Early in April I hosted the Battle of Luetzen originally fought on May 2nd 1813, here at the Wargames Holiday Centre. The battle takes shape over a period of time with reinforcements from both sides arriving from their historical points.
The French force of two divisions, Girard and Souham start the battle deployed on the table in some disorder. Historically Wittgenstein became aware of these troops on the southern flank of Napoleons drive toward Leipzig. Seeing a chance to catch these troops and outnumbering them he urged Blucher to pounce on them and dispatch them quickly.
The Prussians arrived on the field unnoticed by the French troops. No picquets had been deployed by these novice troops and to make matters worse the force was deployed in camp having breakfast.
In order to replicate some of this disarray I took the tiles for the two French divisions and literally scattered them across the area of deployment face down. Just as the Prussian cavalry swept down off the heights to the south of Gross-Gorschen.
The French took a battalion and occupied the village with some haste and the Prussians of Ziethen’s brigade moved immediately to assault the village. As the drums beat and the Prussian banners were unfurled, Souham’s battery opened fire!
The lead battalions of the Prussian brigade moved at speed toward the village, hoping to take advantage of the disarray in the French force. Unfortunately for the hapless Prussians the Marie Louise’s rallied quickly and rushed to support the lead battalion ensconced within the village.
As the lead Prussians came within musket range the opening volley opened up gaps in the mass of infantry…still they came on, the second volley brought down less troops than the first, the powder must have been damp! A third volley took the lead Colonel from his saddle, completely unphased the Prussians drove forward, the pace of the drums picked up the officers urging their men on! The charge went headlong into the village, the French Supporting battalions surged toward the melee, however to the shame of the French colonel in the village the young men of his battalion broke. The Prussians surged into the streets of Gross-Gorschen.
This was just as well as Ziethen’s artillery had unlimbered on the heights and then realising that their shot was falling short had limbered up again to try and get into range.
To the west of the village the Russian troops under Winzingerode horsemen flooded down into the valley looking to catch Girard’s division in the open. Girard’s men however had more time than Souham and they immediately occupied Starsiedel and deployed their battery to pummel the advancing Russian Horse.
Dolff's Uhlan's pin Souham's supporting infantry.
The divisions of Roder and Klux began deploying through the centre of the field, pouring down the slope into the valley. Roder marched stalwartly toward Rahna while Klux offered support to Ziethen’s assault on Gross-Gorschen. In Gross-Gorschen the Prussian lead battalion began filing into the buildings and gardens of the village. Beyond the village to the north the French were reforming to re-take the village, the Prussian Cavalry division under Dolff was manoeuvring into a position to attack the infantry as soon as they set off and seeing this the battalions nearest them began to form square.
The front battalions opened fire on the Prussians causing high casualties, the artillery of Souham was also doing murder, one Prussian battalion losing over twenty five percent in a very short time. Ziethen just needed to hold long enough for the remainder of Wittgensteins troops to arrive, perhaps Dolff’s cavalry could drive the troops back on their reserve.
A great cry of “Vive l’Empereur!” and the remaining battalions of Souham’s division and they charged the village. A crashing volley from the defenders saw one battalion falter but the rest ploughed into the gardens and outbuildings. The fighting became intense with both sides suffering heavy casualties. Eventually the Prussians gave way and the French reoccupied the village.
One of our Neuchatel Battalion's occupies Gross-Gorschen.
These figures are available from Bicorne Miniatures, under Connoisseur Miniatures banner, just a different colour. Lovely figures and a great colour.
To the North West Marmont was arriving, three divisions began deploying into and around the villages of Pobles and Satrseidel. The lead elements of the French and Russian cavalry clashed and the melee saw both sides retire to lick their wounds. Winzingerode had brought his infantry and guns up from the south and deployed toward Starseidel.
Roder continued his advance on Rahna, movement within the environs of the village suggested that some of Girard’s troops had occupied the buildings and were preparing the position in haste.
By the time all of Marmont’s troops were on the table, Yorck’s Prussians, Berg’s Russians and Wittgenstein had arrived from the south and were hastening to the front, which inevitably was getting further away from them with every step the lead divisions took.
Ziethen was re-organising his division, finally his artillery was able to repay some of the punishment that the French had wrought on their comrades, along with the horse battery from Dolff’s cavalry brigade they began tear great holes in Souham’s brave boys.
Blucher became more aware of a possible threat from the east and decided to push the remainder of Ziethen’s division toward Klein-Gorschen and look to defend the river area against a possible incursion from this direction. The remainder of his divisions pushed on North through the valley.
Dolff’s cavalry riding in and around the disordered troops of Souham’s division wreaking havoc and slaughtering the fleeing battalions. The timing was definitely in the favour of the Prussians, so pushing on to Rahna with Roder’s division and re-taking Gross-Gorschen seemed the sensible option, especially as French troops were now pouring south from the direction of Luetzen.
Ney had arrived and was marching with Brenier’s division through the village of Kaja toward Klein-Gorschen. Close behind them were the remaining divisions of Ney’s III Corps, Ricard and Marchand.
The arrival of this stalwart the “Red Head” really seemed to change the tide for the French. Rallying, Souham began advancing along with Brenier’s division to take up another defence line just North and North East of Gross-Gorschen. Marchand was marching from Meuchen so was naturally taking the left hand position in the line.
Artillery began to roar all along both the French and the Russo Prussian lines.
Around Pobles and Starseidel the Russians formed a massed attack of columns, twelve battalions stepped off in unison toward the gap between the two villages. The Russian artillery pounded the village of Starseidel and the fending line of Marmont’s troops. Drums played, loud hurrah’s came from the Russian masses met by equally euphoric cries of “Vive L’Empereur!” from the divisions of Bonnet and Compans divisions, the front divisions of Marmont’s VI Corps, Friederichs standing in reserve. There was a real atmosphere building in anticipation of the coming fight, a lot hung on this single action.
Roder had engaged the troops from Girard’s division in Rahna, after a short exchange the Prussians took the village. What greeted their view on the other side of the village made their heart sink, more and more French troops were arriving from Luetzen, cavalry of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard could be seen, admittedly at long range of a 12 pounder but that was close enough.
Roder was somewhat isolated from his division as well, Blucher operating further to the south with the remainder of his division. Prepare the village for the impending fight, that seemed the order of the day, after all, the cavalry couldn’t affect the troops in and around the village….could it? Then some bright spark really spoiled the party by making the observation that where the Guard Cavalry were, the Grumblers and their beloved Emperor would not be far behind them! Oh Great!!
Roder assault's Rahna.
The flags here are from the fine GMB Design stable, great detail and a fantastic finish.
I am a sucker for a nice unit!
The following day dawned bright and breezy!
A quick recap for both sides determined that the French Guard were now on the table.
Most of the Allied troops were now on the table, only the Russian Guard infantry division remained elusive, along with the Tsar.
The French Young Guard was hastening to Rahna, supported by the Guard Cavalry. While it could not be identified yet, the Old Guard would be somewhere in the line of reserves flooding south, Napoleon was on the field directing the counter attack around Rahna, the French looked to be attempting to close the gap caused by Roder’s thrust through the centre.
Blucher was adopting a more defensive role, employing his artillery to the North west of Gross-Gorschen, pounding the advancing troops from Ney’s III Corps.
Dolff’s Cavalry brigade had moved further east and south of Gross-Gorschen in an effort to support Ziethen, while Klux’s division occupied the village itself.
Over on the far west of the battlefield the lead elements from XI Corps and Marshal Macdonald were arriving, Ledru’s division leading. More were trudging at speed along the roads from Taucha.
Wittgenstein had Kennevitzin’s Grenadier division along with the combined Guard cavalry, not too far behind this was the Russian Guard Artillery.
So the stage was set, the Russian Grenadiers advanced to support Blucher between Rahna and Gross-Gorschen, while the Guard Cavalry deployed to the left of this division in an attempt to support Roder’s division and Winzingerode’s infantry.
The day opened with the infantry of Winzingerode’s corps exchanging volleys with Compans and Bonnet’s divisions, Friedrich’s boys were defending Starsiedel along with the support of the remaining troops from Girard’s division. The rest of the battlefield erupted in a fierce duel of shot and shell, muskets blazed and men fell! Blucher’s artillery tore great rents in the packed formations of Ney’s boys.
Behind the Prussian guns the banners and black plumes of the Russian Grenadiers could be seen advancing.
Outside Starsiedel a French battery was caught by a Russian Uhlan squadron and ridden down. The Russians charged! The whole allied left flank surged forward, Friedrichs took the brunt of the assault initially and held, Bonnet and Compans, now in line delivered thunderous volleys into the advancing Musketeers of the Imperial Russian army, with a roar the Russian infantry charged!! Smashing into the waiting lines of the French line, the volleys sent to meet the charge succeeded in stopping only one of the battalions, the rest thundering into the stationary French. The resulting melee heaved to and fro, the Russians winning the initial phases, but the French held! After three rounds of combat the Russians fell back.
Both sides had suffered quite a bit, re-organising the troops the Russians prepared to go again.
Roder began to see elements of the Guard appearing in front of the village, the Young Guard poured fire into his men, the French Guard cavalry pouring past to his left and heading for the gap between his position and the village of Starseidel and into the cavalry of Winzingerode’s Corps. Volley after volley was exchanged between the gallant Prussians and the Young Guard, many French men fell but a similar number of Prussians were getting removed.
Finally the Tsar, Alexander arrived leading his immaculate Guard infantry division. A quick assessment determined that it would need to launch an attack toward Rahna and look to drive a hole between the French forces. The only concern offered was that the French had another reserve now appearing from the south east in the shape of Latour-Maubourg’s heavy Cavalry Corps. Blucher was there though and he would have to contain it.
The Prussians in and around Rahna were coming under more and more pressure. The bearskins of the Old Guard were being seen with the Young Guard and these would be the final blow for the beleaguered Prussians. Just in time Yorck began to deploy to support them however the extraction of the decimated division may well be easier said than done. Yorck’s Prussians were taking heavy casualties from artillery fire from Ney’s corps and the guns of the Imperial Guard, the twelve pounders creating carnage.
Just to the left of these plucky boys the Russian cavalry was becoming embroiled in a protracted fight with the French Guard cavalry, the Dragoons and Lancers of the Guard charging headlong into the brave Russian horsemen, who counter charged with equal venom.
The swirling melee saw more and more horsemen join the fray, eventually the Russians gave way, revealing the second wave of Winzingerode’s heavy cavalry.
Macdonald was pinned in place by the Cuirassier of the Russian Guard, allowing some leverage for Wittgenstein and the supporting Berg, to trudge forward once again into the volleys of Marmonts troops.
A great “Hurrah” arose from the throats of the Russians and again they surged toward the waiting volleys. Suddenly some of Bonnet’s Marie Louise’s counter attacked, forgetting their volleys they counter charged, looking to carry the fight to the Russians.
A great melee rolled back and forth again. The loss of figures on both sides was huge, the Russians not giving an inch of ground and the French boys only looking to their front! After what seemed and age the Russians fell back again, the fight had been protracted enough for part of Bonnet’s division near Starseidel to fall back too far to offer any support for the defenders of the village and this finally fell!
Now was the crunch time, Kennevitzin’s Grenadiers of the Russian centre were now in a position to take the fight to Ney. Wittgenstein urged the Black plumed giants forward, Kennevitzin promising them the final destruction of the Monster of Europe.
The boys under Ney didn’t hold back, thundering into each other many figures were removed from both sides, the Russians won the first round of the melee, Ney was everywhere however, offering encouragement to his Boys, “Vive L’Empereur” the second round was won by the French lads!! The Russians held! Throwing the final reserves in from both sides, the final round seemed fraught with nerves! Et voila! The Russians did away with more than they received, the French held though!! Unbelievable!!!
The Russian Guard had begun it’s advance up through the centre when it got news of the left wing having trouble, the Kennevitzin’s troops were reeling from the recent fight and had a lot of casualties and Roder and Yorck were having real problems with the French Guard.
Push on Alexander urged……Wittgenstein wasn’t convinced!
The French Imperial Guard Cavalry thundered into the second line of the Russian Cavalry, emptying lots of saddles, Berg launched a final assault against the troops under Marmont’s Corps, Compans held though, just at this point the French Guard cleared the village of Rahna of defenders.
The French held their line and the Allies were streaming south again, Blucher began to withdraw, throwing what remained of Dolff’s cavalry out to slow Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry and hinder any threat offered by Ney.
Yorck began a defensive withdraw, falling back toward Alexander and the Russian Guard.
The French numbers were building while the Allies were all commited, it was time to withdraw, leaving Napoleon with the field.
At times it looked like the Prussians were going to win this single handedly, the French commanders had other ideas and skilfully wielding the reserves they managed to contain them until the reserves were in place.
The Russians were gallant, thundering into the defensive positions of Marmont and Girard, this struggle was monumental, both sides performing heroics.
Until next time said Alexander, next time!!
Napoleon, blew raspberries!!