Infantry Attacks: August 1914
Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Intended to take the Panzer Grenadier series to the First World War, Infantry Attacks has proven to be a very sound design. The only real problem has been a lack of new games in the series. We should be remedying that soon, but in the meantime, we continue to look at the scenarios of the series’ premier game, August 1914:
“Prussian Infantry Does Not Entrench!"
20 August 1914
August von Mackensen's XVII Corps managed to disorder itself on the approach march toward the battlefield, and went into action against the Russian III Corps expecting to find the Russians already falling back from the great successes reported by I Corps to the north. Instead, the Lithuanian regulars had dug in directly across the Germans' path. Mackensen flung his troops forward without bothering to conduct reconnaissance.
Ignoring their pre-war doctrine that called for careful scouting and artillery preparation before launching an attack, the Germans simply charged forward behind sword-waving officers. The Russians held their positions, invisible to the attackers until the last moment, and inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans particularly among junior officers. "Dig in the way the Russians did!" snapped Lt. Gen. Konstanz von Heineccius when told of the carnage. Given the order, a captain from the 5th Grenadiers replied, "Prussian infantry does not entrench!" By midafternoon the division was in full flight, despite the desperate attempts of their officers.
I have a thing for putting unusual historical situations into game form, and the bloody absurdity of this battle struck me years before I actually designed August 1914. It’s a large infantry fight with both sides having to attack and defend, but the Germans are under unique restrictions – they can only dig in if their officers are not present (in game terms, they have to activate without a leader). If a leader is within two hexes, they cannot do so.
20 August 1914
On the southern end of the German line, Otto von Below's I Reserve Corps had flung out its cavalry to conduct the reconnaissance that Mackensen neglected. Finding no Russians, the corps turned to the northeast to strike what they assumed to be the enemy left flank. German pilots spotted the Russian IV Corps, but too late to warn Below that his reservist cavalry had completely missed 30,000 Russians moving quickly on a flank attack of their own.
The reservists recoiled at the Russian attack, and their cavalry belatedly tried to attack the oncoming enemy with little effect. The artillery didn't offer much help either, but surprisingly the Germans rallied from their initial shock and began to push forward. By mid-afternoon they had recovered all the lost ground and stopped the Russians from breaking through on their mission to turn the flank of the German XVII Corps.
The Germans have a tough task here: the Russians have significant advantages in numbers, morale and artillery and are seeking to march across the board from east to west. The German reservists are going to have to get in front of them and act as a speedbump, while the Russian Steamroller tries to do its thing.
20 August 1914
Intended to man the fortresses of East Prussia and Posen in the event of war, the Landwehr of Germany's eastern provinces found themselves instead marching into the front lines to face the Russian Army's regulars. Men in their 30s and 40s, thrown together in hastily organized units under officers cast off from active units, the Landwehr troops grasped their black-powder rifles and went forward with little artillery support and no machine guns.
While most Russian division commanders had put all of their forces in the front line — providing stout but vulnerable lines of defense — Lt. Gen. Pavel Ilich Bulgakov had held back most of his strength. When two German divisions struck his lines, he had a strong reserve to meet their attacks. On his northern flank, he had little need for reinforcements: his front-line regiment easily held off the middle-aged Landwehr.
This time the German Landwehr is on the attack against Russian regular infantry, facing serious deficits in numbers, morale and artillery. But working for their cause is … well, nothing except the expectation that the Russian player achieve great objectives against such a pitiful foe.
23 August 1914
On the southern frontier of East Prussia, the regulars of the locally-recruited German XX Corps, reinforced by large contingents of Landwehr and fortress troops, prepared to meet the Russian Second Army. While the corps had the mission of delaying the Russian advance, the troops and junior officers were not interested in yielding any Prussian ground.
Though the Germans deployed for a conventional defense, when the Russians appeared all planning and doctrine instantly disappeared. Like "murderous schoolboys," historian Dennis Showalter wrote, German battalions went forward with flags flying and bands playing, some of them supposedly bellowing the Deutschlandlied ("Deutschland über Alles”). Russian fire cut down many before small but fierce close-quarters fights broke out all along the line. In the village of Lahna, 500 Prussian Jägers engaged the Polish regulars of the Russian 8th Division all day in no-quarter house-to-house fighting; perhaps 30 men limped away when darkness fell.
The Germans are on the defensive, but not allowed to dig in and required to take some ground in front of their initial positions. So both sides are moving forward into contested territory, making this sort of a meeting engagement. This is a good-sized scenario with plentiful forces on both sides, with good morale, leadership and artillery support for each.
24 August 1914
Lt. Gen. Friedrich Scholtz of XX Corps hoped to launch a dawn attack on the Russians, but his staff soon informed him that 37th Infantry Division was far too disorganized to attack. Worse, Russian infantry had infiltrated so close to his positions that he could not pull the division back to re-order it for the assault. Scholtz ordered 3rd Reserve Division forward to push the Russians back and save the regulars from being overrun.
While the Russians were in better shape than their enemies, they still suffered problems of their own. The Russian pursuit did not press the Germans closely, and when fresh German troops came onto the battlefield the Russians were content to let the Germans pull away. Thirty-Seventh Infantry Division had been put out of the fight for some days; it would be up to Second Army command to exploit this advantage.
The Germans start the scenario pretty badly disorganized, strung out, and facing an attack by a very good Russian division. The Germans are trying to escape off the map, and a reserve division will come on at some point to help them break contact (as is usually the case in both this series and its sister Panzer Grenadier, that point is not fully known to either side).
26 August 1914
When the new German command team opened the offensive that would become known as the Battle of Tannenberg, XX Corps was expected to hold its position while I Corps moved forward. But at midday the German command became aware of what it believed was a gap in the Russian lines, and ordered Scholtz's corps to strike at once.
Finding an open flank, the Germans rolled up the 2nd Division's 1st Brigade and forced it back against the shores of one of the area's many lakes. Despite the late start, for once German offensive operations went the way the textbooks described them. Artillery bombardment disordered the enemy and then infantry found their flank and made an attack at that weak point. The next four years would see very few such opportunities.
The Germans get to enter from both the south and the east, which will make it hard on the Russians to guard their flanks though at least, unlike their historical counterparts, they know the Germans are coming. The Germans have better artillery support but only a slight edge in numbers, but the Russians will have to either spread out to cover all the town hexes they need to defend or yield easy victory points to the oncoming Germans.
From the Front
26 August 1914
When Eighth Army's command detected a gap in the Russian lines, they ordered 41st Infantry Division to attack between the Russian I and XV Corps. In contrast to their sister division, discipline broke down and tactical doctrine went out the window. The Germans rushed forward with far more enthusiasm then sense, and with their officers leading the forward stampede they veered away from the open Russian flank to strike the invaders head-on.
The 41st Division's infantry battalions took massive casualties, particularly among their officers. Prompt intervention by the division's artillery, moving into the front lines and firing over open sights, helped stabilize things. The 150th Infantry Regiment formed its machinegun platoons into a unified fire group and shattered a Russian counterattack. Despite the serious German losses, the Russian division came out even worse and had been broken by day's end.
The Germans are on the attack, trying to open the road against a pretty strong Russian defense. The Russians have strong artillery support, both on- and off-board, are well-led and have good morale. They just don’t have quite enough troops to cover all the ground they need to hold, though if the German player emulates his historical counterpart and flings his men right at the strongest part of the Russian line, it’ll be a long day for the Herrenvolk.
26 August 1914
August von Mackensen's XVII Corps began to crumble on the morning of 26 August, with some troops refusing to move forward without rest. On the German side, the middle-aged reservists of I Reserve Corps marched to the sound of the guns to rescue the regulars. On the Russian side, the 4th Division did not send out reconnaissance patrols ahead of its advance because, its chief of staff explained later, it had received no orders to do so.
Confused fighting broke out as the two forces stumbled into one another, and the Russians at first had the better of it. But the Germans stolidly pressed forward, with their artillery — unable to conduct indirect fire due to a lack of training among the Landsturm gunners — fighting with them in the front lines. As dusk fell their officers led them in a final mass bayonet charge that broke the Russians and sent all of VI Corps into a disorganized retreat.
While the German regular regiments of 1914 were very good (if suffering from some of the same deficiencies in doctrine as everyone else’s army), the real story of the East Prussian campaign is the performance of the German second-, third, fourth- and even fifth-line forces in repelling the Russian invasion. Here a German Reserve division is out-gunned and out-numbered (and out-moraled and out-led) in a meeting engagement with a Russian regular army division. But the Russians have steep victory conditions, so the Germans only have to hang on to friustrate them.
Infantry Attacks: August 1914 is available now, so order your copy TODAY!
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.