Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Battle of Vierkirchen, September 1813

This past weekend, several of us gathered in snowy Roanoke, Virginia to participate in an 1813  "what-if" scenario pitting the French Army of the Bober against the Allied Army of Silesia. The rules used were Carnage and Glory 2. Doug Kline of Battlefield Terrain Concepts constructed the scenario, fabricated some outstanding terrain, and provided excellent food and drink. Doug also provided the French, Russian, and a few German figures, while I provided most of the French allied troops and the Prussians.

Getting down to business early Friday evening, the battle played out in approximately 12 hours of gaming time throughout 18 turns (about 4 1/2 hours of simulated time).  The terrain was magnificent as usual; Doug actually downloaded modern pics from Bling Maps and converted it to what the ground probably looked like in 1813.

The Scenario

The allied campaign plan in 1813 was simple: avoid direct confrontation with Napoleon and focus on defeating his marshals in detail.  Following the French victory (but frustrated with the allied retreat) at Dresden, the Emperor learned of Marshal MacDonald's defeat at the Katzbach. Napoleon, in search of a decisive victory over the allies, set out to reinforce MacDonald's beleaguered army with a large force, including the Imperial Guard. The Army of the Bober's retreat was halted and MacDonald's force was reformed, yet the allied army under Blucher retreated again once he realized that Napoleon was present.

Learning of the defeats at Kulm and Dennewitz, the Emperor finally took his troops back to Dresden, leaving MacDonald again isolated against Blucher's army.  This scenario assumes that Blucher advanced with Sacken's Russian Corps a day earlier in order to catch the Army of the Bober off-guard. Historically, Blucher did not advance until the 9th of September, allowing MacDonald to escape.

On an open plain near the village of Vierkirchen, approximately 38,000 allied troops faced off against about 34,000 soldiers of MacDonald's army, which was a composite force consisting of French, Westphalians, Italians, Neapolitans, and various other German units.

Initial Deployment

The terrain was dominated by a large open hill in the center, relatively open terrain in the vicinity of Neucunnewitz (the left flank of the allied army), and wooded terrain in the area of Tetta and Buchholz (the right flank of the allied army).  Sacken deployed the bulk of the Russian artillery in the center, supported by Lieven's Russian infantry division.  Russian cavalry held the left flank, while the Prussian infantry divisions under von Horn and von Mecklenburg deployed to the right of Vierkirchen. Prussian uhlans, landwehr cavalry, and national cavalry protected the allied right flank.

The French deployed Ledru's infantry division on the table, supporting the reserve artillery in the center. Westphalian and Neapolitan troops held the areas around Tetta and Buchholz. The large wooded areas on the French left were protected by multiple units of French legere.

The French left flank, with the village of Tetta in the foreground

The center of the field

The allied right flank, held by Prussian troops

The main Prussian assault column facing Tetta

The French, Westphalian, and Neapolitan troops defending Tetta and Buchholz

French and Russians face off in the center

All other commands were considered reserves and rolled for. There was a built-in delay (depending on the activation die roll), so reserves had to be planned for in advance.

The French deployed in a defensive position, watching for opportunities as the Army of Silesia maneuvered. The allied plan was simple:  hold the left flank and center with Russian cavalry and the imposing Russian artillery, while the Prussians began the attack on the village of Tetta (the natural hinge of the battlefield).  Prussian cavalry and landwehr units were to hold the right flank.

The Game

In subsequent turns, the Prussians attacked Tetta, but the Westphalian troops held firmly, most notably the Westphalian Guard Fusiliers. A couple of Prussian tactical mistakes allowed the Westphalians to counterattack and overrun a battery, continuing on to Prussian infantry. This stalled the initial Prussian advance.  The allied right flank was quiet, with both sides standing in defense.

The allied left flank was initially quiet, but the French player, sensing that the Russians were weak in this sector, launched an attack against Russian cavalry.  French lancers led the charge, but the action was drawn initially. Russian reserves immediately began to appear on the left and the cavalry battle turned into a churning action that eventually saw the Russian cavalry begin to prevail.

The Prussians advance toward Tetta

Opposing troops square off in the center

A Prussian battery's flank is in the air !

Fighting in the woods was fierce

Counterattack by the Westphalian Guard Fusiliers

French and Russian cavalry fight near Neucummewitz

In the center, the opposing guns dueled and it was apparent that the powerful Russian guns (with 12 cannon batteries) had the advantage.  A spoiling charge by the Baden dragoons was repulsed by Russian jagers that barely formed into square. The center continued to be a stalemate as the French used reverse slope tactics to escape the murderous fire of the Russian batteries.

The Prussian reserve batteries arrived as reinforcements, but were primarily placed in the center alongside the Russian batteries. Meanwhile, the Prussian infantry in the area of Tetta were repulsed and had reached a wavering state.  Prussian cavalry was launched as spoiling attacks in this sector, being repulsed bloodily (by Italian chasseurs and Wurzburg chevaulegers) but buying a bit of time for the reforming Prussians. A defensive blast of canister by a small battery of Neapolitan horse guns blew away another Prussian hussar unit. Another tactical mistake by the Prussians saw another battery become overrun and wiped out by the Italian chasseurs. Sixteen guns in this sector had been lost due to tactical errors. The Westphalian Guard Fusiliers overran the Prussian musketeers, while the Neapolitan chasseurs were skillfully maneuvered to scoop up a large amount of prisoners. By this time, the Prussian grenadiers of von Hiller's brigade arrived at Vierkirchen and rapidly moved to support the shattered Prussian infantry on the field.

French reserves arriving at the rear

Carabiniers moving up for the attack

Cuirassiers moving towards the right flank to fight Russian cavalry

Italians from Zuchhi's brigade supporting Buchholz

To the rear of the French center, the heavy cavalry of Saint-Germaine's division arrived. Infantry from Charpentier's French division also marched onto the field. The carabiniers maneuvered up to the center behind the reverse slope, in anticipation of a powerful counterattack. Thierry's cuirassier brigade was diverted to the French right, as the Russian cavalry had been reinforced by infantry and artillery. The French right flank was being pushed back steadily.

At this point in the battle, Mother Nature intervened. As the French carabiniers prepared to launch a nasty charge against a Prussian battery that had been worn down, visibility dropped to 400 paces.  This respite allowed the Prussians to reform. The chaos was averted and Prussian grenadiers began to advance against Tetta again. The loss of visibility slowed the battle down to a crawl, as action in the center ceased.  The Russians continued to push the French left flank in, but artillery fire was stopped across the line.

With the Prussian infantry reformed, as more and more reinforcements arrived onto the field, the grenadiers stormed Tetta. The 1st East Silesian grenadiers were stopped initially, but as another battalion of Silesian grenadiers joined the attack, the Westphalians were eventually forced to abandon Tetta. This area became extremely congested, as both sides began maneuvering units for the eventual ebb and flow of urban combat.

On the allied left flank, Russian infantry of Alexejev's brigade forced themselves into the village of Neucunnewitz, but were then thrown out of the town by counterattacking French infantry. Although the French right flank had been pushed back, the progress was stalled as French cavalry reserves rushed to this area. The focus of combat continued to center around Neucunnewitz.

View from Buchholz

The center looking ominous as the Prussians attack Tetta again

French right flank near Neucummewitz

French troops on the reverse slope in the center

Prussian grenadiers assault Tetta

A bloody mess around Tetta as more Prussians are added into the fight

The Prussian reserve cavalry maneuver behind the Russian artillery

More action around Neucummewitz

French and Westphalian troops get ready to attempt a retake of Tetta

Allied troops moving forward in the mist to take the crest of the heights

As the mist lifts
Having received a respite due to the lowered visibility, the allies decided to prolong the center batteries forward and occupy the crest of the heights. The French right was holding on, but had been forced back. The Prussians had occupied Tetta and had stabilized their position, but fresh French infantry had taken the place of the Westphalians and were threatening to take the village back. As the fog lifted, the French counterattacked in the center but were overwhelmed by the huge number of allied guns.  The Russians and Prussians had consolidated 84 guns in the center and were moving forward against approximately 30 French guns.  The results were bloody.

French troops retake part of Neucummewitz

As the visibility clears, the French counterattack the center, with savage results

At this point,  we called the game. The center had become untenable for the French. With Tetta occupied by the Prussians and Neucunnewitz still being fought over, occupation of the center heights was critical to the battle's success. The allies had won a minor victory, but had suffered higher casualties in the fight.

The battle was very close (with 0-3 army morale points separating the two sides during the entire game) with typical ebb and flow action erupting over the entire field. It truly felt like and looked like what we imagined a Napoleonic battle to be. The French fought well, but the center became an untenable position.

We all had a great time in an extremely close-fought game.  Carnage and Glory 2 proved yet again what an outstanding battle management system it was. We can't wait until the next game.....

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Mariners' Museum, Part Two: The Crabtree Collection and Other Eras

This second part of my post details the rest of what The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia has to offer. In part one, I have already detailed the outstanding section concerning the American Civil War, most notably the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, but there is so much more to see.

The Mariners' Museum is indeed one of the premier attractions in the Hampton Roads area of southeast Virginia. Loaded with tons of historical exhibits, the museum also houses one of the largest collection of ship models in the world.

The museum also boasts an on-site modelling shop with many ships on display.

The modelling section of the museum

Ships from all eras, military and commercial are on display

The on-site modellers were more than willing to discuss their projects

Another example of magnificent craftsmanship

In my opinion, the next section is the crown jewel of the museum. Here is the Crabtree collection, considered one of the finest ship model collections in the world.  It's located in a side room, so it's easy to miss. Luckily, we had a superb museum guide who guided us to this section. The models are incredible and feature "no glue."  All fasteners were hand-made out of wood to simulate the actual technology that was present in history. There are also multiple films detailing the process. Fascinating. 

The workmanship is even more amazing considering that Mr. Crabtree was forced to fabricate many of his own sculpturing tools in order to be as detailed as possible. 

Leaving the Crabtree collection, we were greeted by even more ship models built in the museum's shop. 

Continuing on from the modelling section of the museum, there were multiple exhibits covering all parts of naval history.

The ensign from the CSS Alabama

 Up next is an entire section covering the Napoleonic Wars, featuring the legacy of Admiral Nelson

 The Admiral greets you as you enter 

 An interactive display demonstrating the weight of typical cannon-balls onboard ship

A model ship made of bone by French prisoners in a British prison-barge....absolutely amazing

Venturing out of the Napoleonic section, we exited the museum looking at artifacts from the discovery of the New World. Above are several Portuguese weapons. 

As our trip to The Mariners' Museum came to an end, I was amazed at the sheer amount of historical exhibits contained within. The entire family had a great time and I, especially, resolved to visit again. For anyone interested in naval history and ship modelling, this museum is a must-see !

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Mariners' Museum, Part One: Entrance and American Civil War

A couple of rainy Sundays ago, I packed up my wife and son and took off to the Mariner's Museum located up the road in Newport News, Virginia. I had been planning a trip to the museum for years, but never got around to it. Having visited today, I could kick myself for not having visited earlier.

The museum is one of the premier attractions in the Hampton Roads area and prides itself as the home of the original turret of the USS Monitor. The famous battle between "the Monitor and the Merrimac" occurred only a short distance away from the museum. (ed. it was actually a battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, which was remodeled from the captured USS Merrimac into a gunship).

The visit turned out to be much more. The miniature ship collection of August Crabtree is purported to be one of the finest, if not the finest, miniature ship collections in the world. It was truly awesome, and I had no idea that the museum housed this outstanding exhibit.

There were entire sections covering World War 2, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, and even the Napoleonic Wars (with a huge section dedicated to Admiral Nelson).

This is just part one of the blog post, focusing on the entrance and the museum's section covering the famous battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia.

If you are in the area, you must visit this museum. You will not be disappointed. These pictures do not do the museum justice; it really is a hidden gem in Tidewater, Virginia.

As we entered the museum, we were met with several interesting artifacts.

The entrance to the museum, guarded by 2 Spanish harbor cannon

This Spanish 24 lb cannon guarded Fortress Cabana in Havana Cuba and is dated 1721 and displays the coat of arms of Phiulip V, King of Spain

This beauty also helped guard Fortress Cabana and is dated 1746. It displays the coat of arms of Spanish King Ferdinand VI

Upon entering the museum, you are greeted with the figurehead of the HMS Formidable, dated 1825

The Eagle Figurehead of the USS Lancaster, circa 1881

The jewel of the museum is its USS Monitor section, housing items and educational materials of both the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia.

Entering the American Civil War section, here is a 9" Dahlgren gun from the CSS Virginia that was shot away by the USS Cumberland

The USS Monitor's Engine Room Clock

A full scale model of the CSS Virginia

Personal items purportedly owned by the Captain of the CSS Virginia

The museum has a myriad of educational displays posted throughout

More detailed info on the CSS Virginia, including the ship's wheel

A reconstruction on what the USS Monitor's turret looked like when discovered

A modern-day view the turret house

Built by the Newport News Shipyard, this full-scale reconstruction of the USS Monitor lies outside the doors

The actual turret of the USS Monitor is painstakingly preserved

These pictures really do not do the museum justice. The Mariner's Museum is an incredible national treasure. An up-close and personal visit is highly recommended. The pictures above are not to be used for any commercial purposes and are meant to merely educate and entice others to visit this superb museum. 

Next:  The Crabtree collection, the Napoleonic Wars, and other eras