Frontier Battles:
Ad Latus Leaders

Battles of 1866: Frontier Battles is at its heart a pretty simple game, with combat resolved by rolling a six to get a hit. The key part of the game is its activation subsystem, which is highly dependent on unit organization: army commanders activate corps commanders, who in turn activate division commanders, who in turn activate the brigades (and supporting units) that do the actual fighting.

At least that’s how the Prussian and Saxon armies work (and most every other European army of the time, were we to extend the series to other battles). But not the Imperial Austrian Army, which has no division commanders. Instead, each corps has an “ad latus” leader, who can step in to activate brigades outside the corps commander’s range, allowing the Austrian player the flexibility of division-level command without the formal structure – the ad latus can assemble a mission-oriented task force just like the handbooks of a century later recommended.

The old Imperial-Royal Austrian Army (and in its successor, the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Army) had a complicated relationship with innovation. “I shall not change for the sake of change,” Kaiser Franz Josef liked to say, and his attitude seeped through his favorite institution.  Appeals to tradition often helped smooth the way for reforms: if a “new” method could be shown to have roots in the Army’s proud history, acceptance came far more easily.

Having suffered a serious defeat in 1859 against the French, the Austrian Army embarked on a wide-ranging series of reforms that would be codified in 1862. The reformers reduced the number of generals holding active field commands by abolishing the division level of command and made brigades directly subordinate to the corps commander. This would, the reformers (and Franz Josef) hoped, put the troops in direct contact with the enemy under the leadership of younger, more energetic officers. Each corps would have four infantry brigades, plus a large allotment of artillery, plus a cavalry detachment along with engineers, sanitary troops, a hospital and so forth. That gave the corps commander an enormous command burden, and to ease this strain the new regulations added a second commander known as the ad latus (“to the side” in the Latin).

Austrian armies had gone to war with ad latus commanders in the past, but under a very different concept. During the 1800 and 1805 campaigns against the French, the main Austrian army lurched forward into Bavaria under the nominal command of a very young archduke (18-year-old Archduke John and 24-year-old Archduke Ferdinand, respectively). A seasoned old commander served alongside the archduke as ad latus (Franz von Lauer in 1800; the unhappy Karl Mack in 1805) and whispered directions.

In 1866 the ad latus was not the corps’ de facto commander, nor was he the replacement-commander-in-waiting, though he certainly filled that role. With no division command level, the corps commander would have to control five or six maneuver elements (four infantry brigades and one or two cavalry regiments) plus usually seven artillery batteries. The ad latus would provide an extra commander to take control of an ad hoc battle group of whatever size the corps commander wished, allowing for maximum tactical flexibility. However, the corps staff carried no additional assets to provide the ad latus with his own aides: the corps headquarters would handle any of that for him while the job of the ad latus would be to mount his horse and bellow “Follow me!”

The additional general usually carried the rank of Feldmarschall Leutnant just like the corps commander, though the ever-vigilant Army personnel office made sure that the most senior ad latus among every corps still stood lower on the Army’s sacred seniority list than the most junior corps commander. Ad latus command appointments were only made during mobilization, when most of the peacetime corps commanders were also replaced by younger, more active generals.

Proof of concept testing came in the 1864 war with Denmark, when Ludwig von Gablenz was tabbed to lead the Austrian Expeditionary Corps against the Danes. Ad latus Wilhelm Adam von Neipperg worked well with Gablenz, achieving some signal tactical successes in battle and doing good work on the administrative side as well. The two generals worked well together and the experiment was judged a success.

In most cases during the 1866 mobilization, the ad latus commander turned out to be a staff officer who had grown too senior to serve as a corps chief of staff. Leopold Graf Gondrecourt at I Corps (over there on the right) was an energetic combat veteran clearly assigned to backstop his incompetent alcoholic boss, Eduard Graf von Clam-Gallas. Tassilio Graf Festetics of IV Corps, a fairly dim bulb himself, had the well-regarded Anton Ritter von Mollinary, who boasted a distinguished combat record in Hungary and Italy but came from the engineering branch - not the path to high command in the Imperial-Royal Army. In II Corps Carl Graf von Thun-Hohenstein, another socially-connected general, had one of the Army’s shining young stars, Josef Freiherr von Phillipovich, a Bosnian Christian from the service nobility (who had had to earn his “von” and thus lay well outside the Army’s leading social circle) who would command Austrian forces in Bosnia in 1878 and later serve as War Minister.

The ad latus assignments show a fascinating pattern, and give clear indication that someone in the War Ministry understood that Ludwig von Benedek had saddled his North Army with several aristocratic incompetent corps commanders, and sought to mitigate those errors by appointing the general who should have led those corps as the ad latus commander.

Of North Army’s seven initial corps commanders, Clam-Gallas, known as “The Army Drum” because he was always being beaten, would be fired after the Battle of Jicin. Thun and Festetics saw no serious action until the climactic Battle of Königgrátz, which the two combined to lose almost single-handedly. Thun and Festetics disobeyed orders at the height of the battle, flinging their corps out of their entrenchments into suicidal mass bayonet attacks against the Prussian needle gun. Benedek relieved Thun immediately after the battle; Festetics avoided that dishonor by losing his foot to a Prussian artillery shell. North Army’s three markedly incompetent generals had by far the best ad latus generals at their sides – experienced, well-regarded combat soldiers (all of them commoners ennobled on the battlefield). The other four corps commanders had relative non-entities assigned to them: Austria’s two best soldiers, Ludwig von Gablenz and Wilhelm von Ramming, and the two archdukes, Ernst and Leopold, whose competence no one was willing to question.

In practice, none of the corps commanders appear to have used their ad latus to much advantage. Gablenz sent his colleague, Alexander Koller, to chivvy troops up the road from Josefstadt to the battlefield during the Battle of Trautenau. Gondrecourt had pretty much already taken over for Clam-Gallas before the Battle of Jicin, drafting the plan of battle and directing the troops, but his status as ad latus rather than commander meant he lacked the juice to counteract Saxon Crown Prince Albert’s desire to break off the battle when the outcome remained still in doubt.

South Army had far more capable corps commanders, each commanding a smaller formation (three brigades, very little cavalry and less supporting artillery). Only one corps had an ad latus – Archduke Heinrich, in disgrace for refusing to end his liaison with the singer Leopoldine Hofmann, assisted Ernst Hartung at IX Corps. Hartung was a very capable soldier, but in sharp contrast to the title-crazed attitude of his peers had twice refused ennoblement. Heinrich, passed over for corps command, apparently was attached to Hartung as a punishment but performed reasonably well for his new boss, leading bayonet charges at Custoza and rallying regiments to resume the attack.

Heinrich’s middling success at Custoza would apparently be just enough to preserve the ad latus in the 1868 army reforms. The new tables of organization reverted to a more traditional structure of division-level commands in a three-division corps, each division having two brigades. An assistant corps commander, like his commander holding the rank of Feldmarschall Leutnant, would perform the tasks formerly assigned to the ad latus. This had the added benefit, in the eyes of the Austro-Hungarian officer corps, of creating more for billets for general officers.

Frontier Battles includes two of the worst Austrian corps commanders, Clam-Gallas and Archduke Leopold. In each case the Austrian player is probably better off if these general perish in battle, though a special rule allows for Clam-Gallas to fall into an alcoholic stupor and be replaced by his ad latus. The ad latus gives the Austrian player some organizational flexibility, but isn’t nearly as useful as the Prussian divisional commanders are to their cause.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold needs no ad latus assistance.