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

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Tom Thornsen (Prussia) and Bob Demaio (French) re-enact the Battle of Mars-la-Tour with the Full Battle Scenario “A Day of Battle”. To read Part 1 follow this link, and to read Part 2 follow this link.

Phase three: The evening battle.

The previous report took us through the 6:00pm turn.  Prussian X Corps reinforcements have just arrived to shore up the Prussian left flank and a few brigades from the VIII Corps and IX Corps have arrived from the south to threaten the French left flank.  The Prussian III Corps holds the key town of Vionville, but is under pressure from the French II Corps and VI Corps.  The Prussian III Corps has been driven off of the high ground south of Flavigny and is regrouping south of Vionville to protect the southern approaches to the town.

With the Prussian VIII Corps and IX Corps pressing in from the south, the French Imperial Guard is the last reserve.  It will be called upon to both protect the retreat route through Rezonville, which the French MUST control or concede a potential Major Victory to the Prussians, and support the attack on Vionville, which the French may well need to secure a Minor Victory.  The defense of Flavigny is also a consideration, as it is another of the five variable VP cities that must be controlled to claim victory.  The French II Corps is there now and will have to assist in the assault on Vionville while also defending this town.

As darkness closes in, both sides gird from some difficult fighting ahead.

6pm-7pm

The right flank of the French offensive toward Mars-La-Tour is stopped in its tracks by an early draw of the “Bazaine’s Malaise” event chit, which the Prussian places on the III Corps HQ to cancel his activation this turn.  Shortly thereafter the “Fortunes of War” chit is drawn and the die roll for its effect results in a “Leader Casualty”, followed by the French III Corps activation chit!  So not only is Marshall LeBeouf’s corps prevented from conducting any actions, but the dear general takes some shrapnel an becomes a casualty (the effect is that his Command Rating is reduced by one for the remainder of the scenario).

Meanwhile the Prussian X Corps artillery inflicts multiple morale and casualty hits on the French troops behind the ravine.  The X Corps infantry extends the Prussian left flank to guard against any flanking moves on that front.

The French IV Corps cavalry brigade arrives and attempts to attack the Prussians in this area.  They charge the Prussian infantry and manage to drive them back a bit, but when the X Corps activation comes they are able to close back with the French cavalry, threatening to shoot them to pieces.  Some desultory artillery activity follows for the next couple of turns, but no further notable action occurs here.

The French reorganize their forces in front of Vionville for the final attack.  The French II Corps marches south through Flavigny and deploys on the high ground south of the town.  Two divisions are sent to guard against any approach from the south while the rest of the corps, with all of its artillery batteries, establish a position facing the right flank of the Prussian III Corps.  Canrobert’s VI Corps falls back to regroup north of Vionville to make an opening along the main road for the Imperial Guard Corps.  Marshall Bourbaki leaves the Guards cavalry and horse artillery behind to protect Rezonville and marches into this gap with the Voltiguers and Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, supported by their artillery. Shades of the Little Corporal himself!

Alvensleben’s III Corps has been hotly engaged all day and most of his infantry has been worn down.  The 11th Brigade holding Vionville is the last full strength brigade at his disposal.  All of his units occupy “Hasty Works”, which improve their Cohesion Rating by one and provide a small benefit against fire and assault for infantry and artillery only (not cavalry). With Stulpnagel’s division virtually eliminated, he has only one-and-a-half brigades and two artillery batteries to hold off three French corps until nightfall. Give me more Prussian brigades ….. or give me night!

The Prussian VIII Corps and IX Corps have joined the battleworn 6th Cavalry Division on the extreme right of the Prussian position, but all these units combine for a meager force of about two infantry brigades, two small artillery batteries and some scattered cavalry. Will they be able to put enough pressure on Flavigny and Rezonville to draw off sufficient French units to matter?

As the French II Corps moves into position, Prussian artillery is able to inflict some disorganization upon them.

7pm-8pm

The lone infantry brigade of the Prussian VIII Corps advances upon the French cavalry at Rezonville, which conducts an opportunity charge during Prussian movement.  The Prussians are driven back, but are still able to conduct a follow-up assault, which leads the cavalry unit to “Abandon Position” and fall back to the high ground.  The French Artillery Reserve then braves the defensive fire of the Prussians to join the cavalry and while “Shaken” by defensive fire it takes up position right in front of them.

The infantry of the Prussian IX Corps advances up the road toward Flavigny and drives off the battleworn French division defending the ridge.  With the HQ in “Aggressive” mode to allow for this attack there will be no opportunity to rally troops and remove morale hits.

The French Imperial Guard and VI Corps pour fire into Vionville, but the defensive benefits of the town and “Hasty Works” allow the 11th Brigade to survive with only a few Morale Hits.  However, the massed fire of the French II Corps punishes Alvensleben’s HQ, applying two Morale Hits and a Casualty Hit on the corps artillery and driving it out of the works. In this case, the unit survived with a “Normal Pass” of the first Break Test, but when another Morale hit was inflicted it was required to retreat one hex.

The Prussian General Staff chit was used to activate Buddenbrock’s division to remove Morale Hits from the 11th Brigade and move the division artillery forward into the Hasty Works to protect that flank from any French advance.  Every effort will be made to hold this position!

8pm-9pm

The first chit drawn is the French “Prussian Aggressive Tactics” event chit.  The French player immediately assigns it to the 11th Brigade holding Vionville and has that unit attack north into hex 1922, heading for the artillery on the high ground.  All the French units adjacent to hex 1922 get defensive fire and pour it into the impetuous 11th Brigade.  The fire is extremely effective and the Prussians quickly becomes Disrupted, then take a Casualty Hit and finally fail a Break Test, routing them from the field. These poor sods were obviously led by a Prussian officer looking for some glory and instead it looks like he will be facing a court-martial after the battle.

The Prussian III Corps then activates.  Desperate to hold the position, Buddenbrock’s artillery is sent to occupy Vionville. The battleworn brigades of Stulpnagel’s division do not have the MPs required to reach the town, so they attempt to hold the Hasty Works behind the stream.  The lack of any infantry support in the town means that the artillery there will not benefit from the protection and column shifts the town provides (although they still get the small benefit of the Hasty Works).

It is not enough.  The French VI Corps activates and offensive fire from massed artillery and Mitrailleuse inflicts a casualty hit and leaves the artillery shaken.  The infantry moves adjacent and, while some units are shaken, enough Frenchmen survive to assault the town. A desperate struggle ensues and miraculously sufficient damage was done to the attackers to have the Prussian artillery beat back the assault!

The French II Corps then unleashes a wall of fire into Stulpnagel’s division and drives them off as the disrupted and battleworn units survive but are forced to give ground due to Break Tests.  The II Corps advances across the stream, leaving some artillery to defend Flavigny.

The Prussian IX Corps advances against Flavigny, but the defensive fire disrupts the attacking brigade and the odds of success in a close combat are not good.  Since the brigade is now disrupted and would not be allowed to advance after combat if it is victorious (Shaken and Disrupted units may not conduct any Breakthrough Movement), it holds position and waits for support.

The brigade of the Prussian VIII Corps advancing upon Rezonville fires on the French artillery and cavalry on the high ground, then withdraws back toward the artillery support where it can rally.  The Prussians use this infantry with a “Cloud of Skirmishers” event chit and successfully inflict a Morale Hit on the French Reserve Artillery (this represent harassment fire from a skirmish screen).  As this unit is already disrupted, the result converts to a Casualty Hit and greatly weakens the unit.

With the French artillery so diminished, the cavalry brigades of the Prussian 6th Cavalry Division then try to take advantage of the situation and assail the position.  Even so, the high ground affords the defending artillery a “Plunging Fire” bonus and disrupts the attacking heavy cavalry.

Finally, the French Imperial Guard Corps activates. The artillery fire against Vionville is ineffective, but the infantry moves forward and conducts a flanking attack.  The greatly reduced artillery fire comes close to knocking back the Guardsmen, but their high morale carries them through the storm. The artillery does well in the fight and they are assisted by the timely play of an “Inspirational Leadership” event (which the Prussian player has been saving to reduce the effect of a bad result) and this is enough to allow the battered Prussian artillery to hold on. Medals all around for the brave artillerists!

But alas, the odds are now very long as two French corps surround the town and the Prussians have little help to call upon.  The 5th Cavalry Division was moved to the right flank of III Corps when the action died down in front of Mars-La-Tour, but there is little they can do to recover the situation.

9pm-End

There was a glimmer of hope for the Prussian General Staff when the “Bazaine’s Maliase” event chit appeared at the start of the turn and it was promptly placed on the French Imperial Guard HQ to cancel that formation’s activation for the turn. Apparently Marshal Bourbaki has developed cold feet! But this setback was quickly forgotten when the French II Corps then activated and a full strength brigade from the formation was able to move adjacent to Vionville and assault the beleaguered Prussian artillery.  The result was a “Tough Fight” (this is where both side’s units must take Morale Tests and whether they pass or fail determines what happens to them in the melee). The Prussian artillery is eliminated with no loss to the French, but this result also prevents the assaulting units from advancing into the target hex, so Vionville is now empty!

The Prussian III Corps activates and attempts to run the remnants of one of Stulpnagel’s brigades into the town.  The unit was fired on several times by defensive fire as it moved past the French units, eventually failing a Break Test and routing out of the gauntlet. The III Corps cavalry brigade follows, heading for the town.  Subsequent defensive fire conducted by a unit in the same Movement Phase is shifted down two columns on the CRT and the cavalry actually made it into the town victoriously …. only to be subsequently shot to pieces as it enters by the French Guard units behind the town.  The French VI Corps activation then had them walk into a now vacant Vionville.

The Prussian IX Corps brought up its other brigade to assault Flavigny but defensive fire from the artillery and Mitrailleuse defending the town not only routed that unit from the field but inflicted a casualty hit on the brigade that was already adjacent.  The recovered Prussian VIII Corps again advances against the French Guard cavalry in front of Rezonville, but supporting defensive fire inflicts a disrupted result on them and ends the threat there.  The game ends with a Minor French Victory!

I want to personally thank Tom and Bob for taking the time to play this scenario. I also appreciate the after-action report write up by Tom and the additional pictures from Bob. They did find some needed corrections and some fun improvements were also added to the rules and procedures. Bob actually told me that the ending of the game was one of the most exciting wargame experiences he’s had in many years and for me there’s no greater compliment. Thanks for reading this and we all hope that you enjoyed these reports.

-Hermann Luttmann


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3 thoughts on “At Any Cost: Metz 1870 After Action Report – Battle of Mars-la-Tour (The Finale)

  1. Excellent gaming reports. Really conveyed the guts of the game, its play flow, and great dramatics. When will the final game be available?

  2. Very cool report. Love that you punched it up with narrative instead of “The French Regiment rolled a 5, the Prussians a 2 and the Prussians were shaken.” This AAR needs to be held up as an example on how to do AARs. BZ.

  3. Well-written AAR. Good to see the game is shaping up nicely.

    Though thechits and mechanics introducing uncertainty are a nice idea and seem to work well, the situation of the Prussian 11th Brigade being forced to move out of Vionville felt a bit cheap.

    Perhaps the Aggressive tactics chit could be limited in use to non-victory hexes, or a “Hold at all costs” Prussian chit could be introduced that gives the unit a significant delay when responding to move orders, but makes it immune to involuntary movement aside from through being forced to retreat through morale hits or combat.

    A guaranteed way to move a unit from a victory hex could single-handedly decide to result of a battle, like it also did here more or less, and that might be too much of an advantage. The other chits had counter-chits or could be overcome by careful planning, but this seemed like a bit too strong a play.