Sunday 29 June 2014

The Battle of Rezonville and Von Bredow's Death-Ride - 1870

Von Bredow's Death-Ride - arguably the last successful
 cavalry charge in European history.

Dear reader, here follows my third and last account from the visit made to the battlefields around Metz - this time looking at the Battle of Rezonville (a.k.a Mars-La-Tour or Vionville, depending on taste and allegiance). I do find it somewhat hard to constrain myself when writing about this my favorite period of political/military history, so please forgive the rather long post. I've spiced it up with pictures from my visit to the actual battlefield and of my Franco-Prussian miniatures collection. Hope you will enjoy.

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On the morning of 16th August 1870, the bulk of the French Army of the Rhine would fight an engagement initiated by the advance-guard of the German Second Army. Greatly outnumbered, the German Corps commander would find his defensive enemy unwilling to use the advantage of numbers, and the battle would be a close fought action most notably remembered for the self-sacrificial but skilfully preformed attack of Von Bredow’s cavalry on the artillery enforced French line, an attack known as Von Bredow’s Death-ride.

The battle have had many names, English sources often call it Mars-la-Tour, French refer to it as Rezonville, while I've seen German texts using Vionville. I'm not going to attempt a conclusion as to which is more correct.

The background: After the initial French defeats of Spichern and Woerth at the border, both Bazaine (Army of the Rhine) and MacMahon (1st & 5th Corps) withdrew their armies. MacMahon marched all the way to Châlons (300 km from the front), in order to reform and rebuild his shattered troops.

The battlefield as it look around noon on the 16th Aug.
Source: French magazine "Champs de Bataille

As German superiority of numbers was becoming all to clear to the French, Bazaine – who had anchored his army at Metz, further north-east - wanted to link up with MacMahon, and hopefully by combining their strength be able to push back the now rolling German advance into France.

Battlefield photo: Looking north from a position outside Vionville.
The French would be formed at the edge of the woods.

German tactical overlord, Moltke, however anticipated this move, and while the Prussian First Army would press forward on the French from a direction due east of Metz, he requested the Second Army under Prince Frederick Charles, to stop it’s advance across the Moselle River and swing north thus encircling Bazaine, and cutting off any attempt to link up by the French commanders.

The French line at the edge of the wood.
Figures a mix of Foundry and Perry miniatures.

On the 16th august, Bazaine had just begun his depart from Metz marching towards Châlons, and the main part of his army was concentrated around the villages of Gravelotte, Rezonville and Vionville on the country road leading westward out of Metz.

As the advance guard of the German Second Army approached the resting French, and the German Corps Commander Alvensleben only thought he was facing a minor French force from Bazaine’s rear-guard, the scene was set for one of the most notable engagements of the Franco-Prussian War.

Battlefield photo: The woods egde.
Here the forward French line would be deployed.

At 09.00 the first German artillery deployed and started pounding away on the coffee-sipping French encamped in Vionville. The fight was on, and the French battle line would be stretched out from a position north of Mars-la-Tour and across the gentle rolling fields to the village of Gravelotte ca. 6 kilometres further east. 

Initial German advance pushed the French out of Vionville and back to a position at Rezonville, where the Imperial Guard now formed the anchor on the French left flank, protecting the vital communications back to Metz.

The 7th Magdeburg Cuirassiers.
Figures all Foundry.

The Germans now realized the true size of the French force across the field. One German Corps was facing a complete French army. But the German commander Alvensleben did not deter, and skilfully arranged his limited troops making excellent use of the superior German artillery by deploying it in a masses battery amounting to 200+ guns between the Bois de St Arnould and Flavigny to the southeast of Vionville. In fact, this effective concentration of German firepower would successfully convince the French command that they were facing a large German force.

Battlefield photo: Map found next to memorial at the battlefield.
It shows the site of Von Bredow's charge (seen in a North to South angle)

In an attempt to counter the German advance, French Corps commander Frossard got permission to launch an attack comprising the Cuirassiers and Lancers of the Guard. The cavalry colonel charged with this unenviable task openly complained at the limited prospects of success, but was overruled, and thus formed his costly elite troops and dashed away in the direction of the German lines.

Battlefield photo: Looking down towards Bois de Tronville from the middle 
of the battlefield. It is from this direction Von Bredow would come sneaking up.

The effective rifle fire of the formed German infantry reduced the crème of the French Imperial cavalry to shambles in just a few moments. The fleeing remnants were pursued by German cavalry all the way back to the French line, where Bazaine and his entourage briefly got involved in the melee, before the Germans finally turned back. 

Von Bredow's Charge. Map drawn up by Austrian officer, and published in the manuals of the Austrian "Kriegsshule" (Militaryacademy).
The map is kindly supplied by fellow Contiental Wars Society member, Andrew Brentnall.

Just before noon Alvensleben had scouted the French position swelling and strengthening to his front. Especially the forming of a French artillery battery on the field northwest of Rezonville was menacing to any German hopes to press an attack. 
Orders thus passed to General Von Bredow asking him to take this position, using the fresh reserves of the 5th Cavalry Division.

The "zug" of cuirassiers dashing for the French canons.

Von Bredow took one glance at the French position to his front, and after airing initial protests and receiving the confirmation to go ahead, he stoically remarked: “Koste es, was es wolle” - “It will cost what it will”. He formed up the 7th “Magdeburg” Cuirassiers and the lance-armed 16th Uhlans, and swung out from behind the safety of Vionville.

Battlefield photo: This is the ground Von Bredow would see as he came up from the depression in the ground nearing the French line at the wood's edge.

Von Bredow advanced towards the French line, making careful use of the rolling landscape. He would lead his men through a little depression in the fields before the targeted gun position, and thus enabling his troops to get within 100-200 meters before the charge was sounded and his men exposed. 

Capt. H.M. Hozier describes two consecutive charges into infantry columns. 

Here is the charge as described by Captain H. M. Hozier, whom took part in this fearful ride:

“Our brave general, with his staff of four officers, three of which he lost, was nearly on a line with the cuirassiers. Before the French battery had discharged it’s third gun, we were masters of it. The honour of challenging the French commander I could not leave to another, and I rather think I found him. It was clear to me that in this death-ride the objective was not to bring home trophies, but to strike down everything between the wood and the road. At the battery all were put to the sword, and then we went in tearing course at an infantry column, which was ridden over and cut down. Its remnants, however, sent a good many shots after us. At this moment the dragoons were close on our heels. A second battery was attacked, and all who did not run were put to the sword. Then, as many as were left of us made for a second infantry column. Just before reaching it two squadrons of French cuirassiers wheeled from a woody hollow into the gaps of our little handful, and after the last infantry column had been ridden down we wheeled to the right and rushed back. 

The French gunners "put to the sword".

By this time we were pell-mell with the French horse. Before the battery I received two shots, which went through my helmet, without, however, touching me. The adjutant, hit by two bullets, fell from his horse; one trumpeter was shot down, the horse of the other wounded. I was just speaking with Captain Heister when he also fell. Lieutenant Campbell was for a while by my side until, in the attempt to tear away from the French cuirassiers the standard he had seizes with his left hand, he was fearfully maltreated. Someone helped him to cut his way out. I shall never forget my ordering the first trumpeter I found, nearly on the same spot where we set out on our ride of nearly a quarter of a German mile, to blow the regimental signal. The trumpet had been bored through by shots, and a sound came that pierced me to the quick. At my call three sections out of the eleven assembled. A gloomy bivouac followed, as little more than a fourth of the regiment had responded to the call!”
(Source: The Franco-Prussian War by Capt. H. M. Hozier, published 1875)

The units participating in Von Bredow's Death-ride
suffered around 70% losses.

Von Bredow’s Death Ride and the ensuing cavalry melee, fought while detaching from the French line, left no more than 25-30% survivors. However the military objective of the charge had been met with great success. With the French gun position reduced and Canrobert’s line left in disorder, the Germans had bought them selves precious time to regroup and bring up more reinforcements. 

Battlefield photo: Memorial situated at the position of the second French line.
Roughly from were the French cavalry would have counter-charged.
The position of the French guns marked in the background by the row of trees. 

The success of Von Bredow is not little matter. It can even be put in comparison to the parallel action of his French counterpart of the Imperial Guard cavalry whom tried but failed so miserably. The time for massed cavalry assault was definitely over, but Von Bredow’s clever use of the ground would leave this last testament to the gallant charge of horses.

Thank you very much for reading!

Friday 20 June 2014

Landsknecht Pike Block – Italian Wars

A forest of pikes and a sea of lace.

Following the lead of last weeks post, I return yet again to the time of lace-clad Renaissance warriors with a second row of landsknechts, completing my first pike block. Each Landsknecht pike block for my Italian Wars collection will be winged with a set of 3-base arquebus units, building on the Spanish firepower heritage of the imperial army at the time of Charles V. 

The second row.
Any willing Doppelsoldners? Come on now...

In order to familiarize with the subject standing on my painting table, I set out to investigate the origins of the Landsknechts. The word Landsknecht perhaps unsurprisingly originates from German, and can be translated roughly into knight or servant of the land. The term landsknecht is first used in the late 15th century to describe the elite mercenary infantry tradition developing at the time. They were initially an imitation of the Swiss in terms of tactics, but the later influence of the Spanish military innovations, would prove vital in establishing the landsknecht’s edge over their much feared mountain-men adversaries.

Second line, shot from the back.
The hardly visible 40*120mm plexiglass tray is from Oshiro Modelterrian.

The Landsknechts were chiefly drafted from the regions of Swabia (Southwest Germany), Alsace, Flanders and the Rhineland, but the phenomenon became a key part of European military culture and thus many more nationalities were represented in their ranks.

The father of the fatherless. 
Georg Von Frundberg.

The great iconic leader of the Habsburg landsknecht was Georg Von Frundsberg (1473 – 1528). He came from a South-German family of long knightly heritage serving under the Holy Roman Emperors. With a stern character true to the codes of his noble birth, he would become the all-embracing father of these “fatherless” mercenary children. 

A view of the complete pike block from the back.
Again it's set in a tray from Oshiro, but now in a 80*120mm frame.

Von Frundsberg would serve under both Maximilian I and Charles V in their wars on the Swiss and later the French. A true father to his flock, Von Frundsberg would on occasions, and without request from the Emperor, sell off personal belongings such as silverware and even his wife’s jewellery to create money to pay his devoted landsknechts.

The innovative Spanish Tercio would enjoy more than a century of battlefield dominance,
eventually outdating in the middle of the 17th Century.

The initial weapons and tactics were, as previously mentioned derived from the aggressive Swiss use of massed pike. However the Landsknechts would refine it and make it their own. The Imperial army’s quick tactical adaption to the late Renaissance influence of more efficient firepower from artillery and the arquebus, would put them at a distinctive advantage. One that even the gallant metal plated French Gendarmes or stern Swiss pikes forests couldn’t break. This would signal a shift in military paradigm; the time of the Tercios had come.

Thank you very much for reading!

Friday 13 June 2014

Imperial Landsknechts – Italian Wars

The first row of what is to become a Landsknecht pike block.
Figures and flags are all Pro Gloria.

As part of an on-going Italian War club project with fellow Stockholm historical wargamers Jonas and Michael, I left the year 1870 for a trip to the lace-clad pike blocks of the Renaissance, and finished this first line of my projected Landsknecht pike block.

The Imperial Eagle of Charles V.

Miniatures are all from the excellent Pro Gloria range, from which I also found some suitable flags. Pro Gloria offers a wide selection of really nice flags for the period, and as I'm painting for the imperial side, I naturally chose the classic Imperial Habsburg Eagle on the signal yellow, and perhaps more interesting, but certainly just as beautiful, the graphically attractive Fugger Family flag.

The Fugger banner.
Couldn't resist the beautiful graphics and colors.

Upon deciding on the flags, I set out to investigate the background of this interesting family of Imperial allegiance. 

Jakob Fugger 1459 - 1525.
The wealthiest and most powerful man of his time.
With both popes and emperors in his pocket, this man called the shots.

The Fuggers were based in the Imperial city of Augsburg – many times the seat of the Imperial Diet (The council for the Holy Roman Emperor and the electors of the German states) With a background in banking, not unlike that of the Medici, the Fugger family grew it’s wealth by combining strategically placed loans at the very top of Imperial/Papal society cleverly gaining political influence and a very lucrative range of mining monopolies as part of their loan interests. The Fugger Family is said to be both politically and financially behind the election of both Maximilian I and Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor. Imagine that in Kick-Back-City. 

The Imperial Diet at Augsburg.

Interestingly, Jakob Fugger (a.k.a Jakob Fugger the Rich) played an unwilling role in what was to become the Reformation and religious fragmentation of the Empire.

The unit shot from the rear.
Red pikes makes the post battle clean up so much easier.

Jakob, accredited as the World’s richest man in his time, received a letter from Pope Leo X, enquiring about the possibility for the Papal State to attain a loan with the wealthy banker as creditor. The Pope had ambitious renovation plans in Rome, amongst other the Basilica of Saint Peter would ring a bell – and artist like Michelangelo didn’t come cheap. Only one problem, the Catholic Church was more or less broke.

Renaissance Augsburg. 

Taking a step closer to God, or perhaps divine power, Jakob happily wrote up a large loan for the Pope, only to put the holder of the divine office under further financial pressure. The Catholic Church had to increase their taxation, sell their German bishoprics and accelerate the collection of funds through the sale of Indulgences. 

The unit's Doppelsoldner captain.
A man of many tales and the clothes to prove it.

All the above was not too popular among the people of Germany, whom began to feel somewhat distant to the ambitious and costly projects in Rome, more resembling cardinal sin rather than divine guidance. This increase in taxation subsequently leads to the proclamations of Lutter, originally an Augustinian monk, thus sparking the Reformation.

City life as I image it in Renaissance Europe.

As an interesting note to these events, it was to the Fugger Family’s newly build residence in Augsburg that Lutter was called to meet with Cardinal Cajetan, and by order of the Pope recant his statements against the Catholic Church. Lutter rejected to do this, thus signalling the start of the Reformation in 1518. Perhaps not what Jakob Fugger, who died in Dec 1525 age 66, had in mind when he wrote out that loan to Leo X.

Thank you very much for reading!

Friday 6 June 2014

The Prussian Army; its leaders and legacy on German Unification

Prussian Command base.
Figures from Foundry and NorthStar, flag is GMB.

After the rollercoaster ride of the Napoleonic Wars, with huge defeats but also glimmers of prestige like at Waterloo under Blücher, the Prussian army was bound for a road of reform and modernization, taking it up to the smooth and fit fighting engine that would bring down the French Empire and subsequently be the instrument of German unification in 1870-71.

"Der Alte Fritz"
Frederick the Great leading the Prussians at Zorndrof.
Painting by Carl Röchling.

With a proud military tradition rooted in the mythical victories and disciplinary codes of Frederick the Great, lovingly known as ”Der Alte Fritz”, the Prussian army had perhaps more potential that was willingly admitted to it in Europe after the removal of Napoleon in 1815.

Prussians advance into Gravelotte.
"Tod des Majors von Halden" 
Painting by Carl Röchling.

Despite a common cultural and lingual heritage, the post-napoleon peace settlement still left Germany fragmented in small individual states and vulnerable to the political and military winds crossing Europe. The Prussian state and army would skilfully ride a tide of nationalist awakening in the mid-19th century, and directed by the firm hand of visionaries like Bismarck and Moltke, unite the German states and transform this Central-European political vacuum into a Power House of a German Empire, led by a Kaiser. 

My NorthStar Prussians on the road towards Gravelotte.
Inspired by the Carl Röchling painting.

While the European revolution of 1848 swept across the continent weakening many of the old Empires, the Prussian Monarchy was left strengthened, and Prussian military and political influence over other German states would increase, as these would need to call on Prussia and the Prussian army to clean up the revolutionary mobs in their cities and high streets.

Detail of the Carl Röchling painting.
I took this close up of the original painting, now hanging in the museum at Gravelotte.

In 1859, King Frederick William IV tasked Minister of War Albrecht von Roon with the modernization of the Prussian fighting machine, now more royal and politically connected to the King than many of it’s European adversary forces.

A successful Prussian Trio.
Bismarck, Roon & Moltke.

Roon would form part of a triangle of brilliant Prussian leaders along with Bismarck and Moltke. Together these three conservative Prussian gentlemen would instrument profound change; introducing new effective tactical doctrines based on steam-age wonders like railroad and the telegraph, and channelling industrial innovation like the ultra modern Needle Gun rifle and perhaps the World’s best artillery hardware from the Krupp factories into the Pikklehube clad legions.

The Prussians storm the Danish position at Dybbøl 1864.
This image is from the coming Danish TV drama , check out the YOUTUBE teaser here: "1864".

All the above would later be refined into perfection in a series of wars known as the Wars of Unification. First, and as a Dane very interestingly, the Second Schleswig War in 1864, fought over the sovereignty of the German states of Schleswig and Holstein.

The Prussians at Königgrätz 1866.
Again a fantastic painting by Carl Röchling.

Later Bismarck would settle the score with the Austrian Empire on who would be the main political influence on the German states - Prussia or Austria. The effective Needle Gun and rigid Prussian infantry doctrine would settle this argument most effectively at Königgrätz in 1866.

Bismarck offering some gentlemanly words 
of comfort to the defeated Napoleon III at Sedan 1870.

Finally Moltke’s and Bismarck’s finest hour would be the provocation of a French declaration of war, and the subsequent surgically precise military campaigns of the Prussian and German Confederate troops in France during the Franco-Prussian War, resulting in a long envisioned proclamation of German unification into Empire under Prussian leadership. 

I've started painting up the Grandmanner collection from Salute.
First up this village shrine - very French country road n'est-ce pas?.

An amazing feat on Prussia’s behalf, considering their starting point at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and the vast distance of political and social unrest that had to be crossed in the 19th Century taking them up to the point of proclaiming their King as Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles.

Thank you very much for reading.