THE BATTLE OF WAGRAM 5-6 JULY 1809
Two hundred years to the very year if not exactly on the correct date I headed once more up to the Wargames Holiday Centre, where amongst other things we were going to refight the Battle of Wagram. It’s a long and lonely journey from Plymouth so I was fortunate to have the company of Chris Cornwell for a large part of the trip. We passed the time discussing rules, different experiences of games we’d played in, both at the centre and on our own tables and of course cricket, for which we both share a passion. On our arrival the weather was, as might be expected for December quite chilly and it was destined to take a turn for the worse. I discovered that I was to be playing on the French side and having played Wagram at the centre before albeit on the Allied side I was confident that I had a good idea of what to expect. I should of course have known better. One of the things which happens with the games at the WHC is that they constantly evolve, which is a good way to keep them fresh and to stop smug people like myself from knowing all the little tricks to employ for each game.
This version of Wagram was distinctly different from any I’d played before. For starters we weren’t using the whole battlefield. The whole left flank section of the battle around Essling had been dropped from the game and the French left now rested on Massenas’ IV corps in the area of Aderklaa and Baumersdorf. This was all well and good for me as I commanded part of Oudinots’ II corps which was supported by Massena on its left and by Davouts’ III corps on the right. Gerry Elliott who designed the game had kindly volunteered to play the whole of Massenas’ corps and so I worked out my dispositions knowing that my left was in very capable hands.
In time honoured tradition we all wrote our troop tiles out for our initial deployments. For anyone not familiar with this practice troop tiles are pieces of hardboard about six inches by two inches on which players write their units and then place them face down on the table during deployment. This maintains some of the “fog of war” as they remain concealed until within fifty four inches of the enemy. For this game I had a relatively small frontage and so I placed two divisions forward with a reserve division in rear alongside Pajols’ light cavalry division. Turn one was announced and we all started to carry out our first movement still using the troop tiles. It was at this point that I understood why Gerry had so kindly offered to play Massena. Walking along behind the French players he simply picked up all of the tiles representing Massenas’ corps and announced that the Emperor had sent them off in an attack against the village of Gerasdorf. Suddenly I had no left flank and the Austrians were bearing down on us with two cuirassier divisions supported by grenadiers. Things looked bad and in fact they were.
Fortunately I dodged a bullet and Philip Marshall was given the task of fending off the attacking Austrian hordes. I was able to give him Pajol and my reserve infantry division and for the rest of the game he fought a delaying action against masses of cuirassier and elite infantry. The good news for the French was that our reserves in the form of Marmonts’ XI corps were close at hand and Philip was able to feed in enough troops to stave off the Austrian assault though it was a close call at times.
Ask any soldier about his experiences of battle, (be good enough to buy him a drink first) and he’ll tell you that he had no idea of what was going on in the fighting outside of his own small area. This is precisely how it is at the WHC. The games are often so large with so much happening that it is possible to completely miss what the other players on both yours and the opposition side are doing. For my part, engrossed in fighting the Austrians to my front and concerned about my left I was oblivious to developments on my right. Happily Bob Wintsch and Pete Hogarth commanding Davout’s II corps supported by Wredes’ troops from Marmonts’ XI corps knew precisely what they were doing.
It was here that the game was won by the French, pushing forward with Davouts’ corps across the Russbach. It was a hard fought scrap as villages are notoriously difficult to capture and can leave both sides unfit for further action. However with little intervening terrain between themselves and the villages the French columns were able to reach their objectives with minimal casualties and during the fighting for the villages the stream to the rear made it difficult for the Austrians to reinforce with formed troops. Having taken both villages the French were able to swarm across the stream behind the retreating Austrians who had little in the way of reserves to offer.
Finally after many hours and of fighting it was agreed that just as it had happened in 1809 the French had achieved a costly victory. As always the battle had been loads of fun and was played in great spirit by all involved. The general consensus of opinion was firstly that the stripping off of Massenas’ corps was an excellent idea and gave the Austrians a real chance of achieving a victory and secondly that the Austrians had erred in putting too much of their strength on their right. The masses of Austrian heavy cavalry and large amounts of their best infantry became too unwieldy as they pushed the French left, back into an ever decreasing area. This left them critically short of reserve troops which might have been able to stem the tide of Davouts’ assault against Rosenburgs’ Austrian IV corps.
So Wagram was over and having put the figures away we headed back to our hotel in Scarborough through the light sprinkling of snow which was just beginning to fall. We were all ready for a meal, a few beers and the prospect Austerlitz the next day. Ominously the snow was still falling as we trudged back to our beds and in the morning we awoke to find a heavy snowfall had settled making the prospect of a drive to the centre interesting to say the least, but that’s another story.