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Rearguard at Polotsk, 1812


The Napoleonic Wars, Black Powder, 28mm

This week we used a scenario from Charles S. Grant’s Scenarios for Wargames (WRG 1980), an old staple when we can’t think of a scenario for ourselves. This one was based around the retreat from Moscow in 1812. Please excuse the lack of snow – we didn’t have a big enough white sheet, so – like many “retreat” games, this was set just before the snows came on 5th November!retreat-mapThe main army was retreating down the Moscow to Smolensk road, while Marshal Ney (of course) commanded a small rearguard, and was charged with keeping the Russians at bay. The way the scenario works, the main body appears at random on the eastern edge of the table, with the arrival point and time diced for. On Turn 7 the rearguard appears on the eastern table edge, in one coherent command. He had to move westwards for two turns, and then on Turn 10 the Russians appear – again with a randomly selected entry point and turn of arrival.retreat-1812-001The French duly streamed onto the table, but despite having poor “command dice” (needing a “6” on 2D6 to move), they all moved fairly rapidly, converging into a big long column which headed for the bridge in the south-west corner of the table. Then the doughty French rearguard appeared, and promptly rolled badly, so that by the time the Russians began to appear they were just a foot from the eastern table edge. That’s exactly where the Russians began to appear from. Unfortunately, rather than rolling 1s, 2s or 3s (which meant coming on at A, B or C), most of the rolls meant they came on directly behind the French rearguard. The result was that they were pitched into the fight without any real chance to manoeuvre around the enemy’s flanks. A series of uncoordinated charges didn’t really achieve much, although the Marioupol Hussars managed to break a retreating unit of French foot, and run down the crew of a gun.retreat-1812-007The first couple of units of Cossacks didn’t achieve very much – one charged a unit of French foot, but apart from forcing it into square it achieved little apart from getting itself disordered and forced back. Their companions on the Russian north flank did the same, only to be bested by a small regiment of French dragoons. No surprises there. They then fled the field when a French gun battery opened up on them. Fortunately for the Russians more units were appearing, including a band of Cossacks at entry points A and B. However, the route around the northern Flank of the French rearguard was blocked by those same dragoons, who effectively plugged the gap for the rest of the game.retreat-1812-004In the centre the Russians brought up two battalions of infantry, and charged the French line. Even here, with a 2 to 1 advantage the Russians failed to break through, as the French refused to busge. Their steadfast defence was encouraged by Ney himself, who rode up to take command of the unit in person. With that, the Russians simply ran out of steam. A particularly good die roll saw the retreating French main body cross the bridge, and begin exiting off the western table edge. There was now nothing the Russians could do to stop them. The remaining Russians units were blown, and would need two or three turns to sort themselves out (or recover casualty markers), which would give the better-led French rearguard time to disengage, and move back towards the river themselves. The French would live to fight another day, and so victory was awarded to Marshal Ney. It was a good bit of defensive work by the French player (Dougie), and a haphazard bit of assaulting by team Russia (Angus and Kevan). Next time though, I’m sure the French won’t be so lucky…retreat-1812-009

With hindsight, Charles’ scenario wasn’t really geared up for a game using Black Powder. Units simply move too quickly in these rules, and so barring a major upset, the Russians weren’t going to have much of a chance to overtake the French main body. Of course it didn’t help that most of the randomly arriving Russian units piled up in the same place – directly in front of Ney’s blocking force. The scenario itself worked well – only next time we might try it on a larger table, to give the Russians a bit more room for manoeuvre. We’ll also force the rearguard to march at least two feet onto the table before forming their defensive line, as the Russians really didn’t have any space to deploy. Charles actually recommended this in his scenario briefing, but that failed French “command roll” worked in their favour, and halted the rearguard after just a 12″ march. Anyway, with a little bit of tinkering – and a white sheet – we might well try this scenario again. At least it gave me a chance to get my Cossacks out in force…retreat-1812-0055

 

 

 

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