20 November 2010

Morale and other unknowns

Here's a good point well made:


I agree with the idea that the effects of combat on units in a game should mostly be morale effects; and that separating morale and casualties into separate tests is avoidable and probably best avoided.

That does not mean that there are not cases - many cases - in the war in which the primary effect really was physical. The 52nd Brandeburg regiment, for example, during the battle of Mars-La-Tour, lost a third of its strength mostly in the attack on Flavigny. In the same battle Cuirassier of the Imperial Guard lost more than a third of its numbers in a single charge.

Still, while dead men cannot advance morale is still an important effect. It was the remnants of the 52nd that the Cuirassier charged; they stood their ground and decimated their attackers.

Still, the morale of a unit is not always clear to its officers -- or to the men in the unit themselves. Patry, in The Reality of War, describes an incident during the defense of St Privat. His battalion was pinned down, tanking casualties but shooting back and apparently in reasonable shape. The commander stood, gestured, encouraged his men -- it was time to move into a more forward position. Party describes himself a standing up, certain he was about to advance -- then he and everyone else in the battalion heading for the hills.

On the other hand the Prussian Guard, which lost a quarter of its strength in about 20 minutes in front of St. Privat, and was pinned down for an hour, was able to stand and advance as the Saxons turned Canrobert's right and the French defense started to break down.

Here's roughly the mechanism I want to use. A moving, active unit accumulates hits which are resolved immediately and have their effects which may include degradation in capability or an unwillingness to move. If enough hits are take, the unit breaks and will probably just be removed from the table. Some hits should probably be reversible with a deliberate effort to rally the troops. Some proportion will not.

Once a unit goes to ground - either voluntarily or pinned as a combat result - fire will not cause immediate hits, but potential hits. Those hits will be accumulated until a unit faces a "test" - a "moment of truth" (I like the second phrase better, since it does not have the baggage of "morale test") and then they will be resolved and the actual hits applied and resolved. Potential hits may still cause effects such as a slacking off of fire (are they dead, or conserving their ammunition?).

I have two moments of truth in mind at the moment.
  • The player attempts to move the unit, either forward or back.
  • The unit comes under close assault
The sense I get from the accounts I have read so far is that once infantry have settled in, you have to use the bayonet to get them out.


  1. A couple of questions/observations come to mind:

    In the examples given, the casualties and subsequent advance or retreat after being pinned all happen within 1/2 a turn or less as proposed.

    Did the units that took heavy casualties and stopped, stop because they took heavy casualties or did they suffer heavy casualties because they stopped?

    Would it matter to the corps/army commander what casualties they suffered or whether or not they halted for an hour or would he only care after 3 or 4 hours that they either took the position or not and were capable of further action or not regardless of the mix of casualties and lack of cohesion?

    and lastly what would Arnot du Picq say? I see his Battle Studies is available from Pjct Gutenburg. Its been about 35 years since I last read him so I just downloaded the kindle version to my pc.

  2. Yes, I need to spend a couple of days at Dal Library sorting through the old manuals again. I had a number of notes about a year ago, but that shared project was on a wiki and the notes, sadly, are no more.

    Its a pity du Picq did not get to write a book after Gravelotte-St Privat. I have bookmarked the Gutenberg entry will read it this weekend. I am also working through Tactical Deductions of the War of 1870, which can be found in Google Books.

    Henderson's book on Spicheren is back in print, and I shall be ordering it next week.

    Your point about timing within a turn is a good one. I shall have to enumerate cases and see if I can find anything with troops pinned down for more than an hour.