The Seven Years War, Black Powder, 28mm
A few months ago a few of us got together to stage an enormous Marston Moor game, held in a hotel in a remote corner of Fife, a one hour drive from Edinburgh. Well this time we tackled a Seven Years War refight – the Battle of Hastenbeck, which pitted the might of France against that of Britain and her German Allies. In our game the French were augmented by a sizeable Austrian contingent to make up numbers, while on the Allied side Prussians were used to bolster the British, Hanovarian and Hessian units we had to hand. The result was a spectacular weekend game, fought out on a large 24-foot “L-shaped” table.The Allies – commanded by the Duke of Cumberland – were deployed with their backs to a forest, which lay inside the “L” of the table. In other words we left it out, to allow the players to reach their figures. On the Allied right the line extended along a wooded ridge at the edge of the forest, with their front covered by a marshy stream. Beyond it lay the French, while in between sat the small town of Hastenbeck . On the Allied left – the other side of the “L” – the troops were deployed in flatter terrain, amid a handful of hamlets and enclosures. In our game – as in the real thing – the Allies were on the defensive.The French army of Marshal Soubise (played by yours truly) held their ground on the left flank, north of Hastenbeck, but everywhere else the French and their Austrian allies rolled forward, and were soon engaged all along the Allied line. The French left – where the Austrians were standing in for the French – three columns attacked the British contingent stationed beside the village of Voremberg . The British performed well, and caused heavy casualties amongst the Austrians, but inevitably weight of numbers prevailed. One poor Austrian column commander only reached the edge of Voremberg at the end of the first day of gaming, as he consistently failed to roll the dice he needed to advance. Still, by the end of the Saturday what remained of the British were all but surrounded, and on the verge of collapse.This though, was only one of two main attacks. The bulk of the French army concentrated their assault on the high ground to the south-east of Hastenbeck – the lower slopes of the wooded Obensburg Hill. This marked the bend in the Allied line – the corner of the “L”. The aim of course was to split the Allied army in two. Well, the attackers spent most of Saturday morning advancing on the high ground, slowly driving the defenders back as they went. The French artillery proved highly effective, dominating the open ground immediately to the south of Hastenbeck, and protecting the left flank of the main French attack.On the right side of this assault the village of Voremberg was captured, but a supporting assault by Reichsarmee cavalry was repulsed by an Allied artillery battery deployed on the slope behind the village. This was soon dubbed the “death star” battery, as it seemed to spend the rest of the game routing a French unit every turn! On the Allied right things were much quieter, and Dave Imrie and Bill Gilchrist played their own desultory game involving long-range musketry and artillery fire. Still, by the end of the Saturday’s gaming it was clear that the Allies were in serious trouble. A sensible commander – certainly not Cumberland then (played by Ken Pierce) would have withdrawn. Instead, like a true wargamer, he stuck it out to the bitter end.After a particularly raucous Saturday evening the dozen gamers returned to the fray on Sunday morning, to play out the final stage of the battle. The British collapsed pretty quickly after play was resumed, and the Allied reinforcements arriving on both ends of the table were too late to save them. On that south-eastern end of the “L” the Allied column at least managed to hold up the Austrians, preventing them from reinforcing the French in the centre. Similarly on the other end of the table to the north of Hastenbeck the Hessian reinforcements- mainly cavalry – caused the French serious problems for a few turns, forcing Soubise to divert his reserve cavalry to prop up the left flank. In the end though, order was restored after a dashing charge by the Bercheny Hussars, who saw off a brigade of enemy cavalry, and bought time for the French to re-organise their line.That left the Allied centre. The Allied cavalry reserve also charged into action to the south of Hastenbeck, but were driven back by a combination of French musketry and canister. On the slopes of the Obensburg the French renewed their attack, and despite the activities of the death star battery” they eventually managed to fracture the Allied line, and so win the day. By then – as lunchtime approached – it was a case of sauve qui peut – as Cumberland and his remaining troops quit the field, leaving the victorious French in charge of the field. Our refight of Hastenbeck therefore followed the course of the historical battle, although in our game the Allied defeat was even more spectacular than in the real thing. The rules – Black Powder – worked very well, despite the odd quirks like the spinning “death star battery”. Some people had doubts about using such a “simple” set of rules, but in the end the players all agreed that they were ideal for this sort of big, friendly game. Above all everyone had a great time, and we’ve already laid plans for another large weekend battle, later in the year.