French Algerian Turcos defend the northern gates from the Bavarian Division

The Battle of Wissembourg was the first major battle of the Franco-Prussian War, which occurred 150 years ago this year.


France had declared war on Prussia on the 19th July after feeling they were being hoodwinked by Chancellor Bismark of Prussia trying to install a Prussian ally to the throne of Spain after Queen Isabella had died without an obvious heir. For some time France had been watching Prussia with both caution and envy as it grow in power; absorbing some of the smaller German states and defeating both Denmark and Austria in swift overwhelming conflicts, so it didn't take much of an excuse to declare war to try and demonstrate French military might. Despite their impetuous declaration of hostilities the French were ill prepared for war. Prussia, as did the rest of Europe, expected France to make an immediate invasion across the Rhine as it's tactics in wars with Prussia had been for generations, but in reality they were both slow and disorganised in mobalising it's forces. Helmuth von Moltke (the Elder), Prussian Field Marshal, waited with his forces to repel an attack, which when it didn't materialise, made him incredulous that France should have declared war when they were not ready to fight. He therefore began what was supposed to the second stage of his mater plan; the Prussian invasion of France.


By the beginning of August both nation's armies were on the move; the French began to advance on the Prussian border and even displaced the small garrison from the border town of Saarbrucken which gave them a very false sense of victory. Marshal MacMahon, French commander of the I Corps then deployed his men along the frontier to stop a Prussian advance, but due to tenuous supply links and still an overall lack of manpower (mobilisation was still far from complete), he spread his men too thin on the ground. One such isolated force was that led by General Douay and the 2nd Division stationed at Wissembourg.


Douay was blissfully unaware that advancing on his Division (8,600 men) were three Corps strength units (over 60,000 men); the Bavarian II Corps and the Prussian V & XI Corps. The Prussian forces maneuvered around the town at a distance to keep the French in the dark as to what was about to happen, then at 9am on the 4th August the Bavarian II Corps appeared from the woods to the north of the town making Douay hastily deploy his men to face the threat. The first major battle of the war was about to begin.


Suggested set up for the Battle of Wissembourg as at 9am 4th August 1870

ORDERS Of BATTLE - using a scale of 1 to 40 figures to men


FRENCH ARMY

General Abel Douay - commander in chief - veteran, experienced, inspirational leader

3 x battalions Turco infantry (3 x 720 men)- 18 figures per battalion - veteran, experienced, aggressive, excellent fighters, A class troops armed with Chassepot (advanced breech loading rifle)

5 x Line Infantry battalions (3 x 720 men) - 18 figures per battalion, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters, armed with Chassepot (advanced breech loading rifle)

3 x Squadrons of Hussars (3 x 120 men) - 3 figures per squadron, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters armed with sword and carbine

3 x Squadrons of Chasseurs a Cheval (3 x 120 men) - 3 figures per squadron, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters armed with sword and carbine

1 x Battery of Mitrailleuse (6 machine guns & crew) - 1 model & crew, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters, early machine gun

2 x Batteries of 4lb cannon (12 cannon & crew) - 2 models & crew, regular, well trained, experienced, steady, good fighters, 4lb muzzle loading cannon


PRUSSIAN ARMY

9am Set Up

II Bavarian Corps

General Hartman - sub-commander - experienced, cautious, average ability

7 x Line Infantry battalions (7 x 960 men) - 24 figures per battalion - trained, nervous, unreliable fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifles)

2 x Jager Skirmisher battalions (2 x 960 men) - 24 figures per battalion - well trained, steady, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Regiment of Chevau-legers (640 men) - 16 figures - light cavalry, trained, impetuous, armed with sword and carbine

1 x Battery of Krupp C64 4lb cannon (6 guns & crew) - 1 model & crew - regular, trained, steady, with 4lb rifled breech loading cannon

2 x Batteries of Krupp C61 6lb cannon (12 guns & crew) - 2 models & crew- regular, trained, steady with 6lb rifled breech loading cannon


Arriving from 10am (see map top right hand corner)


Prussian V Corps

General von Kirchbach - sub commander - experienced, well trained, steady

1st Column (17th Brigade)

2 x Line Infantry battalions (2 x 960 men) - 24 figures per battalion - well trained, steady, disciplined, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

3 x Jager companies ( 3 x 240 men) - 6 figures per battalion - experienced, well trained, disciplined, good fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

3 x Squadrons of Dragoons (3 x 160 men) - 4 figures per squadron - experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Battery of Krupp C64 4lb cannon (6 guns & crew) - 1 model & crew - regular, trained, disciplined, good fighters with 4lb rifled breech loading cannon

2nd Column (17th Brigade)

2 x Line Infantry battalions (2 x 960 men) - 24 figures per battalion - well trained, steady, disciplined, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Jager company ( 1 x 240 men) - 6 figures per battalion - experienced, well trained, disciplined, good fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Squadrons of Dragoons (1 x 160 men) - 4 figures per squadron - experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Battery of Krupp C64 4lb cannon (6 guns & crew) - 1 model & crew - regular, trained, disciplined, good fighters with 4lb rifled breech loading cannon


Arriving at 11am (see map mid right hand side)

Fredrich Wilhelm - commander in chief - excellent ability, inspirational leader, veteran

Prussian XI Corps

General Bose - sub commander - experienced, well trained, steady

6 x Line Infantry battalions (6 x 960 men) - 24 figures per battalion - well trained, steady, disciplined, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Jager battalion ( 1 x 960 men) - 24 figures per battalion - experienced, well trained, disciplined, good fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Squadrons of Hussars (1 x 160 men) - 4 figures per squadron - light cavalry,experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Regiment of Hussars (1 x 640 men) - 16 figures per squadron - light cavalry,experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Battery of Krupp Horse Artillery C64 4lb cannon (6 guns & crew) - 1 model & crew - regular, trained, disciplined, good fighters with 4lb rifled breech loading cannon

2 x Batteries of Krupp C61 6lb cannon (12 guns & crew) - 2 models & crew- regular, trained, disciplined, with 6lb rifled breech loading cannon


Arriving at 11am (at top right hand corner of map)

Prussian V Corps

3rd Column (18th Brigade)

6 x Line Infantry battalions (6 x 960 men) - 24 figures per battalion - well trained, steady, disciplined, average fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifle)

1 x Regiment of Dragoons (1 x 640 men) - 16 figures per squadron - experienced, well trained, good fighters, disciplined armed with swords and carbines

1 x Batteries of Krupp C61 6lb cannon (6 guns & crew) - 1 model & crew- regular, trained, disciplined, with 6lb rifled breech loading cannon


Arriving at 12:30 pm (top of map from Bavarian starting point)

2 x Line Infantry battalions (2 x 960 men) - 24 figures per battalion - trained, nervous, unreliable fighters armed with Needle gun (primitive breech loading rifles)


NOTES FOR WARGAMING

We have described small arms as "primitive breech loading" and "advanced breech loading" this is to differentiate the French Chassepot rifle which had much longer range than the German Dreyse Needle gun and rules should be adjusted to reflect this.


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

The battle started soon after 9am when the Bavarians brought three batteries of artillery into action, firing on Wissembourg which started several fires. Bavarian infantry then began to cross the countryside towards the town but were halted by the garrison's accurate long range rifle fire. General Hartman committed more men to the attack which prompted General Pelle (commanding the forward Turcos in Wissembourg) to commit all his men to the defense and call up a battery of 4lb guns. Despite the appearance of the Bavarians, General Douay was slow to respond, believing it was only a small skirmishing force, although he did at least send a messenger to Marshal MacMahon to inform him of the encounter with the enemy.

Prussian artillery position outside Wissembourg

By 9:30 the Bavarians had reached the outer wall of the town and desperate fight took place around the Bitsche Gate (see top picture) between Bavarian Jagers and the Algerian Turco troops. A defensive ditch stalled the Jagers who suffered enormous casualties losing half their numbers to the exceptionally stiff defense put up by the Algerians.

At the same time, French artillery began to inflict damage on the Bavarian batteries who then stopped giving artillery support to their infantry, changing to an artillery dual with the French guns. With a reprieve from artillery fire, the Algerian Turcos mustered an energetic counter attack and pushed the Bavarian infantry away from the town back towards their starting point on;y for their pursuit to be in turn halted by the Bavarian cavalry and infantry reserves. Douay now began to see the situation as more dangerous than he first thought and deployed the rest of his men and guns. However, no sooner had he done so and Prussian forces began to appear to the north east of the town as the V Corps arrived on the field. As they closed on Wissembourg, Douay realised he was facing a much larger force and ordered the advance units of Turcos and guns to pull back to his position on high ground to the south of the town, which sounded far easier than it was as they came under intense artillery fire from the Bavarians to the north, while the Prussian V Corps guns unlimbered and fired from the flank onto both the retreating Algerians and their intended destination, who then decided to remain in Wissembourg for cover. Just as the Prussian XI Corps came into view directly east of the French position and Prussian shell struck a French ammunition caisson from the mitrailleuse battery, this was directly next to General Douay who was killed instantly as the ammunition exploded. General Pelle took over command and ordered a further withdrawal at the sight of the advancing XI Corps. The main French force began to fall back to the railway station where desperate fighting took place with savage bayonet charges while in the town the Turcos were finding themselves increasingly cut off from the rest of the army. They continued to put up stiff resistance and forced back several Bavarian assaults despite the now overwhelming numbers, eventually some managed to withdraw to the main position, but others along with the town garrison became surrounded. Having run out of ammunition and cut off the survivors in Wissembourg surrendered.

The French were now in panic, and continued south to try and escape the three pronged Prussian advance. They made a final defense before quitting the high ground, ragged lines of infantry attempted to stop the Prussian advance but the artillery fire delivered by the powerful Krupp guns blew the French defence to pieces apart from those defending a chateau on the hill.

This walled and fortified building proved hard for the Prussians to capture, but gradually they made progress; first capturing overlooking fields that allowed them a better firing position before eventually dragging three Krupp guns up the hill to blast the walls. In the final firefight the Prussian General Kirchbach was shot in the neck, though luckily he survived the wound. By 2pm the chateau was surrounded and its defenders out of ammunition, with no alternative they surrendered. It had been a gallant and costly last stand by a few, who by distracting the enemy for so long had allowed the rest of the French forces to escape the field who's withdrawal was covered by 300 fresh reservist troops who arrived in the last moments by train.


The first battle of the war had been won by Prussia, but some would say only by it's overwhelming numbers. The French, especially the colonial Turco troops had put up determined and heroic fighting and it is debated that had the French been reinforced they could have dealt a blow to Prussia instead.




Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Conde, directs the French army at Lens

The battle of Lens was the last major battle of the Thirty Years War, a conflict that had at some point involved most European nations and had devastated the continent with bloodshed, famine and social displacement.


After the decisive French victory at Rocroi in 1643, they had gone on to capture a string of towns and fortifications along the French - Spanish Netherlands border (Flanders). In an attempt to gain Austrian support in their conflict with France, Spain appointed Archduke Leopold Wilhelm to command the Spanish Army of the Netherlands. With a major offensive in 1647, Wilhelm captured three important towns in the disputed area and looked set to overturn the gains made by France in the previous years.


The King of France, Louis XIV, or rather the advisers to the 10 year old king, recalled Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Conde from his struggling campaign against the Spanish in Catalonia and appointed the talented and dashing 27 year old as Commander in Flanders with the mission of defeating the Spanish on France's northern border. Conde wasted no time at all and with his 16,000 strong army captured the Town of Ypres; but celebrations were short lived when news came that Wilhelm was laying siege to the town of Lens with 18,000 men. Conde immediately regrouped his army and set off to face the Spanish army.


Suggested initial set up for the Battle of Lens 1648

ORDERS OF BATTLE

We are adopting a looser style of suggestions for setting up battles in view of the multitude of rules available on the market and commonly used now for most periods, we therefore suggest the number of units as opposed to the number of figures so gamers can adapt to their preferred scale and unit size

.

SPANISH ARMY

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm - Commander in Chief - Experienced, nervous, cautious

Right Wing

Prince de Ligne - sub-commander - Experienced, rash, unsteady

6 units of Walloon Cavalry - heavy cavalry, trained, unpredictable, pistols and sword

Centre

Baron de Beck - sub-commander - Experienced, veteran, reliable, inspiring

1st line

5 units of infantry mixed pike and shot formations (40/60 ratio) - Trained, veteran, steady morale

1 unit of Caballos Cavalry - heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, elite, pistol and sword

3 batteries of cannon - heavy field guns, trained, steady, reliable

2nd line

4 units of infantry mixed pike and shot formations (40/60 ratio) - Trained, veteran, steady morale

2 units of Dragoon Cavalry - open order, trained, unreliable, pistol and sword

Left Flank

Prince Charles de Salm - sub commander - Experienced, rash, unsteady

5 units of Walloon Cavalry - heavy cavalry, trained, unpredictable, pistols and swords


FRENCH ARMY

Louis II de Bourbon Prince of Conde - Commander in Chief - Experienced, Veteran, Inspiring, Tactician

Right Wing

Aumont - sub-commander - Experienced, veteran, cautious

5 units of Chevaux-Legers Cavalry - Heavy cavalry, trained, experienced, unpredictable

Centre

Chatillon - sub-commander - Experienced, veteran, inspirational leader

1st line

5 units of infantry mixed pike and shot formation (30/70 ratio) - 4 units - Trained, veteran, reliable and the remaining unit (the Picardie infantry)- Veteran, elite, stubborn fighters

2 batteries of cannon - heavy field guns, trained, steady, reliable

2nd line

3 units of infantry mixed pike and shot formation (30/70 ratio) - Trained, veteran, reliable

2 units of Gendarmes Cavalry - Heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, elite, pistols and swords

Left Wing

Gramont - sub-commander - Experienced, veteran, steady, reliable

4 units of Chevaux-Legers Cavalry - Heavy cavalry, trained, experienced, unpredictable


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

As dawn broke on the 20th, Conde, seeing the strength of the Spanish army and its disposition decided to withdraw. His army had been deployed all the previous day and was now low on food rations, It was decided to retreat back to a village called Neus where his supply train could meet up with them, and an order was given to fall back in full battle order.

To cover the withdrawal, the French artillery gave volleys of covering fire, while the right wing of cavalry formed up to make a rearguard. Baron de Beck's cavalry, without orders, saw their chance to win the field and charged the French cavalry rear guard, routing them. For a moment the French position was doubtful as Conde's page was captured and almost the Conde himself. The elite Picardie infantry rallied the routing cavalry by dashing to support them and halt their pursuers.

It was now 6:30am and Beck was pleading with Wilhelm to let the Spanish army launch a full attack while the French were in disarray. Ever cautious, Wilhelm refused, maybe suspecting a trap, until eventually after more than a hour of dithering, he agreed. He then summoned his personal priest, said prayers and then galloped off the battlefield leaving his army to its own future. However by now, having recovered from the initial cavalry assault, Conde ordered his army to about turn and face up in battle formation again to take on the Spanish. His army began a general advance towards the Spanish with his artillery pounding the Spaniards as their sub-commanders attempted to bring together an orderly response. Conde personally led the infantry and frequently stopped their advance to ensure they didn't lose formation, which had the bonus that the Spanish artillery found it hard to hit their targets being unable to predict their advance speed.

As the two armies closed, the French left wing cavalry led by Gramont came to the Spanish Walloons who at 20 paces discharged their pistols which killed, wounded or unhorsed the entire French front line, however, undeterred the French second line of cavalry charged in and routed the Walloons off the field. A similar event took place on the opposite flank, with the French receiving the Spaniards fire first before then charging in while they hurriedly tried to reload and routing them off the field.

In the centre of the field things were different, the Spanish led by the inspiring Beck were pushing back the French and some units were at breaking point, including the French Guards and Scottish Guards regiments. Once again it was the Picardie regiment that saved the day, standing firm against the Spanish and acting as a rallying point for other units. After bitter fighting for some time, the French cavalry returned, satisfied that they had scattered and destroyed their Spanish counterparts as a fighting force. On their return they supported their infantry and with weight of numbers began to successfully surround the Spanish infantry.

Unlike at Rocroi, where the Spaniards made an heroic last stand, at Lens they simply surrendered and 6,000 prisoners were captured. So many in fact it took several days of relay marches to escort them back to Arras for internment.

Although the battle brought an end to the Thirty Years War, France and Spain would remain at war another 11 years, with France also suffering from a civil war during this period too. Events that taught the boy king Louis XIV the importance of taking initiative in political issues and through his tendency to assert power, kept France at war with someone almost his entire 72 year reign.


French infantry training with muskets

The Thirty Year War saw a massive change in weapons and tactics. The primitive arquebus, commonplace in the 1620's was replaced almost entirely by the more accurate and powerful musket by the 1640's. The Spanish tercio formation (pike block with extended corners of firearms troops) became replaced by the Dutch formation (a block of pikes with firearms troops in line either side). Cavalry became lighter armoured and more mobile, the old fashioned gendarme knights disappearing, replaced by faster moving cavalry with modest or no body armour.

In the UK, the English Civil War always seems a far more popular period, for obvious reasons, but the Thirty Years War and the overlapping 80 Years War (Dutch Independence) offer even more troop variations and interesting engagements to play. Well worth reading up on and playing a few games.




After the French Army of Portugal's heavy defeat at Salamanca in late July, it began to meander it's way back east, taking a wide berth across the the top of Madrid. To the south of Madrid, and initially unaware of the French defeat at Salamanca, was Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother and newly installed King of Spain. He had a an army of 16,000 men with him and on hearing of the defeat decided to make a dash to Madrid, but when he realised Wellington was still stationary he positioned himself west of the city in his path.

Wellington, wanting to ensure his men were properly supplied at all times to maintain discipline, delayed his pursuit until his wagon trains caught up and were able to reequip his men with ammunition and rations. By the time he set off he had two choices, to pursue the mauled French Army of Portugal to the north or to capture the capital city. He decided to send a smaller force north to keep the French moving away while his main army would advance on Madrid. Joseph Bonaparte opted to pull back to the city and it was on the 11th August that the vanguard of Wellington's army ran into the rearguard of Joseph's army which had been ordered to delay the advancing British-Portuguese army.


Suggested starting positions for the Battle of Majadhonda

ORDERS OF BATTLE - we usually provide a numbers of men to models comparison, but as there are so many different Napoleonic rules out there with vastly differing unit sizes we are simply going to list units for you to select your own preferred unit size.


FRENCH ARMY

General de Division Anne-Francois-Charles Trelliard (Overall commander of French forces at the battle) - excellent leader, inspiring, veteran

4 regiments of line dragoons - heavy cavalry, well trained, veteran, sword and dragoon muskets

(13th, 18th, 19th & 22nd dragoon regiments)

General de Brigade Guiseppe Frederico Palombibi - excellent leader, reliable, veteran

1 Regiment of Italiene Napoleone Dragoons - heavy cavalry, trained, steady, sword and dragoon muskets

1 Regiment of Westphalian Cheveau-legers - light cavalry, well trained, steady, sword

General de Brigade Chasse - experienced leader, reliable, veteran

1 Battalion of 2nd Nassau Infantry - trained, experienced, musket

1 Battalion of Spanish La Mancha Infantry - trained, unsteady, musket

2 8lb artillery cannon and crew - trained, experienced, steady


BRITISH-PORTUGUESE ARMY

Brigadier General Benjamin D'Urban (overall Allied commander at the battle) - experienced leader, veteran

3 Regiments of Portuguese Dragoons - Light cavalry, trained, unsteady, unreliable, sword, dragoon carbine

(1st, 11th & 12th Portuguese Dragoons)

2 6lb artillery cannon and crew - trained, experienced, unsteady

Colonel de Joncquieres - excellent leader, inspiring, veteran

2 Regiments of King's German Legion Heavy Dragoons - Heavy cavalry, well trained, veteran, sword and dragoon muskets

(1st & 2nd KGL Dragoons)

Colonel Colin Halkett

2 Battalions KGL Lights - Regular infantry, skirmish trained, veteran, disciplined, muskets

(1st & 2nd Light Battalions KGL)

2 6lb artillery cannon and crew - trained, experienced, disciplined

Major-General Ponsonby - experienced, inspiring leader, veteran

3 Regiments of British Heavy Dragoons - heavy cavalry, well trained, veteran, sword & dragoon muskets

(5th Dragoon Guards, 3rd & 4th Heavy Dragoons)



THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Wellington's advance guard arrived at the village of Las Rozas on the morning of the 11th August, the KGL troops dismounted to rest in the village while a few scouts were sent forward with the Portuguese dragoons and four artillery pieces following them in support should trouble be sighted.

Meanwhile, and unaware of the British in Las Rozas, Trelliard's men were entering Majadhonda, as they appeared on the far side of the village they spotted the scouts and behind them, the Portuguese and immediately began to attack.

The first line of four dragoon regiments charged across the plain while D'Urlon attempted to get his Portuguese dragoons to counter-charge. Instead, they turned and fled, abandoning the cannon which were overrun by the French. As the fleeing dragoons reached Las Rozas they galloped into the heart of the village where they attempted to rally in the market square.

The sound of the approaching horses and pistol fire had alerted the KGL units in the village who hurriedly mounted a defense, with infantry fire from the buildings and the cannon quickly positioned supported by dismounted dragoons, blocking entry to the French.

Other KGL dragoons were remounting in the square and with the rallied Portuguese made a counter charge out of Las Rozas and chased the French back towards Majadhonda, this time to be stopped by the Nassau and Spanish infantry who had now formed up with artillery across the road. Their volleys and cannon fire stopped the KGL and Portuguese dragoons, the latter once again fleeing back to Las Rozas while the KGL attempted a more structured fighting withdrawal, as the French dragoons exchanged musket fire from the saddle with them.

Finally as the KGL dragoons had almost been beaten back to Las Rozas, Major-General Ponsonby appeared with his three British heavy dragoon regiments, they had been following the advance guard along the road and had cantered forward when hearing cannon fire. The fresh British cavalry charged in to the French and Italian dragoons, with the now exhausted KGL dragoons attempting to join in. The melee was furious and intense with the French initially holding their ground until it became apparent that more British troops would soon be arriving behind Ponsonby, at which point the French withdrew, passing through Majadhonda and catching up with the main army as it pulled back to Madrid.

Although the British ultimately captured the battlefield, Trelliard had succeeded in delaying their advance for precious time allowing the main French army to distance itself from Wellington's force.

Wellington praised his KGL men for such gallant fighting, while the Portuguese were rated as unreliable and under orders to only ever be used if alongside British cavalry who could show them how to fight.


British Heavy Dragoons by Perry Miniatures

This is a relatively small battle with only 2,000 - 2,500 men on each side and would lend itself to skirmish rules as well as standard rules like Black Powder.

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