The Battle of Wertingen October 8, 1805 was the first divisional sized engagement between the Austrians and French during the 1805 campaign and a bit one-sided historically. Austrian battalion squares with battalion artillery and two weak cavalry regiments against the massed French Cavalry Reserve under Marshal Murat, their horse artillery and finally flanked by French Grenadier de Reserve formations under Marshal Lannes. Reading into the actual material on this obscure Battle of Wertingen gave WR thoughts that this engagement could be a great training scenario for cavalry vs. infantry tabletop scenario. WR’s scenario design and write-up at end of this blog post if interested.
Wertingen is one of the opening battles of the Ulm envelopment, the French strategic movement across Europe that eliminated the majority of the Austrian field army at the beginning of the 1805 Austerlitz campaign. Battle of Wertingen was a relatively small divisional level engagement between the veteran Boulogne camp Grande Armee and the Mack reformed army of the Hapsburgs.
FML Karl Mack von Leiberich was an overconfident personality and he planned to meet the French army crossing Europe, outside of hereditary Austrian territory if possible. Just like the former campaigns of the 1790’s under Archduke Charles and FML Kray, and till recently, the ill-fated 1800 campaign which ended at Hohenlinden, the Austrian army moved westward into Bavaria. The Austrians invaded French ally Bavaria, who stayed with their new French ally despite all Austrian efforts to sway Bavaria away from France. Mack’s intent was to occupy the region around Ulm and then wait for the Russians, but typically, the Austrian army movements were classical slow marching and detached commands, hampering daily communications between the army command structure during the early days of October 1805.
But the French under Emperor Napoleon did not come at him as expected, east through the major entryway of Strasbourg and through the Black Forest, like most of the French Revolutionary wars before this campaign, but marched their independent Grande Armee corps around and behind the stationery Austrians at Ulm. Communications with Vienna were soon cut by French roving cavalry and infantry columns.
Hearing about rumors and army dispatch reports about French movements behind his advance camp, at Donauworth to the northeast of Ulm, and other Danube crossing points, Genral Mack decided to act. His decision was to send FML Auffenberg’s column (basically an infantry division), to report or scout enemy movements along the Danube river, with nine infantry battalions and four cavalry squadrons. Why just this small, mostly infantry command, was typical of the Austrian army thought of flying detachments vs. good cavalry scouting during the early napoleonic wars. The “detachment dispersal” strategic planning” method of warfare. General Mack wasn’t aware that FML Auffenberg small infantry force would encounter the French Reserve Cavalry Corps under Marshal Murat or any other major French command formation either.
After night force-marching his infantry without encountering French detachments, FML Auffenberg established his bivouac around the town of Wertingen, morning of October 8th, on higher ground just south of the Danube river. Just as they started the basics of army camp life, food preparation, wood for camp fires etc.., and tried to get some rest from their nocturnal march, outpost reports arrived that French cavalry was reported riding southwest from Donauworth. After much discussion and denial on the part of Auffenberg’s staff about the French strength, FML Auffenberg soon realized that he was being engaged by French cavalry of brigade or divisional level strength. At 1000 hours, he led his infantry battalions onto a defensible hill to the south-west of the town and put them in battalion squares, with deployed battalion cannon nearby, while the weak Austrian squadron strength cavalry milled about.
While the Austrians slowly deployed on hill outside of Wertingen, ADC and chef d’escadron Remi Exelmans (from Murat’s HQ staff) arrived about 1000 hours and, taking local command of GD Beaumont’s 3rd Dragoon Division, in Murat’s name, of 18 squadrons of dragoons. Additionally, he assumed staff command with the six squadrons of hussars (GB Fauconnet’s V Corps), and six-horse artillery cannon of mixed cannon weight attached to the cavalry. Exelmans sent GB Fauconnet’s hussars northward seeking to flank the Austrian hill-top position via the Danube flood plain road. Exelmans then commenced his other flank assault on the Austrian outpost at Hohenreichen, with dismounted squadrons from 8th and 5th Dragoons (3rd Dragoon division). The house-to-house village fighting was contested by either Austrian IR #18 Stuart grenadiers or a Tyrolean detachment, history’s record seems unclear. Whoever the defending Austrians were, they repulsed the dismounted French dragoons twice. After committing additional six dragoon squadrons from 3rd Dragoon Division, again all on foot, the French dragoons managed to overwhelm the defenders and take the village of Hohenreichen.
With Hohenreichen secured by the morning’s dismounted dragoon effort, GD Beaumont’s moved four mounted dragoon regiments towards a nearby hill across from the battalions under FML Auffenberg standing their position. Around midday GD Beaumont moved six-horse cannon to another, slightly higher hill, to the northeast of the Austrian position. From their new location, the six cannon bombarded the dense Austrian infantry square formations. The French horse artillery cannon, typically of mixed weight or 8lb in this period, was heavier in shot weight to the Austrian lighter battalion cannon, thus preventing the Austrian cannon from any effective response to the French fire.
Why did Exelmans then decide to charge repeatedly the close order Austrian squares is unknown to history, instead of waiting for Marshal Lannes infantry to show up. Maybe he didn’t know Marshal Lannes position of march but for a ADC at Marshal Murat’s headquarters he should have known. For the next few hour, Exelmans personally led dragoon charge after dragoon charge up the low hill slope against the Austrian formed squares. Every time repulsed by the classical interlocking musketry fire from the squares, along with their nearby embedded battalion guns. The weak Austrian cavalry squadrons, cuirassiers and chevau-legers, performed small squadron countercharges to quicken the French retirement between charge waves. French dragoon squadrons would rally at the bottom of the hill and try again, led by Exelmans, while the French horse artillery recommence their bombardment during the lull of dragoon regimental charges. Shades of a future battle called Waterloo but without the accurate horse artillery bombardment support. Like the English at Waterloo, the Austrian infantry welcomed each charge of the French dragoons, giving a respite from the French artillery bombardment. Still, the Austrian infantry never received order from FML Auffenberg to slowly retire away from the French artillery and cavalry. They just stood their ground and suffered.
Hour after hour, the charge process was repeated many times. Form up, trot, then charge up the hill, be repulsed for little Austrian loss, retire, reform ranks while the French horse artillery bombarded the stationary dense squares. The Austrian infantry squares showed no outward signs of disorder in their ranks. FML Auffenberg was confident that if he could hold his position until nightfall several hours away, then march away his division with little loss during the night.
By 1400 hours Klein’s fresh 1st Dragoon Division arrived and positioned themselves at the base of the Austrian held hill. Marshal Murat and 1st Heavy Cavalry Division arrived at 1600 hours, as well as Marshal Lannes and his V Corps. Lannes leading division, GD Oudinot’s Grenadier Division, marched in on the Danube flood plain road supported by GB Faconnet’s hussar regiments. Both marshals conferred on their hilltop position and planned a combined arms assault on the FML Auffenberg’s current position. GD Oudinot’s infantry will continue their road march beyond Blinswagen village, turn and form up on Austrian open left flank, then attack up slope against the Austrian uncovered flank. Meanwhile, after a short rest and reform period, both French dragoon divisions will charge up the same hill slope to pin the Austrian squares in place. The 1st Heavy Cavalry Division will remain in reserve unless the French dragoons need assistance. The French horse artillery firing their bombardment till the actual cavalry charge assault begins.
Austrian casualties slowly had been mounting from the afternoon French bombardment and occasional pistol shot (musket?) from French dragoons. During the lull while the French infantry marched into position, the French bombardment intensified. FML Auffenberg knew his soldiers were reaching a morale breaking point from the afternoon long combative action. Seeing massing fresh cavalry in the valley (1st Dragoon Division) and the distant arrival of the 1st Heavy Cavalry Division, Marshal Murat’s entire Reserve Cavalry Corps was deploying across the valley before him. Nightfall still was several hours away, FML Auffenberg decided its time to start orderly controlled withdrawal of his battered forward battalions. Ordering his infantry square formations to slowly retire from the forward hill slope positions, he rode over to his tired cavalry squadrons to cover the formation changes and retiring march of the infantry battalions. The thoughts of the Austrian squadron commanders weren’t recorded for history… four tired squadrons vs the massed French cavalry of two plus one divisions and a brigade of hussars stationary nearby. History only records they countercharges the French massed cavalry and promptly were scattered from the battlefield. The tired Austrian infantry battalions started to retire towards the Austrian line of communications and possible safety of night. Under continuing dragoon regimental cavalry charges to their front, pinning them in place during the charge period, and GD Oudinot’s formed infantry battalions and their deployed skirmishers on flank, plus lack of rest from their previous night march, the retreating battalion squares quickly fell apart. Some individual battalions held out longer, but the majority quickly fell into disorder and became a general rout of all arms, chased gleefully by the French cavalry.
The French surging cavalry fell on the fleeing Austrians and killed or wounded some 400+ and quickly captured by surrender another 3,000 infantry. The Austrian battalion artillery component, total of 6 guns, and 6 battalion flags fell into French prize hands. Nightfall finally arrived and allowed the battered infantry remains to escape towards Ginzburg, scene of another battle the next day, about 20 miles to the southwest.
Austrian armies of 1805 era often are rated poorly in terms of tabletop abilities by most war game rule sets. At Wertingen, the Austrian infantry stood their position during the majority of the afternoon, and only broke ranks when the French combined arms assault, infantry and cavalry, caught them during their actual retreat. The recent reorganization of the 1805 Hapsburg army, commonly called General Mack’s reform, don’t seem to effect the common soldiers training and formation during this small battle. Being two-thirds grenadier battalions certainly reflected on the Austrian courage and pluck during the battle. When the French dragoon cavalry made brief inroads into their square formation, training taught them to quickly sealed up the opening, till enemy musketry and well-timed dragoon charges finally broke the square formations.
The scenario orders of battle (OOB) for Wertingen material came from WR’s collection. Two book lead the material sources: Scott Bowden’s “Napoleon and Austerlitz” and Digby Smith’s “The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book”. Noted that Digby Smith OOB is different from Scott Bowden’s which WR followed for scenario. French strengths are reported from parade states as of 23 September. Austrian unit strengths are approximate and averaged from total forces reported engaged, i.e. mathematically rounded to each battalion averaged 550-600 men.
* A must view, highly recommended for several 1805 Austrian battles, and excellent web link written by Jeff Berry covers this obscure battle and others of the 1805 campaign (link). Obscure Battles “Battle of Wertingen.” Check them out!
Scenario design notes for Battle of Wertingen (.doc): Wertingen 1805 Scenario Notes
Battle of Wertingen should be a different historical scenario game to play. How the Austrian player seeks to pull his artillery bombarded infantry squares back slowly while under continuous French cavalry charge threat. The French seeking to hold the Austrian squares in place while waiting for the French infantry to arrive. Limited artillery ammunition supply vs. steady Austrian grenadier formations plus the standard national characteristics of both major powers of Europe. As before in my scenario write ups, WR leaves link to our club’s napoleonic game rules, charts, period by year national characteristics and YouTube video examples of play found on this Wargamerabbit blog: Napoleonic Rules, Charts and videos
Cheers from the warren.