AT ANY COST: METZ 1870 Event Chits (Provisional)

Hermann Luttmann May 27, 2014 0
AT ANY COST: METZ 1870 Event Chits (Provisional)

By Hermann Luttman

AT ANY COST: METZ 1870

FRENCH EVENT CHITS

Commander-in-Chief: The French player may immediately select any one French unit to activate, even if the unit is in the Available to Rebuild Box and even if it has already activated this turn. The unit selected conducts a normal Activation Phase and is considered to be In Command (regardless of the distance to its HQ unit) and under any one Order. All normal procedures follow thereafter under the limits of the chosen Order.

Marshal Francois Achille Bazaine, leader of the ill-fated Mexican Expedition in the1860’s and recently commander of III Corps, was the reluctant Commander-in-Chief of the French Army of the Rhine. Assigned the position by Emperor Napoleon III on August 12th

– partly because a weak-kneed but ultimately insightful Marshal Canrobert first refused it
– Bazaine took the reins of France’s last intact army and its last hope for victory. Unfortunately for the Second Empire, he was not up to the challenge.

Beaten Zone: The French player may play this chit upon being drawn or hold it to be played later, immediately before a new chit is drawn from the cup. When played, he selects any one French Infantry unit to issue an immediate Fire Combat following all normal procedures. The combat is resolved to conclusion and then the next chit may be drawn normally.

 

The French Chassepot rifle was a weapon that should have, by all accounts, single-handedly won the war for the French. It had a better range, superior killing power, a higher rate of fire and allowed the French infantryman to carry more ammunition than its Prussian counterpart, the Dreyse Needlegun. In fact, the range was so great that the French infantry could lay down an indirect “beaten zone” of fire, which was effectively a shower of falling bullets. Through this storm of steel the Prussians would have to march – many times in the open – and unable to answer with their outranged firearms. Such was the fate of the Prussian Guards on August 18th at St. Privat, as they lost almost 6,000 men in about 15 minutes.

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Feu de Bataillon: The French player must immediately place this chit with any French Corps HQ (not Division or Artillery Reserve) unit on the map that has not yet been activated this turn and has a Unit Activation Chit still in the cup.  If all eligible French HQ units have already been activated, then the French player must place it with any Corps HQ unit on the map. When this HQ’s Unit Activation Chit is drawn, it must be placed under Defend orders, its units may only move one hex this turn and any units that do issue Fire Combat receive a “1 ->” column shift. This chit may not be placed with an HQ that already has the Bazaine’s Malaise chit on it, unless there is no choice.

 

This chit represents the distinctly defense-oriented doctrine adopted by the French army in 1867 which emphasized firepower, entrenchment and occupying a “position magnifique”. The French infantry would dig in or lie behind their backpacks and wait for the Prussians to attack, hoping to overwhelm them at a distance with their rifles. Officers directed the troops’ fire with an emphasis on creating a wall of sustained firepower but little consideration was given to any subsequent maneuvering of the unit.

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Furia Francese: The French player may immediately play this chit on any one French Infantry unit that is within two hexes of any Prussian unit. He then rolls a die and if he rolls less than or equal to the unit’s TCR, he may move it one hex adjacent to a Prussian unit and then conducts an Assault Combat (after receiving any normal Defensive Fire). The Assault Combat applies a “1->” column shift for the attacking French unit. The Assault Combat is resolved normally and to completion and then the next chit is drawn. If the French player elects not to use this chit, it is simply immediately discarded for the turn.

 

The French Army doctrine of attacking the enemy with the bayonet, so successful in the French Empire’s previous wars of this era, was dropped in favor of a firepower-oriented one in 1867. However, this traditional offensive doctrine was not totally expunged from the tactical playbooks during the Franco-Prussian War. Though the emphasis was now on the “feu de bataillon”, many French officers in the army still preferred the mantra of closing on the enemy in attack columns, utilizing the superior elan of the French soldier to intimidate the enemy. Occasionally, that tactic did pay dividends.

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Moulin a Café: The French player holds this chit and he may play it before a new chit is drawn from the cup (including immediately upon its drawing). When played, he selects any one French Infantry unit to issue an immediate Fire Combat following all normal procedures but with three exceptions: a) the firing unit’s Extreme Range (only) is extended to 5 hexes (instead of 4); b) any “even” numbered die roll is a “Low Ammo” result and; c) if a Cohesion Test is needed by the targeted Prussian unit, its TCR is reduced by one for that test. The combat is resolved to conclusion and then the next chit may be drawn normally.

 

This event represents the “coffee mill” tactic to which many French infantry units resorted. Due to the extreme range of the Chassepot, soldiers would often start firing their rifles at nearly a 45-degree angle upwards to take maximum advantage of its potential reach. This tended to also make the soldiers fire as quickly as possible, without any concern for accuracy. The result was a curtain of poorly-aimed bullets raining down upon Prussian units, many times caught in columns up to a mile away from the French positions. However, this tactic was frowned upon by the unit’s officers, as in many instances it caused the unit to run out of ammunition after a relatively short period of time.

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Prussian Aggressive Tactics: The French player may immediately select any one Prussian Infantry unit that is within two hexes of any French non-HQ unit. The French player consults the Prussian Aggressiveness Track. If any Prussian Command Event chits have been played onto that track, the Prussian player may roll a die. If the die roll falls within the range given for the number of Command Event chits played, this chit is cancelled and discarded for the turn. If the necessary die roll is not made, or if no Command Event chits were placed on the track, the selected Prussian unit is immediately moved, by the French player, up to one hex closer to any French unit within two hexes. Normal Defensive Fire rules apply, unless of course if the Prussian unit started adjacent to the French unit. The selected Prussian unit must then conduct an immediate Assault Combat against a French hex chosen by the French player, and is resolved normally.  If the French player elects not to use this chit, it is simply immediately discarded for the turn.

 

Often during the Franco-Prussian War, the independence and initiative of the Prussian officer corps could lead to some rash and deadly decisions. One such occurrence happened toward the end of the battle of Mars-La-Tour at the Fond de la Cuve ravine. The newly arrived 38th Infantry Brigade, a Westphalian unit, had just forced-marched onto the field and was immediately ordered to attack various French forces defending the high ground behind the ravine. When the attack was finally recalled after 30 minutes of fighting, the brigade’s two regiments had lost 2,600 of their 4,600-man complement. This kind of senseless frontal assault was repeated two days later at the Mancine Ravine during the Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat. There are numerous other examples of these kinds of impetuous, poorly planned Prussian assaults all during the war.

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Shell Fuses: The French player holds this chit and may play it during any French Artillery Fire Combat that is conducted at exactly a 3-hex range or a 6-hex range. If the chits is used, it awards a “1 ->” column shift to the fire.
Remarkably, French artillery shells during this period used timed-fuses (rather than percussion fuses with which the Prussian artillery was equipped) and these fuses had only two range settings at which they would detonate:approximately 1600 yards and 3000 yards. Enemy units unlucky enough to be caught at theses ranges by French artillery fire could suffer extensive casualties.

 

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PRUSSIAN EVENT CHITS

Chief of Staff: The Prussian player may immediately select any one Prussian Division (up to two units) to activate, even if the unit(s) is in the Available to Rebuild Box and even if it has already activated this turn. The Division selected conducts a normal Activation Phase and is considered to be In Command (regardless of the distance to its HQ unit) and under any one Order. All normal procedures follow thereafter under the limits of the chosen Order.

 

As Chief of Staff of the Prussian Xth Corps, Georg Leo von Caprivi distinguished himself not only at the Battle of Mars-la-Tour, but throughout the war. He showed great initiative by taking charge of the battlefield early on and directing the deployment of Prussian forces. It was his foresight and quick assessment of the situation that allowed the Prussians to catch the French off guard. Colonel Caprivi eventually succeeded Bismarck as Chancellor of the German Empire in 1890. This chit represents not only his efforts, but the overall superior staff officer corps of the Prussian army.

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Auftragstaktik: The Prussian player may immediately select up to two Prussian Infantry units from the same Division. Both of these units can be moved up to ½ of their movement allowance (rounded up). If either or both are then adjacent to any enemy unit(s) – and suffer the normal Defensive Fire – they may conduct an immediate Assault Combat with an additional “2 ->” column shift. If the Prussian player elects not to use this chit, it is simply immediately discarded for the turn. All Detachment units of a given Corps are considered to be members of the same Division for purposes of this chit.

 

Translated as “mission tactics”, this event represents the underlying Prussian infantry doctrine of decentralized small unit tactics whereby seemingly isolated and separate forces were actually fully briefed and working towards a common goal. These tactics were misconstrued by the French as being chaotic and unformed and they were never properly countered on the battlefield. Instead, the French often sat anchored in their “positions magnifique” as the Prussian units swarmed around their flanks.

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Artillery Charge: The Prussian player may immediately play this chit on any one Prussian non-“Heavy” Artillery unit. He must then roll a die and if the result is less than or equal to the selected Artillery unit’s TCR, he may immediately move that unit (only) up to three hexes (if Horse Artillery) or two hexes (if any other type of Artillery). The selected Artillery unit may then issue normal Fire Combat with ½ of its SPs (rounded up). The fire is resolved normally. Note that “Heavy” Artillery units cannot use this chit.

 

The Prussian artillery was handled so adeptly and with such bravery that often the guns would lead the way into battle. In fact, Prussian divisional artillery units were often deployed with the advanced guard and first brigade in the order of march and the corps artillery was expected to be on the field with the first division! This provided immediate and close range support to the infantry units. These cannon-first attacks were so swift and audacious, that the French referred to them as “artillery charges.”

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Bazaine’s Malaise: The Prussian player may immediately place this chit with any French HQ unit on the map that has not yet been activated this turn (if any). When that HQ’s Unit Activation Chit is drawn, the French player consults the Bazaine’s Leadership Track. If any French Command Event chits have been played onto that track, the French player may roll a die. If the die roll falls within the range given for the number of Command Event chits played, this chit is cancelled and discarded for the turn. If the necessary die roll is not made, or if no Command Event chits were placed on the track, the selected French HQ’s formation cannot activate this turn. None of this HQ’s units may activate in any manner. The Unit Activation Chit is discarded for this turn.

 

This chit simply represents French CIC Marshal Bazaine’s indecisive and sometimes bizarre command decisions. By being able to possibly “freeze” a French corps, the event replicates in a simple way the inconsistent and confusing orders (for the other French generals) that were emanating from Bazaine’s headquarters. For the most part, Bazaine was absent from his duties, confused by contradictory instructions from Napoleon and compromised by French political infighting. He was constantly frozen by indecision as he struggled with the dual goals of getting his army to Verdun to rejoin Napoleon III while also assuring that the army remain unharmed. Unfortunately, and to his ultimate demise, his warped definition of “safety” was to make sure that his umbilical cord to fortress Metz was never threatened, even from phantom enemy armies. Only on occasion was he cogent enough to effectively direct and manage his army on the field of battle.

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Krupp’s Guns: The Prussian player may play this chit upon being drawn or hold it to be played later, immediately before a new chit is drawn from the cup. He may then select any one Prussian Artillery unit to issue an immediate Fire Combat following all normal procedures. The combat is resolved to conclusion and then the next chit may be drawn normally.

 

After the Prussian artillery arm’s disappointing performance during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Prussians concentrated on a new aggressive artillery doctrine and established a School of Gunnery to better train their artillerists. In an even more significant improvement, Prussian batteries were re-equipped with the new Krupp steel breech-loading gun, which outperformed the older French muzzle-loading artillery pieces in every category. The Krupp gun had a higher rate of fire, longer range, better accuracy and greater destructiveness. In addition to its material superiority, the Krupp guns were handled efficiently and aggressively by the newly-indoctrinated artillery crews.

 

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SHARED EVENT CHITS

Battlefield Conditions: The player holds this chit. He may play it before any one enemy Fire or Assault Combat is resolved to apply an additional “2 ->” column shift (when firing or assaulting) or a “<- 2” column shift (when the target of enemy fire or defending against an assault) to the Fire or Assault Combat resolution.

 

Battlefield accounts are rife with stories of battlefield smoke obscuring sight lines and oddities of terrain affecting combat. In fact, one of the reasons that von Bredow’s “Deathride” succeeded was because the Prussian cavalry remained hidden by residual smoke and terrain undulations for much of its approach. Additionally, most of the ground  on this battlefield is of a rolling nature with low hills and shallow valleys. These are difficult to accurately reflect on a hex map at this scale and thus this chit can represent those characteristics to a certain degree.

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Panic in the Ranks: The player holds this chit and may play it anytime an enemy unit Fails any Break Test or Rout Test. The owning player places this chit on the enemy unit’s initial location (before it retreated or was removed).The enemy player must then have all his units in or adjacent to the Event chit’s hex take a Panic Test. This is done by the enemy player rolling one die for each such hex and comparing the die roll result with the TCR of each testing unit in that hex. If the die roll is less than or equal to the TCR of the testing unit, there is no effect. If greater by 1 to 3, the testing unit must retreat one hex from the nearest opposing unit and additionally gets an “Elan Hit” result. If greater by 4 or more, the checking unit must retreat one hex, gets an “Elan Hit” result and takes one “Casualty Hit”.

 

In any era of warfare, nothing was as dangerous and demoralizing as the wholesale panic of a section of the battle line. Such an event was highly contagious and could quickly threaten the well-being of the entire army. Such a panic event occurred during the final stages of the Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat, when elements of Canrobert’s outflanked VIth Corps broke and streamed back down the Woippy road. Their panic dissuaded an arriving French Imperial Guard division from continuing on and instead it joined the retreat back to Metz, sealing the fate of the Army of the Rhine.

 

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