Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Comment on the Tactical Rules

The battles were fought using the 1st Edition of Volley & Bayonet by Frank Chadwick. All of the cavalry were on regimental bases, which made them very fragile (one hit/regiment).

If I were to fight the campaign again (and we did, sort of), I would put the cavalry on brigade bases. This is mostly because the doctrine of the time was already migrating to the use of cavalry brigades as opposed to regiments. This was in large part because of the recognition of two factors. First, that individual regimental strengths varied widely, depending upon the success of the Colonel-Proprietor. Second, that cavalry was best used en masse. Dragoons, however, would be on regimental stands because my reading of the literature of the period indicates that this was the way it was usually done.

Now the 2nd Edition of the rules is out, Volley & Bayonet, The Road to Glory. I would use these the next time the two sides face off. When will that be? Well, there was another campaign that followed the one I'm currently detailing, a campaign that emphasized scouting (one side didn't). That will get detailed later.

A word on armies/rules/&c. All of my Marlburians are for V&B. I've tried various other rules for the period, and like V&B for its subtlety and simplicity. Long gone are the days when I felt complexity gave a better game.

I saw this in a game of Wagram I read about using the rules Two Hundred Years Ago. This club lovingly painted up every battery, battalion and regiment from that battle. They rented a hall. They laid the troops out. They got through three turns(!) and then had to pick up. I read the rules and concluded that a simple time-motion study precluded ever doing anything with them aside from small actions.

Historically most wargames rules work best with small forces. This is partly because the foundations of the hobby were from (mostly) WW2 gaming, and there you didn't think of divisions, the gamers who had been through that war thought in terms of companies/troops and battalions (at the highest level). Scotty Bowden changed that with Empire 1. Suddenly my 1:20 Napoleonic army (2 divisions) became two corps! I felt like a corps or army commander, not a glorified regimental commander. And part of Scotty's secret was a time-motion study that simplified the mechanics. But even so, by the end of a battle spread over three or four of our days, we would be so exhausted that we'd just say "throw the dice and we'll look it up if it's close."

Years ago I did Alte Fritz, a 1:75 set of Seven Years War rules. I simplified the mechanics as much as I could, and you could handle a reasonable sized battle on the table. The largest we did was 35+ battalions and 60 squadrons on a side. That was an epic fight that took a good part of a day. Clearly improvements could be made.

Jeff Cox and I took the DBA concept and did Little Big Battles. There a player could handle a corps without a problem, often two. And Jeff and I did one epic battle where we had multiple corps each. But the average player had no problem handling even the extra-large Austrian corps of 1809. The secret was a close attention to time-motion, and the DBA concept of rolling morale and combat results up as one throw.

The only other set of rules that I've enjoyed for large actions (what I prefer) are the V&B rules. I confess that my first experience was very negative, but that was partly because the guy putting the game on at Enfilade! was a nice guy who didn't know the rules all that well. Jeff and I tested them by trying our best to abuse the daylights out of them. It left a sour taste in our mouths.

I went back a few months later after an ACW V&B game. True, I was hung out to dry by my Army Commander (I had Sickles Corps on Day 2 of Gettysburg), but so was Sickles, partly through his own folly. But I cobbled together a line after the initial shock, and managed to fall back in some order and pull more of my troops out of the fight than Sickles (or after he was wounded, Humphries) did. And what was going on felt like what I'd read. I decided to give the rules another try.

I did, and my Marlburians all went on V&B stands. I also mounted my 1813 Prussians for V&B, but haven't touched my 1806 French or any of my SYW troops. We'll see about what happens in the future.

Why didn't I try Napoleon's Battles? I did, and it makes an interesting story. Jeff and I were at a local hobbystore, and the guys there were putting on the Battle of Teugen-Hausen (1809 Campaign). Jeff took the French, and I was given a corps of Austrians. The main Austrian force deploys on a ridge, and my corps was coming up through some woods on their right. The French (Davout's troops) assaulted the ridge, carried it, and swept the Austrians aside.

Jeff didn't just power into the Austrians in a Napoleonic style banzai charge, get mangled, and then have to fight hard with his second division to hold his line while the Austrians massed on his flank. This was unheard of! Instead he massed his forces, and pinned the Austrians in front while trying to turn their left flank. Unheard of! In fact one of the guys who normally gamed with the rules dismissed Jeff's flank attack as something that couldn't work because "the end battalion will simply face". So Jeff got behind the Austrians and hit them from three sides. Their line folded at once.

I took one look at this, and at too many French for my columns of march to hold back. So I used my Advanced Guard division to punch the French back while everyone turned around and marched away. The Advanced Guard division fell back as a mobile rearguard, and after a couple of bad experiences the French followed up cautiously.

The same guys were going to put on Wagram using these rules, and they called me about a month before. They wanted me to take an Austrian Corps because I was "a careful, cautious commander". For some reason this sends my friends into paroxysms of laughter. I declined politely.

I didn't like the feel of Napoleon's Battles (just like I didn't like Piquet). Call it personal preferences. I have not tried Sam Mustapha's Grand Army. For now I'll stick with V&B, and if I want SYW, Age of Reason. For Napoleonics...right now it's a reworked Empire 2, or Guard du Corps. Negotiations are on-going (there are other games involved). We'll see what happens.

Action at Swede Hollow

The Fall Campaign (continued)

The Action at Swede Hollow


Three days after the Battle of Arlington, the commander of the Allied Army made the decision to cut his way out of the mountains. His decision came as a result of careful pondering (and discussion with the referee). He had the following unpalatable facts on his plate:

  1. the nearest "safety" was in Sedro Wooley (at least), 83 miles away by his current route;

  2. if he turned east at Concrete, it was over 400 miles before he could be "in supply";

  3. he had precious little food;

  4. he had almost no ammunition, except that carried in the pouches of a few regiments not engaged at Arlington;

  5. he had no artillery;

  6. he had several thousand unorganized men looting, marauding, and eating everything in sight;

  7. the French were sure to get to Sedro Wooley first, blocking him in the mountains (he could not see how to get an organized force through the mountains back to Bellingham - referee input, isn't going to happen);

  8. the French were pursuing him with cavalry (one regiment) and infantry (at least two regiments) - referee observation, he finally began scouting;

Based on the above, his choices were few:

  1. he could surrender - unacceptable;

  2. he could force march to Sedro Wooley and try to cut his way out;

  3. he could try to go west over the mountains and back to the coastal area - no. This would destroy the army.

  4. he could turn on his pursuers.

Of these choices, 2 and 4 were the most "reasonable". But Option #2 meant he would have 83 miles to go with a starving army. The French would have plenty of time to get there first and dig in. He would then have to assault prepared defenses covered with artillery. His chances of winning under those circumstances were nil.

Option #4 offered his best chances. Now that he was doing scouting (he had cavalry superiority), he was learning all sorts of things. One of the more interesting things was that his pursuit consisted of two infantry regiments, 1/1st Germans and 2/1st Germans. He concluded that a bayonet assault would do the trick, and so ordered one. But the units picked for the assault would also be the ones that had ammunition, just in case (as referee I informed him that his chances of winning any given round of combat decreased by not having ammunition, though I didn't tell him by how much - all hits he made would be subject to saving throws, and his opponent got a +1 on his chances to hit).

The Pursuing Force

The pursuing force were left in the hands of the referee with orders to "keep after them, but don't get in over your head". I asked about "digging in every night". The French commander wanted to know how long it would take, and I said "a couple of hours, at least, maybe more". As this would mean the Allies "got away" (his words), he said no, don't. Just "keep close". So I decided that the troops pursued, camped every night with a picket line out, but didn't take "extraordinary" precautions. They did clash repeatedly with the Allied Cavalry, but those were a lot of "facing and staring" contests.

The Fight at Swede Hollow - The Forces

The ground at Swede Hollow broadens out (sort of), stretching all four pursuing German battalions out so they covered the entire front. The 2/1st Germans were on the left with their left flank resting on the stream, the 1/1st Germans were on the right with their right flank resting on steep and heavily wooded (cavalry proof) ground. There were pickets from the Atrasos Cavalry in front, but the bulk of the regiment was behind the German infantry (they were on the left as the ground was "suitable"). Both German regiments had both battalions in line. They were, after all, "sweeping up" the Allies.

The Allies coming down on them were in two columns of three Dutch regiments each, followed by the English. The Allied commander also decided to push a force past the Germans on their left, cross the stream (if they could find a ford) and try to turn the enemy flank. This force consisted of the following regiments: Huegenot, Dalrymple, Murray, and the Frambozen Cavalry.

The assault columns (from front to back) consisted of regiments:

Left Column Right Column
Grosch Koninck
Amstel Westmalle
Grootdefeatfontein Kofferdam

Referee decisions:

  1. all casualties would be permanent, though most would be "fugitives";

  2. this would be played in half-hour turns, though the ground scale would not change;

  3. I would roll 1d6 for surprise: 4 - 6 meant the Germans were alerted and could go stationary, 1 meant total surprise and the German regiment was disordered;

  4. Once a unit was ordered in, the player had no control over it, the unit would "keep advancing";

Swede Hollow - The Fight

The Allied commander gave the order to advance at 12:30. I rolled for surprise for each column: I threw a 3 for the right column, and 5 for the left column. The flanking column was ordered forward at the same time, but I did not have to roll for surprise just yet.

1:00 AM Turn

Grosch attacked the 2/1st Germans. Grosch went disordered (the Germans were already disordered), and Grosch took a hit.
Koninck attacked the 1/1st Germans and were disordered. Koninck took a hit and fell back.

1:30 AM Turn

Amstel attacked the 2/1st Germans. 2/1st Germans took a hit and the Germans were forced back. Westmalle attacked the 1/1st Germans. Both were disordered. Westmalle lost the melee result throw. Huegenot came to the stream and forded it well behind the 2/1st Germans. Atrasos Cavalry were now mounted and ready for action.

2:00 AM Turn

Grootdefeatfontein attacked the 2/1st Germans just as Huegenot came at them from the rear. Dalrymple crossed the stream. 2/1st Germans took a hit and routed from the melee. They ran into Huegenot and Dalrymple. Most of the regiment threw down their weapons and surrendered (referee decision). Kofferdam attacked the 1/1st Germans, and took 2 hits(!). Clearly the 1/1st Germans were not to be trifled with tonight. Kofferdam routed and was removed.

2:30 AM Turn

1/1st Germans were now outflanked. They pulled back into the trees and sacrificing their stationary status. Amstel came at the 1/1st Germans. Both sides took a hit. Both sides rolled on the morale dice (three times) before Amstel backed away. Atrasos Cavalry fell back, along with fugitives.

3:00 AM Turn

1/1st Germans broke contact (nobody could reach them), pulling back uphill deeper into the trees. Westmalle, Amstel and Koninck faced them and made a flank guard. Everyone else "kept moving".

4:00 AM Turn to 6:00 AM Turn

The Allies flowed down the valley like a torrent. The battle was over, but the Allied player was enjoying this too much and insisted we continue.

6:00 AM Turn

Atrasos Cavalry clashed with the 1st British Cavalry at Oso. No casualties on either side, the British fell back on the melee result throw. Dutch regiment te Paard comes up and deploys to the flank of the Atrasos Cavalry.

6:30 AM Turn

Atrasos Cavalry falls back before being flanked. The Allied pursuit rolls on.

8:00 AM Turn

The Allies reach Arlington. The 3rd Germans have already fallen back to west of Arlington. Referee rules that the battle is over.

Order of Battle and Losses
1/1st Germans..........M5,EFD,PT,NE....[ ][x]
2/1st Germans..........M5,EFD,PT,NE....[x][x][x]
Atrasos Cavalry........M5,HVY..........[ ]

Grosch.................M5,EFD,PT,NE....[x][ ]
Amstel.................M5,EFD,PT,NE....[x][ ][ ]
Grootdefeatfontein.....M5,EFD,PT,NE....[ ][ ][ ]
Koninck................M5,EFD,PT,NE....[x][ ][ ]
Westmalle..............M5,EFD,PT,NE....[ ][ ][ ]
Huegenot...............M5,EFD,PT,NE....[ ][ ]
Dalrymple..............M4,EFD,PT,NE....[ ]
Murray.................M5,EFD,PT,NE....[ ][ ]
Frambozen Cavalry......M5,HVY..........[ ]
1st British Cavalry....M5,HVY..........[ ]
te Paard...............M5,HVY..........[ ]

French - 3,000 men present, 2,000 casualties from all causes
Allies - 12,000 men present, 2,500 casualties


Nothing really surprising here. The Allies had the force to make this work, and they were just going to keep going until they broke through. However it might not have happened. It all depended on the surprise roll. Clearly the commander of the 1/1st Germans did what he was supposed to. But the commander of the 2/1st Germans really didn't have much of a chance. When the Huegenot Regiment came at them from behind, they were surrounded, and it was only a matter of time.

As an exercise, it was interesting. I'm not sure I would care to try it again. The victory conditions would have to be carefully crafted (look at the casualties the Germans inflicted). What was refreshing was that the Allied commander kept his overall goal in mind: get through, don't stop to wipe out the Germans. Get the army out. Thus this could be marked down as an "educational" opportunity. We'll see if he makes anything of it.

Part 2 - The Fall Campaign

The Fall Campaign (continued)

The situation

The Allies are in a pretty mess. Their main army is retreating from the vicinity of Arlington, falling back in some disorder up Route 530. Only the Danes are still in the area, and they are marching north as fast as they can, accompanied by a host of stragglers, knocked loose from the ranks by the Battle of Arlington. There is a German regiment at MacMurray, one at Conway, and one holding the approaches to Fidalgo Island (one battalion) and blockading the very small garrison of Anacortes (with the other battalion). There is no field artillery (captured at Arlington), and the only cavalry is the Danish Cavalry regiment Bryggeri. Things couldn't get much bleaker.

Actually, they aren't. The Allied authorities in Bellingham and Vancouver found three more infantry regiments to send south, Leff, Palm, and VanZandunz. When coupled with the two of the three German regiments in the area, and the four Danish ones, a semi-respectable field force of 10 regiments, 12,000 men can be assembled (one German regiment will stay to watch Anacortes).

The Danish Commander Decides

The Danish Commander (the player who had commanded the Allies at Clear Lake) was the ranking officer in the area. He had a number of choices to make. When I asked, he listed them for me as these:

  1. Retreat everyone to Fidalgo Island;

  2. Mass in Burlington with the cavalry watching Sedro Wooley;

  3. Spread the troops around, two regiments at Conway, two regiments at the east end of the Mount Vernon Bridge to Fidalgo Island, two regiments north of Mount Vernon, and a detachment of some kind at Sedro Wooley.

I asked him for his decision. He asked my input. I told him that, speaking as the politicians, he should defend everything, or, failing that, he should mass everyone in Burlington to defend the approaches to Bellingham.
After some thought, he ordered Option #2:

  1. The Danes to retreat to Sedro Wooley, break the bridge, and move to Burlington, the cavalry would watch Sedro Wooley and fall back on Burlington if pressed;

  2. The Germans at MacMurray to join with the Danes;

  3. The Germans at Conway to stay where they were for one day, then to fall back to Fredonia if pressed or threatened;

  4. The Germans watching Anacortes and the approaches to Fidalgo Island to stay there;

  5. The Dutch regiments from Bellingham to march to Burlington.

His plan (when pressed) was to defend the direct route to Bellingham, and yet leave something to watch Anacortes. He figured that when things settled out, that place could still be taken. He also figured that any force that marched up the Skagit River to fight the Main Army would have its flank threatened by whatever he put at Sedro Wooley.

The French Pursuit

The French were trying to do a number of things:

  1. Pursue the beaten Allies toward Darrington;

  2. Round up the fragments of the Allied army (the Danes) headed north;

  3. Seize the road from Sedro Wooley to Concrete to trap the main Allied Army in the mountains;

  4. Seize Mount Vernon

The map here to the left will help sort out some of what everyone was considering. But keep in mind that the Allies had few supplies (and little ammunition), they had 83 miles of mountain marching from Arlington to Sedro Wooley, and they could expect to fight a battle at the end of it.

A few minutes of pondering these objectives will show that few of them are mutually exclusive. You have to have enough force to chase the Allies, and get enough force to Mount Vernon, and yet move fast enough to get to where you want to go, and.... The French Commander had already sent a force up the river after the Allies (1/1st and 2/1st Germans and the Spanish Atrasos Cavalry). He then ordered the following movements and dispositions:

  1. The bulk of the cavalry and the Aquaviva Dragoons to go to Mount Vernon to seize the bridge;

  2. After reaching Mount Vernon, one cavalry brigade to press up US 20 to find the Allies;

  3. Advance on two fronts:
    1. the Right Wing French to pursue the Danes. They will probably head directly for MacMurray and then Sedro Wooley. This force will attempt to bring them to battle and destroy them.

    2. The Left Wing to advance up the main road through Conway to Mount Vernon. They will try to seize the crossing over the Skagit at Mount Vernon, head-off the Danes, and, perhaps, snap up any of the German units in the area.

  4. The Spanish infantry to follow the right wing;

  5. The 3rd Germans to occupy Arlington, the 2nd Germans to occupy MacMurray.

The French commander concluded that these measures should be sufficient to bottle up the Allies and bag the whole lot.

The Allied Commander Ponders

The Allied Commander was in a bad situation, and he knew it (after a brief conversation with the referee). He had lost a lot of men and all of his field artillery, and he was trying to sort out what to do next. He had a force pursuing him, and he had very little in the way of supplies. Most of his wounded (except the walking wounded) had been captured, so the army he had left was mostly fit to fight (sort of). He had an 83 mile march ahead of him, on mountain roads with little food or supplies. And he knew the French would be waiting for him behind fixed defenses when he did show up. He didn't fancy making a series of frontal assaults on redoubts. It hadn't worked at Mount Vernon, why would anyone think it would work now? He studied the roads, trying to find a way out. The only one he could see was to continue to Concrete, then take US 20 over the mountains, and then turn north. The trouble was, assuming he did that, and assuming he could find the food, and assuming he could then either get far enough north as to get on a road that led him back to his bases (and that would avoid the bad weather, how much of an army would he have left? (Referee answer: none, but I didn't tell him that. I did tell him that it was 408 miles, and it was autumn, and let him draw his own conclusions). That meant he had to try something else. He weighed the possibilities and came up with an answer.

The New Allied Plan

First, the Allied Commander took stock of his forces to see what he had to work with. It was not encouraging. Then he shifted a few things around, and ordered his troops to turn and march back to Arlington. He knew he had the 1st and 2nd Germans behind him, he figured a night bayonet assault should chase them off. And then it would be a forced march to Arlington to gather whatever food he could find, followed by an escape. As turned in to me, the plan was:

  1. Night bayonet assault to cut through the pursuing German regiments;

  2. Force march to Arlington to find food and anything else lying around (such as ammunition);

  3. March north on the main road to Conway;

  4. Cross the river at Conway (by bridge or ford) and march to La Conner and north to Fidalgo Island;

  5. if possible, continue past the Fidalgo Island crossing and get to Burlington;

  6. if he couldn't get to Burlington, either turn on to Fidalgo Island, or proceed to Chuckanut drive.

Referee's Reaction

Well, on the ballsy scale, this had to rank right up there. I had to do the terrain for the night bayonet attack. What with one thing and another, I would play the part of the commander of the Germans. Then I would see what happened. This, I concluded, would be interesting (a much over-used word).

The Plans put into action

The first two days after the Battle of Arlington, the Allies slowed to 4 miles/day. The French moved to MacMurray, and then on to Sedro Wooley. The Danish commander, by ordering forced marches, managed to get to Sedro Wooley with the Allies hot on his heels. There was a spirited little action at the Sedro Wooley bridge, but the French commander decided not to push it. The Danes had gotten away.

The German regiment at Conway saw the French Army descending on them, and pulled back to the little redoubts on the west side of the river left over from the Spring Campaign and rebuilt during the initial actions of the Autumn Campaign. The French commander dropped off two infantry regiments (both Blesois regiments) to watch them, and continued north. He had a brigade of cavalry and the Aquaviva Dragoons with him. These troops stormed across the bridge at Mount Vernon, and ran into the new Dutch regiments. These troops were on the hills just north of Burlington, and were basically unassailable by the forces on hand. Their regimental guns bombarded the French troops, so the French fell back to just south of Burlington. The French Craupad Cavalry Brigade was sent to Fidalgo Island to watch anything in the area.

The Allies struck on the night of the third day after the Battle of Arlington. Surprise was complete, but the fighting was fierce. The referee decided to style this as the Action at Swede Heaven. The Atrasos Cavalry covered the retreat, at least until daylight, when they rallied at Oso. They made a front that slowed the Allies briefly, until the Dutch Cavalry regiment te Paard and the English 1st Cavalry came up. After a cavalry skirmish Atrasos withdrew. The 1/1st Germans had been cut off when they made a stand north of the Stillaguamish River. After some fighting, they were contained, and bypassed. Now they withdrew deeper into the hills and sat for a day, finally emerging after the bulk of the Allied army was past. They did grab up a few stragglers, but that was all. The fate of the 2/1st Germans was a bit harsher. They had been overwhelmed in the fighting, but fragments managed to fall back with the cavalry. Most of the fugitives made their way to Oso, where they surrendered after the retreat of the Atrasos Cavalry.

The stream of fugitives alerted the 3rd Germans that something was amiss. They tried to set fire to the accumulated stores, and then fall back across the battlefield of Arlington, taking refuge on the heights to the west of the battlefield. There, in the late afternoon, they were joined by the Atrasos Cavalry and the remnants of the 2/1st Germans amounting to about two companies worth of very disorganized men. The Allied cavalry raced into town with pre-emptory orders to fight any fires and secure the area. The first infantry on the scene were moved north over the Stillaguamish River as a flank guard, while the rest helped put out the fires. Most of the stores were saved, and the Allied Army dined well that night.

The French...React(?)

Contact with the troops at Arlington was interrupted by the Allied attack. But the French commander didn't get word that something was amiss until the next day. His first reaction was to send cavalry south to find out what had happened. He had spread his cavalry far and wide, it would take at least a day to get anyone south far enough to find out anything. So he sent infantry patrols as well. They ran into Allied patrols at Pilchuck Creek, and a brief skirmish erupted with almost no casualties on either side. A few travel-stained soldiers from 1/1st Germans came into the lines after the clash. The local commander sent out additional patrols that night. There were an awful lot of Allied soldiers where there shouldn't be. He sent that information, and the men from the 1st Germans north. At the same time couriers from the Atrasos Cavalry picked their way north along the old highway. They got across the river at Milltown, and within a couple of hours their reports were in the hand of the French commander. The entire Allied army was present at Arlington. This wasn't a feint (the reports from the Germans had made him think so). The officer on the heights west of Arlington had spent some time patrolling and gathering information on the Allied units present. Except for some critical ommissions, this was the entire Allied army. A few might still be on the road to Darrington and Concrete, but probably not that many.

The situation was now "clarified". The French commander decided that if he couldn't trap the Allies in the mountains, he could trap them elsewhere. He resolved to march south to at least Conway, and block the Allies there. He reasoned quite simply: they would have to attack to get through him, he would not have to attack at all. He had a chance to trap the Allied army and destroy it. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. He issued orders that all troops were to gather at Conway for battle. He did detail that a force of two regiments was to dig in at MacMurray, along with the well-traveled Aquaviva Dragoons. He didn't want anyone escaping that way, and the units involved, Chef de Fer and Royal Boullibaise should be able to fight perfectly well from defenses despite their weakened condition.

The Forces Gather

The one thing the Allied commander lacked was time (the French commander lacked this, too, though he didn't realize it). After a rest and a meal (and an important re-supply of ammunition), he had his men on the road north of Arlington (Route 9) before first light. A rearguard was detailed to keep the bivouac fires still burning. The Allied commander's plan was simple. March to Bryant, then west to the main road, then north to Conway. Then he'd cross there to Fir Island. If he moved fast enough the next place anyone could block him would be west of Mount Vernon.

Referee's Note - now we had another foot race, again to Conway. For being a town consisting of a tavern, a grain silo (very small), a motel and a couple of stores, plus that all-important bridge, it was amazing how it kept figuring in the decisions made in the campaign. The French regiments of Blesois were there already. There orders were to hold until relieved (I'd asked for orders for them). On the face of it, the French are closer, but they're scattered, and orders have to go to them (at 5 mph - average courier speed). The Allies are more concentrated, and the commander has told me he wants "forced marches". Interesting may be an over-used term, but it is accurate.

Narrative Resumes The commander of 1st and 2nd Blesois had a good idea of what was coming - the entire Allied army. He considered his situation - not good. He did not see many options, not given his orders. He had a couple of redoubts, and he knew help was coming (the courier got to him quickly). He put his men in the redouts, dug the rest into the hamlet, and prepared for a last stand.

The Stand at Conway continues in the next part.