A battle report of an action set early in the Franco-Prussian War. We used Bruce Weigle’s 1870 rules to play out this game. For those who are unfamiliar with these rules they are simultaneous movement with a scale of one battalion per base. The rules themselves are excellent but even if they aren’t your cup of tea the information included with the rules is well worth the purchase and include OOB’s for several periods of the war along with 14 scenarios. They allow fighting fairly large, as you’ll see in this example, engagements from the era.
The opposing forces.
The Prussian army of this period utilized a square organization of 2 divisions per corps, with 2 brigades per division, with 2 regiments per brigade and 3 battalions per regiment. There was a jaeger battalion assigned to each Corps which results in 25 infantry battalions per corps. Each division had 4 batteries assigned and there were 6 batteries in the corps artillery reserve. The Prussian allies were similarly, but not exactly organized with Corps of approximately the same size as a Prussian Corps.
For this battle the Prussians could field their Vth (9th & 10th Divisions) and XI (21st & 22nd Divisions) Corps along with the I & II Royal Bavarian Corps (1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th Bavarian Divisions).
The French divisional structure was similar to the Prussian although they had a Chasseur battalion per division which resulted in 26 battalions per division. They also had fewer guns with 2 artillery and a Mitrailleuse battery per division and either 6 or 8 batteries in the corps reserve. French corps consisted of either 3, if commanded by a general, or 4, if commanded by a Marshal, divisions.
In this engagement the French had the 1st Corps of 4 divisions and half of the 5th Corps with 1 division and a brigade from a 2nd division along with 3 brigades of cavalry from the 1st Corps.
Note on the maps included in this report. They are indicative of approximate positions, of both terrain and troops, and are not meant to be terribly accurate (ok I got lazy and just sketched things in J ). They should allow viewers to follow along what the pictures and the dialogue are reporting.
Below is a map showing the table and the initial deployment. I’m only showing things on a divisional scale so please realize that the individual units are spread out near where the map is showing. Prussians are in Red and identified, for example, as 9D for the 9th Division which is part of Vth Corps or 2B for the 2nd Bavarian division of their Ist Corps.
The French are in blue and shown as 2ID for 2nd Division of Ist Corps.
The Prussians intended to occupy the French left with 1 corps while the 2 Bavarian corps overwhelmed the church area. At that point the remaining Prussian corps and the Bavarian IInd Corps would crush the French center as the Bavarian Ist Corps provided fire support from the church area. They also decided to avoid the wooded area on the German left even though it led around the French flank.
The French plan was to hold their ground and attempt to bloody the Prussians as much as possible.
Below are two photographs of the deployment, the 1st from the Prussian side and the second from the French.
Prussian deployment with the Bavarians closest to the camera
Birds eye view of the French deployment with the church, the far right of the French army, in the distance.
The battle commenced at 10am with the Prussians bombarding the exposed French 1st Division of 5th Corps on the French left. Meanwhile, the Bavarians moved up towards the French right.
Firing was mostly desultory on the first turn although the French took some casualties on their left. As the battle progressed the Bavarians pushed across the bridge near the church.
Bavarians pushing across the bridge. Four batteries are deployed near the bridge and are beginning to inflict damage on the French garrisoning the church area. In the background the Bavarian grand battery of 8 batteries can be seen.
Away on the French left casualties are beginning to mount for the French
By 11:00 the Bavarians were applying pressure to the Church and had begun to cross the stream to the right of the bridge. Meanwhile the Prussian XIth Corps was moving up from reserve as the Vth Corps artillery continued to pound the French left.
The Bavarians continue their advance.
Meanwhile units of the French left beginning to fall back from their exposed position.
At 11:30 as the French retreated, the Prussian Vth Corps pushed across the stream to their front.
The Bavarians continued to pressure the church area but the IInd Bavarian Corps stayed in the woods waiting for the Prussians to move up on their right.
As the day progressed the Prussians continued to move up on both their left and right.
Bavarian 2nd Division of Ist Corps splashing across the stream.
While things on the Prussian right were going generally well, they’d shoved the 5th Corps division facing them back off the hill, they had several batteries destroyed in the process. Meanwhile the Bavarian 1st Division was taking casualties on their left and had been unable to budge the French defenders of the church.
Overview of the French right showing the Bavarians advancing against the church but still holding back in the center.
As the day progressed into the afternoon, it was now 1:30, the Bavarians moved up and began to strongly pressure the church
Losses were mounting on both sides but it seemed like the French must ultimately fall back.
In the center of the field the French seeing an opportunity, or perhaps losing their minds, advanced a brigade to try to interrupt the Prussian XIth Corps deployment
View of the French “charge” from behind the Prussian lines
The fighting around the church was degenerating into a blood bath as neither side would give way. Eventually though, the regiment on the far right of the French line, without the benefit of walls for cover, began to fall back.
Overview of the battle at this time.
Here’s a helicopter view of the battle from behind the French lines. On the far right the defending regiment has been shoved back. Two regiments of French cavalry have moved into position if it is necessary to sacrifice themselves to help the infantry. The battle for the church appears to be entering the final moments. Losses for the French are mounting although their opponents are also suffering heavy casualties. In the center the Bavarians have begun moving out of the woods. Theirs is not an easy task as the French have close to dozen batteries that can sweep the field in this area. It’s reminiscent of Pickett’s charge from 7 years earlier. On the French left their reserve infantry and cavalry have begun to move up. The Prussian Vth Corps is reluctant to move forward against superior numbers and with the French brigade in the village on the left which could move against their flank if they do.
View from behind the Bavarian lines
At this point, a miracle occurred if you are a Frenchmen, or a disaster if you fought for the Germans. As the far right French regiment fell back the two regiments of French horse, one lancer and one Chasseur a’ Cheval charged the Bavarians toiling up the slope. Because of the hedges blocking their visibility and an almost impossible sequence of die rolls, the cavalry not only survived the rifle fire aimed at them but succeeded in routing the infantry back down the hill where they were pinned against the lake, which was not crossable, and destroyed.
The losses were so severe that the Bavarian 2nd division was no longer capable of offensive action. At the same time the cumulative losses on the 1st Bavarian division reached the point where they too would no longer advance. The church was saved!
Now all eyes turned to the center of the field where the last hope for the Germans lay. Could the 1 Bavarian and 2 Prussian divisions cross the shell swept field and break the French center.
The answer was no. For all their bravery the rain of shells were too much for even these brave lads too bear.
At this point the German general signaled for a general withdrawal. He had 3 of 4 Bavarian divisions with such severe losses that they were combat ineffective. For the Prussians, 1 division was wrecked and a 2nd had losses that made future offensive action problematic at best. The remaining 2 Prussian and 1 Bavarian effective divisions would provide security while the army retired.
For the French which began with 5.5 divisions they had one division, the 1st of the 5th pushed back and suffering more than 25% casualties. The 3rd division of the 1st Corps had 50% casualties and was incapable of more than holding its ground. The 1st of the 1st Corps had also lost close to 25% of their effectives.
All in all the game was a blast. It felt appropriate for the scale of the game, i.e. we felt like we were commanding armies not squads with a different name.
So how could the French win? The terrain helped tremendously. In the cases where the Germans could get their artillery clear lanes of fire on French who were not behind walls it was ugly. Unfortunately most of the terrain precluded that kind of fighting. The central woods blocked the least protected French while the rest were either behind stout walls in the church area or in places where they could skulk behind trees. The Germans were forced to try to withstand a hailstorm of Chassepot fire with little to no effective artillery support against a foe who they did not outnumber sufficiently to overwhelm.