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"Column v. Line: any new data? new mechanics?" Topic


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Pvt Snuffy20 Dec 2018 4:55 p.m. PST

Good golly miss molly, this debate was pretty fierce even back in the Featherstonian era, and has largely continued on and off ever since.

Was reading Neil Thomas' interesting book, "Wargaming 19th C. Europe, 1815-1878". The start of the book's period is certainly late Napoleonic armies and tactics, and for many of the armies they didn't really change much for a long time. Has has two unusual / interesting mechanics:

1) Only one charge allowed per Unit side so four at most [front, rear, left/right flanks] for a Unit in a very tight spot. This limits "massing" of units that wargamers love so much but I doubt is true historically.
2) Infantry can only charge Infantry if they've more stands than the Charge Target. Infantry have 4 stands per Unit.

I think the second is quite good, and the first renews the old Column v. Line debate. Was "mass" really effective? Or was it really a morale question? I think it was morale since thin British lines were consistently able to stand up to "massed" French in columns.

With so many excellent books being written, I'm wondering if any new light has been shed on this dark topic! And/or are there any games that have new mechanics to handle the clash of lines v. columns.

Thanks for thoughts.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2018 6:11 p.m. PST

This is a debate for the Napoleonic Board. Charging in column during the ACW is close to suicide. I am sure it probably happened but I have been studying the ACW in College and ever since and I cannot recall any charge in column. You almost always fight in line. I played JR2 for years and most charges in column did not turn out well. We almost never did it.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2018 7:41 p.m. PST

Charging in column did occur in the ACW and yes it was very bloody.

DisasterWargamer Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2018 8:03 p.m. PST

Interesting on comment on massing of units in statement 1 – I do not agree with it as a blanket statement. Too many examples otherwise.

BillyNM20 Dec 2018 11:53 p.m. PST

The Neil Thomas rules look pretty sensible to me bearing in mind how simple his rule set is. Coordinating multiple units to charge a line at the same time should be tricky and limiting it in the way he does seems like an elegant compromise to avoid making the rules more complex.
I've always been frustrated by the wargame tactic of packing columns in side by side when in reality they usually (not always) tried to ensure they had space to deploy if required.
Off the top of my head I can't think of an example if two side by side columns striking an enemy in line at the same time; anyone?

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 1:02 a.m. PST

Or was it really a morale question? I think it was morale since thin British lines were consistently able to stand up to "massed" French in columns.

My (relatively) recent reading of this, in particular the spate of books with eyewitness accounts which came out about Waterloo, leads me to believe that the key missing fact is that it doesn't take the fire of an entire battalion to stop an oncoming column (which was implied in most wargaming rules), thus the rationale for attacking with multiple columns disappears. In the right circumstances, this allows units defending in square or column to drive off attackers too.

Off the top of my head I can't think of an example if two side by side columns striking an enemy in line at the same time; anyone?

The French formations towards the end of Albuera seem to be not too far away from this.

David Brown21 Dec 2018 3:02 a.m. PST

Pvt. S,

Re:

Off the top of my head I can't think of an example if two side by side columns striking an enemy in line at the same time; anyone?

It's more a case of two columns side by side attacking a line rather than actually "striking". Or for that matter a column and a line attacking together.

Girard's Division at Albuera attacked in this style.

DB

BillyNM21 Dec 2018 4:19 a.m. PST

I thought it was Ordre Mixte rather than columns side by side at Albuera, albeit the column with line to either side had little/no room to deploy. but then that all ended very badly…

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 5:02 a.m. PST

Rallynow

Supporting Member of TMPThis is a debate for the Napoleonic Board. Charging in column during the ACW is close to suicide. I am sure it probably happened but I have been studying the ACW in College and ever since and I cannot recall any charge in column. You almost always fight in line. I played JR2 for years and most charges in column did not turn out well. We almost never did it.
Check out actions just before and at Spotsylvania link They used columns there and any attack on a fortification involved a column.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 5:05 a.m. PST

Look at the Prussian manuals from 1806-1809. Their first "line" was thick skirmishers. The second was fusiliers in line. The 3rd and 4th were division columns (2 companies wide and deep)

Glenn Pearce21 Dec 2018 7:12 a.m. PST

Hello Pvt Snuffy!

Whirlwind makes a very important point "it doesn't take fire of an entire battalion to stop an oncoming column". This probably throws the calculations of some wargame rules off by some degree.

I'm not aware of any past or present wargame ruleset that can actually reflect the historical dynamic that took place in the classic "column vs line" situations. There are just way too many variables in place. Similar problems with all formations vs square.

Somewhere around the turn of this last century some new rule sets started to appear that don't even bother with formation changes. So all the energy spent in trying to "out formation change" your opponent is used to concentrate on more important issues such as brigade deployment, movement, when, where to attack, etc. After all no major battle was ever won or lost because a single battalion was in the wrong formation. So why create a false dynamic within a rule system to reflect this? These modern rule sets simply delegate the actual changes in formations to a level below that of the players by saying "all units are assumed to be in the best formation possible for the situation at hand". This effectively eliminates the rock/paper/scissors mentality that is prevalent in a number of wargame rules. It also restricts artificial massing. Horse and musket battlefield commanders never indulged in such games. They adopted "the best formation possible for the situation at hand". So why not allow players to do the same?

So yes, mechanics have changed in some ways for some people.

Best regards,

Glenn

Bagration181221 Dec 2018 7:20 a.m. PST

We've chosen a different approach to stop 'massing' or 'ganging up' of columns on a line. We don't let units in column form square if they don't have room to deploy into line. Serves the purpose without having to create a bunch of artificial mechanics around column v. line interactions. Having several units of foot in closely packed columns seen off by cavalry is a lesson that typically only needs to be experienced once.

donlowry21 Dec 2018 9:41 a.m. PST

Columns were used in the ACW but not usually columns of companies nor columns of divisions (2-company front). Instead, columns of regiments/battalions were common. For instance, Spotsylvania.

Cavalry, of course, often fought in columns of squadrons.

As for rule number two, it would not allow the 1st Minnesota to charge a Confederate brigade, as it did at Gettysburg. (Got shot up, but stopped the Confederate advance.)

Pvt Snuffy21 Dec 2018 10:36 a.m. PST

@donlowry
I've never seen that columns of regiments were common in the ACW. My recollection [without consulting references] is that such attacks were virtually singularities. Successive "waves" of regiments attacking I would say was common.

As for rule number 2, I don't think that's the case. You would be charging a regiment with a regiment – but only if the target was sufficiently weakened.

In any event, a singular event should not be in a wargame set of rules.

For example, while a British horse artillery battery successfully charged French infantry in the Peninsula, I'd never have rules for that in a set of wargame rules. Maybe a special scenario rule for that one unit but never as a standard rule.

If that means my games won't have one regiment doing something exceptional, I'm fine with that. I'm gaming a period, not a novel occurrence.

@ Glenn Pearce
Yeah, that's the direction I'm heading towards, also. I don't even think the brigade and division commanders gave the battalion commanders detailed orders – They let them form their battalion as they saw fit.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 5:49 p.m. PST

Bagration1812 21 Dec 2018 7:20 a.m. PST

We've chosen a different approach to stop 'massing' or 'ganging up' of columns on a line. We don't let units in column form square if they don't have room to deploy into line. Serves the purpose without having to create a bunch of artificial mechanics around column v. line interactions. Having several units of foot in closely packed columns seen off by cavalry is a lesson that typically only needs to be experienced once.


You are completely ignoring the fact that the Austrians and most of the German states easily went from columns to closed columns to defend against cavalry. These were quicker to form than the hollow squares and were 6-12+ deep rather than 3 deep to better defend against horse. Please remember that in the 7YW units didn't form "squares" but defended against cavalry in line- the lines at 4-7 ranks and worked quite well, thank you.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 5:51 p.m. PST

If the British didn't use them, they didn't work.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 5:59 p.m. PST

Has anybody ever considered that a German 4 company battalion, operating in a division column (2 company wide, two company deep) is the same thing as a 6 rank deep assault formation? Something like two lines, with the second supporting the first? Only that each column of divisions is much more compact and under better command control (because they are spread out over 75 yards and not 150 yards. Oh, and they are more resistant to cavalry (6 ranks deep) and can form a closed column mass quicker than a 3 or 2 deep line can go into hollow square. And they can move around terrain easier and concentrate on salients and weak points in the enemy lines easier. Naw, the British didn't use them.

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 6:31 p.m. PST

If the British didn't use them, they didn't work….Naw, the British didn't use them.

Some problem with "the British" here?

Naturally the closed column had lots of virtues, which is why it was used; it had certain vices as well compared to a square (lack of firepower, denser target).

Incidentally, did Prussian & Russian 4-Coy battalions use double-company frontage attack columns? I thought that they used double-platoon frontage (from Imperial Bayonets).

Bagration181222 Dec 2018 6:32 a.m. PST

Ummm… how do you know what I'm ignoring or not? The post was about squares not closed columns. Our rules don't have any spatial restrictions for closed columns/masses. They're great artillery targets, though.

Please show me a reg where a battalion using a four company structure formed column on a two company front. Two platoons, yes, but I've never seen the other.

donlowry22 Dec 2018 8:52 a.m. PST

I've never seen that columns of regiments were common in the ACW. My recollection [without consulting references] is that such attacks were virtually singularities. Successive "waves" of regiments attacking I would say was common.

One or more regiments advancing behind another -- call it what you will.

Brechtel19822 Dec 2018 8:56 a.m. PST

Charging in column during the ACW is close to suicide.

Check Russel's and Upton's attack at Rappahannock Station in late 1863 and Upton's assault at Spotsylvania.

Both attacks were successful. And the attack at Rappahannock Station was the first successful night attack of the war. They bagged the Louisiana Brigade and took the Confederate fortified position.

Glenn Pearce23 Dec 2018 7:46 a.m. PST

Hello Pvt Snuffy!

Good stuff, once you stop forcing players to micro manage every battalion, etc. the game takes on a whole new dynamic. Players get a better sense of higher command and focus more on the bigger picture. The game becomes more intense with less friction. Nobody misses playing rock/paper/scissors.

I think in most cases brigade commanders did inform their regimental/battalion commanders about their role in the coming battle. They had to be aware of their position within the brigade formation and what formation they should be in. During a battle I think the battalion commander could only change the formation of his battalion (on his own) in an emergency and only if it didn't compromise the brigade. A lot of battalions formed up in lines with some in reserve often in columns so it was generally not very problematic to deploy on a battlefield. It was not unusual for every battalion to have been assigned a specific location and formation from a written battle plan. A number of rule sets do ignore these basics and allow what is called a "shot gun" style of game where as soon as the game starts it's every regiment/battalion for themselves often going off in all kinds of directions. Which creates a completely unrealistic situation from the start of the game.

Best regards,

Glenn

Glenn Pearce23 Dec 2018 8:17 a.m. PST

Hello Bagration1812!

I think we had a similar rule at one time, but cracks started to appear. The first was rather simple, cavalry was not always present so square was not a factor. The second was some nations could form a solid square so space was not an issue. The final straw was the entire dynamic of square vs cavalry was completely out of whack with the time frame of a turn. Trained troops could form open square in under two minutes. Our various rules had times of anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. So we were dealing with completely fabricated rules and situations that had no connection with the realities of Napoleonic warfare.

Our final solution was to drop all rock/paper/scissors style of gaming and adopt flexible time and scale rules. No one has ever wanted to go back to those kind of games.

Best regards,

Glenn

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2018 8:53 a.m. PST

In general, from the French to the Russians, it was agreed that the column was not a combat formation except for fortifications or BUAs.

However, there are examples from all armies, including the British [yes, even them] using columns to attack/defend on the battlefield.

This debate was STILL going on into the mid-eighteen hundreds, so I doubt that we can resolve it here.

Keep in mind that there were all sorts of columns. The open column attack seen on the Napoleonic battle field and Upton's attack Spotsylvania were more like a series of supported lines than the block of men most think of when a column is mentioned.

And columns were used as protection against cavalry, particularly like the mixed formations you see at Albuera, Borodino and in Italy in the 1790's.

Aethelflaeda was framed23 Dec 2018 9:35 a.m. PST

There is a political aspect to the debate…some of the more republican generals continued to like the column in atttacks after 1805. There was an understanding that against unsteady opponents the need to deploy to line was not always necessary. They simply broke the opposition by scaring them with the density seenspeedily approaching. It backfired when encountering more stalwart defenders. There may well have been a morale bonus for unsteady infantry on the attack. The ability to maneuver in line was beyond their ability and training (Spanish mobs in particular such as at Talavera). An attack in column might the only way they could even try.

Stoppage23 Dec 2018 2:23 p.m. PST

To my mind's eye, this:

The defenders see a French brigade column (succession of battalion columns) approaching. It is perhaps 1000 metres out. It is very dense, it snakes, the bayonets glisten. Scarey.

The French guns approach, unlimber, and bombard. Skirmishers appear. There is smoke.

The defenders remember seeing the dense, sinuous column, it has many men, the bayonets will be very sharp.

SUDDENLY out of the smoke loom smaller columns (battalions) they have got there incredibly fast. SHOCKING.

Good troops will yawn and volley, poor troops won't.

My tuppenceworth.

Merry Xmas Everyone

von Winterfeldt24 Dec 2018 4:12 a.m. PST


Yeah, that's the direction I'm heading towards, also. I don't even think the brigade and division commanders gave the battalion commanders detailed orders – They let them form their battalion as they saw fit.

Maybe witht the exception of forming squares – yes – otherwise by all means NO.

I strongly to recommend to read:

Préaratifs de l'attaque sur Pratzen

Here you will see that even Boney – had stong ideas how the tactical formations should be – which was passed down to Soult, who in turn modified the tactical formations – and whose were again modified by the men on the job, the brigade generals.

I am very much in line of thought with Glenn Pearce.

Why is a column superior to any other formation on the battle field?

From a column you could change into any formation reasonable quickly, as the tactical situation on the spot demanded, they same of passage of "lines", the same as finding place for artillery, the same of supporting the first line of battle, the same for manoeuvering quickly.

Tactics had to be seen on brigade level – with the divisional commander on top.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP24 Dec 2018 4:29 a.m. PST

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP
21 Dec 2018 6:31 p.m. PST
If the British didn't use them, they didn't work….Naw, the British didn't use them.
Some problem with "the British" here?
Naturally the closed column had lots of virtues, which is why it was used; it had certain vices as well compared to a square (lack of firepower, denser target).
Incidentally, did Prussian & Russian 4-Coy battalions use double-company frontage attack columns? I thought that they used double-platoon frontage (from Imperial Bayonets).

Many German states had 4 companies in a battalion. The 1806 regulations (not yet implemented in 1806)had the basic brigade formation that I described. The "company" was a 80 – 150 man sub-unit and there were 4 in a battalion. The word "Zug" seems to have meant different things for different countries at different times. Often it was the "half-company", but sometimes it meant a full company or a quarter company. ….. The 2-company wide, 2 company deep formation might be thought of as two lines in succession- one in front and one behind. A nice thing about this formation is that it is under better control than a 150 yard wide line and it is better able to avoid terrain and to concentrate on weak points in the enemy lines.

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP24 Dec 2018 6:23 a.m. PST

@1968billsfan,

I am not quite sure where you are going with this, exactly. Nafziger makes clear that the Prussians and Russians did not appear to use this formation that you refer to (their columns have a single company / two-zug frontage). But even if there were some of the smaller German states using it then…what, exactly? It is effectively a 6-deep line, a formation from the C17 / early C18.

Stop me if I am wrong, but your problem seems to be that you think that wargames rules unduly penalize formations not used by the British in this period. I'm not sure this is true generally (and I know for a fact it is totally irrelevant in the rules that I and Glenn Pearce use) – do you have any particular set of rules in mind?

Sparta25 Dec 2018 7:22 a.m. PST

Columns as proposed by Guibert – as a synthesis of the ordre mince vs ordre profonde discussion – is used to maneuver into the correct position quickly and effortless, facilitating deployment and – most of the time – combat in line. The bigger the formation, the bigger the advantage. We often discuss battalion vs battalion in line vs column, which is not the issue. Commanders could often maneuver a reasonably trained battalion in line, the problem was to maneuver efficicently with a brigade or a division – this could be accomplished better in line.
We have after many years of development come to these conclusion in our rules design

1) Columns must maintain deployment distance or become massed – which impedes movement fire and shock combat.
2) Columns move like lines, but movement acitvation becomes increasingly diffciult with more "front Bases". This means you can activate 5 columns as easily as two lines – so a single battalion activated in line is as flexible as column (unless it pivots), but multiple units are easier handled in column.
3) There is no combat advantage being in line or column for initial shock, but if an attack stalls it is a bad thing for a colulmn to end up i a prolonged firefight with a line.

So no need to avoid the tactical details of units and deployment distances if you rules that takes historical deployment into account.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP25 Dec 2018 9:39 a.m. PST

Sparta: What are your historical source[s] for this [apart from your game development]?

the problem was to maneuver efficicently with a brigade or a division – this could be accomplished better in line. [line of columns or line formation?]

We have after many years of development come to these conclusion in our rules design

2) Columns move like lines, but movement acitvation becomes increasingly diffciult with more "front Bases". This means you can activate 5 columns as easily as two lines – so a single battalion activated in line is as flexible as column (unless it pivots), but multiple units are easier handled in column. ["movement activation"?]

3) There is no combat advantage being in line or column for initial shock, but if an attack stalls it is a bad thing for a colulmn to end up in a prolonged firefight with a line. [This is not the common view during the period from what I have seen]

So no need to avoid the tactical details of units and deployment distances if you rules that takes historical deployment into account.[What need is there to avoid tactical details in a design?]

Sorry for the questions, but I am not following you.

Sparta26 Dec 2018 7:01 a.m. PST

Sorry for the confusion – I miswrote the sentence which shoudl red: the problem was to maneuver efficicently with a brigade or a division – this could be accomplished better in a line of battalion colums than in a continuous battle line of battalions in line.

As for the sources – if somewhat had written authoritatively and definituvely during the period, that "this is how it is basta!" we would not have a discussion. My points and conclusions are based on years of researching the histroy and developing a game to get historical results.

The basic problem with most wargame rules is that they focus on how to move a battalion in line where as it seems that the main challenge was how to move a brigade or division in line. This is excellently desribed and highlighted in Quimbys "The background to the Napoleonic wars" where the problem for french theorists before and after the SYW described the problem thier armies had in advancing multiple battalion lines effectively – the sooultion of the ordre profond was made to maneuvre effectively and championed by Folard and Mesnil- Durand as a breakthrough tool due to momentom. Guibert and others took the column for its manevure potential, but discarded the theory of columns having momentun. Columns was only considered a proper attack formation for fortified places or defiles. However, as the years progressed tactical lasyness, poor command and control or perhaps slow cultural drift led to many attacks in column because commanders either misunderstood the situation – thinking they could easily break through or had troops whom they were not comfortable deploying.

I have not read a single historical that imbues the column with a specific attack advantage. I do however feel that column were easier to keep advancing due to improved control, wheras undiscilplined lines were more prone to stop and start a firefight (like it was custom in the ACW), a tendency even worse woth skirmishers.

One of the things which I have come to realize htrought he years is that the ability to move or change formation is greatly affected not only by troop quality and training but also by casualties, disorder, fatigue and even morale. The more fought out a unit is, the less able it is to respond in a prober way to battlefield circumstances inclduing formation changes. One of the better ways to represent that is the graded activation system as originally presented in the fire and fury rules.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2018 1:16 p.m. PST

Yeah, that's the direction I'm heading towards, also. I don't even think the brigade and division commanders gave the battalion commanders detailed orders – They let them form their battalion as they saw fit.

Maybe with the exception of forming squares – yes – otherwise by all means NO.

von Winterfeldt:

I also agree. A strong NO. Battalions in brigade had to operate together in line, column etc. The battalion formations were all coordinated, NOT left up to the battalion commanders--in any army. It would be like leaving the actual march pattern used by each marching band member up to them during a performance…

I strongly to recommend to read:

Préaratifs de l'attaque sur Pratzen

Where do you find that read?

von Winterfeldt27 Dec 2018 11:50 p.m. PST

it was originally published as a series of articles in

Austerlitz, Revue d'Histoire, 1907, nr. 76, nr 77, nr 78 and nr. 80

However all of those articles were printed as a running up volume of Alombert and Colin and are published in

volume V – a special edition compiled by Teissèdre who re – printed this work.

It contains not only Austerlitz but also Hollabrünn – and the surprise of the bridges at Vienna.

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