Thursday 8 October 2015

Black Powder: Grochow, 1809


The battle of Grochow was fought on April 25th, 1809 between the Polish and Austrian armies (at least, according to my "Blunders on the Danube" scenario book).  An Austrian division under Von Mohr had been ferried across the river Vistula to threaten a Polish garrison, but Prince Poniatowski led 3 columns of Poles to contest this bridgehead.

Since I failed to find any corroborating data about this battle in any online source, the scenario book is the only detailed reference I have for the battle.  Indeed, one Wikipedia article mentions the correct date and place for the battle, but claims that it was fought between a different Polish leader and a Russian force!  Were the Russians invading Poland in 1809?  I'm sorry to say that my education has failed to provide much detail on wars in eastern Europe...

Either way, the scenario can be gamed as written even if there is some doubt (in my mind) about its authenticity.  So, what have we got?

The Scenario

In the game, 1 large and 2 smaller columns will attack Grochow.  We didn't have any Polish figures, so we substituted Steve's Russians instead.  This shouldn't make any material difference, as the number and classes of the units were given in "Blunders on the Danube" and we kept to those forces.  The attackers have 6 turns to take the town of Grochow; if they can do this then they win the game.

It'll be a difficult task, though.  The town is heavily garrisoned by Austrian infantry and can only be reached by passing through gaps in impenetrable forest.  There's also a small Austrian detachment in the village of Radzymin; will they be able to threaten the Russians' flanks or rear as the attackers pass by?

We decided to use my "Black Powder Personality Cards" once again.  The cards for the fairly poor quality Austrian commanders gave 2 of them a high level of decisiveness, though with their otherwise under-average abilities, this might be better termed "arrogance".

On the other hand, we had some personal difficulties in reconciling the highly skilled Russian leadership with the portraits on the cards!  It did cause a few hesitant laughs, for sure.

So, the numbers of units are about equal, but the Russians are mostly light cavalry with only a few infantry units.  The Austrians are the other way around: mostly infantry with only 2 units of cavalry.  The Russian leadership is much better, but even so, how is a mostly cavalry force going to assault a town?  It's going to be tough...

The Game

Near the town of Grochow, the Russians advanced rapidly and, with their skilled commanders, deployed easily into an attack formation.  Their plan was (I believe) to knock out the supporting Austrian infantry from both flanks of the town before turning inwards and assaulting the built-up area from 3 sides at once.  In past games of Black Powder, we've found that units in buildings are exceptionally hard to dislodge, so this plan was probably their best hope.  Still, it looked like a pretty tall order...

Straight away, one of the Russian attack columns came under heavy fire and was halted, disordered.  Even at this early stage, the assault looked unlikely to achieve its objectives.

In the sideshow near Radzymin village, a lone Austrian Hussar regiment saw off successive, but uncoordinated, charges from 2 Russian light cavalry units.  Indeed, in the first fight, every hit was saved and so neither regiment took any damage (I guess they just rode past each other, shouting insults).

This couldn't go on forever, though.  In the end, the irritated Russians brought up 2 fresh regiments of light dragoons and obliterated the tiring Austrian hussars.  Still, they'd tied up 4 times their own numbers for several turns...

Still trying to prove their worth, the Russian light cavalry regiment who had failed to damage their Austrian counterparts before now saw an opportunity to charge an enemy battery in the flank.  The artillery should have been toast, but once again neither side inflicted any casualties.  We had to look up the rulebook for this one, as it was a situation that none of the players ever imagined would happen.  Our reading was that the cavalry retired and the artillery held their position; no doubt the gunners jeered mercilessly at the backs of the retreating cavalrymen!

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, in the next turn this battery was caught in the other flank by the Russian light dragoons and annihilated.

Back at Grochow, the fighting was furious now.  On the defender's left flank, the attack had stalled, but a Russian column managed to charge the militia on the right.  Astonishingly, the raw Austrian troops wiped out their attackers.

In this they may have been helped by a blunder by the Austrian subordinate Oberst Anon.  He had tried to rally the damaged front line of militia, but instead caused them to fall back.  Miraculously, CinC Von Mohr roused himself from his normal inefficiency to order the fresh, reserve unit into position just before the Russians made contact.

With time running out, the increasingly desperate Russian commanders threw in their other flank attack.  This infantry unit was savaged by musketry as it charged, then fought to destruction by the large unit of Austrian regulars who were facing it.

The next volley from the Austrians also routed the one and only Russian artillery battery.  With no cannons and with only 2 infantry units left, the Russians decided that their chance of taking Grochow was negligible and so they conceded the game.


This is the first time that we've played a historical scenario, even if there is some doubt about who actually fought in the real life battle.  OK, we substituted one of the sides and used Russians instead of Poles, but that wouldn't have made any substantial difference.

As written, I cannot see how the Poles/Russians can possibly take Grochow in this game.  Sure, they have large numbers of light cavalry, but those aren't much use in an urban assault.  The attackers also have very good leadership and the defenders are poor in that respect, but all the Austrians have to do is stand there and get in the way  Their sub-standard generals don't really interfere with that!  

"Blunders on the Danube" is a scenario book written for "Field of Battle", but unless those rules operate very differently from Black Powder then it's hard to see what the attackers could do differently.  I commend Steve and A. for trying (and at least they did manage to savage the Austrian detachment at Radzymin), but really I don't think they were going to win this one!


  1. Cracking BatRep C6, very well written and really easy to understand both the rules you were using and the flow of the game. Great photos too. I've not played "Black powder" myself, as I now have "Blucher" to try out. but you certainly make it sound a thoroughly entertaining ruleset.

    1. Black Powder is very easy to learn (the basics, at least) and very entertaining. It's scenario-driven rather than points-based, so not really suitable for competitive play. Indeed, Black Powder is more of a toolkit than many other rulesets; users are encouraged to tinker with bits if they wish.

  2. It was a very long shot from the outset.

    I really enjoyed the freedom for a swirling cavalry battle away from the main event.
    So many battlefields see the Cavalry guarding the 8 inch gap between the foot units and table edge - or standing in reserve to plug a gap.

    I hve a new slogan for my Hussars: "Failing to get the job done - in style!"

    1. I agree that the protracted light cavalry battle was something that I hadn't seen before in a game. And it was funny how ineffectual the Russian hussars were, even though the Austrian hussars fought well :-) .

    2. I suspect that the average light cavalryman, with his affectations of roguish nobility actually preferred this pointless hooning about the countryside.

      None of the horrors of massed artillery frightening the horses.
      No jumped up peasant musketeers lowering the tone of the war, and forming square when you think you've outwitted them.
      Plenty of fresh air, hedges to leap over, and space to manoeuvre.

      Who in their right mind would want to fight their way into a town at the point of a bayonet?

  3. Black Powder is a great system, lots of fun to play but difficult to use cavalry effectively imho

    1. I agree, it's lots of fun. I think the cavalry problem is generally not having enough space to deploy and use them properly; that wasn't really an issue here!

    2. I think there are 2 factors at play with the cavalry.
      The first is that maintaining command over the cavalry is an important success factor.
      This entails having a competent commander, well trained troopers, and suffficiently large cavalry brigades to work with attack groups and reserves.
      (Avoid the British problem of the single impetuous charge, and avoid the "Old Empires" problems of blithering idiots in the command chain).

      The second problem - space to manoeuvre - was a declining resource as time passed.
      I get the impression that the battlefields of the revolutionary wars were relatively empty.
      Napoleon's rash of victories in 1805-7 saw him pack in greater troop densities than his opponents, while still leaving room for the mounted arm.
      By 1809, and certainly by 1812 battles involved huge numbers of men with little empty space for cavalry to operate, Artillery (and particularly grand batteries) were becoming the preferred method to destroy enemy positions.
      The result was terrible slugging matches, with massive casualties on each side.

  4. Presumably that's why the battle is in a 'blunders' scenario book?! Playing one sided battles like this can be interesting. Are there options that were missed during the real battle? Would a different strategy have paid off? What if the defenders blundered and left the security of the town to engage the cavalry. These and other options can be explored making for a fun game. I've not played Black Powder (my historical interest are a bit further back in time), but I have played Hail Caesar. Some of the battles I'm preparing for were ones where the Celts were defeated by a much better organised Roman army. It'll be interesting to see if I can do any better! Very nice report, the graphics over photos really help to explain the action.

    1. Thanks, Lee. A little research into "Field of Battle" suggests that Class 2 woods should have provided light cover only, rather than being the dense, impenetrable forests that we had. However, this wouldn't have made any significant difference to most of our game (though I might have deployed the Austrian infantry near Grochow without their flank facing the woods!)

      In Black Powder (and Hail Caesar too, I think), the only way that the defenders could have blundered accidentally and left the town is if an attempt to issue orders had failed. Since I didn't plan to issue any orders if I could help it, that was not going to happen!

    2. That's true, but what I meant was setting the game up in slightly different ways to try out 'what if' situations. Perhaps the defenders are under strength to begin with and the cavalry have to act fast and/or try to block reinforcements. You could have a scenario specific rule where the defenders have to be issued an order to stay put otherwise they'll try to retreat - perhaps under the false impression that the attacking force is more capable of winkling them out?

    3. Ah, I see what you mean! I did suggest to the Russians before we started that they might prefer to swap out some of their light cavalry for some light infantry instead - but they wanted to play the scenario as written. But there are all kinds of possibilities in adjusting the objectives or orders as well as the forces...

  5. Great AAR, it is nice to see more of your Austrians! I am not sure what could I advise in regard to scenario, as I don't know the rules, but it looks like the idea is to rout the defenders through cavalry charges and morale?

    As for the battle, try those links:

    Timeline here shows that there was a larger battle at Raszyn and Radzymin and Grochow were just "combats".

    The Russian - Polish battle that Wiki leads you to took place in 1831, so that is something else.

    1. Thanks, Mathyoo - those links are a help!

      I don't know about the "Field of Battle" rules, but in Black Powder, [Napoleonic] cavalry cannot charge unbroken infantry effectively since the infantry will just form square. Also, the cavalry cannot dismount and act as infantry themselves. This limits their use to pinning infantry units in place or to pursuing already-crumbling units. Neither of these was much use around Grochow in our game, so the overwhelming Russian superiority in mounted troops didn't do them any good...

  6. A very interesting battle and quite a dilemma for the attackers - I can't see them winning it given the impossed time limit, which made me wonder about the translation from one set of rules to another and if the same things can be done in either set of rules.
    Nevertheless a very interesting battle and aar, though I don't like the Black Powder rules they do seem to generate some good games.

    1. Thanks, Joe. I agree that this battle just doesn't look possible for the attackers. If they'd had more time then perhaps they could have engaged in a long firefight, relying on their greatly superior leadership to rally their troops more effectively. But such a war of attrition would have taken much longer than they had available.

    2. A very entertaining aspect of Black Powder's rules is the way they give and take away - particularly in the infantry battles.
      A fortunate command roll can see the line advance before enemy cannon have much opportunity to wear it down.
      One unfortunate disorder result from enemy fire can stall an entire attack play - or at least see your unit stuck out in the killing ground.

      Some people enjoy managing through the randomness.
      It certainly encourages a force facing a difficult attack to have a go and hope for the best.

      Without a lack of predictability, I suspect we would never have heard of Joshua Chamberlain or Robert E. Lee.

  7. Great BatRep. As usual a good intro, nice battle information and a good summary. We need moar of these :)

  8. Nice report. Good to see those cards getting used as well :)

    1. Thanks, Simon. Yes, I'd like to use my cards a whole lot more...