On the last Saturday of this past June I enjoyed one of the best learning experiences I have had in wargaming to put a positive spin on it. The day did not start well in character as General von Ruchel I arrived to the field 3 hours late having boarded the wrong train. When I arrived I discovered that my colleagues had spread our forces in a long thin line between the Fulda gap and Gera with no reserve.
|Control's game map|
The Jena campaign megagame, designed by Rupert Clamp was devised as a double blind map game. Each side of 10-15 players wrote orders for each division ordering it about a large map of central Germany. When battle was joined a divisional commander collected his regimental level counters and played a simple face to face tactical game.
A step up the chain of command it was the army commanders (generals) role to devise the overall strategy for then the divisional/corps commanders and their chiefs of staff teams to implement.
Or if you were on the Prussian team being a general consisted of arguing with your fellow generals. I made sure that all my fellow generals were abundantly clear on views on every aspect of the campaign.
For me this was a game of three arguments, two that I won and should have lost and one that I lost and should have won.
|The field of battle|
First because we had no reserve we could not counter Marshal Davout when he brushed Blucher aside north of the Fulda Gap. My friend Paul argued that he should march after Davout and fight him once he tired, I argued that he would not catch the French (they had a higher movement rate) and that he would probably lose a one on one fight if he did catch him. Rather we should accept that Davout would reach Halle and cut our supplies in around 3 days and we should focus on trying to fight the pivotal battle against the rest of the french before that clock timed out.
What I didn't know was that Davout had essentially no moral left in his force as he had forced marched them day and night to reach his present position. In fact he never did reach Halle before the game ended despite the open road. If Paul had fought him, we might not have lost.
|Team planning map|
Second, convinced that the game should come down to a climatic battle, like all Napoleonic campaigns did I continually argued that we should concentrate our forces and strike at one point delivering a pivotal blow to the French. In some respects this was not a terrible view to take, Napoleons objective in every historical campaign was to defeat the enemy in detail in a major battle as this would allow him to end to the discussion as to who had supremacy over Europe.
However this was not in Pete's (the thief of Europe!) mind, rather he decided that the best approach for the French was to employ Fabian tactics in the centre whilst running two corps around either flank to try and seize Halle and Leipzig cutting us from our supplies. As such by arguing that we should concentrate in the centre and smash the French in a major battle I opened up our flanks. For a long time my divisional commander Simon and I had made a case for taking one of your divisions off the southern flank and moving it into the centre as a reserve. We got our way but in doing so we could no longer effectively defend the approaches to Leipzig.
The final argument revolved around how to finish the campaign. We had done pretty well in our field battles but the French had taken Leipzig and we would lose our communications with Halle soon. What to do. I argued that no Napolonic army ever surrender because it had lost supplies for a few days and that we should fight out of our encirclement towards Berlin. In the end the presiding view was that we should concentrate on Jena and await a French attack as this would be the most fun and fitting end to the game. Another idea was that we should push out towards Leipzig and try to retake it (which wasn't the worst idea in some respects but you really do need supply for a siege).
In the event Napoleon not being a fool simply ignored us and sat on our supplies and the game ended with the Prussians in a rather compromising position rather than with a head start on the road to Berlin.
|My excellent divisional commanders, far more competent than I was|
The game was a good lesson in assumptions for me. I had underestimated the effect of marching on moral and assumed that a pivotal battle was necessary. In the longer term it would have been, since armies did not tend to surrender on home territory for lack of the supplies, the worst case scenario was a disbandment and humiliating surrender. Whilst this might seem like a total victory Napoleon always tried to force a major battle so that he would not have to return the following year to re-establish his supremacy to the now reorganized opposition. In short we had done far better than our historical counter parts but we had not radically changed history.
My friend Pete (Napoleon) wrote up his thoughts on the game here; https://spprojectblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/the-jena-campaign-1806-at-huddersfield-napoleons-view/
Overall I was impressed with Rupert's design, it had the right tempo for a Napoelonic game and generally felt historical in play. The double blind aspects generated plenty of tension and control did an excellent job of feeding the right amount of intelligence out to the players. The only thing I would challenge was the notion that the loss of Halle and Leipzig being a victory condition. After all the Russians accepted the loss of Moscow and for a brief time the Austrians Vienna, the only nation to bottle at the loss of their key city was in fact the French.