The Battle of Loburg 1813 – a Wargamers report

The Battle of Loburg 1813 – a Wargamers report

Day 1

Loburg is and was a village of no great consequence in the grand scheme of things, but was probably of more importance in Napoleon’s day as it is situated on a junction of three routes: from the west, the road to Magdeburg, southwards towards a distant Leipzig and finally northwards towards Berlin.

It is nicely positioned for a defensive battle, being protected on the northern flank by dense woods and with a generally flat open field of fire from west to south where another forest restricts movement of large bodies of troops. It is in brief almost impossible to sneak up on the village unnoticed. It would not be my first choice of targets to attack, but it was Andrew’s.

I was a bit perplexed by insistence on his choice of battlefields at first, as I could see no advantage for him in selecting this area because I could field two army corps immediately, while his second Russian division, would still be marching to battle and arriving piecemeal. Meanwhile the Prussians were left to their own devices outnumbered 2:1. On the other hand, if he won he would have a clear run into the French main depot at Magdeburg.

However, it soon became clear why he wanted to fight here; he had his sneaky run-away-girlie Swedes brigade with the British rocket battery attached. Now these blokes really cheese me off (the rockets) because I only accepted the dreadful role of Napoleon on the understanding that I would never have to fight British troops and Andrew takes great delight in fielding them wherever he can, by the wildest scope of imagination, justify their presence.

My one corps was approaching form the west and the second from the south. By a usual misinterpretation of the map movement distances I had found my ‘southerners’ would arrive at about the same time as his Russians started to enter the battle. However, I had learned from my earlier mistakes and placed my artillery close to the front of the line for quick deployment and had lots of horrible French Voltigeurs (skirmishers) crammed in the woods to hold that flank safe.

We agreed the town itself would have been fortified and was given the maximum defence value of +6. Andrew was forced to adopt and ‘L’ shape structure in order to hold the village until such time as the Russians arrived in bulk. The battle as usual opened with a clash of the cavalry with Andrew cleverly deploying his forces by ‘squadron’ while I was still gung-ho at having ‘millions’ of blokes on horses, deployed in regiments.

This meant that when we clashed in melee I was almost guaranteed a win, but then I would have to return behind my own infantry lines to reform. The advantage here then was that while Andrew would in all probability loose a squadron of horse he would then still have two more capable of charging while mine where all puffed out with their own success.

I had also noticed quite a few of Andrew’s Prussian cavalry were Ulahns armed with lances. Not really a problem against heavy cavalry, but quite a menace to infantry. Still I was quite confident and gave my left flank (westward approach) orders to form square to receive his lances.

I had even position my best troops Murphy’s Irish on the far left of the line for his lancers to bounce off, after all nobody breaks a square in these rules. It requires a through of a total of 18 to break a square with heavy cavalry on three dice. True it could happen, but only in your dreams!!! Unfortunately, I had forgotten that lancers only need 15+ to smash a square. I fired and did little damage and Andrew got to role to break the square – 18!!!!!!! Aaaaaahhhhhhggg! As they say. In one swoop he had put the entire battle into his hands.

It was looking pretty grim for the western corps as he had rallied his lancers after destroying ½ of Murphy’s regiment and was nicely poised to hit a second class regiment that was still in column of attack and just a short distance behind them all my artillery. What to do? I did not have enough time to form square before he could catch them and they only required a score of 9+ on three dice to be smashed by his deadly lances. I was now ready to treat them with respect.

This was about as far as we got at the end of the first days play and it looked as though there would be no stopping Andrew’s lancers. Had it been me I would have insisted on continuing the game for a few more moves, but he had to go and so it was left with the threat of defeat hanging over the French army.

Day 2

I had spent most of my free time the following week stalking round the tabletop, like Steve Davis making a sitting duck pot, trying to imagine how I could salvage some part of the right flank especially the artillery. Reading the rules were no comfort as the lancers only needed 9 or more on three dice to clear the field. So I decided to make the best of a bad job and play the rules as best I could.

I just had time to form up a second regiment alongside the one about to die before his attack, at least this would give me double the firepower before he crushed them and if I got lucky I might shoot enough to stop the charge. Even then it would not be plain sailing as he’d got at least three other units of lancers lining up for a chance to wipe out my army.

Under the rules you have to see how steady your nerve is before firing when charged. Obviously the better trained troops tend to fire at closer range and do more damage. I did not have high hopes for my second class mob especially as ‘cavalry in single rank take half casualties, ¼ at long range’. I think I managed to kill one, not enough to stop him and Andrew laughingly picked up the dice and rolled 7!!!!! He bounced off my mixed mob of rabble after killing the Irish.

This gave me time to form just about every infantry regiment I could find into square ready for the next onslaught and I concentrated as much artillery as I could fiddle into firing arc at anything that looked like it might have a pointed stick in its hand.

Meanwhile, on the other flank I had re-organised my massed cavalry into squadrons copying Andrew’s superior tactics and had been beating back more of his cavalry despite rolling low on the dice. It did not seem to be my night, but then the fortunes of wargaming are very fickle. Having lost a melee Andrew’s cavalry routed and I threw something pathetic like a 7 which, when we checked the rules, meant my cavalry had gone mad and kept in contact with Andrew’s giving me a free hack at them next go.

This happened in two parts of the battle and his cavalry bumped into a fresh cavalry unit that I chopped to pieces and more importantly his second unit was forced to crash through a Prussian artillery battery that I hacked to death before returning to my own lines. Combined with Andrew’s lancers failing to get to grips on the left, the battle had swung my way again despite loads of rockets whizzing all around my cavalry upsetting the horses.

This reverse of fortunes more or less ended the second day of ‘loft fighting’ and I was of course considerably more optimistic about the whole game. In fact I could almost smell victory, even with hordes of Russian skirmishers and cavalry swarming towards my weak right flank.

Day three saw more of the same, Andrew pressing on regardless and suffering high casualties for his efforts. Making all the right moves, but making abysmal dice rolls to add to the general mayhem. His Right flank was now no longer on the point of victory with all his lancers driven back, but because of my jammy dice scores now in danger of collapse. One third of his artillery had been driven off in rout with my wild uncontrolled pursuit and of the remaining eight guns four were near destroyed.

Determination is Andrew strong point and as fast as I could blow his artillery and cavalry away he brought forward Russian reinforcements risking a thinning down of his Russian force to bolster up the struggling Prussians. I had, however, learned my lesson and deployed my cavalry in squadrons and to good effect. At one point I managed to outnumber his light cavalry with odds of 5:1 which meant they were automatically wiped out. Nasty!

On my right (Andy’s left) the blasted Russians were coming on pretty damn thick and I had three units in square hopefully to beat off his cavalry and pointed my artillery towards them ready to blast them away. My skirmishers were heavily engaged by equal numbers of Russian Jaegers and had no advantage under the Guilder rules for hiding behind all those lovely big trees. Fortunately, the heavens must have thought this was a big fiddle as I always seemed to manage to kill two or three more than Andrew when the dice were rolled.

His skirmishers did some damage to my artillery that was having fun shooting at Swedish guns and a nice Prussian square my heavy cavalry were sneaking towards. Annoying that I forgot to load the necessary canister to blow them away, but my luck just would not break and eventually I did enough to drive them back.

By now Andrew had got three columns of Russian infantry into position ready to charge my French line guarding the artillery. Must point out that here that we have introduced a ‘house rule’ here to reflect the stubborn determination of the Russians to get the job done. They are classed as ‘elites’ whenever they have to test morale, even the lowest pox ridden pitch fork wielding mob, which gives them a +5 to the dice score and I already new that meant you practically had to kill every last one of them to stop them. This rule reflects the opinion of the French generals and recorded observations of how the Russian troops remained steady until the last man fell.

So the expected charges were announced and two were clear to go, the third had been damaged enough not to pass the charge test. This was a small consolation, but I still expected to have three units smashed by the damn Russian columns. Furthest right of the line fired wild at long range and did stuff all and quickly got smashed and routed. The next unit fired at point blank and did enough to halt the Russians for now.

To the centre Andrew was caught out by my sneaky moves again as I used light cavalry to stop his column forming square while I hit them with my ‘tin chests’ and mowed them all down. My lights bounced off, but then I got enough to break a square with the other unit anyway. Once again they rallied and faced down a re-organised Cossack squadron forcing them to rout over the newly arrived Russian guns. I was hoping to get another wild charge to mash up these too, but got an average return to own lines result. Still it was enough.

So as play came to a halt the last lot of artillery was on my left flank and because of the rout Andrew was down to four guns again. I let him have 12 shots and despite only hitting with three had the last laugh; rolled double 1. That meant that I had blown up one of his guns and forced his artillery to take a morale test which they passed.

At the end of play the game seems to be going the French way, but my battle plan was completely screwed up and the ever determined Russians were closing in on my right flank. My skirmishers were pinned for the next turn by my routing infantry. Still a lot of play yet and still evenly balanced as I imagine most of Andrew’s losses just even out the superiority in numbers he started the game with. I was now advancing cautiously towards the centre of the table with my left flank infantry, but still kept at bay by Prussian and Russian cavalry. Not quite as many as previously though.

Day 4

On the whole this day saw mostly even fortunes and indecisive actions despite some desperate and spirited attacks by the ever persistent Russians on my right flank. Despite having everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them and having considerably reduced numbers, Andrew managed to get two more Russian columns to charge into my weak right flank. The one column was held and fought to a standstill but, the right column was forced to rout back, being saved once again by the dense woods that meant Andrew’s Russians could not keep in contact and stay in fighting formation.

However, the left unit which was proudly reforming had a nasty shock as yet more lancers came hammering into them on the following move. Fortunately they were so far back they only had enough movement to cut down one rank. This was enough though to put them to flight and Andrew remained in contact ready to pursue them off table hacking away to his hearts content, but I had reacted sharply and placed some heavy dragoons in position to charge his lancers on the second turn of pursuit. While he was merrily cutting down the French infantry I charged home and despite crummy dice rolling still managed to win the ensuing melee forcing Andrew to retire and break contact. Nevertheless, the infantry were a lost cause and not even the promise of a long weekend with Josephine was going to stop this lot running.

In the centre there was yet another large cavalry clash, Andrew loves throwing his cavalry forward and I was desperately trying to swamp his unit to 5:1 odds so they would all be cut down, but failed despite winning a three round scrap. Both sides held and returned to their own lines to reform. I had the shorter distance to travel which was an advantage and because I had had fewer casualties on the horse front had a second force already coming forward.

On the far left yet another plucky Cossack squadron was sent packing before they could crash into my infantry with their lances. The Bavarian dragoons got the better of them again although they must have been tiring because they then failed to charge into some Prussian Militia and returned to own lines. By now Andrew’s guns were feeling the worse for wear and my massed battery were still holding firm blasting at anything that looked like it was anything equivalent to a boy scout mounted on a donkey with a pointed stick – lance fever!!!

I had moved up three columns of attack towards the Prussians expecting to be able to master them with the better trained troops but, only just managed to hold my own on the first clash. Not all Andrew’s dice rolling was crap anymore than mine was all lucky. Good use of his infantry and cavalry caused the occasional exposure of my columns (left centre mainly) to come under crushing artillery fire and two were turned back with a rough 30%+ casualties , but on the whole I was advancing my left flank towards the town.

Day 5 – The Phantom Menace

Determined to prove 1st class line, albeit French were better than some 19th century ‘Dad’s Army’ I once again charged the Prussian Militia expecting to smash through them in one round, but once again they held me to a full round of melee and it was only on a subsequent charge by a fresh unit that I managed to break them and drive them back to disrupt yet another fresh militia column of attack. One of the Bavarian dragoons squadrons was sent forward to finish off the Prussian militia on the left flank and failed to charge dismally returning to own line to reform.

The centre stage saw yet more cavalry clashes and a few cheeky charges by my lights to try for a lucky break though on the Prussian infantry while my infantry advanced at a sedate pace. Slowly but, steadily, ever wary of the Russian 12 pounder battery they were closing on the corner of Loburg. Yet more Cossacks came of second best to French light cavalry and it was clear Andrew was running out of cavalry.

A quick check of the army lists made Andrew think he had started the game with less than he should have had. Strange as he drew up the army lists, but there did seem to be an awful lot of cavalry to me on both sides. The balance was probably out more than numbers, the allies having loads of lancers and fewer heavy with the reverse for the French.

The right saw more desperate action against the Russians as Andrew strove to break though on this flank and roll up my army. I have to say I think he had chosen the worse place to break thorough as time after time the woods on my extreme right stopped any serious rot even when my troops were routed. This was because he was unable to keep formation and pursue through the woods and my troops quickly lost sight of the enemy and gained a bonus on rallying. They were also crawling with skirmishers that had passed the test to ‘stand in cover’ and could then poor close range fire into the approaching Russian units.

The heavy dragoons and a troop of ‘tin chest’ were up for a flank charge on two of the three remaining Russian units and Andrew had planed a spoiling attack with his third fresh Russian column, but when he came to test to see if the charge would go home it transpired that the unit did not exist – it was a phantom menace! This cleared the way for another spectacular nasty cavalry charge resulting in a near full strength Russian column getting cut to pieces.

In the terms of a gambler the Cuirassiers were the ‘banker’, almost certain to create havoc by the very nature of the fact the target unit was in bad shape and would be caught in the flank. The Provincial Dragoons were the complete outsiders that romped home in first place. The Cuirassiers failed to close in while the Dragoons mashed the complete column to death. The right flank was now clear. Andrew only had one fresh Russian unit on the extreme right that had been exchanging shots with my skirmish line in the woods.

On the left Andrew had thrown together the remnants of his lancer units for another charge . It was too late. I had the Westphalian Cuirassiers ready to meet them in another cavalry bash and concentrated my guns on his support line that shot away another 50% of his cavalry before they even got close to be a threat. In the cavalry bash Andrew actually faired better than the odds predicted with lights against heavies and although taking casualties he could not afford finally killed tow of the Westphalians that had up to this point lived a charmed life.

By now Andrew had started to withdraw his guns, a sure sign he thought the battle was lost. The Swedes had been forced to retreat and then gone off into a rout so he was after saving as many guns as he could. It would now be a race to see how many troops he could get away and how quickly I could close in to cut off the line of retreat.

Day 6 Last throws of the dice

As I suspected this was to prove the last dash for freedom of the battered allied armies and a race from the Frogs to catch what they could. The left of the French line was already in pursuit of the fleeing Prussian militia, with little hope of catching them and the right of the line was now only facing the Lithuanian rearguard of the Russians and a lone group of Cossacks. I had pushed forward such cavalry as were still organised on both flanks and kept up with the retreating Lithuanian regiment by leapfrogging my skirmishers forward. The centre would be where the last hard fighting would take place. Here Andrew had three reasonably fresh Prussian regiments facing an equally fresh formation of French infantry supported by light cavalry.

It was a straightforward three on three push, but with an overlap on either sides meaning only the two centre units would actually contact cleanly and either one of us could have had a 2:1 advantage on one flank of the clash of columns. By a gentlemanly agreement we decided to let the two regiments that could contact cleanly to scrap it out and them throw in the last one as reinforcements. Of course we were both gambling that our troops would pass the initial melee round in one piece.

There was another reason for Andrew holding one regiment back and that was even if he lost the initial scrap he would have a fresh regiment to smash into my disorganised mass which would be caught at the halt. However, I had anticipated this and stationed a squadron of light dragoons to charge at his flank with no more intention of doing anything other than stopping him long enough for my infantry to reform.

Andrew’s Prussians, let down by more chronic dice rolling were both routed and he had the chance to strike with the fresh unit into my unformed regiments. Unfortunately as the cavalry moved faster he was caught in the flank on the first quarter of his charge and needing 13 on three d6 to breakthrough I was looking for a more modest result that would just stop him smashing my troops. Once again the dice came my way and the light cavalry did the unexpected, smashed into his flank and out the other side cutting his last Prussians to pieces.

The rest of the game was the chase. The Lithuanians and a few of the Prussian survivors were cut off and captured, but all of the artillery got away by some dodgy wheeler dealing. It mattered little as the two armies were truly hammered. This battle had to be one of the worse results for the combined allies to date. Control of the battlefield meant that most of their wounded would also fall into French hands while the Frog injured had a better chance of survival. Furthermore, there were sufficient fresh troops from both French corps to keep up pursuit and make a thorough nuisance of themselves with his rearguard and little probably resistance as most of his cavalry were already decimated from previous engagements.

A last note on phantom units. We started the game with the cavalry and other units quite all mixed up from previous games and in consequence I was using whatever cavalry was available to make up my unit numbers. This caused Andrew some considerable problems as he actually recognised what each uniform represented whereas I was merely going by the unit label and he was confused by Hussars fighting as Dragoons etc.

At the start of the last action I did a quick head count from what cavalry figures recognised and tried to marry them up with the unit lists. It looked as though I had too many heavy cavalry out and so in fairness I removed about twenty figures. It made little difference to the outcome, but I was concerned that I may have been using too many from the start giving me an unfair advantage. However, I’m pleased to say that on checking the final casualty lists against the starting strengths I had actually started with too few cavalry on my far left and that the total numbers of cavalry numbers questioned previously had been more or less correct to one or two figures, it was indeed just a mix up of uniforms.

We have now tided up the troops ready for the next action and Andrew has completed a stock check on the troops available for the next scrap. He was surprised to discover just how many heavy French cavalry he had amassed, but not me. I had faced them previously in the Peninsular campaign and knew they practically outnumbered his French infantry. More favourably he had found we had between us more Russian and Prussian troops than he had expected so despite the heavy losses I expect the war will continue!!

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