Coup de Grace: Bautzen (1813) in 6mm

Ever heard of Bautzen? Most Napoleonic buffs have, but might be hard pressed to imagine the course of the engagement itself. I looked into the battle, cross referencing maps from the internet with orders of battle available online and in books I have at home, in order to present a one-off refight at the club.

The background to the game required some investigation. Napoleon's Grande Armee was destroyed in Russia in 1812, and 1813 brought new challenges in Poland and Germany. As Prince Eugene held the line of the Elbe, the Emperor mustered new armies of young conscripts and descended on Saxony, to face the Russians and Prussians. He beat them at Lutzen, then pursued to Bautzen, a town on the river Spree. The Allies decided to make a stand. The battle involved up to 300,000 men over two days in May 1813, and was a French victory, though costly and incomplete. Both sides lost around 20,000 men.

Thinking the scenario would be of interest, with a nice range of nationalities and troop types, I decided to use my collection of 6mm Napoleonic armies - French, Prussians, and Russians - to put on a Bautzen refight on a club night on 19 May 2017. To this end, we used my home-made Coup de Grace rules for fast-play epic battles. The rules are simple and quick to learn, loosely based on the celebrated De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) ruleset from the 1990s.

Phil and Mark played the French, while Noel and Rob were the Russians and Prussians respectively. Deployments were generally historical, but players received instructions in the form of a letter from their commander-in-chief (either Napoleon or General Wittgenstein), to enable them to formulate their dispositions and plans. The Allies had more cavalry and artillery and had taken up a strong position with redoubts on a line of hills behind the river. A marsh protected their right, and a forest their left. Napoleon's plan was to cross the river and pin the bulk of the allied army, while outflanking on the French right. Marshal Ney (played by Patrick) would arrive to outflank on the left, then drive deep behind the allied lines and cut off their line of retreat.

Phil duly crossed the Spree with MacDonald's and Oudinot's French corps, and proceeded cautiously against Noel's Russian corps of Gorshakov and von Wurttemburg. A battle of skirmishers ensued, with a number of artillery duels and cavalry actions, on this sector. Meanwhile, Mark crossed the river with Marmont's and Bertrand's French corps. He faced the Prussian corps of Yorck and Blucher under Rob's command, who managed to stop Mark in his tracks with skirmishers, artillery, infantry lining a stream, and cavalry attacks. Mark also had control of the Imperial Guard, who rolled into action with drums beating and colours flying towards the end of the game (too late in fact to have much of an effect). Meanwhile, on the French left, Patrick commanded Ney's forces, consisting of 3 corps, including Lauriston's. These arrived in stages but made little headway through woods and across rivers and marshes in the time available, but began to deploy and threatened Rob's right flank, shielded by Barclay de Tolly's Russian corps.

All in all, I felt the game was a success, with good laughs all round. With only around 2-3 hours play we couldn't complete the battle, but all involved got stuck in and had a good time. The rules were simple and easy to use, and seemed to work well for a large battle with small-scale figures. The key element was the concept for combat resolution (basic rolls in attack and defence with additional tactical combat factors, the differential deciding the outcome) to allow many units to move and fight quickly and smoothly. Units were represented with between one and three bases, making identification easier and gameplay straightforward. Some tweaking may be needed in future: skirmishers were sometimes too powerful, and counter-battery fire perhaps too devastating at times. But the emphasis on spectacle and simplicity, with the odd surprise and unexpected result, seemed to complement the figures and terrain well, and add up to a satisfying evening's play.

The rules could be adapted for other periods such as Renaissance, Seven Years War, and ACW, which I am also collecting in 6mm scale.