Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

RtoE Prussian musings: part four

Posted by Martin on May 13, 2010

After a short hiatus, I think it’s time to tackle the topic I’ve been procrastinating about: namely, how to treat the cavalry element of a P-brigade (see earlier posts for an explanation of this home-made terminology).

The problem here is that I’ve been torn between several apparently contradictory factors:

  • It’s a historical fact that 1813 P-brigades contained a cavalry element – typically a regiment. The one I’m modelling included between two and four squadrons of the Pommeranian hussar regiment at various times.
  • Mixing infantry and cavalry units in the same (conventional) brigade was normally avoided for very good tactical reasons yet we have documented historical evidence of P-brigade commanders forming ad hoc taskforces that did just this (see earlier post for an example). So how best to cater for that?
  • Rather like the P-brigade’s artillery battery, its cavalry was a P-brigade asset, so shouldn’t it be under the direct control of the P-brigade commander?

I’ve been wrestling with the best way to reconcile these factors and I think I’ve finally hit on a solution – but it’s one that modifies some of my earlier thinking about artillery.

Let’s start with something easy. I’m going to assert that I’ll always treat a cavalry regiment in a P-brigade as a single tactical unit regardless of its strength (both in terms of manpower and the number of squadrons). The next thing I’m going to do is set a default that the cavalry regiment is a P-brigade level asset just like the artillery battery. The same arguments as I deployed before for the artillery battery apply here.

Having taken that plunge, I’m left with finding a way to do deal with the inconvenient truth that cavalry and infantry tactical units were sometimes grouped together in ad hoc formations. For that matter, tactical units from all three arms were sometimes grouped together this way. If you read the previous paragraph closely, you might have spotted that I’ve already prepared the way for what’s coming next with my use of the phrase “set a default”.

What I propose to do for the cavalry tactical unit (and by implication this applies to and extends what I said before about the artillery tactical unit) is this: by default, the cavalry tactical unit and the artillery tactical unit in a P-brigade will be treated as P-brigade level assets under direct command of the P-brigade commander unless, at the start of the game, he chooses to devolve command of one or both of them to a sub-formation commanded by one of his sub-commanders.

If the P-brigade commander does choose this non-default option, then then any cavalry or artillery tactical unit assigned in this way contributes to the total of tactical units in the sub-formation. This is important because you’ll recall that I set a three to five unit size range for such sub-formations.

So that’s the policy but I think a few tactical observations are merited. P-brigade commanders should think long and hard before devolving command of a cavalry or artillery tactical unit. The first reason for this is that it’s a non-reversible decision, If you suddenly find that you really need that cavalry somewhere else on the battlefield – well tough, it’s already committed. Secondly, having artillery, cavalry and infantry all in the same brigade and thus on the same orders can be very awkward.

Finally, I’d just like to mention the question of corps-level cavalry in the Prussian army. What I’ve been discussing above doesn’t really apply to Prussian cavalry at this level. That’s because the corps cavalry was organized in a much more conventional way with several clearly defined cavalry brigades attached to each corps. If you wish to have one or more of these brigades present on your table, then follow the same principles as you would for any other nation.

I think the next part of these musings will be the final one where I’ll aim to summarize my conclusions are provide examples of the various ways they could be applied to P-brigade.

5 Responses to “RtoE Prussian musings: part four”

  1. Nigel Maddaford said

    5. Brigade is particularly interesting when it comes to cavalry. Once von Hellwig was sent off “partizaning” von Hobe was left with just the West Prussian Uhlans and Nafziger shows these as being attached to Borstell’s Brigade at Gross Beeren (813HGE) Although not on the online version his book gives v Hobe as commanding both the Uhlans & Hussars plus half a battery of horse artillery. But as always is the case it did not stay that way, a common detachment being a 2 infantry battalions, 2 cavalry squadrons and perhaps 4 guns, e.g. at Theissen & Zahna von Beier (who I believe was an officer of the WP Uhlans) commanded the 2 musketeer battalions of 2.RIR and 2 sqds of WP Uhlans. Not sure if this helps at all (probably the opposite!) but it once again shows how flexible/confusing and almost impossible to shoe horn into wargame chain of commands the Prussian system was.

  2. Jim Pitts said

    Martin,

    My understanding (albeit somewhat limited) was that the “P-brigade” cavalry was used to counter French skirmishers and, I think, as an immediate anti-cavalry force. I could see a “P-brigade” general assigning a couple of squadrons to each of his lead regimental task forces (to use a modern term), although with a section or battery of artillery. I can also see him keeping the cavalry together under his immediate control to use to counter any French cavalry that might threaten one or the other of his flanks while he waited for one of the corps cavalry brigades to come a-gallop. I also think that the “P-brigade” general could recall his deployed but not yet committed squadrons, but probably at a decrement to them having to “reorganize” themselves into the regimental formation.

    There were also some “P=brigades” that had, at times, two squadrons from a regular regiment and two from a landwehr regiment.

    Jim

  3. Martin said

    Jim, Nigel – thanks for your observations. They certainly serve to demonstrate why I left my musings about cavalry until last. The historical accounts show all kinds of complex deployments for the cavalry regiments in P-brigades.

    One thing you’ve both picked out is the question of splitting the regiment up by assigning a couple of squadrons to a taskforce. This certainly happened and I have been uncertain about how to allow for it. I was caught between a desire to enable historically realistic deployments and my concern that, at a wargaming level, a tactical unit of just two squadrons could be a brittle and ineffective force. The parallel between splitting the cavalry regiment and splitting the artillery battery springs to mind, so perhaps that provides the answer.

    How about this: what if we allow the P-brigade commander to split his cavalry regiment with limitations analogous to those for splitting his artillery battery? Namely, that he must do so at the outset of the game and (following the half-battery example) that any cavalry detachment must be at least two squadrons in strength? I’m also inclined to impose the restriction that the assignment can’t be undone during the game. I note Jim’s observation about recalling the detachment but I’m not comfortable with it for three reasons: first, it would have been a difficult thing in the heat of battle; secondly, I want some sort of restriction on commanders that makes them think carefully about their initial decisions and forces them to face the consequences; thirdly, there is a point at which the rules start to be too complex and, for me, this is that point.

    Of course, if you want to choose your own conventions, then you should feel free to do so. What I’m offering here is only my recipe. I feel a bit like the author of a cookery book knowing that some cooks will follow my recipes precisely while others will tweak them to suit their personal tastes.

  4. Jim Pitts said

    Martin,

    And when have you known that a wargamer hasn’t tweaked a rule set! :^)

    And I agree that rules should be kept simple, making them easy to understand and to play.

    Jim

  5. Having previously had a Prussian force many years ago I always had trouble using the cavalry linked to the infantry. There was never enough of them to take on a Brigade of enemy cavalry threatening their own infantry and not enough of them to seriously threaten other enemy infantry brigades or divisions. The Prussians stuck with the idea though as they were still using the same system of attached cavalry in the 1866 and Franco-Prussian wars which is another period I am interested in and I still struggle to use them properly then. For the later wars they generally seemed to have been used mainly for scouting but they didn’t even manage to do that properly.
    The Russians also listed cavalry regiments with each infantry Corps and again these are difficult to use and eventually they pulled them all out and formed cavalry Brigades which are much more useful.

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