Sunday, August 10, 2014

Battle of Sonnenfeld, East Prussia

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Date: August 9, 1757/2014
Situation: Russian Invasion of East Prussia
Fictional Location east of Danzig: The Sonnenfeld

During the summer of 1757/2014 the Russians invaded East Prussia. They hoped this would stretch Frederick II's resources as allies Austria and France pressed Prussia and Britain on other fronts. On August 9, 1757 the Russians and Prussians fought on the field of Sonnenfeld.

The Beginning

One of the first Prussian units to see the approaching Russian Army were Bosnian Lancers. {Peter Gilder collection owned by Keith L.}

Here is what they saw. The foreground reveals the Russian left flank stretching into the distance in two long battle lines on their Back Table.

While the Prussians deployed mostly on a Sonnenfeld reverse slope. {Collection of Der Alte Fritz: Jim P.}

Prussian Right Flank

The Bosnians repaired to the Prussian extreme right flank to discomfort a Russian battalion just arrived on the Main Table. The irregulars could not entice the Russians to waste their +5 close order first fire bonus.

The Russian battalion silently pushed the Bosnians back suffering very little from carbine fire. The Prussian battalion in the previous image moved to its right to counter the Russians.

From the Russian view, a classic firefight begins. The Bosnians retired to the rear.

Behind all this on the Prussian Back Table sat two regiments of kürassiers; 72 castings. {The nearest Kürassiers are actually my Saxon Leib Regiment pretending to be Prussians today so I could use some of my lads in the game! Plus reduce the load Jim transported.}

Moments later my Kürassier Regiment arrived from the Back Table in case of need. Forward of them the previously mentioned firefight in the upper right is ongoing and the Bosnians have sneaked around a bit enticed by hopes of falling on an enemy flank. In the upper left a new and different firefight has commenced.

The firefight on the Prussian Right Flank goes on for some time. Superior Russian fire discipline was dreadful but the Prussians held.

The Bosnians fell upon a Russian cannon section which you can't see. The crew was cut down while the Prussian kürassiers moved closer.

From the Russian view the often mentioned firefight is in the upper left, the cannon section about to be cut down is in the center, Cossacks are in the foreground, a Converged Russian Grenadier Battalion has moved forward on the right of the photo and my kürassiers are in the top of the image.

A gap opened and two kürassier squadrons charged home into the Russian Converged Grenadiers. Their fire discipline was poor and their powerful first fire bonus had already been used. The Russians lost the melee, failed a morale test and routed to their Back Table.

A die throw prevented pursuit so the kürassiers rallied back covered by their third squadron. The top of the photo shows the Bosnians and the Cossacks fighting it out. Somehow the Bosnians won, the Cossacks fled, the Bosnians pursued and cut down all the Russian irregular horsemen on their Back Table.

Late in the afternoon the kürassiers reformed. The top of the photo shows the result of the long-discussed firefight on the Prussian Right Flank. The Russians won and would eventually press the kürassiers to retire from sustained fire.

Final moments on the Prussian Right Flank saw the reserve regiment of kürassiers come forward. These would engage Russian cuirassiers in the upper right of the photo winning on the left of the "Saxon" kürassiers who held on for dear life against very heavy odds.

Unseen: On the Russian Back Table the Bosnian Lancers went battle mad apparently. They crashed into the routing and disorganized Russian Converged Grenadiers cutting them all down. One of their flags was captured by the Bosnians too. They later returned to the Main Table hoping for more mischief in the rear of the Russian Left Flank.

Prussian Left Flank

As two Russian battalions advanced onto the Main Table in the distance, two Prussian battalions ascended a rise to stop them. Their flank was....

Protected by Battalion Isenburg. {25mm Garrison castings}

Musketry soon caused casualties on both sides. {Foreground: Protzdam Grenadiers 30mm Staddens from my collection.These are the same castings (not the unit) on the cover of CHARGE or How To Play Wargames. Having these iconic castings was a long-term goal.}

Russians continue to march resolutely forward into Frederick's soldaten.

The leading Russian battalion became a tough remnant.

The Protzdammers appear to lead a charmed life in terms of casualties.

Late in the afternoon four squadrons of Prussian dragoons; 48 castings entered the fray. Only two are shown veering right toward the Russian Center. These would charge through the gap into a Russian battalion off image to the upper right throwing it back.

The other two (not shown to the left) cantered through a gap in the Russian lines to cause mischief and presented themselves in the rear of the Russians.

The last dragoons mentioned are not shown. One squadron off image in the upper right would approach the rear left flank of the distant Russian infantry. The other went toward the Russian Back Table but was shot to pieces by a battalion that turned about to face it.

The Center

This is perhaps Turn 4 or 5 in The Center. This is serious business. Russian fire discipline was unwaivering. The Prussians fell back for most of the day.

Powerful Russian forces on the right side of their Center. {Collection of Michael M.}

Prussians on the left. Russian on the right. Carnage was prodigious everywhere in The Center.

Late in the afternoon Russian Dragoons sabered a Prussian battalion in the flank causing it to rout.

Battle Honours

The next day the Bosnian Lancers were ordered to report to the Prussian Army commanding general.

Lt. General Bevern: "You scoundrels! (Bosnians laugh.) -- Pause -- For gallantry in the teeth of the Russian Army I have written this dispatch to the King on your behalf. It reads...."

Personal honors go to our pards gathered on the Sonnenfeld for prodigious companionabilities, knowing the rules very well, bringing good chow to share and bringing units too. Seated left to right: Curt B Prussian Left Flank, John B. Russian Right Flank, Keith L. Prussian Left Center and Earl K. Russian Left Center. Standing left to right: Michael M. Russian Right Center, John M. Russian Left Flank, Jim P. Prussian Right Flank and yours truly Bill P. commanding Prussian cavalry on both flanks. Gosh our game was fun! Thank you everyone. I sincerely appreciate all you did!

Russians: Substantially throw the foe off The Main Table. {Unsuccessful}
Prussians: Prevent further incursion of the Russians into East Prussia. {Successful}

BAR Rules:
Batailles de l' Ancien Régime 1740-1763 written by yours truly with considerable advice and play testing with Jim P. plus the invaluable writings of Christopher Duffy and Sir Reginald Savory among others. The game started at 11:00 am. ending at 3:45 p.m. with a half hour pause for lunch. I think nine turns were played using nearly 1,800 miniatures total. We could have played one more but the game reached a decision.We also thought our metal warriors had reached a state of exhaustion.

Russian Fire Discipline:
Two playing card decks were used. One on the Prussian Left Flank and the other deck for The Center and Prussian Right Flank. The latter card deck allowed the Russians to fire first for an amazing seven or so turns. On the Prussian Left Flank, fire cards were drawn more favorably for the Prussians there.

Too nerve wracking? Yes, it is understandable to think this. However, in the course of almost one hundred games, odds seem to even out in each game. In spite of amazing luck for Russians in the Center and Prussian Right Flank, the Prussians won the battle. There is often a back and forth effect which after the game seems to be most pleasing and fun in a post game analysis.

Not historical? Is it? Is simultaneous fire historical? In the chaos of war there are often wide swings in advantages and surprises. A card deck allows this. Also there are many ways to utilize card decks for random movement and fire. We most often draw cards per turn per side. But you don't have to.

Oh and if someone draws a joker; three per deck, these are used to trump the other side's card anytime when desired for movement or fire.

If a player wanted to request help, get orders changed or order somebody to do something outside his "Tactical Orders", we used couriers. A message was written on paper, folded, placed under a courier and then the courier was simply given to the recipient in question. On the next turn the recipient would pick up the message from under the courier on the table and react. In a nine turn game, this is best. Otherwise, couriers take way too much game time to arrive at their destinations and then barely make a difference at all.

Each Army Fielded:
Everyone: Rated Veteran.
600 Line Infantry {10 Bns.}
120 Converged Grenadiers {2 Bns.} Oops! Prussia had 126!
24 Riflemen
20 Pounds of Artillery
48 Dragoons
72 Kürassiers
18 Irregular Horsemen
Russian Total: 882 + Gunners (John B., Michael M. and John M. collections)
Prussian Total: 888 + Gunners (Mostly Jim P's collection)
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1) BAR may be purchased at for $40.00 including postage. It includes two sets of Quick Reference Charts; one for small tables/games and another for larger situations such as the one described above. We barely use the booklet itself. BAR is fast-playing and fun. Plus most in our group agree that games provide historical results. Chart updates are available for purchasers, new and old.

2) Michael took these photos of me:
 Contemplating launching a worrisome cavalry charge on the Prussian Right Flank and of....

Me having some "serious" FUN explaining a rule.

3) Your comments are welcome. We would all like to read your remarks below at Comments.
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  1. Looks like a brilliant day, great game

  2. Dear Bill,
    What a fantastic, fun game! It's always nice to be able to assemble such large armies and play a battle to an agreed upon conclusion. Well done, sir, well done!
    Jerry Lannigan

  3. Bloodiest BAR game I've ever participating in. Precious few infantry units above 50% strength at the end.

    For the purist who may wonder, my "Russian" units are flagged for my imagi-nation, Litharus.

  4. I was one of the Prussian players in the center-right zone and we had to endure an incredible string of Russian luck with the firing cards: the Russians got to fire first for seven straight turns, something I have never seen in any BAR game. It got so predictable that all we could do was laugh.a number of times, I figured the the probabilities had to finally shift to the Prussians, so I aggressively moved my battalions into the faces of the Russians at close range to get the maximum effect of my fire. Alas, the card gods deemed otherwise and we got mowed down by the Russians.

    The only thing keeping my Prussians on the table were some ridiculously good saving throws ( I saved 80% of my casualties in one case) so I was able to pay back what I received in bullets. As a result, we were able to whittle down the Russians, although they were pushing us off the table.

    For much of the game, it appeared that the battle would be a substantial Russian win. however, Bill's Prussian cavalry turned the tide almost by itself with many timely charges and melee wins.

    In reality, we fought each other to a standstill. It was only the victory conditions ( Russians had to push the Prussians off the center table) that gave the Prussians a narrow win.

    It was the darnedest game that I have ever played in.

  5. Dear Bill,
    A most enjoyable post of a terrific game.
    Best Wishes

  6. This looks like it was a terrifically fun game, and one I would have given my eyeteeth to have played in (not sure exactly what an eyetooth really is, but I am sure I would have gladly parted with one or two). As a student of the Russian army in the SYW I enjoyed these photos immensely. The table combines the best of Old school wargaming with the contemporary emphasis on painting and scenery. Very impressive, thanks for sharing.

  7. Great looking battle, love the grenadiers and the Bosnian lancers especially...and a beautiful report!

  8. Oh, Bill, my deep respect for this wonderful battle and fascinating report! I absorbed every line you wrote with curiosity. Knowing only the Black Powder rules (which are not satisfying) , I am inclined to buy the BAR rules - as you describe, a huge range of possibilities are given during a battle. Thank you so much for this magnificent report!


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