A Desperate Day – Offside Report by Andy Grainger
I enjoyed Jon Casey’s game about the Battle of Elouges in 1914, not least because I was able to visit the battlefield in March 2019. It took place the day after the Battle of Mons, one of those rearguard actions that would punctuate the retreat leading occasionally to the loss of almost a complete Battalion which didn’t receive the orders to retire.
In John’s scenario the action begins at about midday on 24th August and we played through to almost 3pm. Thus the game took place almost in real time though thankfully without the deluges of shrapnel that afflicted the real participants in a European war featuring 20th century weaponry and pre-industrial methods of communication ie a man with a cleft stick.
I played Lt Col Burnett, CO 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Hussars deployed forward of a flank guard for British II Corps (Smith-Dorrien) found by 1st Norfolks, 1st Cheshires and the other two Regiments of 2nd Cavalry Brigade (4th Dragoon Guards and 9th Lancers). Their mission – which they did not have much choice in accepting – was to hold off an approximately division-sized German force for at least three hours – ie 9 x 20 minute turns.
When I visited the battlefield I found that the terrain was rather more confusing than Jon’s helpful map but certainly the 18th Hussars had a grandstand view of the German advance – to misquote a certain poem – Huns to the left of them, Huns in front of them, Huns to the right of them. Unofficial regimental motto “If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined”.
At the beginning of the game the two infantry battalions and accompanying artillery battery are just drawing up along a sunken road and so, in the absence of orders, I sought permission from Brigadier de Lisle to withdraw whilst at the same time redeploying one of my squadrons to a Sugar Factory (it is not allowed to have a tactical WW1 game without a Sugar Factory) to safeguard my left – we grabbed it just before the Germans arrived.
I thought John’s combat results captured 1914 combat well. As long as you are in cover then the enemy’s fire will not do a lot of damage whilst your fire will prevent movement out to 1,000 yards in clear terrain. The longer you stay, however, the greater the damage as the enemy artillery and machine guns find the range. And once you are deployed, movement is very difficult so timing a withdrawal requires fine judgement.
On the other hand, our view of the map and the blocks representing the various units – I liked the Huns in sinister black – lacked the confusion which is present in all the 1914 accounts. With only one umpire this is inevitable. As CO I was pleased to get the Regiment away despite heavy losses though regretted that I was not one of them – I was apparently hit bringing away the final Squadron. Maybe I was wounded and got out – for these officers, professionals all, this was definitely not a game – one had a career to think of.
Speaking of which, I can only say that the withdrawal of the Norfolks before my cavalry had got away was damned bad form. They were not pressed, had been ordered to hang on until 3pm – it was now only 2.30. Someone later told me that their CO, Ballard, even suggested that C Sqn should continue to screen them even though they had lost two thirds holding the Sugar Factory so the infantry could deploy.
The man’s a cad and if I see him again I shall cut him dead.
A Desperate Day indeed!