Entente Turn

The opening days of June 1915 brought some standard and some new-ish activities. Among the usual activities were dispatching German replacement drafts so as to bring the depots near to empty: 15-17-5 WUR XX and 14-16-5 BAV XX were rebuilt from cadres. A few French replacements and rebuilds are certainly normal, but the scale of activity after the immediately prior heavy losses in rifle divisions was utterly abnormal – and cut the metropolitan replacement pool in half. 8*-5-7 cav XX, 13-16-7 lt mtn XX and 12x 8*-11-5 rifle XX’s were rebuilt from cadre by the French. New equipment and personnel also flowed to replace a variety of units: 2x 1-5 eng III, 6*-7-7 lt mtn cadre, 4-5-5 fld art III, 2-7 FFL III and 4*-6-5 rifle cadre. The French elite units will be back in action – and again devastated – in June. In Italy, the burst of re-equipping of Italian infantry units continued but is essentially now burned out: 3x 0-1-6 bers III and 9x 4-7-5 rifle XXs received additional machineguns. As usual, no Belgian, British or Austro-Hungarian formations transformed during the first days of June. Oddly, the second Canadian rifle division finally reached full effectiveness: the Canadians might now hold a sector by themselves if it were on a narrow front, behind a river and in nasty terrain.

The players of this war then undertook a casual exploration of probabilities inherent in the game situation. British, Belgian, German and Austro-Hungarian morale is broadly in line with historical expectations, but the French appear to have an insurmountable morale advantage. To accompany that problem, for the Germans, the Italians and British seem likely to whittle more seriously than their historical counterparts on the relatively weak and hapless Austro-Hungarians (A later note is that from the CP half of I JUN 15, the problem of A-H being weak and hapless is dramatically less real). To balance the problem, the Germans committed to the Italian front what are surely powerful forces that can expect to use DRMs and column shifts to pound the Italians far more than the Germans did in 1915 and 1916. And that shift naturally will help the French maintain their morale superiority – which is fortunate for Paris as the French military is manifestly incapable of waging any offensive action with probable results as good as an even exchange of morale, replacement or resource points. It appears in this game as though the French can only be defeated on the field of battle, battered to pieces so that they cannot rebuild their army, whereas all of the other powers may suffer on the field but will win or lose based upon morale considerations. These calculations lend the French hope for ultimate victory, which a simple review of military power, morale point expenses and national will would otherwise make seem like fanciful dreaming.

Entente forces shuffled about the Western and Italian Fronts with aggressive intent and nearly complete ineptitude over the next couple of weeks. British Imperial land forces spearheaded the pathetic performance in their fifty-mile sector adjacent to the Belgian coast. The Imperials slightly adjusted their long-running attempt to get an offensive moving – and failed again when both British air groups failed to advance the cause through aerial reconnaissance for the umpteenth fortnight in a row. Given anemic British replacement rates, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff has dictated that his most potent of all Entente armies only strike under cover of omnipotent air cover. There was no chance the Belgians would act any more aggressively; their strong but fragile force continues to hold only fifteen miles of front line and to contribute to holding two separate sectors of the Entente second line.

The French command shifted again its focus as “weak spots” continued to appear fleetingly in the German front. This time, the furthest southeastern point of Belgium attracted French attention, to the exclusion of any other sector. Three groups of aircraft failed signally to observe and report movement in the German defenses and the French consequently failed ever to leave their trenches. Entente munitions shortages make attacking a sometime thing, and surely those times must be when events are trending positively.

Less optimistic Italian forces made more dramatic moves with similarly anemic results in and south of the Alps. Strong German reinforcement of the Austrians made a mockery of previous Italian efforts to encircle the mountain fortress of Trient, so that the Italians pulled back slightly and began to consolidate positions facing the salient. In the central Alps too, the Italian forces that could not advance (due to geography – high mountains and impossible supply lines – as well as German forces toward Switzerland) faced northwest and southeast to hold positions from which they might at least defend with more prospect of success than the pre-war boundary on the plains. Ironically, along the Isonzo River, where the Italians had foreseen disaster and hoped not to go, some chance of a meaningful advance remained and the Italians massed and struck at their enemies. The Italians deemed the upper reaches of the Isonzo to be critical; if the river could be passed or flanked, a critical rail junction would open supply lines into the central Alps and the Austrian front along the Isonzo might be rolled up or driven away.

The first Italian attack was a bludgeon, designed to bleed the Austrians and draw off their reserves while conceivably pushing straight down the railroad around the north end of the Isonzo River, and it failed utterly. Aerial reconnaissance, by the only Italian group of fixed-wing craft, missed its mark. Eugene declined to intervene, leaving his mountain troops to fight a mobile battle that could have thus gone either way rather than committing reserves and turning the event into a guaranteed meat-grinder. Cadorna succumbed to the allure of prostitutes hired by a staff fearful that he would make a critical situation worse rather than better. Both sides spent munitions prolifically and the Italians fled the field as four-to-one odds with morale superiority resulted in an attacker retreat result.

The second Italian attack, designed as a rapier thrust with elite troops against what might have been a vulnerable and important Austrian salient north of the rail junction near the headwaters of the Isonzo River instead did not happen at all. The previous battle having not absorbed Austrian reserves, the Italians would probably have achieved an attacker exchange result, though worse would have been likely enough. Such a result would have been much worse than none at all, given the flight of the mass of Italian infantry from nearby, and the elite troops instead hoped merely to be able to fall back safely from their own salient.

Across the river rather than around it, Italian and British forces combined to pound on the defenders in what had been hopes of significantly weakening the Austrio-Hungarian defenders in combination with other attrition elsewhere. Relatively strong British infantry and very strong Italian artillery provided the main events, except that the river robbed the British of half their power and Italian heavy artillery in the early war is quartered for open combat – and most was also disrupted from moving – so that what could have been devastating instead proceeded at a stately four-to-one ratio and achieved only a both exchange result. Entente morale and Italian engineers contributed positively, but rough and entrenched terrain cancelled the bonuses and language problems left the allies entangled as much with each other as their enemies.
Austrian losses: 3*-7-2 fort X to 0*-2-2 remnant; AS
British losses: 7*-10-5 rfl XX to 3*-4-5 cadre; AS
Italian losses: AS

After the long string of Entente silliness, Austrian generals might be forgiven for partying in their headquarters instead of pushing their forces as fast as did their German counterparts, but their failures would probably cost the Central Powers dearly. Both Austro-Hungarian armies, as well as the German army in the high Alps, failed to react, leaving scattered Italian forces to converge again into their mountain positions. German armies on both wings of the Western Front reacted almost uniformly, though the central armies failed, and masses of German units shifted off of the front for imminent reorganization.

During the ensuing days, reinforcements and replacements considerably changed the armies of the British and both Germanic allies in Belgium, France, and Austria. British replacements rejuvenated their cadre along the Isonzo River. Massive Austro-Hungarian reinforcements of mountain brigades and divisions arrived in theater in a change almost certain to completely stop all Italian offensive activity. Prussian replacements rebuilt one division in Belgium, nearly emptying that manpower pool, while all across the fronts the German armies organized strong divisions and various brigades into a larger number of divisions that still put almost every Entente formation to shame. Of especial note, the monstrously power Bavarian mountain division reorganized out of existence.

Central Powers Turn

In a continuing trend, the reorganization and redeployment of the fielded forces of the Central Powers dictated the actions of those forces far more than did any considerations of attacking, or even defending against, relatively anemic Entente armies. The Central Powers, during the first half of June 1915, would not be making headlines on the Western Front.

Facing Italy, the Central Powers ended the last chance for Italy to wage a war of maneuver and continued to build up for a counter-offensive. Two corps of Austro-Hungarian reinforcements moved from Galicia to secure the Isonzo River front. The almost completely mountain-trained army should have no trouble holding the lowland Italians both behind the river and off of the line’s mountainous northern flank. If the Italians want to hurt Austro-Hungary, they will have to do it across the Isonzo. Weak Austro-Hungarian and German forces, overwhelmingly strong compared to what the Italians could send to starve against them, moved from Poland, Galicia and Bavaria to finally plug the Alpine pass that could have led the Italians to Salzburg. German forces totaling about a weak army, but continuing to drag in all the best offensive units from France and Belgium, continued to filter into Trient and the valleys north and west of the fortress, both to relieve Austro-Hungarian units and to prepare for an offensive that the Italians have no real hope of standing against.

In Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Germany, German army staffs spent the vast bulk of their time arranging for specific units to move into rest camps in preparation for re-orderings of their tables of organization and equipment. Beyond this, German forces merely shifted to bolster sectors weakened or vacated by reorganizational moves.

Across Germany and Austria, railway officials and logistics officers worked feverishly to clear a continuing backlog of munitions stockpiles and reserve formations much more needed at the front than in the warehouses of the Ruhr, the beer halls of Munich, or on the beaches around Hanover.

In no sector of the Western Front did the Central Powers act aggressively during early June, though a few Entente corps reported some patrol activity as the Germans explored and discarded possibilities.

Entente reaction to Germanic quiet – and to the calendar, long-term frustration, and an amazing quantity of army headquarters, was broadly aggressive and equally disappointing. First, along the Belgian coast, the British continued their policy of avoiding combat: there is always either the excuse of having failed to react or of having failed aerial reconnaissance to prevent the emptying of very thin depots. With the British to their seaward and the French to their landward having both failed to react, the Belgians in the middle had no useful reason to do otherwise. Disappointment along the road through Flanders was the result, though at least it was a relatively harmless disappointment.

Between Maubeuge and Metz, on the other hand, disappointment came in bloodier form. A couple of French armies in this region failed to react, costing little, but a couple of French armies that did react cost considerably more. Along the western fringe of the Ardennes forces, sector 1020, French forces pushed for a quick strike of attritional nature and mostly ended by smashing their own thumbs with their hammer. Aerial reconnaissance and an engineer brigade, with morale superiority, more than counteracted woodlands and entrenchments, but another engineer brigade immolated itself and the resulting 2.2:1 engagement rolled downward and pushed six weeks of engineer replacements out of circulation in a BX result.
French losses: AS, 0-1-4 eng [III], 2x 1-5 eng III, and 2-4-7 mot mg III eliminated; 4x 8*-11-5 rfl XX to 3*-5-5 cadre; 5 1/3 morale points lost
German losses: AS and 3-4-7 jgr III eliminated; 14-16-5 Saxon rfl XX to 6*-7-5 cadre; 15-17-5 Saxon rfl XX to 7*-8-5 cadre; 3 morale points lost

The French attacked into southern-most Belgium simultaneously and with similar results despite much more favorable conditions. Aerial reconnaissance, morale superiority and two successful attacks by multiple engineer brigades each helped the effort dramatically – prevailing favorable winds continued to hinder Entente gas attacks – but Falkenhayn intervened in person for the Germans and entrenched woodlands protected the defenders to a large degree. The resulting 3.4:1 engagement rolled upward but became the usual BX in any case.
French losses: AS and 1-5 eng III eliminated; 3x 8*-11-5 rfl XX to 3*-5-5 cadre; 12-15-6 African chasseur XX to 5*-7-6 cadre; 4 1/3 morale points lost
German losses: AS eliminated; 8*-11-4 Wurtembourg XX to 3*-5-4 cadre; 9*-11-5 rfl XX to 4*-5-5 cadre; 13-15-5 Bavarian rfl XX to 7*-8-5 cadre; 3 morale points lost

Three French armies between Metz and the Alps failed to react, preventing possible continued attrition. The army near Belfort, despite reacting successfully, controlled far too few and too pathetic units to consider attacking in that backwater sector.

On the southern side of the Alps, the Entente reacted uniformly but with further disappointing results.

The British army along the lower Isonzo River, without a plausible Austro-Hungarian target and in view of the looming German menace nearer Switzerland, pushed its two corps northwestward across toward or into the Alps.

The Italian army on the lower Isonzo, with many more forces on hand than their allies, continued its attempts to punch a hole across the river, though in reality that cannot happen unless the defenders simply run out of manpower with which to defend the position. On a fifteen mile front, with locally massive and utterly inept artillery support, the Italians struck to continue the First Battle of the Isonzo (it having begun in the exact same location only days earlier). Aerial reconnaissance failed to assist the attack and the defending General Eugene intervened successfully while entrenched, wooded and rough terrain channeled the attackers and more than counterbalanced Italian morale superiority and a successful engineering brigade attack. 2.7:1 odds rolled upward and the usual BX nibbled away at both sides.
Italian losses: AS and 0-1-4 eng [III] eliminated; 6*-9-5 rfl XX to 2*-4-5 cadre; 1 1/3 morale lost
Austro-Hungarian losses: AS eliminated; 4*-6-4 rfl XX to 1*-2-4 cadre; 1 morale lost

On the northern flank of the Isonzo line too, the Italian army reacted. The attackers hoped to mass an elite, mountain-trained force for a coup against the northern-most flank, but aerial reconnaissance failed, Eugene and local reserve units loomed large, and the field-worked mountainsides would have formed the glacis for what would probably have been an AX result. The Italians kissed their last conceivable chance to dislodge the Isonzo line through mobile warfare goodbye rather than squander elite units that will be the only chance for holding back the Germans in the Alps over summer.

I recognition of the apparent hopelessness of any continued Italian offensive activity in the Trient region, the westernmost Italian army also activated and pulled a variety of units off of the front in preparation for whatever plan the butcher Cadorna might dream up next.

The dynamics of the war as a whole continue to evolve in interesting ways as June 1915 passes by. The apparently incredible Italian success of May availed them nothing against Austria-Hungary. The Italian gain of the southernmost edge of the Alps will provide a considerable shield in the face of German forces, but when the Germans open up with gas and a mountain corps the Italians will wilt rapidly and flee to plains that regular German infantry will walk over with ease. Meanwhile, north of Switzerland, the Germans do seem to be wearing slowly down, both in damaged units and in the full-strengths of intact units, and the French are finding it possible to make as many halfway decent attacks as they can sustain with available ammunition – a pace to allow the Germans to remain strong into the 1930s. The British are getting stronger too, but their morale is much more fragile than that of the French and their replacement rate is not going to support any sustained combat until sometime next year. If the Germans can pound – destroy – the Italians while holding off the French and British, as seems likely, the Austro-Hungarians might not end up surrendering in 1918 and the British and French might run out of soldiers before the Germans run out of morale. This war is very much undecided.

Germanic exploitation in the last days of the first half of June 1915 moved in completely routine directions. Upcoming organizational shifts pulled units from the battle line all along the front through Germany, France and Belgium. Optimization of positions along the Isonzo River and through the Alps minimized Italian prospects even more thoroughly. Positions left battered by French reaction combat received some stiffening and notification of the imminent arrival of replacement personnel.