompting, realised he needed to save Zweibrucken from Ney. So his infantry and a couple of cavalry regiments began to attack Ney’s infantry that had caused such devastation to Zweibrucken. As the battle came to a close Ney’s division was not broken, but it was clear that it was going to be in serious trouble very shortly as it was now very much out on a limb. Meanwhile Baillet had pushed some troops to the edge of the woods before Hohenlinden. Before them was pretty much nothing, and if the game had carried on it was clear to me that Ney would have been brushed aside or trapped between Baillet and Kienmayer, leaving it open for both Zweibrucken and Baillet to assault Hohenlinden.

The Centre Column: FML Kollowrat-Krakowsky

This was commanded by me. The issue here became one of timing as I faced off against Grouchy’s Division commanded by a new player (Nick Goddard) but backed up by Colin Boulain who was now in the big chair instead of Chaim. Having sent GM Spannochi’s brigade off on a separate route that arrived on turn 6 were I wanted it. I then waited for 11 more turns before the remainder of the column arrived. So I deployed into line and began to shuffle Spannochi forward. When Beyer’s brigade arrived I deployed them into line too tacked on to Spannochi’s right, anchored on the woods left and right.

Kollowrat's troops commence their attack

I then began a slow, steady attack against Grouchy’s line. The cavalry under Liechtenstein I ordered through the woods to strike behind Grouchy as my infantry pinned him. This was opposed by what French cavalry remained in the centre. It was difficult, emerging from the woods and unable to use weight of numbers, instead having to attrit the French, which would have led to an eventual breakthrough, just not a rapid one!

The Left Column: FML Reisch

Austrians attack Schutzen

The left column under Reisch (Bill Scott) assisted by Simon Brooks as Gyulai, soon found the remaining two French divisions: Decaen and Richepanse. This part of the wood was very dense and the battle here soon bogged down into a war in the woods, complicated fighting that left Richard Shilvock, umpiring, pulling his hair out. I had never really anticipated Reisch being able to join up with Kollowrat as his orders instructed, but he did manage to take Schutzen as a first step. In effect Reisch pinned two French divisions in a close battle that was even more isolated from the rest.

End Result

Baillets troops head for Hohenlinden

I had fully expected to lose this game, expecting the French to bung up the mouseholes with artillery and infantry. Instead they made several errors which contributed to their eventual defeat. The first was I could not discern a French plan. I am still not sure if they had one. Then there were deployment issues. The two reserve cavalry brigades should have been on their left which was more open to face off Kienmayer: they were in the centre and by the time they did get there the Austrians had already defeated the French cavalry in situ, they were too late to affect the actual issue. Ney was probably too far forward. Although the attack on Zweibrucken was successful, and undoubtedly personally satisfying, Ney was in his turn exposed to attack by Baillet. The third, and the one Steve Clubley highlighted, was the position of Decaen’s division. He argued that it should have been in the centre (where, at the end, it had skirted round to, but too late to have any effect). Colin pointed out that he was told if he moved Decaen he may not have arrived at all. My point was he was no real use where he was and not having him would have made no difference to the way the game went, but having him in the centre would: it would have been worth the risk. 

Decaen on the road

Qua game: it was excellent. Every player was engaged fighting, no-one was bored or doing nothing all day. We were all busy. Luck was also present, Ceasar and I rolled so many sixes we lost more melees than seemed feasible as we failed to inflict casualties. On the other hand Esterhazy’s card played at the right time was critical in collapsing the French left. In the end all my columns were pretty much intact, in some case untouched. The closest the French came to victory over a formation was against Zweibrucken, but having the woods to flee into and pull himself together in Ney could not destroy him. On the other hand two French divisions had been destroyed: Grenier’s and Bastoul’s and the French left was gaping open. In effect all the Centre had to do was pin the French and allow Kienmayer to roll them up.

Family Photo (Colin was behind the camera)


Monday, January 10, 2011

Hohenlinden Video

In a new departure we are now able to bring moving

This video was taken by Colin Boulain as a flypast of the battlefield. I will put up a detailed account when the pics are available.


The Victory Despatch of Archduke John

My dear brother

Today the Army of Germany struck a blow against French tyranny.

Taking heart from our earlier victory at Ampfing, your army drove through the heavy Grosshagerwald and inflicted yet another defeat upon the French, crushing a third of their army and leaving the rest retreating in confusion.

Special mention must be made of FML Kienmayer, GM Esterhazy and your dear cousin the Archduke Ferdinand D’Este who, at the age of 19, shows much promise. While the bulk of our army pinned the French in place, our right smashed the French in the open and sent the surviving rabble fleeing for Paris. Guns and colours captured from the enemy are en-route to Vienna as soon as possible.

My dear brother, Germany is ours once again. The French are in retreat for the Rhine and the spirit of 1799 once again animates the army.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hohenlinden Dispositionskarte

Armee Dispositionskarte

General Opinion

Events in Germany have reached a critical stage. After the victorious campaigns in Germany, Italy and the Low Countries in 1799 the Godless forces of the French Republic have struck back in Italy and in Germany undoing many of our gains. We have also been abandoned by our Russian ally, and the British have once again withdrawn to their island. Austria stands alone with the exception of our Bavarian allies.

Events of 1st and 2nd December

The Army of Germany has scored some notable successes over the past week. Having overwhelmed the French at Ampfing on the 1st of December, the French have been compelled to abandon the town of Haag which we occupied on the 2nd December. It is the considered view of the Archduke and his staff that the French are retreating in some disorder and are concentrated around the town of Hohenlinden.

Overall Army Plan

Oberst Weyrother's plan calls for a concentric attack aimed at striking into the plain of Hohenlinden by four columns. All four columns are to converge upon Hohenlinden, the approach of the left and centre columns hidden on their approach by the Grosshaagerwald. It is also anticipated that the poor weather will help mask the approach of our columns. The overall plan is to draw the French towards the centre and right columns and left flanking columns roll up the enemy flank.

FML Kienmayer

Orders for Kolonne of FML Kienmayer

FML Kienmayer's column is the only column to approach the French in the open. The objective of FML Kienmayer's troops is the storming and occupation of Forstern and denying it to the French. It is anticipated that a serious assault against this position will draw French forces from the centre and right of their position. Cavalry and artillery units of FML Latour's column are anticipated to emerge from the Burgrainer Holz in the vicinity of Wetting, and they are to place themselves under your command as soon as practicable.

Orders for Kolonne of FML Baillet de Latour

The Column of FML Baillet de Latour is to advance from its start lines and move via the hamlet of Wilher to the village of Mittach. Here they are to form a defensive line and occupy the town. Upon the arrival of the Bavarian Division to relieve them, the column shall then continue its advance,  the majority passing through the Mittacherwald towards the village of Kronacker From this position FML Latour must use his discretion and may either assault Hohenlinden proper in conjunction with the Bavarian Division or assist the column of FML Kienmayer.  The brigade of GM Esterhazy and the column artillery, however, will advance along the track through the Burgrainer Holz to emerge before Wetting where the greater open spaces will allow more effective use of the cavalry and guns. They are to be placed under the command of FML Kienmayer as soon as they gain contact with his force.

Orders for Division Zweibrucken

The Column of Glt Zweibrucken will leave its start lines ahead of the Division of FML Kollowrat.  The Division will move down the main highway through the Grosshaagerwald until reaching the crossroads. The Division will then take the left hand track which leads towards Mittach. Upon reaching Mittach the division is to relieve the column of FML Baillet de Latour. When FML Latour's forces have cleared the area the Division of Glt Zweibrucken is to advance directly through the Mittacherwald towards Hohenlinden and take up positions on the edge of the treeline. The force is to make contact on its right with the forces of FML Latour which should have occupied Kronacker and on the left with the Division of FML Kollowrat around the village of Birbach.

FML Kollowrat-Krakowsky

Orders for Division Kollowrat-Krakowsky

The Division of FML Kollorat-Krakowsky, accompanied by the Archduke and his staff, will follow the Bavarian Division along the main highway until it reaches the crossroads. Here the force will divide. The Brigade of GM Spannochi will continue along the main highway and continue along this axis to emerge from the Grosshaagerwald and attack in the direction of Krieth-Birbech. The remainder of the division will take the right-hand fork and proceed in the direction of Mittach, but taking the right-hand track halfway along that route which leads to Birbach. This force is to emerge from the treeline and immediately assault Birbach.

Orders for Kolonne of FML Reisch

The Kolonne of FML Reisch will advance through the Grosshagerwald to occupy the village of Schutzen. The force is then to take the track to its right towards Krieth. Here it will link up with the forces of FML Kollowrat-Krakowsky and under the direct command of the Commander in Chief. The forces around Krieth and Birbach will then fall upon the right flank of the enemy which will have been drawn towards the right and centre columns.

Oberst Franz von Weyrother

Friday, January 7, 2011

Next Game: Hohenlinden

General Moreau at Hohenlinden

The next game is to be the Battle of Hohenlinden on the 9th January 2010. This game was postponed from late December due to the bad weather, with many players coming from places like Salisbury and beyond, it was really the only option Trevor had.

The Historical Battle

The battle, on 3rd December 1800, took place against poor weather on a battlefield in southern Bavaria. It pitched one of the best French generals of his generation, Jean Moreau, against an Austrian command structure that was divided and contradictory. The French army also benefitted from excellent displays of initiative by divisional commanders, whilst their Austrian counterparts fumbled and groped around in the snow and fog.

The snowy forest

The Austrians had taken a real battering throughout 1800. This had caused some confusion as in 1799 they had been extremely successful and were at a loss to explain why 1800 had gone so badly. One historical explanation has been to point the finger at the desertion of the Russians, in a negative and a positive way. Negatively, it is argued that their deserting the second coalition reduced Austrian overall morale and robbed them of numbers of troops. Positively it is argued that the Russians were responsible for the Austrian victories and their absence was the cause of the defeats.

General Moreau

Both seem nonsensical. Most Austrian senior officers looked on their Russian counterparts with disdain, the Russians on the whole being far less professional and certainly did not behave like 'Gentlemen'. Also the burden they imposed logistically, as well as politically, indicates that this withdrawal's impact was relatively neutral operationally. In terms of them being responsible for victories (the positive argument), they were certainly fairly ineffectual in Germany, in Holland they were pretty similar (after drinking the oil from the streetlamps on the Isle of Wight) and everything seems to have been built around Suvurov. Problem here is that Kray defeated the main French Italian army at Magnano before Suvurov arrived and, sent into Switzerland on his own at the end of 1799 he lost his army in the Swiss valleys never to be seen again.

General Kray, good in Italy but a failure in Germany

Arguably the issue was senior leadership. The Austrians simply lacked Divisional and Army commanders that matched the French in ability and operational flexibility. In 1799 they hit on some combinations that clearly worked. In Italy Suvorov/Chasteler/Kray/Bagration were a formidable team that the French were not able to contain. In Germany Archduke Charles and his able Chief of Staff, Schmitt, were equally competent and had proved formidable in 1796 as well.

FzM Lauer

But by 1800 this had all changed. Suvurov and Bagration were out of the equation. Chasteler was recuperating from his wounds and would not be the same energetic figure again. Charles and Schmitt had withdrawn from service. Kray was initially sent to Germany, but proved unequal to the task, whilst Italy saw the Austrian cause go down at Marengo in June. An Armistice, from July to November saw Kray replaced, but the Austrian Chancellor Thugut struggled to find a replacement. He had gone the rounds of the Archdukes, asking Joseph and Charles (who he disliked) both of whom refused. In the end, in a decision that seems like desperation, the command was offered to the 18 year old Archduke John. But John was only to be a cypher. The real command was supposed to be in the hands of FzM Franz Lauer, a thoughtful and cautious staff officer of considerable experience. This might have worked (although a similar arrangement in 1805 with Ferdinand and Mack ended with catastrophe at Ulm) but the Chief of Staff of the Army was none other than Oberst Franz von Weyrother, he of Austerlitz fame. Aggressive, blustering and personally very brave, Weyrother and Lauer were never gong to see eye to eye and the command developed into a competition between these two very different officers for the endorsement of the 18 year old Archduke. Compared to the unified structure of the French, with a clear sighted and very competent General, it was asking for trouble.

Archduke John in later life

Initially Weyrother gained the upper hand with an aggressive plan that saw the Austrians marching off to cut the French lines of communication. After a couple of days it was clear that the Austrian army, plus the weather, made such an approach impossible and Lauer suggested a straightforward attack on Munich. This caught Moreau's forces scattered and unprepared, and the ensuing battle of Ampfing on the 1st December saw the Austrians victorious.

Weyrother then seems to have played on John's youthful aggression, arguing that the French were in retreat and that immediate pursuit would probably bundle them back over the Rhine. The two overrode Lauer, who did not fall for the 'French retreating in disarray' argument for a minute, and Weyrother prepared a plan straight from the late 18th Century rulebook.

The French were assumed (there were a lot of questions going begging with this plan) to be concentrated around Hohenlinden. They were separated from the Austrians by the large and sprawling Ebersberg Forest. The weather was poor, with snow and freezing fog. Not circumstances you would ideally attack in, especially with an army as fragile as the Austrian one of 1800, but Weyrother proposed exactly that.

Late 18th Century doctrine, as practiced by the Austrians, saw a defensive concept based on a cordon and a reserve to move to threatened points. This was not confined to the Austrians, it was a fairly widespread theory and fashionable at the time. The attacking side of the coin was equally fashionable. Gone was the idea of the army moving as a single unit, arranging itself in battle formation on contact and then an engagement. In was the notion of concentric columns advancing towards the enemy independently and coming together to offer battle, ideally with one or more columns outflanking the enemy. This notion was absorbed by late 18th century Austrian staff officers who saw it as the way forward. The problem was that the Austrian army, indeed late 18th century armies in general, were pretty much incapable of rising to the task. An obvious example is Fleurus in 1794, the plan being the brainchild of Mack, which saw a series of concentric columns engage the enemy. The problem became one of command and control. Once battle was joined the army commander, Coburg, was not able to effectively co-ordinate the battle and instead the battle was fought by the individual unit commanders. As the Austrian generals were not known for their initiative but rather tight central control, this was not an approach that played to their strengths.

Austrian Gunner 1800

Nevertheless, despite evidence to the contrary that had built up during the 1st Coalition, Weyrother drew up a plan based on these concepts. A series of columns would pass through the forest like rain through a grate, coming together on the other side to engage the (supposedly) demoralised and disorganised French. The result was catastrophic. The Austrian column commanders plunged into the gloomy, snow-encrusted woods and started to lose their nerve. Column commanders, confronting unexpected circumstances and French troops clearly prepared to fight, began to look to the Army command and each other for support. Not knowing where each other was increased the sense of isolation. Defeat under these circumstances was inevitable.

FML Kienmayer, scapegoated by John

And, naturally, so was the outpouring of recriminations on the Austrian side. The Bavarian General Zweibrucken blamed the Austrians. Archduke John blamed FML Kienmayer (whose column hard arguably performed the best) and Thugut and the Court blamed Lauer, who as Adlatus was in theory responsible for the defeat, despite having advised against the whole enterprise in the first place. Certainly John was beyond blame, being a member of the Imperial House, and Weyrother's teflon coating along with wounds inflicted during the battle effectively insulated him.

Another wintry view of the battle

In other words, those least responsible for the defeat got the blame. A not unusual situation within organisations! Indeed, this willingness to go along with plans that were unrealistic and had disaster written all over them would characterise Austrian planning in 1805 and again in 1809, when a personally reluctant Charles endorsed a campaign whose foundations were shaky from the start.


On Sunday I will be playing the 3-headed Austrian command: originally John was to be played by one of the younger lads while I took the role of Lauer. Still, the plan is submitted and all that remains is to see how it plays out. Already there is some off-table action in the woods and the results of that will be revealed to us on the day. Moreau will be played by Chaim Ben-Zion, a rather more stolid character than Moreau was, it is his first time commanding an army from start to finish. The French start the game in the open and concentrated and able to plug up the mouseholes leading out of the forest. Could be interesting. Meanwhile none of the Austrian columns can communicate with each other, again, could be interesting...