Thursday, 27 September 2007


Cavalry types, organisation, formations and basic equipment
Both the armies of the 1812 Russian campaign had many cavalry units, however the actual number of men far less when compared to the amount of infantrymen. Cavalry comprised two basic categories: heavy and light. Sometimes a third category is mentioned: medium. This category are the dragoons. Theoretically the dragoons were able to perform both the light and heavy roles and also capable of fighting on foot as well. In order to prevent making things too complicated I will not use this third category as a separate one. Heavy cavalry was that mounted upon large horses, used to execute a decisive charge in pitched battles. It included cuirassiers, mounted karbiners and grenadiers, chevalier-gardes and (heavy) dragoons. The light cavalry was made up out of the hussars, chevau-léger, mounted chasseurs, lancers (or uhlans), light dragoons and the hordes of irregular and Cossack cavalry employed by Russia. These were able to act similar as their heavy counterparts but in addition fulfilled outpost duties and skirmishing actions or formed the basis for flank protection of large attacking infantry formations. Light horsemen were mounted on smaller, lighter but also faster horses than the heavy cavalerists.

The cavalry was organised in regiments but the squadron was the basic tactical formation. Several squadrons formed a regiment. In 1812 two or three regiments were grouped together in a brigade and two brigades usually formed a division. Both Russian and Grand army had some of these divisions in separate cavalry corps. The Grand Army however always had a cavalry division or brigade attached to an infantry corps.

Because cavalry charges were very noisy affairs and made during battle circumstances it was very difficult for the men to hear the vocal commands of their officers. Therefore the squadrons had trumpetters giving rhythmical orders in battle. As with the infantry cavalry regiments and squadrons often carried flags. These were primarily a testimony of their ‘esprit de corps’, and served as recognition points when on the battlefield and rallying points for the men after engagements.

When cavalry went into battle the units formed up either in lines, echelons or columns. Attack in echelon formation allowed cavalry units the best manoeuvrability. The direction of the advance could rapidly be changed. There existed echelons by squadrons, regiments, brigades and even by entire divisions. Echelon provided an attack where the cavalry formation carried out successive shock waves on the enemy, hitting them at intervals. The rear echelon of a formation could be held in the back as a reserve awaiting the result of the first echelon's charge. This was done in order to exploit a successful charge and to be able to support an exposed flank or a retreat.

Cavalry attacks in columns was also possible. Such columns could be built up by ranks of half squadrons, squadrons (most common) and multiple squadrons. The interval between these ranks usually was ten metres. A column attack hit like a hammer on a particular point of the enemy line. Besides the compact formation of a column made it hard for the enemy to judge the actual number of horsemen attacking them. However charges in deep columns were vulnerable. Its long flank exposed it too much to artillery fire and to flank attacks from enemy cavalry. Therefore this normally was not done, but too much excitement or inexperienced leadership sometimes did often with devastating consequences for the attackers.

When cavalry attacked in line it did so in a two ranks deep line. In this way more troopers could be engaged in close combat. The width of this formation often brought along outflanking possibilities. However it was very difficult to keep the formation intact, except at short distances over easy going, flat terrain. In practice the attacking line formation fell apart in clumps of cavalrymen. These groups then continued the charge.

In order to deliver a cavalry charge the troopers began their advance at a slow pace and finished galloping. The slow pace helped to maintain order in the ranks. However out of fear the men often quickly sped up and went out of contol of their officers. This created gaps in the formation. Soon after this the troopers became a noisy horde. When falling on well alligned enemy troops in these conditions they were lost. For this reason most of the horsemen trying to avoid collision with the enemy fell in disorder and fled back to their own lines. At that moment the enemy cavalry (when present) began their pursuit, this frequently at a gallop. Only battle-hardened and disciplined troops advanced in a slower, steady pace. They sped up gradually and kept good order until the very last moment when officers ordered them to the gallop. This was best when done at a distance of between 60 and 15 metres from the enemy. The gradual increase of speed also was important to keep the horses fit enough when the enemy was reached and fighting occurred.

The appearance of charging cavalry en masse and in good order could have a great impact on moral of those being attacked. When the cavalry of opposing armies fell into melee there usually were small losses on both sides. The colliding horsemen somehow rode through each other ranks and only had little time to exchange thrusts and place cuts. Most melees lasted only a few minutes, but this was greatly influenced by the number of cavalrymen involved. Fleeing troops suffered greater casualties than those in pursuit. In pursuit a small troop should chase the enemy and was follow by a larger body of horsemen that could resist enemy counter-attacks.
Large cavalry charges in pitched battles frequently threw up clouds of dust and could obscure the view.

Groups of light cavalry or dragoons normally were sent out as videttes to screen the army's advance and in order to gathering intelligence. Without these videttes it was almost impossible for commanders to react to sudden enemy manoeuvres in time. Light cavalry was extensively used to skirmish in order to locate weak points in the enemy's battle line. Skirmish formations were loose, allowing individual movement. Normally there would be some more cavalry support nearby. The skirmishing horsemen fired at advancing enemies thereby forcing them to slow down or even halt. Sometimes a charge was made to drive enemy skirmishers away.

During the Napoleonic Wars the majority of cavalrymen carried a saber, one or two pistols and either a carbine, a rifle or a musket. Basically it depended on the type of cavalry. The light cavalryman was armed with a short and curved saber and the heavy cavalryman carried a long and straighter saber or had a broadsword. In 1812 the Russian cavalry was ordered to hand over their muskets and most of their carbines to the newly raised and expanded infantry units. This was not very disturbing because mounted cavalry in battle did not use firearms very extensively. Some troopers were armed with lances, as the lancers or uhlans did. In combat the lance was most dangerous in first contact. Its length allowed the cavalryman to inflict wounds on or to kill an opponent. When that opponent managed to get past the lance it was the lancer that became more vulnerable. Only well-trained and battle-hardened lancers were able to deal with armoured cavalry (cuirassiers and karabiners) but normally the lances point proved unable to pierce through cuirasses. In melee, when the lancers had to fight for their lives, many discarded their lance and fought on with the saber. Lancers had almost no advantage over infantry armed with muskets and bayonets fixed especially when these had formed square.

Cavalrymen had several means to protect themselves. Mounted karabiner and cuirassier troopers normally wore a cuirass as protection. It proved a very adequate piece of body-armour against lance and straight saber and it offered protection against musket and pistol shots fired at longer range too. There existed both full cuirass (front and back plates) and half-cuirass (front plate only). Some cuirassier regiments did not wear a cuirass at all. Helmets protected the men against saber blows made at their head. Leather helmets did not do as well against these blows as metal ones did. Many cavalrymen had their greatcoat rolled over from one shoulder diagonally across their torso for it protected them against enemy saber thrusts.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Basic multiple infantry formations illustrated

French regimental attack with three battalion columns
A = Voltigeur companies (V) in skirmish order
B = Centre companies in attack columns
C = Grenadier companies (G) held in reserve
D = Regroupment positions of voltigeurs when columns
make their attack
Regimental guns are placed between the fusilier battalions
to provide supporting fire

French regiment of three battalions deployed in line
Regimental guns are on the flanks

Regiment of three French battalions in mixed order

A = volitigeur companies (V)
B = two fusilier battalions in attack column
C = fusilier battalion in line
D = grenadier companies (G)
E = regroupment points voltigeurs
Regimental guns between the fusilier battalions

Mixed order formation of three battalions for wargame
purposes. Companies with four figures each. The battalion
in line is shown with two options for the grenadiers.

Some infantry formations of multiple battalions
1 = Line of three battalions in columns
2 = Six battalions in echelon
3 = Eight battalions in mixed order
4 = Four battalions advance in line (one battalion reinforcing the
right flank, this can also be the left flank or the centre)
5 = Four battalions advance in echelon with right (or could be left)flank refused

Three battalions in a linking square system
The arrows show the maximum fire effect of these squares

Monday, 24 September 2007

And more Wargame infantry units illustrated

French line infantry battalion in square with figure carrying an eagle.

French infantry battalion in closed column with a figure holding a battalion flag. The grenadier company has a sapper figure.

Three sections of a Russian infantry (former musketeer) battalion. Officer and musician are in front.

French light infantry in skirmish line in front of a line infantry battalion in closed column. Two elements each with a voltigeur are on the left flank of the skirmish line.

Element holding two voltigeurs of a line infantry battalion. These voltigeurs are detached for skirmishing ahead of the formation.

French line infantry battalion in attack column. This is a variant in which the voltigeur company is send forward to skirmish and the grenadier company is somewhat in the back holding the unit in cohesion.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

More Wargaming infantry formations

French line infantry battalion in march column lead by a general and some light infantry chasseurs in front of them.

French line infantry battalion forming a (hollow) square

Russian grenadier battalion in closed column with coloured flag

Russian infantry (former musketeer) battalion with white flag

French light infantry battalion in skirmish line (karabiner company on the flank)

Section of first centre company of a Russian jäger battalion with an officer, musician and a jäger

Wargame infantry formations

Because of the 1:33 figure to man ratio most of my wargame infantry battalions of both Russian and Grande Army have 24 figures. That is when one uses the theoretical strength of the historical counterparts (paper strength). At Borodino 1812 many infantry units had lost men and were reduced in numbers. Furthermore some units did have another battalion composition but for showing how the wargame infantry battalions are build up and can be used when applying historical based combat formations the basic unit of 24 figures works well.

French infantry battalions had six companies so my wargame units have six companies of four figures each. Two of these companies are the elites; one of voltigeurs and one of grenadiers (karabiners). For wargame purposes I wanted to have an officer and a musician in the battalion. Sometimes a standardbearer is presented too. For this I used a ratio of one standard (eaglebearer) on every three battalions in a brigade. Sometimes the battalions without an eagle have a fanion or a battalion flag bearer. All these special figures I placed in the first fusilier or chasseur company for the idea of leading the battalion. An NCO is occasionally present in one of the four fusilier or chasseur companies. In the grenadier company sometimes a sapper figure appears.

Basing these troops is done as follows: All figures in the companies are placed side by side (giving four in a row). In the first three fusilier companies in a line infantry wargame battalion all the four figures are on one element, the figures are placed side to side. The fourth fusilier company has one element of two figures and two elements with one figure each. This is done to be able removing casualties during a game. The officer figure of the first company is always in one of the two middle positions of the element. The grenadier company can consist of one element with all four figures on it, or one element with three figures with one seperate element having a single figure on it, or two elements each with two figures. Voltigeur companies always have at least two elements with two figures but occasionally one or these elements is split into two seperate one with a single voltigeur figure. This is done for the purpose of skirmishing and casualty removal. In the light infantry battalions all six companies contain at most two elements with two figures. The reason for this is the fact that this enables the full battalion skirmish line with the required intervals and resembles the idea of skirmishing in pairs. The rest of the wargame unit build up is quite the same as for the line battalion.

The Russian infantry wargame battalions, that is of infantry (former musketeer), grenadier and jäger regiments, have four companies each of six figures (again this is related to their historical paper strength). All these companies are divided in two sections of three figures. The elite company has one section of grenadiers (karabiners) and one of tirailleurs. The first of the centre companies always has an officer figure and a musician present. Standard bearers are in the same company but are not placed in every wargame battalion. The Russians I gave two out of four battalions of an infantry brigade a standard bearer. One represents the coloured flag and the other the white flag. However most of my jäger battalions do not have a standard bearer. These special figures are always in the first centre company and normally are placed on the element representing the right section. Sometimes an NCO figure is present in one of the companies.

Basically all infantry sections of three figures are on the same element (again placed side by side), but the second section of the third centre company is divided in one element holding two figures and an element with one figure on it (and again this is done for removal of casualties in a wargame). The elite sections (especially the tirailleur section) are frequently done in the same way for skirmish purposes. For enabling a skirmish line with a wargame jäger battalion more sections are subdived in several elements likewise.

French line infantry battalion in closed column

Russian infantry battalion in closed column

Some more infantry formations illustrated

Russian infantry battalion formations

T = Tirailleur section of the elite company
G = Grenadier (Karabiner) section of the elite company
1 to 3 = centre companies
Each block represents a half company (section)
The other codes refer to officers, NCO's, standard bearer, musicians

1. Infantry battalion in line
The tirailleur and grenadier sections are on the flanks of the formation.

2. Infantry company in line
The 3 rank formation of the infantry company is illustrated here.

3. Infantry battalion in closed column
This formation also formed the basis for the closed square.

4. Infantry battalion in attack column
Variant of the closed column with the elite company sent a bit forward (to skirmish)

5. Infantry battalion in march column

The two sections of each company are placed behind each other.

6. Infantry battalion in (hollow) square formation

Two variants. The left one was applied when there was not enough time to deploy the formation into the one shown on the right.

Some infantry formations illustrated

French infantry battalion formations

V = Voltigeur company
G = Grenadier (Karabiner) company
1 to 4 = centre companies

1. Infantry battalion in line
The arrow and small triangles show variation with voltigeur company in skirmish formation

2. Infantry battalion in closed column
Two variants; on the right the closed column with elite companies in front and on the left the elite companies are on both flanks of the formation.

3. Infantry battalion in attack column
The voltigeurs are ahead in skirmish formation and the grenadiers are behind as a reserve and keeping the centre companies in cohesion.

4. Infantry battalion in (hollow) square
Centre companies forming the bastion walls ot this formation and the elite companies are each split into two sections. These four elite section are reinforcing the formation's corners.

5. Infantry battalion in march column
The battalion has all its companies formed behind each other. This formation is also called a single column. The voltigeurs are in front and the grenadiers are in the back of the formation.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


Infantry Organisation
Organisation of the Russian infantry was rearranged late 1810. There already existed grenadier, musketeer and jäger regiments. Musketeer regiments altered into Infantry regiments. Infantry divisions now were to have two infantry brigades and one jäger brigade each of two regiments. For this purpose several infantry regiments were converted into jäger regiments. Grenadier regiments were concentrated into elite grenadier divisions. Probably in order to bring these up to strength in accordance with the new divisional structure one existing infantry regiment was transformed into a grenadier regiment. Usually the grenadier divisions were utilised as part of the tactical infantry reserve of the field army. In the grenadier divisions all three brigades contained two grenadier regiments.

All infantry regiments were to have two field battalions and a depot battalion. Every battalion consisted of three centre companies and one elite company. All men of the centre companies in Grenadier regiments became fusiliers, musketeers in Infantry regiments and jägers in Jäger regiments. Each company was divided into two sections. The elite company consisted of a grenadier and a tirailleur section. In grenadier and infantry battalions this elite company was entitled grenadier and in jäger regiments karabiner company. Elite status no longer depended on physique but on merit.

Russia also possessed so-called garrison battalions. Each battalion had four companies but no elite one. From all these battalions three companies were taken out and combined to create several new jäger regiments and to re-raise most infantry regiments that were converted into jäger regiments in 1810. More changes were set in motion. Elite companies were taken out of the depot battalions to be merged into new field battalions. Out of every infantry division two such battalions could be formed with each battalion having three companies. These battalions were grouped into brigades and, in 1812, were combined in combat formations known as Converged Grenadier Divisions. In preparation to the forthcoming war many infantry regiments received a fourth reserve battalion, filled with recruits. These battalions were drawn together with the remainder of the regimental depot battalions and used to create no less than sixteen reserve infantry divisions. However, the beginning of the French invasion slowed their completion down severely and in practice many men were deployed to the field units as replacements for casualties.

The Russian light infantry regiments are known as jägers. They were sent to skirmish by platoons or companies, and these relieved each other in turn or became replaced by entire battalions or regiments. If there existed an insufficient number of jägers, the line infantry and eventually the grenadiers detached their own skirmishers. When a jäger battalion deployed, the men from the elite company were kept in reserve behind both flanks of the skirmish line formed by the rest of the battalion. The overall quality of Russian skirmishers varied. At Borodino the Russians used entire jäger brigades as skirmishers. For most part these fought well.

Russian infantry (former musketeer) and grenadier regiments had flags. Officially no flags were issued to jäger regiments. In reality some regiments received them for distinction, or had them because the regiment was recently converted from infantry to jäger. It is however possible that these latter regiments had to hand their flags over to newly created infantry regiments. There were two flags per battalion. The regiment’s first battalion had a coloured flag and a so-called white flag. The other battalions each had two coloured flags. These flags had several patterns because some models backdated to times of Tsar Paul and another model was only distributed during the reign of Tsar Alexander I. A few regiments received a special flag model for distinction on the battlefield known as the St. George model. This was basically a special decorated version of Alexander’s flag model. Flag poles (or staves) were either yellow, black or white and had a gilt finial in the form of a flat spearhead.

Napoleon’s infantry was organised on a standard pattern. Two infantry regiments formed a brigade; two brigades a division and several divisions (2 to 6) a corps. There existed two types of infantry; line and light. The light infantry was made up out of well-trained shooters and could manoeuvre faster than their line comrades. In an attack they frequently formed the advance guard of a brigade or a division. Whole battalions or regiments could deploy in skirmish order. The light infantrymen tried to make a great deal of casualties amongst enemy officers, gunners and skirmishers, thereby lowering the enemy’s will and ability to resist. When a company of light infantry formed a so-called skirmish line it was subdivided in three sections. Normaly only the centre section carried muskets with bayonets fixed and those on the left and right did not. The Grande Army counted far more line than light regiments.

For the Russian campaign many French infantry regiments had four, five or even six battalions (Bataillon de Guerre). In 1812 a French infantry battalion was to have 840 men, but in reality it had between 400 to 600 men. The battalion was made up of six equally strong companies with 140 men (on paper). Two of the companies were entitled elite and the other four can be seen as the basic infantry. In line regiments an elite grenadier company, an elite voltigeur and four fusilier companies made up the battalion. The battalions of the light regiments had an elite karabiner company, an elite voltigeur company and four chasseur companies. Before going into a battle all companies reformed to an equal strength in order to maintain the correct frontage of the unit. When an elite company was below strength it received selected men from the centre companies. The companies formed up in three ranks, but when there were not enough men left it formed up in two. The normal space between these ranks was slightly more than one third of a metre. When several battalions advanced side by side the space between them was slightly less than sixteen metres.

The elite grenadier or karabiner company consisted of men selected for their stature and combat experience. They were shock troops spearheading an attack or holding their battalion’s cohesion when in combat. For this purpose they had to stick out of the rest in appearance. These men were trained in operating guns too. Some men picked from the grenadier (karabiner) company operated as sappers. They were equipped with axes. During combat sappers cleared up all kinds of obstacles and performed small size engineering tasks. The battalion’s other elite troopers were the voltigeurs. These men had all the specific qualities mentioned when I dealt with the light infantry earlier on. Voltigeur companies could be detached from their battalion to perform specific tasks. In a column on the march the voltigeurs normally were in front and the grenadiers or karabiners in the back. In an attack column the voltigeurs formed the left front or flank of the battalion and the grenadiers or karabiners the right flank or front.

In 1812 every French infantry regiment was issued an Eagle with a new tricolour pattern flag, baring the regiment’s battle honours on the reverse. In practice many regiments carried an older version flag. During campaign the flag was removed. The eagle itself was placed on a stave painted in French blue. For the Russian campaign some regiments left their Eagle at the depot and only brought along their fanions (triangular pennons attached to a halberd) or carried battalion flags. Of course the allied infantry of Napoleon’s Grande Armee had their own flag types and patterns, but I won't specify them in this article.

To increase effectiveness in the field and to bolster the morale of his own soldiers, Napoleon assigned regimental artillery of two or three light guns (3 or 4 ponders) to almost every infantry regiment that joined the invasion of Russia. Some men (from the grenadier companies) were trained to operate these guns.


Infantry Tactics and Combat
Application of tactics in combat demanded skilled soldiers. Infantrymen were trained to practice several movements for firing their musket. Concentration of infantry firepower was essential due to the poor accuracy of the smoothbore musket. In combat the ratio of musket fire was one to three shots per minute. This depended on the quality of the weapon, the amount of training the soldier had received and the time he actually took for aiming when in combat. Light infantry could fire four shots a minute. Both the French and Russian infantry fired in three ranks. The French infantry also applied a system of firing in two ranks because fire from the third rank was found impractical when troops wore backpacks. When firing the men were packed so close that they had to struggle for space in order to load, aim and fire. In combat an infantry firefight usually sucked in nearby battalions, even without the consent of officers. For this reason it was important to have troops in reserve. Concentrated firing at a high rate produced massive clouds of smoke. This smoke sometimes was very dense, thereby obscuring almost all vision. Firefights usually lasted only a few minutes. The first salvo fired at close range caused the greatest damage and after this one side usually had enough and withdrew.

For close combat soldies were instructed to use the bayonet. During the Napoleonic wars there were many bayonet attacks. It was most effective against enemy troops that were busy deploying. Both Russian and French infantry frequently used the bayonet. There were some differences in regulations between them, but basically it was done to weaken the enemy both physically and emotionally before real contact was made. Actual bayonet fighting between soldiers took place in house to house fighting, in woods, gardens or broken terrain, and in fighting over redoubts. Bayonet fights in open field between large bodies of troops were rare. In bayonet charges troops advanced either with or without making noise, both in order to intimidate and confuse the enemy. In most cases the unit that was under a bayonet attack would withdraw from its position. Bayonet wounds were often inflicted during pursuit or during a flank attack. Grenadiers proved better suited for assault with the bayonet than other infantry types because they were tall, strong, battle-hardened and very disciplined soldiers.

During battle it was often impossible for all men to hear their officer’s vocal commands. Therefore every infantry company had musicians. These musicians, especially drummers, mastered a lot of rhythmic commands and the infantry was trained to act in accordance. Cornets (horn blowers) performed that role in many light infantry regiments and companies of the Grand Army but in 1812 these frequently had drummers too.
Infantry regiments also carried flags. These were primarily a testimony for the ‘esprit de corps’, but also served as recognition points when on the battlefield and as rallying points for the men after engagements. These flags were the soul of the regiment and the loss of a flag to the enemy was considered a disgrace. For this reason Flags were not always carried along into battle.

The infantry was trained to operate in several formations: line, column, square and skirmish formation. In these formations companies, battalions, regiments, brigades and even divisions manoeuvred, advanced and fought. The basic tactical unit was the battalion. Distance between battalions allowed for deployment from one formation to another. In practice small intervals were essential to maintain cohesion. Intervals between battalions in the front and second line were larger. When one of the front line battalions was beaten or broken by enemy infantry another battalion from the second line would counterattack. In many cases a beaten or broken battalion fled towards or through the second line and caused disorder. Furthermore, the sight of fleeing friendly troops could have a great negative effect on morale of the men.

Advance in line formation was applied when covering a short distance over open and easy going terrain. Only highly trained troops were capable of keeping line formation in battle. In 1812 most infantry of both Russian and Grande Army advanced in column. The column enabled infantry units to manoeuvre rapidly and to go over all kinds of terrain in various speeds. There existed several variants of the column, but basically these are the closed column and the attack column. When advancing under enemy fire the best formation was the attack column. Once within striking distance of the enemy line the column closed up and attacked with the bayonet. This was frequently done because column formation lessened the available firepower allowing only the front ranks to use their muskets effectively. With bayonets fixed and using shock power of the compact formation an attacking column it could waver or even punch through the enemy line. But advancing columns were vulnerable when under artillery fire. In order to minimise casualties it could speed up and sometimes take cover by having the men lie down. Only the officers remained standing. At Borodino some French troops used the so-called mixed order (l’ordre mixte), that is a combined formation of several infantry battalions formed up in line and some in column. This provided both shock and fire power.

Infantry formed square when under (the threat of) a cavalry attack. Well-trained and experienced infantry needed shorter time to form a square than troops of lesser quality. The square could either be a hollow or closed formation. The closed square formation is in fact the closed column having the men on the sides and rear turn to face outwards. A hollow square is a formation where the infantrymen formed the walls of a bastion, standing shoulder to shoulder, presenting bayonets. It had an open centre that was occupied by just a few men. Forming a closed square was easier than forming a hollow square. A formation in square was able to manoeuvre, but in practice this was quite difficult. The bigger the square the more firepower it could provide. Besides large squares proved almost unbreakable. Squares provided a relative safe place against cavalry. The men fired at the attacking cavalry when at about five to ten metres distance in order to prevent enemy horses falling dead or wounded between their ranks. A horse could cause a gap in square. Infantry in square fired deadly volleys at close range. Usually there were more horses killed and wounded than cavalrymen.
Squares were sometimes strengthened by artillery. A single square could be provided with a cannon on each corner. When more troops were in square formation in the same area guns were placed either in front of or between squares.

Skirmish formations usually went ahead or along the flanks of larger bodies of troops. These formations were known as skirmish lines. A skirmish line was formed either to harass enemy troops or as a protection of own forces when under enemy attack. The main purpose of skirmishing was to disrupt enemy formations by causing casualties before the main impact or to lure the opposing infantry into a premature attack. Skirmishers acted in pairs. They used terrain features and buildings as cover, and targeting primarily on enemy officers, musicians, gunners, and skirmishers.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Map: start of the Russian Campaign


Napoleon reorganised the traditional build up of an army by introducing the corps system. Each corps consisted of infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers and staff. In fact they were miniature armies, capable of acting in corporation or on their own. Corps commanders had to lead and direct their troops in accordance with Napoleon’s grand tactics. The military objective of Napoleon’s campaigns was to concentrate on the enemy’s main army and to destroy it. For this purpose he manoeuvred separate corps, thereby gaining local superiority for the final blow. In face of a coming battle Napoleon concentrated his forces. Speed of manoeuvre and speed of concentration were crucial to achieve victory. In previous campaigns Napoleon’s forces successfully outmarched and outmanoeuvred every opponent. But this would not be the case in the Russian campaign. The vast Russian countryside with all kinds of difficult terrain and weather influences, mistakes made by several of his corps commanders, combined with a constant retreating but still battle worthy Russian army, only lead up to a decisive clash between both opponents at Borodino. Napoleon’s troops were capable of travelling up to fifty kilometres a day. They marched without large and slow moving baggage trains and on campaign they lived of the land. Such light travelling had been possible before but not in Russia. On the vast and poorly inhabited Russian countryside Napoleon was forced to use cumbersome baggage trains to feed and supply his troops.

The Grand Army of 1812 was the largest army Napoleon had ever assembled. Napoleon gathered and organised his forces for the forthcoming campaign against Russia, calling up many new soldiers. Because most of Europe was under his control he had time to train them. Although containing fewer veterans, at the start of the campaign the army was almost as good as that of 1805. The cavalry received good horses, the number of guns had been increased and a supply system using no less than eigthteenthousand draft horses was made ready to keep the army going. In this Grand Army only half of the men were French, the other half came from many other allied European countries. And even the so-called French troops contained a considerable amount of soldiers from states that had only become part of France during the previous years. Most of Napoleon’s allied troops were organised along French pattern. I will describe the specific differences and qualities of units more closely when dealing with those present at Borodino.

Napoleon supplied and equipped his men well for the invasion, but many of the newer soldiers lacked campaign and battle experience. They did not know well enough how to look after for themselves, their equipment or their horses. Especially the weather and the enormous distances they had to cross in Russia took their toll. By the time the Grand Army reached Borodino it had already lost many men and horses from exhaustion and disease. Napoleon was aware of the fact that his newer soldiers lacked the quality and endurance of his veterans. But the army was still good, and he liked the big numbers for psychological reasons too. The sheer size of his army would strongly impress his opponent, lowering both morale and will to resist. The fact that Napoleon’s 1812 army was still very good is strongly related to the quality of his officers and NCO’s. Most of them were veterans that had received promotion and rank based on merit. The absence of good officers and NCO’s would prove a main shortcoming in later campaigns.

In battle Napoleon wanted to have the initiative. He favoured the attack, maintaining a constant element of surprise and leaving his enemy unaware of the exact location his attack would take place. This gave him the advantage of targeting on one or more parts of the enemy’s battle line, forcing the latter to regroup or causing disorder among their troopers. When selecting battle positions Napoleon looked for terrain suitable for good artillery placement, for concealing his troops and their movements and for places providing him a good overview. He always formed a strong reserve and kept it in the rear of his army, well out of range of hostile artillery fire. The reserve normally consisted of heavy cavalry and the Imperial Guard and would only be committed at critical or decisive moments during the engagement. Napoleon knew the importance of having an open line of retreat and of well-prepared flank protection. By carefully deploying his forces he prevented the enemy from penetrating his battle line. During battle Napoleon showed both flexibility and the capability of immediate reaction to changing circumstances. All these had made him the unequalled master of the battlefield. A Napoleonic battle could last only a few hours or even a few days. Duration of a clash was primarily influenced by immediate circumstances. This is the weather, the terrain, the quality of the fighting men (including that of their leaders), the amount of combatants involved, the sort of clashes (between or mixed cavalry, infantry, artillery), the direction of assaults (frontal, flank etc.) and sheer luck! The ratio between infantry, cavalry and artillery in battles varied. At Borodino the French had a ratio of about one cavalryman to three infantrymen and one gun to every 205 soldiers.

With the possibility of a new war against Napoleon’s forces, Czar Alexander realised Russia’s army needed to be prepared in both quality and quantity. He therefore gathered many military advisers around him and appointed Barclay the Tolly as Minister of War. Starting late 1810, a series of both actions and changes were to take place. In order to expand the available manpower more and more recruits were drafted. At times Russia had a population exceeding thirty million. Besides the already existing annual draft some extra were issued. As a result recruitment grew from four to twenty out of every five hundred men. Recruitment criteria applied to age, height and fitness. The minimum age of acceptance was nineteen but with the need for manpower this was lowered to eighteen. In reality under-aged boys were accepted too. At the early stages of the war the maximum age was set at forty but even elder men filled the ranks. Height requirements were adjusted too so smaller men could be taken in. Due to its vast territory, slower working administration and lesser finances Russia was unable to assemble more men than Napoleon did.

Under the direction of Barclay the Tolly a major reorganisation of the army was set in motion. The infantry now became organised into corps on the French model, each corps comprising two divisions with a brigade of cavalry and one or more artillery companies attached. The remaining cavalry formed separate cavalry divisions of either cuirassiers or of mixed dragoons and light cavalry. For tactical reasons cavalry divisions were grouped together to form a cavalry corps, comprising two divisions of two or three brigades and each with one or more horse artillery companies attached. The overall quality of the Russian army at times was just above average. It contained many new soldiers and the vast majority of the officers was uneducated and did not know how to lead properly. A great deal of the higher officers consisted of foreigners that had been hired by the Russians or voluteered just to be able to continue fighting against Napoleon. The presence of so many foreigners brought about some serious tensions in the army, and not alone in the higher command level. On the other hand the Russian soldier was know for his tenancy and apparently apathetic obedience. When Napoleon’s invasion was well underway these characteristics became more and more strengthened by sheer patriotism and a determined will to resist. Furthermore the Russians did have some very good troops. The guard, the grenadier regiments, some cuirassier and hussar regiments and the artillery were known for their fighting abilities. Besides them the Russian army had thousands of the feared horsemen called Cossacks.

The Russian army of 1812 at the beginning of the campaign was about half the size of Napoleon‘s Grande Armee. For this reason the Russians did not want to fight right from the start. They had to retreat because they believed there was no other option. But while retreating, Napoleon and his army had to follow and very soon the number of invaders began to dwindle rapidly with more than five thousand men each day. After just a few weeks of campaigning Napoleon began to realize that this time the outcome would be very uncertain. He had to carry on, because a failure could mean the beginning of the end of his reputation and above all of his empire.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Some Borodino Miniature Wargames references

Napoleon‘s Campaigns in miniature (see picture 1). I used the fourth revised edition for building up my armies for wargaming Borodino 1812. Of course their are many more (Napoleonic) rulesystems. The following have a Borodino scenario:

Napoleon's Battles is quite another system and it has a scenario booklet. Amongst others it has a Borodino scenario (picture 2).

Napoleon‘s Battles unofficial webpage:
Wargamer Rafael Pardo has a very good internetsite dedicated to playing Napoleon‘s Battles:

The old and probably out of print edition of Military Modelling‘s Guide to Solo Wargaming (Stuart Asquith / Argus Books 1988) contains an historical solo play scenario for Borodino (picture 3).

Another ruleset is Sam Mustafa‘s Grande Armee:
The Napoleon Miniature Wargames Society of Toronto (Canada) play the Grande Armee system:
Sam Mustafa‘s Borodino scenario:

There are plans for a Borodino wargame project in Germany. You can find upcoming information on Tom (Thomas) Pendal-Winterkamp‘s Forum:
Thomas has let me know that they plan to use the Fast Play Rules for Napoleonic Wargames from Newbury Rules (picture 4).

Some wargame groups that played Borodino with mini‘s have pictures of their play on the internet!
The Stipsicz Hussars had a demogame at the Crisis Convention in Antwerp some years ago:
The Lonely Gamers blogspot with a great Shevardino redoubt game:

Some reference books

The first book shows F.G. Hourtoulle's Borodino / The Moskova. It's a nice book most of all because of the uniformplates of A. Jouineau, showing many of the troops present. No real new aspects about the battle for those who already know some about it. It's a kind of Borodino for beginners.
The second book is (the Dutch version of) Adam Zamoyski's 1812; Napoleons Fatal March on Moscow. This in my opinion is by far the best book about Napoleon's Russian campaign. The battle of Borodino is described well and has some new insights. The map illustrations refering to the battle are great.
Third comes Alexander Mikaberidze's new book about the Borodino battle. Probably it has just appeared on the market or is about to. Haven't got it yet but with Mikaberidzes earlier articles in mind (see for example The Napoleon Series on the internet) I do expect a lot of this book!
Last but not least there's an oldy. It shows the Blandford edition from Philip Haythornthwaite and Mike Chappell that is completely about the Russian campaign of 1812 and contains very beautiful uniform plates of both armies. Unfortunately not all plates are suitable for Borodino, however the desciption of the battle is quite interesting.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Small facts about wargaming Borodino

At the start of my project I used the than available 20mm plastic figures for creating my wargame units. These were of Airfix and Esci. Later I added figures of HAT, Revell, Zvezda, Strelets and Italeri. To complete my minature forces I also bought a few 20mm metal ones, mostly from Art Miniaturen.

Building my armies, I did not only use the Napoleonic figures but also a lot of other periods, that with some minor conversions were turmed into suitable Napoleonics. In the late 80's I applied oil paints, switching over to acryllic painting no more than seven years ago. Some of my "old" units are shown.

It was Napoleon's Campains in Miniature that did it for me. This book contained good basic info, and advocated the use of 20mm plastics. Using a ratio of 1 figure representing 33 men, I made infantry battalions of 20 to 24 and cavalry regiments of 16 to 24 figures. Artillery batteries have 3 to 4 figs with 1 model gun or 6 to 8 figs with 2 model guns.

By no means I want to advocate the one miniature wargaming rulesystem above the other. I merely used this one and stuck to it, believing my troops can also take part in scenario's following other rules. I also wanted my mini's useful for taking part in games replaying other Napoleonic scenarios.

For refighting Borodino 1812 I represented both armies by using the general build up of their forces on a balanced scale. I wanted to be able to play the battle as a whole or in seperate parts such as the attacks on the Bagration Fleches, the taking of the Great Redoubt and so on.

Map of the Borodino battlefield

Some small facts about the Battle of Borodino

As I have already pointed out, the battle of Borodino was part of Napoleons 1812 campaign in Russia. In June of that year Napoleon launched an invasion with an enormous army (La Grande Armee). It was made up of both French forces and allied troops drawn from the European states under French influence or control. This Grand Army marching against Russia was an awesome military machine. By the time it had reached Borodino it had declined in quality and above all in quantity. The Russian army at the beginning of the campaign was not that large, however still a force to be reckoned with. Before Borodino it also had declined due to the campaign, but their numbers were strengthened by some reinforcements just before the battle. Shortly before the battle took place the Russian army had received a new army commander too: the veteran general Kutuzov.

The battle itself is known under three different names. The Russians have named it after the village of Borodino that lies on the terrain of the battlefield. Napoleon called it the battle of the Moskova, the name of a major river near the battlefield. And finally some historians have called it the battle of Mozhaisk, a nearby town.

When I am using data when describing events of the 1812 campaign and about the battle it is important to know that these are data of the Julian calendar. Some sources (mainly Russian) use the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar has the battle fought on September 7th 1812 and the Gregorian on August 26th 1812. Furthermore I will regard preliminary actions that took place on September 5th and some that happened after September 7th as part of my story. This while believing these actions contribute to a full account and picture of the main battle and can be used for wargame actions too.

For the Russian names of persons and places I used the guidelines by Adam Zamoyski in his book "1812, Napoleon’s fatal march to Moscow".

Bert van Hal

Thursday, 6 September 2007

About Wargaming Borodino 1812

The battle of Borodino is the most well-known battle of Napoleon's Russian Campaign in 1812. It is also one of the bloodiest and heroic battles in world history. More detailed information about this battle will be added later.

As a collector of 20mm military plastic miniatures, greatly fascinated by the Borodino battle, I started to make troops and terrain for wargaming this historical event. When I started off with my Wargaming Borodino 1812 project some 15 to 20 years ago, I followed the rule and organizational guidelines of Bruce Quarrie's book "Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature" (a wargamers guide to the Napoleonic Wars 1796-1815). Furthermore I had some good books about the Russian campaign of 1812 and about uniforms of the troops involved.

In the past years I have been collecting, organizing and painting wargame units for both the Russian army and the Grande Armee. The amount, quality and diversity of the available 20mm plastic figurines has grown enormously during that time. My knowlegde about the subject has also greatly expanded, frequently using the vast amount of information one can find on the internet these days.

This blogspot will contain information about the battle, about wargaming the battle and about subject related items. Some pictures and illustrations shall be added too. By all this I hope to interest others in both historical miniature wargaming and in this great historical battle.

Bert van Hal