Operational Design in Wargaming Prelude Part III Another Montebello AAR

Now that Jon has posted the summary of the battle, how did the plan work out?  Better than expected in many ways, but still not decisive.

The overall plan was simple: drive deep through the middle for the Copa river and force the Austrians out of their prepared positions to face the French in the open..

So what happened?   Here is the battle from the French commander's perspective:

Laying out the battle into its basics I am looking at it primarily from the regimental (2-3 stands of Infantry each) level.  French forces are arrayed in the SW corner with a few units already in contact outside Genestrello.
The first two turns progressed as expected.  Hesse seized Calcabobbio, Baum fell back on the Wheat Fields, and the Balance of Scaffgotsche's brigade moved up from Casteggio.  Hesse's cavalry withdrew behind the infantry, which allowed my Cavalry to make their planned breakout to the East earlier than planned.  Both French brigades advanced across the center and started doing damage.

In turns 3-4 the French cavalry was able to concentrate and blast out to the east.  The Austrian forces massing in Montebello turned to face the threat and thus could not mass against the infantry brigades advancing along the center.  Genestrello was overrun by French reinforcements and the Austrians had effectively lost a regimental force in the center.

Turns 5-6 turned out to be decisive.  I had not expected the cavalry to make advance so quickly, and discovered Casteggio to be weakly defended.  The ensuing melee resulted in the destruction of a second Austrian regiment and the elimination of the majority of the Austrian cavalry.  The Austrian commander was forced to activate his reserve, which effectively ended any threat to the objectives west of Montebello.

In the end phase, the Austrian reserves were able to force the depleted cavalry back across the Coppa, where they switched to a  'rest and rearm' posture in a blocking position behind Scaffgotsche's remaining forces.  The remains of that brigade was effectively cut off and facing annihilation.  Hesse was maintaining pressure to the North, but significantly depleted.  The French were in an excellent position to destroy the remaining forward deployed regiments, but did not have the time to organize a supported attack to force the river against determined fresh troops.  

So what worked?

  • Focusing on maintaining the momentum of the attack prevented the Austrians from regrouping.  I was able to destroy several infantry regiments and cavalry squadrons.  The essential piece was to get the Austrians stacked up, so their big regiments would get caught up with any element that was pushed back.  The resulting disorder severely reduced the effectiveness of Austrian fire, preserving my strength.
  • Emphasis was placed on pushing fresh units each turn.  I tried to maximize firepower and allow weakened units to trail.  This meant that I was able to spread my damage out throughout the regiments resulting in a very one-sided 'dead pile' on the table.  
  • The cavalry did what they best:  Disrupting the enemy plan, and making a mess of things in the rear area.  I did not think Casteggio was a viable target, and was surprised to find them in a position to temporarily take the town.  I knew they couldn't hold it against determined resistance, but their presence would allow me to disrupt the Austrians plans to counter my infantry.   
What didn't work?

  • There were not enough forces to decisively hold and degrade Hesse's Brigade.  At game's end, there was still enough of a force remaining to prevent me from massing at the Coppa River.\
  • The advance was too slow.  I was unable to get any Infantry Units East of the the second Phase line, let alone to the Coppa River itself.  I would have needed at least another 3 turns to make and then force the river to get a decisive result.  
  • Spreading out the damage was great for preserving my forces, but meant that I would have needed at least one turn out of contact to focus my leaders on 'resting and rearming' those battalions.  That would require taking pressure off the forward deployed Austrian brigades.  

While I felt I achieved a solid Minor Victory this time that closely matched the historical outcome, I was still no closer to seizing and holding Casteggio at game's end.  (The major victory objective).  

Jon and I will make another go of this scenario in the near future, and now I must take a turn with the Austrians.  I honestly think the challenge there is much greater.  The temptation for the Austrian player is to focus on not losing.  (Holding the three positions in their control, and contesting the other two)  rather than trying to force the road west of Genestrello (The major victory condition. ).  My choice appears to be either going for the big win, or the small one.  They seem exclusive.  Decisions, decisions.  


  1. Another excellent post-game analysis, Jake! Your use of the cavalry in this game was superb. They worked to disrupt Austrian plans at almost every turn and completely stifled my penny packets of Austrian hussars. Seeing the havoc that deeply penetrating allied cavalry can have, I bet I will not be allowed a similar breakthrough when I take on command of the allies. Should be another interesting match-up.

    1. At least now I can claim to have learned something from Fort Knox

  2. I would agree - you made superior use of your cavalry in the fashion that it has to be used by this era - using their mobility more than any melee power, and it seems the rolling attack worked well also. Time is always an enemy...

    “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.”
    – Napoleon

    1. It is an interesting time period. It is contemporary to the ACW, but the use of cavalry as mounted infantry had not yet taken hold. The primary role of cavalry is reconnaissance, something that is poorly modeled in our hobby. It is one of those challenges that got me started on these wargame theory posts.


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