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Revolutionary Zeal! Refighting the First Battle of Warsaw (1831)

Updated: Jun 1, 2023



Poles, to the bayonet!

That is our chosen cry

Relayed by the roll of the drum

To arms, to die!

Long live freedom!


(words of Casimir Delavigne, contemporary French poet)


We gathered in Rob’s War Room on 28 May 2023 to refight the 1st Battle of Warsaw (1831), which occurred during the Polish November Uprising (1830-1831) against Russian rule.



A Russian army led by Doug and Patrick was attacking the Polish army led by Rob and Phil.

The game had been three years in the making, as I painted up sufficient 40mm figures; we used my ‘Unruly Eagles’ period rules, play-tested a fortnight earlier at the club.


Historically, the Russians had around 60,000 men and 228 guns, while the Poles had 40,000 men and 120 guns.



The main Russian objective was to take the fortified suburb of Warsaw known as Praga, with its bridge over the Vistula river, which would enable them to mount an assault on the Polish capital. The Poles had to prevent this outcome.


Grochów wood (centre)


The Poles centred their defence on the ‘Grochów wood’ – a small alder wood surrounded by impassable marshes.


The Russians sent a Grenadier Corps to outflank the Poles near the village of Białołęka, which the Poles had to hold to prevent an attack on Praga.



The Game


I had brought down my entire November Uprising collection to the War Room, consisting of 24 Polish and 35 Russian battalions, 12 Polish and 16 Russian cavalry units, and 21 guns and crews.


In order to make the game more manageable with only four players, I decided to use two-thirds of the figures originally allocated and depicted below.


Each player rolled for initiative points (used for additional actions or activations), and received five special action cards.


I played a specially-compiled playlist of atmospheric music during the battle to put players in the mood, including Polish, Russian, and Napoleonic tunes.



Deployment


Both sides deployed historically.


The Russians were arrayed from their perspective left to right as follows:


Pahlen’s corps - deployed on the Russian left


Rosen’s corps - deployed opposite Grochów wood


Muraviev’s corps (left) - deployed left of Russian centre. The Russian Guard (right) - initially off table


The artillery reserve (right, under C-in-C Diebitsch) - deployed near Muraviev's corps


Witt's cavalry reserve - deployed in the Russian centre


The Grenadier Corps - deployed on the Russian far right.



The Poles deployed as follows:


Żymirski’s division - deployed occupying the wood


Skrzynecki’s division - deployed behind Żymirski’s division to the left


Szembek’s division - deployed behind Żymirski’s division to the right


Skarżyński’s cavalry division - deployed in front of Praga


Łubieński’s cavalry corps - deployed to the left of Skarżyński’s cavalry division


Krukowiecki’s division - deployed on the Polish far left



The Refight




Patrick’s Grenadier Corps initially advanced sluggishly owing to poor activation rolls, whereas Phil’s Poles took Białołęka early in the game.



Patrick also controlled the Russian cavalry corps, which moved forwards to take on Łubieński’s cavalry corps in the centre.


Łubieński’s cavalry corps



Phil decided to redeploy Skarżyński’s cavalry division from the centre to to assist Łubieński’s cavalry.



On the right-hand side of the table, from the Polish perspective, Doug and Rob spent most of the game slugging it out over the wood, where Doug’s numerous but low-quality infantry struggled to dislodge the higher quality Polish infantry of Żymirski’s smaller division.



At one point, Doug threw out one of the Polish units, but Rob managed to rally them and reoccupy the wood.



The big cavalry clash in the centre resulted in the Polish cavalry causing serious damage to the Russian cavalry. Because Patrick had to leave at lunchtime, I took over his command at that point.



I decided to swing the Grenadier Corps towards the centre of the table, while Phil was unable to react because he failed several activation rolls for Krukowiecki’s division.



Phil did however continued to deform the Russian reserve cavalry, which lost four out of five units in return for two Polish units by end of game.



Doug’s Russian infantry continued to advance, but were facing difficult odds against the qualitatively superior Polish infantry. Rosen’s Russian corps eventually lost all its units in attacks on the woods...



...while Pahlen’s corps lost half its strength fighting against Szembek’s division.



However, Doug used Muraviev's infantry to enfilade the Poles.



After lunch, I directed the Russian Guard to attack the Polish centre. They immediately became a target for Polish artillery and cavalry, but did manage to emerge from the marshes along the road towards Praga, albeit for the loss of one unit.



At this point, the Polish infantry had repulsed Rosen’s corps completely, while the crippled Russian reserve cavalry, and the distant Grenadier corps, could not assist the Guard.



My attack by the Guard got to within inches of the Polish defences at Praga, but I lost two of the three battalions.


All Russian attacks had failed: stymied by terrain, some poor dice rolling, and frequent failure to win the initiative, as much as by arguably over-powered Polish 1st class infantry. Good news for the Poles, of course.... to be fair.



Conclusion


The Russians lost ten battalions, six cavalry units, and a few guns; the Poles had lost two battalions, one unit of skirmishers, two cavalry units, and three guns.


Historically, the Russians lost 9,500 men, the Poles 7,000. The wargame was thus much more a decisive Polish victory than the real battle.


Warsaw had been saved, with only clandestine cheating by the umpire!


All in all, an enjoyable day’s play, with a thumbs up for my figures and at least no thumbs down for the entirety of the rules! My thanks to Rob for setting up, hospitality, and to all who played for turning out, as well as to Phil for the lift home with all 16 boxes…


More November Uprising action to come!





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