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republique : aar — luckenwald :

Battle of Luckenwald
This recent battle saw about 82,000 Austrians under Archduke John attack a modest force of 55,000 French under Marshal Soult, with Napoleon in attendance, but not really doing much. The Austrian Army was divided into four corps; three line and one reserve. The French Army was divided into two Corps; one line and one guard. The French line corps was spread uncomfortably facing south on a three mile long line of ridges and woods, which ran east-west, south of which lay the town of Luckenwald. Beyond Luckenwald (south) lay the Austrian Army. The French also had plenty of artillery, and formed most of it into two grand batteries anchoring the two main points of high ground in the left and right center of their position. The Austrians, in a spasm of retro thinking, dumped virtually their entire artillery park into the army in the form of regimental "battery guns," thereby denying the army any chance to effectively counter the French grand batteries. The counter to this, was that anywhere that those French guns weren't, the Austrians infantry regiments would have good local advantages. This of course, was offset by the French defensive terrain, but the Austrian player seemed unconcerned with this at the game's start! As for strategy, the Austrian command decided on a series of pinning attacks on each French flank and on the main grand artillery batteries the French had formed to their right and left centers. While pinning these areas, they would punch a hole through the French center, which was a 1500 yard stretch of land between the two grand batteries, only held by one French division and some light cavalry. Half of the French division was in woods, so the position was not a complete walk-over. Their position also had a generous view from the grand battery to their front-right, so any failure to distract the French gunners on the hill would bring grievous results to any attacks pushing into the French center.

The day began with concentric Austrian attacks against Luckenwald, which lay forward of the French lines a la Hougomont, and had to be driven in before the pinning attacks against the French right-center batteries could be executed. As Austrian general Clary brought his troops out into the open to move against the east side of the town, they immediately came under fire from grand battery on the hill behind Luckenwald. To the west of town, another Austrian division under Nordmann advanced along both sides of the strip of woods which split that section of front into two fields. The left Austrian regiments, the 7th and 29th line, were the unfortunate souls who discovered 24 French guns which had been sent to support the Luckenwald salient. The guns, which lay immediately to the west of town, were positioned to sweep the open fields which lay to the west of the Luckenwald woods (a patch of woods at the southwest corner of Luckenwald). Since orders were orders, this brave brigade continued their assault against the other branch of the Luckenwald woods, which lay to the northwest of the artillery position. This slight drift to the left was attempted in order to relieve the men of the worst of the casualties, while hopefully being able to push back the French regiment holding the northwestern block of woods. This did not happen though. The French guns next to Luckenwald saved their fire, as did the grand battery. Only as the infantry assaults came storming in against Luckenwald town did they open fire, and then the results were damned noticeable. The grand battery on the hill did little damage, but the 24 guns outside of Luckenwald wrought carnage as Austrian moved across their front against the northwestern tract of woods. Some of the 24 guns fired into the Austrians which were advancing against Luckenwald itself, and the French troops holding town rolled very well on the assault rolls despite being outnumbered. The Austrian assault staggered and fell back, although only the 7th and 29th line, which had suffered hundreds of artillery casualties southwest of town, were demoralized. A quick panic test showed no spreading panic among the troops. After this embarrassing repulse, the Austrians wheeled up their only reserve artillery on the board; 48 guns of heavy and medium foot artillery. Being east of the Luckenwald woods, and within the blind zone south of town, they were not able to be engaged by any French artillery, while they were able to fire with effect upon the two French regiments in town. The first Austrian bombardments were pure embarrassments. With the Austrians rolling three 1's in a row over two turns, the French commander found it easy to forget that his line regiments were packed in along the front of a town which was being faced by 48 heavy artillery at only 600 yards range. This was to cost him his position, because after a rest period to save ammo and swab out their guns, the Austrians resumed firing and rolled high. This killed and incapacitated hundreds of French, and rendered the position dangerous, especially with more Austrian troops preparing to launch a new assault from the east. The French commander now viewed the Luckenwald position as a dangerous drain on resources, and ordered a pull-back rather than wait for the inevitable Austrian assault. The withdrawal went easily, and the Austrian command system did not allow rapid response to the withdrawal move. By the time the Austrian reacted, the French were mostly accommodated back into positions in the main line.

The second phase of the battle was more problematical for the Austrians. They now realized that their relative lack of reserve artillery was going to cost them. The French grand batteries had sweeping views of the surrounding terrain, and the only compensation was their high elevation which somewhat reduced the effect of the roundshot. Still, two batteries of 60 to 70 guns each was a serious problem, and someone was going to have to pay the price (?) to pin them down while attacks were made elsewhere. The Austrians finally decided to use their own reserve artillery to take on the main French grand battery (the one with guardsmen in it), while one of the divisions in Ferdinand's VII Corps on the Austrian right flank would pin the other French grand battery, which was composed mostly of medium line artillery, but was made up of 72 guns! The main effort would be made in the center, where Hiller's entire corps of 22,000 men would be thrown against a 1,000 yard wide chunk of the French center, held by French divisional general Dupoy, with 7,700 men and 1,000 cavalry. Behind the Austrian reserve artillery rested a strong Hungarian line division under general Bieber, part of Guylai's Corps, most of which was assigned pinning attacks along the French right flank, west of the main grand battery. Guylai had two problems, most of his job was to conduct a pinning attack against a strong position, and resting between the two large hills to his front, was the French Guard Corps, with four regiments of infantry and two brigades of cavalry. Also visible were some French line dragoons and cuirassiers. Definitely not a pleasant sight for a bunch of infantry told to attract someone's attention! In compensation for this thankless role, Guylai was given control of the Austrian reserve cavalry, a strong body of 8,000 armored and medium cavalry. His only orders: use them to protect the flank of the diversion, and DON'T LOSE THEM!

The main attack was started by the rushing forward of the Austrian reserve artillery, who dashed out from behind Luckenwald and quickly set up to begin firing against the main French grand battery. At roughly the same time, the entire Austrian line moved off, giving the French a clear view of the simultaneous assault which would hit them. However, snags happened almost immediately. The left flank of Hiller's Corps was inclined too far to the left, and had to move around the reserve artillery engaging the French left-center. This caused a delay, which allowed the French artillery to pulverize the Austrian guns in time to turn and support Dupuy's division coming under attack from the first wave of Austrian troops, who had been delayed in the traffic jam further to the rear. This mistake cost the Austrians hundreds of lives, and the French guns fired successive enfilade shots into the attacking Austrians to their left. Further east, the other French grand Battery of line artillery, finally fired its first shots of the day, opening fire at long range. Effects were slight at first, but as the range closed, the casualties in the Austrian units quickly mounted. Finally, after several minutes of rest and preparation, the French gunners scored a series of bloody inroads in Ferdinand's second division, and soon, both those troops and Hiller's first wave were streaming to the rear, shaken and demoralized. The first attack against the French center had gone poorly. The French guns on the center hill had not been adequately distracted, and 36 of them (all the guard guns) had managed to re-face to the east, raking passing Austrian columns. This was made far worse by the two 9's and a 10 rolled by the French artillery on the same turn the Austrians contacted Dupuy's division. With Austrian corpses piling up in rows in the fields to their front, and the French Chasseurs a Cheval moving in to plug the one hole in their line, the French line infantry easily repulsed this first wave. The second wave fared little better. The Austrian commander mistakenly assumed that because the French guns on the hill were no longer fresh, that similar results were not likely to happen again. The next regiments in Hiller's division were sent forward, meat marching into the grinder. These troops fared somewhat better, but they still suffered horribly when the French commander again rolled killer dice, mowing down hundreds and hundreds of Austrians. The assault wavered slightly this time, forcing a second roll before these brave infantry also fell back to the rear, demoralized. The panic did not spread however, and revenge was at hand for the men in white...

While the fight in the center was raging, the right flank of Guylai's corps advanced according to orders, which were to pin down the French right-center. The Austrian reserve artillery however, had fallen more quickly than hoped, and Hiller's traffic jam had negated what little time was bought by the sacrifice of the Austrian gunners. Bieber's reserve division however, had been given move orders from the very beginning, being told to move slowly forward (using only half moves through woods) and to act as a "rolling reserve," only going forward at full move if the Austrian artillery failed. When the Austrian artillery did fail sooner than planned, and Hiller's corps entered Armageddon, both Bieber and Nordmann, who was already clearing the Luckenwald woods, immediately moved to rush the hill in order to buy more time for Hiller's last ditch attack. Unbeknownst to them, the French commander had decided that the guard infantry occupying the saddle of land between the right flank and the "artillery hill" was enough to prevent any breakthroughs by the Austrian cavalry reserve. He placed the guards in lines of squares across the saddle, and moved all of the French reserve cavalry back down the road to their rear, moving off to the French left-center, where he planned to attempt a breakthrough against the tenderized portion of the Austrian line between Ferdinand and Hiller's corps. This was one of those times when a commander totally failed to consider an opponent's reaction. The Austrians saw the entire French cavalry reserve move off, obviously to transit to their right flank. This did however, leave them at least two turns to act. This they did. Orders were now sent out for the Austrian cavalry reserve to join the attack on the French "artillery hill," and, rolling a 6 on the dice, the order JUST made it! So on the Austrian move, as Hiller's second attack met it's grim fate in front of the French center, four strong brigades of Austrian infantry and two divisions of cuirassiers and dragoons stormed the hill, with "only" 24 French guns able to bear, and the closest help being the guard infantry squares a quarter mile away on the floor of the valley. Covering the 60 guns on the hill were the infantry which had held the Luckenwald position earlier in the day. Three regiments under general Jamin still remained at full strength, but this was not nearly enough to stop the attack, even on favorable terrain. After suffering stiff casualties from the French guns still able to bear, and under cover of Hiller's second attack, which was being torn to pieces on the other side of the hill, Bieber and Nordmann's joint force of 15,000 Austrian and Hungarian infantry along with 2,000 heavy and medium cavalry literally swept over the hilltop, destroying and routing Jamin's division. Bieber's Hungarians balked due to their heavy casualties, allowing the French artillery to their front to retreat. But because of the heavy woods behind them, their only escape was along the rear of the hill, behind where Jamin was being hit. As Jamin's troops collapsed under the weight of the attack, the Austrian 5th Cuirassiers and 1st Dragoons were able to capitalize on the rout begun by the joint attacks, and they crashed into the retreating french artillery park, scattering the gunners into the woods and taking four batteries out of commission. Nordmann's infantry captured another 12 guns, thereby clearing the highest landmark in the French lines, and occupying a solid section of the French right-center. Ironically, the Austrian "diversionary" attack had succeeded in capturing the highest point in the line, while the "breakthrough" attack was methodically chopped to ribbons within sight of most of the army! As Hiller's men streamed to the rear, John moved forward the grenadier reserve, both to help rally Hiller's men and to help penetrate the French lines.

At this point in the game, a short lull settled on the field as the Austrians sorted themselves out on the hill and tried to repair their tattered right flank before the French counterattack. The French division holding the westernmost end of the line slowly withdrew in the face of strong Austrian cavalry following up the success further north, while the Imperial Guard infantry moved northeast to plug the gap left by the collapse of Jamin's division. With the line firmly reestablished, the French cavalry reserve continued their attack into the still unsteady Austrian right flank. There was not much choice in the matter... the French commander tried to modify the cavalry orders but failed the die roll. Too excited I guess! The two most vulnerable Austrian divisions at the east end of the line were quickly and professionally run down by the combined weight of the French heavy and medium cavalry. A small French line dragoon division assigned to the reserve at the last moment achieved by far the greatest results, partly due to their close proximity to the retreating Austrians. Fortunately for the Germans from Vienna, John had ordered his grenadier reserve forward, and was able to redeploy into squares at long enough range to avoid crippling artillery casualties, but close enough to the retreating right flank to stabilize the situation. So with their counterattack unlikely to achieve further results, and with the Austrian cavalry reserve reformed and on its flank, the French cavalry withdrew to the French lines, where a general withdrawal began. By this point the Austrians were in no real position to follow up, and fighting sputtered to a halt. The French had been pried out of their position, but at a truly dreadful cost. 16,000 Austrian casualties versus 3,500 for the French! Most French casualties were from Jamin's division, which had quite an unlucky day.

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Copyright © 1999-2000 by The War Times Journal. All rights reserved.