Just inside the Franco-Belgian frontier, French and British forces stopped dead the German assault into France during the first weeks of September 1914! This is no mere delay either; there is little hope of a German penetration much past the defiant but nearly surrounded fortress of Maubeuge and only a moderate chance that Lille will eventually fall to German arms during the current year. This is happening even as French forces continue to grip their toeholds in Lorraine and in Germany near the Swiss border. Only in the southern Ardennes are French defenses very slowly giving way and that may be a delaying action ahead of better fortifications in better positions in the autumn mud. As September drains away, the eyes of both alliances are turned toward northwestern Belgium and the race to the sea.
During the Entente half of the first turn of the month the front line south of the Channel Ports Zone firmed up to an unbelievable extent even as the French provided the remainder of the front with sporadic but well placed second line defenses at the cost of a slightly weakened main line and a stripping of the rear of almost all reserves. Given its importance to future events, the Entente front line trace is detailed as follows: Antwerp along the Schelde River to 0722 (Belgian), 0723-0823 (British), 0924-1123-1122-1221-1220-1519-1720-1819-1920-2119 and 2420-2820 all in the XX20’s (French). At French fortresses, along critical avenues of transit, and at the bulge in the line near Maubeuge the Entente laid in non-overrunnable second lines consisting mostly of the very numerous atrocious formations of the French Army. It must be remembered that non-overrunnable as the Entente in 1914 France means stacks of fifteen points in front of the main German thrust lines. In the Channel
Ports Zone, the Entente could provide no second line due to a desire to not provoke and allow German movement in that direction (Schlieffen Plan rules). Maubeuge specifically received further reinforcement; its cadre was rebuilt and the garrison brought up to four rifle and one artillery divisions. Finally, every hex of the Entente front managed to find its way into fieldworks status. The cost of this Entente redistribution was twofold: a lack of offensive action and the loss of almost any strategic reserves. Had the offensive corps of Plan Seventeen not been dissolved, a minor attack or two could have been launched with plausible chances of success despite a very strong German defense all across the front relative to the value of the location and the potential Entente attack capability. At the end of movement, Entente strategic reserves stood at a lone Belgian brigade, two British regiments, and a weak corps of mixed French forces mostly newly arrived from Africa.
The German Reaction Phase of the Entente turn turned out to be about as eventful as could be expected. Seventh and Fourth Armies, facing the weakest French positions, failed their reaction rolls and thus their chance for combat while First and Second Armies were made largely redundant by the perfect placement and successful roll of Third Army. Sixth and Fifth Armies, facing strong French defenses in front of Metz and deploying forces in places far too important to risk losing on an AR simply dispatched northward an assortment of artillery from activated fortress garrisons and a few cadres.
The second battle for Maubeuge was the only battle to erupt during the Central Powers Reaction Phase of the Entente ISEP14 turn. With each side spending ammunition prodigiously (RP spent by each side), the Germans brought every tool in their arsenal against the fortress. Aerial reconnaissance failed to accurately report and a pair of engineer regiments immolated themselves in a sapping attempt but another pair of engineer regiments made a successful essay as Ludendorf tore his attention from the headlines in favor of gaining new fame in taking another fortress. 5.7:1 odds rolled up to 6:1 and the combat roll of one remained net unmodified so that the result was a BX. French forces reduced three 6*-9-5 rifle divisions to cadre in exchange for German forces reducing 13*-15-5 and 10*-12-5 rifle divisions to the same state. The fortress held.
Entente exploitation came to little, except at Maubeuge of which details are included in the below description of the Third Battle of Maubeuge.
Central Powers Turn
Central Powers production and initial activities during I September came and went with few surprises. French forces rebuilt four cadres while the Prussian Army rebuilt almost all of its rifle division cadres besides replacing a pair of engineer regiments to almost exhaust stockpiled Prussian infantry. Less certainly predictable, the coal mines of both Leige and Namur received allocations of construction materials to begin to bring them back into production; they will each join the Central Powers economy after production in January 1915. Most surprisingly, the High Seas Fleet allocated its newly produced naval equipment to begin producing a pair of blockade runners so that anti-Entente Africa can soon receive critical stockpiles of weapons and ammunition in whatever theater best suits their needs at the end of this and the beginning of next year. Finally, the withdrawal of most of a corps from Belgium to face the Russians both vented some pressure that had been building agai
nst northern France and consumed enough rail capacity to slightly hinder immediately following German operations.
Given the continuous and non-overrunnable Entente line from sea to mountains, it is unsurprising that Central Powers forces conducted no unexpected movement during early September. Forces released from garrisons continued to move to the front, especially in Belgium, and the front line trace was both rationalized and field-worked. The last fatigue hits came off of German units at the spearhead and the siege train finally settled into prepared firing positions and became un-disrupted. The only remotely non-standard activity of the phase was the beginnings of a Central Powers massing against the Belgians along the Schelde River; the Austrian siege artillery and a miscellaneous variety of other formations conglomerated all along the river and in front of Antwerp in order to be prepared for the imminent race to the sea. Some of that miscellany came from the ostensible spearpoint of the German advance toward Paris in a move less revealing of German intentions than of a clever Fren
The third battle for Maubeuge came to pass during the Central Powers ISEP14 turn. The French high command, knowing that the German siege train would finally be un-disrupted and that an overwhelming mass of infantry would be available for the assault elected to defend with morale and clever tactics rather than brute force. Four brigades of French ‘infantry,’ two of them elite, exploited into the fortress as the second battle for the place wound down; three rifle cadres and a division exploited out of the fortress past them back to the main French line to the southeast. The French felt this dramatic lessening of strength to be a good idea because there would be no cadres to be eliminated by ZOC after what seemed inevitably to be a 9:1 German victory; too, the elite troops could be relied upon to fight with more skill and cunning than their pedestrian friends and would provide an extra 1-in-6 chance to hold the fortress under Entente control when the odds in the attack would su
rely be 9:1 under any plausible scenario of French garrison forces. Finally, if the fortress held the static artillery division in residence would remain undamaged.
The French tactic worked; the die roll modifier for elite troops made the difference and the Maubeuge garrison held once again. In order to guarantee 9:1 odds, the Germans spent ammunition like a prodigal son; the awed French didn’t bother to respond in kind. Two pairs of engineer regiments wrote new chapters in how to assault fortresses with their successful sapping. Only in aerial reconnaissance did the German effort fall flat, and the transfer of Ludendorf to the East was sorely felt; a bonus from any other cause would have won the battle. In the end, French forces honored the sacrifice of 3-4-5 rifle, 3-4-6 chsr, and two 2-3-7 chsr brigades. German forces eliminated 2*-3-4 static brigade and reduced 4*-5-5 rifle brigade in payment of the DX butcher’s bill.
The only other German offensive effort of the first half of September 1914 came in the southern Ardennes Forest, the weakest sector of the French line. A three-sided attack with massive artillery support (RP spent) caught the French defenses not so much unaware as unsupported (no RP spent because the attack would have been 6:1 either way) in hex 1519. The usual DR result converted to the usual HX result and the French had to fall back. French forces suffered 4-5-5 fld art III and three 1-2-5 rifle brigades destroyed plus 8*-11-5 and 6*-9-5 rifle divisions reduced to cadre. Prussian forces reduced a 16-18-5 rifle division to cadre to balance the ledger. This attack was not purely attritional, though that will probably be its biggest effect; an advance in this area could lead to a breakthrough though any gap would have to widen significantly in order to encompass a rail line of supply for advancing forces.
Entente reaction to these Central Powers moves was limited. Belgian forces streamed back eastward in realization that Antwerp must hold until after October reinforcements appear there. British forces sat inactive, as did several French armies. A lone mounted rifle brigade raced into Maubeuge to prevent any exploitation phase overruns by German cavalry and several other such formations began to work their way around the bulge in the line and into the Channel Ports Zone. A few French heavy artillery units took advantage of the lull in the center to relocate without suffering disruption in any combat and another few units shuffled left or right near the southern Ardennes to start to shore up that weak sector.
Coming Next Time: The Fourth Battle for Maubeuge!