Initial phase activities during the second half of June proved intensive for the French and Italians. A vast array of independent French infantry formations combined with a small array of good field artillery to form some second-rate divisions. The best and worst of the French army remained largely untouched by this reorganization, but four divisions at the top of the “abysmal” quality list did disband into merely second-rate infantry brigades and some second-rate field artillery. The Entente equipment pool suffered a huge hit in order to field a second rate French heavy artillery brigade. A brigade of Canadian mounted riflemen arrived and went immediately to full effectiveness because they did not want to miss the imminent victory parade through Berlin (they also began selling seeds for a strange new form of tobacco to local peasants). French depots sent men to flesh out seven cadres of 8*-11-5 rfl XX’s and a 10*-13-5 rfl XX. Italian depots were much busier, replacing three 5-7-5 fld art X’s, two 1-2-7 bers III’s, 1-3-4 eng [X], 3-4-7 mtn lt [X], two 1-2-5 rfl X’s and 0*-1-2 frtrs [III] besides rebuilding a 4*-5-7 mtn lt X from remnant and upgrading the last weak rifle division to 6*-9-5 standard.
Germanic depot commanders stayed busy at a lower rate. Saxon men refilled a 15-17-5 rfl XX. Bavarian recruits did the same for a 13-15-5 rfl XX. Prussian schoolboys flooded to meet veterans in 16-18-5 rfl XX and 7-10-4 rfl XX. Austro-Hungarians from Vienna colleges rejuvenated both 4-6-4 rfl XX’s near the Isonzo.
If attrition is the name of the game, all that activity might indicate something. French depots still contain enough infantry to reform another division, but at least four chasseur divisions remain at cadre strength – so the French are losing steam. British depots continue to swell at only the very slowest rate and would shrink if the army even involved itself in serious combat. Italy enjoyed a one-off rush of manpower during a period of minimal losses and is still enjoying the fruits of mobilized fortress artillery, but neither will last long and every attack drains the friendly pool more than those of the enemies. Austro-Hungarian forces are still finding their feet in this theater; whether their loss rates will continue to be sustainable remains to be seen, as will whether the Italians can continue to inflict losses at all as the Isonzo Front stiffens. Wurtemburger and Bavarian contingents maintain their depots at marginal levels primarily through managing to only rarely be in major battles. Saxon and Prussian contingents, much more involved in battles, are once again gazing wistfully at empty depots, a sprawl of weakened divisions and a scattering of eliminated supporting formations. Given that the latest drafts will refill all depots in the very near future, it is difficult to draw conclusions from this situation, except perhaps that if munitions were not so scarce all armies would probably be shrinking at least as fast as the Prussians and Saxons seem to be now and the French did in 1914.
Entente forces in Italy shifted their focus during later June 1915. British rifle and cavalry units relieved Italian forces in several Alpine passes east of Trient and dragged their army headquarters northward with them. Most of the fast or mountain units of the Italian army not already deployed west of Trient shifted in that direction. Aided by those moves, Italian corps commanders along the Alpine battlefront rationalized and strengthened their positions, examining and discarding as flatly impossible several schemes for attacking German forces that would barely be considered a morsel on the front in France but are behemoths in this theater. On the north flank of the Isonzo River line, Italian forces voluntarily relinquished fifteen miles of trackless mountain, into which no supply line could run in poor weather, in favor of a stronger, shorter position; no offensive into the mountains in this area was remotely plausible either. Finally, along the Isonzo, Italian forces continued for a third week their cross-river effort even while continuing to bring up more artillery.
Along the main Western Front in late June 1915, Entente forces conducted no movement of great interest. The fruits of French reorganization continued to slide north or south according to quality while a few key units shifted to replace lost comrades in sectors of offensive activity. A couple of divisions of British infantry pulled out of the line to meet their newly completed artillery components for unified transport to the Middle East; other British formations relieved the French of a considerable stretch of the second line behind the Belgians and the extreme northern French front line. Army headquarters and transportation battalions moved few ammunition dumps from less- to more- active sectors. Broadly speaking, the Entente was poised for attacks and little remained before pushing forward.
The Italian command continued to hurl good men and faulty shells from obsolete guns across the Isonzo River during the third week of June 1915. Historians would later refer to more than a dozen Battles of the Isonzo – and this first one looks to rage continuously for several months – because the Italian and Austro-Hungarian force structures make the Isonzo the only place where a major Italian offensive could be waged with any prospect of avoiding catastrophe. Mountains along the entire remainder of the front lines make an Italian attack anywhere else a nearly guaranteed disaster (1.5:1 with a net -2 DRM is a short path to defeat) and the Austro-Hungarian military had to be bled before it could grow stronger. Italian forces assaulted Gorz under a strengthening hail of shells as their artillery became more comfortable in its positions, providing half of Italian combat power. A pair of Italian engineer regiments came to the fore with successful sapper escapades and the Italian air arm contributed useful intelligence that counter-balanced the rough and entrenched ground. Generals Cadorna and Eugene both remained too far north, near what had almost been a mobile operational area, to interfere in the battle. Odds of 2.7:1 rolled up to 3:1 and a roll of 1, with a net +1, achieved the usual BX even though both AX and DX had been plausible results.
Italian losses: 6*-9-5 rfl XX to 2*-4-5 cadre; 1-5 eng III and RP eliminated
Austro-Hungarian losses: 2x 4*-5-7 mtn X to 1*-7 remnant; RP eliminated
Italian elite brigades made the morale cost probably almost equal in effective terms and seem likely to save the Italians at least ten morale points over the course of the war.
In a long-expected twist, after an entire season of trying, the British air forces found some targets and the long-prepared Commonwealth ground offensive ground ponderously forward against stiff opposition. Flanders provided little terrain to speak of, while air activity countered entrenchments and two engineer regiments made successful holes in the front German positions. A German jaeger regiment pushed the odds down to 2.4:1 by entering via reserve commitment, but when the odds rolled upward anyway the chief effect was to make more dead Germans.
British losses: RP and 1-5 eng III eliminated; 3x 10-13-15 rfl and 10-13-5 IND rfl XX’s to 4*-6-5 cadres
German losses: RP eliminated; 12-14-5 WUR rfl and 2x 10-13-5 rfl XX’s to 4*-6-5 cadres
Rebuilding from this battle will essentially empty the British and Indian depots, but the core of the old British Expeditionary Force remains at original, full strength. Enough supported divisions remain in Flanders that the British might be able to attack again in this sector with an increased effective strength (these cadres replacing poor infantry and cavalry brigades among the non-divisional units in the corps areas) before having truly “shot their bolt.”
French forces struck again into furthest southeastern Belgium in one of two battles in the French sector of the Western Front. Woods and entrenchments protected Falkenhayn’s cleverly controlled defenders while gas, aerial spotting and national will aided the French. A two-brigade engineer attack managed to fail, but not horribly and 2.8:1 odds rolled upward whereupon a 5 resulted in the usual BX result.
French losses: RP eliminated; 3x 10*-13-5 and 2x 9*-12-5 rfl XXs to 4*-6-5 and 4*-5-5 cadres
German losses: RP eliminated; 16-18-5 rfl XX, 13-15-5 rfl XX and 13-15-5 BAV rfl XX to 7*-8-5 and 6*-7-5 cadres
The French inability to rebuild more than two chasseur division cadres to full strength per month is constraining the possibility of using the elite bonus in many attacks, the maximum strength of each French corps and the choice of units among which to take casualties because much, nearly too much, of the French first line is light.
The other French offensive was the routine attack into some sector of the central Ardennes – this time along both banks of the Maas River, across which half of the French force deployed itself. Aside from the river, woodlands and entrenchments aided the defenders. National will and a two-brigade engineer attack with flame support balanced the scales. Aerial reconnaissance failed to matter much but a battalion of long-range artillery and a group of bombers strengthened the assault ever so slightly, including by deterring potential reserve formations from entering the battle. Of course, 2.5:1 odds rolled upward and a roll of 3 resulted in the normal BX.
French losses: RP and 0-1-4 eng [III] eliminated; 3x 8*-11-5 rfl XX’s to cadre
German losses: RP and 7*-8-5 rfl cadre eliminated; 14-16-5 SAX XX to 6*-7-5 cadre
The Germans lost much less morale than the French in this battle, but the cadre seems unlikely to return from the destroyed anytime soon and the non-Prussian contingents are chronically short of replacement manpower. Equipment is the most serious Germanic shortage – for the Entente the most critical problem is shortage of explosives – so that the French consider the result to be something approaching even in longer-term effect.
The replacement situation of Britain, France and Germany magnifies the impact of battles north of the Alps, while flush depots south of the mountains make the much smaller struggle there into a merely attritional event. With this one strike, the Commonwealth reduced its striking power by a small amount in the near term and its sustainability by a large amount in the medium term. The French command will be able to rebuild a single division and is thus potentially vulnerable during both reaction and the next German turn, but has considerable ability to sustain the offensive over the medium term. Had they munitions, the French and British could do more; one attack would have been a DX had a siege engineer operation been attempted and even slightly successful. The Germans will not be able to rebuild any divisions in the immediate future and will doubtless suffer slightly stronger hammer blows from the more resilient French over the next reaction and complete turns. In the longer-term the German replacement pool and cadre supply continue to slowly expand with no respite in sight before winter, and maybe no respite in equipment forever.
he Central Powers reaction phase of the second Entente turn of June 1915 passed astoundingly uneventfully. All three Germanic headquarters in Austria and all except one north of the Alps failed to react. Seventh Army, on the upper Rhine River, reacted by forwarding three engineer regiments northward toward sectors where a huge river and vicious terrain have not largely squeezed decent units out of the order of battle.
Entente exploitation at the end of June was inevitably unexciting. A few Italians closed the front while cadres pulled back from it and a few shifts of units from sector to sector continued slowly. The French slightly adjusted in order to balance corps that in several cases found themselves suddenly flush with cadres rather than divisions.
Central Powers Turn
During the Germanic initial phase at the end of June 1915, depots on all sides flushed their contents as much as possible toward the front. Italian conscripts fleshed the only two 2*-4-5 rifle cadres into full-bodied divisions. British and Indian volunteers did the same with one of each ethnicity’s 4*-6-5 rifle cadres while Frenchmen rejuvenated a single 3*-5-5 rifle cadre; both British and French forces retained cadres on the front, more than a dozen in the case of the French. Austrian conscripts rebuilt a pair of 1*-7 remnants into mountain brigades while another rifle division and an artillery brigade arrived from Galicia to reinforce the Isonzo River front. Excited German volunteers brought a 6*7-5 Saxon cadre back to divisional strength in Belgium while others replaced a 3-4-7 jager regiment and a 1-7 mountain field artillery battalion. An elite division of Bavarians assembled in the Austrian Alps as the final act of the German preparation for Italian defeat.
At the end of June 1915, Austrian forces remained reactive on the Italian Front while the Germans there finally shifted from the defense to the attack. The new Austrian formations moved to the front and higher quality mountain units shifted slightly southward along the east bank of the Isonzo, to help their hard-pressed lowland comrades defend the line against what has been an incessant series of Italian attacks across that river. A couple of non-divisional formations continued to drift out of the Trient salient while the Germans there cast about for likely victims and settled upon the Italian defenders of the pass at 3911.
Given its location, the attack on pass 3911 could only be considered an attritional effort preparatory to more decisive actions later and elsewhere. The pass leads eastward, further into the Austrian Alps, where the thin Austrians declined even to defend in May rather than waste men holding roads to nowhere. The roads do eventually lead to Italy, however, and the Italians defended the region in late June with marginal forces, a crust slightly hardened by the elite half of the quarter-corps. Fieldworks hindered the Germans in theory while German morale and elite status counteracted the mountains. German aerial spotting balanced Italian elite status and German gas troops retained their perfect record of failure to matter, setting a notable record of improbable consistency so that the attack went in with a slight Italian advantage. Odds of 2.6:1 rolled upward and the standard BX caused the Germans to heave a sigh of relief; taking the position through an AX would have been too bloody a victory by far.
German losses: RP eliminated; 12-15-5 Prussian mtn rifle XX to 5*-7-6 cadre
Italian losses: RP, 2-7 mtn fld art III and 2-3-7 mtn lt [X] eliminated; 4*-5-7 mtn lt X to 1*-7 remnant
In France and Belgium, German armies moved only to shore up their positions in the wake of two months of incessant French and a rare British attack. The Prussians had only two divisions and about a dozen regiments in the replacement pool, but the supply of cadres active in the front lines was ample; they no longer merely stacked as non-divisional units for added punch, rather a pair of full divisions backed by cadres and artillery was often the defense even in sectors where French attacks are routine. Being at the end of a production cycle, the Germans had no good options and resorted to mere shuffling of weakness to non-critical sectors and hoping for bad French reaction rolls.
Germanic hope for Entente inebriation came to be justified as Entente commanders all along the front sensed German weakness and celebrated victory rather than attempting to make it reality. British forces in the Alps consolidated their hold on the fifty miles of front east of Trient, and Italian forces to their east shuffled units here and there, but in every sector where Entente forces might have attacked the armies failed to act. Given the temporarily anemic German situation and the upcoming Entente production and refreshment, a couple of stiff attacks by the French and British here might have actually forced the Germans to backpedal in Belgium in July – but it was not to be. Italian pressure on the Austrians would have been merely attritional, but even that longer-term progress was too much to ask for.