In the early 1980s I was living in (what was then) West Germany. Once, when my young children were going outside to play, I overheard my German mother-in-law warn them not to stray too far from the house “or the Swedes will get you.” She had no idea of the origin of the saying, it was just one of those things that had passed down the centuries from the trauma of the Thirty Years War (1618-48).
A couple of days ago I was one of those Swedes as we re-fought the Battle of Lützen (1632), appropriately socially distanced on the tabletop and via Zoom.
Wallenstein’s Imperialists had a strong centre protected by a ditch (represented by earthworks on the table). Their right was anchored by the town of Lützen but their left was relatively open.
Our plan was to pin the imperialist centre with a thin line of foot.
Strike hard and fast on our right with a large cavalry force led by Gustavus Adolphus himself, supported by a brigade of German, Swedish and Scottish foot.
We knew that Pappenheim would be arriving with Imperial reinforcements at some point but neither we nor the Imperialist players knew when. An average die was secretly rolled at the start of the game and kept under wraps until the 6th turn. We were lucky. When the die was revealed it told us that it would take another 5 turns before Pappenheim arrived.
The cavalry action on our right was fast and furious, swaying back and forth as lines of horse passed through each other. Turn after turn almost every unit on that wing was engaged in one way or another. Leading charge after charge, Gustavus was wounded but managed to stay on the fight (unlike the historical Gustavus who was killed).
The Imperialist had the better of the initial cavalry clashes but the tide turned when a unit of Imperialist cuirassiers, led in person by Heinrich Holk, was charged from two sides, The cuirassiers were routed and Holk was killed. This broke the morale of the Imperialist cavalry and advantage passed to the Swedes who began to turn the enemy left flank.
Meanwhile the Swedish foot attempted to close with the Imperialist foot holding their left. Met with a withering fire from guns and muskets, the first line of Saxons were driven back. The second line of Swedes met a similar fate.
As the third line of Swedish foot closed on the ditch, the Swedish cavalry had cleared enough ground to allow two additional battalions to start to work their way around the flank.
The Imperialists sent in a regiment of cuirassiers to block the gap but they were destroyed by a combination of fire from the Scottish foot and a flank attack from Swedish horse.
The Swedish cavalry on the other wing were roughly handled by the Imperialist cavalry. Bereft of cavalry support, the Swedish foot moved to successfully refuse their left flank.
As Pappenheim’s reinforcements finally arrived the Swedes had managed to turn the Imperialist left.
At this point Wallenstein decided that it was time to withdraw from the field of battle and King Gustavus lived to fight another day.