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).

Background
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 https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/40354/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.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent background material and useful laying of the foundation to the battle. I am preparing to fight Kunersdorf and often surprised at the tactical situation Frederick frequently finds himself.

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  2. Thanks Jonathan. He often seemed to get caught out/catch himself out and his army dug him out of many holes. But when up against it he led with conviction and alacrity.

    Kunersdorf is another one I would not have attempted straight before. I’m interested to see how you tackle it.

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