27 July 1812
This morning we defiled through the dwellings of Tschudowka. Sabinov in front of us, cossacks come and goes with dispatches from him. We got a steady march in the perfect weather. Even the warm wind blowed gently at our backs making the day more like a picnic than a gruesome wartrail march. War can´t be better than this! Only the distant sound of guns firing could have set me in a better mood.
Deep into the forest under an great oak by a gentle stream we took rest for war-council. Cossack scouts with reports from Rudjna and beyond was coming back to our improvised camp, Rudjna is still in our hands, but "french cavalry in big shiny hats" was on the other side of the river. Probably cuirassiers or lancers. But scouting with heavy cavalry would be madness. Could their cavalry suffered that hard already? Probably as the french are the worst horse-handlers in europe. The grief when they took the Saxon cavalrys mounts! But, now as my contrymen are rallied against me, it would be the best if the french kept the fine saxon mounts! The poor cossack Vlastov has not returned but sure will, but adjutant Ilvaiski was back - telling gruesome tales of the french, they are numerous and ravaging the land in a most savage manner. As they done over all europe. Damned antediluvians. Acordning to Ilvaiski the wetlands were silent - they have eaten all the frogs and toads. I can´t tell if it was a russian joke or the truth.
The war-council proceeded. Visitski first used all his native russian charms and then put up a sudden rage on the question of the monastery in the east. Shouting of securing icons, priests and nuns he got several of the russian officers on his side. As the council went on I decided to let Visitski of to the monastery with his command. We must not let the church´s vast riches fall into the hands of the french. As the situation is I need to split my forces to carry out my orders, we will unite later on and take on the french. With the garrison of Rudnja and the sappers already sent of to destroy the bridge, Sabinov will be able to hold the french at Rudnja long enough, then unite with me and Visitski.
We have now split the force and trudged through the forests with the village of Aleskhi as our goal for the night. We have heard guns calling out in the north, the french are upon Rudnja! I pray the sappers got there in time. These woods seems without ending, we have not been able to reach Aleskhi but made bivouac in the middle of nowhere. The cannonade has silenced and I have no words from Sabinov or Visitski. After burning Aleshki we need to get back to the road to not be cut of if the french has crossed the river at Rudnja.
Finally! After almost two years of painting, modeling, testing the rules, designing a campaign and reading a lot about uniforms it was time to kick of this campaign. I have had made maybe six test-games and lost all but one. So I was very curious to see how this was going to roll… Was this going to be another walk-over for the french or should it promise something else for the campaign? Anyhow something great was in the air. We had designed the campaign so a first try to check the french possibly would be against a outnumbered russian garrison at Rudnja. We had had our river ready for just this encounter.
With luck (random event) it was possible for The Vanguard to reach Rudnja in time for the battle. I also sent my sappers to march "against the sound of the guns" to be able to destroy the bridge (we had ruled that the Rudnja garrison could not have any engineers/sappers as this would make it very easy for me to destroy the bridge without risk). I could have march with my whole Main Force to the "sound of the guns", but it would (probably!) have made for to nasty battle for the french - meeting superior forces over the river and it had not let me burn anything! Also, I thought that The Garrison, The Bridge detachment, The Vanguard and my sappers would be enough to keep the french on the other side of the river for as long it would take to destroy the bridge and burn Rudnja. I grasped for everything!
I dispatched two formations of cossacks to harass and delay the french descending on Rudnja. The umpire ruled it impossible to delay the french a whole turn because of their overwhelming force but let me delay the french for so long so that my sappers started to roll for arrival the first turn of the battle and not the third.
Destroying the Bridge
Me and the umpire also made up rules for blowing up the bridge during play, as I intended to do this, and it would certainly do for an exiting game (I did not know what I was asking for here…). To destroy the bridge I needed to deploy engineers at the bridge, they would need to have at least one wagon with explosives with them and they would need to complete a task with difficulty 60 to set the explosives. They would then need to complete a task with difficulty 5 to blow it up (set fuses and lit the fire). When the bridge explodes it would kill anyone on the bridge or within 6" from it.
Burning and looting
As I had not looted Rudnja yet, we decided that I would have the possibility to influence this during the game. All houses I burnt and livestock I cached would make it harder for the french to get supplies from Rudnja if they tried to loot it. We left four livestock models on each side of the river. This was to get some "scorched earth" into our game and lure me to deploy troops on the north (french) side of the river. Of course I would try to do this.
The russian force
My force were drawn from several different commands an units. The garrison, The bridge detachment and The Vanguard plus the sappers arriving during battle. This campaign just started up complicated. The garrison was made up of 40+2D6x4 points (the umpire rolled 10 on the 2D6) points:
2 groups of Carabiniers, drummer, level 3 leader
2 groups of Jägers, level 2 leader
1 group of Strelski level 1 leader
2 12 pdr Guns, level 2 leader
To stop the french, blast the bridge, burn all houses and collect all livestock my plan was as follows:
The battlefield seen from the west. The french arrives to the right and my russians defend the right river-bank. The bridge and island are clearly visible. I have one DP one the road behind the big house on the left side, one at the open space in front of the island and one at the road on the right side of the river.
Cossacks deploying on the north side of the river to secure livestock and burn houses. The game is on!
Jäger conscripts advance in line in front of the island. I positioned them far ahed so they would have short range to any island invaders. The first 12 pdr gun deploys as well. My idea was to bring 32 first fire, short range shots and canister to any french trying to venture from the woods at the island.
Cossacks in trouble! Two units of french voltigures opens fire at my sheep-handeling cossacks. I deploy strelsik in the big house to take away some fire from my cossacks and their valuable sheep, and with a little luck kill some french officer. They succeed with the latter but not with the first of these missions as the voltigur officer gets killed. However, this don't save the cossacks!
The french central attack unfolds. At the far side of the bridge the first Jäger formation deploys in it´s defense. At the road the second deploys and starts marching to the bridge. My second group of strelski deploys in the blue house to set up firing positions at the bridge from inside the house.
The french attack on my left (the island crossing). His conscript cannon-fodder leading the way and the elite carabinieris and chasseur voltigures coming after them. What should the lancers do?
To bolster my left flank (at this point I felt more secure about my positions at the bridge) I deployed the second gun there as well, forming an impressive (for being a Sharp Practice game!) battery there. The crew starts to handle the gunned forward to have a good field of fire on the island, and sharing casualties with the conscripts.
Showdown approaches in Rudnja. The sheep-catching cossacks at the left face a whole french formation of line infantry in addition to the voltigures. In the village the french are closing in at the Jägers. The strelski at the north side of the river starts to evacuate their position while setting the building on fire.
Presented and ready to receive the invaders with a warm volley! The first line of defense is in place (literally).
The guns moves forward towards their future targets on the island. They stop to shoot at lancers and voltigures at different occasions. Lieutenant Zotov checks his conscripts, how straight is this line serzhants!?
The Jäger conscripts at the bridge starts to break of to take up firing position at the left of the bridge, covering it. At last the commander of the garrison shows up with his carabinieris.
The sappers arrive as well (they took their time)! A duel of volleys has erupted in the village on the other side of the river. The cossacks and strelski over there better hurry, they are still collecting sheeps and burning things!
The sappers and a wagon with explosives has arrived, they start to fan out on both sides of the carabinieris which is the last defense of the bridge. The Jäger conscripts has taken up their place on the left of the bridge.
The french attack at the island. An hailstorm of lead awaits them. I am utterly confident to blast the french to pieces at the island. They are obscured by the woods so far.
Cossacks doing their thing, burning buildings and catching sheep! This as the first french column approaches the village.
Crashing volley! The french outshoots the Jägers at the bridge with use of Flags for double shock. This breaks them and they are forced to flee back over the bridge. This leaves most of my skirmishers alone one the north bank, with a strong column of french on their way down to the bridge.
While explosives are placed my russians are trying to evacuate the north side of the river. Two cossacks groups are on the bridge while the lone wounded cossack with his sheeps are at the same distance as the french! Now this heroic cossack starts to live his own life. We ably name him with inspiration from one of our club-mates and on-looker (as recent technology has has left him knowing he probably has some part Don-cossack in him) - the cossacks name is Andrei from Rostov.
Fleeing Jägers on their way to the safe side of the river, cossacks and a lone cossack leader with his sheep in tow rushes for the bridge. At the same time the sappers are working frantic on placing the charges to blew the bridge! So much are going on now it is hard to oversee what is actually happening. The real chaos of the battle of Rudnja has begun.
The fire-fight at the island has begun. Both sides exchange fire, but french Sharp Practice (on the carabinieris) and cover from the woods make them holding on. The cannon don´t have the immediate decisive effect I had thought, showering these conscripts with canister from two heavy guns don´t make them break and run!
The french attack the cossacks on the bridge from the rear, killing a bunch of them in the process. Andrei is lone man (with sheep) on the bridge. But at this time the sappers has come so long with their work that the french do not dare to venture out on the bridge. Some fire from the Jäger conscripts on the left also keep them in check. The strelskis is now in a really tight spot!
The man of the match has arrived in relatively safety! Andrei of Rostov has done his part for the fatherland.
The Hussars under Sabinov deploys to counter the lancers if they find a way over the river. Infantry reinforcements are also on their way. At the bridge there is now an evacuating operation to not be blown to pieces when the bridge is! The french stares from the other side.
The firefight continues. The artillery crew takes casualties from skirmish fire from the other side of the river. The conscript formation start to break as shock is mounting. Zotov does not seems to have what it takes to rally them!
Chaotic scene from the village as everyone seeks safety, the strelski are still on the bridge, the last russians to evacuate the north side! The french do not dare to follow. Over the head of the foremost left horse at the engineers wagon you may see the head of Lieutenant J. Ditterix, the commander of the sapper platoon, who is working with the fuses. Around here he understands that if he blow the bridge, he will probably blow himself up as well. As he is no suicidal officer (and don´t want to blast his countrymen retreating over the bridge) he decides to move once more to get out of harms way, anyhow, the french are just waiting on the other side. He just needs to lit the fuse, then the battle will be over and the french denied the bridge.
During these hectic moments, the line of Jäger conscripts opposite the island breaks and starts to withdraw from the battle. The pounding from the island (together with voltigures and cannon) has finally broke them. Zotov curses and screams but nothing can hold them back. The 12 pdr battery have taken casulaties but are still fully operational. All their canister is spent, but behind them the hussars moves up to protect the battery. Then as sudden as a thunderstroke. The french conscripts on the island storms over the river, regroup after the crossing and launches themselves over the battery, slaughtering the artillerists who defend their guns to the last man. The somewhat unorderly withdrawal directly turns into a rout, the hussars, with the commander of The Vanguard, also quits the battle to cover the rout. Lieutenant Ditterix concludes that he don´t want to sacrifice himself for the fatherland just yet and run for it together with his men, the fuse unlit. So ended the battle of Rudnja.
Chasseur de Cheval scouts the river east of the village. A group of skirmishers are on the other side to try keep them in check but to no avail, the horsemen do not need to try to force the river here, as the explosives are taken away the can use the bridge.
After the battle
This was as nerve-wrecking as an table-top game gets. It was an hilarious tight story and I could tell of many occasions which could have swinged the battle the other way. Jonas (my opponent) got 4 flag-cards to double-activate his conscripts so they could storm the gun-battery. Then I diced the highest Morale-loss on both the "bad things happen"-dice I took for loosing the guns. My morale was then 0. Game over.
Actually, of many mistakes done by me (including hauling the guns forward as well as having the Jäger conscripts in such a forward position) the biggest was to go on and try to catch the sheep at the western house. Andrei from Rostov´s cossack group gave me really heavy morale-losses while collecting the sheep and being shot up by the voltigures. If I had had only 1 morale left after the battery was lost I could have charge the conscripts with my hussars and then blow up the bridge. So Andrei from Rostov, if you had not been that greedy after sheep I could have won this, or I probably would! Anyhow, it was maybe good for the campaign that the french was not checked so early, time will tell. Other things that make this loss even greater is that the french took the bridge intact (and with a lot of gun-powder under it!) and that gives Jonas four extra campaign victory points, he also get 38 "kills" for taking the two heavy guns (another victory condition), so he position himself very strong on the very outset of the campaign.
Another fun thing is that during mid-game, Jonas was close to give in. I had my triple defense of the bridge, and a four-group formation with TWO heavy guns protecting the crossing at the island. I thought my defences were impregnable, and Jonas thought they were as well. But then we talked him into at least trying, and he went home eating dinner with his wife, then he came back and showed that the french seldom give in, they attack, attack, attack, and that´s what they did! This is only one of all times I´ve seen someone in a war-game thinking continuing is pointless and loss imminent, and then got themselves together and started to do the right things and not let an opportunity got lost, of course they then won the game. Wargames are complex affaires (that´s one of the fun things with them) and a lot of psychology between the players are involved. This was a most exiting battle, and even if it was one more add to my long string of losses, it was kind of a victory that it was so extremely close run!
Ok, as well I really think that it was an opportunity dribbled away. But it´s not often you pull of a game so spectacular and eventful as this, so I´m very pleased we´re finally on with the campaign and that the start was so thrilling! I want more!
The morning after the game I saw that there was dice lying in my bed! Probably I just fell asleep out of exhaustion when trying to dice for the casualties after coming home...
Shirty is a wargamer currently very into Napoleonics! His further plans in that era is Ottomans, Spanish, Persians, French, Saxons, Swedes and probably some Confederation of the Rhine troops. He also likes left wing politics, the sun and friends. Shirty dislikes right wing politics, dichotomies (some may sense a sort of self-critisim here!) and superhero movies.