Monday, June 2, 2014

From the Vault: Battle of Handelkirchen, 1809

Rarely do I meet Jake without him bringing up the Battle of Handlekirchen game fought so many years ago.  For Jake, I pull this long lost BatRep from the vault.  Hard to believe this game took place fourteen years ago this month.  Never have I seen a commander sacrifice so many of his generals in one battle.
"At Start" overview 
Battle of Handelkirchen -- A Napoleonic Set-Piece in 1809
The village of Handelkirchen stood at the foot of the heights where the Abens flowed in a long arc around the base of the mountain. In spring, the Abens was difficult to cross except at the two bridges on either side of Handelkirchen. The banks of the Abens were protected in many places by a dense thicket that was impassable to cavalry. Here, Archduke Charles decided to stand and await the inevitable French attack. Under his command, Charles had infantry corps of Rosenberg, Hiller, Ludwig, a cavalry corps under Kienmayer, and a Reserve Korps under Liechtenstein. With Charles occupying the central position between the two bridges, Rosenberg's corps was to hold on the left while Ludwig attempted the same delaying action on the right. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and out-led, Charles would not have to wait long.

Ludwig at start
Rosenberg at start
Opposing Charles was a French juggernaut comprised of one French infantry corps under Massena, one Italian corps under Grenier, one Bavarian corps under Lefebvre, and one mixed corps under Vandamme made up of Westphalians, Hesse Darmstadt, and Croats. Also at hand was a heavy cavalry corps under LaSalle and the French guard under Curial.
Vandamme at start
Bavarians at start

Initial dispositions from behind Austrian lines
The French assault was led on the left by Vandamme and his German corps. Lead elements of the first division overran the Trieste landwehr regiment sending it scurrying to the rear. Despite a spirited defense by Dedovich's fast foot battery, the Westphalians pressed on and took the heights.
Vandamme steps off on the attack
As Tharreau pressed home the assault on Dedovich, Royer with the Croats and HD regiments skirted the knoll where Dedovich was placed and bypassed the 1st Jaegers concealed in the woods. The 1st Uhlans charged the croats and scattered them. The Uhlans were then charged in succession by the 1st Chasseurs a Cheval and then the 1st Hussars with heavy casualties on both sides. Although outnumbered and pressure mounting from Vandamme, Rosenberg regains order and advance to meet the threat. 

After a brief delay the French right snapped into action led by the Bavarians and Marulaz's cavalry brigade. Marulaz's cavalry targeted the two Austrian batteries deployed south of the village and hit the batteries in successive charges. First in against the batteries was the 2nd Chasseurs a Cheval who were repulsed after suffering heavy casualties. Next in was the 3rd lancers who overran the lead battery softened by the chasseurs before being repulsed by the second battery.

Lancers charge Austrian guns
As the French center advances towards the awaiting defenders behind the river, the French left plows into Ludwig's Corps. In a hotly contested firefight, the Austrians repulse the first of three Bavarian assaults.
Bavarians attack!
With the Italians pressing down on Ludwig from the south and threatening the north village, the Bavarians regroup and attack a second time.
Bavarian and Italian attacks continue 
In an effort to counter this threat, Ludwig brings forward two regiments to cover the bridge. With the French and Italians pressing in on the north bridge, Massena orders an all-out assault across the Abens in an attempt to breach the Austrian center.
North bridge under attack
Austrians defending the river
North bridge attacked again
Italians advance on north village

Austrians stand firm
Despite superior numbers, the French are repulsed as troops take heavy canister and musket fire and break streaming towards the rear. To stabilize the French center, Napoleon orders six batteries to deploy across the Austrian front in preparation for a second French assault as the French guard advances on Rosenberg.
Rosenberg defends
Rosenberg conducts an orderly withdrawal as French pressure mounts. With the last of the Austrian cavalry on the left blown from a clash with the Guard CaC, and Vandamme relentlessly in pursuit, Rosenberg orders a general retreat back to the north bank of the Abens.
Rosenberg Withdraws
Back at the north bridge, the Italian and Bavarian numerical superiority is telling on Ludwig's Corps. First, the 17th line is pushed back from its supporting position of the jagers in the village and then jagers, in turn, are surrounded and captured by the Italian guard. With Ludwig falling back across the river, the Bavarians and Italians control the French left.
Last stand at north bridge
So ended the Battle of Handelkirchen. The Austrians, although still in control of the center with Hiller and Liechenstein relatively unscathed, decide to pull back to allow Ludwig and Rosenberg to rest and stabilize the defensive line.

Final body count for the day was:
French casualties: 21,720 infantry; 3,760 cavalry; and 2 batteries
Austrian casualties: 16,560 infantry; 4,880 cavalry; and 7 batteries.

That represents roughly 25% casualties for each side. If only I'd realized how mauled the French infantry were and how untouched Hiller and Liechtenstein's Corps were, the Austrians would have been well-advised to continue on with a very spirited defense of the river (provided the Austrians had some means of negating that HUGE French Grand battery).

Dispatch from Vandamme (Jake):
View from the French right wing....

With his usual casual style, Napoleon ordered Vandamme's and LaSalle's Corp to assault the Left wing of the Austrian Army. It was then that I noticed, that while my five divisions advanced, it seemed only the Bavarians cared to advance elsewhere on the battlefield. Once again, it would seem, the French Army would be dependent on its allies to do the real fighting.

We were low on ammunition, the French taking the lion's share of course, so I ordered my Corp commanders to form assault columns and attack (Vandamme advances). At 10:30 the 3rd Westphalian's, led by Tharreau himself, opened the attack by butchering the Trieste Ldw regiment. On their left, the 5th Westphalians followed their example, and wiped out the 1st division's artillery, with minor losses. The 13th Grenz, fearing the onslaught, fell back before us. The Austrians did prove to be fighters, however, when the 1st Uhlans made a glorious charge against the 2nd Provisional Croats, inflicting grievous losses, and ensuring their own demise!

Now the game began in earnest, Tharreau led the 3rd Westphalians in another gallant charge, decimating the immense and unwieldy Austrian line regiment sent to stop him. In this moment of penultimate glory, he fell, the first of a line of gallant commanders that would give their lives that day to ensure the destruction of the hated Austrian foe. St Sulpice would fall, his 1st Dragoons wiping out the Uhlans, and bleeding the 8th Hussars white. D'Espagne fell, leading the 9th Cuirassiers in a stunning victory over the Austrian cavalry. Even Montbrun, fearing the loss of his Hussars, would fall that day ensuring their final victory over three different regiments. In all, six division commanders died leading their men from the front, but for each commander lost, an entire Austrian Cavalry Brigade was destroyed.

By 2:00 the Austrians were reeling from the onslaught, and the Little General finally deigned it feasible to send in his vaunted Guard, ensuring the continuance of their legendary abilities by sending them against the divisions decimated by the regiments of Westphalia and Hesse-Darmstedt. As the Austrians wing collapsed, the 5th Cuirassiers, held in reserve for just this moment, struck like a bolt of lightning, the Austrian will collapsed as two infantry regiments fled before them. Only an Austrian Cavalry regiment had the will to fight, and they became the last victims of the day. Witnessing the death of their last cavalry regiment, the remnants of two Austrian Corp fell back across the river in disarray. The heart of his army broken, Charles decided to quit the field. Vandamme and LaSalle would enjoy a glorious victory feast that night, although there would be a few new faces at the table....


  1. For those curious why it is often a topic of conversation let me present the following:
    1. This is the first truly massive Napoleonic game I had participated in. It ignited my interest in the period, especially my long-term fascination with the 1809 campaign. The scale of the game was grandiose, seriously look at the battlefield.
    2. The rules: This was an old school game with Written orders, casualty tracking and gobs of modifiers. Dear god was it fun.
    3. There were 6-7 players for this game with each player's personality affecting the overall progress of the game. It was wonderful to how the game developed based on the individual responses to set-backs/advantages. Although players were aimed in the same general direction, they were not necessary following orders from Napoleon/Charles.

    1. Fascinating! It's been years since I played a game with 6+ players at the table. The thing I miss about that kind of game is exactly what you wrote...the personality of each figure. I well remember beating up on an opponent in a big multiplayer game, hearing him ask a fellow general for reinforcements and being told "no" as he'd only waste them!

    2. It was a big game, the size of which rarely makes it onto my table top these days. One of the last "biggie" Napoleonic game was Austerlitz in 2005. I will have to check my notes to confirm if there were others.

      Much of the fun in big, multi-player games is exactly as Jake summarized. That is, large commands with multiple players really introduces the friction of war into the game. Command constraints and "McClellan" type constraints never pull off the same effect as do multiple players all jockeying for their own position and force preservation. Much goofiness and confusion usually follows when you get three or four players per side.

      I could recite many examples of just such silliness and fun from past battles. Maybe I will do that sometime?

      Monty, I have handfuls of terrific stories just like the one you recited.

    3. I'd love to hear them! Funny how I can't remember many of the things I learned in college but I can remember a Con game from the 80s.

    4. Monty! We are true historical chroniclers; we only note that which is an exception or unusual. Everything else is too common to bother shoving into our grey cells.

  2. Amazing looking game! This is the way to play Napoleonics - on a large table, offering that real battlefield experience with tons of minis, and plenty of time to really let the game take shape.

    1. Thanks, Soren. "Big" and "Napoleonics" really go hand in hand, don't they?

  3. Spectacular looking game you had those many years ago!


    1. Thank you, Christopher! Unfortunately, I didn't save the original photos but only had the cropped and reduced pictures from which to work. Much of the detail in the photos was lost but the essence of the game is still there.

  4. Fantastic looking table enjoyed the game report immensely thanks for posting it up despite it being from so long ago.

  5. Great post, it takes me back to when I used to play Napoleonic in 15mm!

    1. Thanks, Monty! Does your comment mean that you have given up on 15mm Napoleonics?

    2. Well, I'm hoping to get Monty to step into the world of 28mm Napoleonics someday. :-)

    3. Good luck to you, Jason! If you need a few 28mm Napoleonics to prime the pump, let me know.

    4. No, I haven't given up them at all. When I lived in Maine, Napoleonics in 15mm and ACW in 28mm were our staples. Here in MPLS, it's Ancients with some Dark Age gaming and Old West. And now some WW II. I need to quit my day job to get in all the gaming I'd like.

      Jason and his buddies have a monster 28mm Napoleonics project going. It scares the hell out of me just reading about it. ;-)

    5. Chin up! We are all marching monotonically towards retirement. Hopefully, then, we will have ample time for gaming.

    6. That would be fantastic. I just hope I keep a steady hand until then for painting.

      Is the Daylight Lamp working for you? I used to paint by 2 halogen shop lamps so the downgrade in brightness took time to get used to. To get light right on top of my painting, I boost my painting surface up nearly to eye level (two boxes) and then put the lamp inches from the figures.

  6. Great account and wonderful looking game. you are so right about the influence of player personality on big multiplayer games. We all have certain games that are rememebred over the years!

    Perhaps my favorite (and biggest) game to date was Wagram at Historicon 2009 - 14 players, thousands of figures, huge table, and great drama. Borodino was a close second, as were Raab and Znaim. Hopefully we can do it again with Waterloo next year!

    1. Wagram with fourteen players is monstrous! Never gamed Borodino, Znaim, or Waterloo in miniature. I have some work to do. Did replay Raab a couple of times. I bet a have a BatRep for one of the Raab games in the Vault somewhere.

      Looking forward to seeing your Waterloo game.

    2. Post your own Raab report some day!

    3. Peter, thanks for the prompting! I found the battle pictures easy enough but struggled to find the write-up. Digging through my pile of notes, I found six pages of my barely legible, handwritten notes on one of the games. I will have to reconstruct the crime, so to speak. My version of Raab never made it into electrons...

  7. A great and huge looking game, beautiful pictures...this battlefield is really impressive!

  8. Good times. Thanks so much for reaching back into the archives and sharing these fun memories.

    1. Jason, you are most welcome! I have handfuls of these old BatReps laying about. I will post an oldie from time to time.

  9. Great photos and battle report of a memorable, and massive, game. Better than photos and narrative I've read/seen in wargaming mags. Best, Dean


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