Scenario Preview, Part Eight
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Infantry Attacks, the game series, is heavily based on Panzer Grenadier, the game series. In re-designing Infantry Attacks for the new Second Edition, I tried to bring it even more closely in line with Panzer Grenadier. That, I reasoned, would make it easier for Panzer Grenadier players (of which there are many) to become Infantry Attacks players (of which there are few).
Because of the topic, Infantry Attacks is a simpler game to play than Panzer Grenadier: there are no tanks (and thus no anti-tank fire), no motor vehicles, and artillery is limited in what it can do (many scenarios have none of the big guns the game system calls “artillery,” only the smaller ones called “field guns”). All of those will change when we move on to the late-war battles, but for those of August 1914 (and its sister game Fall of Empires) there’s a simplicity there that I really appreciate. It’s always tempting to layer on more stuff, seeking nuance, but I decided to stay the course on keeping the game easy to play. Nuance rarely adds as much as you think it does, and always clogs up play more than you think it will.
So let’s move on to the next-to-last chapter of Infantry Attacks: August 1914.
First Battle of the Masurian Lakes
Following their defeat of the Russian Second Army, Hindenburg and Ludendorff turned their attention back to the Russian First Army still menacing their left flank. Reinforcements had arrived from the Western Front in the form of two infantry corps (XI and Guard Reserve) and one cavalry division (8th), giving the Germans numerical superiority of 215,000 men against 146,000.
That gave Hindenburg enough troops to match Rennenkampf’s line from north to south, with two corps left over to work their way around the Russian left (southern) flank. The two German corps attacked separately and the Russians initially out-maneuvered them, but one the offensive’s second day things began to fall apart for Rennenkampf. The Germans attacked his right, or northern flank as well, with Hindenburg attempting to pull off another double-envelopment. But the Russian commander maintained better communications and control than had Alexander Samsonov of Second Army, and ordered a general retreat. First Army escaped the jaws of the German encirclement, to form a new line in Russian territory.
Even so, the battle represented a significant German victory, with Russian losses topping 100,000, two and a half times those of the Germans. First Army had been badly mauled, but newly-arrived reserve divisions allowed it to hold its ground across the border.
The Guard Recoils
9 September 1914
Just arrived from the Western Front, the Guard Reserve Corps deployed as part of Eighth Army's northernmost regular corps. With garrison troops from the Posen and Königsberg fortresses to their left, the Guardsmen were expected to provide most of the attack impetus in their sector. But while the gaggle of Landwehr and Landsturm troops under the Posen fortress command pushed back the Russian III Corps in their sector, the Russian IV Corps unleashed as blizzard of artillery fire on the Guards and then sprang forward to the attack.
German accounts of the battle gloss over the poor performance of the Prussian Guard. The Russian attack thoroughly disrupted the Guards, and they played little role in the upcoming pursuit of First Army other than to stumble along behind the regulars and, in what had to be particularly galling, behind the reservists and even the Landwehr. IV Corps, having fulfilled its mission, pulled back in good order and would later conduct a seamless retreat back to Russian territory.
This is a big scenario, with a lot of real estate and plenty of troops marching across it. The Guard Reserve performed poorly in East Prussia but has the means to be an effective fighting force if you can give it better guidance than it had in the actual campaign.
9 September 1914
German and Russian troops had stared at one another for almost a month from their trenches in front of Lötzen, where Fort Boyen held up the Russian First Army. When the Germans went on the offensive, they faced a much more extensive network of trenches and a greater concentration of artillery than anywhere else on the front. Given a chance to redeem himself for his poor behavior at Ortelsburg, Lt. Gen. Otto Hennig of 35th Infantry Division sent his men forward in a brutal frontal assault against well-prepared defenders.
The Russians had prepared themselves for just such an attack, and backed their front-line position with additional artillery attached from corps and army assets. After a day of furious fighting including many hand-to-hand engagements with cold steel, Hennig’s division finally broke through. This would be the most intense example of trench fighting during the East Prussian campaign, and it resulted in heavy casualties for both sides before the Russian II Corps gave way and the First Army's left flank crumbled.
This is another big scenario, an infantry attack by a large and well-supported German force. For once there are substantial artillery assets for the defender, so the Russian player has the opportunity to plan the sort of heavy defensive barrages that other scenarios in this game don’t present. It’s an unusual action for this campaign, with the Germans bringing a lot of big guns to the table as well.
9 September 1914
Reinforced with a second cavalry division, Eighth Army joined it with the one division already present to form an ad hoc cavalry corps. The two divisions helped kick off the main German assault with an attempt to roll up the Russian First Army’s left flank. But the Russians had horsemen of their own charged with preventing just such a move.
The Germans rode forward with some enthusiasm, as this was the first time a large body of cavalry had been given a purely offensive mission in the East Prussian campaign. They ran into fierce resistance from the Russian 1st Cavalry Division, which slowed and finally stopped the German advance. Cavalry Corps Brecht would not be making deep operational penetrations on the first day of the offensive.
This time we get a big cavalry battle, with hordes of horses on both sides riding around and charging each other. This is great fun.
10 September 1914
With the Russian First Army falling back toward the frontier, the German cavalry corps moved to unhinge its left flank. First Army command ordered its own cavalry to screen the retreat and stop the German horsemen from penetrating. The German 8th Cavalry Division, made up of the Royal Saxon Army’s cavalry regiments, considered itself the finest unit in the Imperial Army’s mounted branch and intended to prove it. The hussars and Don Cossacks of Huseyn Khan Nakhchivansky’s Russian 2nd Cavalry Division, stationed just over the border at Suwalki during peacetime, would have to stop them.
Initial Russian resistance held up the German advance, but as the day wore on the Saxons gained the upper hand. By afternoon the Germans had taken the key crossroads town of Goldap and the Khan’s division had fallen back away from the neighboring 2nd Guard Cavalry Division. The Saxons would ride through the gap on the 12th and saber the First Army's supply columns, sowing panic amid the rear echelon.
And now we have an even bigger cavalry battle, with all six maps on the table and even more horse soldiers in action. We called the series “Infantry Attacks,” but it does a good job with cavalry, too.
And that’s Chapter Eight. Next time, it’s Chapter Nine.
You can order August 1914 right here.
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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.