Fall of Empires:
Scenario Preview, Part Five
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires has always been a “Holy Grail” project, one created from the designer and/or publisher’s personal desires more than any rational reasons. To make it actually publishable, we split it into a full-sized game (Fall of Empires) and an expansion book (Franz Josef’s Armies). Fall of Empires features the battles between the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Army (the so-called “Common Army”) and the Imperial Russian Army in the opening days of the First World War. Franz Josef’s Armies has pieces and scenarios featuring the Dual Monarchy’s two national armies (the Austrian Imperial-Royal Landwehr and the Royal Hungarian Honvédség) plus the Bosniaken, the Muslim regiments raised in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
I’m glad we made that change, else it would have been really difficult to publish Fall of Empires. Even with just the Common Army there’s plenty of action, as the Imperial and Royal (Kaiserliche und Königlich, or K.u.K.) divisions represented about two-thirds of the total deployed against the Russians.
But that split still makes the chapters in Fall of Empires seem deceptively short. The national armies were regular, full-time forces, not second-line reservists. A century later some otherwise good histories of the war refer to them as “militia,” and they faced a similar prejudice at the time. The Landwehr and Honvédség divisions were smaller than their Common Army counterparts (a dozen infantry battalions against sixteen slightly larger battalions in the K.u.K. formations) and not always as well-armed. Their officers came up through a different training establishment, and had a very definite chip on their shoulders regarding their status as compared to the “real” army.
That would prove deadly in the opening weeks of the First World War. Each Austro-Hungarian corps had two K.u.K. divisions and one from a national army, at least at the outset (cross-attachments and re-assignments soon blurred those peacetime arrangements). The national army divisions flung themselves into action with even greater abandon than their K.u.K. counterparts, at times very successfully but always with enormous casualty lists, just so their officers could prove their armies just as good as the black-and-yellow K.u.K. regiments. The Bosniak regiments served in K.u.K. divisions, but as the Empire’s toughest infantry they saw action in 1914 out of proportion to their numbers.
What that means for the purposes of our game is that in every chapter, important actions are shown in Franz Josef’s Armies as they involved Landwehr, Honvédség or Bosniaken. Now, were I a rational person I would have just used the same pieces for all four services, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted them to have their own colors, and I think it adds a great deal to the game. It just means that you’ll need the book and the game to play the battle games that link the scenarios of each chapter together.
So with all that said, let’s look at another chapter’s worth of scenarios.
Komarów, Day One
Just to the east of the armies brawling at Kraśnik, Gen. Moritz Ritter von Auffenberg’s Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army had orders to advance alongside the neighboring First Army. Opposing them, Gen. Wenzel von Plehve’s Russian Fifth Army had a considerable numerical edge over its Austrian opponents, but South-West Front had ordered Plehve to turn westward in an effort to strike the Austrian First Army’s right flank. In so doing, Plehve’s rightmost force, XXV Corps became greatly overextended. For once the Austrian cavalry on this front performed well: the Landwehr Uhlans attached to II Corps identified not only the vulnerable Russian deployment but the units involved as well. After a spirited speech Auffenberg sent his divisions forward to take advantage of Plehve’s error.
26 August 1914
Vienna’s 25th Infantry Division had some of the Dual Monarchy’s best troops and its youngest and possibly its least effective division commander, the 40-year-old Archduke Peter Ferdinand. Ordered to attack, the archduke sent his battalions promptly into action, where they ran into a division of Russian grenadiers in the forests south-east of Zamosc.
Despite the Deutschmeister’s losses (including their commander) several days earlier in a senseless bayonet charge, they entered the woods with just as much enthusiasm alongside several battalions of Feldjäger, all part of Maj. Gen. Ferdinand Kosak’s 50th Infantry Brigade. Taking enormous losses, they ejected the Grenadiers from the woods and beyond, driving them back to Zamosc with battle-mad fury that shocked even their generals.
It’s a meeting engagement in the woods; the Russians have the numbers (slightly) and as always, the Russian 76.2mm field guns greatly outclass the Austrian popguns. The Austrians have the Deutschmeister.
26 August 1914
On the right flank of Fourth Army, an operational group commanded by Archduke Joseph Ferdinand and consisted of his XIV Corps reinforced with an extra Honvéd division hurried to join the attack after the high command had sent it marching and counter marching to and from Third Army’s front to the east. Until it arrived, the gap between Joseph Ferdinand’s group and the Austrian XVII Corps to its left would have to be covered by Austrian cavalry fighting on foot. Near Posadoro FML Oskar Wittman’s 6th Cavalry Division encountered a mixed force of infantry and Cossacks.
While the Russians pushed the Austrians around, they could not achieve a breakthrough. That didn’t impact Russian plans too greatly, as the parent V Corps was marching westward and did not need to get entangled with the Austrian cavalry. But in this war’s early days, generals on both sides interpreted their orders as commandments to seek out battle wherever it might be offered.
The Austrians have the numbers and the sky-high morale displayed by the cavalry in these early days of the war. But dismounted cavalry has only weak firepower - while the Austrian horsemen trained for dismounted combat, every fifth man has been told off to hold the others’ horses. And there are fewer carbines in a squadron than rifles in a company even without that, plus fewer machine guns and field guns than an infantry outfit would possess. So the Russians have a good chance of pushing back the Austrians despite their advantages.
26 August 1914
In the center of the Austrian Fourth Army lay Svetozar Boroević’s VI Corps. A commoner, a Croatian Serb and an Orthodox Christian in a Catholic army, the son of a Grenzer sergeant had risen through the ranks due to sheer force of will. He now informed his troops that “the primary and most authoritative condition for success is iron discipline.” When their junior officers signaled for an attack, the Ukrainians, Magyars and Romanians of 85th “Gaudernak” Infantry Regiment surged forward with enthusiastic shouts.
The 85th Infantry Regiment attacked in two battalion columns, with bayonets fixed and their colors unfurled, and without artillery support. The troops made it to the crest of the hill, ejecting the Russians in an hour of intense hand-to-hand fighting while capturing 250 prisoners and six machine guns. The 85th Infantry went up the nameless hill with 3,000 men, and left behind more than 450 dead and 800 wounded.
Another horror story from the early weeks of the campaign. The Austrians supposedly won this battle, by taking enormous casualties, and can do so in the game as well - the Austrian player rarely has to look to his or her own losses when deciding victory.
Auffenberg would later claim that he intended to encircle the opposing Russian Fifth Army from the very start of the battle, but this seems unlikely (and even the often-delusional Austro-Hungarian Official History refuses to accept this). The defeat of the Russian XXV Corps opened the possibility of turning the Russians’ left flank, but neither side had a full appreciation of the numbers they faced. The Austrian Fourth Army had won another tactical victory in its first full day of combat, but destruction of the Russian Fifth Army would require much more than that.
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 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.