The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: May 2010

July I 1915

Entente Turn

Whatever the state of the Germans, as July 1915 opened the Entente armies drank deeply in relief as gushes of manpower and equipment reached the front. French fortress artillery mobilization continues to provide extensive resources for the front, though the flow is soon to be cut off, and both Italian and especially French fortresses this month spewed forth a bounty of poor units and good ammunition. Factories too, and neutral countries, contributed some of their bounty to the effort – and industry is beginning to be a serious player in the equipment game. For the third time in the war, the Entente allocated substantial industrial capability to transferring rail capacity from Britain to France as French, Italian and German rail networks continued their slow march toward oblivion.

Depressingly for the Entente, the United States continued its balanced diplomatic status for the second time.

Portugal is on the clock and will declare war in October 1915, a long while after which it will eventually field a small force in France. They might be holding an entire hex in the Vosges Mountains by late 1916, if the Entente continues to dribble equipment into Lisbon in the meantime.

The Prussian depot in Austria sent manpower to bring a 5*-7-6 mtn rifle cadre back to full divisional size.

In France and Belgium, German activity was more varied on the same theme. Prussian manpower rejuvenated a pair of 4*-6-5 rifle cadres into divisions. Wurtembourgers flooded into a 5*-6-5 rifle cadre and Bavarians into a 6*-7-5 cadre, strengthening the German front by two more divisions.

Italian men brought a 1*-7 remnant back to full brigade size while others met at the artillery park to bring a 3-7 mtn field [III] back to life.

British youth pushed a pair of 4*-6-5 cadres back to the full-strength roll.

French men and guns did the most work during the initial phase. Algerians drew guns and mules sufficient to re-field a 5*-7-6 light cadre while metropolitan men met other equipment to raise 2x 1-5 eng III’s, 2x 2-4-7 mot mg III’s and a 7-5-4 hvy art III from the destroyed roster. Three field artillery battalions near the front received new regimental headquarters and more men and guns, to bring them back to full size after the previous- and in time for the next- wave of French reorganizations. More normally, colonial troops finished bringing a 13*-16-7 light mtn XX back from cadre status and metropolitan men did the same with 3x 10-13-5, 2x 8*-11-5 and 2x 9*-12-5 rifle XX’s.

The resurgent Entente then commenced attempting some serious battery of their Central Powers opponents, with the usual mixed success. Not far from the English Channel, the full-but-fragile British, without superiority of national will and beneath failed aerial reconnaissance, declined to squander insufficient men and never ample powder in a possibly disastrous attack. The Belgians, secure in their small but heavily defended sector and utterly unable to replace the slightest losses likewise declined combat. Not so the French, however, who struck in both the central and southern Ardennes in order to draw down multiple German munitions stockpiles besides maximizing chances for battlefield success.

The central Ardennes focus shifted slightly, as it has repeatedly over the past few months, this time settling at sector 1219. Woodlands and entrenchments shielded the well-stacked Germans, but morale, one of two aerial spies and none of one multi-brigade engineer escalades exactly balanced the scales. Odds of 2.3:1 rolled upward as usual and it mattered not at all – as usual – when a BX would have resulted either way.
French losses: RP, 3 1/3 morale, and 2-4-7 mot mg III eliminated; 2x 10*-13-5 and 9*-12-5 colonial rifle XX’s to 4*-6-5 and 4*-5-5 cadres
German losses: RP and 2 1/3 morale eliminated; 12-14-5 and 16-18-5 Bavarian rifle XX’s to 5*-6-5 and 7*-8-5 cadres

In southernmost Belgium, artists began painting authentic moonscapes as battle raged across the area for the umpteenth time this campaign season. Entrenchments and woodlands protected the German defenders while morale and a pair of paired engineer brigades contributed more than counterbalancing effects. General Falkenhayn failed to intervene and three air groups of French pilots managed to find only old craters. 3.3:1 odds rolled downward in a rare show but normality returned when the result would have been a BX in any case.
French losses: RP, 3 1/3 morale and 0-1-4 eng III eliminated; 2x 9*-12-5 and 10*-13-5 colonial rifle XX’s to 4*-5-5 and 4*-6-5 cadres
German losses: RP, 3 2/3 morale and 3*-4-5 Wurtembourg rifle [X] eliminated; 6*-8-5 Saxon rifle [XX] to 2*-3-5 cadre; 12-14-5 and 13-15-5 Bavarian rifle XX’s to 5*-6-5 and 6*-7-5 cadres

It is worthy of note that the Germans are currently about half way between their February 1915 and 1916 morale markers, with about half of the good weather of 1915 gone past. The Entente is making progress, no doubt, but the Germans are hardly shrinking at a catastrophic rate after having lost six morale points during one “best” Entente combat phase. On the other hand, the Germans are bleeding themselves now against the Italians and the British are becoming increasingly capable of landing hard blows. Italian morale is itself a brittle thing, especially as they must inflict about 100 morale points of damage to Austria before autumn 1918 and they look to pay at least 150 morale points to do the job at the current rate. French morale, on the other hand, soared in February 1915 to such an extent that it is difficult to imagine the French mutiny ever happening in this game.

Interestingly, the morale and national will situations are only one measure of the war and may be, in this case, a delayed indicator. Our current thinking about the Germans is that it might be a very good operational plan to withdraw from France and Belgium almost entirely, in favor of dramatically shorter and stronger positions closer to Germany. The Entente might then be actually unable to put together an attack with any chance of a DX and with every chance of an AX or AL, thus effectively ending the game in a Central Powers victory with Germany able to protect the Austrians and run out the clock after the Entente is utterly unable to sustain combat. This is the thinking because while the British are still fragile and the French are hardly deep, the German armies are noticeably wasting away due to lack of manpower and equipment. This may be magnified over Summer 1915 by a German munitions shortage after the Entente suffered the same in Spring and managed nonetheless to continue hammering away. German production, four RP in July that did not transfer, is hopelessly inadequate when Germanic consumption during the Entente combat phase of the turn alone was three RP; the stockpile in the rear areas will not long sustain the deficit. Meanwhile, as the French wear down the British armies are starting to deepen their capabilities and sustainability, particularly with additional corps and divisional artillery and combat engineers.

The Central Powers reacted defensively almost everywhere to Entente attacks in early July 1915, but pressed their advantage in the high Alps where the Italian defenders are every bit as passive. Along the lower Isonzo River, the Austrians shifted a few units to cover for losses in the continuing battle across the valley. The German army nearest the mouth of the Rhine also reacted, likewise by shifting a few units to cover weak points, but also to allow a bit of conversion and reorganization within units. With the exception of the German army near the fortress at Trient, every other Austrian and German army in the west failed to move as the war ground toward the second week of July.

In the Trient Salient, the Germans were poised to take good advantage of any opportunity and attempted to force the pass toward Switzerland at 3914. A solid attack here could be followed by another that might isolate the Italian force along the Swiss-Austrian border and then might even lead to movement that could outflank the Italians northwest of Lake Garda. The two-stage attack began in the face of mountains that negated German morale superiority and the first-ever (partially) successful German gas attack. Two groups of aerial spies failed to see many camouflaged Italians in their fieldworks, Italian reserves likewise failed to react in time and only one of three zeppelin groups attempting to reach the battle from the North Sea coast succeeded in buffeting through mountain winds to contribute successfully. Odds of 2.7:1 rolled up and a solid ‘both exchange’ met German hopes adequately. Italian losses: RP eliminated; 6*-9-5 rifle XX to 2*-4-5 cadre German losses: RP eliminated; 12-15-6 mtn rfl XX to 5*-7-6 cadre The result could have felt like an Italian victory, but for the upcoming second phase.

In exploitation, while the Entente continued its endless shuffle all along the front, in one place the move really showed strongly. A weak corps of Italians in danger of being cut-off by the latest German attack slipped southwestward toward but not to safety. The rifle cadre trooped gratefully away from the line as the other half of their small corps continued to try to staunch the German flood.

Central Powers Turn

The Central Powers initial phase of the first half of July 1915 passed in a flash as men and material rushed to the front. From cadre, many divisions were rebuilt: French: 2x 9*-12-5 rifle, 3x 10*-13-5 rifle and 13*-16-7 mtn chasseur Austro-Hungarian: 4*-6-4 rifle, plus a 3*-7-2 fortress brigade from remnant Prussian: 3x 12-14-5 rifle and 13-15-5 rifle; plus 2-3-7 jgr, 1-2-5 rifle, and 1-2-4 rifle III’s replaced Wurtemburger: 8-11-4 rifle Saxon: 15-17-5 rifle Bavarian: 16-18-5 rifle

In the Italian Theater, the Germans continued their assault toward Switzerland while the Austrians contented themselves with further stiffening of their front along the Isonzo River. The last trickle of Austrians also began to move out of the Trient Salient, the stationary artillery of the fortress being mobilized and the final static brigade marching slowly northward. In sector 3914, the few Italians in their mountain rifle pits faced elite Germans who struck with morale superiority, partially effective gas, successful aerial reconnaissance, and three groups of zeppelin air support. The Italians lacked even ammunition and in their dismay failed both to retreat their cavalry division before combat and to commit the tiny reserve. Odds of 8.5:1 rolled downward but a clean breakthrough was thwarted largely by German tactical overconfidence (roll 1) and a defender exchange turned what should have been a notable victory into a significant disappointment. Italian losses: 6*-4-7 hvy cav XX to 2*-1-7 cadre; 2-3-5 fld art III eliminated German losses: RP, 2x 1-7 mtn fld art II, and 2-4-7 mtn mg [III] eliminated

Along the real Western Front, German forces acted without any trace of aggression in early July. As many German fixed wing and rigid aircraft as possible flew over the Alps against the Italians and the tiny remainder stayed unemployed while the absence of gas engineers and much in the way of ammunition stayed any offensive impulse. In most placed, in fact, the majority of German attention was on solidifying defensive positions while maximizing throughput in the infuriatingly endless stream of conversions and reorganizations to which the German military is subject. The one exception to the general activity was in southernmost Belgium, which the Germans evacuated. The withdrawal was from a salient, thereby effectively shortening both sides’ front lines, but the main attraction of the move was to remove a common battlefield from the French menu – one upon which they had regularly feasted with odds approaching 4:1 and therefore with potentially grievous and endlessly expensive consequences.

The Entente reacted sluggishly to Germanic moves in early July. Eight of nine Entente armies in France and Belgium failed to budge; the exception merely slid a few heavy artillery units either out of the line or along it. Two Italian armies failed to react too, while the British and Italian armies in Italy that did react merely shifted a couple of formations each slightly forward and rearward, respectively.

The only notable activity of the Central Powers’ exploitation phase of early July 1915 was the first-ever Austro-Hungarian bombing raid against a non-unit target: the ammunition stockpile along the Po River remained undamaged.

June II 1915

Entente Turn

Initial phase activities during the second half of June proved intensive for the French and Italians. A vast array of independent French infantry formations combined with a small array of good field artillery to form some second-rate divisions. The best and worst of the French army remained largely untouched by this reorganization, but four divisions at the top of the “abysmal” quality list did disband into merely second-rate infantry brigades and some second-rate field artillery. The Entente equipment pool suffered a huge hit in order to field a second rate French heavy artillery brigade. A brigade of Canadian mounted riflemen arrived and went immediately to full effectiveness because they did not want to miss the imminent victory parade through Berlin (they also began selling seeds for a strange new form of tobacco to local peasants). French depots sent men to flesh out seven cadres of 8*-11-5 rfl XX’s and a 10*-13-5 rfl XX. Italian depots were much busier, replacing three 5-7-5 fld art X’s, two 1-2-7 bers III’s, 1-3-4 eng [X], 3-4-7 mtn lt [X], two 1-2-5 rfl X’s and 0*-1-2 frtrs [III] besides rebuilding a 4*-5-7 mtn lt X from remnant and upgrading the last weak rifle division to 6*-9-5 standard.

Germanic depot commanders stayed busy at a lower rate. Saxon men refilled a 15-17-5 rfl XX. Bavarian recruits did the same for a 13-15-5 rfl XX. Prussian schoolboys flooded to meet veterans in 16-18-5 rfl XX and 7-10-4 rfl XX. Austro-Hungarians from Vienna colleges rejuvenated both 4-6-4 rfl XX’s near the Isonzo.

If attrition is the name of the game, all that activity might indicate something. French depots still contain enough infantry to reform another division, but at least four chasseur divisions remain at cadre strength – so the French are losing steam. British depots continue to swell at only the very slowest rate and would shrink if the army even involved itself in serious combat. Italy enjoyed a one-off rush of manpower during a period of minimal losses and is still enjoying the fruits of mobilized fortress artillery, but neither will last long and every attack drains the friendly pool more than those of the enemies. Austro-Hungarian forces are still finding their feet in this theater; whether their loss rates will continue to be sustainable remains to be seen, as will whether the Italians can continue to inflict losses at all as the Isonzo Front stiffens. Wurtemburger and Bavarian contingents maintain their depots at marginal levels primarily through managing to only rarely be in major battles. Saxon and Prussian contingents, much more involved in battles, are once again gazing wistfully at empty depots, a sprawl of weakened divisions and a scattering of eliminated supporting formations. Given that the latest drafts will refill all depots in the very near future, it is difficult to draw conclusions from this situation, except perhaps that if munitions were not so scarce all armies would probably be shrinking at least as fast as the Prussians and Saxons seem to be now and the French did in 1914.

Entente forces in Italy shifted their focus during later June 1915. British rifle and cavalry units relieved Italian forces in several Alpine passes east of Trient and dragged their army headquarters northward with them. Most of the fast or mountain units of the Italian army not already deployed west of Trient shifted in that direction. Aided by those moves, Italian corps commanders along the Alpine battlefront rationalized and strengthened their positions, examining and discarding as flatly impossible several schemes for attacking German forces that would barely be considered a morsel on the front in France but are behemoths in this theater. On the north flank of the Isonzo River line, Italian forces voluntarily relinquished fifteen miles of trackless mountain, into which no supply line could run in poor weather, in favor of a stronger, shorter position; no offensive into the mountains in this area was remotely plausible either. Finally, along the Isonzo, Italian forces continued for a third week their cross-river effort even while continuing to bring up more artillery.

Along the main Western Front in late June 1915, Entente forces conducted no movement of great interest. The fruits of French reorganization continued to slide north or south according to quality while a few key units shifted to replace lost comrades in sectors of offensive activity. A couple of divisions of British infantry pulled out of the line to meet their newly completed artillery components for unified transport to the Middle East; other British formations relieved the French of a considerable stretch of the second line behind the Belgians and the extreme northern French front line. Army headquarters and transportation battalions moved few ammunition dumps from less- to more- active sectors. Broadly speaking, the Entente was poised for attacks and little remained before pushing forward.

The Italian command continued to hurl good men and faulty shells from obsolete guns across the Isonzo River during the third week of June 1915. Historians would later refer to more than a dozen Battles of the Isonzo – and this first one looks to rage continuously for several months – because the Italian and Austro-Hungarian force structures make the Isonzo the only place where a major Italian offensive could be waged with any prospect of avoiding catastrophe. Mountains along the entire remainder of the front lines make an Italian attack anywhere else a nearly guaranteed disaster (1.5:1 with a net -2 DRM is a short path to defeat) and the Austro-Hungarian military had to be bled before it could grow stronger. Italian forces assaulted Gorz under a strengthening hail of shells as their artillery became more comfortable in its positions, providing half of Italian combat power. A pair of Italian engineer regiments came to the fore with successful sapper escapades and the Italian air arm contributed useful intelligence that counter-balanced the rough and entrenched ground. Generals Cadorna and Eugene both remained too far north, near what had almost been a mobile operational area, to interfere in the battle. Odds of 2.7:1 rolled up to 3:1 and a roll of 1, with a net +1, achieved the usual BX even though both AX and DX had been plausible results.
Italian losses: 6*-9-5 rfl XX to 2*-4-5 cadre; 1-5 eng III and RP eliminated
Austro-Hungarian losses: 2x 4*-5-7 mtn X to 1*-7 remnant; RP eliminated
Italian elite brigades made the morale cost probably almost equal in effective terms and seem likely to save the Italians at least ten morale points over the course of the war.

In a long-expected twist, after an entire season of trying, the British air forces found some targets and the long-prepared Commonwealth ground offensive ground ponderously forward against stiff opposition. Flanders provided little terrain to speak of, while air activity countered entrenchments and two engineer regiments made successful holes in the front German positions. A German jaeger regiment pushed the odds down to 2.4:1 by entering via reserve commitment, but when the odds rolled upward anyway the chief effect was to make more dead Germans.
British losses: RP and 1-5 eng III eliminated; 3x 10-13-15 rfl and 10-13-5 IND rfl XX’s to 4*-6-5 cadres
German losses: RP eliminated; 12-14-5 WUR rfl and 2x 10-13-5 rfl XX’s to 4*-6-5 cadres
Rebuilding from this battle will essentially empty the British and Indian depots, but the core of the old British Expeditionary Force remains at original, full strength. Enough supported divisions remain in Flanders that the British might be able to attack again in this sector with an increased effective strength (these cadres replacing poor infantry and cavalry brigades among the non-divisional units in the corps areas) before having truly “shot their bolt.”

French forces struck again into furthest southeastern Belgium in one of two battles in the French sector of the Western Front. Woods and entrenchments protected Falkenhayn’s cleverly controlled defenders while gas, aerial spotting and national will aided the French. A two-brigade engineer attack managed to fail, but not horribly and 2.8:1 odds rolled upward whereupon a 5 resulted in the usual BX result.
French losses: RP eliminated; 3x 10*-13-5 and 2x 9*-12-5 rfl XXs to 4*-6-5 and 4*-5-5 cadres
German losses: RP eliminated; 16-18-5 rfl XX, 13-15-5 rfl XX and 13-15-5 BAV rfl XX to 7*-8-5 and 6*-7-5 cadres
The French inability to rebuild more than two chasseur division cadres to full strength per month is constraining the possibility of using the elite bonus in many attacks, the maximum strength of each French corps and the choice of units among which to take casualties because much, nearly too much, of the French first line is light.

The other French offensive was the routine attack into some sector of the central Ardennes – this time along both banks of the Maas River, across which half of the French force deployed itself. Aside from the river, woodlands and entrenchments aided the defenders. National will and a two-brigade engineer attack with flame support balanced the scales. Aerial reconnaissance failed to matter much but a battalion of long-range artillery and a group of bombers strengthened the assault ever so slightly, including by deterring potential reserve formations from entering the battle. Of course, 2.5:1 odds rolled upward and a roll of 3 resulted in the normal BX.
French losses: RP and 0-1-4 eng [III] eliminated; 3x 8*-11-5 rfl XX’s to cadre
German losses: RP and 7*-8-5 rfl cadre eliminated; 14-16-5 SAX XX to 6*-7-5 cadre
The Germans lost much less morale than the French in this battle, but the cadre seems unlikely to return from the destroyed anytime soon and the non-Prussian contingents are chronically short of replacement manpower. Equipment is the most serious Germanic shortage – for the Entente the most critical problem is shortage of explosives – so that the French consider the result to be something approaching even in longer-term effect.

The replacement situation of Britain, France and Germany magnifies the impact of battles north of the Alps, while flush depots south of the mountains make the much smaller struggle there into a merely attritional event. With this one strike, the Commonwealth reduced its striking power by a small amount in the near term and its sustainability by a large amount in the medium term. The French command will be able to rebuild a single division and is thus potentially vulnerable during both reaction and the next German turn, but has considerable ability to sustain the offensive over the medium term. Had they munitions, the French and British could do more; one attack would have been a DX had a siege engineer operation been attempted and even slightly successful. The Germans will not be able to rebuild any divisions in the immediate future and will doubtless suffer slightly stronger hammer blows from the more resilient French over the next reaction and complete turns. In the longer-term the German replacement pool and cadre supply continue to slowly expand with no respite in sight before winter, and maybe no respite in equipment forever.

he Central Powers reaction phase of the second Entente turn of June 1915 passed astoundingly uneventfully. All three Germanic headquarters in Austria and all except one north of the Alps failed to react. Seventh Army, on the upper Rhine River, reacted by forwarding three engineer regiments northward toward sectors where a huge river and vicious terrain have not largely squeezed decent units out of the order of battle.

Entente exploitation at the end of June was inevitably unexciting. A few Italians closed the front while cadres pulled back from it and a few shifts of units from sector to sector continued slowly. The French slightly adjusted in order to balance corps that in several cases found themselves suddenly flush with cadres rather than divisions.

Central Powers Turn

During the Germanic initial phase at the end of June 1915, depots on all sides flushed their contents as much as possible toward the front. Italian conscripts fleshed the only two 2*-4-5 rifle cadres into full-bodied divisions. British and Indian volunteers did the same with one of each ethnicity’s 4*-6-5 rifle cadres while Frenchmen rejuvenated a single 3*-5-5 rifle cadre; both British and French forces retained cadres on the front, more than a dozen in the case of the French. Austrian conscripts rebuilt a pair of 1*-7 remnants into mountain brigades while another rifle division and an artillery brigade arrived from Galicia to reinforce the Isonzo River front. Excited German volunteers brought a 6*7-5 Saxon cadre back to divisional strength in Belgium while others replaced a 3-4-7 jager regiment and a 1-7 mountain field artillery battalion. An elite division of Bavarians assembled in the Austrian Alps as the final act of the German preparation for Italian defeat.

At the end of June 1915, Austrian forces remained reactive on the Italian Front while the Germans there finally shifted from the defense to the attack. The new Austrian formations moved to the front and higher quality mountain units shifted slightly southward along the east bank of the Isonzo, to help their hard-pressed lowland comrades defend the line against what has been an incessant series of Italian attacks across that river. A couple of non-divisional formations continued to drift out of the Trient salient while the Germans there cast about for likely victims and settled upon the Italian defenders of the pass at 3911.

Given its location, the attack on pass 3911 could only be considered an attritional effort preparatory to more decisive actions later and elsewhere. The pass leads eastward, further into the Austrian Alps, where the thin Austrians declined even to defend in May rather than waste men holding roads to nowhere. The roads do eventually lead to Italy, however, and the Italians defended the region in late June with marginal forces, a crust slightly hardened by the elite half of the quarter-corps. Fieldworks hindered the Germans in theory while German morale and elite status counteracted the mountains. German aerial spotting balanced Italian elite status and German gas troops retained their perfect record of failure to matter, setting a notable record of improbable consistency so that the attack went in with a slight Italian advantage. Odds of 2.6:1 rolled upward and the standard BX caused the Germans to heave a sigh of relief; taking the position through an AX would have been too bloody a victory by far.
German losses: RP eliminated; 12-15-5 Prussian mtn rifle XX to 5*-7-6 cadre
Italian losses: RP, 2-7 mtn fld art III and 2-3-7 mtn lt [X] eliminated; 4*-5-7 mtn lt X to 1*-7 remnant

In France and Belgium, German armies moved only to shore up their positions in the wake of two months of incessant French and a rare British attack. The Prussians had only two divisions and about a dozen regiments in the replacement pool, but the supply of cadres active in the front lines was ample; they no longer merely stacked as non-divisional units for added punch, rather a pair of full divisions backed by cadres and artillery was often the defense even in sectors where French attacks are routine. Being at the end of a production cycle, the Germans had no good options and resorted to mere shuffling of weakness to non-critical sectors and hoping for bad French reaction rolls.

Germanic hope for Entente inebriation came to be justified as Entente commanders all along the front sensed German weakness and celebrated victory rather than attempting to make it reality. British forces in the Alps consolidated their hold on the fifty miles of front east of Trient, and Italian forces to their east shuffled units here and there, but in every sector where Entente forces might have attacked the armies failed to act. Given the temporarily anemic German situation and the upcoming Entente production and refreshment, a couple of stiff attacks by the French and British here might have actually forced the Germans to backpedal in Belgium in July – but it was not to be. Italian pressure on the Austrians would have been merely attritional, but even that longer-term progress was too much to ask for.