Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Battle of Bautzen

The Allied Plan

This was a curious battle, as it was going to be successfully won by the allies by retreating. The basic principle was the withdrawal from the trap created by Ney's force arriving on the Allied right. I was playing Blucher, with David Shepherd as Barclay. In effect the Prussians were facing the 'main body' of the French, whilst the 3rd Army of the West under Barclay found themselves in the path of Ney. Operationally the big challenge was the withdrawal of the three Prussian 'brigades' (in effect divisions) from the cul de sac formed by the Boserwasser and the fishponds along the Kleine Spree. This meant that there were only really two bridges that were available to pull them out over, Klein Bautzen and Preititz. 

The overall plan, then, would mean that Barclay and Yorck would have to hold on whilst the bulk of the Prussian army pulled out, and once intact it could take up more credible defensive positions. Tactically the Allies were heavily outnumbered in infantry, but placed their faith in their more numerous cavalry to delay the French while the infantry and artillery made its escape.

The battle

The battle opened with the French attacking the village of Pleiskowitz. This was held by a fairly weak Russian Division, Insov's 9th, but the Russian cavalry, active to the rear of the village, prevented the French from outflanking the place and committed them to some costly frontal assaults. In this fashion Pleiskowitz held on longer than the Allies had any reason to expect, but it was crucial as it prevented the French from taking the bridge at Klein Bautzen. Meanwile the Russians lined the Boserwasser with artillery in the expectation that the area between Klein Bautzen and Preititz would become a killing zone when the French eventually broke through.

Meanwhile the Prussians were moving. Starting with the Brandenburg Reserve Brigade they started pulling out of their position along the road between Doberschutz and Pleiskowitz. The French cavalry had effectively made the bridge at Preititz unsafe, as they had entered along the road south of Malschwitz towards Preititz. Unsafe; basically infantry in march column would be too vulnerable to risk a sudden French breakthrough. So that left one bridge at Klein Bautzen. York, comfortably ensconced in his redoubts had also placed a forward garrison at Kreckwitz, which was a very fortuitous move. This effectively prevented French attacks on his main position and cut off any prospect of the French outflanking his redoubts or passing troops over the Boserwasser.

Further French columns made their appearance. Before  Doberschutz the Wurttemberg Division made an appearance. A Further French force, Delmas' Division, began arriving over the Spree having thrown over a pontoon bridge and yet another (Albert's Division) from Sarchen having skirted round the back of Plieskowitz. A luckily drawn 'impassable' card was played by Blucher on one of the Pontoons (it 'collapsed') reducing Delmas' Division to one bridge. Still, the Prussian brigades in the centre began closing up in defensive postures, backed up by the Guard Cavalry.

The most dangerous French column was undoubtedly that of Rochambeau's Division and Chastel's Light Cavalry  on the extreme Allied left. Driving for Baruth and Rackel, thinly held by Illowaisky's Cossacks and Lansky's 'mobile corps', with no infantry at all. But, by skilful handling of the cossacks, the French were reduced to a crawl. The Prussians quickly realised that the Russians here had to be reinforced. Whilst the Brandenburg Reserve escaped over the bridge at Klein Bautzen and made for the space east of Preititz to draw up, the Lower Silesian Brigade (next out) was detailed to withdraw to Belgern and occupy the heights there, cutting off any French effort to sever the Allies' line of retreat.

The French were just not able to move fast enough. Two main obstacles confronted them: the ubiquitous Allied cavalry and the 'channelling' effect of the various streams. The French, once they had finally taken Pleiskowitz found themselves funnelled into the killing zone that Barclay had created with his artillery lined up behind the Bosenwasser. The Prussian reserve cavalry got out having lost one regiment to the French, and several infantry battalions as well whilst the survivors of Von Zeithen's Upper Silesian Brigade struggled over the Bosserwasser and formed up behind Yorck around Purschwitz before themselves starting out in the direction of Wurschen.


This had only brought the French up to the Bosserwasser itself, marshy and difficult to cross, it had been identified by the Allies as their main line of defence. But, with a Prussian Brigade comfortable positioned at Belgern, another on its way and the Brandenburg Reserve plugging the hole between Preititz and Belgern the Allies had effectively escaped the trap relatively unscathed. Indeed the French were pretty much intact too, as units of infantry in the open had either formed square when charged or simply dissolved. Most remaining units on the table were pretty much intact.

From the Allied perspective they could probably have comfortably sat behind the Bosserwasser all day, with Yorck withdrawing to a position parallel to Preititz and the Prussians spoiling to put in an attack against the fairly isolated Rochambeau, who was going to prove hard to reinforce.

The Allies had ruthlessly exploited the rule which said that no infantry unit was able to advance against a cavalry unit unless in square. A single regiment could not hold up a brigade, but the Allies had plenty of cavalry to spare, whilst often individual French units not in square or disordered were picked out and dissolved in the face of a charge. This caused considerable irritation to Ney (Steve Clubley) who complained loudly to anyone prepared to listen, and even those that weren't.  Not prepared to change a rule in the middle of a game, which would be madness, I still think that there should be a tweak to cover cavalry exhaustion. Whether this is through 'blown' markers or taking longer to recover disorder I do not mind. But it has to be noted that multiple charges by Heavy Cavalry in particular were pretty rare in a battle, they seem to have been a 'one shot' weapon!