Friday 18 November 2016

Schwechat (1848) - and some Hungarian war poetry

My Hungarian military historian friend Csaba once told me Hungary's best defence is not its army but its language. I think he meant because it is so unique and difficult to learn, but it could equally be because it is so staccato and guttural and good for arguing.

Before our refight of the battle of Schwechat, the Hungarian attempt to relieve revolutionary Vienna in 1848, I followed Keith Flint's example in breaking out a bottle of Hungarian Tokay, and then subjected my fellow gamers to some Hungarian poetry. According to John Bowring in "Poetry of the Magyars" (1830):

No eight monosyllables in any language could convey a more 
complete image of the horrors of war than does Kisfaludy's verse:  

Mars mord dühe a' mit ér, vág, 
Bont, dört, tör, ront, dul, sujt, öl.

("The murderous rage of Mars, which, whatever it reaches, cuts,
Wastes, shakes, breaks, destroys, uprends, scatters, and slays.")

Formalities over, we got stuck into the game. Historically, the Hungarians managed to storm one Croat outpost, but then ran into a wall of Austrian artillery. This not only repelled their effort to attack the Imperials' defensive line along the river, it sowed such confusion in Hungarian ranks, especially among their untrained, scythe-armed militia, that it began an infectious rout and ended the battle.

That Schloss looks suspiciously like the Brandenburg Gate ...

In this first playtest of the first draft of my Schwechat BBB scenario, it went a bit differently. I gave the Austrian players too much latitude over when to commit troops from their forces besieging Vienna. They sensibly went whole hog on Turn 1, pushed across the river, and attacked the Hungarians to not just keep them at bay but drive them back on their line of communications. The Hungarian players in their turn gambled early to see if the Viennese rebels sallied in force. In fact, none appeared at all, so the Austrians knew they had no rear threat to worry about.

Thus the Hungarians were significantly outnumbered and only managed one doomed assault against a Croat-held objective. Despite that, the game was far from devoid of interest. For a while the Hungarian left wing still looked as if it had some chance of success. And the real drama happened on the Hungarian right, on the last couple of turns when the game was already as good as lost. The scythemen, changing formation from rabble to mob, first improbably repelled an Austrian assault with serious loss, and then followed it up by charging another Austrian unit and throwing that into disorder as well, thereby successfully securing the retreat of the rest of the army. Hurrah!

Post-game analysis was that in resisting my usual magyarophilia I had gone too much the other way and skewed the scenario against the Hungarians.  Still, the game was a success in that we all had a good time, and that the playtest enabled me to tweak and recalibrate the scenario. The next evening, since the game was still set up, I had a solo run-through of the modified scenario. That seemed to be much more balanced and to capture the nature of the battle pretty well. The revised scenario is in the BBB Yahoo group files now.