Late May 1917 arrived with clear and calm weather across the broad Western Front and anything but calm in and above the trenches of the opposing armies.
The French conducted only replacement activity during the Entente initial phase by repairing an air group and rebuilding a field artillery division from its cadre.
British forces along the Scheldt River misfired in late May. The feint in this sector in early May protected the Royal Flying Corps’ effort now as only one interceptor rose to contest the observation missions. The ensuing bombardment scored only 12 hits in 10 16-point and one 12-point shots, too few to encourage an attack by a British army lacking most of its best divisions, engineers, and tanks. Odds of 2.3:1 left the British with a roughly 30-percent chance of an AX and Haig cancelled the attack.
British losses: 1x RP, 1x damaged air group
Petain drove lavish air, armor, artillery, and engineer support straight down the road of attrition in late May, again pounding the defenses of grid 1919. Nine escort groups protected eight observation or reconnaissance groups from 18 intercepting air groups and the interceptors came out on top both in losses and in preventing useful aerial spying. French artillery inflicted 17 hits in 16 16-point and four 25-point shots, slightly low even considering the lack of observation. Heavy ground support bombing found a decimal roll upward in compensation for significant losses to flak. Petain offset entrenchments and two river hexsides did little to hinder four brigades of engineers however much the riflemen hated the shelling at the crossing sites. After a national will fillip and Ludendorf’s inexplicable disinterest, the French managed an astounding 5:1 chart and, with a +3 DRM, disappointingly scored only a DX.
German losses: RP, air group, and 12-5 field artillery XX eliminated; three Prussian rifle XX to cadre; 4.84 morale points lost
French losses: 3x RP, 3x air groups, and engineer X eliminated; rifle and field artillery XX to cadre; 4.17 morale points lost
We now note that German field artillery divisions mostly lack cadres and that this is a stark contrast from the French, who plan to enjoy their cadres repeatedly both because field artillery units cost mostly equipment and because their strengths are much higher per regiment than that of rifle divisions so their loss conserves morale.
The main British offensive of 1917 continued against Trieste with little urgency: the Italians being across the Isonzo would surely force the Austro-Hungarians to evacuate Trieste rather than face blows from two directions. Both Austro-Hungarian air groups intercepted the three local British reconnaissance groups and this time the former suffered for their impertinence even as their 10-points of flak friends and the army’s leader Eugene likewise failed miserably. After successful observation, British artillery finally registered on the fort, reducing it and scoring seven hits on units inside the perimeter. British armor barely contributed to this assault but national will, two successful engineer assaults, elite troops, and the first ever successful Entente gas attack boosted the British to a DL result on 3:1 odds with +5 DRM!
Austro-Hungarian losses: RP, air group, and coast artillery II eliminated; four rifle XX to cadre; 4.67 morale points lost
British losses: 2x RP and engineer III eliminated; Australian XX to cadre; 1.33 morale points lost
An elite corps began occupying the city and naval base but suffered bad disruption in the chaos.
Cadorna, still unhappy about the starring British role in his personal drama, pushed his troops hard in an attack across and northward along the east bank of the Isonzo. Italian forces already across the river suffered from their disorganization (being in a contested hex) but three halved hexes in open terrain is a great effort for the Italians. Four air groups dodged flak and successfully spotted for the slightly improving Italian artillery, which doled out four hits on three 16-point and one 12-point shots. Odds of 3.7:1 rolled upward but the Italian siege engineer made its 1-in-6 chance to self-eliminate. National will superiority nullified rough terrain while observation cancelled entrenchments. Elite attackers and two successful engineer assaults made the attack a likely solid victory but it nonetheless dissolved into an indecisive BX.
Austro-Hungarian losses: (no additional RP consumed); two rifle XX to cadre; 2 morale points lost
Italian losses: 3x RP, siege engineer X, and engineer III eliminated; two mountain and one rifle XX to cadre; 3.33 morale points lost
The Italian bridgehead over the lower Isonzo then became wholly Italian owned.
That the Central Powers part of the turn brought many replacement activities surprised nobody but French and Italian attacks in reaction phase proved the changing nature of the war in 1917.
Italy rebuilt one each rifle and mountain XX from cadre.
France rebuilt one each rifle and field artillery XX from cadre.
Prussia rebuilt four rifle and one mountain XX from cadre, repaired two air groups, and built six forts behind the Rhine River.
Austria-Hungary replaced an air group, rebuilt five rifle XX from cadre, and built 2x RE’s of rail capacity.
The Austro-Hungarian Army made substantial moves on what is no longer the “Isonzo-Trieste Front.” Along the middle Isonzo, the defenders retreated from a sector and gave the Italians a 35 mile wide bridgehead up that river from the Adriatic Sea. Further up the Isonzo, the reeling empire’s defenders pulled out of grid 4307, a waste of trackless mountains at the source of the Isonzo, to shorten the defensive position. Along the Croatian coast, various static and fortress units definitely left their beach resorts behind in favor of slow marches, using bullocks and men to pull guns and wagons northward.
On the main Western Front, the German armies scrambled both to keep up with unending redeployment and conversions and to patch holes poked by the Entente.
Two British armies near the English Channel reacted successfully, setting the stage for a potential shift in attack sectors in June.
Several French armies in the Metz region also activated, mostly to shift forces in preparation for the next assault but in one rare case to actually direct a reaction phase assault.
The French assault on grid 2018, from two hexsides with no relevant geographic protection, came as a surprise to both sides. Petain wrenched his army southward from near Metz and his men attacked without a barrage. Both sides of a large air battle, including two British groups, contributed to the carnage by dropping burning wreckage in quantity amidst the ground troops. National will, successful observation, and two successful engineer assaults more than offset woodlands and entrenchments. Ground support bombing raised moderate odds to 2.9:1, which rolled upward before an abysmal combat roll (1+2DRM) delivered yet another BX.
German losses: RP and two air groups eliminated; two air groups damaged; one each Prussian, Saxon, and Navy rifle XX to cadre; 4 morale points lost
French losses: RP, air group, engineer III, and field artillery II eliminated; one rifle and two field artillery XX to cadre; 4 morale points lost
Cadorna’s relentless pressure finally paid-off for the Entente in reaction of late May as he roused his staff to manage a mobile attack. Two heavy cavalry divisions led the attack but elite mountain troops provided the panache and field artillery much of the Italian firepower as they struck across one hexside into the foothills of the Alps Mountains east of the central Isonzo. Wooded rough terrain provided a lot of protection to the retreating Austro-Hungarians but elite troops, national will superiority, aerial observation, and adverse terrain expertise (a first for the war in Europe) advantaged the attackers far more. The Italians managed 4:1 odds, but another abysmal roll provided an HX result.
Austro-Hungarian losses: RP, engineer III, field artillery X, and rifle cadre eliminated; rifle XX to cadre; 2.33 morale points lost
Italian losses: RP and field artillery X eliminated; mountain XX to cadre; 1.33 morale points lost
A select Italian force advanced onto the battlefield, driving a salient between two forward-thrust Austro-Hungarian positions, the occupants of which will not all be able to escape into the Alps before the Italians and British can deliver some more hammer blows.
In the air, in late May, events proceeded in a broadly familiar fashion. Entente flak continued to deter maximum Zeppelin performance without bringing down any of the gas bags, one of which hit Milan. The Italian Ca-2 group renewed its defiance of the odds by again losing half its number to minimal flak over Stuttgart.
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