Monday, October 26, 2015

A game of day at Leadhead PhD: BBB Second Pleven 1877, and DBA

A game of day at Leadhead PhD

Last Saturday Onur and me met at my house for a day of gaming. Our goal was to play the BBB scenario of Second Pleven, and also an introductory game of DBA (v.2.2 since I have not had the chance to buy 3.0 yet). 

The result of the battle both in history and in this game

This would be our first full BBB large battle. I had played one large battle in the past (Inkerman with Mehmet) and we have both played some of the smaller scenarios (Nikopol, Velestino, Langasesda). But this would be our first big one. It would also be the first test of my new terrain system. Unfortunately because I did not have the requisite 13 Russian guns, and I did not want to proxy for our first full game, I ended up having only 6 batteries of Russians, plus 1 US Union battery masquerading as a Cossack battery. This means that I made an already asymmetrical battle more asymmetrical. I knew that going in, but I believed in my plan!

The 2nd Battle of Pleven was forced on Baron Krudener by the Grand Duke cnc of the Russian forces operating in Bulgaria. Like most such battles it was a bad battle for the attacker, as the Russians simply did not have enough forces to overran the strong positions of Osman Pasha. As BBB focuses on historical scenarios that asymmetry is still evident (just like in Chess of Hefenltaf) , but Chris balances this with fairly simple objectives for the Russians. If they can take 1 of 7 objectives they get a draw, if they can take 2 they get a victory.

The scenario map by Chris

My setup, looking from the south towards the north

The vine covered green hills. The little labels have the names of geographic points, and also indicate were forces will deploy.

Looking down the Tutlchenitza River ravine.

The south line: Tahir-Araba-Ibarhim redoubts.

Janik Bair and its positions. Looking from East towards North by North-West


The Bukova valley

Looking from East to North by North-West

The Grivitza river

Historically the Russians failed because they did not concentrate their forces, with one of the two Corps (IX)fighting north of the Grivitza river, and the other south (XI), with little coordination. A key position in the Ottoman defensive perimeter is the redoubt system of Grivitza. 

Russian force, Two Corps plus two Cavalry Divisions. Missing 6 Batteries. The IX Corps in front, XI Corps behind. Remember that this is a Grand Tactical Game

My decisions was not to attempt Grivitza but instead to focus on the line of redoubts south of the Janik Bair Redoubts (see map).  One division of the IX corps (the 5th) would screen Grivitza and with the 9th Cavalry Division threaten the  Jaink Bair positions and thus tie down Ottoman defenders. The 31st Division of the IX Corps together with the 32nd and 30th of the XI Corps (Commander Prince Shahofskoi)  would then converge on Ibrahim Tabiya and roll the Ottoman south flank. Skobolev’s Cossacks would threaten from the south and make a dash for an objective if Onur decided to move troops west.

My plan.

Both forces deployed

Skobolev, next time I need a small figure of a journalist there to keep him busy

The XI Corps

The Ottoman 2nd Division

The IX Corps looking on the Janik Bair position held by the Ottoman 1st Division

At the extreme North, the 9th Cavalry Division

The Ottoman 2nd Division

The southern fortifications and Peven with the Reserve Division ready to cross the bridges.


The game did not go as my plan. First, I had completely underestimated the fire power of the Janik Bair Redbouts. My screen forces were obliterated whenever they dared to pop up from behind intervening terrain. By the half game point, the 5th Division of the IX Corps had been smashed to bits. Only the 20th Regiment had survived which had joined the 9th Cavalry Division north of Janik Bair. Thankfully those were enough to make Onur keep at least three  infantry units and an artillery battery minding the north. Second, while the XI Corps made good time to reach the starting points for its assaults on Ibrahim Tabiya, the 31st Division became bogged down crossing the Grivitza River. It was mercilessly pummeled by the combined fire of Grivitza Redoubts and Ibrahim Tabiya. What is worse this led to my failure to find good positions to sight my guns. For most of the game my guns were limbered and I never succeeded to concentrate them.
XI Corps moves north

IX Corps send one division to mask Grivitza. The other tried to cross the river but is stalled.

Ottoman 1st Turn moves

XI Corps continues moving forward. IX is still stalled.

Grivitza Redoubts destroys the 17th Regiment

9th Cavalry Division moves to threaten from North

Ottoman Cavalry advances to threaten the flank of XI Corps

The Russian forces finally reach their staging grounds.

Despite this around Turn 4 or 5, a spate of good luck permitted me to move the 31st to position. The loss of time though meant that my assaults were a) not supported by artillery  b) made sequentially. Each Corps attacked in sequence, bravely rushing the fortifications and being decimated. It did not help that most of the units of the 31st went into the assault already badly hit. Also Ottoman cavalry did wonders pinning one regiment at Radischevo and holding up two more during the assaults.  As a result the high water mark ended in failure. Skobolev spent most of his time interacting with journalists and his Cossack brigade was mostly useful in pinning some Ottoman units south.  Grivitza Redoubt was a death dealer as it stood on the flank of my assault, and mercilessly poured fire and death on my lines and columns.

The Russians mass for the assault, but two Ottoman cavalry units stall them

Threatening and pining on Janik Bair

Skobolev fighting or doing interviews in the south.

General assults! HURRRAHAHH

Merciless Ottoman fire from the flank breaks them

Once more into the breach!

Movement towards Bukova

The condition around turns 5-6

More assaults and the decision to make a mad dash for Bukova

With the high water mark passed I became desperate for a draw. I ordered the 9th Cav. Div and 20th Inf. Regiment to try and take either the Bukova or Janik Bair redoubts.  I ordered repeated assaults by spent elements of the XI and IX corps against Ibrahim Tabiya in the hope that a lucky roll would give me an objective. I ordered that lazy man Skobolev to take Tahir Tabiya. I was in another name a vile commander, pushing my exhausted and sheel-shocked men to their deaths. All assaults failed. By the end of the turn the IX and XI corps of the Russian army had become shattered. If I was me in real history, I would probably had blown my brains out.

We kept turns using the old clock on the wall (it does not work). Turn 7 of my doom

Most of the Russian army is gone (those white puffs indicate destroyed or spent units)

Last desperate charges!

Final Turn is upon us

End game, the ruins of an army

Showing axis of attack and were my units were destroyed

The valley of death

The valley of death 2

Different war but the sentiment is spot on.

So what happened? One of the great things with BBB is that because it such a great game I never feel bad for losing. Also we always talk about what could had gone differently. Both Onur and me agreed that the Russians need their full artillery. However even with that, we a really are talking about 4 extra guns (as 2 others are part of the reserves). Grivitza Redoubt really dominates this battle and the Russian play must decide what he will do with it before doing anything else. Ottoman firepower with BLA guns, Late Breechloaders, Skirmishers and Russian infantry being Tactical inept means that if you are in the open you will die. There is no point in trying to enter a firefight, For good or bad the bayonet is the only way to use your infantry.

Soooo damn accurate 

 I do not personally think it can be taken without committing both the IX and XI corps against it. But that is a risky strategy because it will not leave you many reserves and will permit the Ottoman player to rush reinforcements. Furthermore Ibrahim Tabiya stands on the flank of any northern movement of XI Corps. Whether you like it or not if you are going for Grivitza you must go also for Ibrahim, and the reverse.

Our fist plan is exactly this. Using the XI and IX corps to hit Grivitza and Ibrahim. It is similar to my historical plan, but this time the Russians do not just try to mask Grivitza but attack it. The key is to take your time and mass the Russian forces in two blind spots. The little hill between Grivitza village and Grivitza Redoubts, and the Radischevo valley. You mass your guns on the ridge north of the valley and on the hills north of Grivitza, engage in a preparatory bombardment, and then charge with both masses. Skobolev and the 9th Cav Div focus on threatening Bukova and Pleven so as to pin at least 2-3 Ottoman Units. This plan has the pros of concentration, but it does mean that you will probably be attacking in the last 2-3 turns. Any failure and there is no going back.

The second plan is to make a large left hook with the IX Corps using the XI corps to screen Ibrahim Tabiya and Grivitza in order to attack Bukova with the goal of taking Pleven. This is also a long term plan, but it has the benefit of attacking the weaker Ottoman flank. The second ridge on Janik Bair covers any flank movement from the north which gives some chances of success. Unfortunately the impetuosity of Prince Shahofskoi can doom this as it might see the XI Corps attacking the strong points it is only supposed to mask.

The third plan, is to drive up the Turchenitza River ravine and strike at the Tahir Tabiy with XI Corps, while IX Corps screens Grivitza Redbouts and Ibrahim Tabiya. This is the plan that requires the least coordination, as all the IX needs to do is sit tight until the Ottomans start pulling forces south to stem the Russians if they take the Tahir Tabiya. This plan also works to the weakness of XI corps.

Three potential plans. Which do you think would work?

All are interesting possibilities but I learned my lesson fully know: 1) Always bring the guns first even if it means losing time 2) Never let a powerful fire-power position on your flank 3) Sacrifice time to gain power. History wise this showed me that Osman Pasha and his commanders deserve all the praise they got. The position they built was a very strong one. Hard to overrun. Now wonder it beat two general assaults. The Russians should had masked it and bypassed it, flank or no flank.

BBB is still the one game I have played that forces me to understand why people fought their battles as they did. It forces you to learn the heard way all the lessons of military strategy and tactics that I have read about. And it gives a good feeling of just how much it sucks to have all those lives in your hands. In all of the battles I have played I have felt queasy about the wreck of my armies. No wonder Dr. Murray is using it in classes ,and you rest assured I will do in my classes.

All in all a great game that satisfied us and led to a good intellectual discussion. It also left enough time for me to introduce Onur to DBA with a quick game of Ottomans vs. Venetian Condotta. He liked the game and won after a see-saw battle (3 v 5 points). Much fun was had.

DBA the setup

Later Ottomans

Italian Condotta

Knights in shinning armor

Servants of the Prophet

Game scene

Game Scene

In the midst of clashing steel

End Game


Steve J. said...

Very interesting post game thoughts. I keep meaning to check these rules out but I'm not sure if I have the will to learn yet another ruleset!

Konstantinos Travlos said...

They are easy to pick up, but obviously need playing to master.

Chris BBB said...

Terrific report, and great observations. And your terrain system is very effective - love the vineyards!