The following scenario was developed by Robert Gill.
“During the first four weeks of the Franco-Prussian War, there was one day – one single day – when the French were presented with the opportunity of defeating – indeed of destroying – the chief instrument of the German military machine, and of making good their escape. Whether that would have influenced the final course of the war is a matter for speculation. What is certain beyond argument is that the war – and with it the future of Europe – was decided at Mars-la-Tour on 16th August 1870.” David Ascoli “A Day of Battle”
action at Mars-la-Tour has been cited as the critical moment in the
It started as an attempt by the Prussians to attack what they originally believed to be the rearguard of the retreat of the French Army of the Meuse, in an effort to disrupt its movements.
In fact, due to appalling French organisation, the Prussians came into contact with the French advanced guard. The resulting battle saw only 2 Prussian Corps take on the entire French army and hold it for the whole day.
August 16th 1870
Dragoons belonging to Forton’s 3rd Reserve Cavalry division were detailed to form the vanguard of the French retreat to Verdun. When asked as to what reconnaissance the cavalry was to perform that morning Marshal Bazaine was to reply ”comme d’habitude”, so, as usual the French did nothing. The Dragoons themselves broke out the regimental silver and partook of petit dejourner.
The Prussians could not believe what they were seeing and decided to take matters into their own hands. Summoning up a battery of Horse Artillery, the Prussians gatecrashed the party. Within minutes the French were tumbling back upon the supporting infantry of Frossard’s II Corps.
By 10.00 am the leading Chasseur companies of Frossard’s Corps had moved forward to occupy the villages of Vionville and Flavigny, forcing the Prussian cavalry to retire to a safe distance. Behind Frossard lay the whole of Canrobert’s VI Corps and further back towards Gravelotte, the Imperial Guard was bivouaced. Le Beouf’s III Corps was camping to the North of them.
On arriving on the Rezonville plateau, von Avensleben, Prussian III Corps commander, realised that instead of a rearguard, the ENTIRE French army lay infront of him. He had 2 choices. Fall back onto his supporting troops, still some miles distant, or attack.
Von Alvensleben did not hesitate, he attacked.
He believed that a concerted attack would convince the French that they would be facing the whole Prussian army long enough for reinforcements to arrive. They would be a long time in coming. In fact only Voigts-Rhetz’ X Corps and some other scattered elements were able to come to his aid.
This scenario depicts this epic action. At times the Prussian forces will be outnumbered by more than 5 to 1. Only extreme self-belief allied to extraordinary French vacillation prevented the Prussians from being swept away and the road to Verdun opened to allow the escape of the French army.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to hold closed the road to Verdun until nightfall.
Order of Battle:
II CORPS, General Frossard CC
Division, Gen Verge (DC), Exhaustion=8
2nd Division, Gen Bataille DC Exhaustion=9
Attached Division, Gen Lapasset (DC) Exhaustion=4 (Attached from V Corps)
III CORPS, Marshal Le Boeuf (CC)
Division, Gen Montaudon DC Exhaustion=9
Division, Gen Nayral DC Exhaustion=8
Division, Gen Aymard DC Exhaustion=10
IV CORPS, General de Ladmirault CC, IV Corps
1st Division, Gen de Cissey DC Exhaustion=8
Division, Gen Grenier DC Exhaustion=8
VI CORPS, Marshal Canrobert (CC)
1st Division, Gen Tixier DC Exhaustion=9
2nd Division, Gen Bisson DC Exhaustion=3
3rd Division, Gen de Villiers DC Exhaustion=7
4th Division, Gen Levassor-Sorval DC Ex=8
IMPERIAL GUARD ,
,General Bourbaki (CC)
1st Guard Division, Gen Deligny DC, Exhaustion=12
2nd Guard Division, Gen Picard DC, Exhaustion=9
2nd Cavalry Division, Gen de Valabregue DC, Exhaustion=3
(Gen Marmier should have led this division, but didn’t make it to the battlefield in time)
,Gen Clerambault DC Exhaustion=2
4th Cavalry Division, Gen Legrand DC, Exhaustion=3
Imperial Guard Cavalry, Gen Desvaux DC Exhaustion=4
1st Reserve Cavalry Division, Gen du Barail DC Exhaustion=4
3rd Reserve Cavalry Divison, Gen Forton DC Exhaustion=3
RESERVE ARTILLERY, Gen Canu DC
Notes on French OOB:
The term "mg" = Mitrailleuse.
French Corps are all at 40% exhaustion, except for the Imperial Guard, which is set to 60%. Cavalry is at 50% (except Imperial Gad which is 60%).
There is a large variation in regimental strengths caused by mobilisation difficulties and casualties at Spicheren and Colombey. As a result all French regiments are understrength except for the 44th Ligne. The 44th Ligne’s regimental depot was Metz.
3rd Division, II Corps was not present at the battle. It was detached to garrison the Metz forts following its rough handling at Spicheren. Its place was partly taken by Lapasset’s Brigade, which had been picked up, from where it had been left when V Corps retreated to Chalons. The 3rd Lancer Regiment came with it as did 1 squadron of the 7th Hussars, which was attached to form an escort for Marshal Bazaine.
The 1st Reserve Cavalry Division should be made up of 4 regiments of Chasseurs d’Afrique, however one was wandering around Southern France, and 2 more had been attached, together with 3rd Bn, 3rd Grenadier Guards to escort Napoleon III to Chalons. The division was reconstituted by transferring the 1st Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division to it.
The 3rd Regiment Guard Grenadiers is missing its 3rd Battalion, which had been detached to form part of Napoleon III’s escort for his journey to Chalons.
The VI corps arrived at Metz with only 1 regiment of its 2nd division, half its artillery and no cavalry. Four batteries from the Artillery Reserve were attached to it to bolster it up.
Four heavy batteries from the Artillery Reserve were sent to support the Metz forts and did not reurn to the army until the 18th August.
Metman’s division (3rd Division III Corps) was left behind at Metz and did not arrive until after dark, hence it is not represented.
Lorencz’ division (3rd Division IV Corps) was so slow in extricating itself from the Moselle valley that it too, did not arrive until after dark. Hence it is also not represented.
11:00am: IV Corps (plus 4th Cavalry Division). Must enter in road column formation in a pre-designated march order. Enters along the northern road from Metz. (Historically - 4th Cv Div, 1st Inf Div, 2nd Inf Div, Artillery).
PRUSSIAN ARMY ,
,General Staff AC (Monarch)
PRUSSIAN I ARMY
VIII CORPS (elements)
16th Division, Lt Gen Barnekow DC Exhaustion=11
This is a single Brigade of VIII Corps plus an attached regiment from IX Corps.
PRUSSIAN II ARMY
III CORPS, Gen von Alvensleben CC (Acts as AC)
Corps Artillery, Maj Gen v.Bulow DC
5th Division, Lt Gen v Stulpnagel DC Exhaustion=20
6th Div, Lt Gen v Buddenbrock DC Exhaustion=17
X CORPS, Lt Gen vonVoigts-Rhetz I CC (Acts as AC)
Corps Artillery, Colonel Baron von de Becke DC
19th Division, Gen v Shwartzkoppen DC Exhaustion=14
20th Division, Gen v Kraatz-Koschlau DC Exhaustion=18
25th Division, Lt Gen HRH Prince Louis of Hesse DC, Exhaustion=7
Guard Cavalry Division
5th Cavalry Division, Lt Gen v.Rheinbaben DC, Exhaustion=10
6th Cavalry Division, H.H. Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Ex=4
Notes on Prussian OOB:-
In order to best reflect the events, which took place, I have done the following to the Prussian OOB :-
i) III and X Corps Infantry regiments are rated as M6.
ii) III and X Corps have 60% exhaustion
iii) VIII + IX Corps are the usual M5/50% exhaustion mix found in Prussian Corps at this time.
iv) Cavalry is rated as listed plus has 60% Exhaustion levels.
v) Von Albensleben and Voights-Rhetz are nominally the respective Corps commanders, however they have all the privileges of Army Commanders in this battle, but only have influence over their own Corps and they cannot be killed.
vi) There is an AC stand representing the ever-present Prussian General Staff. This stand acts as AC for the whole army but is subject to the Monarch Rule.
vii) Prussian Corps artillery have their own commanders so can act independently under his command.
viii) The Guard Dragoon Brigade has no exhaustion limit.
ix) III Corps is slightly reduced in numbers due to its part in the battle of Spicheren.
5th Cavalry Division - May be deployed anywhere West of Vionville within 24cm of French Cavalry, but no close than 12cm.
9.00hrs: 5th Infantry Division, III Corps - arrive in road column on the Gorze Road. 6th Infantry Division, III Corps - arrive in road column along the Thiacourt road. III Corps Artillery - ditto.
10.00hrs: 37th Brigade (78th Inf Regt & 91st Inf Regt), 19th Division, X Corps - arrive in road column along the Verdun Road (plus 1st Hvy Battery and detachment of 9th Dragoons).
15:00hrs: 38th Brigade (16th Inf Regt & 57th Inf Regt), 19th Division, X Corps – arrive in road column along the Verdun Road (plus rest of Divisional assests). 1st Guards Dragoon Brigade - ditto. 20th Division, X Corps - arrive in road column along the Thiacourt road. X Corps Artillery - ditto.
16:00hrs: VIII Corps.
17:00hrs: 25th Infantry Division, IX Corps.
The entire French Army is available to the French player as opposed to only 2 Prussian Infantry Corps. Hence I have had to apply a series of modifiers to try to represent the events of the day without stereotyping them too much.
i) The Prussian infantry in III and X Corps has been upgraded to M6 and their exhaustion limit raised to 60%. This, I believe, is entirely justified given what happened and the state the Prussians find themselves in. The other Prussian infantry is rated as per normal as these were scattered elements of whatever could be found to get to the battle on time.
ii) The Prussians have been given an enhanced command structure.
iii) Surprise. To reflect the surprise that the French suffered at the start of the battle the following rules are in effect for the first 3 moves :-
a) All French units on table are considered to be inactive until activated (see below). As such they are considered to be disordered. They may not be prone.
b) No French unit may start the game in a town or village except for skirmishers. (The French bivouacked in tents unlike the Prussians who would used barns, houses etc if they were available.)
The French are subject to the following command restrictions :-
iv) The French are subject to the following command restrictions :-
1) Bazaine is the AC and may move as he sees fit.
2) Frossard’s II Corps starts the game active as does 3rd Reserve Cavalry
3) At the start ALL other French Divisions are inactive and must be activated before they can move. They can only be activated by 1 of 2 things :-
a) According to the following schedule :-
10:00hrs - VI Corps and Guard Corps
12:00hrs - All other troops
For the purpose of this rule Lapasset’s Brigade is regarded as a part of II Corps.
The Reserve Corps consists of two divisions (Field Artillery and Horse Artillery) of Artillery plus 2 divisions (1st and 3rd) of cavalry.
b) A stand belonging to the Corps is attacked. In this case the whole division is instantly activated.
Cavalry Division has just been fired upon so is active Game Turn 1 under this
4) IV Corps begins the game offboard. It counts as being activated upon arrival, however it MUST come onto the board in road column down the designated road. An order of march must be designated in advance
5) The Prussians move at x4 speed when using road column movement and x3 speed when using march column movement. The French use the stadard x3 and x2 multipliers.
Historically Bazaine was obsessed with protecting his lines of retreat to Metz. The intention of this scenario is to let both sides create their own problems, but if you wish to mirror history a little more closely and to give the Prussians more of a chance then apply the following restrictions to the French :-
The following troops MUST be deployed in and/or between Rezonville and Gravelotte :-
If they are not there then once they are activated by the normal release conditions, they must move directly to the area and become inactive again once they reach there.
Voltigeur Divsion , Imperial
The Gd Chasseur Bn may enter the Bois des Ognons, but must stay in command.
1st Division III Corps, 4th Division VI Corps, Reserve Artillery, These forces may not move until they are release. This occurs only if they are attacked or if the French holdall of their onboard victory conditions, at which point Bazaine would have felt safe enough to continue (I think).
The objective of the French Army was to reach Verdun, The Prussians were attempting to stop them. Hence victory cannot be measured in terms of losses as these were, in effect, of no real relevance.
The French win if they hold open the road to Verdun.To achieve this the French must hold ALL of the following places: Vionville, Rezonville, Mars-la-Tour, Flavigny, Thionville, Gravelotte. And have exited at least one complete, unexhausted division in road column formation via the Verdun Road.
The Prussians win a marginal victory if they prevent the French from achieving their victory conditions.
The Prussians win a decisive victory if they can prevent the French from achieving their victory conditions AND hold the following places: Vionville, Mars-la-Tour, Flavigny. Thus effectively sealing off the road to Verdun.
In this battle, there is no concept of a draw. History awaits…..
I have not added a grid as this very much depends as to what
scale is used.
The scenario presented here is done for the centimetre scale, so you'll have to convert it if you use another scale.