On the morning of August 18th 1870 began what was to be the largest battle of the Franco-Prussian War. At the end of the day the French Army retreated back behind the defences of the Metz forts, where it was to remain until its capitulation xx days later.
Although heavily outnumbered and outgunned, the French were presented with several opportunities to win a stunning victory, a victory which may well have turned the whole course of the war.
The Strategic situation
Following the battles on theFrontier (Spicheren, Wissembourg, Worth), the French armies fell back on Chalons (McMahon with I, V and VII Corps) and Metz (Bazaine with II, III and IV). At Metz Baziane was to assemble his corps together with the Imperial Guard and the hastily assembled VI Corps, and then unite with McMahon at Chalons. This was the French plan, such as it was.
The French were very dilatory in their efforts to escape the pursuing forces and their rearguard was attacked in what became the battle of Columbey. Although the French repulsed the attacks, it proved to be a fatal delay to the retreat.
Napoleon III himself left the army to its own devices and headed to Chalons via way of Verdun leaving Bazaine instructions to follow.
The Prussian I and II armies, having sorted themselves out of the tangled mess that von Steinmetz had managed to cause, crossed the Moselle River south of Metz, finding no opposition on the way. They then swung north expecting to catch the French rearguard.
The French had been so slow in passing through Metz, that the Prussian III corps hit the French advanced guard not their rearguard. In the furious battle of Mars-la-Tour that was to follow, III Corps supported for most of the day only by X Corps and 2 Cavalry Divisions, held up the entire French army.
The French then fell back upon a strong defensive position along the line of St-Privat-Amanvilliers-Gravelotte. As a result the French had their back to Metz and were facing Paris, The Prussians, the reverse. Hence a defeat for either side would prove to be disastrous. So it was to prove.
The morning of the 18th found the French deployed with the II corps resting its left flank upon the Moselle River, with III, IV and VI Corps stretching away Northwards. VI Corps was open to being outflanked but Bazaine placed all his reserves behind the Southern flank to support II and III Corps.
The battle began with the Prussian I Army under that redoubtable loony, General von Steinmetz, hurling itself upon the prepared positions of the II and III French Corps. Not satisfied with progress he commited more troops until both VII and VII Corps were milling about in the Mance Ravine whilst the French took pot shots at them. Steinmetz’s answer was to commit the Cavalry and so the 1st Cavalry Division had to charge across the ravine as well. His final act of the day was to commit the fresh II Corps to the battle with the same, predictable results. Only a complete lack of French initiative and the incredible mess in the Mance Ravine prevented three entire Corps being swept away in total rout.
Further North von Manstein’s IX Corps was pinned down by Chassepot rifle fire.
Only in the far North did things begin to go wrong for the French. Here Canrobert’s VI Corps held the open flank without promise of any assistance.
The Prussian efforts to outflank the French right resulted in the Prussian Imperial Guard Corps hitting Canrobert’s men head-on. Rather than wait for the Saxons of the XII Corps to march around the French flank, or wait for the artillery to catch up, the entire infantry of the Guard launched itself up a bare slope at the French position. None got much closer than 600 yards and by the end of the day, nearly half the Corps would be listed as casualties.
Finally the Prussian twigged as to what was required and assembled 200+ Krupp guns which they used to batter the French lines. Under this maelstrom of fire and with the Saxons at last bring pressure to bear, the French postion collapsed.
Too late in the day Bazaine sent General Bourbaki with the Guard Grenadier Division to shore up the line. But on seeing the rout of VI Corps, Bourbaki turned the Guard around.
As darkness fell, the French retreated the last distance back into Metz.
What follows is my version of the OOB’s for the respective forces. I have relied on two main sources for this :-
The Franco-German War of 1870 – German General Staff
Studes from the Franco-Prussian War, The French Imperial Army – Stephen Shann
There are likely to be may contentious issue contained herein, but I welcome comment as always.
I have taken what information I have read so far and amalgamated it, hence any ideas put forward here pay homage to the author and are not intended as a attempt to pinch good ideas.
Marshal Bazaine AC
General Frossard CC, II Corps
1st Division, Gen Verge DC Exhaustion=8 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Valaze
1st Brigade, Gen Pouget
(Attached from V Corps)
Gen Lapasset DC Exhaustion=5 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
Marshal Le Boeuf CC, III Corps
1st Division, Gen Montaudon DC Exhaustion=10 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Aymard
2nd Division, Gen de Castagny DC Exhaustion=9 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Nayral
2nd Brigade, Gen Duplessis
1st Brigade, Gen de Potier
2nd Brigade, Gen Arnaudeau
4th Division, Gen Decean DC Exhaustion=11 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen de Brauer
2nd Brigade, Gen Sangle-Ferriere
General de Ladmirault CC, IV Corps
1st Division, Gen de Cissey DC Exhaustion=9 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Brayer
2nd Brigade, Gen Golberg
2nd Division, Gen Grenier DC Exhaustion=9 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Bellecourt
2nd Brigade, Gen Pradier
3rd Division, Gen de Lorencez DC Exhaustion=10 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Pajol
Marshal Canrobert CC, VI Corps
1st Division, Gen Tixier DC Exhaustion=10 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Pechot
2nd Brigade, Gen le Roy de Dais
2nd Division, Gen Bisson DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Archinaud
3rd Division, Gen de Villiers DC Exhaustion=6 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen de Sonnay
2nd Brigade, Gen Colin
4th Division, Gen Levassor-Sorval DC Ex=8 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen Marguenat
2nd Brigade, Gen de Chanaleilles
2nd Cavalry Division
Gen de Valabregue DC Exhaustion= 2 [ ] [ ]
(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)
3rd Cavalry Division
Gen Clerambault DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]
(1st Brigade attached to 1st Reserve Cavalry Division)
2nd Brigade, Gen de Maubranches
4th Cavalry Division
Gen Legrand DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen de Montaigu
Imperial Guard Cavalry Division
Gen Desvaux DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]
2nd Brigade, Gen de France
1st Reserve Cavalry Division
Gen du Barail DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Gen de Lajaille
3rd Reserve Cavalry Divison
Gen Forton DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Prince Murat
Gen Canu DC
Field Artillery Reserve, Colonel Salvador
Horse Artillery Reserve, Colonel Toussant
Notes on French OOB:
French Corps are all at 50% exhaustion, except for the Imperial Guard, which is set to 60%.
There is a large variation in regimental strengths caused by mobilisation difficulties and casualties at Spicheren, Colombey and Mars-la-Tour. 4SP is the standard size. 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 Lavacoupet’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 Guard Grenadier Division was roughly handled at Mars-la-Tour, suffering over 1,000 casualties. This together with the detachment to escort Napoleon III, left 3rd Regiment with less than 1,000 effectives for the battle, hence it can only be regarded as a 2SP linear stand.
The 93rd Ligne is also rated as a linear stand as it was the weakest regiment in the army and was run over by von Bredow’s Cavalry, amongst other things, at Mars-la-Tour.
All Guard Grenadier Regiments are rated as shock troops, and all Voltigeur regiments may detach a single stand of M6 sharpshooters.
The VI corps arrived at Metz with only 1 regiment of its 2nd division, half its artillery, no cavalry and most importantly of all, no shovels. As a result VI corps is not entrenched in any way. II, III and IV corps are all occupying positions rated as hasty works.
The French deployed II, III, IV and VI corps in the front line and held the Imperial Guard and Reserve Artillery in reserve behind. In the event neither reserve was used.
The French cavalry spent the day stuffed into a ravine just behind IV corps. It did nothing during the entire battle apart from 2 squadrons of the 3rd Chasseurs a Cheval, which attempted to charge, but quickly packed in the idea when they got shot at.
PRUSSIAN I ARMY
General von Steinmetz AC
1st Army General Staff AC
Gen von Zastrow CC
13th Division, Lt Gen v Glumer DC Exhaustion=12 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
25th Brigade, Major Gen Baron von Osten-Sacken
14th Division, Gen v. Kamecke DC Exhaustion=11 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
27th Brigade, Major Gen von Francois
Gen von Goeben CC
15th Division, Lt Gen v Weltzien DC Exhaustion=14 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
29th Brigade, Major Gen von Wedell
16th Division, Lt Gen Barnekow DC Exhaustion=11 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
31st Brigade, Major Gen Count von Gneisenau
1st Cavalry Division,
Lieut Gen von Hartmann DC Exhaustion=4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Major Gen von Luderitz
PRUSSIAN II ARMY
Crown Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia AC
II Army General Staff I AC
II Army General Staff II AC
Imperial Guard Corps
Prince Augustus von Wurtemberg CC
1st Division, Maj Gen von Pape DC Exhaustion=20 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Major Gen Kessel
2nd Division, Gen von Budritzki DC Exhaustion=16 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
3rd Brigade, Colonel von Knappstadt
Gen von Alvensleben CC
5th Division, Lt Gen v Stulpnagel DC Exhaustion=7 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
9th Brigade, Major Gen von Doring
6th Div, Lt Gen v Buddenbrock DC Exhaustion=7 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
11th Brigade, Major Gen von Rothmaler
Corps Artillery, Maj Gen v.Bulow DC
Lt Gen von Manstein CC
18th Division, Lt Gen v Wrangel DC Exhaustion=12 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
35th Brigade, Major Gen von Blumenthal
25th Division, Lt Gen HRH Prince Louis of Hesse DC Exhaustion=11 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
49th Brigade, Major Gen von Wettich
Lt Gen vonVoights-Rhetz I CC
19th Division, Gen v Shwartzkoppen DC Exhaustion=7 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
37th Brigade, Colonel Lehmann
20th Division, Gen v Kraatz-Koschlau DC Exhaustion=9 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
39th Brigade, Major Gen von Woyna
Corps Artillery, Colonel Baron von de Becke DC
XII (ROYAL SAXON) CORPS
H.R.H Crown Prince of Saxony CC
23rd Division, HRH Prince George of Saxony DC Exhaustion=16 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
45th Brigade, Major Gen von Craushaar
24th Division, Gen von Holderburg DC Exhaustion=15 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
47th Brigade, Major General von Leonhardi
Corps Artillery, Major Gen Kohler DC
Guard Cavalry Division
Maj Gen v. der Goltz DC Ex=4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
1st Brigade, Major Gen von Brandenburg I
5th Cavalry Division
Lt Gen v.Rheinbaben: DC Exhaustion=5 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
11th Brigade, Major Gen von Barby
6th Cavalry Division
H.H. Duke Wilhelm of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Exhaustion=3 [ ] [ ] [ ]
14th Brigade, Major Gen Baron von Diepenbroick-Gruter
12th Cavalry Divison
Maj Gen Count Lippe DC Exhaustion=2 [ ] [ ]
23rd Brigade, Major Gen von Nidda
Gen von Fransecky CC
3rd Division, Major Gen v Hartmann DC Exhaustion=14 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
5th Brigade, Major Gen von Koblinski
4th Division, Lt Gen v Weyham DC Exhaustion=13 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
7th Brigade, Major Gen du Trossel
Corps Artillery, Maj Gen von.Kleist DC
Notes on Prussian OOB:-
There are actually 2 armies present; hence there are 2 AC’s. The titular head of the army as a whole was the King himself, but he did nothing during the battle other than give von Steinmetz the use of II corps when it arrived. Likewise von Moltke, Chief of the General Staff, did nothing except agree with the King. As a result they are not represented on the battlefield.
There are also additional AC's depicting the ever present Prussian General Staff. These act in all repects as AC's (their word was divine law). There is one General Staff AC for the Ist Army and 2 for the IInd Army (to reflect their relative sizes).
II corps is not directly attached to either army, but in the real battle von Steinmetz was given use of it; hence it should be attached to I Army if you wish to follow history.
VIII Corps on paper was part of the I Army, but had been detached under the King’s direct command, primarily to stop von Steinmetz doing anything stupid with it. However he gave von Goeben the order to attack, which he obeyed. Although strictly speaking he could have ignored this order and referred to the King, he obediently sent his corps to its destruction in the Mance Ravine.
All infantry corps have 50% exhaustion limits except the Guard, which has 60% and III and X corps which have 40%. I have downrated the III and X corps as I believe this to be the best way to portray what happened at Mars-la-Tour. III Corps in particular suffered severely as it attempted to fight the entire French Army on its own. In the historical battle, both these Corps were held in reserve and virtually uncommited with the exception of their Corps artillery assests, which were leant to the Corps in front of them.
Cavalry divisions have, in theory, 60% exhaustion, but due to the strengths it comes out as 50% in most cases. Von Bredow’s Brigade ( 12th Brigade, 5th Cavalry Division ) has been reduced following its infamous ‘Death Ride’ at Mars-la-Tour – the equivalent 4 squadrons were lost during the charge.
The downgrading of III and X corps is as a result of the battle of Mars-la-Tour (Rezonville) 2 days previously, in which these 2 corps held up the entire French army virtually without assistance. As a result of this they were placed in the rear of the army, III corps behind IX corps, and X corps behind the Guard Corps. Apart from their Corps artillery assets, which were lent to the corps in front, they were not seriously engaged.
Prussian Corps artillery have their own commanders so can act independently under his command.
The Guard Fusileer and Saxon Schutzen Regiments are treated as light infantry regiments; that is to say they may break down entirely into skirmish (not sharpshooters) stands. I have some doubts as to the deployment of the Guard Fusileers this way as other Fusileer battalions fought as the Line infantry, however the Saxon Schutzen wore Jager uniforms so that sort of implies a dual role.
IX Corps is a non-standard corps in that it includes the 25th Hessian Division. All the Hessian regiments have only 2 battalions, hence have only 4SP. They do, however, have an extra Jager battalion and a full Cavalry brigade attached to the division.
XII (Saxon) Corps is also slightly non-standard and it
has its own attached cavalry division (12th).
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