Friday, 11 May 2018

The Battle of Kolin 1757 - A battle by the yard.

Many years ago, when my Seven Years War collection was nowhere near as populous as it is today, I remember re-fighting Kolin using the reduced scale order of battle given in Campaigns And Battles From the Age Of Reason by Kershner and Wood. That scenario involves about fifteen units a side and even back then I could do Kolin with those kind of numbers. Since then my collection has more than doubled in size, as has my table, and more battles using many more units have become manageable but, some battles are still too awkward to do at my preferred scaling, none more so than Kolin.

The 12 feet long Austrian line, just about all in shot. The Austrian left, which extends further than the Prussian left, abuts the table edge. The Austrian right is a little over 2' from the table edge because it was prone to being flanked.  
However, over the past couple of weeks, I've been looking at Kolin again. As SYW battles between the Prussians and Austrians go, Kolin is one of the classics. However, for wargamers, Kolin has the draw back of unusually high levels of cavalry in proportions of type that don't (I think) appear anywhere else. For instance, there are ten Austrian / Saxon dragoon / chevauxleger regiments present, and overall there are ninety seven squadrons of hussars. This makes Kolin almost too silly to collect for. 

The Prussian line. As with the Austrian line one end abuts the table edge (in the distance) and this is where I'd like to have a further 18" of table so the Prussian cavalry could deploy in a long line.
But, then again silly is as silly does and, it would be nice to fight Kolin at my preferred unit scale of one wargame unit to represent an infantry regiment (of two battalions) or a  cavalry regiment (of five squadrons), hmmm.

So it was that the idea of actually getting my moth laden wallet out, for a shot to nothing, actually began to become a real possibility. If I forgot about the wing where most of the hussars faced off against each other, as most reconstructions of the battle do, I'd only need to buy three units of Saxon chevauxleger and two units of cuirassiers (one for each side).

Prussian cavalry on their left wing. They should be in a single line side by side. However, historically this cavalry attacked into the flank of the Austrian line and, because the frontage of the attack was quite small, it was forced to attack in waves. This deployment merely starts them in 'waves'.
Although I already had enough infantry, just to make life very simple, I thought I'd buy about a hundred Austrian infantry figures to upgrade eight units of Austrian line infantry from twenty four to thirty six men strong (to represent regiments of three battalions). The sixteen stands of infantry would include eight stands of grenadiers so I could build two extra units of converged grenadiers when required (Liegnitz?) - two birds, one stone, put the oven on I'm cooking! 

The Prussian start position for their oblique attack. I have omitted the Swedish earthworks next to Kreczor because of how town fighting and occupation work in my rules. It works better as a long built up area with two sections (one at front one at the back) the forward area defended by a single battalion of Grenzers.
With this plan in mind, but before placing an order, I began to lay out on paper what the battle would look like. It's a very good job that I did. It soon became apparent that Kolin has a startlingly long battle line. Even with the wing of hussars omitted, the Austrian line is over four miles long and you can't really compress it (as you can with some battlefields, like Zorndorf, which is just over three miles long and compressible to a little over two and a half miles without much game effect). For Kolin, even with my table's drop leaf extension up, I was five feet short - I'd need a table twenty feet long to do the battle at my preferred scale! Short of another quarter of a million pounds to upgrade to a house with a room for such a table, that plan must, for the time being at least, be put on hold.

Prussian artillery is rarely featured in Kolin games because they don't generally feature in the battle maps. I'm indebted to Jeff Berry of Obscure Battles (link in sidebar) for placing them.
I'm not sure if I was more disappointed as a wargamer, or more happy as a Yorkshireman, that the moths in my wallet would be left undisturbed. Certainly, buying the extra troops (except the grenadiers) would now serve little purpose; though the Saxon Chevauxleger would be a nice to have; hmmm?

So back to the drawing board. Next, I worked out what the battle would look like with some reduction in scale. I counted the infantry battalions and divided them by three to get a number of infantry units, and I divided the number of cavalry regiments by one point five. With a dollop of fudge here and there I had the figures in hand and painted to do it, and I had a table that was just big enough to do it. 

Chotzemitz garrisoned by more Grenzers. The rough ground behind the built up area represents a depression and woodland. Having visited the battlefield several years ago, I think it was the depressions at Chotzemitz and Bristvi which made the lasting impression (well them, and the earthworks at Kreczor). The cornfields are merely scenic.
As it happened, with the reduction in scale, I also had easily enough hussars to do the hussar wing but, again, table length defeated this ambition - the table feet I gained by reducing the number of units for the main battle was almost exactly what I would need for the hussars to be included so, still several feet short, the possibility of a huge hussar battle going on at one end of the table can only exist in the ether.

Kreczor and the Oak Wood. These mark the extreme right of the Austrian main battle line. Although the hussar wing extended for some distance beyond the hussars had no impact on the battle in this area. 
Significantly reducing the number of units in an army is problematical. Apart from the fudge one has to use filling the spaces left by fractions, the number of 'brigades' with just one or two units suddenly becomes burdensome. In wargame terms, there are so many senior officers kicking about the place that they have too little to do and look more like company sergeants than 'generals' (some would say, twas ever thus); furthermore, having a Johnny-on-the-spot everywhere spoils the sense of decision and tension in a game. Like the cavalry, I decided to divide the number of 'brigadiers' by roughly one point five and apply some more fudge. I think what I came up with, as a command structure, fits the outline of the battle quite well and should give the senior command figures more to do.

The Austrians on Kreczor Hill. In reality there were three infantry commands here: Wied, Sincere and Starhemberg. I have reduced it to two. I have Wied in command of the first line and Starhemberg in command of the second. I did think about putting the front rank under Colloredo but that would deny the players the chance to do their best 'Flower Pot Men' impressions - non-Brits see 'Andy Pandy'.
So, I set up my reduced version of Kolin on my table and the shots that accompany this post show what it currently looks like (it might change slightly). You can see that barely an inch of table length is spare, indeed I do wish I had eighteen inches more for the Prussian left to extend into. 

I still have to do the name plates for terrain features and commanders for this battle so, for now, more details of the scenario will have to wait. When the name plates are done I'll try to post a full scenario with OOB, bibliography, etc.

There isn't that much actual information about Kolin in this post, so I've filed it under 'blog news'. I wrote it more as an aide-memoire for the future. When I'm old and stupid, this post will remind me that I was once younger and just as stupid - I did so very nearly lash out the cash for figures I wouldn't actually be able to use at home to any great effect.


Der Alte Fritz said...

Have you considered having one Brigade of foot or horse represented by the appropriate type of wargaming unit? I had success using this method of reducing the number of figures on the table. Try to resist the temptation to put every figure you own on the table because you will need some room to maneuver the troops.

The early part of Kolin is similar to a meeting engagement with the Croats and some German Grenadiers trying to hold off the Prussians long enough for Wied, Sincere and Starhemberg to March from the Austrian left all the way to the Austrian right flank. Thus the Austrian divisions should arrive in intervals rather than all at once.

You are right to leave out the hussar action as it didn't have much bearing on the battle. Another idea is to shorten the field and increase the ground scale: focus on the action around Krechor/Oak Wood/ Krechor Hill and omit the Austrian left wing; however allow off table Austrian reinforcements that represent Daun's shifting of his troops to the Krechor area.

Just a few thought there. I've probably done Kolin 8 times and I've never been able to create a satisfactory scenario. In my first Kolin game, the Austrian players counted noses and realized that they outnumbered the Prussians and so they swarmed down from the hills all at once and overwhelmed the Prussian army. 😄

Lee Hadley said...

Great photos. Very jealous of your table!

Colin Ashton said...

Very fortuitous post Jim as I have just been organising a refight of Kolin on June 16th (the nearest I can get to the actual anniversary). I’ve played the battle a couple times and it’s never been particularly satisfactory but I’m hoping that with a bigger table it will work. Looking forward to reading about your game as it develops..

Norm said...


william walker said...

Absolutely marvelous!!!Bill