Monday, 25 May 2015

Battle of Sandershausen

A thumbnail map of the battle fought on 23rd June 1758; No, I can't decipher it either!

On Thursday, I looked around desperately for a quick game to play, as Mark was unable to make it and put on his planned Spearhead game.  I thought it would be just Jon but Phil was able to turn up a bit later.

I resurrected Sandershausen as it's quite a small game, suitable for a Thursday night with very little terrain but the two armies, Hessians and French, are quite different.  Historically this battle is a part of Ferdinand of Brunswick's campaign in the Rhineland following his victory at Krefeld.  The French are attempting to push his army back by outflanking his strategic position with an invasion of Hesse, one of his key allies and an important contingent within His Britannic Majesties Army in Germany. In this battle the small Hessian army are trying to delay the French advance whilst Ferdinand repositions the main Allied army.  Jon chose the Hessians, as he has never fought with them and promptly claimed that he would be lucky to hold on with such a meagre force for more than four turns; we shall see how this turned out!

The initial dispositions

The above picture shows our initial deployment.  There are three objectives, take or hold the road exit in the top right of the picture, take or hold Ellenbach farm in the centre and inflict 50% casualties on your opponent forcing them to withdraw (this took the place of the usual army morale as the forces are so small).  

Along the road the woods are dense and slope down towards the Fulda River.  Stretching away from Ellenbach farm is a steep wooded gorge impassable except to light troops.  Jon has put grenadiers into the farm and his best infantry anchored to its west.  A jaeger unit is emplaced in the gorge, and to the rear and echeloned in a reserve line are the Hessian militia and invalid units which were poor in quality.  Way off to the Northwest under his CinC, Prinz Yssenburg, is the Hessian Cavalry defending the road to Hesse.

I kept the French plan simple.  My infantry commander split his force into two wings.  The right wing of three standard French regiments (poor fire discipline) covered by a unit of converged grenadiers, which the French often used as light infantry to skirmish ahead of their line just as they did under Napoleon, would attack the farm and pin his main line.  The left wing would attempt to turn the main Hessian line, and so I put my best troops here comprising two Swiss regiments, Diesbach and Waldner, ancestors of the pike units hired by the French during the 16th century.  They were supported by two indifferent German auxiliary regiments and a battery of heavy and medium cannon. The Hessians have no field artillery in this battle, so I was hopeful this would give the French a big advantage.

On my far left I ordered my cavalry command to engage the Hessian cavalry.  I gleefully looked at Jon's disposition and thought my two units should be able to manoeuvre against the Hessians flank, inspite of its superior quality, destroy it, take the road and then support the Swiss against the Hessian infantry.  I mentally rubbed my hands in anticipation of this cunning plan without realising that Jon, who was mentally sniggering, had an even more cunning plan!

His cavalry had the CinC attached (an Av die commander), and Jon was fully expecting me to attack this unit. He would order his cavalry to move and support the infantry forcing my cavalry to follow onto his refused second line which would then destroy me with musketry and free up his cavalry to attack the flank of my infantry!

Neither plan survived first contact.  My Wurtembourg Heavy Cavalry and Apchon Dragoons were onto the Hessian cavalry before Jon could reorder them.  Hit in front and flank it looked like it was over, but somehow the Hessians survived the first melee and forced their opponents off.  The Wurttemburgers fell back into the line of fire of the Hessian militia, shot up, were shaken again, charged by the Hessian cavalry and routed off the battlefield.  The dragoons, shaken and down to 7 strength cowered in the tree line.  Phase one of my plan was in tatters!

On the right flank the infantry advanced on the farm.  I expected Jon to have the advantage but I hoped to give him at least one casualty to every two I suffered whilst my brave lads kept his best troops away from my main attack.  Wrong again.  The grenadiers did some useful work dissipating the superior Hessian firepower with their skirmish formation, but as my regular infantry shook out into a firing line the difference in quality and position was stark.  The farm and gorge gave Jon's troops cover and every one of his units had high fire discipline and even the grenadiers had battalion guns.  My poor troops had poor fire discipline and for much of the engagement they were shaken.  For several turns Jon was rolling on the 70 and 80 tables whilst I returned fire on the less than.  Phil, as a neutral bystander and with laudable impartiality, cheered on what looked like a repeat of the infamous Kaptain Krapp fiasco!

The game had lasted longer than four turns which Jon gleefully acknowledged and my army had accrued 20% casualties.  It was not looking good for the French.  However, I had one last advantage; the French CinC the Duc DeBroglie took charge of the French left flank.  The deployed artillery blasted the Kanitz infantry regiment whilst the Swiss steadily advanced and fired a withering fire into the Hessian militia.

This looked encouraging, until the victorious Hessian cavalry turned up and charged the Swiss supporting regiment in flank.  To add insult to injury the Hessian militia and invalids returned fire and charged the lead Swiss.  And if that wasn't enough the routing Wurtemburgers shook up the artillery forcing the heavy battery to retire.  The decisive point in the battle had been reached and the French were on the backfoot.  

However, as so often happened in history, the Swiss mercenaries earned their pay and passed their morale.  Once more the battle turned as the Apchon dragoons returned to the fray, hit the Hessian cavalry in the flank and routed them off the table.  The German auxiliary regiment counter charged the militia and another unit was routed causing the remaining second line and the Kanitz regiment to become shaken.  Broglie took personal charge of the dragoons and left their incompetent commander to dither over his new orders, whilst turning and routing the entire second line.

The final positions

Jon was desperate and his skirmishers left the cover of the gorge to charge their weakened opponents whilst the grenadiers reorganised themselves in the farm to cover the threat from their right flank.  Jon hoped that one more morale test on my left flank infantry would cause a collapse in my army morale (I had lost 40% of my army's strength) and win him the day.  However, to my surprise the depleted De Rohan regiment held its ground and repulsed the elite jaegers.  Meanwhile, the Hessian army was beginning to disintegrate and had exceeded 50% losses.  The lumbering French juggernaut had won through and after 10 turns Jon and I shook hands over a very close fought and enjoyable game.

Historically the Hessians put up a strong fight causing many more casualties than the French were able to inflict.  However, French numbers were too many and they were eventually turned out of their position.  Our re-fight mirrored this very well and it must be remembered that PoW rules do not represent physical casualties but the morale or will to fight of a unit.  I had planned all along to overwhelm Jon with numbers but repeatedly he was able to rebut my attack with the quality of his troops and very nearly won a resounding victory at a point were he had not suffered appreciable losses.  This is a great little scenario (although I would concede that the French have the advantage) which can be re-fought many times over using a variety of deployments and plans.

Well done Jon and thanks Phil for the encouragement!


  1. looks a perfect Thursday night game

  2. This was an excellent scenario and but for two very important roles that I failed by getting a 20 might have been a different result