Fall of Empires:
Scenario Preview, Part Nine
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires spent a very long time in gestation; we only finally sent it to press when I decided it was finished. One result of that is a very narrow focus on a pair of battles of which at least nine-tenths of our audience have never heard, Kraśnik and Komarów. Together they represent a huge clash of men and horses, with over 600,000 men engaged between the four armies involved (two on each side). Most histories of the First World War will tell you, if they mention them at all, that the Austro-Hungarians won both of them.
Those victories would be the end of the Dual Monarchy. They were won only at the cost of the long-service officer corps, that led from the front and died there. Austria-Hungary would fight on for another four and a half years, win victories and suffer defeats, but the Imperial and Royal Army - the pillar of the monarchy - would never recover from Kraśnik and Komarów.
So let’s look at the scenarios that make up the next-to-last chapter of Fall of Empires.
Komarów, Day Four
The German victory at Tannenberg unfolded at the same time as the Battle of Komarów; the German Eighth Army managed to encircle and destroy the Russian Second Army. The Austrian Fourth Army command hoped to do the same to the Russian Fifth Army, but the battlefield in Galicia was completely different from that of East Prussia. The Germans fought on their own side of the border, where they enjoyed an efficient and widespread railroad network that allowed them to quickly shift divisions and corps from one flank to another. The Austrians fought in the borderlands of Russian Poland, where the Russians had deliberately kept roads and railroads sparse to inhibit invaders.
The policy worked. Auffenberg and his Fourth Army staff had to depend on the marching speed of their infantry divisions, supported by horse-drawn supply columns. And after four days of steady combat, the Austrian infantrymen - those who weren’t lying dead on the battlefield or wounded in the overflowing field hospitals - were simply too exhausted to conduct the sweeping maneuvers their generals drew on their maps.
A Prepared Assault
29 August 1914
While Austro-Hungarian doctrine called for a relentless offensive, it also instructed commanders to use their artillery to prepare for assaults, a step they had roundly ignored. During the previous night, XVII Corps commander Karl Kritek - replacing Karl Georg Graf von Huyn, who had been fired for “nervousness” - ordered Karl Lukas of 19th Infantry Division to renew his attack on the Russian XVII Corps. In an unusual move for a Habsburg division commander in August 1914, Lukas deployed his artillery to soften up the Russians before sending his infantry forward.
The preliminary bombardment actually seems to have some effect, one of the few times the Austrian artillery contributed during this campaign. The attack drove 3rd Infantry Division back over the Huczwa River, and the Austrians then repulsed multiple Russian counter-attacks. The Russian division had been defeated again, but still retained some will to fight.
And now we see why Austrian commanders often ignored their artillery: it’s just not very good. It can’t fire indirectly (which means all of the batteries are on the map operating as field guns) and they’re badly out-ranged by the Russian 76.2mm field guns, let alone the heavier pieces. The Austrians won these battles on the backs of their infantry, and you’re going to have to do the same.
Advance at Dawn
29 August 1914
While the Austrians laid their plans to attack the Russian flanks and encircle the center of Plehve’s Fifth Army, the Russians still believed themselves to be on the offensive. The V and XIX Corps continued to move forward, and struck the Austrian VI Corps with an unexpected assault just as the sun rose.
The Russian attack took the Austrians by surprise; the Habsburg commanders had assumed that the Russians were now on the defensive and would await their own scheduled attack later that morning. By 1000 the Austrians had held off the Russians and begun their own advance, which made little headway as the Russians did not give up their own attempts to move forward.
The Russians are on the attack, but the Austrians are going to have to eventually attack as well if they want to win (unless it all goes really badly for the Tsar’s men). As always, the Russians face the difficulty of an enemy with high morale and no regard for their own casualties.
Across Labunka Brook
29 August 1914
On the left flank of Auffenberg’s Fourth Army, the Austrian II Corps faced the Russian XXV Corps. The Austrians had inflicted a serious defeat on the Russians several days before, but to their surprise the Russians recovered quickly and now threatened to interfere with the Austrian attempt to encircle the center of the Russian Fifth Army. To fend off the Russians while the rest of II Corps turned eastwards, 4th Infantry Division marched north.
The Austrians advanced only tentatively, with the swamps around Lubanka Brook slowing them and Russian resistance stiffening on the high ground on the opposite side. The Austrians had little idea of XXV Corps’ location, and Fourth Army counted on X Corps of First Army to engage and fix the Russians in place. That army’s command had problems of its own and little interest in overextending itself outside its area of responsibility, which left a Russian corps little engaged and able to march against the open flank and rear areas of the Austrians turning eastward.
The Austrians are attacking, across a swampy river and then up a ridgeline, and while they do have numbers and morale on their side that’s still a daunting task. They have plenty of field guns in support, though these are still the crapulent 8cm/M5 model, and the Russian Grenadiers facing them are thankfully short of their deadly field guns (which get a special bonus when they start a scenario already dug in).
A Bold Advance
29 August 1914
With the Russians seemingly vulnerable to encirclement, Auffenberg urged his IX Corps to “advance boldly” and push in the Russian right flank. The Austrian corps had come late to the battlefield and been far less aggressive than the neighboring VI Corps; while it had therefore suffered fewer casualties, it had also allowed the Russians a pause in which to prepare their positions and sight their artillery. They would now pay for that laxity.
The Austrians ran into well-prepared Russian positions with pre-designated fields of fire for their artillery, and could make no headway. Archduke Peter Ferdinand’s 25th Infantry Division had been expected to arrive on their left flank to join the attack, but showed up hours late and did little to relieve the Russian pressure. They made no gains and even temporarily lost some ground as they evaded the Russian artillery fire, recovering their start line only in the early evening.
This time the Russians have plenty of field guns, plus their corps artillery (what in Panzer Grenadier is called off-board artillery) and while the Austrians have a good edge in numbers they’re marching into hell. Again. As usual they have to inflict a pretty severe beating on the Russians, which is easier when you don’t care what it costs.
The Dithering Archduke
29 August 1914
Archduke Peter Ferdinand’s 25th Infantry Division reached the Russian lines hours after it had been expected, and even then parts of it lagged behind. The 4th Deutschmeister Infantry Regiment and Salzburg’s 10th Feldjäger Battalion (assigned in peacetime to the Kaiserjäger Division) arrived first and immediately attacked the town of Czesniki.
By afternoon the Deutschmeister and the Kopal Battalion had secured Czesniki; as in most actions of this campaign, the Austrians achieved their objectives by ignoring their casualties. The Russian XIX Corps had been pushed back a slight distance, but maintained its integrity in the face of the rather weak Austrian attempts to cave in the Russian flank. Without more troops, or better leadership than Peter Ferdinand, the Austrians were unlikely to roll up this Russian flank.
The Kopal Battalion took its name from its commander in 1848, when the Salzburgers engaged the Pope’s Swiss Guards in an hours-long no-quarter bayonet fight inside a church in Vicenza. This fight might end up just as bad, with the Russians having all the positional advantages and the Austrians bringing the Deutschmeister alongside the Feldjäger.
On the afternoon of the 30th, Russian Fifth Army commander Wenzel von Plehve declared that his troops would stand their ground and await assistance of their neighboring armies. Soon afterwards, word came that the Austrians threatened to roll up both of his flanks. Plehve reacted quickly and decisively, moving his headquarters back and issuing orders for his corps to conduct a fighting retreat. The German victory at Tannenberg had been greatly assisted by the panic that had overtaken several Russian corps headquarters, while Second Army headquarters fell out of touch with its subordinate units and its commander wandered through the woods on horseback. Plehve would not give Auffenberg the same assistance; while he was no great tactician, he did not lose his nerve or control of his army and avoided turning an operational defeat into a strategic disaster.
And that’s Chapter Nine.
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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.