Bismarck’s Wars, Field of Battle, 10mm
Gerry Henry has been preparing for this game for about three years. While some lucky people limit themselves to a single period, Gerry only wargames a single war – in fact just a single battle! His terrain for the Battle of Nachod (fought on 27th June 1866) is therefore impressive. While I’d fought a few battles on his custom-built terrain boards, I’d never seen them all together, in their full glory. It really looked the part. You can also see why Gerry likes Nachod. It was a Corps-sized battle, with a Prussian advance guard holding on in the face of determined attacks by an Austrian Corps. More Prussians marched to the sound of the guns, and by the end of the day both sides had a Corps on the battlefield, although the Austrians still outnumbered the Prussians by about 9,000 men (33,000 to 24,000).As a fanatical supporter of the reactionary, torpid and Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire, Gerry took control of the Austrian VI Corps, commanded by Baron Ramming. Charles S. Grant and Colin Jack helped him shuffle the Austrians forward, while John Drewienkiewicz (“DZ”) played the part of General Steinmetz, commander of the Prussian V Corps. I acted as John’s deputy, and general dogsbody. I was delighted when DZ took charge of the Prussian 9th Division around the village of Wenzelsberg, as, having fought over that ruddy village several times I wasn’t keen to do it again. Gerry launched Col. Hertwegh’s brigade at the village, but while it caused DZ some anxious moments, the attack eventually ground to a halt to the south of the village. In the view above, Wenzelsberg is the village in the top right corner of the board.
It anchored the left of the Prussian line, which – when the reinforcements began to arrive – ran northwards to Wyskow (the straggling village on the centreline of the table), then off to the north (the left of the photo), anchoring itself in the high wooded hills to the north of the Wyskow to Nachod road. tThat’s Nachod on the far table edge, the eastern edge of the table. That was also the place where the Prussian reinforcements could cross the Mettau River, to reach the battlefield. Having blunted Hertwegh’s attack, DZ now faced two more Austrian brigades, approaching his lines from the south-west.Actually, they weren’t a particularly serious threat. One Austrian brigade commanded by Col. Jonak spent most of the weekend resolutely refusing to move, as it failed just about every movement dice roll. Another brigade led by Col. von Waldstatten edged its way forward to the outskirts of Wyskow, then spent most of Sunday failing to advance any further. Over on the Austrian left Charles sent Maj. Gen. Rosenweig’s brigade into the curve of the railway embankment near Starkoc, where a hill dominated that section of the battlefield, to the north-west of Wyskow. That’s the railway curve in the picture above, while the one on the right shows Charles and Gerry wondering what to do with Hertwegh’s broken command, while DZ (left) enjoys the spectacle.Then though, the Austrians deployed their “death star”. The VI Corps artillery unlimbered to the west of Wyskow, where it had a good field of fire over the centre of the battlefield. The Austrian “grand battery” then eviscerated the Prussian infantry one battalion or gun battery at a time, until the defenders were either pulverised or had pulled back to shelter behind any convenient wood or village they could find. This would have been decisive if the Austrians had been able to launch a co-ordinated infantry assault on the Prussian centre, around Wyskow. Unfortunately for them when the moment came they simply couldn’t get their troops to move forward. DZ continued to harry them as best he could, sending a dragoon regiment in a death ride charge to pin Jonak’s command, and forming a new gun position on the hill behind Wyskow which did its best to return the fire of the Austrian guns.Over to the left the cuirassiers of the Austrian cavalry worked their way around the northern flank of the Prussian line. The plan was to cross the Mettau River and capture Nachod, but the river turned out to be unfordable. A Prussian infantry regiment (the 52nd) had moved north from Nachod to block their path, and it deployed between the river and the hill. The stand-off there continued for a few hours of gaming time, until the Prussians’ Corps cavalry arrived to threaten the Austrian horse. In the big picture at the top you can see the Austrian cavalry in their outflanking move, over on the upper left (north-east) side of the table. Eventually a combination of Prussian cavalry attacks and infantry firepower did for the Austrians, with the exception of one stalwart regiment of cuirassiers, who effectively demolished the Prussian cavalry through repeatedly charging it, despite the seemingly hopeless odds. This though, didn’t really influence the main fight, apart from keeping a useful Prussian infantry regiment away from the main battlefield.We started the game on Saturday morning, and played all day until early evening. We then picked the game up again the following morning, and played on until 2pm on Sunday. By Sunday morning the two actively engaged Austrian brigades of Hertwegh and Rosenweig were in a bad way. Although casualties are rallied back, losses are noted, and when they reach a certain point the regiment or brigade can break and run. It was with some dismay that on Sunday morning DZ saw Hertwegh’s brigade reform – seemingly at full strength – and launch another attack on Wenzelsberg. Worse, the battered Prussian 17th Brigade was also in a bad way, and was forced to retire to the high ground behind the village. The Austrian 25th Jaegers duly occupied the village, just in time for their brigade to finally succumb to a failed morale test. Hertwegh’s men fled the field, leaving Wenzelsberg to the Prussians.Over on the Austrian left the same happened to Rosenwig’s command. It had taken heavy casualties from the two Prussian regiments (the 46th and 47th). At one point I planned to pull back to form a new defensive line behind a wood, but the stern unspoken disapproval from “DZ” (a retired Major-General) “encouraged” me to opt for a more aggressive stance. He was quite right. There was a rule that artillery can’t fire on targets within 6″ of their own troops. This meant that by advancing closer to Rosenweig’s men, my Prussians could avoid getting pulverised by the Austrian grand battery. They were also able to make the most of their superior firepower, and soon Gerry’s prized unit (the 4th Hoch & Deutschmeister Rgt.) broke and fled. They were soon followed by the rest of the brigade, leaving a somewhat surprised Prussian commander to chase them from the field.This was the turning point. Thanks to DZ’s pluck the Austrian left was shattered, as was their right. The rest of Ramming’s Corps was left with little option but to pull back to the west, leaving the Prussians in control of the field. The battle was deemed a Prussian tactical victory, and we all went home delighted by the fact that we’d been able to spend the weekend fighting our way across Gerry’s splendid table, and having such a good time in the process.