Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Progress... (Sort of)

The last update on the siege halted at around day 16 or so, with the Luftberg guns being sited to enfilade the central Kaisertreu bastion. I’ve kept a note of the developments, and here’s the latest news on progress…

Day 18
The Luftberg sappers approached the bottom of the glacis before the selected section of wall, digging a new approach out from the second parallel. The Aschenbach defenders had no interest in letting it slide however, and launched a sortie to disrupt the digging. This was the first launched since the major sortie a week earlier, and as it had been modified for all it’s mistakes it was very different. The attackers only used four bases, launched the attack at short-range, and backed off fast once they’d wrecked the digging. End result: 1 Aschenbach base lost, 3 Luftberg bases destroyed, and all digging works brought to a standstill.

Day 20
Artillery fire had been underway for four days now on the central bastion, which the defenders decided against abandoning in favour of putting up a fight. A sharp artillery exchange caused some losses in the besieging artillerists, but their numbers and advantages in position all told and the gunners were driven out of the bastion with heavy losses. In front of the fortress, the Luftberg infantry persevered with the approach trench while the defending batteries were distracted by the duel around the bastion.

Day 22
The approach again steadily inched forward, so another small sortie was launched – almost exactly like the last one. This time 2 Aschenbach and 3 Luftberg bases were lost, but despite half the sortie being lost the trench was again brought to a virtual standstill.

1. Kleintrink Bastion; 2. Kaisertreu Bastion; 3. Zaub Bastion; 4. Vogelhof Redoubt; 5. Support Trench

The Elector of Luftberg pondered this over with the HQ Siege staff – Major Ungaurn & Captain von Prittstik – and determined a plan. The approach was being brought to a standstill through enemy battery fire and constant sorties, and more support would be needed. Most of the Aschenbach casualties had been caused by fire from adjacent units in the completed trench sections, who could fire from relative safety onto the attackers. Also, the sorties were typically approaching head-on to the tip of the approach trench, wrecking the advancing excavations before the marauding troops hit the completed trench, took losses and then fell back. The order was given to extend the trench of the second parallel (labelled 5 on the map)round to the south from the Vogelhof Bastion and envelop the approach trench. This way, any sortie would be forced to attack into a blizzard of crossfire from entrenched infantry. Little did they know, but the Aschenbach high command had already just given orders to halt sorties on the approach. The defenders were losing men less rapidly, but could still not afford the cost of constant sorties and were down to around 70% of their strength. The approach trench had been stalled for over a week, and now it was time to wait and conserve strength for the direct assaults which would cost the attacker more heavily.

Day 26
Four days on, with new supports dug out, the approach trench finally reached the glacis opposite the tip of the Zaub Bastion. Heavy artillery fire had still made progress difficult and costly, even without the infantry attacks. The Aschenbach defenders packed the covered way opposite the trench with troops, ready to make the assault’s reception as warm as possible. In the rest of the fortress, they stripped the defences down and – to reduce wastage from random cannon shots – pulled their troops back into the ditch for protection, leaving only spotters to keep watch for an enemy attack.

The attackers have opened up a new approach to menace the other parts of the defences, trying to position themselves at the bottom of the glacis for a plausible raid on the northeast covered way, forcing defenders to stay close by. Other than this, the trenchworks are now sufficiently developed for the batteries to be relocated and enfilade the ravelin directly in front of the intended breach location.

Day 28
A hot exchange of fire over the ravelin, but the defenders cling stubbornly on. The approach trench in front of the intended attack sector is now extended to the tip of the Zaub bastion, and a new branch is started out to the Kaisertreu bastion tip, effectively turning it into a third parallel spanning between the Kaisertreu & Zaub bastions. This trench will be converted into the mortar battery once the guns (imminently) arrive, but first the protecting infantry screen must make the next leap forward – the covered way lodgement. Some thought on troop movements down trenches quickly shows that once the assault has been launched, the reserves filing up the trench will only be able to supply a further 2 bases a turn – potentially not making good losses from the enemy’s fire. Orders are issued for the flanking trench (5 on the map) to be extended to join the 3rd parallel, doubling the rate that the follow-up waves can enter.

Day 30
Sensing that they’re just pushing their luck, the defending gun crews in the ravelin abandon the work and withdraw their guns back into the fortress.

The extending third parallel, heading to the tip of the Kaisertreu, appears to be less well covered than the initial third parallel lodgement. A small 2-base raid is launched, but lively fire from the Luftberg troops cuts one base down and sends the other scarpering back, with the digging works undisturbed. The stage was now set for the Covered Way storming. To date, the Luftberg besiegers have lost 20 bases as permanent casualties in a full month of besieging works – a figure expected to mount spectacularly when they actually have to switch from digging to directly attacking fortifications. In the meantime, the troop-packed fortification lines edge even nearer…

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I forgot to do pictures!

All rough work-in-progress, but I thought you'd like to see how it's shaping up now I've built and base-coated the fort...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Siege of Flussburg

The technical explanation of siege progress, to which the previous correspondent (the Captain Conrad von Prittstik) did not have, is covered below. About 2 weeks, or a quarter of the total time allowed, has passed for the Luftberg siege of the Aschenbach fortress.

1. Kleintrink Bastion
2. Kaisertreu Bastion
3. Zaub Bastion
4. Vogelhof Redoubt
The black blocks are batteries, red arrows are lines of fire (solid if established, dashed if proposed)

The plan above shows how things stand at present, following about 2 weeks of siege. Luftberg proved to have a good eye for distances, and correctly estimated a starting location for his first parallel which was just outside defending cannon range, thus sparing his men a turn of being showered with cannonballs.

The plan derived by the Elector and Major Ungaurn is to force a breach between the Kaisertreu and Zaub bastions (2 and 3 on the plan above.) The Kaisertreu central bastion could be pretty easily enfiladed by digging around the eastern face of the fort, but to flank the Zaub bastion would require a pretty extensive bunch of works to the south. It was decided to instead keep flanking it as plan ‘B’ for the present, and instead use the anticipated howitzers to shell them out. Some calculations with ranges revealed that this would need some mortar batteries at the very edge of the glacis to lob shells into the bastion.

With the first parallel completed, an approach was dug and then the second parallel extended in a southward direction. The trench line now projected out slightly to get the enfilading line on the Kaisertreu, so the Elector ordered a redoubt to be built for protection of the batteries. In honour of the army’s greatest victory, it was dubbed the Vogelhof Redoubt. The defenders’ guns made construction as unpleasant as possible, but before long it was completed and packed with troops, plus lots of inspiring flags to encourage the men.

The second parallel was also extended northwards, with a similar angle to envelop the defences. The extension was necessary for enfilading the Kaisertreu, but the intention was also to create some ‘jumping off’ trenches for raids, plus allow a diversionary attack when the breach was assaulted to spread the defenders thin. However, as it extended round the required distance and before any protective redoubt was completed, the defenders decided to launch a sortie to disrupt the digging.

Around 8 bases of troops packed the covered way, before sweeping out of the sally ports and attacking. Sadly for the Aschenbach forces, the vigilant defenders spotted the activity almost instantly and began to prepare to receive the attack. A runner was sent to the batteries across from the threatened sector, and with unexpected speed there were soon shots raining down on the flank of the approaching Aschenbach troops – things were going badly wrong for them!

Diagram of the sortie in solid red lines, the dashed trench section is under construction, and the dashed red line shows the flanking artillery battery fire.

All the same, the attackers pressed on and crashed into the defending workers, and a heated exchange took it’s toll on both sides. A group of Aschenbachers even managed to turf the defenders out of a small section of existing trench, and held it long enough to overturn it – much more than was originally planned. Finally though, they were forced to retire back with honours even at six bases lost on each side. All the proposed digging works had been halted, and when redone the next day with heavy guards of Croat skirmisher screens and Grenadier reserves. The works are now complete, and the Kaisertreu is enfiladed, although with considerable delay and cost to both sides. The Feldmarschall von Krumper will not be attempting another sally soon however, what with the losses it took from the unexpected enfilading artillery fire. He reckons currently on one future sally once the batteries are positioned with the aim of spiking some guns, and hopefully a further counterattack on any Covered Way lodgement.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Correspondence from the front

Extract from the diaries of Captain Conrad von Prittstik, of the Infanterie Regiment of Negrelli (IR4) – Siege of Flussburg

Day 1
The army has arrived back outside the city of Flussburg once again, to resume the siege that we were engaged in before the battles of Flussburg and Althirschburg. Instructed my servant, Otto, to reacquire my previous lodgings in a nearby inn. Spent the night under canvas with some other officers, close enough to hear the digging works from the men for the first parallel.

Day 2
First parallel completed. A few shots from the enemy have found our initial works to be pleasingly just beyond their effective range. Appealed once again to the Baron Negrelli to consent to my secondment to headquarters, so my compendious knowledge of siegecraft can be put to use. No sign of Otto.

Day 4
The first approach trench has been run forward, despite the enemy guns having a fine time on our diggers. Otto has reappeared, and reports the inn I stayed in previously has been pillaged, burned down to rubble, then pillaged again. I am now quite glad I didn’t pay my bill.

Day 5
A day of fruitless labour for our gunners, who were ordered to haul their guns into batteries in the first parallel, to look like they are contributing. As the second parallel is still under construction, they protested that they could do nothing until then. Happily, I can record the Elector paid them no heed. I must get my secondment to headquarters, as life in camp is ridiculously boring. Played cards until 2am. Lost 43 crowns.

Day 6
Approach the baron once more, and appeal for more involvement in the siege. Was still hung over, and probably didn’t make the best impression. Nevertheless, the baron smiled and promised me that I would have my wish soon enough.

Day 9
Last three days spent overseeing digging works – confound that baron! Forced to spend my days standing in a muddy hole in the ground, under constant cannon fire, to make sure that the men are digging along the correct path and not veering off to one side or another, to either get us all killed or avoid the fort altogether. Took some comfort that by the end of my final day, the second parallel was well under way and the batteries had been moved forward to begin returning fire. Celebrated my return by giving my mud-covered uniform to Otto, then played cards. Lost 14 crowns.

Day 10
Batteries are now firing away on the fortress, and the second parallel extends on. Have completed a large redoubt, from which some rather exhilarating fun can be had watching the bombardment. Have resolved to work for myself into the headquarters, and instructed Otto to gather up some decent quantities of alcohol.

Day 12
Much high drama through the dawn, as the enemy has launched a sortie. Seeing the progress of our works, and realising that we should soon enfilade their central bastion, a large force attacked out of the fortress and disrupted the proposed works. I was present in the trenches nearby, and was even briefly caught up in a lively exchange of grenades before we were persuaded to retire. The Aschenbach troops even managed to occupy and overturn a portion of our existing works, before we managed to drive them out with much close-range combat of cold steel and grenades. Otto somewhat singed. Decided to write my invitations to the Siege’s director, Major Ungaurn, in person.

Day 14
No sign of a return visit from the enemy, as we have repaired and finished our works while screened by pickets of Croats to the fore and flying columns of grenadiers in reserve. Much destruction from the enemy’s gunners, but the trenches are at last complete. Invited Major Ungaurn and his aide to cards in our tent. Lost 85 crowns, became very drunk, but thankfully was matched in alcohol by Major Ungaurn and secured my secondment to the Siege Headquarters. Glory Awaits!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I'm not particularly good at fixing things up around the house. Want a tap washer replaced? Ring the ambulance before asking me to help out. Need me to rewire one of your plugs? Forget it - just burn your own house down and save yourself a phonecall. But, if you need a scale model of an 18th Century fortress, well... Suddenly all my well-worn caution flies out the window! I've not done this sort of thing for years, but I'm game enough to give it a shot.

All the last posts were a bit dry and technical, but I couldn't see any way round it, as the vocabulary is needed for any decent write-up of what each side is doing and why. Still, it's done now and I can progress. For the siege of Flussburg, I actually had a rough plan - I'd sketched a star-fort on the map I'd used for the approach marches to the battle near Flussburg, and so have adapted that for the design. The fortress is an eight-bastioned layout, of which half will need to be modelled for a decent game. On paper then, this would produce a semi-circle with three full bastions, two half-bastions right at the board edge, and four ravelins in between them.

My Plan 'Template' on paper

The finished fortress quarter (No. 2 on the way)

A plan view of the defences

The bastions and ravelins

The ditch and covered way

After dismissing built-up card covered in paper-mache, I built the models by buying a bunch of polystyrene insulation tiles and cutting into them - as the fortresses were supposedly low-lying, modelling them downwards into a surface rather than up above it seemed more sensible. I cut the tiles in half, marked one up with a paper template measuring about 24cm or 6BW from bastion-to-bastion. Using a sharp knife I cut out the ditch shape, then built up the covered way with corrugated cardboard strips glued together. Ravelin shapes were cut from the spare polystyrene removed to make the ditch. The cut sections were then glued down on the other unmarked half of the tile, which acted as a nice base for it all. Now I just need to paint it all...

Checking through the depleted force lists and OoB's after the battle of Althirschburg, the two forces have an infantry balance of around five-to-one in favour of the besieging Luftburg army - pretty good odds for a siege. Artillery-wise, the two sides are pretty equal, but as the siege is scheduled to run for 2 months I'm prepared to bolster the Luftburg artillery park a bit around the half-way point, maybe with some mortars. Scale will all be a bit relative. I estimate the defender of this mighty citadel will need about 20+ figures to do so, which means that the attackers will number a corresponding 100+ infantry bases. This can't be done all at once, but I'm planning to keep a tally on paper, and release troops to the tabletop as required.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Siegecraft - The Attackers

So, how did attackers go about cracking this impressive nut? Well, the answer is: not quickly. Any siege involved digging, and an awful lot of it, to be able to approach the fortifications through the fields of fire. Dig trenches, site batteries, and batter away at the defenders as you inch forward.

The main advantage is that, as a fortress surrounds a contained area and you’re outside it, you’ll always be able to virtually encircle a portion of it if you’re prepared to dig enough. Once you’ve drawn parallel with a section of the defences, you can send a cannon ball skimming along the inside of it to sweep away defending batteries.
Plan view of a Bastion, now 'flanked' by fire from two batteries out in the trench

This works both ways, however. Approach trenches must progress forward in crab-like sideways moves, never heading straight at the fortress or else the diggers in the trench will find the defenders sending shots down the line of their works.

Plan View - the digger can safely move forward on the left and right, but anywhere in the central triangle means his trench can be fired down.

The result - A plan showing typical trench lines towards a fortress, always staying parallel to the walls or angled carefully away

This digging can only go so far however. As the approaches near the Covered way, the defender won’t be simply sitting on his hands. Sorties can be made to disrupt digging and collapse trenches, while the defenders can also dig their own trenches (‘counter-approaches’) outwards, producing a WW1-style maze of trenches before the fortress walls as each side battles furiously to aid or impede the attackers’ batteries.

Section - The besiegers dig forward

Ultimately though, once the protecting bastions and ravelins are flanked and battered down, with the trenches as near as they can go, the attackers will need to storm the Covered way. One tool of this job is the ‘Gabion.’ Basically a wicker cage like a barrel open top and bottom, this can be thrown down and filled with earth to create a makeshift barricade. When properly backed up and staked into place, this creates a proper trench-like barrier. Assaulting infantry that take the covered way can carry gabions along, throw them up as a defence, and then shelter behind them. This is sometimes referred to as ‘crowning’ the Covered way.

Section - The Covered Way is Stormed

If, by this stage, the defenders are too weak to drive the attackers off, the guns can be brought up to the Gabion-wall and begin firing on the actual fortress wall. Once the wall is smashed down enough by this point-blank battering for soldiers to scramble up the rubble and into the gap, an assault is staged (usually only after a polite invitation to surrender with honour, once the breach has been made.)

Section - the breach is made

Friday, September 5, 2008

Siegecraft - The Defenders

The full-blown Star-Fort layout

The invention of cannon basically caused two changes from the classic medieval fortress. The first was that high walls built above ground could be quickly knocked down from a distance, making them useless. Instead, these walls were cleverly swapped for a ‘walled ditch’ idea, where attackers from a distance would only be able to see the very top of a wall (from which the defenders could fire on them) and would have to go to the prolonged and dangerous effort of working their cannons up to the edge of the ditch, right under the noses of the defenders, before they could fire on the wall and knock a breach in it.

The second change caused by artillery was from the defenders’ perspective. Firing a cannon out on a mass of attacking enemy troops was all very well and good, but if a breach had been knocked in the wall then this was the one point of the fort where you couldn’t put a cannon. What was really needed was a way for other cannons on either side of the breach to be able to fire across at it, sending cannonballs hurtling down the ditch in parallel to the fortress walls so that attackers would be cut down in rows. The whole thing would begin to resemble a bowling ball thrown down a lane at a bunch of skittles.

The answer was a bastion – a kind of projection out from the main wall of the fortress, which would allow guns to be sited in it’s sides, facing along the length of the main wall. By shaping the front as a wedge, the front of each bastion could also be covered, producing the following layout.

Plan views to give the evolution step-by-step:
Top - A wall. (Yes, I know it's that simple!)
Middle - Bastions, plus firing lines between them, but with their fronts unprotected
Bottom - The bastion fronts are angled, allowing protecting fire all along the wall

When done to enclose a circular area, it’s the classic ‘star’ shape on plan, and it means every inch of wall is protected by flanking fire – each wall is covered by it’s neighbouring bastions, and each bastion is in turn covered by its’ two adjacent bastions.

The more defensive ‘projections’ like these bastions there are, the more lengthy and difficult the siege. With this in mind, it was common to put little mini-forts, separate from the main works, further out in the ditch. Most common was the use of a diamond-shaped island called a Ravelin, which would sit in front of the wall between each bastion. That’s the level I’m stopping at, but historically the system led to a blizzard of outworks of various names like Lunettes, Tenailles, Hornworks, etc. which could basically be repeated as often as space, time and money permitted.

Plan View, with Labels
Bastion lines of fire down the ditch

Ravelin & Bastion lines of fire down the Covered Way

The last touch was the outer edge of the ditch, which was given a protective infantry position known as the covered way. Basically it was a kind of open-backed trench, which allowed infantry to fire on the approaching besiegers and guaranteed that the attackers were going to have to carry out a costly assault if they wanted to clear the edge of the ditch and get guns to it.

A section, looking sideways through the defences. From left to right: the wall & bastion with cannons on top; the ditch; Infantry in the Covered Way; the Glacis (a sloped approach)

The attackers’ experience if he tried to progress through these works would be a daunting one. First, a run up the gently sloping Glacis (a clear no-man’s-land, within musket range, and kept barren of all cover) with the enemy infantry in the covered way firing as you came, and the cannons in the fort firing over their heads and down the slope at you. If you made it to the Covered Way and stormed it, things didn’t improve – it was open-backed, with no cover from the defenders’ guns, making it a gigantic ‘bullet-trap.’ Now it wasn’t just the cannon on the wall in front of you, but cannons to the side, in a ravelin, firing lengthwise down the covered way and sweeping away ranks at a time. Storming the ravelin would be no good, as this just left you in another bullet-trap unconnected to the main fortress. If you clambered down into the ditch, you then had cannons in bastions to your left and right sweeping it with fire, all carefully calculated for maximum destruction. Oh, and the wall in front of you is still probably mostly intact except for the very top, meaning that it’s impossible to go forward and all the effort’s been wasted…

That runs through a fair bit of the defensive theory, so next post will be from the attackers’ perspective, explaining how this system would be overcome by the besiegers. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Siege background

I remember my younger days, when I first got into wargaming. The starting point was Games Workshop, which I would suggest is how the vast majority of people who wargame in the UK at least first get their introduction to the hobby. For those in the USA and other places, I don’t think you can really overstate the dominant position that GW has for the hobby in the UK – it gets a lot of flak from the hard-core brigade, but the simple statement of fact is: if you go to a high school in Britain, odds are that at least some of your friends (or friends of friends) will play GW games, giving you probably your first introduction to the hobby.

Whether they stay with it is open to debate (as per the discussion on the Yahoo Old School Wargaming Group) – I certainly didn’t when I went to university, but as I matured (or at least aged) I kept the formative experience and ultimately enjoy the hobby in other forms. No more Orcs for me these days on the tabletop, (although I retain a certain guilty fondness for the pulp novels GW release.) Anyway, I’m getting distracted here, so I’d better stop before I begin ranting about how “in my day GW was seriously ‘punk-ish’ and edgy, with some real dirt under it’s fingernails, before it got all commercial and cartoonish and too polished. Sell-outs!” (oh dear, too late…)

Right, I’ve calmed down now. My point was that I can remember that one of the things I owned for Warhammer in the early 90’s was a book of siege rules, and a large polystyrene castle for use in the game. It was a set of square towers and wall section to make your own medieval fortress, which you could fill with some figures, plant a bunch more outside, and then enjoy as they knocked seven bells out of each other. Trying to get footholds on the walls with ladders, being showered with crossbow bolts as they launched frenzied assaults on the waiting defenders, and – the inevitable climax – the mass slaughter that always ensued when a breach was made in the walls and the tiny restricted space was packed with mobs of screaming, armoured, axe-wielding maniacs intent on spoiling each others’ day. Brilliant.

I think there’s definitely something more dramatic to it. You can see it in other areas, like fiction, all the way from ‘the Iliad’ to the ‘Lord of the Rings.’ The tension of the two armies in close proximity, the various tools and techniques each side can select to use on the other, and the frantic bursts of action when some feature of the defences is disputed. It ‘works’ in a fundamental way, also on the tabletop, heightening the drama. A conventional battle in the open can sometimes struggle to compete.

The ‘catch’ to all this is that siegecraft in the 18th Century had evolved into a very different beast, with it’s own peculiar set of techniques and methods. I had heard of Vauban and knew he had refined a whole new method, but I didn’t understand what it was. I finally found out more over time, from the excellent (although imperfect) explanation and example supplied with the rule set ‘Warfare in the Age of Reason’ that I first got in the early 90’s; books on sieges by Christopher Duffy; and the growing resources of the internet. What follows is based on the loose and imperfect info I’ve gathered over time from here and there. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, but all I can say is: it’s the sort of guide that I really wished I had when I was younger. Hopefully it may be of interest and inspiration to others.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The last objective

As joy is unconfined and the Luftberg capital city of Blinzeln celebrates with a round of fireworks displays, it looks like the campaign is all but over. There are about 2 months left of campaigning time before each side can safely retire to barracks and the diplomats can negotiate through the winter. The Elector von Luftberg has twice defeated the Aschenbach army in a pitched battle, and so depleted it that he can rove at will through the province – except at one key point.

The fortified city of Flussburg is still held by the Aschenbach forces, and the remainder of the field army that straggled off the field at Althirschburg and fled back there to regroup. If he can snag it in a siege, he’ll have a powerful bargaining chip to trade in the upcoming negotiations. Basically, this is his chance to turn a major victory into a decisive one.

Previously, siege works have been handled by the M&R campaign rules, which basically just mean rolling a dice each turn and gradually building up a modifier over time. No longer though, in the world of König und Kaiser. I have plans for the next little siege being a bit more in-depth, as you’ll see over the next few postings.