Saturday, August 25, 2012

Campaign Move 9

1600 to 2000 16 August 1813

General Wittgenstein – Russian Commander in Chief

Wittgenstein has spent an anxious 48 hours.

As the newly promoted commander in chief of the Russian field army he was aware that many senior generals, some with the ear of the Tsar, were waiting for him to make a mistake.   Following the revered Kutuzov would be difficult for any general, for such a young and junior one it was particularly so.

At the start of the campaign he ordered his headquarters to move west from Dresden.   Throughout 14th and 15th August he received vague reports of wide spread fighting between Naumburg and Possneck.  It was clear that Napoleon had launched a major offensive over the river Saale.  It was less clear how it was going.

On arrival at Gera on the morning of 16th August he received the welcome news that his army had not only held the line of the river Saale, but they had driven the French west of the river and that the 2nd French corps had surrendered.

Very little of this was due to Wittgenstein.   His strategic plan for the campaign was to hold the line of the river and see what Napoleon would do.   The defeats inflicted on the French were entirely due to the bravery, skill or perhaps luck of his corps commanders.   However this would not prevent Wittgenstein from claiming credit for defeating Napoleon in person.

Had his army lost and been defeated he would have had to carry the blame.   He was determined that he would reap the benefits of victory.

Only one small matter remained to be resolved.   How best to cross the river, drive the French west and turn a major tactical victory into a major strategic one.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Campaign Move 8

1200 to 1600 16 August 1813

General Wintzingerode Commander 3rd Russian Corps

Wintzingerode has had a good campaign so far.

His corps is responsible for the southern flank of the Russian Army, and in particular the Saalfeld to Zwickau road.    He started the campaign at Greiz, and could easily have deployed his corps west of the town and engaged any French advance as they attempted to exit the mountain terrain at Possneck.

Instead he ordered his corps to advance to take Possneck.   The first battle proved inconclusive, and he fell back to the east.   But next morning he ordered his corps to advance again, and caught 2nd French corps as they tried to withdraw west of the river.  

In the second battle of Possneck he was supported by 6th division from 2nd corps, and together they forced the unfortunate Marshal Victor to surrender his whole corps.

By the end of the battle 3rd Russian corps was battered and badly in need of resupply.   However they had advanced beyond their supply chain, and were about to run out of rations.  They had also suffered considerable casualties in their two battles, and were in need of rest and reorganisation.

Despite this Wintzingerode was determined to take full advantage of his victory and push at least one division west of the river and occupy Saalfeld.  

At first light on 16th August he received orders from Wittgenstein to hold his present position and not to advance west of Possneck under any circumstances.    These orders were written by the Russian CinC immediately he received news of the first battle of Possneck, and before he heard about the surrender of 2nd French corps.  Their arrival at such a critical time was to have considerable consequences for remainder of the campaign.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Campaign Move 7

0800 to 1200 16 August 1813

Emperor Napoleon French Commander in Chief

The first report of the surrender of 2nd French corps at Possneck was met with a predictable, and very understandable, Napoleonic outburst.   It was just as well that the unfortunate Marshal Victor was not able to deliver the news in person.

The rage quickly gave way to a cold determination to prevent the Russians taking advantage of the situation.   Berthier was summoned with his maps and a new battle plan decided.   Orders were written and signed and duty ADCs on the road within an hour of the news reaching Imperial Headquarters.

The French would stand and fight.