Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stauponnen Revisted (East Prussia, 1914)


Stallupönen, East Prussia, 17th August 1914:

As the Russian 1st Army advanced into East Prussia, von Francois, the II.Armeekorps commander, was adamantly opposed to giving one meter of ground to the Russians, since the Russian advance was occurring in his own corps district. He insisted that von Prittwitz, the commander of 8.Armee, should attack the Russians on the frontier.

On the 16th of August, contrary to orders from von Prittwitz to fall back to the Angerapp, von Francois refused to move from his screening position on the frontier, some 20 km east of the main German line. On the 17th of August, without orders, von Francois attacked the Russians as they crossed the border into East Prussia.

This insubordination infuriated von Prittwitz and he sent a flurry of messages to von Francois demanding that he withdraw at once and stop squandering the lives of his men, to which the latter famously replied: "...von Francois will withdraw when he has defeated the Russians."

Von Francois intended on attacking out of Stallupönen with the 1.Infanterie-Division; half of the division was tasked to attack southeast and the other half was to advance northeast with the intent on swinging around and performing a double envelopment of the Russian III Corps.

Luckily for the Russian III Corps, part of the XX Corps came to their timely rescue from the northeast, and disaster was averted. Thus formed the catalyst of Rennenkampf's timid advance into East Prussia: an insubordinate German general's corps would meet a force that was numerically superior and inflict four times the casualties as they would get in return, in a sharp engagement which, from that point forward, would cause the Russians to exercise great caution. (From the PC game: Great War East Prussia-1914 by John Tiller)

Notes on the Rules

The rules used were developed by me from a set of rules that were developed by someone wishing to do a miniatures game based on Richard Borg's original board\miniatures MEM44 game. Those rules no longer exist and my rules are a departure from that author's good start.

For those not familiar with MEM44 each player is given "X" amount of command cards that limit his decisions to a single card played per turn. The cards may be played to one's flank or center and thus there is a great deal of fog of war as well as the luck of t draw as cards are drawn to replace the ones played. In my system some "support" type cards have been added so that at times two cards may be played. It adds a lot to the game.

Combat and movement have been converted from hexes to inches and follow basic miniatures convention in how to resolve movement and combat. The system works well and we completed 15 turns in about 3 hours of game play. My friends MS (Germans) and JZ (Russians) commanded while I (BR) ran the game. A splendid time was had by all and that's what it's all about!

Below you will see a section of scenario notes, an order of battle and then battle reports submitted to me by my friends. In other words they role played as generals for their respective sides and gave a report from their perspective. I found the reading of these reports to be quite fun and interesting and hope our blog readers will as well.

Scenario Notes

The scenario represents the initial attack by elements of the German II Armeekorps, notably the 1st and 2nd ID. These two divisions are ranked equal to the Guards in the German Army and thus can move 8” and battle. (based on the layout in the Tiller game-the scenario has been bath tubbed and the terminology used is Regiment\Bn\Company)

In this game an infantry battalion was represented by 4 stands of 8 figures each. An artillery battalion was called a battery and consisted of one gun model plus crew. Machine Gun Companies had two models plus crews.

Historically, the Russians were taken by surprise and isolated. Their usual Cossack Cavalry for some reason was not deployed to the Corps front and that accounted for the surprise attack. The initial deployment is meant to represent the surprise. (strong German flanks, weak center, Russians spread out with no concentration)

As noted by Tiller the timely arrival of the Russian XX Corps prevented the total destruction of the Russian III Corps. The Russian XX Corps is not in the scenario.

In order to simulate what happened historically the Germans must achieve a 2-1 ratio in destroyed  (or bases lost) units. If they do the strategic consequence would be a more cautious Russian advance into East Prussia. A failure to achieve the ratio means that Von Francois did squander his men’s lives as von Prittwitz feared and would have most likely been sacked.

Order of Battle

The Forces

Germans (north pincer)

2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Infantry Division

Inf. Regt 45, 3 Bns plus a MG Co.
Attached to IR 43, 1st Bn. FAR 18 (77mm guns)
5 units

Gren. Regt. 3, 3 Bns plus an MG Co
Attached to Gren. Regt.3 2 Bn. FAR 18 (77mm guns)
5 units

4th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (south pincer)

Inf. Regt. 43, 3 Bns plus a MG Co
Attached to IR43, 1st Bn. FAR 16 (77mm guns)
5 units

Fusiler Regt. 33, 3 Bns plus a MG Co
Attached to Fus. Regt 33, 2nd Bn. FAR 16 (77mm guns)
Attached to Fus Regt. 33., Mtd Jager Bn 10 (deployed to screen the center)
6 units

21 total units

Russians

1st Bde, 27th Infantry Division

105th Infantry Regt. (Oldenburg), 4 Bns plus a MG Co
5 units

106th Infantry Regt. (Ufa), 4 Bns plus a MG Co
Attached to 106th Inf. Regt. #2 Div, 27th Art. Bde. (76mm guns)
6 units

1st Bde. 25th Infantry Division

97th Infantry Regt. (Livonia) 4 Bns plus a MG Co.
5 units.

16 units

Battle Reports

Report Russian 3rd Corps, 1st Army – General Jepantschin
25th Infantry Division
27th Infantry Division

When I General Jepantschin of the 3rd Corps, 1st Amy discovered the German attempt to "pincer" my Corps my plan was made.  I intended to hold the Germans on my left with the 106th Infantry Regiment (Ufa), 27th ID.  I also intended to advance in the center with the 105th Infantry Regiment (Oldenburg), 27th ID  and threaten the German right with 97th Infantry Regiment (Livonia), 25th ID knowing our 20 Corps would counter attack on that flank.

I believe I successfully held the German forces from moving on the Russian left as they would not and could not advance beyond the small farm they took cover in.  My 106th Ufa Regiment took cover in a strong position behind a fence in the wheat field. This created a stalemate on that flank.

In the center I took full advantage of the abandoned sector (held only by light forces) to move in and interfere with the German advance on my right, which was successful. Several German units were diverted to deal with the counter attack by my 105th Oldenburg Regiment.

Other German units were forced to ground as their advance was slowed by the counter attack.

My center/left was strong as both regiments still had several full strength units supported by artillery and machine gun units that could support either flank.

Regrettably, my 97th Infantry Regiment (Livonia), 25th ID right had to be sacrificed to complete the plan.  The 97th had few support units and I knew it was going to be a desperate fight.   By using the "collapsing bag" tactic I believe I held the German’s attention right to the end.  Knowing that 20 Corps was about to arrive on the German left the sacrifice of the 97th was successful as the Germans were required to remain in their positions and virtually destroy the 97th almost to a man. The Motherland should be proud of their sacrifice!

It is necessary to point out that I was outnumbered on both flanks and the Germans had a 2-1 advantage in artillery since the 97th artillery brigade was not in the vicinity to lend support. Our lack of cavalry scouting virtually guaranteed a surprise attack. Where were our Cossacks I must ask? I must also point out we faced the German 1st Corps consisting of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions, two divisions our own intelligence have rated as elites. Despite the heavy odds the German right pincer was stopped and the rest of the Corps spared from encirclement.

In summary my left held, my center did was expected of them and my right’s gallant stand forced the Germans to go to ground.

General  Джеймс (Jim)  Jepantschin, Commander 3rd Corps, 1st Army

Battle Report German 2st Corps, 8th Army
17. August 1914
General von Francois Reporting.  

My plan was to completely destroy the enemy forces in front of my left and right flanks and only then turn and trap the Russian forces in the middle, destroying them in a “Pincer maneuver”.

My forces are well trained, of high moral, and determined to push the Russians back out of the Fatherland.

The battle started on my right flank. 

Two Battalions and an MG. Komp. of the Infantry Regt 43 of the 2. Inf. Div. secured a small town and engaged Russian forces to their front with very accurate fire.  Fire from 1. Bn. FAR 16 was also directed against the same Russians.   That Russian Bn. was forced to retreat with heavy losses and never reentered the battle.  

The Russians continued to exchange fire with us but their infantry took heavy losses.   1.Bn. FAR was lost to counter battery fire.  The Russians were unable to advance and our attacks were also halted.  Three hours had passed before 33. Fusilier Regt. arrived with 2. Bn. FAR attached. 

With their arrival one of their Bns. was able to advance on the far right and helped turn the Russians towards the center.  2.Bn. FAR was then ordered to fire Counter Battery and eliminated the Russian guns.   

With their guns destroyed, the Russians formed a defensive pocket on the edge of the center, but still on the left flank. 

They would hold this position until nightfall and before the 33. Regt could be deployed against them.  I was not willing to waste the lives of the men of the 43. Regt in piecemeal attacks.

In the center the 10. Bn. Mtd. Jager stood alone against numerically superior Russian forces.  They halted and forced the Russians to fall back several times until their casualties became too great and left the battle.  Their stand was heroic and kept the Russians from using their center forces against our flank attacks until late in the battle.

On our left flank, our forces, 45. Inf. Regt.  was deployed in a small village behind a shallow river. 1. Bn. FAR 18 engaged the Russians at long rang.  The river delayed the advance of our troops.

As three Bn. of the 45. crossed the river the 33. Gren.  Regt. arrived.  Using the three Bn. of the 45. as a screening force one of the 33. Bn. was able to column march along the far left flank and join in the attack with the 45.  The 33. was also able to deploy the 2.Bn. FAR 18.  However the rest of the 33. was too far back to take part in the attack.  The reserves of both flanks were unable to bring their full weight into the battle but the two Bn. and the two guns played a major role in the battle.

As the three Bn. of the 45. and the one Bn. of the 33. Gren. to their left, attacked, the Russians were driven back.  After a long hard fight the Russian right flank collapsed with their units being completely destroyed.  The Russian however was not done yet and their units in the center, realizing they were about to be encircled, launched an all out counter attack against our left flank.  Our troops of the 45th. , who had nearly exhausted themselves in their attack, quickly took up defensive positions in place.  The Russians were able to over run the closest Bn. of the 45th. but were then halted by intense and accurate defensive fire from artillery, MG’s and rifles.  The Russians were forced to retreat back to the center.  

Our left flank had been cleared.  The pincer would be closed by the two reserve Regt. and I will then withdraw as ordered.

Respectfully
General [Michael} von Francois

 My Comments

Asking my friends to do a battle report from their perspective was not part of what I planned but after receiving one (the Russian) I thought it would be fun to have the Russian add more detail and ask the German player to write one up. What you have read above is what I received. I did minor editing without changing content.

In my study of military history I've learned that generals frequently disagree with one another when analyzing their part in a given battle. Sometimes they are even on the same side and argue quite vehemently for their perspective.!

What most have in common is a reluctance to admit mistakes, miscalculations or underestimating the enemy as well as misunderstanding their orders. Battle reports frequently read as a defense of their actions (or in some cases inactions) as well as putting a positive spin on their own performance and thus leaving future historians to judge the accuracy of their reports. 

In other words, a battle report simply represents a certain perspective driven by the general's personality, desire to look good, willingness to admit mistakes and consideration for how history would view his actions on a particular day.

In that both of my friends did very well in their reporting and I enjoyed reading them.

The Russian was from the onset in a world of hurt. As the scenario designer I only gave the Russian a 33% of pulling off a victory. While the Russians did lose the game I thought the general's comments that spoke of partial successes to ring true and in a historical context I doubt he would have been sacked and probably credited with doing the best he could.

The steadfastness of the Russian infantry is legendary and certainly he gave ample credit to his units that were in fact quite stubborn.

I do believe that German victory condition was fair and not all that easy to obtain. In my rules getting a 2-1 attrition rate is not all that easy even when you outnumber your enemy by 2-1 in field artillery and have a heavy advantage in infantry especially of the elite variety. 

The German too gave ample credit to his units that performed well. The Jaegers in particular seemed to hold off long enough to limit the Russian counterattack on the German left

When it came to total units actually destroyed the game was a draw. Each side lost one battery of field artillery and about 3 bns of infantry but when it came to stands lost the destruction of the Russian right was decisive. In all that I found the German report as accurate as the Russian one since it really came down to the final attrition numbers.

From a historical perspective the Russian 3 Corps was badly mauled at Stauponnen and it was the pressure from the Russian 20 Corps that caused the Germans to withdraw to the Gumbinnen lines. I thought the simulation reflected that well as the game ended.

Historically, had von Francois not achieved a considerble  victory he would have undoubtedly been sacked by von Prittwitz. Von Francois was not only skillful but also lucky since had the Russians been more on the ball he himself could have been surrounded and the best Corps in the 8th German Army wasted.

History is such that eventually it would be von Prittwitz who gets sacked and gets replaced by the Hindenburg\Ludendorff team who would achieve the most remarkable victory in the Great War at a place called Tannenberg.

What I learned as the simulation designer....

One, I misinformed the Russian player as to the victory conditions and had to make a mid-game calculation. He took it in stride but I need to come up with a little better system of determining victory in a 1914 game. Attrition is certainly important but terrain and road exits from a game board can matter as well. I'll have to tweak that.

Below are some pictures of the action in no particular order. 

German infantry meet a Russian counter attack on the Russian center right. The Russian regimental command stand is in the center of the picture.
Russian infantry and the remnants of a 76mm battery make a stand on good defensive ground.
German infantry push the Russians to the board edge but have a hard time eliminating them.
uRussian defenses in the center. A machine gun company is in support.
A Putilov 76mm battery in action. The divisional staff looks on.
The Russian center counterattacks the German Jaeger battalion holding a fence line.
Another Putilov battery and Russian infantry battalion taking advantage of some good defensive ground. The flag is a nice touch! (and yeah they really did that in 1914)
Two battalions of a German infantry regiment cross the river and press on as part of the German left pincer.
The Germans occupied the small village pushing back the advanced Russians. Villages are strong points and hard to take. Te Russians had no need to contest the village.
A German 77mm "whiz bang" named for the sound it made.
Airfix Germans, pride of my collection. This battalion is in the village. 
German infantry advance across a wheat field in East Prussia seeking to drive the Russians out! (These figures are metal and I think they are Irregular Miniatures out of the UK)
Close up of a Russian infantry battalion. Figures by HAT.
Overview of the German left flank-the better part of an infantry regiment supported by a 77mm battery and a MG company