Battle of 1866: Blood&Iron
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Battles of 1866: Frontier Battles holds a special place at Avalanche Press; its release in 2012 marked the arrival of the New Avalanche Press and we’ve kept it in the New Releases column on the front page of our website ever since, even as many other books and games have been released.
I’d always planned to add a supplement to the game, one based on Bavarian plans to march north and add their army’s strength to that of Ludwig von Benedek’s Austrian North Army. This is the item I had in mind when we laid out plans for a new type of small game expansion set: a 32-page book with full-color cover plus a half-sized sheet of die-cut, silky-smooth playing pieces (a few of them have more than that, but that’s the standard for which we aim).
Battles of 1866: Blood & Iron is built around the proposal Bavarian chief of staff Ludwig von der Tann presented to the Austrian military leadership in June of 1866. He received a positive reception in Vienna, but when he went on to North Army headquarters to meet with Benedek the Austrian commander turned him down, apparently concerned about the ability of his army’s logistical train to support an additional unexpected 40,000 to 60,000 troops. When he tried to reverse himself later, the Bavarians had already committed themselves to a rather pointless march into central Germany.
Under Von der Tann’s plan, the Bavarians along with the brigade from Hesse-Nassau would join up with the Royal Saxon Army Corps to form the left wing of the Allied forces and face the Prussians along the Iser River in north-western Bohemia. Benedek’s deployment had his oversized I Corps stationed there with strong cavalry support; the Austrians could either leave them there to join the German divisions or move them eastward to link up with the rest of the Austrian forces.
The Bavarian general pointed out some places where the Allied army might stand and fight the Prussian invaders, including the area around Jicin. He seems to have preferred to fight a little to the west, along the Iser River line. But since we have a map of the Jicin battlefield in Frontier Battles and not one of the Iser (skirmishes occurred there in the actual 1866 campaign, but not a full-scale battle worth re-creating at the game’s scale), the scenarios in Blood & Iron take place on the Jicin map.
The Bavarian Army is fairly large, organized into four infantry divisions, each with two infantry brigades, plus a small cavalry division. At first glance that’s about the equivalent of two Austrian infantry corps, but the Bavarians have a number of weaknesses. Their infantry brigades are smaller than those of the Austrians or Prussians and thus have fewer steps; their morale is only middling. The Bavarian cavalry and artillery is about on an equal footing with that of the Prussians (that’s to say, not very good). The infantry is armed with muzzle-loading rifles, but is not subject to the Frontier Battles special rules requiring Austrian brigades to launch bayonet charges at nearby Prussians whether the player/commander wills it so or not.
Bavarian leadership is indifferent at best; while Von der Tann is a very good officer he’s only the army chief of staff in most scenarios, with the elderly and overly-cautious Prince Karl of Bavaria actually leading the army. The Bavarians have no corps-level leaders to help direct the troops; the army commander must deal directly with his four division commanders, none of whom are particularly good at their jobs.
The Prussians fight the Jicin scenarios of Frontier Battles with two infantry divisions; Blood&Iron adds a third which did not make it to the battlefield in time for the actual clash at Jicin. It’s a standard Prussian division, with high morale and firepower, and it’s led by one of the better Prussian generals in the Battles of 1866 series.
There are six scenarios in Blood&Iron: a Prussian assault on the Bavarian army holding the Jicin position, pretty similar to the Frontier Battles Jicin historical scenario. There’s a meeting engagement where Prussians and Bavarians race to seize the high ground, and one where the Prussians have gotten there first and it’s up to the Bavarians to eject them. The other three study varying levels of Austrian commitment, as discussed by Von der Tann and Benedek in June 1866.
Back in 2012 we briefly issued a special download for the Gold Club, a Frontier Battles expansion set on a similar theme. Blood&Iron of course has “real” playing pieces, and a somewhat different approach with more scenarios. I’ve also changed my view since then regarding the likely Prussian commitment of additional troops at Jicin; had the Prussian First Army untangled its order of march in time to bring more forces to bear Fransecky’s division more than likely would have been the next formation to reach the scene of the fighting (the download version gave the Prussians an additional cavalry divisions, which are neither very good nor very useful).
While we’ll issue two more Battles of 1866 boxed games, they won’t use the same large pieces as Frontier Battles and so the maps and playing pieces won’t be interchangeable. With that change, I wanted to be sure Frontier Battles had its own expansion set, and we might do another someday. It also presents a chance to compare the Bavarians to the Austrians and Prussians in 1866; the Royal Bavarian Army did fight the Prussians, but only in a series of brief division-level actions not really suited for this scale (one or two “long” pieces on a side plus a handful of support units doesn’t make for a whole lot of sweeping maneuver). This set gives the Bavarians a chance to fight together in a full field battle, as their chief of staff planned and their king hoped.
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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.