Cardboard Wars

War is the continuation of politics by other means

Der Weltkrieg: The Battle of Tannenberg August Turn 6 (August 21 – 24, 1914)


After I had completed the last report after many long battles, I was reviewing the rulebook (yes, I do actually read the rules from time to time, I just don’t remember them very well) and was refreshing myself on retreats when I discovered that I misinterpreted the retreat rule.

Although the hex that the German units ended up in were closer in movement points to the Eighth Army HQ, that hex was in a Russian Zone of Control (ZOC). An adjacent hex was occupied by German units, and was the same number of movement points away from the HQ.

Retreating into the hex occupied by friendly units takes priority over retreating into an empty hex that is in an enemy ZOC, as long as the distance in movement points between the unit and the HQ does not increase. By rule, these units should have retreated to the safety of other German units.

Because of this, I have moved what remains of the German 2nd Infantry Division  to the German occupied hex, restored one strength point, and taken away 1 Demoralization Point.  The division is at half strength following the intense battles of the last few days. The Russians have certainly given as good as they got.

However, the Russians are quickly running into a supply problem. Starting the scenario with 50 supply points, they spent 12 last turn. At this rate, they will run out of supply in early September, and give the Germans the opportunity to turn the tables on First Army and easily route them out of Prussia.

It creates quite a conundrum. Attacking costs 1 supply point for every 4 strength points. Defending is more expensive. It costs 1 supply point per 2 Strength Points defending.

If the Russians attack, the Germans are certainly going to fight back. Do the Russians dare cut defensive supplies and let their army hang on as best as it can? Do they start retreating back towards Russia?

This is how this game, in my opinion, is superior to The Great War Series. Number one, no ants, and number two, you have to keep careful track of your supplies and how much and how often you allocate them.

I have been freely spending them on purpose in order to learn how quickly supply can become depleted.

From this point forward, it needs to be carefully spent, at least the Russian First Army supply needs careful tracking. Defensive stance? Or just hit the Germans as hard as possible without regard for defending?

The Germans still have 84 supply points available. They should be able to fully supply just about anything in this scenario.

German August 6 Turn

1. Reinforcement Arrival

Continuing with the theme of doing a rules refresh, I discovered two more things.

The Germans were supposed to receive a Reserve Infantry Division (5-5) last turn, and the reinforcements that were triggered at the end of the last turn (three and a half infantry divisions and a cavalry division) don’t actually arrive until the September 1 Turn (two turns from now).

With that, the Germans receive the infantry division and two infantry brigades in the city of  Bromberg, on the western edge of the map, just west of Thorn. They can use their full movement and can use rail movement.

2. Movement Phase

On the Königsberg front, the Germans decide to withdraw just a little bit, further into the Insterburg Gap. The line is reinforced by three infantry brigades, but they try to take up better defensive positions in better terrain.

While the Russian First Army is in supply trouble, the German units aren’t in much better shape. It isn’t because Germany doesn’t have the supply available, it is that Eighth Army Headquarters is needed elsewhere on the front, and the offensive supply line is far too long, although it is conceivable that the Germans could attack unsupplied at half strength.

Deciding not to take the risk, the Germans withdraw instead.

Facing Second Army, the newly arrived reinforcements are moved into the line while the Germans maneuver around to surround the forward elements of Second Army, cutting off six divisions.

Yeah, as the Russian player, I walked right into that. However, holding back in Russian Poland and waiting for the rest of the troops to catch up would not have guaranteed this would not have happened.

Six Russian divisions are cut off (not trapped), and they cannot trace any supply route, so they can only defend at half strength (x3).

3. Combat Phase

Eighth Army Headquarters rails down to support the attack on Second Army, Two rings form around the lead divisions, one to the east and one to the west.

The Germans attack the Russian Second Army (click image to enlarge)

The Germans attack the Russian Second Army (click image to enlarge)

The western ring attacks first. Not all units can be supplied (the stack with the cavalry division is unsupplied) and the Russians take refuge in the swamps.

The Germans attack with 23 Strength Points, with a -2 DRM for attacking into the swamps (and the Russians gain a +1 DRM during counterattack). They inflict 3 Strength Points of damage to the Russian 2nd and 36th Infantry divisions, forcing them to retreat.

The Russians counterattack at half strength (x3 for a total of 13 points), and inflict only 2 Strength Points in damage.

Retreat is handled a little different in this case. The defending units are surrounded. That is, they cannot trace a line of communications to their headquarters due to German Zones of Control. This means they cannot retreat to the hex next to them that has Russian units in it, because the friendly units do not negate the Zone of Control. They cannot retreat anywhere else, again because the Germans control the area, so the divisions surrender. This results in 18 Demoralization Points for the Russians, while the Germans earn two.

The Germans immediately advance after removing casualties from a pair of supporting brigades. Because these brigades took casualties, they have to be included in the advance.

Aftermath of the opening days of Tannenberg (click image to enlarge)

Aftermath of the opening days of Tannenberg (click image to enlarge)

On the eastern end of the line, only one unit can be supplied to attack at full strength. The Germans attack with 16 Strength Points, and the Russians take cover in the woods (giving the Germans a -2 DRM and the Russians a +1 DRM during counterattack) and defend with 5 Strength Points (x3 or 15 SP) as they are unsupplied.

After a few days battle, The Russians lose lose 2 Strength Points and the Germans lose 3 SP. Neither side is forced to retreat.

The Germans earn another 3 Demoralization Points, and the Russians earn 4, bringing the totals thus: Germany: 17, Russians: 30.

4. Recombination

There is no replacements or recombinations this turn.

Russian Turn

Well, the Russians need to rescue the four trapped divisions before things get worse. Headquarters should be able to move closer and Second Army can counterattack.

1. Reinforcement Arrivals Phase

Russian reinforcements arrive (click image to enlarge)

Russian reinforcements arrive (click image to enlarge)

Nine infantry divisions arrive, all reserve divisions. Three arrive in Kovno to the northeast, two in Grodno, two raised at a fortress in the middle of nowhere, and two in Warsaw. These units are fully mobilized and set off in column formation to get to the front as quickly as possible.

2. Movement Phase

First Army advances further into Insterberg Gap, pursuing the German defenders who are simply trying to keep the Russians in front of them and away from the bulk of Eighth Army. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the Russians), the Germans have little supplies.

Second Army units pull out of the pocket created by the Germans and establish good supply lines. They also fall upon the German 37th Infantry Division, who have limited supply. A supply line of 11 movement points can be traced to headquarters. For each movement point over 8, one Strength Point is subtracted from the total defense strength. In this case, the Germans lose 3 Strength Points, dropping them to 5 (from 8). Tripled for defense, it brings their defense strength to 15, +1 for the woods they are sheltering in.

3. Combat Phase

First Army

The northernmost Russian units attack the German flank. Fourteen Russian Strength Points attack 1.5 defending German Strength Points. The Germans take refuge in the woods, giving a -2 DRM to the Russian combat roll, while the Germans gain a +1 DRM.

Russian movement and attacks (click image to enlarge)

Russian movement and attacks (click image to enlarge)

The Russians inflict only 1 Strength Point of damage to the Germans, and the Germans opt to retreat, but the 3Lw (Landwehr) brigade is eliminated performing rearguard duties. They retreat across the river. (+1 German DM points) The Germans are unable to inflict any damage to the attacking Russians.

The other flank is attacked as well. The Russians bring 16 Strength Points to bear, while the Germans, out of supply can only bring 4.5 Strength Points (13.5), and they also set their defense up in the woods.

The Russians inflict another 2 Strength Point losses to the Germans, who counterattack and inflict a single Strength Point loss to the Russians (German: +2 DM, Russia: +1 DM). Neither side retreats.

Second Army

The German 37th Infantry division also retreats into the woods to await the Russians. The Russians, joined by their headquarters, bring 26 Strength Points to bear in the attack, while the Germans only have 6, due to supply line length.

Even with the -2 DRM for the woods, the Russian attacks inflict 5 Strength Points of damage to the Germans, forcing them to retreat. After doing some reading of the rules, because the defender is retreating (forced or voluntary), their defense strength is only doubled instead of tripled. The Germans also gain a +1 DRM for the counterattack.

The Germans inflict 2 Strength Points of damage on the Russians, and retreat north into the fortress.

The Russians decide not to advance. The thinking is that they do not want to create a front that will make it easier for the Germans to surround them.

(German: +5 DM, Russia: +2 DM; Totals: Germany: 24, Russia: 31)

4. Recombination

End turn positions (click image to enlarge)

End turn positions (click image to enlarge)

No recombinations this turn.

The Germans are not having an easy time. Their left flank around Königsberg is crumbling. They are running out of time for the right flank to destroy the Russian Second Army.

Historically, the battle took place from August 26 to 30, the upcoming turn. German reinforcements from the western front do not arrive for two turns, so the Germans have to make do with what they have.

The Russians, on the other hand, have a numerical superiority, with a large number of reserves that are arriving. The outcome of the battle is definitely tilted in the favor of the Russians at the moment.

Certainly, moving Second Army headquarters into the battle line is a risky move, but they are there to provide supply and keep the lines of communication open. Even if the Germans were able to surround Second Army, they have plenty of supply, and surrender if surrounded is off the table.

Often in war games, I have found, historical battles don’t go as they did historically. This is because of things the games do not, and cannot account for.

In this particular battle, the Germans had the advantage of intercepting wireless messages sent between the two Russian armies in the clear, or with simple ciphers. Knowledge that the two Russian generals were unlikely to support each other.

The Germans do not have these advantages, and it ends up working in favor of the Russians. First Army can place continuous pressure on the Germans from the east. Second Army simply needs to make sure they do not get surrounded and survive until First Army can reach them. At the rate things are going, that is not going to be too long.

First things first, though. The Germans have got to stabilize their left flank.

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