Infantry Attacks: August 1914
Scenario Preview, Part Three
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I’ve always been proud of August 1914, mostly because its scenario hang together to tell a narrative of the campaign – something I’ve tried to do in Panzer Grenadier series games but rarely achieved. The scenario overview resumes below:
26 August 1914
As the Germans opened what would become the battle of Tannenberg, Lt. Gen. Otto von Below of I Reserve Corps ordered his 36th Reserve Division to unhinge the left flank of the Russian VI Corps, anchored on the southern shore of the Bössauer See. To help take this strong position, he attached the 6th Landwehr Brigade from the garrison of Fort Boyen, telling the division staff to use them as "auxiliary strength" — in modern jargon, a "force multiplier."
Below advocated a complicated attack plan and the division staff concurred. The Landwehr and reservists carried it out pretty much as planned, striking the Russians from three different directions. The Russian pulled back from their strong position on the south end of the lake, forcing the entire corps to pull back with its flank now exposed. That in turn opened the right flank of the Russian XIII Corps to the southwest, causing it to pull its own troops back to refuse its flank and opening a large gap in the Russian lines that would lead directly to the massive defeat of Tannenberg.
The Russians are spread out covering several towns, and the Germans get to strike them from several directions. Unfortunately for the Germans, two-thirds of their force is made up of low-morale Landwehr who bring no support weapons to the battlefield. The rest of the force is made up of reservists, who do have artillery and machine guns but only slightly better morale.
27 August 1914
Commanding the Russian I Corps on the left flank of Second Army, Lt. Gen. V.I. Artamonov had orders to hold out to the last man. According to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Artamonov might have made ''an excellent private soldier provided he had a strict NCO over him,'' but was incapable of commanding a large formation in combat. Artamonov told army headquarters he expected to be attacked by two or three divisions striking form the northwest. "I hope Artamonov is entrenched," British observer A.W.F. Knox noted in his diary. Instead, Artamonov decided that the best defense was a good offense, ordering his troops forward to attack the only enemy his scouts had located, a division approaching from the west.
Artamonov's "enemy division" turned out to be a single brigade of Landwehr, also stumbling forward blindly. The Germans got the worst of the encounter by far: artillery from the German I Corps shelled the Landwehr's forward positions while a Russian cavalry division — moving northward on its own initiative, for it never occurred to Artamonov to summon them — struck them in the flank. The shattered brigade came to a halt, saved from destruction by Artamonov's decision to pull his entire corps back.
It’s a meeting engagement: on one side a regular Russian infantry division and a cavalry division; on the other, a brigade of German Landwehr. While the Russian command was not about to order Artamanov to pull back (that would imply actual control of their formations), it’s possible that the Russian commander on the spot might decide to pull back without a lot of warning and this might happen to the Russian player. That’s about all that will save the German side.
Advance Toward the Rising Sun
27 August 1914
While Artamonov's Russian I Corps opened a huge gap in its lines to chase a German Landwehr brigade, Francois' German I Corps attempted to attack into the breach. The Germans went forward without scouting the ground first, with one regimental colonel telling his men to simply "advance towards the rising sun."
The German 3rd Brigade stumbled directly into a hurricane of Russian rifle, machine-gun and artillery fire, as Artamonov's haphazard deployment had placed all of Russian I Corps' 122mm howitzers in this sector. The German artillery added to the misery with several barrages dropped on their own troops. Third Brigade broke and ran, leaving a gaping hole in the German lines. But Artamonov had already decided on a withdrawal and did nothing to exploit his unplanned success.
This time the Germans have a powerful force with good morale and plenty of artillery support. And they’re going to need it to overcome a stout (and mostly hidden!) Russian defense backed by strong off-board artillery. The Germans have a tough set of victory conditions, made tougher by their own lack of preparation – no indirect artillery fire is allowed, and friendly fire incidents are even more likely than usual.
27 August 1914
Ordered to advance "with the greatest energy," Lt. Gen. Friedrich von Scholtz of XX Corps hesitated to commit his whole force. On both his right and left flanks stood formations whose commanders had already ignored numerous direct orders from Eighth Army headquarters. If Scholtz now followed this directive, would he be sending his troops unsupported into a trap? Hedging, the German corps commander decided to attack with only part of his force.
Second Army command had directed that the huge quantities of beer captured in the town of Neidenburg just behind the Russian 2nd Division's lines be destroyed before the army pulled back to the south. News of this order caused 2nd Division — already exhausted and short of ammunition following the previous day's fighting — to break as soon as the Germans attacked. Whether the troops were more disheartened by the pending withdrawal or the loss of the beer is not clear.
Russian morale is shaky, and the Germans are on the attack with slightly better numbers and good artillery support. It’s a big scenario with plenty of opportunity for maneuver (well, as much as infantry maneuvers in the Infantry Attacks system).
27 August 1914
Built in the 1840s to command the land route between East Prussia and Russia, Fort Boyen was typical red-brick, crenellated structure common to the period. By 1914 it was hopelessly outdated, but it boasted a full battalion of machine-gunners as a garrison at a time when the weapons were fairly rare in the front lines. The outpost blocked easy communications between the Russian First and Second Armies, and with Second Army running into trouble the Russian General Staff ordered First Army to remove this problem as quickly as possible.
The Russians flung a few shells at Fort Boyen, but the volume of fire from its walls appears to have intimidated them and rather than order a direct assault — as his orders required — the commander of the 170th Molodechno Infantry Regiment instead sent a staff officer and trumpeter to demand the garrison's surrender within four hours. The Germans showed their respect by opening fire on the party, wounding two of them. The Russians had threatened to destroy the fort and exterminate the garrison, but instead withdrew without further violence.
This is an odd little scenario: the Germans occupy a brick fort, pinning them in place, but have massive machine-gun firepower at their command. The Russians have better morale and the numbers to try a frontal assault, but will suffer greatly if they do so. They have enough artillery to batter the fort into brick dust, but not enough time to trust their artillery to do all the work.
28 August 1914
Georg Freiherr von der Goltz's North German Landwehr division began the war guarding the Danish frontier, but soon found itself facing Russian regulars in the front lines. Ordered into action east of Tannenberg, von der Goltz expected to push toward the south to increase pressure on the Russian Second Army. Instead his motley formation came under attack from the north, as the Russian XIII Corps attempted to rejoin its fellows.
The German Landwehr, middle-aged men who'd passed out of the reserve, had no machine guns, M1871 rifles firing black-powder cartridges, and little refresher training. Yet they put up surprisingly stiff resistance, holding back the Russians and helping to set the trap for Second Army. In the swirling smoke of the burning Kämmereiwald forest and their own black powder, they located one another by swapping the old Hamburg greeting of "Hummel! Hummel!" and the traditional Plattdeutsch response of "Mors! Mors!" ("Kiss my ass!").
Well before I designed this game, I knew I’d have to do a scenario with this title. The Russians are on the attack, and while they have much better morale than the Landwehr their numbers are not that much greater, nor is their artillery support. The Russian player has a hard set of victory conditions to meet; the German player’s job is simply to stop him.
28 August 1914
With troops of both sides reeling from exhaustion and short of food and ammunition, the Germans pressed forward in hopes of finishing off the Russian Second Army. The 41st Division, unable to advance as ordered, put together battle groups as best it could and pushed them into the darkness. At the small town of Waplitz, a shallow stream held up the German advance.
The Germans got across the bridge, and then their advance faltered. Combat engineers tried to widen the bridgehead, but failed to break through. The Russians squeezed the Germans into the town of Waplitz, where 300 of them surrendered. The 41st Division began to break up, and fell back rapidly to its starting lines. Several of the division's batteries deployed in the open to cover the retreat, holding off Russian infantry with shrapnel fired over open sights before they were obliterated by Russian artillery fire.
This is an unusual little scenario, with the Germans trying to establish a bridgehead over a stream that leads between two lakes, creating a very narrow battlefield. The prohibition on German planned fire missions probably should be ignored; no idea how this got inserted.
28 August 1914
The German XX Corps' attack plan called for 41st Division to strike into the Russian rear, and only after their success would the 3rd Reserve Division with two attached Landwehr brigades make a frontal assault to crush the Russian XIII Corps between them. When 41st Division's advance failed miserably, Lt. Gen. Kurt von Morgen sent his reservists forward anyway, without reconnaissance or artillery support.
Third Reserve Division's 6th Reserve Brigade plunged into the Jablonken Forest with little preparation, not waiting for artillery support or for reconnaissance. Once among the trees they met the massed Russian Narva Infantry Regiment, in a furious close-quarters fight described in some detail in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's August 1914. After hours of close-quarters combat, in which the massed German machine-gun companies provided a "wall" of fire support, the Germans finally pressed forward to capture the village of Hohenstein.
This is the action that made me want to design this game, thanks to Solzhenitsyn’s vivid description. It’s a tough fight for both sides, with the Russians having slightly better morale but the Germans just a few more troops. The Germans are on the attack yet it’s the Russians who have (defensive) objectives to meet, which is a little backwards but it seems to work.
Infantry Attacks: August 1914 is available now, so get 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. Leopold is a good dog.