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"Simultaneous assault of several battalions at one enemy" Topic

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Kirk Yaro20 May 2024 7:17 a.m. PST

Please advise, was it possible on the Napoleonic battlefield:

When in the heat of battle, were the commanders of infantry regiments able to organize a simultaneous assault of several (at least two) battalions at one enemy target?

I'm thinking of having this feature in my ruleset.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP20 May 2024 8:05 a.m. PST

Doubtful. In order to do so you would need to be in a tight column to reduce frontage. But that would mean the battalions attacking would not be able to shake out into line as there would be no room.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2024 8:51 a.m. PST

I'd like to know more about the "target." I feel confident about having several battalions attack a village or town at one time, or a sufficiently long redoubt or gun line. But EC's right: usually attacks on a deployed battalion would be by troops in line, so there would be no room. Battalions would have to attack in sequence unless some defender unwisely left a flank hanging in the air.

IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2024 11:06 a.m. PST

If the target battalion was in line and the attacking battalions are in close column, then yes. In the General de brigade rules example, three battalions in close column are attacking a battalion in line.

Each attacking battalion has to conduct a morale test at the half way point to the target. Each battalion that passes closes to the target to melee and each battalion that fails halts at the half way point.

It is a question of a the target battalion's frontage. If the target is in column then likely only one battalion in column could attack.

Martin Rapier20 May 2024 11:48 a.m. PST

Various rules allow extremely silly levels of concentration eg, in WRG you could regularly fit four attacking French battalions in column vs one defending battalion in line and overwhlem them. Shako overcomes this problem by allowing units in line to fire at every single enemy unit to their front (a beaten zone) equally, so if you cram four battalions vs one, you suffer four times as much defensive fire…

In real life, assault columns were supposed to leave enough width to deploy into line. If you look at diagrams of actual divisional deployments, all the battalions have gaps between them.

The very worst offender was Micro Napoleonics, where the narrow British unit counters allowed you to concentrate six in column against a single French unit….

Having said that, the entire point of D'Erlons formation at Waterloo was to mass the maximum combat power possible on the narrowest front – rather like the WRG example above. But each battalion was deployed in line, not column.

As Clausewitz noted 'you can never be too strong' (at the point of contact).

irl the most effective way to mass combat power against a single point was to outflank the enemy, and focus on the the pivot of the 'hinge'.

Sorry, bit of a ramble and probably not much help. Basically I'm saying don't allow too much silly geometric micro management of units at battalion level.

TimePortal20 May 2024 1:33 p.m. PST

Rapid in succession assaults by several against one target did happen in many battles. In most cases the target was defending a built area, village, monetary, castle, farm complex. The key term is in succession not necessarily in a coordinate simulous attack.

Kirk Yaro20 May 2024 1:41 p.m. PST

Thank you for your advice.
The target is an enemy infantry battalion either in column, line, square or disordered.
It can be attacked simultaneously by two enemy battalions to the front and to the flank, can't it? Or by both to the front.

And I'm especially interested if such degree of coordination was feasible for regimental commanders in the heat of battle.

BillyNM20 May 2024 2:00 p.m. PST

That degree of coordination between two battalions was extremely unlikely. The battalion commanders would be fully engaged just ensuring their battalion was delivered in as good order as possible so they could achieve their unit's orders.

Personal logo Artilleryman Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2024 2:51 p.m. PST

Also, be careful of cramming columns together to closely. A good battalion commander or his brigade commander, would ensure that there was enough space on either side to deploy into other formations, particularly a line. If the columns are too close and crowded, the result can simply be confusion and disorder.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2024 6:16 p.m. PST

Kirk Yaro, given the battalions involved are even roughly the same size, how exactly do both battalions attack from the front at the same time? Yes, as noted, several rules permit this, but that's a glitch, not a reflection of Napoleonic reality.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2024 9:47 p.m. PST

This is why our AWI rules don't allow charges in column, except down a road. Otherwise, players will hit a line unit with three or more columns, which is not how they fought in the AWI and likewise in Napoleonics. You leave enough room between columns to form a line.

Why is this on the media board?

Kirk Yaro21 May 2024 10:39 a.m. PST

robert piepenbrink, when the attacking battalions are in column and their target is in line?

BillyNM21 May 2024 10:21 p.m. PST

The answer is, in practice no. However, it is physically possible and some (many?) wargame rules allow it. The reality of Napoleonic warfare is that infantry units in the open very rarely came to blows. If the column was intimidating enough the line would give way before it reached it. The column would then either deploy into line to continue the fight by musketry or fall-back. If either side appeared shaken by fire the side perceiving an advantage might decide to try and charge hoping they would flee before contact, if they didn't the charge would almost certainly falter to a halt and resort to firing again. The same applies to lines when attacking although they don't have to change formation to maximise their firepower. This is why, in the posts above, people keep pointing out that columns would always want enough space to deploy into line.
It's all about morale, not physical combat.

von Winterfeldt21 May 2024 10:46 p.m. PST

usually when battalions are formed in column, they are spaced in deploying distance, so no it was not usual that you would used 3 battalion columns against one battalion in line – in case general de brigade is allowing it, don't use it and re strict it to one battalion, of course another battalion in case the flank is not protected could out flank.

Prince of Essling22 May 2024 12:59 a.m. PST

I only times I can think this might happen is an assault on a village or a wood where the defenders are dispersed.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2024 7:00 p.m. PST

Kirk Yaro, as I think at least five of us have pointed out, battalions in column seldom to the point of never actually closed with the enemy. By training and experience they were spaced out with enough room to deploy into lines where every musket and bayonet could be used.

I've certainly seen multiple battalions in column attacking a single battalion in line often enough on the tabletop, but never read about it in a history book, except as noted in my first post.

General Agreement27 May 2024 2:37 a.m. PST

"When in the heat of battle, were the commanders of infantry regiments able to organize a simultaneous assault of several (at least two) battalions at one enemy target?"

Given time, conscripts began drill training in their company, then battalion. As time, circumstance and doctrine permitted, training in higher level formations was possible. It seems that regiment or brigade level French formations knew what to do for ordre mixte but that probably wasn't in the drill book for the British. One approach would be to only allow combined movements and attacks where the tactical doctrine of the combatant supported it. Oman cites a French observer who noted a Spanish regiment of three battalions perform "Ready, present, fire" in three different times and details. Not so sure they would be able to co-ordinate an attack.

Do wargamers need more God-like powers of command and control to whip up a spontaneous multi-unit attack? I think nah make them work harder planning their attacks using the more commonly available command and control structures.

Kirk Yaro27 May 2024 12:05 p.m. PST

Thank you very much, gentlemen!

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