Saturday, 7 May 2016

There is Nothing Like a Dane

I've only been to Denmark once, and that was a school trip when I was 17 where I ended up in hospital with food poisoning, meeting a number of charming Danish nurses in the process... Anyway, back to the real world (sadly).
On the contrary, these are exactly like Danes
We managed seven wargames last year, which was pretty good for us and I'm hoping we can fight more than that this year.   If you were counting I feel I should confess one of them from last year wasn't blogged because I lost the camera on the way home so nothing survives of it apart from the sketch-map (I'm thinking to rerun the scenario again this year).  Anyway, here is the game we played last weekend.
Battle of Oeversee
The scenario was taken from Neil Thomas' book Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe 1815-1878 and was a recreation of a rearguard action between retreating Danes and advancing Austrians, the Battle of Oeversee (Second Schleswig War, 1864).
The real battle was an incident in relation to the intractable 'Schleswig-Holstein Question', the solution to which Palmerston remarked was only understood by three people: Prince Albert (who was dead); a German professor (who went mad thinking about it); and Palmerston himself, who claimed he'd forgotten it. In fact the book gives an excellent overview of the situation and the political background to the 'question', as well as the lead up to this particular encounter.
Initial Danish positions with Colonel Müller leading
In essence, the Danes, after being defeated by the Austrians at Jagel-Overselk, were trying to retreat northwards to a line of fortifications, the Danevirke.  A rearguard of around 3,000 men under Colonel Max Müller was tasked with holding up the Austrian army (comprising an advance guard of around 4,000 troops), which, after being bested during the Italian Wars of Independence five years previously, a) now relied heavily on the bayonet attack and b) had much better artillery that was used more aggressively.
View from behind Danish starting positions
The Austrian's objective therefore was to force the Danes off the road and to disrupt the orderly withdrawal of the main Danish army.  The scenario gave the Austrians two bronze rifled guns and the 9th Hussars to start with, to be reinforced progressively by Jägers, skirmishers and three units of average infantry.
Austrian 9th Hussars ford the River Trenen
The Danes on the other hand were to have four units of 'levy' infantry (due to low morale) plus an understrength gun.  However, reinforcements comprising another unit of infantry and some artillery was allowed for (in the real battle it never arrived).
Austrian infantry - looking suspiciously like Airfix French Foreign Legion...
The Austrian's scenario objective therefore was to ensure that there were no Danish units within 12cm of the road by the end of turn 10.  The rules used were those set out in Neil Thomas' book, which are fast-play and simple.
Austrians start to pour across the river as the Danes form up
The initial moves allowed the Danes to form up in line across the road and to move through the woods in order to extend the line.  The Austrians advanced across the river rapidly, with the intention of decisively steamrollering the jittery Danes at bayonet point.
Disgraceful evidence of fly-tipping encountered in the woods
Unfortunately for the Austrians there were a number of problems.  The Austrian artillery placed on a hill next to the river was just out of range of the Danes, who, wisely, decided to stay put and not advance into said range.  Secondly, the Austrians, conscious of the game's time limit, were advancing piecemeal over the river to attack straight off the march.  Thirdly, the Danes' reinforcements turned up nice and early (move 3).
Austrians start to deploy, but Danish reinforcements have arrived already
However, despite not being able to soften up the enemy with artillery, the Austrians continued their inexorable advance, hoping to make contact as soon as possible.
Austrians getting closer
As the Austrians advanced their Jägers were able to start peppering the Danes on their left, whom they outranged.  Meanwhile, the infantry and hussars moved into charging range.
Hussars make contact; though half of them didn't get that far
Initiating a charge into the Danes on the right, the hussars lost a significant proportion in the approach but still managed to make contact.  The Danes recoiled, but due to a quirk (or misunderstanding) of the rules the cavalry was not able to follow up immediately.
Danes retire briefly, but cavalry stopped (for some reason)
At that point, the Danes that had been pushed back were able to fire again at the milling hussars and basically wipe them out, mainly due to poor die throwing from the Austrians.
Hussars wiped out: offending die score foregrounded
Meanwhile, some Austrian infantry had made contact with the Danish centre, but again, with a series of brutal die throws the centre held and the Austrian attack faltered.
Austrians faltering
Another round of melee saw the Austrians actually manage to push the Danish centre back, but the attacking infantry was too damaged to follow up.  Again, the Danes who had been pushed back were able to fire into the Austrian infantry who had just beaten them and they were decimated.
Depleted Austrians in centre, about to be blown away
So, with two units lost and the clock ticking down (we were on move 11) it was clear that the attackers were not strong enough to break the Danish line and therefore the Austrians conceded the game.

So, a bit of a frustrating game for the Austrians, and an easier than expected one for the Danes (me).  Overall though, I think our main problem was with the rules.  Neil Thomas sets out clearly his rationale for the rules he produces in his books.  However, for us I think that the rules are generally too simple and sacrifice more realistic mechanics in order to create a fast-play framework.

That said, a frontal attack by hussars against steady infantry is unlikely to succeed in any rule-set, although the fact that the Austrian artillery was out of range at the start was mainly because our table was longer than the set up envisaged in Neil Thomas' scenario.

However, the period is an interesting one (particularly when you compare it to what was going on in America at the same time) and there are a lot of good ideas in the book.  Geoff had spent a good few months preparing and painting his armies (a combination of converted Airfix, Italeri and Zvezda pastics, with some Irregular 20mm figures thrown in) and no doubt we will be fighting some more games from this period this year, though perhaps with different rules.

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