Friday 21 February 2020

Soor point - A War of Austrian Succession Battle

A recent Crusades battle set up for To the Strongest
Having played a WW2 Western Desert over a three week span, plus four weeks gaming battles from the Crusades using To the Strongest, we feel the need to shift back to horse and musket for the first time in 2020.

At first, I elected to go Seven Years War but after leafing through the pages of a Duffy for inspiration, I noticed that the Battle of Soor 1745, fought towards the very end of the Austrian War of Succession, had a tented camp: I bought tents last year and any excuse to get them out gets my vote.

The Battle of Soor 1745 set upon a 10' x 6' table - looking south. Note tents, top left.
Soor is a battle I haven't gamed before. This might be because it looks like one of those battles best fought on a 'L' shaped table, or more probably because it looks like such a very long lined, strung out, battle on the map. However, closer investigation shows that the actual fighting only took part at the northern end of the field, and to a lesser extent, towards the centre. This makes Soor, with a bit of jiggery pokery, a far more interesting gaming prospect than I had previously thought. 

The Austrian army in position on the Granerkoppe.
The historical background to the battle is quite interesting. Following the Battle of Hohenfriedberg Frederick the Great seems to have taken his eye off the ball. He seems to have spent most of his time fannying about with his dogs and playing his flute. Consequently, it came as quite a shock when Prince Charles and an army of over 40,000 Austrians and Saxons turned up in the rear of his strung out camp and took up a strong tactical position in readiness to attack. He had been surprised; he was outnumbered by almost 2:1; he was in a weak tactical position; he was in trouble and about to get squashed.

The Prussians have moved north to attack the Granerkoppe from two directions. In the foreground the Prussian 'centre' is just getting into position to attack through Burkersdorf.
The Austrians had taken up position behind the village of Burkersdorf with their left wing anchored on the slopes of the Graner Koppe - a hill that dominated all of the surrounding ground. Frederick, with no time to lose, siezed the initiative by quickly rousing his men and marching them, in a counter-concentration, to assault the Granerkoppe from two directions. The Austrians didn't move. The Prussians attacked. The Austrians didn't move. The Prussian cavalry charged up the slopes. The Austrian cavalry didn't move, met them at the halt, and were routed. The Prussian infantry charged up the slopes. It was a blood bath; on the third attempt the Prussians took the hill. To the south, half of the Austrian army didn't move - they stood and watched their northern wing collapse before withdrawing into the woods - the Konigreichswald - behind their position. As a commander-in-chief it was, perhaps, Prince Charles' worst performance, and Frederick's best, to date.

For the set up I have combined, and in some respects ignored, two sources. The first are the works of Christopher Duffy, principally his "The Army of...." books. The second is the post by Jeff Berry at Obscure Battles. Jeff has done a super job on the subject, with his excellent map, OOB, and description of the battle. Given the scant information I've found on the subject, Obscure Battles should be any gamer's first stop for Soor (it's the only source I have that shows the position of the Prussian guns). Well done again, Jeff!

Looking south. If the whole battle was to be laid out, the Austrian line would extend at least another six feet.
Given my resources, to make this battle doable as a game, I have simply ignored the Austrians and Prussians that faced off against each other to the south - what's south of the line stays south of the line, so to speak. This enables the battle to fit nicely onto a 10' x 6' table and precludes the Austrians from bringing their massive numerical superiority to bear by marching Aremberg's (off table) infantry to the rescue. 

By leaving Aremberg's infantry off table I easily have the forces needed for the battle, except for the substitution of a few Saxon units with Austrians, and actually have a fair few of the proper units present. I even have enough Prussian regiments, something I can struggle with in the AWS due to there being very few Fusilier regiments until after this war and, again, I have a fair few regiments of those actually present - including the Garde (IR15) and the Guard du Corps (CR13).

Plenty of poetic license has been taken with the terrain. Firstly, the Prussian camp shouldn't feature at all but, where I have positioned it allows the whole available Prussian force to start on the table (the camp shouldn't effect game play in any event - being easily removable / ignored if need be). 

Secondly, the sources disagree about the orientation and size of Burkersdorf and the wood to the south of it - I've simply set up the table to make both places 'work for the game'. 

Thirdly the road system is out of kilter with reality but, again, this should not effect game play in any meaningful way. 

Lastly, and very importantly, looking at the terrain on Google Earth, especially from road view, I fail to see the "...steep slope..." mentioned by Duffy in his narrative. The Graner Koppe doesn't look that high or that steep, appearing more like a gently rising ridge. However, the battle narrative reads much better if the Graner Koppe has steep slopes and, in game terms, makes for much more interesting terrain to fight over. Therefore, my Graner Koppe looks like a proper wargame's hill (it is 3" high at it's summit) and the slopes will be classed as steep (Piquet: type ii terrain).

Because the battle was fought in late September (harvest time), I have added plenty of fields of ripened corn and I've dotted around some haystacks. They look pretty but, they have no game effect.

We will use our house amended Piquet rules (Men Are Like Lemons...) for fighting large 18C battles. This will allow me to hamper the Austrians with a poor sequence deck and enable the Prussians with a good one. 

Reading Jeff's description of Austrian cavalry doctrine, I have slightly changed the make up of the Austrian deck we use for the AWS: I have removed one of the Shock Cavalry Melee Resolution cards and replaced it with another Dress the Lines card. I have made Frederick a superior C-in-C, adding two Brilliant Leader cards; I've made Charles an abysmal one, adding two Command Indecision cards.

Prussian bits and pieces, showing extra sequence deck and morale chip cards from the Army Characterisation Deck, and two valuable Brilliant Leader (wild) cards.
Note an original card Piquet clock, glued to a piece of hardboard for strength, is pictured here - see below.
I've further cooked the books by assigning cards from the army characterisation deck rather than by random draw. The Prussians will get 26 morale chips; their infantry will be up one for morale; they will have an extra Cavalry Move In The Open card (to enable Buddenbrock to get up the hill quickly); they have an extra Melee Resolution card (so that both cavalry and infantry can get stuck in when they close). That's not too shoddy, for a 6 card draw. 

Austrian bits and pieces.
The Austrians get 35 morale chips - distinctly under par, for 7 cards.

The performance of the Prussian troops was quite something at Soor. Consequently, I have decided to make all of the Prussian troops (except artillery) either Eager (blue bead) or Determined (purple bead). 

The Austrians were fresh, well equipped and well supplied: All have been made Ready (green bead). They have the advantage of numbers (28 units to 19 units) and position on the steep slopes of the Granerkoppe.

Buddenbrock's cavalry prepares to assault the heights.
Victory conditions will be to compare historical performances. This will make a 'game win' quite difficult for the Prussians, though winning the battle should be more easily achievable.

So there it is, Soor 1745, or at least a game based on it, set up and ready to go. 

And I get to play with a new toy. 

Graham H. has joined a local organisation with a laser cutter and is busying himself making a medieval castle, amongst other things. A couple of weeks ago, Graham revealed that he had designed an old style Piquet clock. Then he pulled a couple, one each for Peter and I, out of his bag. I was over the moon. The old style Piquet clocks, printed on a sheet of card, with plastic spinners, are much sought after and very hard to get hold of. Graham's clocks are fashioned from two sheets of etched 3 mm plywood (glued together, back to back) with countersunk plastic spinners and are, IMHO, superior in every respect (see pic of an original above).

Graham's design for the Piquet clock.
I asked Graham if he was happy to make more. He is, for a price. If you want one of these superior clocks, drop me an email (my email address is in the sidebar) and I'll forward your request onto him.