Battlefield Walk – Wagram

The weather is getting better and my friend Anton Tantner suggested a trip to the Marchfeld. Finally an opportunity to visit parts of the battlefield of Wagram, where on 5 and 6 July 1809, the hitherto larges battle of the Napoleonic Wars was fought!

Together with our wives, we first took the bus to Markgraf-Neusiedl. This was the pivotal point of the second days’s fighting and the location where the battle was decided, as the French 3rd Corps under Marshal Davout outflanked Rosenberg’s Austrians.

Unfortunately, the famous tower, which served as the Austrian HQ and observatory, is private property, and we found it very hard to find a good vantage point to look at what would have been the position of the French attacks (one of which came from the east, and the other from the south). We did get a look at the tower from outside, though. At the time, it was rectangular, the round tower was built after the battle to house a windmill.

We then took the bikeway along the Russbach in direction of Baumersdorf and Deutsch-Wagram. This walk led us along the Austrian front, which was positioned on the heights just north of the Russbach. Of course we had to climb the heights to get a better view! The banks of the Russbach would have been pretty devoid of vegetation at the time, as the Austrians would have used the foilage to cover their camp huts.

Looking south towards the Russbach and the French approach from halfway up the heights.

Half-way between Markgraf-Neusiedl and Deutsch-Wagram is the small village of Parbasdorf, at the time mainly known as Baumersdorf. On the evening of July 5, when the French army made its large but uncoordinated probing attack, it was a key position, as it was the location of bridges over the Russbach. While French and Saxon troops broke through the Austrian lines west of Baumersdorf, Austrians under General Hardegg held the village itself, thereby preventing the French to reinforce their breakthrough with artillery and cavalry. For this action, Hardegg, who had probably saved the Austrian army from an early defeat, was awarded the Maria-Theresia-Orden. The basic layout of the village is still the same as in 1809, with the large Anger (village green) in the center.

To the west of the village, we could see the heights which were stormed by the Division Dupas on the evening of July 5.

We continued our walk to Deutsch-Wagram, where Anton had arrange a meeting with historian Michael Wenzel, who gave us a tour through the Napoleonmuseum, which is housed in Erzherzog Carl’s headquarters.

Michael is extremely knowledgeable about the battle of Wagram and the 1809 campaign in general. It was a pleasure to listen to him and explain the battle and the museum’s collection. He also contributed to a recent archaeological survey, which unearthed an Austrian camp as well as soldiers’ graves, artefacts of which are among the museum’s highlights. Better still, he is also a wargamer, so I immediately talked him into giving Sharp Practice and one of my 1809 scenario a try!

We had a great day out and I was happy to finally walk a part of the Wagram battlefield and visit the museum, something I had in mind for quite some time. The museum hosts a reenactment on July 1, which I plan to attend, and Michael and I will meet for a game, so you’ll read more about 1809-related activities in the future.

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:

Back to Napoleonics!

A couple of weeks ago I suddenly got bitten by the napoleonics bug again. After a long break of about a year, I’ve rediscovered my interest in the 1809 campaign. There were a couple of lose threads that I left open when I lost interest at the beginning of last year, so I decided to take one or two of them up. I even have some ideas for new things!

The first thread was the 6mm napoleonics project. When I left it, I had home-made rules that worked ok but did not really inspire me. Having recently discovered Drums and Shakos Large Battles (and played a game with my 15mm ACW figures), I wanted to give them a try with the 6mm napoleonics as the rules include modifications for playing them with one base representing a brigade instead of a batallion. I played the game remotely with Stephan in Sweden, but we both came to the conclusion that we didn’t really like the rules. They sound great in theory, but in practice, they offer far less decisions points than one would think. Also, the activation mechanic, which I love in any other Ganesha Games ruleset, makes the game very slow – there are too many units for such a detailed activation sequence.

My next attempt with 6mm will be Sam Mustafa’s Blücher. I probably should have started with this all along, as a lot of people swear by it. Let’s see how I like it.

However, playing Drums and Shakos Large Battles has actually reminded my how much I love the Song of… series of skirmish games, so I convinced Sigur to play a game of Song of Drums and Shakos, the napoleonic skirmish version of the rules. I also wanted to have a reason to play with Sigur’s magnificent collection of 28mm miniatures and buildings! The game was great fun and you can read Sigur’s detailed AAR on his blog:

By then, I was ready for a game of Sharp Practice! When I left off, I was thinking about a small campaign dealing with the fighting in the Traisen Valley. Sigur and I played one game, an AAR of which can be found here:

I had one more scenario for this campaign prepared, namely the skirmish for Mariazell. As all of the Traisen Valley scenarios, it is an asymetrical affair and quite difficult for the Austrians. Playing the French defender, I also had my difficulties, which resulted in a hard-fought battle. In the end, I conceded, as my situation did not look good. More importantly, I had taken an incredible amount of casualties, which, in a campaign context, would probably made me withdraw earlier.

Again, you can find a detailed AAR on Sigur’s blog:

It was a suspenseful game and a good reminder of why Sharp Practice is my favourite game. Now I’m definitely hooked again and want more of it!

One result was that I did some scratch buildings. First, I quickly knocked together an officer’s tent. I deliberately didn’t put any figures on the base so it can be used for all sides.

The second building project is a bit larger and not yet finished. It’s a model of Schloss Sachsengang, which you might remember from a battlefield tour I did some time ago. This will be used in another mini-campaign, based on the events we toured, but also in another, fictional campaign, more of which some other time…