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A Napoleonic discussion

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A Napoleonic discussion

Postby ochoin » Fri Aug 18, 2017 9:14 pm

I was over at TMP, viewing the latest train-wreck that is Napoleonic discussion. Suffice it to say that this, my favourite period, has been so awfully handled that even when I was a member, I seldom read much less participated in Napoleonic threads there for many years.

It's just occurred to me that sane discussions of the period can be had here. We can even be a little "button-counting" but avoid the excesses, egos, agendas, profound stupidity etc of TMP.

So, the French. No one can deny their battlefield performance for the period was mostly exemplary. Even at Waterloo, somewhat mishandled, they went down gallantly.
What gave them their edge?

We all know of rule sets such as Empire which infamously gave them a +1 for everything (+2 for Guard). How can a rule set mirror this superiority accurately?

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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby Ronan the Librarian » Sat Aug 19, 2017 9:07 am

Properly tailored, to reflect actual historical performance throughout the era, I would say that the "+1 for being French" approach pretty much does it. An alternative might be to add extra inches to their movement rates (to reflect their greater proficiency), or give them higher morale. That said, by 1809, this advantage had pretty much gone at the lower levels, and it was superior artillery and generalship that won the day - although, ironically, the Waterloo campaign saw a largely veteran army mishandled.
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby Etranger » Sat Aug 19, 2017 9:38 am

Ronan the Librarian wrote:... That said, by 1809, this advantage had pretty much gone at the lower levels, and it was superior artillery and generalship that won the day - although, ironically, the Waterloo campaign saw a largely veteran army mishandled.


Perhaps -1 for "the boss had a bad day"?
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby bangorstu » Sat Aug 19, 2017 9:58 am

Just to be a bit controversial....

Was it the fact that the French were good, or the fact that their main opponents were simply unprofessional?

Fighting armies of Mittel Europeans with a mid-18th century mindset and where accident of birth was the main requirement for high office in the military, the French did well.

So perhaps that's an example of superior leadership?

But the same armies that did so well against the Prussians, Russians and Austro-Hungarians consistently failed against the British... and not just against Wellington.

Now why the purchase system in the UK worked so well compared to everywhere else I've no idea, but the British did have recent experience of losing... and took notes and adapted after the AWI.

The the Peninsular, against an opponent with known strengths the French repeated the same mistakes constantly - the glaring one being never shaking out into line from column until under fire.

So, were they actually any good or just flat-track bullies? :D
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby ochoin » Sat Aug 19, 2017 10:51 am

I am cautious in having the wargame tail wagging the historical dog instead of the other way around but it's where I always end up: on the tabletop.

Are there factors that the French should have an edge with? That's the question.
There are possibly a few but I’d like to suggest leadership. I do not suggest an inherent French command ability but I believe there were more French generals killed than in generals of other nationalities. This suggests a greater desire to lead from the front. I could suggest there might have been greater possibility of immediate reward (or punishment!) in the French system to stimulate this. So in wargames’ terms could you justify a more direct & responsive mid level leadership?

So: to ‘General d’Armee’ which is distinguished by the number of ADCs allocated who are needed to facilitate tactical decisions. If it is possible that the French *might* gain an advantage here is this accurate/defensible?



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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby Von Richter » Sat Aug 19, 2017 11:08 am

How do you 'gain' anything if yer top bloke gets slotted by the first volley!!!

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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby ochoin » Sat Aug 19, 2017 11:08 am

bangorstu wrote:But the same armies that did so well against the Prussians, Russians and Austro-Hungarians consistently failed against the British... and not just against Wellington.



Not quite so one sided. Moore was tossed out. Beresford at Albuera not that impressive. Ney won at the Coa against Moore and against Erskine at Foz do Arouce. Blayney was defeated at Fuengirola. Murray was defeated at Tarragona. Reille at Roncesvalles etc. Indeed, you certainly can make a case that without Nosey, the British were vulnerable. And even with him, it took quite a while to drive the French out.


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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby Ronan the Librarian » Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:31 pm

It may have taken quite a while, but maybe let's look at how quickly the other Europeans were losing.....

Going back to Bangorstu's point, I think the real French advantage in big battles was their command structure - it was light years ahead of its main European opponents. Up to that level of command, there were talented Austrian/Prussian/Russian commanders, and the French did sometimes lose (there's a reason it's called "to lie like a bulletin"). Even in the great French victories there were long, and frequent episodes of hard fighting where the battle could have gone either way - few of them were walk-overs. Equally, in those rare successes you list Donald, you have to remember that many of the officers commanding the British forces were either young(ish) or inexperienced, or came across elite enemy units (eg the Poles at Fuegen-wotsit). None of those victories changed the course of the war, or, with the rare exception of Corunna, the campaign, so one can look at them as one looks at the occasional spirited wins by small(er) numbers of European troops against the French in their pomp.

With regard to Moore, I think it is unfair to blame him for the retreat to Corunna - Moore was ordered (or offered, not sure which) to lead Napoleon away from where the main Spanish armies were attempting to regroup and concentrate, so to that extent, he did his job (and ultimately won the last battle). Beresford was obviously a better administrator than battlefield commander - much like the unfairly maligned Duke of York - but both he (and York) did wonders in reforming their respective armies and turning them into war-winning machines. I think it is fair to say that the Duke inspired confidence (more and more so as his career went on) and that his men were prepared to fight for him.

Lastly, I think it is too easy to dismiss the sheer "bloody-mindedness" of the British and Irish rank-and-file - Dr Johnson wrote a retort to those complaining about the impudence of the working classes, along the lines of "impudence in peace is obstinacy in war".
Last edited by Ronan the Librarian on Sat Aug 19, 2017 2:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby ochoin » Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:38 pm

Ronan the Librarian wrote:
Lastly, I think it is too easy to dismiss the sheer "bloody-mindedness" of the British and Irish rank-and-file - Dr Johnson wrote a retort to those complaining about the impudence of the working classes, along the lines of "impudence in peace is obstinacy in war".


Dangerously close to the now maligned National Characteristics :D

At the risk of trivialising warfare, I'll use a sports analogy. The veteran rugby team, with a history of victory, look at their oft beaten opponents with contempt. The All Blacks are theoretically beatable but they're damned if they let Australia beat them. So too the Peninsular War British infantry who are also a deadly mixture of experience, high morale & implacable approach to battle.

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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby Ronan the Librarian » Sat Aug 19, 2017 2:38 pm

Actually, looking again at your list of French Peninsula wins, I was going to say that it is rare for a cricket team to bowl out the opposition without at least one or two batsmen making a bit of a show and scoring a 50, or even a 100.
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby bangorstu » Sat Aug 19, 2017 5:19 pm

Moore was never defeated on the field by the French - he found himself in a hellish strategic position and reacted accordingly.

And won.

The French also lost in Egypt against the British and indeed the redcoats beat them in Sicily as well.

The ledger would appear to be in the British favour.

Note the British did actually win Albuera.... It was a bloody victory, but then so many many of Napoleon's...

So, it comes down to leadership. The French leadership in Spain was bad, ruined by rivalries and indeed Napoleon refusing to appoint a supreme commander. But again and again they were outfought on the field - even if they did regularly out manoeuvre the allies.

Towards the end of the wars, even that wasn't as good as it was - Boney certainly lost his touch whilst everyone else seems to have upped their game.
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby ochoin » Sat Aug 19, 2017 9:50 pm

bangorstu wrote:Towards the end of the wars, even that wasn't as good as it was - Boney certainly lost his touch whilst everyone else seems to have upped their game.


And I think that's the point. Whatever minor tweaks you may give your French wargame armies, they should be removed or even reversed in any battles set in 1814-1815.

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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby paintinglittlesods » Mon Aug 21, 2017 6:17 am

I started playing for the uniforms to be honest, the rich tapestry of colours and styles. I am a guilty in that I don't care for the correct spacing between ranks of an 1807 French Company in Column. All we have his historical text which for a long time had a very British tint to it but it has been great to see French, Spanish and German sources appear.

To me the French have an advantage due to command and control - they did the right thing at the right time to my layman's eye. In Spain they suffered as mentioned above - poor command at times, silly mistakes against the British and poor supply. The french seemed to treat the British like the Spanish and paid the price for their mistakes. They also had confidence in in central Europe - they had done it all and some more, however when faced with the hostile locals and terrain of Spain\Russia that would have already effected their morale.

When the Spanish had good command they gave the French a good licking (when french commanders were poor or having a bad day) but then the same commanders would brain fade several days later and the army would disappear. The British rank and file had staying power in battle while I feel the Spanish staying power often only occurred after the battle (routed armies would simply magically reform overnight).

So for rules I do seem to gravitate to rulesets that reward command ability but not multiple have +1 British fire for everying, +2 for French Guards :lol: ., -14 for Spanish etc.
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby FreddBloggs » Mon Aug 21, 2017 11:21 am

The French Corps structure, and the flexability commanders had were the main reason for their early and mid period wins. Once Napoleon started to straitjacket them (glory was to be his) they became less flexible, also the sheer size started to tell against them at this point.

The British performance against them is odd in this context. It was both old fashioned and far in advance of the others at the same time, its main quality was that both officers and men were professionals. Its promotion system was also both archaic (purchase) and advanced, by the time Wellington entered France, between a quarter and third of his junior officers were ex-rankers. The main impediment was lack of literacy, not status.

Albuhera was a classic battle with 2 commanders who were superb subordinates, but not full commanders, Soult threw it away. His later obstinacy was where he had the strategic taken away from him and his tactics were defensive. His best work was done under Napoleons hand.
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby ochoin » Tue Aug 22, 2017 2:50 pm

paintinglittlesods wrote:I
So for rules I do seem to gravitate to rulesets that reward command ability but not multiple have +1 British fire for everying, +2 for French Guards :lol: ., -14 for Spanish etc.


The natural progression is then to ask people to name their rule set & briefly explain how it handles any putative French superiority.

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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby Timmo » Sun Sep 24, 2017 11:09 am

Le Feu Sacre are my rules of choice. The French are rated as an impulse army, whereas the Austrians for example, are a linear army. The French also score against the Austrians of having more efficient staff and moving in columns of one or two company frontage enables them to move faster than troops in line. They can basically do that much more being more agile and able to react and counter threats.

The British cause the French problems as the average British line troops are sound and have the ability to fire a volley and charge, i.e. they are aggressive and well lead.

Troops of all nations fit into one of five ratings, A to E.

It is a superb set of rules that has resolved lots of facets that remain awkward 'problems' in the other rules sets I've read or played and which have had to work out 'fixes' by adding +1 etc for whatever reason.

Part of the problem I think comes from the fact that many rules are really written at a very tactical level for say, one division against another. To make that an interesting game that reflects Napoleonic warfare, is I think, very tricky because I think what defines the real differences between the armies of different nations, with different strategic and tactical doctrine, is only really apparent once you start to play games that have a corps or more per side.
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby ochoin » Wed Sep 27, 2017 10:16 am

Timmo wrote:Part of the problem I think comes from the fact that many rules are really written at a very tactical level for say, one division against another. To make that an interesting game that reflects Napoleonic warfare, is I think, very tricky because I think what defines the real differences between the armies of different nations, with different strategic and tactical doctrine, is only really apparent once you start to play games that have a corps or more per side.


You've defined the problem perfectly.

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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby olicana » Wed Sep 27, 2017 3:15 pm

ochoin wrote:
Timmo wrote:Part of the problem I think comes from the fact that many rules are really written at a very tactical level for say, one division against another. To make that an interesting game that reflects Napoleonic warfare, is I think, very tricky because I think what defines the real differences between the armies of different nations, with different strategic and tactical doctrine, is only really apparent once you start to play games that have a corps or more per side.


You've defined the problem perfectly.

donald


Indeed he has.
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Re: A Napoleonic discussion

Postby olicana » Wed Sep 27, 2017 3:18 pm

On the subject of rules, and related to Timmo's comment about 'rule scale'.

The physical scale of Napoleonic battles, both in army size and area of operations, especially at the grand tactical level is something that battalion level rules can't really handle or represent. The choice of game scale is a very important first step in deciding on the nature of your war game figure collection, IMHO.

In the past I've come across Napoleonic gamers, playing battalion level games, that have tried to convince me that 'Napoleonics' is all about 'bold sweeping manoeuvres' and consequently tables must be wide enough to allow wide flank marches. From what I've read, such manoeuvres were carried out by larger formations prior to the armies coming to grips (though I suppose there will be rare exceptions to that hypothesis). When I've mentioned this I've most often been treated to the 'hard stare' reserved for the uninitiated in 'the lore'.

A year or two ago I played a Blucher game. It was an Eylau scenario. All in all I thought it handled that size of battle well. The troops were not wall to wall; there was plenty of space to manoeuvre; the rules were abstract enough to give a big battle feel. However, it lacked the visual impact of battalion level games; it might have looked better in 15mm?; it felt like an un-gridded board game. Likewise, I've played a lot of Command and Colors games with figures and they have a similar feel.

I'll be going for battalion level games, I think, because for me the visual impact of 28mm figures in reasonably sized units is a large part of what makes my hobby satisfying. Consequently, I chose to collect for the Peninsular where the battles, or large parts of them at least, will be easier to represent at that scale. I'll leave the 'big sweeping manoeuvres' for the campaign map; I'll leave the larger campaigns and battles elsewhere for others.
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