Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Monday 4 April 2022

Battle of Pultusk 1806: A Polemos Ruse de Guerre Refight

This Sunday I did a refight of the Battle of Pultusk, in which a French Corps under Marshal Lannes attacked a larger Russian force under General Benningsen.  This was another of the 'in tandem' refights with the Historical Napoleonic Miniature Wargaming Society of Toronto.  To fit the scenario on a 5'x3' board, I scaled the forces down to two-thirds of the original scenario: that doesn't do too much violence to the game, it just means each battalion in my game was representing about 750 soldiers, as opposed to 500 soldiers in the original scenario.

As ever for these re-fights, the rules used were Glenn Pearce's Polemos: Ruse de Guerre.

The Forces:

Imperial France:
C-in-C: Marshal Lannes
1st Division (Suchet): 4 bases Well-trained Light Infantry, 6 bases Trained Infantry, 1 base Trained 4-pdr Horse Artillery, 1 base Trained 12-pdr Foot Artillery
2nd Division (Gazan): 3 bases Well-trained Light Infantry, 3 bases Trained Infantry
Cavalry Brigade (Trelliard): 3 bases Well-trained Cavalry
2nd Dragoon Division (Becker): 11 bases Trained Cavalry
3rd Division (d'Aultanne): 2 bases Well-trained Light Infantry, 6 bases Well-trained Infantry
Roll each round for d'Aultanne to arrive on the road guarded by Barclay, needing a '10'; any Russian troops facing d'Aultanne will be pushed back 2BW.
Imperial Russia:
C-in-C: General Bennigsen
2nd Division (Tolstoi): 4 bases Well-trained Infantry, 4 bases Trained Infantry, 3 bases Poor Infantry, 4 bases Trained Light Infantry, 5 bases Well-Trained Cavalry, 1 base Trained Cavalry, 2 bases Trained 12-pdr Foot Artillery, 1 base Trained 6-pdr Foot Artillery, 1 base Trained 4-pdr Horse Artillery 
6th Division (Sedmaratzki):  12 bases Trained Infantry,  2 bases Trained Light Infantry, 5 bases Well-Trained Cavalry, 1 base Trained Cavalry, 3 bases Poor Cavalry
3rd Division (Barclay):  2 bases Trained Infantry, 4 bases Trained Light Infantry, 3 bases Well-Trained Cavalry, 1 base Trained 12-pdr Foot Artillery
n.b. I accidentally transferred 5 bases of Infantry from Tolstoi to Sedmaratzki to garrison Pultusk.  I don't think this ended up mattering, since none of those troops ended up firing a shot.

There will be a few less pictures in this report and a few more summaries.  The currently available gaming space isn't that great for photography, often being too sunny or too dark.

The Set-Up:

The battlefield: Pultusk is in the top-right corner.  The central part of the position is the high ground, with woods to the left.

Another shot.


The woods on the right of the Russian position

The French are at the bottom, with Suchet's Division (left), V Corps' cavalry (left-centre), Gazan's Division (right), Dragoon division (right); The Russians have Barclay's detachment on the right in the woods (left); with three defensive lines in the main position, and a small garrison in Pultusk itself.

Barclay's Division in the woods, with some elements facing the French and some (around the road) facing to the left in case of the approach of French reinforcements.

Suchet's Division

The main Russian position

Pultusk and its garrison

Gazan's infantry is in the right-centre, with cavalry either side

The Battle:

The French Cavalry, led by General Becker, start taking heavy casualties from some accurate Russian artillery fire almost instantly

As Gazan leads his men up the slope, Benningsen reinforces his front line

Suchet's troops advance in parallel with Gazan

Noting the superior number of Russian infantry and guns, Suchet makes the decision to go in quickly, relying on dash and elan to make an exploitable gap

Gazan adopts similarly headlong tactics

Suchet leads his men into action, sword in hand...

Routing the battalion on the Russian Right

But the rest of Suchet's attack makes less spectacular process, with some of his units pushed back - casualties are mercifully light at this stage

Gazan's troops achieve similar results

...and the Russian first line is looking distinctly shaky, having suffered appreciable losses and been pushed back up the slope

With his artillery also in action now, Suchet pushes his men onwards to try and break more of Tolstoi's front line

Meanwhile, Gazan renews his assault in turn, and Sedmaratzki commits his second line in support

Barclay's reserve battalion tries to stem Suchet's advance, supported by Uhlans

But Suchet, leading the soldiers of the 34th and 40th Line, routs them in turn

Suchet is making progress on the left, although it is patchy in the face of determined Russian resistance; Gazan and Sedmaratzki's infatry have briefly pulled back, exhausted on the right.

Meanwhile on Suchet's left, Barclay's light infantry have outfought 17th Light - superior numbers and cover have triumphed over French skill and elan

Suddenly, Suchet's right-wing brigade (Vedel's) collapses...

Gazan is similarly in trouble: the counter-attack of Sedmaratski's second-line has defeated the French

Suchet's remaining infantry seem impossibly over-matched....

The 17th Light cannot stand in the face of such superior numbers...

Suchet's leading elements rout some of the Uhlan squadrons...

And his artillery does great execution amongst the Russian infantry at close range

But it is to no avail: Gazan's Division in the right has been soundly beaten, and there seems little point in committing the cavalry to an uphill attack against infantry supported by artillery and cavalry.

Overcoming their losses, Tolstoi's infantry attack and take Suchet's guns

The French attack has been so heavily repulsed, and d'Aultanne's Division has not arrived to succour the French, so Lannes calls off the action and the Russians are victorious

Game Notes: As I mentioned at the start, this is a summary of the action, since lots of the photos weren't that great.  In addition, a lot of the interest in this game for me playing it was in the micro-interactions much more than the grand sweep, so it is hard to convey it.  Anyway, as a game it was fine, I enjoyed getting a slightly bigger battle to the table for once, which has been quite hard to achieve recently.  Polemos Ruse de Guerre always a quick, fun, plausible game, so I have very few points.  I might just note, following my notes on infantry combat in the last game, that this Polemos set is like most of the others, but not Polemos: General de Division, in allowing an attacking force to charge a defending force without taking incoming musketry fire if the tempo works out correctly.  In fact, it is perhaps a little easier to achieve in RdG given its relatively generous movement rate.  This effect can be justified I guess, but I think I prefer GdD's model in this regard where overcoming defensive fire is the primary task in infantry combat.  Also, 12-pdr artillery is pretty fearsome in this set, especially at relatively short range!  Of course, on the other hand, General de Divsion has the drawback that one can achieve very little at all with offensive firepower.  But that said, the overall smoothness of RdG as a game continues to impress.

However, the actual game isn't really what inspired most thought for this post-match wash-up.  The first thought concerns the scenario: whilst Glenn as ever has done a great job of making the orders of battle, the issue is more Pultusk as a whole.  It was quite an odd battle, because Lannes initiated the battle without realizing that Bennigsen was as strong as he was; Bennigsen didn't realize how comparatively weak Lannes was.  It is a problem more familiar to Quatre Bras and Waterloo, in that the optimum strategy to win the tabletop battle if one knows the forces is clearly not what was adopted in the real battle.  I got around it in this battle by solo player's fiat, by essentially giving both commanders 'honest' victory conditions and then picking the best strategy accordingly.  The result however was only so convincing to myself.  As for the tactics employed: I still think that given the disparity in forces and the historical objectives that they were broadly the best ones - the only big mistake was pushing 17th Light forward on Suchet's left, when in retrospect it would have been better just to mask the wood.  It is a marginal call though, since a victory here (the French light troops are as good as troops can be in RdG) would be really worth it to stove in the Russian Right, realistically the best hope of victory.  

 The second thought is a more domestic issue: setting up this game was a real faff because my stuff for 'big games' is in the garage, mainly in individual video cassette boxes, which is great for playing games when the table is right next to them, but terrible if I need to move forces and terrain from the garage to an upstairs room.  This is why most of the games I have been playing this year have been small force/small board games where everything I need can be kept in a couple of small-ish plastic boxes.  Until the summer comes in earnest, this is the reality of my gaming life and I need to not struggle against it, I think, since it just puts me off.

Anyway, figures as ever by Baccus 6mm, buildings a mixture of Timecast and Leven.


  1. Good looking battle and interesting reading your post game notes.

    1. Thanks very much Peter, appreciate that.

  2. Ta fun scenario and one that would work really well with a GM, so that neither side knew the strength of the other. Something to bear in mind for a future FtF game. As always the post game thoughts are very interesting.

    1. Thanks Steve. The 'idea' of the scenario would be brilliant, but one would need the players to not twig it was Pultusk...I should write a blogpost one day about the Heretical Theory of the Wargaming scenario, to wax lyrical about what I think works, and in which conditions, and what doesn't.