Scenario Preview, Part Seven
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Here at Avalanche Press, we don’t issue new versions of our various series rulebooks very often. So it’s a major event (for us anyway) when we do. We’ve re-launched Infantry Attacks, our World War One tactical combat series, and it’s a complete overhaul. Artillery wasn’t the only section to get a total re-write, but it’s probably the most noticeable.
I tried to keep Infantry Attacks Second Edition in line with Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition (the current rulebook for our World War Two series) as much as possible. That applies to rules text and rules concepts, but also to the theory and logic behind the rules.
Early on, original Panzer Grenadier developer Brian Knipple and I decided that each off-board artillery increment should represent a battery of artillery, which meant that the strength of each increment should match the strength of a specific type of artillery. Over the years we sometimes got away from that, and the first edition of Infantry Attacks: August 1914 was a major offender. Under the first edition rules, artillery just wasn’t strong enough, so we made up for that by adding more of it. That brought about the right effect, but for the wrong cause.
For the Second Edition, we’ve brought artillery more in line with its actual effects. That means there’s less of it - a Russian corps had but two batteries of 122mm howitzers, with all of its remaining guns 76.2mm field guns. So it doesn’t show up very often, but when it does, it can have enormous effects on fixed enemy positions. The Germans have more medium guns (105mm and 150mm howitzers), but the bulk of their weapons are also field guns, the 77mm Model 1896.
In most scenarios, that puts the burden of the action on the infantry companies and field gun batteries that are right there on the map. Let’s have a look at some more of them.
Tannenberg: The End Game
In the early hours of 29 August, Second Army commander Alexander Samsonov gave his final orders, transferring command of his XV and XXIII Corps to XIII Corps commander Maj. Gen. Nikolai Klyuev. Samsonov and his staff attempted to escape the looming German encirclement, but sometime that evening Samsonov separated from his officers and shot himself.
Second Army disintegrated, with its various components breaking up to make their way south into Russian territory. Klyuev reacted to his promotion by promptly surrendering his new command. Now the Germans had to close the trap and finish off Second Army, while the Russians attempted to escape.
29 August 1914
Thanks to the fierce rearguard action south of Allenstein, XIII Corps pulled away to the south in hopes of joining intact Russian formations still fighting the Germans. But reports came that the Germans were already across their retreat route. While that wasn’t quite true, the Germans were very close. The Russians would have to turn and fight again.
German troops of all three classes - regular, reservist and Landwehr - raced in pursuit of the defeated Russians, commandeering civilian transport to get to the battlefield that much faster. Russian XIII Corps command expected to have to fight their way through Hohenstein to join XV Corps, but managed to get there ahead of the Germans. With the enemy now close behind, the Russians put up furious resistance and German casualties piled up. The situation seemed well in hand until a battalion of heavy howitzers from the Königsberg garrison arrived along with the divisional artillery of two German divisions. The heaviest barrage of the war in the East to date broke the Russian lines, and the formerly organized retreat became a rout.
This is a big scenario, with all six maps in play and oodles of German artillery. They’re going to need those oodles, as all of their infantry is either reservist or Landwehr. The Russians aren’t in much better shape, as the stress of the last few days is really showing now.
Guards to the Rescue
30 August 1914
With Second Army disintegrating around him, Samsonov ordered his last remaining intact force to march north to relieve the encirclement. XXIII Corps included the army's two best formations, and they still had the combat power to completely overturn the situation in East Prussia. A hastily-summoned German force would have to hold off the relief effort or it might be the Germans offering up their swords instead of Samsonov's officers.
Russian and German accounts of this battle differ somewhat; both agree that the Neidenburg garrison held the roads south of town for some hours before giving way before the Guards’ attack. According to the Russian version, the Guardsmen took Neidenburg in the afternoon; the Germans claim they held out until well after darkness had fallen. Either way, the attack failed to rescue Second Army, as the formations trapped to the north of town could not coordinate their own efforts to break the somewhat disorganized cordon held by the German I Corps.
The Guards are here to kick German ass, and they are well-capable of doing just that. This is another big scenario, with big objectives and big forces. In the broader scheme of things, it’s kind of late in the day for this Russian onslaught, but they are an impressive force that the German regulars will be hard-pressed to hold back.
Outpost at Ortelsburg
30 August 1914
With the crossroads town of Ortelsburg back in German hands, Lt. Gen. Otto Hennig of the 35th Infantry Division determined that it would remain that way. When aerial spotting reports passed on word of a large Russian column approaching the town, Hennig took personal command of the small garrison and told them that he and his staff would fight alongside them to the last round. Meanwhile, the rest of his division wandered aimlessly through the woods to the south, bereft of direction.
Hennig managed to find a pair of small reinforcing groups that helped hold off the Russian attack, but those additions only delayed the inevitable. Instead, German and Russian moves elsewhere saved the German general from his own stupidity. Just as the Russians were about to finish off the small German force, the Russian VI Corps received orders to pull back over the border into Russian Poland. Meanwhile, XVII Corps commander August von Mackensen, despairing of convincing Hennig to follow one of the corps’ repeated direct orders to return to his post, finally ordered 35th Division’s component units to march on Ortelsburg and retrieve their commander.
We switch abruptly from the big to the small, with a tiny German garrison holding out against a much larger Russian force while tiny packets of German reinforcements show up on occasion to give the German player hope.
30 August 1914 As the German Eighth Army turned away from the Russian First Army to attack Second Army, the Russian General Staff ordered First Army to strike the exposed German rear flank. First Army lurched forward slowly, with only Lt. Gen. Vasili Iosivich Gurko’s 1st Cavalry Division showing much aggression. The advance reached the outskirts of Allenstein, where it reported stiff enemy resistance.
Gurko claimed that his troopers sighted Allenstein, headquarters of the German Eighth Army, but lacked the strength to take it from the infantry that issued from the town to stop them. German accounts mention no such action, but do acknowledge that only the Russian cavalry made any attempt to bring aid from First Army to its beleaguered sister formation.
Somehow the Germans survived this encounter, but it’s hard to see how. The Russians outnumber the German Landwehr, who are Landwehr. The Russians are going to have to achieve a lot in order to win this in game terms.
Clearing the Way
2 September 1914
Emboldened by First Army’s seeming inability to mount a serious assault against the outmoded Fort Boyen, the small garrison took the fight to the Russians. Informed that the fort would form a jumping-off point for the German Eighth Army’s planned offensive against First Army, on his own initiative the garrison commander, Col. Busse, gathered his mobile forces and set out to widen the bridgehead for this future operation.
The sheer, unbridled idiocy of Busse’s attack took the Russians by surprise, and the Landwehr somehow managed to push them back several kilometers from Fort Boyen. Over the coming days regular troops from XVII Corps would pass into the zone cleared by this impetuous attack. But the Landwehr failed to advance to the trench lines the Russians had been digging for days; the regulars would still face a serious challenge in breaking out of the Lötzen Gap.
The Germans are on the attack with a horde of low-quality Landwehr, but the Russians are kind of dispirited so they have a good chance of success.
And that’s Chapter Seven. Next time, it’s Chapter Eight.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published eleventy-million books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.