Bavarians at the Gates
A They Shall Not Pass Variant

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
March 2023

German commander-in-chief Erich von Falkenhayn may have intended the German assault to stall out short of Verdun; the weight of historiography seems to be behind this view but it is by no means accepted by all. In any event, he denied reinforcements to the German Fifth Army tasked with attacking the city. From the moment they received orders to plan for an attack on Verdun, Crown Prince Wilhelm of Fifth Army and his staff protested that they needed more troops. Falkenhayn allotted many extra artillery batteries, but the attack would be conducted by the infantry divisions already on the spot. When the assault troops reached their high point, the unlikely capture of Fort Douaumont, the road to Verdun briefly appeared to be open. But no fresh troops were on hand to take up the attack, and French reinforcements turned back the exhausted Germans in a bitter four-day battle in and around the village of Douaumont. Verdun would remain French, and both sides would continue to pour more men into what the troops on the ground called “the mill.”

Falkenhayn certainly had troops available, and was able to reinforce the assault fairly quickly once he decided to expand the effort to the west bank of the river Marne in March 1916 (outside the scope of They Shall Not Pass). The Royal Bavarian Army’s I Corps would fight in the Douaumont sector in the summer of 1916, alongside the Alpenkorps (a division, despite its name).

Men of the 16th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment.

Bavarian units were organized, equipped and trained exactly as those of the Imperial German Army, differing in flags and uniform details. A somewhat more liberal social outlook allowed Jewish reserve officers in Bavarian regiments (as in neighboring Austria-Hungary), where Prussia and other German states had none. They also accepted Adolf Hitler as a volunteer in the 16th Reserve Infantry Regiment.

At the outbreak of war, Bavarian fielded three regular and one reserve corps, all of which together formed the Sixth Army on the left flank of the German deployment against France. The I Corps, like the others, saw action on the Western Front from the start of the war. King Ludwig III of Bavaria had extracted a promise from the Kaiser that his army would never be deployed against Russia, and for the most part this promise held true throughout the war. During the initial, February offensive at Verdun (the topic of the game), I Corps occupied a relatively quiet sector around Arras well to the north-west of Verdun. However, it could have been summoned relatively quickly in February just as it would be in May and would have been a very logical choice had Falkenhayn heeded the Crown Prince’s pleas for more troops.

The corps’ two divisions, the 1st and 2nd, came from Munich and Augsburg respectively. Each had begun the war as a “square” formation with four infantry regiments organized in two brigades. In April 1915 each division gave up one regiment and adopted a “triangular” formation; this made command and support easier and also increased the proportion of artillery as compared to infantry in each division.

Alpenkorps troopers pose amid the Austrian Alps.

The Alpenkorps was formed in March 1915 from the Bavarian Life Guard Infantry Regiment, given up by 1st Infantry Division, and a collection of independent jäger battalions formed into three more light infantry regiments. It went first to Tirol to stand on the defensive against the Italians, even though Germany and Italy were not formally at war. By October it had pulled out of the Italian Front and entrained for France, but the high command had second thoughts and it re-embarked for Serbia. After fighting in the winter campaign in Serbia, the Alpenkorps departed for the Western Front in March 1916 and went into the line around Rheims before pulling out to join the Bavarian I Corps at Verdun in the summer of 1916. When committed to action at Verdun the Alpenkorps was still organized as a “square” pattern division; it would later give up its 3rd Jäger Regiment to the newly-formed 200th Mountain Division.

The Variant
At the time of the Verdun offensive, all three divisions could have been made available to the Crown Prince. They were not the first fresh formations to arrive on the scene, but were the easiest to deploy and even more importantly their game pieces bear the utterly cool Bavarian blue-and-white lozenge pattern.

The German player may choose to bring in the two infantry divisions of Bavarian I Corps as an optional reinforcement. The units listed below may enter on Turn Four (only) from any hex(es) on the north edge of the board between hexes 2601 and 3301 (inclusive). If the German player brings in the Bavarian I Corps, he or she loses three victory points at the end of the game.

Bavarian I Corps
I headquarters
I medium artillery (two units)
1 engineer
1/1 infantry
1/2 infantry
1/24 infantry
1/1 artillery
2/12 infantry
2/15 infantry
2/20 infantry
2/2 artillery

If the German player chooses to bring the Bavarian I Corps into play, he or she may choose to bring in the Alpenkorps as well. The German player may only bring the Alpenkorps into play if the Bavarian I Corps has already entered the game (he or she may not choose to forgo the two infantry divisions but bring the Alpenkorps into play alone). The units listed below may enter on Turn Six (only) from any hex(es) on the north edge of the board between hexes 2601 and 3301 (inclusive). If the German player brings in the Alpenkorps, he or she loses two victory points at the end of the game (in addition to the three lost for entry of the Bavarian I Corps). Other than this rule for entry, the Alpenkorps is part of Bavarian I Corps for all game purposes.

German Jägers. The three German light infantry regiments of the Alpenkorps have the same advantages as French Hunter units (see 12.5).

AK/LG infantry
AK/1J light infantry
AK/2J light infantry
AK/3J light infantry
AK/2G artillery
AK/AK engineer

You can download a tiny .pdf of the game pieces here.

You can order They Shall Not Pass right here.

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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 a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.

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