Monday, November 21, 2016

Worst Case Scenario #13 - The Assault on the Aspern Churchyard - May 21, 1809

For quite some time I've been wanting to put on a large Sharp Practice game, focusing on the struggle for the Aspern churchyard within the Battle of Aspern-Essling. 

The battle of Aspern-Essling is an engagement that I find both fascinating and exciting. It was epic (HUGE), very close run, and resulted in Napoleon's first significant humiliation on the battlefield. 

Other reasons I was particularly keen to put this on twas that it features Sylvain’s lovely hand-built terrain of the Church and Rectory of Aspern which he made for me several years ago, AND it is graced with many beautiful 28mm Austrian figures from Greg’s collection.

Scenario Background

On May 20th, 1809 French troops began crossing the Danube, just a few miles east of Vienna. They were pursuing the Austrian army, led by Archduke Charles, after a grueling, fast-paced campaign which had been initiated by the ill-stared Austrians.

The lead elements of the French force, under Massena and Lannes, quickly moved onto the Marchfeld plain, establishing themselves in two villages separated by about a mile of raised road. The villages were called Aspern and Essling. They positioned themselves, awaiting the rest of their comrades who were lined up for miles on the opposite side of the Danube, queuing to cross the bridges to the northern bank.

The river's current was fast and in full spring flood. In the midst of the French crossing on the 20th, their pontoon bridges were swept away by debris purposefully launched upriver by the Austrians. This situation created an emergency which left a significant portion of Napoleon's army separated and isolated in hostile territory. Undeterred, the French Emperor was confident that the Austrians were still in withdrawal, so he maintained his position, awaiting repairs to his bridges. 

But the Austrians were not withdrawing. Archduke Charles had massed his Hauptarmee in a broad crescent in the Marchfeld, just out of eyesight of the French. The next morning, the 21st of May, sensing a rare opportunity, the young Austrian aristocrat ordered his army to advance on the French positions around the villages. His columns would strike first at Aspern...

Maps by Jeff Berry @ Obscure Battles

This scenario depicts the assault of Hiller’s VI Corps on the 67th Ligne's positions in the Aspern churchyard (the leftmost extremity of Napoleon's tenuous position on the Marshfield). Both the Austrians and French knew that the churchyard was a key tactical feature of the battle and did their utmost to gain and maintain control of it. 

The basis of the scenario is derived from 'Fondler's Waterloo' in the Too Fat Lardies scenario book 'The Complete Fondler'.

Close up of the Churchyard and assaulting Austrians
The action takes place in the mid-afternoon on the 21st, after the French have ejected the Austrian screening force in Aspern. Marshal Massena has just seen Regiment No. 10 Anton Mittrowsky supported by Regiment Klebek approaching from the west and orders Molitor to defend the village to the final extremity.

The table will have the French in possession of the church, rectory and graveyard of Aspern, all ringed by a chest-high stone wall. They will have a defined force, members of the 67e Ligne, to hold the position. The Austrians will assault the position with four waves of infantry from Regiment No. 10 Anton Mittrowsky, supported by Regiment Klebek and heavy artillery support. They have been tasked to overwhelm the defenders and seize the churchyard.

French Force = 144 men TOTAL (18 Groups including Eagle guard) 
8 Command Cards
This force is divided into 3 separate commands, each with it’s own morale rating of 10. 

13 Officers / NCOs:
1 Status IV
3 Status III 
6 Status II 
3 Status I

Each French command is composed of:

1 Status III 

1 Status I 
2 Status II

Austrians Assault Force = 104 men for each of 4 waves (13 Groups including one command group) 
7 Command Cards

7 Officers / NCOs

1 Status IV
2 Status III
2 Status II 
2 Status I

The Austrian force (each wave) is composed of one single command, with it’s morale rating being 10

Special Scenario Rules  

- The Austrian guns are abstracted into three 'beaten zones', each with a 10 inch frontage. When fired upon they throw 24 attack dice.

- If the artillery targets a single section of wall it can be reduced by hits on 10 ‘misses’. (original misses are re-rolled and any hits are accrued)

- When the Austrian Artillery card is drawn, randomly determine which of the three batteries will fire.

- The Austrian artillery will be masked by any Austrian troops within 6” of the walls or 6” of the church.

- The Austrian first wave starts at the table edge (they can select any 3 sides to enter). 

- Austrians decide if they wish to withdraw a wave and commit a successive wave. This will involve leaving one group as a marker of the 'highwater' mark of the assault. 

- If a wave is broken it will give a -1 to the 'Army Morale' of succeeding waves. These minuses are cumulative.  

- Marshal Massena has set up his observation post in the graveyard. His presence can help the French troops ignore up to 20 points of Shock. Once the 20 points are 'absorbed' his aides convince him to pull back to a less exposed position. 

- Charles will give one assault wave a +(2D4) to its force morale and also the Aggressive bonus.

- When activated, junior officers/NCOs of both sides can 'nod' to their commanding officer. Four 'nods' will activate that commander. This is in addition to the normal card activation for the commanding officer.

Can the French hold the churchyard? Will the Austrians sweep the French defenders away and award their Archduke with a victory at Aspern?

Here are a few pictures of our run at the scenario.

It was a fun, hard-fought game, with the Austrians slowly wearing down the French over their four assaults. The third attack was accompanied by the Archduke himself and that battalion took the French defenders' eagle before withdrawing to allow the final assault to pass through. A real hammering for both sides but still resulting in a decisive victory for the Austrians.

It was great game with many of dramatic moments running through it. My thanks to all the guys who participated, especially Sylvain for his terrific buildings, and Greg, who brought out his beautiful Austrian figures and who took the majority of these pictures.