Last night provided an opportunity for another Franco-Prussian War engagement between two French Corps under Bazaine and two Prussian Corps, supported by a Bavarian Corps, under the Crown Prince of Prussia.
The situation on the border was now fluid. Now, as the afternoon sun reached its peak, the Crown Prince knew he had an opportunity, if only briefly, to decimate the exposed French before him. With two Prussian Corps concentrated he clearly had the burden of attack and moved rapidly forward as the French, under Bazaine, focussed their efforts to reinforce the greatly outnumbered division of Laveaucoupet’s currently deployed near the previously peaceful town of Mulsanne.
Frossard was to push the two remaining divisions of his II Corps forward with speed, but would it be sufficient? Some distance off was Ladmirault’s IV Corps were ordered to march to the sound of the guns. Bazaine was nervous, would his reinforcements arrive in time? Would the Prussian attacks be held, even for a time?
The Prussian attack was not long in coming, around 1pm shells from 24 Prussian Krupp guns, firing at extreme range, began to fall extreme range. Indeed, the range was such the the twelve outnumbered French guns were unable to respond and would soon be decimated, while the supporting French infantry would go to ground in an effort to escape would would be a terrifying bombardment. This ”going to ground” was something that the French would repeatedly do in this battle, such was the deadliness of the modern battlefield.
The Prussian infantry meanwhile pressed ever forward in three general converging paths. Above, a general view of the field with the Prussians on the right.
Above, the Prussian centre while on the left, and below, the Prussian right.
In the centre the Prussian advance was led by elements of von Kirchbach’s V Corps, in particular von Standrart’s 9th Division. The division advanced to 600 yards of the French and began to exchange fire with French, with the aim at least initially, of overwhelming one French regiment. However, French reinforcements were now arriving and soon a significant number of additional formations began to return fire on the Prussians, often at extreme range.
The Prussian divisional commander Karl Gustav von Standrart refused requests by his various regimental commanders to go to ground, preferring to overwhelm the enemy with his concentrated fire from his needle guns. Eventually, around 5pm, a combination of Chassepot and Mitrailleuse fire would instead overwhelm 9th Division, preventing any further Prussian advance. Below, the centre around 5pm.
Meanwhile, V Corps’ 10th Division was deployed on the left of 9th Division, as seen below. The division began its move around 2pm maintaining its position on 9th Divisions left.
Around 4pm it launched a devastating attack on the town of Mulsanne. The town was currently occupied by the 2nd Ligne from Verge’s 1st Division. They had secured the town some 30 minutes prior when advancing, with such confidence to replace a Chasseur detachment who themselves now moved to support other elements of Laveaucoupet’s Division. The 2nd Ligne, under direct command of Bazaine, would surely hold the town.
However, Mulsanne was attacked by now three regiments of Prussian 10th Division supporting by effective Prussian artillery fire. In all over 7000 men and twelve guns. The fighting was short and violent and after thirty minutes the 2nd Ligne was unceremoniously evicted their retreat causing much disruption to French reinforcements. Worse the chaotic disorganisation on the road meant no subsequent counterattack could be organised to retake the town. It would seem that Mulsanne would remain in Prussian hands and as such could compromise a portion of the French position. Excepting this, at least for a time, elements of the French right instead engaged in firefights around the town.
Above, Mulsanne in Prussian hands while French regiments expand to their right.
The third and final pincer of the Prussian advance was against the French left. Here elements of Prussian XI Corps advanced in two divisional groups supported by a cavalry division. The French were drawn from Bataille’s 2nd Division. They deployed quickly from road column before being thrown forward over the open ground in an attempt to hold the left.
Again the Prussians advanced to 600 yards and attempted to engage in a firefight. The French again went to ground, before moving forward artillery and a Mitrailleuse battery. Once deployed any hopes of a Prussian attack passed, at least until the deadly Krupp batteries could be fully deployed. But fortunately the Krupp guns were delayed by terrain and time.
Around 6pm, with the French IV Corps deploying into line, the opportunity for a successful Prussian frontal attack started to fade. Bazaine drew a deep breath, he had held.
Above, the French left with elements of the French IV Corps now moving into support the French left. One division was dispatched to the left, another to the right flank.
The Prussian commander now took stock of the situation. While both Prussian Corps were deployed the Bavarian I Corps was still well behind the frontline. It would take at least two critical hours to deploy. In contrast the French now had numerical superiority. The Crown Prince’s advance had been foiled, instead he would look elsewhere for an opportunity.
The scenario was developed using the “Road to Glory” scenario system and was particularly interesting due to it’s advance to contact nature, coupled with the changes of weapons in the Franco Prussian War. Throughout the challenges focused on countering the Chassepot, supporting the Prussian attacks with artillery fire and of course effectively countering time and space. A fascinating game.
All the miniatures are 6mm from Heoics & Ros and are based at half scale. The French are from my collection and the Prussians from Robin’s.