Sunday, 9 February 2020

Battle of Elchingen 1805 - Battlereport

A Corps level action this week, with  Ney's French VI Corps, attacking Riesch's Corps at Elchingen. A good example of how playing a wargame can change your thoughts about history, as I comment on in the conclusion at the end of this post.

I didn't play in this one. Instead long time Napoleonic wargaming buddies Ion and Paul assumed command of the French and Austrians respectively, while I sat back and watched!


This battle was part of the Ulm campaign in 1805, with the French VI Corps under Ney ordered to cross the Danube and take Elchingen, moving to help surround Mack's Austrian army and prevent its retreat. Riesche's Austrian Corps deployed on a plateua between the villages of Upper and Lower Elchingen to oppose them.

I used the scenario from Michael Hopper's "Rise of Eagles" 1805 scenario booklet, with a few minor  changes. Firstly, an important feature of this battle was that the French and Austrians could not see each other until the French units crested the slopes of the plateau, at which point they saw the masses of Austrians on the reverse of this. So in the game I modelled this slope as ridgeline for clarity, as the battle is really more of a reverse slope defensive position for the Austrians. The ridge is still rough terrain given that it caused problems with movement, particularly to cavalry. 

Additionally I understand that the French pounded the convent in Upper Elchingen with their divisional and corps reserve artillery, but this artillery is not listed in the scenario so I added a couple of batteries to Villate's Brigade to represent this. Lastly, I divided Malher's third Division into its two Brigades (Marcognet and Delabussee) for command purposes in the game, and second Division remained in two Brigades (Villate and Rouget).

Also to add interest (and to add even more misery for the Austrians!) I provided historical briefings for both players, rather than telling them victory conditions of the scenario!

Firstly this rough map illustrated the general strategic situation, of which both sides were aware.

And following this, here are the French orders to Ney.

And the (actual) Austrian orders that were received by Riesch from Mack in 1805... good luck in deciding what you are supposed to do here if you are Riesch! (Paul reviewed this and decided that if he "considered" things he would be obeying orders sufficiently in this "pick-a-path" adventure of a mission briefing!)

Lastly, 321 Fastplay Napoleonic Rules were used once more for this battle.


French VI Corps - Ney

The French have a largely veteran force, with less numerous but better infantry, excellent command, and artillery superiority. 

The French Generals are rated as Strategists (Command Rating 5), and Ney is a Competent Army Commander.

Villate: 2 Veteran Light, 1 Veteran Line (39th), 1 Line, 1 Skirmisher, 1 Foot Battery, 1 Heavy Battery
Rouget: 5 Line, 1 Skirmisher (Arrives turn 2)
Colbert: 1 Veteran Hussar, 1 Veteran Chasseur
Laplanche: 3 Veteran Dragoons, 1 Veteran Horse Batttery
Marcognet: 3 Veteran Light, 2 Line, 1 Skirmisher (Arrives turn 6)
Delabassee: 4 Line, 1 Skirmisher, 1 Foot Battery (Arrives turn 6)

Total units = 31: 18 Infantry, 5 Cavalry, 4 Skirmishers, 4 Artillery.

Austrian Corps - Riesch

The Austrians have their veteran Grenadiers and Kuirassiers who had remained indomitable despite recent Austrian tactical and strategic failures. However, the remainder of the infantry is largely raw - as they are units with many raw recruits who have also experienced a series of demoralising losses and retreats. The Austrians have also lost most of their artillery and its ammunition. The command is confused and cautious. Units are brigaded together in ad-hoc fashion, with this also changing from day to day, and often combining small numbers of good troops with poor ones rather than concentrating strength and possibility of strong action with them.

The Austrian Generals are all rated as Cautious (Command Rating 3), and Riesch is a Cautious Army Commander.

Coburg: 1 Veteran Line, 1 Raw Line, 1 Hussar
Hermann: 2 Veteran Line, 2 Raw Line, 1 Veteran Kuirassier
Genegdegh: 8 Raw Line, 1 Raw Skirmisher, 1 Lancer, 1 Veteran Horse Artillery
Auersperg: 4 Line, 4 Raw Line, 1 Raw Skirmisher
Ulm: 2 Veteran Line, 1 Veteran Kuirassier
Mescery: 1 Veteran Line, 2 Raw Line

Total units = 34: 27 Infantry, 4 Cavalry, 2 Skirmishers, 1 Artillery.

I used my 1809-13 figures again for this fight (so all the raw Austrian infantry are in shakos, regulars in helmets, and Grenadiers in Bearskins of course!).

Refight 1

Here are some shots showing the initial deployments. From the French position looking towards Upper Elchingen and the Austrian centre.

And from the French right, towards Lower Elchingen. Merscary's Austrian advance guard is in the open on the right in a very exposed position.

Mescery's Brigade with two units of raw infantry, and one unit of Grenadiers. Historically they suffered badly to the French dragoons and horse artillery.

Successive lines of Austrians in the centre.

The convent in Upper Elchingen, a crucial objective in the battle as its capture threatened the Austrian centre.

And here are three photos showing the Austrian deployment from behind their lines. Right flank with Auersperg in Upper Elchingen, and Ulm behind. Auerperg's regular line troops are garrisoning the town sectors, with the raw line behind in reserve.

Centre, with Genegdegh's multitudes.

And left flank with remaining three Austrian Brigades.

A look down the table from the West.

And from the East.

The battle begins with Laplanche's Dragoons and Horse battery attacking Mescery's advanced guard, which attempts to retire towards the town.

The Austrians manage to form square and see off the Dragoons, but a unit is lost under canister fire from the horse guns before the remaining two units make it to the town, though in shakey condition.

The French begin their assault on Upper Elchingen on their left, and the Austrian reserves move to counter immediately.

Rouget's infantry advances on the ridgeline, with Colbert in support.

The French smash their way into Upper Elchingen, taking half the town and routing two Austrian regular units. However Austrian Reserves counterattack. The Austrian Grenadier charge is stopped cold by a volley, but the Kuirassiers manage to run down two units and cause another to rout in reaction.  Disaster for the French!

The Austrians decide they are not strong enough to push on here though, and they retire back over the ridge to reform out of threat from French artillery.

Meanwhile on the other flank, a dozen more French infantry units arrive heading for Lower Elchingen and the ridge.

The Austrian cavalry on this wing had advanced, but now they beat a hasty retreat back over the ridge.

A look down the table from the East.

Fresh French infantry  launch themselves towards Lower Elchingen and the ridge. The Austrians put up a stubborn defence, particularly the Grenadiers from Hermann who have garrisoned the town. Both sides take heavy casualties.

The Austrians in Upper Elchingen retake a sector of the town, but Auerspergs troops are near their breaking point and unable to push further.

Colbert's Chasseurs charge over the ridge but are routed by squadrons of the Schwarzenberg Uhlans.

The Austrians put up a surprisingly stubborn defence, hammering French attack columns struggling up the slopes, with Riesch managing to make the most of his raw troops in the centre, ably assisted by the horse artillery. (Paul tells us he has lots of practice at this sort of thing with Spanish!).

However, now the telling blow, Laplanche's Dragoons swoop over the ridge and rout the Austrian Kuirassiers and Hussars (despite the Kuirassiers at least being at an advantage), and charge on routing another raw Austrian unit. A succession of routs sees Coburg and Hermann's remaining battered units dispersing. The last Grenadier unit in Lower Elchingen which had thrown back multiple French attacks, though becoming increasingly worn in the process, also disperses.  The French take Lower Elchingen.

The French manage to retake a sector of Upper Elchingen but lack the strength to push any further.

And it the is end of turn 12 and the battle is over. Despite capturing Lower Elchingen and half of Upper Elchingen, the French are in a terrible state. Rouget's brigade is smashed and only a single unit remains. Marcognet, Delabusse and Colbert are each a single unit off breaking, and Vilatte isn't much better. Only Laplanche's Dragoons remain without lost units.

The Austrians have also taken heavy losses, with Mercery, Hermann and Coburg broken, and Auersperg also losing many units. Those broken are three of the four smallest Brigades however.

Checking the victory conditions according to the "Rise of Eagles" scenario, the French have won a minor victory, by capturing Lower Elchingen and breaking more Brigades than they have lost. We are all agreed it is a very Pyrrhic victory though, given the French have lost 15 units, and the Austrians 14! Ney would not be happy having to report the casualties to Napoleon.

Refight 2

Given I had the table and figures setup, the next day I decided to replay the battle solo. An even more aggressive attack by Laplanche on Merscery starts the battle.

The Austrians pull back, getting lucky and inflicting slight disorder on a Dragoon unit with musketry.

The Dragoons don't care though and run them down before they can form square, charging on before being repelled by the Grenadiers in square.

The Grenadiers square is then dispersed by canister.

The remaining raw Austrian infantry shuffles desperately towards the town in square, as cavalry rides to the rescue.

A fierce clash sees the Hussars routed, and the Kuirassiers driven back. Remarkably, the raw Austrian square makes it to the town through the canister (only just!), and even starts rallying once it reaches this (comparative) safety!

On the left, the French prepare their assault upon Upper Elchingen. 

  The first two town sectors are quickly taken.

And feeling confident the French press onwards.

The Austrian reserves here who have been failing command checks and holding, finally commit themselves and check the French advance.

 The French fall back to hold what they have captured and reorder.

In the centre Rouget advances over the ridge mostly in line, relying on superior volley fire to break the Austrian lines. 

French firepower decimates the Austrian units, though casualties are taken in return. French skirmishers also eliminate the Austrian horse battery.

An Austrian Grenadier unit charges and  routs a French unit on the end of the line, and as it does so another French unit breaks.

Rouget is looking too shakey to push the attack further.

At this point despite the initial French attacks being stalled I decide to call this game. The Austrians have already lost 14 units and their main Brigades are on the verge of breaking. The French have only lost 2 units from Rouget, and an entire Division of 12 fresh French units is about to arrive. This game has gone more like the way the historical battle went, about to be over by early afternoon.

Refight's 3 and 4

I had also played this battle a couple of years ago in 2018, though I didn't post photos at the time! It's hard to see but the Austrians are actually on a plateau (hills under table mat). The setup is roughly similar, though the French didn't get the added Corps artillery.  Here's a few photos of that effort. Both refights in 2018 were clear French victories, though in one my opponent Mike at least managed to kill Ney who was leading a cavalry charge in the centre!  In one of those beginner's luck events that never repeats, he also charged OUT of Upper Elchingen and defying the canister overran an artillery battery before retreating back into the town. A move so against reason that I hadn't imagined defending better against it!


This is an interesting battle. Authors criticise Riesch for his deployment, arguing he should have contested the Danube river crossing instead. However, looking at the available forces it is difficult to see how he could have done this effectively. He had only a few measly Austrian six pounder guns against twice as many heavier French guns setup to clear a bridgehead and protect the crossing.  

Instead it seems Riesch quite sensibly chose what was effectively a reverse slope position to protect himself from artillery bombardment, with villages forming bastions on both flanks. The position is actually a mini Waterloo, though with difficult slopes which might hinder both sides. Playing and watching the battle (or Paul's effort at least!), I'm inclined to think Reisch was not that incompetent, and instead made the best of a bad situation and miserably confusing orders.  Paul also came within a hairs breadth of succeeding, using his raw units well before committing the Veterans. The Austrian Kuirassiers were unlucky versus the Dragoons in both games despite having an advantage, though Paul made up for it with a smashing charge on the other flank into Villate's Brigade. 

Scenario and Rule Options?
As I've said before I am interested in the history rather than having such games be an even contest. However there are some things that could be done here to give the Austrians a better chance. One option would be giving them greater freedom over Brigade composition, given this changed frequently. Also deployment, and especially poor Mescery stuck out on the flank where he is set to be run over by Laplanche! Historically I believe the Austrian Hussars (Blankenstein) were on the right, but I kept them positioned as indicated in the "Rise of Eagles" scenario.  The Austrians also had another few artillery pieces that were parcelled out to infantry units individually as battalion guns (subsumed into infantry effectiveness here), but they could instead be brigaded together to give the Austrians another battery of foot guns.

In the rules used, the Austrian Generals being cautious rating had to roll 3 or less on a D6, or their Brigade would hold for the turn. While holding they cannot advance, the general cannot rally or otherwise assist units, and units move at half speed. If Riesch was within 30cm of a general they got a reroll. In contrast the French only had to roll a 5 or less, and if Ney was within 60cm they got a reroll.  This seemed about right given the historical battle, but one could be more generous and make the Austrians competent (command rating 4), giving them a better chance to react. Paul managed it well despite the cautious command rating, and this holding is also less of a problem when on defence. The raw Austrian infantry could perhaps be recruit rather than raw grade (3 rather than 2 for morale tests, though still 2 for combat). This would help them stay a little longer, though raw rating is not inconsistent with their performance on the day.  

A rules query that came up in this one was whether or not loss of the Brigade skirmish screen should cause morale effects on the Brigade, including units potentially breaking. Based on this line of reasoning from author of General D'Armee rules (a ruleset I like though it takes considerably longer to complete a game),  I have had such losses causing break tests, but players don't seem to like it so I've removed it for now. I'm interested to hear what other people think about this one though, so let me know! Another issue is that chain routs can be "unfortunate" to experience, as in General D'Armee, but it seems to give historical results so have kept this one for now!

Anyway, thanks for reading. This is an interesting battle to play with many what if's and options to explore.