Initial phase activities in late July 1916 comprised the usual recovery from the ravages of combat.
Prussian recruits refilled two 13-15-5 rfl XX’s from cadre
Bavarian recruits did likewise with an 11-13-5 rfl XX
British pilots ferried two half-groups of aircraft across the Channel to repair losses while Italian pilots brought half a group to Venice for the same reason.
French forces rebuilt a damaged air group and brought cadres of 7-10-5*, 9*-12-7, and 2x 8*-11-5 divisions back to full strength
British forces massed again against the salient, grid 0822, full of Germans lusting to get to Lille. British escorts killed an intercepting group of FF33h’s but the ground troops remained in their trenches after aerial reconnaissance failed yet again to find Belgium.
French forces planned to move against Briey, grid 1720, yet again. French escorts shot down half a group of interceptors that engaged the screen but three other interceptor groups blasted three half groups of reconnaissance aircraft out of the sky in exchange for half a group of losses to the Germans. Of the remaining two groups of aerial spies, flak destroyed half a group and the other justifiably failed its attempt to spot the fall of shot. The ground troops, sniffing a failed bombardment and the likelihood of an AX rising fast, refused to leave their trenches. The French do not have enough infantry replacements to justify making attacks over which reconnaissance failed to provide support. The French air force longs for winter and a reprieve in which it might get back to strength after only a few cycles of suffering no losses at all.
At grid 2218, the French also refused to leave their trenches. Interceptors sent a group of aerial spies fleeing while flak splattered another half group across the landscape. With a half chance of scoring an AX result, the French could not pull the trigger on this combat either.
It was in the Adriatic Sea that events of late July proved most interesting when the Entente attempted its second, and almost certainly final, amphibious invasion of the war in the West. The coast of The Netherlands is now garrisoned and fortified adequately to repel with certainty the minimal Entente amphibious capability. There are no amphibious targets within reach elsewhere, given that Germany’s High Seas Fleet and its extensive danger zones and coast defense guns could surely devastate any invasion flotilla bound for that country’s North Sea coast. Therefore, the current attempt at Istria is the final naval thrust of the war in the West, barring unforeseen circumstances.
The move began with British minelayers and Franco-Italian escorts completing a mine barrier to the west of Venice all the way between the two coastlines. The Austro-Hungarian fleet did not react to this provocation.
Two French battleship squadrons then engaged the Rovigno coast defense battery, silencing it after suffering one hit and one bonus magazine explosion.
The remainder of the at-sea fleet then moved to lay mines south of Venice between the more widely separated coastlines. At this point, the Austro-Hungarian navy formed a light task group and attempted to react, with a plan to use coastal waters to bypass heavy Entente units and get into a knife fight with the BB-free Entente force. The attempt failed and the Entente continued its careful push.
Some Entente ships at sea, with time remaining in naval step one, then moved to meet the transport force putting to sea from Venice and the fleet moved to land adjacent to Rovigno. The Austro-Hungarian Navy’s heavy units then successfully reacted and moved to attempt to get in among the transports. The Entente mine belt missed all six of its one-in-six chances to damage the enemy. The Austro-Hungarians would need to fight the coast defenses anchoring the seaward end of the Italian line, but not until after naval combat.
The naval battle provided fairly even honors, but from very uneven teams. The Austro-Hungarians began the battle outgunned by almost triple and the results pointed toward the disparity. Franco-Italian ships scored three hits plus two bonus magazine explosions in six shots at the opening medium range volley. Austro-Hungarian ships scored two hits plus two bonus explosions in exchange. The Entente then tried and failed to disengage but did open the range, despite being laden with transports. The second combat round, at long range with about half of ships not firing at all, left one more hit on an Italian and three more hits on the Austro-Hungarian fleet. Being at long range and having suffered considerable damage, the Austro-Hungarians then successfully disengaged, suffering two more hits from coast defense guns in the process. A pair of British torpedo bomber groups from Venice found the Austro-Hungarians in naval patrol and expert flak sent both groups running for home.
The Entente fleet then hurled 12 regiments of French units and one Italian marine regiment ashore while standing by for naval gunfire, both support and bombardment.
In an effort to help the new Istrian Front, General Luigi Cadorna ordered his army to attack in the Alps to pressure and distract the Austro-Hungarians while hopefully moving the line into a better configuration. Cadorna had been moving elite units into the area of grid 4107 for some weeks and they sprang forward into a rare attack in the horrible terrain. The enemy elected to keep the attack on the static combat table, preventing any geographic change. From three hexes, the Italians struck at the enemy salient with a modified 74.5 attack strength, yielding a 3.3:1 attack that rolled downward. Reconnaissance balloons, elite troops, and superior national will exactly offset mountainous fieldworks and the almost guaranteed BX came to pass.
Italian losses: RP expended; 4*-5-7 mtn X to 1-7* remnant; 6-9-6* mtn XX to 2-4-6* cadre
Austro-Hungarian losses: RP expended; 8*-11-7 mountain XX to 3-5-8* cadre
In Istria, the feeble French invasion force struck against the feebler Austro-Hungarian defenders of the peninsula’s only minor port. Both aerial reconnaissance groups outmaneuvered the lone Austro-Hungarian interceptor group, there was no flak, and the spies sent back good reports, so that naval bombardment by French heavy ships badly disrupted both defending units. The defenders lacked stockpiles of ammunition and the French did not need to spend much to maximize the mobile combat table even without using aerial bombing or naval gunfire support. With an additional bonus for national will, the attack naturally rolled a “1” which went up to a DR and then converted to the usual (in 1914 it was nearly every time) HX.
French losses: 3-4-5 nvl rifle X (while isolated)
Austro-Hungarian losses: 2-1-0 coast art II and 0-2-2* fort III
Given that this is World War One, it was inevitable that all three Austro-Hungarian armies successfully reacted on this turn of all turns. The Austro-Hungarians could send only the weakest of units into Istria, nothing like enough to attack the beachhead, but just enough to put a unit with defense strength on every rail hex in the peninsula. If the Entente is lucky, Istria will be another Gallipoli, but things could go much worse.
In the air, the German zeppelin fleet hit a second French factory for the cycle and visited Birmingham, taking only photographs preparatory to dropping bombs in later trips.
At sea, Austro-Hungarian minesweepers used coastal waters to sweep an Entente mine without risk to themselves but causing some risk to the Entente later.
In exploitation, Franco-British ships rejuvenated their missing minefield after dodging light forces and while using darkness to remain out of contact with nearby coast defense guns. The Austro-Hungarians elected not to react, as the transports were mostly empty and remained escorted despite the French also being superior and in effective blockade position off Trieste. The Entente also swept enemy and laid friendly mines in the vicinity of Rovigno before taking up stations for naval gunfire support.
Twelve more regiments of French troops landed in Istria, as the only land action worth mentioning at all in exploitation. The garrison of Rovigno was left weak, with Entente generals momentarily oblivious to the possibility that the Central Powers would simply rail down the length of the peninsula through several zones of control from the two stronger beachhead hexes lying toward Trieste. The French had hoped to exploit move into the center of the peninsula, to seal off Pola and protect Rovigno with assurance, but the lucky Austro-Hungarian reaction shattered that hope. It is possible that the survival of the Istrian Front lies with the possibility that the Austro-Hungarians and Germans either decide not to try to push it back into the sea, or roll badly in a couple of combats to score AQ results and allow the French to somehow cling tightly and just possibly expand their hold.
Central Powers Turn
Ignorance can be bliss. The Entente invasion of Istria immediately preceded a Central Powers initial phase awash in withdrawals and reorganizations that consumed most units not on the front line and copious rail capacity. The German reprisal would be much weaker and slower than the Entente feared during the previous session.
Italian forces rebuilt 4*-5-7 mountain brigade from remnant and 6*-9-6 mountain division from cadre.
French forces rejuvenated two 8*-11-5 divisions from cadre.
German forces repaired two and replaced one air group.
Austro-Hungarian forces rebuilt 8*-11-7 mountain division from cadre.
In Istria, the Germanic response to invasion ended up being immediately underwhelming. After much discussion and exploration of alternatives, another “first” for the war took the form of four Entente air groups flying harassment along a rail line in the Alps. This action left the Central Powers unable to usefully counterattack and the Austro-Hungarians instead fled eastward toward stronger positions, leaving only a stray regiment alone on the southeast coast unable to quite join its comrades in safety.
Meanwhile, the main Austro-Hungarian position from Trieste northward reorganized itself into a leaner configuration and its excess flowed south to begin forming new defenses. The last of the German siege train, the parts not anchoring along the North Sea or Adriatic Sea coasts, moved by rail to begin defending the coastal flanks of the peninsula. Pola, the Austro-Hungarian shipyard, naval base, coast artillery, and unimproved fortress remained behind, exposed, and bereft as its mobile garrison marched for the mountains; this is the first strategic objective to be seriously endangered since 1914 (to the extent that the Austro-Hungarian Navy is a strategic force).
In the north, the only noteworthy Germanic action was a few Austro-Hungarian units pulling out of their country’s defense of the upper Rhine River, replaced by Germans for duty back in their own country on its newly expanded front there.
The primary Italian reaction in the Alps succeeded, with plans to continue their assault deep in the mountains, but after failed aerial reconnaissance that assault suffered cancellation rather than knowingly take a one-third chance of suffering an AX result. Four other Entente reactions in the Alps failed.
In the far north, multiple British armies activated, gradually preparing their sector for future action while also launching a bold attack on the tip of the German salient at Valenciennes/0822. After a three versus four battle cost each side half a group, aerial reconnaissance negated entrenchments and a two-brigade engineer assault provided a thin die roll bonus, but gas engineering and the resource center failed to influence the battle. Odds of
2.1:1 rolled downward and the British barely escaped an AX result. The BX was expensive for both sides:
British: RP and 1-2-5 engineer regiment eliminated; 6x 10-13-5 divisions to cadre
German: RP eliminated; 4x 13-15-15 divisions to cadre
Several French armies reacted successfully, also preparing for future attacks but immediately launching a one-hex frontage surprise against grid 2118. National will offset entrenchments while uncontested air action netted the French a die roll bonus and a pip of incremental odds that nonetheless rolled downward from 3.1:1 . With a 3:1 +1, the French could have scored a DX and naturally did not; the BX cost both sides lightly:
French: RP eliminated; 9*-12-5 and 8*-11-5 divisions to cadre
German: RP eliminated; 13-15-5 division to cadre
In the air, German strategic hopes were mostly thwarted by nature. High winds in the Alps prevented two zeppelin groups from crossing into Italy while a third group missed an Italian factory. Patchy clouds caused three zeppelin groups find and miss Kingston. Five air groups struck at a French ammunition depot, suffering only a single return by flak and hitting the dump hard, though there was no cascade explosion.
After the severe British reaction combat and an inspection of manpower stockpiles, German forces in exploitation shifted units to mix contingents within hexes as much as possible. Prussian manpower is almost gone and the Bavarian, Saxon, and Wurtemburg contingents can no longer be shielded from the ravages of combat.