After a calm November and predictions of German morale gains in February 1917, the Entente wished for frost in December. The wish came mostly true, and with frost in the lowlands and mud in the mountains came the first change in the front line of the Western Front since very early 1915.
The only initial phase activity was a French upgrade of two engineer III’s into X’s.
Italian forces, still massed against grid 4507 on the middle Isonzo River, struck again with renewed strength and their usual embarrassing impotence against the Austro-Hungarians. Two escorts missed bypassing interceptors, which themselves missed and were missed by five reconnaissance groups. Flak smashed half a group, another whole group fled the field, but the aerial observers managed to map some Austro-Hungarian positions for the impending bombardment.
The mass of Italian artillery combined for three shots at 16 points and a shot at 5, out of which poor rolling left a result of one bombardment hit after considering penalties for rough terrain and entrenchments. The Italians badly disrupted a defending howitzer III to noticeably improve their decimal odds. Two bombers swept in to increase those odds further, but flak smashed another half group down and the odds ended at 3.79, which rounded to 3.7 and then duly rolled upward to 4:1 .
Various factors influenced the outcome of the struggle. Rough terrain and entrenchments sheltered the defenders, but Eugene failed to inspire them. Aerial reconnaissance allowed good planning of attacks, one of two engineer assaults failed despite employing two X’s each, but elite troops and superior national will left the Italians with a net +2 modifier. The potential existed for great success, so naturally the Italians rolled an 2 and scored the usual BX result.
Italian losses: 2x RP and engineer X eliminated; one each mountain and rifle XX’s to cadre.
Austro-Hungarian losses: RP eliminated; mountain rifle XX to cadre
Yes, that’s right, the best Italian effort was less than 100 modified attack points.
French forces, assaulting Germans forces defending the iron mines around Briey, rapidly found themselves resembling the hapless Italians. Three escorts missed three interceptors, which responded by destroying a group of the French fighters. A further 13 interceptor groups swarmed over five groups of reconnaissance aircraft, one of which miraculously survived and also dodged flak before reasonably failing its mission. In the fracas, the Germans suffered a group damaged while the French lost two groups damaged.
Sans spotting, the most intense bombardment of the war went badly for the French. Entrenchments and the mines themselves protected the defenders, so that the French massed fire for 25-point shots, of which they fired 13, to score only 10 hits. After the artillery hammered the defending flak, four French bomber groups swept in to add to the decimal odds, which ended at 2.34, rounding then rolling downward to 2:1 .
Manifold excuses appeared in newspapers soon afterward, to explain French intrepidity and failure. The entrenchments and resource center provided the only German protection and Hindenburg and Ludendorff took the month off for the holidays, so French opportunities certainly appeared despite bad odds. Petain put together a good plan, though as usual the gas engineers failed and this time the siege engineers failed too. Entente combat engineers continued to serve as the weak link when another two brigade attempt failed; only the two-brigade-plus-flamethrowers attempt succeeded. The net +1 left the roll of 6 still only an BX result. Aerial reconnaissance could have pushed this battle to an DX result!
French losses: 4x RP, engineer III, and Russian X eliminated; 5x XX’s to cadres
German losses: 5x Prussian and 1x Saxon XX’s to cadres
British forces did their bit for the cause in early December too, against German defenders of the French border fortress at Maubeuge. In this sector only, Entente aircraft have rough parity in numbers with their opponents and five interceptors bypassed the one escort to attack five reconnaissance groups. The escort missed, and so did the mission force, as British fighters almost invariably did throughout 1916, but the Germans scored only a single damaged observer group and their flak missed entirely. The remaining scouts succeeded in their mission.
The strongest British bombardment of the war, a routinely achieved “first,” distributed a single 3-point shot and 12 16-point shots. The fortress protected the defenders only slightly, balanced by the aerial scouting. The fire scored 12 hits, badly disrupted five non-divisional and one divisional unit, disrupted one XX, and crucially missed one XX.
Reserve commitment movement brought succor to the defenders as two of three eligible XX’s joined the defenders, though being reserve committed they entered the battle disrupted. Those two divisions dropped British odds from over 7:1 to 5.3:1, but the British kept alive the Entente tradition of rolling well on this particular task and attacked at 6:1 odds.
Again, numerous factors could have overridden the simple tenacity of the attacking troops. The fortress, though ruined, counterbalanced aerial reconnaissance and a successful siege engineer assault. Attacking gas engineers failed, again, perhaps due to the cold. The British brought their whole combat engineer arm, attempting two single-brigade assaults and suffering the unlikely self-elimination of one of them, though the other succeeded in its assault and thus incurred required losses. General Haig, kept drunk by prostitutes in French pay, thankfully failed to even attempt to influence the battle as he has not and presumably will not ever. In the end, a beautifully conducted assault was demonstrated by the roll of 6 and, with the net +1 modifier scored a mighty DL result!
British losses: 3x RP, one siege and three combat engineer III’s eliminated; ANZAC XX to cadre
German losses: RP eliminated; three Prussian and one Wurtemburger XX’s to cadre
German forces reeled back in stunned silence and British forces followed up with commendable care and organization into the contested hex. Three elite XX’s, three non-elite XX’s, and five X’s of artillery moved in to try to take the hex for the Entente; three XX’s remained undisrupted and the Germans faced a serious problem in any counterattack. British strength in the hex already stood at 93.5 effective and the Entente player lusted for a potential EX result in any German counterattack.
Germanic forces attempted to react to Entente assaults but achieved only mixed results. No headquarters facing the Italians deemed events worthy of extra work hours. The key headquarters facing the French had expected such an attack and planned well for the response, which amounted to shuffling units into and out of the line to facilitate future reinforcement and replacement activities. A couple of headquarters facing the British activated in surprise at events, but not the key headquarters that could have controlled all German forces around the new Maubeuge salient. The Germans therefore began to organize for a potential counterattack but did not pull the trigger quite yet.
In exploitation, many French units fell back, to prepare massive conversions, but the main event was a pair of British XX’s moving into Maubeuge with only one going disrupted. The subtraction of two disrupted XX’s maintained elite status in the fortress and raised its defense strength to 99.
In the air, all the Zeppelins succumbed to high winds, were sent fleeing by flak, or missed their targets, but the AEG flew extended range to, and successfully bombed, Nottingham.
The Central Powers’ initial phase naturally encompassed many more initial phase activities than did its predecessor.
Austria-Hungary and Bavaria each rebuilt an XX from cadre.
Wurtemburg and Saxony each rebuilt two XX from cadres.
Prussia upgraded a flak II to an III, replaced a cadre, and repaired an air group.
The German military made several notable adjustments to circumstance. They strengthened the newly exposed frontline positions at Mons and then southwestward to the Scheldt River. Gas engineers and flak moved into Briey, the once and current center of French attentions. The garrison of Valenciennes stayed strong but began to mentally prepare to evacuate the coal mine and town. The nightmare of a very likely EX or HX result in any counterattack at Maubeuge stayed the German hand in that regard. Laments were heard about the siege train and long-range artillery corps being dispersed on coast defense duty and thus unavailable for unexpected battles.
The Dutch meanwhile finished moving into defenses along the uppermost thirty miles of the Rhine River nearest Switzerland. Other Dutch filtered into the main line in an unexposed sector near Neu Breisach.
Austro-Hungarian forces strengthened the particularly abused sector of the line on the Isonzo.
In reaction, British forces notably succeeded near Maubeuge and got a jump on moving their artillery to plunge Valenciennes into a cauldron of fire in January. The French Army moved many units to the rear for a huge upcoming wave of conversions.
In the air, all the Zeppelins and the AEG unsuccessfully either fought the weather, dodged the flak, or hit the target.