Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dangerous Difficulties

French Army Strength
In other respects too, L'Armee du Nord, was beset with dangerous difficulties.  A disconcerting degree of suspicion and mistrust doffed the relationships between the soldiers who had remained loyal to the Emperor throughout his fall and exile and those who had compromised their military oath and taken service under the Bourbons.  This atmosphere pervaded all ranks, from the highest to the lowest, and to some extent made the morale of the Army of the North brittle.  As the historian Houssaye describes it, the army of 1815 was "impressionable, critical, without discipline and without confidence in its leaders, haunted by the dread of treason, and on that account, perhaps, liable to sudden fits of panic; it was nevertheless inspired with warlike aspirations and loving war for its own sake, fired with a thirst for vengeance; it was capable of heroic efforts and furious impulses; it was more impetuous, more excited, more eager for the fray than any other Republican or Imperial Army after or before it.  Napoleon had never before handled an instrument of war that was at once so formidable and so fragile."  Indeed, it can be argued with considerable justice that Napoleon miscalculated the caliber of his army, regarding its quality with, if anything, misplaced optimism.  But by June the time had come for action; the path was chosen and had to be followed to the end.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 1023

Friday, May 29, 2015


Emmanuel Grouchy
Equally inexplicably, the Emperor gave command to the right wing to Marshal Grouchy -- a talented cavalry general wit hlittle experience of infantry soldiering -- and he, too, was to find his new responsibilities beyond the range of his capabilities when faced by as wily a foe as teh veteran Blucher.

Ultimately, then, Napoleon proved mistaken in the selection of his three key subordinates, and this is all the more inexplicable as so much good talent was overlooked.  Marshal Suchet would have madea far better chief of staff than Soult, but the Emperor insisted on sending him to command the Army of the Alps, charged with the defense of Lyons.  This was an important, but in June, secondary duty: the crisis of the campaign would take place on the northern front.  Even more difficult to understand was the failure to employ Marshal Davout in any active capacity.  "I can trust Paris to no one but you," wrote the Emperor, but by appointing possibly the ablest marshal as minister of war and governor of the capital, Napoleon sacrificed the talents of an experienced and gifted soldier.  No doubt he fulfilled a vital political role in the rear of the army, but Davout would have been the ideal match for Blucher at Ligny.  A final blunder on the part of the Emperor was his failure to use the services of King Joachim Murat, the finest cavalry leader in Europe.  Admittedly the unfortunate King of Naples had earned his brother-in-law's severest displeasure by his treacherous conduct the previous year, and had not improved Napoleon's opinion of him by launching a premature and strategically useless Neapolitan offensive against the Austrian forces of General Bianchi on March 15, 1815.  The result was his being subsequently totally routed at the battle of Tolentino on May 2, thus releasing all the Austrian forces in Italy for the forthcoming onslaught against France.  But this in no way affected his brilliance as a cavalryman.  Nevertheless his preferred saber was abruptly rejected by his old master.  Grouchy was probably the best available replacement for Murat -- but as already noticed he was inexplicably transferred from his cavalry appointment at the very outset of the campaign.

Doubtless Napoleon had his reasons for the unsuitable appointments he made, but responsibility for their shortcomings must rest squarely on his shoulders.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 1023

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"the Bravest of the Brave"

Michel Ney, Bravest of the Brave
Similarly, the choice of generals to command the two wings left much to be desired.  Marshal Ney, "the bravest of the brave," was only given command of the left wing on the afternoon of the 15th -- a totally unsuitable appointment for a soldier who could still be relied upon for courage and elan in action, but whose brain was no longer capable of cool strategic calculations required of a semi-independent commander.  The Emperor should have been well aware of Ney's limitations.  As early as 1808, he had likened the marshal's comprehension of Napoleonic strategy to that of "the last joined drummer boy"; and although in 1812 "the bravest of the brave" had earned the highest imperial accolade for his conduct during the retreat from Moscow, Michael Ney had never managed to throw off completely the state of "battle fatigue" engendered by the horrors and privations of that campaign.  Nor had he ever filled the gap on his staff caused by the defection of Baron Jomini.  His showing at Bautzen in 1813 had fully demonstrated his limitations.

Nevertheless, Napoleon's decision to appoint Ney to high command in 1815 was an act of considerable cunning.  Not only was Ney the hero of the French army, he was also an invaluable figure of propaganda for use against the Bourbon cause.  On the one hand it was a calculated blow against King Louis XVIII's prestige to re-employ the former Bourbon commander in chief; on the other, Ney's preferment might serve to persuade other servants of the Bourbons that their acts of desertion in 1814 could be overlooked in return for new tokens of devoted service to Napoleon's cause.  Thus on political grounds there was quite a lot to recommend Ney's appointment in 1815, but there can equally be no doubt that he proved a decided military liability in the days that lay ahead.  In any case the late timing of his arrival at the front to take up his appointment made it impossible for him to get to know his officers and men before leading them into action -- a fatal disadvantage.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 1022

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Out of Condition

Napoleon out of condition in 1815
For all its initial advantage, the French army had cause for concern in the shortcomings of certain senior commanders.  Napoleon bears the full responsibility for this as he alone made the appointments to the key posts.  At the age of 46, the Emperor should have been still in his prime; his mind was as alert as ever, but physically he was out of condition following a year of soft living on Elba, and the strains of the next seventy two hours were destined to mould and distort his judgement at crucial moments.

The very brilliance of his plan made it imperative that he should keep himself fully informed of events on all sectors, and in the days before wireless this inevitably meant many hours in the saddle.  To a considerable extent, the shortcomings of his immediate subordinates aggravated this necessity.  As chief of staff Napoleon had appointed Marshal Soult, and experienced army commander who had seen much service in Spain, but who had never before served in his present capacity.  Berthier, the eminence grise of so many of the Grand Army's campaigns during the previous decade, had died on June 1, reputedly by jumping to his death from the upper story of a house at Bamberg, but even before this news came through the Duke of Dalmatia had been appointed to the senior staff position.  Preeminently Soult was a man of action who would have been far better employed as commander of one of the army's wings -- especially against his old enemy Wellington.  In the course of the following days, Soult was to be responsible for perpetrating several mistakes and misunderstandings in the written orders he issued, and these, taken together, account for a great deal of Napoleon's ultimate difficulties.
~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 1021

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Victoria Day of GAMES

May 18, here in Canada, was Victoria Day and my boys did not have school that day.

So it was all setup as a tabletop games day.

First up was a SHAKO game with my youngest:

table lay out ... we were using a smaller than normal table - mom was busy with the big table - this left our forces at canister range!

the black uniforms of the Brunswick force

Italians take the fild

on turn 2 the Brunswickers formed a column to rush into the town

field on turn 3, by this point the Allied cavalry had melted away and now the town turned into a hand-to-hand match

flash on with the town battle in front of the lens
 In turn four the battle continued in the town, with the Brunswick force being eliminated taking five casualties, this put the score at 3:0 with the French leading!

Turn five saw the French flank cavalry arrive, though the wise (young) commander of the Allies had already formed square to meet these light horsemen

artillery barrage continued, though still not having any effect

French on the left flank covered the woods exits ... no red coats were going to come out of the woods without facing volley fire

Turn six field view

The square of the second rate Brunswickers HELD!  fending off two charges by light cavalry ... though not enough to keep the Allies in the field, for other Brunswick troops had been killed in an Italian charge and a force of British line troops had been shot to pieces by French line troops on the hill facing the woods.
Final score:  French 6 kills, Anglo-Brunswick 0 kills.  

Result Decisive French Victory.

Our next game was with the three boys and I in a busy game of "Conquest of the Empire"

just before the 'double-cross'

only two players left ... big forces in North Africa and a last ditch effort in Rome ...
I held off two of the boys and ended the game with a thin force catching my middle son's Caesar in a 3v2 battle in Rome.  Neat ending.

Next game was a Squad Leader battle, scenario one again, as my eldest is still learning all the details.

Squad Leader, setting up

we called the game at this stage as it was pretty clear the Soviet Guards were going to take the second building with minimal losses, while the Germans were taking a pounding
Dinner and some clean up and finally the game of Dominion with everyone ... even mom.

We were really late in the day, so we played only a very short game.  My middle son, the one who 'won' this game box at Salute a few years ago, was the winner with the most provinces.

Game of Dominion on Victoria Day
All in all the day was a great way to re-connect with my boys and challenge their minds with something other than video ...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Edgehill - For God, King and Country - playtest one part III

By the 6th Turn, Prince Rupert had been killed in close combat!

view from behind the Royalist left

The firing continued between the lines of Pike and Shotte

the Parliament forces labels
With Turn Seven, yet again the Prince Rupert (now replacement commander) had attached to a cavalry force to bolster its morale, I think my eldest son wanted to stop the horse from running off the field, and yet again the Prince Rupert was killed in close combat!

field at the end of turn seven

earlier in the turn, when Prince Rupert had only been killed once

closer view ... my son said that in the end the dog was in command

the shotte battle continues

Royalist casualties started to mount up

Parliament casualties in the center were lighter than the Royalists ...

the number of minis remained the same ... yet the firepower was dropping

a set of clear plastic chips that Jeff had for marker use have a metal ring around them, making them magnetic and therefore they could be 'stuck' onto my magnetic system bases

closeup of the wonderful painting of Jeff's Royalist forces

flash on (top), flash off (bottom) of the Parliament Dragoons on the left

Royalist Dragoons facing the Parliament ones (at top of photo are the score dice and turn marker - big d20)

Royalist second line are re-deploying

piles of muskets and a cannon wheel are marking the hits to pikes on this Royalist unit ... only 60% (from 120% to start) remains of the morale for this unit with the white flag ...

Essex's center was taking less hits

wider view of the Parliament left of center, now with the second line forming up ...

Prince Rupert, now killed a second time ...

disorder starts to spread in the Royalists ranks (marker on the left of photo)

Parliament Dragoons in the hedges on the left

Royalist Dragoons facing them

view down the battlefield from the Dragoons viewpoint

loads of smoke mark the active shotte fire

view down the line from the other flank

closer view of the Royalist forces painting

Parliamentary commander with a view of our erstwhile host

later in the turn Parliament Pike & Shotte were taking more hits

closer view of a Parliament unit painting

a custom flag (the green one) that I made for this Parliamentary unit, I call them "The Shepherds"
We ran out of time on the first day, as my eldest son and I had other requirements to meet.

Jeff and I have agreed to continue the battle this coming Wednesday evening; I shall continue the After Action Report later this week.