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The Battle of Borodino, 1812


The Napoleonic Wars, General de Brigade, 28mm

A few of us from the Edinburgh club were invited to take part in a refight of Borodino, laid on by the Leuchars Wargames Club. Leuchars is about 50 miles north of Edinburgh, close to the university town of St. Andrews. I’d already lent my Russian army for the game, and didn’t think I’d have a chance to play. Fortunately I was able to take part, and naturally when the two dozen players chose sides, I opted to join the Russian team. I was given VI Corps to command, and also given the role of Barclay de Tolly, commanding the Russian Army of the West. Essentially the army held the Russian right flank, with its defences concentrated on the Grand Redoubt.borodino-leuchars-019The 32 foot long table wasn’t the prettiest I’ve seen, with bare green baize mats and minimal terrain (apart from an excellent Grand Redoubt and the Bagration fleches). The Leuchars crowd seem strangely time-warped about their persistent use of ugly green baize cloths.  However garish the table might be, it was positively groaning under the weight of the lead, and that more than made up for the rather basic appearance of the battlefield. When Nansouty’s large French Cavalry Corps entered the table it looked impressive, colourful and distinctly intimidating – which is exactly the reaction it should have inspired. Excellent… The rules we used were the good and reliable General de Brigade (2nd edition), slightly modified to encourage faster play in large-scale battles.borodino-leuchars-005Our Battle of Borodino didn’t really develop like the real one. For starters, the French largely ignored the redoubt, and aimed almost everything they had at the fleches. Only Poniatowski’s Polish V Corps in the south, Eugene’s IV Corps in the north and Grouchy’s Cavalry Corps stayed out of this central maelstrom. Even the Old Guard was thrown in during the final stages of the battle. From the start things started to go wrong for the Russian VIII Corps, and for my colleague General Bagration. We tried moving our troops from the right to the left wing, but Borozdin’s men had to hold the line until they got there. On Turn 2, a French lancer regiment charged and broke on of his infantry units, deployed in line. It all started to unravel from there. One after another VIII Corps’s units were ridden down by cavalry or blown apart by the French Grand Battery. Us poor Russians were really on the wrong foot after that, trying to plug gaps in our line, and reacting to the French onslaught, rather than dictating the pace of the battle ourselves.borodino-leuchars-020We – the Russian players – began throwing in our reserves – The Russian Guard and the reserve Cavalry Corps. The French responded by committing their own Guard, and the brutal slog continued. The fighting was centred around the Bagration fleches and Semenovskaya village (represented by a single hut). The problem was though, the French had superiority in numbers, and they kept on coming. Some bad die rolling on the part of the Russian commanders on the spot didn’t help matters, and slowly the tide of battle swung in favour of the attackers. Meanwhile, over on the Russian right the French hung back, and it was the Russians who went over onto the attack, spurred on mainly by the fact that the time to pack up was fast approaching. Still, it did nothing to alter the course of the battle – even the appearance of the Cossacks to the north of the field didn’t change things. The battle was decided around the fleches, and down there the Russians were getting a pasting.borodino-leuchars-011Finally 4pm rolled around, and it was time to call a halt to the carnage. The umpires surveyed the field, and declared the battle a hard-won French victory – a result that essentially matched the outcome of the real battle. The Russians were still holding on, apart from around Semenovskaya village, which was now in French hands. With no reserves left this meant the French were free to exploit the gap between the two halves of the Russian army, and so a retreat under cover of darkness was all but inevitable. In the south around Utitsa the Russians had stood firm, just as they had on the unpressured Russian right flank. The Grand Redoubt was still in Russian hands, as were half of the fleches. However, there was no getting away from the fact that the cost for grimly hanging on had been a high one – just a glance at the table filled with destroyed Russian units could tell you that. If those casualties were translated into real battlefield ones, Russian losses would have been around 18,000, or about 15% of the army. The French hadn’t lost nearly as many men, and were still going strong.borodino-leuchars-008There we have it then – although the battle unfolded differently from the real one, the result was pretty much the same as the historical one. A great time was had by all the participants. My favourite bit about the day was to meet or renew acquaintances with wargamers from other groups, such as the Leuchars and Angus clubs. We even vowed to take part in another big post-Christmas game next year, and even to consider holding some joint event in the coming year. All in all it was a great day out – even though the good guys lost!

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