Friday, July 10, 2015

100 Days Campiaign Decision Points - The Lead Up to Placenoit

With our 100 Days Campaign close to winding up, I thought I would look back on some key decision points based on the information available to me at the time.  To start with, I will revisit the lead into and follow up from the Battle of Placenoit.

The map below shows what the Anglo-Allied army knew and saw after the action at Placenoit, but gives useful references for the lead in.  Note that a column can move 6 squares/day by road, 3 if moving cross-country.  Also a standard battle would set up a 3*2 set of squares on a 6*4 table.

The campaign starts about ½ way through June 15 and the Anglo-Allied forces are essentially spread all over the place. We had two small columns (R and S on the map) at Nivelles and Quartre Bras.  Wellington entered at Brussels with a larger column T and our cavalry enters on the west end of the map as column U.

For our army, the early objectives were
  1. Get our widespread columns together in one group.  The most obvious place being the Mt. St. Jean area as it was both central and blocked a main route North for Boney.
  2. Try and figure out what the French were planning to attack, which became much easier as a strong French column arrived at Quartre Bras and drove our defending column North.  There is an overrun mechanism in the rules that displaces smaller forces facing huge odds without a battle, and that is what was employed here.
  3.  Link up with our Prussian allies.  To this end we received a rather cryptic note from Blucher stating “Meet you at Mt. St. Jean on the 16th”. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Prussian, but figured that Blucher would be on the road south east of Mt St Jean with a column of Prussians.   As the morning of the 16th played out, the French moved North and the various Anglo-Allied forces closed in on a junction at Placenoit.  There was also apparently contact to the east as French columns moved on Prussian forces at Sombreffe and then towards Gembloux.

However it was the Prussians who caught us all unawares as they shifted most of their army west and had moved into Placenoit before any Anglo-Allied troops could.  Under the Blucher system up to two columns from the same army can occupy a square, but columns from two different armies cannot (except for during battle).  So since the Prussians won the foot race, the Anglo Allied columns got pushed aside and our plans to centralize our forces got postponed.  Also, it meant that only one of my columns (T) got to take part in the action as the French came north to Genappes since columns R and S were elbowed off to the west by the Teutonic hordes.

I have blogged on the action at Placenoit earlier, but have some afterthoughts given what I know now.           
  • I think the French had hoped to catch elements of the Anglo-Allied army and do enough damage to knock us out of the fight for a while.  They were as surprised as I at the number of Prussians, so once the Prussians arrived in force it turned into an exercise of testing our combined strength and gathering information.
  •  From our perspective at the time, we had to hold Placenoit for the afternoon and gather more forces for the 17th.    There were a large number of French coming our way and initially the Anglo Allied forces were outnumbered.  We had no idea how many French were following up behind, nor for that matter how many Prussians were showing up.
  •  The Prussians apparently had a master plan, but never bothered to tell their allies what it was!  The idea seemed to be that they had enough troops to attack the French and hopefully do them some harm.  They might have had a chance at this if we had coordinated the efforts of both armies, but the Prussians didn’t want to let us in on the plan and in fact seemed very much of the opinion that they didn’t need us.

In fact Curt has since confirmed that the combined Allied forces had the French outnumbered at Placenoit.  However to have a chance of success I think three things had to happen.
  1. We needed more time.  There was only half a day left n the 16th and the Prussians were still arriving in column as the action started.
  2.  We needed much better coordination between the two armies.  Parts of the Anglo Allied army were blocked from entering the table and the plan wasn’t communicated well at all.
  3. The French had to stick around and let us attack them.  This to me was the biggest problem, since I think that the French have the imitative and get to call the shots on when and where we fight.  With their superior cavalry forces I think it would have been easy for Boney to pull back south and draw us forward after him.

Apparently the French was scared by what they ran into because they pulled out overnight.  Curt’s map above shows the situation  

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