Thursday 30 November 2023

More French Artillery

These two gun sets represent the two light field batteries that served with the Third Division, Captain Stofel's 7/15th Battery and Captain Bèguin's 8/15th Battery. 

At Spicheren on 6 August, 1870 these two batteries, along with Laurent's mitrailleuse battery, were in the thick of the action from the very start. Two sections of Bèguin's battery had been positioned behind a low earthwork on the Rotherberg and fired the opening shots of the battle when German cavalry appeared on the hills south of Saarbrücken. The other section was held further back with Stofel's battery. At around 1:00 PM the Germans were ready to attack and four batteries opened on Bèguin's guns. Immediately a third section was brought forward, but oddly it was not Bèguin's, but one of Stofel's sections that came forward. 

Although he was facing the fire of 24 guns with just six, Bèguin suffered very little damage initially because the Germans suffered from a technical disadvantage - a rare situation for them in this war. The German batteries were engaging from an elevation 100 feet below the French guns and had they been using timed airburst shells they might have done some damage, but their impact fuses either struck the front of the earthwork or sailed harmlessly overhead. Seeing that the fire was ineffective the three batteries were moved further to the left to a hill where the elevation deficit was less and a fourth battery moved to the right to bring oblique fire to bear. When the guns opened again the result was devastating as more than 30 shells a minute fell on the French battery.  Losses amongst the gunners was not heavy (in the whole day of action it would lose but a handful of men) but in no time at all Bèguin and one of the section chiefs were wounded, fourteen horses were killed and two of the battery vehicles were disabled by a fire so intense that the gunners could not work the guns. The battery was pulled back.

With their target removed the three German batteries on the left joined the fourth on the right that was engaged with Laurent's mitrailleuses at the head of a ravine. This lone battery was in easy range for the mitrailleuses, but the French fire had little impact. That lack of effect was part because the German guns were just behind the crest and while the German gunners could fire on Laurent with ease, they were largely concealed from the French, and in part because Laurent could not effectively judge the fall of shot. Lacking an explosive round the only means of judging fall of shot was to watch for the dust thrown up by the mitrailleuse bullets, but it had rained heavily the night before and the ground was still damp. 

When the three German batteries from the left fell in beside the lone battery they unleashed a storm on Laurent's pieces. In his post action report Laurent stated that in less than twenty minutes the German batteries fired 300 shells on his battery, wounding several men, killing ten horses and temporarily dismounting two of the mitrailleuses. In response Laurent was able to fire an equal number of discharges with seemingly negligible effect. Unable to remain in this exposed position he withdrew his battery to join Bèguin some 500 yards to the rear.

Only Stofel's battery escaped a mauling from the German guns. All three batteries continued to fight effectively for the rest of the day from a position further back where the convex nature of the slope protected them from enemy gunfire. 

What this small action demonstrates is the flexibility introduced with the new artillery doctrine adopted after 1866 that stated it was to be used aggressively in superior numbers against specific points of resistance. The artillery commanders were given the latitude to decide the best way to achieve the result. In this instance they adjusted positions to get better firing angles and when Béguin was forced out of the fight were free to manoeuvre to a fresh position to take out Laurent. The four batteries were then able to lay down such a heavy fire on the heights that the  French infantry dared not put their heads above the parapet of their shelter trench, allowing the German infantry to ascend a difficult slope with limited opposition and storm the position. In the battles of August this doctrine would be applied again and again with remarkable success. By contrast the French artillery was brought into action in piecemeal fashion and almost invariably forced out of action by better tactics and not better technology as many early writers would have us believe.

Now it is back to the red pants for the last brigade of infantry.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Mitrailleuse Battery

This is the last of the three mitrailleuse batteries I have done for the corps. It represents Captain Laurent's 9/15e battery, attached to Third Division. They make a nice break from paining red pants...although in reality I have used far more blue than red in this project.

I really like this set, but for a bit of variety I have swapped one of the crew figures with one from one of the field artillery sets. 

Monday 27 November 2023

Döens' Brigade Completed

This, the Third Battalion, 63e Régiment, completes the regiment and the brigade.

The battalion

The regiment

The brigade

Next off the conveyor belt will be the divisional artillery and a brief break from red pants.

Friday 24 November 2023

In 1984 Richard Stilgoe wrote the line "He saw a light at the end of the tunnel..."

...and Andrew Lloyd Webber put it to music creating the song by the same title for the West End (and Broadway) musical "Starlight Express". Although it has been a decade since I saw that show, I can understand the sentiment having just finished gluing together the last few French infantry figures for my FPW project. I can put the plastic cement away (although I do find that smell rather appealing) and prepare to turn off the pipeline from the red paint factory, because there really is light at the end of the tunnel with only six battalions and six skirmish stands - that's a total of 119 figures - to go. And here they are in all their grey glory...

While in all their colourful glory, here is the 2nd Battalion 63e regiment

The 3rd battalion is on the painting table now.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

63e Régiment de Ligne

Commanding the 63e in 1870 was Louis Adolphe Zentz d'Allnois. Born at Cons-La-Grandville in 1820, the son of a captain in Napoleon's Garde Impériale, he graduated from St Cyr in 1840 as a sous-lieutenant in the 44e Régiment. He spent the next thirteen years on Africa, rising to the rank of captain. In 1853 he transferred to the 12e chasseurs à pied and instead of going the the Crimea went with then in 1854 to the Baltic as a part of the force sent to capture the fortress of Bomarsund from the Russians. Zentz was given the advanced guard and with three companies of the 12e Chasseurs successfully took up a firing position from which he was able to deliver such an accurate fire that made it impossible for the Russian gunners to serve their guns. Two days later the French artillery was able to reduce fortress and force it to surrender without the need to storm the place. For his actions he was made chef de batallion. 

Promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1858 he served with the 71e Régiment in Italy, fighting at Magenta and Solferino. After that campaign he transferred to the Garde, serving with the 2e Voltigeurs Régiment. In August 1861 he was made colonel of the 63e and led it through several North African campaigns. 

Colonel Zentz

He led the 63e in 1870 at Spicheren and took over command of the brigade after the death of Döens. Made général de brigade six days after the battle he was interned with the rest of the Army of the Rhine on the fall of Metz.

On return from internment Zentz was posted to Toulouse where he successfully repressed a newly established Commune. He then went on to bloodlessly disperse communards in three nearby cities.

Made général de division in 1873 he was given command of a cavalry brigade in the Army of Lyon. He took command of the 11th Army Corps in Nantes in 1880 and in 1884 was appointed president of the Infantry Advisory Committee. He lived to the ripe old age of 90, dying at Nantes in 1911.

Presented here is the First Battalion first of the 63e, a unit that was formed in 1791 from the Régiment d'Erlach of the Ancien Régime. It stacked up an impressive record in the Napoleonic Wars counting action at, amongst many other engagements, Genoa, Jena, Friedland Eylau, Essling, Wagram, Talavera, Fuentes de Oñoro, Albuera, Vitoria, Leipzig and Ligny.

Between 1835 and 1870 it rotated between African and home service. It did not serve in the Crimea or Italy.  It was heavily engaged at Spicheren in 1870, losing 15 officers and 315 men. While the line battalions were made prisoners of war in October, the depot battalion provided troops for the garrisons for the fortresses of Toul and Phalsbourg.

Two further periods of service in Algeria followed in the 1870s and 1880s. It was engaged in 32 distinct actions in the Great War and saw action in 1940 in the Battle of France and again in the liberation of 1944-45.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

2e Régiment de Ligne

Commanding First Brigade, Third Division,  2nd Corps, Army of the Rhine in 1870 was fifty-nine year old Augustin Axis Döens, a graduate of had Saint Cyr, who had entered the army in 1828 in the infantry. He commenced his career in Algeria in 1838, rising slowly through the ranks to Colonel of the 59th Regiment by 1852. As colonel of the 56th Regiment he fought in Italy with 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 3rd Corps, and was made général de brigade after Solferino. Following the Italian campaign he held administrative posts as commandant of the subdivisions of Pas de Calais, Médéah in North Africa and finally the Charente. He briefly held command of a brigade in the Army of Lyon. In 1869 he commanded a brigade at the Camp of Chalôns that subsequently became his command in 2nd Corps. Döens's Brigade comprised of the 10th Chasseurs, the 2e Régiment and 63e Régiment.

The 10e Chasseurs have already made their appearance on these pages and the next unit in the brigade is the 2e Régiment.

Formed from Régiment Picardie it became the 2e Régiment in 1791. In the Revolutionary Wars it fought at Tourcoing in 1795, Zurich in 1799 and Genoa in 1800. Under Napoleon it fought at Aspern-Essling and Wagram before going to Spain in 1810. Assigned to as part of the observation force on the Elbe in 1812 it was engaged in the latter part of the Russian campaign at Polotsk and Bérézina.

In the peninsula after  Russia it returned to fight with the Emperor at Dresden and Leipzig in 1813 and fought at La Rothière in 1814. In the 100 Days it fought at Ligne and Waterloo.

After the Second Restoration it became the Legion l'Aisne before regaining the title 2e Régiment in 1820. It served in Spain in 1823 and was in service in Africa from 1842-1847. In the Italian campaign it served in MacMahon's Corps and was engaged at Solferino.

In 1870 the regiment went to war with Colonel Amédée-Henri-Charles Saint-Hillier, a 53 year old native of Prunay in the Loire valley. A graduate of Saint-Cyr, he entered the army in 1837. He served in Algeria, advancing slowly through the ranks to captain, the rank he held during the campaign in Italy, where he fought and Magenta and Solferino. Returning to Algeria, he was made lieutenant-colonel in 1859, then colonel in 1863. 

Colonel de Saint-Hillier

The 2e Régiment's only action in 1870 was at Spicheren where in the mid-afternoon two battalions went forward into the woods on the French right when it encountered the advance of two battalions of the Prussian 48th regiment. The numerically superior Prussians pushed the French back out of the woods and onto their starting position. When the Prussians attempted to advance from the woods the French fire drove them back. Mistaking their fall back as a retreat, Döens, with the help of Saint-Hillier, quickly massed several companies and ordered “à la baïonnette!” With bugles blaring and drums beating, the French stormed forward. It is difficult to understand how Döens, an experienced combat officer, could have believed this tiny force, that cannot have exceeded 300 men, could hope to drive off an enemy force that outnumbered him by five or six times. The result was sudden, brutal and entirely predictable. The six German companies strung along the line of the woods opened with rapid fire, or Schnellfeur, that mowed the French down, leaving the ground littered with dead and wounded. Among the fallen were Saint-Hillier, killed by a bullet to the temple, Döens and Lieutenant-Colonel Boucheporn, both seriously wounded.  Döens' wound would prove to be mortal and he died three days later at Saarguemines. In this battle the regiment lost 24 officers and 357 men from the 1,391 who were with the colours at the beginning of the day.

While the field battalions were taken as prisoners of war at Metz six week later, the depot battalion formed part of the 5e Régiment de Marche that served with 13th Corps.

It fought with distribution on the Western Front in the Great War and fought again in the Battle of France in 1940, being disbanded after that campaign. Recreated in 1954 it fought in Algeria until 1962. It was formally disbanded in 1998.

Sunday 12 November 2023

In the Sands of the Sudan

Today we fought a smallish game based on El Teb fought on 4 February 1884.

An Egyptian force of four cavalry and six infantry units, supported by an artillery section, was advancing to relive a besieged force at Tokar. It was attacked by five infantry and three cavalry units of the Madist army.

The Egyptian cavalry led the way 

And was soon engaged with the Madist cavalry. The fighting was indecisive but the Madists disappeared back amongst the dunes.

Some distance behind came the infantry

The first group of Madish infantry swarmed in, heading for the infantry column.

But the Egyptian cavalry turned and charged the first of Madists. Although the Mardi's men did some damage to the charging cavalry they failed to stop them...

And the Mardist infantry were scattered. The cavalry then burst through onto the second Mardist infantry unit and scattered it too.

A second Madist infantry group arrived and attacked at once. It drove off one Egyptian unit but then was caught by a second Egyptian unit and was destroyed. The second unit of the group was so to pieces. 

The battle came to an end as a stunning victory to the Egyptians.

Thursday 9 November 2023

10e Chasseurs à Pied

Escaping the French Revolution François Merle de la Brugière de Laveaucoupet joined the Armée Condé that fought against Revolutionary France at first in Austrian, then Russian and finally in British service. François married Sylvia de La Celle and that union brought about a son, Sylvain-François Jules in 1806. Under the restoration the family returned to France where François secured a captaincy in the army.

Sylvain-François began a military career in 1824, securing a position at St Cyr and then in the School of the General Staff. His first posting was a lieutenant in the 41st regiment in Algeria.

In 1833 he made the transition from line to staff as captain and ADC to Général Trézel. By 1849 he had risen to lieutenant colonel and chief of staff to the Minister of War. Three years later, as colonel, he was chief of staff to the 3rd Military Division. As général de brigade he was chief of staff to General Motte Rouge in 2nd Corps in the Italian campaign, where he was wounded in action at both Turbigo and at Magenta, and had two horses killed under him at Solferino. At some point he acquired his father's title as title Comte de Laveaucoupet.

Promoted to général de division in 1868 he took command of the Third Division, 2nd Corps in 1870 which he led at Saarbrücken and Spicheren. His division was left in garrison at Metz and was not engaged at Rezonville or Gravelotte with the rest of the corps. 

Returning from internment after the fall of Metz he commanded a division in the Versailles Army and led the assault the Communards at Montmatre. 

He served in the National Assembly from 1871 and died in 1892.

The first unit of Laveaucoupet's Division shown here is the 10e Chasseurs à pied that was a part of Döens' First Brigade. Formed in 1840 the first commander of the 10e was commandant (later marshal) Patrice MacMahon. Like many French units it fought in North Africa and was one of three chasseur battalions that joined the expedition to Morocco and fought in the Battle of Isly in 1844.

Facing the Moroccan cavalry at Isly

It went to the Crimea where it was involved in the assault on Sevastopol. In the Italian Campaign it had the honour at taking the colours of the Austrian 60th Regiment (Prinz Gustav von Vasa) at Solferino.

Its only action in 1870 was at Spicheren where, entrenched on the Rotherberg, it was pounded by four Prussian batteries  before a determined infantry attack drove them back. But they fought on for another  four hours, suffering the loss of 11 officers (including their commander Commandant Schenck) and 200 men of the 840 that were answered the roll that morning. In garrison at Metz after Spicheren the battalion the rest of the war as prisoners of war after the fall of fortress. 

Commandant Schenck

It fought Paris against the Communards and participated in the Madagascar Expedition in 1895. It was heavily involved in the Great War, across many fronts, counting 1,779 officers and men killed during the war. It was engaged in WWII and continued in service until the 1990s.