Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Soor Re-fought

News has been received from Bohemia of a great victory by the King! His Majesty has astounded the world again by a stunning victory over the Queen of Hungary's army led by her husband's brother, Prinz Karl von Lotharingen. Divine Providence has repeatedly shown that the King was right to press his lawful claim on the Silesian provinces. Yet again His Majesty was forced against his dearest wishes to take the field against his gathering foes and overturn the machinations of Vienna and Dresden. Early this Summer he crushed their wicked invasion of the Kingdom at Hohenfriedberg in the Royal Province of Lower Silesia. Then to make sure the Queen of Hungary learnt the lesson and to prevent further incursions, he was forced against his peace-loving nature, to march across the border hills. By right of arms he is now master of a large portion of Bohemia. It only remains to complete the instruction of the King of Poland for the treachery in allowing his Saxon subjects to abandon the old alliance and take sides with the Queen. If portions of the Electorate of Saxony need to be detached in compensation, then so be it. 

The King has let it be known that he is weary of bearing the burden of the struggle, and wishes that the King of France returns his attention from his rivalry with the English to restoring the peace of the Empire against its would-be oppressors.

Such are the words of an imaginery Berlin 'spin doctor' (probably copied almost verbatim from the King's own instructions).

I played the game on Christmas Eve. Delayed from the Monday as I spent half the day exhausted in bed and the other half out walking. I finished setting up the table around 12 noon and completed the game by 3PM.

I took the orders of battle from the previous post on Soor and divided everything by the usual WRG troop scale, then by 3 to fit the space (and figures) available. Instead of being about 3 miles long the battlefield was about a mile (6 foot 6).

Each WRG element was represented by a base of my SYW 6mm troops on bases 60mm wide. Conveniently this is the recommended base width for an element (4 infantry/3 cavalry) in WRG. Artillery elements (1 gun figure representing 2 guns) in WRG are 40mm wide but my bases are only 30mm wide. As this represents 30 paces I thought this was a reasonable frontage for two guns anyway.

Infantry were combined in units (battalions) of 3 or 4 elements (bases) so there were 72-96 figures per battalion so 1 figure represented about 7 or 8 men.  Cavalry units were mostly 4 elements (bases) to the unit with some 2, 3 and 5 elements strong and the Austrian elite units combined were a single base unit. At about 10 figures per base each figure represented approximately 12 men.

In total there were 122 cavalry and infantry elements plus 17 artillery elements. As I didn't have enough bases of cuirassiers for both sides I had to use some Russians as stand ins. Similarly for the Austrians, or more correctly the Austro-Saxons, I had to use a number of Russian infantry bases and the Saxons were represented by Bavarians.

Orders of Battle

Soor Refight Orders of Battle



3 Battalions

1 battalion
5 Battalions


13 battalions

Elite cuirassiers
1 regiment

1 combined  unit
Veteran cuirassiers
4 regiments

Trained cuirassiers

4 regiments
Trained dragoons
2 regiments

2 regiments
Irregular soldier cavalry (hussars)

1 units - off attacking Prussian camp

Heavy guns
1 battery

3 batteries
Light guns
battalion pieces

battalion pieces

Map, Scenario & Objectives

The game was played from the point when the Prussians were formed up and were launching their attack. I took the positions from the map given in Duffy's Frederick the Great: a Military Life ('the Duffy map').  I measured out a scaled version of my table size (for this case 6.5 x 3 feet) onto a copy of the Duffy map. Then appended what each of the different formations consisted of for ease of setting up the table.

I started the game with some of the Austrians off table on the right wing. Entry was diced for after one or two turns (a 4,5 or 6 being required) provided that the point of entry was available to them. Any friendly or enemy troops in the way would prevent entry whilst the blockage lasted.

Furthermore, the right wing Austrian formations could not initiate any moves until getting a 4, 5 or 6 or until directly attacked. This meant that even when off table units were able to dice for entry they could not come on if the on table troops hadn't moved forward. This and the use of off-table troops was an attempt to model the rather supine nature of the Austrians tactics, as well as levelling up the odds. Without it the Austrians would have been able to roll-up the Prussian left quite quickly.

The Prussians Primary Objective was to seize and hold the Graner Koppe. The Secondary Objective was to seize and hold Burkersdorf. The Austrians' aim was to prevent this.

The Game

So without further ado, here is the re-fight told in pictures with captions.
View of the whole array looking in a northerly direction. Austrians to the west, Prussians to the east. The village of Burkersdorf in the head of the valley.  The large Austrian concentration at the top is on the Graner Koppe.

Closer view of the Prussians. The cavalry wing at the far end set up within charge range of the Austrian horse on the hill - in the historical battle, the Austrians received the charge at the halt so this was reasonable.

Close up of the Graner Koppe. A tough nut to crack? Elite companies of infantry (grenadiers) behind the 3 gun model battery. The elite infantry here were over-represented but I allowed for the elite Saxon units historically elsewhere.

The southern end of the field. At this point the Prussians have the advantage with on-table cavalry. Off-table, behind the two long rows of Austrians lie further horse and foot.

Close up of the Prussian left wing cavalry. The bases in the near ground are Irregular Miniatures cavalry painted as Russian cuirasiers.

The formidable lines of infantry on the Austrian right flank.

The assault on the Graner Koppe goes in at the far end. The Prussian left wing infantry change direction and take shelter behind the wood from the Austrian battery in the centre. The Prussians left wing cuirassiers charge the Austrian horse and foot but lose an element in the process. The foot are routed off table but the cavalry battle doesn't go their way. One advantage in attacking this way is that the enemy if routed soon disappear off the table. They can dice to return after 3 turns but the chance isn't high. If by contrast you are routed you have room to rally on table unless you are pursued to destruction.

Close up of the Graner Koppe action. The Austrian gunners fled immediately and the veteran Prussian cuirassiers crash into the Austrian grenadiers who initially proved a tough nut to crack. The elite (Gens d'Armes and Garde du Corps) Prussian cuirassiers don't have it easy either against their opposite numbers.

The fighting on this key hill was confused and hung in the balance for some time. The round bases are to mark hits since I couldn't remove figures. 4 hits to remove a foot element and 3 to remove a cavalry element. With one hit an element would fight as if it was untouched - 2 or more and it couldn't fire/inflict hand-to-hand hits.

The Prussian centre has occupied Burkersdorf and the Austrians begin to inch forward in response. Still no re-inforcements from the off-table troops.

The left wing Prussian infantry decide to attack left of the wood once it is clear that the attack on the right is going well. There was to be an element of  D'Erlons Corps at Ligny-Quatre Bras about this though. One unit ended up heading back towards Burkersdorf but never quite made it. In the foreground the defeated Prussian cuirassiers are being pursued (foreground centre) and an Austrian reinforcement of 3 dragoon elements enters bottom left.

As the dragoons attack the remaining two elements of Prussian cuirassiers another cavalry reinforcement enters on the left of the picture. It's starting to look grim for the Prussians on this wing.

Meanwhile, the Graner Koppe is nearly cleared. That's Prussian horse and infantry at the top of the hill. More bluecoats commence a firefight with the Austrian columns and the infantry in the village pour fire into the advancing Austrians who cannot hit back until they get to close range. Centre left is a Prussian cuirassier unit rallying after pursuit and the Saxons have formed a new flank to face them.

Same stage as above but you can see half way up on the left the remaining two elemenqts of a Prussian cavalry unit have penetrated the centre of the Austrian position causing the second line to also refuse a flank. That small Prussian unit proves a nuuissance as until it is cleared off it stops more re-inforcements arriving. On the right of the picture the Prussian cavalry have rallied back on the infantry which is also bending back to stop the Austrian cavalry rolling them up.

Three units of Austrian and Saxon foot form a cauldron (Kessel!) around that wayward unit of Prussian cavalry who launch a charge in a desparate bid to escape......and succeed!

From the Graner Koppe the bluecoats line engages the Austrians in a fierce firefight gaining the upper hand because of their superior discipline (veteran versus elite). Following this Prussians in Burkersdorf are forced to retire by the Austrian artillery.

With what can only be described as luck, in a renewed cavalry battle in the south, the Prussians prevail against superior numbers. In the north the Prussian cavalry have renewed their attack having cleared away all opposing horse, they begin to clear every remaining (and returning) Austrian infantry and artillery unit from the area around the Graner Koppe. Mainly because the clock was ticking down and I had to prepare for guests so decided it was time for the coup de grace. Now the whole Austrian position looks like it's squeezed from 3 sides.

The final assualts on the hill go in.

The end. One final Austrian infantry unit on the lower slopes of the Graner Koppe are about to be scattered to the winds by a cavalry flank attack. The column of 4 elements bottom right never did fire a shot - the Garde remain intact! The same cannot be said of the Prussian cavalry who retain but a fraction of their number having borne the brunt of the victory.

Thoughts and Reflections
So pretty much a historical outcome albeit in one in which the Prussian cavalry bore more of the fighting on the hill. Also I had to hamstring the Austrians with a coule of 'scenario tweaks' in order to make a game of it. Apart from that, I played the rules unamended.

As I mentioned on Christmas Eve, the rules came back to me pretty well despite not having played them for I reckon 33 years!  The absolute latest I could have played them was 1987 when I purchased my first H&R and Irregular 6mils with the proceeds from selling my Minifigs 25mm collection. But I think it was a good while before that. I think that is testament as much to the amount of times we played them at a young impressionable age, as to the clarity of the rules themselves. I had a quick skim through the rules before I played to refresh myself on the sequence and I had to check details a few times whilst I played, but pretty much I played by memory and the use of the quick reference sheet.

Would I change anything in the rules? Yes. I think cavalry is too effective against formed infantry. Command and control: it's a bit too easy to do what you want and too easy to telepathically co-ordinate disparate bdoies of men (e.g. the Kessel formed around the Prussian cavalry). Also without a massive table and teams of players they are really suited to 'divisional' or perhaps small corps-sized actions which were pretty thin on the ground in my preferred theatre of the SYW. But did I enjoy my game? Yes definitely. I was left wanting to have another go! Good fun.

As for the table, later that evening it was pressed into use for its original intended purpose when we had my son and elder daughter (both at their mother's whilst home from uni) plus their respective 'significant others' for dinner. So with the tytöt, Rouva Nundanket and myself we had 8 sat around the former battlefield. A good time was had by all and I was struck by the fact my elder two are both such drama 'luvvies', neither being shy to take turns at charades. What made it extra special for me was getting the two older offspring in the room together for such a long period for the second time this year. The previous occasion was when my other half finally made an honest man of me - I suppose that's one thing I have Nigel Falange to thank for ;-)

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Interruption in the war

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas from Olde Englande. Hope you enjoy the song as much as I do.

And a special thank you for all your bloggers out there who have inspired, entertained, educated and informed over the year.

Our correspondent will be back with news of the King's victory over Karl von Lotharingen in Bohemia. The WRG rules played like a treat. Just a few occasions on which I needed to check the full rules, otherwise it was just the QRS. Not bad for something I haven't played in over 30 years.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Soor 1745

The nominations have been made and votes cast in the great Pick a Battle for Nundanket to Wargame This Weekend Using 6mm Figures With WRG 1685-1845 Rules. With a landslide that any self-respecting dictator would be proud of (100% of the votes cast) the battle selected was Soor.

Truthfully, as my loyal population had modestly declined to nominate any battle, I chose to take on the burden of Enlightened Despot (there is still a place for absolute monarchy in this place) and I deployed the benefits of my carefully tutored upbringing and years of corresponding with philosophers (to say nothing of learning the fine arts of dancing, fencing and playing the flute) for the betterment of my people. The process involved sifting through my handwritten notes from decades ago, searching for horse and musket battles that I have not played out on the table at some point. I selected Soor.

Soor is an awkward battle to game in a traditional line them up and bash away sense. Awkward because the Prussians are massively outnumbered 40,000 to 22,500 (according to Duffy and Wikipedia which pretty much relies on Duffy). Not only that but the Austrians had the advantage of position having occupied key high ground in a surprise march on the Prussian camp. So if you're at all competitive, to make a game of it the odds would have to be altered - unless you're a complete Prussophile and regard the boys in blue as supermen and the Whitecoats as rabble and set the classifications accordingly. Playing the WRG rules straight would not make it very competitive. Another way of introducing some balance would be to impose some command challenges on the Austrians. I have a simple idea to do this (in my next post).

Soor was battle of the Second Silesian War - part of the sequence of wars in the 1740s known as the War of the Austrian Succession*. During the First Silesian War of 1740-2 Frederick II had seized the province of Silesia from the Habsburgs giving a sizeable increase in Prussian territory, people and resources. Following a short interlude, Frederick broke the peace again by invading Bohemia (the Austrians had been doing too well against his erstwhile 'allies' the French. The campaign of 1744 was a disaster for Frederick who was outmanoeuvred and retreated over the mountains in harsh weather losing a large proportion of his army to desertion and disease. Starting 1745 on the defensive in Silesia, Frederick trounced the Austrians and Saxons** in June at Hohenfriedberg (after tempting them into the plains in a manner that inspired Napoleon at Austerlitz). Old Fritz followed the enemy back over the mountains into Bohemia and proceeded to make himself at home (without launching the killer blow). Duffy explains Frederick's 'strategy' in late 1745 as being one of 'eating out the enemy territory of northern Bohemia in order to (a) live off the enemy's resources; (b) undermine the Empress-Queen's authority in that region; and (c) to create a strategic desert on the Austrian side of the border hills making it difficult for them to attack his territory in subsequent years.

* I make no apology for this aside which recommends the wonderful boardgame Maria . It can be played as a two-player game but it's subtelty is best enjoyed with three players. In a brilliant twist, the 'Prussian' player also plays Austria's ally 'the Pragmatic Army' (Anglo-Dutch-German) against the French (Prussia's ally) - Frederick didn't want his ally doing too well, and he is incentivised to cause them some harm without knocking them out of the game because that would free up Austrian troops to face the Prussians. The Austrian player wants to beat the French (in order to gain the Imperial crown) but doesn't want the French to do too badly and knock out the Pragmatic Army, because that helps the Prussian player. In short Maria gives you a great feeling for the politics and strategy of the day. As well as all that, the board and playing pieces, especially the cards, are beautifully made.

** To get at Bohemia part of Frederick's army had marched through Saxon territory. This was the final straw for the Saxons as in the previous Silesian War they had been Prussia's ally, but had felt badly used (claiming that their toops got the hardest shifts and the smallest commons) and then abandoned when it suited Frederick to sign an armistice with Austria leaving the Saxons (and French) out on a limb.

As the Summer turned to Autumn Fritz moved from camp to camp, foraging in each area until it could sustain his army no longer. Having made a number of detachments through the year his force had been whittled down to 22-24,000 men (see below). Prince Charles of Lorraine (brother-in-law of the Empress-Queen Maria Theresa) had meanwhile gathered his strength to around 40,000. The highly trained Prussian army had a major weakspot in September 1745. It didn't have the light troops that could match the Austrians hussars and 'Croats'. Consequently its operational security was poor and Charles was able to march through the forest to seize high ground on the flank of the Prussian camp near Soor (modern day Haijnice in the Czech Republic). Furthermore, Charles' position cut Frederick's route back into Silesia. This may account for the Austrians rather inactive posture from here on in. In the positional warfare of the day, Charles had outmanouvred Frederick and could challenge the King to either attack at a disadvantage or retreat over difficult terrain once again.

The Prussians took the former option and, seizing the initiative, attacked the Austrian left flank anchored on the Graner Koppe. The Austrian right flank and centre were largely immobile while this was happening and the Prussians eventually forced the Austrians off the hill. Charles decided that the best course now was to retreat back through the forest and leave the upstart to his spoils.

Orders of Battle
As often is the case, there are some discrepancies in the Orbats.

Christopher Duffy (in the Army of Frederick the Great, Newton Abbot, 1974) gives the respective strengths as:
  • Prussian - 31 battalions (16,710), 41 squadrons (5,852); total 22,562 (excluding train)
  • Austrian - 25,300 regular inf, 12,700 regular cav, 4,000 Croats and light cav; total 41,000 (excluding train).
However, the map provided in the book seems to omit much of this and only displays 25 or 26 battalions (depending on whether you count IR3 as having 2 or 3 battalions - it's displayed as if it has 2), but 46 squadrons of cavalry. The Austrians (well Austro-Saxons actually) are not shown in any detail on the map.

Duffy's later work (Frederick the Great: a Military Life, London 1985) displays the same Prussian units but also shows the Austrian regiment numbers (strictly speaking unit numbering came in later but it is a useful shorthand instead of using the Inhaber names). It looks like 44 battalions and about 17 heavy cavalry regiments (dragoons and cuirassiers).

Over on the always impressively presented Obscure Battles, Jeff Berry lists 192 companies (96) squadrons of heavies in 17 regiment-sized groupings. I'm counting the 3 small Saxon regiments (each of 2 companies/1 squadron) as 1 'regiment'. 68 Austro-Saxon infantry battalions are listed. In addition Berry lists 13 companies of hussars but no Croats (irregular infantry). Also worth noting is that Berry shows Austrian unit strengths as notably lower than their Prussian counterparts:
  • Prussian: battalion 6-700 men; cavalry regiment 7-800 men
  • Austrian: battalion 4-500 men; cavalry regiment average 500.
Adding up the totals given for each unit in Berry's table I get to the following:
  • Prussian -  27 battalions (17,568), 46 squadrons (6,770), gunners 376; Total 24,714 + 31 guns
  • Austrian - 68 battalions (31,822), cavalry including hussars (8568), gunners 1074; Total 41,464 + 41 guns
Berry also shows the Prussian IR3 and IR15 (the Garde) as both having 3 battalions - Duffy's map explicitly shows IR15 as only having the 2nd and 3rd battalions present but not the 1st battalion (Leibgarde battalion) which the ever perceptive Jolly Broom Man pointed out wore yellow breaches.

Despite these differences, Berry lists the two Duffy books as two of his three sources. I haven't read the other one (Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma, Robert Asprey) so cannot tell if this gave detailed orders of battle, but, judging by the description on Amazon, it doesn't look like it would. My other favoured book covering this period (Dennis E. Showalter, The Wars of Frederick the Great, Harlow 1996) does not give any detail on Soor.

So, where do I go with this? Berry's number of Prussian units looks rights with maps in Duffy, but the strengths look a little high for units at the end of a campaigning season.  Berry also confidently placed every unit he lists on his map. His list also shows many Austrian infantry regiments as having 3 battalions each, so that could account for the large apparent discrepancy in the number of units over Duffy. I'm inclined to use Berry's numbers over Duffy's at this stage.

I will totally ignore Chandler who in The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough gives overall numbers similar to Duffy, but shows each side as having 49 battalions, 132 squadrons and 98 guns.

What I need to do next is convert these to ground and troop scales used in WRG (and reduce to about a third of the numbers in each case. More anon.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Which battle?

OK. It’s been a few weeks since my last game (Surbiton, 1648). I don’t know why I feel the need to add the year. It’s not as if there were other battles at this Suburb of sitcom fame.

Incidentally Norbiton station stood in for ‘Climthorpe’ railway station in the Goode Life’s near contemporary comedy series, the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Norbiton is of course the northern counterpart to Surbiton, both being suburbs of Kingston-upon-Thames. “I didn’t get where I am today without” recognising local railway stations on TV programmes when I saw them. Which admittedly isn’t a great boast in either respect.

I mentioned recently that I may dig out my copy of WRG 1685-1845 and play a game using my SYW figures. But which battle? My table has limited depth so, if I do a ‘refight’ a wide, narrow field would probably make more sense. Kolin again*? Or maybe, to stretch the point, Blenheim? I will play the game using the ground scale for 25mm figures from the rules. This will mean that the miniature battle will be a third or a quarter the size of what it historically was, with a similarly reduced number of units.

This will help distract me from worrying about the Poundland Derby on Saturday at Blundell Park. Hopefully I will get a warm nostalgic glow, remembering happier times in that benighted land. You know before the people were bashed around the head with a club and meekly asked for more of the same treatment.

I’d welcome any suggestions for battles to game. Real or imaginary. It doesn’t have to be SYW even if the figures are. Over to you dear reader.

* that would make it the 4th time in all

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Kolin - 40 years on

It's been quiet round here lately. A spell of the 'lurgy' plus recovery, 'yankers' and a visitor from  Norway have consumed my time recently. Things are heading back to 'normal', whatever that is, but I'm heading up to the ancestral home on my own this weekend to see the Old Dear. By choo choo, a rare treat. With no Mariners' home game on*, it must show filial devotion. Or something.

* to be honest they are probably best avoided in recent months.

The other night I was looking through some old files on a back up disc drive and came across this picture from about 40 years ago. This was from a 're-fight' of Kolin in what looks like my parents' dining room judging by the carpet.  Figures, apart from the pigs, were Minifigs. Card built barn from a kit, part of Airfix La Haye Sainte, scratch-built hedges and erm...a bush.

In shot in the centre ground is the Minifigs 'Ferdinand of Brunswick' personality figure, and 'Seydlitz' is in the background. Infantry battalions were typically fielded at 'full strength' (14 figure Prussian and 16 figure Austrian), but because of the huge size of cavalry regiments they were cut down to 15. At full strength they would be 21 for most heavies and cuirassiers, 30 for hussars and 42(!) for every schoolboy's favourite, the Bayreuth Dragoons. Clearly we weren't above fielding unfinished figures judging by the unadorned beer mat bases and unpainted hats. Flags were rarely seen even when units were fully painted and bases flocked.

Rules were WRG 1685-1845, barely modified (and we called ourselves wargamers!). One notable exception was artillery. At 2 guns to the model, batteries were very wide and, more importanly for us teenagers, expensive. So we turned the specified base sizes (40mm wide by 60mm deep) 90 degrees and said each model represented four guns. Given a figure scale for infantry of 1:50 this was a slight step in the 'right' direction. I would have reduced the effectiveness of the 2 figure irregular cavalry elements too but Old Skool Tony (or Current School Tony as he was then) would have none of it, being the proud possessor of an Austrian army.

These rules helped set me on the path of my decades long interest in the SYW. Coming off the back of the accounts of Blenheim and Lobositz in the War Game, I was drawn to the appendix of army lists in the back of the rules which encouraged gamers to adopt the SYW or WSS. I wavered between the two until I found out that one of the lads at school had already bought SYW Austrians. So SYW Prussians it was.

For these refights, even at the 1:50 ratio, we didn't have the space, budget, or arm length for fullscale games. One battalion typically stood in for 3 or 4 but we didn't reduce the groundscale, so guns could sweep the board side to side. I've been a lover of artillery on the table ever since. Cavalry was probably too effective v foot in line too**. Still we had a LOT of enjoyment from the games. So much so that I've been thinking about staging a game using the 1685-1845 rules with my 6mm toys, with each base standing in for an 'element'. Conveniently the bases for my 6mm armies are 60mm wide. So infantry battalions will be represented by 72 or 96 figures. Excellent! Individual figure removal isn't possible so casualty markers will be used - once a 4th (regular foot) or 3rd hit (regular horse) is inflicted the base will be removed.


Pure self-indulgent nostalgia.

Post Script: for a view on how to do late 70s SYW Minifigs using WRG properly follow this link
That's the way to do it! 

** though not as effective as we discovered one night at the local wargaming club, where the rules had been tweaked to the extent that one 'mad fool' charged across a stream, uphill into a square. And won! That put me off tinkering for a good long while. I still shudder at the memory. ;-)