Wednesday 26 May 2021

Hungary 1848 #8: Pered = Waterloo?

Thanks for reading this far! While I've got your attention by mentioning Hungary 1848, I'll take the liberty of noting that my book, "Hungary 1848: The Winter Campaign", which was only published a month ago, has had three positive reviews already. I am grateful to these generous reviewers:

"The Hungarian revolution is a fascinating conflict, and this is an excellent resource" (Dave Watson, Balkan Wargamer Blog)

"an easy and enjoyable read [...] Anyone with an interest in this war, or indeed of European conflicts during the mid-nineteenth century this book is is the answer. The translation and presentation are very good indeed" (Colin Ashton, Carryings On Up the Dale Blog)

"Christopher Pringle has clearly researched this campaign thoroughly and produced the first English translation of an important source with informative footnotes and clear modern maps" (Arthur Harman, Miniature Wargames magazine)

Formalities and egotism over, let us return to the topic of this week's battle and blog post: the battle of Pered. This was a pivotal action in the Hungarian War of Independence. The Hungarians had fended off the Austrians in the Winter Campaign and driven them out in the Spring Campaign, but massive Russian intervention was imminent. Much like Napoleon trying to beat Wellington at Waterloo before the Prussians arrived, Görgei launched an attack at Pered (nowadays in Slovakia) to inflict a serious defeat on the Austrians before the Tsar could rescue them. I've remarked previously on the similarities between Pered and Waterloo here. While Hungary's downfall after Pered did not ensue as swiftly as Napoleon's did in June 1815, and there was much tough fighting to follow, the arrival of the Russian army made the arithmetic of the Summer Campaign inexorable.

In its pivotal nature with an intense but doomed campaign yet to come, Pered is perhaps more like Gettysburg, which it resembles in another respect as well: it was fought over three days. The BBB scenario for Pered covers all three days, which are very different phases.

16 June 1849. Mist rises from the soggy ground between the Feketeviz and the Vág.
Asbóth deploys his corps along the start line of red counters in the foreground,
ready to assault the Austrian outposts in Királyrév (left) and Zsigárd (right).
In the left distance, Herzinger is visible, leading forward his formidable reinforcements: 
the Fischer and Bittermann grenadier battalions and the fearsome Auersperg cuirassiers.

On Day 1 (properly known in its own right as the battle of Zsigárd, the Hungarian II Corps is trying to push back the Austrian outpost line enough to make space for Hungarian III Corps to cross the Vág river and join in, while Austrian local reinforcements try desperately to hold them back.

Day 2 depends how Day 1 went. Most likely, more Austrians arrive to make it a pretty even contest - unless the Hungarians managed to trigger the commitment of III Corps. In the latter case, the Austrians have an option of bringing on more reinforcements early to shore things up, but at the cost of denuding their line off-table and risking more Hungarians (I Corps) arriving in their rear. There is also the possibility of a Hungarian brigade arriving on the Austrian flank at Sellye.

Day 3 is all about the Russians. A Russian division had been shipped across Galicia by train, had a bout of cholera near Bratislava, but still managed to turn up just in time to swing victory to the Austrians at Pered. In the game, this means Day 3 is a question of how well the Hungarians can hold off the inevitable massive counterattack.

So there you go: Pered is three games in one. As game #8 of our ongoing Hungary 1848 campaign, we actually playtested it three times this month with two different sets of players plus a solo run-through. I think the resulting tweaks make it as balanced a scenario and as accurate a representation as I can make it. I won't describe these games in any detail, but only summarise by saying that the scenario generated a ding-dong scrap every time, and that the two night interval resets again presented the players with unusual and interesting decisions, especially the risk/benefit trade-offs they had to consider about when and where to bring on optional reinforcements.


- The scenario includes three low-probability, high-impact chances of significant Hungarian reinforcements arriving either early or in the Austrian flank or rear. These can change the course of the battle dramatically, as happened in some of our playtests. That makes it hard to gauge scenario balance, but it definitely contributes to the tension and excitement. And if it skews the outcome, well, the losers just have to shrug and blame their bad luck. Overall it seemed to add to the games more than it detracted. I have tweaked the scenario a bit to mitigate and balance these possibilities as best I can.

- I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again: the night interval resets in multi-day battles really enhance a game.

- Deeper research helps. (Fancy that.) This Russian army of 1849 is essentially the same clumsy instrument that fought the Crimean War, including some of the generals. In my first draft of the scenario, I therefore rated the Russians 'Passive' and didn't represent their commander as a General. Having read a lot more about this division's activities since then, it is now clear to me that Panyutin was a pretty alert and effective character and an excellent ally who deserves to be represented on the tabletop; and that, perhaps atypically for the Russian army, his division was rather efficient as well. I've now upgraded the Russians at Pered accordingly.

- Rockets are cool! (See 'deeper research' above.) The standard BBB rules don't do justice to just how mobile the rocket batteries were in this war, nor do they really reflect the value of their distinctive effect. For this scenario we trialled a rule amendment which seemed to work and added a bit more incendiary flavour to the game.

- Thanks, as always, to that gallant band the Oxford Wargames Society for indulging my magyarophile enthusiasm, patiently tolerating my inexpert webcamming, and putting up a spirited fight no matter how much the dice or my skewed scenarios may be against them.

Coming up next in the campaign, we have the 2nd and 3rd battles of Komárom, then the 2nd battle of Vác. All the scenarios for these Hungary 1848 battles are in the BBB files (draft versions only, not the fully playtested and tweaked final versions). Just add paprika to taste.