The Entente initial phase at the beginning of August 1915 passed with considerable note in press, but with less heat than light nonetheless. French replacements re-filled two metropolitan and an Army of Africa divisions from cadre and also rejuvenated a pair of engineer regiments besides putting a regimental-group of siege artillery into the field. British and Italian troops replaced engineer regiments too, a mixed duet in the latter case. The Central Powers’ replacement system merely idled through the phase.
As promised, the British expanded their hold on the front line to include not only their fifty miles nearest the English Channel from Oostende inland but also another fifteen miles on the far side of the Belgian sector. In the rear, while some divisions marched northeast from Caen toward the main front others took train from the vicinity of Lille all the way to the middle Po River to replace units marching away from there back toward France. A couple of British divisions, en route, paused to provide momentary flak protection to Genoa and Torino as the Italian population grew skittish under zeppelin bombing. Many of the New Army divisions, still lacking their artillery components, widened the British role in rear area protection in northwestern France, taking over from various Belgian and French units the protection of coastal gun positions, rail junctions and the like, as well as manning trenches deep behind the fighting front.
The Belgian Army loosened its grip on its fifteen mile sector behind the upper Scheldt River in early August, preparatory to shifting entirely. The light division backed away from the main front, sidestepped, and began to replace French troops in the front line facing German-occupied Maubeuge. Belgian units that had been on second-line or coastal duty, including an entire rifle division, joined the light division in forming a corps under French Army command in a transitional arrangement. The oddity would dry-up as further Belgians were replaced by the British nearer the coast and could then replace the French facing the fortress.
The French Army, amidst a mass restructuring of its third-line formations and always reeling from battering its head against the German wall, attempted to take advantage of being relieved of twenty-five miles of front line positions. The beginnings of a wave of heavy and siege artillery moved into positions near the Swiss border; more could follow with the prospect of a serious French attack either across the Rhine River into horrible terrain or down the River into the fortress that holds inviolable the shoulder of the German line on the French side of the river. Beyond this, the usual shuffling of units continued in endless procession as first-line formations and specialists edged toward the Ardennes Forest – the most active sector – and less prestigious units trudged toward the relative inactivity of the Vosges Mountains and the lesser rivers in Lorraine and Alsace.
Amidst the increased restructuring of Entente positions, French, Italian and British forces also massed for battle on some common and uncommon fields. The British, for example, re-attempted their assault against the northern extremity of the German line in Belgium, and again cancelled their attack when their lone air group failed to provide useful reconnaissance.
The Italians shifted their focus from the Alpine foothills on the east bank of the Isonzo River to the flat ground nearer its mouth for their continued Battle of the Isonzo. Unfortunately for the Entente, an appraisal of the odds – less than two-to-one after the lone Italian bomber group failed to destroy the only Austro-Hungarian munitions stockpile in the region – made such attacking madness and it did not go forward. In fact, given recent Austro-Hungarian reinforcement of the sector and the fact that the Italian corps in the region are already at very nearly maximum possible combat power, it seems unlikely that the Italians will be able to attack again anytime soon. The river and/or mountains, the additional halving of Italian heavy artillery for its lousy quality, and the German relief of their allies in the Trient salient, have left the defenders far too strong now that an entire army is in the field, for the Italians to seriously threaten. Until something external to this front changes, perhaps German units in quantity entering the fray, or the Italians get a lucky break with their supply bombing, the Isonzo River should be a simple and quiet backwater as the Austrians are likewise too weak to seriously attack the higher-morale, field-worked Italians in what would be mobile combat.
The French, with many more types and qualities of assets available, did not go so quietly into the darkness of inaction in early August. The old Ardennes Forest battlefield of most of June was revisited by an array of French tricks while the gradually weakened German garrison of the iron fields around Briey enjoyed an attack from around a half circle of frontage by the most of the elite, some of the first-line and a bit of the second-line of French rifle troops. In the Ardennes, at grid 1219, two cavalry corps unleashed four brigades of engineers in two successful attempts that cancelled woodlands and entrenchments, employed superior morale and aerial reconnaissance that could have turned the attack into a solid victory, simply forgot to employ gas engineers in the front line, rolled a 2.4:1 attack up to 3:1, and then procured the usual BX result after rolling a “1” in combat. Around Briey, three French rifle corps simply massed 259.5 points of combat power, using aerial reconnaissance and morale to cancel out Falkenhayn’s inspired grand tactics and the defenders’ entrenchments – clever schemes rendered the mining works irrelevant to the battle – before rolling 3.2:1 downward and then rolling “3” for the usual BX result.
Total French losses: 2x RP, 2-7FFL III, and 0-1-4eng [III] eliminated; 2x 10*-13-5, 9*-12-5, and 5x 8*-11-5 rifle XX’s to cadre
Total German losses: 2x RP, 3*-4-4 rifle X and 4*-5-4 rifle cadre eliminated; 14*-16-5, 13-15-5, and 8-11-5 Bavarian rifle divisions to cadre; 12-14-5 and 7-9-5 Prussian division and group to cadre.
If the Entente could conduct attacks of that magnitude every single turn, the Germans would probably run out of morale roughly on schedule. The Entente cannot now do so, but the Entente’s ability has been growing while that of the Germans to resist has been shrinking. As with history, the participants in this game have no idea how things will end up.
In reaction, the Central Powers enjoyed near universal success in army activation, excepting just one German army that would have been very useful, but conducted no attacks. The Austro-Hungarians looked at an attack across the Isonzo, but when not defending their mountains would be even less strong on the attack than are the Italians when attacking into Austrian mountains. The Germans really wanted to attack weak Italians along the Trient salient but decided that the necessary munitions would be a luxury expense when the Entente retains as many as four combat phases before more munitions arrive at the German fronts – the manpower expense of abusing the Italians is barely a consideration, relative to munitions. In the air, German zeppelins and Austrian bombers inflicted no damage to Italian cities or munitions stockpiles.
After an underwhelming, indeed uneventful Central Powers reaction phase, the Entente exploited in early August 1915 largely as a simple continuation of otherwise routing movements. The only notable activity was by the French, whose high command ordered various technical formations out of the line so that they would be more flexible in the near future.
Central Powers Turn
Administratively, during the Central Powers first half of August, various French and Germanic unit commanders received allocations of men and material. French metropolitan troops fleshed out a 10-13-5 rifle and French Colonial troops brought 10-13-5 and 9-12-5 rifle divisions back from cadre status to full strength. Austro-Hungarian volunteers similarly rejuvenated a 5-7-6 mountain rifle division, as Bavarian lads did with a lowly 8-11-5 rifle division. A trail load of pack howitzers fresh from the Ruhr met their Berliner crewmen in the northern Alps to revive a pair of 1-7 field mountain artillery battalions from the Prussian replacement depot. The flood of German divisional reorganizations also continued its interminable flow and the very strong Habsburg force along the Isonzo River continued to grow even more unnecessarily stronger.
The Central Powers conducted no particular moves of note in early August. Reorganized divisions moved into the line; units scheduled for reorganization moved out – the process seems endless and the backlog always lengthens (actually, this reminds me a lot of the US Army Reserve, which seems never to meet a situation for which reorganization isn’t the chosen answer). Austro-Hungarian reinforcements continued to buff their front line, further build their second line, and finally solidly closed the theoretical gap that had long existed in their line in the central Alps.
In the air, in the continuation of what may be a winning Central Powers’ strategy, zeppelins continued to pound Italian cities. This time Milano took a hit. Austrian reconnaissance aircraft also braved flak at Venice to burn half the Italian bomber group on the ground. Simple calculations indicate, it is worth noting, that the Austro-Hungarian Empire won’t be quitting the war due to anything the Italians can possibly do in the next three and a half years. By contrast, the Italians are eventually going to be receiving German attacks on an industrial scale and, combined with intensifying aerial bombing (making a terror hit per turn ever more likely), are the likeliest candidate among Entente powers to surrender, especially if the Germans can push out onto the plains and generate some mobile combats.
Entente reactions to Germanic moves in early August proved quite a bit more spectacular than is usual in our sedate little war. True, the Belgians failed to react, as the British forces in Italy, while the British in Belgium did react and did fail their lone reconnaissance roll and did decline to attack, all as usual in order to avoid consuming their tiny manpower pool in a weak effort. On the other hand, a couple of Italian armies reacted to conduct a serious rationalization of the Isonzo River line, pulling offensive artillery units and specialist formations of the line and rebalancing the defenders with a standard mix of infantry and field artillery: the Italians would be flexible of direction in late August for any good it might do them. The French, naturally, conducted the only Entente offensive activity of note as several armies from the western Ardennes Forest all the way down to the Swiss border reacted successfully.
A mass of French forces, without notable technical support but with several air groups observing, attempted a blatant attack on what had been the heavily garrisoned Luxembourg City. The German garrisoned had thinned in response to pressure elsewhere and in witness to the strength of local defenses and the French sensed a rare opportunity. A defense of 57 points, with entrenchments, making successful use of the resource centers and under the guiding hand of Falkenhayn, neatly stood up the French attack. French forces, enjoying national will and aerial reconnaissance superiority rolled a 3.5:1 up to 4:1 before botching their chance by rolling a “3” and achieving the usual BX result.
French losses: RP and 4-5-5 fld art III eliminated; 2x 8*-11-5 and 9-12-5 Colonial divisions to cadre
German losses: RP eliminated; 12-14-5 and 13-15-5 divisions to cadre
To the great surprise of the French, the next army in line also activated and could not help itself from attempting a make actual progress at weakening and eventually breaking through a sector of the German line. Despite lack of aerial support, facing woods and rough terrain, with Falkenhayn making his sick presence felt on this field too, the French attacked grid 1319 in the worst of the Ardennes. French engineers could have mattered, as six brigades and a flame battalion succeeded well in their tasks, and French morale helped the cause as usual, but the French practice – inevitable if they are to ever get anything done – of attacking at risky odds finally bit them back. Odds of 2.4:1 rolled downward and with a net -1DRM a “3” brought a calamitous AX result, which nonetheless at least played hell with the careful German lineup for receiving a common BX.
German losses: (No RP used, due to the previous battle)3*-4-5 Wurtembourg rifle X and 3-4-7 jager III eliminated; 12-14-5 and 15-17-5 rifle divisions reduced to cadre
French losses: RP, 2-4-7 mot mg III, 1-5 eng III and 8*-11-5 rifle XX all eliminated; 2x 8*-11-5, 2x metro and 1x Colonial 9*-12-5, and 1x each metro and Colonial 10*-13-5 rifle divisions reduced to cadre
At least the next French army in line also activated and shuffled some units to minimize the immediate calamity.
Central Powers exploitation during early August 1915 did its best to cover the extensive damage to the defending order of battle in the area of Luxembourg.