This battle pits Austrians against Saxon and Wurttemburg allies in a battle along the lines of communication of La Grande Armee during the 1809 campaign.
During this game played in June at a gaming session of the Northern Conspiracy we used Volley & Bayonet Regimental Scale. The troops are 15mm – primarily Old Glory. The Austrians and Saxons are from the collection of my friend Andrew Simpson. The Wurttemburgers are from my own collection.
The game was played by several members of the Northern Conspiracy. Leo Murphy, Kevin Kane and John Magnifico played the Austrians. Tom DiGiuseppe and Dave Mesquita played the Wurttemburgers and Saxons respectively.
In this battle the Austrians have to attack and take the towns of Urfahr and Linz and the bridge across the Danube River. If successful, the Austrians will be across the French supply lines and this should force the French to abandon their attack on Vienna.
The Austrians are from III Armee Korps under the command of General Kolowrat. They are not organized into regular divisions. For this battle they are organized into three “columns.” The columns are shown on the attached Order of Battle.
The Wurttemburgers form the VIII Corps of La Grande Armee with one infantry division and one cavalry division. The corps heavy artillery is provided by a French battalion. The organization of VIII Corps is shown on the attached Order of Battle.
The Saxons form the IX Corps of La Grande Armee. The Saxon organization is unique in that they form two mixed divisions including infantry, cavalry and artillery into a single unit. Additionally, the Saxon units are organized as “linear” which means that they are smaller units than the brigade stands of the Austrians and Wurttemburgers and have less combat dice. The organization of IX Corps is shown on the attached Order of Battle.
Historically the Wurttemburgers and Saxons held off the Austrian attack primarily because the Austrians committed forces piecemeal and the Right Column never entered the battle. Even with a limited attack by the Austrians, in the historical battle the Austrians made it nearly into Urfahr before the French allies stopped them.
In this battle, the initial Austrian attack was blunted by the Wurttemburg Infantry Division around the Town of Dornach. Two-thirds of the Austrian attack force was stopped around this town and by the time the Wurttemburgers had been ejected from the town they had exhausted one of the attacking Austrian divisions and severely hurt the other division. In the final analysis, once they had incurred the losses around Dornach, the Austrians could never mount an effective attack on the bridge at the Town of Steeg. The following is a turn by turn recap of the battle.
8:00 a.m. – The Austrian Center Column begins the attack by charging forward from Katzbach towards Dornach. The cavalry brigades of the column move to the right flank and charge the Wurttemburg cavalry division. The Wurttemburgers are pushed back with losses. The Wurttemburgers counter-charge pushing back the Uhlans and destroying the horse artillery battery. General Vandamme is red-faced and swearing at his German subordinates he resolves to hold out on his current line.
9:00 a.m. – In the second hour of the battle the Austrians continue to assault Dornach without success. The Wurttemburg 1st Infantry Brigade repulses all attacks with heavy losses to the Austrians. The Austrian cavalry brigade reforms east of Auhof and prepares to advance again. The center column’s Grenzer regiment moves to outflank the Wurttemburg cavalry forcing them back. In response, the Wurttemburger cavalry moves back towards Harbach. The Saxons enter the field of battle with the 1st Division moving along the road towards Harbach.
10:00 a.m. – At the start of the third hour of battle the Austrian cavalry again charges the Wurttemburgers. After an intense melee North of Steeg the Austrian cavalry, Hussars and Uhlans, stream to the rear. None of the efforts of their officers can reform the broken squadrons and the cavalry is out of the battle for the day. After their rout of the Austrian horse, the Wurttemburger cavalrymen are in a blood lust. They crash into the Kreutzer Grenz Regiment and force them back. General Somariva leads the Right Column onto the field and they begin a quick advance to the bridge northeast of Harbach. The Saxons of the 1st division have taken up strong positions around the bridge area. The Austrians suffer casualties immediately.
11:00a.m. – Undaunted by the reversal of his cavalry units and Grenzers, General Vukassovich continues to assault Dornach. The Wurttemburg 1st Infantry Brigade gallantly continues to defend the increasingly battered houses of the town. Now the 2nd Brigade comes into the battle defending to the South of Dornach against the attacks of the Left Column under General St. Julien. Advancing in a division mass the Left Column runs into immediate trouble. A defensive artillery bombardment and a failure of morale leads to a disorderly retreat by the leading regiments of the Austrian advance. The retreating units turn and run and crash headlong into the second line brigades disordering them in turn. As the Austrians retreat they are chased by well served Wurttemburg guns. General Vandamme, who never grants praise, has to let a small smile cross his face as his Wurttemburgers inflict casualties far beyond their theoretical combat capabilities. The artillery fire turns the retreat into a rout for several units. The Saxons and the Right Column continue to fight over the fateful Harbach bridge. The Austrians force their way across the stream at several crossings. Their advance is disordered by crossing the water barrier and the Saxons soon send them packing back to the north.
Noon – Finally, the incensed General Vukassovich leads his tattered regiments into the blazing ruins of Dornach ejecting the dogged Wurttemburgers for the last time. The Wurttemburg infantry division is exhausted and can no longer take offensive action. The Wurttemburg cavalry conducts a daring flank charge reaching all the way to Katzbach. When they reach the town they find the fleeing troops of St Julien’s command. An irresistible charge by the horsemen crashes into mobs of fleeing Austrians. St. Julien becomes a part of the refugees streaming to the east as his column disintegrates and leaves the field.
1:00 p.m. – The Austrians pause outside of Dornach. Vukassovich is exhausted and has to have several wounds dressed before he mounts his seventh horse of the day to continue his advance towards Steeg. During this pause the Wurttemburg commanders urge their battered units back to Steeg and to the west end of the stream bridge at that town. In the north the Saxons continued to cause serious casualties among the Right Column.
2:00 p.m. – Grimly determined, the Austrians quickly take Steeg, however, the assault has caused them even more casualties. The units begin to drift to the rear or simply stop when they push the Wurttemburg remnants out of the town. Even the urging of the indomitable Vukassovich cannot return them to the assault. In the north General Somariva is facing a similar situation. The Saxons have stood like a granite wall at the Harbach bridge and Somariva has ruined his battalions against the wall. The Austrian commanders meet in Dornach and decide that they have to call off the attack. They quickly pull back leaving the field to the Saxons and Wurttemburgers by 3:00 p.m.
The Austrians committed two errors which turned out to be fatal. The first error belonged to General Vukkasovich when he allowed his attack on Dornach to get out of control and cost him troops to no real purpose. The Wurttemburgers did not have enough troops to defend everywhere and a flank movement around Dornach would have forced the Wurttemburg divisions to retreat back behind the Steeg bridge. Even the general admitted after the battle that he allowed his emotions to get the better of him and he continued to attack when he should have stopped. Maneuver would have saved casualties for the Austrians and forced the Wurttemburgers to give up their stationary status to retreat. The other major error was committed by General St. Julien when he attacked in a division mass. The retreat by his first line units disordered his second line units. This disorder turned into a rout on the next turn. After that his column became a non-entity in the rest of the battle as the Wurttemburg cavalry crushed the routing units. In order to not have this happen, the general should have spread out his command more and attacked the seriously outnumbered French allies in waves.