Bergen, 13th April 1759
This scenario was originally prepared by Martin Soilleux-Cardwell. It has revised, more recently, by Mark Sieber. In particular Mark's has added more detail around the background, order of battle, the victory conditions and timetable. In addition he has provided a scenario map. Mark also wishes to acknowledge the assistance given to him by Randy Collver while playtesting the scenario.
In early April 1759, the allied Army of Observation was under the command of the Ferdinand of Brunswick. He began to advance from Fulda in the hope of engaging the French army, which was in its cantonments near Frankfurt-am-Main some seventy kilometers to the southwest. He deployed in three columns-the center commanded by the Erbprinz Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand of Brunswick; on his right Georg Ludwig, Herzog von Holstein-Gottorp; on his left, Johann Kasimir, Prinz von Isenberg-Budingen. The army pushed back French piquets as it advanced towards Frankfurt, 75 kilometers away near the point of a dagger-shaped strip of land bounded on the northwest by the river Nidda and on the southwest by the Kinzig and the Main.
Bergen sits a few miles northeast of Frankfurt at the point where this strip narrows to less than four kilometers, bounded on the northwest by the Nidda and on the southeast by a steep escarpment overlooking marshland along the Main.
The French commander, Marshal Victor-Francois, Duc de Broglie, who had been waiting for Ferdinand to commit himself, ordered his troops to their planned assembly areas between the village of Vilbel on the Nidda and the escarpment southeast of Bergen. The French artillery crossed two pontoon bridges near Vilbel and moved into position overlooking the open ground along the front between Bergen and the woods south of Vilbel. Two small outcroppings dominated this 1000 meter wide opening: the Berger Warte northwest of Bergen, and the Am Hohen Stein to the northeast. Two sunken roads cross the front, running north and south, and orchards screen Bergen from the east.
Broglie situated the right wing of his army in and around Bergen, shielding his reserves behind the town, deployed in column rather than in the traditional second line. His left, a Saxon division, assembled around the Berger Warte, behind the artillery. As the last French troops arrived at 8 a.m. on April 13th, it was altogether an excellent defensive position.
By this time, Freytag’s Hanoverian Jaegers and two squadrons of Prussian Black Hussars had reached the Am Hohen Stein from the northeast, the Erbprinz and his column close behind. Riding up, Ferdinand surmised that the French had also just arrived, the extensive French reserves being hidden behind Bergen. He ordered the Erbprinz to attack from the north and the east: this uncoordinated attack was repulsed, but shortly before 10 a.m. was rallied by the advance of the Brunswick Grenadiers, and despite concentrated French artillery fire carried forward to the first sunken road. Meanwhile, Freytag captured Vilbel and destroyed one of the pontoon bridges, then began an all-day skirmish action with the French light troops.
At Bergen, Broglie ordered a counter-attack with two-thirds of his reserve and caught the Brunswick Grenadiers in the flank, who fled, abandoning their field guns-which had otherwise been unable to affect their more numerous French counterparts. Yet again, Ferdinand sent forward a fresh unit of Brunswickers, which joined the beleaguered Grenadiers to throw back the French counter and advance up to the town. Reinforcements might have secured this advance, but Isenberg’s column was only just arriving at the rear.
Broglie now personally ordered forward the remaining units of the reserve: passing through Bergen they repulsed the Brunswickers: they did not pursue the retreat.
Ferdinand now committed Isenberg’s troops and artillery, but the French guns moved up to the second sunken road and pounded them as they formed up. Isenberg led his men forward, where they caught up with the remains of the Brunswick units sheltered in the orchards in front of Bergen. Here he was mortally wounded, his troops broke and were pursued by the French cavalry, which was in turn caught in the flank by four allied squadrons.
It was now eleven o’clock, and Holstein-Gottorp’s column-three hours late-was beginning to arrive. Desperately short on artillery, Frederick arranged his troops on the Am Hohen Stein in expectation of a French advance which never came. The Saxons half-heartedly advanced towards Vilbel, but the battle was over: the Duc knew a victory when he saw it, and kept to his position while Ferdinand slipped away-falling back, ultimately to reform and defeat the French in August at Minden, over 250 kilometers distant.
The French started the battle with 30,000 men, and estimated their losses at 1800 men-the Prussian Official History claims 3,000 to 4,000. Ferdinand lost 2,500.
The Battle of Bergen is remarkable in that Broglie, one of few capable French generals-and whose presence at Versailles was not currently intrigued-used the terrain to his advantage by massing his reserves and artillery, and deploying skirmishers. Nosworthy writes “This battle of skirmishers in the woods lasted all day without any decisive victory on either side. Around Bergen the regular troops fought in line or as skirmishers, then in column (depending upon circumstances), and then back again.” (Anatomy of Victory p.340.)
The Allies, by contrast, arrived piecemeal, lacked artillery, and despite great individual and unit bravery were unable to coordinate an effective attack. Perhaps, had Ferdinand waited for all his troops to arrive, the result might have been different, but time was short: St. Germain was soon to arrive with French reinforcements. As it was, the historical importance of the battle lies in the French deployment and command, summarized pithily by Christopher Duffy:
“Ferdinand advanced against the French base at Frankfurt, but Marshal Broglie repulsed him in a brilliantly controlled battle at Bergen (13 April)." (The Military Experience in the Age of Reason, p.323.)
Wargaming Bergen with Volley & Bayonet:
Turn 1 is 9:00 a.m. The game ends at the end of the 4:00 p.m turn. French may start stationary, Allies move first.
Orders of Battle:
Note: Parentheses are number of battalions - if infantry, squadrons - if cavalry, if more than one.
ANGLO-GERMAN ARMY PRINCE FERDINAND OF BRUNSWICK
Generalfeldmarschal Herzog Ferdinand von Braunschweig AC
THE ERBPRINZ'S COLUMN (AVANT GARDE)
Generallieutenant Erbprinz von Braunschweig CC, EX=10
FREYTAG’s LIGHT TROOPS
Heinrich Wilhelm von Freytag DC, EX=NONE
ISENBERG'S COLUMN (Left Column) Generallieutenant Prinz Isenberg CC, EX=10
HOLSTEIN-GOTTORP'S COLUMN (Right Column)
Generallieutenant Herzog von Holstein CC, EX=6
The infantry do not have grenadiers present. All infantry have battalion guns. The British horse count heavier than any mounted opponent due to their excellent horseflesh. The 'i' designation indicates impetuous. The Jägers are rifle armed (3" range) but are not sharpshooters. Freytag operated detached in the woods around Vilbel and I have represented him as a DC to reflect this.
The German grenadier units which threw themselves at Bergen fought superbly but were driven back by weight of numbers. They rate highly since at times they were facing 6 times their number and still withdrew in good order.
The Anglo-German army was 27 battalions, 40 sqns and 21 medium & heavy guns, most of which arrived late.
Times of arrival:
8:00 am begin scenario with troops on table in designated areas.
9:00 am Isenburg's Column (less the artillery) arrives at entry point.
10:00 am Holstein-Gottorp's Column arrives at entry point (infantry disordered by forced marching). Erbprinz's battery at entry point east of Am Hohen Stein. Isenburg's artillery south of Am Hohen Stein
FRANCO-SAXON ARMY LIEUTENANT GENERAL DUC DE BROGLIE AC
RIGHT WING. Lieutenant General Prince Camil de Lorraine CC, EX=11
Garrison of Bergen:(Brigadier de Clauzen CC)
Reserve Detachment, (Major General Compte d’Orlick, Marquis de St. Chamans CC)
CENTER. Lieutenant General de Beaupreau, Marquis de Castries CC, EX=11
Artillery 45 Guns Total, mixed 8#, 12# and 16#
LEFT WING (SAXONS). Generallieutenant von Dyherrn AC (SAXONS ONLY), EX=6
The French infantry (31 battalions) have grenadiers present, the Saxons do not. All infantry have battalion guns. One French Infantry per command may break down into 2 1-strength point Skirmishers.
I do not know the names of the French subordinate commanders. Prinz Xavier of Saxony is named only because he led the Saxons at other battles about this time.
The French deployed in their traditional style with two infantry wings and cavalry in the center. The two artillery battalions (representing 45 guns) are in works and should have a stationary infantry regiment in contact behind them.
The 15 Saxon battalions did little during the fight. They were probably seen by Broglie as the weak link in his line and were given a strong position facing the woods around Vilbel which I am inclined to designate as 'woods' in the rules. After the first Anglo-Allied attacks had been driven off the Saxons advanced at noon through the woods but withdrew again after a while without accomplishing anything. Their morale rating and 40% exhaustion reflects their timid performance. The Saxons may have built an abattis in front of their position.
I have rated the 44 sqns of French horse as very variable. I have no details of which regiments were present but have assumed a mix of good quality low numbered regiments, average quality and low quality, foreign or high numbered regiments. The French dragoons are down rated as they never seemed as effective on the field as their German counterparts.
On the French right the first three named units (representing 8 battalions) are in Bergen itself. Bergen is two town blocks positioned with their short ends facing the Anglo-German line of attack. Bergen itself had some works around it and was strengthened by loopholing and abattis. In front of Bergen were some little farms and orchards and although I have no account of the employment of the French light troops in the battle I assume they were posted here. Call it an area of 'open woods'.
The reserve of 13 French battalions behind Bergen was the most active group of French units, elements of it swung left and right out from behind the town several times to counterattack the assaulting Brunswickers and Hessians. I have rated some of them well and lacking details have named two of the stands the Grenadiers de France and the Grenadiers Royaux.
The French horse did little in the action but gradually maneuvered forward to threaten the flank of any German assault on Bergen. Anglo-German horse was deployed to face them off but only one small cavalry fight developed.
As the German attacks on Bergen went in it seems more and more French foot from the center were drawn to their right to ensure Bergen did not fall. Part of the French center foot did nothing all day and I have used a sprinkling of their high numbered or foreign regiments to represent a slight weakness here.
To view the Bergen map click here.
Victory is awarded to the army which has earned the greater number of victory points. They are achieved by:
 Distinguished at Hastenbeck, 1757, age 22. Commanded at Valmy, 1792, mortally wounded at Auerstadt, 1806.
 (Jean Lambert Alphonse Colin, describes use of skirmish formation and changes of formation at Bergen. Quoted in Nosworthy Anatomy of Victory 1992.)