I played the Markkleeberg scenario twice over last week, first with Matt and then with Keith. This was Matt’s first game with Lasalle and he picked up the rules very quickly. This was more of a training exercise than a full game and we played a reduced scenario, without Russian or French reinforcements. As Kleist, Matt broke into Markkleeberg and duffed up several of my Polish units. For a newcomer to the rules, he did very well and got the hang of the challenges of combined arms combat. Matt successfully evicted my Poles from the village and took out enough units to break my morale.
I played the Poles again in the next game against Keith. This time we used a bigger table and all the reinforcements. Keith set up his artillery to bombard the town and advanced his infantry on their right, to leave a clear field of fire for the guns. The Prussians prepared to assault the town from the east with two battalions while with the rest of their infantry they advanced on the Polish left. In two turns I lost 3 battalions: one in the town and two ridden down by Prussian cavalry, working in close partnership with their infantry. The Polish cavalry rode across the field one turn too late to save the infantry but destroyed the Prussian Horse. Keith’s occupation of Markkleeberg triggered the arrival of his reinforcements, followed shortly on my side by Semelé’s French Brigade. The game ended with the Prussians still in Markkleeberg and sending two battalions past the town down the Polish flank. While a draw under Lasalle’s rules, I conceded as I had both taken more losses and my flank was turned.
These were two entertaining games and I was pleased with the way the story unfolded. I did tweak the scenario between the first and second games to delay the arrival of Prussian reinforcements. On the day, the bulk of 12th Brigade was held in reserve until Markkleeberg was occupied. Allowing the whole command to be on table from the start did weight the first game in Prussia’s favour. Of course the Poles lost both times but the second game was a lot closer.
I am inclined to change the victory conditions for future Lasalle scenarios. The rules as written are complicated and, because the victory test requires a comparison with the turn number, only work within a limited range of game lengths. The main problem for me is that both sides can hit their break point and each continue to take the victory test for a few turns and regardless of further losses, the loser will be the first to fail their dice roll. I think later rules by Sam Mustafa provide cleaner victory conditions. So taking a leaf from Longstreet, I might just set a higher break point and just say that the first to reach their break point has lost.
Every so often, we return to gaming the Napoleonic period. Recently, I was reading Digby Smith’s history of Leipzig and got taken right back to an obsession that had lasted for most of the 1990s. Back then our rules of choice were Napoleon’s Battles, then published by Avalon Hill. One of the supplements for these rules included several scenarios for refighting Leipzig. My friend Keith and I agreed to collect the whole Leipzig Orbat in 15mm between us. We managed to paint all the units present on 16 October 1813 (admittedly at a scale of 1 figure to 120 men), but we didn’t get around to the Army of the North or other latecomers, so alas, no Swedes. Over five years or so we played several good games based on the events of the first day of the battle.
After rereading Digby Smith, I felt the urge to give Leipzig another go. I decided to start with the attack on Markkleeberg, which was made by a Russo-Prussian column under Kleist, mostly against Poniatowki’s VIII Corps, supported by Semelé’s division of Augereau’s Corps. I pulled together the other sources in my bookcase, which included Scott Bowden’s Grande Armee of 1813, the Osprey Campaign Book of Leipzig by Peter Hofschroer, Lorraine Petrie’s 1813 and two Polish language histories, one of the battle and the other about Poniatowski’s Poles throughout 1813.
I had three options for the rules: Napoleon’s Battles of course; Honour Games’ Blucher; or their older, tactical set, Lasalle. Plan A was to adapt the Napoleon’s Battles Orbat for Blucher and I do hope to do this at some stage. But having read about the exciting exploits of individual battalions and cavalry regiments around Markkleeberg, I decided to start with Lasalle, using my small collection of 6mm figures.
It proved tricky to work out the detailed order of battle and decide on deployments and reinforcement schedules. The accounts differ widely about exactly who was where and what happened on the day. No two books agreed on the troops involved. On the Allied side, some books just list the formal order of battle, which places Kleist at the head of the whole 2nd Prussian Corps, whereas Smith and Lorraine Petrie explain that at Leipzig, Kleist’s Brigades were shared out among the four Allied attack columns, to bolster their numerically depleted Russian allies. According to these sources, all Kleist had with him was the 12th Brigade, alongside Helfreich’s tiny Russian division. I decided to go with this version as it makes sense of the accounts in all of the books about how the engagement fought out. Had Kleist been in control of his full Prussian Corps, I suspect he would have overrun Poniatowski in no time at all.
On the Polish side, again, every book has a different Orbat. Bowden, whose research into French returns is exhaustive, touches only lightly on the Poles and his returns for them don’t match with any other source I could find. I think the trouble here is that several theoretical orders of battle that were decreed for VIII Corps were never implemented because events moved too fast. Mariusz Łukasiewicz, in his book “Armia Księcia Józefa 1813”, carefully examines the true shape of VIII Corps throughout that year. I therefore decided to go with his list.
As for the sequence of events, all sources agree that Kleist initially succeeded in taking Markkleeberg, was counterattacked in the course of the day and that by nightfall, he had been pushed back to his start line except he still had a toehold in the village.
The resulting scenario is here.
We have played it twice and a report and some photos are in my next post.
On our last full day at Waterloo we visited the Wellington Museum in Waterloo town and Napoleon's HQ at Le Caillou. The Wellington Museum is under renovation and felt a bit dowdy compared to the slick venues on the battlefield, but it had real charm and atmosphere, particularly the rooms where Wellington wrote his despatch while his ADC lay dying in the bed next door. The church opposite the museum has several memorials, mostly to British and Dutch Belgian officers and there was one plaque dedicated to all the French dead. We ate lunch at the Brasserie du Couvent, highly recommended for hearty pig-related dishes. We almost gave the Emperor's HQ at Le Caillou a miss but were so glad we didn't as it was another beautifully presented little museum with excellent audio guide.
On the last evening, Keith and I replayed D'Erlon's attack on the dining table of the Gardeners House, using the Cigar Box Battles Waterloo mat, Sam Mustafa's Blucher rules and his 100 days card set. It was a never-to-be-repeated chance to play Waterloo at Waterloo. I will choose figures over cards whenever possible but Sam's unit cards are perfect for a situation like this.
We had a wonderful few days and my enthusiasm for the 1815 campaign is back on fire. I have probably read more about Waterloo than any other battle but still learned masses from the museums and walks around the field. I would never have dreamed it might be possible to be staying in the chateau of Hougoumont, looking out over the courtyard with a glass of wine and some kettle chips. Magical!
Here are some thoughts and pictures after last weekend at Waterloo. As we were staying in the Chateau grounds, I will start at Hougoumont. It looks lovely after the renovation. The refurbished buildings are fantastic and the approach to the South Gate, which was under constant attack on the day, looks as it did in 1815. The North courtyard, missing several buildings that caught fire during the battle, is interesting for the surviving chapel and the memorial to the Scots Guardsmen who closed the gates at a critical moment, trapping a group of French infantry inside and saving the chateau from capture. The walled garden was bigger than we expected and overall, we were struck by how large the combined position of chateau, garden, woods and orchard must have been. The multi media show in the Great Barn was clever, absorbing and actually very moving. It was a highlight of the holiday.
We spent a whole day at the Mémorial in the centre of the Allied position, which covers the Lion Mound, Panorama and museum all in one ticket. We climbed the Lion because it was there but it didn't thrill. The Panorama was impressive. Pause for a Wellington sandwich and beer at the brasserie on site, then back for more. The museum was a revelation, with slick interactive displays and some great use of multimedia. There are dozens of uniformed mannequins, with extensive written and audio information about the armies, men, their uniforms and equipment. The 4D film is great fun. I especially enjoyed being under the guns of a French battery as it fired. The massive shop had a mixture of good books, expensive replica firearms and cheerful tat. The Napoleon T shirts are on sale there; you need to go to Hougoumont to pick up a Wellington.
On day three we walked from the Allied ridge cross country across to La Belle Alliance, then down to Plancenoit and the Prussian monument. Back up to the Brussels road, past La Haye Sainte and on to the crossroads. We had an excellent lunch at L'Estaminet de Josephine, washed down with Waterloo beer, brewed at the Mont St Jean farm.
We came back to Hougoumont just ahead of the 2eme Régiment de Chasseurs à pied, a reenactment group of twenty or so men and a dozen family members dressed as vivandières. The group demonstrated drill and musketry in the chateau gardens off and on for two hours. They were friendly and informative, happy to tell us about the details of their uniform and the life they recreate. Alongside the Chasseurs were a couple of gendarmes, a Guard pontonnier and, a little surprisingly, a customs official in a green uniform. They also serve...
We got back last night from 4 nights staying in the Landmark Trust apartment at Hougoumont, on the battlefield of Waterloo. It was a fantastic trip. Lots of photos and trinkets (Napoleon eraser, anyone?). Must think a bit before posting again. Meanwhile, these gentlemen gave us a great show on 1 May. They are the 2nd Chasseurs of the Guard reenactment society, based in Northern France. A pleasure to talk to them.
On Friday we are setting off for a five day holiday in Belgium, spending four nights on the battlefield of Waterloo. I am ridiculously excited at the prospect. As a teenager my family lived only a few miles away and I visited often with my Dad, - thirteen times, or so he tells me. He gave me my first Napoleonic history, David Howarth's Near Run Thing, which is still one of my favourite Waterloo accounts. But I haven't been back since 1975 and I am looking forward to seeing all the changes. My wife Caroline arranged the break and is gamely preparing for it. We recently watched Waterloo the movie together (in three instalments) and she is reading Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army. I am so touched by her readiness to embrace the battlefield tour experience! I will try not to abuse her goodwill as who knows what further tours might follow?
We are going with our good friends Keith and Fran. He is as dedicated a gamer as I am and Fran is as unmoved by military history as Caroline is. It may be tempting to suggest we split into boys and girls' parties but I know that would be a bad call. The better approach will be to take the history in small slices, with a lot of good food and at least a few non-Napoleonic diversions.
My wife and I recently watched a TV programme about the Landmark Trust, a UK charity that refurbishes historic buildings and then rents them out to holidaymakers. We hadn't previously known that the Trust has some properties overseas. It turns out one of them is the Gardener's House at Chateau Hougoumont on the field of Waterloo.. Before the programme finished, my amazing wife had booked us in for four nights next Spring. Not cheap and it's booked up for a long time ahead, but I can't resist the chance to sleep in a building that survived 18 June 1815.
If I'm the last to find out about this, I'm sorry for wasting your time. But if it's news to you too, check out the website. I last visited the battlefield in 1975. Lots to look forward to next Spring...
On 6 September we played the Battle of Waterloo again. I wanted to use the battlefield one more time before tidying it away and so invited four new players to come along. As in the first refight, this group were all new to the Blucher rules. In addition, only one of them had played a historical war game before: the others drew on memories of playing Warhammer. They all picked up the rules quickly and we fought the game to a conclusion inside one long day. In this game, the Allies deployed with a strong right flank, expecting a French left hook. The French duly obliged, but held on to a strong reserve including their two Heavy Cavalry Corps. Once the French left had engaged them, the Allies assaulted with their own left flank. The French screened this attack with a very light force and then launched their reserves against the Allied Centre. Thinned out to right and left, the Allies buckled between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. Despite the best efforts of the British 1st Division, the French juggernaut chewed up its opposition and Allied morale broke. While the French had lost a lot of élan points, they had not lost many units so were a long way from their break point at this stage.
It had been a great game and all players said they would happily play again. With hindsight, it might have been better to use another scenario to introduce the rules, as the players learned some useful lessons to their cost. Unit handling got a lot better in the course of the day, especially by the Allies. We agreed to meet again soon for another game. Next time we might try the Battle of Montmirail, 1814, a scenario I’ve played several times with Napoleon’s Battles. I’ll be interested to see how this works with Blucher.
On 12 July our gaming group refought Waterloo, using Sam Mustafa's Blucher rules and my collection of 20mm plastics. See the battle report here. It was a hard fought day in good company, with a clear result by teatime. The perfect day's gaming! All feedback is welcome. Next project report: The first day of Gettysburg, ready I hope in the next week.