Attack in the east - 1914

Background

This scenario was constructed using the Great War Spearhead Scenario Generation System. The battle was fought between Nick and Robin commanding the combined German Austrian force, and Stan and Dave commanding the Russian force, using the Great War Spearhead II rules, in October 2014.

The armies are composed of HaT and Airfix 20mm plastics figures. The Austrian machine guns are the exception - these are Irregular Miniatures figures.

The scenario simulated a meeting engagement between a combined German/Austrian force and a Russian force. The forces were constructed as 'Encounter lists' using the scenario generation system.

The battlefield seen from the southern perspective, with the Germans and Austrians set to attack from the left (west) and the Russians from the right (east).

The German attack plan as seen from the Russian side of the table.

The German plan of attack was to push an Austro Hungarian division cautiously forward on their right, with limited objectives. The main assault was to be carried out on their left with a full division advancing. The highlight of the attack was to be an attempted flank march with one full regiment, lead by the divisional cavalry.

Russian artillery sets up to support their centre and right.

The Austrian infantry regiment on the extreme right enters the woods that were to be central to the development of their part of the battle.

The Austrian advance began well.

Austrian infantry take the town sector that was their objective. A regiment of field guns can be seen deploying in their support.

The Austrian troops quickly took their objectives, thinking that they could now settle down and await the success of the main German attack on their left.

The Russian troops on their right flank were well settled in the woods on the flank.

Russian infantry had also settled into defensive positions on woods in the centre.

Russian reservist infantry wearing the surplus uniforms from the Russo-Japanese war. So quick was the mobilisation that too few modern uniforms were available.

Russian reservist infantry quickly took their first objective, a town sector sitting centrally in their sector.

German and Russian troops quickly settled into the early stages of their fire fights.

The German troops advancing in their centre had also quickly secured their first objective, another town sector.

The German advance on their left had however degenerated into disarray. The commander had badly positioned his artillery regiment and was struggling to deploy his batteries.

The firefight in the centre grew rapidly in intensity, with Russian casualties mounting.

The German left wing flank march arrives.

The German left wing flank marched arrived. It was however pushed further west that planned as a result of Russian pressure. This is a feature of the scenario system when flank marches are scheduled to arrive at a point too close to enemy troops.

One of the central German regiments takes heavy fire as it attempts to advance.

The German advance in its centre had been taking small arms fire, but was then hit by a torrent of artillery fire as a full regiment of Russian 76mm field artillery found their target.

Progress on the left. German flanking troops work their way in behind the Russian right flank defence.

The German forces were beginning to get the better of the Russian defenders. The Russian right was looking weaker as the German troops began to work their way behind the defenders.

The Russian centre seen from behind the German forces.

The intensity of the action in the centre can be judged by this photo. The Germans are putting a lot of pressure on the Russian defenders, but the German regiment advancing in the open is taking a lot of small arms and artillery fire.

An aerial view of that same hot action in the centre.

Austrian infantry apply the pressure.

Meanwhile the Austrians had been applying pressure on the far right. They had pushed forward to find good fire positions, and brought up their attached artillery regiment to give support over open sights.

Close encounters on the far left.

The action on the extreme left German flank became a series of furious close assaults in amongst the intense firefights. This was tense.

The first rounds from German and Austrian counter battery fire (over open sights) fall around the Russian guns.

German artillery on their left flank had finally got itself deployed, and began to bring the Russian artillery under direct fire. It wasn't too long before one of the Russian batteries was out of action.

The action continued to rage hot and furious in the centre with casualties mounting for both sides. However the weight of german fire was beginning to tell.

Finally the Austrians were winning the fire fight. The reduced number of Russian infantry company stands occupying the wood is an indicator of the quickly changing balance on the Austrian Right.

The Russian commander began to withdraw his troops.

And then the Russian right began to crumble under the weight of the attack.

With the centre cleared, German troops pushed ahead into the woods over which such a fierce fight had waged.

The Russian left and centre were withdrawing, and their right was crumbling. Russian reserves were on their way, but had been held back by the Russian command for too long.

One German regiment withdraws as casualties had mounted.

However the success had not been without some cost. The German regiment that had fought for so long in the open in the German centre withdraws (i.e. it failed its morale check).

The game was as good as over. The deployment of the Russian reserve regiment was limited by command radius and pre game entry determination and while central was not ideally situated to quickly help either flank.

One Russian right wing battalion was occupying a fall back defensive position in a second copse, but the strength of the forces advancing on it was substantial. In addition the artillery regiment supporting the Russian right wing was now taking casualties from German artillery, and its life, and ammunition allowance, were both limited.

With the central defensive position taken, and both wings falling back, the day was lost for the Russian commanders.

Some post game thoughts on tactics

As a wargamer I am mindful of how armies historically fought and won (or lost). I think that that it is one of the strengths of the Spearhead rules system that it rewards historical deployment and tactical employment of forces. As a player of the Great War Spearhead rules system I am always thinking about how best to achieve victory on the table top, and it turns out that use of historical tactics is more often rewarded than not (although 'lady luck' always has the last say, regardless of what set of 'games rules you use).

This then begs the question of how to fight a Great War Spearhead game, and it turns out that the use of historical tactics works. I grew up on a diet of Anglo-centric accounts of battles that created the myth of the 'mad minute', and the image of German infantry being cut down in swathes. It turns out that this most often wasn't the case at all, although combatants were to learn that modern warfare was expensive in men's lives, and errors would be cruelly punished with a large bill in terms of human life.

Tactical doctrine in the continental armies of the time was similar, and emphasised the concepts of fire and movement. The advance began in skirmish order, and when a unit took fire it went to ground to take cover. The second phase of the action was the fire fight. Winning the fire fight was essential to the next phase, which was the final close assault. Here is an account from a German regimental history that encapsulates this approach rather nicely and I am indebted to Robert Dunlop for the translation.

With that in mind, in this game (in which I commanded the Austro Hungarian division, and one neighbouring German infantry regiment in the centre) I set about positioning my forces to 'win the fire fight'. The Austrians were well supported by their MMGs and two regiments of field guns firing over open sights, one on the right wing, and one in the centre. My initial deployment in anticipating how that phase of the battle would unfold was critical to getting that fire support in the right place as early as possible.

I then settled down to exercise my patience and engage the enemy with this fire power. It took time, but eventually the fire fight was won, and the advance continued on into the next piece of terrain. In my opinion this is as it should be. Rash charges across open ground will be punished. The +1 fire modifier when engaging targets moving in the open is a subtle but simple mechanism for punishing those rash advances.

This transformed what ought to have been the passive right wing of the attack into as dominant a force as the more heavily 'stacked' German left wing, and created the victory for the German/Austrian force.