Russian troops waiting in the fields
The First Clash
Just as expected, the initial contact between the French and Russian forces turned out to be around the village of Rudnja. The small group of houses form a strategic chokepoint, as it's bridge is the main path for an invading army. It would take far too much time to look for another crossing: the French need to smash their way through, no matter the cost.
Hector Bidet was not the most elegant military mind of his generation, but he understood that the cramped village streets and the wooden bridge across would make it hard to overpower a reinforced Russian garrison. The Frenchmen should attack head on, and rush for the bridge as soon as possible. This flanking force, under the watchful eye of Captain Bernard Obelisque of the 15th Légère Carabiniers was told to approach the outskirts of the village and attempt to ford the river if possible. If he could get across he would be well positioned to outflank any resistance in the village itself.
As the sun slowly started to descend, Hector could see a few strands of smoke rising from the chimneys in Rudnja. Tonight he would make his lodgings there, even if he had to swim across the river himself!
Rudnja Village. We did a lot of last ditch work on the terrain, as we started these river sections years ago but never finished them. They're still not finished (no water makes for a sorry river!), and we lacked enough river sections for this huge table. But we used some bushes to mark off an area where the river banks are covered in heavy undergrowth and unpassable. The Russians will deploy on the side with two buildings, and the French is the one with three..
The village was full of bounty, as the locals have not evacuated it yet. Sheep and cows milled around, ready to be grabbed by hungry soldiers on either side.
We improvised a plunder scenario for this game. For each base of animals captured, that side would gain extra loot in the form of supplies. Both sides can also try to set fire to buildings, with each building set ablaze during the game decreasing the available pillage from this campaign grid.
The Russian forces are startled by the dust cloud of the incoming French, and spring to action first. A heavy cannon deploys outside the village, overlooking both the approach by the village and the small island.
Meanwhile, several groups of Cossacks run around inside the village, chasing any livestock they can find.
The first French units to reach the outskirts of the village are the voltigeurs led by the uncouth bastard Jack Dupond, who make their way towards musket range of the cannon. In the meantime, they exchange fire with one of the groups of Cossacks. The Cossacks in the sheep pen fire off a few stray shots, and poor Jack bend over as a bullet smashes through his stomach. In return, the remaining voltigeurs fire off a deadly hail, felling most of the Cossacks. The rapidly dwindling bunch of Russians decides to intently focus on the foodsource instead, picking the braying animals up one by one.
Pulled forward by the sound of battle, the first formation of French regular line infantry deploy. They start to march towards the village, Led by Hector himself.
Battle Lines Are Drawn
As the French forces starts to reach the village, the Russians reveal their real defensive perimeter in Rudnja. A formation of two line infantry units protects the bridge on the French side, while a unit of Strelski skirmishers man the windows of a building. These better trained skirmishers are well suited to cover the Cossack units, who can use the distraction to keep on looting. In the horizon, Hector can see a marching column of Russian reinforcements through his spying glass. How many enemies will be close enough to turn up before sunset?
Facing the defenders, the bulk of Hector's force starts marching. His own attack column of veteran line infantry march along the road, ready to push aside the smaller formation of Russians in front of them. A second company led by Captain Maurice Suave deploy in line, ready flush out the Strelski in the building. The French skirmishers continue to harass the "Sheep Cossacks", who despite being down to three men are still dodging bullets while strapping sheep to their increasingly burdened backpacks.
Meanwhile, the French flanking force stumbles forward through the dense crops outside the village. A company of fresh recruits are first in line and starts a slightly uneasy march towards the river crossing and the menacing Russian gun waiting on the other side. Behind them are the more well trained light infantry skirmishers and carabiniers, the equivalent to grenadiers and the toughest infantry available to Hector. A squadron from the 2e lanciers hang back, unsure if they should risk looking for a second place to ford the river.
The Russian defenders are prepared for this second prong of the French attack, and a line of Russian infantry set up to contest the crossing.
The French forces eventually reach the small forested island and are met with a shower of deadly projectiles. The Russians have prepared not just one, but TWO heavy cannon! The deadly 12-pounders pour canister fire onto the French recruits, who quickly have to learn how to seek any available cover among the trees. The seasoned carabiniers give them encouraging cheers as the Frenchmen form a haphazard firing line. To reach the guns across the river they need to give the Russian infantry a bloodied nose, or clearly they'll be shot up or chased off when they try to cross the river. But which line will hold out the longest? The numerically superior French in their light cover or the Russians, backed up by their deadly cannon?
To make matters worse, the increasingly worried Russians reinforce this side of the table even more. A squadron of cavalry rides forward to form a reserve in case any Frenchmen make it across the river. The Hussars have arrived!
The French lanciers were hit by a cannonball early on and have to stay put to calm their mounts down before approaching the river. If they can find a second crossing, they might be able to surprise the frantic Russian cannon crew. But as they stab their long lances in the water they reach far too deep, finding no solid ground. Meanwhile, the French and Russian firing lines exchange deadly volleys, filling the air with a dense cloud of smoke and agonized screams on both sides.
The French recruits slowly form up from marching column. They are supported by fierce carabiniers in their bearskin hats, taking their share of the flying lead to keep the pressure from overpowering the untested soldiers.
Forming a combined firing line.
Shock and casualties start to pile up on both sides but the Russians seem to take a tad more, at least for now....
Back in the village proper, the French are determined to fight their way through the firing line waiting by the bridge. The Russian strelski skirmishers and cossacks set fire to the houses and prepare to get back across the bridge before they are cut off. The French send skirmishers and the light cavalry chasseurs-a-cheval around the village, to see if they can catch any Russian looters.
The Cossack leader is bleeding from a severe bullet wound. Together with a single trusted, yet incredibly stressed, henchman he refuses to budge. The sheep pen has turned into a pile of dead and wounded Cossacks - how can they possibly remain steadfast enough to still be gathering the sheep? But ice and a burning need for mutton runs in their veins.
The small formation of Russian regulars try to keep Hector contained as he pushes his company along the road, regimental flag waving in the wind. With gun presented, their leader waits for the right time to start firing their first volley.
One group of Cossacks, led by a mounted noble, has been left largely unscathed. They sneak around a building to reach the bridge with their share of the local sheep population. They flinch and instinctively push their bodies against the wooden wall when a massive volley from the French fill the street with thunder, smoke an mayhem, crippling the company of Russian regulars. Will they hold out for much longer?
Zut Alors! Incredulous French voltigeurs watch as the remaining Cossacks in the sheep pen, despite several bullet wounds, manage to wrestle the last sheep to the ground. In an impressive show of strength, both men raise a sheep on each shoulder, and zips behind the corner of the building. Will they finally make their escape?
Yet another salvo echoes through the street, and the inexperienced Russian serfs cut their losses and flee across the bridge. The French have taken a few losses as well, but now the road to the bridge is clear. The three remaining units of Russian skirmishers are now in great danger of being cut off. But what's that big column of dark uniformed men, rapidly closing in from the other side?
A Gunpowder Plot
Unseen by the French due to the line of troops in the way, the Russians have arrived in force! A unit of elite carabiniers and some less experienced regulars have lined up on the other side of the bridge, ready to repell the invaders. On top of that two units of engineers have come along, deployed their wagon, and are now busy jumping into the river. With water up to their necks, they are ready to receive their deadly cargo from the remaining engineers - several barrels full of gunpowder!
If the Russians won't have control of the bridge, noone will! As the screeing company retreats, Hector grasps the situation. The battle is now literally a ticking time bomb!
The engineers steadily strap explosives to the bridge, while the large group of Cossack makes a break for safety. But the French, aiming to fight their way across the bridge, are already formed in column, ready to move.
The Russians across the river shout for the Cossacks to hurry across, but to their dismay the French column rushes into the exposed backs of the irregular troops! After a brief tallying of the Fisticuffs tables...
...the odds are not speaking in favour of the poor Cossacks. In Fisticuffs, or close combat, you determine the size of your dice pool based on things like troop quality and if you are well prepared for the combat. 5+ are kills, while 6+ also causes shock.
The bridge is strewn with the bodies of dead or wounded Cossacks, but several of them manage to flee across, draggin their loot with them. The Russians are now forming a solid wall on the other side of the bridge. To try to cross it with the Russian lines mostly unharmed and in good order would be suicidal. But the engineers are also working at a blinding pace, strapping powder kegs to the bridge with complete disregard to the occasional bullet whizzing by from the French side of the village.
In the middle of this chaos, both players cheer as the daring Cossack duo from the sheep pen rushes past the French column which is too surprised to react. Each man carries a pile of shocked sheep, their fleece blood-stained from the Cossacks own wounds as well as the stacks of bodies they have waded through.
The battle hangs in the balance as the engineer officer rolls out the fuse to the explosives. The Russians have taken heavy losses already and the men's courage is starting to waver. But the sun is setting, and the French can't keep up the attack for long. If the Russians can blow up the bridge and make an orderly retreat, any French victory would be hollow at best. As Hector stands in front of the bridge, unsure how to act, he is blissfully oblivious of one important fact:
He, and most of his company, is standing well within the blast radius of the explosives strapped around the bridge supports.
A Last Hurrah
As the engineers prepare to finish their work and evacuate the blast zone, it's now obvious that the last chance for the French is a push across the ford. The Russian commander sends some of his troops by the bridge on a march to join up the ford defenders, while the French voltigeur skirmishers move forward. Positioned on the river bank, they fire at the cannon crews, causing some shock...
...and a retaliatory spray of canister that leaves the formation virtually useless, as the men are largely unhurt but scared witless, scramling to find any cover possible.
But things are looking better around the small island. The Russian officer can be heard cursing, as his dull-witted conscripts are slow to act, while it's hard to imagine that the French company facing them are fighting their first battle. Coldblooded and calm, they take care to use the small rugged trees as cover while they reload their muskets. They are rewarded by a surprising amount of protection from the worst effects of the Russian volleys and canister.
The despicable captain Henry Peste carefully eyes the opposite river bank. He can see that the Russian infantry facing him is wavering, on the brink of backing off. He barks a set of short commands to his sergeants and corporals, and they get ready to carry out a daring scheme.
Just seconds before Henry spies the Russian artillery crew light the fuse for next barrage, he orders his men to fire a concentrated volley. The receiving line of Russian recruits is disordered, with many men leaving the ranks in the dense smoke.
"Duck!" His men are barely able to get back into cover as the Russian guns belch another deadly load of canister at them, mostly hitting dirt and tree trunks.
Henry doesn't even take time to dust off his coat before he waves his sabre and shouts to his men. "Advance! Advance!" His NCOs drag the dazed men to their feet and they quickly wade into the shallow water.
The Russians are taken completely unprepared by the quick attack. The artillery crews frantically tries to reload for another shot, but the French comes at them much faster than they thought possible. The artillerymen can't get help from the disrupted infantry on their flank or the the infantry marching on from the village. To their dismay, the hussars behind them seem unable to grasp the danger as the dense smoke hides the French column.
I managed to roll extremely well for the move across the river, and then spent four flag cards to be able to move the unit twice in the same turn. It was a desperate gamble to try to cause more morale hits on the Russians and force their morale to zero before they blow up the bridge, and my commander with it. Will it pay off?
The surviving French crash into the artillery crews in an attack column, craving revenge for the intense canister fire they suffered on the island. The Russian crews fight bravely, beating several French fusiliers unconscious with their ramrods, but are eventually overpowered by sheer numbers.
With the crews fleeing through their ranks, the Russian hussar corporal turns to his commander - "Should we charge?"
"No, we turn back. Napoleon's wretches are pouring across the river, and we can't afford this battle any longer. We will make them pay another day."
As the Russians by the ford starts to retreat, a ripple goes through the rest of the army. Unit by unit, they start to pull back. The engineers hurry to load all their gear on the wagon to avoid being left behind. The fuse to the explosives on the bridge is left unlit amid all the confusion.
What could have been a rout turns into an orderly retreat. The Frenchmen by the bridge are wary to pursue, afraid that the bridge could explode at any second. Henry's men by the ford are completely exhausted and spend any remaining ounce of energy on celebrating the two captured guns.
The night settles over Rudnja, lit by the burning houses. Today was a very important victory. The road across the river is cleared of enemies, and the French commanders are now ready to spread out and pillage the Russian countryside on the other side.
Hero of the day: Captain Henry Peste, a man as courageous as he is unlikable. Without his surge across the river, with the least experienced men in the French force none the less, the Russians would clearly blow up the bridge and made any victory a very hollow one.
Well, that was a close call. This was a very tricky battle from the start and it played out as I feared, with the Russians creating two deadly bottlenecks. My superior numbers were not really helping me as I could barely get half a dozen units into firing range anyway.
In the end I managed to squeeze in a victory, but it was down to the wire. Shirty had to roll two morale tests after losing the two cannon crews and getting his artillery officer injured. He managed to roll the maximum morale loss on both, reaching 0 army morale and ending the game. Otherwise, I would clearly have been counter-charged with the cavalry next turn. This would give the Russian units enough time to complete their evacuation of the blast zone, enabling them to blow up the bridge and ruin my day.
The reason I won was in the end that the Russians had several small units and formations, and I managed to rout or damage enough of them to cause a lot of morale hits. That's a big downside of running many small formations in SP2.
Another lesson was just how deadly canister fire can be. It's a great defensive tool, and the only reason my infantry survived was that they fought from light cover, which canister fire doesn't negate (unlike solid shot).
With a doctor available and ready to get busy and my side victorious, chances were higher that my casualties would be wounded instead of killed. Wounded men will either get better and return to their companies or pass away as the campaign progresses.
The strapping Lieutenant of the voltigeurs that got shot in the very start of the game, Jack Dupond, was killed outright! One man has risen from the rank, replacing him with a status 1 leader. I knew being a tall skirmisher was a death sentence.
The lancers lost 5 men to cannon fire. 1 was killed, 2 were wounded, and 3 could return to duty after tending to their minor wounds or finding remounts.
The veteran line infantry fighting by the bridge lost 5 men. 3 were killed, 2 returned to duty.
The voltigeurs skirmishing opposite the cannon lost 3 men. 1 was killed, 1 wounded, and 1 ready to fight again.
The light infantry skirmishers fighting alongside them by the crossing lost 4 men. 1 was killed, 1 was wounded, and the other 2 could return to duty.
The recruits charging across the river lost 7 men. 3 were killed, 1 was wounded, and the other 3 were quickly in fighting shape again.
The carabiniers fighting from the island lost 3 men. 1 was killed, 1 wounded, 1 ready for battle again.
Total losses: 1 officer killed, 10 enlisted killed, 6 enlisted wounded.