Monday, 4 January 2016

Battle of Austerlitz - the play-test

Having read an article about Napoleon's Battle of Austerlitz (1805),  I got it in my mind to create a scenario for this famous but not often played engagement.  His most famous victory, it is hard to recreate as a wargame as it involves fog (thus hidden deployment) and really inept command on the part of his opposition.  (while not always a problem by many players, hard to force upon them). However I thought to complete, nonetheless, and play out myself as a play-test.

At first I employed a rather small ratio but soon found it too imposing so cut it down to about 1 element per ~ 2,000 (infantry). It is interesting to note the relatively few artillery and in this battle the Allies had twice the numbers as the French. In these rules, and as most analysts would suggest, artillery was the real killers of this era and as I found later in the game, this was certainly the case.

I completed the set up and allocated the appropriate command control and command morale chits to each commander.  Please note:  I used my 1815 Prussians primarily and some of the few Russians I have painted in lieu of the 1805 Russians and Austrians. The French are also incorrect but there you have it.  Also ignore any commander labels on the elements as these are not correct.  I kept each command as a different type so I could remember who was who.  Luckily I had enough on hand to make the numbers.
View from the south-east showing the Allies deployed on the Pratzen Heights.   The white cotton sheets indicate those French formations hidden under the fog.
In terms of numbers they were surprisingly even with the French having 29 elements of infantry, 7 of cavalry and 7 guns @ 12 points of fire.  The Allies have 30 elements of infantry, 7 of cavalry and 10 guns @ 24 points of fire.  Due to the apparent morale of each army I gave all the French infantry an extra morale/combat point. +25%. A large advantage.

While the battle occurred in the middle of winter on snowy ground with frozen ponds, pretend the green mat is white and the muddy ponds, frozen over.   Deployment was as historical as possible with some of the commands combined as they seemed to operated together or at least in the same direction.  Accounts certainly differ on which Generals are used to describe the action as apparently even the historical Allied commanders had some doubt on the command structure that day!  Similarly I combined some of the French commands but these were less of a problem to distinguish.  I will use the historical commanders and place names so those who are very familiar with Austerlitz can kinda follow the game progress.

The key to battle is the vast movement of the Allies south, off the Pratzen heights and the mass of the French coming out of the hiding fog to take the abandoned high ground cutting the Allied army in two and destroying the greater part of it.  Playing solo I ignored the deployed but "hidden" French (covered in some white cotton to remember...I still not sure how to do this with players....) and had the Allies march off the heights.  The French players in the scenario have from Turn 1 to Turn 5 (when the fog burns off) to start their advance.  Davout’s corps arrives Turn 3 to help Legrand fend off the Allies attack just as contact was being made.  As it were, some of the Allies started to blunder into Soult’s forces at the start of turn 5 in any event and so all the timing seemed to work out.
The Allies Columns advancing off the heights toward the south
and away from the French massed under the fog (white sheet)
the view from Napoleon's perspective

The game began as Doktorhov, Langeron, Prebyshevsky, with Lichtenstein and Milovodovich in support advanced upon their objective villages along the southern end of the Goldbach Stream.  These were defended by General Legrand with very few units but were eventually helped by Davout’s small force. When Soult’s and Oudinot’s grenadiers moved against Prebyshevsky’s small force, Milovodovich was still upon the heights and managed (with high dice thrown) to refocus his attack to a steady defensive posture on the hill ( note that only the Santon hill in the northern sector gave any defensive measure)  Meanwhile Lichtenstein’s cavalry seeing no movement opportunity behind Doktohov and Langeron, decided - as was he did historically - to move back north to meet the threat.  A long journey as it turned out.

In the northern sector, Bagration was doing well and had Lannes’ Corps fall back but which recovered (needing a roll of a 6 to do so! Lannes talent coming through? ) to support Bernadotte’s forces who had taken up the fight against Bagration for Santon hill and key to the French left flank.

Meanwhile back at the southern sector,  the Allies advance stalled and Doktohov’s forces needed to regroup falling back from the stream. (a rather unfortunate ‘Command Morale’ roll, of course) This was to the relief of both French Generals Davout and Legrand whose forces were seriously worn.

One of those lulls in the action now took place as both sides make the time to consolidate their positions or realign troops for coordinated moves ( i.e. group moves).  Milovodovich reinforced his defensive line as Prebyshevsky fell back.  Langeron held the village of Solokwitz which was his objective and seemed determined to stay, while Doktohov again moved to take the village of Telnitz and destroy Legrand’s French.

Meanwhile, the Russian Guard under Constantine finally advanced slowly as he struggled with his command (rolling 1’s each turn!) Bagration to his fore with his now exhausted command tried to work with Constantine to form a viable Allied flank under pressure from a much depleted Bernadotte and Lannes.

Murat now with maneuver room, charged against the square formations of Milovodovich’s right wing as Oudinot marched up and immediately threw himself at the Russian's center.  While these attacks were somewhat successful, Milovodovich’s command morale continued to be very strong despite heavy casualties ( his die rolls were always high! )
Oudinot's Grenadiers (my Young Guard types from the latter years of the wars) advancing past Napoleon.

Murat, after his impetus first charges having half his heavy cavalry unable to defeat the Russian squares and subsequently destroyed from Russian guns, became more circumspect and used his horse artillery to destroy the squares
Murat's horse guns firing to soften up the Allies squares. Yes, they CAN fire through
their own troops. A funny game incident occurred as each these guns fired twice (noted
as the two pips on the black dice) at each respective square.....
.....and can you guess which gun did more effect?  Yes, correct, upon the left one to my "death and destruction"
Landwehr unit!    [the cubes represent the element being in square formation] The element on the right was unscathed.
Unlike the historical events, Doktohov finally pushed away the thin French line in the south.  However Soult finally started to push his forces to the south in support but his poor command staff (it would appear from his continued low dice, and to be fair, disordering crossing of the stream) did not have him influence the affairs in the centre of the battle.

The French were losing steam.  Murat was down to half his cavalry strength and unable to make headway against the Russian squares and Lichtenstein’s cavalry and the Russian Guard heavy horse (my Prussian heavies actually) were now reinforcing the heights and meeting Murat's boys.
Heavy Cavalry vs Heavy Cavalry
{my Prussian Cuirassiers in campaign dress.  Old model Connoisseurs riders on Front Rank horses vs. Perry plastics}

 Lannes and Bernadotte were spent forces and only continued due to ceasing any self-destroying offensive actions. Oudinot’s grenadiers were making little impact and Davout and Legrand’s commands had ceased to exist. The only uncommitted force was Bessiere’s small Imperial Guard force ( this force would balloon later during Napoleon’s reign, but at this stage of history was very few).  Napoleon thought that if only one more Allied command could be broken, it would conclude the affair and he chose the weak Allied right flank under Bagration to attack.  The Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard led the attack but quickly were dispersed by cannon fire.  The tight ranks of the blue-clad infantry followed only to meet the same fate.
Combined arms attack in action upon the French Guard who are loathed to form square as to give the artillery a better target, but if not, will be easy meat for the heavy cavalry.  

With the final French reserves gone, the fighting gradually petered out (as I designed the rules to do…) with the weakened elements unable to attack without themselves being eliminated from attrition and failing any commanded offensive actions.

The Allies with still a strong Guard force, plentiful artillery and Milovodovich’s remarkable defense of the heights had defied history and held the field in a hard fought affair.


  1. in 2004 Kelly Jones, Mac and I did a playtest of Austerlitz in what we had hoped to run that next spring for Salute.

    A few key features were using the least experienced player as Alexander, then the next most experienced as his Kutusov. Friday night was wine & cheese with tactical talk. including a briefing from Radovitch who thought the French were ready to flee having seen shoeless soldiers in random packs ransacking the countryside and an Austrian command staff briefing of the original Allied plan, which could then be modified by the players in the wine & cheese briefing. This 'plan' then became the orders for the morning on Saturday AM on the tabletop.

    To simulate the 'fog' I had sections of pillow 'batting' that were equally cut and laid out on top of 'blue blanks' of foamcore with a weight on them and painted blue. They laid UNDER the blanket of fog which was at the base of the Pratzen and out across the field from west to east. As the turns went on (we used Napoleon's Battles v1.0) about 10:30 am we started rolling for the fog to 'burn off', with each section rolled for, yet only the ones to the east actually removed from the table (causing a slow reveal from Sokolnitz to the Zurlan). Each turn the chance to 'burn off' became higher and right about 12:45 pm the whole of the fog vanished.

    During the march down from Pratzen, which the commanders argued over as the young Alexander player wanted to get into action NOW, while the other two more experienced players did not want to go out fully until the artillery could effectively hit the French targets. The Tsar won out, and off the hill they came, the players had to 'roll back' the fog temporarily to move their men, yet in so doing they could not see and therefore effectively gauge the distance to the French lines, which were only blue blank blocks and so did not know who/what/where anything was. The east columns became bogged down as they started to break into firing lines way to early. Cavalry that was committed to the Sokolniz and Telnitz attacks were also blocked bu the foot and horse guns, so when the fog cleared they all became great targets of opportunity for the French. I did the work of Lannes and Soult and it was intimidating to stay still for three or four turns in the fog. Kelly did Napoleon and Murat and the horse really really waited. it was nearly 1:30 pm when they came out but what a presence! The lines of Allied infantry were all stuck in close combat or under fire from French so the horse of Murat charged headlong behind them and hit hard at the reserves and GHQ of the Tsar. Game was a clear French victory and Davout did not even get to show up on the field before the Allied players were throwing in the towel.

    I have some photos of it, somewhere, and the maps I used along with some briefing notes. I'd really like to try it at Salute, with the pub time on Friday as the key 'invite' for the game on Saturday.

    Your brigade sized units are a different animal, yet the command functions remain the same.

    1. Interesting observations. As a "solution" to the fog problem, as you have inferred, have a "report" with all the historical rationalizations for the Allies to ingest and then have them place a plan on paper.
      Lay out the troops (or not...for those under the fog...) and play it out.

      I will have a post regarding a possible easy solution to the problem shortly.

      As you suggest, my rules are not tactical but grander in scope but, yes, the command decisions are the same.

      Thanks for the input