Infantry Attacks: August 1914
Scenario Preview, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Infantry Attacks: August 1914 is one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on. The scenarios came together without too much angst and show the story of August 1914 in East Prussia pretty much the way I hoped they would.
Here’s a look at them, from the designer’s perspective.
The Harrowing of East Prussia
15 August 1914
Russian cavalry led the advance into German territory, scrupulously avoiding incidents with the local population. That wouldn't stop German propagandists from describing rape, robbery and arson on a wide scale, attributed to "the Cossacks." The Russian cavalry's probe came to a halt near the village of Lindental, where they ran head-on into the locally raised German regular cavalry division.
Russian cavalry was probably better-trained than its German counterpart, but the Germans marched to war in a haze of mass hysteria. Sharp squadron-level actions all along the front checked the Russian advance, and neither side's cavalry would be able to outflank the infantry now engaged in bitter fighting to the south.
I like this scenario a lot, but I probably shouldn’t have made it scenario number one – many players will play the game’s scenarios in sequence, so the first scenario in a new game series like Infantry Attacks should have been a simple introductory scenario without special rules or the more complex elements of the game series (like off-board artillery fire or dismounting cavalry). This one is a cavalry meeting engagement, with each side wielding a pretty large force of elite horsemen in a free-for-all.
17 August 1914
German troops went to war with schoolboy enthusiasm, many of them eager for the adventure to come. I Corps commander Hermann von Francois informed his chief of staff that his troops were the best in the Imperial Army, and he saw no reason to obey pre-war plans or direct orders from Eighth Army headquarters. Instead of falling back to a shorter position, he pushed his divisions forward and deployed all his infantry in the front line. When three Russian divisions advanced against Richard von Conta's 1st Infantry Division, Francois had no reserves to bolster the leading regiments.
Russian infantry pressed their attacks and soon the German 43rd Infantry Regiment found itself in deep trouble, with enemy attacks coming from three sides. The arrival of the only remaining I Corps reserve helped stem the attack somewhat, but by noon Francois and Conta agreed that 1st Division had to withdraw. But to make their escape, somehow they would have to break contact with the Russians.
This is a pretty big scenario, featuring a Russian infantry division on the attack against a German division that’s not dug in and will get a hefty addition of artillery firepower about halfway through the fight. The Germans will need to defend aggressively, or Russian numbers will take too many towns from them.
Sound of the Guns
17 August 1914
German I Corps commander Hermann von Francois not only had deployed all of his infantry in the front line: by staying out of his headquarters to avoid unwanted interference from his superiors, he also lost track of half of his forces. Fortunately for the Germans, Maj. Gen. Adalbert von Falk of 2nd Infantry Division (just starting his second week on the job) heard the crash of fighting around Gumbinnen and gathered one of his brigades to march to the sound of the guns.
Falk's attack took the Russians by surprise, finding their open left flank and proceeding to roll them up. Conta's 1st Division went over to the attack when they saw the Russians falter, and the 27th Infantry Division fell back in near-total panic. The Russian division's losses topped 3,000 prisoners and another 3,000 dead and wounded.
This is a pretty complex scenario: there are two German forces, with the somewhat disorganized 1st Infantry Division already on the board. A large Russian force enters from the east, while the German 2nd Infantry Division enters from the south. The Russians know the second German force is out there, so they can take at least some precautions with their left flank, but it still will be hard on them to move forward with their flank hanging open.
Last Stand at Bilderweitschen
17-18 August 1914
Roughly handled in its first actions with the Russians, the German 1st Infantry Division pulled back as darkness fell on 17 August. Two companies of the 41st Infantry Regiment remained in place; their commanders had received no orders to retreat and refused to pull back without them.
In these early days of the Great War, officers of all armies had some rather baseless romantic notions of how to wage war. The two German companies stayed in place and even fixed bayonets for a dramatic final battle with the Russians before sense finally prevailed and they pulled out of Bilderweitschen, dragging 30 Russian prisoners with them. They did manage to discourage Russian pursuit with their ill-advised resistance, allowing 1st Division to break contact and gain a desperately needed rest.
This is a one-map, night-time scenario in which the Russians try to overwhelm a small German town garrison before reinforcements can arrive to save the day. Assaults are harder for the Russians due to German watchfires; I’m not sure the record supports the existence of the fires, which weren’t in there when I wrote the thing, but they do help balance the scenario for the Germans.
18 August 1914
Germany mobilized about four million men in August 1914, but only about half of these were in formal regular and reserve formations. The rest served in hastily formed Landwehr, Landsturm and Ersatz "brigades" — with no peacetime organization, no heavy weapons, and their men years removed from their military training (if they'd had any at all). Nevertheless, when reports came of Russian cavalry crossing into East Prussia, a collection of middle-aged cavalrymen and cyclists moved to stop them.
Detached from the Königsberg general reserve, the 9th Landwehr Brigade had no contact with the nearby I Corps or Eighth Army, and had no business wandering around the battlefield without artillery support. Huseyn Khan Nakhchivansky's cavalry division simply obliterated the small force, which fought to the last man.
This is a small and short scenario, in which a low-morale German force of mixed Landwehr and cavalry tries to get in the way of a crack Russian cavalry brigade. It’s not likely to go well for the Germans, but then, they don’t have to do a lot to “win.”
Charge of the Guards
19 August 1914
On the right flank of the Russian First Army, the army command had formed four cavalry divisions into an ad hoc corps under the command of Huseyn Khan Nakhchivansky. Learning from scouts that a newly raised German Landwehr brigade had just de-trained and started for the front, the Khan decided to welcome them to the war and ordered his horsemen forward on his own initiative.
Most of the Guards dismounted to execute an infantry assault on the surprised Landwehr, but the 3rd Regiment of Lifeguards lined up for a classic cavalry charge, overrunning and capturing the brigade's attached artillery battery. The Khan had scored a victory, but at the cost of nearly 400 casualties — plus in riding rapidly to the west he had worn out his horses and assured that his corps would play no role in the Battle of Gumbinnen that broke out the next day.
It’s another cavalry-vs.-Landwehr action, with the Landwehr trying to hold onto a road line and the towns strung along it without getting annihilated like their comrades in the 9th Landwehr Brigade in the previous scenario. Even against poor-quality Landwehr troops like these, cavalry charges are not always the best course of action, but in Infantry Attacks, unlike Panzer Grenadier, the horsemen can dismount and fight on foot.
20 August 1914
With the Russian First Army on the march again, the Germans planned to strike and stop its advance so they could turn their attention to the Russian Second Army approaching from the south. Francois convinced the army command to try a maneuver more fitting for a peacetime exercise than an actual battlefield. Falk's 2nd Infantry Division would make a night march behind the 1st Division to hit the Russians on their exposed right flank with a dawn attack.
Despite repeated halts for false reports of Russian activity, Falk somehow got his division into position by their 4 a.m. start time, only to halt for half an hour due to heavy fog. The troops went forward when the mists lifted, still screened by the last moments of nighttime darkness. They caught the Russians totally unprepared, with many of them still in their bedrolls. Yet the Russians recovered quickly and soon the Germans had a serious fight on their hands. By noon the town of Uszballen finally fell to them after fierce hand-to-hand fighting.
The Germans get to make a dawn attack from multiple directions, with the Russians caught unprepared. The Germans need to inflict as much damage as they can as quickly as they can, because the Russians will recover their mojo as the game goes on. It's a good-sized scenario, and one with some nice special rules.
20 August 1914
While Falk's 2nd Division made its looping maneuver to strike the Russian flank, Conta's 1st Division had the task of pinning the Russians in place with a frontal assault. Unusually for the first weeks of the Great War, the Russian 28th Division had taken care to prepare for the German attack. To encourage the men to advance against the fortified Russian line, Conta ordered his regiments forward with the flags uncased and bands playing.
The Russian division put up stout resistance, but the Germans pressed forward despite heavy casualties (particularly among their officers). When the village of Brakupönen fell the fight went out of the Russians and 28th Division began to fall apart, leaving 5,000 prisoners behind. When the German infantry began its pursuit, their artillery took a hand, blasting their comrades with the most accurate barrage of the campaign to date. Broken by their own artillery, the German division fled the field as well.
The Germans have to make a frontal assault, which is pretty bad in Infantry Attacks terms. It gets worse as the games goes on, however, as in the later turns it will be the Russian player directing the German off-board artillery (presumably to strike German targets). This is a problem, since the Germans have a lot of off-board artillery, so they’ll need to grab their objectives as quickly as possible before the shells start raining on them.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.