Friday, 30 May 2014

Battlefield Tourism: Gravelotte St. Privat part 2

Prussians advancing into town.

In part 1 we looked at the events and terrain of the southern segment of the battlefield, mainly concerning Steinmetz costly attack through the Mance Ravine and up toward St. Hubert and the Moscou Farm. Now we focus on the last act of Moltke’s battle plan  – the attempt to outflank and roll up the northern French position, chiefly constituted by Canrobert’s VI Corps dug in at the town of St. Privat. Photos are from my actual visit to the battlefield. 

I admit, it was with a sense of respect and a profound feeling of being in touch with history, that I stood in St Privat about a month ago now, looking down the slope toward St Marie aux Chênes, from where the Prussian Guards would make this fateful attack on the 18th August 1870, in perhaps the most famous of all battles during the Franco-Prussian War.

The museum in Gravelotte offers a nice maps of the battlefield,
and the many memorials sprinkled over the area.

 For the important outflanking task, Moltke chose the excellent Prussian Guard Infantry Division, perhaps the cream of the entire Army. They would start their march from an area south west of the battlefield, and during the day cross the entire German front, finally around mid-afternoon, making it up the position from which they would launch their charge.

The view uphill to St Privat from St Marie aux Chênes.
This is the exact route the Prussian Guard would have taken.

The 18.000 Prussian elite soldiers anchored their position and the left flank in the small town of St Marie aux Chênes, directly at the foot of the slope rolling down from St. Privat in an east-west orientation.

Between them and the entrenched French troops of Canrobert lay about 1.000 meters of open uphill ground. They would be faced with merciless fire from Mitrailleuse machine guns, artillery and the very precise French chassepot rifles.

The view from the French position.
St Marie aux Chênes at the foot of the hill.

Steinmetz’s attacks on the southern flank had all but failed resulting in nothing but appalling losses. The centre stagnated despite continuous artillery efforts, as the German command simply deemed the French position too strong for any more frontal assaults. In other words, it all came down to this final charge of the Prussian Guard. It was make or break. Would the French finally get their much-needed moral victory, or could a brave dash for the St Privat position break the French flank, and send them running towards Metz, thus saving the day for Moltke and the Germans?

A charge over open ground - costly business.
The French would inflict almost 50% casualties on the Prussian Guard.

The 3rd Guards Inf. Brigade launched the assault at around five in the afternoon. 
As they went up the open field towards St. Privat, the rest of the Division was neatly lined up and stoically awaiting their turn, all the while suffering heavy losses to French artillery. It was a true testament to the iron discipline of the Prussian forces, as the men quietly absorbed the fire.

Churchyard and small memorial situated on the slope
between St Privat and St Marie aux Chênes.

The 3rd quickly got pinned down, so did the 4th and the 1st when they followed. It was not until the complete Division was committed and after the Crown Prince had ordered a focussed artillery effort to soften up the French, that the Guard finally reached all the way up the hill to St Privat.

Canrobert's men would defend St Privat heroically faced with 
superior numbers and murderous Krupp artillery fire.

The small stone build farm walls acting as initial defense for French infantry were overrun. Prussian Guardsmen were chasing the French up the streets toward the centre of town, while a deadly infilating fire from houses and roofs broke on the advancing pikkelhubes.

The Guard finally reaches the outskirts of St Privat
pursuing the French into the village.

With most of the city ablaze from the previous Krupp artillery fire, the French fought doggedly with the Prussians in a bloody close quarter struggle. Canrobert, realizing upon visual contact with the Prussian Guards Division earlier in the afternoon that his position was in danger, had called to Bazaine for reinforcements.  Bazaine initially declined, but finally and definitely to late, gave Bourbaki and the French Guard Infantry orders to move towards St Privat in an effort to help Canrobert.

Roadside memorial in the outskirts of St Privat.
Commemorating the heroic charge of the 4th Guard Regiment.

Faced with the complete onslaught of the Prussian Guard Canrobert’s men finally broke, and made a run for it. As the centre of the French position saw their Northern-right flank break, they too decided that they had had enough. It was a general retreat. The French Guard and Bourbaki, committed too late to the battle, could do nothing but act as rear-guard defusing any German appetite to follow the running French.

Inside St Privat a wild house-to-house fight broke out. 

The gallant Prussian Guard had succeeded, but at a great cost. Of the 18.000 troops launched in the uphill attack on St. Privat, some 8.000 lay dead on that gentle rolling slope as evidence to Prussian discipline and determination. 

The first Prussian Guard unit I painted.
Figures are from NorthStar's 1866 range. Flag is GMB.

Total German losses were just over 20.000, mainly thanks to Steinmetz. French losses were 7.800 killed or wounded, with another 4.500 taken prisoner. The Germans had paid a high price at Gravelotte St Privat, but they achieved their strategic goal; to prevent Bazaine in escaping from the Moselle and uniting with MacMahon. Bazaine was now caught in Metz, and would eventually succumb and surrender his 100.000 strong Army of the Rhine.

Thank you very much for reading!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Liebster Nomination

Jonathan at The Palouse Wargaming Journal has been so kind as to nominate my blog “Black Powder Games” for the Liebster Award. I hereby thank Jonathan for this truly pleasant surprise, and for his support on the blog as a regular follower and commentator.

The idea of the Liebster Award is to raise awareness of new or smaller blogs with fewer than 200 followers, using the link between bloggers and readers alike. As a nominee, you’re expected to answer a few questions about yourself, your blog and hobby, and naturally give credit to the blog nominating you as well as putting forward your own candidates of good blogs for nomination, offering thus a chance for readers to discover new blogs.

The work station - many units have marched across this table.

These are the rules as kindly described by Jonathan:

 #1 Copy paste the award on your blog linking to the blogger who has given it to you.

#2 Pass the award to your top 11 blogs with less than 200 followers 
by leaving a comment in one of their posts to notify them that they are nominated.

#3 List the nominees on your own blog as well.

#4 Sit back and bask in the warm fuzzy feeling 
that comes with knowing that you’ve made someone’s day!

#5 There is no obligation to pass this onto someone else, 
but it’s good old Gandhi karma if you do so.

My weapon of choice, the Foundry 3-step paint system.

Below is the list of questions put forward by Jonathan:

1: Why did you start blogging?
My good wargaming friend Micke has a very well run blog. Encouraged by Micke’s work and inspired by a desire to document my painting projects and further to write small historical write ups, the blog took its shape and direction.

2: If you could change one thing about the wargaming hobby, what would it be?
I quite often find myself wishing that the Perry Twins would one day wake up and decide to re-make a modern sculpted range of Franco-Prussian figures.

3: Do you read Battle Reports and what makes them inviting to read?
I do from time to time, mainly if it’s a large historical battle were history can be tinkered with. By nature I’m more the painter than the gamer, so for a Battle Report to really catch my eye, it would have to contain a lot of visually appealing pictures.

4: Is figure painting a chore or pleasure?
It’s been a pleasure and a way to relax for me since I was 12 year old, starting back then with Revell’s 1/72 Seven Years War range. I paint almost daily and often find my self deeply engulfed in a particular period surrounding myself with books, audio books or pod casts etc. as I paint.

Nothing beats a good pod cast while painting.
BBC4 have some fantastic shows on history, science and philosophy.

5: Napoleon once was quoted as saying he preferred a general who was lucky over skilled. In gaming, are you lucky or skilled?
Well, I’m superstitious like Hell! For instance I only play my Rebel ACW collection with a certain set of grey dice. When playing I try to look for creative and unexpected moves. When these sometimes pan out, I can claim to be skilled, when not – simply unlucky :0) Not sure this would qualify me as a “Bonne General.”

6: Could you limit your gaming and collection to one period and one size? If so, what?
What a painful thought! In terms of size I’m definitely a 28 mm. No debate. I’ve tried smaller and bigger, but for painting and subsequently basing units I really enjoy 28 mm.
To restrict myself to only one period is really hard, but my largest collection is Franco-Prussian and right on the heels comes my Napoleonic collection for 1812 Borodino, so these are perhaps the core.

The Valhalla of retired brushes. 
Tend to stick to either Kolinsky or LaVanche.

7: How do you deal with burn out?
I have a defined range of projects with adequate figures purchased for each. I’ve got 6 projects at the moment, with periods ranging from Antiquity to the World Wars. I then focus on the short-term goal, for instance finishing this or that unit rather than a complete army. After each finished unit, I let my inspiration dictate where to go next on the project list. Sometimes I stay with a certain war for a few units; sometimes I jump around on the list.

8: If you could only buy from one miniature company from now on,
which one would it be?
Perry Miniatures. Large collection, excellent if not the best quality out there.

And - My Liebster Nominee's are....:
Pete is a fantastic painter and designer of some beautiful Italian War flags.

Paris based Forgotten & Glorious Miniz offer some of the best French WW1, Napoleonic and ACW figures on the market. F&G Miniz have a growing range and is definitely “one to watch”.

A local gaming friend here in Stockholm, and very talented painter. Jonas’ blog offers great imagery and very cool minis.

Stephen is a talented painter and has a nice blog covering a wide historic frame. You’re bound to find something of interest.

My friend Björn’s miniature range of Swedish infantry focussed on the inter-war period with a cool “what-if “approach to this period of political unrest.

Chris’ blog in my opinion offers some of the most beautifully painted renaissance figures around.

Fantastic and very inspirational work, I still marvel at the water diorama.

Very talented stuff posted here, ranging from SAGA to the Napoleonics.

Lastly, a special tip of the hat to the man who inspired me to pick up blogging:
Michael at Dalauppror. His blog passed 200 followers a long time ago, so I’ll simply put him up here as a suggestion, should you have missed his excellent and regularly updated blog.

Thank you very much for your interest in my blog so far,
without your visits and comments there would be little point in this work.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Chasseurs d'Afrique and the Battle of Sedan - 1870

The 4th Chasseurs d'Afrique. 
Figures by Foundry, flag by Adolfo Ramos.

The Chasseurs d’Afrique were part of the light cavalry of the Armée d’Afrique, being the describing term of the colonial contingent of the Second Empire’s armed forced, with its roots in the French military presence in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria during the 19th century.

With these the 4th Chasseurs d’Afrique, I wanted to create a unit in direct reference to the Battle of Sedan 1st September 1870, and one of the last big heroic old world cavalry charges made in European history.

The Chasseurs d'Afrique also fought with distinction in the Crimean War.
Here seen at Balaclava 1854.

After the bloody battles of Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte-St-Privat on the 16th and 18th of August 1870, the French Army of the Rhine under Marshal Bazaine had had enough, and took refuge behind the walls of Metz. He was now surrounded and caught by the Prussian army.

In an attempt to free the now besieged army in Metz, Napoleon III ordered Marshal MacMahon with the Army of Châlons to march to Bazaine’s aid, and assist the trapped army in it’s coming break out attempts.

The Germans under the brilliant strategic leadership of Moltke were quick to play tricks on the approaching French under MacMahon. Soon the Army of the Châlon was out manoeuvred into yet a trapped defensive position at the city of Sedan.
Around 200.000 Germans had encircled the French Army of Châlons, some 120.000 and their Emperor Napoleon III.

The Army of Châlons encircled at Sedan - Floing in the upper left corner.
Source: "Champs de Bataille Thématique" no 29.

As the Germans came into position with some 700 Krupp guns pointing at the city, the French general Ducrot would become famous for the words: ”Gentlemen, were are in the night pot and about to be shat upon”. Ducrot was quite right, disaster lured around the corner for the army, the Emperor and the French Empire.

The ensuing battle would see desperate fighting and incredible sacrifice on both sides.
In a last attempt to break the German line at the position around Floing on the French left flank, General Jean Auguste Margueritte was ordered to lead his cavalry division forward in a desperate attack on the Prussian XI Corps.

The charge of Margueritte's division at Floing.

Margueritte’s division consisted of the 1st, 3rd and 4th Chasseurs d’Afrique, 6th Chasseurs a Cheval and a hussar regiment. 138 officers and 1.650 men were upon to charge over open ground right into a fixed position of formed Prussian infantry with Needle guns pointing at them. At 700 meters they would be within range of the very heavy and precise German fire. The fruitlessness and despair of their charge was clear to them as they drew swords and set off.

Jean-Auguste Margueritte, 1823-1870.
He had two sons born during his service in Africa.
Both became recognized writer and playwrights 
publishing a book on their father's life.

The 47 years old General led his men gallantly, but after the first charge and in preparation for the second he was hit and carried of to Sedan. He would die a few days later from his wound. The command passed to General Galliffet, who carried out the subsequent charges. After sustaining 40% losses, and with three successive charges carried out with no apparent result, the remains of the division withdrew.

The wounded Margueritte is escorted away from the front line, 
his troops cheering at their brave commander. 

Watching this display of courageous self-sacrifice made the Prussian King Wilhelm exclaim 
“Oh, such brave men!”

I would argue that the Franco-Prussian War in general, but this episode in particular, constitutes the final concluding point in European history, when it becomes clear that no longer is massed cavalry charges going to be a weapon against formed infantry. The technological development increasing the firepower of the infantry had simply out-dated the gallant dash of cavalry.  

Heading for safety after a dose of Prussian Needle guns.

The Battle of Sedan ended with the surrender of the complete Army of Châlons, the capture of the French Emperor and the collapse of the Second French Empire.

It marks the end of Bonaparte influence on French politics, and the starting point of the Third Republic proclaimed only few days later by General Louis Jules Trochu in Paris. Very notably, the first act of the new republic was officially to re-new the proclamation of war on Prussia. 

Thank you very much for reading!

Monday, 19 May 2014

French Imperial Guard Zouaves – 1870

The Imperial Guard Zouaves.
Germans to the left and right, bullets whistling by and comrades falling.

The Imperial Guard of Napoleon III was build and uniformed on the model of that of his famous Uncle, the objective being to visualize the connection and heritage between the two emperors and Empires. 

Enjoying many of the same benefits of their predecessors, the Imperial Guard of Napoleon III was an elite unit consisting of two infantry divisions, one cavalry division and an artillery corps.

The Guard Zouaves with the characteristic hooded cape.

Within the 2nd Guard Infantry Division we find the Guard Zouaves, first added in 1855.
The Guard Zouave participated in the Crimean War, the Second Italian War of Independence and in the Franco-Prussian War as part of General Bazaine’s Army of the Rhine. They were directly involved in the fighting at the battle of Rezonville (a.k.a Mars-la-Tour) under General Bourbaki as part of the southeastern French line.

The regiment flag - plenty of visual legacy from the first Empire. 

Actual photo of the Imperial Guard Zouaves.
From the camp at Châlons.

Facing the gallant attack of the German 5th Division, the Imperial Guard had to stand their ground as they formed the French flank. A frightful fight ensued. 
The following is an account from the book “The Franco-Prussian War: Its causes, incidents and consequences” by Captain H.M. Hozier, published in London 1872(!) It brings to life the fighting taking place at Rezonville on August 16th 1870 on the French left flank, as the Germans emerged out of the Bois des Ognons:

The French skirmishing with the Germans at Rezonville.

”…the French opened fire at 700 yards, and fearfully effective was the discharge, which caused the loss of their colonel and five officers, besides a considerable number of men. They then retired into the wood until the whole line could advance together, the French shells meanwhile inflicting fearful loss upon them, although under a screen of foliage. Whenever the German advance appeared the French troops opened fire, the assailants falling literally in heaps; but " Immer vorwädrts!" was the cry, and, under a storm of shot and shell, the gallant fifth division, led by the troops above-mentioned, moved on to meet the foe. 

Close up of the French line.
Lignards to the right and Imperial Zouaves to the left.

For fully an hour they fired at each other from a distance of fifty paces, the French, who had not until now suffered much, losing many men. The first line of their troops then gradually retired, and three regiments of the Garde Imperiale stood the brunt of the German advance almost, for the moment, alone in their glory. Here the German line was strengthened, and at twenty to thirty paces the fire was fearful, so much so that the French Guard had to fall back. Behind the German position were the woods they had gained.”

View slightly from above.
The officer standing proud while the unit takes it's losses.

After the heavy fighting at the battle of Rezonville, Bazaine would, perhaps too cautiously, keep the Imperial Guard in reserve at the following battle of Gravelotte-St-Privat on the 18th. Later it would be part of the invested French army of 180.000, caught inside Metz, only to be surrendered after Bazaine’s attempts of a break out and subsequent fruitless efforts to negotiate with the Prussians.

Thank you very much for reading!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Colonel Suzzoni's 2nd Tirailleurs Algériens - 1870

Captain Viénot leading the 2nd Tirailleurs forward after Suzzoni's death.

My recent visit in France also afforded me a much welcome opportunity to drop by Paris and pay a visit to my friend Franck, the owner of Forgotten & Glorious Miniz.
Franck has a really lovely WW1 French range, from which I’m using the Turco heads for my Franco-Prussian War Tirailleurs Algériennes conversions. 

Armed with the much needed extra Turco heads and some words of encouragement from Franck, I returned back to Scandinavia to finish what has been started.

Adding some extra brush strokes to the Warflag print offers a comprehensive downloadable list of flags from MacMahon’s army of the Rhine. Here I found the battalion and regimental flags for the Tirailleurs.

The downloaded file came out nice enough when printed, but I added a few brush strokes of highlight in an attempt to breathe extra life and color into the flag.

 “A la gloire du 2eme Tirailleurs”. Monument at Woerth.

Before the batttle of Woerth, Colonel Suzzoni of the 2nd Tirailleurs had asked his men to not give ground and, if need be, die where they stood. The 2nd would obey their Colonel, as they defiantly absorbed losses exceeding 80% - including Suzzoni himself. It is said that the 2nd counter-attacked the Bavarians no less than three times during the battle of Woerth.

Tirailleurs wearing the standard blue trousers. 
The white version seems to be for summer campaigns.
The turban was not used in the field.

Fascinated as I’ve become of these elite French colonial units, a second battalion and also a command-based figure of Suzzoni is now part of future plans. The second battalion will probably be Colonel Gandil’s 3rd Tirailleurs – might sport them in the regular blue trousers for variation.

The Tirailleurs at the Battle of Malakoff in 1855, during
the Crimean War.

The tirailleur units took part in all of the Second French Empire’s campaigns, such as the Crimean War, Franco-Austrian War, Mexican adventure and the war of 1870.
The most elite of these men were drafted into a special unit, attached to the Imperial Guard. 

Rear shot of the unit, showing the characteristic big bag packs.

In other words, the tirailleurs were war seasoned men, who’s eyes had seen what war meant in the 19th century. Here are a few original photos, showing among others men from the 2nd Tirailleurs. There is certainly no "green recruit" look about their faces. The Germans understandably feared them.

For those of you interested in the tirailleurs I recommend this thread from the Armchairgeneral forumLoads of history, also covering the tirailleur's participation in WW1.

Thank you very much for reading.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Battlefield Tourism: Gravelotte St. Privat part 1

The last stand in St Privat.
Painting by Neuville.

As the Franco-Prussian War is probably my main period of interest, and further inspired by the opening of the new museum of the battle at Gravelotte St Privat this April,
I decided that enough was enough, I had to go see this historic place with my own eyes.

The iconic gate from Neuville's painting. 
Now entrance to memorial park at "Place Canrobet" in St Privat.

I flew to Charles De Gaulle, got into my rental car and set off on the 3 hrs drive to Lorraine.
I was fortunate enough to get a SUV, which would prove very useful later on, as there would be some serious field crossing using muddy tractor trails that would have done in any pretty little Peugeot 206.

Arriving in Gravelotte: 
The new museum opened on the 18th April.

The road to Gravelotte took my through some of North Eastern France most known areas, ringing out with historic reference. Crecy, Marne, Valmy, Verdun...
And finally you arrive at Gravelotte.

The country road from the highway takes you straight down across the battlefield, and so I awoke from my driving daze to roadsigns like Amanvillers, Vernéville,  Rezonville, St. Privat, Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte. A feeling of alertness and respectful awe set in as I drove through Gravelotte and parked my car at the museum.

The museum in Gravelotte.
A virtual bonanza of uniforms and paintings from the war.

With my starting point in Gravelotte I decided to approach the actual battlefield tour from the South, moving from Gravelotte down towards the Mance Ravine and over towards the place of the St. Hubert farm.

A map of the battlefield.
Steinmetz's charge is marked by the red arrows in the bottom half.

I found the Mance Ravine very hard to imagine when reading about the battle. 
To actually see it, move through it and look down upon it from the French position leaves you with a deep impression of the hopelessness of Steinmetz charge during the battle.

Memorial for the 8th Rhine Jägers, set on the slopes of the Mance Ravine.
Hope the picture really gives an impression of how steep the terrain is.

The 8th would finally, in spite of crippling losses, take St. Hubert.

Coming up from the Ravine you start to realize just how tough a charge this must have been.
The French had a completely open view down towards the ravine, and you'll literally be spotted from their entire line stretching from Batailles' position and up the the Moscow Farm. Thousands of Chassepot would be aimed at you, as you out of breath after the climb, were asked to charge across 200-300 meters of open ground. 

Crosses strewn on the fields above the Mance Ravine.
When I realized these marked regiments, not individuals, 
I was left with a grim understanding of Steinmetz's mistake.
(Picture taken from St. Hubert looking down towards the ravine)

Not unmoved by my visit in the ravine, I left the St Hubert position, and drove up towards the Moscow Farm - the stronghold of Aymard's 4th Divison.

The view from the Moscow Farm down towards the Mance Ravine.
Gravelotte can be spotted in the background.

Commander of the 2nd Corps, General Frossard, came with an engineering background, and had made the French position into something like a fortress. Trenches were dug, rifle pits made in front, and Mitrailleuses brought up to make sure the open ground from the ravine and upwards would not be crossed without the maximum cost of human life. Horribly enough, Steinmetz was happy to make this sacrifice. 

A view toward the Moscow Farm.
Up there entrenched French infantry with artillery and mitrailleuese awaits your advance on this open ground. Making it just to the position of this photo, would already have seen half your company comrades bite the grass.

As Moltke had previously had problems with the insubordinate Steinmetz, he had reduced his authority to only one Corps before the battle of Gravelotte St Privat. This however would not deter the veteran Steinmetz. First serving during the final stages of the Napoleonic Wars, the senior war veteran commanded much respect if not fear from his colleagues in the German army. 

Karl Friedrich von Steinmetz. As a result of his conduct at Gravelotte, he would shortly after be removed from field command and"promoted" to governor of Posen. 
He would die 7 years after the battle, 81 years old.

Thus it was no problem for Steinmetz, in contradiction to his orders, to gain indirect command of more units during the battle, convincing other commanders that all they needed was a final push to tip over the French position. Steinmetz kept on pouring units into the Mance Ravine meat grinder all the way until the fighting seized in the evening. He even tried a cavalry charge through the raving, which was halted partly by murderous French fire, partly by the horses not able to advance through the thick cover of bodies.

German infantry and jägers.
Dead comrades acting as useful cover in the open.

From the Moscow Farm, I would now move north-west, crossing the battlefield and arriving at Amanvillers via the gun position of Manstein. This and the
German Guard's charge on St Privat will be covered in the second part of this post.

Thank you very much for reading!