OSTROLENKA (1807) Battle Report
Ostrolenka is one of the few Napoleonic battles fought in the snow. For miniature war gamers this is a rare, cherished opportunity to break out the white felt and winter pine trees. Our local club used this battle to playtest our new "fog of war" rules, which mask brigade sizes and include rules for decoy brigades to fool the enemy commander. Brigades are not "revealed" until they come within a certain distance of the enemy. Read on to learn how our battle unfolded and how this "fog of war" impacted the gameplay.
10:30am: The Russian army deploys north of Ostrolenka and begins to advance toward the village. Anchored behind the frozen Narew River, the French defenses appear to be strong, but this is mostly a ruse by the French commander. To the Russians, it appears that seven French brigades are defending the town, but the "fog of war" masks the truth--only 3 French brigades are present.
11:00am: Atop the sandy hills north of the town, five batteries of Russian artillery unlimber. This is a terrifying sight to the French, who are presently outnumbered in artillery by 5-to-1. But five miles east of Ostrolenka, General Savary finally arrives on the field with elements of two divisions. Becker's dragoons are already riding at full gallop to reinforce the town's thin defenses.
11:30am: Fully unlimbered, nearly fifty Russian guns now bombard the French defenders around Ostrolenka. Savary's reinforcements continue racing back to the town, but the main Russian advance is now surging ahead. Wisely utilizing their advantage in cavalry, the Russians are able to scout and probe the French defenses, exposing the French decoy brigades and lifting the "fog of war" surrounding Ostrolenka.
12:00pm: From the sandy heights above town Essen directs his advance on Ostrolenka. While infantry assault the village proper, Russian cossacks stampede across the bridge, successfully crossing the Narew River. When the French are ejected from the town, Essen senses a Russian victory might be drawing near! Despite this success, Essen grows concerned about a French infantry probe led by General Gazan, which crosses the frozen Narew River four miles east of Ostrolenka. This distant end of the battlefield remains shrouded by the "fog of war," and the Russians begin to suspect their flank may be exposed....
12:30pm: Becker's first brigade of dragoons, racing at full gallop, arrive just in time to collide with the advancing cossacks. The irregular cossacks are shattered by the ferocity of the attack and retreat back across the river. Elsewhere, heavy reinforcements begin to arrive on the field for both sides. An additional Russian division arrives in time to be diverted to deal with Gazan's flanking probe. Back near Ostrolenka--still occupied by Russian infantry--Oudinot's grenadier division marches to counter-attack.
1:00pm: Mounting his horse and riding to the head of the assault column, General Oudinot bravely charges his grenadier division into the village of Ostrolenka, scattering the Russian defense. But in the midst of his heroic triumph, Oudinot is felled by a stray bullet from nearby Russian jaegers lurking outside the town. Oudinot falls from his saddle and is carried to safety by his men--though alive, he is gravely wounded and out of the battle. At the opposite end of the field, Gazan's flanking action is halted by a Russian cavalry charge.
1:30pm: Gazan pulls back across the Narew River, safely out of reach from the numerous enemy cavalry. Near Ostrolenka, the arrival of the French grenadiers has turned the tide against the Russians. Now in full retreat, the Russian flank collapses with such rapidity that French dragoons sense an opportunity to charge the sandy hills north of town, destroying one Russian battery and driving off a second.
2:00pm: Sensing that the battle has turned against him, and unable to maneuver his plentiful cavalry across the frozen Narew, General Essen orders a retreat. The French are victorious, but the Russian strength in cavalry prevents Savary from ordering a pursuit. The Russians leave the field in good order--bloodied, but unbroken.
Essen's attack on Ostrolenka ended in failure. While they briefly recaptured the town, the Russians suffered over 5,000 casualties. The French fared better, managing to drive back the Russian attack while sustaining roughly 3,000 casualities themselves. As already noted, General Oudinot was gravely wounded in the engagement.
General Savary's Report
Wait, I was supposed to have a plan? From what I can remember, initially I wanted to just hold the town. Then I got pushed out and was hoping that my cavalry on the extreme left flank might be given an opportunity to sneak through to the Russian batteries, but it ended up keeping some Russian infantry out of the way while I made good on my promise to "drown them in grenadiers" and took the town back. I remember then trying to force the issue with my cavalry, but getting rebuked by the Russian heavy cavalry. Mostly I remember charging three brigades of grenadiers into that town!
General Suchet's Report
We tried to use our "decoy" brigades to bolster the appearance of our defenses around Ostrolenka, but the Russians effectively employed their cavalry to scout our position. When the enemy advanced rapidly, the battle looked fairly grim for us in the early going. Our initial reinforcements arrived far from the scene, but our best tactical maneuver was diverting one of Gazan's brigades to probe the Russian flank. We never intended this to be a serious attack, but the move forced the enemy to react and divert too many reinforcements to deal with their exposed flank. Meanwhile, our main body focused on recapturing Ostrolenka with much success. The frozen river proved to be a huge boon to our defenses, as the more numerous Russian cavalry could only cross at the bridge, which we lost briefly but immediately recaptured.