Welcome to Marauder Moments - a chronicle of the Mortimer Street Marauders; the games we play, the rules we use, the figures we play with and the scenery they fight over. Hope you enjoy these pages and maybe call back to catch up with our escapades.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Planning the French attacks at Borodino

This is the latest in series of posts on our Borodino games this bicentennial year. It might be worth reading the previous post to put things into perspective - if you can be arsed.  

The French plan.

Chris and I had to hatch a plan to unpick the mighty Russian defensive positions in front of us. We asked a nearby little Corsican chap for some ideas, just trying to be friendly you know. He seemed content to sit, one foot up on a drum, sipping champagne served by a Mamluk servant in traditional garb. Thanks for your input – not!     

Our little Corsican chum never moved from his seat, foot up on his drum slowly getting pissed! He only looked up when captured Russian Cuirassier generals were presented to him. Not really a team player sadly.
Foundry Napoleon and Marshalls from ebay; Perry Hussars canter by from Barry Hill; Elite & Front Rank Russians by Tony Laughton. All based by me.     

What must be done seemed pretty obvious – take the Redoubt and the Fleches thereby driving the Russians from the field. Each could in theory be outflanked too; the Grand Redoubt by taking the village of Borodino and crossing the Kolotcha to the north. We could outflank The Fleches by clearing Utitsa and the woods to come up on the position from the south – piece of cake! We also had the responsibility of actually making a game of it for the Russians, i.e. we couldn't just ignore a whole sector and concentrate somewhere else – we needn't have worried as the Russians had plenty of ideas about how to make a game of it!

The Russian general staff gather in a conflab to discuss how to humiliate me next.
Front Rank infantry generals plus Elite Uhlan officer, painted by Tony Laughton.

With this in mind it was really a question of deployment and who wanted which toys to attack which objectives. In time honoured tradition we grabbed a few choice beverages, some coloured crayons, the maps, and printed off the army lists. All but the choice beverages were thrown onto the floor whilst we stood back and scratched chins & heads. By the end of the evening we had a coherent plan – hic. Needless to say we did this again over a few evenings to fine-tune the plan. Eventually came up with a cunning master plan worthy of the Corsican fellow with the drum and booze touting Mamluk.

Looking south over Borodino. Eugene's first attack has been repulsed, the Russians follow up. Davout is across the river about to assault the Grand Redoubt. In the distance cavalry swarm across the plain like angry bees.
Chris's time spent at the gym is paying off - but he has a bald patch - hah!    

Here’s what we had to play with;-

The Grande Armee – Napoleon, Chris and my gentle self.
1st Corps - Marshal Davout – Prince of Eckmuhl
6 x 36 Veterans, 6 x 36 Line, 2 x 36 2nd class, 2 x 24 Light cavalry, 8lb foot battery, 12lb foot battery.
3rd Corps – Marshal Ney – Prince of Moskowa
3 x 36 Veterans, 7 x 36 Line, 2 x 36 2nd class, 24 light cavalry, 8lb foot battery, 12 lb foot battery.
4th Corps – Prince Eugene de Beauharnais – Viceroy of Italy
3 x 36 Veterans, 4 X 36 Line, 3 x 36 2nd class, 24 light cavalry, 24 Lancers, 8lb foot battery.
5th Corps – Prince Joseph Poniatowski
3 x 36 Veterans, 5 x 36 Line, 24 Lancers, 24 Light cavalry, 8lb foot battery. 
8th Corps – General Junot – Duke of Abrantes
2 x 36 Veterans, 6 x 36 Line, 24 Light cavalry, 8lb foot battery.
Imperial Guard – Marshal Lefebvre – Duke of Danzig
2 x 40 Old Guard, 4 x 32 Middle Guard, 8 x 32 Young Guard (elites), 2 x 12lb foot batteries.                    40 Guard heavy cavalry, 40 Guard Lancers, 50 Guard light cavalry, 2 x 6lb Horse batteries.
1st Cavalry Corps – General Nansouty
2 x 32 Cuirassier (elite), 24 light cavalry, 24 lancers, 4lb horse battery.
2nd Cavalry Corps – General  Montbrun
32 Cuirassier (elite), 32 Carabiniers (elite), 24 Lancers, 4lb horse battery.
4th Cavalry Corps – General Latour-Maubourg
2 x 32 Saxon Cuirassier (elite), 24 Polish Cuirassier (elite), 24 Polish lancers, 4lb horse battery. 

2,275 infantry, 634 cavalry, 51 guns with 204 crew, 62 brigade staff, 20 corps staff = 3195 models.
There were also skirmisher models to be deployed if required. 

This is a lot of kit but then we had a 32 foot frontage to play on and a disastrous amount of stupefyingly resilient Russians facing us behind uphill earthworks. 

Foundry Russian 6lb battery massed against French attacks near Utitsa. Painted and based by our Tony. 

Chasseurs a cheval attached to Davout's massive 1st Corp advance. Victrix plastic from Rich's collection, painted by Barry Hill and imaginatively based by Rich. Note Cuirassiers in reserve up on the bluff behind.  

Here’s what Tony and Rich could rely on...

Combined  Armies of the West
Mikhail Kutuzov
1st Army of the West – Barclay de Tolly
2nd Infantry Corps – Lt General Baggovout
4 x 32 Veterans, 6 x 32 Line, 2 x 32 2nd class line, 12lb foot battery (6 guns).
3rd Infantry Corps – Lt General Tuchkov
3 x 32 Veterans, 8 x 32 Line, 3 x 32 Militia, 12lb foot battery (6 guns).
4th Infantry Corps – Lt General Ostermann-Tolstoi
2 x 32 Veterans, 8 x 32 Line, 2 x 32 2nd Class Line, 6lb foot battery (6 guns).
1st Cavalry Corps -
32 Dragoons, 32 Uhlans, 32 Hussars, 3 x 30 Cossacks.
2nd Cavalry Corps -
32 Cuirassiers (elite), 32 Dragoons, 32 Uhlans.
3rd Cavalry Corps -
32 Hussars, 32 Dragoons.

2nd Army of the West – Prince Bagration
7th Infantry Corps – Lt General Raevsky
8 x 32 Line, 4 x 32 2nd Class Line, 6lb foot battery (6 guns).
8th Infantry Corps – Lt Borozdin
3 x 32 Veterans, 7 x 32 Line, 2 x 32 2nd Class Line, 6lb foot battery (6 guns).
4TH Cavalry Corps -
2 x 32 Cuirassier (elite), 32 Dragoons.

Lifeguard Corps – Grand Duke Constantine
6 x 32 Guards, 4 x 32 Elite. 32 Guard Cuirassier, 32 Guard Uhlans, 32 Guard Hussars.                       Guard 12lb foot battery (6 guns), Guard 6lb horse battery (6 guns).
Army level reserve; 3 x 6lb horse batteries (3 guns each).

Russian Totals
2368 infantry, 506 cavalry, 51 guns with 204 crew.
(Game totals; 4643 foot, 1140 cavalry, 102 guns 404 crew plus general staff, over 6400 models – hurrah!)

Russian Cuirassiers await the order to advance from reserve. Front Rank models painted by Tony Laughton.
Based by me for my Allied Life Guard Corp collection which first saw action in this game. 

Here’s what we decided to do. Broadly speaking we would go up the middle but make efforts to turn the extreme flanks of the line with infantry and cavalry in the hope of being able to starve the centre of reserves and possibly get around behind either the Fleches or the Grand Redoubt.

Good shot of Russian musketeers in the treeline of the Utitsa woods.
Foundry models painted by Tony, usual handmade flags with Bicorne finials and cording.

Russian Jaegers in the Utitsa wood arrange a hot reception for the approaching Bavarian battalion - FIRE!
Here goes;- Foundry Jaeger by Tony, Foundry Bavarians by Nigel Cox or Tony Laughton for me with GMB flags.
Perry General by Barry Hill. General & Bavarians based by me. Last Valley trees, wood base by S&A scenics. Flowers on the Russian bases by Antonwotsits workshop. Phew.

The pressure points where the most force was brought to fall were the Grand Redoubt, The Fleches and Borodino. Remember our table was split in two between the Grand Redoubt and the Fleches creating two games, northern and southern sectors. Chris was given the two toughest nuts to crack – ie the frontal attacks up the middle. Our biggest formation was Davout’s 1st Corps with 5 Divisions and two batteries; this vast formation set up behind the central woods with their guns at each end and Girardin’s cavalry covering the southern flank of the columns. Davout’s infantry Divisions of Gerard, Campans, Morand & Friant had only to push through the undergrowth, splashing through the stream, to emerge at the foot of the slope up into the Grand Redoubt. In case 1st Corp couldn’t handle it Junot’s 8th Corp was stationed off table behind Davout; this position was very central allowing Junot to swing his two Divisions under Ochs and Tharreau to support either Davout or north over the pontoons to help Eugene against Borodino. To support Davout further we set up the Old Guard Grand Battery ( 2 x 4 Guard 12lb guns) on the bluffs behind him looking towards the Semenovskaya ridge where dense formations of Russians were waiting to support the Grand Redoubt, also within range was the Redoubt and a Division of Russian Grenadiers and supporting battery protecting the southern approach to the position. Basically everything was to be thrown at the Russians in the centre to make sure Davout and Junot got through. Chris also had Nansouty’s cavalry Corps with St Germain’s Cuirassier and De Bruyere’s light horse with a horse battery; these he stationed south of Davout in open ground to make sure an expected Russian cavalry attack here never threatened Davout’s attack. If the Russians didn't substantially threaten us here Nansouty would swing around pivoting on the ridge line and attack the position of the Grand Redoubt from the south.

More of the same Russian Jaeger battalion, might be the 48th? More battalions line out along the woods edge or lurk in reserve. Notes are the same as above. Resin bits by Snapdragon studio.

More of the above position.

And finally the other end of the Russian lines holding the Utitsa woods. Same notes as above.  

Further south Chris was tasked with also frontally assaulting the Fleches – another very tough position, this time approached over open fields of fire across a stream. (My fragile nerves won’t take this kind of work so I delegated myself to quiet flanking duties at Borodino & Utitsa allowing Chris all the excitement & glory. Little did I know...). For this job I gave Chris the next most powerful formation available to me – Marshall Ney’s 3rd Corp. Once again we massed a substantial heavy cavalry reserve to support this brutal task of storming the earthworks. Ney’s infantry under Wurtemburg, Ledru, & Razout would head for the Fleches and take care of any interlopers threatening the flanks of the attack from Utitsa wood to the south; the northern flank was covered by Ney’s cavalry under Mourier. Ney massed his Corp’s guns to shoot up the Russians as he pushed the Divisions over the open ground – bloody work indeed. We felt that Ney could achieve this but might possibly be shattered in the process and unable to exploit a break through speedily. To this end we allocated Latour Maubourg’s Reserve heavy cavalry Corp of Saxon and Polish Cuirassiers under Thielman and Von Lepel to support Ney and surge forward when the moment was right. So Chris had an enormous amount of kit and two enormous tasks ahead of him!

French 9th Hussars and Line Lancers circle in the central plain. These are from Ney's 3rd Corps operating against the Fleches and making sure the infantry don't get intercepted by Russian cavalry.
Perry Plastic Hussars by Barry Hill with Foundry lancers by Tony Laughton who also did the Trent Miniatures generals.
Flag by GMB, all based by me for me. Rough patches by Products for Wargamers, stream by S&A Scenics.
I need to sort out the flag and lance pennants for those lancers.

So, “what the hell is your role in all of this?” I hear you say. My contribution to the general attack was on the extreme ends of the line. In the north I mounted my charger as Eugene with the Army of Italy (4th Corps), here the task was to attack the wooden buildings of Borodino, evict the defenders and cross the River Kolotcha in force to outflank the Grand Redoubt in the central position. Eugene’s 4th Corp is my favourite formation in the army; Broussier & Delzon command a mixture of Italain and French line whilst Lecchi leads the Italian Guard formations, Villata controls the attached cavalry brigade. The corps artillery deployed to bombard Borodino at close range while Broussier and Delzon move to attack from two directions, Villata was ordered to keep the Russians away from the infantry and try to undermine Russian infantry attempting to support the village. Lecchi  stood with the Italian Guard ready to support the attack and eventually storm across the bridge claiming all the glory for themselves! Vive Eugene!

A poorly taken photo of Eugene, Viceroy of Italy commander of 4th Corp - me!
I gave Tony Laughton a totally free hand to do what ever he pleased with these - I am glad I did! I know how Eugene dressed but I wanted Italian staff who dressed themselves at their own expense however they so wished. The only concession is the Italian Guard Colonel on the left, he's a Perry Miniatures model, the other two are Front Rank. I totally love this vignette; I based it by the way, not entirely idle! If a better shot comes to hand you can have it!    
North of Borodino there was still a wide area of ground, fairly open with rolling hills and the odd wood. In 1812 Ouverov made a good fist of disrupting the French attacks here with massed cavalry attacks including a load of Cossacks. We decided that the river was fordable here. To prevent a repeat performance and knowing Rich owns an awful lot of Cossacks we slapped down Montbrun’s Reserve Heavy cavalry Corp here. This comprised 2 x 32 Cuirassier under Defranc and 24 lancers and a horse battery under Pajol. These should be able to handle whatever they can muster against us. When they have dealt severely with any Russian transgressions they can ford the stream and help Eugene encircle the Grand redoubt in support of Davout. Easy.

Russian Guard Hussars launch a charge...Urrrraaaahh!
So these are special! I converted these by popping Warlord Games plastic Russian Grenadier heads onto Perry plastic French Hussars, Barry Hill painted them as Russians and hey presto - 32 Russian Guard Hussars. What a cracking unit. This lot got left behind outside Marauder HQ after the game - by the time we noticed we were too pissed to drive back. Chris's Dad very kindly drove out to collect them before some scrote pinched them- thank you soooo much Sir. 

My other role in this game was that of the plucky Polish Prince Poniatowski with his 5th Corp. Different shaped hat to Eugene’s bicorne, Joseph Poniatowski sports the traditional Uhlan headgear - the unpronounceable czapska. I know you think you can say it in your mind but you can’t! Anyway 5th Corps would replay their historical role by attacking Utitsa and the Utitsa Mound. Polish generals Grabowski and Kaminski would lead the two infantry divisions against the village and dominating mound whilst Kameniecki took the famous Polish lancers and hussars along the flank in support.

Turn 1, Rich moves his Russians around Utitsa and onto the Mound. He grins like a maniac because he is. In the fore ground Poniatowski's Poles have lurched forward out of the forest to grapple the village and Mound from Rich's iron grip. There's not a Pole amongst them yet, they get painted next year! In the distance Ney sets off towards the Fleches and the Russians in the central Utitsa wood stare into the void wondering what new form of hell will show up there?   

Between Ney, opposite the Fleches, and Poniatowski in the forest in front of Utitsa, was a large gap in our line. Facing this gap was the tree line of the Utitsa wood – we expected this to be festooned with Russian Jaegers. No fear, into this gap in time we would deploy the heavy cavalry of Latour Maubourg giving them space to move up behind Ney. After them the Young Guard would appear beside the Guard cavalry and eventually the Old and Middle Guard too if needed. Napoleon was very firm in 1812 that the Imperial Guard should not be used, muttering something about not squandering your last reserve so far from home. Fair enough. We held no such qualms, if we didn't need the Imperial Guard well great – if we did, and Rich has the toys, which he does, we will use them! The scenario has them in the roster so what the hell!

The arrival of the Young Guard and Guard Cavalry with Guard Horse Artillery!
Those tree hugging bastards in the woods are in for it now!
Awesome shot taken as the Empress Dragoons and Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard turn up with Guard horse artillery who are in turn covering the attack of the first 6 of 8 battalions of Young Guard. Behind them Latour Maubourg's cavalry set off in vast columes to support Ney's infantry who are storming the Fleches and far end of the Utitsa woods.
3rd Corp's artillery mass on the bluff to shoot up the Russians in the distance.
The Russian plan has been promised to me in written form repeatedly. It seems that Tony is still too traumatized to bring himself to record the events. Rich didn't have a plan – what he did didn't require one and he never promised me one anyway! So when I write up the battle the Russian plan will reveal itself through the narrative as we experienced it – right in the face! On the subject of writing our views on this, Chris has promised me a version of events from his point of view. Like Tony none has been forthcoming. Both have been immersed in new projects; Tony has bought and painted a 28mm German platoon for Bolt Action, Chris has done something similar and of late has been basing his vast white blocks of Napoleonic Austrians with my help – yes – the Army of Bohemia has arrived. We haven’t stopped the Nappies, far from it! Bolt Action provides a fun adjournment from the bigger games and concentrates the mind on points values and getting nasty with each other on a smaller scale. I’ll get some piccies up when I have finished this baby.  

Dressed to kill.

Both pics are Front Rank French Imperial Guard Horse Artillery painted by Tony Laughton for Rich who based them.  

French Imperial Guard from Rich's collection. Perry Plastic horse and foot by Barry Hill with Front Rank horse artillery by Tony Laughton. I had a rather grizzly task for the Empress Dragoons leading the foot into battle. See below.
"Into the Valley of Death!"
A cynical move by me and a horrid one. The French Old Guard Heavy cavalry, Empress Dragoons, are sent into the heart of the Russian positions to buy time and space for the Old & Middle Guard foot to deploy into formation to counter attack Russian Guards coming around Utitsa having eradicated Poniatowski's Corp to a man. Oh the shame of it all!

In the foreground is Tony's awesome 6lb battery massively converted from Foundry toys. Most Russian infantry by Front Rank - picked up from Ian Hinds and now in Tony's "other" collection. Russian Guard Cuirassiers bottom left by Front Rank, details shown before, Russian Guards in Utitsa & beyond are my Warlord plastics with GMB flags by Barry Hill. Doomed Empress Dragoons are Perry plastics by Barry Hill for Rich.    
A few out takes to help you pick up the story before I tell it.

Chris and Tony slug it out over at the Fleches. Utitsa is in the foreground.
The front line here has moved way off to the left so there are only the odd general and ADC lurking about as a few units retire to lick their wounds or redeploy. Guard foot battery astride the Utitsa Mound in the bottom left foreground.

Russian Guard Uhlans canter off to attack some poor numpty. Elite Miniatures from Ian Hinds now in my collection.

French light cavalry with horse artillery approach the front line. Perry plastic cavalry by Barry Hill, Front Rank Limber from Hong Kong - all based by Rich for his own collection.

Eugene attacks Borodino. My Army of Italy assault Tony's "other" Russians wielded by Rich.
Over the River Davout finds a way through the woods before walking up to the Grand Redoubt.
Turns out Chris had the easy bit!

"The arrival of General Junot - Duke of Abrantes."
Junot's 8th Corps has two Divisions under Ochs and Tharreau, each of 4 battalions, with a 24 strong light cavalry regiment and four gun 8lb foot battery attached.
Where will they go? Left over the pontoons to help poor old Eugene? Right to effect a breakthrough with Davout or straight through the woods into the "kill zone", also with Davout?
Call back to find out!    
At some point I‘ll sort out the actual battle report. It might not be a monster as I have gone overboard on these pre-battle posts which I have really enjoyed writing, not sure why? There are still circa 300 photos to edit, all in good time. Hope you enjoy this epic tale

Friday, 2 November 2012

Designing a bloodbath - Borodino 2012.

What follows may well be self indulgent prose on how I got this game from an idea to reality - so be it. This is how I got there; my little journey if you will.

The Battle of Borodino holds a peculiar fascination for me and judging by bloggers and forum chat it captivates many other gamers too. This isn’t the place to write a history of the 1812 campaign so simply put this is where the Russian Armies of the West finally turned and stood in front on Moscow.

Bonaparte had at his disposal possibly the finest formations he ever commanded and a roster of Marshalls with an impressive track record. He had chased the Russians across European Russia in an attempt to bring them to battle, destroy them in the field and capture Moscow. Why then when they turned to fight did he use this fabulous army as a mere “blunt instrument”? Why did he ignore the sage advice of his Marshalls to manoeuvre? I have no idea. The outcome was a one day battle during which the Grand Armee frontally stormed a series of ridge lines and redoubts through streams and woods. Predictably the outcome was utter carnage – a tragic calamity – the bloodiest battle of the Napoleonic wars.

Marshall Ney's Corp assaults The Fleches as the Corp's massed guns bombard the Russians. Corps light cavalry circle left to check the Russian cavalry threat whilst French and German Cuirassiers maneuver to carry the position once the infantry and artillery have cleared a path. Supporting German troops mass to assault Utitsa wood on the right.    
So why play this as a game? It’s a bit like Waterloo – running at an uphill gun line and seeing what happens! Where’s the fun in that? It turns out to be loads of fun!

For me it all started when I read an article in Miniature Wargames issue 23 way back in 1985. As with so many of the influences on my Napoleonic gaming this was a report from Peter Gilder’s Wargame Holiday Centre by Mark Moon. It contained detailed orders of battle and a very good map of the wargames table used for the game. In addition to this were some fantastic photos of Gilder’s collection, all staged on hand crafted scenery. Earlier issues of the same magazine ran a two part series on refighting Leipzig; Borodino seemed a little more manageable!!! If a table 28 feet by 15 feet supporting thousands of 28mm models is manageable? I still read those articles often, for me they represent the Holy Grail of gaming – living the dream!

We are deployed for game 1. Looking south from the northern end of the battlefield. The Kolotcha River with Borodino on the western bank all held by Russians - opposite the Army of Italy under Eugene prepare to storm the village - beyond them the pontoons link to Marshall Davout with his mighty 1st Corp as they set off through the woods and over the stream to assault the Grand Redoubt and the Semenovskaya Ridge behind that. In the far distance French and Russian cavalry face off and the Russian Grenadier Division guards the southern approach to the Russian centre. Bottom right French heavy cavalry face of Russian cavalry across the river out of shot to the left.       

Looking south from the northern edge of the southern table. The Fleches are in the centre with the remains of Semenovskaya on the ridge behind. Russian Infantry man the fleches with heavy cannon in support and cavalry behind. Utitsa wood is infested with Jaeger facing an ominous gap in French lines - what will appear here? Beyond is the village of Utitsa and the Utitsa mound, once again stoutly defended by Russian infantry, plenty of Guns and supporting cavalry. In the far forest is Poniatowski's Corp emerging to attack Utitsa. In the bottom right Ney's Corp masses to storm over the stream with a massed battery covering them and more light cavalry in the fore ground. Neither side has shown its full hand yet as there are plenty of troops held off table in reserve    

As an ambitious youth I staged this game at my parent’s house in 15mm on a 12 x 6 foot table with 8 chums combining our collections and proxying all kinds of things as French & Russians. Looking back over twenty five years it saddens me to think that two of those players are now dead. We used “In the Grand Manner” rules by Peter Gilder playing it over three days exactly as in the article. Lots of fun and a few lessons learned. I recall that whilst I was making 8 cups of coffee downstairs Barry Hill decided to release the French Guard, when Napoleon returned with a tray full of steaming mugs he was none too pleased! The final curtain for the French right was when a reserve corps of Russian Cuirassier charged and ran down most of the infantry attacking Utitsa. I suspect the game was inconclusive and possibly boring for some of the Russian players who simply sat and took it in the face!

The French attacks against the Fleches and the Utitsa wood gain momentum as heavy cavalry and limbered horse artillery ride to the support of Ney in the back ground; allied Germans go in with the first of 8 Young Guard battalions in the foreground with Guard Horse batteries providing very close artillery support fire. Getting close & personal!
( note: the Young Guard are stand ins. Although they performed just as well!) 

Wind the clock forward ten years or so – yep we did it again! This time we hired a hall in Bath and gathered a few trusted friends together. Funnily enough this included four of the original line-up so they must have enjoyed it enough to go through it all again. This time around I designed the game slightly differently. We used a 12 x 6 foot central table for the main fighting but we also had two 12 x 4 foot tables, one each behind the lines and screened from the main board and other players. The two C in C’s played with reserves on the back tables and only received written reports from the on table generals at the front. I devised a rudimentary postal system with possible delays and interception to mess things up – which it did! The postal service was great fun; most reports were pretty uninformative and actually turned into begging letters for reinforcements or just plain lies! The poor C in C’s tried in vain to follow the battle through hand written reports which led to the most frustrating game I have ever played. It remains the only time I have ever wanted to physically assault another player – on my own side!!! Shameful I know. This incarnation of the battle featured fewer troops than the first simply because I had sold my collection to finance some Warhammer armies! We used a play test version of Warmaster Napoleonics penned by Jervis Johnson on 3 sides of A4 – I guess these finally appeared as Black Powder recently. This was a very intense experience – one of those games that actually tests you as a human being and sometimes finds you lacking...

French Hussar Generals by Trent Miniatures - real beauties. Painted by Tony Laughton and based by me for me.
Wind the clock forward yet again ten or so years and we find ourselves in 2011 contemplating the bicentennial anniversary of Borodino in 2012. Basically we had to do this again and do it bigger!
The intervening 11 or 12 years have seen my gaming group change an awful lot, basically we have matured as gamers and done a bit a of growing up as well! Personal Development might be overstating the position but you get the picture! We are also a far smaller outfit than ever before; people move away, others move on to other hobbies and as I said before some die. The nucleus is now Rich, Tony, Chris and I – The Mortimer Street Marauders! Funnily enough we still host a Marauders’ Christmas feast and former players rock up to eat drink and be merry. Dave, Mark, Al, Rupert, occasionally Nigel and Paul or even Perry, hi guys! Maybe one day Jevins will pop up! John; I miss you.

There were plenty of German allies in the Grande Armee at Borodino, these Foundry Bavarians make good proxies!
Painted by Nigel Cox, based by me for me. GMB flags.
Hi Paul, these are for you.
In approaching Borodino yet again I had to make some decisions about player numbers. We know other Napoleonic players and many we don’t know keep asking to play with us! The fact is that to play this over a few days properly we need people who know the rules and know how we play; we can’t be nurse-maiding newbies on a stage like this; Borodino isn’t a dress rehearsal! Almost more importantly we go back a long old way as players & chums, Rich and I over 30 years now, so we can be a little cosey, closed or cliquey – not everyone gets our sense of humour or engages with the group dynamic as we’d like. For all these reasons the game had to be between the four of us – the hardcore Marauders.

So, I had to design a massive Napoleonic multi Corps gaming experience that usually occupies about 16 players over 2 or 3 days on a 28 x 15 table with 1000’s of toys. There are four of us; we have only a 16 foot table and not enough models – time to compromise? No,- time to design.

Pavlov Grenadiers line out to support the Fleches. Foundry models painted by Tony.
Hand rolled copper flags hand painted by Tony, finials by Bicorne. 

A Russian Grenadier battalion mans a Fleche. Foundry models by Tony, Uhlans support to the rear.
Hand rolled copper flags hand painted by Tony, finials by Bicorne. Snapdragon earth works.

Russian 12lb foot battery at the southern end of the Semenovskaya ridge.
Numerous Grenadier battalions deploy behind them. Despite massive pressure & massive casualties the Grenadier Division was instrumental in protecting this small sector of the line from vast French cavalry formations & continuous artillery fire.  

The first decision was to play our Borodino in 28mm keeping to the spirit of the original Gilder article. We might have squeezed enough 15mm toys out of the boxes and drawers but hey – I wanted the big toys on show. This set in motion a series of purchases and painting which advanced our collections in leaps and bounds.

How would we do this game? Basically I decided to break the battle up into two sectors. The northern half contained Borodino and the Grand Redoubt, the southern sector contained The Fleches and Utitsa. I also threw in the precursor Battle of Shevardino as an appetiser. The decision to break it up suited us in every way. We could use Marauder HQ to stage the game rather than hiring a hall or somewhere like Triple Helix, this saved us money and travelling time and far less packing etc. It also meant we were private and didn’t have oddball spectators or snotty kids pissing around which can happen at some public venues – after all this wasn’t a demo game. It also gave us the choice of when we could play as opposed to fitting in with a venues scheduling. We spread the games out over about 6 months, the final game being played over the weekend closest to the bicentenary anniversary which happened to be my 45th birthday weekend too – HAPPY BIRTHDAY ME!

The Russian centre as the storm breaks. French columns from Davout's 1st Corp emerge from the tree line to take massive casualties from the Grand Redoubt's 12lb battery; 7 casualties on one battalion - 4 on the one behind - ouch! In the background the French Grand Battery keeps up a murderous long range bombardment with 8 Guard 12lb guns on the ridge line. French horsemen are winning the cavalry battle to clear the southern flank of the Russian centre.
Note the pontoons, Renedra plastics and the imposing Grand Redoubt superbly modelled by my fair hand.  

A closer shot from a slightly different angle of the Russian centre. The French set foot on the earthwork and prepare for the assault. Russian infantry literally queue up to fight off the forces of the upstart Corsican tyrant who has defiled Mother Russia's sacred soil. Getting a bit heavy perhaps but that's how it was  back in the day!   

Russian General of Artillery Kutaisov selects targets through his telescope resplendent in his white uniform.
Foundry models converted and painted by Tony  - lovely work. 

Tony had to be Kutusov. He’s our Russian player with all the Russian toys. Rich also fancied being Russian so that meant Chris and I were the Frenchies. I wanted to be Napoleon as Chris was Boney last time – no other reason.

Splitting the game into two events effectively doubled the amount of players, the toys, the table top space and the time available too. A handy force multiplier.

The armies involved at Borodino were vast so even with effectively four commanders per side each player still had an awful lot of stuff to push around and keep track of. This is another reason to limit player numbers in our view. We want to play with big forces; the strain of running so many brigades and battalions creates a strain and stress that are real – tangible. You need to be under pressure, to be barely able to cope, or simply not cope. That’s when your stamina and concentration are tested, your decision making is brought under scrutiny and you make mistakes – that’s fog of war in gaming terms. Deploying large formations into the landscape brings a whole new understanding of space and manoeuvre. I don’t want to be given a division on a 4 foot frontage in a game like this; I want to be ordering whole Corps to their doom, slapping down a reserve Heavy Cavalry Corps and bringing up the Guard – that’s wargaming in the Grand Manner like Peter Gilder in my book! Living the dream. I can assault a village with 10 battalions any week night – this needed to be special.

This General Sievers, a Russian Cavalry Corps commander. He is attended by members of three cavalry regiments, two of Dragoons, one of Uhlans. A powerful formation.
Foundry models converted and painted by Tony.   

The diaries were booked-up and the order of games decided. Domestic arrangements negotiated...
The next design hurdle was the terrain and the table top layout. I have read & reread many accounts of Borodino, poured over maps and analysed orders of battle. I have sought out scenarios for refighting it and contemplated how to do this on and off for over twenty years. The fact is I cannot improve on the scenario provided by that article that got me into this mess in the first place. Maybe I don’t want to either. That’s the game I want to play – I can’t, so I’ll get as close to it as I can *. Marauder HQ has plenty of space for our permanent 16 x 6 foot table; we can do 20 x 6 foot at real squeeze but don’t have to. We can’t do 28 x 15 so by splitting the game we need only 14 feet length, and the central 6 feet of the 15 foot width. The rear areas are handled on maps which will cover the rear tables as used in the Gilder game; this is where reserves are marshalled and manoeuvred. The map with the scenario was drawn by Pete Morbey of Elite Miniatures, I think, and shows all the relevant features. Critically this is a wargames map not a geographical map so it is much easier to put down hills, woods, streams, villages, redoubts etc. I always struggle with historical maps of battles but once someone has turned it into a wargames table everything falls into place – this maybe a medical condition – be interested to hear more on that (not really).  The final table tops were both 16 x 6 which is 4 feet longer than the original; an extra foot was added to each end of the northern table and two feet added to north end of the southern table – make sense? This happened because I wanted some extra space to move about and not just have a line ‘em up and go style game and secondly because we could! Time would tell that this was possibly a mistake...

* the fact is that we could just go to the Wargames Holiday Centre and play this - we didn't! We should go along at some point to sample gaming "In The Grand Manner".  

General Duka commander of Russian Cuirassiers.
Another conversion and paint job by Tony.
Foundry models.

The Mortimor Street Marauders have an extensive collection of scenery so we could handle most of what was required. Last year we purchased 26 foot modular ridge from TSS, it is very versatile and crops up in sections in most of our games; Borodino would be no exception. Trees? We have hundreds! In this case we decided to use the posh trees which Tony picked up from Last Valley some years ago, ,they are very effective and rather less uniform than our S&A scenics’ stock. Tony also painted up a Snapdragon Studio Russian village some while ago, we use it a lot as it is sooooooooo good, and we love it! That was the obvious candidate for Borodino & Utitsa as well. Two things we didn’t have were Grand Redoubt and a stream! The Redoubt I decided to build myself and am very pleased with the results even if I say so myself. There is an entire post on this blog devoted to that building project so have a peek. The stream was something we needed to run across virtually the entire front line from behind the Russian left crossing the Fleches, through the woods in front of the Grand Redoubt and finally joining the Kolotcha River west of Borodino. I bought 15 feet of stream from S&A Scenics as they provided our river system and a useful linking piece too. I considered building the Fleches but frankly we have some Snapdragon Studio revetments which are ideal so didn’t bother.

Staying with the table top we did one other thing which was crucial to the game. We set up the table some weeks before the game and took many piccies and then Tony very carefully measured everything out so we could prepare accurate maps to deploy our forces on in preparation. This may sound a bit anal and maybe it is, however experience has shown us that paper maps rarely correspond to the exact placement of scenery on the table top and things can go down just plain wrong when resetting the board for play! For such a big occasion Tony felt we should get this right for a change – I applaud that decision and would do it again.    
So the commands were decided, the scene set as it were, now we just needed the armies involved and a plan; preferably a cunning plan, infact a plan so cunning it could have been devised by the most cunning planner ever.

The 5th Hussars demonstrating near the village of Borodino.
Perry plastic Hussars, painted by Tony Laughton, (horses by me, based by me).
Flag by GMB. A very pretty regiment, one of my faves.

Much like the terrain situation I have perused many orders of battle for Borodino over the years, historical and of course many wargamers interpretations. Suffice to say I went back to the article and simply used the armies as printed. These present the Napoleon’s Grand Armee and both 1st and 2nd Armies of the West under Kutuzov. The Russian Life Guard Corps was attached to one Russian army but I allowed it to be allocated to either Northern or Southern sector as Tony saw fit. I'll include the army lists in the following reports. 

The lists are for “In The Grand Manner” and operate at Corps level. We use General De Brigade which seem to have evolved from or at least been inspired by ITGM so very few changes were needed. The main difference would be in the command structure.

Ours looked & worked as follows;

Napoleon and Kutuzov would play no part other than initial deployment of Corps and initial orders and the release of some reserves. Neither took much part in the Battle so sod ‘em both. ITGM emphasises Corps command whereas GdeB is as one might expect a Brigade level game. I wanted something in between – Divisional would do! In reading the excellent notes on running big games by Dave Brown in the GdeB rulebook it suggest that beyond the C in C Corps Commanders needn’t be included and that the scaled division can be handled as a brigade although we call it a Division. This allowed us to do what I wanted. So for instance Junot’s Corps would comprise two Divisions each of 4 four battalions commanded by Ochs and Tharreau. This formation had an attached light cavalry regiment and a foot battery, in all probability one division gets the guns the other the cavalry – no need to have Junot represented as the C in C directly orders the Divisional generals. This did however mean that an awful lot of generals were required.

The charge of the Westphalian Cuirassiers - Borodino 1812.
Perry plastics with hussar plumes. Painted by Perry Pender and me, based by me.
Generals by Front Rank by Perry Pender, based by me. Flag from the web somewhere...
A further tweak was added thus; the French were allocated more C in C’s than the Russians. These were Davout, Ney, Eugene and Poniatwoski. In game terms this meant that in the northern and southern sectors the French had a C in C for each player which seemed vital in the attack and meant they could respond quicker to change orders than the more ponderous Russians who had Barclay de Tolly and Bagration as C in C’s plus the commander of the Life Guard Corps held in reserve, in effect only one senior commander per sector and a spare who was off table and could only affect one sector if called upon at all. This seemed correct in game balance terms – especially as I was playing French!

Needless to say the army lists are rationalisations of the real formations but they fit a Corps and Divisional sub structure very well. Even with the French having a more efficient command                                                 system the player generals would be stretched over space and time forcing some tough decisions about where to be and when, exactly what I wanted.

The Peter Gilder lists involve a lot of 28mm toys nevertheless we found that between three of us we had more than enough when the game was broken into north and south sectors. Tony has his two collections of Russians plus my Russian Life Guard Corps and by combing my French with Rich’s plus his considerable French Imperial Guard we could do it!

(A foot note here may help. Chris’s Napoleonic 28mm collection is a massive “work in progress”. He is tackling the Austrian elements of the Army of Bohemia 1813 in conjunction with me. We have the toys purchased and some are underway right now; about half of the 1400 odd foot are done and the cavalry begun plus one battery completed. This is a really exciting project which will unfold over the next twelve months. Before I do too many Austrians I want to finish the Bavarian Division, the Poles and conclude the Prussian project. Aaaaarrrgh – so much to do, so little time and money!!

The cover of the magazine that got me started on this long and weary road all those years ago. It looks so innocent now, no hint of the additively dangerous content waiting within. In this day and age such publications have a health warning. Look away now dear gentle friend, look away!

Back on track now....Depending on the final deployment we won’t have to proxy much if anything. We have about 100 renaissance Cossack/Tartars who will do perfectly well as Napoleonic cossacks. We are 3 battalions short on Russian Guards but I have 3 Prussian Guard battalions which will do nicely and carry similar flags. Beyond that we are there – wow!

Now we settled into a period of tactical planning. Rich and Tony met up and chatted in secret whilst Chris and I did the same. We no doubt jockeyed for the larger formations and best lines of attack and negotiated reserves. We also attempted to predict what crazy scheme Tony and Rich might concoct to thwart us! Rich has no understanding of hold orders or defence what so ever, for example he would have Wellington attack at Waterloo rather than cling passively to a ridge line. However even our most outlandish predictions proved way off the mark! Could Kutuzov’s order of the day really have been “Take Paris”!

I made a lot of assumptions about player understanding of the battle and the historical use of Guard formations and reserves, needless to say I shouldn't have done.The French had a free reign to deploy as they wished; the Russians had to deploy the 1st and 2nd Armies of the West in their entirety one per table topsector with the Life Guard detached to support either one as determined before game 1. Next time I prepare a big game I will be much clearer and more prescriptive about reserves and deployment. 

Finally the planning was over and the first weekends gaming arrived. Would it all be worth it? Had I created a gaming experience that could engage & entertain us for four days over two weekends? That’s what the next two parts are all about, so pop back.

P.S. astute readers will recall that in designing this series of games I wanted to include the precursor to Borodino – The Battle of Shevardino fought a few days before. Well, I used another article, this time penned by Barry Hilton and published in Wargames Illustrated. This is quite a large game in itself so Tony and Chris played it between them, allowing two days to finish it. Sadly it was over very, very quickly. The Russian Corps stationed to defend the position was totally overwhelmed and swept aside in no time. Sadly this was one of those rare “non games” which just don’t go right. The scenario is sound enough; a simple case of "shite dice versus miracle dice" on the day! These things happen sometimes, mercifully not too often.   
P.P.S. The Wargames Holiday Centre still exists under the expert hand of Mark Freeth in Basingstoke, UK. We should really get our arses in gear and visit him sometime soon. I watch his videos on youtube and visit his site most days - always inspirational, always.             

Thursday, 4 October 2012

A Borodino taster...

So we did it!

We survived Borodino - again.

My third attempt at this meat grinder is over - infact we finished it a while ago! So exhausting was it that I haven't been able to do much wargaming related stuff since beyond play our usual weekly game, too much of a good thing?

I plan to write a post about the design of the two games which comprised this blood bath and two battle reports; one of the northern sector (see below) comprising Borodino & the Grand Redoudt, and secondly the southern sector with fighting around Utitsa & The Fleches. Much went well but there were things I would do differently next time. There are hundreds of piccies to edit so it may take sometime to do this. The players are even threatening to contribute some of their own thoughts; didn't know they had them frankly!!!

I'll leave you with this taster of the first game - i.e. half of it.  

The Northern sector with Borodino roughly centre stage and the Grand Redoubt a little further back. This looks like we're approaching the end of day one as the ranks have been thinned out a little and Junot has yet to arrive.  
Catch up soon, best  wishes


Thursday, 6 September 2012

Lutzen 1813 part 3 - Epic Finale

 So week three saw us gather to finish this once and for all.

Napoleon has arrived and stamped his authority on the battlefield. The Old Guard under his gaze is deployed and ready to attack. Some Guard light cavalry have already charged and thrown back Russian heavies - good work from the Dutch "Red" Lancers, Bravo! Old Guard foot and horse batteries are deployed, a heavy cavalry division hastens to prop up the Ney's wobbly centre. Marmot & Bertrand bare down too.

Question is; can the Emperor make his attacks count and drive his massed formations fast enough to count?
Rich wears the black bicorne and grey coat atop a white charger - no pressure old chap.

Old Guard foot, cavalry and cannon stand ready to rescue Ney from the rampant allied centre in the distance.

Realizing the urgency of the situation Rich went straight over to the attack. Leading with the Guard Heavy cavalry. These moved off to assault the Russian Guard cavalry and Guard artillery. A curiously comical Napoleonic lesbo action scene occurred as the Empress Dragoons fought the Empress Cuirassiers; after handbags had been swung and nails bloodied the bigger Russian ladies prevailed over the daintier French maids who broke on the spot! In fairness the Empress Dragoons had been languishing under artillery fire for some time so possibly had it coming. Not so the Grenadiers a Cheval of the Guard! These fine fellows braved the cannister of a 12lb battery and ran it down before meeting the now rallied Emperor's Cuirassiers! These gentleman needed to make amends for their poor show earlier and French Guard heavies were just the test they needed. As the dust settled the Russians had triumphed and a brigade test was required for the remaining regiment of French Guard heavies. It could have been worse - but they had now played their part, utterly spent they pulled out.    

The headlong pursuit of the "Red" Guard Lancers had brought them into the front of a Russian Guard Grenadier battalion, after a bloody melee the lancers retreated to breath their horses, swig some looted vodka and gnaw on some dried rations.
(See how I painted a picture in your mind with my words just then? Did you like that?)

So, not the crushing assault we had envisioned from the Old Guard.
The French frowned & muttered - we sighed in sheer sagging relief.
The 12lb batteries went back to work, dealing long range death, as the Old Guard foot stepped forward.  

Bertrand's light cavalry have dealt with the screening Russian Dragoons & prepare to fall on the flank of the Russians.   
Whilst the two Guard Corps were disporting in front of each other more humble line troops were also involved on the French right. Bertand's formation was screened by light cavalry who were eventually forced to clear away the two large Russian Dragoon Regiments standing between them and what now looked like far too few battalions to prevent a French breakthrough. "Quelle surpris" - the smaller French light cavalry did the job; first one, then another regiment of Russian heavies were forced back and the road began to look  a little easier.

Beside Bertrand, Marmont's boys also made ground. To their front were only two regiments of allied light cavalry, namely the Russian Guard Hussars and Russian Guard Uhlans. No problems anticipated there...

Shall we leave this sector at take a look at the far end? Yes, let's!      
My private battle with Tony. It has simmered for ages. The trickle of dead mounts.
Tony's French have been attacking relentlessly here trying to seize the bridge so he can take the pressure off Ney and maybe even relieve him. His lancers and chasseurs with supporting horse guns have been battering my squares, fire, charge, retire - fire, charge, retire - fire, charge, retire - on it goes. Next to the bridge we trade musketry through the smoke, the trickle of casualties are mounting for us both.
Behind my Russian infantry division I have three regiments of Austrian light cavalry with orders to support the  infantryman who went over the hold orders having captured the line of the road to the bridge including the tiny village. I have been trying to make room for them to charge the French cavalry the second I can change their orders to assault! Finally their general gets the message and in they go - anything they can do to relieve the pressure on the squares will help as they are shielding my only battery; how does this shit happen?

They tangle with French lancers who are somehow unformed so retreat! This unexpected success carries then into formed infantry where their success runs out and they head back behind their lines to rally on the other two regiments of hussars. Their job is done though; some French cavalry retreat, a column is halted & another forced into square, - "I thank you kind Sirs!"   

The French attack is disrupted for a while. But can it last? Can I hold? 

With a steady drain on both my Russians and Tony's French down at the bridge something had to give finally. And so it did.

One of my brave 2nd class squares finally took a 50% casualty morale test. Having past every other test for canister casualties and melee they passed this too! Bravo again! However, in the venerable General de brigade rules this means they are allowed to march from the field with flying colours and shouldered arms.
A Magical Moment which the Guards of either army might like to take note of...

Magical Moments soon turn to Marauder Moments as their bravery opened up the flank for Tony's cavalry to run down the guns and cause mayhem - aaaaaaaaaaarrgh.......

Meanwhile, back in the centre...

...Ney's four battered Divisions broke and fell back. With that the centre fell away for the French, some badly mauled units dispersed entirely further thinning the ranks whilst their batteries went low on ammo.

Now was not the time to end the game though. The allied centre was now some way off and Ney could still regroup and hold the rear two villages, Kaja & Rahna, issue new orders and maybe mount limited counter attacks. After all the battles at either end of the table were still far from resolved.    

Ney's four divisions have fallen back around Kaja & Rahna. Blucher orders a general advance across the centre to snuff out Ney for good and take the remaining two villages. Another infantry Division and one of Cuirassiers is directed to attack the French Imperial Guard who are still a long way off.     

Body language.

Russian infantry surge forward again as the French fall away before them. Batteries limber up and move up for the next stage. This was such a game of movement and maneuver - really excellent.  

There was still lots of action to resolve so we carried on, the butchers bill climbing all the while. Finally our cossack sotnias arrived exactly where they should have been on about turn 3. Sadly it is now about turn 14. However cossacks are clever buggers, cleverer than Chris or I in fact. Their orders had been to harass Bertrand's advance from his front - delaying him as long as possible. However Bertrand had made good headway and was now baring down on the extreme Russian left as planned. So when the three formations of cossacks showed up they did so behind Bertrand - exactly where any good cossack would go for. Funny old thing these wargames!

Marmont ordered his lead battalions into line ready to shoot down the menacing Russian Guard lights. The Russians promptly charged, the lines fired, men fell, crashing beneath sprawling horses in an ugly scene. The Guard Hussars faltered failing to charge home - the Guard Uhlans rode on! They kept riding without stopping until two lines were run down and much of the Marmont's force was in disarray. In the following turns a limbered battery was caught and a colume flank charged. Retreating battalions, squadrons and batteries were faced with leering cossacks to the rear. Slaughtering stragglers is the perfect task for these cruel horsemen armed with lances and bows.

Tactical geniuses that we are we slapped each others backs and announced that we planned this all along!

The Russian Guard Foot, Cavalry and artillery stand firm against the French Imperial Guard.
In the background Bertand and Marmont begin to disintegrate. 
When the Old Guard Grenadiers & Chasseurs were repulsed it was all over - there is no clearer message of defeat for Frenchman than - "La Garde recule!"

We played out the rest of the turn, naturally finishing with the morale phase, which only served to underline the severity of the defeat. Tony's cavalry Brigade facing off my flank way over the bridge fell back promptly taking the infantry with them - just in time as they were very well placed to wrap my battery!

Apologies for the delay in finishing this report, our Borodino game finished us off for a few weeks, then I went on hols for about three weeks - Murat's kingdom of Naples no less! Lutzen provided us with a totally engrossing game played over three long nights. New threats keep turning up at varying spots to swing the action for one side then the other - gripping stiff indeed. No doubt we'll discuss this game between us over the years maybe even tackle it in 28mm sometime!

The scenario was adapted from an excellent article in Wargames Illustrated number 40, January 1991! Steve Shann's article provided an excellent map with reinforcement schedules, a detailed orbat for "In The Grand Manner" which is basically interchangeable with our favoured General de brigade rules. I enlarged the table a bit and added a few extra units to each side. The outcome was a fun filled game which lasted three nights over three weeks.

Thanks to Rich & Tony our gallant opponents and to Chris who played Blucher the Allied C in C, my boss.

"Bravo! Vive les Marauders!"              

Approaching the high water mark of the Old Guard's advance.

The French right beginning to wobble as the first few units break and run - the end is nigh!  

Thanks for sticking with this somewhat lengthy tale - hope you enjoyed it and pop back to hear about our next adventure:-
Borodino in two games; northern & southern sectors - the mother of all meat grinders in 28mm.

Cheers JJ