General Wargaming

Schlacht von Ligny 16th Juni 1815

Posted by C M Dodson on 22 Nov 2017, 17:55

Die Schlact von Ligny 16th Juni 1815

My original idea for this project began in September 2008 after reading an article in War games Soldiers and Strategy where a massive Ligny battle was fought by the League of Gentlemen War gamers. The figures were beautiful and a real effort had been made with the scenery.

I had also been hooked by Wolfgang Meyer's fantastic Croebern 1813 diorama and decided to combine both ideas as a re fight with a photographic record of events.

With this in mind I constructed a large sand table in the garage where I could begin replicating the original battlefield. Sand is an excellent modelling medium allowing contours, streams etc. to be modelled effortlessly with my seaside spade.

The ground scale was 1mm equals one metre and this allowed the majority of the battlefield to be created. The area where the majority of Theilman's 111Korps was positioned was omitted as apart from some skirmishing the French were in position primarily to deter his Korps from joining in the main event. The Wagnelee area was constructed separately in order to save space.

I tried to model the buildings as closely as possible to the real structures using contemporary records and Google Earth. The ground scale took account of the urban 'footprint' using the main structures as references and the smaller buildings filling the gaps.

I decided that only troops that were present at the real battle were allowed. Therefore D'Erlons corps were ignored. Whilst Durrette's Division did turn up with orders to be cautious they played no real part in the original battle. However, their appearance did have a significant effect which was reflected in my rule modifications.

Lobau's Corps and Bulow's Korps were also ignored.

The troop ratio was one figure equals approximately thirty men. This gave a figure requirement in the region of five thousand figures plus personalities, ADC's etc. The smallest administrative unit was a Brigade of approximately one hundred troops for the French and two hundred and fifty for the Prussians. A cavalry brigade as a comparison, was usually about fifty men.

All units were positioned in their original start positions and the timescale was one move equals ten minutes of real time.

With respect to the Ligny stream as an obstacle, contemporary sources state that whilst around St. Amand it was very small it was also very marshy. As the stream continued towards Ligny it increased in width and depth.

A look at Von Clausewitz's map [ who was present at the original battle] suggests an attack from the South East of St. Amand looked feasible even though the heights were dominated by 1st Korps artillery. This ground is described as marshy in the map and as the Emperor was a better general than me I decided that it would be deemed unsuitable for the deployment of large bodies of troops.

Another factor was the deployment of Prussian troops. Von Jagow had, for example troops in St. Amand and also to the rear of Ligny causing command and control difficulties. Von Clauswitz mentions this in his analysis and I replicated these dispositions for the re-fight.

The start time was approximately two o'clock as the units were not concentrated before this. Indeed at the original some French artillery units were still arriving as the engagement commenced.

The re-fight is documented with the timed, section pictures and followed broadly the original battle.

This is not too surprising as one of the rule modifiers was mindful that Blucher had to keep his lines of communication with Wellington at Quatre Bras open. Blucher also constantly attacked and counter attacked in the original battle which used up his troops far more quickly than if they had been used in a purely defensive role. Again, Von Clauswitz was critical of Blucher for this.

Any war gamer would follow Von Clauswitz's advice as this is common sense. I stated that the Prussians had to hold or attempt to retake if lost, any of the villages until at least 6.00PM when D'Erlons corps was sighted in order to stop this.

Other factors were that all troops were considered unformed in street combat, with raw troops classified as disorganised. I felt that in an age of illiteracy and the average soldier not being expected to show initiative it was important to have officers and maintain formations.

Original sources describe gales of cannister being fired at huge distances which I consider highly suspect. Drout of the French Guard describes the French artillery tearing huge holes in the Prussian formations at the rear of Ligny village. Whilst he was there, I, having witnessed the incredible amounts of gun smoke generated at Waterloo 2015 consider that any extreme range artillery fire would be highly inaccurate due to visibility. My rules reflected this factor.

Also, the indecisiveness of D'Erlons corps, despite the Emperor's orders was reflected in that no French reserves could be brought into the action for at least an hour after its first sighting. A die roll after that to allow reinforcements, ie, the deployment of the Guard, delayed proceedings further.

This, as in the original, was critical, as the delay deprived the French of daylight in order to finish the Prussians off.

Many sources criticise the Emperor for not organising a swift pursuit in the style of Jena. However, I think that it is relevant to note that both sides had had very little sleep since the early hours of the 15th and were, after eight hours of bloody combat exhausted. The late David Chandler points out that very few of the Emperor's battles finished with a dazzling pursuit of a defeated foe for these very reasons.

My re fight had a casualty rate of some thirty per cent of combatants which again is near to the original.

The Feldmarschall's horse survived this engagement but even so Blucher was absent for a while as he was swept away by his retreating cavalrymen. I felt a withdrawal towards Bulow's Korps made good sense and allowed Blucher to maintain a link with Wellington, something he was keen to do.

I have learned a huge amount during this project and would sincerely like to thank forum members for their support and suggestions. Special thanks must go to Wolfgang Meyer for inspiring me, Mr Crynns for his modelling suggestions and especially Thomas Mischak. Thomas has been a constant supporter and provider of lots of figures some of which I have never seen before.

Finally, my thanks to 'Der Feldmarschal,' my wonderful, tolerant wife who has put up with Bee Smokers, fire etc. and still helped with the research.

Thank you.

C M Dodson  United Kingdom
Posts: 1330
Member since:
01 May 2015, 18:48

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