Saturday 2 March 2024

Crossing of the Kolnica - Spring 1807.

This was a game played using some home-brewed rules called ‘My Napoleonic Rules’, by Dave Hedges. Played in 18mm Napoleonics, based on a fictional encounter in Eastern Europe during the Spring of 1807, during the war of the fourth coalition.

In a fog shrouded valley, a weary French division made its way slowly along the muddy track that passed for a road in those parts. Marshal Lannes found himself somewhere far to the East of where he should have been and on the south side of a river, when he most certainly should have been on the north side.

Thick fog sees all units and dummies positioned on the table using coloured counters.

Peasants in the nearby village of Kabosnik called it the River Kolnica but Lannes could not find either on any map. The capture of a lone Russian scout confirmed a very large enemy force was in the vicinity and that a rapid river crossing was of the utmost importance. Fortunately, there was a team of pontoniers on detachment with the division and they had destroyed a bridge between the two forces, which would slow the onslaught.

The destroyed bridge in front of Kabosnik

Ever a man of action Lannes passed the orders, and the race was on to get over the river as soon as
possible. The division moved at the first hint of daylight and raced for the bridge at Kabosnik and to safety.

French Order of Battle

Russian Order of Battle

First contact! Russian cavalry advance out of the fog and are met by rapidly redeploying French cuirassiers straight off the route of march.

A thick fog covered the low ground by the river and only by staying in close order could the units keep together. The cavalry Brigade led by General Trelliard followed close behind the Marshal, followed by Generals Doursenne leading the 1er and Soules the 2me brigades respectively.

As the cavalry struggle continues on the French right flank, more Russians in the form of infantry and artillery loom out of the thinning fog and the French battalions form up in readiness to guard their crossings.

The poor visibility meant that positions where only approximate and all units were presented by counters until they became visible. Additional counters represented false alarms and individual scouts.

On arrival at the village, Marshal Lannes was met by an officer of pontoniers, who somehow failed to give his name, or rank, but provided both good news and bad. They had indeed blown up a bridge; sadly it was the bridge they had intended to use to cross the river. By a miracle they had managed to set up a (first) pontoon bridge just a little further to the west and there were two more pontoons being rushed along the road to speed the crossing. 

As the French Chasseurs observe the Cossacks in the wood beyond, the heavies go to work with Klingenthals in hand and a grim determination to overcome.

Lannes positions foot artillery on the heights of the south bank to help support his hard pressed troops

With no time to debate the issue, or assign blame, the division marched west, becoming strung out as they forced their way through the village streets. As the crossing started, the first faint sounds of an army on the move drifted down from the hills to the south. The jingle of harness and the creaking of gun limbers heralded the approach of a force that had to be confronted.

French infantry attempts to withdraw as the struggle becomes general along the front.

Scouts headed south towards the sounds of the approaching Russians, and it appeared that the Russians were moving north like Polybius searching for the Argonauts, with blind groping fingers.

The brave French cavalry decided to follow their last set of orders and headed over the westernmost pontoon bridge, following after the Marshal, who had crossed at once with the divisional artillery.

A desperate fight develops in front of the pontoon bridge crossing.

The two infantry brigades prepared for battle. The 1er Brigade occupied the village and began to fortify the church at its centre. The second pontonier regiment rushed from the village centre to the nearby riverbank and began to assemble the bridge, adjacent to the recently destroyed stone bridge. The 2me Brigade headed north to the riverbank east of the village and gathered around the third pontonier regiment who were encouraged to ‘get a bloody move on’ and build yet another bridge.

More French infantry break off and head for the crossing as French cavalry wait their turn to cross

Then it all started to go (even more) wrong. The miracle bridge collapsed whilst the Artillerie a Cheval was crossing, sending the 4-pounders to the bottom of the river. While many of the gunners and their horses survived, the unit was effectively destroyed. The rest of the cavalry brigade was now trapped the wrong side of the river and were going to have to fight to survive. They became the French right flank of battle.

Massed Russian guns add to the problems of the hard pressed French rearguard.

The 21e Régt de chasseurs à cheval were the first to see battle. They scouted south towards the sounds of movement just west of the village and uncovered some cowardly Cossacks lurking in the mist. An immediate charge drove them away and uncovered a whole cavalry brigade advancing towards the trapped French Cavalry.

The rapidly receding early morning mist started to reveal the extent of the opposing force as the heights to the south became blanketed from east to west in a solid line of Russian troops. Their simple faces, uncomprehending of the danger they faced, driven forward by the whips of their officers, they prepared to sell their lives to bring down the eagles of the mighty French army.

On the French right, the treacherous Russian cavalry charged forward as soon as they had sight of the French cavalry. The Russians charged without any preparation and paid the price. The caution of the French Cavalry commander was well served as the chasseurs evaded the clumsy thrust and two regiments of cuirassiers held and threw back the surprised Russians. The Russian cavalry withdrew and played no further part in the battle, deciding that hiding behind their guns was a much better way to face the French cuirassiers. This allowed much of the French cavalry to cross over the river, without interference.

The French rearguard around the left flank pontoon starts to give way after an heroic stand

In the centre the village acted as a fortress against the Russian masses and the first Russian regiment to march on the village was utterly destroyed in a single volley from the 2/28em Régiment de Legere. On the left flank to the East, the Russian forces threw themselves against the tough 2me Brigade defending the third regiment of pontonniers. Serried ranks of infantry and cavalry surged forwards. The 12-pounders of the 2me Brigade wreaked a terrible slaughter against the hordes from the steppes. Cannister ripped through them, bullets slew more and yet, despite terrible losses, the stubborn Russians pushed forwards. 

The fortress of Kabosnik

The French soldiers reloaded and prepared to shoot again. Several Russian regiments were driven back by the guns, and massed volleys, their courage failed in the face of French steadfastness. One lone infantry regiment managed to reach the French gunners and the cries of victory could be heard from the Russian staff officers as they relished the thought of their sharp massed bayonets in amongst the poorly armed gunners. They were unprepared for the fighting spirit of the French gunners. Grabbing ramrods, picks, and shovels, the gunners fought like Corinthians of legend. The Russians, expecting an easy victory against mere gunners, were shocked by the elan of the emperor’s finest troops and fell back in disarray.

The French cavalry, bowed but not beaten are taunted by Cossacks.

In the centre the battle for the village raged, as the Russians threw multiple divisions against the single brigade, holding steady in the ruins of the splintered wooden buildings. Supported by massed cannons the Russians were convinced they were headed for a quick victory.

Despite severe losses in the centre and the East, the Russians simply threw more troops into the attack. Their endless numbers replaced skill or tactics. The French cannons on the left, spoke again and drove off another attempt to rush them, but the injuries dealt the far-left flank regiments of the second brigade was enough to cause some troops to break and run. Fresh Russian brigades advanced on the far left of the French position and started to unleash a terrible volume of fire.

In the centre the Russians charged into the village and were repeatedly driven back by incredible courage. General Doursenne himself led a bayonet charge to drive back some Russians occupying the edges of the village and, as luck would have it, was struck down by a stray cannonball. In the following confusion the 1/64em Regiment de Ligne fell back to save the body of their commander and, with no further orders, withdrew from the battle.

While the battle raged French troops had been withdrawing over the newly erected pontoon bridges. While sometimes in good order, some units were rushing over without waiting for the command, leaving weapons and equipment behind.

Marshal Lannes seeing that defeat was inevitable sounded the general retreat and, though many troops were lost, all the eagles were retrieved. The sad sight of 12 pounders spiked and abandoned was a pitiful sight after so many soldiers died to protect them. As the last of the troops crossed over the river, covered by the divisional artillery, the pontoons were cut free and the remaining forces withdrew with heavy hearts; leaving the Russians to claim a temporary victory, little knowing that their defeat lay ahead of them on the battlefield of Friedland. One of the last to cross the river was an exploring officer who had become lost in the thick forest south of the first pontoon bridge. He had some fanciful story that he was chased by a whole brigade led by Barclay de Tolly himself. If true, that lone officer was responsible for saving all the cavalry. If only there was some other proof. We will never know.

This (possibly biased) report was Translated by Ian Macdonald.

This was a very enjoyable game. David’s games are always unpredictable with surprise events on both sides, and they create a marvellous narrative, as well as being a delight to fight. The French definitely lost the battle, but the story makes it a victory. Thanks to JJ Mike and Nathan for making defeat so entertaining.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Mobile Bay, 5th August 1864 - Dawn of Iron.

Battle of Mobile Bay, by Louis Prang. 
At left foreground is the CSS Tennessee; at the right the USS Tecumseh is sinking.

This battle was an opportunity to dust off some much loved Peter Pig ACW ships and try out a new set of naval rules.

The rules are “Dawn of Iron” and are published by Scary Biscuits Studios. They are a simple set of rules that are easy to learn.

This is ideal for a club game where we wanted to use a lot of ships. In addition they are devised so the book keeping is kept to a minimum.

Example of Ship Card.

Example of Damage Card.

This scenario “Damn the Torpedoes” was taken from their extensive Battles Packs. There are plenty of battles to choose from.

We played the rules with no changes except to reduce the turn arc to 22.5 degrees from 45 degrees. This worked well in our game and did cause a few more collisions that would have otherwise occurred. Always a good outcome in a naval game.

The table set up :-

The CSS Tennessee is the pride of the Confederate navy being a large Ironclad. The other three ships were less impressive but well armed.

The four Union ships are Ironclad Monitors, all with large guns.

In addition the Union had the following wooden ships:-

USS Brooklyn & Octorara
USS Hartford & Metacomet
USS Monongahela & Kennebec

The Union Fleet was bigger than this but we did not have enough models, also, we wanted the Confederates to have a chance of winning.

The objective of the game was for the Union fleet to enter the harbour and eliminate the Confederate ships. The Confederates would win by preventing this and by sinking half the Union ships.

Before the game started the Union commander opted to attack at high tide. This would allow ships to sail between the torpedoes and land. However this would be for a limited time before the tide started to go out.

Gregory, who was given the job of Admiral Farragut, planned for the Monitors to sail through the gap and silence the Water Battery and Fort Morgan.

Things started well, the Union soon silenced the Water Battery and were steaming past Fort Morgan. It was then that the Tennessee came into sight. Gregory told Vince to take her on with the USS Tecumseh. This he did by ramming into her. Both ships were now entangled for rest of game.

At this point the two Steve's who commanded the Confederate Fleet were not looking confident. Gregory now unleashed the rest of his fleet to finish of the Confederates.

This was when the Union snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. As each wooden ship came on and tried to sail through the gap they were hammered by the remnant of Fort Morgan. What was worse, the tide started to go out, the USS Manhattan got stranded and then Admiral Farragut was killed. 

Then the Confederate Gunboats sailed in for the kill and finished off the Union Wooden ships.

Finally remember the Tennessee and Tecumseh, well they were still entangled. They had been hammering away at each other and finally the Tecumseh was beaten into a derelict vessel and surrendered.

The Union had now lost 50% of there fleet so the Confederates claimed a victory.

A most enjoyable game played in good humour. Steve M and Steve L were the Confederates who did not give up when the Monitors broke into the harbour. Gregory and Vince were the gallant Union players who were convinced they would win in a return game.

The rules played well and gave a good feel of the period. Some realism has been sacrificed to keep the game mechanism simple but they have captured the main elements of the conflict. 

Friday 16 February 2024

French Indo-China - Dinassaut Commando Raid on Gian Khau 1948.


We tend to think of the French position in Indochina as “a losing-hand”, that wasn’t always so. Following the post war reoccupation, the French pacified most of Indochina more or less. The Viet Minh found it hard to operate outside of their strongholds, in the face of superior French firepower and aggression. Only after the fall of China to Mao’s communist forces, did the Viet Minh have a safe-havens in to train and equip. 

Dinassaut Commandos

Today’s game is set in this earlier period and is a French Dinassaut raid on a village, used by the Viet Minh for logistics and training, along the River Day (Song Day). The village of Gian Khau is deep in Ninh Binh province and in the heart of Viet Minh resistance. 

The time is 04.30 on 2nd February 1948, the weather is clear and warm.

The Dinassat - Division Navale d’ Assaut (Naval Assault Divisions) was a riverine unit employed by the French Navy in Indochina; ten units were created by General Leclerc in 1947. Each Dinassault consisted of approximately 12 craft, often American landing craft modified with armour and using tank turrets or 81 mm mortars, to be employed as riverine artillery (source Wikipedia).

Riverine Monitor

We used Chain of Command by Two Fat Lardies, with the Vietnam and French Indochina supplements by Jason Sendjirdjian, see link below:

French Order of Battle
Six Command dice, one of which is red and counts for 1,2,3 & 4 only. All troops are elite.

Commando HQ
  • Officer (Snr Leader), SMG and grenades. 2 i/c Snr Sergeant (Snr Leader), SMG and grenades plus Medic.
Commando Stick One
  • Sou Sargeant (Jnr Leader), SMG and grenades
  • 8 commandos with SMG’s and grenades
Fire support team
  • Inferior Jnr Leader &
  • BAR with 3 crew
Commando Stick Two
  • Sou Sargeant (Jnr Leader), SMG and grenades
  • 8 commandos with SMG’s and grenades
Fire support team
  • Inferior Jnr Leader & BAR with 3 crew
Fire Support Team Three
  • Bipod MMG with 5 crew
Sapper Demolition Engineers
  • Sou Sargeant (Jnr Leader) carbine
Two Demolition Teams
  • 3 sappers, demolition charges and carbines per team
Riverine Monitor
  • 37mm gun, 81mm mortar and two MMG’s. All fire is long range.
Notes: troops that disembark at jetty deploy and move normally, those that disembark in the river
have no deployment bonus and move as difficult terrain. French troops are motivated and well equipped, the rules limiting hand grenades to not apply. Commandos will not surrender.

French Briefing and Objectives.
Gian Khau village is identified as a Viet Minh logistic and training hub. Gian Khau cannot be attacked by land due to the poor roads and many ambush positions. A paradrop was considered and rejected because extraction will be by via same roads. The newly formed Dinassaut forces have been allocated this task.

You will attack just before first light, taking advantage of the river mist to approach (visibility is limited to 10 inches at least to start with). The village is lightly held by local defence troops but recent aerial reconnaissance has been hotly engaged by ground machine gun fire; three possible locations for these guns have been identified; two emplacements on the riverbank and one on the jetty. The best place to land is probably alongside the jetty, but the river is wadable to a certain extent (counts as heavy terrain). You can expect enemy reinforcements to arrive quite quickly, as this is an enemy training area too.

A recent photo-recon image is enclosed showing Gian Khau and jetty, possible machine gun positions and the roads leading to the nearby training camp.

Your objective is to destroy all the building and transport which are filled with supplies. Then make an expeditious exit the same way you arrived. Buildings are of light weight construction and can be easily demolished by gun, mortars or by engineers.

Viet Minh Order of Battle and Briefing
Five Command dice, most units count as regulars.

Gian Khau Village Garrison
  • Snr Leader pistol (no grenades)
  • 2 i/c Snr Leader, SMG (no grenades)
  • Commissar & two runners
  • 1 squad of 6 rifles (no grenades) Green Troops
  • Support Weapons, Regular, 2 x MMG in sand bagged positions, with crew of 6 each
Gian Khau Main Force Training Camp.
  • Company HQ
  • 1 superior Snr Ldr, pistol (no grenades).
  • 2 commissars, pistol with two runners each (no grenades).
  • Snr Leader, SMG (no grenades).
  • 2 i/c Snr Ldr, SMG (no grenades).
4 rifle squads each consisting of:
  • 1 Jnr leader with rifle and
  • 9 riflemen (no grenades)
Viet Minh Briefing and Objectives.
The Deuxieme Bureau in Hanoi has released part of a speech by a senior commissar who visiting
Gian Khau; it is all you need to know:

“Comrades of Gian Khau village, by your efforts the day of liberation draws ever nearer. Daily you unload motivated comrades, weapons and rice, the three wants of the peoples’ struggle. After a dangerous transit, often from far away, these three wants are delivered for your safekeeping. By day you labour and by night you guard the three wants vigilantly. Even though Gian Khau is far from our beloved leader, your unceasing struggle does not pass unnoticed.”

Your objective is to defend the village buildings and lorry-park, where these important stores are kept. But first, you must mark the positions of your two machine guns and the entry route of the Main-Force reinforcements, on the aerial photograph recently acquired by one of our comrades working in the Deuxieme Bureau, Hanoi.

How the Game Played
Before the game started the Viet Minh (VM) player, had a couple of decisions to make; the location of two machine guns and where the Main Force reinforcements would enter. With his map now annotated the first set of six command dice were rolled by the elite French Commandos, commanded by Lawrence and Tom. 

The French split their forces into two almost even groups and stormed ashore from the river, rather than land at the jetty. During the first turn the range was limited to ten inches, but despite being sufficient for the two machine gun positions to see the landing, the VM held their fire. 

As the French consolidated their landing position, by bringing on more of their force, the VM deployed their village defence force, a small and poorly armed body of village folk, but well-motivated by their leader and supporting commissar. With the village force deployed the two VM machine guns opened-up, one in a sand bagged position and the other at the end of the jetty, killing two French commandos but ineffective against the monitor.

Luck now favoured the French with a double phase and they poured a huge return fire of sub machine gun, grenades all supported by the monitor’s machine guns and 37mm gun fire too; the VM gun crew were soon reduced to one. 

Lady luck now gave the VM a double turn. The VM realising that they would never out gun the French, used the tactic of “grasping the enemy by the belt buckle” and surged forward towards the nearest group of commandos and into melee. The village VM group never got to roll their second phase; the melee saw their whole force destroyed and village morale collapse to zero. In one sweep the village defence had been overrun by the French but not without cost as four more French commandos had been killed in the desperate hand to hand fighting; something the French force could ill afford.

The sound of the fighting in the village had alerted the VM main force troops at the training camp, who now started to appear at their pre-designated jump off point (B). Equally as poorly equipped and equally as highly motivated as the village defenders, the VM Main Force were determined to see off their oppressors. 

The French demolition teams wasted no time in moving though the village destroying buildings and supplies. The monitor crew joined in the process using gun and mortar fire to destroy further buildings. The commandos meanwhile spread out into the paddy fields behind the village, taking up positions behind the field bunds. And to bring their superior firepower to bear, the French used their chain of command dice to end the turn, which increased visibility to 15”.

With increased visibility some fire was exchanged but with little effect, one side or the other would have to close the range to achieve anything decisive. Knowing that their firepower was distinctly inferior to the French, the VM accepted that it would have to be them. Skilfully using the poor visibility to avoid being caught in too much cross fire, the VM entered the paddy fields making use of the bunds for cover, while concentrating their attention on the weaker of the two French groups. Awaiting the right moment a commissars leapt to his feet, grasped the flag and as the bugle sounded the charge he fell-over as he crossed the bund and splashed into the paddy (that is to say - the VM rolled a one on their movement dice!). 

Fortunately, the hail of French fire only caused one VM casualty; perhaps the commissar was not that inspiring after all? On the second attempt the VM poured over the bund and meleed the French commandos. The result was predictably a brave loss by the VM, who lost all their men, except for the commissar and the senior leader, both last seen skedaddling-back the way they had come. But the French suffered two killed and the squad Sou-Seargent wounded as well; fortunately for both sides the morale effects were not very severe. The French, realising that they need more visibility to bring their superior firepower to bear, ended the turn so increasing the range to 20 inches.

The French and VM had fought each other to a standstill on one flank but on the other the French, meeting little resistance had made good progress. All the stores and building in the village had been destroyed as they pressed deeper into VM territory to blow-up and last storage area. 

The senior sergeant had established his men and the company support machine gun, in the paddy fields where they engaged fleeting VM targets, though with little effect. He had hatched a plan whereby the engineers would outflank the VM positions through a burnt-out wood, supported by suppressive fire from his men and the mortar on the monitor; sadly things quickly went pear-shaped. There was a breakdown in walky-talky communication with the monitor as the supporting mortar fire went everywhere, except on target. 

The VM senior leader quickly deducing the French plan and used his chain of command dice to move his jump off point, so he could more effectively deploy his remaining reserves. A clash ensued between the engineer team and a squad of approaching VM riflemen. While there were no casualties to either side, the French realising they were outnumbered retreated from the hill, pausing long enough to point out the approaching VM to the senior sergeant. This was just as well because the senior-sergeant had just enough time to rearrange his defences before the VM charged down-hill to melee his men. 

As in previous melees the French superiority in fire power carried the day, killing every single VM, but not before three commandos were killed, including the senior-sergeant. This time the morale dice rolls were not so kind the VM and their steadily declining morale collapsed and the remaining VM force quitting the field.

Conclusion? While the French had carried the day and destroyed considerable amounts of VM stores, they had taken heavy casualties amongst the highly trained commandos. With the village and surrounding areas now secured, the French would demolish the reminder of the VM buildings and stores. 

For the VM, the decision to melee the French were ever possible, would always result in heavy casualties but with inferior firepower it was probably the best decision. While the precious stores were lost, both the VM main-force senior leaders and commissars had all survived; the VM could rebuild their force and the struggle continue.

Most of the information used to construct this scenario comes from “Mourier pour L’Indochine – Wargaming French Indochina 1946-54”, by Shawn Taylor. While these are not the rules used to play the game today, they are a set that I will try to use in further games at the DWG, especially as they allow for larger scale deployments than do Chain of Command.

Thanks to Tom, Paul and Lawrence for playing the game, especially as VM Paul managed to keep an inscrutable poker face throughout. Figures are Empress Miniatures alongside several Warlord Games and Rubicon Miniatures plastic sets that I have “kit-bashed”, plus US troops I purchased second-hand but don’t know the manufacturer. Apologies for some of the French riverine fleet. Perhaps, since the vessels are more representative than involved, I should get these models in 15mm so the table would be less cluttered.

Stephen Huntsman
29 1 2024