RtoE Prussian musings: part one
Posted by Martin on May 4, 2010
I’ve spent several evenings going through the Republic to Empire rulebook in some detail now. I’ve been thinking mainly about how I should organize my Autumn 1813 Prussian brigade for the rules. I don’t mean in terms of basing and figure ratios (no changes needed there) but rather how to organize it for command and control.
As I’ve stated in my Wargames Illustrated article, most rulesets don’t cater properly for late Prussian brigades and merely force fit them into the divisional structure of other armies. But one of the promising little things about Republic to Empire is that Barry actually acknowledges that late Prussians are different. Now before I get too carried away, we are talking about a section that’s only a third of a page long (p.30) in a book of 140+ pages. But the point is that it represents the door being just ajar enough to get your fingertips round and force open properly with a bit more careful consideration.
My plan here (and probably over the course of several more musings) is to think out loud so that you can follow my train of thought. Along the way we’ve got to tackle some thorny issues like brigade foot artillery (not too awkward), volunteer jäger detachments (a little more challenging) and brigade cavalry (potentially tricky). But tonight, I’m going to start with the brigade bread and butter: infantry.
Now might be a useful moment for a brief redux about Autumn 1813 Prussian brigades. The key facts you need to cling on to are:
- The late Prussian army didn’t have divisions – neither for cavalry or infantry. Instead, there were large combined arms brigades typically comprised of nine or more infantry battalions, a foot artillery battery and a cavalry regiment.
- The infantry contingent was typically made up of roughly equal proportions of line, reserve and landwehr battalions.
- The command structure was flexible and it wasn’t unusual for the brigade commander to place a combination of infantry, cavalry and artillery elements under one of his sub-commanders for a specific mission.
In the rulebook, Barry discusses the example of a Prussian brigade with nine infantry battalions and examines a treatment in which they are split into three regiments each of three battalions. In this case, Barry conceives of treating each such regiment in the brigade like a brigade in a division of any other army. Now, the immediate challenge here is that we’re already into confusion over the term “brigade”. So, from here on in, I’m going to call the Prussian concept of a brigade a P-brigade and keep the term brigade for its more conventional use in other armies. Still with me? Good…
Barry continues by suggesting that by dividing the nine battalions of a P-brigade into three regiments each of three battalions means that the P-brigade gets an overall commander (equivalent to a divisional commander) plus three brigade commanders (one for each regiment). Why is this so important? Well, the number of commanders has a significant impact on the number of MPs (Manoeuvre Points) the P-brigade gets each turn – and these are the crucial fuel for command and control in Republic to Empire. Using Barry’s method means that the P-brigade gets 3 x DAv (an Average Dice roll) MPs each turn (that’s for the three brigade commanders) plus a fixed additional number of between 2 and 8 MPs contributed by the P-brigade commander depending on his ability.
This all makes perfect sense and is easy enough to follow even with only a modest knowledge of how P-brigades were organized. But, for the sake of simplicity, I think Barry has conveniently based his idea on how P-brigades were structured in 1815 rather than in how they were structured in Autumn 1813 (I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m barking up the wrong tree). The main clue to this is how Barry has focussed his discussion on the infantry elements because, by 1815, Prussia had split its forces into seperate brigades for infantry and cavalry. Now that’s fair enough but it leaves me with the challenge of unpicking the situation and reverse engineering it back to 1813.
In later musings, I’ll come back to discuss the non-infantry elements of a P-brigade but for now, let’s focus on addressing the infantry. I’ve got three problems in need of solutions:
- 1813 P-brigades often had more than nine battalions that didn’t conveniently split into three regiments. And, of course, the one I’m building (Borstel’s 5th) is a member of this awkward squad – it’s got three battalions from a line infantry regiment, three from a reserve infantry regiment and three battalions from a landwehr regiment right enough. The trouble is that is also has a grenadier battalion plus another landwehr battalion hanging around like a spare part.
- What’s the right number of brigade commanders to allow? Too few and we lose the unique flexibility of a P-brigade; too many and we give it an unfair/unrealistic advantage.
- How do we cater for a P-brigade commander’s ability to place different combinations of units under any given brigade commander?
As we’ll see, all three items are inter-related and finding a satisfactory answer to one is closely connected to doing the same for the other two.
Let’s tackle Problem 1 head on. Divisions in other armies had brigades with more than three battalions in them (a typical French brigade had four or more) so where’s the problem with allowing the same for a P-brigade? My contention is that there isn’t a problem and it would be possible, for argument’s sake to divide the eleven battalions of my P-brigade into a 4-4-3 formation to use a footballing analogy. I wouldn’t allow a brigade to have less than three battalions because it would be too operationally brittle under the rules and that would have been understood and avoided by any historical commander anyway. Similarly, I’d be disinclined to allow brigades of more than five battalions. In rule terms, this would make for a robust brigade but it would be unwieldy because you’d only have a limited number of MPs to use for single unit actions each turn and all units in a brigade must comply with the same brigade-level orders. Plus, in real life, commanders understood that commanding large brigades was like steering a supertanker (well, they would have if supertankers had been invented then).
By setting this three to five battalions per brigade range, I’ve accidentally found an answer to Problem 2 with the application of some simple maths. Let’s imagine that I attempt to split my eleven battalion P-brigade into the largest possible number of brigades by putting the minimum number of battalions in each brigade. The first brigade gets three battalions; the second one gets three battalions but what happens when I try to assign three battalions to a third brigade? It doesn’t work because I’d have only two battalions left for a fourth brigade – and I’ve disallowed that in my answer to Problem 1. If you work through the logic, you’ll realise that the maximum number (indeed the only number) of brigades I can divide eleven battalions into and still satisfy my rule is three. And that means that my answer to Problem 2 must be that I should allow three brigade commanders.
Of course, having led you up the garden path with that pretty piece of logic, I’m going to tear it down in two ways. Firstly, I think that I would be prepared to allow for a smaller brigade if it were assigned to some special role like being the garrision of a fortification – but that would have to be agreed by all players before the game commenced. Secondly, and far more importantly, I’ve artificially restricted the discussion so far to infantry battalions in order to make my explanation easier to follow. What we really should do, because of the combined arms nature of a P-brigade, is go back through the above logic but replace “battalion” with “tactical unit” where a tactical unit is an infantry battalion, cavalry regiment or artillery battery. This definition is neatly in line with Barry’s conception in the rules and with historical reality – I love how it all ties together!
Now my P-brigade (Borstel’s 5th remember) actually comprised a total of thirteen tactical units – the eleven infantry battalions plus a cavalry regiment and a foot artillery battery. Of course, adding these extra tactical units rasies an awkward question about my earlier solution to Problem 2 so I’ll come back to that in a later musing session. But we needed to mention this now because it’s directly relevant to our discussion of Problem 3.
And finally we come to Problem 3. If we were discussing an 1815 infantry brigade, then it would probably be suitable to divide the battalions along regimental lines as Barry suggests. But it isn’t for the reasons I’ve already explained above – so how can we simulate an 1813 P-brigade commander’s penchant for flexibility?
To help us with that, I’m going to refer to the same historical example that I used in my Wargames Illustrated article: that of Borstel’s attack on the village of Klein-Beeren early in the Battle of Gross-Beeren. For this attack, Borstel placed two reserve infantry battalions, two hussar sqaudrons and half a horse artillery battery under the command of Major Knobloch (the commander of the 2nd Reserve Infantry Regiment). In other words, an ad hoc taskforce was selected and placed under the equivalent of a brigade commander to achieve a specific objective. If you read accounts of Prussian forces in action throughout the 1813 and 1814 campaigns you’ll find many examples of this sort of behaviour. And it’s exactly this that I wish to be able to simulate in Republic to Empire games.
So my proposed solution to Problem 3 is to allow the P-brigade commander to assign the tactical units of his P-brigade to his brigade commanders in any ad hoc combination he wishes at the start of the game and within certain limits. Now, we’ve already seen a flavour of the infantry limits I have in mind during the discussion of Problem 2 above. So you can start to speculate on what those limits might turn out to be when I extend my musings to encompass cavalry and artillery. For now though, I think this is all the musing I can cope with for one session. I’ll be interested to know what you think of it so far.