At Any Cost: Metz 1870: An After-Action-Report – Part III – Early Morning Action

Other April 20, 2019 0
At Any Cost: Metz 1870: An After-Action-Report – Part III – Early Morning Action

Part III


By Josef Tham

Situation At Set-Up

As can be seen, the only Prussian formation starting on the map is Rheinbaben’s 5th Cavalry Division, although Wilhelm’s 6th Cavalry Division and most of Alvensleben’s III Corps will arrive in the next few hours from the south. Voigts-Rhetz’s X Corps will arrive in dribs and drabs during noon and early afternoon, also from the south. During the late afternoon two further corps (although very small ones, each a division or less in size) will arrive in the shape of Goeben’s VIII and Manstein’s IX Corps, these coming up from the valley leading to Rezonville on the right, while most of the earlier-arriving formations have arrived closer to the Gravelotte-Vionville area on the center-left side of the battlefield.

Some Prussian units may be made to arrive earlier, through investing chits on the Prussian Reinforcements track.

The French corps and cavalry divisions are already on the map at the start, although they activate at a rate of one additional corps per turn, in any order decided by the French player, the first during the 9 am turn, the last formation not activating until mid-afternoon. A couple of extra divisions show up around noon to reinforce III and IV Corps, but they’ll be a long time Out Of Command (OOC) before joining their parent formations and may end up not reaching any fighting at all.

This naturally leads to combat tending to start in the Flavigny area on the center-right, then spreading north and west as formations arrive, finally also involving the east as the last Prussian units either approach Rezonville or turn elsewhere.

The set-up and (on the Game Turn Track) the order in which reinforcements arrive and in which I intend to activate the French formations (IV, II, III, VI, Imperial Guard, Reserve Artillery, 1st Cav and 3rd Cav).

My preliminary ideas about the order in which to activate the French formations involve starting with Ladmirault’s IV Corps (green) in order to get it moving as fast as possible as it’ll require about ten turns of marching before it reaches the Mars-la-Tour area. Then I’ll move Frossard’s II Corps (khaki) into Flavigny before launching LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) against Mars-la-Tour, followed by Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow) against Vionville. The Imperial Guard (purple) and Army Reserve Artillery (white) will follow to protect Rezonville. The cavalry divisions do not have priority; I don’t expect Forton (light blue) to survive long, while DuBarail (light green) may have a go at the “to Verdun” road exit hex (0125) if there are no Prussians in the way.

French and Prussian Plans
The French will activate their formations in the order described under the picture above, hoping to overwhelm Mars-la-Tour (or possibly by-pass it to take Puxieux) with III (red) and IV (green) Corps towards the end of the day. The French II (khaki) and VI (yellow) Corps will hopefully manage to both take and hold Flavigny and Vionville. The Imperial Guard (purple), supported by the Army Reserve Artillery (white) should be enough to protect Rezonville. Any surprise Prussian attacks against Jarny will hopefully be discouraged by the early arrival of IV Corps (green), and the Major Road from Gravelotte could aid the French in quickly countering such an attack. I’ll probably invest chits on the Bazaine’s Leadership track to avoid having formations immobilized by the Bazaine’s Malaise chit, pick Inspirational Leadership as the Planned Event chit at the start (so I’ll be able to rally units at critical spots to delay a Prussian advance), then probably Command Initiative (forcing an enemy HQ to change Posture) rather than Prussian Aggressive Tactics (forcing a Prussian unit to assault a nearby French-held hex) although I hope the latter will show up frequently anyway. In case the Prussians really get dug in someplace I’ll probably go with Prussian Aggressive Tactics (extremely annoying when a dug-in infantry brigade decides to leave cover and advance toward the enemy).

I really don’t have any plans for the Prussians except to try to invest chits heavily on the Prussian Reinforcements track, use the artillery as much as possible rather than expose the preciously few infantry brigades to rifle/mitrailleuse fire, and pray for the Bazaine’s Malaise chit to work out as often as possible.

Early Morning Action (8-10 am)

The Surprise Turn (8 am) resulted in the French cuirassier unit being reduced and retreating when charged by both heavy Prussian units (one successful Cavalry Charge, the other unit supporting and flanking), and the French horse artillery barely hanging on in Vionville (first disrupted by Prussian fire, then assaulted by the Prussian light cavalry unit).

At 9 am the French IV Corps (green) set off immediately (it was the first chit drawn). Even though rallied by an Inspirational Leadership chit the remaining French horse artillery in Vionville was bombarded and assaulted out of existence and a Prussian cavalry unit took possession of the town. The medium French cavalry successfully Opportunity Charged some Prussians cuirassiers moving to assault them, sending them back bloodied in retreat (D2* result). This also put the Prussian cavalry in and around Vionville OOC.

Prussian cuirassiers have taken Vionville and Rheinbaben wants to reinforce them with his horse artillery, but there are still some French cavalrymen in the way.

Rolls on both the Prussian Reinforcements and French Offensive Spirit tracks failed during the 9 am End Turn Phase.

At 10 am the French IV Corps (green) continued its march at a brisk pace. The first units (two brigades, one artillery unit) of Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) entered the map from the south, as did Wilhelm’s 6th Cavalry Division, all of them hurrying towards Flavigny. Wilhelm’s horse artillery unit actually entered the town, but the other cavalrymen held back, making sure to stay out of range of the Chassepot rifles of the nearby French II Corps (khaki). The Prussian CIC chit then saw Stulpnagel’s 9th brigade occupying Flavigny, while its divisional artillery deployed on the heights just to the south of the town.

Undaunted by this sudden rush of Prussian men and guns to their objective, Frossard’s II Corps (khaki) deployed in a wide line before the town, preparing to take it under heavy fire. Sadly, the old engineer general was unhorsed by a Prussian shell and taken to the rear, unconscious (FOW Leader Casualty Event). The shells came from Rheinbaben’s 5th Cavalry Division, some long-range shots that otherwise failed to inflict any damage. The OOC Prussian cavalrymen around Vionville maneuvered to within Command Range of their HQ again, while the battleworn heavy unit moved away from the French cavalry that had just devastated it to unmask the Prussian guns. Still, it looked like Forton’s remaining cavalry (light blue) would keep Rheinbaben from putting those same guns inside the walls of Vionville for another turn at least, by which time Frossard’s vengeful replacement might well have already retaken the town for France. Not bad for a formation that would probably not even activate until 4 pm!

The Bazaine’s Malaise chit had now twice failed to have its full effect, being drawn so late that it was instead put on the Command Event Track. This time, at the 10 am turn End Phase, the roll for Prussian Reinforcements was successful, and the X Corps (green) rearguard picked up its marching pace (the 4 pm F group moved up to 3 pm).

The French CIC chit would not appear for the 11 am turn, but the Prussian Aggressive Tactics chit became the Planned Event with an eye to the Prussian brigade in Flavigny. Next formation to activate would be LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red), followed by Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow) at 12 am.

New units to show up for 11 am included the remaining Prussian III Corps (yellow) units (another division of infantry with considerable artillery and some cavalry) appearing from the map-edge south of Tronville, and Metman’s division from the French III Corps (red) appearing a considerable distance away at the eastern map edge.

The Prussian Cavalry Holds Hard! (11 am-12 pm)

Some Thoughts So Far
The situation looks pretty grim for the Prussians. The French have not suffered from any hesitation or indecision in making straight for them. Although Flavigny is held by both infantry and horse artillery the whole French II Corps (khaki) is set to blast the town to smithereens, with VI Corps (yellow) just behind. Vionville is held by just a single Prussian cavalry unit, the rest of the 5th Cavalry Division (white) delayed by the stubborn French cavalry from Forton’s division (light blue).

The Prussian CIC chit may give Stulpnagel’s 10th brigade time to build Hasty Works before the French onslaught, but an untimely appearance of the Prussian Aggressive Tactics chit could easily undo the whole defense (it’s pretty much a given that the French chose that chit as their Planned Event at this point, as Command Initiative as an alternative would probably result in a less disastrous outcome). So the Prussians will probably invest pretty much anything they have on the Prussian Aggressiveness track during the first part of the turn to prevent that if possible.

Flavigny In Peril
After a Prussian Event chit which went on the Prussian Aggressiveness track, the first formation to activate was Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow), the main part of which was just arriving on-map, including its HQ. The already previously arrived and now OOC infantry brigades of Stulpnagel’s division remained Frozen in place while its artillery Maneuvered itself out of effective range of the closest French batteries.

Wilhelm’s 6th Cavalry Division (dark green) pulled its cavalry back from Flavigny into a small valley where they’d be out of sight of French gunners. Its horse artillery managed to put a Morale Hit on one of Frossard’s brigades as well as his Corps Artillery (khaki). Rheinbaben’s 5th Cavalry Division (white) reduced and disrupted Forton’s medium cavalry (light blue) with cannon fire, then sent both it and the few remaining French cuirassiers (both now at cadre strength) retreating, though neither unit was broken.

When the Prussian Aggressive Tactics chit inevitably showed up the Prussians had only a single chit on the Prussian Aggressiveness track due to a Degrade the Next Chit FOW Event that had negated a second chit that would otherwise have ended up there. Of course, the roll to negate the foolishness failed and Stulpnagel’s 10th brigade (yellow) ventured out of Flavigny, straight into the waiting French guns… it was unsurprisingly thoroughly broken and scattered when the smoke cleared.

The leading elements of LeBoeuf’s III Corps reached the Bruville bridge while Metman’s division of the same corps entered the map far to the east.

The Heroes of the 6th Cav
By the time Frossard’s II Corps (khaki) activated, as the very last formation of the 11 am turn, the Bazaine’s Leadership track was fully loaded and Frossard easily passed the roll to negate the Bazaine’s Malaise chit (put there very early but only now becoming relevant).

The Prussian horse artillery in Flavigny fought magnificently, weathering the storm of bullets and shells without flinching, helped by the Hasty Works. They then disrupted one advancing brigade and repulsed both that and one more when the French assaulted the town from two sides. (Leading French brigade SP 5 but Disrupted against SP 1½ for the horse artillery, so +2 column on the Assault CRT, shifted right three for odds, right two more for flanking, left two for better TCR and Hasty Works, for a total of +5, then rolled a 1 for A1(D1) result, the French choosing to retreat as the larger brigade would have become Battleworn if forced to take another hit.)

The II Corps cavalry charged the Prussian cuirassiers in Vionville (who failed to countercharge), beating them badly in the ensuing melee, although the Prussians refused to yield the town (ending up reduced and disrupted).

The 11 am End Phase resulted in no French CIC chit (no chits invested) and no extra Prussian Reinforcements (a single chit invested, failed roll). For the next turn, not seeing any Prussian brigades invitingly close, the French chose Command Initiative as their Planned Event, while the Prussians hoped Bazaine’s Malaise would finally have some actual effect next turn.

The situation at early noon, the 12 pm turn just about to start – the Prussian X Corps (green) hasn’t yet entered the field but Wilhelm’s 6th Cavalry Division (dark green) has taken possession of Flavigny. Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) tries to back the cavalrymen up, but his 10th brigade has just been wiped out when sallying from the town and the 6th Cavalry’s horse artillery has just survived a first massive assault, amazingly repulsing two French brigades. The French 3rd Reserve Cavalry Division (light blue) is scattered but Frossard’s II Corps (khaki) is heavily involved, with Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow) behind him. LeBoeuf’s III Corps (red) and Ladmirault’s IV Corps (green) still have some marching to do on their way to Mars-la-Tour to the west. The French Imperial Guard (purple) will be activated at 1 pm.

At 12 pm Rheinbaben’s 5th Cavalry Division (white) activated first; with a wild cavalry melee taking place around them (which only resulted in minor Prussian retreats against Frossard’s cavalry) his horse artillery rumbled into Vionville. Alvensleben activated his III Corps (yellow) again, moving the bulk of his forces in the direction of Vionville while sending his cavalry and HQ east to try to establish contact with the wayward Stulpnagel whose 9th brigade was still Frozen near the map edge. Stulpnagel’s divisional artillery manned up, however, and reduced Verge’s 1st brigade after that brigade’s failed assault on Flavigny.

Wilhelm’s 6th Cavalry Division (dark green) continued to celebrate triumphs of Prussian arms! One Enhance Next Chit activation, one Krupp’s Guns chit and the Prussian CIC chit later it had reduced Lapasset’s isolated divisional artillery with a cavalry charge (although the cuirassiers responsible were now standing exposed right next to Lapasset’s 1st brigade and the French Corps Artillery), and its plucky horse artillery in Flavigny had broken Verge’s 2nd brigade and divisional artillery.

Amazingly, the Prussian Cuirassiers survived the ensuing hail of fire from the surprised Corps artillery and Lapasset’s men alike without a scratch! The rest of Frossard’s fire from his II Corps (khaki) did equally little. When two French brigades again advanced (one already Shaken) and assaulted Flavigny they both ended up disrupted and only managed to put a Shaken marker on the defending horse artillery.

Wilhelm’s 6th Cavalry Division horse artillery (dark green) has just survived no less than two assaults in overwhelming strength from Frossard’s II Corps (khaki), one at 11 am and one at 12 pm. Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) tries to come to the rescue. Wilhelm’s cuirassiers are facing off with some of Frossard’s artillery. Rheinbaben’s 5th Cavalry Division horse artillery is holding Vionville, despite harassment from French cavalry.

Vionville in Peril
Frossard’s cavalry assaulted Rheinbaben’s horse artillery in Vionville (not having to endure any Defensive Fire as they were already adjacent) and put a Shaken marker on one of the Prussian units but almost ended up OOC next turn (with a Leader Casualty you really have to think about positioning HQs).

As heroically as the 5th and 6th Cavalry Divisions had held, it was clear this couldn’t last. It would be up to Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) to try to relieve the beleaguered cavalrymen, as Voigts-Rhetz’s X Corps (green) had only just entered the map and was on the way to Mars-la-Tours in any case. It would be several more hours until units from Goeben’s VIII Corps (brown) and Manstein’s IX Corps (orange) would show up.

The French III and IV Corps continued their long march toward Mars-la-Tours during the 12 pm turn as well, undisturbed by a uselessly late-arriving (again!) Bazaine’s Malaise chit. The only good thing about that chit so far is the number of counters the French have spent (mostly needlessly) to counter it.

LeBoeuf’s III Corps advance guard (red) has crossed the Fond de la Cuve ravine, in a race with Voigts-Rhetz’s X Corps (green), with Mars-la-Tour as the price. Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow) has its eyes set on Vionville, coming up on Frossard’s right (khaki).

Despite a fully loaded Prussian Reinforcements track the Prussians failed their roll during the End Phase! To rub salt into the wound the French succeeded with their French Offensive Spirit despite only a single chit on the track, so the French CIC chit would appear during the 1 pm turn! As would the Prussian Aggressive Tactics chit, chosen as the French Planned Event…

The Imperial Guard will be the next French formation to activate, followed by the Army Reserve Artillery.

The Flavigny Line Holds (1 pm)

Up until noon, the Prussians have done splendidly on the tactical level, giving Frossard’s II Corps (khaki) a bloody nose indeed (one brigade and one divisional artillery broke, one brigade and one small divisional artillery battleworn, one additional brigade disrupted), but on the operational level they’re facing a disaster! Not a single Bazaine’s Malaise chit has taken effect, so the French are coming on hard and fast, while only a single group of Prussian reinforcements have managed to get a move on once in four whole turns! The French III Corps (red) cavalry has crossed the Fond de la Cuve ravine near Mars-la-Tours and the IV Corps (green) will also hit that area later in the afternoon. It looks like Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) may be losing the race to relieve Wilhelms’ cavalry at Flavigny, while Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow) is approaching Vionville. The French Imperial Guard (purple) should be able to handle any Prussians coming up the road to Rezonville from the south.

The Imperial Guard, the fastest French formation on the map apart from the pure cavalry divisions, made it all the way to Rezonville in a single turn, using the excellent Major Road from Gravelotte.

Voigts-Rhetz’s X small Corps (green) made it to the outskirts of Mars-la-Tours just ahead of the French, its cavalry actually entering the western hex.

Alvensleben – Blows Given And Taken
Alvensleben’s III Corps (yellow) was lucky enough to activate before either of the two French corps facing it. His artillery handled Frossard’s infantry brigades roughly (khaki), leaving only a single brigade unscathed and breaking another, along with Lapasset’s already reduced artillery. One of Buddenbrock’s brigades hurled itself across a stream and up a slope against one of Bataille’s disrupted brigades, forcing it to retreat but then got a bit too enthusiastic about the whole charging thing and continued on against the rest of Bataille’s division, ending up in a cul-de-sac of French rifles and artillery… yup, the Prussian Aggressive Tactics chit again, and of course I failed the roll to ignore it and so yet another precious III Corps infantry unit was broken.

Canrobert’s VI Corps (yellow), its sights set on Vionville, set up on the slopes above the town, including forming something as unusual as a French grand battery (d’Villiers’ and Bisson’s divisional artillery units setting up in the same hex). When the French CIC chit showed up later d’Villiers’ division even pushed into the valley leading to Vionville, and his artillery broke the remains of one of 5th Cavalry Division’s (white) cuirassier brigades. When the Prussian cavalry got its turn it was under the influence of the Degrade Next Chit FOW Event, but its horse artillery in Vionville managed to disrupt the French grand battery stack on the heights (even with an Obscured LOS, shooting over the heads of some nearby cavalry).

Flavigny Relieved!
When Wilhelm’s heroic 6th Cavalry Division activated, it was well aware that its exhausted horse artillery needed a break (Shaken, Low Ammo) and withdrew it onto the heights above Flavigny. Its heavy cavalry also withdrew to the small valley where it couldn’t be seen by Frossard’s Corps Artillery. This retreat was not the French success Frossard had hoped for, as the Prussians had their CIC chit ready to activate, and Flavigny saw its Hasty Works re-occupied, this time by Stulpnagel’s remaining 9th brigade, but not before Stulpnagel’s divisional artillery had sent yet another broken French brigade retreating. Encouraged by this, Prussian skirmishers advanced boldly to put effective rifle fire on yet another French brigade, reducing it. Frossard (khaki) now had but a single fresh infantry brigade left!

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