By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
We’ve published a great many games and books at Avalanche Press – several hundred over the company’s various iterations – and not many of those came very close to what I’d first imagined they might become. Two of them that do come very close are Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires and its expansion book, Franz Josef’s Armies.
Fall of Empires and Franz Josef’s Armies are based on the battles of Kraśnik and Komarów, which took place in August 1914 along the frontier between Austrian and Russian Poland. The Austro-Hungarian side declared victory, but at such a great cost that the Dual Monarchy would only win one more major engagement on the Eastern Front using only its own resources. That would take place at Limanowa in December 1914.
That makes the Battle of Limanowa the obvious topic for the next installment in our tale of Austria-Hungary’s last war, Infantry Attacks: Edelweiss Division. Fall of Empires is focused on the actions at Kraśnik and Komarów involving the Imperial and Royal Common Army, the regular army of the Dual Monarchy that drew recruits and funding from all of Austria-Hungary. Franz Josef’s Armies adds pieces for the two national regular armies of Austria and Hungary (yes, they had their own regular armies, too) and scenarios for them from Kraśnik and Komarów.
Both Fall of Empires and Franz Josef’s Armies have sold surprisingly well (for World War One games of tactical combat) and been well-received as far as I can tell, and I’m very pleased at how they turned out. They blend together history and game play, using the scenarios to tell the story just like I’d always hoped we could do. They are a model for the sort of game I want to publish at Avalanche Press.
Edelweiss Division will be very similar. We’ll have 88 new die-cut and silky-smooth playing pieces, showing the Austro-Hungarian 3rd “Edelweiss” Infantry Division – the best fighting unit of the Imperial and Royal Army – in its own special color scheme with an edelweiss flower (symbol of Austria’s mountain troops, later stolen by the Germans along with the rest of the country) as the unit background.
This being a formation from 1914, the bulk of the pieces are infantry: elite Jägers for the division’s three crack mountain regiments and regular infantry for the 28th Regiment. And the division gets a couple of cavalry squadrons. In 1914 the artillery is mostly armed with the 8cm M05 field gun; the medium piece is the M99 10cm howitzer. Neither is a particularly good weapon, and despite the sky-high morale of the gun crews (Austrian gunners considered themselves an elite brotherhood), they are badly outmatched by Russian artillery. A couple of batteries have the 7cm M08 mountain gun, which offers even worse performance but at least is easy to move.
We also add a new force to the vast array of Austro-Hungarian armies, the Polish Legion. Josef Pilsudski had formed the Legion at the start of the war from Polish volunteers, and it had just organized its first brigade (it would number three brigades of six battalions each by the following spring). The Legionnaires receive a white stripe, to distinguish them from the Common Army (yellow stripe), Imperial Austrian Landwehr (red stripe), Royal Hungarian Honvédség (green stripe) and Bosniaken (blue stripe). The Austro-Hungarian Army is nothing if not colorful.
Eventually the Polish Legion would become an all-arms force; Pilsudski organized the brigades as the cadre for full-sized divisions, which they became in Polish service after the war’s end. In December 1914 they remained a collection of infantry battalions, without their own cavalry or artillery.
The Edelweiss Division (along with the rest of the XIV “Alpine’ Corps) spearheaded the Austro-Hungarian offensive at Limanowa. The Russian Third Army had advanced to the outskirts of Krakau, the capital of Austrian Poland, in the last weeks of November. In doing so, it left its southern or left flank open, with the exhausted Russian Eighth Army unable to close the gap between them.
Franz Conrad von Hötzendorff, the blithering incompetent in charge of Austro-Hungarian armies on the Eastern Front, saw one answer to every strategic or operational question: an offensive. For once, after five months of unmitigated disaster, his stock answer matched up with the operational situation. The Russians had provided an opening, and the Austrians would attempt to take it.
The Austro-Hungarian offensive would be undertaken by the XIV “Alpine” Corps, bolstered by a German reserve infantry division would attack to the north-west to roll up the open Russian flank, while an ad hoc corps-sized force led by FML Sándor Szurmay of the stout 38th Honvéd Infantry Division fought off attempts by the Russian Eighth Army to interfere. The Battle of Limanowa would become part of Hungarian as well as Polish and Austrian military lore.
The attack jumped off on 3 December 1914, with the Edelweiss Division in the lead. The Russians resisted stoutly, and undertook their own attempt to unhinge the Austrian right flank. Only an epic stand by the Polish Legion’s 1st Brigade at Neu Sandez against the Russian 14th and 15th Infantry Divisions prevented an Austrian disaster. But by 12 December the Russians were in full retreat and Conrad declared the Battle of Limanowa a great victory, taking much personal credit though his only contribution had been to meddle from his headquarters deep in the rear at Tessin.
Edelweiss Division is a full-sized book, just like Franz Josef’s Armies, and tells the full story of the Battle of Limanowa, with plenty of historical background and 30 scenarios that illustrate that narrative. This is no thin gruel of five scenarios and nothing more; we want to engage you in an immersive historical experience. To play those scenarios you’ll need both Fall of Empires and Franz Josef’s Armies, plus August 1914 (for those German pieces).
The story of Austria-Hungary’s last war is one I’d love to tell through a dozen more books like this one, or even more. And while I could do that, we’d saturate the market pretty quickly. I won’t have many opportunities to write and publish a book like Edelweiss Division, so I’ve poured the same effort into it that went into Fall of Empires and Franz Josef’s Armies. You’re going to like it.
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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 and three children. He misses his Iron Dog, Leopold.
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