Thursday, 7 May 2015

1812 - "White Death"

My friend Teemu has been raving about gaming the French retreat from Moscow in 1812 for some time now. He has found an adapted version of the game system "Muskets and Tomahawks" and painted an impressive array of 28mm Russians and French. Today I got to try the game, which was quite fun and spectacularly visual.

I played the French and my objective was to escort a bunch of wounded stragglers to safety through cossack infested forests. To make matters worse, the Russians outnumbered my beleaguered French and could use hidden set-up rules with some "dummy counters" thrown in for good measure.

The table at deployment - the Russians are "hidden"

The French column - stragglers on the road and flanks protected by line infantry and some chasseurs

Chasseurs lead the way

I started the game by advancing steadily with all my forces. Quite soon I was close enough to some of the "hidden markers" to reveal that the road was flanked by a large unit of cossack infantry on one side and several units of elite jäegers on the other. Several Russian "hidden markers" were closing ominously on my flanks.

Cossacks lying in ambush!

The French line infantry fires a volley at the cossacks with little effect

Chasseurs securing the flank

Russian jäegers open up at long range with accurate rifle fire

My fire was proving to be very ineffective. Apparently my men were running out of powder and what remained was of inferior quality. Meanwhile the Russians kept closing in on both my flanks whilst their return fire started to whittle down my men slowly but surely.

In the nick of time, my cavalry reserves arrived where I anticipated the cossack cavalry to be. My assumption proved correct and the veteran French cavalry charged the Russian irregulars with great élan.

Unfortunately, contrary to all expectations the leering cossacks overcame my elite horsemen in a prolonged skirmish! The rear of my column was now completely open to their mayhem.

To make matters worse, a group of Russian militia that my chasseurs had already driven away once crept back into my flank and launched a surprise charge at the chasseurs flank. Once again, the dice did not favour me and my elite light infantry were driven back with great losses.

Au secours! Se sont les diables Russes! - My light infantry is mauled by ambushing Russian militia.

A view of the battlefield after three rounds of wintry hell.
My line infantry redeployed to fire a volley on the Russian militia but, despite losing a few men the staunch Russians held firm and continued to flank my position. Perhaps the militia sensed that the chance to loot my frostbitten men was near at hand. To make matters worse, the remaining cossack cavalry started closing in on the rear of my column. Lieutenant Leclerc, the highest ranking officer leading my ragged column dispatched one of these villains with his carbine and challenged the last cavalryman to a duel - heroically setting himself between the diabolic cossack and my wounded stragglers.

The dastardly cossack closed within pistol range and shot Leclerc in the thigh. Only after seeing my gallant officer incapacitated in this way did the rogue muster up the courage to engage the French hero in combat - running him through with his lance.

Leclerc is ridden down by the lone cossack
The cossack continued his charge by running into the rear of my column. The sick and wounded soldiers offered little resistance as the fiendish cossack despatched them one by one - taking obviously perverse delight in this slaughter. The cossack's laughter turned into a blood curdling yelp as the mortally wounded Leclerc, with his last strength, fired his reloaded pistol at the cossack's back. With that, the brave French officer slumped over - he had done his duty.

Despite the loss of their brave lieutenant, the French soon got a measure of revenge. The French infantry on the left had taken cover in nearby woods after losing half their strength to the fire of the cossack infantry ahead of their position. The infantry crept forward in the cover of the woods only to run into the cossack chieftain, who had ridden forward to gain a better look at the carnage on the road. A short fire fight later the cossack lay on the ground drawing in his last breath.

The remaining French reserves - a small veteran group that had been acting as a rearguard - entered the fray. They quickly dispatched the remaining Russian militia who had once again outflanked the French column but had become preoccupied looting the rapidly freezing corpses. Finally, the rear and flanks of the column were secure, although the price had been high.

However, the bulk of the Russian force still blocked the road. The French infantry on the right adopted a loose formation and started a brisk trot towards the jägers holding the right side of the road. The stragglers raced forward and the last hope for the French was to drive back the cossacks on the left with harassing fire and assault the jägers before they had time to reload their rifles.

French infantry races forward on the right whilst infantry on the left keep the cossacks at bay with harassing fire.
French veterans fire harassing shots at the cossacks

Alas, despite its brilliance, the plan would not succeed. The jägers were faster (gaining several activation cards successively before my infantry had the chance to act) and, having reloaded their rifles, opened up with a devastating volley on my charging infantry. This was too much and the bulk of my infantry broke. There was little to stop the jägers from assaulting the remainder of my stragglers, who were quickly despatched.

Devastating fire from the Russian jägers stops my advance cold

Russian jägers close in for the kill - charging the remaining stragglers

A confused fire fight in the centre

With that, the battle came to an end. In the last turn we had rolled a random event which meant that there had been a sharp drop in temperature. The blistering cold killed a few of my men, but the Russians suffered worse. This was no condition to continue the battle.

With their leader dead and casualties high, the cossacks decided to slink back into the woods. After all, they could return tomorrow to loot the frozen corpses. The jägers were also quick to give way in front of my remaining veterans and the freezing cold. The remaining French veterans wound their scarves up tighter and used the failing light to effect their escape.


At first glance, this skirmish would seem to have been a clear and crushing defeat for myself. However, after several glasses of fine French cognac, I have come to the conclusion that this was not so. At the close of the battle I still had my veterans remaining and, as stated, the appalling weather started to severely hurt the Russians and there was clearly no way they could continue offensive operations in these conditions. True, my column of stragglers and wounded had been killed to the last man, but it can be surmised that had these poor souls made it out they would have been too frostbitten to prove of any value to the Grande Armée. In fact, I probably did the emperor a favour by "pruning the ranks" of these shirkers and damaged goods.

Moreover, the French feats of arms performed on this day - not least by lieutenant Leclerc - were such that all Frenchmen could bask in their glory for years to come. In contrast, the Russian horde had once again proven its barbarity to the civilized world.

Finally, it is clear that my column had managed to tie down a sizeable enemy force and thereby support the remainder of the army in their operations. The cossack leader and all their cavalry were killed, which would severely handicap the Russians' chances of conducting further operations.

In short, this was a clear and decisive victory for the French army! ;)

Thanks again to Teemu for putting together this great game. It's always nice to come to a "set table" for some fast-paced gaming.

I'm sure that sooner or later you can read Teemu's highly imaginative version of today's game at his blog:


  1. Jaakko, what can I say? An awesome report! Even if I don't quite agree with your conclusions... but who am I to argue against an established and renown historian as you? I rest my case.

  2. Jaakko, what can I say? An awesome report! Even if I don't quite agree with your conclusions... but who am I to argue against an established and renown historian as you? I rest my case.