Friday, 28 September 2012

The Most Terrible of all My Battles: Wargaming Borodino 2012 (10)

Borodino 200 what a weekend!

Regular readers of this blog may have been wondering what happened in the bicentennial Borodino game that we held on 7th–9th September. Having been occupied with the preparation for the game for much of the two weeks beforehand, I have since been catching up on work. I am slowly making a bit of time for wargaming stuff again now, so here are a few photos from our game to whet your appetites.
Borodino village, the calm before the storm
N's command post on Shevardino (sadly this was one of the many 'units' that I did not quite finish in time for the game)
Initial positions, from the south-west and (below) south and north-east

Below, initial French-Allied attacks. Delzons crosses the Kolocha to assault the Grand Redoubt, Poniatowski's Poles work through the woods south of Utitisa and Compans and Dessaix's divisions of Davout's I Corps head towards the flêches (seen from the Russian viewpoint).

Still plenty of Russians—defense in depth (above and below)

Broussier's division captures Borodino (above and below)

Initial attacks on Grand Redoubt (above and below)

Ornano awaits approach of Platov's cossakcs
Napoleon from the flêches
Kaminiski's cavalry having broken Karpov II's cossack 'division'
Poniatowski's attack on Utitsa (above and below)

Compans' division gets drawn into the woods around Utitsa
Dessaix's attack on the flêches
Ney's division advances to the attack
Platov and Uvarov's 'raid' makes progress—aided by Eugène's seven 1s in a row!

Ney's Württembergers broken by Sievers' cavalry
Gap left by Ney's decimated corps
Chaos caused by retreat of Compans' division
Massed French-Allied heavy cavalry
Capture of Uitisa mound
Russian re-capture of Borodino
Grand Redoubt holds strong
Final wash-up
French held the flêches, Russians held Grand Redoubt and Borodino, Utitisa in doubt (Russians had the village, Poles the mound)

French lost 11 'divisions', Russian lost 1!!!!

French 50 points, Russians 279, so a Russian tactical victory.

It truly was, "the most terrible of all my battles"!

Kutuzov toasts the Russian victory

Thanks to Stephen, Rod and Peter who came up from Perth to help/join us in fulfilling a wargaming dream. We really enjoyed ourselves (except for the result, ha ha!). Despite the bad outcome for 'my' side, I still had a sense of 'loss' on the Monday at the completion and passing of something that we had been planning for so long.

As with all the best of wargaming, we all have a greater appreciation of Borodino now that we have "been there". The immensity of the struggle, the problems of command and control, the waste of good men, the amazing feats of arms on both sides, the importance of Platov and Uvarov's 'raid' and what an achievement it was for the French-Allies to have won the battle; pyrrhic victory though it was.

We are already planning our alternative versions of Borodino!
1. Run the game as a "re-enactment".
2. Play again with different players as Napoleon and Kutusov.
3. Play a version with Davout's plan.
4. Play a version without restrictions on Guard and Russian reserve artillery.

I am working on a couple of more detailed posts that will incorporate more of the 449 photos that Stephen and I took over the weekend, so keep an eye out!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Musical Inspiration: Wargaming Borodino 2012 (9)

We have a special theme song for our bicentennial game of the Battle of Borodino; “Holy Grail” by Hunters and Collectors.
‘Hunters’ (H & C) were one of the many great Australian rock bands of the 80s. “Holy Grail” was inspired by the story of the 1812 Campaign, particularly the retreat. The song, which features a ‘killer riff’ akin to “Wild Thing”, “Louie, Louie” and numerous others, has become a rock ‘anthem’ in this country and has even been used by the AFL to promote our indigenous game, Australian Rules Football!
What better way to start this 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino (and our bicentennial bash) than to turn the speakers up nice and loud and click play!

Just in case you cannot understand them, here are Mark Seymour’s lyrics:
Holy Grail - Hunters And Collectors

Woke up this morning,
from the strangest dream
I was in the biggest army,
The world has ever seen
We were marching as one,
on the road to the holy grail

Started out,
Seeking fortune and glory
It's a short song, but it's one 
Hell of a story, when you
Spend your lifetime trying to get
Your hands on the Holy Grail

Well have you heard of the Great Crusade?
We ran into millions, and nobody got paid
Yeah, we razed four corners of the globe,
For the Holy Grail.

All the locals scattered,
They were hiding in the snow
We were so far from home,
So how were we to know,
There'd be nothing left to plunder
When we stumbled on the Holy Grail?

We were full of beans
But we were dying like flies
And those big black birds,
they were circling in the sky,
And you know what they say, yeah,
Nobody deserves to die.

Oh I,
I've been searching for an easy way
to escape the cold light of day
I've been high, and I've been low
But I've got nowhere else to go
There's nowhere else to go

I followed orders
God knows where I'd be
But I woke up alone, 
all my wounds were clean
I'm still here
I'm still a fool for the Holy Grail
Oh yeah,
I'm a fool for the Holy Grail

A short book... but a hell of a story

Book Review: Passage de la Beresina 26, 27, 28 et 29e Novembre 1812, by An Anonymous Eyewitness
This book, 31 pages long, is a brief eyewitness account of the crossing of the Berezina. The author is anonymous, but I suspect that he was a member of staff of the engineers corps or of one of the French generals as he states in the ‘observations’ at the end of his description, “As I had seen things for myself, and as the nature of my functions kept me close to the late General Elbé, I thought it my duty to supplement as much as I could the account that the General would have given of an operation he directed alone, from the beginning to the end of the crossing.”
The author’s account describes in some detail the building of the bridges, and the crossing of the Berezina by the various corps of the French-Allied army on the 26th and 27th November. He describes vividly the brave work of the pontonneers, sappers and engineers of constructing and, more amazingly, repairing, the bridges that allowed so many to cross in safety.
“The pontoneers alone worked in the water; in spite of the drifting ice, they often went down to the armpits to place and hold the trestles until the beams were fixed on the caps. ... only a small number survived; the remainder died on the banks of the Berezina, or were unable to follow the Army two days after the crossing. They were never seen again.”
The description is at its most dramatic and moving when it comes to the less orderly crossing by the mass of stragglers, camp followers and other non-combatants who were “...thoroughly depressed and dominated by selfishness.” His words bring to life the desperate efforts of the pontonneers to keep the bridges open, the orderly crossing of the IX Corps and the indifference of the mass of stragglers, until it was too late and the bridges were fired and it “... became the scene of the most painful sight: men, women, children were shrieking in despair; several tried to rush across the burning bridges or threw themselves into the river in which large blocks of ice were drifting.”
The book is simply produced; paperback, no pictures save for the cover and non-glossy stock. I picked up my copy at a reasonable price, but one would not want to have paid too much for it. One of the great aspects of the book is that it comprises both a facsimile of the handwritten account in French and an English translation. This latter, which is a literal translation and mainly true to the original, covers merely nine pages of typed text.
The book is best read once one has a clear appreciation of the crossing of the Berezina and its role in the campaign. In that case, it provides a detailed, vivid and moving account of that “hell of a story”.