Entente Turn

The onset of clear weather across Western Europe shocked the high commands in Berlin, Paris, and London as April dawned and furry meteorologists backpedaled on predictions of six more weeks of mud. German forces, caught with incomplete entrenchments in many places, braced for the long expected offensive that Entente forces, with superior morale, seemed likely to mount as the ground dried out. The British Expeditionary Force, swelling with a constant influx of Territorial and New Army divisions, reversed its formation of an army on the Italian border and moved back to the front lines in Belgium. Some French forces took immediate advantage of their winter reorganization to mount a serious offensive for the first time in the war while others huddled in entrenchments awaiting the likely German storm.

The long winter build-up on both sides left relatively little work for logistical and personnel officers as April dawned. Prussian personnel flowed to one cadre, bringing it back to full strength. French replacements did the same with one cadre while three artillery regiments received drafts of unskilled personnel and recently mobilized tubes. Canadian heavy cavalrymen infuriated hometown reporters with polo games, supposedly injuring enough men and horses to make military training impossible – the unit remained at reduced effectiveness in the measure of their British corps commander.

British generals took a longer sector of the front in response to urgent French requests. Grumblers showed reinforcements around trenches and shell holes so familiar they’d begun to seem like fifty miles of home between Oostende to Kortrijk. Corps commanders worried vocally about the lack of artillery for seventeen unsupported rifle divisions and the host of independent regiments and brigades that clung to the older divisions – and their howitzers – like bits of wood on a storm tossed sea. A great many of those formations formed an idle second line, from the coast west of Oostende clear to the shipping canal at Cambrai, the only a break being the Franco-Belgian garrisoned fortress city and industrial center of Lille.

The King of Belgium, from his well protected army headquarters in Lille, disposed his field forces on each end of the British sector. Most of the Belgian artillery corps waited on the coast west of Oostende, prepared to backstop the British entrenchments but really aimed seaward lest the High Seas Fleet decide to support with naval gunfire a ground offensive to seize the vital port. The entire Belgian field army, except for most of the heavy and siege artillery units, assembled over the fortnight in the twenty mile salient on the northwest bank of the uppermost reaches of the Schelde River. The position is dangerous, particularly to hold with dispirited troops, but the river is as good a shield as any the Entente enjoys outside the Vosges and the massed firepower of the partially reorganized Belgian Army – well over six divisions strong – is nothing the Germans will lust to tangle with.

Marshall Foch greeted the arrival of sun and warm breezes with public confidence but private concern and his army’s stance conformed to those feelings. A winter-long reorganization of French deployments left the French primed for offensive activity between Lille and the southern Ardennes, with virtually all colonial, naval, French Foreign Legion, Army of Africa, heavy artillery, and light units, together with the best regular divisions, all the cavalry divisions, and most of the first line field artillery massed on and behind a meager hundred thirty miles of front. The reorganization that arranged the French for attack also dangerously weakened the remainder of the front, from northwest of Verdun all the way to Switzerland, both in frontline firepower and local reserves. The French rail network, rejuvanated by British equipment over the past months and nearly free of operational redeployments because of French readiness and the cancellation of the British move toward Italy, added unusual mobility to French tactical actions.

The bulk of French heavy artillery, massed in front of and near Maubeuge, had been scheduled for a massive bombardment, but the plan changed at the last moment. The Kaiser’s men had not strengthened their garrison at the captured fortress, and the French could have assaulted it frontally with a fair chance of giving as good as they got, but in a miracle of openmindedness a craftier plan was put forth by a division commander and adopted by two armies with next to no notice. German construction gangs had recently completed entrenching a lone section of the front in the Ardennes while other gangs worked dilatorily on most of the remainder of the line, including a suddenly interesting salient in the woodlands southeast of Maubeuge. If French forces could seize that salient, they could later attack the fortress from around half of its perimeter rather than only a third and prospects would become much brighter for taking the place without quite such a long and severe bloodletting. In the Ardennes, on the other hand, German forces tied more closely to fixed fortifications were suddenly ripe for a diversionary strike that might also bleed the Germans disproportionately.

The sector of the central Ardennes in Belgium, south of the Maas River, known to some later historians as grid 1219, hosted the French diversionary assault. The Prussian Tenth Corps, centerpieced by a first-line Saxon division and including a weak Prussian division plus a brigade and three regiments, with defensive power rated at 42, held the sector in entrenchments with additional protection from the woodlands and the generally unimportant geography of their position. Against this force, modest by German standards, French railways helped bring a suddenly formidable array commanded by First and Second Cavalry Corps: three first-line rifle, two light, and two African divisions together with six regiments of artillery, three light brigades, two motor machinegun regiments, and seven engineer regiments plus a flamethrower battalion. In response to this sudden concentration, German reserve commitment – a single mounted rifle brigade was available – failed to arrive in time to intervene effectively. The inability of French aerial observors to penetrate German woodland camouflage rendered almost irrelevant the potential French bombardment and boded ill for the attack but Frenchmen on the ground, daunted without doubt, were not dismayed. Adverse terrain capabilities of the numerous light units in the French array made the woodlands as helpful as they were a hindrance in the assault and two pairs of engineer brigades did stellar work in converting protective entrenchments into pre-dug mass graves for German defenders. 114 attack power, with a morale superiority, rolled fractional odds up to 3:1 and a roll of 6 with a net +2 modifier brought victory with a DX result, though the Germans held onto the hex. Saxon forces reduced 15-17-5 rifle division to cadre and eliminated 3-4-7 Prussian jager regiment (7 Saxon and 3 Prussian manpower plus 1 2/3 morale points lost). French forces reduced 9*-12-6 chasseur division to cadre and eliminated two 1-5 engineer regiments (6 metropolitan manpower plus 1 2/3 morale points lost). Both sides in this combat drew upon ammunition stockpiles that also supplied by next described battle. Given the higher German morale point total this battle could be considered a German victory, but given the superiority of French morale relative to historical patterns the reverse could also be true; relative manpower losses seem concretely in the French favor though German replacement rates again seem higher.

The geographically important battle of early April appears now to have been the one begun by the French in grid 1022, the woodlands immediately east of Maubeuge that shielded the fortress from a three sided French attack. Prussian arms defended the sector in fieldworks with two second-line rifle divisions, a rifle brigade, four rifle regiments, an artillery division of two regiments, and a construction brigade. French plans for Maubeuge, a massive artillery barrage followed by an assault of elite rifle units, formed the basis for this attack instead, though the artillery barrage did not much resemble what could have been fired against the fortress. Nine French divisions, including all the elite divisions of the French army in Europe, together with six elite brigades, two Foreign Legion regiments, two motor machinegun regiments, eleven field and two heavy artillery regiments, and a field and two heavy artillery brigades combined for the attack. Balloon reconnaissance failed to contribute much intelligence but fleeter fixed wing aircraft usefully spotted fall of shot and French artillery roared forth in the second bombardment of the war: five disruption hits did not meet the average expected but still badly disrupted all three components of the Prussian artillery division and reduced German defensive power by about a quarter. French adverse terrain expertise, the bombardment, a morale superiority, aerial reconnaissance, and the elite nature of most of the assault troops far overmatched the defensive advantages of fieldworks and woodlands, so that despite odds rolling down to 3:1 the roll of 2 resulted in an DR result that converted, almost automatically in this war to date, to an HX. Prussian forces suffered 13-15-5 and 12-14-5 rifle divisions reduced to cadre; 4*-5-5 rifle brigade reduced to remnant; and artillery headquarters, 7-8-5 and 5-7-5 foot regiments, two 3-4-7 jager regiments, 1-2-5 and 1-2-4 rifle regiments, and 0-4 construction brigade eliminated as they were cleared from the sector. French forces did not accomplish this lightly, suffering both 13*-16-7 mountain and an 8*-11-5 rifle divisions reduced to cadre in the effort. Prussian losses amounted to 34 manpower, 15 equipment, and 5 2/3 morale points; the aborted observation balloon is completely irrelevant in the face of numerous German air replacements that will go unused. French losses amounted to 24 manpower and 3 morale points. French forces deemed sufficient to garrison the sector advanced in good order, organized to enjoy the advantages of eliteness and the woodland against any mobile German counterattack. The French high command set forth with enthusiasm to plan the use of this new position in the struggle to force the Germans out of Flanders.

The German high command did not neglect to react to these unusually but expectedly aggressive French attacks, but could not quite manage to coordinate any immediate counterstrokes. First and Second Armies, around Maubeuge, busily dealing with the immediate defeats, could not organize effective redeployments under stress – the French had gotten inside the decision loops of staffs and commanders accustomed only to calling the tune. Sixth and Seventh Armies, near Switzerland, saw little need for immediate action in the face of the broad Rhine and looming Vosges. Third Army, in the southern Ardennes, was content to sit in its impregnable defenses facing the French, in their own maximized arrangements. Fifth Army, just northwest of the Vosges, was not so timid and reacted to the clear weather by pulling many units off of the front line so that they could shift as necessary for an imminent offensive. Fourth Army, near Metz, alertly shifted an engineer regiment to continue upgrading frontline defenses. FAL/A, in the northwestern Ardennes, reacted to the French attack against it by shifting static and artillery units to backstop the line and cadres to positions where they could receive fresh drafts from the replacement depots. FAL/B eventually made the most dramatic reaction to the weather and the French by ordering the siege train, in all its massed glory, away from its position against Oostende toward Maubeuge.

The Entente exploitation passed quickly, with the French cleaning up the debris of their attacks and nothing of particular note happening elsewhere.

Central Powers Turn

The predominant activities during the Central Powers I APR 15 turn were German reorganization and French aggression. German replacements flowed to two cadres while the French brought both of their best light alpine divisions and one standard division back to full strength. The French know already that they will soon have too few elite divisions to make elite-bonus attacks because the replacement rate for light troops is so low. The Germans also looked forward to a late-April mass reorganization and significant withdrawal of forces, so that they spent most of their effort in withdrawing and co-locating various specific types of units. German forces also completed entrenching the remainder of their front line, excepting two locations with particularly severe terrain and constricted-access.

Entente reaction to the German shifts was of an unusually high significance. Many Entente armies activated, apparently spurred by the dried-out roads and apparent imminence of Italian entry into the war. A moderate quantity of British and French units shifted out of the line, so that later in the month they could choose from many possible locations to re-enter it for attacks. French 10th Army took the opportunity more seriously by attacking German entrenchments on the east bank of the Maas River just inside Belgium. German 10th Corps deployed Saxon, Prussian, and Prussian Landwehr divisions in the sector, together with various supporting elements. French 1st and 2nd Cavalry Corps, noted for their aggressiveness in this sector only the previous week, again pulled the Army into attacking, this time too with an elite force of mountain, African, and light units, a mass of field artillery, and significant engineers and motorized machine gunners. German forces enjoyed the protection of the woodlands and entrenchments. French forces enjoyed their elite status, superior morale, and the success of one of two engineering adventures, while the French air forces failed to adequately observe for the unexpected offensive. In the end, the odds rolled up to 3:1, a fantastic Entente attack, and the attack went in with skill (roll 5), but the event remained the very usual both exchange result.

German forces suffered 15-17-5 Saxon XX to cadre, 6*-9-4 Landwehr Prussian XX to cadre, and 2*-3-4 static X eliminated, for -3 morale.

French forces suffered 12*-15-6 African XX to cadre, 10*-13-7 mtn XX to cadre, 4-5-6 Colonial X to remnant, and 1-5 eng III eliminated. The French are also piling up engineer casualties far faster than fresh engineer troops are being produced at schools. -3 morale.

The constant question is, “was it worth it?” For the Entente, a 3:1 attack is excellent and a BX result therefore as good as it almost ever gets. By picking a German hex not optimally stacked, the Entente managed to generate equal morale point losses, but such hexes are rare – the usual BX has the Entente losing morale points at about a 6:5 ratio due to higher German strengths per RE. The Germans, for example, have machinegun regiments that are more than twice as strong per RE as French machinegun brigades, and the French units are among the best French non-divisional units and suffer from lesser granularity besides. As German divisions reorganize into 4 RE structure divisions, they will lose no strength per RE but will gain greater granularity at the top end of the loss-taking spectrum – and the Germans still have plenty of divisions to ensure that the Entente will be happy to be able to make a 2.5:1 attack.

To amplify this problem, the Entente is perpetually in worse condition for resource points. The Entente powers cannot share the same point, of course, which is a minor trouble. More serious, if the Entente wants to take the chance that a bombardment will achieve anything worthwhile – and the best one has done for us to date is to ALMOST break even – then it spends a resource point for that and another for a combat in which the Germans spend only one. If the Entente full stacks three hexes of troops for an attack the next attack down the line cannot use the same resource point because the 150RE limit will be breached – but the Germans can almost always use the same resource point for two defensive battle. The Entente has siege engineer units that can consume further resource points in exchange for a 50% chance of self-eliminating with the added bonus of dragging down the strength per RE of the attack and a grand 1-in-6 chance of achieving a +1 on a die roll that will almost certainly only shift the BX result to another BX result. All this means that the Entente has siege engineers that it will not pay to use and cannot risk using while still paying usually three resource points to conduct two battles in which the Germans consume only one. Given a historical shell shortage, one also must consider that the Entente did eventually grind down the Germans over the course of years.

In our game, the Entente could at the rate so far achieved under optimum conditions, easily inflict fewer than 300 morale points of losses on the Germans before autumn 1918. And the Entente will not always enjoy optimal conditions: French light troop replacement rates will bite and engineer replacement rates are already biting, resource points will be a problem – worse when better siege engineers become available, German gas engineers will proliferate and always be better than their Entente counterparts, the air situation will intermittently be unfavorable, the Germans will get serious bombers and long-range artillery to attack Entente cities while the Entente will be feeble in comparison, the British morale advantage will disappear no later than the beginning of May 1915 and may never reappear, the French are wearing down their morale advantage with each attack, and if the Entente steps up the offensive by conducting 2:1 attacks with fewer advantages then it will suffer disastrous AX results.

German exploitation in early April 1915 was to insert reserves into the line and shift forces to cover locations newly under potential threat.