We failed to notice in September 1916 that Austria-Hungary fell to national will one. This mattered not at all and a few rolls recently revealed their shaken and recovered status.
The big news of the winter came from Russia, where the Czarist government collapsed in March, so Germany and Austria-Hungary reaped 150 morale points in bonuses. The French received a less impressive 2.5 foreign manpower.
The other big news came from the United States of America, which declared war against Germany in early April 1917 after a few years of turmoil in the Western Hemisphere. United States Marines evacuated Veracruz, Mexico in September 1914 then occupied Haiti in June 1915. Pancho Villa led his rebels to Columbus, New Mexico, in December 1915 and a punitive expedition chased him uneventfully until November 1916. Cool heads avoided a second Mexican-American War and the first American units will arrive in France in June 1917.
Portuguese society bubbled with unrest in 1917, but that was not news. Given Portugal’s historical performance, we agreed that rolling for a “12” during every turn made civil war too likely. We agreed to roll monthly and Portugal remained in the war through May 1917.
Factory managers and merchants missed some production for the West during this report. German aircraft hit three Entente factories in November; two failed to produce in January. British riflemen took the Valenciennes coal field in January, putting Germany into an energy deficit. In January, the Entente produced 23 equipment and 17 resource points as trade continued to vary by factory bombing. Central Powers factories produced 15 resource points and 29 equipment in January. Due to their new 0.9 multiplier, Germany’s seventeen working factories produced 15 resource and 30.5 equipment points in March, plus for the first time, western Germany imported two points of each weapons and ammunition from Silesia. Entente bureaucrats simultaneously raised production to 0.5 for 19 resource and 30 equipment points. In May, the United States provided effectively unlimited energy and iron and the Entente operated all factories and traded with all neutrals at full rate for 20 resource points and 39 equipment points. The Central Power simultaneously accrued 19 and 34.5 points respectively.
In the game, by February 1917 the Hindenburg Plan looked like genius. Germany purchased four points of food in 1914, instead of zero historically. Game rules make Germany’s conquest of The Netherlands a profitable decision in 1915, so the Entente declared war on that country and put its food into German mouths preemptively. Ludendorff thus began destroying Germany’s economy in 1917 because he safely could: in game the Central Powers will become hungry in September 1919 instead of July 1918. This simulation malformation should save Germany and Austria-Hungary each almost 90 morale by October 1919, including 25 un-doubled influenza points.
The major rail networks continued to wilt over the winter and spring. After a final deterioration in January, enough Entente railroad engineers worked the Italian network to guarantee its’ integrity. Overwork and underinvestment pushed German and French networks remorselessly toward collapse: each loses one regiment of capacity during each check. Maintenance problems stranded two German trains in Valenciennes and their French captors put some cars and parts into Gallic service. The Austro-Hungarian network is so weak it cannot deteriorate further.
The February 1917 morale check proved interesting. Italy gained no morale points but Germany gained approximately 4.83 points (events in Africa may adjust), leaving Germany at approximately 111% of its historical morale. Austria-Hungary gained 13.5 points. Britain gained approximately 22.83 points (again, Africa), leaving Britain at national will three, like the Germans. France broke the mold by building on its previous superior situations to gain a bonus of approximately 126.83 points, restoring France’s morale advantage over the Germans.
German morale points are the basic currency of the game. The historical German morale situation in February 1917 was (supposedly) 286; vice 227 in February 1918. Between those checks, Germany gained 150 points for Russian collapse and surrender and lost 21 points average for strategic naval, 32 points in the East, and 12 points in Africa. Historical Entente land and air forces, with local naval support, thus inflicted 144 points of morale losses on the Germans between February 1917 and February 1918. The in-game Entente inflicted 104 points of morale losses during the same months from 1916-1917.
The strategic naval war bit fiercely into the morale of both Britain and Germany during the first half of 1917. Germany’s submarines and raiders operated most effectively, inflicting 14 morale on the British. Entente hunter-killer groups also performed well and German mothers wept to think of their sons, thought safe in the navy but lost at sea (11 morale points). We suspect that German strategic naval loss must include an average of losses to the surface fleet against the Russians because nothing else could account for the average morale point losses Germany suffers in the strategic naval war.
The German, Austro-Hungarian, French, British, and Italian armies all transformed during the period. The French machinegun arm disappeared into divisions which reorganized from four to three regiments. The British machinegun arm sent its men to field artillery brigades and its machines to rifle divisions. Both British and French generals grudgingly received large tank formations. German generals continued reorganizing four regiment divisions and began forming three regiment “trench” divisions. Austro-Hungarian and Italian generals combined some independent brigades into divisions. All air forces except the Belgian grew better and larger. All major powers increased combat engineer unit size.
At the onset of active campaigning, three major armies remained understrength. For lack of manpower, Germany still field dozens of cadres. The Italians retain many, and the French a few, of the dozens of artillery units dumped directly into their replacement pools in 1915. The French remain slightly understrength in combat engineers. Entente equipment and British, French, and Belgian manpower are all only slightly above even.
Air defenses improved dramatically over the period. Generals and politicians of all countries screamed for anti-aircraft guns and screamed again after industry and training commands provided an amazing strength of that new arm. In Italy, some German commanders refused to fly into13 density flak and struck at more distant targets instead. Lesser flak and rear area fighter defenses appeared (and some later disappeared from) near Lyon and Marseilles, over Paris and London, and in the English Midlands. French and British fighters and flak reliably protected factories and bomber bases near the front. German flak grew slightly in some cities and significantly on the front line.
Aerial results during the period reflected changes in production, technology, tactics, and luck. Zeppelins scored four hits at Milano, two at Birmingham, and one at Bristol. Some zeppelins and the one German bomber attacked Italian and French factories many times. Italian flak damaged a zeppelin group but master German machinists again successfully repaired the cripples. Italian bombers, the Ca-2 workhorse and new SIA-7, hit Stuttgart and Koln four times. The flush German air force attacked the Entente bomber base in France and killed a French fighter group, but two groups of Germans suffered disaster by flak. Because April mud prevented ground battles, all air forces reached full strength by May.
By winter 1917, the German General Staff considered a long and increasingly brutal war inevitable. British and French artillery devastated German sectors in autumn 1916. From 1917, Entente heavy artillery can move without disruption and avoid telegraphing attack sectors. Many officers wanted better fortifications, forts broadly and improved forts in key sectors. Other officers advocated a “Hindenburg Line” slightly to the rear, in good terrain, and on short lines.
The German high command decided differently. Two German and one Dutch engineer groups began devastating three areas to protect a Hindenburg Line from the ocean through Bruxelles to the Ardennes and international opprobrium sapped morale in both countries. The high command also ordered fortification of the east bank of the Rhine River, starting near Duisburg and Düsseldorf, so the German Army could gradually trade Belgium for time and Entente casualties
In autumn 1916, Entente commanders realized they could not defend Istria as it was, so they changed it. Istria’s ports, one each standard and minor, could not sustain an adequate garrison unless theater commanders committing many ships and trucks to the effort. Therefore, in October British port engineers began upgrading Rovigno’s minor port. Early in 1917, a strong British army replaced weak French forces. At the end of April, British artillery began to batter the fort at Trieste after Rovigno opened at its larger capacity. In May, a flood of American railroad equipment connected British army depots directly to their strategic logistics. The Entente envisioned British forces battering Austro-Hungarians and Germans on Trieste’s fields all summer.
That plan came unglued with the first Italian attack across the Isonzo River in May 1917.