Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Brandywine, 1777 After Action Report

Played my largest Volley & Bayonet action today with the Brandywine scenario in the Volley & Bayonet rule book!  I have a few observations from the game.  While the victors are predictable, there are some observations as well as shockers that took place during the game I'd like to cover.
First of all, here is the battlefield (played in centimeters instead of inches)
Facing North.  Dilworth is visible on the right of the table.  There are 4 major fords over the Brandywine Creek which runs North to South.  While you can't see the hills well, Chadd's Ford dominates the southern-most ford, followed by Brinton's Ford to the North, Jones' Ford, and Wistar's Ford to the north of that.  The objective for the British is two-fold with an over-arching strategic goal:

The British Objectives
Capture a road to Dilworth leading across the Brandywine
Capture Dilworth

Destroy the Continental Army

The Continental Objectives 
Defend Dilworth
Defend the roads from Dilworth leading to a ford.

Looking at the map and taking into consideration the objectives, the game seems almost impossible for the Continentals to win.  Historically, they were defending the fords when Howe flanked them operationally and appeared on Washington's flank with an entire, powerful force.  The rules reflect this situation by forcing the Continentals to set up defending the fords.

I placed my most powerful divisions with Artillery support against the fords in stationary positions with a small infantry reserve commanded by Washington himself.

The British moved first with Cornwallis' Wing and Howe striking south for Dilworth and Knyphausen's Wing attempting river crossings in force at each of the ford positions.  By the way, the rules for fording are excellent.  I could only assault with 1 Regiment at a time and they could only move 1/2.  This made for some excitement and the outcome of the crossing operations were always in question - just like in real life!
Guards Battalions advancing!  Howe is personally leading them into battle.  Note the Hessians under Von Donop on the road behind the house.

The first Brigade cannot cross!  No movement left this turn to complete the crossing.  Troops from Greene's Division watch on.

The Second Brigade crosses, makes contact and disorders itself automatically.

The Reserve Brigade (actually highlanders but I have no highlander units modeled!  Old Glory line troops will have to do!  Pictured here are troops from the famous 42nd Highland Infantry and the 91st Highland Infantry.
The Hessian Brigade - they would have a bad time the entire battle 
The river crossing operation, speaking from the standpoint of the headquarters was a mixed bag.  2nd Brigade was successful, 1st Brigade was not.  The Highland Brigade was successful and the Hessians, while they were able to get into the ford, were not able to press home the attack against stationary Continental Artillery and troops from Stirling's Jersey Division.  They would break 2 Regiments against Stirling's position and reach exhaustion quickly.

Immediately Washington moves Stephens and Wayne's Division north to meet Cornwallis' wing on the hills Northwest of Dilworth.  It seems like an avalanche is bearing down on the Continental flank.
Meanwhile the crossing operations turn into a slug-fest.  First Brigade finally manages to cross and slugs it out with Sullivan and Green's Divisions on the shore of the Brandywine defending Wistar and Jones' Fords.  The Highland unit start to slice through at Brinton's ford and are quickly counter-attacked by elements of Stirling's Division in Reserve.  Meanwhile the Hessian Division at Chadd's Ford routs and exhausts itself.  Chadd's Ford was an impregnable fortress that I am not sure even the Highland units could have fought through in this game...

At that moment the lightbulb clicked in my head as well.  Given the victory conditions in the game, the Continentals had already lost.  Sure they were holding their own in tactical engagements, but the lack of maneuvering meant they would most likely die in place.  The British wanted them to fight!  And there were no victory points for exhausting British units, only Americans, most of whom were teetering dangerously close to exhaustion.  Additionally, the rules are strict - each player has only 7 turns to accomplish his plan.

Decision time!  As General Washington, do you pull back from the river and risk getting cut to pieces during a retrograde?  (remember the militia rule in Volley and Bayonet!  Non-regulars do NOT get a free facing change as this battle occurs before Von Stueben's reforms take effect).  So each facing change costs half your movement.  You don't ahve much time to effect a fighting withdrawal towards Dilworth at this point.

Your other course of action is to fight your way through Knyphausen's Wing and cross the Brandywine yourself, opening up a seam to retreat units through, or die trying!  The British sealed off the road north and the rules stipulate you can exit as many units off of the western edge as you like (which also happen to be the British starting point so its crawling with them).  You don't lose any points for retreating divisions off the map.  At this point though, most of my units are decisively engaged.  The only plan I could execute was to hold off the British from Dilworth - talk about do or die!

Speaking of die (dice) you won't believe what happens either.  While the Hessians are essentially sitting there staring at Stirling (sitzkrieg lol) at Chadd's Ford,  The Continentals launch a limited assault with Stephen's Virginians and Wayne's Division.  While Wayne breaks himself against the Hessians, he does rout 1 Hessian Regiment but what happened next is beyond belief!  Cornwallis' Wing attempting to push the Continentals off the slope loses each melee and 1 Guards Battalion, as well as 2 Grenadier Battalions suffer a hit.  (they only get 2 hits before evaporating).

Washington, in personal command of Stephen's Division, then moves them out of the woods and they attack the Grenadiers and the Guards northwest of Dilworth in the open.  I couldn't believe my eyes - they destroy a Guards Battalion, and 2 Grenadier Battalions.  While this was extremely lucky dice rolling, (especially in 1777) I was astounded with the results.  If the Americans had 1 more or 2 more turns, they might have occupied the northernmost road towards Dilworth, despite British Breakthroughs by the Highland units in the South.

The end of turn 7 still finds the British in command of Wistar's Ford with artillery moved over to the Eastern bank, protecting the Bridgehead.  Knyphausen's wing has linked up with Cornwallis' Wing in the North and the British now present a solid line against the Continental force.  
BRIDGEHEAD!  Elements of 1st and 2nd Brigade link up as the Royal Artillery deploys its battery to cover Wistar's Ford.

Additionally, Greene's Division collapses and 2 more divisions reach exhaustion on the Continental side, 1 point short of the 5 needed for a "tactical victory"

The Continental units attempt to attack the Hessians at Chadd's Ford and lose the close combat...  Washington's only hope is to escape South with his forces.  His small tactical victory on the Hills northwest of Dilworth may have enabled him to do that.

There's always a take-away when you play Volley & Bayonet!  Here is a quick run-down of what I learned from the Brandywine Scenario:

Mission Objectives:  Stay within the parameters of your objectives.  Order your units into action based on those orders.  What a simple and obvious lesson but in this scenario, the objectives are subtle and not black and white.  While it's tempting to hold the British at bay and hold onto real estate, the clock is ticking!  In this instance, it was feasible for the American player to preserve his combat power and exit units off the map instead of standing up and exchanging blows with the British.

Ground Scale:  Proper analysis is required when playing at a condensed ground scale.  I think the time constraints should have been adjusted for changing the ground scale to centimeters.  Simply swapping 1:1 doesn't work.  Since the map was altered, the turn sequence should have been altered as well as the distances change when the ground scale changes.

River Crossing Operations: If possible, when conducting a river crossing, use artillery to blanket the troops opposing you on the other side.  If none is available and you still have to cross, try and use "elite" troops when crossing the obstacle.  Remember to time movement correctly - units lose 1/2 their movement during fording operations and you can only squeeze 1 unit across per turn.  In the British case, there were 4 different spots at which to force a crossing.  Had there been only 1 or 2 the result could have been different.  The Artillery was the celebrated arm in this case because it did a great job of inflicting damage on crossing units as they were making their attempt, during their morale checks, and during melee.  At least on the continental side, artillery saved the day.

Elite Units Take Casualties!  For some reason, I think players (at least myself) tend to use elite units more often as a spearhead of an attack or the bulwark of a defense.  Unfortunately when playing at the Regimental Scale, even elite units only have 2 strength points.  THey bleed quick and if you happen to roll badly, you can lose them.  Conserve elite forces and include them in reserve if you have more than 1 unit.

"Economy of Force Operations" With the Artillery and 2 Regiments pinning an entire Hessian Brigade down at Chadd's Ford, there was no reason for Stirling's 2 other Regiments to sit still on the hilltop.  While it could be argued that they were a reserve force, and indeed Chadd's Ford was initially a Continental main effort, I think once the northern attack was discovered, they could have easily switched out with a much smaller division and held the Hessians off for just as long.  There simply wasn't a need to committ as many troops to guarding the ford as were present.  They could have b een used elsewhere along the line to either shore up another ford's defense or moved to the hills Northwest of Dilworth to defend against Cornwallis.

"Try a Spoiling Attack" There really was only 1 direction for Cornwallis' wing to go - South towards Dilworth.  With the limited number of turns, the British only had a set amount of time to reach their objective.  I picture the light infantry literally running through the woods to get there.  While Washington's spoiling attack was overwhelmingly successful in terms of what was gained over what was lost (the continentals lost 1 strength point from a state line regiment, the brits lost 2 Grenadier Battalions and a Guards Battalion...) it was borne out of a quick necessity rather than a planned endeavor.  Spoiling attacks in Volley & Bayonet upset the enemy's timetable and enable your own troops to get into position.  (maybe I could have used skirmish troops instead?)

So that is it.  While it was arguable a British victory, I am not quite sure.  There was still alot of combat power on the hills northwest of Dilworth - certainly enough to launch a small counterattack and hold a road junction or 2.  That being said there was also alot more British units around those hills - enough to stabilize the front and continue south, and the light battalion was occupying Dilworth as the game ended.  I give this one to the Brits, but it was a close run affair.

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