Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Campaign Move 27 – Calm before the Storm

1600 - 2000 31 July 1813

Blucher inspected 3rd corps in the main square of Helmstedt as soon as they arrived from Brunswick. Just eight hours earlier their commander general Bulow had been surprised to receive an order from Blucher to abandon his pursuit of XIII French corps and march at his best speed back to Helmstedt. They arrived tired and dusty just as day was fading, and received an inspiring address from Prince Blucher.

All was now in place for Blucher to turn the tables on Davout. The previous day the Prussians had received a serious defeat at Wolfsburg. 1st corps had been smashed and lost half of their infantry and all of their cavalry. Their frantic retreat south to Helmstedt was covered by 4th corps.

Delighted with his victory Davout ordered V and VI corps to follow the broken Prussian army south. He was confident that they would make a stand at Helmstedt, he was also confident that he could defeat them again – just as he had at Wolfsburg. This would sever the Prussian lines of supply to Magdeburg, and would force them to abandon their pursuit of XIII corps. It would thus save Hanover, and guarantee victory for the French.

As soon as 1st corps broke and ran at Wolfsburg, Blucher was aware that he was in great danger of losing not only Helmstedt but also the whole campaign. He must hold Helmstedt to secure his communications with Magdeburg. Even as he attempted to rally his shattered 1st corps he sent orders for general Bulow to abandon his pursuit of XIII corps and his advance on Hanover.

3rd corps must retrace their steps to Helmstedt and arrive no later than nightfall on 31 July. Their march east would be screened from Davout by the hills in L7 and the woods in K7. XIII corps would report their march to Davout, but by the time he received news it would be too late to avoid battle on 1August 1813.

The scene was set for the second battle of Helmstedt.

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