Franz Josef’s Armies
Part One: The Cavalry
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
With Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires, we told the story of the August 1914 Battles of Kraśnik and Komarów with forty scenarios of Austro-Russian action. But to keep the game at a manageable size, we only told part of the story: the battles of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Army against the Imperial Russian Army.
But Austria-Hungary had not one, but three regular armies. The Imperial Austrian Landwehr and Royal Hungarian Honvédség went to war alongside the Dual Monarchy’s Common Army, and fought in the battles of August 1914 as well. I could have depicted all three in the same colors, with homogenized unit strengths, and most likely no one would have noticed.
But I would have noticed, and thus we have Infantry Attacks: Franz Josef's Armies. It adds pieces for the Landwehr and Honvédség plus the Bosniaken, the regiments recruited in Bosnia-Hercegovina. It’s not simply an affectation; the two national armies operated on a slightly smaller table of organization than the Common Army, so their unit ratings aren’t identical. There’s also at times a variance in morale (and not always in favor of the Common Army).
But mostly, Franz Josef’s Armies exists because I wanted it to. It’s not like I’m going to get another chance to create a game about the Imperial and Royal Army in 1914, so every now and then I need to exert the publisher’s privilege. It’s a big expansion, as these things go, with 264 die-cut and silky-smooth playing pieces, and another 40 scenarios (the same as the core game). Together they make for a very large game.
Franz Josef’s Armies is organized into chapters that mirror those of Fall of Empires, adding the battles waged by the national armies or the Bosniaken (and battle games to tie together all of the chapter’s scenarios, from both Franz Josef’s Armies and Fall of Empires). So the two scenario sets are interwoven, and together make what I consider a very fine picture of the twin battles.
15 August 1914
Only half of the 11th Honvéd Cavalry Division had arrived when the Austro-Hungarian Third Army ordered it forward into Russian territory. The Hussars had an easy initial advance until they ran into a Russian cavalry division, itself retreating after an encounter with the Combined Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division. Ezredes (Colonel) Ladislaus Jony von Jamnik immediately ordered his hussars to attack.
Ordered to perform a reconnaissance in force, the Honvéd cavalry – like all of the Austrian mounted formations in August 1914 – paid more attention to the force part of their orders rather than the reconnaissance. A sharp, close fight developed with neither side showing much clarity as to just why they had engaged the enemy, before a mutual withdrawal ended the saber-swinging. The hussars had not gotten past the Russian cavalry to seek out and locate the oncoming infantry formations behind them, but neither had they tried very hard.
We lead off with a mounted brawl between two cavalry formations with little idea of what they’re trying to accomplish except to fight each other. Actually, the Russians have a pretty clear objective – to keep the Hungarians from advancing. It’s the Hungarians who don’t quite get that they can do that without fighting the Russians, so they have to fight the Russians.
“A Brave but Foolish Event”
17 August 1914
The 5th Honvéd Cavalry Division rode out on 15 August, part of the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army’s screen of three cavalry divisions pushing into Russian territory along the far eastern flank of the Austro-Russian border. Two days later they ran into a division of Russian Cossacks who had dismounted and dug in to await the Hungarians. Maj. Gen. Ernst von Froreich ordered an immediate attack.
Alexei Brusilov, commander of the opposing Russian Eighth Army, would call this action “a brave but foolish event.” Froreich ordered a mass charge against the Cossacks, who held a prepared position including carefully-positioned field guns. Half the division went forward mounted, and the rest on foot. The Austro-Hungarian official history would claim that the Russians also laid barbed wire in front of their position, but this seems unlikely. The charge broke amid massive casualties inflicted by shrapnel and machine-gun fire, shattering both the 5th Honvéd Cavalry Division and the attached brigade from the Common Army’s 8th Cavalry Division. It took hours to restore order among the surviving horsemen, and that evening Froreich became the war’s first general officer fatality for the Austro-Hungarian armed forces, pressing a pistol to his temple to take his own life.
This is a big scenario, with a reinforced division of Hungarian cavalry trying to fight their way through positions held by a division of Russian Cossacks. The Cossacks, not being regular cavalrymen, don’t play fair: they’ve sent their horses to the rear and dug in to await the Hungarian advance. And they have field guns and machine guns to really ruin the hussars’ day.
21 August 1914
Only one brigade of the 11th Honvéd Cavalry Division had deployed to the front when the Austro-Hungarian high command sent its horsemen forward to find the approaching Russians. The division’s 22nd Brigade finally arrived from its home stations in Debrecen and Szeged, detraining along with the divisional baggage train and marching to join the 24th Brigade. But first they met the Russians.
The Russian horsemen, pressed on all sides by Austrian formations trying to corner and wipe them out, had found the weak point in the encirclement. Austro-Hungarian officers went to war in 1914 with all the comforts of peacetime – bathtubs, fine dishware, even furniture – that now went up in flames as the Russians torched the baggage train. The Russians then rode on, to finally break through the Common Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division and escape.
This one’s just a small scenario, a Russian raid against a Hungarian wagon train. The Hungarians are caught by surprise, but the Russians need to wreak havoc and move on, because the net is closing on them.
And that’s Chapter One (which joins the five scenarios from Chapter One of Fall of Empires). Next time, we’ll have a go at Chapter Two.
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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 unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold knows the number.
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