Sunday, July 2, 2017

Battle of Kolin - Post-Game Analysis

Serbelloni emerges from Oak Wood
Sometimes, battles can be won or lost upon the initial placement of troops.  Deploy wisely and your forces may be tough to thwart.  Deploy poorly and you may never recover.  The recent clash of Frederick the Great of Prussia against Leopold von Daun of Austria on the heights near Kolin, I think, falls into the latter situation.  
Initial Battlefield Deployments
Since only the broad sweep of the battle was noted as I moderated the recent, tabletop conflict, the usual Battle Report has been set aside.  Rather than a blow-by-blow recounting of the miniature battle, a brief retrospective analysis of the battle using Honours of War is presented. 

Turning back to the original premise of this post, the historical battle witnessed King Frederick playing against the odds at Kolin.  Outnumbered, he struck against an opponent deployed upon ground favorable to a stolid defense.  Of particular interest to me in the historical refight was the redeployments of the latter day Frederick the Great.
Prussian right flank, heavy with heavy cavalry
Having the flexibility of a second in command, the Prussians had an advantage of effectively fielding two CinCs.  Command would be enhanced as would the ability to rally off hits at crucial points in the battle.  With likelihood of gaining first moves and first fire, these advantages might just tip the balance of power at the decisive moment.  The effect of these advantages may have been squandered when Freddie stripped all but one gun from his line as well as his reserve cavalry on the left and center.  Where were these formations destined?  Three batteries and two heavy cavalry were ordered to the right flank to stack up the right at the expense of the center and left wing.
Prussia puts on the "shift"
Although Austrian reinforcements were expected to arrive behind the Austrian left, what advantage could be gained by stacking the might of the Prussian artillery and cavalry on the Prussian right?  The Prussian left and center were denuded of much punch and unlikely to be able to sustain prolonged attacks.  With Nadazdy's inferior Austrian hussars unequal to Zieten's hussars, surely this was an opportunity lost? 
Prussian pre-battle shift complete
How did this "shifty" planning play out?

The battle began as Zieten moved out from his starting position on the Prussian left flank with thoughts of engaging Nadazdy's hussars.
Prussian hussars charge in!
Croats hold Krechor
Austrian center waits
Nadazdy obliged, promptly throwing his two hussar formations against the Prussians. In two separate clashes, first, one Austrian hussar formation was repulsed as the Saxon cavalry moved up to support while in the second, both parties fell back after a protracted melee. 
Light cavalry clashes on the Prussian left
As the light cavalry on the wing was swirling around in search of their opponent's weak point, Serbelloni moved his heavy cavalry up to the Oak Wood.  The Prussian center stepped off towards the heights as Frederick ordered his grenadiers to occupy the village on the right.
Prussians begin infantry advance in the center
Taking casualties from both Croat artillery and grenz, the Prussian line in the center fell back from its objective.  In a second assault, Prussian musketeers successfully drove off both guns and light infantry from the village.
Prussians push Croats out of central village
This Prussian success was short-lived, though.  Austrian artillery on the heights stopped the assault in its tracks and the Prussian advance stalled.
Prussian advance in center stalls
as Austrian artillery takes its toll
Seeing Zieten countered on the left and the Prussian center falling back, Daun ordered Colloredo's partial column to advance down the hill.
Colloredo advances!
On the right, Frederick seemed content to exchange artillery fire with the Austrians.  While the Prussian artillery is telling against the guns on the heights, Prussian heavy cavalry take casualties as they stand motionless.
Prussian counter battery drives off an Austrian battery
As Frederick's infantry column drew the attention of three batteries, casualties mounted.  With Austrian reinforcements arrival upon the battlefield, Frederick ordered his army to withdraw.  This, after only four turns of play. 
Situation when Frederick calls it quits
Another victory for Austria in this fourth battle of Kolin.  With four victories to nil, the Austrians seem unstoppable.  In this one, did the Prussians have a chance?  I think not.

Having stacked his right with the bulk of the cavalry and artillery, Frederick seemed content to sit on his hands while the battle was lost in the other sectors.  What was the purpose of weighting his right so heavily?  Was it to counter the expectation of Austrian reinforcements?  With such weight on the right, why not utilize this force rather than do nothing?  Having Austrian reinforcements arriving piecemeal on the Austrian extreme left flank, why not push a Prussian attack against the Austrian right?  Austrian support would materialize slowly while the remainder of the Prussian army could pin Austrians attempting to reinforce the right.  All questions to which I have no answers.  Perhaps a dispatch from Frederick will be found laying on the battlefield?

The pre-game redeployments left the Prussians without the offensive capability to take on the Austrians in either the left or center.  When Serbelloni was shifted to the Austrian right to support Nadazdy, Prussian cavalry should have attempted a breakthrough in the now weakened center.  Opportunity lost.  Perhaps these decisions would have produced the same results but Frederick never gave it much of an attempt.  

How did Honours of War work?  All players picked up the game mechanisms quickly and were rolling through the turn sequence with ease after only one turn.  Casualties, especially from artillery mounted quickly.  For an attack to have a chance at success, support and coordination of all arms is required.  Both of these lessons witnessed in the earlier HoW game were reinforced in the latest outing.  Repeated playings will produce an evolution of viable tactics on the game table.  Our experience may be very early in the learning cycle.  Perhaps, too early to form opinions.   

While Kolin seems a difficult task for the Prussians, could Frederick produce a better showing?  Perhaps the historical result was destined just as it seemed in the four playings in miniature? 

Regardless of the four Austrian victories, I plan to tackle Kolin one more time while the game is still on table and rules fresh in mind.  My plan is to command the Prussians in a solo game while maneuvering the Austrians in a reasonable fashion.  Being on the defensive in good positions, the Austrians need not produce animated play.  My opponent in the solo replay will rely on a static defense while attempting to seize on any opportunity presented.  

Will Frederick have any better luck on the battlefield at Kolin in a solo refight.  Maybe not but I want to try before I put the soldiers back into their storage boxes.

40 comments:

  1. Fantastic looking report and battle Jonathan.
    Glory for winner and defeated :)

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  2. Obviously Frederick was kidnapped by the Austrians and replaced with a treacherous doppelgänger. The game Frederick seemed to be doing everything possible to generate a loss. His tactics (?) are a head scratcher to be sure.

    In historical refights I do,not allow the players to alter the initial historical troop deployments, otherwise what is the point of relighting an historical battle.

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    1. Treachery is a good explanation.

      I made the allowance since I classified the guns as independent. If Fritz wanted to move these independent batteries around before the battle, I thought that a reasonable request.

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    2. It's almost as if the Frederick player was trying to sabotage the game. Hmm.

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    3. It could not be that underhanded. Could it?

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  3. Great looking game Jonathan!

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  4. Interesting battle report, Jon, and a beautiful table. I can not comment much on the historical affair, but sometimes real situations do not translate very well onto the table top... 4 in a row for the Austrians? Wow! Sometimes a Great Captain really does make a difference.

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    1. Greg, Freddie lost the historical battle of Kolin too. I suppose four wins to nil for the Austrians suggest that, perhaps, Fritz should have reconsidered his attack.

      The battle translated fine to the tabletop. Freddie's position is not optimal for a victory. I will try again, though...

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  5. What a great looking game, Jonathan! I will be interested to see the outcome of the solo rematch.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the look of the game, Mark!

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  6. Seems to be huge...and beautiful, great report Jonathan!

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  7. Excellent report Jonathan. It seems odd to prepare your main attack against the flank you know will be reinforced.... and then not attack it! If only he'd left his centre strong and struck when Serbelloni went off to he flank. Honours of War gives a good game, doesn't it?

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    1. Thank you, Nathan!

      Yes, seems quite odd doesn't it? Those troops could have been better employed elsewhere. Prussia needs to attack quickly before the Austrian reserves appear. Waiting passively near the entry point of the these Austrian reinforcements seems counterproductive.

      HoW provides and easy entry into the game system. Casualty rates seem high to me but we will adjust tactics to compensate.

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  8. Lovely looking game, it does seem difficult for Frederick to win although it sounds like later day Frederick didn't help himself out! Nice to see another period out and about from you.
    Best Iain

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    1. Iain, the Latter Day Frederick did himself no favors in this one but it is always fun to have the guys over for a game regardless of outcome.

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  9. Excellent looking game Jonathan!

    Christopher

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  10. Excellent report. Most illuminating. I like the sound of the "dashboard" in the rules. The initial deployment, especially in the black powder era, was extremely important, something most rules don't seem to reflect. Was there something systemic that kept the Prussian from maneuvering (activation points, etc) or was that player-driven?
    Best, Ed M

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    1. Ed, glad you enjoyed the post-battle post-mortem!

      The Prussian was free to activate and maneuver at will. In fact, the Prussian army has a significant advantage in determining whom will move first in a turn. Freddie maintained that initiative throughout most of the game.

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  11. The Prussian left had a hard slog. Out numbered 3:2, attacking uphill, attacking strong villages, and only one battery! Still, I managed to take the first town and at least hold my own with the cavalry.

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  12. Looks good and a real tactical battle....I sense the Prussians like so many battles just needed to be more aggressive, if they built up the right they should have gone all to break on the right before reinforcements. Standing still on a horse is never going to go well 🤔

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  13. I will be a little less harsh in my critique. It appears my opponent planned to assemble a "Grand Battery" to pummel my infantry into submission while he concentrated his cavalry to launch on my flank. The problems started to build in that the massed guns prevented any units for advancing in front of them, which essentially forced his infantry to try slogging through the two, or sweeping to the outside flank. That required time. I opted to absorb the fire and have units fall back as they got pummeled. I then sent my reserves to the right with the intent of seeing off the Prussian Cavalry and then rolling up the Prussian Left. It cost me all of my light cavalry, but Serbelloni was well position to execute a breakthrough and encirclement by game's end. The Prussian plan required time, something I was willing to trade on the left as it allowed me to concentrate on the right. This is a tough scenario for the Prussians as they are outnumbered and outgunned by superior artillery. I have played it from both sides now, and found my choice of options as the Austrians to be much easier.

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    1. Jake, sorry if you think my critique was too harsh. I was merely reacting to what I saw on the table.

      I find a more or less static defense an easier proposition for which to plan. An aggressive, against the odds, attack is much more fun to execute especially when it succeeds. Had the Prussian right hook gambit succeeded, we would have classified it as brilliant. C'est la guerre.

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    2. I didn't think it was too harsh, I was just thinking it might read pretty rough for those involved. You are correct, the offenses are usually much more compelling to play. That is probably why I keep picking that side when I get the chance. (and why I opted to launch a counter-attack with the Austrians)

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  14. Beautiful table, and interesting dilemma for the Prussians. One has the feeling that, as with Aspern -Essling, the situation was such that just launching the attack in the first place was a mistake.
    Can you believe that in my nearly 50 years in this hobby I have never played in a 7 years war game? That is on the slate to be corrected by playing in Eric Burgess' game at Historicon in a little over a week. I shall have to bring my Tricorn...

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    1. Thanks, Peter. Attacking seems to have been ill-advised. The problem was that the heights were formed on an elevated plateau. Much of the Austrian command was not visible to Frederick and they could maneuver undetected.

      Fifty years and no SYW gaming? That is unbelievable. Good to read you will be rectifying that oversight. Can 50 years of avoiding something be considered an oversight?

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  15. Amazing, simply amazing, Jonathan! I forgot how huge of a collection you have. Wonderfully detailed write up too!

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    1. Dean, you comments are much appreciated!
      Happy 4th!

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  16. Wonderful looking game Jonathan. Can't believe I missed all of the lead-up. Very entertaining read as always!

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    1. Thank you very much, Carlo, and thanks for the "Follow!"

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  17. Very good battle report, I waiting for the next

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