Saturday, June 16, 2012

Battle of Froschwiller at WinterCon 2012

As promised, herewith are the photos of the Black Powder FPW action at WinterCon.  As we had surmised, it ran its course over eight turns and after a pretty tough and even fight, ended with a pretty convincing Prussian victory by Turn 8.  The big difference this time was in the higher infantry casualties inflicted by the much bolder French this time round. This time the Prussians lost no less than 9-10 battalions of infantry and three regiments of cavalry. The French lost about 8-9 (or more?) battalions of infantry, three or four regiments of cavalry and all their guns save one - the equivalent of nine batteries (including the attached Mitrailleuse) in BP rules.  The fact that the Prussians didn't loose a single gun- even though half their eight batteries took casualties - says more about the effectiveness of the French artillery.   The French have more guns on the table, but they are less effective at long range than the Prussian ones - and the Prussians have three batteries off table firing at long range. While this aspect of the game produced a slight imbalance in Prussian favour, it did conform to historical reality where in the end it was the Prussian artillery that pounded the French into defeat and destroyed Froschwiller when the Prussian infantry couldn't take it.  Historically the Prussians lost over 9,000 battle casualties - slightly more than the French but the latter also lost an additional 12,000 prisoners.  In our game we didn't get the prisoners as the French withdrew but the casualties were about the same.

The French in the vineyards outside Froschwiller
The Prussians emerge from Worth and come under immediate fire 
- view from French entrenchments along the ridge from Froschwiller to Elsasshausen
The Zouaves next to Froschwiller
The Turkos in reserve just behind the town
This time the Prussians came under heavy Chassepot, artillery and Mitrailleuse fire from the outset, with predictable results!
The Prussian tactic was to target the French gun batteries and take them out before they could inflict too much damage on the successive waves of infantry coming across the open ground in front of the town.  For the most part, it worked.
The first wave of attackers destroyed, the second and third waves spread out and engage the French in the vineyard.
On the other side of the table Dom's second and third waves attack the Niederwald and advance on Elsasshausen in the French centre.
The successive waves of Prussian attackers bunch up at the end of the vineyard - but can't break in!
The French Chasseurs a Pied (closest) beat off no less than three attacks by battalions twice their number.
The situation by Turn 5. 
Note the two battalions and artillery battery that were across the road into the town have been eliminated - but so had three battalions of Prussians!
The situation at the Niederwald, Turn 5.  Dom's massed Prussians had made sustained attacks but had been held off with heavy casualties by outnumbered but resolute Zouaves and Chasseurs.
The pressure on the Niederwald position was intense with the French threatened to be driven out by sheer weight of numbers.  To relieve the pressure, the French in front of Elsasshausen left their entrenchments and supported by the Chasseurs in the Niederwald, drove into the advancing Prussian columns, bringing them to a sudden halt.
Perhaps inspired by the success of the counterattack in front of Elsasshausen, the French lancers had a rush of blood to the head and charged unsupported into the mass of Prussians advancing up the road to Froschwiller.  The usual fate in FPW of cavalry who attempt to frontally charge infantry is to be cut down but perhaps the sheer audacity of the move unsettled the Prussians who failed to stop them with shooting and still couldn't defeat them in three rounds of hand-to-hand! Similarly to the Cuirassiers, they were finally wiped out by a flank attack by a fresh regiment of Prussian dragoons.
Meanwhile in the vineyards next to Froschwiller, the relentless assaults by Michael's Prussians had slowly ground down Mark's French who were reduced to the plucky Chasseurs and were forced to bring up their reserves as the Prussians gradually expelled them from the trampled vineyards.   
As the French attack next to the Niederwald swung in the balance sucking in more French  including their cavalry brigade which had been in reserve behind Elsasshausen village.  Now a hole opened up in the centre of the French line which the Prussian cavalry - which didn't arrive on the field until Turn 5 - quickly  exploited, with three of the four regiments galloping in.  In the background the French Cuirassiers made another desperate 'deathride' into the middle of the Prussian line opposite the Niederwald but they were on their own as the unfortunate French Dragoons on the other side of the forest had been destroyed attempting to charge the Prussian guns.
The French armoured heavies should have punched through but the combination of Prussian Needlegun rifles and sheer numbers meant they found themselves, similar to their lancer brothers on the left flank, held up in debilitating rounds of hand-to-hand. 
The situation Turn 7 - the final phase of the battle.  The French Cuirassier had failed to break through and trapped in front of steady Prussian infantry, they were simultaneously charged in the flank by a fresh regiment of Prussian Dragoons and destroyed. This proved to be a decisive point as with that and the loss of a supporting battalion of infantry, the French counterattack in the centre failed.
Must be something in the water at Froschwiller as this battle inspired a number of  heroic and desperate cavalry charges. In this the Prussians were slightly luckier. The two regiments of Hussars charged through the now nearly empty centre of the French position - against one reduced French battery which they destroyed - and ended up doing a break-through charge against a second, which proved an entirely different proposition.
Instead of riding down the remaining French battery, the French artillerymen fought back with trailspikes and rammers, not only holding the Prussian hussars but inflicted casualties on them. Some of the remaining French infantry then charged them in the flank to make it an all-in brawl, eventually destroying one regiment of Prussian hussars.
On the extreme French right they had run out of reserves to feed into the Neiderwald and with only three battalions of Zouaves and Chasseurs remaining, Dom's Prussians started to clear the woods.
At Froschwiller Michael charged in his Prussian infantry, finally taking the vineyards and fatally reducing the reserve of Turkos, two battalions of which had moved up through the burning village under artillery fire to face a furious final assault.  
Doug had threwn everything forward in a last desperate attempt to break the Prussian attack but the second regiment of Prussian hussars and another of dragoons destroyed the remaining French guns and Doug's last infantry reserves in the centre.   Facing annihilation, the French in and around Froschwiller were eventually forced to withdraw.
At the same time Dom's Prussians were finally successful in driving the remaining French out of the Niederwald - although at a very high price.  At the end of Turn 8 the French had two small units of Chasseurs and one depleated battalion of Zouaves left in the woods - but it had cost at least four battalions of Prussians destroyed to take the woods.
The final scene, Froschwiller.  The Turkos are holding out to the last - covering the French withdrawal.  (Doug) MacMahon's command is under the tree at the top of the ridge in the middle.  Immediately in front of him is a victorious regiment of Prussian hussars and to his left, another battalion of Michael's infantry.  Time to call it a day.

Eight turns of action and the battle in the balance right up until the last.  After fighting this twice now and tweaking the scenario & rules etc for this, its remarkable how close the final result matched the historical one.  The introduction of cavalry to the scenario was a good touch.  Historically they didn't have much to do with the battle - the most significant part was the trapping of the French Cuirassier inside the town of Morsbronn to the left of the Niederwald, where some 700 were massacred within minutes by close range Prussian rifles - which does not exactly lend itself to our little scenario!  

Doug has masterfully condensed a huge battle directly involving two Prussian corps - the XI and the V - with the one and a bit French corps.  We couldn't quite match that number of figures but I think what we have managed to field worked well. At present we would have close to 500 pieces per side, which makes a Black Powder game of eight turns do-able.  Thanks go again to those who participated in our demo game in particular Dom (who helped test it out too) Mark and Michael.  

I think that just about does it for FPW posting on this blog for the time being.  While I still have dozens of figures to paint, we don't plan any more games until CanCon itself next year, by which time both our armies will be completed.  


Thursday, June 14, 2012

WinterCon 2012 Demo Games

We road-tested our Black Powder FPW game at WinterCon and it worked a treat.  As Doug predicted, a full game and decision in eight turns - the way the game ran, it was almost spot on.  We were also able to add some elements, both in terrain - a proper vineyard this time and entrenchments - and in units represented.  Both sides had four regiments of cavalry which were present historically but not involved in the battle of Froschwiller.  We decided it would be much more exciting and interesting to include them, even knowing what tends to happen to cavalry in this period.  In this post I'll include a few photos taken by some of our colleagues of our game but I will put the full story of it illustrated by over twenty action photos in the next post.  For this one I want to show the other two marvelous demonstration games put on by the Canberra Black Powder gang and associated CanCon DemoGamers group.  The first  is Peking.

The entire table is of the built-up area that housed the old foreign legations - the one closest is the partially demolished (by Boxer fire) British Legation compound.

Some of you of our vintage may remember a wonderful old action drama '100 Days in Peking' starring David Niven, Charleton Heston and Ava Gardener etc, etc set during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.  The Boxers, with the conniving of the Chinese Empress Dowager, attacked the compounds of the foreign legations in Peking and lay siege to them for 100 days before finally being relieved by an international force sent to rescue them.  Its a mighty story and one of uncommon cooperation amongst the Western powers who had to pool meager resources to survive the ensuing siege.

Not known for any half measures our mate Andrew (of the Kokoda campaign fame posted previously on this blog) organised a group of equally fanatic wargamers to rebuild old Peking, including a section of the huge wall of the Forbidden City, to re-stage a game of the 100 Days in Peking episode.  He even went to Beijing and took photos of the surviving old legation buildings and area which is just down the road from Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City.  He's quite mad as I've been there too and I believe the old British legation building is now a Ministry of State Security (MSS) headquarters.  Historical or not - you can be locked up for happy-snapping it!  You can imagine what the security guys would have thought of his explanation: ("Listen mate, I just wanted to rebuild old Peking! Honest!')  But it goes to show what lengths wargamers will go just to 'get it right' - the reconstruction of the legation buildings is amazingly accurate with an incredible attention to detail.

In addition to the fantastic buildings reconstructed, there are all the main characters involved such as the various diplomats and spouses etc.

The British Consul and his good wife: 'just loading up to pot a few of those dastardly Boxer chappies, eh what?'

They are accompanied by other diplomats like the Russian Consul and his wife (dressed for a Siberian winter!) and the Teddy Roosevelt-like US Consul and his offsider. I think the Americans provide most of the fighting muscle of the tiny Legation force.

The fur-clad Russian Consul and consort

The US Consul and his Marine guard captain - both of 'em 'can-do' kinda guys &
 the epitome of the heavily armed diplomat, fully equipped for 'negotiation'!

Their redoubtable and fanatic Boxer opponents - hordes of 'em!

I don't know how the action went as I was too involved in our own game but there was a noticeable crowd around the table and plenty happening - the three demos attracted a lot of attention from the WinterCon crowd.  Suffice to say it looked spectacular and all the more impressive as half the building is still to be completed - an amazing job in just a few months.  I predict its going to be a knockout at CanCon next year.

Quite a view - the Americans capture and occupy the section of the wall that overlooks the Legation compounds and surrounding hutongs (Chinese walled house compounds).  Gives you some idea of the scale of the thing.

Boxers or Imperialists wait to advance into the barricaded legation area 

Hordes of fanatical Boxers swarm over the ruins to get at the 'Gwailo' ('foreign devils') 

Not to be forgotten were the redoubtable Greg and Ian who put on a quick skirmish game 'Isandlawanah'.  Here the challenge for the colonial British is to survive the onslaught of the Zulu hordes (hmmm, hordes of Boxers, now Zulus and then Prussians - I'm sensing a theme here...).  Greg assures me that of the five(!) games played that day, three were 'won' by the British.  I'll take a liberal interpretation of 'won' to also equate with 'survive'!  I have a few of my photos but also include a few of Greg's amusingly captioned shots.

A peaceful bucolic scene at the British camp, a few of the lads falling in for early morning parade...

Meanwhile, out on the veldt the Africaaner scouts spot something :
'what's that rustling in the grass over there...?'

Ye Gods sir - its 'ordes of Zulus - permission to run for it sir? Er... sir?

'Do that button up Private Williams - you slovenly soldier!' [Photo: Greg]

"I say Caruthers, do you think we could just talk to these chaps and sort it all out!" [Photo: Greg]

The guys also kindly sent me some very nice photos of our game (thanks Ian!) including one of two old farts messing about  splendidly attired in their field marshal's flouro vests! (oooh - the power!!!)

Doug gazes on Yours Truly thinking 'what is that silly old sod doing now?' 
Not happy as he had to pay for his own coffee AND mine too! 
Game participant and French co-commander Mark looks on patiently, waiting for the initial set up by myself and Prussian co-commanders Dom & Michael so that he can obligingly shoot them to pieces.
The French wait patiently in their entrenchments for more feelthy Boche Prussian targets
The first Prussians march boldly out of Worth: "now ver ist zoz verdammten Franzosiches?"
We is 'ere - come and get it Monsieur Boche! 
Prussians with wet feet just innocently trying to go for a walk in the woods...
Ooh look boys - a French vineyard! 
Hope they brought their tubs with them 'cos a lotta grapes are gonna get trampled today!

Well that's about it for this post - much fun was had by all at WinterCon and judging by what we managed to put on, the next CanCon in 2013 will be even more impressive - and fun!  Thanks also from Doug and myself to the many interested passers-by who stopped to look and ask us about this little known but fascinating era of wargaming and of course to our convivial guest gamers Mark, commanding the French and Dom and Michael the victorious Prussians.  Hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Black Powder Franco-Prussian War demo game

Having collected and painted like mad for months Doug and I are about to trial our Franco-Prussian War Black Powder game at our local WinterCon gaming convention.  But to do so we had to iron out the scenario adaption and how the rules best apply.  The emphasis is to include historical accuracy (Chassepot v Needlegun, Krupp's breach loading artillery v Mitrailleuse etc,) but without unduly disadvantaging either side - the advantages for one are hopefully cancelled out by those for the other.  Basically if you are French, shoot the crap out of the Germans as soon as they appear (let your Mitrailluese loose!); if you are Prussian use your rapid-fire artillery to soften them up then close with the Froggies as fast as you can and use your numbers - and your cold steel of course! Vorwarts meine Kinder!

The scenario is the battle of Froschwiller in Alsace, one of the decisive frontier battles right at the start of the war.  It pit's McMahon's 1st Corp of his Army of Alsace - considered the elite of the French army - against the Prussian V Corps of Crown Prince William's III Army. The town of Worth has fallen and the road through Froschwiller is open - unless the French can hold the Prussians off.  The road leads directly to McMahon's vital rail-head at Reichshofen.  The Prussians have to capture Froschwiller by 1700 hrs that day and destroy over twelve French battalions in order to gain a major victory.  The French have to hold the village until 1700 hrs and destroy up to 15 Prussian battalions in the process in order for them to claim a major victory.  Historically, the French missed a huge opportunity to defeat the Prussians as they came on piecemeal (at first) - it would have thrown the entire Prussian invasion schedule out of kilter and changed the course of the war - one of the great 'what-ifs' of the FPW - and so a great scenario to fight. We estimate the game will take about eight turns to complete.  In our first trial we go going late but managed six turns before calling it a day.

The setup at Turn 1 with McMahon's forces spread along the ridge with the Niederwald forest closest, Elasshausen in the middle and Froschwiller ta the other end - vineyards and open forest on the French left flank - a very good defensive position.

The town of Worth (in Prussian hands) is directly opposite Froschwiller (upper right of 1st photo).  The Prussians cross the Sauer river (fordable for infantry) and come on at Worth in Turn 1 and on the French right opposite the forest at Turn 2.

French defensive position along the ridge
French centre on the ridge in front of Elasshausen

The Prussian objective - Froschwiller village - note the Mitrailleuse on the left!

As Prussian commander I realised that the longer I was within range of the dreaded French Chassepot rifles before engaging the French the more damage they could do to me.  I honestly expected my first three or four units - the first wave of attack - to be wiped out but although they sustained some casualties, the larger Prussian formations (24 figures opposed to the French 18 figure battalions) proved very resilient.

 The Prussians emerge from Worth to begin the assault

Fortunately my dice rolling for my initial was good and I got my three first moves in which got me across the fields to just below the vineyards next to Froschwiller and changed formation from dense attack column to line.  Then the fun began.

The Prussian dispositions at end of Turn 1

The French opened up with everything including the fearful Mitrailleuse - at close range! As expected the lead Prussian units soon took heavy casualties.

But the Prussians were also lucky as after three shots the closest Mitrailleuse jammed and remained that way for several more rounds of shooting. Although they survived their initial break tests,even with superior unit size it was obvious that they couldn't sit there and shoot it out - they had to charge in with the cold steel!  The first Prussian battalion charged the lead French one holding the vineyard (which looks remarkably like a wheat field in the above photo!) for a desperate hand-to-hand a la bayonet! 

Turn 3: The French and Algerian Tirailleurs manage to hold off the Prussian hordes!

The far left of the French position was held by the Tirailleurs Algeriens - the famous Turkos - in the open woods next to the vineyards.  The French flank was not for turning either - it was straight up the guts to Froschwiller or nothing at all!

As the Prussian assault went in the Algerians were also faced with menacing Prussian Dragoons - the only cavalry unit on the table.  The Prussians tried a bold charge but steady French shooting halted them at the woods edge and forced them to retreat back to the start line at Worth.

The Prussian Dragoons about to launch a charge at the Turkos in the woods - are they bloody mad?

The French line comes under increasing pressure 

Meanwhile, on the Prussian left in front of the Neiderwald, Prussian deputy commander Dom launched his rapid attack columns right across the centre of the French position to try and drawn off French units from reinforcing Froschwiller.  In response the French launched themselves from the ridge at Elasshausen and from the Neiderwald right into the flank of the Prussian columns.

Prussian attack columns in front of the centre of the French position

The French counter-attack halts the Prussians in front of Elasshausen

The Prussian attack in the centre did increase pressure on the French line but didn't affect the fight at Froschwiller.  After heavy shooting fierce hand-to-hand brought the Prussian columns to a halt.  The French brigade on the other side of the Neiderwald could have made quite a difference but never budged much - the curse of the dice!  

At first the Prussians appeared successful in front of Froschwiller

Same happened to my supporting artillery which got onto the table at Worth and halted just outside of Chassepot range but failed to unlimber and immediately came under effective counter-battery fire - just could not roll the dice I needed to get them into action.  However, the assault on the vineyard was successful and two French units were destroyed or broke.  But then the Turkos, after successfully holding off the Prussians to their front and driving off the Dragoons, swung around and hit the Prussian line in the flank, also bringing that assault to a grinding halt. By the end of Turn 4 the battle appeared to be in the balance. 

Situation at end of Turn 4 with the second wave of Prussians beginning to come on.

The French got their second battery and Mitrailleuse into action.  Combined with the great shooting from a small unit of Chasseurs that managed to negotiate the traffic jam in the town, the victorious Prussians in the vineyard were first brought to a halt, then enfiladed with one working Mitrailleuse which finally destroyed them.  The alternating rounds of shooting and hand-to-hand also drove back the two supporting battalions and with half the leading Prussian brigade dead or in retreat, the other half halted by the outnumbered but courageous Turkos, a second brigade brought to a halt in front of the French guns at Elasshausen (in the centre of the French line), things suddenly looked decidedly dicey for the Prussians! 

The redoubtable Turkos hit the Prussians in the flank just as they appear to be overwhelming the French defence

The Turkos launched into the Prussian flank and for a minute there nearly brought the whole thing undone.  Because of their smaller unit size, the added factors for flank attack still didn't give them enough to break the Prussians.  They SHOULD have but if you don't roll high enough then...   After losing two rounds of combat and having two battalions in retreat, I managed to roll just enough to save a third.  At that point the Dragoons, which everyone seemed to have forgotten about, launched a furious charge into the back of the  Turkos who had originally driven them off - ca la guerre!  The valiant Turkos were cut down to a man by the vengeful Prussian cavalry.  Nonetheless the Turkos 1st battalion managed to out-shoot and out-bayonet one larger Prussian unit while at the same time being hit in the flank by another - but showed no signs of breaking themselves!

Situation at the end of Turn 6 - the end of the battle for us

At this point we'd run out of time and decided to call a halt to the proceedings.  Technically, it was a draw as the French lost considerably more than the attacking Prussians (six battalions to just one Prussian) but still held onto Froschwiller.  The Prussians would likely have cracked the French left had the game gone on and the avalanche of jack-boots in the centre would have been hard to contain BUT the French still had reserves in and behind the town, the vaunted Prussian artillery hardly got into action whereas the French and at least one Mitrailleuse had caused considerable damage so its very doubtful that Froschwiller would have fallen by 5 o'clock as required!  

What did I learn? Well, the Prussian attack was far too disjointed to be guaranteed success but on the plus side, those big battalions can absorb a lot of punishment!  I think that the rules (with some tweaking) played well and pretty much tracked what happened historically, which pleases the pedant in me.  A lot of work to do to be ready for WinterCon but I think it'll work well.  And most of all - it was FUN!

Note to self: MUST paint more Prussians (particularly casualty markers - we ran out!)