Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Hoelbeek - 15 Jun1815

This weekend I sat down with Bill Protz's BAR rules and solo-ed an encounter between the heroic soldiers of Ober Nord Westfalen and the degenerate minions of General Bonaparte. This was, in fact, a re-fight of one of my old battles, and the same orders, orbats and decisions were taken - just to see if the outcome would be vastly altered by the change in rules. I am pleased to say that once again the Gods of War smiled on the side of the righteous! (ONW won again).

I am still camera-less, so no piccies yet. But:

On the 18th March 1815 the Margraf of Ober Nord Westfalen issued a mobilisation order for his army. The Margraftum was again about to go to war against General Bonaparte.
Needless to say it took time to re-mobilise – the army had been reduced to a peacetime cadre following Bonaprate's exile to Elba – and as a result was not ready to take the field until mid-May 1815.
On 16 May 1815, the Margraf issued orders to Generalleutnant von Hasselblut to take command of the army and march to Belgium to place the army under the Orders of Feldmarschal Herzog von Wellington.
The Army was organised as follows:

General Officer Commanding - Genleut von Hasselblut
Chief of Staff - Obst von Knyphalle
Military Secretary - Obst Seidl
QMG - Obstleut von Schoenbrun
Artillery Commander Obst Bauer
British Liaison - Lt Col A Steele RA
Prussian Liaison - Rittermeister von Fuchs (2nd Hussars)

The Infantry Division - Genmaj von Moritz
1
st (Garde) Infantry Brigade - Gen der Brigade Marks
Garde Uhlan Sqn (12) Rittemesiter von Teschow
Garde Regiment zu Fusse (3 Bns – 48 ea) Obst Wahlen
Garde Grenadier Regiment (3 Bns – 48 ea) Obst von Markenfeld
Garde Schuetzen Bataillon (1 Bn – 48) Maj von Stahl
Feldartillerie Kompagnie Nr 1 (3 x 8 pdr, 1 x 6” How) Hptmn von Wessler
Feldjaeger Kompagnie Nr 1 (8) Hptmn Leud

2nd Infantry Brigade - Gen der Brigade Brandt
Uhlan Regt Nr 1 (2 Sqns – 16) Rittmeister von Wulwirt
IR 1 (3 Bns – 48 ea) Obst Gruber
IR 3 (3 Bns – 48 ea) Obst Olfermann
Jaeger Bn Nr 1 (2 Coys, 16) Maj Graf von Zelle
Feldatillerie Kompagnie Nr 2 (3 x 8 pdr, 1 x 6” How) Hptmn Kellerman
Feldjaeger Kompagnie Nr 2 (8) Hptmn A a Legge

3rd Infantry Brigade - Gen der Brigade von Ebersbach
Uhlan Regt nr 1 (2 Sqns – 16) Obstlt von Dennewitz
IR 2 (3 Bns – 48 ea) Obst Graumann
IR 4 (3 Bns – 48 ea) Obst Spieljunge
Jaeger Bn Nr 1 (2 Coys – 16) Hptmn Fassbinder
Feldartillerie Kompagnie Nr 3 (3 x 8 Pdr, 1 x 6” How) Hptmn von Kluge
Feldjaeger Kompagnie Nr 3 (8) Oleut Lang

1st Cavalry Brigade - Gen der Brigade Zimmerman
Reiter Regt Nr 1 (32) Obstlt Schaefer
Reiter Regt Nr 2 (32) Obstlt Richter
Jaeger zu Pferde Regiment Nr 1 (2 Sqns – 16) Obstlt Wiederweg
Reitendeartillerie Kompagnie Nr 1 (3 x 8 pdr, 1 x 6” How) Hptmn Koehler

2nd Cavalry Brigade - Gen der Brigade von Hartmann
LDR Nr 1 (32) Obstlt von Bachmeier
LDR Nr 2 (32) Obstlt Friedmann
Jaeger zu Pferde Regiment Nr 1 (1 Sqn – 8) Rittmeister Kuhn
Reitendeartillerie Kompagnie Nr 2 (3 x 8 pdr, 1x 6” How) Hptmn Gerber

3rd Cavalry Brigade - Gen der Brigade von Eichelberger
LDR Nr 3 (32) Obstlt von Kalb
LDR Nr 4 (32) Obstlt Reiniger
Jaeger zu Pferde Regiment Nr 1 (1 Sqn – 8) Hptmn Zussman
Reitendeartillerie Kompagnie Nr 3 (3 x 8 pdr, 1 x 6” How) Oleut Mannteufel

Corps Troops - Genmaj von Weissenfels
Militar Transport Korps (6 Bns) Gen der Brigade Himmelstoss II
Pionier Regiment Nr 1 (3 Bns - 36 ea) Obst von Dressler
Feldartillerie Kompagnie Nr 4 (4 x 18 pdr - no detachments) Hptmn Keller
Feldartillerie Kompagnie Nr 5 (4 x 8” How - no detachments) Hptmn O'Neill
Feldartillerie Kompagnie Nr 6 (8 x 12 pdr) Hptm Kaplinsky
Reitendeartillerie Artillerie Kompagnie Nr 4 (8 x 6” How) Oleut von Recklinghausen

The march began on 20 May 1815, with the army moving in two parallel columns. The March was uneventful until 14 June, when a reconnaissance patrol of Uhlan Regt Nr 1 reported the presence of a French column to the South East in the vicinity of St Vith. Von Hasselblut issued orders for the overnight concentration of the army at Hasselt, between Maastricht and Leuven, at the same time throwing forward the Garde Uhlan Sqn and Uhlan Regt Nr 1 to the South East to act as a screen for his movements. Reports received during the night, of skirmishing between the Screen and advanced elements of the French force, convinced Hasselblut (not that he needed much convincing) of the aggressive intentions of the French and that he could not afford to leave a force of unknown strength on his flank while he continued towards Brussels. Prisoners taken during the skirmishing revealed that the French column was commanded by an old adversary (General de Division Jean-Luc de Picardie), and while not being so ungenerous as to suggest that von Hasselblut allowed old grudges to influence his decision, he determined to engage the French at the first opportunity.
De Picardie's orders from the Emperor Napoleon were clear and succint: he was to prevent any further reinforcements from reach either Wellington or Blucher. How he did so was entirely up to him. When contact with von Hasselblut was first reported, he ordered the light cavalry brigade of Gen de brigade Henri de la Touche to ascertain exactly what strength he was opposing. The six squadrons of de la Touche's command advanced to the North West, where they collided with von Hasselblut's cavalry screen, thus occasioning the previously mentioned skirmishing.
De Picardie's command consisted of the following:

12th Infantry Division - Gen de Division Cluesot
121st Brigade - Gen de Brigade du Loup
37th Legere (2 Bns - 36 ea)
109th de Ligne (3 Bns – 36 ea)
111th de Ligne (3 Bns – 36 ea)


122nd Brigade - Gen de Brigade Artois
15th de Ligne (3 Bns – 36 ea)
23rd de Ligne (3 Bns – 36 ea)
2 Field Artillery Compagnies (6 x 8 pdrs, 2 x 6” How)
Horse Artillery Compagnie (2 x 8 pdrs, 1 x 6” How)

20th Infantry Division - Gen de Division Porthos
47th Brigade - Gen de Brigade Reynard
24th Legere (2 Bns – 36 ea)
71st de Ligne (3 Bns – 36 ea)
107th de Ligne (3 Bns – 36 ea)

50th Brigade - Gen de Brigade - Tete de Bois
31st de Ligne (3 Bns - 36 ea)
48th de Ligne (3 Bns – 36 ea)
2 Field Artillery Compagnies (6 x 8 pdrs, 2 x 6” How)
Horse Artillery Compagnie (4 x 8 pdrs, 2 x 6” How)

21st Cavalry Brigade - Gen de Brigade de la Touche
10th Husards (3 sqns – 18)
14th Chasseurs a Cheval (3 Sqns – 18)

22nd Cavalry Brigade - Gen de Brigade de l'Isle
17th Chasseurs a Cheval (3 Sqns - 18)
6th Chevaux Legeres Lanciers (3 Sqns - 18 )

40th Cavalry Brigade - Gen de Brigade d'Alsace
14th Dragoons (4 Sqns – 24)
16th Dragoons (4 Sqns – 24)
3 Compagnies Horse Artillery (6 x 8 Pdrs, 3 x 6” How)

Comparative Strengths ONW/ French

Infantry 21 Bns*/ 28 Bns
Cavalry 33 Sqns* /20 Sqns
Guns 78/64

*Totals include Feldjaeger and Jaeger zu Pferde comnpanies and squadrons

The forces weren't as imbalanced as it might look at first glance. The French had benefited from the return of ex-POWs and Napoleonic fervour. 2 out of every 3 infantry battalions were 'veteran', while the 3rd battalions were 'trained'. Similarly their cavalry were all veteran, as were their artillery. The situation for ONW was more complex. The Garde-Grenadiere, Feldjaeger, Jager zu Pferde and Uhlans (incl theGarde Uhlan Sqn) were all newly raised troops, formed by cherry picking from the line, thus reducing 2 out of every 3 battalions to 'trained' from 'verteran' status; the shortfall in the line was made up by recruitment, thus the 3rd battalions were classified as 'raw'. The Garde Grenadier regiment, although formed from the 'veteran' Grenadier companies of the line, were also a new regiment which had not yet shaken down, thus they were considered as 'trained'. The artillery had more than doubled in size, batteries now consisted of eight instead of four guns, again reducing their state of discipline from 'vertan' to 'trained'. One field battery and two horse batteries were newly raised units, and although they had a cadre of veteran gunners and NCOs were considered as 'raw'. The 18 pdrs and 8 in Hows were destined to be the army's siege train and had no detachments (gunners).
de Picardie was taken off-balance by the direction of von Hasselblut's approach march; he had been expecting any German troops to approach via Aachen (Aix la Chapelle), but Hasselblut's approach from the North West had caught him by surprise, and too late to prevent the ONW army from crossing the Maas at Hasselt. De Picardie hastily re-aligned his forces as information reached him of von Hasselblut's location, and having swung his axis from NE to NW overnight (no mean achievement) he marched West to interpose his forces between von Hasselblut and the road to Brussels.
As day broke, von Hasselblut deployed his army on a two kilometer front, with his right resting on the village of Hoelbeek, his centre at Eigenbilzen and his right resting on the Maas. He deployed two battalions of pioniers to the two vilages, with orders to fortify and hold the village perimeters. Both Light Cavalry brigades were held behind the right flank, while the Heavy Cavalry were stationed behind and just to the left of Eigenbilzen, as was the 1st (Garde) Infantry Brigade. The 2nd Infantry Brigade held the line between Hoelbeek and Eigenbilzen, while the 3rd
Brigade held the line between Eigenbilzen and the Maas. The squadrons of the Jaeger zu Pferde and Uhlan Regt Nr 1 were re-combined and held in reserve, together with the Garde Uhlan Squadron, to the left rear of the Heavy Cavalry. Each Infantry brigade deployed its two regiments side by side, both with 2 battalions up and 1 battalion back. The Feldjaeger Companies and the remaining Pionier Battalion were held to the right of the Hevy Cavalry Brigade as a reserve. The Garde Schutzen and Jaeger Bataillon Nr 1 were deployed in skirmish order in front of the two first line infantry brigades. Each brigade was upported by its own artillery battery, with the Horse Artillery howitzer battery being held with the Feldjaeger and Pionier Bns in reserve.

De Picardie was in a tight spot. From his present position von Hasselblut could either march due West towards Brussels via Hassel and Leuven, South, via Liege and then swing West, or South West and link up with Blucher's Prussians around Charleroi. De Picardie was an aggressive General, perhaps ill-suited to a holding or defensive action. Perhaps he let his decision be influenced by his personal preferences, but whatever the reason, de Picardie decided to resolve his dilemna by attacking von Hasselblut.
de Picardie envisaged pinning von Hasselblut's centre while outflanking him to the North West, hoping to compress the ONW army into an indefensible horseshoe and then drive it into the Maas. In order to achieve this he decided to use the 20th Division (plus 37th Legere) supported by 40th Cavalry Brigade to demonstrate against von Hasselblut's left, while the remainder of his forces marched with all haste to the North West, screening his movement by passing to the West of Bilzen and then North of the woods to von Hasselblut's right rear.
The battlefield was comparatively flat, and almost entirely open. Much of the ground was under plough, and devoted to root crops, which afforded little cover. The road from Bilzen – Hoelbeek – Eigenbilzen was on a causeway (due to the possibility of the Maas flooding in winter) which varied from 3 feet to six feet above local ground level. Von Hasselblut's deployment took good account of this causeway, and in effect turned his chosen area into a mini-fortress, offering his men cover from both fire, and to a lesser extent, from observation. The only troops visible from the main french position to the South were the batteries of artillery which had, necessarily been posted on the causeway itself. The weather was hot and humid with the promse of rain in the not too distant future.
The action began at 7 am, with a cannonade from de Picardie's guns, stationed some 800 yards from the line of the causeway. This cannonade from a total of 8 8 pdrs and Howitzers, at first caused some casualties amongst the exposed ONW batteries. Feldartillerie Kompagnie Nr 3 lost a number of gunners and one of their 8 pdrs to this preliminary bombardment before the Brigade commander made the decision to withdraw the guns into cover. Their reply was not without effect, the French losing one howitzer, but the better trained French gunners were not only more consistently accurate, but also kept up a higher rate of fire, and were less affected by the casualties they suffered.
In the meantime, while all eyes were on the ONW's left centre, de Picardie despatched the reminder of his troops to the West, before they turned North.
The French cannonade increased in intensity as they switched target from the now empty causeway to the village of Eigenbilzen, causing some of the houses to catch fire. The smoke from the fires drifted northwards, causing some distress to the horses of the Heavy Cavalry brigade and the Uhlans drawn up in their support, which accordingly changed ground to their left, bringing their left flank to rest on the Maas.
Under cover of the bombardment, the two Legere regiments advanced en grande debande, covering the advance of 27th Infantry brigade. Both regiments of the brigade advanced in column of division, with the 3 battalions of each regiment in line, the 71st de Ligne leading and the 107th staggered to its right to cover the battalion intervals of the 71st. The brigade was accompanied by its Horse Artilery battery, operating in two 3 gun divisions on each flank, with the open left flank covered by the two dragoon regiments of 40th Cavalry Brigade. The Field gunners remaining on the gun line redoubled their efforts in order to maintain the intensity of the bombardment, but even so there was a discernible diminishment in the number of rounds striking the target area.
Von Hasselblut gave orders that the infantry sheltering behind the causeway (at this point some 3 feet high) were to remain in cover until the last moment. In the meantime, he despatched a messenger to the CO of the Garde Schutzen Bn (rifle armed) to deploy to his left along the outskirts of Eigenbilzen and harass the approaching dragoons. The lessening of the bombardment on his left centre also allowed von Hasselblut to bring his guns back up onto the causeway in support of the infantry of the 3rd Brigade.
The re-appearance of the guns was the signal for the French Horse Artillery to unlimber one section on each flank and open fire, while the second section continued the advance. In this manner, the French artillery alternated fire and movement by section, keep the causeway under fire from 3 guns at all times. The artillery of ONW on the causeway consisted of 2 8 pdrs and 1 6 in How to the left of Eigenbilzen and 3 8 pdrs and 1 6 in How between Hoelbeek and Eigenbilzen. In addition, the Horse artillery Howitzer Battery now came into action to the rear of Eigenbilzen, concentrating its fire on the two regiments of dragoons. Its first salvo was on target, and the surprise and casualties thus caused, added to the casualties suffered from the rifle fire of the Garde Schutzen Bataillon scattered the leading squadron of 14th Dragoons, and caused the remainder of the brigade to retire some 400 yards in order to reform.
Simultaneously, the guns on the causeway took their toll on the approaching columns, which nevertheless continued their advance, despite suffering casualties from canister as the range lessened. When the columns were less than one musket shot distant, the order was given for IRs 3 and 4 to stand up and open fire. Unfortunately, with the exception of the volly fired by I/IR 4, the musketry was ineffective, and with a great shout of 'Vive l'Empereur!' the approaching columns levelled their bayonets and charged. The spectacle was too much for the raw troops of III/IR 3 on the left of the ONW line and they broke, routing back past the flank of the Heavy Cavalry. Their panic infected the remaining two bataillons of IR 3 who retired in some disorder, masking the front of the Cavalry. The exultant French infantry poured across the causeway, threatening the flank of IR 4, whose Commanding Officer countered the threat by having III/IR 4 refuse their left in order to face this threat.
Von Hasselblut in person rode to his left and after some minutes succeeded in rallying about half of IR 3, a task made more difficult by the activities of the Tirailleurs of the two Legere regiments who had been swept through the gap. The Commanding Officer of the French 107th de Ligne kept his head and detailed the Sapeurs of his regiment to spike the guns abandoned by the ONW gunners who had been swept away by the panicking IR 3.
In order to restore the situation, Gen der Brigade Marks, commanding the 1st (Guards) Brigade, keeping his two regiments in column of division at quarter distance, advanced on the disorganised French 71st de Ligne, who were also taking fire from III/IR 4 and were being threatened by the approach of the Heavy Cavalry brigade. Rather than submit to such an unequal contest, the CO of 71st de Ligne gave the order to withdraw. This withdrawal, under fire, must excite the admiration of even the most hardened Francophobe. As each battalion withdrew, it was covered by the fire of the other two, and by the fire of the Tirailleurs of the Legere Regiments, which fully occupied the attention of I and II/IR 4.
The Sapeurs of 71st de Ligne had by this time disabled 2 of the 8 pdrs and were attempting to prolonge the remaining guns away. They had succeeded in displacing these guns when a bayonet charge by the Grenadier Coy of II/IR 4 discouraged their attempts.
As the 71st de Ligne made its withdrawal, it was shielded by the battalions of the 107th, who formed a three deep firing line and commenced a steady fire at a range of no more than 70 yards. All three battalions of IR 4 now formed a firing line to the front and exchanged a number of volleys with 71st de Ligne, both sides taking heavy casualties from the other's musketry. At this point, the Heavy Cavalry, advancing at a good round trot, poured over the causeway to the left of IR 4 and threatened to charge home on the French firing line. Lacking the support of his dragoons, now some 500 yards to his left rear, the French brigade commander gave the order to form square and retire. These orders were carried out in exemplary fashion, never giving the ONW Reiter Regiments an opportunity to charge home. The withdrawal of the squares was covered by the accompanying horse artillery which caused some casulaties to the Heavy Cavalry, while once the French infantry drew clear of the ONW line, the Field Battery to the rear re-opened its fire on the causeway.
Retiring IR 4, the Guards Brigade and the Heavy Cavalry back into cover, Gen der brigade Marks called for volunteers to recover the displaced guns from the foot of the causeway, where they had been abandoned by the Sapeurs of the 107th de Ligne. The spiked guns were examined, and it was realised that an extended period of time would be required before they were fit for service once more. Of the guns recovered from the causeway, 1 had had its wheels wrecked, while an attempt had been made to set fire to the carriage of the other. Accordingly Feldartillerie Kompagnie Nr 3 was withdrawn and replaced by Feldartilleie Kompagnie Nr 1.
Then followed a pause, while both armies took stock of the position and reorganised. On the French side, recriminations were levelled against the Brigadier commanding 40th Cavalry Brigade, who in defense protested that men could be compelled to advance against shell-fire, but not horses, and countered with the accusation that had the infantry waited until he had re-formed his brigade, the battle could have been won by now!
Von Hasselblut was disappointed that IR Nr 3 had broken so quickly and so comprehensively, but decided that recriminations at this point were useless. Neverthe less, he kept IR Nr 3 in the second line, their place in the front line being taken by the Garde Grenadier Regiment. Von Hasselblut's infantry reserve now consisted of the Garde Regimet zu Fusse, III/PR1 and the converged Bataillon of Feldjaeger. To allow the Heavy Cavalry Brigade time to reorganise he moved them to the rear, replacing them with the Garde Uhlan Squadron and Uhlan Regiment Nr 1.
de Picardie was, on the whole, satisfied with the results so far obtained. By feinting at von Hasselblut's left, he hoped he had given his old enemy grounds for fearing for his line of communication, and although particularly the 71st de Ligne had sustained casualties, their morale, as evinced by their fighting withdrawal had not suffered.
von Hasselblut was also reasonably happy with the result of the first clash of arms. A brigade attack had been halted in its tracks and the French dragoons had showed definite signs of windiness. True, IR 3 had given way, and its third battalion had suffered from French musketry, but the majority of the survivors had been rounded up and the regiment was in the process of re-forming. The loss of a battery of guns was more serious, but sufficient gunners had survived to draw the 18 pdrs from the artillery park. A shortage of gunners, could be made up with volunteers from Pionier Regt Nr 1 to do the lifting and carrying.
In the meantime, the Pioniers in Eigenbilzen had successfully battled the flames, and had even prevented them from reaching the church, where on his own initiative, the CO of I/PR 1 had posted a lookout.
From this vantage point, the lookout was able to see both French field batteries deploying opposite Eigenbilzen, while the two Horse Batteries moved one to each flank. Behind the field batteries the whole of the French infantry could be seen forming up in column of divisions in a two regiment wide and two regiment deep mass, screened by the four Legere battalions plus the voltigeur companies of the Battalions de Ligne. To their left, the two regiments of dragoons could be seen forming up in two ranks, one regiment in front of the other.
von Hasselblut took advantage of this lull to replenish ammunition and move the now manned 18 pdrs forward to the causeway to the left of Eigenbilzen, to join the Horse Artillery howitzer battery already deployed in that area.
Once the French infantry had completed their deployment, they were seen to sit on their packs in the middle of an area of beet fields, while the French Field Batteries recommenced their bombardment. The ONW gunners replied to this canonade, the Field Batteries concentrating their aim of the French infantry while the howitzers and 18 pdrs turned to the task of counter battery fire. It is difficult to say who was the most surprised at the reults of the heavy guns' efforts. The howitzers successfully bracketed the French gun positions and their third salvo delivered a hurricane of 6” shells on the French gunners, and as the smoke cleared it was seen that no less than three French artillery pieces had been dismounted. The 18 pdrs with their makeshift detachment were slower into action, but disturbances amongst the French gunners and limbers testified to the effect of their fire.
It is possible that the presence of such heavy metal had not been foreseen by de Picardie, and as a second salvo of shells burst on the French gun position, a burst of activity was seen amongst the French infantry, as they rose to their feet, dressed their ranks and began to advance.
The movement of the French infantry was the signal for every ONW gun that could bear to open a deliberate fire on the column. Under fire from 3 batteries of 8 pdrs (Feldartillerie Kompagnies 1 and 2, Reitendeartillerie Kompagnie Nr 1, the Howitzer battery and the 18 pdrs) the French Infantry took horrific casualties, the fire of the 18 pdrs ploughing through the whole depth of the formation. The French field batteries attempted to reply to this storm of shot and shell, but as their own infantry advanced the French batteries were masked. It appears that casualties to the limber teams had severely affected their mobility, and a period of reorganisation was necessary (bringing caisson teams forward to move the guns) before they could move. The two horse artillery batteries, followed their normal practice of moving by half-batteries, but their fire was not sufficient to materially affect the ONW gunners' performance.
von Hasselblut ordered forward the Garde Shutzen and Jaeger Bn Nr 1 together with the fusilier companies of Irs 1, 2 and 4. This mass of skirmishers effectively neutralised the French Lehgere Regiments' task of harassing the defending line, and a spiteful skirmishing fire broke out between the two opposing light infantry screens. The presence of eight rifle armed companies came as a shock to the French Light Infantry and took a heavy toll of officers and NCOs, despite being outranged by these weapons and with control breaking down, the Legere persisted in their efforts to close with the defending line.
In an effort to disrupt the ONW skirmishers, the Dragoons of 40th Cavalry Brigade broke into a rapid trot, with the evident intent of clearing away the Jaegers on the right of the screen. Their movement was seen by von Hasselblut, who ordered Uhlan Regt Nr 1, reinforced by the Garde Uhlan Squadron to move to their right and then advance across the causeway to counter the French cavalry.
The presence of the dragoons had caused the Jaegers and light companies of IR 1 & 2 to form rally squares, which offered ideal targets to the French skirmishers, and although only pinned in square for a short period of time, the ONW light troops were subjected to a gruelling fire and sustained a number of casualties.
Unfortunately, the advance of the dragoons had masked the left flank supporting Horse Artillery Battery, who were thus unable to fire on the tempting target of the rally squares. The counter attack by the Uhlans was impeccably timed, and they swept over the causeway in column of squadrons. As they crossed the causeway the leading squadron inclined to its right, the following squadrons followed suit and once the entire unit was clear of the causeway, a left incline brought them into echelon. The five squadrons increased pace, hitting the dragoons half in flank as they frantically tried to reform and face the threat. The area to the south west of Eigenbilzen was a swirl of furiously hacking and thrusting horsemen. However, the impact of successive squadrons was too much for the dragoons, and after suffering considerable casualties both regiments broke and routed, pursued enthusiastically by the jubilant Uhlans.
Just as the dragoons broke, a galloper from Gen der Brigade von Hartmann arrived at von Hasselblut's position to inform him that more French troops had been sighted to the west of the woods north of Bilzen, and that the LDR Brigades were keeping this new enemy force under observation.
The stripping away of the flank guard of dragoons had enabled the left flank Horse Artillery Battery to open a most destructive canister fire on the rally square of Jaeger Bn Nr 1, which suffered more casualties as they redployed into the skirmish chain. Galled by this fire, they worked their way forward to within effective range, and a few minutes of rifle fire effectively silenced the guns. The Jaegers' impetuosity had, however, isolated them and they became the object of attention of six or seven companies of Voltigeurs and Tirailleurs. The Jaegers were in grave danger of being destroyed where they stood, so von Hasselblut, although concerned with the news from his right rear, ordered the Jaeger zu Pferde to “Clear away those damned tirailleurs”. Although not primarily trained as line cavalry, the Jaeger zu Pferde responded magnificently and launched themselves like a thunder-bolt into the French skirmish screen, sabreing the unfortunate light infantry to both left and right.
In the meantime, the French Infantry had closed to within cannister range, the fire of the 18 pdrs and the howitzers was particularly effective, great gaps being torn in the leading battalions of 31st and 48th de Ligne. Furthemore, the presence of the Jaeger zu Pferde to their left caused both these regiments to form battalion squares, in which formation they attracted not only the fire of the artillery to their front, but also of the remnants of Jaeger Bn Nr 1 and of the Garde Schutzen.
The halt necessary for these regiments to make their formation change dislocated the attack, leaving the 71st and 107th de Ligne unsupported. Von Hasselblut, desperately aware of the threat to his right rear decided to finish the business and ordered the Heavy Cavalry Brigade to charge these two regiments. Such a move required that the Reiter Regimente cross the front of the French right hand Horse Artillery battery at close range, but nevertheless the order was given and acknowledged. The Reiter moved off at a slow trot, until they crossed the causeway when they accelerated and struck the flank of the 71st de Ligne. Despite suffering heavy casualties from two salvos of canister, which almost wiped out out the left hand squadron of each regiment, they broke into the unfortunate French infantry while the latter were in the process of forming square.
As the Reiter Regiments struck, von Hasselblut ordered a general advance, his infantry stood up and advanced in line, with 2nd Infantry Brigade on the right, 1st Infantry Brigade on the left, and 3rd Infantry brigade in support. The line battalions gathered up their skirmishers as they moved forwards. The confused nature of the skirmishers' fire fight had been such that the fusiliers attached attached themselves to whichever battalion they found nearest.
Despite a keeping up a brisk close-range firefight, the losses already sustained and the presence of hostile cavalry to their flanks unnerved the Ligne Regiments, and they were seen to be wavering. A deep throated shout and the sight of the ONW bayonets coming to the charge were sufficient. The French infantry broke. In an instant, the plough was covered with a mass of fugitives, discarding shakos, packs and weapons as they fled. The only evidence of their presence were the dead and wounded scattered across the field, and six abandoned guns sitting forlonly in the plough.
Adding to the French discomforure the fugitives collided with the returning Uhlans, who inflicted even greater casualties, and took a number of prisoners, including Gen de Division Jean-Luc de Picardie!
von Hasselblut, still worrying about his right rear allowed his tired troops no respite, but by personal example (including the flat of his sabre) he cursed and damned his men back into some sort of order. Leaving the Feldjaeger battalion to secure the field, he formed up his brigades and headed north.
While he was en-route, the two French Light Cavalry brigades appeared to the East of the woods and advanced to take von Hasselblut in the rear. The French were countered by the Light Dragoons of 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Brigades and a grand melee took place just to the North of Hoelbeek. This melee was inconclusive, and both sides withdrew to take stock. The appearance of the Uhlans and the Reiter Regiments was enough to discourage the French Cavalry commanders, unaware of the exertions these three regimetns had already undergone. The Light Dragoons, despite their bravery had suffered heavy casualties as they collided with their vastly more experienced enemy, and were temporarily unfit for any further service.
The appearance of von Hasselblut's main force convinced Gen de Division Cleusot that de Picardie's plans had gone wrong. With his cavalry screen now heavily outnumbered and with only twelve battalions to face the entire ONW corps he decided that discretion was the better part of valour and issued orders for his command to fall back towards Leuven while he tried to find out what had happened to the rest of de Picardie's command.
The army of ONW was in no condition to launch a determined pursuit, and von Hasselblut heaved a sigh of relief as his foe withdrew. Sending the Uhlans forward in a screen, he ordered that they should shadow the French until nightfall, now only some four or five hours away.
The ONW command now turned its collective attention to the ordering of the field. There was little rest that night as the wounded were collected, injured animals put out of their misery, and equipment, including 14 French guns collected.
von Hasselblut commandeered the churches in Bilzen, Hoelbeek and Eigbilzen as field hospitals, where to give all credit, the wounded Frenchmen were treated alongside his own casualties. The following morning saw the excavation of mass graves for the dead.
Although aware of the need for speed, the army was in no condition to move until early morning on the 18th June, when the distant rumble of gunfire to the South bore witness to great events in the offing.

Lessons learned:


The game was played on a 7' x 9 ' table. The long movement rates for BAR certainly speed up a battle! Musketry and particularly canister fire are murderous at short range. This may have been a reflection of the more or less consistent rolling of 4s, 5s and 6s and the pretty dismal saving throws - but more experimentation must take place before I adjust any factors. The ability of cavalry to accelerate on succeeding turns was very satisfying, and allowed the Uhlans in particular to achieve charge speed during their impact move!
Did the game suffer from smaller battalions than BAR recommends? No... I think not, although future French battalions will have to be at least 48 figures to allow for a pleasing deployment in three ranks. This does not affect the ONW army, as due to their long association with the British Army, they have adopted a two-rank firing line. However, a 24 figure frontage (at 15mm per figure) is a very satisfying sight.

1 comment:

A J Matthews said...

That's a great battle report! Sounds like it went right up to the wire more than once. Thanks for sharing the adventures of ONW.