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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Leipzig! Europe's biggest battle pre-1914!

Anyone who is into bloody big battles has to be interested in Leipzig (1813) - the biggest battle in Europe prior to WWI. It has been wargamed less than it deserves. Of course people have fought Leipzig games, but the sheer scale of it is prohibitive: roughly 400,000 Allied troops facing 200,000 or so French - 3x as many men as at Waterloo - on a battlefield 20km across, about 10x the area of Waterloo, and with two full days of fighting rather than Waterloo's one. No wonder the more manageable Waterloo has been played far more often. And when wargamers do play a Leipzig game, it is often just a small part of the action, very rarely the whole beast.

Those glorious gallant Poles again

Tempted by the prospect of the "Bloody Big BATTLES!" rules making it feasible, prolific BBB scenario author Konstantinos Travlos aka Leadhead, Ph.D, has written a draft scenario for this monster battle. Thus when we arranged a Thursday game for some of the lads who can't usually make the regular Monday nights, and Maurice piped up to ask if we could try Marengo/ Borodino/ Leipzig/ Salamanca, I decided to give it a go.

KT's original draft called for 18 mostly corps-sized French units and 26 Allied (+ lots of artillery). This is almost twice the size of a regular BBB game. As it was a weeknight game, in order to be sure of finishing the game I took the executive decision - which in hindsight I regret - to almost halve the number of units and bases by merging pairs of units. A typical unit therefore represented two whole corps.

Well, this was successful in that we did indeed finish the game. The first day was going OK for the French. It opened with the Army of Bohemia being worsted in a series of collisions with the French Imperial Guard and its supporting units. Several AoB units fell back Spent to lick their wounds. In the north, Ney had been skirmishing to delay the advance of Blucher's Army of Silesia, with moderate success. Then Prince Poniatowski had a rush of blood to the head. Thinking he saw an opportunity while the enemy was in some temporary disarray, he hurled his Poles across the bridge he was supposed to be defending, and assaulted uphill. This was still a fight he could reasonably hope to win, but some bad dice threw the Poles back with casualties.

There was then the interlude of 17 October while both sides regrouped and redeployed somewhat. However the Poles were still in a bad way. Blucher's men stormed across the river. The luck of the dice did not even out, the Poles were smashed aside, and the Russians seized the ungarrisoned city of Leipzig. Disaster!

And the Army of the North arrived (from the east) to compound the disaster. The French had been forewarned, so they had moved some guns to cover the approach, but perhaps inexperienced BBB players had not fully appreciated the speed with which troops can advance in BBB. More dire French dice meant the guns could not stop the enemy columns romping towards them and overrunning the French gun lines, smashing another huge hole in the beleaguered French perimeter.

With Leipzig lost, the AoN about to run riot, and no significant reserves with which to respond, the French players understandably conceded the game after 5 of the 8 scheduled turns. This was a pity for John, commanding the Army of the North, who had walked and bused a considerable distance to join us and then waited an hour and a half for his one turn of action! But at least his intervention was swift, brutal, glorious and decisive, so he was happy.

This was a fun game and achieved the aim of a result in an evening but it didn't fully capture Leipzig. We definitely need to do it again with Konstantinos's full orbat. That will probably mean a 4-hour session on a Saturday afternoon some time. having more units will change the game significantly for the better in a couple of respects. One is that it will allow the French to maintain the necessary cordon defence, and garrison Leipzig, while still having units available to mount counterattacks. Another is that it will give a better sense of the sheer attritional scale of this giant action. My thanks to Konstantinos for the scenario (which is in the BBB Yahoo group files, of course), and I look forward to trying the full version.