At Any Cost: Metz 1870 – A Day of Battle – Session 2, Part I – Ordres, contre-ordres et désordres

Other June 4, 2019 0
At Any Cost: Metz 1870 – A Day of Battle – Session 2, Part I – Ordres, contre-ordres et désordres

By Josef Tham (with permission):

I’m at it again! For a brief background of the scenario, game system, victory conditions and forces involved I refer the reader to my previous session.

Let’s just say that this was a very different battle! This turned out to be as much a battle of maneuver as of firepower. In my previous session, things had moved more or less in historical tracks, mostly because I based both sides’ strategies on what had happened historically. In this new session, I took both sides on a wild alternate history ride!

As always, I recorded and took pictures as the events happened, with no benefit of hindsight in my comments/analysis. I divided the descriptions by geographical location, but apart from that events were recorded in the order they happened.

1. Intro
2. French Plans
3. Prussian Plans
4. The Battle, 8 am to 9 pm
5. Final Result
6. Comparison to Historical and Previous Session Outcomes

My first attempt at the scenario ended up a French Minor Victory when some leaderless Prussian Guard cavalry decided to skedaddle, leaving the Verdun Road exit hex Control Marker for French cavalry to take.

It was a pretty conservative game, with the French deploying pretty much as they did historically, only with more determination right up until the evening when a previously effective Bazaine succumbed to very historical defeatism.

This time I want to try out different things!

To recap, the Mandatory hexes the French need to control to avoid defeat are Rezonville to the east/right and Jarny to the north/top, with an instant defeat if the Prussians manage to put a unit in Gravelotte, even further to the east/right.

The Prussian Mandatory hexes are Mars-la-Tour (both hexes of the town) and Puxieux to the south-west/bottom left, with an instant defeat if the French take all three southern/bottom map edge road exit hexes.

If both sides control their Mandatory Hexes you count Minor Victory Hexes, meaning the Verdun Road exit hex, Bruville, Tronville, Vionville and Flavigny, all of them at or near one of the Major Roads.

All you really need to understand is that this scenario is about control of the two Major Roads going from Gravelotte on the right to their exit hexes on the left map-edge. Marshal Bazaine’s French army has left Metz (off-map to the right) and plans to join up with another French army at Verdun (off-map to the left). The appearance of Prussians on his left flank means he has to gain control of the roads/escape paths, while he also has to protect his line-of-communications back to Metz where most of his supplies and trains/rear echelons have yet to leave due to traffic jams.

French Plans – “Ordres, contre-ordres et désordres”
A couple of big questions when deciding on the order in which to activate the French formations are

1) what to do with the distant IV Corps (green), and

2) how to make sure Jarny (the French Mandatory hex in the north-west a dozen hexes north of Mars-la-Tour) doesn’t fall to a surprise advance by the Prussians, probably to one of the cavalry divisions.

Rezonville (the other Mandatory hex) feels pretty safe unless the French totally abandons the place and are then out-marched by the small Prussian formations arriving by the southern Gorze road.

Last time I sent IV Corps (green) all the way to Mars-la-Tour, a ten-hour march just to get to the Fond de la Cuve ravine, and then another two to three hours to get the whole corps across the bridge and properly deployed for an attack on the town. Even starting on the 9 am turn (the earliest possible) and avoiding a potential traffic jam with III Corps (red) it wasn’t ready to assault the town until Dusk (9 pm) and was then foiled by the Bazaine’s Malaise chit.

If I sent IV Corps south instead, the foremost infantry brigade would reach Rezonville six hours after first activating, and would then have a good Major Road for any further marching to the west before deploying against whatever Prussian defenses still stood (Vionville would be another hour and a half by road column, Mars-la-Tour yet another couple of hours). The corps would also have the option before reaching Rezonville (about four hours after activation, when reaching the Malmaison area) to make a right-wheel and use the northern Major Road to Jarny if the situation required it (a journey of about eight hours in total).

So I’m thinking I’ll first activate Frossard’s II Corps (khaki) at 9 am to grab Flavigny as soon as possible, then set LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) on its way, hopefully, to reach Mars-la-Tour before the first Prussian X Corps (green) units do. Then at 11 pm, I would activate Ladmirault’s IV Corps (green), sending it south as outlined above. Next would be Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow) to take Vionville, followed by the Imperial Guard (purple) and Army Reserve Artillery (white) which I would send straight into the fight, hoping to push a three-corps advance (II, VI, and IG) all the way to Tronville or even Puxieux, knowing IV Corps (green) would be coming up to cover Rezonville or even to add further weight to the attack. I pretty much expect at least one French corps to be incapable of further offensive operations by then (probably poor Frossard’s II Corps) so it’s an option to retire that corps to recover at and protect Rezonville while IV Corps pushes on. The two French cavalry divisions would be last to activate, at 3 and 4 pm.

Sending Ladmirault’s IV Corps (green) toward the Mars-la-Tour/Jarny area is undoubtedly the “safe” option, but I’ve already done that…

I’m hoping the quick capture of Mars-la-Tour will give the Prussians enough to worry about, especially with their right under heavy pressure as well, that they do not even think about sending a cavalry division to oust du Barail’s 1st Reserve Cavalry Division from Jarny for a while. That said, I don’t expect LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) to manage to hold Mars-la-Tour against a determined Prussian counter-push, probably ending up bled out and ineffective sooner or later, so Jarny will really only be protected by du Barail’s measly single cavalry brigade and one horse artillery unit toward the end of the day. Sure, there is always the option of sending IV Corps there and retire one of the fought-out French corps in the Flavigny area to Rezonville in time to handle Goeben’s and Manstein’s arrival, but I’d like to see both what Ladmirault can do in the center and what the Prussians can do in the north-west if given an opportunity.

(A thought occurred to me… the Imperial Guard (purple) is the fastest-marching French formation on the map, apart from the pure-cavalry ones; maybe it would be possible to use it in the attack to pummel Alvensleben alongside II (khaki) and VI (yellow) Corps for the first few turns after its activation at 1 pm, then have it go north and west as soon as IV Corps (green) came up to add its weight to any further attacks at about 4 pm. I’d probably have to leave the slower artillery and any battleworn (and thus slower) guardsmen infantry brigades behind but the Imperial Guard cavalry, horse artillery, and fresh brigades could go from Vionville to Jarny in three or four turns, possibly getting there in time to save Jarny before dark if there were any Prussian cavalry around. It’d require good timing and an absence of command difficulties…)

So, barring any excessive frequencies of unusual Fog of War Events (like Lull in the Battle) or Bazaine’s Malaise chits taking effect I’d expect LeBoeuf’s III Corps to reach the outskirts of Mars-la-Tour at about 2 pm, and Ladmirault’s IV Corps forwardmost brigade to show up at Rezonville at around 4 pm, early enough to get into action (and also just before Goeben and Manstein).

Tactically I’ll try to use Defensive Posture as much as possible, getting to rally often and keeping my infantry and mitrailleuses at their optimum two-hex range. If the Prussians get dug in at some town I’ll try to form stacks of either infantry or artillery for combined fire of sufficient strength to handle it. (A mitrailleuse unit is often as good as another brigade in a stack but imagine getting a couple of SP 5 or 6 infantry brigades together! And a couple of divisional artillery units with mitrailleuses stacked together could get one artillery and one rifle attack at SP about 6 and 8 respectively.)

For Planned Event chits I’ll start off with Inspirational Leadership to rally any battered French units in order to slow down the first Prussian rush toward Vionville and Flavigny. I’ll then switch to Command Initiative to prevent a Prussian formation from going into Aggressive Posture and overrunning any still weakly defended objectives before the French have gotten their formations properly activated and into the fight. When I need to dig any stubborn Prussians out of Hasty Works or Town hexes I’ll switch to Prussian Aggressive Tactics.

Prussian Plans – “It is a delusion to imagine that a plan of campaign can be laid down far ahead and fulfilled with exactitude.” (Moltke)

It’s hard to make plans for the Prussians. Your units arrive piecemeal and managing to get to a vital hex first can easily decide the outcome locally. Once you get enough guns to form those wonderful Deathstar artillery stacks you can destroy the French in huge numbers, but you’ll always be desperately short of infantry to take and hold those important towns. As before I’ll invest heavily on the Prussian Reinforcement and Prussian Aggressiveness tracks to get units on-map and then keep them from committing suicide.

As soon as it becomes obvious only a single French corps will go for Mars-la-Tour I’ll see if it’s possible to spread Voigts-Rhetz’s X Corps (green) out a bit, taking advantage of the HQ’s excellent Command Range and the roads extending it even further, to reinforce the Vionville area with at least part of one division. A lot depends on whether or not LeBoeuf (red) will arrive at Mars-la-Tour first and how much effort it’ll take to retake the town.

As outlined above, I want to see if either the 5th or 6th Prussian Cavalry Division can get to Jarny. That said, with the French going all aggressive over in the Flavigny/Vionville area they may not get the chance, either having to substitute for absent infantry formations or taking too many casualties to be able to budge even du Barail’s weak cavalry. At the very least I hope to manage to keep du Barail from taking the Verdun Road unopposed. If Voigts-Rhetz’s X Corps (green) manages to pummel LeBoeuf (red) into oblivion in the early afternoon (less likely unless its second division shows up very early) and the French haven’t advanced too far from the east it’s possible units from X Corps itself can manage either job, going north rather than east.

If the French manage to get a real steamroller going from the east, at some point I may end up simply having to abandon Vionville, Flavigny and possibly even Tronville, concentrating on holding the Prussian Mandatory hexes and going for Jarny, gambling a Minor Defeat in the hope of gaining a Major Victory.

This option will look more attractive if the French quickly and strongly occupy both Vionville and Flavigny, and if it also becomes obvious that just a single corps (LeBoef’s III Corps) will be going for Mars-la-Tour (or at least that any follow-on forces will be late in appearing). Then I could pull back to defend Puxieux, retake Mars-la-Tour and do my damndest to pound LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) into uselessness before making a rush for Jarny, hoping to hold it until dark against any relief forces coming up the Major Road from Doncourt.

(I’ll refer to the German units as “Prussian,” although if you want to get detailed about it Alvensleben’s III Corps was a Brandenburg formation and Voigts-Rhetz’s X Corps was a Hanover/Oldenburg/Brunswick/Westphalia formation, with Rheinbaben’s 5th Cav and Wilhelm’s 6th Cav equally mixed with regiments also from Magdeburg, Altmark, and Schleswig-Holstein, some of those areas quite recently added to the North German Confederation. Goeben’s VIII Corps was from the Rhine Provinces and Manstein’s IX Corps a Schleswig-Holstein/Hesse formation.)

(Clarification: This image is from my previous session, so the displayed order in which the French formations activate is NOT the one used in this session!) Gravelotte is where the two Major Roads meet in the center slightly to the right, occupied by the French Imperial Guard (purple) with the Army Reserve Artillery (white) nearby. Rezonville is where Frossard’s II Corps (khaki/ivory) is. Jarny is to the top left with the small French cavalry division (light green, plus a single purple counter). Mars-la-Tour is the large two-hex town bottom left, with Puxieux the smaller one-hex town five hexes below, both unoccupied.

The Morning Battle (8 am to 12 pm)
Rheinbaben’s 5th Cavalry Division (white) sent many shells into Vionville to little effect against Forton’s horse artillery (light blue), but the latter was then reduced and shaken by an assault from the Prussian Hussars. The French cuirassiers were then assaulted by their Prussian counterparts but despite being outnumbered and outflanked stood their ground, with both sides suffering a Morale Hit.

On the next turn (9 am), activating first, the Prussian cavalrymen embarrassed themselves by totally failing to budge their French adversaries, even though some cuirassiers turned away from their cavalry-on-cavalry fight to help the Hussars against the horse artillery gunners in Vionville. The remaining cuirassiers, no longer massively outnumbering their French foes, found themselves pushed back. The French Planned Event chit then made sure the French horse artillery gunners in the town rallied. The Bazaine’s Malaise chit resulted in Frossard’s II Corps (khaki) failing to respond quickly, so Flavigny remained unoccupied so far. The 9 am turn ended well for the Prussians, with Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) showing up in its entirety the next turn (a single chit on the Prussian Reinforcements track, but a lucky roll).

The 10 am turn turned out to be very weird; the first chit drawn was the FOW Chit, which resulted in a Lull in the Battle. With all of Alvensleben’s III Corps plus William’s 6th Cavalry Division activating after that, their units ended up placed on the map edge hexes when their formation activated, were then allowed to fire, but then stayed there (the III Corps units entering at 1429 only barely fitted onto the entry and closest adjacent hexes), at least that’s how I interpreted the entry rules when the arriving formation is Degraded, checking the Updated Errata & FAQ.

Image 10 am

Rheinbaben’s 5th Cav (white) is attacking Vionville while the early-arriving reinforcements from Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) and Wilhelm’s 6th Cav (dark green) find themselves delayed by a Lull in the Battle.

The French II and III Corps had nothing to shoot at and weren’t allowed to move. Rheinbaben’s horse artillery activated twice (once with the Prussian CIC chit) and reduced the French cuirassiers who had just chased off some of the Prussian cavalry. That unit was then finished off by III Corps horse artillery, firing at long range. Stulpnagel’s divisional artillery (yellow) managed to Shake the better part of Bataille’s division from II Corps (khaki), firing at maximum range.

This turn of events means that the race for Vionville and Flavigny was not yet decided, despite the early activation of Frossard’s II Corps (khaki), and that LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) may not reach Mars-la-Tour before Voigts-Rhetz’s X Corps (green).

I had believed the early arrival of Alvensleben’s HQ meant I would be able to put even the easternmost III Corps units (yellow) in Command Range, but now half the corps would start the 11 am turn OOC.

At 11 am both Wilhelm’s 6th Cavalry Division (dark green) and Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) got into the fight, Wilhelm’s horse artillery occupying Flavigny and Stulpnagel’s 9th brigade not quite managing to link up with the rest of its parent formation. It would have remained OOC for another turn if the CIC chit hadn’t been used to bring that strong brigade back into the fold (the rest of Stulpnagel’s division managed to get into Command Range with Maneuver and Cautious OOC chits drawn). Rheinbaben took a stray bullet (Leader Casualty FOW Event), his HQ ending up with a frankly horribly low Command Rating, immediately putting half his division OOC. Again, his cavalrymen and gunners failed to budge their French foes, the Hussars even chased off by Forton’s horse artillery in Vionville (A1 result and chose to retreat; the OOC cuirassiers also in contact ended up Frozen).

On the French side, Frossard’s II Corps deployed to take Flavigny under fire and removed some Morale Hits. Ladmirault’s IV Corps (green) got moving in a roughly southern direction. LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) HQ got saddled with the Bazaine’s Malaise chit but activated as the very last chit drawn and by then the Bazaine’s Leadership track was fully loaded and the roll easily passed, so that formation also got on its way toward the Fond de la Cuve and Mars-la-Tour beyond.

The End Turn Phase saw both the French CIC chit available next turn (despite only a single chit invested on the French Offensive Spirit track), and the rearguard (group F) of Voigts-Rhetz’s X Corps (green) putting on some extra speed for an earlier arrival during the afternoon (successful Prussian Reinforcements roll).

At 12 am, Rheinbaben suddenly showed up again, with a newly bandaged head and vengeance on his mind (the first chit drawn was another Leader Casualty FOW Event, the next chit drawn was 5th Cav and so the marker from the previous turn was removed). His men, encouraged by their general’s return, proceeded finally to clear out the few remaining French horse artillery gunners from Vionville and reduced Forton’s last remaining cavalry unit with cannon fire (although they then failed spectacularly in the ensuing assault, having to retreat). Prussian cuirassiers thus rode through the streets of Vionville.

Image 12 pm

Rheinbaben’s 5th Cav (white) has taken Vionville, Breaking most of Forton’s 3rd Reserve Cavalry Division (light blue), causing an HQ Overrun situation.

At Flavigny, the French CIC chit saw Verge’s division (khaki) bombard, assault and take the town from the broken Prussian 6th Cavalry horse artillery. Both of Verge’s brigades then built Hasty Works in and around Flavigny while Bataille’s division approached Vionville, its Chassepot fire Shaking the Prussian Cuirassiers in the town (Frossard passed his Bazaine’s Malaise roll upon activation). William’s cavalry, bereft of its horse artillery, decided to seek greener pastures further west (I saw little point in those two cavalry units sticking around). Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow) activated and began moving toward the small valley north of Vionville.

12 pm Flavigny

Frossard’s II Corps (khaki) has taken and heavily fortified (just what you’d expect from an old engineer) the town of Flavigny. LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) and Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow) are also on the move west. Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) is deploying but hasn’t yet managed to relieve Vionville, currently held only by Rheinbaben’s cavalry (white). Forton (light blue) has seen his entire 3rd Cav scattered and is reduced to a lonely HQ, not about to activate on his own for some time yet…

Ladmirault’s IV Corps (green) continued marching south. When Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) activated it was forced into a Defensive Posture by the French Planned Event Command Initiative chit. Seeing Flavigny taken and fortified, and also that his men would probably not reach Vionville in time to meet an attack by Bataille’s division, the general decided to pull back Stulpnagel’s division to the west and form a line defending the Tronville area. Buddenbrock’s division would continue toward Vionville and see if that situation could be salvaged, otherwise forming a defensive line just behind the town. The Corps Artillery remained in its place between the two divisions, blowing away the remains of Forton’s Dragoon cavalry (the orphan HQ was then stacked with the closest friendly unit; an infantry brigade from Bataille’s division).

Making that decision at this point seemed perfectly reasonable. Perhaps Vionville can be held for a while longer, but Ladmirault’s march direction made the French “Schwerpunkt” clear; the French were going to push at least three, possibly four, corps along the southern Major Road.

Image 12 pm Ladmirault

Ladmirault’s IV Corps (green) is also on the move, to the south-west. The Imperial Guard Corps (purple) and Army Reserve Artillery (white) under Bourbaki and Canu have yet to activate. Over in the east Metman’s OOC division from LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) is on the march along the Major Road.

In the west, the first division (Schwartzkoppen, minus one infantry brigade but with some cavalry) from X Corps (green) raced up the road toward Mars-la-Tour, its speed enhanced by the Prussian CIC chit (although foolishly I had placed the cavalry at the crossing of the stream, so the infantry and divisional artillery didn’t get as far as they could have). The first French III Corps cavalry and horse artillery units (red) had already crossed the Fond de la Cuve ravine on the other side of the town, although the infantry and remaining artillery were still some distance away.

The 12 am End Turn Phase again saw successful rolls on both the French Offensive Spirit and Prussian Reinforcements tracks, with the X Corps rearguard overtaking and bypassing its own Corps Artillery, and the French CIC chit making another appearance next turn.

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Game Resources:

At Any Cost: Metz 1870 article BGG version 1.0

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