LA SOUFFEL (1815) Battle Report
There's a certain romanticism about the Battle of La Souffel--the very last battle of the Napoleonic Wars, fought against overwhelming odds. On paper, it's a miserable match-up for the French, and any wargamer in his right mind is left to wonder how the French managed a tactical victory in 1815. But General Rapp chose his ground wisely, and the winding river makes it difficult for the allies to bring their full numbers to bear.
2:30pm: The French deploy in a strong defensive position, guarding the bridges with their conscript infantry and holding their cavalry in reserve. The first Austrian columns under Palombini march forward. [Left: The battle opens!]
3:00pm: A strong division of allied cavalry rides onto the field, angling for the bulge in the French line around the town of Mundolsheim. The allied army appears to be concentrating to strike this section of the French defense.
Rapp responds quickly by shifting his right wing toward the center, converging his available infantry to meet the enemy threat. Desultory artillery fire opens the battle, but little damage is done.
3:30pm: The Austrian infantry now faces a challenge--they heavily outnumber the French, but can only cross the La Souffel river in column on the bridge at Mundolsheim. Palombini settles for a textbook offensive, bringing up his artillery for close support, and assaulting the river crossing in column. It is a sharp, brief encounter. The French defenses hold, and the Austrians fall back to regroup for another attempt.
4:00pm: Prince Eugene develops a more coordinated offensive. He orders the Austrian infantry to make another assualt on the bridge, while simultaneously committing his cavalry division to ford the river in the center of the field. The allied cavalry splashes across, but in a state of disorder from a difficult crossing. [See Right.]
Meanwhile, the French are waiting for them. By shifting his right wing to the center, Rapp has managed to assemble a respectable defensive line to oppose Eugene's cavalry. After a mild firefight, the allied cavalry wavers but does not break.
At Mundolsheim, the Austrian infantry manage to gain a slight foothold on the other bank of the river, but a determined French counter-attack drives them back a second time.
4:30pm: Could this be the turning point for the allies? In a furious assualt across the line, Eugene commits all available forces to attack. This time, the Austrian infantry cross the the river successfully and hold their modest gains. In the center, a cavalry charge drives the French backward, not quite achieving total breakthrough.
On the French right, activity now begins. More allied infantry are arriving in a steady stream, marching hard to cross the La Souffel. Rapp has shifted all available manpower to the left and center, uncovering his right flank. This is the opening the Austrians race to exploit. But the race is contested, since French reinforcements are also en route from Bischeim!
5:00pm: In a moment of crisis, General Rapp now faces a difficult choice--fall back from the river to reorder his defensive line, or make a desperate counter-attack to hold the river line? Since this is a wargame and no real lives are at stake, Rapp makes the obvious choice to attack! His efforts have mixed results. At Mundolsheim, the French fail to crush the Austrian bridgehead, which is strongly anchored and growing ever-stronger by the minute. But in the center, the French chasseurs score a stunning victory against their enemy, shattering the German light cavalry and sending them reeling across the river. Along Rapp's right flank, the French win the foot race to the river, arriving just in time to contest the approaching Austrians.
Our battle ended after the 5:00pm turn, with the outcome still very much in doubt. The French lost about 1,000 men, while the allies lost just over 3,000. Rapp's defensive line was still intact, but wavering. This is a battle we would have liked to continue to a more satisfying conclusion, but time ran out at the store.
When we stopped playing, it was a minor French victory. But projecting forward to the last four turns of the scenario, the allies stood a very good chance of coming out ahead.