Friday 28 February 2014

The Old Guard Grenadiers “Les Grognards” - 1812 Borodino

 The Old Guard - figures and bases from Victrix

From the extremely tall grenadier guards “Die Lange Kerls” of Frederick the Great to the unholy “Bande Nere” of the Italian Wars and the Jaguar Warriors of the Aztec – certain units capture our imagination and make their way into history.

But no unit quite so much as this particular gang of war seasoned old timers. 
The Old Guard was first formed in 1804 using veterans from the campaigns of Italy and Egypt. They would see service in all mayor campaigns of Napoleon, right to the very last hour at Waterloo.

The Old Guard - following their Emperor on his many campaigns 

The minimum requirements to be considered for the Guard were:
- you could be no older than 35 yrs
- you’d have at least 10 yrs of active service
- you’d be seasoned and noticed in previous campaigns

Like the above mentioned grenadiers of Frederick the Great, the Old Guards Grenadiers were also drafted from the tallest segment of the army. Average height was around 1.88 m (ca. 6 ft 2in). Combine that with their impressive fur hats, and you’d have a very tall and imposing unit coming at you. 

A sight not often seen - the Old Guard with their backs turned...

The Old Guard was usually held in reserve. It was a crack formation that potentially could be the last needed blow that would win the day, or could act as a human wall covering the retreating army, as seen at Waterloo. Many historians argue that Napoleon often played them too safe, like at Borodino. If he’d been willing to let the Guard take a crack at the enemy, things might have been very different. The orderly Russian withdrawal might have been turned into a rout. 

Seasoned warriors

The lovingly applied nickname “Les Grognards” (Grumblers) comes from the special freedom the Guard Grenadiers enjoyed. They were in fact the only unit in the whole Grand Armee allowed to make complaints about the conditions of their field life. And so they did! Often too – and while the Emperor was listening. This exceptional breach of discipline would normally have been perceived as dishonor or disobedience, and be punished harshly. However Les Grognards had earned the undying love and respect of their Emperor. And he always listened to their grumbles. 

The Old Guard in tears - goodbye at Fontainebleau 1814

In 1814, after a frenetic and very hard fought Campaign for France, Napoleon abdicated. 
This would mark the end of the long era of European campaigning. They’d followed him to the sands of Egypt, to the snow of Mother Russia and back to fight for every inch of France.
So it was a clearly moved Emperor who said his goodbyes to a likewise teary eyed Old Guard at Fontainebleau before going into captivity on Elba.

This is how I'll play them - based on 40x40mm for Black Powder

Naturally the Old Guard would stand by their Emperor one more time, as Napoleon made his last effort in the 100 days campaign, culminating at the defeat by Lord Wellington at Waterloo in 1815. At this final battle of his career, Napoleon would have to use his Old Guard one last time – to cover his final retreat. 

“The Guard dies, it does not surrender!”

The Guard suffered horrible losses, but held off the enemy for some time.
Legend has it, that in the midst of the hailstorm of bullets thinning the ranks of the blue-coated men, the enemy - having surrounded them with artillery - offered the Guard to surrender on good terms. The answer came promptly from Cambronne, commanding the few proud men still standing: "La garde meurt et ne se rend pas!" (“The Guard dies, it does not surrender!”).

After the final collapse of Napoleons power many guardsmen simply went back to whatever normal life they could find. Many of them watched with great suspicion by the police of the new regime.

Napoleon's funeral, Paris 1840. A modest little event.

When Napoleons body was finally brought back to France in 1840 (he died in 1821 at Longwood, Saint Helena), a great funeral procession was arranged by Thiers. 
This would see Napoleon’s remains paraded through central Paris and put to rest in the grave of Des Invalides. 

For this grand procession, these now old men once again dressed in their blue coats, and for one very last time escorted their Emperor to his final resting place and into immortality.

Thank you very much for reading!

Friday 21 February 2014

Gustavus Adolphus – The Lion of the North

 Gustavus charging forward on the battlefield of Lützen

I’ve had the Pike & Shotte rule book on my shelf for quite a while, and since it’ll be the rules of preference for the coming Scanian War gaming, I decided it was time for a test run.

Before gaming though, I had to complete my TYW collection with some proper C-in-C figures. And when talking TYW, who better to model than Gustavus Adolphus, the The Lion of the North, or ”Das Löwe aus dem Mitternacht” as they probably would have said on the German countryside at the time.

The king's portrait

Fascinating people, and later great commanders like Napoleon, Gustavus innovated and revolutionized the military field tactics of his time. Using cavalry as chock troops, and adding flexible firepower in the ranks, using small detachments of musketeers along with his innovative use of field artillery, laid the foundation for victories like Breitenfeld and Lützen.

Gustavus’ success as a military innovator also saw him plough his way into the 30 Years War, laying the foundation for a Swedish Empire that would stand almost 100 years. But he would do it at a very high price.

"God with Us" - Gustavus preparing for the charge 

Always leading from the front, a bullet wound from the previous Polish campaign, prevented Gustavus from wearing a breastplate.  This would prove to have fatal consequences at Lüzten, were he rode to his death in a mad cavalry charge leading the Swedish Smålands Cavalry into an isolated situation on the battlefield. Here he caught a bullet in the arm that severed the bone.

Streiff - now on display at the Royal Armory Museum in Stockholm

His horse, Streiff, also got hit, and became increasingly hard to control. In the confusion Gustavus got surrounded by enemy cavalry, received another gunshot to the lower body and fell to the ground.  A mad fight followed between the few men Gustavus had left and the Imperial cavalry unit. All the Swedes were slain, but one of the them survived his wounds to later tell the story of what now ensued.


The death of Gustavus at Lützen 1632

The King laying wounded on the ground, was encircled by the dismounted enemy cavalry. Upon asking him the question “Who are you sir?” he answered truthfully “I’m Gustavus, the King of Sweden”. Realizing the value of their prisoner, the enemy troopers tried to bring the wounded king with them. Unfortunately Gustavus had at this time in his life become pretty obese. The job proved too hard on the imperials, and before leaving him behind, they gave him a shoot to the head, ran their swords through the now dead king a few more time, robbed him of all clothes and jewelry and took off.

Streiff taking his master into the midst of battle

The wounded horse, Streiff, had meanwhile returned to the Swedish lines with an empty saddle. This had immediate demoralizing effect, as it became clear to all that something terrible had happened to the King. Frantic rallying and stern discipline saw the Swedes through the rest of the battle, and the Imperials left the field to them in the early evening. But it was a costly victory indeed.

The horse and all the kings’ clothes was later returned from Austria to Sweden, as a gift of friendship. They can now be seen at the Royal Swedish Armory Museum in Stockholm.

Thank you very much for reading!

Friday 14 February 2014

Danish artillery – Lund 1676

Danish artillery unit in action 

The Scanian War saw the birth of Danish field artillery as an independent service.

The artillery was considered a ”Royal regiment”, which leaves its trace on their uniforms, carrying a ”C” for king Christian V on the upper left sleeve. The uniforms changes a few times during the war, but according to the rolls at the time of Lund, many would have been grey with red cuffs and lining.

A mix of 12 pds, 10 pds & 3 pds were used to form the batteries, for sieges mortars et.c would be brought forward. Infantry regiments had two of the lighter and more mobile 3 pds attached, adding to the firepower and punch of the battle line.

A Danish field piece from Christian V's era

At Lund the artillery played a significant role in the centre of the battle, were most infantry was also placed. Effectiveness was not only measured in physical damage, but also in the artillery’s effect as a weapon of terror. The demoralizing effect on troops forced to stand still and endure a cannonade, seeing whole rows of their comrades being mowed down, certainly was tangible. 

A normal ”cure” for this kind of waiting would be a steadying look into the liquor bottles, and perhaps a comforting prayer as the deadly iron balls howled past them. As a hint of the odds facing the courageous “Gå På” drilled Swedes, it is estimated that they had rolled up around 8-10 guns, the Danes as much as 50.

The powder keg dangerously close to the action

Though exact numbers are not possible to define, it is certain that the heavy firepower concentrated on the infantry added a considerable number to the butcher’s bill. Some of the bitterest hand-to-hand combat was also fought out over possession of the guns.  As the battle raged back and forth, units like the Swedish Västgöta-Dals regiment stood out along with their Foot Guard.

I’m waiting for permission to post some really nice battlefield maps, showing the troop movements and the different sequences of the battle. Hopefully I’ll be able to follow up on this shortly with post giving you a clearer overview.

All figures are Warefare Miniatures.

Thanks for reading.