Eferding 1809 – Sharp Practice Birthday Bash

As is by now tradition, I invited Sigur, Virago and Martin over to have a big game of Sharp Practice for my birthday. This time, we played a historical scenario from the 1809 campaign.

At the beginning of May, the French were in pursuit of the Austrian VI Corps. Marshal Masséna had sent one of his aides, Adjutant-Commandant Trenquayle (played by Martin), to take command of the advance guard of General Carra Saint-Cyr’s division. West of the small town of Eferding, they ran into an Austrian rearguard composed of Grenzinfanterie-Regiment Nr. 13 (Wallachisch-Illyrische) under Oberst Franz von Gratze (played by Virago) and the 2nd Viennese Volunteer Battalion under Oberstleutnant August Ernst Freiherr von Steigentesch (played by myself). The Austrians had taken position behind fences and in the farms outside the town walls, so a cavalry attack seemed imprudent. After a first, inconclusive skirmish, Trenquayle asked Carra Saint-Cyr for reinforcements and attacked with the 24e Régiment d’Infanterie Légère and elements of line infantry, probably from the 4e or 46e Ligne (commanded by Sigur).

The map (from the late 18th century Josephinische Landesaufnahme) shows Eferding and surroundings, with the blue box indicating the area depicted on the table.

As Eferding still had its medieval town wall, this was a great opportunity to finally use the castle walls I bought ages ago (at my first CRISIS, to be exact). However, I also quickly scratch built a town gate to give it a more Austrian look.

This is a 17th century view of Eferding, with the box again indicating the area depicted on the table.

And this is my attempt at recreating the view:

And the overview:

The blue circles indicate the position of the French deployment points, the yellow circles those of the Austrian.

The Austrian objective was to either reduce the French Force Morale to 0 or to withdraw at least 4 intact groups into Eferding. However, they could only withdraw after either their or their opponents’ Force Morale had fallen to 4 or lower. The French had to prevent this.

Quicker to deploy, the French brought in two compact lines, both with a skirmisher screen, as well as one group of skirmishers on their right flank. The Austrians just deployed the Landwehr, which was positioned on the flanks, and the Grenzer skirmishers on their right flank. The Grenzer line groups were kept in reserve.

The massed French advance looked pretty impressive and a bit intimidating to the Austrians, but soon the image was marred by a plucky Grenzer Sharpshooter, who shot Adjutant-Commandant Trenquayle from his high horse! Trenqualye was only knocked out and back on his feet in a short time, but still – it hurt the French pride and, what was more important, their Force Morale.

Unfortunately,  the Landwehr skirmishers on the Austrian far left realised that they forgot to pack extra ammunition, meaning they could only fire at close range (random event). They decided to make a virtue out of necessity and worked their way forward on the left, trying to outflank (or at least threaten) the French flank. 

They got up to the frontmost fence, but were then charged by the French voltigeurs and driven back with losses. For the rest of the game, the opposing groups continued a fierce musketry duel, with both leaders hit and wounded.

Oberst von Gratze nodded approvingly at the aggressive stance of the Landwehr and decided to make an even bolder move: He deployed two of his line groups at the forward deployment point, right in the center, opposite the gap between the two French lines. They fired and then charged the French skirmishers in the orchard, but inflicted only insignificant casualties. However, the French were now forced to react to the sudden threat in their center.

The French manoeuvred to get the Grenzer into their arcs of fire, withdrawing part of their righthand formation and splitting their left line into two wings. Meanwhile, von Gratze deployed the rest of his force. Everything was now on the table.

The leftmost French line received intense fire from Grenzer skirmishers, taking casualties and shock, but still advancing towards the Landwehr and the French primary deployment point. They opened fire on the Landwehr but only caused insignificant damage. The Landwehr held back for a controlled close volley.

In the center, the Grenzer in the orchard got into a cross-fire, but managed to withdraw in relatively good order and took position behind the fence.

On the Austrian left there was a stalemate, with Landwehr and Grenzer behind the fence awaiting the French advance.

This was the situation when he had to end the game due to time. Things were going quite well for the Austrians: the French attack had stalled, their right wing was somewhat stuck and would have to reorganise the groups that manoeuvred back to contain the bold Grenzer attack before crossing the fence and advancing into the fire of the waiting Landwehr and Grenzer. The Austrians would now have concentrated all their energy on hitting the leftmost French line – the Grenzer skirmishers as well as the Landwehr would have tried to inflict enough casualties to reduce the French Force Morale, which already was at 6, to 4, and then commence their withdrawal into Efferding. Virago and I were pretty confident that we could have pulled it off…

Another excellent game of Sharp Practice! It had a really interesting dynamic, the highlight being Virago holding the bulk of his forces back and then deploying them right in the center. This brought the orderly French advance into disarray, made a dent in their line and eased the pressure on my right flank Landwehr.

The only thing I will consider for next time is to either find a date where we can start earlier or play longer, e.g. a Friday. We didn’t actually play that long (about two and a half hours total playing time), and about 45 minutes more would probably have been sufficient to come to a conclusion, so that will be my benchmark for next time.

After the long COVID break, I’m really happy to play again with my friends. I’m very grateful to Sigur, Virago and Martin for indulging me, this really was a great birthday present! Thanks guys!

Queley’s Heroes – A Sharp Practice Campaign

It is well known that during the War of the Fifth Coalition, the British subsidised the Austrian war effort with huge sums. But how did the money get to Austria? Part of it was transported in silver and bills via Hamburg and Breslau to Vienna, using bankers as intermediaries. Another part was landed in the Adriatic. It seems that there were two separate deliveries, although the literature is in disagreement about the exact dates and the ships involved. It is pretty certain that in the middle of June, British frigate HMS Mercury broke through the French blockade of the Adriatic coast and landed 157 crates filled with silver and gold at Zengg (today Senj in Croatia). The crates were then transported to Agram (today Zagreb) and Esseg (today Osijek). They weighted almost 44 tons and contained silver and gold worth about 25 Million pounds in today’s money. A quick calculation shows that the transport would have needed about 9 wagons, each pulled by 6 horses.

A story to fire the imagination! Especially if you have, like me, always had a soft spot for the 1970 WW2 adventure comedy Kelly’s Heroes, featuring Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland as disillusioned American soldiers who stumble upon information on a huge gold treasure hidden in a bank behind German lines and start a private expedition to rob it.

I decided that all of this would make a great campaign for Sharp Practice. As I’ve never played a proper Dawns & Departures campaign, it was obvious to chose that format. I also wanted to include my friend Stephan in Sweden, so a remote campaign was the way to go. I roped in another friend, Martin, and started to draw a map.

It would have been fun to set the campaign in Croatia, where the French under Marmont fought the Austrians in a campaign that included British naval landings and intervention by Turkish raiders. That would also have fit with the fact that the movie Kelly’s Heroes was actually shot in Croatia! However, although I have a little bit of mediterranean terrain, most of my collection only works for Austria or Southern Germany, and all my napoleonic figures are also based with this in mind. So I decided to re-locate the campaign and assume that the Austrians have sent the treasure in the direction of Vienna. However, as the French more or less control Lower Austria, the commander of the convoy decided to temporarily store the treasure in a small castle in Styria and send a messenger to the Austrian Emperor, at that time in Hungary, asking him what to do with the money.

Our campaign starts with a French sergeant finding the heavily wounded messenger and searching his sabretache, where he finds a letter indicating the location of the treasure. He informs his superior, Capitaine Queley, who decides to put together a “private enterprise operation” (to quote Kelly in the movie). As he needs cavalry, he asks an eccentric officer of Chasseurs à Cheval only known as Dingue to join him. Dingue agrees, and our heroes march off to Styria.

In our game, Stephan plays Queley, Martin is Dingue and I play the Austrians and act as an overall game master, like in a role-playing game. The players started at Aspang, knowing that the treasure is kept in the castle at Trautmannsdorf. The first turns therefore where straight-forward. When the cavalry patrol reported Austrian Landwehr stationed at Vorau, they decided to attack, but were delayed by a rainstorm. When the attack finally began, the French swept the Styrian Landwehr under Oberst Schmalzenegger from the table. Schmalzenegger was not keen to stand against French regulars and got most of his troops off the table, but Dingue had kept cavalry in reserve and pursued, dispersing the Landwehr and capturing a supply wagon.

Queley and Dingue are pretty happy: their operation has got off to a good start. The only slightly concerning news comes from their scout, who has discovered Austrian line infantry at Hartberg… but for now, everything looks good and the men have a spring in their step!

Building Castle Sachsengang in 15mm

Back in autumn 2021, my wife and I went on a battlefield walk following the French advance into the area east of Lobau island on 5th July 1809 – the preparatory movements for the battle of Wagram.

Our last stop was Schloss Sachsengang, a small little castle that served as the last point of defense for a couple of companies of Austrian Jäger. I always wanted to make a small ladder campaign out of the whole action, but of course I would need the castle to play the final scenario. During the last weeks, I finally built the model!

Castle Sachsengang was built at the beginning of the 12th century. It was placed on a motte surrounded by a moat. The basic layout is polygonal with three towers, of which one is still standing. As was the case with all such structures, it was heavily modified over time. I could not find any images depicting the situation around 1800, so I used written descriptions from participants in the battle as well as photographs of today’s appearance.

Copperplate from 1672 by Georg Matthias Vischer.

The castle proper has large outbuildings to its northern side (which can be seen in the Vischer engraving on the right), which I didn’t include in the model so as to make it more versatile. I will use buildings I already have to depict those.

The castle itself is very small – the courtyard is only about 10m across and the whole structure is no wider than 30m. I still decided to scale it down from the figures scale, that is, not use a scale of 1:100 but one of 1:160 for the layout. In my games, I usually assume that one figure actually represents a couple of guys and reducing the footprint allows me to bring more of the surroundings on the table, making the scenario more interesting.

From Rudolf Büttner: Burgen und Schlösser an der Donau. Wien 1977.

I luckily found a layout plan in a book, so I printed it out in the desired scale and glued it on a sheet of foamboard, which would form the motte. I built the structure out of the sturdy cardboard I have come to love, which is called “Finnpappe” (“finnish cardboard”) in Austria. For the walls, I use 3mm thick sheets, which are astonishingly easy to cut but very sturdy and not prone to warping. It fulfills the same function as foamcore at a tenth of the price. The windows are 3D-printed, the doors are scratch built. The patches of stonework are cut out of a foil I had lying around – they will look like the are behind the plaster when the surface structure is applied.

The first challenge was how to paint the castle. Normally, I finish the whole structure and then just paint it. However, with this, I knew I would not be able to paint the walls and windows of the walls facing the courtyard as the space was too cramped. So I decided to built it in three pieces, paint them separately and then glue them together. Before painting, I coated them with filler to give them a plaster-like structure.

I then assembled the painted pieces and touched up any gaps with filler.

The next challenge was the roof. The polygonal layout makes it rather difficult to calculate the shape of the roof segments, which I usually do. So I just played it by ear and fitted them with a process of measuring and trial and error. I used 1mm thick sheets of the cardboard for this. This was easier than I thought and in the end I think it looks quite ok.

The final challenge was tiling the roof. As I do most of the time, I used tiny rectangles of cardboard and applied them piece for piece. I like the effect it gives more than that of the readily-available roofing material, which is also incredibly expensive. However, roof tiling in this way is a lengthy and mind-numbing process that can’t be done in one go, so it took me a week or so to finish it.

The last and more enjoyable step was modelling the base with the moat. I used 3mm thick plywood for the base, which incidentally led to a couple of funny (in hindsight) moments when I put the whole thing (base with castle glued on) on my commode and realised that the base had warped badly! Panicking, I asked my mates Sigur and Virago what to do and we discussed all kinds of tricks to straighten the plywood. However, when I had organised some screw clamps and proceeded to clamp the structure to my gaming table, I realised that magically, the warping had gone. Turns out the the surface of my commode is uneven…!

Anyway, I built up the outer banks of the moat with foamboard and filler and proceeded to painting the base. Originally, I wanted to use water effect for the moat, but then I thought that it would add height and make it look too flat in relation to the banks, so I just applied several layers of gloss varnish. (Also, I’m a bit afraid of water effects since I had some large cracks in a swamp I made, ruining the whole effect).

So, this is it: Schloss Sachsengang ready for gaming! Apart from the Hanslgrund scenario, I also want to use in for a fictional campaign I’m preparing at the moment. But more on this some other time.

Blindenmarkt 1809 – A Sharp Practice AAR

At the beginning of May 1809, FML Hiller’s Corps was cut off from the main Austrian army and in full retreat South of the Danube. While a very costly rear-guard action at Ebelsberg had slowed the French advance, the respite was only temporarily. On May 6, Général de Brigade Colbert advanced his forces along the river Ybbs when he came across a small Austrian rearguard detachment consisting of Erzherzog Karl Uhlans under the command of Major Ludwig von Wilgenheim, accompanied by soldiers from the Grenz-Infanterieregiment Nr. 8 (Gradiskaner) under Hauptmann Basil Ivanovich von Kolinensieg. Wilgenheim, who did not realise the size of the French force, wanted to set a trap for the French and lure them through the streets of the village of Blindenmarkt. The French attacked with a voltigeur battalion, amalgamated from voltigeur companies of several regiments, and two regiments of Chasseurs à Cheval, the 7th and the 20th. Instead of charging through the streets, though, the French deployed the voltigeurs to the North of the village and drove away the Grenzer. Wilgenheim made a desperate charge against the French cavalry but was repulsed. The Uhlans took heavy casualties, but the infantry could, thanks to good leadership, retreat and escape pretty much intact.

Map of the action from the Austrian general staff history Krieg 1809 (vol. III).

Although a bit on the large side for Sharp Practice, I thought that his affair would make for an interesting scenario. I decided to make Blindenmarkt the main tactical problem – both sides would have to decided if, when and how many forces they would commit to the narrow street of the village. I also completely left out the area South of the village – although this was the site of Wilgenheim’s charge, it would not fit unto a normal-sized table and I thought that the most interesting features of the skirmish, namely the town and the wooded hill, would suffice to give at least an approximate impression of the tactical challenges facing the opposing commanders.

I played against Sigur, who voiced a preference to play the Austrians, so I took the French. The French had a numerical advantage, with one group of infantry and one group of cavalry more than their opponents.

Sigur started out cautiously, but of course as the defender, he could afford it. I had to commit, so I deployed my cavalry to my left, intending to head across the fields and threaten his flank. Two groups would cover the village and, if opportunity presented itself, move in. Three groups would support the cavalry, while the skirmishers would advance in the center, ready to support either flank. So far, so good.

Sigur deployed all of his line units on the wooded hill, moving to his right to check my advance across the fields. The hill was a strong defensive position – the woods would give him cover from shooting, and the slope would give him an uphill advantage in melee. My cavalry had some difficulties crossing the ditch, and as soon as the first group was over, it came under fire from Grenzer skirmishers, whom Sigur had also deployed in the woods. This was bad for my cavalry, especially since the first shots killed their Leader!

Although Sigur hadn’t yet deployed his Uhlans, I reckoned that I might risk advancing into the village, especially if I was fast enough to capture his forward secondary deployment point. Two of my infantry groups moved forward in column, while I deployed my last group of cavalry behind them, just in case. This would turn out be one of my rare right decisions in this game.

Unfortunately, the infantry was too slow to capture Sigur’s secondary deployment point and was immediately charged by two groups of Uhlans deploying from there.

The Uhlans went through the poor voltigeurs like a knife through butter, the few surviving Frenchmen took to their heels and my Force Morale took a spectacular plunge. My whole right flank was potentially open. Fortunately, I had the Chasseurs à Cheval in position, who immediately charged the Uhlans. They were repulsed, but did some damage and, more importantly, allowed my skirmishers to move over and take the Uhlans under fire.

Meanwhile, on my left flank, things did not look any better. Sigur suddenly advanced his whole line down from the hill, threatening to unload a volley into my cavalry which was still trying to cross the ditch. The cavalry was in a bad position – I knew they would probably be shot to pieces if they tried to charge. So I made another stupid decision and decided to withdraw them. However, one group didn’t make it across that blasted ditch and caught a volley into their back. This was it – one group broke, the other had to retreat and my Force Morale was at zero. I congratulated Sigur on an Austrian victory!

What a debacle for the French! Sigur stated that he had a lot of luck, and truly his dice-rolling in his first cavalry charge was spectacular. However, he also plainly played better than me. Most importantly, he made no mistakes: he was patient, didn’t deploy his forces too early and committed them only when he knew what he wanted from them. I, on the other hand, made some grave mistakes, the biggest being charging forward with my cavalry without really knowing what they should achieve and than panicking when they where confronted with the full might of the Austrian infantry in a very strong position. The other mistake was advancing into the village before my forces on my left flank were in a position to put pressure on Sigur’s units.

We talked a bit afterwards and concurred that the scenario presents a hard nut to crack for both sides. The forward Austrian deployment point poses an interesting problem for the French, but also a very tempting lure for the Austrians, while the village is a hazard for both sides. I’d really like to try this scenario again one day. All in all, a great and very enjoyable game! As always, you can read Sigur’s report on his blog: https://www.tabletopstories.net/language/en/2023/03/sharp-practice-struggle-for-blindenmarkt/