Updated: Jul 6
Last weekend, 3-4 June 2023, witnessed the annual big Napoleonic wargame at Francis' barn outside Reading. This year it was Borodino, fought during Napoleon's Russian campaign (7 September 1812), and an absolute classic for Napoleonic enthusiasts.
Borodino - historical deployments
Tables were set up in a large 'H' formation - with Great Redoubt in the centre - and over 5,000 20mm painted figures were involved in the game, with Francis painting new units up especially.
DAY ONE: TURNS 1-14
After a briefing by Francis in the barn, both sides gathered at their command posts.
Richard was French C-in-C, and decided to focus the main attack on the French left, with Eugene's corps supported by masses of cavalry and Davout's corps, in a bid to take Borodino.
To Davout's right, Ney's corps was initially to hold the centre in a wood, while the Russian-held arrow-shaped Fleches were to be ignored entirely.
The Poles and Westphalians would take Utitsa on the right, meanwhile the Imperial Guard and more reserve cavalry and artillery would wait off table.
Borodino refight - starting positions. Map by Francis Long.
I was nominally playing the role of Poniatowski, but in reality Mike was in charge of the Poles.
The initial French approach to Borodino proved to be slow, owing to congestion among Eugene's and Davout's divisions and a lack of space to deploy.
On turn six, however, Patrick unleashed Ney's corps against the Great Redoubt.
The Russians had by now realised that the French were not attacking the Fleches, and began to disperse and reallocate 14 battalions and the artillery concentrated there.
To the left of Borodino, a huge cavalry 'meatgrinder' between Dan's French and Mike's Russians kicked off which lasted for most of the two days of play, each side throwing in reinforcements to gain an advantage on this critical flank...
On turn nine, two French cavalry divisions appeared on the Russian left flank near Psarevo: a diversion threatening the Russian position behind Utitsa.
On turn 10, a Russian cavalry vanguard, led by Peter, suddenly appeared deep behind Eugene's corps on the left. It soon became apparent that 12 Russian battalions and artillery were en route to threaten the French rear, forcing Dominik to turn back from Borodino with a French division, while cavalry was sent to help them.
By the following turn, the Westphalians and Poles were making slow but steady progress. The former repelled two charges by Cossacks, who had found a home in the woods near Utitsa, slowing progress.
A large Russian cavalry force (Uvarov) now appeared near Psarevo (garrisoned by Russian militia) on the Russian far left. It was initially pinned by the two French cavalry divisions.
The French Guard Artillery and Reserve Artillery had been supporting Ney's advance on the Great Redoubt, and were joined by Ney's corps cavalry, which advanced to Ney's right between the Redoubt and the village of Semenovskaya.
By turn 12, the French side had occupied most of Borodino...
Later that turn, Ney's French corps (Patrick) captured the Great Redoubt, including its artillery. The Imperial Guard infantry were simultaneously brought up in close support to their rear.
By end of play on day one, Adrian's Westphalians had occupied Utitsa's church, with one Russian infantry brigade failing a test and pulling back. Mike's Poles had destroyed one Russian unit and pushed back another near the Utitsa Mound.
Borodino refight - main movements. Map by Francis Long.
All in all, the French side had made considerable progress, with Borodino village, the Great Redoubt and half of Utitsa all under their control: a commanding start!
DAY TWO: TURNS 15-22
On the second day, the French plan was to consolidate Ney's success with support from the Imperial Guard, and Davout's divisions - which were to advance between Borodino and the Great Redoubt, while pressure on the flanks kept the Russians from reinforcing their centre.
At first, everything went according to plan. Borodino was fully occupied by Dan's Italians of Eugene's corps.
Steve consolidated Ney's position at the Redoubt despite strong Russian resistance - supported by Bob's French Guard cavalry.
The Poles and Westphalians - after great play by Mike and Matt respectively - expelled two Russian brigades from Utitsa and its Mound, and began to advance beyond the village, and on through the woods towards the Fleches.
Uvarov's Russian cavalry, commanded by Rob, were beaten off by Richard's two cavalry divisions on the Russian left flank near Psarevo.
Moreover, the large Russian force attempting to raid the rear of Eugene's corps lost its cavalry, and its infantry was soon forced into square and thus contained by Dominik, who then redirected much of his infantry and cavalry back towards Borodino.
The French were also winning the big cavalry battle on their far left flank near Borodino, albeit both sides were steadily being whittled away as the day wore on.
However, Nick dispatched Russian infantry from the Fleches and a large force of Cossacks from reserve, to bolster the Russian left flank near Utitsa. While neither stopped the Westphalian and Polish advance, they did prevent the Poles from linking up with Richard's cavalry.
Things began to go wrong for the French when two of Davout's divisions commanded by Tony near Borodino were pinned by murderous artillery fire from Adam's Russians along the Kolocha river - itself difficult to cross. As a result, Tony could only attack with one division in support of Ney.
But all was not well for the French at the Great Redoubt. Significantly, a Russian Guard battalion managed to gain a foothold there on turn 17...
A French reserve cavalry corps and the Vistula Legion now appeared in the French centre, tasked with taking the Fleches, which had been denuded by Russian units shoring up the Utitsa sector.
The French were out of reserves by now, while the Russians still had plenty off table, and began to deploy in support of the Great Redoubt - with infantry and cavalry coming on along the Russian back line. The critical moment in the battle was approaching....
Despite the French winning the initiative on almost every turn, and the Westphalians occupying the whole of Utitsa village, the Russians expelled Ney's infantry from the Great Redoubt on turn 18.
The final Russian reinforcements (including the appearance of Cossacks!) prevented Dan's infantry and cavalry, and most of Tony's infantry, from attacking the Russian right wing beyond Borodino across the Kolocha. This weakened the remnants of Ney's corps still fighting near the Great Redoubt.
The French attack in the centre was now at risk. The French Imperial Guard infantry began an advance on the Redoubt after Ney's two remaining brigades broke. The French Guard cavalry supported them, and a cavalry clash took place between the Redoubt and Semenovskaya.
On turn 20, the French Imperial Guard infantry reached the Great Redoubt. One Old Guard battalion captured part of it, but another battalion was stopped by Russian infantry.
Late in the game, a successful attack on the Fleches was being mounted by a French cavalry corps, the Vistula Legion, the reserve artillery, and the Westphalians.
However, Bill's Russians retook the Redoubt on turn 21 after destroying the sole Old Guard battalion within it!
The French cavalry in the rear of the Russian left was also finally defeated by Rob's militia, artillery, and light cavalry, ending the threat of encirclement to the Russian infantry fleeing Utitsa.
By the end of turn 22, two of the Fleches had been taken by the French. But half of the Imperial Guard infantry had been destroyed fighting for the Great Redoubt, which had fallen to the Russians.
Borodino refight - final positions. Map by Francis Long.
Overall a great game with the Russians taking much heavier casualties than the French, but winning by eight points - largely owing to their retention of the Great Redoubt (worth 20 points). The refight was a nailbiter given the unexpected arrival of reinforcements, with all players involved from the start, and the brief planning session before play began was a nice touch.
The French plan was good and threw the Russians off balance, particularly by initially avoiding the Fleches. Although the French dominated most of the game, we failed to marshal troops sufficiently at the crisis point of the battle. Had the reserve cavalry corps and Vistula Legion which attacked the Fleches been directed a few turns earlier to support the French at the Redoubt, the French would likely have won.
With hindsight, more could have been done with the troops inside Borodino and Davout's corps: neither was able to navigate the constraints of the terrain nor properly support the French at the Redoubt. But much credit has to be given to the Russians, who distracted and harried the French, costing them time and ultimate victory.
Many thanks to Francis for all his hard work and planning, umpiring an excellent game, and hospitality. The figures and terrain were a visual feast. Thanks to Philip for helping with umpiring, and to all who played or assisted (both named and unnamed in this blog), for a friendly and enjoyable weekend.
Next year's game: Wagram or Bautzen anyone?
Francis + players (day two). Photo by Bob Robertson.
Tony, Steve and me. Photo by Bob Robertson.