The Battle of Caldiero is a surprisingly little-known, yet bloody action fought during the War of the 3rd Coalition in 1805. The scene of Napoleon’s first battlefield defeat in 1796, this was therefore the second battle to be fought by Napoleon’s army on this site. The position forms a natural choke-point for any army attempting to march along the northern edge of the North Italian Plain, from Milan, Lake Garda and Verona toward Vicenza, Venice and Austria, where the main west-to-east roads are hemmed in between the mountains to the north and the River Adige to the south. The battlefield was fought over again in 1809 (also known as the Battle of Soave or the Battle of Castelcerino) and yet again in 1813.
As mentioned in the title, this scenario is designed for Napoleon’s Battles rules, which are a ‘grand-tactical’ ruleset where the brigade (or large regiment) is the smallest tactical unit.
In 1805 the Emperor Napoleon had given up on his plan to invade Great Britain and instead turned the attention of his supremely-trained Grande Armée to the east and the destruction of the Austrian and Russian armies, aiming first for Field Marshal Mack’s Army of Germany in the Danube Valley. In the meantime, Marshal Masséna‘s French Army of Italy faced off against Archduke Charles‘ Austrian Army of Italy in the Adige Valley. With only 49,000 men, Masséna was heavily outnumbered, though nevertheless his mission was to keep Archduke Charles busy in Italy and prevent him from uniting his forces with the rest of the Austrian army in the Danube Valley.
It had originally been intended that Archduke Charles would go on the offensive against Masséna, though 30,000 men, a quarter of his command, had already been stripped from him by Mack, leaving him with 90,000. This was almost double Masséna’s 49,000, but Masséna held the ‘Quadrilateral’ of North Italian fortresses: Mantua, Peschiera, Legnano and Verona. Any offensive by Charles would simply result in Masséna withdrawing behind his line of fortresses as he watched the Austrians bleed themselves white in prolonged sieges. A stalemate therefore developed across the line of the Adige and in order to buy time, Masséna even proposed a truce to which the Austrians agreed on 29th September. However, with Napoleon’s advance into Germany, there was a danger that the Austrians might use the truce to disengage a proportion of their forces to further reinforce Mack on the Danube and Masséna therefore advised Charles that hostilities would resume on 14th October.
On 17th October Archduke Charles received word that Napoleon’s army had arrived in Munich. Foreseeing the impending disaster in Germany, Charles immediately made plans to disengage from Masséna and withdraw his army from Italy. However, Masséna was not going to let the Austrians off the hook that easily and on 18th October he launched an assault across the Adige, driving out General Vukassovich and establishing his crucial bridgehead north of the river. As the Austrians licked their wounds and tried to work out a plan, Masséna built up his strength and expanded the bridgehead.
News arrived in both camps on 28th October, advising them of the cataclysmic surrender of Mack’s Austrian army at Ulm. Both sides immediately resolved to attack the other and a series of sharp combats on the 29th saw the French push Austrian forces back to their fortified line at Caldiero, which effectively blocked the main road to Vicenza, Venice and ultimately to Austria. Archduke Charles was determined to launch a counter-attack on the following day and ordered Simbschen’s Division to attack from the Colognola Heights on the right, via San Zeno and Caldellara, in concert with an attack by Nordmann through the marshes along the riverbank and Reuss-Plauen through Gambione. Bellegarde’s Corps would then follow up with an attack through the centre to Calderino. Davidovich’s Corps meanwhile, would cross the Adige and threaten the French right flank from across the river.
Masséna meanwhile, planned to launch an attack on Caldiero itself with Gardanne’s Division, while Duhesme’s Division attacked through Gambione and Molitor’s Division assaulted the Colognola Heights. Partouneaux’s grenadiers, Mermet’s heavy cavalry and D’Espagne’s light cavalry would exploit any success. Verdier’s Division meanwhile, would cross back over the Adige and using commandeered boats, would land in rear of the Austrian left, while covered by a large force of cavalry from Pully’s and Mermet’s Divisions.
As the formations formed up in the dark early hours, a thick fog rolled in, completely concealing the opposing moves. Simbschen, attacking through San Zeno, bumped into Molitor and after a confused fight in the fog, fell back to the entrenchments on the Colognola Heights. Molitor attempted to follow up, but was beaten off and the Heights remained in Austrian hands for the rest of the day.
Realising that the French were also moving forward, Archduke Charles called back his attacking columns as French attacks developed around Caldiero village. Gardanne’s initial assault on Caldiero failed, though the village was taken on the second assault. Reuss-Plauen was also thrown back by Duhesme’s assault through Gambione. However, Bellegarde was swift to respond and his counter-attack drove the French back out of Caldiero.
Down at the river’s edge, the first boatloads of French troops from Verdier’s Division, consisting of Colonel Petit’s 62e de Ligne, slid ashore in thick fog. However, the fog had led to poor navigation in the dark and instead of landing behind the Austrian lines, they had actually landed immediately in front of them and the French infantry were immediately taken to task by swarms of Nordmann’s Grenzer! Verdier meanwhile had encountered Davidovich’s corps south of the river and thoughts of further amphibious operations were abandoned as Verdier faced the new threat. The 62e de Ligne would have to fend for itself. Nevertheless, Petit’s men did remarkably well, successfully pushing back the Grenzer before falling back to join with Duhesme’s Division.
Back at Caldiero, the French rallied and Gardanne once again threw the Austrians out of the village, this time with support from D’Espagne’s cavalry, Partouneaux’s grenadiers and the 2nd Italian Infantry Regiment. Bellegarde once again counter-attacked, and with the assistance of Reuss-Plauen, drove the Frenchmen out of the village for a second time. The French rallied once again and now with Duhesme’s assistance, took Caldiero for a third time, only for the Austrians to eject them yet again!
On the riverbank, Verdier, leaving Pully’s cavalry to screen Davidovich, had at last managed to land the rest of his division on the north bank of the Adige. However, as Verdier advanced he soon came under intense pressure, first from Nordmann and then from Reuss-Plauen. With his infantry threatening to break, he ordered Ormancey’s cavalry, who had been guarding the landing-site, to mount a charge, allowing the infantry to disengage and get back to the boats.
The bloodbath in Caldiero continued unabated as the two sides wrestled for control of the village. At last, the the Austrians were thrown out for a final time and the French infantry pursued them into the fields beyond, only to be halted by fire from the redoubts behind the village, which forced the Frenchmen to fall back to the cover of the houses.
As night fell, the fighting petered out as both sides took stock of the day’s action. Casualties had been heavy – around 5,000 dead and wounded on both side and neither side had achieved its objectives. The French had succeeded in taking Caldiero village, but at great cost and to no significant advantage, as all other positions, most critically the redoubts on the Colognola Heights and on the knoll behind Caldiero, remained firmly in Austrian hands. Nevertheless, the clock was ticking and Archduke Charles desperately needed to get the bulk of his army back to Austria. Leaving a small force behind to conduct a delaying action at the redoubts and ordering flanking divisions to mount diversionary attacks on Masséna’s rear at Veronetta, the Austrian Army of Italy began its withdrawal that night. However, Masséna easily defeated the diversionary attacks and following a sharp rearguard action at the redoubts, was hot on Charles’ heels.
Having to turn to fight numerous rearguard actions against Masséna inflicted serious delay on Charles’ march to Austria and despite uniting his army with that of Archduke John, which had retreated out of the Tyrol, they were still nowhere near Vienna when Napoleon crushed the combined Russian-Austrian armies at the Battle of Austerlitz on 5th December. With the Russian threat removed, Napoleon now judged Archduke Charles’ force of 85,000 men to be the main remaining threat and sent the Grande Armée south from Vienna to destroy it. However, the Treaty of Pressburg ended hostilities on 26th December before battle could be joined.
The scenario starts with the Austrian 0900hrs turn and ends with the French 1800hrs turn, so lasts 18 turns.
The first four turns (0900, 0930, 1000 & 1030hrs) are conducted in fog, during which the visibility is reduced to 2 inches. Combined-arms attacks are not possible during these turns. The optional fog-of-war rules may be used (see below).
French Order of Battle
- There is no intervening corps structure between Masséna and his divisional commanders.
- Some smaller cavalry units have been incorporated into others in order to bring them up to playable strength.
- Lacour’s Dragoon Brigade actually belonged to Mermet’s Division, but was attached to Duhesme’s Division for this battle. It may be commanded by either commander, but only counts against Duhesme’s strength for the purposes of divisional fatigue.
- Petit’s 62e de Ligne landed first out of Verdier’s Division and operated for some time as an independent regiment while Verdier delayed further landings due to the threat from Davidovich’s Corps. This is therefore treated as an independent brigade for game purposes, with Petit as a general until such time as Verdier arrives, whereupon Petit is removed from play and 62e de Ligne comes under Verdier’s command and divisional strength.
You are to clear the enemy from Caldiero village, the entrenchments and the peak of Monte Castegioni or break the enemy army’s morale, whichever comes first.
Players deploy their divisions alternately in any order, starting with the Austrian player. However, the 62e de Ligne (Colonel Petit’s command) must be the last French formation to be placed.
Note that the French have rather more flexibility in deployment than the Austrians.
Units may be placed on the table in any formation and facing.
Army and corps commanders may be deployed on table at the same time as any formation. They must be placed within a friendly deployment area. The exception to this rule is that Masséna may not be deployed within Area A.
French formations may alternatively be kept off-table, to arrive as reinforcements on a turn pre-determined by the French player. This must be declared to the Austrian player. They will arrive on the edge of the table adjacent to the main French deployment area and may arrive in any formation. They may move a full move on to table during the turn in which they arrive.
Turn 7 (1200) – Verdier, with Digonet’s Brigade, lands at Point A in any formation.
Turn 8 (1230hrs) – Brun’s Brigade lands at Point A in any formation.
Turn 9 (1300hrs) – Ormancey’s Brigade lands at Point A in any formation.
Note that units may only land at Point A if there are no enemy units present within the deployment area. Landings may also be voluntarily delayed by the French player.
Austrian Order of Battle
- Bellegarde is a Corps Commander, controlling the four divisions of the Centre: Vogelsang, O’Reilly, Lindenau and Lothringen. The other ‘wings’ are independent divisions and report directly to Archduke Charles.
You are to retain control of at least one key location (Caldiero, the entrenchments and Monte Castegioni) or simply break the enemy army’s morale.
Players deploy their divisions alternately in any order, starting with the Austrian player.
Note that the French have rather more flexibility in deployment than the Austrians.
Units may be placed on the table in any formation and facing.
Army and corps commanders may be deployed on table at the same time as any formation. They must be placed within a friendly deployment area.
Batteries of the Artillery Reserve must be allocated to divisions at the start of the game and deployed with that division. They may not be swapped between divisions as the game progresses.
Turn 6 (1130hrs) – Argentau’s Division arrives on the road at Point X in march column formation. It may move a full move on to table during the turn in which it arrives.
Villages – Most villages may hold a single infantry unit and have a defensive modifier of +2. The exception is Caldiero village, which may hold two infantry units and has been fortified, thus increasing its defensive value to +3. There are numerous other hamlets and farms scattered across the battlefield, but these have no effect on play.
Entrenchments – These are linear defences with a defensive modifier of +2. However, they are all placed at the crest of steep slopes, so the defensive modifier becomes +3 when you factor in the slope.
Marshes – These areas are classed as Rough Terrain and are impassable to artillery. The numerous stands of trees, scrub and drainage-ditches will give infantry units a -1 fire modifier for partial cover.
Scrub – These areas are classed as Rough Terrain for all troop types.
Hills & Vineyards – The steep slopes of the hills hereabouts are mostly covered in picturesque vineyards, orchards, olives and nut groves. These areas are classed as Rough Terrain, though are impassable to artillery. Cavalry may only pass through with difficulty in March Column formation at Half Rough Terrain rate, as they have to keep in single file to the narrow paths that wind up the slopes. However, the shallower slopes (as shown on the map) are clear of vineyards etc and may be traversed as open ground.
Rivers – The river Adige is impassable to all troop types, though units of Verdier’s Division may cross at Point A, taking a whole turn to do so, provided they started the turn at that point (they may also rout in this manner, using the boats to escape). Other rivers may be crossed as Rough Terrain, though are impassable to artillery.
Special Scenario Rules
This rule is entirely optional, as it will undoubtedly slow the initial stages of the game quite substantially. It is good fun, however…
The fog of war during the fog-bound turns may be represented by replacing every unit on the table with a playing card. In addition, add eight cards to each side as dummy units. Note on the order of battle which card represents which unit and which represent dummies. Note that you will need two packs of cards once the dummy units are included.
Batteries and generals are placed on table as normal, but add three ‘dummy’ batteries per side and two dummy generals. The dummy generals’ labels will duplicate generals on the order of battle. Secretly mark each dummy as such, perhaps by using a sticker under the base.
Before the start of deployment, each player may exchange one or more Free Roll Markers for dummy units, at a rate of three dummy units per Free Roll Marker. One dummy unit in each group of three generated in this manner may be replaced with a dummy general OR dummy battery.
During the deployment phase, dummy units may be placed within any friendly deployment area.
The alignment of the playing card will show the formation of the unit – column or line. Use markers to indicate Square or March Column formation.
Units may never move faster than the normal movement rate for that troop-type as printed on the Unit Data Card. However, dummy units may of course move at any rate selected by the owning player.
Dummy generals may not command units, though a wise player will make it appear as if they are (e.g. by commanding dummy units).
Units are revealed when they come within 2 inches of an enemy unit or battery, but not generals (this is to prevent generals, with their high movement rates, being used as recce units!). Dummy generals will be revealed as such when they are contacted by enemy units.
Units moving to contact may immediately halt their move when their target is revealed to be a dummy unit. Alternatively, they may continue the move as normal, up to their maximum move distance.
Cavalry units that fail a recall move must attack the next eligible unit if their first target is revealed to be a dummy (and so on if the subsequent target also proves to be a dummy).
At the start of Austrian Turn 5 (1100hrs), all units are revealed and are placed on table. All dummies are removed from play.
Entrenched Austrian Artillery:
Austrian artillery batteries emplaced behind entrenchments may increase their arc of fire to 45 degrees, but will suffer a -2 firing modifier for doing so. They will fire with normal effect when firing within their normal firing arc.