Designer Notes: France ‘14 - Part I
by, 09 Jul 10 at 17:10 (2381 Views)
Designer Notes: France ‘14
With the end to diplomacy in the summer of 1914, Germany marched into Belgium in the first week of August to win a crushing victory with their finely tuned, but heavily modified, Schlieffen Plan. Germany saw many initial successes in France and Belgium in August and early September, and victory seemed like a forgone conclusion. However, defying all odds, the weary French and British made an about face and counter attacked along the Marne, crushing the Schlieffen Plan, and halting the German advance.
The 1914 conflict in France would be the opening act of a gruesome war that would not end until 1918, a war which would forever remove many of the monarchs in Europe, and consume the lives of over eighteen million people. This "Great War" would mark the end of the Napoleonic old world order, and would be the catalyst for an even greater struggle known as World War II.
What now seems like a lifetime ago, I approached John Tiller with a proposal; a new game series should be created covering the Great War.1 The Great War is a conflict that is generally well known about, but is little understood, and any knowledge of it is usually filled with stereotypes and generalizations. For many people, the first thing that may come to mind is a conflict of nothing other than trench warfare, stagnation, and attrition. While it is true that the Great War had an ample amount of these traits, in actuality most of the campaigns were fluid, and it was only the periods of 1915-1916 on the Western Front that characterizes what most people come to think of as the entire conflict.
1 In this document, “the Great War” may be referred to as “the First World War” or “World War I” interchangeably. War gaming interest in the Great War has been nearly non existent in comparison to gaming interest in World War II. One contributing factor is due to the almost total lack of war games available about the former, in comparison to the complete saturation of content about the latter.
In the proposal to Mr. Tiller, the first title in this bold new series would be based upon the Western Front, and it would cover the entire year of 1914. To compound matters, I decided to go a step further and attempt to represent the campaign using a similar system to the popular Panzer Campaigns series, meaning that the conflict would be represented at a scale of one kilometer per hex, at the battalion and company level. It was a truly ambitious and equally insane undertaking, and, to my knowledge, the scale and detail of which was something that has never been attempted before in the history of war gaming. The end result is what I hope will be the most accurate and detailed representation of this great conflict, and a hope to spark greater interest in the study of World War I in general for further research and understanding, which in turn helps form a greater understanding of World War II and modern world problems and situations. An example of this would be the outcome of the French campaign of 1940, and the undeserved post World War II criticism placed upon the French Army by armchair historians.
2 If people learned through a war game, or through further reading inspired by playing a war game, exactly how much the French people suffered during the Great War by experiencing or reading about the campaigns themselves, then perhaps they would exhibit a broader understanding of the "complete picture" and be less quick to criticize French performance in 1940.3 This is just one example of how the Great War contributed to the events, origin, and outcome of World War II but it certainly goes much further than this. The Great War was the genesis of modern warfare, seeing the birth of many modern weapon systems and tactics, all of which deserve their own study in order to better understand modern warfare. There is an excellent Panzer Campaigns series title available, France .40, if you would like to wargame the 1940 German invasion of France.
3 France suffered roughly 25% of all casualties on the Allied Powers during the Great War, with over 5.6 million soldiers dead or wounded, second only to the Russian Empire, which suffered 30% of Allied Power casualties at over 6.7 million soldiers dead or wounded. However, French military casualties amounted to 14% of the total French population at the time (~40 million people), compared to Russian military casualties which amounted to 4% of Russian national population at the time (~159 million people). This percentage of national sacrifice is unparalled in history. War weariness in 1940, needless to say, was a contributing factor to French performance, and rightly so. The sheer scope and depth of the data that needed to be gathered to create this work is mind boggling to say the least and, to complicate things, almost every source available covers a small piece of the puzzle, or conflicts with one another in some regard. The most difficult task was wading through the data and sorting out facts from bias, and the avoidance of making too many speculations in areas which had little information available. Cross referencing several sources was absolutely necessary so that an accurate result, free of most bias from the period, could be obtained. Every effort was made to make this as accurate a representation of the Great War as possible, given the limitation of both human abilities and sanity. However, given these complications, realities and over ambitions, there is no doubt that unintentional errors have been made in the creation of this work. I alone am responsible for any such errors.
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The following question must be addressed immediately: why was the decision made to split the 1914 conflict on the Western Front into three separate campaigns, and not represent it with one huge campaign? The answer is that 1914 was actually the scene of three different stages of the battle as both sides switched to completely different strategies throughout the year. These shifts in strategies were broken down into phases, of which the three campaigns represent. You may notice that there is actually more than three campaign scenarios present in this title, this is because the campaign in Flanders4 was broken up into smaller campaigns of Yser, Ypres, and La Bassée in order to provide a smaller sector if the desire is not to play the entire Flanders Campaign.
4 The Flanders campaign was during the period of mid October to mid November 1914.
5 The original Schlieffen plan was designed to weakly defend the Franco-German frontier and to give ground to a French attack. By giving ground to the French, von Schlieffen calculated that the French army would be walking into a trap, leaving Paris undefended, and allowing the French army to be flanked. The initial conflict from August to mid September was an attempt by the Germans to win a quick victory over the allies by out flanking them and capturing Paris. This was foiled by a series of events. The most notable of these events was the German 1st Army turning south too early, the skillful BEF withdrawal and harassment, and the counter attack by the French 5e Armee at Guise, all helping to force this early turn. However, perhaps the biggest issue that foiled the plan was von Moltke.s revision of the original Schlieffen Plan just prior to the war. Von Motke.s revision put more German corps along the Franco-German frontier, and on the Eastern Front, rather than one massive wheeling force towards Paris. Von Motlke felt that the original Schlieffen plan was too bold and he could not accept a plan that would ultimately surrender German soil to the French.5 He opted for a more conservative approach which, ultimately meant that the flanking German armies were too thinly spread in their wheeling movement to effectively swing around and isolate Paris. To further complicate matters, a new decision by von Moltke, just prior to the Battle of the Marne, to outflank and destroy the then weakened French 5th Army, had the effect of causing the German 1st Army to swing further southeast which placed it in a situation where the German right wing was vulnerable to a massed counter attack. This counter attack by the BEF and French 6th Army, resulted in a decisive turn of events for the seemingly invincible German Army. What followed was the German retreat, and the Battle of the Aisne, as the line was stabilized and then a new phase of battle began. It is difficult to imagine, when all hope seemed lost, how the allied armies managed to counter attack and completely turn the balance of power in the conflict. Indeed it was a miracle.
From this point, a new phase of the campaign began and consisted of a race where both the Central Powers and Allied Powers attempted to outflank each other. From the Aisne to Switzerland, the battle line was continuous, but in the west the battlefield was wide open all the way to the English Channel. Thus, the period known as "the Race to the Sea" ensued in which both sides stretched the battlefield further and further northwest. Neither side gave up hope that they could still force a quick victory before the end of 1914. The German strategy was both to outflank the allies and to seize as much territory as possible, with the whole of Calais as the grand prize. The Allies desired to turn the German flank, as they did at the Marne, and force a German withdrawal from Belgium and France.
Once the Race to the Sea phase ended, and the battle line was now continuous from the English Channel to Switzerland, a third phase began with the Germans trying desperately to break through the allied line in the vicinity of the BEF held salient at Ypres. The reduction of the Ypres salient would shorten German lines, and eliminate a bridgehead across the Yser that the allies could use for a future counter offensive. The Germans were also aware of how thinly spread the BEF was becoming. All of this made the Ypres salient a perfect opportunity for German breakthrough in an otherwise now static front.
With all of this in mind, not only were the objectives in all three major phases completely different, unit composition between the first and second phases were also different and, more importantly, the French had dropped the “cult of the offensive” mentality, so their infantry ratings had to change.6 Therefore, given France .14.s scale, it is impractical to effectively represent the whole entire 1914 conflict in one all encompassing scenario. That is not to say that it is impossible, but any attempt to do so would create an unmanageable experience and any semblance of a historical outcome is doubtful.
6 See the notes about the French Army for more information.
The early campaign covers most of the front line area across France, but it does not cover the relatively static areas in the German 7.Armee and French 1er Armée sector. This area covered the region from Épinal to the Swiss border. Although the front remained relatively static in this area during 1914-18 given the nature of the terrain, it is important to remember the brutal fighting did occur here and that it too was part of the "Western Front".
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The Belgian Army
Obtaining correct order of battle information on the Belgian Army of 1914 is a very difficult endeavor. The sources that are available are often conflicting or inaccurate. However, through lengthy research, accurate and reliable sources were discovered. To understand the events of the German invasion of Belgium, there must be a brief mention of the Belgian Army's situation at the outbreak of the conflict.
At the start of 1914, the Belgian Army was in a state of total reorganization and this reorganization was not scheduled to be complete until 1918. Indeed, at first glance the Belgian order of battle will appear odd and even incorrect. Divisions are specified as corps and brigades are specified as divisions. This is indeed intentional and historical. During this period of reorganization, Belgium was looking to expand their army. However, to avoid scaring parliament, who was afraid of all military expenses, it was decided that army corps would temporarily be called “divisions”; the divisions would be called “mixed brigades”. Therefore, in essence, the brigades were an incomplete division in the process of reorganization, and divisions were really the start of the formation of army corps. This also explains why elements of the "divisions" were so scattered across Belgium at the start of the conflict. Having this awkward organization in transition does have its weaknesses as well as its strengths. "Brigades" have difficulty in cooperation with other brigades, however brigades have the command radius of divisional HQs, and divisions have the command radius of Corps HQs.
In time of peace, the Brigade Mixte was comprised of only one infantry regiment. When the regiment was mobilized it would receive the eight youngest draft classes and divide itself to form a second infantry regiment. This would then become the corner stone of the Brigade Mixte. Then, seven of the oldest draft classes7 would form another regiment; a Régiment de Forteresse. The split of the regiments was supposed to occur in 1915 during the middle of the reorganization period; however, it was decided to carry out this split when the army was mobilized. The Belgian Army was already short of officers and equipment, so the result of this split was an influx of inexperienced personnel and an even greater shortage of cadre and equipment. This resulted in a much diluted army that was in no way prepared to face the onslaught of the German war machine. However, no one can deny the tenacity of "brave little Belgium" and even though their mobilization system was flawed, a good part of the Belgian Army is rated as "C" quality with their infantry regiments rated as "D" quality to represent this tenacity.
7 The “oldest draft classes” consisted of men over the age of 30.
The Garde Civique deserves special mention. This unit was a governmental institution that was charged with maintaining law and order and was not related to the regular Belgian Army. The Garde Civique has been omitted from the order of battle for several reasons. The first being that they were in fact only used in maintaining law and order and the second being that they posed no real military threat to the German Army. At the start of the war, the Belgian government decided to withdraw all Garde Civique units to Bruxelles where they were ordered to dig trenches and prepare the city for defense. However, the Germans did not recognize the Garde Civique as part of the Belgian Army and so the Garde Civique decided to surrender their weapons so as not to be classified as combatants.
The HQ insignia for the Belgian Army are insignia based on traditional military map symbols that denoted the size of unit and the colors are based on national colors.
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The French Army
The French Army throughout 1914 was an organizational nightmare. Divisions and Corps were uprooted and transplanted where needed, and it quickly became disorganized. Creating the French Army in the order of battle was extremely difficult and took over a year of researching different pieces of the puzzle, as well as countless late night frustration. In the end, the primary source of information was, naturally, Les armées françaises dans la Grande Guerre (AFGG), Thome X, Volumes 1 and 2.
Some might notice that a few corps formations which, at various times had a third "attached" division, may not necessarily have that attachment in their "correct" places in the order of battle.8 Or, in the case of the Groupe de Divisions de Réserve (GDR) formations, some reserve divisions do not appear in their peace time "on paper" organizations, rather they instead appear outside of the GDR. This was only done in cases 8 An example of this is the 3e CA's 38e DI and 10e CA's 37e DI, which was also attached to the 18e CA at some point. where units may have moved around in the organization between armies and various corps which the game cannot otherwise allow. Instead, with these formations as lose entities, it intentionally allows them to be attached to different armies to allow for this historical level of flexibility. It is arguable whether or not these "attached" divisions were actually assigned to a specific corps' organization in game play terms; rather, it is more likely that these divisions were simply temporarily placed under the authority of the corps commander, but not in the actual organization itself. One notable example is the 7e CA. Historically, the 7e CA began the war with the 14e DI and 44e DI. However, around the time of the Battle of the Marne, the 7e CA was transferred to the VIe Armée. When it made this move, the 7e CA's 44e DI remained with the Ier Armée, and the 63e DI, which was previously in the 1er GDR, took its place. This type of restructuring is what caused an immense amount of grief to the point where certain adjustments had to be made, whilst keeping the historical events and possibilities in mind. The end result is that a few units may appear out of place when, in reality, they are located in such a manner to allow them to be attached to different armies, or to allow them to be in historical "war time" organizations.
The late 1914 order of battle9 was the most frustrating of the three orders of battles to research and create. This period, as well as 1915, is what I refer to as the "reorganization and improvisation period", where both sides were evolving to the nature of the conflict and, in many cases, restructuring and rearming their forces as they went. During the Race to the Sea, both sides reorganized themselves as needed to meet the demands of the constantly lengthening front. For the Germans, this primarily meant that corps were reassigned to different armies as the Germans generally kept their order of battle extremely tidy. In contrast, the French made a host of restructuring and reorganization changes which again test the capabilities of the game. The choice was made that the starting organization for the late order of battle is setup to represent the force structure at the start of October, when the late period was generally established from the early 1914 structures. In the late September scenarios, these units are attached to their parent army HQs, to which they originally resided. The intent is that late war scenarios "play out" with some of the organizational changes already in effect in order to help ensure that the battles flow more historically. The user still has the freedom to make their reorganizations, but the historical guideline is in place. Also, any brigade or division that may have been briefly and temporarily attached to a specific corps may not be represented that way in the order of battle. It is rationalized that in these cases of brief attachments, in game play terms it simply means that the units were independent at the army HQ level, capable of working with other corps and divisions within the command. This solution is not perfect, as no solution to this complex issue could be without allowing a complete restructuring freedom of the order of battle from top to bottom, but it does provide a common ground in a period were there was constant change. This could 9 The late order of battle coveres the “Race to the Sea” period, and the Battle of Ypres. have been handled a multitude of other ways but unless there was a different order of battle for every week of the war, this approach is as well as any other when attempting to create a definitive order of battle structure at this level during a period when nothing was definite.
Another late period order of battle issue was with the army level Artillerie Lourde. In October, the French began to realize their shortcoming of indirect-fire-capable artillery, and began to rectify it by bringing old guns out of retirement from forts and stockpiles across the country. Obsolete guns like the 120mm de Bange 1877, and 155mm de Bange 1877, began to see front line use until France could produce enough modern guns to replace them. These guns are presented in the late order of battle, albeit the Artillerie Lourde organization has shifted to a more abstract representation of groupings of guns at the appropriate level that AFGG specifies. During this ad hoc period, the French also had trouble replacing the early losses of 75mm M97 field guns and were also experiencing trouble supplying them with enough ammunition. For this reason they briefly brought two obsolete field guns out of retirement as a stop gap: the 95mm Lahitolle 1875, and the 90mm de Bange 1877. These guns mostly acted as replacements to the RAC field artillery units and, for the sake of practicality, these guns are not represented in the order of battle. All of these guns were relatively quickly replaced as 75mm M97 field gun replacements became available, and as ammunition production began to increase.
Equipment and Training
The French Army in any game, from the Napoleonic Era to the Second World War, is a hot button issue. In France '14, there is no exception. The quality of the French Army and its equipment is taken from several considerations, as is the quality of their attack ratings. It is important to note that it seems to be rather popular to be labeled as "anti French" when describing French weaponry, doctrine, or military capability of the First World War. The following observations are not based upon any bias for or against the French military, they are based solely on research from various sources, and from first hand experience with the weapons they employed. Being a collector of firearms and having over ten years of military experience, it is easy to come to the conclusion of what the different unit ratings should be.
In 1914, the French infantry and machine gun soft attack ratings are the lowest between German and British forces, with the Germans coming in second, and the British being the best of the three. The French are the lowest rated because of their rather poor quality weapons they fielded, and has nothing to do with the individual wielding it. The machine gun used by the French in 1914 was primarily the water cooled 1907 St.Etienne machine gun, which had serious defects. This weapon was highly susceptible to misfeeding because it had an overly complex mechanism. Since the weapon was extremely unreliable and prone to stoppages, French regulations stated that, unless in cases of emergency, only one of the two machine guns in each section was allowed to fire at any one given time. This was done in order to limit the possibility of both weapons being down from a malfunction at the same time, while the crews performed immediate or remedial action. The St.Etienne 1907 was quickly replaced by the Hotchkiss 1914 machine gun, however most sources indicate that the Hotchkiss 1914's adoption was never really complete until early or middle 1915, while other sources indicate that it did not occur until as late as 1916. Because of this, and the general uncertainty of what the vast number of units were equipped with, machine gun ratings for the French are that of the St.Etienne 1907. It is worth mentioning that another machine gun already in service, the Hotchkiss 1900, was far better than the St.Etienne 1907 but at the time the Hotchkiss 1900 was too expensive given that the St.Etienne was a government made weapon at government owned and operated factories. The Hotchkiss 1900 was produced by a privately owned company and, because of this, the cost per unit was much higher than that of the St.Etienne, so the St.Etienne received the nod.
The standard French Army rifle in 1914 was the Lebel Model 1886. The rifle was extremely advanced when it was introduced in 1886, being the first to incorporate a small caliber bullet and smokeless powder, but by 1914 it was obsolete and clumsy. The Lebel M1886 was almost six feet long with bayonet attached and weighted nearly ten pounds unloaded. It had an awkwardly designed eight round magazine, consisting of a longitudinal tube underneath the barrel. The magazine was difficult and extremely time consuming to load, taking over one minute to replenish under ideal circumstances. After the eight round magazine was emptied, practicality forced the soldier to manually insert single rounds into the breach to fire, since the amount of time to reload the magazine was unfeasible when subjected to enemy fire. This greatly reduced the rate of fire of a French infantryman to as much as one half the level of his rivals, the latter employing rifles equipped with box magazines with quick loading stripper clips. As if this were not enough, as the rifle's oddly designed longitudinal magazine was depleted, the center of gravity of the weapon would shift dramatically. In modern rifles, it is now known that having a perfectly balanced weapon with a constant center of gravity is critical to maintaining accuracy. The shift in the Lebel's center of gravity as the magazine was
depleted would cause the weapon to become off balance and disrupt the firer's aim point. All of these problems were not fully rectified until 1915 when the Lebel-Berthier M1907/15 rifle was adopted, which featured a box magazine and a Mannlicher-type clip for rapid reloading. However, the Lebel M1886 would still remain in service with second line French units throughout The Great War, although these second line units began to supplement it with other weapons later on. Taken by itself, the Lebel Model 1886 rifle was bad enough on influencing a low soft attack rating for French infantry, however this is not the only cause. The French infantry in 1914 frequently employed a tactic where they would quickly pop up from cover and conduct rapid fire until their magazine was depleted, then they would take cover and reload (rafale). This tactic resulted in a poor distribution of fire, massive expense of ammunition, and extremely poor accuracy.
The French Army was almost totally lacking in indirect artillery support at the time of 1914. However, the French Army employed the best field gun in the world: the 75mm Model 1897. This gun was a marvel of technology at the time; the Mle 1897 utilized a French copy of a German designed10 long recoil hydraulic brake, which allowed for a stable firing platform during rapid fire. This allowed the gun to be fired rapidly and with great precision since the gun did not require frequent relaying. It is certainly true that the German and British field guns featured similar characteristics; however the real strength of the French 75mm Field Gun was in its rate of fire. The German Field Kannone 96 fired approximately five rounds a minute, and the British 18 pounder fired nine rounds a minute. The French Mle 1897 field gun fired a remarkable fifteen rounds a minute, and even up to thirty rounds a minute in emergencies and when sufficient ammo was available.
10 Konrad Haussner. 11 The pre “Race to the Sea” period.
The French infantry in the early order of battle11 are blessed with the highest assault rating of all infantry, but are cursed with having the lowest defense rating. This is formulated from several conditions, but the largest factors have to do with the "cult of the offensive" doctrine of the early period of 1914. Following the French capitulation after in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the officers at the École de Guerre came up with the opinion that they had been defeated because they had surrendered tactical, moral, and strategic initiative to the Germans before the battle even began. Their answer to this was that in the next conflict the French would launch immediate attacks on all fronts, theoretically causing the enemy to stretch their resources and force them to constantly be on the defensive. A vocal French officer that supported this view, Colonel de Grandmaison, has been quoted as saying, "In an attack only two things are necessary: to know where the enemy is, and to decide what to do. What the enemy intends to do is of no consequence." This type of mentality, combined with the doctrine of all out attack, nearly led to complete disaster. With indifference to the enemy's intentions, the French of the early 1914 campaign approached tactical situations with the surgical precision of a sledgehammer. Doctrinally, the French answer to most tactical dilemmas was to mass into dense formation with bayonets fixed, and surge forward to deliver cold steel to the enemy. It was thought that the massed attack delivered with unflinching determination would prevail in any situation. To represent this severe vulnerability created by their “cult of the offensive” doctrine, French infantry have the lowest defense rating out of the other belligerents. In the late order of battle, the French had abandoned the flawed "cult of the offensive" doctrine, and this is reflected in the game by French infantry assault and defense values fluctuating back to a more standard level in comparison to the other belligerents, thus making French infantry less effective in assaults but more effective in the defense.
The French system of reserves was very different from that of the strict and highly organized system used by the German Army. Upon completion of active service in the French Army, soldiers passed into the Reserve for eleven years of additional service. At mobilization, the first two reserve classes (soldiers who were on their first of second year of being in the Reserve) where used to fill out the ranks of the Active Army formations to bring them up to war strength, and were utilized as replacements from depots. The remaining nine classes of reservists were used to form reserve units. This meant that the actual reserve formations contained a mixture of personnel who were anywhere from three to eleven years out of active service. To make matters worse, there were very few experienced NCOs and officers in the reserve and exceptions for annual training for reservists was granted liberally so that it is estimated that only 25% of those called back
for training actually appeared. This meant that the French reservist quickly became "demilitarized" once he exited the Active Army. This "system" of reserves was the polar opposite of the German system which was filled with high quality cadres and excellent discipline.12 Terence Zuber, The Battle of the Frontiers: Ardennes 1914, 85. See the German Army section of the notes for information on the German system of reserves. 13 ie. RM 2e Zouaves. 14 ie. 2e RMZ.
With interest in keeping historical accuracy, you may notice that the Zouaves and Tirailleurs Regiments and Battalions adopt a new naming system in the late 1914 order of battle. In the early 1914 order of battle "RM" appeared before the regimental number13 where as in late 1914 the naming system changed to include "RM" in a full abbreviation following the regimental number.14
The HQ insignia for the French Army are insignia based on traditional military map symbols that denoted the size of unit and the colors are based on national colors.
For maximum chrome, the numbering system of French armies and corps are in accordance with AFGG, the official French history of the war. This means that French armies are numbered with roman numerals and French corps are numbered with Arabic numerals, which is basically the opposite of other armies of the period. This keeps it consistent with official French documents and adds a more historical flavor and uniqueness to the order of battle.