Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Battle of Lobositz 1756 - a West Country refight

Prussian Commanders reflect
Anticipation
The preparation had been done - terrain sculpted, maps received, Imagi-Nation armies deployed as historic ones, wargamers readying themselves for Chris and Kevin's birthday game 2019. It was to be the first real battle of the Seven Years War - Lobositz. Probably one of the most replayed battles of the SYW for 18th century wargamers, and now it was my turn to stage it.  That was the first weekend of February and the snow began to fall on Gloucestershire's Cotswold Hills........

My wargames room is 600 feet above sea level and receives whatever the prevailing South-west wind brings in from the Atlantic - beautiful warm, sunny breezes in Summer but icily chilled H2O in Winter. We had about 6 inches of snow up here during the day and I had high hopes that it would melt as my five players were coming from distant points North, South, West and East, and even so the last 7 miles from either Stroud or Cirencester was not to be messed with. But it did not melt enough, so I had to postpone it.....

Postponement
Reorganising to suit everyone proved impossible. Honours of War (HoW) author, Keith Flint, was due to play but sadly his work schedule proved too difficult in late February and March. My old friend Richard Newcombe could not make the same day as the others, what a dilemma........... But, let's turn a sad situation to advantage. It was to be Richard's first go at HoW so what better than to use the game as a gentle tutorial with him playing Austrian, as originally intended, and me taking the Prussians. So we found a date in the middle of February........

The practice game
Gentle?!  Within five moves our Dashing C -in-Cs and cavalry commanders had seen to it that all the commands had become fiercely engaged and several obliterated, and the maximum loss Victory conditions I had set had been smashed by both sides, so we called it a draw and I had learned a lot about what might happen when the other three were to play three weeks later. Richard had enjoyed it immensely though and that was a huge plus.

Richard pulls back some shattered Austrian cavalry in our first Lobositz refight
in mid February
And I survey the huge vacant space in the Prussian centre where my infantry used to be!

Lobositz - the main game
Background
Although I read every account of the historical battle I could find and compared it to the many published wargame refights (Charles Grant's probably being the most well known) I settled on the one Keith Flint has published in the Honours of War rulebook. He has done a lot of work to represent the historical armies and with a bit of fiddling to make various small, standard and large sized units, I found I could represent the forces at approximately 1 x 28mm figure being 100 men.  Tactical units were therefore brigade-sized, infantry 18 or 24 figures, some made bigger with battalion guns attached. Cavalry were nearly all 12 figures. How much artillery for balance could have been a  problem but Keith had set the game out using HoW so why not stick to his 3 Austrian and 5 Prussian?
Below are the maps given to the commanders - Ken Marshall was Marshal von Browne for the Austrians and Kevin East and Guy Barlow playing Frederick (the Great?) and Marshal Keith respectively.
The Austrian map - Red area. The main line was divided into four by the dotted lines and Ken had to put one main command in each area. plus the Lobosch Berg for his Light infantry
Being a bit of a scale pedant I reduced the ranges from the standard rules to:
Muskets - 10 cm; Battalion gun equipped brigades - 20cm: Medium guns 60 cm and Heavy guns 90 cm.  No fancy movements within 10cm of the enemy. Bounce through/grazing distance - 20 cm. But pretty much everything else stayed the same, so standard infantry line movement - 20cm, cavalry 30cm.  This probably meant that each turn could represent about an hour of historical time
The Prussians were limited to the area King Frederick reached by about 8 am (within blue lines) and Kevin was advised to stick roughly to the historical commands (left, centre first/second lines etc).

You can read the detailed briefs in the Download section on the right hand side bar. Here is a link  18th Century Historical

Context of the battle
I guess most of my regular readers are familiar with the history but for those who aren't here is the briefest of context statements.  Frederick had sensed war coming with the Austrians so he pre-empted this by invading Austria's ally, Saxony. The Saxon army bottled itself up in an armed camp at Pirna awaiting rescue by the Austrians, who in turn were now on the move to confront the Prussians. Frederick took a part of his army through the mountain pass south of Pirna intending to see off whatever Austria cared to throw at him.
Von Browne was a clever general though and realised that where the large River Elbe flowed past the town of Lobositz, with the marshy Morrellenbach just to the South, was an ideal spot to catch Frederick as he emerged from the bottleneck of the valley between the extinct volcanic cones of the Lobosch and Homolka Bergs. He deployed his Vanguard forward of Lobositz and light troops onto the Lobosch, while keeping a strong force back along the Morellenbach where it was concealed by the river mists. More of his army (not represented in this scenario) awaited a mile or two back with the expectation he could fall back on it if necessary.
The Prussians came out of the valley in the early morning of 1st October 1756 and could only observe a limited part of von Browne's army which Fred took to be an insignificant holding force. He deployed for attack across the narrow valley mouth and round the lower slopes of Homolka Berg.

Game deployment and plans
I deliberately did not give either side a free hand as I deemed the tactical options interesting enough as they were, but I did give them scope to arrange the brigades of each command and artillery with some latitude within the broad historical deployment zones.
Austrian: Those who have the HoW rulebook will see similarities with Keith's map in there, but the most significant change was that Ken eschewed the option of light infantry in the sunken road between Lobositz and the Chapel and opted to put them instead as yet more reinforcements to his right flank at the Lobosch Berg. His plan was simple:

  • Hold Lobosh Berg and press the Prussian flank as much as possible
  • Hold the centre and counter attack with cavalry where appropriate, using the guns to break up Prussian attacks
  • When the mist clears move the whole left wing across the marshy stream and advance towards Homolka Berg and Wchinitz village to squeeze the Prussians from both sides
  • Retreat if necessary once significant damage has been done to the Prussian force
These are the Victory Conditions I set the Austrians:
"If you have not inflicted a serious reverse on Frederick by close of play you must be in a position to retreat via Squares F1 - F6 with at least 10 units out of your 21 having no more than 2 Hits each."


Overall view at the start; Austrians on the right.  The strong Austrian left wing in the foreground would be hidden by a mist "blanket" before the Prussian players arrived
Prussian: Kevin's choices were pretty limited and to his credit he did not read the HoW rulebook scenario or read up on Lobositz historically - "I did not want to read about my demise in advance and be put off!" was his excuse.  He decided to mass most of his artillery on and round the Homolka Berg where he had the best chance of not being blocked by his infantry or cavalry advancing. His plan had some complex nuances in view of delegating some of it to Guy but in essence was as follows:

  • Hold and protect the left flank without engaging heavily on the Lobosch
  • Push forward in the centre with infantry as quickly and strongly as possible, supported by massed artillery fire. Emphasis of attack was to be the gap between Lobositz and the Chapel and not get embroiled in built-up-area fighting
  • The cavalry on the right flank were to hold back initially and see what developed from the mist while protecting the artillery on the hill
I had set these Victory Conditions for the Prussians: 
"You must defeat this rear guard and any emerging forces completely and press on towards von Browne’s camp via Squares F1 - F6 by close of play on the day.   In doing this you must have at least 5 non-artillery units with 2 or less hits.  If at any stage of the battle you lose 6 or more units "Done For" then Frederick will leave the battlefield and ride back up the valley towards Pirna".

View from the Lobosch Berg
The Prussian centre looking towards Lobositz
Prussian right flank including heavy guns and five brigades of cavalry
The Austrian centre held by artillery and four brigades of cavalry
Austrian right flank by the River Elbe. Note the green clad light infantry
intending to reinforce the Lobosch garrison

The Prussians attack

Ken watches as the Prussian torrent unfolds. In the distance a Command roll of 6 has
 caused the front Prussian cavalry brigade to charge
Above and Below: Kevin and Guy are happy that the central infantry wing is
advancing as planned. Guy ensures his artillery are well sighted

Now the Austrian heavy cavalry counter attack. Superior class Horse Grenadiers
 hitting a Prussian Dragoon brigade. Kevin is also bringing up another Cuirassier brigade
from the second line cavalry command to help
Not helped by surprise pre-melee "crossing fire" from a battery in Sullowitz, the Prussian Dragoons met their doom, but not before inflicting enough casualties on the Horse Grenadiers to see them rout. The latter had been weakened by Guy's opening bombardment from Homolka Berg

The mist clears and Austrians advance

Start of Move Three and I just missed the look of horror on Kevin and Guy's faces as the mist was cleared off! These photos are a minute later when the shock has turned to "What the H*** do we do now?"
View from the Austrian left wing
Nothing daunted Frederick continues to press on as there is not much choice. All the Austrian Cavalry Division has been drawn in now, including the small Hussar brigade
The fire from the Austrian battery in Sullowitz is balanced a little by continuous overhead fire from this Prussian howitzer battery. But in the centre the Austrian grand battery has sent the front Prussian brigade routing back to recover
The two Prussian cavalry brigades facing the Austrian masses crossing Morrellenbach
look calmer than Guy and Kevin were feeling.....they turned the Heavy guns on
Homolka Berg to face the threat
In front of Lobositz Colonel Lacy's Austrians stand firm as the Prussians press forward
and one of their batteries is beginning to cause casualties on the Grenadier brigade
On the Prussian left Lieutenant General Bevern's infantry are edging towards Lobositz
while still facing a threat from Draskovitch's Croats that has yet to be unleashed
(10 cm musket range for this game and both stayed out of range).
However the red uniformed Liccaner Grenzers now face an open flank
Meanwhile, in the centre two brigades of Cuirassiers clashed resulting in destruction of the Prussian brigade and compulsory retreat of the Austrian one

Continued Prussian attacks in the Centre and also the Right Flank 

A glass of lager calms "Frederick's" nerves while "von Browne" rolls in a dice box
for his next command initiative test
A close up of the steady Prussian infantry advance. Guy is using volley fire from his Grenadiers, now well in musket range, and his artillery have persuaded Ken's Grenadiers (light blue and yellow uniforms) to withdraw to a safer distance
The Liccaner Grenzers have got round that open flank but are now "out of command"

Prussian right wing cavalry engaged

A good view of the centre: Lines of Prussians advance but behind them other brigades are falling back with "4 hits" and a red counter to recover.  In front of Sullowitz both sides' cavalry have renewed the assault and somehow the supporting "inferior" Austrian Hussars have ended up on the bayonets of Prussian infantry. I can't quite remember how we allowed that to happen - heat of the moment excitement I expect! In the distance Kevin got a compulsory charge for the Dashing commander of those serene Prussian cavalry!
An unhappy result for both Austrian cavalry brigades by Sullowitz
A good close up of Guy's Grenadier advance against  Lacy's line which had suffered a
 little prior artillery fire damage from Homolka Berg
Close up of their right flank with Prussian Dragoons piling into an Austrian
infantry brigade and Cuirassiers matching Austrian Cuirassiers who counter-attack
A not unexpected unhappy result for the Dragoons.......
....and mutual breakage for the Cuirassiers
Austrian counter attack from the Morrellenbach

About this time a round shot from the Homolka Berg decapitated the Austrian
Left Wing infantry commander. The "Dependable" General Kollowrat was replaced
 by his "Dithering" sidekick and Marshal von Browne decided he had to put in an
 appearance by Sullowitz to get things going again.
Now a game changing command roll as von Browne was able to urge a
 double move for all 6 infantry brigades along the Morrellenbach. The nearest
one bravely attacked the retreating Cuirassiers under the Homolka Berg heavy guns
Ken moves the Kollowrat Corps across a wide front giving Kevin and Guy more problems
Full width of the Austrian attack, threatening an infantry brigade in the flank, the Prussian howitzer battery, and the rallying Cuirassiers.............
......But the heavy guns saw off the threat to the Cuirassiers while Frederick had
 come over to lend his "Dashing" C-in-C rallying skills
The next Austrian brigade was already weakened and became "Done For" from
Howitzer and infantry fire. It appeared that the plucky resurgent Austrian attack was being held off
Some Prussian progress at last in the Centre

Austrian Cuirassiers had at last recovered and now returned to support both the
Left and Centre. Prussian infantry continued their rolling volleys - close range fire
failed to break the big Austrian battery but another Prussian brigade went down under the guns
At last the Prussian Grenadier brigade leading the central attack broke the large
Austrian brigade opposite, but itself had 4 Hits and had to retire. At this point
the Prussians were beginning to achieve what they wanted - but only in this sector!
This overall shot shows more Prussian infantry attacks pressing Lacy's Austrians near Lobositz. Recovered Prussian infantry holding the line up to the Homolka Berg and in the far distance the rallying Prussian Cuirassiers being attacked by Dragoons
In the foreground Austrian Grenadiers are rallying in Lobositz and outside
the town another brigade is retreating. Only one brigade and the artillery holds off the
 Prussian surge where Frederick has now come to urge them on.
The next sequence of photos are close ups across the lines at this point of extreme engagement

Rallying Prussian Cuirassiers  on the right flank caught standing by
Austrian Dragoons 
View from the Homolka Berg heavy guns where a converged Grenadier brigade
 is making a good target. Von Browne is still sticking around here to make
 sure things go to plan!
Ken continues his infantry attack from Sullowitz......
........and Guy continues his in front of Lobositz. Here we see Frederick and aides
plus Prinz Ferdinand bravely in front of the Austrian grand battery
To their left a small Grenadier brigade is pressing on supported by artillery
but the rest of Bevern's command is still focused on the threat from the Lobosch Berg
Mixed fortunes for both sides

In front of Frederick a brigade is forced to retreat having failed again to
 break those dreaded guns . King Frederick had had enough now -
 six Prussian units were "Done For" and he left the field in Marshal Keith's charge
to "return to Pirna for reinforcements"
But the Austrian attack still continues to collapse
Not surprisingly the weak Prussian Cuirassiers are sent packing by their
 Austrian Dragoon opponents, who now have an artillery flank in sight.
Ken passes the test not to charge recklessly
The Austrian "retreat"
At this point Ken consulted me for clarification of his Victory Conditions. I deemed that he had indeed inflicted a severe kicking to the Prussians and was poised to follow up on their flanks should he wish to do so. The way, essentially, was still open back to his main army, and he could retreat with honour if it got no worse. Could he manage that and recover enough to fulfil the "10 units" criteria I had set?

Above and below: Ironically the Turn (Move 7) he had intended to start the retreat
he rolled a compulsory charge dice for both his remaining brigades of cavalry.
The centre Cuirassier Brigade crashed into the flank of a Prussian infantry brigade..... 
...and the Dragoons succumbed to the temptation to take those artillery on
Homolka Berg in flank
It looked as if they could not survive, but uphill advantage, the slightly worn
state of the Dragoons, together with lucky dice meant the battery
 held the cavalry to three rounds of melee before it was decided.
Even then they got the right dice score to escape with limbered guns!
Prussia was not so lucky in the centre where the Austrian cuirassier charge
broke the rather worn brigade trying to hold the line, putting both Von Kleist's
and Marshal Keith's personality figures in jeopardy.
In the distance Von Browne is organising a successful withdrawal of the
remaining brigades
On the Prussian left Guy had at last got fed up with the threat from all those Croats
 on the Lobosch and he attacked. The Croat brigades fired and retired. This was all to no
avail for Marshal Keith though as he had been successfully outflanked......
.......as you can see, two brigades of Croats were now under command and edging round to cut the Prussian line of communication up the valley to Pirna. The Prussian Cuirassiers were desperately trying to find a safe place to spend their Move in recovery time but those Croats were too close and we deemed them run off the field and "Done For"

The Result
It was now around 5.30pm real time and about 3pm game time, and Kevin declared he had to go home now (we had allowed him to retain some tactical commands even since Fred had left the field).
All agreed we had played enough and it was time to tot up the losses to see if either side had fulfilled the Victory Conditions.

The Austrians started off with 21 Units and had lost 7. Prussians originally had 20 and had also lost 7 by close of play - plus the Cuirassiers forced off in "extra time" = 8. It could hardly have been closer fought.
But more significant was that Kevin and Guy only had four non-artillery units with 2 or less Hits lost so were too shattered to claim victory. How had the Austrians fared?
Ken found he had 11 units with 2 or less Hits which was one more than the minimum and he was still in a position to retreat to the main army so was declared the winner.

Here is my running score sheet

View of the whole table at the end of play
For me it had (maybe surprisingly) been the first historic SYW battle I had organised and staged, and using the guidelines set down by Keith Flint's scenario, had worked a treat. Thank you Keith. Honours of War, with my few changes,  had come good yet again for our little West Country group.

The atmosphere was really convivial with old friends for my, albeit much delayed, "birthday game" , and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Ken seemed pleased that he had a plan, and it worked. You can't often say that in wargames!

Player Highlights
The players all contributed some highlights for me, and readers might like to share their pleasure and frustration.  What a great hobby!

By Ken:
  • Guy's long range heavy artillery fire which was just mildly irritating until he managed to kill my left flank infantry commander. After that my army commander had to spend all of his time ensuring the dithering replacement did something useful.
  • Three turns of melee before my cavalry managed to defeat that artillery battery. And even then, they got the guns away.
  • Eventually it being time to retire so my heavy cavalry immediately rolled an uncontrolled charge. 
  • Just how long a brigade of infantry and a couple of guns could hold up an advance by Prussian infantry. Legend will have them standing against an army of all grenadiers for a full day.
  • Kevin's face when that mist vanished and he saw the rest of my infantry.
  • And how Fredrick managed to survive the battle without being injured. I saw him standing in front of his own heavy guns just before they blew one of my brigades to scrap and he wasn't scratched.
By Guy:
  1. The look on mine and Kevin’s faces when the mist came off to see all those horrible Austrians on the flank.
  2. My heavy gun battery which fought 3 melees with the cavalry brigade and could retire all limbered up.
  3. Fred doing a runner. I always knew he was a bad ‘un.
  4. Those 2 wretched Austrian guns in the centre which mangled probably half the brigades we lost and ground our attack to a standstill.
 Well done to Ken for giving us such a good kicking. Revenge will be sweet…..

By Kevin:
Frederick would like to make a few comments in relation to his recent little 'skirmish'.
  • That damned fog!
  • Those damned two Austrian batteries!
  • How many cavalry brigades did they have?
  • and..........now the fog has lifted. "O Mein Gott! The whole Austrian army is before us! I have important business in Prussia .......time to leave!. "