“Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.”
In late June 1917, martial glory married misery and every army group on the Italian and Western Fronts experienced the glitz, glamor, excitement, optimism, copied equipment, improved tactics, low spirits, boredom, and terror typical of 1917 European weddings and war.
Limited service veteran officers watched new recruits parade before combat fatigued training sergeants in their usual thousands in mid-June, their coming and going as regular as the tide but with individual problems constantly being carried in or left behind.
French depot commander sent recruits to replace an engineer [III] and repair three air groups while not understanding that rifle and light divisions at the front were checking the “no new men needed” block that some optimist had included on the “division on the line, daily report” form initiated two years before.
Italian sergeants worked feverishly to shuffle men forward in their world. After two years of spasmodic violence the war on the Italian Front finally maintained vigor and constant violence at headline grabbing levels. Italian recruits and equipment replaced an engineer III, a heavy artillery XX, a heavy artillery [III], and a field artillery [X]. Other men and machines repaired two air groups and rebuilt a heavy cavalry XX from cadre. With the French replacement pool finally almost void of artillery and the French limit on trained gunners having been reached in early June, new guns remained in Entente parks for once to begin deploying high-attack, low-defense Italian heavy artillery units.
British planners split their work between the Istria and Flanders Fronts and managed to sustain both adequately in mid-June, as usual but with change on the horizon. Colonels of one each engineer [III] and air group received replacements to completely rebuild their formations. Lesser drafts brought an air group back from damaged and a rifle XX back from cadre while a field artillery [III] bloated to [X] size.
German generals in the West bemoaned Prussia’s contribution to prop up the Austro-Hungarian corpse as replacements flowed to two rifle cadres in Slovenia and not a man or gun arrived in France or Belgium.
Austro-Hungarian generals, reeling back and desperate to perform mandatory conversions and withdrawals could not afford to remove units from the line simply to receive replacements. A World War One battle into which new blood could not flow because the front moved too fast was certainly a novelty in DJ05.
Speaking of new, the first Polish unit deployed on the French side of DJ05 quite recently. The weak, white on red rifle regiment, lonely in a sea of blue and tan cardboard, bravely ensures the security of the Le Havre coastal defense guns. Poles praise regular rations and regularly chase away British riflemen on pass who want to gaze across the mined waters toward their homes.
At sea, while massive fleets glared endlessly into North Sea mists, lighter forces suddenly lunged into action in the sunny Adriatic. Entente destroyer flotillas from three empires escorted Italian mine layers to encase Pago Island in an explosive belt before chivvying the still-laden vessels to finally empty themselves off beaches north of Zara. No Austrian torpedo boat or submarine found this expedition, the Austro-Hungarian fleet lay far away southward at Cattaro, and elite French light troops quickly swarmed from landing craft to shore on both island and mainland to open another new front in the land war.
While the Royal Navy contributed in both obvious and insidious ways to victory, editors in London began to question the Army’s value in this great World War. Why slaughter men by the hundreds of thousands when decisive effects could be had by blockade and adventures on distant islands, as Britain had found victory so many times before? Haig ignored the naysayers, he could not have kept his sanity if he did not so assiduously practice pretending to have lost it, and the British military aimed its next war-winning offensive at THE vital objective, key to victory in the West…Brugge, Belgium!
Air Force machines circled overhead unbothered by light flak, easily spotting troop movements and artillery barrages, and wondering at the absence of German interceptors, the Germans having all gone south to fight the French.
The maximum British bombardment from two hexes in Flanders, seven 16-point, two 12-point, a one 3-point shot inflicted eleven hits and reduced the defense from 88 to 58 strength, a humdrum result.
Bulow adroitly coordinated the defense but the defenders enjoyed no substantial help while the attackers received light ground support from two bomber groups.
Observers offset Bulow, spotting his moves as he made them, but nothing in the British arsenal in Flanders could offset the trench network so that 3.6:1 rolled upward and 4:1 -1 achieved the usual, horrible, Both Exchange result.
British generals expended two resource points and a field artillery [X] as if man, machine, and ammunition all served equally in battle. Four rifle XXs also fell to cadre strength. 4.67 morale points worth of casualty lists sullied newspapers over the next few weeks.
German generals watched their forces wilt more or less equally with resource point and field artillery XX eliminated plus three Prussian XX’s reduced to cadre for an ultimate bill of 4.33 morale points.
Haig and Petain pursued apparently similarly valueless geographic objectives, as their armies had for years, but the latter deployed far superior tools in his sector and finally the stars aligned and the front moved in Lorraine.
Relatively fresh units from Flanders swung the aerial balance back in Germany’s favor south of Metz in mid-June. Five French escorts shepherded six observation balloon groups that successfully but expensively oversaw the battle. Nine German interceptor groups lost two damaged groups without damaging the French. Later, German fighter bombers swept down unopposed in the air and undeterred by flak to deliver seven points of defense. Three German interceptor groups then picked on the French escort of a bombing mission and destroyed three groups for no loss before flak sent a quarter of the bombers away uselessly and 17 bombing factors added to the carnage.
French artillery continued to demonstrate new heights of power in this battle. Eighteen 16-point shots contributed most heavily but one 5-point and six 12-point shots did not go unnoticed as 25 hits battered the German defense from 110 down to 56.25.
Combat effects went heavily in the French favor and pushed a showcase tactical performance into the status of legend. National will offset entrenchments. Observation offset Ludendorf’s close interest and participation.. Petain’s careful planning, two successful engineer assaults, and an incredibly rare successful gas attack actually rendered the roll of 6 into superfluous showmanship as 3.5:1 odds rolled upward and a Defender Loss resulted in geographic progress in the West.
German forces reeled back from grid 1919 without a good many colleagues. Two air groups and one each Saxon and Bavarian rifle XX’s suffered great damage. One resource point, two field artillery XX, one rifle cadre, and one light III all suffered elimination in the inferno that inflicted 5.33 morale points of loss on Germany.
French forces shook off their injuries much more easily. Three air groups, three resource points, and an engineer tank III all slipped through French fingers into a memory darkened by 1.87 morale points.
Mostly elite French forces advanced toward Metz, its outer works still several miles away, across a flat moonscape that ripped apart their formations and left them unduly weak and vulnerable.
While their comrades around Ypres labored under German fire with inferior artillery, no armor, and no sappers, the British force in Slovenia lunged forward to find its own Germans. The former lacked because the latter stole away the best supporting units as it redeployed the previous winter and again those assets proved useful. Aerial spies worked unopposed and successfully to guide a bombardment of three 25-point, one 16-point, and one 12-point shots that smashed the defense from 48 to 28.5. Engineers, in and outside of tanks, added some useful novelty to the attack, offsetting rough terrain as the planes had offset the trenches. British generals bemoaned not bringing more “colonial conscripts” to catch the bullets but the elite bonus would not have changed the outcome after exactly 4:1 odds brought a low Both Exchange reward.
German forces suffered two Prussian rifle XX’s reduced to cadre at the cost of 2 morale points. The German replacement point pool in Austria being too shallow to replace these losses, events may force responses toward better terrain.
British forces suffered a resource point, an engineer tank III, and 3.33 morale points lost in addition to a rifle XX reduced to cadre.
The campaign in Istria seems worthwhile but the benefits are not unmixed. British forces hammered Austro-Hungarians for a while and enjoyed a national will advantage but in a game without an East Front, it seems implausible to actually force an Austro-Hungarian surrender. Entente advantages accrued from capturing Trieste and Pola and related disadvantages befell the Central Powers from that but one factory, one naval base shipyard, and a small pile of gratuitous damage to a pointless fleet are not large changes after a year-long, major campaign. It is obvious now, however, that after capturing Pola in a relative coup and bashing into Trieste unexpectedly quickly, what Britain fundamentally gained from the campaign is the requirement to split its armies and to use one of them in nastier terrain against Germans who can easily enough wage war in the mountains of Slovenia and Austria. Italian forces are insufficient to hold this extended front now and will be extremely vulnerable to autumn 1917 infantry attacks if they cannot secure mountain positions along any significant part of the front.
In their quest to secure mountainous defenses while further driving the Austro-Hungarians toward destruction, Italian forces attempted to blast their way into the western mouth of the Ljubljana Gap in mid-June. Aerial observation began this battle too, dodging heavy flak from two regiments of guns, to usefully spot the bombardment and report on subsequent maneuvers. The Italian bombardment again demonstrated the low quality of its guns but also that luck counts as three 16-point shots scored five hits and reduced the defense from 65 to 50.75. Defensive air support bumped the firepower up a bit and 2.7:1 odds rolled downward. Eugene made what historians would call mixed decisions during the fighting, anyway contributing nothing useful, so that national will and aerial spying offset rough terrain and entrenchments. A successful engineer assault brought some Italian relief because an Attacker Exchange loomed like a nightmare on the horizon but in the end the usual Both Exchange proved bloody enough.
Austro-Hungarian forces suffered resource point eliminated and three rifle XX’s reduced to cadre at the cost of three morale points.
Italian forces lost two resource points, an engineer III, and a rifle XX entirely and also reduced four rifle XX’s to cadre at the cost of 5.67 morale points.
Despite Italy’s national will advantage over Austria-Hungary, the former is actually fewer morale points from collapse than is the latter and attacking with substandard artillery into bad terrain in World War One is not a way to force the defender to suffer more losses than the attacker. Italian generals certainly malign the Entente contribution to this front but Italian politicians are fighting hard to keep their allies engaged “down here.”
Italian forces in the high Alps did not rest in late June. While their comrades died in their tens of thousands in Slovenia, Italians in their tens of thousands attacked 30 miles north of Klagenfurt to take and hurt while the taking and hurting were opportune. A few aircraft, unopposed even by flak, provided significant help to the Italians who also enjoyed national will and elite unit advantages to more than offset the mountains. Boroevic remained distracted by events further south and did not realize his danger until a tsunami of Italian mountain units washed over his lone brigade, too small even for fieldworks, at 7.3:1 odds. Nothing comes easy in this war, however, and despite the odds rolling upward, 8:1 +1 still only netted a Defender Loss result.
Austro-Hungarian forces suffered resource point eliminated and mountain brigade reduced to remnant for 0.5 morale loss, in addition to another trackless mountain hex.
Italian mountain artillery, skillfully and bravely brought forward, suffered a bad counterattack and a III of it joined its resource point of ammunition in the hall of heroes for 0.33 morale.
The Central Powers sought desperately to cover for this string of brutal encounters during reaction phase. An army in the British sector shuffled its new cadres down the line and inserted fresh divisions from an increasingly translucent sector reserve. Ludendorf righteously urged an immediate counteroffensive south of Metz but Hindenburg calmed him repeatedly with “a 33% chance of an Attacker Quartered result is not something we can risk” as German armies nonetheless gathered for a potential counteroffensive during their own turn. A centrally-located Eugene reacted vigorously and most Central Powers in front of the Fiume – Ljubljana line of mountains retreated behind small rearguard units. Austro-Hungarian fortress and static units south of Fiume lay outside Eugene’s personal control and their army did not stir itself.
A long series of weather problems, terrible navigation, awful aiming, and a single scary flak barrage rendered the strategic air efforts of both sides null during Entente II June 1917.
On the ground, exploitation phase brought an unusual amount of noteworthy activities. French forces strengthened the shoulders of their break-in south of Metz and also loaded the contested hex itself to 78.5 defense strength (113 printed). French forces expanded their beachheads to encompass a patch of mountains across the eastern strait and the port of Zara to the south while an Italian rifle corps and a British cadre (large enough to have a ZOC) both formed the invasion’s second wave. In the high Alps, Italian troops exploited along the highest crests of the mountains to a point 50 miles north of Klagenfurt, stretching the front ever further because the Austro-Hungarians remain in an arc 30 miles around the western and northern fronts facing that city.