Background image is Les Dernières Cartouches (The Last Cartridges) by Alphonse de Neuville

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas at the Cardboard Caserne

We had a very festive Christmas at the Cardboard Caserne. Though I didn't get any wargames as gifts, I did receive a copy of Richard Bassett's For God and Kaiser: The Imperial Austrian Army 1619-1918, which will certainly be fuelling many of my expeditions into my wargame library in the future. I also got for myself a "player's copy" of the SPI classic monster game Wellington's Victory: [the] Battle of Waterloo (WV), first published in 1976.

I was an avid Napoleonicist from an early age, so I bought WV when it came out (or shortly thereafter, I forget), only to sell it many years later when I simply didn't have many chances to play it. I was sad, though, not to have it in my library, so when a copy was advertised online for only $20, I jumped at the chance. The seller was very frank about its condition; the maps had been trimmed extensively (not the terrain-bearing parts, just the "white space"), the counters clipped, and the rulebook heavily marked up. There's no way that this could be considered in good condition, but he made sure I knew what I was getting, and for what I paid, it is fine. It's usable, and that's all I need.

Reading over the designer's notes more carefully than I did when I was a teenager, I can see that what many people have viewed as a design flaw (the extensive emphasis placed on skirmishers) is actually quite intentional on the designer's part and reflects a rather unorthodox interpretation on his part of how combat units operated. That is, he seems to believe that armies with extensive light infantry forces really did dissolve large parts of their best units into clouds of skirmishers that generated most of the firepower of infantry in combat, that the only time formed infantry resorted to firepower was in defense. There are certainly military historians who have postulated that, but it isn't the consensus, as far as I know.

As for Bassett's work, I'm very excited. As a teenager, I was infatuated with the French Grande Armée of du Premier Empire. Of course, with its amazing uniforms and gallant heroism, it was a natural subject of fascination. And as a born-and-raised Anglophile, of course the redcoats of the British Army have always had a special place in my heart. But the Austrian army? Like their infantry's coats, they always seemed a bit colourless. Defeated time and time again by the rising power of France, treated like a poor relation by the other Allied powers, always something of a confused mess by nature of its dual monarchy and dozens of nationalities, the kaiserlich und königlich armee just didn't grab the attention.

But the older I've grown and the more Austro-Hungarian history I've read, the more I appreciate the poor old k-u-k. Upholders of grand traditions that went back to the days of Carolus Magnus, the Imperial armies did their best to contain and defend a sprawling realm. In 1804, in a bid to match the consolidation of France's conquests into Napoleon's empire, Kaiser Franz II merged his familial and elective title as Holy Roman Emperor with his personal titles of King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemmia and Archduke of Austria to create the new Empire of Austria. It covered nearly 700,000 square kilometers, included twelve major territories (kingdoms, principalities, archduchies, duchies, counties, even a voivodeship) and included as many as fifteen nationalities (Germans, Italians, Magyars, Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Poles, Romanians, Wallachians, and others).

The hussars that had become the darling of every European army in the 18th century were Hungary's mad, bad, "so crazy no one wants to mess with them" light cavalry reinterpretation of the old Polish heavy cavalry husar. The light lancers that the were adopted first by France and then by most other nations appeared first as uhlans in the Austrian army, another reinterpretation of the heavy horsemen of the old Polish armies. Austria, like other German states, embodied corps of jaegers as specialist light infantry; but Austria often employed their frontier troops (grenzers, often also known as pandours or Croats, though they included Bosnians and Serbs as well) as excellent light infantry akin to the early Highland Scots regiments of the British army (before, like the British, they made the mistake of turning their "wild hillmen" into regular line infantry regiments with fancy costumes). The Austrian artillery arm had been famous for its steadiness and gun quality since at least the 18th century, and its brown-coated gunners remained, as they always had been, unflashy, stolid, but tough and dependable, serving their well-made guns bravely. Austria was not as famous for its generals as some nations, but it was full of brave, capable, and occasionally brilliant officers. Erherzohg Karl, Duke of Teschen, deserves a place with Wellington and Napoleon among the leading generals of the age. Napoleon admired Karl Philipp, Fürst zu Schwarzenberg, so much that he specifically requested that the prince command the Austrian portion of the Grand Army of 1812. Austria itself also contributed the stolid von Kienmayer; Bohemia, von Kollowrat and the dashing von Klenau; Hungary, the brothers Albert and Ignac Gyulay; and Croatia, the dauntless Baron Vukassovich, who fought Napoleon from his Italian campaign of 1796 to the baron's death in 1809 at Wagram.

Austria went on to become overshadowed by Prussia, defeated by her in the wars of the later 19th century, and eventually nothing better than a sidekick in the disastrous Great War of 1914-1918 that began with an attempt by Austrian revanchists to regain their former Balkan empire and ended with the death of the entire realm. Wargaming these later conflicts and reading about the internal and external politics of the Dual Monarchy have left me with far more interest in it than I would have expected, as well as a sort of lingering sadness for the loss, nearly a century ago, of such an impossible, impractical, confused, and complicated player from the world stage. United Germany has been rebuilt from the ashes of the Cold War; one can only speculate what the world might be like if Austria-Hungary, which ruled parts of what today are a dozen different countries, were still a power in the world.


In a follow-up to my last post, I realized that of course I was forgetting one important Christmas battle! So if I have any spare time over the remaining holidays, I'll be setting up the opening scenario for 1777: the Year of the Hangman. Yes, in all the excitement about snowy maps, I had forgotten "The Ten Crucial Days"--the campaign that started off with Washington's bold (though not at all surprise) offensive across the near-frozen Delaware River against the Hessian garrison of Trenton, New Jersey, that also led to the battles of  Assunpink Creek and of Princeton. Though I didn't live long there, I *was* born in New Jersey, and my sister's been there (in the Princeton-Trenton-Assunpink area, even) for the better part of the last 30 years, so shame on me for forgetting about it! After all, we have this awesome meme on social media every year to remind us...

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