The poor weather of autumn 1915 and winter and spring of 1916 passed by with plentiful misery but minimal losses as the players agreed to “fast forward” the turns of poor weather in the interests of sanity and efficiency. October 1915 having ended with a British BX and French BX and two AX results, the Entente had little choice but to take a breather. The Germans, facing a morale penalty against the French and a weather penalty against everyone, besides having a serious accumulation of losses from a summer of Entente attacks, were equally willing to set aside offensive actions. Neither side expects to have enough force to attack continuously throughout summer 1916, so there was no reason to spend those resources less effectively even sooner. After mud came late and then frost failed to materialize in December, the period of combat-impeding weather was uninterrupted through six months.
One exceptionally interesting thing did happen at the very beginning of the season, however: the Entente declared war against The Netherlands. The logic is straightforward: the Germans will run out of food sooner and thus suffer more morale point losses earlier in the war if the Entente is at war against food-selling Dutch than if they are merely collaterally blockaded as was historical. The Entente in this game is confident that a historically-timed German surrender will be impractical to achieve and any advantage in this regard is wholly welcome. Two downsides, various Entente ships and units going to Indonesia for some time, are truly minor. The downside of facing the army of The Netherlands on the battlefield in Europe appears minor, as they are roughly as strong in their individual units as is Italy’s army and if given a sector might actually make an Entente breakthrough more likely than would the same area under the German thumb. Finally, the enlarged Central Powers coastline will be more vulnerable to amphibious assault, which is largely to say that the Germans will probably commit a few units to help the Dutch wholly prevent the English ever trying anything in that regard. Unlike this same potential decision in 1914, the players do not regard this as historically illegitimate because at the end of 1915, unlike a year earlier, the Entente has the battlefield experience to validate the player belief that any alternative must be more likely to succeed than the plan of beating the Germans on the battlefield.
Both sides, accumulating replacements and reinforcements through four production cycles without much loss, grew relatively flush with spare men and equipment. Both sides’ armies therefore enjoyed considerable enhancement. The following were rebuilt from cadre or enlarged from smaller incarnations:
British: 3x 1-2-4 flak III, 5x 10-13-5 rifle XX, 2x 6-5 field artillery X, 6x heavy or siege artillery units, 3-5-5 engineer X, 1-2-4 siege engineer X
French: 13*-16-7 mtn lt XX, 10*-13-5 rifle XX, 17x 8*-11-5 rifle XX, 2x 1-2-4 flak III, 1-2-4 siege engineer X, 13 assorted heavy, mortar, and/or siege artillery units, 4-5-5 field artillery III, 3x 9*-12-5 rifle XX
French Colonial: 10*-13-5 rifle XX
French Army of Africa: 12*-15-6 lt XX, 10*-13-6 lt XX
Prussian: 2x 18-20-5 rifle XX, 2x 1-2-4 flak III, 2x 3-5-5 engineer X’s, 2x 9-12-5 rifle XX, 12-14-5 rifle XX, 3x 13-15-5 rifle XX, 10-13-5 rifle XX, 5 assorted heavy or siege artillery units
German Navy: 8*-11-4 rifle XX
Bavarian: 7*-10-4 rifle XX
Italian: 2x 4*-5-7 mtn X, 7*-10-7 lt XX, 2 long range siege artillery units, 5x 7-10-5 field artillery XX, 9x 6*-9-5 rifle XX
Austria-Hungary: 0-5 RR eng X, 1-2-4 flak III
The following were replaced:
British: 1-5 engineer III, 4*-6-5 rifle cadre
French: 3x 7-5-4 heavy artillery III (another dozen or more still languish in the replacement pool, where they were placed by OB), 2x 4-5 field artillery III, 3-4-4 field artillery III, 7x assorted engineer III,
0-1-4 siege engineer III
French Colonial: 2-5 field artillery II
French Foreign: 3-2-7 lt III, 2-7 lt III
Prussian: 2-3-7 lt III, 16-18-5 rifle XX, 3-5-5 engineer X, 2x 4-8-5 mg X, 3-6-5 mg III, 2*-5-2 fortress X, 4*-5-4 rifle cadre, 1-2-5 engineer III
Bavarian: 4-8-5 mg X
Italian: 2x 5-7-5 field artillery X’s
Austria-Hungary: 2x 2*-5-2 fortress X, 2x 1*-4-2 fortress X
Several events and trends of interest reared their heads in the French Army over winter. The French finally disbanded the last of their zero-movement fortress artillery (one unit from each Toul, Epinal, Lille, Belfort, and Verdun) after onset of bad weather made German air attack against resource points implausible and the 1916 intrinsic flak table became more generous. Five Noir brigades went into winter quarters then returned to the battlefield at about the same time as active operations began again, but the formations were of such quality that they are unlikely to see combat anyway (they will mostly be in conversions later). The French received a flood of 3-regiment divisions, which will save them considerable morale points as the war drags along, but traded away all of their best attack divisions in a series of consolidations, so that the (fewer) best French divisions now offer a 10-attack strength whereas previously there were a couple of corps of 12- and 13-attack strength divisions in the order of battle. Being secure in their morale situation but being desperate for infantry replacements, the French now stack many of their frontline hexes with a mixture of units that include trash-grade metropolitan units for the Germans to (hopefully) attack and destroy, so that the French can first garner their special replacements and then scrap the units for further manpower (as they are not allowed to disband units with lower than 5-movement rates).
While the French waned, the British waxed over winter. The exceptions to the wax were two Indian rifle divisions departing the Western Front, leaving behind two cavalry cadres and a small host of replacement points which may be handy in the future but will not be soon. A light shine came in the form of the first two South African units arriving for service in France. Canada continued to enlarge and deepen its contingent of elite units in France, such that the British can now plan to make one attack with the elite bonus early in the summer of 1916 and probably another later, after accruing and spending special and regular replacements. The Australia and New Zealand contingents also began to arrive in France over the winter, providing further elite units. Between the ANZACs, Canadians, and better British units, the British can now attack with by far the strongest contingent of Entente rifle divisions to go along with a set of supporting arms still weaker than that of the Italians.
An inter-Entente effort to support French offensives comes in the form of long-range artillery. The French deploy the vast bulk of Entente assets of this type, but even the limited cooperation that the Entente is allowed makes useful small Italian assets of this type. In theory, even a brigade of British could assist the French without consuming an extra resource point, but the British cannot benefit from French aerial reconnaissance. Such cooperation is only useful in bombardment because of the morale bonus that applies in combat.
The Netherlands Army disbanded a quartet of immobile artillery units in favor of the Germans.
Probably most usefully of all the force structure changes, the first trickle of Central Powers 3-regiment divisions and “infantry” units began to arrive on the scene. The compact divisions will reduce Germanic morale loss per strength point while the tactically advanced units will eventually place the few German attacks on the mobile chart and make decisive action possible.
The indecisiveness of trench warfare meanwhile took a further turn for the worse as the Entente created many, and the Germans some, forts in place of entrenchments along the front line. The change is an additional penalty to the attacker in combat, but not bombardment.
In the air, the season began with a series of relevant bangs. French aircraft visited Koln and left a half group of low-quality airships burning, to which the Germans responded by disassembling and moving further away that airfield. French aircraft then managed to destroy a German resource point, which certainly matters but certainly matters very little. Zeppelins did less well in November, but did manage to hit London late in the month. British and Italian aircraft moved north, self-aborting due to transferring long distances but, at least in the Italian case, becoming so much more useful that the Entente player feels like a complete idiot for not having seen the possibility sooner (the Ca-2 is the only fixed-wing aircraft in the game capable of hitting with a bomb anything other than an aircraft on the ground by itself, and it can even do this strategically in poor weather!).
Air activity in December proved equally interesting. The Italian zeppelin force, two groups, actually flew point bombing missions for the first time in December, as the combination of calm seas and cold weather provided the combined force with the minimum 2-points required to get a roll. Naturally, their first attempt missed and the first flak abort of a zeppelin in this war happened on their second try, so that the Italian zeppelin force is once again functionally valueless. Meanwhile, useful air units went about their business: another German zeppelin burned on the ground, but the Germans tried and succeeded in repairing this one and also moved its base further toward the rear; a Fokker E1 was killed by a Voi4, costing Germany half a morale point; an MS3 was killed by a Fokker E3, costing France half a morale point; the first of a string of Entente self-aborts happened during patrol attacks (the only aerial defense against zeppelins, given the range-zero intercept limitation); the Ca-2 terror bombed Koln successfully; and the Italians and Germans both ended the air cycle on the replacement point ropes.
At sea, the British completed first the English Channel mine barrage and then a dramatically larger barrage extending from Oostende almost to s-Gravenhage and then back to the English coast at Lowestoft. This mine barrage is useful chiefly in blocking the danger zone that would otherwise make unhealthy naval activity in the Channel. The barrage potentially allows less-inhibited access to the coastline for Entente amphibious and bombardment activities.
Headlines, during the New Year, came from aerial activity. The first successful patrol attack against a zeppelin, over London, encouraged the Entente. The largest air battles of the war happened, and then grew in frequency and intensity, as did the drove of aircraft burning in front of fighters and flak guns and beneath bombs and bullets on the ground. By the end of the cycle, the Germans, Italians, and French all wished for more air replacement points and the Italians wished they had back their two morale points, lost to German zeppelins. In February, zeppelins hit Italian morale twice and hit but only ineffectually damaged a factory.
The February morale check proved interesting. The Austro-Hungarian Empire scored a bonus of 5/6 point, because the Italians have not had a plausible chance to attack them since May 1915. The French Empire reeled-in 81 29/36 morale points, placing them solidly in national will category five and making a German military victory imperative as a French morale collapse is probably impossible now. The unintended consequences of success include both the cancelling of any future French Mutiny, which will save the French 68 infantry points and plenty of heartache, and also the end of any chance of an Entente Unified Command, which alone could put French technical assets to work alongside the much higher rifle-power of British and eventually American armies.
In March 1916, in the air, events continued apace. The French air arm got slaughtered on the ground while the Germans got slaughtered in the air, again, by French flak. The Italian Ca-2, the only “real” fixed-wing bomber of the war (still!), scored a terror hit on Stuttgart but spent most of the cycle in the aborted pool through bizarrely lucky German anti-aircraft rolls that continue against only that one air unit and a likewise continuing counter-air bombing effort that focuses on it. Zeppelins went hunting all the way down to Naples to avoid growing Entente flak in Italian cities and came up dry repeatedly.
April 1916 witnessed yet more aerial carnage. The Zeppelins found and pounded Naples twice plus a couple of Italian and French factories. The Ca-2 hit Stuttgart again but the Italians ended the cycle at net negative-two air replacements, so popular was the Ca-2 with German flak and aerial gunners. French flak pounded the Germans down to net zero air replacements and the French joined them there as the host of useless French night bombers and observation balloons clutters the aborted aircraft pool.
On the ground, in preparation for the summer 1916 campaign season, various armies shifted their ground. The Italians entirely reorganized, with two armies on the Isonzo River, one army in the high Alps Mountains between the Isonzo and the Germanic fortress Trient, and one army between Switzerland and Trient. A French army moved into position adjacent to Trient around almost a circular perimeter, to prevent the German units there from breaking through the fragile Italians and out onto the fertile plains of northern Italy. Elsewhere, the French and Germans both reorganized their armies so that their most offensive units lay on rail lines and behind the front, while lesser formations held the front. The French heavy artillery train concentrated west of Metz in two full overstacks and as a large portion of three regular corps stacks. The German siege train lay along the coast near Oostende, ostensibly to make any Entente naval bombardment prohibitively costly but in reality with a more offensive purpose in mind. The British, being eyed-up by the Germans and evacuating Italy except for a few flak units, held the line from Oostende for 125 miles inland to southwest of Charleroi. The Belgians took the next thirty miles of front, in the Ardennes Forest, while the French held the remainder of the Western Front for the Entente. The Austro-Hungarian High Command, flush with assets after a season of facing no attacks at all, dispatched an army to hold the fifty miles of the Western Front nearest Switzerland, while continuing to hold the Isonzo Front inviolable and cherishing plans to turn the Italian inland flank there.
The ground war reopened in May with a bang and a whimper. Franco-Italian aircraft started by setting a German ammunition dump alight successfully, but a second resource point did not chain-react with the first and follow-on French missions missed their targets. The British then scored the bi-weekly whimper by failing their pair of reconnaissance rolls and non-conducting their hoped-for attack. In the air at the front, two German and one French air groups became aborted, potentially stretching the new cycle’s air replacement point supply but not inhibiting ground activity, which began with a massive French assault on the huge iron mine complex around Briey.
The French assault on Briey was for the history books in every way except the completely normal final outcome. Successful reconnaissance enabled the most successful bombardment of the war to date, with the French spending two resource points for well over 200 regimental equivalents of artillery ammunition (artillery consume double their size, overstacked units also consume double their size) and scoring 17 bombardment hits despite the fort and resource center in the hex. Combat effects included the French national will bonus and one of two engineering attempts, unbalanced against the resource center, the fort, and defending gas engineers who reacted into the hex. Another engineer attempt failed, as did leaders from both sides and the French gas engineers. German siege engineers reacted into the hex and French siege engineers did not attempt a sap as the 1-in-3 chance to self-eliminate two months of engineer replacements while expending a resource point seemed horribly unwise. Defensive air support slightly bolstered the defenders, but the attack went in at 3.1:1 regardless, due to the massive bombardment. The French naturally continued to bungle what was certainly among their best attacks of the war to date, rolling downward and then rolling just barely well enough to avoid an AX.
French losses: 3x RP, 2-5 field artillery II (COL), and 0-1-4 eng III eliminated; 2x 10*-13-5, 3x 8*-11-5, 10*-13-5 rifle (COL), and 9*-12-5 rifle XX’s all reduced to cadre
German losses: RP and 2-3-5 field artillery III eliminated; 2x 9-12-5 rifle, 7-10-4 rifle (BAV), 12-14-5 rifle, and 13-15-5 rifle XX’s reduced to cadre
The French are happy enough to have escaped an AX, but this is the best the Entente can do and it is not close to being good enough to defeat the German armies before the Entente runs out of men.
In reaction, zeppelins hit Roma, which they hit again during the Central Powers’ half of the turn besides also hitting an Italian factory and London once each. The Italians teeter a fraction of a morale point from dropping their national will to two, which will be the cue of German ground forces to begin to grind them to dust.
During the Germanic half of the turn, the Germans replaced the Dutch along the coastal front line and threw everything they had at the British in Oostende. The first German bombardment of the war became the first bombardment of the war not to “waste” the last hit, all nine of which did effective damage and cut the British defense by almost half its strength. British reserves failed to commit, as one expects of Entente forces. The first German gas use bonus gained the Germans a bonus for gas effects, but their two engineering attempts both failed, so that canals and entrenchments cancelled gas and reconnaissance. The odds, a 5.4:1 that the Entente cannot imagine achieving, rolled upward and the Germans were set for a major victory only to manage a BX.
German losses: 2x RP eliminated; 18-20-5 rifle and 15-17-5 rifle XX’s to cadre
British losses: RP eliminated; 3x 9-12-5 rifle XX’s to cadre
In repost, Entente disappointments continued as German flak aborted two more French aircraft and all the remaining Entente air assets missed or were returned. The Entente ground forces might have attacked, but every single army headquarters where an attack was plausible failed to react.