Saturday 3 August 2019

Turning the Flank at Reval: The Battle of Steppe Trails

The Estonian campaign must come to a conclusion at some point. Either the Freikorps juggernaut would run out of steam or the Estonian nation would have been bled white. That conclusion was to happen at Steppe Trails. There could be no other conclusion this day. The winner of this battle would hold the laurels and the loser would be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The ground at Steppe Trails comprised a small number of tiny wooded areas, little more than copses, and several low hills. There were no good defensive positions to hide in, so the Freikorps plan was to drive forward as fast and hard as they could in an attempt to push the tiny defending force from its positions before reinforcements could arrive.

They marched hard up the road (Freikorps movements shown by red arrows and Estonians by blue) towards the probable hiding places of the enemy and had soon reached them. An Estonian tank and armoured car showed themselves and promptly routed a company of Freikorps Uhlans.

At about the same time as the Freikorps armoured car spotted Estonian cavalry in the ambush at that north end of the battlefield, Estonian reinforcements arrived at the south-west, routing the second company of Uhlans and breaking a Landswehr company. Fortunately the machine-guns in the woods caused some casualties to the advancing Estonians. The Freikorps commander quickly sought to redeploy his troops in the centre.

As firefights raged in the south-west and casualties mounted on both sides, the Freikorps destroyed an Estonian armoured car to the north and drove the Estonian cavalry back there. IN the centre Estonian cavalry mounted a charge towards the Freikorps infantry and drove them back. Meanwhile the Estonians were marching forwards through the woods in the south-west and destroying Freikorps machine-guns and routing Freikorps infantry (look for the big chicken marker).

Despite their losses, the Freikorps sought to take the fight to the Estonians and continued to advance into the fire. One big push was all that was needed to carry the day.

Unfortunately, pluck and courage count for nothing against bullets. With all of their Colonels dead and casualties mounting Freikorps nerve failed. Half their army was dead or routed and the rest of the Freikorps took to flight. Miles from home, tired and hungry it was all too much for them.

Freikorps losses = 173 points (Flight Number 170)
Estonian losses = 136 points (Flight Number 205)

This game was characterised by some early good rolling on the part of the Estonians that saw a couple of Freikorps companies routed, while the Freikorps never quite managed to get the Estonians to rout once the reinforcements had arrived. They piled on the terror markers but not quickly enough. Had they done so, then the Estonians would have routed straight off the battlefield and the Freikorps job would have been easier. As it stood, they took slow and steady losses throughout and then failed their flight test the first time they had to take it. In the battle, the Freikorps lost 4 Colonels and 1 Captain to enemy fire, which seemed quite remarkable to us, not ever having seen many officers killed in battle. Still, it was an epic battle with an epic conclusion. The Freikorps fought gallantly throughout but the Estonians won the battle that really mattered and won the campaign as a result.