The Battle of Komárom 1849 - A Fall In 2018 AAR

By Bill Gray 12 Dec 2018 4

More than a few people asked, and the Boss was willing, so let’s talk about the two games I hosted at the recent Fall In 2018 HMGS miniatures convention for just a bit. The games covered the Third Battle of Komárom, 11th July 1849 and was one of the pivotal battles of the Hungarian Revolution. The games were also a playtest of the most recent digital expansion module for a set of Napoleonic rules I’ve authored based on Richard Hasenauer’s very popular American Civil War Fire & Fury wargaming rules. Using 10 mm figures for the first time also gave me a chance to use a new painting technique which proved a rousing success, so life was looking good . . . and actually stayed that way.

So pour yourself some Bikaver, hop into a TARDIS and journey back to when Europe was aflame in revolution.

The History

The Hungarian Revolution was one of several 1848 revolutions that struck Europe thunderbolt style, as the ideals of the French Revolution (carried on the bayonets of Napoleon’s Grande Armee) encouraged demands for more self-governance. Austria was not immune, as the dominions of the Crown of St Stephen pursued reforms under new Prime Minister Lajos Batthyány, a political moderate. Thus, personal union with Austria was maintained as the Austrian Kaiser was also King of Hungary. Given said Kaiser (the unstable Ferdinand I, then Franz Josef I) was then up to his eyeballs putting down a nasty, violent revolt in Vienna, he agreed to Hungarian demands to become a constitutional monarchy.

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However, Austrian General and Ban of Croatia Josip Jelačić did not agree, gathered all Imperial forces under his control and marched against Hungary, though ordered by Vienna to cease and desist. But, after the revolts around Vienna were crushed, newly crowned Kaiser Franz Josef repudiated previous concessions and joined the Ban of Croatia in forcing Hungary back into the fold. The Magyars, however, proved a bit tougher than expected and dealt the Imperial army several significant defeats, forcing Franz Josef to request aid from the “Gendarme of Europe,” Tsar Nikolas I of Russia. Some 200,000 Russians later, the short-lived Hungarian republic was overwhelmed and the last of its armies surrendered on 11th August 1849. The execution of 13 senior Hungarian generals for treason at Arad on 6th October followed.

The third battle of Komárom was one of the largest battles of this conflict, pitting about 45,000 Hungarians under General Gyorgy Klapka (subbing for the recently wounded General Artur Gorgei) against 56,000 Imperial troops (including a full division of Russians under General Feydor Panyutyun) under FML Julius Jacob von Haynau. Ordered by the central government to relieve the siege of the important fortress of Komorn, the reliable Klapka ordered the attack when major segments of the Austro-Russian army had moved elsewhere. Also, Colonel Esterhazy’s Division was ordered to advance against Haynau’s northern flank as a diversion to draw troops away from the Austrian center where the main attack was lurking.

The scheme flopped. The Austrians had the better-quality army to begin with and had not sent nearly as many troops down the road as Klapka believed. Plus Klapka’s opponent, FML Haynau, was no lightweight. He was an excellent field commander, and hyper aggressive as well. This was the guy who had women publicly whipped if they supported the insurgents, gaining such pleasant sobriquets as the “Hapsburg Tiger,” the “Hyena of Brescia” and the “Hangman of Arad.” He immediately counterattacked and drove the Hungarians back into the city which was evacuated shortly thereafter. Hungarian casualties were 1500, the Imperials lost 813 or about 2% total of those engaged over eight hours. Seem light? I think so too.

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The Playing Field

The first of my two games was played Friday evening, the second beginning Saturday morning at nine. Although I did replace casualties, where ever the game left off the night before was were the second group of Russo-Austro-Hungarian generals started that morning. Games were five hours apiece although for me there was an extra two hours for set up and two more for take down.

The board was a 9 x 6-foot table covered with an olive-green blanket dusted with Woodland Scenics railroad turf. Historically the ground was bowling ball flat save the Sandberg Mountain and the Ascer-Megyfa Forests on the western edge along the Danube. Raised Styrofoam under the cloth represented the Sandberg while the forests (and all walls, buildings and river streams) came from Doug Kline’s Battlefield Terrain Concepts. Fine railroad ballast made dandy roads on a playing surface that – and I have never seen this before – had not a single, solitary bridge present. Scale was 120 yards per inch and the map research was drawn from an 1861 German history of the war via the Hungarian Military Museum (all I had to do was ask), backed up by the Second Military Mapping Survey of the Austrian Empire and Google Earth.

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For the armies, finding things like unit structure, details on equipment, flags and uniforms wasn’t that hard. Orders of battle, not so much. Ultimately, I used W Rustow’s 1861 Geschichte des Ungarischen Insurrectionskrieg, the same source as the maps. Yes, its in German, but Ich spreche Deutsch and God love ‘em, both Google and Bing translators speak Fraktur.

The opposing armies themselves were run by playtest rules not that much different than the base Napoleonic set. In fact, they were actually less complex. About the only technology that had changed since Waterloo was the introduction of percussion caps, while most regular armies had adopted French Napoleonic technique lock, stock and marshal’s baton. This is significant because a lot of complexity in the Napoleonics set was the need to model individual pieces of French tactical doctrine that the Allied powers did not possess initially. This included advanced skirmishing, the corps organization, massed artillery, column movement and so on. For this game any impact could be “factored in” because now everybody did it that way. Of the few changes played the only two noteworthy were the addition of unique light infantry units as special mission troops and the always jovial rocket launchers. In the game each stand represented 360 infantry (240 light infantry), 180 cavalry or an artillery battery. Each turn represented 30 minutes real time and units were mostly brigades or large regiments of foot or horse.

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The Battle

Our battle began with the 9:00 am turn and finally ended with the 6:00 pm turn. The Hungarians essentially used the historical battleplan to manage its five, small corps, plus one massed hussar division and a reserve raiding detachment. The main effort would be through the enemy center, hussars leading the way, with a supporting attack thru the Ascer Forest. However, Esterhazy’s Division was re-purposed from its historical diversion mission into attacking the Austro-Russian right flank. The Austrians and Russians deployed from left to right, I Korps, Reserve (Grenadier) Korps, Russian Division, Austrian Heavy Cavalry Division, Wolfe’s detached infantry brigade. The Austrians also had a mammoth army artillery reserve of 13 batteries.

Esterhazy’s tiny division achieved some notable success, keeping a large Austrian light cavalry division and Wolfe’s Brigade at bay the entire game. Otherwise the Austrians were having none of it with most Hungarian attacks repelled then followed up by the Austro-Russians in counterattack mode. There were two engagements particularly, however, that seemed indicative of how the entire battle went. The first occurred on the Austrian left flank, I Korps real estate, where the huge number of Jaeger light infantry battalions flat stopped the Hungarians cold, both from entering the Ascer Forest or the adjoining hamlet of Puj-Szallas. This enabled I Korps to shift its line troops right into the center where the main Hungarian attack could be met, defeated and pursued. Light infantry in the game gets substantial firepower bonus as they have rifles with greater accuracy and longer ranges, plus melee bonuses if they occupy rough terrain (like forests, as in Ascer Forests) or towns. Enemy fire against them is degraded and the lights also move across rough terrain without movement penalty. Suffice it to say that the Hungarians fielded two such battalions for this engagement, the Austrians three times as many plus, generally one or more per line brigade.

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The second issue concerned artillery. All Hungarian batteries were slaved off to their mini corps and divisions in various numbers for no particular rhyme or reason. One division of five battalions (like I said, tiny) had a complement of seven 6 lbers, while another with the same structure had eight 3 lbers and fourteen 6 pounders. Because the rules require a general within the battery’s chain of command be close enough to unlimber and fire the guns, Honved (the Hungarian National Army) batteries were pretty well stuck to their assigned units. The Austrians on the other hand, weighed in with a consistent one battery per brigade, plus another four reserve batteries under corps command and of course the army’s Hauptgeschutzreserve. This enabled the Imperials to mass guns at important points as fast as their limber wheels could turn. The rockets were useless, but a Hell of a lot of fun. True, they got double Fire Points when shooting at towns, but some blew up on the launch pad and others disordered both sides cavalry if it whistled over their heads. Hysterical, so the rockets stay.

At the end of the game the Hungarians tossed the towel and began to retreat back into Komárom. The attack on the Austrian center became a nightmare as the Austrians were able to shift both muskets and cannon into the cauldron to stop the assault and then assume the offensive. Casualties were a bunch higher than historical, about 15%, but this was within Napoleonic norms. For example during the Hundred Days of 1815, the battle of Ligny saw an 18 % casualty rate while at Wavre was 10 %. Consulting with an historian who lives and breathes this bit of history, we both agree that the historically reported count is in error somehow. Other battles in this war saw Napoleonic norms, but for this size battle over eight hours? Bottom line, I’ll go another playtest as is and not crank that table down a notch.

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Aftermath

While I won’t pat myself on the back too hard (OK, yes, I will), I was pleased and am now looking forward to a second playtest this coming March where Temesvar will be the battle covered. I will be looking again at casualty rates, the use of light infantry and how both organization and command impacts the game. The Austrians mimicked Napoleonic organizational concepts, and this proved fruitful when deploying their guns.

Likewise the game rates army commanders for competence, aggressiveness and supporting staff, a number which modifies an initiative die roll off where the winner gets to choose whether his side will go first or second that turn. In this game Haynau got a +2 DRM, while Klapka got zilch. The result was the Austro-Russians won every initiative roll in the game save two. Make a difference? Oh, yeah.

But too much, too small or, just right? Pewter pushers should be looking for my next installment to find out while counter critters and digital dudes... well, yes, you’re standing in awe is perfectly appropriate.

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