The Battle of Guise 29 Aug 1914
Taken from “Home Before the Leaves Fall” by Ian Senior, pages 139-146
The Actual Battle
This is an interesting battle. In modern cold war doctrinal terms, the French were conducting (even if they didn’t know it or have the intelligence to support it) a counterstroke operation; in other words a counter attack against a moving enemy to destroy the enemy. The British heavy cavalry attack against the flank of D’Erlon’s Corps at Waterloo is also a counterstroke.
I thought I would say a few words about the terrain for the battle. I located a BEF 1:100,000 map for the period. This nicely showed the terrain features. I downloaded a segment of the map and printed it and coloured in with highlighter the important contours. This enables one to get a much better picture of the terrain, and especially here the 120m contour line shows the overall flatness of the terrain, but cut with valleys going south and east and north and west.
I then overlaid over this map my available hills to scale to approximate to the ground.
I then added extra layers between the hills to flatten out and join the hills into one main plateau.
I then covered it with my olive cloth, and laid out the villages, first, followed by the main roads in grey and the secondary roads in brown.
I used the Age of Eagles 1914 module for the game with my own adaptations. Further adaptations for this game were:
Reducing Infantry Long Range Fire
I reduced the firepower of infantry between 4 and 12 inches (remembering that 12 inches is over 2000m). I do not believe there is any justification for significant long-range fire effect from infantry. The most that could be achieved from such fire would have been harassing area fire I reduced the Germans to a factor of 1, and the French to 0 (but this increases to a 1 because they had integrated machine guns). If the British had been deployed, then they would be on the same factor as the Germans at this range. Given the weight of shells it therefore would not be unreasonable for these batteries to have a good fire effect against French 75mm batterys.
Heavy Howitzers on table
As with my adaptation for indirect fire I gave each battery a factor of six as they were 155mm howitzers. I also gave them a minimum fire range of 15 inches.
This was a significant decision. Where would I deploy the French which surprised the Germans. I decided to place them 12 inches away from MESNIL ST LAURENT deployed for battle. The German were deployed partially in open order to represent picquets, and the entire formation disordered because of the traffic congestion in the village. I decided to leave it to fate, and the initiative dice, to see who would move first – The French got lucky and were the first player!
Doctrinally I decided to employ the French very much as they were used in the early battles of 1914. With bayonet charges against German positions.
0800hrs Game Turn 1(FR first player)
The 35e IR make a timid advance in line of battalions towards MESNIL ST LAURENT. FR Arty fire disrupts BG Winterfeldt causing 2 casualties. GE arty deploys in support of BG Winterfeldt to the W of MESNIL ST LAURENT, with the Heavy How Btys in defilade. BG Hochwachter deploys into open order to defend IRANCOURT and provide flank support to BG Winterfeldt.
0830hrs Game Turn 2 (GE first player)
GE Hvy How silences a 75mm battery, and a further battery is silenced by accurate rifle fire from IRANCOURT. BG Winterfeldt open fire on 35e IR causing a casualty and disordering them, and they are forced to retire. Meanwhile in response 49e IR and 12e IR charge en bayonet in column against MESNIL ST LAURENT in a coup de main attack. 49e IR suffers 3 casualties and flinches and retires from the flanking fire from IRANCOURT. Meanwhile 12e IR on their right flank only take a single casualty and close to contact. In the assault they are beaten back by the Germans, and retire to lick their wounds. The FR arty silence BG Winterfeldt’s MG co.
0900hrs Game Turn 3 (GE first player)
49e IR successfully deploy into open order, despite their losses, to protect the div’s left flank. 12e IR continue to retire. Div Comd brings his reserve, 18e IR, forward to continue the attack. 35e IR successfully regroup but are not committed. FR arty fire falls on MESNIL ST LAURENT causing a cas on BG Winterfeldt. GE fire continues to slow and disorder the FR advance. A FR 75mm Group (Bn) suffers damage and has been silenced.
0930hrs Game Turn 4 (GE first player)
The GE arty has achieved fire dominance and silenced more FR 75mm btys; helped by ammo supplies reaching the Hvy How batterys. MESNIL ST LAURENT suffers more artillery and FR rifle fire with BG Winterfeldt suffering a further 2 cas. 18e IR advance in line and are responsible for some of the casualties in MESNIL ST LAURENT. 49e IR take further losses but hold their ground. 69th Res Div fails to arrive and is now late.
1000hrs Game Turn 5 (GE first player)
69th Res Div arrives and starts to advance on URVILLIERS. BG Winterfeldt abandon MESNIL ST LAURENT, but the 36th Div are oblivious despite the apparent slackening of rifle fire and do not follow up. While they halt and wait orders the 18e IR take punishing fire from the Hvy How and flanking fire from IRANCOURT and lose 2 cas.
1030hrs Game Turn 6 (GE first player)
18e IR retire to regroup, but 12e IR seize the mettle and charge through heavy fire to seize MESNIL ST LAURENT suffering a cas. 69th Res Div advance continues despite traffic jams. BG Winterfeldt retires further from MESNIL ST LAURENT.
1100hrs Game Turn 7 (GE first player)
69th Res Div’s 138e Bde has a breakdown in command and control and fails to continue its advance, with the 287e RIR retiring. In MESNIL ST LAURENT 36th Div’s 12e IR receive punishing fire losing 2 cas and retire from the village. 35e IR also retire. BG Winterfeldt continues its retirement. Hvy How are redeployed to support BG Hochwachter in IRANCOURT from the NE of NEUVILLE ST AMAND. BG Winterfeldt’s arty is silenced and damaged.
1130hrs Game Turn 8 (FR first player)
15 Foot Arty Bn arrives with four 155mm btys and deploys to the NE of NEUVILLE ST AMAND alongside the other 2 How Btys. They open fire on the arty of 69th Res Div which has deployed to support their attack. BG Winterfeldt regroups. 36th Div stabilises its position and its regiments regroup. BG Hochwachter receives fire in IRANCOURT and loses a cas. 138e Bde again has command and control problems again with a regiment withdrawing. 137e Bde continues its advance to the right of 138e Bde.
1200hrs Game Turn 9 (GE first player)
Hvy How fire punishes 69th Res Div arty, damaging two batteries and silencing another. Fire diminishes against IRANCOURT. 69th Res Div’s lead regiments recoil from their attack and fall back. 287e RIR disengages and withdraws from the battle. The 36th Div’s 12e IR are destroyed by fire., with the 49e IR taking a further cas. BG Winterfeldt moves forward to reoccupy MESNIL ST LAURENT.
1230hrs Game Turn 10 (GE first player)
All French forces start falling back. No forward movement from the FR. BG Hochwachter retires from IRANCOURT due to arty fire. BG Winterfeldt reoccupies MESNIL ST LAURENT.
Outcome and Analysis
It is firstly very interesting that the overall outcome was as with the actual battle. Albeit that the Germans lacked the strength to counterattack in any great strength.
The rules once again played well. I think the Age of Eagles use of cohesion levels is very effective at constraining correctly the operations of both sides to the end of the game. This is done through the cumulative effect of losses that gives a negative factor to manoeuvre command dice rolls.
I also think this was balanced by the reduction in infantry firepower I applied at ranges beyond 4 inches. This meant that the longer-range fire combat was solely down to the impact of artillery fire, which again is entirely reasonable and correct.
I have to confess that I rather like these rules and they are starting to give me the flavour of 1914 combat.