Monday 4 March 2024

Imagi-Nations - Battle of Stimmbrucken 1761, playing to advantage......

This was my "birthday game" for 2024, scheduled  as near to the day as possible  and friends invited, and then I realised I'd made bit of a gaff as my good lady reminded me we were on grandparent duty that weekend!  Ooooh, I'm sure we can fudge it somehow?......."No, you have to look after Bella all morning while I take Seb to his football".  So the battle had been decided on and I had to figure out how to bring in a lively and clever 7 year old girl and amuse her for two hours without disrupting the enjoyment of my mates........Happily being my "Imagi-Nation" Game I could invent whatever background and extra events I liked!

I'm afraid readers have to put up with at least one pic of me at my birthday game. (Photo: Glenn L)

Background to the battle of Stimmbrucken

This was to be a continuation my latest little campaign whereby France, using its Savoy surrogates, was eating away at the underbelly of  The Empress' domain by invading the Grunburg County of Reikland from the South. You can read about the previous battle - for Ballensdorf, around the middle of this long blogpost from 2022 2022 Blog Wrapup.  In brief - having successfully laid waste to Grunburg's main wine trade outlet town, the French expeditionary force pressed on and were held at Ballensdorf by a reinforcement of mercenaries for the Empress from Hanover and Hesse. The French commander (on that occasion Ian Bailey) made an exemplary withdrawal, successfully breaking camp and getting his wagon train of supplies away safely. Here is the strategic map for that game.

The French line of communication back to Schlusselburg had been bled dry of forage so the French commander - the Chevalier de Neuvalee decided to head SW into the mountains and an alternative route back to Savoy. At Ballensdorf the French line had been split and the Legion of the Comte de Lauzun had to make its retreat due West......and that was the last de Neuvalee had heard of them.

I often look to the works of Charles S. Grant for scenario ideas and this one came indirectly from his "Action at Uslar" in Refighting History Volume 9 - SYW More small actions from the Western Theatre. I wanted to make it bigger than a small action so I've just simplified the terrain and upped the forces to the multi- brigade level of my Grunburg campaign forces and which suit the Honours of War rules.  Here is a map of how I adapted Grant's Uslar scenario 

The idea was that the French have just arrived in the valley round Stimmbrucken town and its two bridges crossing the River Stimm, and so I gave very limited choices for today's Chevalier de Neuvalee (Ken Marshall) in his deployment - two out of three brigades were still in column of march. Their objective was to reorganise and hang on while uniting with reinforcements expected at unknown times via the passes from France to the West (subject to drawing of cards one per turn - up to 12). Meanwhile the wagon train had been sent to relative safely at the Stockhausen Winery but was now out of Ken's control. 

This is Ken's deployment plan

French deployment map

True to Grant's scenario I gave the Imperial/Grunburg side a disadvantage in the arrival of part of their force. The follow up to Ballensdorf had been sluggish and necessitated spreading out through the Solling Forest, so the three Imperial columns had got slightly separated.  As it was they had the chance to outnumber their rivals so the handicap merely balanced things up a bit. The centre column had deployed on the centre of the eastern table edge, and the right column had arrived on the right flank arm of the edge of Solling Forest in column of march.  The Imperial aim was to overwhelm the smaller , rather demoralised French/Savoy force and prevent any reinforcements getting to them.

For this game I had Paul B as the Imperial commander,  Lt Gen Wangenheim, with the Hanoverian infantry and cavalry in the centre.  Glenn Lowcock was assisting as Major General von Eckel commanding the Grenadier brigade on the right. Each commander had one brigade of cavalry too. The left flank Hessian brigade was currently lost in the Forest and subject to picking a card each turn to see what, if anything, arrived. Here are the deployment plans of the Imperial side. As it happened Paul's pre-game planning realised that driving up the flanks was best, rather than taking on Stimmbrucken bridges and Built-up-Area (BUA) head on. At least part of the Hanoverian brigade was to "demonstrate" in front of Stimmbrucken while the flanks were enveloped. Events were to turn out differently.

Imperial deployment plan with"lost" left column optimistically sketched in

Those who are keen can read and download PDFs of both sides Briefs and Orders of battle in the Imagi-Nations Download sidebar here. There are also copies of the 12 Event cards for each side pulled at random. (In retrospect I'd advise anyone using this system to have fewer "Nothing special happens" cards.)

Special Feature - Das Weinburg - vineyard hill
The old piece of ridge I needed to add to

Before we go any further it's worth saying I interpreted Grant's map to give an area of great difficulty closing off options in the French rear. This was a very steep vine covered hill surrounded by a rushing mountain stream only passable at two fords - North and South.  I built it by constructing a special piece of steep hillside  designed to match the truncated end of a pre-existing section of ridge salvaged from an earlier game. Here are some photos for the terrain builders among my readers:

Basic cardboard formers were made as the basis for the slope
and weighted while the glue dried to prevent warping

The spaces between were filled with polystyrene pieces
and stuck down with PVA
Papier mâché method used with brown paper and PVA
to create the shaped surface; still weighted of course
A basic textured paint job once dry, and later treated
 with sawdust and scatter to match the existing.

Here it is finished and with "vine" hedges placed on the slopes;
the join is still visible as it is completely removable
 to give choices in future terrains

Fitting in my granddaughter

I had given this some thought earlier, I asked Bella if she wanted to join in and, gratifyingly, she was very enthusiastic, but now I had to put it into practice. I say "playing to advantage" as this allowed me to bring some elements into the game which my mates knew nothing about and which I used as a kind of balance against the exigencies of the random event cards. I briefed Bella in private with something along the following lines:

"Two days earlier Count Gregorius of Grunburg's granddaughter, the Lady Arabella, had been out on a horse ride in the Forest of Solling. She was accompanied by her nurse/companion/tutor and an escort of Grunburg Hussars. In the distance they heard the sound of cannon fire from around Ballensdorf and headed off into the woods and high ground to the West where they knew of a refuge hut, thinking any enemy troops would be unlikely to go there. Unfortunately by coincidence this was the area cut through by Lauzun's Legion in their hasty departure from the Ballensdorf battlefield. The Grunburg Hussar escort was easily overcome and died to a man trying to defend the ladies' honour (except for one who escaped with the sad news). In my Imagi-nation world the Comte de Lauzun has always been a rogue and a typical dashing and flamboyant former Hussar general and he did not pass up the chance of two VIP female hostages. Also, no need to let his boss, Neuvalee, know about it in case a chance to claim a ransom came his way. So, unknown to anyone else his troops and captives had ended up at the Stockhausen Winery and were keeping a low profile".

Enter Bella's role. Count Grunburg had got wind and despatched the equivalent of his SAS to effect a rescue. They had now arrived via the South and southwest approaches.  This force was two squadrons of mercenary "Austrian" Light Dragoons - from the St Ignon and  Bathiani regiments. They had a small battery of light horse artillery for close support. All were Superior quality. Bella had strict instructions to head straight for the Winery to free the prisoners and, although she could defend herself, she could only attack anyone who got in the way and not Ken's main force. He didn't know that of course.

Three of the four "old men" present get the game under way

Now how to keep a 7 year old's attention while three middle aged men were trying to have a serious wargame on the same table? My solution was to tell them that every time they rolled a 1 or 6 on a D6 or 2 or 5 on DAverage they had to shout up and Bella got to do something (move, fire or attack). That got her interested in their dice rolls, and the frequency was just enough to keep things ticking roughly in sync.

The Grunburg mercenary "special forces" rescue contingent

"Special Forces" rescue

I'll get Bella's rôle out of the way in this narrative now, so you can skip to the battle proper if you wish.

Here she is eagerly awaiting those dice rolls to get her started

One dragoon squadron has made it over the Weinburg and Bella has gone round to move them.......penny for her thoughts?
Trying to look business-like - things are beginning to hot up. I think Ken was beginning to wonder what was afoot............

....because a random event had brought on his reserve cavalry regiment right in front of Bella's horse battery. They caused 1 Hit.  Immediately followed (thanks for the roll of 6 Glenn!) by a charge in the flank from the Bathiani Light Dragoons (well, they got in her way!)

That was enough to cause 4 Hits and an enforced
 retreat back up the pass.

Meanwhile Lauzun's small and fatigued Grenadier battalion emerged from the Merchant's House and 
the St Ignon Light Dragoons dismounted to skirmish their way up through the vineyards on foot

Bella presses on uphill to engage the Grenadiers with musket fire prior to attacking the Winery main building where her information said the captives were. Bathiani and the Horse Artillery are speeding to join in if they are needed

Here is a general view to help readers understand that the main battle had been progressing.
More on that later.

Action at close quarters! Lauzun's Hussars had taken their captives to the winery cellars but they could not just pass by all those lovely barrels of red,  could they? (Are you reading this Willz Harley ?)

Prisoners discovered, drunken French Hussars easily defeated, and the St Ignon Dragoons  begin to mount up to take them to freedom.....or so they thought (see near the end of this post).

Job done, and happy 7 year old! Now it was 1230pm and we
were all off to the pub for a birthday Sunday lunch
The Butchers Arms Oakridge

At this point I have to pay tribute to all the people in the room. First to Bella who was attentive (mostly), enthusiastic, and did what grandad suggested to achieve her objective without demure. For two hours, and not engaged all the time, I think she deserves the ransom reward herself! Secondly to Ken, Paul and Glenn who were incredibly kind and tolerant, and supportive to Bella, and tolerant of me that I could not give full attention to their battle during the morning - thanks chaps.

Stimmbrucken - The Main Event

Well fed and back to the table, minus youngsters. But I best recap from the start - 4 pm game time when the Imperial centre column came into view up the Stimm valley.

The Opening Moves

Centre column spans the River Stimm, and in the foreground are the troops of both sides not yet available or visible

The Imperial left flank force will arrive by random event cards - some may not make it

French deployment overview : Cavalry brigade in a bit of a mess still in columns of march.
Grenadier brigade holds Stimmbrucken and its bridges. On the left flank the Infantry brigade is awaiting deployment from their march columns.

Closer look at Hanoverian infantry and cavalry in the centre

Von Eckel's Grenadier brigade is ready at the edge of the forest. A couple of Blinds still conceal an artillery battery and a battalion

Closer view of the French infantry brigade. The Normandie regiment has battalion guns.

Paul and Ken progress with their opening moves

Much to my surprise Paul has turned his pinning "demonstration" in front of Stimmbrucken into a full on charge against a Grenadier battalion with a battery in close support.

I think Paul must have thought that manoeuvring in front of these units to "demonstrate"would have resulted in him just losing Hits to no purpose, so that charging in straight away would at least minimise the damage. I could see when planning the scenario that there were no easy options for the Imperial attackers here, especially with an unreliable left flank.

Paul has got his own battery in a supporting position on the hill now and Ken is sorting out his cavalry brigade

French fire has thrown back the first Hanoverian battalion through its supports, but the Grenadiers have now suffered from incoming fire, gaining an orange marker to indicate 3 Hits

The Hessian battery was the first to arrive by random event
at the forest edge on the left flank. It did not take long for these
French Dragoons also to be in a precarious situation from its fire

The following sequence shows the first really dramatic events of this battle. Starting from the top - the right flank Hanoverian cavalry find the close terrain hard going and Glenn can't quite decide yet where to put his effort - attack those French line or that battery across the bridge? One French battalion has moved into the North side of Stimmbrucken. A small battalion of Grenadiers is holding the South side and being attacked by Hanoverian infantry.  But a column of the Grenadiers de Hainaut moves up towards their flank. In the foreground a serious cavalry and infantry melee has developed.

The shaken French Dragoons charge head on while the Mousquetaires a Cheval take on both Hanoverian battalions in the flank. They get enfiladed by "crossing" fire from the batteries on the hill

3 Hits on the Mousquetaires, and the fire as they charged reduces the Dragoons to "Done For"

They have ridden off through the Hainault Grenadiers.
In front of Stimmbrucken a Hanoverian battalion is broken by combined defenders' fire
While action rages around Stimmbrucken, von Eckel looks like he is shaping up on his flank for a major attacking move on the French infantry brigade

So far Ken is content.  (Photo by Bella)

But as the smoke cleared the Mousquetaires were seen to have suffered sufficiently to force them to retire to reform beyond Stimmbrucken. 

Overall view as the sides part from the opening phase. While Hanoverian cavalry threaten at the bridge French forces are still firmly holding the town.

Ken was suffering losses, but he is gaining time as the Imperial forces only grind forward slowly.

Imperial attacks on each front

Having the support of two batteries from the hill, and the infantry assault on Stimmbrucken's southern outskirt, had cleared this flank of French cavalry, so Paul's actions had created room to bring out his own cavalry for the originally planned outflanking movement. Events were to show that the losses near  the bridge was not entirely wasted manpower.

Hanoverian cavalry (Von Stengel's brigade)are now finding space to work through towards the left flank

Glenn has control of the other cavalry brigade (Von Grott's) and makes two daring attacks simultaneously. One squadron is heading across the stream towards the Berry regiment and the other has formed column to attack across the bridge at the seemingly vulnerable French battery

Von Stengel's cavalry are making good progress causing the Hainault Grenadiers to refuse their flank as they edge back towards the buildings........

.....where a Hanoverian musketeer battalion has passed through the Grenadiers and pressing
 Hainault with their bayonets

The view as a battalion of Berry faces Von Grott

Hainaut Grenadiers prevail over their opponents who have formed a hasty column to retreat and reform. In the foreground it can be seen that the Hessian Erbprinz Grenadiers have arrived through the Solling Forest and are joining the flank advance.

An overview at this stage is shown above. At last the Imperial force is making progress on the left but Erbprinz is effectively "out of command" as the Brigade commander, Von Canitz, has not yet turned up. So they just change formation to be less vulnerable. The central Hanoverian  infantry brigade is now looking rather worse for wear from its "demonstration". In the distance the La Reine cavalry have reformed after their contretemps with Bella's Dragoons, but poor Ken is still pulling "Nothing special happens" as his random events! So no more reserves are turning up yet. Events at the Winery will be wrapped up later.

The Von Grott 1st squadron has been broken by musket fire crossing that stream - a brave but foolhardy  attempt to ease Berry from it's steadfast defence

All good natured though as the protagonists share a joke

A combination of artillery and Grenadier musket fire has broken the small battalion of Hainault Grenadiers. The Chevalier de Neuvalee's close presence hasn't saved them and he escapes getting caught in the hail of shot

More French reversal at the main bridge - Von Grott's Squadron 2 has caused enough Hits to break the battery but they can't exploit it as they had been weakened in their charge by fire out of Stimmbrucken by a battalion of Berry, and must retreat.

So the situation now shows an even clearer scene as described below 

French Grenadiers still hold Stimmbrucken and Imperial troops are too weak to wrest them out of the buildings. Colonel de Chanterelle's infantry brigade is retreating slowly uphill as one battalion of Normandie has been lost and the battery has only one round left (I allowed each battery 6 shots). Two French heavy cavalry regiments have united behind the town and face a standoff with Von Engel's cavalry - who suffered a 1 on Initiative die roll just when Paul wanted to attack! In the foreground a battalion of Hanoverian Jagers has arrived from the Forest and might make a difference.

The Closing Stages

Around 6.30pm game time, in Moves 9 and 10  out of the 12 I had allowed before "dusk", a few key things happened which helped to give more decisiveness to events on both sides.

Yet another attack on Stimmbrucken is being made by a Hanoverian musketeer battalion. It will be noted that the command group of the Chevalier de Neuvalee has moved to try to galvanise the cavalry brigade on his vital line of communication to the passes.

Overview from behind the Erbprinz Grenadiers

Von Eckel's approach had been somewhat stifled by the extra range of the Normandie regiment firing their battalion guns at his small converged Grenadier battalions, and they were unable to reply. But now with de Chanterelle's retreat they progress across the stream

View along Normandie and Berry battalions' new line

The French cavalry were still within long range and line of
sight of those Hanoverian batteries on the hill.
A ball felled the Chevalier de Neuvalee, who had to be replaced
 with a "Dithering" quality new commander-in-chief

Erbprinz and the Jagers get initiative to move up now, and in the centre Von Grott's second squadron has reformed and is following the casualty strewn path of its sister squadron across the stream . Of most significance - the event cards had at last come up for Ken and two fresh battalions of the Battenburg regiment with an artillery battery, and a battalion of Light infantry, can seen coming out of the entrance to the pass. His main reserves had arrived.

But yet another Hanoverian battalion is broken on
the edge of Stimmbrucken town

Balanced by some bad luck for the French, whose substitute
C in C is, would you believe, killed by a shot from
the same battery which did for Neuvalee!

Wangenheim can't be happy - the ground in front of him would
be littered by dead and dying redcoats and the
remnants fleeing past him

An overhead shot at the end of the game - we had to call time after Move 10


My decision as to the winner might surprise some but I gave the "victory" to Ken's French despite his losses in my version of army points being twice that of Paul and Glenn's.  Material loss for either side was not part of the victory conditions, but strategic situation was everything to help me decide how my Reikland campaign might progress. Ken had fulfilled his objective - to hold on and keep lines of communication open with the reserves and back through the passes to France. The Imperial side did not have to take Stimmbrucken or the bridges. It would have sufficed to get round both flanks, hold in the middle and cut off De Neuvalee's little army from his supporting reserves. Admittedly Paul's deployment choices were somewhat limited as I allocated the infantry brigades to the columns  and left him free to deploy the cavalry. The left hand column was much slower and more piecemeal in arrival than I had expected but that's random cards for you!  (Von Canitz and his two battalions never arrived while we were playing) . Interestingly a similar delay affected the French so I call it balanced.

Outcome for the "Special Operation"

And what of Bella's Mission to effect a rescue of her namesake? 

The Lady Arabella
comforted by her companion

Bella herself had the afternoon off at the cinema with her Gran so it was left to granddad to try to get the young lady away safely. My idea was to reunite the three "special forces" units and retire by whatever route seemed safest. Ken operated with the Comte de Lauzun, his Grenadiers and the galloper gun battery (which only had 3 shots) whose only aim was to defend the Winery and the wagon train and await the reserves. The latter, in theory, could have arrived at any time by the nearby road.

I mounted up the St Ignon Dragoons and pulled them back down the hill to join the Bathiani Dragoons as that unit came up . They had to halt in the valley to await their own horse artillery. By that time Lauzun's artillery was taking a toll, and the Light Infantry regiment of Argentiere had appeared by Event Card at the southern pass, cutting off that route. The only recourse was to try to get everyone across the northern ford and up the Weinberg and hope the threats would go away. St Ignon led, with Lady Arabella, but had a forced retreat with 4 Hits . The artillery followed, struggling up the steep vineyard cart track, and Bathiani dismounted to "dig in" and defend the ford, just like John Wayne's 2nd US Cavalry in the movie "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon".

By this time Lauzun's artillery only had one shot left and it was the end of "normal time" in the game .....but I couldn't  leave Lady Arabella marooned on a mountain top! So extra time came out of my imagination........(see below)

Horse Artillery rush to catch up with their mounted escorts 

St Ignon forms column of twos to cross the northern ford up to the Weinberg, receiving fire from Lauzun's galloper battery
St Ignon Dragoons shield their artillery crossing the ford

The view from the Comte de Lauzun's position

French reserves in the form of the Battenburg Regiment and
 Argentiere Fusiliers effectively block any escape by the southern route.
St Ignon Dragoons dismount preparing to enter a firefight if necessary

..............Two more moves and it would be dark and the Red marker for 4 Hits down to 2 , and the unit could fight on. The Dragoon commander ordered some scouts to check the western face of the Weinberg (off our table and my map). They returned to report that  there was a difficult route down and across another ford to safety, but the guns would need to be abandoned and the horses led. There was no more fire incoming from Lauzun's guns and those French light infantry were reluctant to engage in a cat and mouse hunt through vineyards in the dark.  So it was that an exhausted Lady Arabella  and her companion were reunited with her grandfather at the Schloss of Grunburg two days later. There would be some embellished storytelling in the taverns of Grunburg, and probably some medals given out too.

.......But the threat of a renewed French invasion of Grunburg had just increased.

CG contemplates the final positions. (Photo - Glenn L)

Pastoral South German rural idyll disturbed by rampaging armies! (Photo - Glenn L)

I'll just finish by saying a thank you to Ken, Paul and Glenn for making the trip to Oakridge to help make my birthday game so special. It was full of incident, and I think well balanced, and both sides tried their hardest to keep plugging away without being disheartened. It was a great time, for me anyway - and thanks as always to the Honours of War rules system for making it possible.