After-Action Report: The Invasion of Alsace, 1896

A Remote Alternate-History Game

This was a remote game played in preparation for the upcoming "Let's Roll" virtual wargaming convention, to be held in mid-May 2020. There were three players and a game master, and the game was conducted using Skype and a wide-angle security camera. All the figures were 25/28mm, from various manufacturers: Ironclad, Hinterland, Wargames Foundry, Old Glory, Wee Wolf, and Prince August homecasts, with a couple of "Postage Stamp" diecast planes (1:63 scale) thrown in for good measure. Many of the figures required conversion.


The players were running a French advance guard, tasked with capturing a German outpost holding a pass through the Vosges mountains which would be needed by their invading army in a push towards Strasbourg. (The scenario - "Bringing the Lost Sisters Home" - can be found here.) At the start of play, the Germans had a single unit entrenched in the pass. The German forces appeared on the table according to the Viktoria! game app in coop/solo play mode (available from Application of Force), which was also the system used to run the game.

The three players were all French: one commanded two infantry units, one commanded a unit of dragoons and a unit of cuirassiers, and the third commanded two field artillery pieces, and the observers for a French artillery battery and the flying machine of the British Royal Aeronautic Corps, on loan to the French in case the Germans had any of their own (they did).

The French had to take the German outpost and occupy it for two turns. (The app will keep generating enemy forces, and they increase in number over time, so things can get dicey if you stay on the table for too long!)

Start of the Engagement

The French started at one end of the board (you can see the red tape marking the start line in the lower left-hand corner), and were soon moving forward. On the left flank, the infantry pushed into the rough ground on the hills, where they immediately started running into enemy troops: at first, a large force of German reservist infantry. In the middle of this scrap, a German surveying team appeared off to the left (they were clearly not expecting to walk into a battle, and ran for safety). There were three German officers of whom two were promptly captured, while the third fled.

The dragoons pushed forward to take up a firing position in the center of the table, sniping at the German outpost from a distance, and being sniped at in turn. The cuirassiers stayed back in reserve and polished their breastplates.

The French support units moved forward while their British allies attempted to summon the flying machine of the RAC, but communications were delayed by technical difficulties with the heliograph.

The table looked like this after the first couple of turns:

From the French rear came engine noises, up in the sky, but it wasn't the "magnificent young men in their flying machines" of the RAC, but the dastardly Boche! They flew over and hand-delivered a bomb onto the RAC observers, killing one (and possibly causing the other to to soil his knicker-bockers - the app wasn't specific on this point). They started to run for cover.

Here, we see the infernal flying machine performing the deed:

In the back, you can see the Poilus exchanging fire with the German reservists. Ultimately, the weight of numbers told, but the enemy kept coming, piecemeal, as you shall hear... The cuirassiers maintained their position, waxing their fine moustaches and admiring them in the mirror-like surfaces of their gleaming armor.

RAC to the Rescue

Moving along, the German flying machine proceeded to pay the reserve cavalry a visit, flying over low and interrupting their leisure. They scurried for safety in an undignified manner! Not so their commander: he posed magificently on his white charger as the enemy machineguns played around him, raising lots of dust but not touching a hair on his head (and making him wonder if he might have a promising future in those new-fangled moving pictures...)

Meanwhile, one of the French field guns had started shelling the German infantry on the hill in support of their comrades, while the rest of the French support troops moved forward to take up firing and observation positions with the dragoons in the center. There was, after all, a mission to perform!

Despite the technical difficulties with the heliograph, the message seems to have gotten through to the RAC airfields after all, as the British aeroplane put in a belated appearance. It handily swooped in to down the Boche craft with its rear-firing guns.

Although one of the crew members died in the crash, the German pilot managed to survive, and ran for cover. The French commander rode forward on his charger to capture the man for interrogation, but before he could manage to do it the aviator's head came off, the result of an impulsive sabre-stroke. (Ah, well!)

On the hill, the reservists have broken and fled, pounded into submission by the combination of French shell-fire and musketry. They are soon replaced by a patrol of German hussars, however - also reservists (raising the question: "What is this, amateur hour on the Alsatian frontier?") The cavalry attract the attention of the RAC pilot, and it moves over to bomb them. They manage to get off a volley of carbine shots, wounding the pilot, even as half their number fall victim to the explosives.

The Battle Concludes

On the right flank, a German gun manned by the women of the 2nd Lieb-Hussaren appears in the woods. It falls prey to counter-battery fire from the French battery in the center, and the French commander rides over to charm the remaining gunners into a swoon (although some accounts describe the swoon as resulting from blood loss, General de Brigade Laperey swears it was the combination of his white charger, immaculate uniform, and manly good looks...)

The enemy have started to arrive in force. The German outpost is reenforced by a column of infantry, but before it can take up position in the trenches the French heavy guns catch it in the open, with devastating results.

Meanwhile, the remnants of the hussar patrol manage to fire again at the RAC craft overhead, before meeting their deaths at the hands of the advancing infantry. The pilot is killed, and the aeroplane crashes into the mountainside. The rear gunner, however, survives, joining his allies with rifle in hand. They are confronted by a unit of dismounted female Lieb-Hussaren, lead by Kronprinzess Viktoria-Luise herself, but their desperate attempt to protect the outpost from the French flanking maneuver fails!

Meanwhile, on the right flank, the enemy are beginning to show in force. First is a small patrol of uhlans, which gives the cuirassiers a chance to show their mettle. This is followed by the more serious threat posed by a unit of veteran jagers, backed up by a contingent of regular infantry. As they approach, however, the continued shelling and sniping at the German outpost pays dividends, and the French press forward to occupy their objective.

A little more accurate fire from the French field batteries stops the advancing Germans in their tracks, and the game is declared a French victory. The field of battle appeared as shown below at the very end:

The cuirassiers have occupied the German outpost, and will soon be joined by the flanking infantry and the remnants of the dragoons, who are almost half-destroyed as a result of their prolonged firefight. There is no longer any chance for the Germans to hold the position, and their reenforcements have fallen back to regroup for a counter-attack, and a different battle! Had the French been any slower on the attack, it is likely they would have faced impossible odds.

All told, it was good fun. The pictures above were taken with Skype as the battle progressed - they show the table as players saw it. Thanks to everyone who participated!