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Austrian formations/tactics in 1866

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Anonymous
June 17, 2004 11:14:30 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.miniatures.historical (More info?)

Hi,

I am trying to get some more information/opinions about Austrian
infantry formations & tactics in 1866. The only book I have read on
the 1866 war is Wawro's "The Austro-Prussian War". I am also gaming
the period using "In the Age of Bismarck and Napoleon III".

The rules allow the Austrian line battalions of 1866 to use line (4x1
stands), reinforced line (2x2), column (1x4), and skirmish screen (1
or 2 stands in front as skirmishers and the rest of the battalion
supporting in either column or line). The reinforced line (moves as
line, fights as column) is described as "favored" by the Austrians
when on the defensive in 1866 while and the skirmish screen formation
is exclusive to the Austrians in 1866.

My question is whether or not these options are reasonable/accurate
for the Austrian line infantry of that period. Wawro seems to
indicate otherwise. He indicates that the Austrians had switched to
shock tactics & formations (half-battalion masses) after the 1859 war,
but I am unsure as to what degree this was done. Was it exclusive?
Should the Austrians be allowed to use the line or skirmish screen
formations as the game allows? Wawro portrays the Austrians as
severely limited tactically due to their poor training and the
multi-lingual nature of their army.

So which view, if either, is more accurate? My inclination is to side
with Wawro's view and restrict the Austrian line to column and
reinforced line. However, I am also hesitant to go against the rules
based on only a single source. What do you guys think? Any other
sources/rules sets/insights that you could suggest that might help
shed light on this situation would be appreciated. Thanks!

Craig
Anonymous
June 18, 2004 1:14:11 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.miniatures.historical (More info?)

"Craig Abbott" <craig6671@bluemarble.net> wrote in message

> I am trying to get some more information/opinions about Austrian
> infantry formations & tactics in 1866. The only book I have read on
> the 1866 war is Wawro's "The Austro-Prussian War". I am also gaming
> the period using "In the Age of Bismarck and Napoleon III".
>
> The rules allow the Austrian line battalions of 1866 to use line (4x1
> stands), reinforced line (2x2), column (1x4), and skirmish screen (1
> or 2 stands in front as skirmishers and the rest of the battalion
> supporting in either column or line). The reinforced line (moves as
> line, fights as column) is described as "favored" by the Austrians
> when on the defensive in 1866 while and the skirmish screen formation
> is exclusive to the Austrians in 1866.
>
> My question is whether or not these options are reasonable/accurate
> for the Austrian line infantry of that period. Wawro seems to

Essentially no, however it makes for a fairly dismal game for the Austrians
if they stick to their historical tactics unless you are playing big enough
battles so their superior handling of their corps artillery is significant.
If you are playing at the level of individual battalions then this probably
isn't a factor.

> indicate otherwise. He indicates that the Austrians had switched to
> shock tactics & formations (half-battalion masses) after the 1859 war,
> but I am unsure as to what degree this was done. Was it exclusive?

Yes. The only formation the Austrian infantry manouvred in was the storm
column, either battalion or division (two company) masses albeit often with
a skirmish screen from the brigade jager/grenzer battalion plus up to a
division from each battalion as well. Firing was the job of the skirmish
line, the rest of the infantry charged with the bayonet - which accounted
for their 4:1 loss ratio against the Prussians. In some units commanders
realised the futility of charges and gave the line infantry the job of
reloading the rifles of the skirmish line so they could engage in a
firefight with the Prussian infantry instead - which I suppose could be
represented by a 'skirmish screen' albeit with columns in support. A further
problem for the Austrians was the extreme aggressiveness of their tactical
doctrine, so even in defensive operations their brigade commanders had a
tendency to dash their regiments to pieces in futile charges.

The saving grace for the Austrians was their very effective use of massed
artillery which shot the Prussian infantry to pieces and in some cases shot
in successful infantry assaults - the opening engagements at Sadowa being a
case in point.

> Should the Austrians be allowed to use the line or skirmish screen
> formations as the game allows? Wawro portrays the Austrians as
> severely limited tactically due to their poor training and the
> multi-lingual nature of their army.

Not so much poor training as an inappropriate doctrine against armies armed
with breechloading rifles and a decent tactical doctrine to use them. The
Austrian storm tactics worked fine against the Italians. In terms of your
particular rules I'd restrict the Austrians to column, reinforced line and
skirmish screen but only with columns in support.

> So which view, if either, is more accurate? My inclination is to side
> with Wawro's view and restrict the Austrian line to column and
> reinforced line. However, I am also hesitant to go against the rules
> based on only a single source. What do you guys think? Any other
> sources/rules sets/insights that you could suggest that might help
> shed light on this situation would be appreciated. Thanks!

Insane Ranters links are all pretty good. As I said, how much you restrict
the Austrians depends on the level of game you want to play and the
scenarios you set up. Personally I prefer historical refights which
unfortunately dooms the Austrian infantry to utter carnage unless their
attacks are extremely carefully prepared - the Prussian infantry is much
more robust as long as they shake out of march column soon enough and deploy
in sensible positions. Forward slopes in the face of the superior Austrian
artilery are probably not a very good idea though;-) If the Prussians get
too cocky then put them up against the Bavarians or Hanoverians, or let the
Austrians fight the Italians.

Cheers
Martin
Related resources
Anonymous
June 19, 2004 4:06:16 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.miniatures.historical (More info?)

Hi Martin & Insane Ranter,

Thanks for the replies.

"Martin Rapier" <m.rapier@shef.ac.uk> wrote in message news:<cau88f$got$1@hermes.shef.ac.uk>...

> The only formation the Austrian infantry manouvred in was the storm
> column, either battalion or division (two company) masses albeit often with
> a skirmish screen from the brigade jager/grenzer battalion plus up to a
> division from each battalion as well. Firing was the job of the skirmish
> line, the rest of the infantry charged with the bayonet - which accounted
> for their 4:1 loss ratio against the Prussians. In some units commanders
> realised the futility of charges and gave the line infantry the job of
> reloading the rifles of the skirmish line so they could engage in a
> firefight with the Prussian infantry instead - which I suppose could be
> represented by a 'skirmish screen' albeit with columns in support. A further
> problem for the Austrians was the extreme aggressiveness of their tactical
> doctrine, so even in defensive operations their brigade commanders had a
> tendency to dash their regiments to pieces in futile charges.

I had wondered about that. They would almost have to be aggressive if
they are going to be committed to the use of shock tactics.

>
> The saving grace for the Austrians was their very effective use of massed
> artillery which shot the Prussian infantry to pieces and in some cases shot
> in successful infantry assaults - the opening engagements at Sadowa being a
> case in point.

I hadn't realized that the Austrians held such an advantage in
artillery. Perhaps not the guns themselves, but more in how they were
deployed and used.

>
> Not so much poor training as an inappropriate doctrine against armies armed
> with breechloading rifles and a decent tactical doctrine to use them. The
> Austrian storm tactics worked fine against the Italians. In terms of your
> particular rules I'd restrict the Austrians to column, reinforced line and
> skirmish screen but only with columns in support.

Those formations sound reasonable to me. I understand that the
Austrian doctrine was to use shock tactics/formations, but it still
seems incredible to me that they would have abandoned the use of
battalion lines altogether. I guess that is what I meant by poor
training. It is one thing to empasize shock tactics over firing lines,
but it is quit another to make them one's only option. Heck, why not
just give the line troops spears!

> Insane Ranters links are all pretty good. As I said, how much you restrict
> the Austrians depends on the level of game you want to play and the
> scenarios you set up. Personally I prefer historical refights which
> unfortunately dooms the Austrian infantry to utter carnage unless their
> attacks are extremely carefully prepared - the Prussian infantry is much
> more robust as long as they shake out of march column soon enough and deploy
> in sensible positions. Forward slopes in the face of the superior Austrian
> artilery are probably not a very good idea though;-) If the Prussians get
> too cocky then put them up against the Bavarians or Hanoverians, or let the
> Austrians fight the Italians.

Yes, I checked out some of the links. Thanks, IR! The Fire & Fury
variant looks interesting. I'll have to read up on it more.

As for the games, my group mainly does 1866 with the Italians (we do
1859 and 1870 too), but I'd like to try the Prussians also. We don't
have a problem with fictional battles as long as they are within
reason. The rules are intended for large games and that's how we
usually play them, but since they feature individual battalions the
games are a bit slow.

Craig
Anonymous
June 20, 2004 11:45:27 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.miniatures.historical (More info?)

I think I originally sent this to the wrong place...


"Martin Rapier" <m.rapier@shef.ac.uk> wrote in
news:cau88f$got$1@hermes.shef.ac.uk:
"
> Insane Ranters links are all pretty good. As I said, how much you
> restrict the Austrians depends on the level of game you want to play
> and the scenarios you set up. Personally I prefer historical refights
> which unfortunately dooms the Austrian infantry to utter carnage
> unless their attacks are extremely carefully prepared - the Prussian
> infantry is much more robust as long as they shake out of march column
> soon enough and deploy in sensible positions. Forward slopes in the
> face of the superior Austrian artilery are probably not a very good
> idea though;-) If the Prussians get too cocky then put them up against
> the Bavarians or Hanoverians, or let the Austrians fight the Italians.
>
> Cheers
> Martin


Just to tag onto Martin's excellent points here...

I would suggest a very minor rules modifications for "In the Age of Bismark
and Napoleon III" that will make battles between the Austrians and
Prussians more interesting without sacrificing accuracy.

Introduce a variable move distance for Austrian columns. Nothing wild or
overly complicated. Just something that gives them a modest chance to move
more or less than the standard X inches per turn. This prevents the
Prussian player from knowing precisely how many turns he has to blast the
columns, and it also helps reflect the difficulty the Austrians had in
coordinating attacks. I prefer a variable intiative system myself (Piquet),
but variable movement can work well with I-go-U-go sytems. The Austrians
are still going to get pasted most of the time, but they'll carry through
once in a while.
Anonymous
June 21, 2004 1:47:17 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.miniatures.historical (More info?)

"Craig Abbott" <craig6671@bluemarble.net> wrote in message
{snip re 1866 tactics}
> I had wondered about that. They would almost have to be aggressive if
> they are going to be committed to the use of shock tactics.

Well naturally - the 1866 tactical doctrine was developed after their dismal
experience in 1859 when the austrian experiments with fire tactics were a
catastrophe and they were swept from the field by aggressive French bayonet
charges - the Furia Francese and all that. This seemed to confirm that, as
Suvurov may have said 'the bullet is a fool'.

> > The saving grace for the Austrians was their very effective use of
massed
> > artillery which shot the Prussian infantry to pieces and in some cases
shot
> > in successful infantry assaults - the opening engagements at Sadowa
being a
> > case in point.
>
> I hadn't realized that the Austrians held such an advantage in
> artillery. Perhaps not the guns themselves, but more in how they were
> deployed and used.

Yes, 1866 Prussian artillery doctrine was very timid and the guns trailed
along at the rear of the march columns with the gunners quaking with fear at
the thought that they might lose their guns. The Austrians used their massed
Corps artillery extremely aggressively and in the face of this concentrated
rifled artillery fire the Prussians had big problems and revised their own
doctrine to be far more aggressive by 1870 - a bit too aggressive in face of
Chassepot fire in some cases! A good article here:
http://uk.geocities.com/fpw1870/doctrine.html

When setting up 1866 scenarios then make sure the Prussians put their guns
at the rear of any columns coming on and maybe give the Austrians extra VPs
for knocking them out - Nick Dorrells Fire & Fury variant website has some
excellent suggestions for setting up 1866 games. The Austrians have a vast
superiority in specialist skirmisher units compared to the Prussians (around
4:1) which coupled with their battlefield artillery superiority can
certainly give the Prussians a lot of headaches, but the Austrians need
careful handling to succeed against the robust Prussian infantry - it is a
bit like putting Carthaginians up against Romans, you need to be a bit of a
Hannibal to get the best out of them.

{snip}
> Those formations sound reasonable to me. I understand that the
> Austrian doctrine was to use shock tactics/formations, but it still
> seems incredible to me that they would have abandoned the use of
> battalion lines altogether. I guess that is what I meant by poor
> training. It is one thing to empasize shock tactics over firing lines,
> but it is quit another to make them one's only option. Heck, why not
> just give the line troops spears!

They tried firing lines in 1859 and it just didn't work for them so they
used mass formations instead, although as I said, they did have as strong
skimish element as well. They were still doing this in 1914 - if adequately
prepared by artillery and skimisher fire there is nothing wrong with assault
columns, it is just that against breech loading weapons (let alone magazine
fed rifles with smokeless ammo plus machineguns and supported by quick
firing artillery) the preparation needs to be extremely thorough indeed as
even one missed MG or will doom your assault troops. Again, see Mons, Ypres,
Verdun, the Somme etc etc for plenty of examples of this sort of thing;-)
Battlefield formations are always a compromise between mobility, firepower,
protection and C3 and there were no easy answers in the rapidly changing
technical environment of the nineteenth century.

> As for the games, my group mainly does 1866 with the Italians (we do
> 1859 and 1870 too), but I'd like to try the Prussians also. We don't
> have a problem with fictional battles as long as they are within
> reason. The rules are intended for large games and that's how we
> usually play them, but since they feature individual battalions the
> games are a bit slow.

Nick Dorrells website has a ton of great scenarios, as does Keith McNallys
Volley & Bayonet page:

http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/mcnelly/vnb.htm

Cheers
Martin
Anonymous
June 21, 2004 3:50:25 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.miniatures.historical (More info?)

Craig,


> Nick Dorrells website has a ton of great scenarios, as does Keith McNallys
> Volley & Bayonet page:
>
> http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/mcnelly/vnb.htm
>

I am about half way through a Koniggratz / Sadova / Hradec Kralove scenario,
well scenarios really. Meanwhile I am updating,slowly - very slowly :) , the
rules as well.

Nick Dorrell

p.s. Thanks Martin for the kind words :) 
!