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The Battle of Königgrätz, 1866


Bismarck’s Wars, Bloody Big Battles, 10mm

This game involved a trip to Suffolk, and a weekend away. John Drewienkiewicz and Andrew Brentnall wrote the Wargaming in History book about the Austro-Prussian War of 1866: The Opening Battles, and a damned fine book it is too, if you like this little obscure corner of military history. I do, and I even had a great-grandfather on my father’s side who took part in the battle on the Prussian side. So, when I was invited to take part in their recreation of the battle for their next volume then I jumped at the chance. It was a great weekend away, thanks largely to John’s hospitality, and Andrew’s labour of love in bringing this huge battle to the tabletop.I was struck by just how pretty his bespoke terrain looked, and the care he’d taken to mirror the terrain of the actual battlefield. Anyway, on the day of battle I had two roles. First I was General vonl Moltke, in charge of the Prussian army. However, I also doubled as Prince Friedrich Carl, the commander of the 1st Army, deployed on the east of the Bistritz Stream. To my left was the Army of the Elbe, commanded by Gary, and somewhere off to my left, and marching to the sound of the guns was Ray, who played the part of Crown Prince Frederick, commanding the Prussian 2nd Army.Facing us where the Austrian North Army, led by General von Benedek. A lot of both armies weren’t on the table at the start – that’s why the table looks a little bare in photo up above. In this picture, looking south, the Bistritz was on the right (the west), and the town of Königgrätz off the table to the left (east). The Army of the Elbe was coming on where the two guys are fiddling with figures, while the 2nd Army appeared on the tabletop just behind the camera. We just didn’t know when it was going to arrive. The Prussian defensive arc was anchored around the villages of Nedelitz on the left of the photo, Chlum on the hill in the centre, and Tresowitz to its left, on a ridge overlooking the Bistritz. Then there was a bit of a gap in the Austrian line, until you came to the Saxon Corps, which was gathered around the village of Problus, on the hill in the distance.So, when the battle began I sent part of my army forward across the stream, with one Corps heading towards the Shwiepwald Wood in front of Chlum, and the rest aiming for Tresowitz. Gary’s army of the Elbe got off to a fairly slow start, but eventually it secured the crossing at Nechanetz – the village near where the two guys were fiddling with figures. One of our problems was our artillery – the Prussian guns weren’t particularly good, while the Austrian ones were excellent – and they had an awful lot of them. Most were deployed around Chlum, with a huge grand battery to the south of the village, completely covering the most obvious avenue of attack. They were fighting a defensive battle – bar the odd cavalry charge – and our aim was to pin them, fight them and beat them – ideally outflanking them as well.Our plan was pretty similar to Moltke’s original one – the idea was to pin them in the centre with the 1st Army, then turn their two flanks using the 2nd Army from the north and the army of the Elbe from the South. Actually we had one change – we stuck all the 2nd Army’s reserves behind the assault on Tresowitz, and when the leading divisions cleared the village and the ridge – not without a great deal of time and trouble – there were two fresh divisions in place to support them. Their job was to link up with Gary’s Army of the Elbe, and help soak up any reserves the Austrians had – suckering them into a firefight where our needle guns could outshoot them. As plan goes it worked fairly well.The Austrians had obviously read their history books, and knew that the Crown Prince was about to dliver a right hoook in the north. So, they kept a long line of troops there, while all their reserves including vast amounts of artillery deployed around Chlum. In fact at one stage the hill there looked like a vast artillery park. That though, was why we screened it fairly lightly – with just IV Corps – and didn’t do what the Prussians did of sticking lots of our troops in the trees of the Schweipwald, where they’d be unable to move from owing to all those guns.Over on the right Gary’s Army of the Elbe had to bypass the Problus line by plodding through dense woods, but he eventually reached the flank of the Saxons, and was launching his grand assault when the final whistle blew. Some Austrian reinforcements had headed his way to prop up the Saxons, but he was now in a position where the defensive position around Problus was untenable. In the centre my army bided its time, apart from that right-flank exploitation beyond Trecowitz. There Adam was in charge, and he did a great job of soaking up the Austrian reserves. He pushed forward as far as the village of Stresetitz, outflanking the huge Austrian gun line to the north, but again this substantial drive was eventually thwarted by the clock. It was 6pm, and we had to pack up. John – a retired Major General ( and therefore someone who should know about these things) studied the table, and declared the game a Prussian victory. The thing about Königgrätz is that it’ll pretty much always land up as one of those – the only question is how big a win will it be for team Moltke. The real Moltke was a hard act to follow, but we think we collectively did a reasonable job. Still, Andrew (whose wargame outhouse lets him keep things set up) and John will continue where we left off over the next few weeks, and will eventually write up the game in their new book, which will cover Koniggratz itself. I look forward to reading their tactical appreciation of the refight. Above all though, it was great fun, and it really looked incredible. I may now have the 10mm mid 19th century bug!

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