Sunday, February 3, 2013

Battle on the Piave AAR: Tactical Disadvantage

  Barry and I spent Super Sunday afternoon playing out my Battle on the Piave 1809 scenario, and had a good time of it. Barry was a good sport and took the role of Erzherzog Johann, whilst I acted as Prince Eugene, eager to redeem himself after his embarrassing defeat at Sacile a few months prior.

Archduke John rates his Commanders. Barry brought his own dice - a new set of the famed Jalopeno dice, and some really "hot dice" - the red "Molten Lava" dice. Unfortunately, he had left them in his shed enduring sub freezing temperatures, so it wasn't really their fault if they were a bit on the cold side; most of his Austrian commanders rolled up as D* for their Leadership Dice (the worst possible) Being in a risk taking mood, I selected the infamous "Hurricane" dice set; most of my commanders rolled up as LD 10's - not really that great for a French 1809 army... but this was the secondary theater, after all!

Overview of the center and Northern end of the table at the start of the game; the Alps (and their melting snows) can be seen of in the distance. Barry rolled up an Abysmal Sequence deck for Johann, while I rolled up an Average one for Eugene; both about par for the course. Dessaix's command of picked troops has "stolen a march" on the Kaiserlicks, and is already across the Piave at the start of the game.

At the Southern ford, two French Cavalry Divisions (Sahuc - Light Cavalry, Pully - Dragoons) await their chance to cross the  San Nichiol ford.

View from behind the central Priula ford, where French engineers make preparations to start a bridge over the swift-flowing Piave river. 

The White Menace wins the first Initiative, and both their unlimbered cavalry Batteries fire at Dessaix's unlimbered Horse battery opposing them; I unwisely decide not to return fire; The result? 2 unit Integrity (UI) lost and the French battery is Silenced. Not good for the Froggies!

Eugene uses a "MOVE ONE COMMAND card to bring 2 of Broussier's Infantry battalions across the ford, while a SAPPER TASK card results in a section of bridge being completed - one down, two to go!

Already on their second MOVE card (to none for the French yet), the Austrians advance to seize control of the villages, and station troops to guard their Southern flank from an anticipated horde of Gallic horsemen, but otherwise act relatively passive. 

Another French MOVE ONE COMMAND card is used for Seras' Division, and then a French MOVE card is turned. Both times they score a triple  move. As a result, the entire Division (less the artillery, left on the far bank of the Piave but re-positioned to cover their Northern flank) crosses the Narvese ford and successfully assaults the village of Barco after their artillery softened up the defending Grenz, and destroying them as a fighting force for the day. Now that's what I call elan! The pig indicates that one of the French battalions is "out of command". 

The French lay down another bridge section at the Priula ford - just one more to go for an intact bridge in the center! meanwhile, after an early reshuffle, They turn a MOVE card at last, and Dessaix's elite command (with a D12+1 Leader in charge) surges forth to the attack. One unit of Voltigeurs is stopped cold by heavy losses from the Austrian Cavalry batteries, but the now rallied french battery soften up the defenders of the Campana village just before the French Grenadiers attack.

At the Southern end of the battlefield, a second French MOVE card (and hot die rolling by their commanders) has allowed their cavalry to sweep around and threaten the Austrian flank; perhaps their diversion of troops to cover that approach wasn't overly cautious after all!

The first French assault upon Campana is repulsed with heavy losses!

Overview of the Northern end and center of the field; note the Austrian infantry battalion and supporting Ott Hussars moving to threaten the far French left flank.

The hinge point of the Austrian position is anchored on the village of Campana. its loss will destabilize their defense. French Infantry is massing beyond the dike and just across the shallow Piavisella stream.  One bawdy Frenchman is heard to comment "I'd rather have a dike in front of me than behind"; perhaps attempting to quash rumors about his amorous preferences!

A view of the vicinity of the Priula ford from behind the Austrian lines...

Austrian cavalry swing around their Southern flank, attempting to draw the opposing French within range of the supporting Imperialist artillery.

The Austrian Dragoons of the Reserve also move to reinforce the threatened Southern flank. However, the Kaiserlick center is being progressively weakened as a result. 

Seras' Division suffers a bloody repulse at the village of Barco, a battalion fleeing for the ford and safety (zero UI left) but combined artillery and small arms fire disintegrates an Austrian battalion, unmasking the Hussars.

One the same MOVE card, the Divisions of Dessaix and Brousier surge to the attack; when the dry Northern Italian dust settles, the village of Campana has fallen and three Austrian batteries have been over run (all three were attacked while "unloaded").  other French troops move to the Sout of the village, threatening to roll up the refused Austrian left flank!

Situation in the center; after their glorious charge, the Chasseurs a Cheval of Dessaix's command are blasted to Les Invalides by two well timed Austrian volleys.  No further progress on the pontoon bridge is reported, however.

The same French MOVE card has brought not only the two French cavalry Divisions within range of the refused Austrian Southern flank, but also the leading infantry units of Durutte's Division. Still no signs of rising waters on the Piave; it must be cloudy in the Italian Alps today!

View of the embattled Kaiserlick center, and the victorious Chasseurs shortly before their demise!

The Northern end of the battlefield: dust clouds in the distance portend the arrival of Fonatelli's Italian Division, which has marched North from the bottle neck at the Priula ford. 

The view to the South from behind the precarious Austrian left flank.

On the Sixth French MOVE card, Fontanelli's Division arrives at the Narvese ford. French engineers report that the waters of the Piave are still low enough to allow continued passage at the fords, but the bridge at Priula remains incomplete.

View of the growing French threat approaching from the South. 

Austrian Artillery fire routs the lead unit of French Hussars, but the rest of the attack has closed to within striking distance. It appears high time to withdraw and concede the crossing to Euegne's men!

Close up view of the Austrian refused left flank position as it crumbles along with the center; there are still three more French MOVE cards before night descends.

Overview of the center and Southern portion of the battlefield. 

Close up of the Center; we called the game at this point. 

Close up of the Northern flank; at game's end, the Austrians had lost 35 out of 39 Morale Points, whilst the French had lost 20 out of 54. 13 Austrian units are routed or destroyed, vs. 4 for the French. It would be difficult for the Austrians to survive another three French MOVEs with their Army Morale intact. Prompt withdrawal, if possible is their best hope.  

COMMENTARY (provided by that noted bon-vivant, Herr Ignatius von Brenner*):
    "I though Erzherzog Johann might have acted more aggressively, especially when the early initiative and MOVE cards fell his way. The best Austrian chance would seem to be bottling up Dessaix and thus leaving insufficient room for the French troops crossing the Priula ford to deploy. The other fords are sufficiently distant that decisive results are unlikely to come from their directions. Of course, Prince Eugene had the advantages of superior troops, leaders and numbers, and thus ought not to think that his success on the day was primarily the result of his own brilliance. Likewise, the Viceroy can take no credit for the failure of the Piave to rise and seriously threaten the success of the entire enterprise; had his luck been otherwise the operation may have ended in disaster, especially had the Austrians reacted more aggressively". 

(*Herr von Brenner had been enjoying the latest works of Ludwig von Beethoven in Vienna; alas the approaching army of Napoleon near the Austrian capital has necessitated his withdrawal to distant Bohemia.  He is reported no longer on cordial terms with either of the eminent commanders. See my Die Fighting series for the further acerbic observations of Herr von Brenner.)

   I think I would start the "Rising Waters" die rolls on the THIRD French MOVE card if I were to play the scenario again, so as to put greater pressure on the French player. Otherwise the scenario worked as planned. Thanks to Barry for playing the underdog, and for enduring my many bad puns in the course of the game. Thanks also for repeatedly forgetting to use his TACTICAL ADVANTAGE cards at the key moments of the game!  :-)



  1. Very nice looking game, great terrain, especially the Alps.


    1. Thanks, John! The Alps are backdrop pieces from some of the Christmas Village sets. They have seen much use screening off the clutter on the far end of my table. During the 1809 Campaign, there are almost always mountains off in the distance somewhere!

  2. Certainly the Austrians are at a major disadvantage in this battle.

    I have played Eugene in this battle at a convention in Vancouver - likewise it was the breaking of the 'refused flank' by the heavy cavalry that brought the victory home.

    Neat to see a different system and approach to the scenario though!

    Great AAR and liked the tabletop presentation. BRAVO!

    1. Thanks; glad you enjoyed it. No disagreement re: the Austrians being under the gun in this one. An interesting contrast is the Battle of Razyn, also from 1809, also with an attempt to cross and unfordable river at three crossing spots, but with the Austrians ion the ATTACK! There is report of that one elsewhere on this blog, too.

  3. An excellent looking game and read!

  4. Love the distant mountains. Great AAR and lots of kit on table again !

    1. Thanks, Garry; there were so many Grenz units in the battle it took all I could field (eight)!

  5. Great stuff Peter!

    Love the mountains (Alps) touch. Does seem a different game without the river effect but hey.... the action was close and a few different results would have Eugene practicing his swimming strokes (or the horse at least). Austrians looked big and massive.... French Italian brawling in style. I will study your scenario and when mine is written up compare. You as Eugene have the lead start to Raab and Wagram.

    Michael aka WR

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. After an unnecessary near disaster at Sacile, Eugene did very well for the rest of 1809. He probably did better in 1812 -14 than he is generally given credit for as well - a lot of jealous Marshals and other generals.

      We've done Tarvis previously as well. Of course, from The Piave on , h benefited from the withdrawal of Austrian troops from this sector to the Danube army.

  6. Peter, thanks for hosting a great game. Clearly my strategy of letting the French hordes break on the Austrian bayonets like waves breaking on the shore didn’t exactly work. In retrospect I should I have moved out of the center sooner, and crossed the stream on my right flank sooner (of course the move rolls would have needed to cooperate as well). Also I’d forgotten how much the Grenz dislike being shot at.


    1. Thanks for playing and being a good sport; I don't think the Austrians can win this scenario without luck - either in combat, or a very early rise in the river; just too many French advantages otherwise. On to 1813, when the worm turns to parity and beyond...

  7. What a beautiful AAR! The terrain is really impressive, and the distant Alps a great idea!
    Thanks for sharing...
    All the best,

  8. Enjoyed the report. As others have mentioned, the Alps are a nice touch. All too often history gives us a tough scenario. I plan to play this soon with my son; I'll let him be Eugene.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Mike.

      Yep, I'd definitely cast your son as Eugene; the scenario gives the advantage to the French no matter how you do it, plus I am sure he could relate to the young stepson of the Emperor seeking to establish a reputation by a bold victory on the battlefield!