The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: July 2010 (page 2 of 2)

The Wings of Revolution: Youth and Civil War

Born into a peasant home in November 1900, Alexander Novikov was noted as a diligent student.  Rather than work the fields, he became a teacher, and it appears he was quite satisfied with that profession.  It wasn’t until 1917 that the war caught up with his family.  His father had been a NCO in the Tsar’s army and was called to serve in the Red Army.  Two years later Alexander found himself called to duty, with the 27th PriVolga Regiment.  Evidently he drew the attention of his superiors, for in 1920 he has selected to attend a course for junior infantry commanders at Nizhni Novgorod.  On 24 May 1920 he was admitted into the Communist Party.[1]

Novikov’s Civil War service took him first to the northern front, and then to Petrograd, where he arrive just days after the Kronshtadt mutiny.  Novikov was soon attached to Tukhachevsky’s 7th Army staff, and saw the tiny Red Air Force in action against the mutineers. After the campaign was resolved young Novikov was posted back with the infantry.[2]  An instructor from his infantry leaders’ course had become Chief of Staff of the Independent Caucasus Army and got Novikov posted to the south. Once there, this benefactor convinced Novikov to apply for further schools.  He was accepted at the Higher Rifle School for Commanders where he won a drawing for a fifteen-minute flight. Novikov was immediately smitten with a strong desire to fly, but could not gain the permission of his superiors to become an aviator.[3]

After the war ended Novikov was assigned command positions at the company and battalion level. By 1925 Alexander had a wife Militsa and son Lev, and in 1927 he entered the Frunze Academy which he graduated in 1930 near the top of his class. He was then posted to Smolensk as head of reconnaissance with 11th Rifle Corps. Though thousands of heretofore ground officers were being transferred into the Air Force during the thirties, Novikov’s vision had not considered good enough for an aviator.  It took arm twisting by his Military District commander, but Novikov was reassigned as chief of staff of the 450th Aviation Brigade.  Initially assigned as a non-flyer, by 1933 he passed his pilot’s examination.[4]

In 1935 Alexander Novikov accepted a demotion to command a bomber squadron. This personal triumph was mixed with tragedy due to the death of his wife.  Left with three young children and now a squadron to command, Novikov had many responsibilities.[5] Promoted to Colonel in 1936, Novikov was caught up in the purges of 1937, relieved of command, and issued a reprimand. Luck had it that Colonel Novikov was found “neither a tippler nor an associate of women of dubious virtue”[6] and the reprimand was withdrawn.[7]

A former brigade commander was named air commander for the Leningrad Military District and asked for Novikov as Chief of Staff.  Holding this post during the Finish war, Novikov came in for some criticism when the ill-trained Soviet Air Force failed to live up to expectations.  Most of the blame fell on his commander and one time benefactor, Ptukhin, who was transferred to Kiev. Surprisingly, Stalin appointed Novikov as air commander for the district effective July 1940.[8]


Footnotes

[1] John Erickson, “Alexander Alexandrovich Novikov,” In Stalin’s Generals, ed. Harold Shukman, 155-174, (New York: Grove Press, 1993), 155-156.

[2] Erickson, 156.

[3] Erickson, 155, 157.

[4] Erickson, 157-8; M. N. Kozhevnikov, The Command and Staff of the Soviet Army Air Force in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945. Moscow: Nauka, 1977, Soviet Military Thought, no. 17. Translated by United States Air Force. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, n.d.), 68.

[5] Erickson, 158.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Erickson, 160; Kozhevnikov, 68.

July II 1915

Entente Turn

Given the relative lack of combat during the preceding fortnight, the initial activities of Entente late-July 1915 seemed a trifle boring. No British, German or Austro-Hungarian formations received reinforcements. French men and guns rejuvenated three field artillery battalions into regiments, a continuous process in the face of frequent conversions that robs the pool of equipment that might pay for substantial heavy and siege artillery increases. Italian men and guns rejuvenated three rifle division cadres into full strength divisions besides augmenting an engineer regiment into a brigade and replacing a field artillery regiment.

The only really unusual movement of the Entente armies in late July was the French occupation of the southernmost sector of Belgium. As anyone could predict, the Italian military reinforced and backstopped its western sector, putting paid to any chance of a quick German breakthrough. Beyond those moves, Entente forces largely contented themselves on the ground by merely shifting their balance for their next attacks. The constant shuffle of French forces – quality northward, liability southward – continued at usual. Three British Territorial divisions met their newly fielded artillery components and moved into or toward Italy in the beginning of a move to rationalize what had been an ad hoc deployment in response to Italian desperation. The British seaplane torpedo bomber group also met the Royal Navy’s seaplane carrier for a ride to the Mediterranean Sea, from which it could attack the Austro-Hungarian fleet if only the ships would come out of port (the British would far rather have that second reconnaissance group, rather than a bomber unit that will never have a target it is capable of damaging – the bomber having a printed strength of “1” and thus not qualifying on the bombing chart).

Along the Isonzo, the Italians struck their routine blow, this time in the sector twenty-five miles from the sea. Austrian entrenchments and the rough terrain hindered the Italians, balancing reconnaissance aircraft and morale. Defending flak sent one of three Italian air groups scurrying for home in an odd twist after the Italian bomber group missed the defenders’ ammunition stockpile. Odds of 2.6:1 fell by a tenth as defensive air support played its minor role but then rolled upward, after which the usual both exchange came to pass for the reasonably pleased Italians. Italian losses: RP eliminated; 6*-9-5 rifle and 7*-10-6 mtn rifle XX’s to cadre (love those elite X’s!) Austro-Hungarian losses: 8-11-6 and 5*-7-6 mtn rifle XX’s to cadre; RP eliminated In the long run, the mountain-capable Austrians may develop problems with replacing their losses in the face of the limit of six regiments of the type per month. This problem will not arise very soon, as these losses will be replaced in July.

As British forces again flinched from combat, their lone reconnaissance air group having failed in its duty, the French continued their Ardennes Forest offensive in sector 1219. Shattered woodlands and entrenchments assisted the German defenders to withstand the blow. Morale, reconnaissance aircraft, and two multi-brigade engineer escalades provided the French a potentially decisive edge in their efforts. In a “first” for the war, aerial combat at a noticeable scale raged over the battlefield when a group of French MS-3 fighters intercepted – harmlessly – a handful of LZ-39 airships providing defensive air support. The French also enjoyed their greatest amount of long-range artillery support of the war – enough to increase the odds by a twentieth (in this case irrelevantly). Odds of 2.8:1 rolled upward and a significant French victory lay within reach when the attackers proved only modestly skillful at the tactical level, achieving the routine both-exchange result. This would be a French loss if their morale weren’t so far above the historical. French losses: RP, 4-5 fld art [III] and 1-5 eng III eliminated; 3x 9*-12-5 rfl XX to 4*-5-5 cadre German losses: RP eliminated; 16-18-5 BAV rfl and 12-14-5 PR rfl XX’s to 7*-8-5 and 5*-6-5 cadres

Germanic reaction to Entente aggression in late July proved limited. Two Austro-Hungarian armies along the middle and lower Isonzo River failed to stir; Eugene sent a few reinforcements south from his sector on the headwaters of the river. The German army in the high Alps activated and massed for another attack toward Switzerland but paused at the last moment, realizing that the exact mixture of forces would make absorbing the probable losses highly problematic.

Given the relative lack of combat during the preceding fortnight, the initial activities of Entente late-July 1915 seemed a trifle boring. No British, German or Austro-Hungarian formations received reinforcements. French men and guns rejuvenated three field artillery battalions into regiments, a continuous process in the face of frequent conversions that robs the pool of equipment that might pay for substantial heavy and siege artillery increases. Italian men and guns rejuvenated three rifle division cadres into full strength divisions besides augmenting an engineer regiment into a brigade and replacing a field artillery regiment.

The only really unusual movement of the Entente armies in late July was the French occupation of the southernmost sector of Belgium. As anyone could predict, the Italian military reinforced and backstopped its western sector, putting paid to any chance of a quick German breakthrough. Beyond those moves, Entente forces largely contented themselves on the ground by merely shifting their balance for their next attacks. The constant shuffle of French forces – quality northward, liability southward – continued at usual. Three British Territorial divisions met their newly fielded artillery components and moved into or toward Italy in the beginning of a move to rationalize what had been an ad hoc deployment in response to Italian desperation. The British seaplane torpedo bomber group also met the Royal Navy’s seaplane carrier for a ride to the Mediterranean Sea, from which it could attack the Austro-Hungarian fleet if only the ships would come out of port (the British would far rather have that second reconnaissance group, rather than a bomber unit that will never have a target it is capable of damaging – the bomber having a printed strength of “1” and thus not qualifying on the bombing chart).

Along the Isonzo, the Italians struck their routine blow, this time in the sector twenty-five miles from the sea. Austrian entrenchments and the rough terrain hindered the Italians, balancing reconnaissance aircraft and morale. Defending flak sent one of three Italian air groups scurrying for home in an odd twist after the Italian bomber group missed the defenders’ ammunition stockpile. Odds of 2.6:1 fell by a tenth as defensive air support played its minor role but then rolled upward, after which the usual both exchange came to pass for the reasonably pleased Italians. Italian losses: RP eliminated; 6*-9-5 rifle and 7*-10-6 mtn rifle XX’s to cadre (love those elite X’s!) Austro-Hungarian losses: 8-11-6 and 5*-7-6 mtn rifle XX’s to cadre; RP eliminated In the long run, the mountain-capable Austrians may develop problems with replacing their losses in the face of the limit of six regiments of the type per month. This problem will not arise very soon, as these losses will be replaced in July.

As British forces again flinched from combat, their lone reconnaissance air group having failed in its duty, the French continued their Ardennes Forest offensive in sector 1219. Shattered woodlands and entrenchments assisted the German defenders to withstand the blow. Morale, reconnaissance aircraft, and two multi-brigade engineer escalades provided the French a potentially decisive edge in their efforts. In a “first” for the war, aerial combat at a noticeable scale raged over the battlefield when a group of French MS-3 fighters intercepted – harmlessly – a handful of LZ-39 airships providing defensive air support. The French also enjoyed their greatest amount of long-range artillery support of the war – enough to increase the odds by a twentieth (in this case irrelevantly). Odds of 2.8:1 rolled upward and a significant French victory lay within reach when the attackers proved only modestly skillful at the tactical level, achieving the routine both-exchange result. This would be a French loss if their morale weren’t so far above the historical. French losses: RP, 4-5 fld art [III] and 1-5 eng III eliminated; 3x 9*-12-5 rfl XX to 4*-5-5 cadre German losses: RP eliminated; 16-18-5 BAV rfl and 12-14-5 PR rfl XX’s to 7*-8-5 and 5*-6-5 cadres

Germanic reaction to Entente aggression in late July proved limited. Two Austro-Hungarian armies along the middle and lower Isonzo River failed to stir; Eugene sent a few reinforcements south from his sector on the headwaters of the river. The German army in the high Alps activated and massed for another attack toward Switzerland but paused at the last moment, realizing that the exact mixture of forces would make absorbing the probable losses highly problematic.

Central Powers Turn

Having not played our campaign in nearly three months, and not having notes handy, we began our latest session by accidentally re-conducting the Germanic reaction to Entente activities in late July 1915. The results proved eerily similar.

First, what happened the first time around:
Germanic reaction to Entente aggression in late July proved limited. Two Austro-Hungarian armies along the middle and lower Isonzo River failed to stir; Eugene sent a few reinforcements south from his sector on the headwaters of the river. The German army in the high Alps activated and massed for another attack toward Switzerland but paused at the last moment, realizing that the exact mixture of forces would make absorbing the probable losses highly problematic.

Now, what happened this time around:
Of all the Germanic armies, only two reacted in late July, both along the main front and both merely shuffled a few units out of the main line for conversion.

Entente exploitation during late July 1915 proved similarly unexciting. A few French specialist formations pulled out of the line to make moving to different sectors easier in August. Two Italian cadres pulled out of the line in hopes of receiving drafts of replacements.

The Germanic initial phase of late July 1915 passed with significant activities on all fronts. Italian volunteers re-filled the lone Italian mountain division with fodder and two French rifle divisions likewise received drafts of replacements to hang around their solid cores. Austro-Hungarian draftees plugged the holes in the structure of the lone cadre from that army while one Bavarian and two Prussian 16-18-5 divisions replaced their infantry losses and a 12-14-5 Prussian division did the same. Each Germanic power also upgraded a flak battalion to a regiment to protect the Ruhr zeppelin base and the Trieste fleet base, respectively. In the cases of the Austrians and Bavarians, these actions emptied the depots, while for the French and Prussians the actions drained a majority of the sparse remaining personnel from the system.

Along the main front, German replacements offset the removal of considerable forces from the main line as the German high command continued its effort to catch up with the staggering conversion schedule that is following hard on the heels of the previous wave of conversions that followed the previous plethora of reorganizations and upgrades. Of particular difficulty are Saxon conversions, as the Saxons have suffered disproportionately heavy casualties during the summer of battles in the Ardennes Forest. These problems again point out that when organizations face challenges they tend to reorganize in an effort to appear active, rather than to actually spend effort in attempting to actually solve their problems. The French ground forces are undergoing a similar trauma, except in that they are largely reorganizing trash formations into something every nearly as trashy rather than quality formations into something about as good.

Along the Italian front, the last Austrian unit departed the fortress of Trient while the great majority of Austro-Hungarian forces leaned further southward as another wave of units arrived along the Isonzo River to render the whole position effectively invulnerable to Italian attacks.

The primary offensive activity that the Central Powers took in late July was in the air. Three zeppelins arrived over Firenze, unprotected by anything in the meager Italian arsenal, and achieved one terror bombing hit. A solitary zeppelin squadron over outer London achieved no success.

Entente reaction to the Central Powers air actions should have been useful, or at least interesting, but the usual run of reaction dice “luck” prevented any such thing. The British in Belgium would have attacked, having moved forces appropriately and also preparatory to increasing the British sector and exchanging some forces with the British army in Italy, but once again the lone British air group failed to find useful targets. The British replacement rate is anemic and their ground forces lack a morale advantage, so that as usual when the airmen failed their mission the ground forces aborted their efforts too.

By lack of contrast, the Belgians and every French army in a position to conduct any attacks all failed to react. French armies near Switzerland and in the Vosges Mountains both reacted and conducted a few slight shifts of units, but could not hope to attack into heavy fortifications and terrain with what are, even by French standards, strictly third-line forces. Italian forces along the Isonzo thought (wrongly, in retrospect) that they might attack again across the water, but both armies failed to react, as did General Cadorna’s headquarters in the mountains north of the river.

The Italian army on the east shore of Lake Garda did react, preparing its units for an expansion of the British sector to their east and to firm-up the situation in the mountain passes south of Switzerland.

The British army in Switzerland also reacted, removing some forces from the line for shipment to France in what was the most useful of the pathetic Entente actions of the phase.

The Entente currently expects the German hammer to fall next upon the Italians along the Isonzo River and Entente forces are acting accordingly. A wave of self-supported British formations is taking up the defense of Italy to the east of Lake Garda, which will leave one Italian army to focus exclusively between the Lake and Switzerland while four armies can concentrate force and attention between the British sector and Trieste. The Germans, facing munitions shortages across the West, seem to lack the ability to pound the Italians long and hard enough in the Alps to force a retreat or collapse and appear to be moving to the easier terrain further southeast – essentially pushing west through the Ljubljana Gap. For the Entente this reduces the chance of catastrophe but increases the chance of a slow death, but in either case the Italians need more help and the British are best able to provide it as their deployed forces undergo a steady increase. Specialist British units and fully-supported divisions, plus all the Canadians, Indians and other ‘allied’ forces will continue to deploy into Belgium and France, but the self-supported divisions are finding their way to Italy where each they can defend mountain passes alone or in small corps that the Germans and Austrians should have trouble cracking. Meanwhile, a second British army headquarters is set to arrive in France and will take command of half of what may be an almost doubled British sector adjacent to the North Sea.

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