Today our 1812 campaign rumbled on with the battle of Loubino, also known as the battle of Valutina Gora. After their victory at Smolensk, the Grande Armée was hot in pursuit of the Russians, who were fleeing in several columns towards Moscow. The Russian columns were scheduled to converge at the cross-roads of Loubino, but would have to move quick lest their line of retreat be cut off. With the French bearing down on the strategic cross-roads, Russian general Konovitzin's 3rd Division was hastily deployed to act as a rearguard at Valutina Gora a little ways to the west.
|Copyright Zbynio Olszewski (www.napoleonistyka.com)|
|Going over the scenario briefing (whilst un-attentive players take pictures)|
This would be quite a mobile and escalating battle, with both sides starting with only a portion of their forces. The French initially had only a portion of Ney's III Corps plus some cavalry to attack the lone Russian division. However, the French would soon be reinforced with more infantry rushing along the Moscow road as well as with Junot's VIII Corps which was meant to hit the Russians in their southern flank. The Russians would be reinforced with a further four divisions (the 1st, 4th, 11th and 17th), which would arrive bit by bit.
|French light cavalry|
|Konovitzin's 3rd Division defend the ridge|
|Ney's III Corps|
The battle started with a rapid advance by the French, with Ledru's (centre) and Razout's (centre-right) divisions rushing up to the river and crossing it whilst under fire. Gudin's division on the extreme left advanced a bit more cautiously. Konovitzin's Russians had deployed on a crest overlooking the Stragan river. The French would have to wade the river and scale the steep hillside before coming to grip with the Russians. However, the Russians might have been better off deploying right at the edge of the river, where they could have fought the attacking French more advantageously.
The French wasted little time shooting at the Russians and proceeded to charge them as soon as possible. It was felt that the Russians would have to be defeated quickly if the objectives were to be secured. Charging the enemy before they were "softened up" was a bit risky, but the French had a numerical advantage. As it was, the French assaults performed remarkably well and the outnumbered Russians were soon being pushed back by both Ledru's and Razout's divisions.
|The French race towards the Russian defences|
|Brutal hand-to-hand combat|
|View of the ridge on turn 3|
One by one the Russian battalions either gave way or were hacked to pieces where they stood. A large gap appeared at the centre of the Russian line into which Ney threw fresh battalions. The French began rolling up the line both left and right whilst all available battalions were rushed forward to secure the next river crossing before Russian reserves could arrive. The Russians probably should have retired sooner in order to conserve their strength and to trade space for time. Now they were just butchered.
Despite this fiasco, Konovitzyn's right was putting up a stiff resistance. Gudin was having a hard time defeating inferior numbers and one of Ledru's brigades was even routed by the resolute defenders. Eventually, the Russian jägers holding the flank were able to extract themselves and withdraw to the next line of defence.
|Konovitzin's centre collapses|
|Konovitzin's line is rolled up|
|Artillery is raced to the front|
While the fighting for Valutina Gora was raging, little happened on the French right. The Russians had only a few light cavalry regiments holding the flank against superior numbers of French light cavalry as well as Junot's entire infantry Corps. However, the cavalry of both sides seemed reluctant to engage whilst Junot was refusing to take orders from Murat, the French CiC. Eventually, Junot's commanders grew sufficiently annoyed of the harassing cossacks that they deployed their battalions in a broad firing arc and blasted the Russians with a devastating salvo. This galvanized the French cavalry, who quickly mopped up the survivors and raced forward to threaten the Russian flank.
|Guard infantry, detached to Junot, await patiently whilst their commander fails to act|
|The cavalry face off against each other|
|Russian cavalry is obliterated by massed volleys|
|French cavalry and Junot's VIII Corps race to flank the Russians|
Meanwhile, both sides had started to receive reinforcements. The French were reinforced with an allied Württemberger division whilst fresh Russian divisions were constantly streaming onto the battlefield from the east. The reserves of both sides were rushed forward, there being a race to see which side could gain control of the next river line.
|Württemberg reserves for the French|
|Russian reserves march to the front|
The French got to the river first and gained a tenuous foothold of the opposite bank. The French formations were quite dispersed after the fighting for the ridge, which was not helped by Razout's division (centre-right) rolling several blunders and Gudin (extreme left) once again advancing slowly. As such, the first units across were quite exposed and vulnerable. The Russians closed in on the French vanguard and, once within musket range, deployed in firing lines and started blasting away. The withering fire reduced the French ranks, but soon more blue-clad Frenchmen were across the river.
I think that stopping to fire was another mistake from the Russians. They would have been better served to charge the French while they were this exposed, with their backs to the river and no supporting units behind. Instead, the French were given ample time to throw fresh units across the river after which these first battalions could be relegated to reserve and rallied back to a battle worthy status.
|Württembergers ford the river|
|Thin blue line - the French vanguard have a toehold across the river|
|French artillery gives covering fire from the ridge|
|Russians adopt firing lines to blast at the French vanguard|
It was roughly 6 pm (turn 8/10) that the French managed to get the bulk of their forces across the river. Ledru's and Razout's divisions formed firing lines and fired several volleys at the Russians with mixed results. After this preparatory phase, the fresh second line of French infantry assaulted the depleted Russians before the Russians had time to recover.
Once again, French élan carried the day. Two Russian brigades were routed and the first line of the Russian centre caved in. The Russian left was also coming under increasing pressure from the French cavalry and from Junot's infantry. Barclay de Tolly, the Russian CiC, was forced to commit his reserves to counter these threats from his centre and his left.
Things were better for the Russians on their right. The French assaults in this sector were first halted and then, after a prolonged mêlée, repelled. Pretty soon, things stabilized on the Russian centre and left as well. With dusk falling, the Russians launched one last counter-attack at the exhausted and depleted French centre.
This assault was devastating. The worn down Frenchmen, who had launched assault after assault, could offer but scant resistance. The casualties reached a critical point and several French brigades were routed in quick succession whilst the remainder were forced to give ground.
|French infantry advance to fire whilst the second line prepares to assault|
|French reserves rush to the fore|
|Russian left being enveloped|
|Russian left, French right on turn 10|
|Brutal combat in the centre as the light fades (turn 10)|
With light fading fast and their lines in disarray, the French were forced to pull back behind the river line and call off any remaining attacks. The Russians too were glad to have contained the French menace and could now withdraw the remnants of their army under the cover of the night. The battle had not treated the Russians kindly, as they had had 7 / 13 brigades routed during the battle (compared to 4 / 18 brigades for the French). However, the Russians had not been defeated, their baggage and artillery had not been captured and their forces had not become separated from each other. I'd call that a (tactical) blocking victory for the Russians.