Tuesday 5 December 2023

Prussia Rising, campaign game 2 - The Bridge at Dannigkow

Game 2, and this time it was set-up as part of the historical Battle of Mockern, with the Prussians advancing on Madgeburg and French holding the line of the Elhe river (stream) and bridges across it at various villages. The actual battle was the various Prussia attacks on these villages, so our game would be one of them, at Dannigkow, where von Fuch’s division had been given the duty of making the first morning assault against Houlier’s division holding the bridge at Dannigkow. It’s a mash-up of history and our own narrative, but as a game of Soldiers of Napoleon is supposed to recreate part of a larger battle, it seemed it make sense to be part of Mockern. In this campaign, sometimes it’s fictional, sometimes it’s a fictional part of a real battle. 

Today's battlefield, French on the left, Prussians from the right.

This would then be the first few hours of the day's assaults at Dannigkow. The French would defend and rolled to dig-in with 20” of earthworks to hide behind (in the centre for the Wurttemberg infantry to hold). On their right, holding the farm area would be Cherou’s infantry brigade, whilst on their left would be light cavalry, attached for the day, 10th Chasseurs and 4th Hussars, supported by a single gun horse battery of a 5.5” howitzer (lurking at the back for harassing fire). This is how the French deployed, right flank forwards to hold the farm buildings, Wurttembergers behind the earthwork holding the bridge itself and light cavalry behind the river (more marshy stream) on the left. They’d have to wade over that.

The Prussian division would be their advanced guard out front screening, with behind them on their left Lutzow’s Freikorp, to attack along the road and the farm area, and behind on the right, their own light cavalry brigade of 2 uhlan regiments. So the cavalry had lined up to meet.

My defensive plan was one I’m not that used to, I not usually a fan of just sitting back and waiting (I generally like to get stuck in, we came to fight right?), but the Wurttemberg infantry would just hold fast. The French light infantry could move up and secure that farm, with the 1st battalion veterans occupying the buildings and their other battalions supporting. 2nd battalion would screen in front in extended line, and all battalions would deploy skirmishers to make a thicker screen as well. The landwehr of the Freikorp would, most likely, find it hard work against good French voltiguers, but, they did have their own cavalry support (more landwehr lancers) and Prussian fusiliers screening them too, so it was well supported attack and could drive off my skirmishers. My lines looked solid, the Prussian assault would need to be heavy, ferocious and sustained to push me out (i.e. a bloodbath). The risk, as I saw it, was on the left, losing that flank, light cavalry vs light cavalry, would be the most likely way to lose this fight. That needed to be a stalemate, a draw here and win in the attrition with the well dug-in infantry was my plan. Key to this would be my hussar regiment, whilst they fought, the left flank was OK, lose them, and well, the weak chasseur regiment would be in trouble and most likely I’d lose the brigade, the flank, and with it then the battle.

Deployment complete, the Prussians started off by rolling for a Special Circumstance (an optional part of the rules that throws an oddity into the mix, but we like to use them). It had been raining a lot, the ground was muddy, so -1 to all movement distances. That didn’t help the Prussians much, a slog through the quagmire. They would make a Steady Advance (something of a surprise), but pressing an assault with militia quality infantry is tough and so a 'Grand Assault' looks more like a hinderance rather than a aid. Mind you, their many (4) lance-armed cavalry regiments could do it. Nothing stopping them taking the objective card if (when) it comes up.

So, to turn 1, and the Prussians got moving up, screening fusiliers, their horse battery, and the uhlan on the right at the gallop to speed up and start to pressure my cavalry, which responded by wading the marshes and stream to at least be on the right side of the river (go forward to make space to come back into). Here, we eyed each other in a wary stand-off. Who would risk it first? (not me).  The French lines deployed skirmishers, lots of them as the first line of defence, so we get some harassing damage done, and the guns exchanged fire at long ranges, to not much effect (Prussian guns being towed up). As yet, my howitzer was out of range.

The cagey start continued, neither side doing anything radical. Just getting units into place. Skirmish fire, cannons boom, some intimidation from those uhlan against my cavalry (they all have long pointy sticks, why don’t we get long pointy sticks?). His horse battery came up behind his uhlan and deployed, and opened fire, to the swift response of my waiting howitzer, which hit! This single gun would continue its counter-battery work each turn and, for the rest of the game, barely missed, they just kept dropping in shells on those Prussian 6 pdrs and had the crews cowering… need to roll a 5+? This gun crew and their bombardier rolls it! Do not under-rate the howitzer lob-shot…

Turn 3, and things heated up a bit. Lutzow’s men started to march up the road, splashing through the puddles. The assault was coming, but accurate French gunnery scored some 8 pdr hits. Skirmish fire added more damage as the fusiliers duelled with the light infantry in front of the farm buildings. His uhlan moved up again, eyeing my chasseurs, but got into skirmish fire range of the Wurttemberg screen which open a withering fire on them, light infantry, jaegers and line infantry all scoring hits and turning the cavalry’s line into disorder, to retreat and rally, ouch! My chasseurs breathed a sigh of relief not facing the lancer’s charge this turn. The other uhlan did charge though, my hussars, who responded with elan and met them halfway. The first clash saw the lancers win it, just, by 1 point, so my hussars pulled back, rallied and got back into good order almost like it never happened. Then, disaster for the Prussian cavalry, more hits from Wurttemberg cannon fire meant his ragged uhlan would need to rally again, but they lost both their last cards (saved for that rally) to a ‘command confusion’ special event… in the confusion one uhlan regiment thought that had the order to retire and so quit the field… first broken unit and the worrying pressure on my left relieved. My hussar could deal with one uhlan regiment (without their lance bonus now). Confidence was high within the 4th Hussars… which was a mistake… because more uhlan arrived from the advance guard to replace those lost. The only saving grace, they were a long way from their command stand now, so would need many orders to actually use. Still, if they saw the chance, they'd be after my poor chasseurs. The Prussians had learnt not to get into range of the Wurttemberg skirmishing horde though… that just invited a torrent of musket and jaeger rifle fire.

Initial fencing over, time for lunch, a long chat about ‘Napoleon’ the movie (nothing good though) and a brew. The French were ahead on VPs.

Part two, and the battle heated up. The Prussian assault, stalled and flagging at the farm, their own skirmishers not making much of a dent, got busy and the advanced guards grenadiers launched their own rapid assault, coming on at the double. This is what grenadiers do, and they quickly through themselves into a charge and routed the light infantry line ahead of them, then followed up with another charge which meant the light infantry disorder was now a gory massacre, they had to rally, loose all their stands and be wiped out to save the extra VPs. Cannon fire and skirmish fire made the grenadiers pay in blood for that boldness though. On my far left the hussars charged, and a second melee with the uhlan was a win, but again, not by much. They drove the uhlan back, but also needed to rally. Howitzer lob-fire again hit the Prussian gunners… who were relaying their guns more than they were firing. Unerring accuracy.  Then, on the final card of the turn, the uhlan used intimidate on my hussars, who shouldn’t be too bothered by such (good discipline), except they rolled terribly, took 2 disruption and broke! Obviously, they figured they had done their job for today, honour was served, and withdrew… oh no, disaster, the flank was left with one weak chasseur regiment to face down 2 full strength uhlan regiments… big trouble. Plus, a lot of VPs went to the Prussians, suddenly they were ahead and the French close to quitting the field. My fear had come true… damn my hussars, why are they always so bad?

So, on we went, with urgent action needed by my forces. Lucky, the Prussian commanders failed two ‘at risk’ tests and thus were 2 cards down this turn, my saving grace, the Prussians would struggle to capitalise on their break.

Their attack on the farm was still stuck, taking damage and not getting forwards, the next to try, the Freikorps’ landwehr cavalry, took artillery fire and then a militia panic card, which left them in disorder. The grenadiers pulled back, rallied and lost half their stands from their bold solo assault, so now lacked the strength to take the farm buildings. Lutzow’s attack had been stopped. The farm would not fall. Meanwhile, the cavalry had stalled too, needing to rally, and skirmish fire, ferocious from the Wurttembergers, kept on regiment at bay. Their cannon’s counter-battery fire also found it mark, as did the howitzer fire – again… and suddenly two Prussian batteries were in danger of breaking. Both could not be rallied, and when one battery failed to relay their guns, they were lost. The rally also disastrously failed, and both batteries broke in the same turn. In the End Phase, the cost of this loss was added up, and the French could also claim their ‘Hold the Line’ objective too, the total pushed the Prussians to their breakpoint. They had to pull back, the first assault on the bridge had failed. My French had 4 VPs still left, so close (mainly due to the damn 4th Hussars quitting on me), a marginal French win in game two. It is now 3 -2 Prussia in campaign VPs. 

A hard struggle, but the French infantry positions were very tough for the Prussians, not aided by little things going against them, like the ground conditions. Their best chance was to press the cavalry attack harder, but that was only really seen as a demonstration attack to pin my cavalry and deny them freedom of action. Also, their light cavalry needed to do far more work in driving in skirmishers. Ignoring them was costly, but its the kind of tactic that can’t be done casually, you need to really keep at it, keep sending them back. 1 uhlan regiment dedicate to this task could have cleared the way for the other two to attack hard and get through on the Prussia right - easier in hindsight. This all came up in post-game debrief… lessons learnt, but always fun game. I might have held the bridge at Dannigkow for a morning, but the French would still lose the battle of Mockern and give-up defending Magdeburg. So, we march away south, to join Napoleon’s main army and game 3, somewhere near the Saale river.

Pics of the action at Dannigkow. 


Prussian light cavalry brigade deploy on their right. Probably the key to victory here.

Advanced guard fusiliers screen in the centre and over to the left. Behind are their own attached uhlan. 

Lutzow's Freikorp, in marching columns for the first advance on the farm and bridge.

19th Leger occupying the farm, 2nd battalion to push through and screen in front in extended line.

Cherou's brigade behind the farm, much of this is reserve infantry, kept out of the line of fire.

Wurttemberg's wall in the centre. 2 battalions up, 2 back, ready to replace them.

Le Tallec's light cavalry, 4th Hussars, 10th Chasseurs and a howitzer.

The Wurttemberg light infantry, excellent, with the jaegers attached.

1st battalion move up to occupy the farm, as 2nd battalion move ahead of them. Veterans in good cover will be a hard to shift.

Stand-off between the light cavalry, but the uhlans are being badly shot up by Wurttemberg skirmishers.

First cavalry clash, lancers win it, but only by 1 point. The hussars will fallback and quickly rally well. Lance impact sting is drawn.

Wurttemberg skirmish line, out front, doing damage.

The advanced guard grenadiers storm towards the farm, through shot and shell. Grenadiers lead the way, quiet right. But it is costly.

The uhlan are called up to aid on the right. Long way from the command stand though.

Landwehr cavalry come forward and form an attack column, but heavy artillery fire (lots of hits) and then a 'militia panic' (under that fire), puts them quickly into disorder and needing to rally. Ahead, the fusilier skirmish line is not making much impact.

Cherou's battery of 8 pdrs hammer anything that come up the road. The infantry hold back to counter-attack if needed, and cover the guns.

The Prussian uhlans get a fresh regiment to replace the one lost. Same problem with the skirmishers. They need to use harry and harass to chase them off.  

Man of match today, the howitzer that can't miss, good work from their bombardier. They broke the Prussian horse battery... 

Note: It's worth mentioning here, the deciding factor here was the objective, it was just enough VPs to break the attack. Without it, we have another turn and Prussians are still in with a good chance. Using objectives makes a big difference.