Infantry Attacks: August 1914
Scenario Preview, Part Five
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Here's the final installment of our August 1914 scenario preview:
8 September 1914
After driving the Finnish riflemen out of Bialla, the shopkeepers and dockworkers of Georg Freiherr von der Goltz's Landwehr division — now toughened by their combat experience — next turned to another Russian formation of high fighting reputation. The III Siberian Rifle Corps had just arrived at the front after a weeks-long journey from Irkutsk. The planned offensive against First Army could not go forward with the tough Siberians poised to roll up the German right flank.
For the second time in two days, the Landwehr scored a victory over a very good Russian formation. The Germans had massive numerical superiority, despite a lack of machine guns and shortage of artillery, and used it to drive back the Siberians and disrupt them enough to keep them out of the coming Battle of the Masurian Lakes. The good performance of Germany's part-time soldiers would be the real story of the East Prussian campaign.
This is a small scenario, with the Germans on the attack at dawn, trying to inflict casualties and seize a single town hex. They have a serious numerical advantage and not much else: the Russians have a huge edge in artillery and morale, and they have machine guns while the Landwehr have none. It’s a fun little scenario and it features Siberians.
9 September 1914
Reinforced with a second cavalry division, Eighth Army joined it with the one division already present to form an ad hoc 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.
I wanted the game to include some large cavalry battles, and this action fits that requirement perfectly. Four boards are in play, and each side wields pretty much an entire cavalry division with solid morale, good leadership and the relatively weak artillery support of all horsed formations in 1914. The Germans are trying to drive through the Russians and off the east edge, and have a slight edge in numbers to help them accomplish this. All told, this is one of my favorites in the set.
Road to Lyck
9 September 1914
Having ordered the Landwehr to attack the Siberians, Eighth Army grew concerned that a strong Russian force around the town of Lyck could attack the Landwehr's rear flank. Attaching a regular army cavalry brigade to Lt. Gen. Kurt von Morgen's division of reservists, army commander Paul von Hindenburg ordered Morgen to make a covering attack against the Russians and drive them away from the Landwehr.
The Finns put up furious resistance, and a massive firefight broke out more fitting to 1814 than 1914. Infantry of both sides blazed away at each other at ranges of 100 meters or less, with massive casualties inflicted. The German advantage in cavalry gave them no edge on the battlefield, as the horsemen dismounted to join the firing line. Despite their much greater numbers the Germans gave way first, leaving the Finns holding the battlefield.
The Germans are on the attack, facing an elite Russian formation already dug in with good but not great artillery support. The battle is pretty much a melee, and the German numerical edge is not enough to allow them to simply swamp the Russians with mass assaults.
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.
I knew I had to include this scenario, to give players a battle that actually meets the modern-day misconceptions of land warfare in 1914: a massive infantry assault against a prepared enemy well-supplied with machine guns and reserves. The Russians have good morale, a huge allotment of artillery, solid leadership and entrenchments. German numbers are only marginally better than those of the Russians, their morale is equivalent, but they do bring massive artillery support. This is going to be a very bloody encounter, no matter who wins.
Second Army Returns
9 September 1914
German propaganda of 1914 — echoed by some popular historians down to the present day — declared the Russian Second Army destroyed. While Samsonov's forces had suffered a catastrophic defeat, they were by no means wiped out and several of the late general's corps maintained considerable fighting power. When German first-line units moved eastward to fight First Army, these troops moved forward to strike the Germans from the rear.
The Russians supposedly wiped out a week and a half earlier caught the Landwehr completely by surprise. The attack crushed the German front line, and 70th Landwehr Brigade fell back in utter rout, retreating a full 33 kilometers back to Ortelsburg through the course of the night. The Russians failed to follow up their success, having lost most of the logistical support, such as it was, in Second Army's bitter defeat. The German army command ordered 3rd Reserve Division to prepare to disengage from the front and return to face the revived Second Army, but only a few Russian cavalry patrols actually pursued the fleeing Landwehr.
This time the Russians are on the attack, with a division of regular cavalry that’s taken some beating to its morale but is still a formidable instrument of war. The German defenders are fairly weak Landwehr, who do get to dig in (not sure they really should be allowed to do so, given the state of their training) and have some artillery support though it’s under some restrictions.
The Guard Recoils
9 September 1914
Just arrived from the Western Front, the Guard Reserve Corps deployed as 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 a 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.
Both sides are on the attack, but the German player is hampered by the assumption that only his side is about to launch an offensive. The Germans have a huge force of elite troops with plentiful machine guns and on-board artillery, but they must set up clustered together and vulnerable to a Russian spoiling attack. The Russians have almost as men troops as the Germans, and if they’re not elite Guardsmen they’re still very solid regulars.
Fight to the Finnish
10 September 1914
Having failed to eject the Finns from their positions astride the road to the key town of Lyck, Lt. Gen Kurt von Morgen requested assistance from the 1st Landwehr Division. Morgen did not inform his superiors of the failure, hoping to break through with the aid of the Landwehr and his attached brigade of cavalry. But both the cavalry and Landwehr commanders duly reported the true situation, leaving Morgen in a tight professional bind. If he could score a rapid success, his dissembling would be forgotten. If not, he could look forward to spending the war counting blankets in some Pomeranian depot.
Morgen brought up all of his division's artillery and summoned his own reserves as well as the Landwehr division. Once again the Finns put up fierce resistance, finally giving way by mid-morning. The cavalry followed them to the southwest across the Russian border as they re-joined the Russian Tenth Army, while the two infantry divisions marched northwards toward the flank of First Army.
It’s a rematch on the Road to Lyck, with the Finns having received a handful of reinforcements and the Germans hoping to bring on some Landwehr. It’s a tough task for the Germans even if they make their reinforcement die roll; the Russians are tough and they are either dug in or positioned in the woods.
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.
We wrap up August 1914 with an even bigger cavalry battle. It’s a meeting engagement, and the forces involved are huge: 36 Russian cavalry squadrons against two dozen Germans. The Germans have elite morale; neither side has much artillery. All six boards are in play, so saddle up and ride to war.
And that’s it for August 1914, the first but far from the last boxed game in the Infantry Attacks series.
Infantry Attacks: August 1914 is waiting for you!