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Eylau Refought!

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

Last weekend, Rob kindly gave me a lift to Devon for a three-day Napoleonic wargame ably hosted by Philip (10-12 December). We stayed at Juan's lovely hotel in the vicinity. The battle being refought was Eylau: a comparatively lesser known though undoubtedly major clash in East Prussia in February 1807, fought in a driving snow-storm between the French under Napoleon, and the Russians under Bennigsen, which ended in a bloodbath.

On day one, the Friday, we deployed our forces, and managed a few turns before supper at the local pub. Philip gave us tips on the rules, and had covered the three mega tables with new snow sheets, frozen streams and lakes, and several snowy villages. I was on the French side (Augereau's corps, plus two cavalry divisions), together with Rohan (C-in-C: Soult's and Ney's corps), Juan (the Guard), and Philip (Davout's corps). Facing us were the Russian players: Ed, Neil, Rob, and Francis. Davout's corps arrived on the Russian left flank on the first night, which immediately put pressure on Ed's Russians, who had to form a right-angle on a defensive position. Despite this, Neil boldly decided to launch a major Russian attack on the French centre.

Day two saw Paul join the French side. The Russians of Dokhturov's command assaulted the French centre; Leval's French division being their main target. For a while it seemed the former would break through, as Soult's corps was thinly spread across the left-side of the French line near the saw-mill and windmill. On the French right, however, after several turns of pressure from divisions commanded by me and Philip, several units of Ed's Russians at Serpallen village were routed, and Ed had to pull this division back 36 inches. It was a major breakthrough in the game, and rather unexpected as Ed had been winning up to that point. To make matters worse for the Russians, Ney's corps arrived on their right flank. A hard-fought battle in this sector between Francis's Cossacks and Rohan's cavalry eventually led to French success, despite some losses and retreats. Rohan also took Schlodditten village on the French left, only to lose it to a Russian counterattack. He eventually decided to withdraw out of range of Rob's guns. The Prussian corps of Lestocq arrived in the Russian rear, and began approaching Ney's corps. The day ended with most of us fine dining at the hotel.

On the final day, both Francis and Paul had to leave us. Philip decided to clear away Ney's and Lestocq's commands, and allow the French to reinforce their centre with some Guard battalions. This made it harder for Rob and Neil to press home their assault on the French centre, and they eventually retreated back towards the original Russian position on higher ground. This sector did see furious cavalry action between Juan's Guard cavalry and Neil's Russian and Prussian horsemen, though, who effectively cancelled one another out. On the French right, a further determined assault from Augereau's and Davout's divisions provoked a second rout in the key Russian position (10 battalions!), forcing another retreat. Ed still had plenty of troops strung out further north facing the bulk of Davout's corps, and even managed to rout some of Philip's units, but this setback effectively ended the game. Neil, with plenty of cavalry and favourable ground, had held firm in the Russian centre, and Rohan's troops were out of steam on the French left, but the Russians were in retreat everywhere else.

The game was a relaxed and friendly one, with Philip (and Ed) patiently explaining the rules and calculating my results for the entirety! The facilities were good, with a breakout area and kitchen. The 'In the Grand Manner' rules by Peter Gilder were generally fine, and much quicker than I had expected (we played over 20 turns), although some players commented on the short movement distances for infantry, and the difficulty of cavalry attacking infantry which was in line or column. However, the spectacle was fabulous, with some 100 battalions and 50+ squadrons per side. This was wargaming as seen in the wargames magazines, with great 28mm figures painted and based to a high standard. Apart from Philip's figures, a large Russian supplementary contingent was borrowed from Noel, a local gamer.

A lot of time and effort had gone into the game. And while we lacked a few players to allow us to take advantage of all the commands allotted (managing multiple divisions per player is time-consuming), nevertheless the play was smooth and the result was more or less historical, a French victory. It was good to meet new fellow wargamers who share a passion for the hobby and a love of the period. My thanks again to Philip for the invitation as well as for organising and umpiring, and to Juan for making the hotel available to us all, not forgetting Rob's tolerance of eight hours with me in his car!

Overall, a great experience. Wargaming at its best? Probably... :-)



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