FRENCH COMMAND & STRUCTURE at BORODINO
Winning at Borodino is the French Army’s most daunting task. The two armies are practically equal in strength and old military maxims tell us in that situation, the attacker usually fails. What gives us a chance in the battle is that a large portion of the Russian Army is out of position. It’s difficult to imagine what General Kutuzov was thinking (or drinking) when he deployed a good part of his army in a direction the French were unlikely to come. Napoleon also placed large forces somewhat out of position on the north side of the generally unfordable Kolocha River but at least he had a reason: Russian General Wittgenstein was unaccounted for somewhere to the north. We know he ain’t coming so it is possible to shift a few, actually, all, of those division south. There are five bridges that span the Kolocha to facilitate this movement. They were built by Napoleon just for that purpose, so be sure to use them. And destroy them when you are finished
So here we come to our first moral dilemma: With the Russians faced north, a quick glance at the map shows that a southern thrust is the best path to victory. However, the problem is that the forces best placed to make this STRATEGIC TURNING MOVEMENT are the infantry and cavalry divisions of the French Imperial Guard, and this is an historic impossibility. Try to imagine yourself as the Emperor Napoleon. You are very deep into an extremely remote and hostile environment. The army around you is all you’ve got and the troops you depend upon the most are the Guard. Can you imagine sending all those fellows off into the early morning mist, around the bend, out of sight, perhaps never to be seen or heard from again? No.
Now this this doesn’t mean you can’t try it. The beauty of wargaming is to attempt “what if” situations. General Frient’s 2nd French Division and Ponietowski”s 16th Division of the V Corps Polish “Freedom Fighters” backed up with I Reserve Cavalry Corps should blast their way through Utitza. The Polish 18th Division and V Corps Cavalry can also create some space to the south. Then use the Guard and Guard Cavalry backed up with II Reserve Cavalry Corps to exploit the breakthrough and turn the Russian left. You could even try a double envelopment. Push to the north with IV Corps and its attached cavalry, along with III reserve Cavalry Corps and the Italian Royal Guard. Take Borodino and make for the crossings at Novoie and Maloe. This should tie down large enemy forces and facilitate the southern thrust.
Unfortunately, such movements are not representative of 19th century Napoleonic battles. Such a situation, in which the entire army is on the move from the get go, and literally out of control, would never have evolved. There was a time when I showed the NIR battle game map to a librarian friend of mine, a woman with no military expertise. She looked at my opponent’s French dispositions, similar to the ones described above and I asked her about what she saw. She simply asked ‘Where’s Napoleon?” I showed her and she said, “Everything is out of control.” Readily apparent to a librarian but not to the average, even experienced, wargamer. Obviously something is wrong.
So, if we want to command the French Army at Borodino, and to do so in a way that we capture the mood and movements of a Napoleonic battle, we need to limit movements and attempt a TACTICAL TURNING MOVEMENT of the Russian left. This is what the historical deployments were designed for. Don’t be dismayed. Your army is concentrated! The enemy is not! You have time! In this way, we can keep all the elements of the French Imperial Guard in place at least until noon. This reduces the number of command decisions we need to make and keeps our ace in the hole; for no game is lost for the French while the Imperial Guard remains intact. Also strive to keep all units of the Guard exactly where Napoleon deployed them. If you move them close to the front, the temptation will arise to use them at a whim; to solve some minor tactical problem; and then your strategic reserve will be committed for tactical reasons, a grave wargaming error.
It’s always best to keep STRATEGIC RESERVES about 1 &1/2 hours march from the front. When they are close, you can engage rapidly but a longer march to the front allows you to judge the big picture and, especially, TO CHANGE YOUR MIND. Remember, the Guard is the final iron reserve and once units are committed in these games, it is generally not practicable, actually impossible, to disengage, withdraw and redeploy for battle somewhere else.
The Strategic plan: It is important to recognize THE PRINCIPLE OF CONCENTRATION. At the get go, your army is concentrated. This is a vital principle of battlefield tactics. Please maintain that concentration for it your only hope to prevail, while maintaining the principles of Napoleonic movements. Remember, it is possible to play the game ahistorically, stacking the units to their limits and trying to move south with the bulk of your army in an attempt to “break out” ala 20th century panzerblitz tactics, and turn the Russian left. Go ahead, if you want to, but please don’t play anyone interested in Napoleonic wargaming. Your units should be used primarily in linear or “line “ formation, and stacked in “column” only for desperate assaults on places like the fleches.
THE TACTICAL TURN: In the historical deployments you need to push hard from the get go. The Russian army is out of position, so don’t waste any time. Attack the Russian center immediately! French I Corp is in position for this assault and all units of this outfit should be used. At the same time initiate an orderly shift to the center from your far left wing, i.e. IV Corps. Move those Italian Guards and those two divisions of I Corps to the center. Later on, when that element of the shift is complete, withdraw the rest of IV Corps and leave Borodino to the Russ. This is THE SHIFT. I described this in my essay on the Prussian Army. It is like a dance. You move your units, out of harm’s way, in a direction to ALTER the balance of your army without disrupting its structure. When you can move units in this way, brigades, divisions, whatever, you will have an advantage over opponents (and there are many!) who don’t think this way.
Be ruthless in your assault on the fleches, worth 300 victory points each. If the attack fails, simply withdraw and give up the game. What this mean is, if you can’t take that objective, there is no sense to continue. You are lost. However, once you do, you create problems for the Russian player which are not easy to solve.
The Assault on the Fleches. Pour everything you have into this. Every element of I Corps! Every element of III Corps! Take it! Never mind Uditza. Forget the south! If you want to move south, play Davot’s Plan! (More on that later). Once you have the fleches, you have SPLIT THE ENEMY ARMY! Advance your infantry, place the guns, move up the Guard and destroy the enemy from the high ground.
DAVOUT’S PLAN. Obviously, the “Davout’s Plan” scenario presented by TS is a joke. The concept that an army which has just marched 1000 miles to Mokba, and then, couldn’t transverse the last 5 miles around the Russian flank, against no opposition (30% arrival rates) is a sorry testimony to the game designers who clearly never play-tested the scenario. If you want to move south, play “Davout’s Plan” with 100% arrival rates. The French Army was the best in the world and could have done the job! However one views it, the assumption must dictate the wargame! How could the game designers have failed to grasp this concept? We must play the game as if the French could have pulled off, at least, a successful march by a single army corps, 5 miles against no opposition.
Finally, reduce the Russian “fanaticism” modifier to +2 instead of +4. I don’t know how it got this way, and I don’t know how to fix it right now, but there are people who do. They read the same column you read this on; ask them for help. This is a great game, employ the scenario editor to place the full French Army on the battlefield, and have fun! JE