Fall of Empires:
Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
While Infantry Attacks games are mostly about infantry attacking (hence the title), the first three games (August 1914, Fall of Empires, Sinai-Palestine) feature a lot of cavalry actions, too. Not every game will have this much, but Fall of Empires kicks off with enough horse action to excite the most bitter old furry.
The Austro-Hungarian war plan called for using its cavalry in the war’s first days in an operational/strategic manner, to seek out the approaching Russian armies, identify their strength of location, and interfere with their movement. They managed to accomplish none of those, but they did look really good while they did so.
In front of the deploying Austro-Hungarian armies, eight and a half cavalry divisions advanced on the morning of 15 August to find the approaching Russian armies. Austrian cavalry had been superbly trained in mounted combat, and even in such un-gallant aspects as dismounted fighting and entrenching. But most regiments went to war in their parade uniforms, and even those that did not wore the old-style dark blue rather than the recently-issued pike gray of the infantry. With weak artillery and few machine guns, the cavalry divisions had little capability to wage modern war - but their task was not to engage the Russians, but ride past them.
15 August 1914
The Austrian 6th Cavalry Division made the first foray over the border into Russian Poland, advancing ahead of Fourth Army to screen its deployment and find the Russians. Just on the Austrian side of the frontier it ran hard into the Russian cavalry screen, and its commander FML Oskar Wittman called up his attached infantry, two battalions from Vienna’s famed Deutschmeister regiment and a Feldjäger battalion, all from the 25th Infantry Division. The Deutschmeister’s commander, Col. Ludwig Holzhausen, and his entire staff led the regiment into the war’s first battle.
Holzhausen drew his pallasch and led his men forward at a walk, to be struck down by Russian bullets as soon as he came into range. The Cossacks had prepared their own field fortifications, though their supporting regular infantry had not, and they held off repeated attacks by the Imperial and Royal Army’s best infantry regiment. The Deutschmeister suffered 39 killed, including Holzhausen, and 51 wounded. Unimpressed by dismounted combat, even in victory, the Stavka fired 1st Don Cossack Division’s commander, Lt. Gen. Alexei Kuzmin-Korovaev, that evening.
I’d hesitated to run this chapter first in the game, as its first scenario will be played the most of any (there’s a lot of data to back that up) so the game should start with something suitable for learning the game system. I think this one qualifies; it’s not very big and the Austrians are actually an infantry outfit so there’s only cavalry maneuvering on one side.
17 August 1914
FML Georg Edler von Lehmann had been ordered to send half of his 8th Cavalry Division southward to prop up the hapless 5th Honved Cavalry Division. The remainder moved eastward to seek out the advancing Russian 8th Army, only to find a thick Russian cavalry screen preventing any contact with the infantry. Standing orders called for the Austrian cavalry to fight their way through such obstacles and find the enemy, and Lehmann proceeded to attempt just that.
Austrian cavalry divisions had very little combat strength beyond their carbines and sabers: just one machine-gun detachment for the entire division, and one battalion of artillery (and not all divisions had even this scant support). Lehmann’s horsemen could not force their way past Alexi Brusilov’s cavalry screen, and the Austrian command remained ignored of the Russian deployment. Not that better information would have altered the plan to take the offensive as soon as possible.
Here we have cavalry against cavalry, with the Austrians trying to slip past the Russians while the Russians have to stop them and turn them back. The Austrians are slightly faster, but there are more Russians than Austrians.
First Action at Krasnik
17 August 1914
On the very left flank of the Austrian advance, 3rd Cavalry Division pressed up the right bank of the Vistula River seeking out the Russians. Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim and his Guards Cavalry Brigade raced southward with orders to hold the town of Krasnik and the heights to its south “at all costs.” The Austrians had already reached the high ground when the Russians arrived.
Mannerheim’s horsemen dismounted and fought the Austrian infantry for Krasnik, holding the town and claiming 600 prisoners taken. The Austrian cavalry failed to intervene, and despite some success by their artillery - which knocked out the Russian battery - the infantry lacked the strength to overcome the Russian Guards.
The Austrian cavalry may not show up at all, which makes this another fight of Russian cavalry against Austrian infantry. Cavalry’s at a disadvantage against infantry in this game (as they should be), and the Russians are going to want to dismount and hope their Guards morale can see them through since their firepower surely will not.
21 August 1914
Near Brody, the Austrian 4th Cavalry Division, reinforced with two battalions of Landwehr infantry encountered unknown Russian forces. The Landwehr fled, but Maj. Gen. Eduard von Zaremba drew up his division, Poles and Ukrainians recruited in the local region, into a battle line for a massed cavalry charge. Zaremba believed that more Austrian formations approached from the east to encircle the Russians, and a well-timed charge could destroy the opposing force. Whoever they might be.
In history’s last mass cavalry action, it was the Russian artillery made the difference, killing and wounding hundreds of men while the Austrians could only reply with repeated charges - in all, they made four masse charges, with Zaremba in the thick of each of them and unable to control his division. The Austrian division lost just over 1,000 men, more than a fifth of its saber strength and five times as many as the Russians.
And here we have the reason for this game, and thereby the entire series. Among the cavalry officers wounded at Jaroslawice was my grandfather, Anton, hit by shell fragments and left for dead on the field. He was captured by the Russians and recovered enough to be sent to a prison camp at Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk. Five years later he was released to walk home across the disintegrating Russian Empire; five decades after that a shell fragment would move into his lungs, making him one of the last casualties of the Great War.
22 August 1914
The Russian Combined Cavalry Division penetrated into Austrian territory, skirmishing with the 30th Infantry Division and ravaging the supply trains of the 24th Honved Cavalry Brigade. But Austrian formations closed in from all sides, threatening the Russian division with encirclement and destruction. The Russians responded by trying to break out through the lines held by the hussars of FML Emil Ritter von Zeigler’s 2nd Cavalry Division, a regular army outfit recruited in western Hungary.
The hussars had dug in and prepared their positions as best they could, but the Austrian cavalry lacked firepower and supporting arms. Where most divisions therefore had infantry battalions attached to make good this deficit, Zeigler’s outfit lacked enough to make a difference and the Russians broke through his lines and escaped at the cost of heavy casualties. The Austrian command counted the engagement a victory, but the opportunity to inflict a serious defeat on the Russians had been lost.
The Austrian cavalry has sky-high morale in these early days of the war, but really weak firepower. Without much in the way of machine guns or artillery they’re going to have to hold back the Russians with their carbines, and that’s a tall order even though, unlike the infantry, the Austrian cavalry can dig in (when dismounted, of course).
The Austrian cavalry divisions failed miserably at their task and provide unable to make any meaningful penetration of the Russian cavalry screen. The Russians advanced with the Austrians little aware of their strength or positions, yet Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorff ordered the long-planned offensive to begin anyway. The Austrian armies moved forward blindly, unsure what lay ahead but fatally eager to engage.
And that’s Chapter One. Next time, it’ll be Chapter Three (yes, Three).
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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 an uncountable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects; a few of them were actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold enjoys gnawing his deer antler and editing Wikipedia pages.