The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: September 2005

October II 1914

Entente Turn

Autumn came to France and Belgium in late October 1914; General Mud ordered both sides to stand down and the Entente, at least, obeyed her directive. Ecstatic Belgian generals breathed a sigh of relief at their reprieve and ordered two formations scrapped and two heavy artillery units rebuilt in hopes of rebuilding their diplomatic clout as much as their military firepower. French generals celebrated their newly-freed stock of artillery pieces by rebuilding three colonial cadres, a metropolitan cadre, and three artillery regiments. The French Foreign Legion combined the contents of several depots to rebuild one elite regiment. British and German forces remained unchanged as the Entente front ground back into motion.

With the Scheldt-Netherlands line well and truly forced and with the onset of poor weather, the Entente reshuffled its line again in late October 1914. Belgian forces found a larger role for themselves by backstopping the two British frontline hexes, both now field worked, and bringing up two heavy artillery units to guard the seaward approaches to Oostende from any German naval gunfire support for an attack against that vital, British-held port. The British likewise cooperated with the Belgians by bringing down and laying a load of sea mines just outside Dutch coastal waters on the other naval approach to Oostende. Aside from thirty-five miles of front line in Belgium, the French manned the remainder of the front with adjusted but broadly adequate defensive forces. The French know that the Germans can generate useful attack odds at almost any point if they shift forces suddenly by rail, but French forces using constrictive terrain and fieldworks in the mud have a good chanc
e to drive back any German attack that does not simply overrun the defenders. As part of the economized defense, several elite French units and some heavy artillery railed south to just east of Belfort, from whence they might be able to cause some mischief on what is by far the weakest (and least important) sector of the German front at some opportune moment in the future. Interestingly, while several engineer regiments moved into position for future work, no Entente fieldworks were upgraded to entrenchments; it seems that, at least during mud weather, such an upgrade would simply make possible an enemy attack where otherwise any such action would be more likely to result in a disaster for the attacker than in gained ground.

Confounded by mud when they had hoped for unseasonably mild weather, the Germans reacted sluggishly to Entente developments. Only two German armies activated and neither accomplished anything beyond slight shifts and the combining of forces for further conversions.

Entente forces exploited laterally or in the deep rear area to slight advantage in a few places but otherwise remained inactive at the end of October 1914.

 

Central Powers Turn

In response to the onset of the autumn rains and the lack of Italian adherence to the Triple Alliance, both Germany and Austria-Hungary acted cautiously in late October 1914. Two regiments of imperial rifle troops moved west to join the garrison along the Italian border in Dalmatia. German forces provided artillery and unskilled personnel to Saxon and Wurtemburger field artillery units in Germany. French forces, enjoying the lull, fed rested and healed colonial troops into the cadres of two of the best divisions in the French Army.

Central Powers movement during those weeks was toward one objective only: Antwerp. Entente calculations regarding the strength of their main line positions went un-impeached by German commanders, chary of achieving yet another AQ or a disastrous AR while hospitals across Germany remained choked with wounded and vital resource centers still lay near the front lines. On the other hand, the Generalstab still saw Antwerp as a vital objective both to collapse Belgian resistance and to free-up German forces encircling the fortress. If a great many of the best German formations concentrated against it, they might take the fortress in one fell swoop and without great loss, however the strength of the works and cling of the mud might hinder the effort.

The staff proved themselves correct; Antwerp fell to the Central Powers for little loss in late October 1914. Four corps of German forces with one battalion of Austro-Hungarian siege artillery attached, overwhelmed a weak corps of already dispirited (+1 morale advantage) Belgians in just a few days of fighting. Both sides expended ammunition prodigiously in the struggle for the fortress, though the Germans also captured a stockpile of shell to go with their captured Belgian artillery. German aerial reconnaissance achieved two “firsts” in the battle, with one element being driven away by Belgian anti-aircraft fire while the other successfully plotted the fall of shot for the Alliance siege train. On site German leaders proved too cautious to go forward with their troops (failed influence roll) but the troops themselves executed the plan brilliantly, especially with two successful engineering projects. In the end, 8.6:1 rolled down to 8:1 +1 and achieved a DL. German forces su
ffered 3-4-7 jager and 1-2-5 engineer regiments destroyed. Belgian forces suffered total losses, though they remained unisolated due to the errata allowing a naval element to a line of communication: 9-12-5 rifle XX, 2x 3*-5-4 frt XX, 5*-3-7 hv cav XX, 4-2-0 hv art X, 0-4 cons X, and 1-2-7 mot mg II. German forces added to their laurels by capturing the Antwerp industrial complex intact.

When the Germans seized Antwerp from the Belgians at the end of October 1914, neither the Entente nor the Germans could see any attacks in the near future – and both sides were correct. The next attack of the war did not happen until the end of December 1914, after the arrival of winter and the beginning of Entente entrenching. In the meantime, despite the best efforts of both sides to find someplace, anyplace, where an attack seemed worthwhile, the best efforts of the generals on both sides succeeded only in impotent shadow boxing on the ground and fruitless bombing attempts from the air.

The Entente reaction phase of the German II OCT 14 turn was brilliantly successful, with four armies activating and much shifting of units.

German exploitation after the seizure of Antwerp continued the pattern of preparing for the next turn’s reinforcement activities.

October I 1914

Entente Turn

October 1914 opened with signs of change in the air. The North Atlantic was rough, presaging an autumn not yet arrived on land. French forces rebuilt one each infantry and cavalry cadre, almost as if there was any chance that the French army might mount another attack in this war. German forces rebuilt their first Bavarian cadre and also restocked one each Prussian division and brigade with riflemen. The French high command scrapped a trio of brigades and disbanded two others while rebuilding three machinegun and one artillery units and mobilizing the artillery of three fortresses.

In movement the chief achievement of the Entente in early October 1914 was the removal of the Belgians from the line. British forces covered that withdrawal and the weakening of the geographic situation by pulling forces forward and eastward, into three frontline and one second line positions. The Belgians backstopped the British in another position and the French covered the entire remainder of the Entente line. As a consequence of this stretching, French forces left four positions in their second line completely empty and a few more decidedly too weak while still maintaining some frontline positions with the meager defense of as little as two divisions or one division and two or three non-divisional units.

The remainder of the Entente turn passed quietly. As usual, the Entente could not seriously hope to attack any German positions. The Germans in their reaction proved equally quiet. Three German armies activated but none could control the entire attack force necessary at any point; a couple of 3:1 -1’s or -2’s did not attract serious interest. Entente exploitation happened, but only in the tiniest of senses.

Central Powers Turn

The beginning of the Central Powers initial phase in early October 1914 brought less hope of progress than had its Entente twin. French forces rebuilt two cadres while the Germans rebuilt three plus a remnant. German forces also replaced four cadres, three jaeger regiments, and a pair of field artillery brigades while mobilizing the artillery of three fortresses and scrapping a lowly static brigade. The expectation of attacking the British hung heavy in the air, but it was the expectation of pain rather than of sure victory.

The sunset came remorselessly earlier in the evening as summer waned, and the nights grew chill as the German high command made final revisions to their plans for the western front in 1914. No glimmer of the City of Lights remained to lure the gray columns on into the heart of France. The Ghent granary was a flat impossibility and even the Brussels granary flitted away like a waking dream; rationing would have to begin in the streets of Berlin in a very few months. Even the naval armament and railroad center of France, the fortress and city of Lille, lay beyond probable reach of German arms, though the outskirts of the metropolis lay only twenty miles distant from apparently permanent German fieldworks. To the south, from the Ardennes to Switzerland, while local gains might be achieved, no affordable concentration of force could produce a breakthrough for German arms. With the impossible ruled out, therefore, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered his generals to conquer Antwerp while dr
iving to Oostende and then along the coast into France in the service of diplomatic gain and the naval war.

The high command could not obey the Kaiser’s orders without a massive redeployment of forces and immediately set that movement in progress. Gun crews and horse teams pulled siege cannons from gravelled gun pits around Maubeuge and onto roads leading northeast toward Antwerp. Two full corps of good quality rifle formations and foot artillery regiments left their nibbling attacks along the front from the Ardennes to Metz and entrained for the Brussels area. Shattered divisions from around Maubeuge slipped away from lines facing the French to thicken already stout forces confronting the British before Oostende at Brugge, to wage the only battle of the week.

The German drive for the English Channel met its next challenge at Brugge, where the heretofore unengaged British Expeditionary Force (BEF) made a stand against the gray tide. One corps of German forces, all that could deploy between The Netherlands and strong British forces dug in along the Scheldt River, made a gallant frontal attack with massive artillery support into rifle fire so intense that German intelligence believed the British to be deploying no less than a mind-boggling two machineguns per battalion. Despite massive ammunition expenditure on both sides, the British retreated deftly just before being decisively engaged by a successful German cavalry charge. Two German aerial reconnaissance attempts that failed to accurately map British retreat routes could be called the real culprits in the failure but the heart of the attacking corps commander was also not “in” his task of attacking the un-blooded British (leader influence failed). The 3:1 +1 attack resulted in a
DR which, for only the second time in the war, did not transform into an EX/HX. The Brugge Star medal would soon thereafter be awarded to the engaged members of the BEF who would go on to famously wear it through a hundred more horrible battles that newspapermen would not play up to nearly so large an extent.

The Entente reacted to the latest Central Powers attacks with characteristic passivity on the ground and characteristic aggressiveness in the air. Only one French army reacted at all, and it limited its activities to a slight shuffling rather than trying to achieve best-case 2:1 -1 attacks. British reaction was unusual, though still passive, as almost all the forces in the narrow salient at 0821 pulled back to the new main Entente line. Belgian forces, not for the first time, shifted positions to the new second-line, their last homes before the second-line shifts completely into France after any further German advance. In the air, French pilots took advantage of the movement of a machinegun unit away from the nearest German airship field and attacked the strip. Local ground fire tried but failed to drive off the repeatedly swooping French who caught several Zeppelins moored in the open and machine gunned numerous crewmen and several trucks, one of which caught fire and explo
ded two gasbags. This was the third consecutive combat phase without ground losses on either side and the first aerial loss of the war.

In obedience to the last details of their plans for 1914, German forces exploited together numerous formations due for conversion in the near future.