Scenario Preview, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I look at wargame design as an opportunity to tell stories, and with our little Campaign Studies, we get the chance to tell even more stories without having to build a whole new game around them. You get to play through those added stories without having to buy a whole new game or learn how to play it. It’s a pretty sweet deal all around.
Infantry Attacks: Winter’s Battle tackles the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes, also known as the Winter Battle in Masuria, also known as the Augustowo Operation. The German Eighth and Tenth Armies tried to encircle and destroy the Russian Tenth Army in the middle of a snowstorm (punctuated by a snap, mud-inducing thaw). That didn’t work, but they still managed to inflict a serious defeat on the Russians and wipe out their oversized XX Corps.
It's a scenario expansion for Infantry Attacks: August 1914; you’ll also need Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires for some Russian pieces and some maps. I ended up with much more material than I could use; limiting the scenarios to just ten took some careful choosing. Let’s have a look at the first chapter.
Headquarters staff, Russian 57th Infantry Division, 1915.
The Southern Flank: Eighth Army
The newly-raised German XL Reserve Corps, with its two divisions (79th and 80th Reserve Divisions) plus the attached 2nd Infantry Division and 3rd Cavalry Brigade, would spearhead the German attack against the left flank of the Russian Tenth Army.
They found the Russians badly deployed, with only one weak division guarding their flank and little ability to shift more forces there thanks to the heavy snowfall. If the Germans could move quickly enough, they had the opportunity to cut off the entire Russian Tenth Army and inflict yet another grievous defeat on the Tsar’s forces.
River of Piss
7 February 1915
The German offensive started out in freezing weather with heavy snow falling. The Russians had detected the German buildup, but had not expected them to advance during a storm anyway. Adalbert von Falk’s East Prussian 2nd Infantry Division came out of the snow to strike the Russians along the Pissa River. The Russians had spent months building fortifications against just such an offensive.
For decades, local residents had begged the kings of Prussia to change the name of the River Pissa (the name actually refers to its muddy color, from the old Slavic Masurian language); the only response was Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s offer to label the river “Urinoco” instead. The German offensive caught the Russians on the wrong side of the frozen stream, with several battalions conducted a probe ahead of their own advance. That allowed the Germans to both push them back over the river and take their entrenchments before a proper defense could be organized. The Russian 57th Infantry Division, a shaky reservist outfit, fell back in disorder but its individual battalions and companies still showed the will to fight.
We start off with an unusual scenario. The Russians are caught by surprise on the wrong side of the river, with their entrenchments behind them. The Germans of course want to get over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house and beyond. They have numbers and morale to help them, plus artillery support.
8 February 1915
Surprised along the River Pissa, the Russian 57th Infantry Division fell back in different directions. The Russian Tenth Army had stationed the second-line division on the flank without the reserves or support it might have had as part of a corps, and though reinforcements had been summoned they remained days away thanks to the heavy snow. Retreating elements of the division dug in around Johannisburg to hold the important crossroads
The reservists of 57th Infantry Division had been given the leftovers of weapons, equipment and especially officers, yet they fought hard to hold on to Johannisburg. The Germans finally took the town in a brutal and bloody frontal assault, which also unhinged the southern flank of III Siberian Corps. The advance plodded forward through the snow.
The Germans have numbers and morale on their side, plus some artillery. They’re going to need all of their advantages to keep the advance moving through the snow.
Defense of Lyck
11 February 1915
While most Russian generals reacted sluggishly to the unexpected German attack, this was the moment for Evgeny Radkevich, recalled from retirement in August 1914 to command III Siberian Corps. Radkevich immediately recognized the danger and began a careful retreat, dispatching a mixed battle group led by his chief of staff, Vasiliy N. Bratanov, to the crossroads town of Lyck to keep open his communications. But Radkevich wasn’t the only one to recognize Lyck’s significance, and soon the Germans arrived to try to wrest it from his Siberians.
Radkevich’s methods should have been a recipe for disaster, sending 32nd Siberian Rifle Regiment to Lyck as the core of Bratanov’s detachment and pulling one battalion from each of many other regiments in both III Siberian and XXVI Corps to create a new formation out of nothing. But thanks mostly to the Siberians, the positions held long enough for the two Siberian divisions to march past and file into a new line stretching south-east from Lyck. For now, the left wing of Russian Tenth Army had been saved from encirclement.
The Germans have some momentum on their side after a strong of early victories (in game terms, initiative and morale) but the Siberians are tough and have a strong position. Not all of the Russians are up to their standard, though).
15 February 1915
The Russian XX Corps, pushed southward by the advance of the German Tenth Army on the northern flank of the Russian positions, lost the race to safety as units from the German Eighth Army blocked its retreat route. His scouts having found the seam between two German divisions, corps commander Pavel Bulgakov ordered an attack there to break through at any cost. His regiments had seen a week of defeat, retreat, hunger and cold, but still had to the will to fight. Unfortunately for them, a sudden warm spell had turned the icy ground to mud overnight.
The Russian attack forced a narrow opening through the German lines, at the cost of at least nine thousand casualties. “The honor of the XX Corps was saved,” wrote German war correspondent Rolf Brandt, “and the price of this salvation was 7,000 killed who fell in the attack on one day of battle over a space of two kilometers, finding a heroic death here! The attempt to break through was sheer madness, but holy madness.” Very few Russians made it to the fortress of Grodno before the Germans counter-attacked and sealed the pocket.
This is one of those scenarios that appear occasionally in Infantry Attacks, where the attacker has no concern for his or her own casualties, only for the ground gained. That makes for a tough task for the German defenders, who don’t have enough to do everything that needs doing.
20 February 1915
With time running out for the trapped XX Corps in the Augustowo Forest, the newly-arrived Russian XV Corps attempted to break through the German ring around them. These Russian regiments had been destroyed at Tannenberg six months earlier, and restored with their depot battalions, the handful of survivors and newly-inducted reservists. They now faced the same Germans who had won at Tannenberg.
The Russian attacks could not break through the German positions, despite the desperate situation of XX Corps. The XV Corps had been thrown into action before it had been fully re-constituted, and paid for that lack of preparation with a huge list of casualties and very little progress on the ground. Bulgakov’s XX Corps would be pressed into an ever-tightening cauldron and by the 22nd resistance had ended.
Here again the Russians are on the attack and heedless of casualties, but the troops aren’t the most willing and the Germans are much better prepared to meet them. This one is going to be tough on the Russians.
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Fall of Empires
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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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