The second fortnight of May opened with both sides rejuvenating their forces and the Entente upgrading Italian formations. German replacements filled one cadre while Frenchmen did likewise to two divisions. Many Italian divisions and regiments procured emergency shipments of French artillery and machineguns, dramatically increasing the combat strength of the Italian Army even though much remains to be done in that regard. Finally, in keeping with Canadian tradition, the recently arrived rifle division from that Dominion remains at reduced effectiveness.
As if cued to the clearing weather, in late May the Italian Army leapt to grapple with its Austro-Hungarian foes amidst the suddenly dry Alpine passes while British and French forces shifted to support the first geographically significant Entente offensive of the war in the West. Nearest the English Channel, the British again massed forces for an attempt against German forces somewhere inland of Oostende. French forces further nudged their huge yet relatively weak force facing Maubeuge toward a possible attack. In the Ardennes, the French contemplated a probable failure into the contested field in the region and instead opted to strike further south. Between the Ardennes and Switzerland, the French maintained fairly strong positions facing equally quiet Germans. A British cavalry corps moved over the Franco-Italian border on hoof, to support a rifle corps already backstopping the Italians west of Venice. Italians over a division in total slipped into Austria near the Swiss border while strong forces moved toward the fortress as Trient on a thirty mile front. Other Italian corps occupied various passes leading into the tallest portion of the Alps, of little immediate value but potentially positions from which to make flank attacks against more valuable passes to the north and south. Two Italian corps occupied clear terrain up to the Isonzo River along the Adriatic Sea coast. In all Italian cases, the advance continued until encountering Austro-Hungarian border fortress formations, in most cases consolidated in key passes fifteen miles or further from the border.
In the event, British and French support for the Italian offensive was more moral than physical. The French offensive in the Ardennes, with already battered forces, non-conducted after three air groups failed to usefully observe the German defenders. Not far from the coast, the potential British offensive simply did not happen; apparently the top generals were simply too discouraged by the French failure to overcome their own lethargy – and relative lack of replacements – simply in order to order their forces into an attack that might reasonably achieve a disastrous AX result. In between, French forces facing Maubeuge, without fixed wing air support to spot fall of shot for the massed French heavy artillery arm, never seriously considered attempting what would probably end up costing the French double any German morale loss from even a probable BX result.
Blissfully ignorant, the Italians rolled over Austrian fortress units in mountain passes throughout the southern Austrian Alps.
At 3714, with no extra ammunition on either side, elite Italians achieved a DL on the 9:1 positional chart. The fractional combat strength rule helped the Italians resolve this fight.
Italian loss: 0*-1-2 fort III
Austrian loss: 0*-1-2 fort III
At 3915, with no extra ammunition on either side, much less adept Italians did almost as well and seized the position.
Italian loss: 1-2-5 rifle X
Austrian loss: 0*-2-2 fort III
At 4015, again with no extra ammunition on either side, battle raged on the north shore of Lake Garda and the “rampage” continued.
Italian loss: 1-2-7 lt III
Austrian loss: 0*-2-2 fort III
At 4115, with both sides spending extra ammunition, the Italians attacked up both banks of the Adige River and forced the position in a BX.
Italian loss: 2-3-5 fld art III
Austrian loss: 1*-3-2 fort X
At 4113, some Italians and all Austrians enjoyed stockpiled ammunition, but the results were the same as everywhere else: weak, destroyed Austrians and strong, weakened Italians.
Italian loss: 1-2-5 rifle X
Austrian loss: 0*-1-2 fort III and 1*-3-2 fort X
At 3910 the Italians continued their ammunition-free assault and victorious ways.
Italian loss: 1-2-7 lt III
Austrian loss: 1*-3-2 fort X
At 4008, across the high mountain pass against Austrians enjoying plentiful ammunition, the Italians worked further into the alpine wilderness with elite troops. Austrian mountain troops would have liked to shift combat to a mobile format, but Italian mountain troops pinned them to their positions.
Italian loss: 2-3-7 lt mtn X
Austrian loss: 2*-6 mtn III
At 4307, the head of the Isonzo River, the full force of Italian (pre-mobilization) might struck a serious Austro-Hungarian defense with mixed results. Austro-Hungary’s Eugene provided a penalty for the attackers, reconnaissance aircraft failed to find targets, and the Italian Zeppelin successfully provided a bit of ground support in this interesting encounter. Austro-Hungarian construction troops could have been a tasty treat for the Italians had the battle gone much better, but in the mountains and with the mandatory Italian penalty to combat rolls on their first offensive things became unpleasant rather quickly in a BX result.
Italian loss: 6-4-7 hvy cav XX to 2-1-7 cadre
Austro-Hungarian loss: 6-4-6 rifle XX to 1-2-4 cadre
During the entire Italian wave, Italy suffered -4 1/3 morale points as against Austro-Hungary suffering -4 2/3. Each side expended a resource point. Italian forces suffered 16 manpower and inflicted 15.5 Austro-Hungarian manpower of losses. Italian forces expended 3 equipment points and destroyed 5.5 Austro-Hungarian equipment points. All in all, the Italian offensive was an economic success in its first phase besides gaining ground on a wide front.
Central Powers reaction during the Entente II MAY 1915 turn was very limited. Eugene activated his army, shifted his forces, and planned a counterattack on the Isonzo River for later in the month when the Austro-Hungarian Navy could provide naval gunfire support. Germany’s Fourth Army activated, speeding various light, mountain, ski and engineer units from the southern Ardennes Forest toward the Alps Mountains. The remaining German armies remained quiet, digesting news from Austria and wondering why the French had not struck for the first time since the ground dried out.
Aside from the effective entry of Italy into the war, the third week of May 1915 contained two other firsts for the war: a danger zone sinking and a resource point bombing. The French bomber group, CauG3’s, left off attacking infantry and in company with numerous bomb-laden fighters, successfully hunted an ammunition dump. The success doubled when the explosions cascaded into another dump nearby and the Germans watched two prospective forts go up in smoke. Italian morale suffered half a hit when the Italian mine warfare task force swept some torpedoes the hard way as Italian and French dreadnought and destroyer squadrons moved to Venice to protect the seaward flank of the Isonzo River line from the larger, less modern Austro-Hungarian fleet. Italian and French pre-dreadnoughts and cruisers moved to Malta for contingencies that will, with the Balkans out of play, never arise. By comparison, the British covering fifty miles of the Italian second line and the Italians shifting a few formations rearward to add equipment were tame events. Italian forward exploitation in the Alps, however, was much more significant; Trient is now the tip of an eighty mile long, one valley wide salient and the Italians are also working on sweeping around the inland end of the Isonzo River line. Four fingers of Italian troops reach north and east through the Alps, including a mountain brigade cutting a rail line in the northern foothills of the range near Switzerland, and the imminent Central Powers counteroffensive is guaranteed to consume all available rail capacity during the second half of May.
Central Powers Turn
For the Central Powers, the second half of May 1915 began mostly with heavy activity in the newly active, Austro-Hungarian command. Austro-Hungarian depot officers forwarded to two mountain brigades replacements even as Italian forces hammered at the customers. Bavarians in useful quantity departed depots in Alsace with civilian train tickets in hand and reported after leave to newly established depots in Austria. Closer to the North Sea, German replacements fleshed out an engineer regiment and two machinegun regiments while the French upgraded a field artillery battalion to a regiment. Bavarian replacements brought one of the best standard German rifle divisions back to full strength. The only substantial new forces to arrive on the Western Front(s) were a short corps of Austro-Hungarians.
On the ground too, the main action of the fortnight happened in and about the Italian Front. The newly arrived Austro-Hungarian corps greatly strengthened the Isonzo River line after moving up by strategic rail, a slight complication to hopes for combat and exploitation. In the Alps Mountains, Austro-Hungarian forces either concentrated at the fortress of Trient or edged northward, either decision being made to clear the field for German forces with superior morale.
German forces in and for Austria grew tremendously in size and aggressiveness in late May. The short corps, previously forwarded and moving along the Swiss border on foot, continued its march until running into patrols and then the main body of the Italian mountain brigade pushing down out of the passes along the Swiss border. Italian aggressiveness here threw other German moves off schedule by blocking the shortest railroad connection between Austria and Alsace, so that German forces moving up to protect the eastern flank of the Trient salient could only move to confront, rather than force back, Italian spearheads in that area.
Along the original Western Front, German forces moved conservatively during late May 1915. Having sent a corps toward Austria in early May, amidst the dispatch of another corps thence – including an artillery division and the theater’s only gas engineers – the front required significant reorganization. Too, the rebuilding of numerous divisions from cadre, reinforcement of sectors of the front threatened and/or being punished by the French and the recently taken decision to upgrade fortifications as far as possible wherever possible all pushed the Germans toward rationalizing rather than attacking. Finally, stockpiles of ammunition and construction materials both began to seem just a bit thin due to recent losses in Aachen and the dispatch of four dumps worth of material to Austria.
Half of German reconnaissance aircraft departed the French border region for bases in Austria while others attacked French bombers on the ground at Verdun. The former moved too far to involve themselves in active operations before June. The counter-air effort braved relevant flak, which missed, before missing the bombers in turn.
In Austria, German attacks against Italian forces ended up being both less devastating and less widespread than either side had expected only days earlier. The first action, predicted by both sides and ordained by Italian aggressiveness was against alpini come down the passes near Switzerland at grid 3613. German forces faced elite Italians in mountainous terrain, enjoyed neither reconnaissance aircraft support nor notable operational leadership. On the other hand, German forces maintain the superior morale that will probably forever make them superior on the battlefield to Italians and, in this rare case, enough German mountain troops could involve themselves to overcome the less skillful presence of regular rifle formations and the Germans too claimed the elite bonus. German forces did not spend ammunition prolifically against a mere brigade and the Italian “lines” lay well beyond the reach of pack mule-borne artillery ammunition. In the end, 5.5:1 odds rolled up to 6:1 but overconfident attackers still managed only a both exchange result, suffering disproportionately heavy losses.
Italian loss: 4*-5-7 alpini X to 1*-7 remnant and retreat
German loss: 3-4-7 mtn III and 3-6-5 mg III eliminated without follow-up
The second and last German attack of late May came to widen the corridor into Trient, specifically against Italian forces at grid 3913. Here, Italian forces partly intentionally laid a clever defense where they could not have massed one of straightforward potency. In the mountains and without aerial support, German rifle forces faced significant problems that superior morale could not fully overcome. Gas engineer support was expected to provide significant advantage to the attack, but vastly superior numbers and firepower provided the truly important advantage. Against this, Italian cavalry and artillery could not hope to hold and attempted rather to finesse the situation to advantage. When the magnitude of the attack became clear, with Italian forces in several other grids then safe from assault, the local cavalry division successfully retreated before combat, leaving a lone artillery regiment to face the German horde. The Germans then faced the cruel decision whether to expend significant ammunition in a very small cause, or to risk the Italians doing the same unanswered before successfully attempting to commit reserves that might change a sure victory into a stalemate or even a pyrrhic attacker exchange. In the event, the Germans chose the safe course, spending ammunition in quantity while the Italians then happily avoided a significant battle and large expense of forces. Finally, even a 9:1 German attack with successful gas effects managed an inept defender exchange result that still seized the field.
Italian loss: 3-7 mtn fld art III
German loss: RP, 1-7 mtn fld art II
During Central Powers combat phase of II MAY 1915, Italian forces thus suffered 5/6 morale points, 4.5 manpower and 2.5 equipment points of losses. German forces suffered 5/6 morale points, 3.75 equipment points and 7.25 Prussian manpower points of losses.
fter new, widespread excitement south of the Alps and unusual quiet north of the mountains, during most of May 1915, the trend reversed itself radically late in the month. Italian forces became suddenly quiet, as if unable to believe their good fortune in the war to date. Belgian and British forces bucked the trend by simply remaining quiet as they have for months, the former for lack of possibilities (the Belgians almost always activate and rarely redeploy a unit) and the latter through simple lethargy (the British almost never activate). The French, however, made up for their allies with a series of attacks in the Ardennes Forest during the last week of the month renewing what had been ferocious activity in the sector throughout April.
From Verdun, General Foch spurred three corps into quickly massing against and attacking the German-held salient and iron mines around Briey. In theory, the locations immense economic value should have held the attention of an insurmountable German garrison, but disorganization inherent in the immense shifting of German forces left the region temporarily vulnerable. Three corps, almost entirely of first-line (though not elite) French units spent munitions prolifically but otherwise lacked much in the way of assistance from army-level. Falkenhayn failed to impact the battle but the Germans did make skillful use of the tailing piles and entrenchments. Foch maintained his excitement in positive fashion, as did his countrymen their high morale, and the first successful use of gas on the Western Front helped the otherwise hapless French, who rolled a 3.6:1 down to 3:1 and achieved a BX result.
French losses: 4x 8*-11-5 rfl XX to 3*-5-5 cadre and 1x RP
German losses: 14*-16-5 BAV XX to 6*-7-5 cadre, 9*-12-5 PR XX to 4*-5-4 cadre and 3*-4-4 rfl X and RP eliminated
French activity along the western edge of the Ardennes Forest continued with high intensity and the usual decreasing success as May wore toward its end. The worst-waged battle of the war for the French to date came, appropriately, in a narrow-front coup de main attempt against the German siege train at Charleroi. The German artillery lay there, awaiting its chance to counterattack what may eventually become contested Maubeuge, and the train guard consisted primarily of weak brigades that appeared almost as tasty to the French as the huge tubes themselves. In the event, everything except for the observation balloon corps worked against the French: two engineer brigades made no impact, a siege engineer regiment failed despite expending massive quantities of explosives, entrenchments and mine shafts provided Germans excellent cover, and 1.2:1 odds and a roll of 2 revealed basic tactical incompetence to top things off as the French procured an AL result.
French losses: 4x 8*-11-5 rfl XX to 3*-5-5 cadre and 4-5-5 fld art III and 2x RP eliminated
German losses: 15-17-5 WUR XX to 7*-8-5 cadre and 1-2-5 eng III and RP eliminated
Events went better southwest of Namur in an attack of simple attrition. German defenders used woods and entrenchments skillfully, besides drawing upon ammunition stockpiles also used by the siege train while the standard fire brigade, a lonely mounted rifle formation, reacted into the hex and shifted the odds by a decimal. French morale was their only advantage and the usually better skill of 1st Colonial and 1st Cavalry Corps held strong as 2.4:1 rolled upward and a BX resulted.
French losses: 8*-5-7 cav XX to 3*-2-7 cadre, 2x 8*-11-5 rfl XX to 3*-5-5 cadre and 2-4-7 mot mg III eliminated
German losses: 16-18-5 rfl XX to 7*-8-5 cadre and 4-8-5 BAV MG [X] eliminated
During exploitation, German forces shuffled as much as limited speed made possible. A German division joined the garrison of Trient at the tip of the Germanic salient pointed toward Lake Garda; the fortress is radically stronger now but resident Austrians will drag down morale if the Italians attack. Other Germans pushed deeper into the Alps to consolidate the defense of many passes against Italian aggression. In France and Belgium, German forces shifted to cover the various new weak spots and to prepare conversions.