Mars-La-Tour – August 16th 1870

"During the first four weeks of the Franco-Prussian War, there was one day – one single day – when the French were presented with the opportunity of defeating – indeed of destroying – the chief instrument of the German military machine, and of making good their escape. Whether that would have influenced the final course of the war is a matter for speculation. What is certain beyond argument is that the war – and with it the future of Europe – was decided at Mars-la-Tour on 16th August 1870."

David Ascoli

"A Day of Battle"

Overview

The action at Mars-la-Tour has been cited as the critical moment in the Franco-Prussian War. It started as an attempt by the Prussians to attack what they originally believed to be the rearguard of the retreat of the French Army of the Meuse, in an effort to disrupt its movements.

In fact, due to appalling French organisation, the Prussians came into contact with the French advanced guard. The resulting battle saw only 2 Prussian Corps take on the entire French army and hold it for the whole day.

9.00am August 16th 1870

Dragoons belonging to Forton’s 3rd Reserve Cavalry division were detailed to form the vanguard of the French retreat to Verdun. When asked as to what reconnaissance the cavalry was to perform that morning Marshal Bazaine was to reply "comme d’habitude", so, as usual the French did nothing. The Dragoons themselves broke out the regimental silver and partook of petit dejourner.

The Prussians could not believe what they were seeing and decided to take matters into their own hands. Summoning up a battery of Horse Artillery, the Prussians gatecrashed the party. Within minutes the French were tumbling back upon the supporting infantry of Frossard’s II Corps.

By 10.00 am the leading Chasseur companies of Frossard’s Corps had moved forward to occupy the villages of Vionville and Flavigny, forcing the Prussian cavalry to retire to a safe distance. Behind Frossard lay the whole of Canrobert’s VI Corps and further back towards Gravelotte, the Imperial Guard was bivouaced. Le Beouf’s III Corps was camping to the North of them.

On arriving on the Rezonville plateau, von Avensleben, Prussian III Corps commander, realised that instead of a rearguard, the ENTIRE French army lay infront of him. He had 2 choices. Fall back onto his supporting troops, still some miles distant, or attack.

Von Alvensleben did not hesitate, he attacked.

He believed that a concerted attack would convince the French that they would be facing the whole Prussian army long enough for reinforcements to arrive. They would be a long time in coming. In fact only Voigts-Rhetz’ X Corps and some other scattered elements were able to come to his aid.

This scenario depicts this epic action. At times the Prussian forces will be outnumbered by more than 5 to 1. Only extreme self-belief and extraordinary French vacillation prevented the Prussians from being swept away and the road to Verdun opened to allow the escape of the French army.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to hold closed the road to Verdun until nightfall.

FRENCH ARMY

Marshal Bazaine AC

II CORPS

General Frossard CC, II Corps

1st Division, Gen Verge DC Exhaustion=8 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Valaze

2nd Brigade, Gen Jolivet Divisional troops


2nd Division, Gen Bataille DC Exhaustion=9 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Pouget

2nd Brigade, Gen Bastoul Divisional Troops (Attached from V Corps)

Gen Lapasset DC Exhaustion=4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]


Corps Troops

III CORPS

Marshal Le Boeuf CC, III Corps

1st Division, Gen Montaudon DC Exhaustion=10 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Col Dauphin

2nd Brigade, Gen Clinchant Divisional troops


2nd Division, Gen Nayral DC Exhaustion=8 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Col de Launay


2nd Brigade, Gen Duplessis


Divisional Troops


4th Division, Gen Aymard DC Exhaustion=10 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen de Brauer


2nd Brigade, Gen Sangle-Ferriere


Divisional Troops


Corps Troops

IV CORPS

General de Ladmirault CC, IV Corps

1st Division, Gen de Cissey DC Exhaustion=8 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Brayer


2nd Brigade, Gen Golberg


Divisional troops


2nd Division, Gen Grenier DC Exhaustion=8 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Bellecourt


2nd Brigade, Gen Pradier


Divisional Troops


Corps Troops


VI CORPS

Marshal Canrobert CC, VI Corps

1st Division, Gen Tixier DC Exhaustion=9 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Pechot


2nd Brigade, Gen le Roy de Dais


Divisional troops


2nd Division, Gen Bisson DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Archinaud

Divisional Troops


3rd Division, Gen de Villiers DC Exhaustion=7 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen de Sonnay


2nd Brigade, Gen Colin


Divisional Troops


4th Division, Gen Levassor-Sorval DC Ex=8 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Marguenat


2nd Brigade, Gen de Chanaleilles


Divisional Troops

IMPERIAL GUARD

General Bourbaki CC, Gd Corps

1st Guard Division

Gen Deligny DC Exhaustion=13 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Brincourt

Guard Chasseurs a Pied 6 [ ] [ ] ss


2nd Brigade, Gen Garnier


Divisional Troops


2nd Guard Division,

Gen Picard DC Exhaustion=10 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen Jeanningros


2nd Brigade, Gen de la Croix-Vaubois


Divisional Troops


Corps Troops

CAVALRY

2nd Cavalry Division

Gen de Valabregue DC Exhaustion=3 [ ] [ ] [ ]

(Gen Marmier should have led this division, but didn’t make it to the battlefield in time)

1st Brigade, (under direct command of Gen de Valabregue)


2nd Brigade, Gen Bachelier


3rd Cavalry Division

Gen Clerambault DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]

(1st Brigade attached to 1st Reserve Cavalry Division)

2nd Brigade, Gen de Maubranches


3rd Brigade, Gen de Juniac


4th Cavalry Division

Gen Legrand DC Exhaustion=3 [ ] [ ] [ ]

1st Brigade, Gen de Montaigu


2nd Brigade,Gen de Gondrecourt


Imperial Guard Cavalry Division

Gen Desvaux DC Exhaustion=4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

2nd Brigade, Gen de France


3rd Brigade, Gen du Preuil


1st Reserve Cavalry Division

Gen du Barail DC Exhaustion=4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]


1st Brigade, Gen de Lajaille


2nd Brigade, Gen de Bruchard


3rd Reserve Cavalry Divison

Gen Forton DC Exhaustion=3 [ ] [ ] [ ]


1st Brigade, Prince Murat


2nd Brigade, Gen de Gramont


RESERVE ARTILLERY

Gen Canu DC

Field Artillery Reserve, Colonel Salvador


Horse Artillery Reserve, Colonel Toussant

Notes on French OOB:

French Corps are all at 40% exhaustion, except for the Imperial Guard, which is set to 60% and the cavalry whcih is set to 50% (except the Imperial Guard whci hremains at 60%).

There is a large variation in regimental strengths caused by mobilisation difficulties and casualties at Spicheren and Colombey.

As a result all French regiments are understrength except for the 44th Ligne. The 44th Ligne’s regimental depot was Metz.

3rd Division, II Corps was not present at the battle. It was detached to garrison the Metz forts following its rough handling at Spicheren. Its place was partly taken by Lapasset’s Brigade, which had been picked up, from where it had been left when V Corps retreated to Chalons. The 3rd Lancer Regiment came with it as did 1 squadron of the 7th Hussars, which was attached to form an escort for Marshal Bazaine.

The 1st Reserve Cavalry Division should be made up of 4 regiments of Chasseurs d’Afrique, however one was wandering around Southern France, and 2 more had been attached, together with 3rd Bn, 3rd Grenadier Guards to escort Napoleon III to Chalons. The division was reconstituted by transferring the 1st Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division to it.

The 3rd Regiment Guard Grenadiers is missing its 3rd Battalion, which had been detached to form part of Napoleon III’s escort for his journey to Chalons.

The VI corps arrived at Metz with only 1 regiment of its 2nd division, half its artillery and no cavalry.

4 batteries from the Artillery Reserve were attached to it to bolster it up.

4 heavy batteries from the Artillery Reserve were sent to support the Metz forts and did not return to the army until the 18th August.

Metman’s division (3rd Division III Corps) was left behind at Metz and did not arrive until after dark, hence it is not represented.

Lorencz’ division (3rd Division IV Corps) was so slow in extricating itself from the Moselle valley that it too, did not arrive until after dark. Hence it is also not represented.

French Deployment

II Corps (including 2nd Cavalry Division) - East of Vionville, no closer than 12cm

III Corps (including 3rd Cavalry Division) – between Malmaison and St Mercel

VI Corps - East of but within 12cm of Rezonville.

Imperial Guard – Within 6cm of Gravelotte (Grenadiers)

Within 6cm of Malmaison (Voltigeurs + Cavalry)

Reserve Artillery – East of Gravelotte ( within 12 cm )

1st Reserve Cavalry Division – Within 6cm of Doncourt.

3rd Reserve Cavalry Division – West of Vionville (within 12cm)
 

French Reinforcements

11:00am

IV Corps (plus 4th Cavalry Division)

Must enter in road column formation in a pre-designated march order. Enters along the northern road from Metz.
(Historically - 4th Cv Div, 1st Inf Div, 2nd Inf Div, Artillery).
 

PRUSSIAN ARMY

General Staff AC (Monarch)

PRUSSIAN I ARMY

VIII CORPS (elements)

16th Division, Lt Gen Barnekow DC Exhaustion=11 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

32nd Brigade, Colonel von Rex


(attached from IX Corps)


Notes

This is a single Brigade of VIII Corps plus an attached regiment from IX Corps.
 

PRUSSIAN II ARMY

III CORPS

Gen von Alvensleben CC (Acts as AC)

5th Division, Lt Gen v Stulpnagel DC Exhaustion=20 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

9th Brigade, Major Gen von Doring


10th Brigade, Major Gen von Schwerin


37th Brigade, X Corps, Colonel Lyncker (attached)


Divisional troops


6th Div, Lt Gen v Buddenbrock DC Exhaustion=15 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

11th Brigade, Major Gen von Rothmaler


12th Brigade, Colonel von Bismark


Divisional troops


Corps Artillery, Maj Gen v.Bulow DC


X CORPS

Lt Gen vonVoigts-Rhetz I CC (Acts as AC)

19th Division, Gen v Shwartzkoppen DC Exhaustion=14 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

37th Brigade, Colonel Lehmann


38th Brigade, Major Gen von Wedell


Divisional troops


20th Division, Gen v Kraatz-Koschlau DC Exhaustion=18 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

39th Brigade, Major Gen von Woyna


40th Brigade, Major Gen Dirinshofen


Divisional troops


Corps Artillery, Colonel Baron von de Becke DC

IX CORPS

25th Division, Lt Gen HRH Prince Louis of Hesse DC Exhaustion=6 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

49th Brigade, Major Gen von Wettich

Divisional troops

25th Cavalry Brigade, Gen von Schlotheim


CAVALRY

Guard Cavalry Division

3rd Brigade, Lieutenant Gen von Brandenburg II


5th Cavalry Division

Lt Gen v.Rheinbaben: DC Exhaustion=10 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

11th Brigade, Major Gen von Barby


12th Brigade, Major Gen von Bredow


13th Brigade, Major Gen von Redern


6th Cavalry Division

H.H. Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Ex=4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]


14th Brigade, Major Gen Baron von Diepenbroick-Gruter


15th Brigade, Major General von Rauch


Notes on Prussian OOB:-

In order to best reflect the events, which took place, I have done the following to the Prussian OOB :-

Prussian Deployment

On table :-

5th Cavalry Division    - May be deployed anywhere West of Vionville within 24cm of French Cavalry, but no close than 12cm.

9.00hrs
5th Infantry Division, III Corps  - arrive in road column on the Gorze Road
6th Infantry Division, III Corps   - arrive in road column along the Thiacourt road
III Corps Artillery   - ditto

10.00hrs
37th Brigade, 19th Division, X Corps - arrive in road column along the Verdun Road
(plus 1st Hvy Battery and detachment of 9th Dragoons)
15:00hrs
38th Brigade, 19th Division,  X Corps  – arrive in road column along the Verdun Road
(plus rest of Divisional assests)
1st Guards Dragoon Brigade  -  ditto
20th Division, X Corps   - arrive in road column along the Thiacourt road
X Corps Artillery    - ditto

16:00hrs
32nd Brigade, VIII Corps

17:00hrs
25th Infantry Division, IX Corps

Special Rules

The entire French Army is available to the French player as opposed to only 2 Prussian Infantry Corps. Hence I have had to apply a series of modifiers to try to represent the events of the day without stereotyping them too much.

i) The Prussian infantry in III and X Corps has been upgraded to M6 and their exhaustion limit raised to 60%. This, I believe, is entirely justified given what happened and the state the Prussians find themselves in.

The other Prussian infantry is rated as per normal as these were scattered elements of whatever could be found to get to the battle on time.

ii) The Prussians have been given an enhanced command structure.

iii) The French non-Guard infantry have been rated as 40% exhaustion. This, IMHO, best represents the behaviour seen during the battle.

iv) The French are subject to the following command restrictions :-

v) At the start ALL other French Divisions are inactive and must be activated before they can move. They can only be activated by 1 of 2 things :-

 a) According to the following schedule :-

 10:00hrs - VI Corps and Guard Corps
 12:00hrs - All other troops

For the purpose of this rule Lapasset’s Brigade is regarded as a part of II Corps.

The Reserve Corps consists of two divisions (Field Artillery and Horse Artillery) of Artillery plus 2 divisions (1st and 3rd) of cavalry.

b) A stand belonging to the Corps is attacked. In this case the whole division is instantly activated.

Forton’s Cavalry Division has just been fired upon so is active Game Turn 1 under this rule.

vi) IV Corps begins the game offboard. It counts as being activated upon arrival, however it MUST come onto the board in road column down the designated road. An order of march must be designated in advance.

vii) The Prusssians move at x4 speed whe using road column movement and x3 speed when using march column movement. The French use the standard x3 and x2 multipliers.

Historical Deployment

Historically Bazaine was obsessed with protecting his lines of retreat to Metz. The intention of this scenario is to let both sides create their own problems, but if you wish to mirror history a little more closely and to give the Prussians more of a chance then apply the following restrictions to the French :-

The following troops MUST be deployed in and/or between Rezonville and Gravelotte :-

I f they are not there then once they are activated by the normal release conditions, they must move directly to the area and become inactive again once they reach there.

Voltigeur Division ,  Imperial Guard
The Gd Chasseur Bn may enter the  Bois des Ognons, but must stay in command
1st Division III Corps
4th Division VI Corps
Reserve Artillery

These forces may not move until they are release. This occurs only if they are attacked or if the French holdall of their onboard victory conditions, at which point Bazaine would have felt safe enough to continue (I think).
 

Victory Conditions

The objective of the French Army was to reach Verdun, The Prussians were attempting to stop them.

Hence victory cannot be measured in terms of losses as these were, in effect, of no real relevance.

The French win if they hold open the road to Verdun.To achieve this the French must hold ALL of the following places :-

 Vionville, Rezonville, Mars-la-Tour, Flavigny, Thionville, Gravelotte.

- And have exited at least one complete, unexhausted division in road column formation via the Verdun Road.

The game is drawn if the Prussians prevent the French from achieving their victory conditions.

The Prussians win a if they can prevent the French from achieving their victory conditions AND hold the following places :-

Vionville, Mars-la-Tour, Flavigny, thus effectively sealing off the road to Verdun.

 History awaits…..

The Map

I have not added a grid as this very much depends as to what scale is used.
The battlefield is roughly of the order of 9 miles long and 7 miles wide. Using full scale this would result in a board in excess of 13' long and 10' wide, so it's really best done at 1/2 scale or even centimetre scale to reduce the board to managable proportions.

The scenario presented here is done for the centimetre scale, so you'll have to convert it if you use another scale.