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"Force-marching troops and tabletop penalties" Topic

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4th Cuirassier10 Sep 2019 1:26 a.m. PST

I've always been more interested in campaigns than one-off battles. As a consequence, the question of march rates has always been important.

One of the first things you notice about the Napoleonic era is how often feats of marching were achieved. The obvious one is Davout's march of 70-odd miles in 2 days to arrive at Austerlitz, but there are others. Much of Wellington's army marched 22 miles in a day to get from Brussels to Quatre Bras.

The second thing is that there are very clearly some national differences in march rate in evidence. Quarrie got some people upset 40-odd years ago when he wrote about how slow moving the Austrians were in particular. Dave Hollins used to maintain that this was all nonsense and the Austrians just had worse roads to contend with. Reading Thunder on the Danube, though, it's clear that the Austrians did indeed consider 6 miles a long day's march. It's also clear that this wasn't the roads' fault because they were able to march a lot faster when retreating over those same roads than when advancing.

Quarrie gave standard march speeds by nation. Everyone did 8 hours' march per day but the French did 2mph so 16 miles per pay; the British 1.75 and 14; Austrians 0.75 and 6; and so on.

My reading has persuaded me that while these are reasonable approximations for route marches from depot to front line, they didn't apply at all when the enemy was near. The Prussian retreat from Ligny to Wavre was 17 miles, for example, and the French move from Ligny to Waterloo was 19 miles.

Giving everyone a fixed rate of march didn't really work. It meant that you could break contact if you had a faster march rate but if not then not. What we hit in way back was to allow longer marches but unit by unit you lost more stragglers per extra hour of marching. So if you marched for 12 hours instead of 8, only 75% of your unit might arrive, and if this was a cavalry unit the horses would be lost for the duration of the campaign.

This left another issue though, which was how effective a unit should be considered still to be at the end of an epic forced march. I have struggled to come across any accounts that describe force-marched units' battlefield performance being measurably worse from all the marching. I have come across rules for "tired" troops but this usually is "tired" in the sense of blown after a charge, or exhausted from heaving guns around, which is not the same thing as tired from 15 hours on your feet.

Thoughts anyone?

Martin Rapier10 Sep 2019 3:46 a.m. PST

I think the bigger problem is straggling. AHGCs 'War and Peace' had a very unforgiving attrition table, so if you piled all your army down one road and marched them into the ground they disappeared quite quickly.

So the simplest thing to do is make some randomised reduction in the strength of force marched units, rather than worry about modelling fatigue or whatever. Another approach would be to recue morale or quality levels for tired units.

Personal logo Private Matter Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2019 4:01 a.m. PST

Very interesting topic, but unfortunately I do not know enough about the era to add any meaningful contribution. It does have me thinking though about possible house rules for games like Blucher which have reserve movement rates. Although the topic is meant for campaigns, I could see a house rule for Blucher giving troops a greater reserve move distance for a loss of Elan. I will be watching this topic with interest.

Stoppage10 Sep 2019 4:04 a.m. PST

Surely context is sovereign with campaigning.

The Austrian is concerned with keeping the host together and preventing straggling.

The Russian is concerned with keeping the expeditionary force protected and together in case of withdrawal.

The Wellesley is concerned with keeping the expeditionary force properly watered, provisioned and supplied.

The Frenchie is concerned with waging operational-level warfare with techniques such as the battalion carre system.

Mike the Analyst10 Sep 2019 4:13 a.m. PST

You also have to consider the size of a body of troops on the march and how concentrated it is.
When a body of troops sets off in the morning the lead units take to the road while the rest of the force has to wait for the road to clear. For a division this may be up to an hour, for a corps 2-3 hours and for he wing of an army or a "Kolumn" this may be up to 6 hours.
This reduces the time that the head of the body of troops can march before it stops to allow the rear of the column to close up.
By operating in divisions and corps using parallel roads where possible the British and French were able to march further and more rapidly than the large concentrated masses used by the Austrians.

4th Cuirassier10 Sep 2019 5:12 a.m. PST

The thing is, differential marching rates were clearly a thing. One element of the Austrian army in 1809 marched 6 miles a day for 3 days then had to stop to regroup. This wasn't the roads, this was competence / doctrine – the French managed 15 to 20 miles a day over the same roads in pursuit.

I think straggling is a big part of the right answer. Part of why Waterloo started late was that the morning after, French stragglers were still coming up.

Another aspect is advance versus retreat. The British army had a remarkable habit of falling apart in retreat. Happened in Spain, in America. Can one formulate campaign rules for this?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2019 6:36 a.m. PST

I wouldn't want to put money on this, but my gut feeling is that seriously force-marched troops, in addition to straggling, suffer from a loss of oomph--they're harder to rally, maybe easier to break and possibly don't exploit breakthroughs with quite the speed and enthusiasm of people who got a decent night's sleep. Cowpens might be a good example and only slightly out of period. The British look just fine until all of a sudden they don't.

Well-trained units have more to give, but they still only have so much and what you use up getting them to the battlefield isn't available once you get them there.

David Brown10 Sep 2019 7:01 a.m. PST


I agree.

After a long march troops often seem go into a kind of "vegetative state", just going through the motions and drills rather than being totally switched on or as you say lacking "oomph"!

So perhaps no bonus charge/breakthrough moves, no élan, etc, depending on your rules.


Mike the Analyst10 Sep 2019 7:26 a.m. PST

Interesting to note that both Picton and Alten had halts of about an hour to rest and concentrate on the way to Quatre Bras. This halt may also have been to await orders but the troops would have taken advantage of the chance to rest following an early start.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2019 8:10 a.m. PST

Really good campaign question – perhaps at a gaming level one might want to consider dropping troops who force-marched in a quality grade (elite to veteran, veteran to regular, etc depending on if you use this)

I have to agree, while you might be able to fight after a 15 hour march, you won't be crisp

Stoppage10 Sep 2019 10:27 a.m. PST

You have to be careful with animals. Horses, mules, donkeys, asses, oxen, etc have to be carefully managed/watered/fed/rested or they'll go lame and/or refuse to move.

However, Soldiers – you can beat them up the line, and, if they falter, whip them until morale improves

4th Cuirassier10 Sep 2019 11:23 a.m. PST

@ Stoppage

Indeed. Force-marched horses aren't tired – they're dead.

Whirlwind10 Sep 2019 11:34 a.m. PST

This left another issue though, which was how effective a unit should be considered still to be at the end of an epic forced march. I have struggled to come across any accounts that describe force-marched units' battlefield performance being measurably worse from all the marching. I have come across rules for "tired" troops but this usually is "tired" in the sense of blown after a charge, or exhausted from heaving guns around, which is not the same thing as tired from 15 hours on your feet.

Thoughts anyone?

Off the top of my head, the example that occurs to me is Baylen, where fatigue (allied to thirst) seems to have harmed the French effort to some degree. I can think of a somewhat analagous example from Early Medieval warfare. Similarly, Junot's Army of Portugal seems to have been unable to fight after its march on Lisbon and considered itself very fortunate that it did not have to fight at the end of it. What I would think of as the best evidence isn't forced marches where troops fought well at the end of it, particularly if those troops were considered good generally: it would rather be instances when commanders refused to commit until their troops were rested (or lack thereof).

SLA Marshall's classic "The Soldier's Load" argues persuasively that fear and fatigue are fairly fungible so a reduced step in morale would seem a fairly reasonable solution. Alternatively, a straggling mechanic could take care of it in broad terms.

oldnorthstate10 Sep 2019 6:52 p.m. PST

The Carnage and Glory Napoleonic campaign system includes assessment of fatigue, straggling and attrition related to regular march and forced march. The formula takes into consideration time of year (cold/hot) weather (snow/rain), terrain (road/cross country). Once engaged the units involved are downloaded into the tactical system complete with fatigue and losses due to attrition related to the forced march. In the tactical system fatigue plays a large role so the forces that show up after a forced march are more vulnerable.

forwardmarchstudios10 Sep 2019 8:24 p.m. PST

American Kriegspiel (not sure about the Prussian original) has a list of really interesting modifiers that everyone interested in tactical combat should really read over.

The most pertinent to this discussion is a 20% modifier for shooting effect when "winded" after marching briskly for several minutes over an open field. The effect on tactical fire after a day-long forced march would be much greater, IMHO.

[Disclaimer: It has been a year or so since I read AK, so the modifier might be greater, or lesser, but it is a significant reduction in accuracy.]

Stoppage11 Sep 2019 12:22 a.m. PST

Why not treat this logistically?

1. Affected arrival of artillery (ie might not turn up)
2. Affected performance of artillery re ammunition (oops, run out)
3. Affected ability of foot/horse to reform (unable to re-stuff ranks with remf)
4. Affected performance of leaders (spare horses expired/left behind)

FatherOfAllLogic11 Sep 2019 5:45 a.m. PST

Gill in his books describe long marches for the German allies (who are rather surprised by the demands) who then go into combat and give good performance. On the other hand, straggling seems to be the ruination of most units. So maybe just weaken force marched units by a random amount?

nsolomon9911 Sep 2019 10:50 p.m. PST

Great topic. All I can add is that another famous forced march to consider was the march of the British Light Division to Talavera. Really epic march and in the end they arrived too late for the main battle but were able to raise morale amongst the rest of the army once they had arrived. Light Division was composed of elite, well trained and experienced troops, some straggling but with a couple of hours rest they were ready to fight if the French wanted to stay for the next day.

holdit12 Sep 2019 4:53 a.m. PST

This is a grand-tactical rather than a campaign rule, but Napoleon's Battles allows forced marching on the battlefield as long as the marching unit doesn't pass or finish closer than 1" (100m) to the enemy. At the end of the move, however, both players roll a D10. If the marching player rolls less than the opponent, the difference is the number of figures (120 men) lost over the course of the march. The marching player's roll is modified by between +1 and +5, depending on the unit quality. The resulting losses can cause the unit to arrive disordered.

That's for a half-hour move, though, so a forced march of several hours using such a rule would be a scary prospect. I suspect this is more of a tactical double-time rule than an operational forced-march rule.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2019 5:16 a.m. PST

Napoleonic Command rules by War Artisan covers the matter by having units acquire "Fatigue" that degrades the formation, normally through combat. Resting will restore Fatigue. So a forced march would mean that the troops arrive with their formation already degraded.

Further details of the rules here:

PDF link

Personal logo Narratio Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2019 6:01 a.m. PST

That reminds me. Some 40 years ago when WRG ruled Napoleonic's (1645, oh yeah baby!) my old group played a campaign game, it was area based. Movement from area to area was free but to go two areas required a d6 roll for each unit. On a 1,2,3,4 a unit was okay, on a 5,6 it suffered stragglers. Another d6 and from 1 to 6 figures were removed which, with 12 or 14 figure battalions could really ruin your day. After which the units fought as usual but were now much more brittle.

So rules on stragglers can be as simple or complicated as you and your group want to make them. Just play with them until everybody understands and agrees.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2019 3:53 a.m. PST

Great topic. I'd have expected some of TMP's erudite Napoleonics experts to have provided us with serious analysis, excerpts from contemporary manuals etc by now! Failing that, let me offer some observations based on more anecdotal evidence from various things I've been reading recently.

1. The commander really matters. The same army, led by two different commanders, can perform dramatically differently in the speed and energy of its marches. (My case study: the Austrian army of 1848-1849 in Hungary, led first by Windisch-Graetz – cautious, passive, hesitant, no grip on his subordinates; and then by Haynau – ruthless, focused, dynamic. Haynau's army moved much more rapidly and decisively, yet it was the same army.)

2. Commanders assess the fatigue of their units after a forced march and decide whether they're fit to fight or not. They give them enough brief rest before committing them to action. (Case: Custozza 1866, where Austrian Brigades Töply and Welsershemb were exhausted by a hard march and had to rest before they joined the fight.)

3. Even with all the fatigue of a forced march, adrenalin will carry you through the first fight; it's only after that that the effects of the forced march tell. If the fight has gone well, units are too tired to pursue; if it's gone badly, units accept defeat sooner. Thus I'd say don't necessarily impose any combat penalty in the first 'round' (however your rules define it) (and leaving aside the issue of reduction in actual numbers because of stragglers); but make units less resilient/have their performance drop off faster (however your rules can accommodate that). (Quite a few cases of this kind, can't remember them in detail.)

Those are my anecdotal impressions for what they're worth. Others may have further evidence to support/dispute them. Thanks again for the good topic.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

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