Scenario Preview, Part Five
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The battles of August 1914, seen in Infantry Attacks: August 1914, are indeed settled by infantry. Field guns are a potent adjunct, and artillery can make any fixed position uncomfortable. But when it comes to maneuver - and these battle almost all require at least some maneuver - it’s the infantry that has to take and hold ground.
No battle of the Great War had as decisive a result as Tannenberg, in large part due to the ability of infantry to maneuver and secure a crushing victory. Let’s continue our look at how they did it.
Tannenberg: The Second Day
The second day of the German offensive saw the Germans in position and driving forward according to the Hindenburg-Ludendorff plan. On the German right, I Corps had to push back the Russian I Corps while edging into the gap between the Russian I Corps and XV Corps to the north to separate the two enemy formations. Meanwhile the German XX Corps engaged the Russian XV Corps, slipping into the gap as well to push the Russians away from their I Corps. On the German left flank, the XVII Corps continued its march from the north into the Russian rear against little opposition.
The Russian Second Army command didn’t know it yet, but the advance of the German I Corps placed them in deep trouble. Not all were complacent; the Russian 3rd Guard Division of XXIII Corps tried to halt the German advance as night fell. But the Germans had made great strides toward placing their own forces across the Russian lines of communication.
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.
The Russian victory conditions come close to requiring that they annihilate the Germans, a result that’s certainly well within their capabilities. The Germans have poor morale and low firepower, but at least they’ve got artillery support.
Advance Towards 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.
The Germans have to attack, and they have the numbers and a strong allotment of field guns and machine guns to support them. The Russian howitzers are a potent weapon, but not a flexible one in Infantry Attacks. They’re an area-denial weapon that can make it panful for the Germans to enter some key hexes, but the Russian infantry is going to have to deny the Germans their objectives.
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.
The Germans are going to have to attack to meet their objectives; the Russians have everything they need to win the game when play begins and it’s theirs to lose. The Germans have a numerical edge that will help them, but it’s still going to be a tough fight.
27 August 1914
Built in the 1840’s 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 probably the oddest scenario in the game; most of the Germans are machine-gunners, and occupy a fort that the Russians want. But there are some rather poor Landwehr outside the fort, who can offer support or get smashed by the Russian steamroller if they get too froggy. It’s an unusual situation, and just a small scenario, so it will probably get a lot of play.
And that’s Chapter Five.
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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.