Monday, November 23, 2009

1813 Campaign: Battle for Prague

We played the latest battle in our ongoing 1813 campaign yesterday at the club. This was a follow-up battle to the one last turn at Pilsen where Napoleon served up a sound thrashing to Schwarzenberg and his army of Bohemia. Schwarzenberg had fallen back on his Base of Operations at Prague after the fight at Pilsen, whereupon Napoleon quickly followed up. At Prague, Schwarzenberg did not have the benefit of a large garrison or extensive earthworks (though small amounts of both were available for this battle) as he had enjoyed at Pilsen. His army was also suffering under some serious negative modifiers that downgraded the quality of a number of units. Here you can see on the campaign map where the Battle of Prague took place (bottom right of the map):

I have no photos of the game this time so maps and narrative will have to do. First up, the orders of battle.

Army of Bohemia
CinC: FML Prince Schwarzenberg

I ReserveKorps (GdK Hessen-Homburg)
  • 1st Division (grenadiers)
  • 2nd Division (cuirassiers)
I ArmeeKorps (GdK Merveldt)
  • Light Division (infantry/cavalry)
  • 1st Division (infantry)
  • 2nd Division (infantry)
IV (Russian) Cavalry Corps (GL Vasilchikov)
  • 1st Division (light cavalry)
  • 2nd Division (light cavalry)

Grande Armee (sud)

CinC: Emperor Napoleon

Garde Imperiale (Napoleon)
  • 1er Division (infantry)
  • 2e Division (infantry)
  • 3e Division (cavalry)
  • Artillerie de la Reserve
3e Corps d'Armee (GD Bertrand)
  • 8e Division (infantry)
  • 11e Division (infantry)
1er Corps de Cavalerie (Marechal Murat)
  • 1er Division (dragoons)
  • 2e Division (cuirassiers)

So, on with the Battle of Prague.

Initial Deployments and First Phase

Schwarzenberg chose to deploy the majority of his infantry along the bank of the swampy river on his right flank. These divisions were fronted by earthworks (although these are not represented on the maps). His reserve grenadiers were deployed in the central woods. This was a solid deployment that restricted the frontage of any French attack and protected the vulnerable infantry divisions (which had taken some serious damage in the last battle). Interestingly, all of the Allied cavalry was deployed off-table on the left flank. This was not necessarily a flawed deployment choice but these three divisions, a potent strike force, were destined to sit the entire battle without moving on-table (more of that anon).

Napoleon ignored the possibility of moving through the nasty terrain on the Allied right flank and concentrated his effort in the center (as Schwarzenberg had anticipated and for which he ahd prepared). The Emperor hoped to bring as many guns forward to bear on the earthworks and blast a hole in preparation for a massive cavalry and infantry assault. Thus, the infantry and cavalry of the line corps were deployed centrally, using the swamp to safeguard their left flank. The entire Imperial Guard was placed on the right flank, prepared to swing around and contact the left flank of the Allied line (the location of the Allied cavalry was unknown to Napoleon at this fact for the entire battle...but more of this anon).

Second Phase

The French attack moved forward and the Imperial Guard artillery unlimbered within range of the Allied infantry hiding behind their earthworks on the far side of the stream. The artillery commander (with Napoleon's blessing) took a great chance by unlimbering his guns so close to the Austrian grenadiers hiding in the woods but it was thought that the accompanying guard infantry and cavalry could foil any attempts to disrupt the gun-line. Unfortunately, the grenadiers darted out from their concealment (as only Austrian troops can dart) and forced two of the three guard batteries to abandon their pieces. before themselves being chased off by the presence of the old guard infantry. Unfortunately, the guns had been silenced for the remainder of the battle. The gamble had not paid off for Napoleon. And now, the sun was beginning to set. The Emperor had little time left to crush Schwarzenberg's army once and for all.

Final Phase

The Allied position now seemed relatively secure but General de Division Walther, commander of the guard cavalry division, had witnessed impotently the silencing of his artillery brethren and decided to hasten the issue. He trotted before the ranks of his Imperial Guard troopers, waving his sword in the air and launched them toward the enemy earthworks. This charge of Europe's finest cavalry was awe-inspiring, crashing violently into the redoubts and quickly punching a hole in the enemy line. Caught up in the excitement, Marechal Murat, commanding the cavalry reserve, was not to be outdone and led his cuirassiers in support. Murat's troopers poured through the breach caused by the guard cavalry and began to turn inwards on the hapless Austrian infantry.

But the sun had set and darkness descended quickly on the field. Napoleon was not able to take advantage of his success; darkness and the lurking Allied cavalry prevented any adequate pursuit. The Allied cavalry was fresh; in fact, it hadn't moved an inch the entire battle. If Schwarzenberg had chosen to move his three divisions of cavalry on-table, they would have been perfectly placed to threaten the French right flank. Undoubtedly, Napoleon would have needed to redeploy his guard cavalry and at least some of the guard infantry to counter this threat. The power of the guard cavalry would then have been directed away from the more-vulnerable infantry divisions.

Schwarzenberg has lived to fight another day, despite the battering his army has undergone in the last two battles. He has now lost his Base of Operations but can still draw supply from his Temporary Supply Depot at Chemnitz.

On to Turn 10.....

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