Thursday, March 8, 2012

Battle of Ebelsberg, May 3, 1809

    Following the defeat of the main Austrian Army under Erzherzog Karl in the Abensberg/Eggmuhl phase of the 1809 campaign, Hiller's wing of the Austrian army became seperated on the opposite bank of the Danube, following his retreat over the bridge at Landshut. As he withdrew towards Vienna, reunion with the main body on the other (Bohemian) bank of the Danube was always a consideration. We have previously seen how Hiller turned on his pursuers and administered a check at the Battle of Neumarkt. His continued withdrawal lead him to Linz, and a meeting with Emperor Francis; Hiller was a bitter rival of Karl's, and receiving his orders directly form the Kaiser doubtless appealed to the rather vain general. Whenn it became clear the pursuing French and their German allies would not grant sufficient toime to effect a transfer of the wing over the Danube, Hiller was ordered to retreat to the River Traun and attempt delay the French advance across the river. I will let the excellent prose of F. Lorraine Petre (Napoleon and the Archduke Charles) describe the battlefield:

    "From [the village of] Wels downwards the Traun flowed close under the heights on its right bank, whilst on the left bank was a level valley about 3 miles broad, through which it reached the Danube in several branches. It was 15 feet deep in the main stream, with a very rapid current flowing over a stony bed. It was nowhere fordable, unless in a very dry season. The heights on the right fell steeply to the river. The main stream at Ebelsberg was 500 paces broad, the islands in the valley were marshy, and the level plain covered with sodden meadows, ditches, and small woods. A little above Ebelsberg, the Krems flowed through a step sided valley into the Traun. The only approach, with the river swollen as it was by rain and melting snow, was over an embanked road and a wooden bridge of some 550 yards in length and only 15 or 16 feet broad. Tjis defile was easily commanded by artillery on the heights above. The bridge was closed by a tower with a gate only wide enough for one vehicle to pass at a time. Above the bridge on the North was the castle, which commanded a large part of the bridge. After the gate of the bridge was passed, there was still another gate across the road before it reachd theheights, and narrow streets led up steeply into the town on the right. It would be difficult to find a position better suited for defense under the circumstances, and with the arms of 1809. Napoleon had already indicated it as the place where the Austrians would probably fight, if they did so short of Vienna."

    This scenario was run for the first time about 2 years ago for son of a neighbor who enjoyed strategy games but had never played a tabletop miniatures game before. It focuses on the initial rearguard action rather than the subsequent storming of the bridge and battle for Ebeleberg proper, where the results of "this cruel fire' produced heaps of charred corpses that seriously disturbed almost all who marched past them, including Napoleon himself. The basic situation is that Shustekh's Austrian Advanced Guard brigade has been tardy in arriving at the bridgehead, and the Austrian rearguard must delay the French sufficiently to allow then to retreat across the Traun to Ebelsberg.

Baden Infantry and Cavalry (the later represented by Bavarian Chevau-legers)  of  Kister and Trenquayle's brigades as they advance upon Radetsky's position at Klein Munchen. Marshal Massena was in overall command of the action for the French and their allies this day. 

French Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery of Coehorn's brigade as it advances on the Traun on the other side of the battlefield. 

The main body of the Austrian rear guard has pulled back to cover the bridge, as Shustek's tardy brigade marched as rapidly as possible towards safety. Some of the main body of Hiller's troops can be seen in and around the picturesque town of Ebelsberg itself in the background.

With the stragglers having arrived, the Austrians begin to cross the Traun to safety. 

The French and Austrian Cavalry fought a seesaw battle on the French Left. 

Radetsky's command of Grenz and Uhlans holding Klein Munchen to screen the withdrawal of the Whitecoats. He was later awarded the Order of Maria Theresa for his leadership this day.

    In the game, the Austrian generals rolled uncharacteristically well on their MOVE cards while the French did the opposite, and thus slipped away with comparative ease. This is in fact more or less what happened historically, followed by the failure of the Austrians to destroy the bridge, which lead to a successful storming of the bridge by the French and their allies at great cost, and the horrible conflagration in the Town of Traun that consumed many men of both armies in its hellish flames. The Baden Jagers and the Vienna Volunteers both performed well in these desperate combats. Hiller himself exercised little control of his troops and conducted a passive defense, failing to send forth reserves to repulse the French who had made the perilous crossing of the bridge, and ultimately retreating rather than putting up a stiff fight. Quoting Petrie again "Binder von Krieglstein's verdict is that a man who could fail so hopelessly in such a position, who could rest content with a passive defensive when the least enterprise should have assured a serious check for Massena, is not worthy of the name of a general. This condemnation seems hardly too strong."  Doubtless Erzherzog Karl took a certain grim satisfaction at this display of ineptitude on the part of his rival!

"Sur à Vienne !"

Although composed in 1848 and honoring Radetsky for his role in the war with Italy, Johann Strauss I composed what is for me the quintessential Austrian military music, the Raetsky March:

YouTube link

"Nach Paris!"


(PS - wish I could figure out how to successfully embed Youtube clips!)


  1. Great report Peter,
    Cool figures (cavalry are my favourite).

    Looking forward to your new troops with the dip technique you mentioned.

    1. Well, they're now all, painted and ready for "the dip"; I must say that I've very nervous about trying this, as they look pretty decent already. Yours came out well, so that gives me hope I won't completely wreck them by trying it, Paul!

  2. Good, clear account, and I do like the pictures! I wonder of perhaps this and the Neumarkt battles, as scenarios, might be improved by giving the attacker (and the defender too) more control over his command, so that the defender finds himself under heavy pressure from the enemy, and the 'French' equally so from the clock!

    Don't do the dip! Please! As a member of the bright school of military tailoring, I would find it sad to see such sartorial splendour sullied in the interests of 'realism'.
    But that's me... :)


    1. Thanks, Archduke. Rules are always a matter of taste, and I have to say that I think scenario design is the hardest aspect of our hobby.

      We'll see how the dip works - the Russians are pretty dark to start with, at least!

  3. Thanks for sharing this game. I always thinked that Ebelsberg was a 'ugly' battle bacuase its focal point was a too long bridge very difficult to depcit on a ttable game.

    1. I wanted to include Landshut among the scenarios, because of Mouton's role in seizing the bridge, plus the classic joke by Napoleon himself, "Mon Mouton es un Lion!" (My Sheep is a Lion). but I just couldn't figure out how to make a decent game out of it. Radetsky's delaying action at Ebelsberg,which is well covered in Gill, though, makes an interesting scenario, although much was made of the action by the Austrians and little by the French! I'd probably make it a bit tougher on the Kaiserlicks by giving the French a free Move at the start of the game (or just starting them a bit closer).

  4. Great job on the Baden troops too - I am doing some in 15mm at the moment, and those little red and yellow crests holders are not the easiest to paint !!

    Loving the buildings - the whole effect of the table is truly fantastic.

    Re: The Dip. Maybe have a go and see how it works out for you. I seriously seriously seriously recommend using a glaze though. Maybe you can try a couple of figures with different techniques, and see what feels right.

    The vallejo glazes work very well - black glaze for cloth, or brown glaze over the skin. Just use a tiny bit with a fair bit of water. Add more water to the model if there appears to be 'too much' glaze. If you want to go extreme, you can then apply a top layer highlight with thinned paint after the glaze has dried. Sounds complicated, but its not too bad - and the effects on white uniforms are extremnely well worth the effort.

    You can easily make custom glazes as well, mixing the preferred shade of paint with 'glazing medium'.

    1. The Badeners are one of my favorites - just have to add a a battery and the Light Dragoons to complete the contingent!

      The buildings are all 25mm Hovels. I was pleased with the way the overall look of the table came out, so I'm glad you liked it!

      I ma planning in using the acrylic version of the dip (and brushing it on), and frankly had a very hard time finding the Future (now pledge) acrylic floor polish stuff. Bought one bottle of the wrong stuff (milky white, malodorous, although it must dry clear) may try it on some terrain, and checked multiple stores and couldn't find it. Finally wound up ordering it from Amazon, and of course then I had to get Lieven's book on the 1812 campaign plus one on Borodino...

    2. Lol - thats some pretty expensive floor polish then (but good reading material none the less)

      Just started experimenting with varnishes and finishes, since some of the miniatures I am working on at the moment are going into 'the shop' for sale to general public. Really need to make sure that 'the public' dont scratch them.

      Future is very hard to find in Australia - there are some substitute options, but they are not always available when you want them.

      Have settled on a water based 'Jo Sonjas' brand polyurethane gloss coat from the art supplies shop - applied in heavy layers, with a real light dusting of vallejo matt varnish to finish them off. They seem pretty scratch proof after that.

      I will get my 'Early Baden' troops finished soon. I started doing them for VII Corps Jena-Auerstadt, until I realized that they were not at that battle ! Only Hesse Darmstadt and Nassau in 1806. So I am converting that to 1 base of the 'Baden Volunteer Student Militia' .. in smart almost-Baden uniforms to act as a reserve for Augeraeu's mixed Corps of allied forces.

    3. Well, I "need" the books for our Borodino project this summer... well actually Borodino itself is pretty set, but still have to firm up 1st Polotsk and Maloyaroslavets.

      Hopefully I'll get the Future soon, so I can get those two Russian Grenadier regiments done and accounted for this weekend!