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The Battle of Wissembourg – 4th August 1870   Leave a comment

French Algerian Turcos defend the northern gates from the Bavarian Division

The Battle of Wissembourg was the first major battle of the Franco-Prussian War, which occurred 150 years ago this year.

France had declared war on Prussia on the 19th July after feeling they were being hoodwinked by Chancellor Bismark of Prussia trying to install a Prussian ally to the throne of Spain after Queen Isabella had died without an obvious heir. For some time France had been watching Prussia with both caution and envy as it grow in power; absorbing some of the smaller German states and defeating both Denmark and Austria in swift overwhelming conflicts, so it didn’t take much of an excuse to declare war to try and demonstrate French military might. Despite their impetuous declaration of hostilities the French were ill prepared for war. Prussia, as did the rest of Europe, expected France to make an immediate invasion across the Rhine as it’s tactics in wars with Prussia had been for generations, but in reality they were both slow and disorganised in mobalising it’s forces. Helmuth von Moltke (the Elder), Prussian Field Marshal, waited with his forces to repel an attack, which when it didn’t materialise, made him incredulous that France should have declared war when they were not ready to fight. He therefore began what was supposed to the second stage of his mater plan; the Prussian invasion of France.

By the beginning of August both nation’s armies were on the move; the French began to advance on the Prussian border and even displaced the small garrison from the border town of Saarbrucken which gave them a very false sense of victory. Marshal MacMahon, French commander of the I Corps then deployed his men along the frontier to stop a Prussian advance, but due to tenuous supply links and still an overall lack of manpower (mobilisation was still far from complete), he spread his men too thin on the ground. One such isolated force was that led by General Douay and the 2nd Division stationed at Wissembourg.

Douay was blissfully unaware that advancing on his Division (8,600 men) were three Corps strength units (over 60,000 men); the Bavarian II Corps and the Prussian V & XI Corps. The Prussian forces maneuvered around the town at a distance to keep the French in the dark as to what was about to happen, then at 9am on the 4th August the Bavarian II Corps appeared from the woods to the north of the town making Douay hastily deploy his men to face the threat. The first major battle of the war was about to begin.

Suggested set up for the Battle of Wissembourg as at 9am 4th August 1870

ORDERS Of BATTLE – using a scale of 1 to 40 figures to men

FRENCH ARMY

General Abel Douay – commander in chief – veteran, experienced, inspirational leader

3 x battalions Turco infantry (3 x 720 men)- 18 figures per battalion – veteran, experienced, aggressive, excellent fighters, A class troops armed with Chassepot (advanced breech loading rifle)

5 x Line Infantry battalions (3 x 720 men) – 18 figures per battalion, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters, armed with Chassepot (advanced breech loading rifle)

3 x Squadrons of Hussars (3 x 120 men) – 3 figures per squadron, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters armed with sword and carbine

3 x Squadrons of Chasseurs a Cheval (3 x 120 men) – 3 figures per squadron, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters armed with sword and carbine

1 x Battery of Mitrailleuse (6 machine guns & crew) – 1 model & crew, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters, early machine gun

2 x Batteries of 4lb cannon (12 cannon & crew) – 2 models & crew, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters, 4lb muzzle loading cannon

PRUSSIAN ARMY

9am Set Up

II Bavarian Corps

General Hartman – sub-commander – experienced, cautious, average ability

7 x Line Infantry battalions (7 x 960 men) – 24 figures per battalion – trained, nervous, unreliable fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifles)

2 x Jager Skirmisher battalions (2 x 960 men) – 24 figures per battalion – well trained, steady, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Regiment of Chevau-legers (640 men) – 16 figures – light cavalry, trained, impetuous, armed with sword and carbine

1 x Battery of Krupp C64 4lb cannon (6 guns & crew) – 1 model & crew – regular, trained, steady, with 4lb rifled breech loading cannon

2 x Batteries of Krupp C61 6lb cannon (12 guns & crew) – 2 models & crew- regular, trained, steady with 6lb rifled breech loading cannon

Arriving from 10am (see map top right hand corner)

Prussian V Corps

General von Kirchbach – sub commander – experienced, well trained, steady

1st Column (17th Brigade)

2 x Line Infantry battalions (2 x 960 men) – 24 figures per battalion – well trained, steady, disciplined, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

3 x Jager companies ( 3 x 240 men) – 6 figures per battalion – experienced, well trained, disciplined, good fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

3 x Squadrons of Dragoons (3 x 160 men) – 4 figures per squadron – experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Battery of Krupp C64 4lb cannon (6 guns & crew) – 1 model & crew – regular, trained, disciplined, good fighters with 4lb rifled breech loading cannon

2nd Column (17th Brigade)

2 x Line Infantry battalions (2 x 960 men) – 24 figures per battalion – well trained, steady, disciplined, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Jager company ( 1 x 240 men) – 6 figures per battalion – experienced, well trained, disciplined, good fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Squadrons of Dragoons (1 x 160 men) – 4 figures per squadron – experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Battery of Krupp C64 4lb cannon (6 guns & crew) – 1 model & crew – regular, trained, disciplined, good fighters with 4lb rifled breech loading cannon

Arriving at 11am (see map mid right hand side)

Fredrich Wilhelm – commander in chief – excellent ability, inspirational leader, veteran

Prussian XI Corps

General Bose – sub commander – experienced, well trained, steady

6 x Line Infantry battalions (6 x 960 men) – 24 figures per battalion – well trained, steady, disciplined, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Jager battalion ( 1 x 960 men) – 24 figures per battalion – experienced, well trained, disciplined, good fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Squadrons of Hussars (1 x 160 men) – 4 figures per squadron – light cavalry,experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Regiment of Hussars (1 x 640 men) – 16 figures per squadron – light cavalry,experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Battery of Krupp Horse Artillery C64 4lb cannon (6 guns & crew) – 1 model & crew – regular, trained, disciplined, good fighters with 4lb rifled breech loading cannon

2 x Batteries of Krupp C61 6lb cannon (12 guns & crew) – 2 models & crew- regular, trained, disciplined, with 6lb rifled breech loading cannon

Arriving at 11am (at top right hand corner of map)

Prussian V Corps

3rd Column (18th Brigade)

6 x Line Infantry battalions (6 x 960 men) – 24 figures per battalion – well trained, steady, disciplined, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Regiment of Dragoons (1 x 640 men) – 16 figures per squadron – experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Batteries of Krupp C61 6lb cannon (6 guns & crew) – 1 model & crew- regular, trained, disciplined, with 6lb rifled breech loading cannon

Arriving at 12:30 pm (top of map from Bavarian starting point)

2 x Line Infantry battalions (2 x 960 men) – 24 figures per battalion – trained, nervous, unreliable fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifles)

NOTES FOR WARGAMING

We have described small arms as “primitive breech loading” and “advanced breech loading” this is to differentiate the French Chassepot rifle which had much longer range than the German Dreyse Needle gun and rules should be adjusted to reflect this.

THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

The battle started soon after 9am when the Bavarians brought three batteries of artillery into action, firing on Wissembourg which started several fires. Bavarian infantry then began to cross the countryside towards the town but were halted by the garrison’s accurate long range rifle fire. General Hartman committed more men to the attack which prompted General Pelle (commanding the forward Turcos in Wissembourg) to commit all his men to the defense and call up a battery of 4lb guns. Despite the appearance of the Bavarians, General Douay was slow to respond, believing it was only a small skirmishing force, although he did at least send a messenger to Marshal MacMahon to inform him of the encounter with the enemy.

Prussian artillery position outside Wissembourg

By 9:30 the Bavarians had reached the outer wall of the town and desperate fight took place around the Bitsche Gate (see top picture) between Bavarian Jagers and the Algerian Turco troops. A defensive ditch stalled the Jagers who suffered enormous casualties losing half their numbers to the exceptionally stiff defense put up by the Algerians.

At the same time, French artillery began to inflict damage on the Bavarian batteries who then stopped giving artillery support to their infantry, changing to an artillery dual with the French guns. With a reprieve from artillery fire, the Algerian Turcos mustered an energetic counter attack and pushed the Bavarian infantry away from the town back towards their starting point on;y for their pursuit to be in turn halted by the Bavarian cavalry and infantry reserves. Douay now began to see the situation as more dangerous than he first thought and deployed the rest of his men and guns. However, no sooner had he done so and Prussian forces began to appear to the north east of the town as the V Corps arrived on the field. As they closed on Wissembourg, Douay realised he was facing a much larger force and ordered the advance units of Turcos and guns to pull back to his position on high ground to the south of the town, which sounded far easier than it was as they came under intense artillery fire from the Bavarians to the north, while the Prussian V Corps guns unlimbered and fired from the flank onto both the retreating Algerians and their intended destination, who then decided to remain in Wissembourg for cover. Just as the Prussian XI Corps came into view directly east of the French position and Prussian shell struck a French ammunition caisson from the mitrailleuse battery, this was directly next to General Douay who was killed instantly as the ammunition exploded. General Pelle took over command and ordered a further withdrawal at the sight of the advancing XI Corps. The main French force began to fall back to the railway station where desperate fighting took place with savage bayonet charges while in the town the Turcos were finding themselves increasingly cut off from the rest of the army. They continued to put up stiff resistance and forced back several Bavarian assaults despite the now overwhelming numbers, eventually some managed to withdraw to the main position, but others along with the town garrison became surrounded. Having run out of ammunition and cut off the survivors in Wissembourg surrendered.

The French were now in panic, and continued south to try and escape the three pronged Prussian advance. They made a final defense before quitting the high ground, ragged lines of infantry attempted to stop the Prussian advance but the artillery fire delivered by the powerful Krupp guns blew the French defence to pieces apart from those defending a chateau on the hill.

This walled and fortified building proved hard for the Prussians to capture, but gradually they made progress; first capturing overlooking fields that allowed them a better firing position before eventually dragging three Krupp guns up the hill to blast the walls. In the final firefight the Prussian General Kirchbach was shot in the neck, though luckily he survived the wound. By 2pm the chateau was surrounded and its defenders out of ammunition, with no alternative they surrendered. It had been a gallant and costly last stand by a few, who by distracting the enemy for so long had allowed the rest of the French forces to escape the field who’s withdrawal was covered by 300 fresh reservist troops who arrived in the last moments by train.

The first battle of the war had been won by Prussia, but some would say only by it’s overwhelming numbers. The French, especially the colonial Turco troops had put up determined and heroic fighting and it is debated that had the French been reinforced they could have dealt a blow to Prussia instead.

 
 

Posted 13/09/2021 by The Little Corporal in 19th Century Europe

The Battle of Mentana – 3rd November 1867   Leave a comment

Soldiers of The Papal States attack the Garibaldini

The Battle of Mentana was one of the last battles of the Risorgimento (translates “to rise again”), or as they are often called, The Italian Wars of Unification. Since the fall of the Roman Empire the “boot of Italy” had been a host of various kingdoms and city states, quite often at war with each other and often manipulated by larger European states for their own gain. In 1848 a whole host of uprisings and revolutions across Europe began. Italy was no exception, and a unification movement started by politicians was joined with the start of military action by the famous revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi and his “1000 redshirts”. During the next 18 years there were intermittent wars between the new Italian Republican movement and Italy’s kingdoms and northern foreign occupiers, Austria.

By 1867 Italy was one unified nation with one exception – Rome. The traditional capital of the nation was still an independent state known as The Papal States, ruled by the Pope and supported heavily by France. Garibaldi decided to take matters into his own hands and with a force of volunteers marched towards Rome. It had been plotted that an uprising would occur inside the city to distract the Papal military as Garibaldi attacked the city itself. However, the uprising did not go to plan and Garibaldi pulled his forces back to the small town of Mentana about 20km from Rome, in hope that either more volunteers would swell his ranks or that the unified Italian state would send its army too. Neither materialized, and on the 3rd November a joint army of Papal and allied French soldiers approached the town.

As always, we don’t suggest specific rules for this battle, but rather give you a description of forces that you can adapt to your own preferred set.

FRANCO-PAPAL ARMY

General Kanzler – C-in-C – veteran, strategist

PAPAL COLUMN

General de Courten – Sub Commander – veteran

2 Battalions Papal Zouaves (1500 men) – 2 units of 30 figures – elite, percussion rifles

1 Battalion Carabineri (500 men) – 20 figures – regulars, trained, percussion rifles

1 Battalion Papal Infantry (500 men) – 20 figures – regulars, trained, percussion rifles

Papal Dragoons (200 men) – 8 figures – heavy cavalry, elite, swords, carbines

1 Artillery Battery (6 pieces) – 3 models – 4lb rifled muzzle loading cannon- regulars, trained

FRENCH COLUMN

General de Polhes – Sub Commander – veteran

1 Battalion Chaseurs a Pied (400 men) – 16 figures, elite, breech loading rifles

4 Battalions Line Infantry (1600 men) – 4 units of 16 figures, veteran, breech loading rifles

Chassuers a Cheval (100 men) – 4 figures – light cavalry, veteran, swords, carbines

1 Artillery Battery (4 pieces) – 2 models – 4lb rifled muzzle loading cannon – regulars, trained

GARIBALDINI ARMY

Guiseppe Garibaldi – C-in-C – elite, inspirational

4 Battalions Garibaldini – (1600 men) – 4 units of 16 figures, veteran, percussion riles

3 Battalions Garibaldini – (1200 men) – 3 units of 16 figures, veteran, percussion rifles

3 Battalions Garibaldini – (1200 men) – 3 units of 16 figures, trained, percussion rifles

3 Battalions Garibaldini – (1200 men) – 3 units of 16 figures, trained, percussion muskets

3 Battalions Garibaldini – (1200 men) – 3 units of 16 figures, trained, percussion muskets

Guides – (200 men) – 8 figures – light cavalry, veteran, swords, carbines

1 Artillery Battery – (6 pieces) – 3 models – 4lb rifled muzzle loading cannon – veteran

The opening positions of the battle Red= Garibaldini, Yellow= Papal, Blue= French

The battlefield should have the town of Mentana on a hill with a road diagonally across the table and through the town. The road should be in a shallow valley running either side and away from of the town.

THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Garibaldi, advised of the enemy’s advance from the south east positioned the majority of his force in the town, with his artillery on high ground behind. One brigade (3 battalions) he sent forward on the high ground to guard the road.

General Kanzier, before in sight of the town, dispatched the 1500 Elite Zouaves in an extra wide flanking move (not shown on the map above), heading west with orders to then advance north to behind the town. His remaining forces approached the town along the main road. Papal forces leading and the French approximately 5km behind.

Stage 1 of the battle – The Papal forces advance

The Papal forces engaged the advance units of the Garibaldini along the roadside and after some intense fighting they cleared the hills and advanced on to the town itself. On the southern hill, Monte Guarneri, they established their own artillery to support their advance. However the Papal advance was halted at the foot of the slopes to the town by intense rifle and musket fire, accompanied by the Garibaldini artillery on Monte San Lorenzo. Several attempts to scale the steep slopes failed and the assault began to grind to a halt.

The French column arrives

The Garibaldini began to launch an enveloping counter-attack on the Papal forces who were now becoming increasingly outnumbered and outgunned. It was at this point the French column which had been about 5km behind the Papal column, appeared on the field. Veteran troops armed with the new Chassept breech loading rifle and with an exceptionally long effective range, they advanced en masse in column and into the fight.

The French assault the slopes as the Papal Zouaves arrive behind the town.

It was at this point, perfectly timed, that as the French assaulted the slopes, the 1500 Papal Zouaves appeared behind the town having completed their flank march. The rapid and disciplined firepower of the French, coupled with the unexpected attack in the rear by the Zouaves proved to much for Garibaldi. Seeing his escape options narrowing he decided to leave, pulling his staff officers out the town too, they left the remaining soldiers to their fate. The defence of Mentana soon collapsed, with many fleeing and others taking refuge in the castle at one end of the town. The following morning those hiding in the castle surrendered.

Rome would remain an independent state for another three years; in 1870 with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, all French soldiers were recalled to France to defend their country. Soldiers from the united Italy entered the city a couple of months later and Italy became the fully unified country that we know today.

Posted 13/09/2021 by The Little Corporal in 19th Century Europe