Entente generals deployed to conduct two major and two supporting offensives in the West during Spring 1917. Regular British forces at Oostende anchored the north end of the Entente line, which in its British sector curved to defend Lille then face the ruined fortress of Maubeuge before entering the fringe of the Ardennes. Eight miles of Portuguese then twenty-five miles of Belgians, heavily fortified in woodlands and somewhat behind rivers, connected the British to the French. From there, French trench divisions held the line roughly along the prewar frontier past Metz, then through the Vosges Mountains, and finally along the Rhine. The bulk of French artillery and the empire’s first-rate divisions massed southwest of Metz to attack in clear country toward that fortress. Italians held a small sector from Switzerland toward Trient but third-rate French units in mountainous forts held the semi-circle confronting that fortress. Italian forces resumed the front on the east flank of the Trient salient and watched the central Alps from there to the Isonzo River. More serious Italian forces massed to attack across that river down its entire length to the Adriatic Sea. Canadian and ANZAC forces, with British supporting arms and reserves, occupied Istria, confronted Trieste and Fiume, and enjoyed a strong Italian corps anchoring their right flank. Entente naval forces stood ready with naval gunfire support on the north coasts of Belgium and Istria, hovered in the Gulf of Trieste, and continued the distant blockade of Germany around the North Sea.
Anxious politicians read reports of near disaster from the British in Istria first, as the grand offensive wound up. In late April, British artillery only annoyed Trieste’s forts. In May, British events took a brief favorable turn when three British reconnaissance groups dodged a group of interceptors and heavy flak to report successfully the fall of shot. The bombardment again failed to degrade the fort but scored average bombardment hits, seven, and disrupted some defenders. Aerial observation for elite attackers offset the fort, Eugene failed to intervene but so did British gas (May 1917 and the Entente has still never succeeded in a gas attack) and four brigades of combat engineers. One of two tank regiments suffered moderate breakdowns at the start line and the adjusted 2.2:1 odds shocked the British who rolled downward but managed a BX result after a moderate combat roll and national will superiority.
British losses: 2x RP, 4-6-7 CAN motor MG III, and 12-4-4 eng tank III eliminated; one each CAN and AUS XX to cadre; -2.67 morale
Austro-Hungarian losses: RP eliminated; 5x XX to cadre; -5 morale
The British clearly began their war of material with these casualties, deliberately suffering large equipment losses to spare their limited manpower. The Austro-Hungarians, relatively flush with manpower, continued along the manpower-intensive road travelled by all the major participants so far.
Cadorna, unhappy at his supporting country being given a supporting role in the Entente victory offensive of 1917, directed a maximum effort across the lower Isonzo, along the coast toward Trieste – and his troops responded enthusiastically. One Austrian interceptor bypassed Italian escorts and missed four observer groups, which dodged light flak in turn. The observed bombardment scored five hits in five 12-point shots. The aircraft also offset Austrian entrenchments while Eugene failed to offset elite attackers or two successful engineer assaults. Despite the river, Italian forces achieved 3.1:1 odds attack and achieved a DL result despite rolling odds downward.
Italian losses: 2x RP and engineer X eliminated; XX to cadre; -1.67 morale
Austro-Hungarian losses: 2x XX’s to cadre; railroad siege artillery III eliminated by ZOC during retreat; -2.33 morale
Prussian losses: railroad siege artillery X eliminated by ZOC during retreat; -0.67 morale
The rail line paralleled the front here and the unexpected retreat left the railroad siege artillery, on coast defense duty, high and dry as probably the first siege artillery eliminated in DJ05.
Italian mountain divisions and field artillery swarmed across the Isonzo to occupy the critical ground. The advancing artillery scattered badly due to the contested hex but the mountain units did better than expected in that regard. During exploitation, several fresh units rotated in and disrupted in turn.
British forces massed northeast of Lille for the second Entente supporting offensive, a feint. Distant German air units naturally flew combat air patrols intensively over the obvious site of the upcoming battle and British fighters intercepted the patrols.
British losses: none
German losses: two air groups eliminated, -1 morale
The French attacked the Germans immediately south of Metz as the main Entente offensive of the summer. French siege artillery faced the iron fields around Briey in a diversion so the Germans in grid 1919 enjoyed slightly less defense than in the telegraphed location, but the attack was not a surprise. In a complicated swirl of patrol, interception, escort, reconnaissance, and flak, the Germans suffered and the French succeeded in spotting. French bombardment, 14 shots at 16 points and 5 shots at 12 points, scored 19 hits, a touch below average, the first indication of disappointment. Petain and his gas engineers failed but Ludendorff showed to advantage in the battle and, with entrenchments, offset two engineer assaults. Aerial reconnaissance and national will helped the French, but neither tank regiment moved forward of the start line. Either an average bombardment or a tank regiment fighting would have lifted the odds, but 3.9:1 rolled downward and what would have been DX remained BX.
French losses: 3x RP and engineer X eliminated; air group damaged; 1x rifle and 3x field artillery XX’s to cadre; -4.33 morale; French National Will to Four
German losses: RP and air unit eliminated; 4x XX to cadre; 2 air units damaged; -4.5 morale
The French planned for the entire German air force to be committed elsewhere and pounced on the chance to concentrate an air-ground attack on the narrow front at grid 2118. Aerial reconnaissance dodged minimal flak and spotted successfully while national will offset entrenchments. The narrow front allowed only one engineer assault, successful, but Petain again did not help the effort. Seven air groups, mostly Sopwith wing-and-a half models, swarmed over the Germans, again dodging flak, and uselessly brought the odds up to 3.7:1, which rolled downward for the fourth time this turn. After that mixed result, however, the attack went stunningly well for another DL, though in this case the French did not advance.
French losses: RP, engineer III, and field artillery III eliminated; -.67 morale
German losses: one each Wurtemburg and Bavarian trench XX’s to cadre; -1.33 morale
Italian bombers and German zeppelins performed miserably during early May. The Italians fled flak and missed city-sized targets. Zeppelins over Italy entirely failed to hit because of bad aiming at night rather than weather problems or flak. Weather over the North Sea turned-back numerous Zeppelins from England, but one group successfully bombed Kingston, which the British mysteriously (stupidly) left bereft of flak for the first time since 1914.
In ground reaction, Eugene ordered a few cadres off the line for imminent rebuild behind Trieste. Italian forces on the east bank of the Isonzo stood too strong for local German and Austro-Hungarian forces to counterattack.
Naval reaction proved to be the most exciting reaction of the game to date. Before the Entente blockade could transform to meet the new land situation, the Austro-Hungarian Navy ran the gauntlet from Trieste to Cattaro Bay. The fleet put to sea at night and sailed northwest along the coast toward the Isonzo, near which Italian artillery units hit five ships but not the crucial minesweepers. As the fleet passed the Isonzo, three units hit mines before Italian siege and coast artillery sank the minesweepers and hit other units. Beyond the Isonzo, the fleet dodged submarines and steered around the Entente fleet to open water. One minefield remained and heavy ships nobly sacrificed themselves to preserve smaller vessels in their wakes. Finally, as light dawned, two British air groups found the fleet and torpedoed a battleship. A ravaged fleet arrived at Cattaro Bay without six NT, one MW, four TB, two DD, one CD, four PD, and five BB hits, for a total of -21.5 morale points. Austria-Hungary’s naval power is permanently wrecked but Entente naval units moving into and out of the Adriatic Sea will forever require heavy units as escort.
Mine damage to ships, damage to transport ships, and aerial torpedoing were all DJ05 “firsts” in this adventure.
Austria-Hungary in mid-May 1917 is approximately 175, 200, or 225 morale points from surrender and is thus a permanent problem for the Entente. Influenza will probably destroy 25 morale points and Germany becoming shaken and collapsing another 75. If the Entente captures all of on-map Austria-Hungary, the tottering Empire will lose 11 morale points for economic assets. The Empire will suffer 21 morale points of losses out of theater before the end of 1918.
For a few days after the Austro-Hungarian fleet fled Trieste, British landing craft poked around east of Lussin Island while French legionnaires seized the island off Fiume. A scary Austrian air attack did not save the island but drove the ships away before they could work their way further down the coast.
On land in exploitation, British and French siege engineers re-entered the line, as did French trench divisions, while most offensive units pulled off the line to regain flexibility for the future.
The Central Powers half of I MAY brought immediate and prospective changes to the front line trace. German construction engineers built nine exposed sites behind the Rhine River into entrenchments, proving the few over-winter forts to be no anomaly. Austria-Hungary evacuated the Alpine salient west and northwest of Villach above the Isonzo. A corps of Germans moved through Austria to backstop the position at Trieste. Several mobility-impaired units moved away from coastal duty in Croatia as if to begin conceding Dalmatia to an active Entente.
Replacement activities indicated strong reasons for Germanic caution in ground operations. While Austria-Hungary rebuilt seven divisions, Prussia four, and Wurttemberg and Bavaria each one from cadre, the Italians, Canadians, and Australians each rebuilt only one rifle, plus two French field artillery divisions. Thirteen to five is not a sustainable casualty rate for either side to be on the losing end of. Prussia also replaced two and repaired one air groups.
In Italy, in reaction, Cadorna’s headquarters adroitly pulled numerous divisional, engineer, and artillery units off the line to ensure flexibility for the continued offensive.
Commentary on the Game so far
This game is my first time through the grand campaign and I should more thoroughly caveat my pronouncements with the acknowledgement both that I can be wrong about my predictions and that I have been proven wrong about some of them already. As an example, I did not foresee intensive flak accumulating at every Italian major city on-map (Naples and northward) so that the Zeppelins would fly at night and score many fewer terror hits that what the rules allow in theory.
The game developed at odds from history for three dramatic and one boring reasons. One dramatic reason is the broken rules that allow invading friendly-controlled neutrals, which in this game the Germans can use to bend The Netherlands situation to such significant advantage that the Entente thought it wise to declare war and give that country’s military to the Central Powers rather than let the Germans conquer the country. The game may be developing such that doing it was a less good decision, but the Germans would still have been stupid not to conquer the place. A second dramatic reason the game is developing oddly was the Entente decision to invade Istria and the success found therein. That decision enabled everything that is coming in 1917 by smashing and stretching the Austro-Hungarians much more than historical. The final dramatic reason is that after early 1915 the Central Powers decided to eschew further attempts to move the front line forward – and very rarely tried even spoiling or counterattacks. This quiet was reasonable because of the offense-defense strength disparity in most units and the understanding that the only way the Entente can win the war is by breaking Germany completely, whereas Central Powers’ victory is guaranteed if they simply don’t utterly lose before the end of the campaign.
Not as dramatic but probably as important to the course of the game has been Entente reluctance to roll combat dice from which the result might reasonably be awful. The Italians are strong now because they refused to seriously risk AX and AL results dozens of times. Ditto the French and British. The Central Powers are doubtless stronger because of this too, but their relative losses from awful Entente battles would have been less so their benefit is correspondingly slight.
The synergy between Entente and Central Powers reticence leaves both sides in strong morale positions, with caveats. I think all major powers except Italy received some annual morale check benefits due to having suffered less than historical losses, but this applied particularly strongly to the French because of their massive relative historical weight in Entente offensives and defensives in 1915 and 1916. The French have been as low as National Will 3 but have thrice bounced upward. The Austro-Hungarians, however, seem to have an a-historically large quantity of morale points available to spend in the West – they have many more than their Italian opponents while the historical Italians apparently sought their own annihilation in battles that must have had widely greater Italian than Austro-Hungarian morale point costs. Conversely, the Italians appear to have an incorrectly small number of morale points in the game, given that their “historical” morale point levels seem to allow for very few Italian battles at all.
That said, the Entente morale advantage is a fleeting thing. The French will again shoot themselves down to National Will 3 before the Germans, who have been at 3 for over a year, finally fall to 2. The British haven’t bounced much and will certainly fall to 2, perhaps go shaken, or even collapse before the Germans reach National Will 2. The Italians look impressive next to the Austro-Hungarians, but the latter could only actually surrender if they actively tried to send out lone units to get surrounded and killed for double morale cost. It is a truly exceptional Entente attack that scores more morale points of Central Powers’ losses more than the Entente suffers and probably a hundred attacks have cost the Entente twice or more in morale points than the Central Powers suffered in repulsing them.
All this being said, and all this being useful reasoning behind how the game evolved over the years, there is another way a game might go if played after reading these reports. I propose that a valid German strategy might be repeatedly, selectively, and at high odds, in 1915 thru mid-1917, attacking the French Army with the aim of beating it in the field through attrition before weathering the final Entente offensive wave to a Germanic victory. French replacements dry up badly after 1915 and Entente equipment does not flow strongly until mid-1917, so the French could be progressively reduced to ever smaller sectors. So many French units are such total trash that German attacks in a sustained offensive could chew into them with wildly disparate morale effects and so cripple French morale that even with tanks and masses of artillery from mid-1917 they would be unable to conduct sustained combat. From late-1917, a Caporetto Offensive, using all the historical advantages of the moment provided by the rules and OB, could clobber the Italians and remove them as much of a threat, as historical. The British and later the Americans would then have to hold wider sectors than historical and be less able to push a real war-winning offensive even while the good German units went back to chewing on the French to magnify the effect and perhaps even get a French surrender. The Germans’ problem in DJ05, if it is real, is that the French aren’t going to stop attacking ever again now that they have a full-strength army and piles of tanks and artillery on which to suffer losses.
The other long-term discrepancy between the game and history is in food. In the game, despite not gaining territory in northern France, the Central Powers will not suffer hunger before very late 1918 and possibly not ever. Food importation rules and conquering friendly neutrals drove the nails into that coffin.