At Any Cost: Metz 1870 After Action Report – Battle of Mars-la-Tour (Part 2)

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Tom Thornsen (Prussia) and Bob Demaio (French) attempt to re-enact the Battle of Mars-la-Tour with the Full Battle Scenario “A Day of Battle”. To read Part 1, follow this link.

Phase two: The late afternoon battle.

Due to getting a bit of a late start, we are only able to complete three turns in this session.  The previous report took us through the 2:00pm turn.  At that point the French had a slight advantage as they controlled both of their required locations and three of the five variable locations.  While the Prussians controlled both of their required locations, there is mounting pressure on the Mars-La-Tour position as X Corps, with only a small infantry brigade and some cavalry and artillery, is tasked with holding back the entire French III Corps and I Reserve Cavalry Division.  The Prussian 5th Cavalry Division is in support on the right flank, but their horses will not stand long against the French fire power in that area.

To win the scenario the French need only “hold on” to the current position.  Their manpower advantage on their right flank may give them an opportunity to drive on Mars-La-Tour and seize it for a Major victory, but the main body of the Prussian X Corps is advancing and should be able to save the day on that flank.

The Prussians must hold there and count on the two small corps arriving from the south (VIII and IX) to put pressure on Rezonville, which the French MUST control or they have no chance at victory.  At least one of these corps and the battle-worn 6th Cavalry Division will have to march west and put pressure on the French II Corps.  It does help to advance the VIII Corps to put pressure on the French left flank as they must protect the road to Rezonville earlier than expected. To win the game the Prussian must hold the line and then capture either Vionville or Flavigny from the French “position magnifique”.

The French player’s decision to activate the corps closest to the front have given them the upper hand to this point, as they were able to secure the VP spaces before the Prussian III Corps could act.  The French essentially activated their corps from left to right, so the IV Corps gets a very late start and may reach the far right of the French flank a bit too late to be of concern to the Prussians. We shall see.

As a brief aside, it is worth mentioning here one key feature of At Any Cost. Both players can pre-select one Event Chit each turn, which is called the Planned Event Chit. This chit is placed directly into the cup by both players and then a random mix of some of the remaining Event chits are added to the cup (the exact number of randomly added chits depends on which scenario is being played). This allows each player to influence a particular strategy for the turn, though nothing is definite (the Planned Event chit could get cancelled by the Fortunes of War Chit, for example). But things can still go awry! For example, the Prussian player chose to place the “Bazaine’s Malaise” event into the draw cup each turn in an attempt to cancel the activation of one of the French corps during each turn. Alas, in a strange twist of fate, it was twice drawn twice after all the frontline French corps had already activated, and thus in two turns was the last chit drawn (thereby having no effect).

There are two distinct fronts now, so I will zoom in on each flank for a better idea of what is going on.

3:00pm

The Prussian III Corps acts early in the turn and aims its artillery upon the French 3rd Cavalry Division holding Vionville. The horse artillery and cavalry there are disrupted to the point of being ineffective and will withdraw to the rear when their activation chit is drawn later in the turn.

The Prussian 10th Brigade moved to the support of their division artillery, but was driven away by fire from the French II Corps.  With the Prussian artillery on the high ground in front of them and the HQ in “Defensive” mode, the French II Corps does not advance and Frossard rallies the troops.

Canrobert’s French VI Corps artillery and infantry fire manages a “Shaken” result against the Prussian strongpoint in hex 1925, so he (perhaps unwisely) advances adjacent to the Prussians there and survives the defensive fire with minimal effect.  However, the odds against a successful assault are prohibitive (the Prussians there have 11 defensive factors to 6 for the French lead attacking hex) and they decline to assault.  Not a good place to be, as the Prussians draw a “Krupp’s Guns” event and unload on the larger brigade before them, Disrupting the unit and inflicting a Casualty Hit (step loss). Since the French VI Corps activated before the 3rd Cavalry, they are unable to occupy Vionville during their move with the cavalry there, leaving that key location vacant at the end of the turn.

Off to the far right the Prussian 6th Cavalry Division continues to hide behind the trees and attempt to rally the horse artillery that routed earlier in the turn…to no avail.

The Prussian X Corps and the 5th Cavalry Division both get the jump on the French III Corps.  The Prussian artillery does its work on the front line French units in the ravine, routing LeBeouf’s light cavalry brigade from the field.  When the French III Corps activates the survivors are pulled back from the ravine to the ridge north of it.  The French artillery moves up upon the ridge as well where it will be able to direct “plunging fire” down upon the Prussian defenders.  The Prussian artillery is effective at a 4-hex range (max range is eight hexes) while the inferior French artillery is only effective to a range of 3 hexes (max range is six hexes). The 5th Cavalry horse artillery finds itself a bit too close to LeBeouf’s powerful corps artillery and should high tail it out of there at the first opportunity.  Horse artillery has the unique ability to fire at ½ strength and then move at ½ movement and those units must hope to go early next turn to open the range.

On the far left flank the French 1st Reserve Cavalry Division horse artillery fires at the Prussian X Corps cavalry brigade and the French light cavalry brigade then charges and is in turn counter-charged by the Prussians. The successful counter-charge alters the assault from the “+3” column to the ”0” column and the die roll results in a “D2*” combat, driving back the cavalry with heavy casualties.

The Prussian General Staff hurries the X Corps artillery forward, and it is now just south of Mars-la-Tour in command range of its HQ.  The rest of the corps will be marching up on the next turn…just in time as the French fire power along the ridge will likely take a toll on the Prussians.

4:00pm

Elements of the Prussian VIII Corps arrive from the southern entry road, taking up positions to block any advance south by the French Imperial Guard.  The 6th Cavalry Division again fails to recover its horse artillery. The Imperial Guard remains around Rezonville, posting their artillery on the high ground.

The French II Corps has an excellent turn as they fire first and rout the Prussian artillery from the high ground.  They follow up with a rapid advance to bring their rifles to bear on the Prussian III Corps HQ strongpoint.  Meanwhile, Canrobert realizes that his VI Corps advance in the last hour was a bit rash and he recalls his advanced units to Vionville where he can rally them.

Alvensleben’s Prussian III Corps artillery fire is largely ineffective and attempts by Stulpnagel’s battered division to build Hasty Works fail.  The withdrawal by the French VI Corps allows the HQ to rally the units with him, as enemy units are no longer adjacent to them.

The Prussian defense here is strong, as the Hasty Works provide both a defensive benefit against fire and assault combat, as well as boost the morale of the units in them.  The French will be able to make many fire attacks on the position, but will need some good fortune on the combat rolls to inflict damage.  Meanwhile, the Prussian artillery will have fewer shots, but on a higher firepower column against units with no defensive works.

On the Prussian left flank, the French fire first and come up just short of major success.  The Prussian infantry is Disrupted, but no further “Morale Hits” are taken and the dreaded “Casualty Hit” is avoided.  In its turn the X Corps HQ is able to remove the Disruption and restore the unit to good order.  The 5th Cavalry horse artillery is not as fortunate, as half the battery takes a “Casualty Hit” and retires to the rear. In their turn the horse artillery returns fire doing no damage and sees their ammunition depleted. The HQ is in “Aggressive” posture and thus unable to resupply the unit.

The cavalry units on the flank undertake no actions and both remove the “Shaken” condition that is the automatic result of the charge and counter-charge in the previous hour.  The French horse artillery is unable to do any damage to the Prussian cavalry.

The X Corps artillery arrives on the scene and a “grand battery” is assembled.  The rest of the infantry, again using the Prussian General Staff CIC Chit to advance one division into command range, is marching to the battle and will arrive within the hour. The Cavalry of the Guard also appears with some horse artillery, but this unit is without an HQ on the board so will technically operate “Out of Command” on every turn (this unit was the detached advance guard for the Prussian armies and had circled back to Mars-la-Tour from its patrol area toward Verdun).  A wiser commander than I would keep them far away from the action, perhaps on garrison duty at Mars-La-Tour.

5:00pm

Having established their defense on the left, the Prussian General Staff arrive at Alvensleben’s HQ and plans a counter-offensive to turn back the French.  The Prussian holds in hand both the “Prussian General Staff” and “Inspirational Leadership” chits and awaits the activation of III corps (the Prussian player has added flexibility with his CIC chit in that he does not have to use it when drawn – he can hold it in reserve to be used later in the turn at what he deems to be a better opportunity). Before either the French II or VI Corps are activated, the Prussian III Corps gets the jump on them.  Prussian artillery and Needleguns pour fire into the French position across the stream and are rewarded with several results that disorder some French units, greatly reducing their firepower.  Artillery fire into Vionville disorders the defenders there as well.

The Prussian General Staff then activates Buddenbrock’s division, which fires the artillery on Vionville again and drives out the defenders with more “Morale Hits”.  The 11th Brigade then advances into the now vacant town and weathers defensive fire from four adjacent units.  It’s Cohesion Rating of “8” and the three-column left shift for defending in the town helps immensely.  Only one “Morale Hit” is incurred, and the “Inspirational Leadership” event chit is used to immediately cancel it! The Prussian officers are doing their thing.

The French VI Corps activation follows, but again the adjacent units are unable to inflict any morale hits on the 11th Brigade holding Vionville.  Both French corps in this area are now in “Defensive” mode as they work to remove the shaken and disordered conditions from their units before additional morale tests lead to “Casualty Hits” (if an already-Disrupted unit takes another Morale Hit, it is converted into a Casualty Hit).

To add insult to injury, the Prussian player deploys two more event chits here before the turn ends.  A “Krupp’s Guns” to further damage II Corps units, and an “Auftragstaktic” by 11th Brigade to inflict another Casualty Hit on a hapless VI Corps brigade and drive it away from Vionville.

North of Mars-La-Tour the differences in arms between the French and Prussian are on display.  Prussian artillery hammers the French artillery batteries and drives them back behind the ridge-line where the HQ will have to rally them.  The French infantry then fires on the Prussian brigade south of the Fond de la Cuve ravine and, combined with the fire from the artillery and Mitrailleuse rout the valiant 37th Brigade from the field.  The high ground of hex 1019 is a death trap for any Prussian unit that attempts to go there, so the artillery will remain behind it.

The Prussian Guard cavalry and horse artillery are Out Of Command and they have the misfortune of drawing an “Advance!” OOC action marker. The Guardsmen just can’t help themselves as they mount up and charge to glory! The cavalry is obliged to attempt to close assault the closest French unit and the French player assigns them to attack the force on the high ground of hex 1017 behind the stream.  As the cavalry unit rushes into the stream they are routed by the defensive fire of the infantry, Mitrailleuse and artillery. With no HQ to rally them, they will not return from their glorious death ride.

The cavalry of the French IV Corps arrive to support the 1st Reserve Cavalry Division, with the infantry and artillery still a couple of hours behind.  Will they arrive in time to support a drive by the other French units in the area to capture Mars-La-Tour and secure a Major French victory?  We will answer that question at our next meeting.


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