Collision before Bischofstein 1914

Background

This scenario was constructed using the Great War Spearhead Scenario Generation System. The battle was fought between Nick (commanding the German force) and Robin (commanding the Russian force) using the Great War Spearhead II rules, in January 2015.

This battle simulates what might have happened as Samsonov's Second army thrust north/northwest in the direction of Tannenberg , Allenstein and Bischofstein. Bischofstein is situated roughly at the centre of the right wing of Samsonov's thrust. In this action we can imagine a German division rushed by Hindenberg towards Bischofstein to hold the Russian Corps that is pushing north west.

The armies are composed of HaT and Airfix 20mm plastics figures. The buildings are scratch built. As town sectors they are too large for Spearhead (having been build as town sectors for Frank Chadwick's 'Volley and Bayonet' rules system).

The scenario simulated a meeting engagement between a Russian corp and a German division, each constructed using the scenario generation system. The Russian corps fielded two divisions of only two regiments each. First Division was regular while Second Division had been 'bought' as 'random morale' troops. This of course means that their morale status is only determined upon a random test when they first come under fire in the game.

The lists were constructed as smaller 'Defend' lists as we weren't sure of the time that we had available and so each force was 350 points in size. Interestingly it still gave a good game with reasonable troop densities.

The view looking south with Bischofstein in the centre of the table.

A close-up of the town of Bischofstein.

Two of the surrounding villages. These were treated as town sectors for the game, but more realistically probably should have been treated as 'villages'.

The Russian battle plan. By error command arrows for the divisional and corp command were omitted. The later order change, and reserve commitment, arrows can also be seen on the map.

The Russian plan was to advance to hold the centre and right flanks with second division (random morale), while First Division pushed forward on the left. The first regiment of 2nd Division was to act as reserve, advancing only sufficiently far to take up its reserve position, while the second regiment was to take the right hand most objective, and hold the flank against any attempted flank attacks by any opposing German forces.

On the left flank the initial plan was for the southern-most regiment to move in a hook around behind the objective town on the left while the other regiment was to advance directly forward and provide fire support for the assault, and maintain pressure on any German forces advancing onto the objective.

First Division in the south had it's divisional regiment of 122mm Howitzers and a regiment of 76mm guns held further back (off table) in support, and one regiment of 76mm guns advancing directly with second regiment (on table) in support. Second Division only had the benefit of one of its regiments of 76mm guns ordered to advance in direct support of the second infantry regiment (on table). The Corps also had a regiment fo 4.5" guns available (in general support). All Russian artillery were limited to six rounds of fire.

The Russian Corps command group advances behind the First Division.

An overview of the Russian right wing advancing. Bischofstein can just be seen at the top left of the photo.

The regiment of 76mm guns advancing in direct support of the right wing.

An overview of the Russian left, with the left wing regiment beginning its march to encircle both villages (the grey village in the distance was a game objective on that flank, the nearer village was not).

First regiment of Second Division moves into its reserve position in the centre.

The German right deploys. Nick had opted not to take the village objective on his far right (the Russian left).

One German regiment takes up position as a reserve in the German centre.

The German flank march arrives on the German left, the Russian right.

The German commander sought to outflank the Russian attack on his left (the Russian right). The flank march was however forced away from the planned arrival point, and so acted more as a thickening reinforcement for the German left flank.

First contact between Russian and German forces.

First contact occurred on the German right as the supporting Russian regiment took up positions to provide support for the encircling Russian regiment on the far left.

Action is also joined on the right.

The Russian right wing regiment deploys, to find that it is facing a large German force. Having spotted the flank march arriving from the command position on top of the two contour hill, on the next turn the most immediate right wing companies, and their MMG detachment, retire to the woods before taking fire. The artillery unlimbers ready to provide fire support.

Action is joined on the left ...

.. and on the right, where casualties are immediately taken by the Russian infantry screening the guns. The right hand regiment turns out to be Green.

A heavy firefight quickly develops on the Russian left (the German right wing).

Lucky die rolls meant that the Russian forces quickly had their 122mm and 4.5" artillery regiments in action, bringing down heavy fire in support of their infantry. Nick had mistakenly placed his artillery in General Support, and so was struggling to get it into action.

Heavy artillery fire falls on the German infantry.

The fighting continues on the Russian right.

Seeing the Russian encirclement attempt beginning to develop, the German commander commits his reserve to shift to his right to block the fast approaching Russian infantry regiment. As if reading each others' minds, as the Russian commander I decided to roll for an order change for the encircling First regiment, in order to have them push on past the end of the existing command arrow, and take the woods immediately behind the German right wing. The roll was successful, and the First regiment pushed on. This proved to be an error, as the German reserve occupied the woods ahead of the Russian infantry, and so an uneven firefight began.

The encircling Russian infantry regiment can be seen at the top of the photo, taking heavy fire, and already sustaining casualties.

Meanwhile the supporting 1 Div/2Regt continued to 'slug it out' with the German right flank regiment.

On the right Nick finally managed to get the support of his off table 77mm guns (he threw a succession of 1s and 2s initially), and began to score more hits.

The Russian reserve is committed.

At this stage the Russian commander decided that the time was right to commit his reserve regiment. The German reserve had been absorbed, casualties were mounting, but also his own artillery stocks were running out. The reserve would strike into the weakened German centre and try to force its way through and into the German rear. It had the support of an attached regiment of 76mm guns that had yet to fire a shot.

The fire fight on the left is intense. There are five artillery regiments pouring their fire into the area in support of the infantry - three Russian (a regiment of 76mm, and the heavier 122s, and 4.5s) and two German (one of 105mm, and the other 77mm).

The impact of the volume of fire is huge, and casualties are starting to mount, even amongst the German infantry occupying the woods.

However daylight is fading. The Russian commander has a weakened left flank regiment, and artillery ammunition is running low. As darkness falls, the attacking troops fall back to cover for the night.

In Scenario Generation System terms, the game is pretty much a draw, The Russian forces hold slightly more Victory Points than the Germans (so technically it's a Russian minor victory), but we both feel that it's close enough to call a draw.

Some post game reflection.

  1. The order change decision sending the left most Russian regiment further into the German rear was not a good one. It coincided time-wise with the commitment of the German reserve. As a player I wrongly estimated the distance to the wooded area, and Nick's willingness to commit his reserve, meaning that I was never going to occupy the woods before the German reserves took up their positions. Given my experience in using terrain to maximise protection during the firefight, I should have thought more carefully about the odds of success when caught in the open as my flanking regiment was.
  2. In scenario system terms there was little advantage to be gained from pushing the flanking regiment forward. I already had the left flank town sector and its victory points. The push into the German rear certainly did open up the possibility of taking additional victory points in the centre (Bischofstein itself), but was a long shot, and with the benefit of hindsight one could say that it was large risk for potentially little gain.
  3. Despite having his flank march deflected back towards his own base line, Nick had built significant numerical superiority against my right flank. He needed to use that superiority to push in my right, especially once he knew that that regiment was Green. In fairness to Nick however I think that he had decided to coordinate that push with another regiment, and had tried for several moves to gain an order change for one of the flanking regiments. He managed to sneak one through almost at the end of the game. This is also an object lesson in how easy it is to overlook aspects of any rules system during play, as the regiment was under direct fire and so shouldn't have been able to change orders at all. However he still had the command radius to push companies forward in support of the flanking regiment.
  4. In terms of physical positions, the game rather nicely illustrated why warfare deteriorated into more static positions once the initial contact and fighting had occurred. The real risks of pushing forward without sufficient fire support (artillery, trench mortars etc) was huge, and the games system demonstrates that repeatedly. In this case, once contact was made there was fierce fighting as each side attempted to maximise its own short term positional and tactical advantages. However once that initial phase of the battle is over, further progress is difficult. The maxim must be 'go hard' at first contact. Initial deployment and positioning is vital. Failure to have support stands in the places where fighting is most likely to develop is fatal to the further progression of the battle and the achievement of tactical objectives. It is the player's ability to read the terrain, to anticipate his opponent's likely tactical plan, and to allocate and deploy his support assets accordingly, that are rewarded.
  5. Here is a link to Nick's own account of the battle for the 'other' perspective.