Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Borodino 1812-2012 - The MegaGame!

Lachlan explains how his Corps will win the day!
Well, we did it! After many months of preparation, of building, painting, practice games and developing rules amends,
agreeing victory conditions, and arranging teams and roles, 20 wargamers from NSW and South Australia met this weekend to mark the 200th Anniversary in grand style.

So what did we achieve? We refought the Battle of Borodino, in a single day, like the original, using Battalion level rules, on a 1:20 figure scale, with every engaged Corps and Division represented. I calculated that we had well over 5,000 figures on the 240 sq feet playing area, with the French boasting 70 line battalions of Infantry, averaging 34 figures each, and the Russians 59 battalions of similar size. The French had the edge in Cavalry, and the Russians in Artillery.


We succeeded in getting in 10 rounds of hard fought action, so that the Victory conditions could be fairly assessed within the context of a completed game.


Many spectators joined us in the evening to look over the spectacular terrain and wish us well...Above, a facebook post from the French Commander's wife wishing everyone well...

Photo from HoH Gallery

All the major ingredients of the actual battle were recreated – the passion, the assaults, the counter attacks, strong points changing hands, break throughs and strategic redeployments...


The huge planning and preparation effort, the troop stats, rules amends and victory conditions, the practice games, can all be seen on earlier posts, suffice it to say that a real feeling of anticipation, a fitting sense of pre-battle tension, prevailed on the Saturday, the eve of battle...

Prince Eugene, aka Barry, give IV Corps an eve of battle speech that was later to hang on the Oval Office wall...
After the hard work of setting up the tables and models was completed, with the Russians deploying first, and then the French, reactively; we celebrated with a bottle, well, bottles, of local wines and a pig roast, prepared by Matt, who demonstrated that he had culinary skills as well as being a landscape artist of no small talent, as these photographs of the terrain will attest...
Prussian Uhlans (For my Prussophile mate von Peter!)

A few of us crashed out in the Hall of Heroes overnight, and I can confidently inform you that the trains start running through Campbelltown at 5.00am......Still, I was like a kid on Christmas morning, and spent the early morning gloating over the terrain....

Once the teams were in the briefing started. Now umpiring can be a boring job, but as each team captain revealed his plans, I could see that we would be in for a hard fought, and closely matched, battle, and that the outcome was going to be close.

The French Captain briefed his team, with minutes to spare before game start, that he was no longer interested in achieving the Victory Conditions, which had been months in preparation, and was now aiming for a battle of attrition....Deep breath time! I reflected that, actually, that might lead to a closer historical outcome - Borodino was hardly a battle of fine manoeuvre!

Photo from HoH Gallery
Troy’s plan, was to mask off the Raevsky Redoubt, and also only feint towards each flank; Borodino in the North and the Utitsa Kurgan in the South; and unleash the main effort at the Fleches, after a suitable period of bombardment to soften its defences, punching  through the Russian lines there to achieve a battle of annihilation.

Photo from HoH Gallery
The Russian team captain then briefed his plan, which had been emailed to me the week before and so was less of a shock...The cavalry would be concentrated to the North, to impede French movement on the flanks and support Borodino. The other flank to the South would also be strongly held, reinforced by a massive grand battery concentrating 2/3rds of the Russian heavy guns. The central area would be less strongly held, with the hope of creating a ‘cauldron’ or killing zone, the shoulders of which would be formed by the Grand Battery to the South and the Guards to the North, who would be committed early. Once the French had been attrited in the cauldron, they would be eventually be mopped up by the Infantry reserves...

So both team captains were aiming  to bring on a battle of attrition in the South-Central sector, and the fighting around the flanks, and the Redoubt, would be half hearted...This was going to be very interesting...Surely no plan survives contact with the enemy!

Dogged defenders - The Russians, L-R, Motty, Greg, Dave, Bryan(C), James, Mick, John. Mark and John Snr inbound...
The opening Russian pre game bombardment from the 3 position batteries in the Raevsky Redoubt was limited in its effect, the French VIII corps opposite having deployed out of effective range, a single Battalion becoming disordered, but it was a taste of things to come...

Valiant stormers - The French, L-R, Blake, Matt, Lachlan, Gus, Philip, Troy  (C), Richard, John, Barry
In the French opening move, however, their Grand Battery concentrated their fire on the Fleches as planned, and highly effective fire soon reduced it to a mere heap of sand providing no benefit to its defenders...


Ney’s I Corps then promptly took full advantage, charging the Fleches, whilst in the North Prince Eugene followed orders to the letter, with a tentative feint followed by a prudent resort to squares as the massed Russian cavalry began to stir....

Similarly in the South the action was initially confined to light cavalry and Cossack skirmishes and a careful clearing of the large patch of scrubland by the light infantry of both V and III corps acting in unison to flush out and engage the concealed Russian Jaegers and Cossacks. So in the opening pair of moves both teams stuck rigidly to their plans!

The French Assault on the Fleches, as befitted the French main effort, slowly and painfully began to make headway, and I reflected that had they not concentrated all their artillery firepower on reducing its defensive value to zero it would have been nigh on unbeatable.



At this point the Russian team debated pulling out of the Fleches to allow the supporting Grand Battery full scope to play on the French in the ‘Cauldron’, but decided instead to commit the Guard Infantry forward to be ready on the flanks of any French breakthrough...

With its initial task achieved in Grand style, the French Grand Battery limbered and attempted to move north to assist VIII Corps, which you will recall was tasked with screening off the Raevsky redoubt. 




Cunning use of the dead ground in the balkas and creeks had allowed it to approach the redoubt without too many losses,

but earlier events had demonstrated that more firepower would be needed to allow any closer engagement.


Unfortunately a series of unlucky dice throws, including a visit to the infamous ‘blunder’ table, slowed down the Grand Battery’s redeployment....Meanwhile the Fleches finally fell to the French after a passionate and hard fought struggle.


The first Victory point went to the French! The Russian team had anticipated this loss, and set in train their Infantry reserves on their strategic march south to deal with any French strategic breakthrough.

 I was glad to see a strategic movement on a game of this size. Its not often you see a game where 2 Infantry Corps only form a part of the reserve, much less engage on a long flanking march, which of course Black Powder allows you to do...

The footprint of Borodino represented by its Orthodox Church, scratch built by Blake. Our expert on Eastern Theology, James, assured us that it was named 'The Church of the Fallen Madonna'...
The French brought on their Guards Heavy Cavalry in the Northern sector to engage the masses of Russian Heavy cavalry which had been holding Eugene’s Corps in square. The village of Borodino, despite receiving regular and well coordinated attacks, was still holding out, although of course its gallant defenders were not to know that these were merely feint attacks!

At this stage I detected a change of emphasis in the French plans. Their troops inside the captured Fleches were receiving the concentrated attentions of the main Russian grand battery, with, as one French player put it, entire battalions disappearing in a pink mist! But having, with commendable foresight, retasked their Grand Battery against the Raevsky redoubt, where by now it had reduced its defensive value by 50%, VIII Corps was either ordered to take it, or their commander got carried away.... Either way, wave assaults were launched against its defenders....

The Russians attempted to relieve the pressure by committing the Guards Heavy Cavalry, but once again the astute use of our local ‘Cavalry Overwatch’ order meant that the Saxon Heavy Cavalry brigade were able to intervene.


This was a real challenge to my impartiality as umpire, as these are my little darlings, and it gives me great pleasure to report that after several rounds of swirling heavy Cavalry melee,


 the Russian Garde was pushed back, and the French infantry assaults on the redoubt continued unchecked by anything so boring as having to form square...

James' Perry Artillery in the Grand Redoubt - 3 Heavy Batteries!
As the game was drawing to its last moves, the intensity and passion of play somehow increased.


To the North, the opposing massed cavalry formations continued their might clash, but the Russians were being herded back to their rear, and IV Corps lost no time in forming back into columns from the squares which they had been in so long, and sweeping forward.

However, the Borodino Garrison, though shaken, disordered, battered and bruised, somehow continued to hold on to the smoking ruins of the village. Overall, however, the Russian defences, particularly the firepower of the massed batteries in the Central South sector, seemed impregnable...

The tension and excitement continued to rise however, as Matt fought his Corps like a demon to break through to the Russian batteries which had been tormenting his troops so long. At the same time, VIII Corps managed to break into the Raevsky redoubt.


Would the French snatch victory from the stalemate at the eleventh hour? At this point, with 1 move each to go, the victory points were even – The French had gained one for the Fleches, and had committed less of their reserves than the Russians, who had thrown everything in to hold the line, so gaining another VP for a total of 2.

Corps cards as used by the French team to aid with force marshalling prior to the game - the Russians simply scalpeled the excel spreadsheet Orbat into strips - simple but effective - rather in character! VIII Corps was the smallest French Corps, but seemed to be in all the action...
 The Russians were holding the Utitsa Kurgan, and Borodino was still holding out, albeit by a thread.... gaining a VP each. The Raevsky redoubt was still a broiling mass of hand to hand fighting, so could not be claimed by anyone at this stage...

 In their final desperate charge through the Russian rear to get to the guns, Matt had led 4 Battalions onto the Russian rear table. According to the victory conditions, he was entitled to a VP for each unshaken Infantry Bde of 4 Bns, so if they all survived the last Russian move in good order, it would be a French victory...

However, perhaps fittingly, the Russian Artillery, the Red God of War as it is known in Russian military doctrine, spoke loud and clear – when the smoke cleared, and the race was run, 3 of the 4 battalions had indeed been shaken by the sheer firepower of the Grand Battery...

So despite the intensity of the fighting, or perhaps because of it, our game resulted in a similar stalemate to the original...However this does not reflect on the strategy and planning of the team captains who both, as I hope I have recounted, stuck broadly to their plans, and reacted intelligently to the enemy's movements. It was pleasing to see that they both managed to remain aloof from the scrimmage and keep cool heads to observe the action and act strategically. An opportunity given to few wargamers in a mega game of this scale and they both responded to the challenge magnificently, as did the teams they led so ably. Bryan remarked to me afterwards: 'I think I had a grin on my face all day'! So it wasn't just me who had the wargame of a lifetime!

For more eye candy, please check out the Hall of Heroes website:

http://www.thehallofheroes.com.au/gallery

Huzzah!

26 comments:

  1. One word...Amazing.


    Congratulations,

    John

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  2. What a great day it must have been. Thanks for the post.

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  3. Oh wow Sparker that's absolutely outstanding!!!
    Best blog post I have seen this year.
    Well done mate.

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  4. Thank you all very muchly, Gentlemen, too kind!

    My mate Philip, a stalwart of this project, has made some notes which I may not have captured, so I hope he won't mind if I repeat them here:

    " There were so many memorable moments for me ... In no particular order:

    - the array of french reinforcements at the start (surely enough to crush the russians) and the almost empty reinforcement table at the end (turns out russians are more resilient after all).
    - driving off the russian cavalry on the northern sector. Barry's infantry were perfectly placed to block Dave's cavalry and between the two of us I think we drove off 8 (?) units for the loss of 3 (?). Some the russian dragoons were even fighting like cuirassiers...but to no avail.
    - One of my cuirassier units drove off multiple cavalry units despite being shaken for most of the game. Made all those hours at the painting table feel worthwhile...
    - russian jagers holding onto borodino for entire game! I seem to recall the historical outcome was that they were caught in the bath and quickly driven off . Clearly they were not caught with their pants down this time.
    - Watching the french units disappear in a red mist after breaking into the fleches and into the line of fire of the grand battery. It was a strange feeling to know that going forward was going to be almost certain death. Even more impressive that Matt managed to get units onto the russian reserve table at all.
    - The grand batteries were awesome.
    - the to and fro cavalry battle in the centre of the table. This was more dynamic than some of our practice games and could have gone either way.
    - asking Troy when he was going to deploy the guard and then realising it was probably going to be too late to make a difference. This was the most interesting historical similarity for me. With most of the board held by the French it actually made sense to not deploy the guard. Did Napoleon actually make a sensible decision based on what he could see ...?
    - the russian guard forming square off-table at the first whif of french horseflesh.
    - looking across to the main redoubt to see a unit of westphalian hussars had made it into in close combat with the defenders.
    - having a 'brain snap' towards end of day when for some inexplicable reason I mistook Blake for Mick. The pressure must have got to me too. Apologies to both gents.

    Thanks to everyone, particularly Ralph for maintaining momentum through all the practice games over the last year, mick james and dave (my main opponents on the day who played in true 'black powder' spirit) and Matt for the professional quality table and continuous supply of tea.

    Already looking forward to the next big game, but need to recover first.

    Cheers,

    Philip"

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  5. Fantastic work guys, a big well done and a true bigger then ben hur game!

    I am wishing I could of made it up for the game!

    cheers
    matt

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  6. Amazing !!.......first class effort chaps, any show in the world would be happy to have such a display, well done to all involved. Steely determination to see a project like this through to the end, fantastic work Sparker.

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  7. hmmmmmm - guess commiting the French Guard might have tipped things to the French side at the end.

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  8. Deqr Mr Sparkles

    What a fantastic game. Plaudits all around and thanks for the write up.

    And a huge thank you for the picture of those magnificent Prussian uhlans. They even look like Calpe Miniatures as the icing on the cake! 8O)

    Salute
    von Peter himself

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  9. Great looking game guys, the terrain was fantastic. Our own game last weekend, with a similar number of figures resulted in a French victory.

    I have enjoyed the build up to this one too

    Craig

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  10. Thank you all for your comments! Its great that this battle has been commemorated so much around the world.

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  11. This excellent stuff - really BIG table full of lovely scenery with LOADS of pretty toys on top - that's what our hobby is all about!
    The faces of the players are very concentrated, I know the feeling it's an emotionally shattering game to play a part in.
    Thanks for the report - you inspire!
    Be good
    JJ

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  12. Fantastic battle well done guys -inspirational .Sparker where did you get the saxon cavalry standards as i'm looking for a Garde du corps standard for the eureka unit i have painted up and GMB dont have any? Peter

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  13. Thanks Peter - I down loaded them of t'interweb - either Warflag or Napflag...

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  14. Breathtaking. Thanks for the pics and AAR. I've played this in 15mm but never seen the likes of what you fellows did here.

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  15. Sparker dis a 1813 batlle last evenng and used some of your ideas on the whole liked them and they worked..........
    can i ask you several points please.
    1 cavalry over-watch= i had a russian cuirassier brigade on this but it was behind the brigade/unit it supports so CANT see the enemy(rules as written) charging???can it react then. must it only be enemy cavalry you allow the cavalry to react to?

    2-how did you find the artillery ranges worked-very destructive or? I was also wondering why the cannister range for 6pdr horse is so much lower than 6pdr foot.

    thanks Sparker
    Peter

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    1. Hi Peter! Cavalry overwatch is only to protect Infantry formations from enemy cavalry. But the fact that the unit can't see the unit it wishes to counter charge is besides the point, in our view, these rules work at a holistic level - there would have been vedettes out if that was the unit's assigned mission. So long as there is space for them physically to 'leap frog' the friendly inf and ccharge the enemy cavalry then go for it, so long as they passed an order to do so in their bound.

      Artillery ranges were absolutely devastating! And to my mind, for Borodino at least, rightly so. However to encourage the use of Horse Artillery in the mounted, Cav support role we retained its origninal ranges....

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  16. Fantastic stuff Sparker and another beaut report. Yours was one of three big bicentennial Borodino games that were held that weekend in NZ/Aust. (including our own)! I have put links to them on the 'Wargaming Waterloo 2015' blog (http://waterloo2015.blogspot.com.au).

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  17. A wonderful batrep Sparker! Amazing pictures, you can feel the smell of gunpowder!
    I do like your church and your fantastic redoubt! Very nice work!
    Best,
    Phil.

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  18. Great report and I wish I were there when you played. I would travel from the USA just to get in one game with you guys. Thanks for the inspriration as I am painting up my Russians and it will take a long time.

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  19. Sparker, you must all still be catching your breath after that mammoth effort. We look forward to having you back 'in action' soon!

    I have nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award. See post on our blog.

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  20. That is really a once in a life-time game. I can only imagine the fun you load must've had.

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  21. Sparker, that must have been one heck of a wargaming experience. You sure know how to get Napoleonic gaming enthusiasts to risk getting drowned in puddles of their own drool!

    For what it's worth, it's because of the enthusiasm you show in posts like these that I've nominated your excellent blog for the "Leibster" award. You can check out my Serrez les Rangs! blog for details.

    http://serreslesrangs.blogspot.jp/2012/12/of-books-battles-and-bling.html

    Thanks, and I look forward to the next mega-game!

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