Sunday, 3 July 2016

Jena Campaign - Debrief - Lessons learned.


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.

7 comments:

  1. Interesting report Simon. Given what I knew a bout the morale of my force after all the hard fighting I didn't fancy a major battle in the centre. It would have been glorious though.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

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  2. Great write up - re the supply: Prussia like most countries at that time couldnt sustain an army of 10s of 1000s without depots. Depots were absolutly crucial throughout the Napoleonic wars - when Vienna and Moscow were given up they just switched depots. The french were trained to live off the land (no other army was) but even they couldnt do that indefinatly (hence the disater that was the retreat from Russia) Halle then Leipzig were the Prussians elected depots. Once they fell the clock was ticking on Prussia getting back into supply (the only way possible was to recapture the depot or retreat beyond them to the depots in Prussia proper) Just as importantly France had cut Prussia's escape routes. So not a majer victory for France but certainly a victory! - Glad you enjoyed the game. Rupe

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    1. I'd agree that they couldn't sit in Jena for the next week but i doubt a week without supply would lead to a surrender. Personally I would have docked one moral for every 2 days and have their march rates halved as they switched over to emergency forage (i know most armies didn't forage like the french but they could have switched over in desperation). I'd also consider docking some strength points per week based for attrition increases. My point is in part that Napoleon always sort to pressure his enemies supply to force a battle on his terms. Thus we can say supply was important but a major battle was the reward for threatening it rather than the taking of the supply itself. As such it is my view that Napoleon would still have had to fight a pivotal battle as he did in pretty much every campaign outside the Peninsular in 15 years of war.

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  3. Vindication for Scharnhorst, many thanks...although as a Chief of Staff my views on strategy were meant to be less important anyway. You missed the start when I managed to successfully argue (quietly parked) for one division to be left blocking the route Davout eventually took and which was almost immediately pulled into the middle anyway. Still, Blucher was around Leipzig and heading north at game end.

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  4. yes good points Simon - we ran out of time with Napoleon well and truelly in the driving seat. I never thought the Prussians would have to surrender in that position just they couldnt supply/live off the land without dispersing or trying to fight their way through Napoleon who would have simply waited till your morale dropped (A miniature version of Napoleon's retreat from Russia ;-)) Part of the reason we stopped there was Napoleon was in no hurry to have a majer fight - so wierdly it was the Prussians out of supply trying to force Napoleon into a majer battle when he just didnt need too. I felt that if the Prussians had been more dispersed they could have 'lived off the land' a bit longer but grouping together (150,000!!) they were trying to live off the land in the foothills around a town of 4500 inhabitants!! Its interesting that in the historical campaign The Prussian armies were trying to retreat back to halle and beyond when they realised Napoleon was threatening their supply lines!! In terms of the 'game mechanics' at point I was docking 1pt of morale a day off Davout' corp!!! and had told the Prussian King he was going to start losing Morale and possibly strength points in two days - so not to far off the time scales you suggest ;-) (Its not nmy fault if your king didnt tell you that ;0

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  5. Ive just realised something that may be part of the confusion - There were no Victory conditions, the game didnt stop because Halle and Leipzig fell, the game stopped because we ran out of time. When it stopped my judgment (as explained above) was that Napoleon was in a much better position - he was in control of when and where he fought the Prussians (I absolutly agree he would have to fight the Prussians to achieve toatl victory), where as thy had no option but to disperse in order to feed themselves or fight their way back to leipzig/halle losing morale all the time. Hope that clears it up about 'victory conditions' See you soon (Very jealous to see you fellas enjoing a COIN game) Rupe

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    1. Perhaps victory conditions is not the right word, but even in a mega game there is a goal or direction for the action. I guess you could distill the question down to this; was a major battle necessary? if not one has to answer why Napoleon always sort one. In Jena he historically out flanked the Prussians and had an open road to Halle and Leipzig yet he didn't take it he turned a fought the Prussian army. Its worth saying that I think the game was fantastic, this was just the one thought that occurred in the aftermath. Imo the Prussian King (both in real life and in the game) would probably have sort terms given the current board state, but i suspect the Prussians would not have waited as long as they did historically to rejoin the wars.

      Message Pete, we should do some COIN sometime.

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