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Following on from our recent Russian Civil War AAR, Ivanov and I have decided to refight the German invasion of France in August 1914!

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I will be commanding the Entente forces, which to start with means just the French as the British are neutral and enemy actions will determine when the British enter the war.

Will Ivanov follow the legendary Schlieffen Plan and march through Belgium, even Holland, into northern France?

If he does, how will France cope with this bold stroke? Or will he thrust directly into France, marching on Verdun?

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MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

The main objective of this campaign for the advancing German army, is the French capital – Paris. Many historians argue that historically it was practically impossible to defeat the French in 1914 due to the force ratio between the belligerents in the theatre of operations, unexpectedly quick mobilization of the Russian army and flaws in the so called Schlieffen Plan ( so called because it probably never existed per se ). The most important idea behind the German plan was to to outmaneuver the French but attacking with the strong right wing, effectively violating the neutrality of Belgium. One of the most important reasons why the plan didn’t work, was the unexpectedly strong resistance of the Belgian army.

BELGIUM IS LIKE LIFE – YOU HAVE TO WALK THROUG IT???

If capturing of Paris was impossible historically, can it be done in the game? To be honest I’ve tested various strategies and came to the conclusion that... Belgium shouldn't be attacked at all! As in the history, the country would be a very hard nut to crack. A fast advance towards the channel coast wouldn’t be possible, due to the presence of strong fortresses such as Liege, Namur or Antwerp. Capturing them would be time consuming and would engage disproportionate portion of the attacking army, while giving the French time to regroup and maybe even to strike back somewhere in the South, against the weakened German front . Another important advantage of not invading Belgium is that such a course of action delays the British DOW on Germany. In this way, the French will be left alone for some time, face to face with the numerically superior Hun invader!

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The chart suggests that initially, without the Belgian units the French have 48 land units versus 74 German ones, which gives the attackers a roughly 30% numerical advantage. So a violent and ruthless advance towards the French capital has some chances of a success.

If it comes to the victory conditions, only the set that includes the channel ports, needs to be excluded. Basically I will go for no less than a Decisive Victory!

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THIS IS WAR!

So here it goes, the first turn! Contrary to the inital plan of the HQ, the First Army of gen. Von Kluck deploys not against Belgium, but in front of Nancy. North of it the elements of Sixth Army start to arrive in the vicinity of Metz. In the mean time, the German Fourth Army enters Luxembourg and approaches the mighty fortress of Verdun from the East:

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On other fronts, the units deployed initially against Belgium, start a massive and rapid movements south, in order join the Schwerpunkt of the offensive. In Alsace the soldiers in Pickelhauben, take defensive positions, because the HQ is well aware, that the French may attack there. And knowing the aggressive nature of our enemies, such a course of action is quite possible indeed...

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General Joffre’s Advice

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The Germans have begun their advance, by invading Luxembourg, capturing the mines at Briey, and advancing on Nancy.

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Are the Germans up to anything else as well, such as preparing to invade Belgium? We cannot yet tell, but there are hordes of Uhlans to the south of Metz, so this would suggest not.

This advancing mass of Uhlans is a foolhardy move as they blunder into de Castelnau’s 2nd Army and are bloodied, losing one division and almost losing another. A German infantry division south east of Nancy is also severely damaged. Not a good start to the Kaiser’s war!

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In the south, we have crossed the German frontier near Belfort and are advancing to contact with the enemy.

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As expected, the fiery gen. Joffre ordered an immediate counter attack against our advancing armies. Unfortunately, this aggressiveness hasn’t paid off because two French divisions have been obliterated in the process. The red pants of the Poilus look just too well in the sights of our machine guns:

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Well known for their resoluteness and élan, German soldiers counter attacked and advanced further!

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More divisions arrive to the central front, reading for a decisive battle:

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In Alsace, the French revanchists have entered a territory which is rightfully German. Unfortunately for them, our army has been prepared for this move and one French division has been shot up to pieces:

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It looks for now, that gen. Joffre is eager to engage our armies in an open, decisive battle, practically on the Franco-German border. This is actually not a bad news, because the German numerical superiority should eventually prevail. So far, the French are alone and it will be interesting to see, if they will be able to cope with the overwhelming might of German assault!

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Two of our divisions have been lost near Nancy, but there’s been no German attack on Belgium or Holland and it’s now the 5th August. This suggests more and more that Ivanov has ditched the ideas of the late Count Schlieffen and is going to follow a much more direct strategy in his attempts to defeat us.

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The bad news is that this means that the British won’t be entering the war as soon as I would like.

We’ve made our point near Belfort and retire back to the fortress. It’s interesting to see just how many German divisions there are here in the south.

The fighting continues near Nancy, with five German infantry and cavalry divisions being shattered!

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Our mobilization is continuing and reinforcements are arriving, so we will see over the next few turns whether or not Ivanov’s aggression will pay off.

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Heavy fighting continues on 6th of August and after an artillery bombardment, Nancy falls to the troops of gen. von Kluck! Another two French divisions get destroyed on the central front. Bloodbath like this always makes us feel a little melancholic. A certain weltschmerz has englfed the German HQ. In moments like this, we wonder about the nature of war and help ourselves with red wine. More divisions arrive to the front: forward to die!

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In Alsace an important counter attack has taken place. An enemy division has been destroyed and our troops are now at the gates of Belfort. This poses an interesting dilema for the future. Shall we take an advantage of the weakness of the French forces here and try to capture the fortress? It’s an interesting option because the enemy seems to be very weak here. From the other hand an infantry assault against a strong fortress without an adequate artillery support is never a good idea...

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More heave fighting and bloodshed are expected to follow. Both sides have suffered nearly equal casualties so far and if the rates of attrition will continue to be like this, the French are the ones who will most likely falter first.

Enthusiastic recruits arrive to the front:

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We’re switching to the defensive near Nancy as the enemy are in superior strength here, while reinforcements are rushed to Belfort.

It looks as though the Germans are now preparing for a massive attack on Verdun, as their forces in this area have suddenly grown quite considerably in number.

No enemy units are destroyed this turn, but we do batter a few before we withdraw to occupy new positions along the Meuse.

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Further evidence that an invasion of Belgium is not planned comes from Luxembourg, as it is reported that not all of the state has been occupied by German forces.

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More German units are arriving in the vicinity of Verdun. So far the fighting take place on the approaches to the fortress and one of the new enemy divisions has been destoyed there:

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On the central front the 1st Army has been improving it's positions in front of St. Mihiel and Commercy. Another two French divisions have been wiped out around the fortress of Toul, while our only precious artillery unit has been finally reinforced to the full strenght after the battle for Nancy:

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In Alsace a newly arrived enemy unit has been destroyed near Belfort but the attacking German troops suffered around 50% casualties and all of the four divisions need to be reinforced before they will be able to commence their assault.

All in all, Der Kaiser hasn't been too gracious this last turn and another four French divisions have been destroyed. While the German HQ is aware that more fresh enemy units arrive to the front each turn, this casualty ratio is barely sustainable in the long term. The French make around 180 MPP per turn while the cost of one division destroyed with the full supply is around 110 MPP. Also, estimated 30% of the German units are still marching towards the front, so our superiority is likely to increase. The bad news is that the terrain on the border area is rather a difficult one. There are numerous rivers, hills and worst of all, strategically located fortresses, such as Verdun that guard the shortes approaches to Paris, which is our ultimate objective.

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Lovely AAR. During the early Beta Test Phase of "Breaktrough!" I did something similar versus the AI... leave the Belgians in peace and attack France alone. My troops took Sedan quickly and then advanced to the west. As the AI started to divert forces to the west, I took Verdun and the surrounding forts. French NM went belly up before I reached the gates of Paris, so the match was finished by the end of september.

I can see certain similarities to your match... but Bill will make it harder to win than the AI in the early stages.

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I did something similar versus the AI... leave the Belgians in peace and attack France alone.

Admittedly I ran few test games vs the Ai prior to this AAR and came to a conclusion that... this campaign simulates the historical conditions too well, for the original German plan to succeed. There are the two main reasons for this:

a) The Belgians cannot be defeated fast enough

B) The French are able to divert quickly their units to the North, so the Germans would eventually meet the impenetrable wall, somewhere near the Franco-Belgian border, just as in the reality. A the same time, they would be overstretched an vulnerable to the counter attack in the South. The benefits from keeping Britain out of the war are obvious.

So attacking France directly is beneficial in many ways, mostly because it allows the Germans to maintain the favorable force ratio. On the downside, such a strategy forces the attacker to advance in a difficult terrain and meeting the French head on, which inevitably leads to high casualties on both sides. I am well aware, that it is going to be a tough match and just hope that this strategy will eventually pay off.

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I played a match as the French versus a skilled human player as the Germans, version 1.00. He made his way through Belgium, but I stopped him before the Marne, and as the campaign ended, Germany held very few French tiles. Both me and me opponent agreed: the Allies have it easier when Germany goes via Belgium. More troops to defeat, longer way, no benefit. Pretty sure Bill has changed a lot in 1.01 ...

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I think this campaign is balanced very well in this sense, that if the German player decides to attack as in the history, then the outcome would be most probably historical. From the other hand, it's difficult to balance the ahistorical variants. Having said this, I am very far from being overconfident in this one...

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The fighting along the frontier is certainly hotting up, and the enemy are piling on the pressure between Verdun and Toul.

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We’ve pushed the Germans back from the area to the north east of Verdun, and battered a number of units south of Verdun.

Generals Joffre and de Castelnau discussing the latest developments

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Large numbers of reinforcements are arriving, and Dubail is taking charge near Belfort to stiffen up the defence in this sector.

This is certainly no easy battle, but we have one message for our opponents:

You are not fighting the France of 1870, there is no Bazaine or Louis Napoleon in charge here.

We are fighting as one, to defend our soil and liberate our countrymen in the occupied provinces of Alsace-Lorraine.

Long live France! Long live the Republic!

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The German advance towards the heart of France continues, with important developments taking place on the central front. Quite suprisingly, the enemy didn't try to create a strong, defensive line around the fortress of Toul and only one division has been left there to die. The city is now completely cut off by our 1st Army, with the heavy artillery unit in position, ready to pulverize the French fortifications. An assault is expected to follow soon. More importantly, thanks to the daring and inititive of the local divisional level commandres, the town of Commercy on the river Meuse has been captured by the 5th Bavarian Division! With the Toul in our hands and the Commercy bridgehead secured, the shortest way to Paris will be opened!

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Other than that, there have been some bloody skirmishes in the vicinity of Verdun. In Alsace our forces have been regrouping and reinforcing before the final push against Belfort.

The main question right now, is if the capture of Commercy by the Bavarians will prove to be a turing point of this campaign? Nancy and Toul have been the main, initial objectives of the 1st Army, and gen von Kluck is very close of capturing the later. There is still a long way from there to Paris, but the terrain will be better ( with the exception of few rivers on the way ), with a lot more space for the maneuver, what always favours the German army! Will Commercy prove to be the Sedan of this campaign? If you know what I mean... ;)

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Our defences at Belfort continue to be strengthened and Dubail has now taken charge here.

Further north, the fortress of Toul is under threat, and the enemy have crossed the Meuse at Commercy.

But von Kluck may find exploiting his success here a little harder than he thought, for we have reserves aplenty, and the German 26th Reserve Division to the southwest of Toul has just learnt that French rifles don’t fire blanks.

General Pau takes command of a new army in Lorraine, based at Bar-le-Duc just a few miles to the west of Commercy.

General Paul Pau

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One thing that will prove useful in coming weeks is that we have not lost a single cavalry division, even though they have all been closely engaged, whereas the Germans have lost five. This means that we still retain a significant body of mobile troops, available for scouting, lightning attacks and rapid reinforcement of key areas.

It is now the 11th August, and here is the strategic situation after 10 days of war:

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Great AAR!

Bill, given this seems to be a repeat of the 1870 campaign when France faced certain isolation, how is the diplomatic war going? What are the British and Belgium mobilizations at and are you investing very little or a lot? What is the NM boost worth to France from either declaring war? It may be too early for you to say, but would you have done anything different diplomatically once you recognized the German strategy of avoiding war with Britain?

Frank

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As expected, on 12th of Agust the fortress of Toul has been captured after a heavy artillery barrage and a mass assault by the entire 1st Army! In the mean time the, sensing an opportunity, the 6th Army attacked St. Mihiel and a French division there has been pounded into dust.

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Our enemies are certainly scared by this image. The awesome numerical superiority of the German army is quite apparent from it. It is true that the French are moblizing frantically. France is much more militarized society than the peaceful nation of Germany ;) With the population of 40 milion vs 72 milion of the Second Reich, it can call upon 80 infantry divisions vs our 87. Still, due to the high casualty rates, the advancing armies of Kaiser enjoy a considerable superiority that hasn't changed since the first day of this war:

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If it comes to the diplomacy, UK is being mobilizing slowly and it's readiness is now at 66%. The German intelligence estimates that the British DOW will take place somewhere at the beginning of September. Belgium will stay neutral unless attacked by either side ( we still remeber the ranting of some British commanders that if Germany won't attack Belgium, the UK will ). Our intelligence also indicates that the French hasn't been investing in the diplomacy. Not suprisingly - an UK diplomatic chint costs 150 MPP while the entrie French production is worth around 180 MPP...

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The Germans suffered heavy casualties assaulting Toul.

Our forces now stand two divisions deep behind the Meuse, forming a tough barrier that will cost many German lives to cross.

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Three more divisions deploy for battle to the west of Verdun, with nearly two dozen more units still mobilizing. The Kaiser’s optimism and dreams of repeating 1870 might be a little misplaced!

Further south, Dubail launches a counter-attack near Belfort, battering German 8th Division. Judging by this divisions’s low supply level, they forgot to bring any Brockwurst with them.

So far, the Germans have suffered higher casualties in battle than us, but their losses have been spread over a much larger number of units.

British mobilization is underway, but their government is still debating whether or not to enter the war. Let us hope they do not delay too long as their army is the best in the world.

The British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, is believed to have sent the Kaiser a few polite letters asking him to withdraw from France.

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Great AAR!

Bill, given this seems to be a repeat of the 1870 campaign when France faced certain isolation, how is the diplomatic war going? What are the British and Belgium mobilizations at and are you investing very little or a lot? What is the NM boost worth to France from either declaring war? It may be too early for you to say, but would you have done anything different diplomatically once you recognized the German strategy of avoiding war with Britain?

Frank

Hi Frank

When the British enter the war, France will receive a nice boost of 5,000 National Morale points. :)

In some ways there are parallels to 1870, but hopefully not in the competence of the French High Command and its fighting spirit!!

I'm not sure what I might have done differently yet. Perhaps been a little more cautious, but I could tell pretty quickly that the Kaiser wasn't going to violate Belgian neutrality.

Bill

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While the main forces of the First and Sixth Armies have been massing in front of the river Meuse, the Fourth Army in Luxembourg has been active aswell. More units are arriving to that front and a French division in Etain was destroyed. This is certainly a good news because the town lays on a direct patch towards the fortress of Verdun!

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In Alsace, a newly arrived enemy unit has been severely beaten and forced to retreat. Those French should learn, that making fun of the German national cuisine may sometimes cost them dearly!

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***

Apparently after hearing the British advances, the Kaiser was furious:

"This war is a matter of principles and will decide the fate and security of our nation for the generations to come! If the British want us to withdraw from France, they should abandon their colony of India!"

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Since trench warfare didn't actually begin until around September 15 1914, after the Germans culminated, do either of you think being able to use entrenchments so early as a problem in any way in this scenario? Do you think they inhibit your aggressiveness at all? Perhaps not, but it seems players may be less aggressive since they are facing entrenched troops much sooner than the historical generals did. It might be interesting to playtest this scenario where each player agrees not to entrench their troops until after Sept 15th.

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Since trench warfare didn't actually begin until around September 15 1914, after the Germans culminated, do either of you think being able to use entrenchments so early as a problem in any way in this scenario? Do you think they inhibit your aggressiveness at all? Perhaps not, but it seems players may be less aggressive since they are facing entrenched troops much sooner than the historical generals did. It might be interesting to playtest this scenario where each player agrees not to entrench their troops until after Sept 15th.

To be honest I rarely advance forwards when I'm faced with a solid defensive line. Not so much due to the trenches, but because the enemy will always be able to attack during his turn, taking an advantage of the prepared attack bonus. It seems that Bill has managed to construct a pretty solid defensive line along the Meuse and it will be interesting to see, if I'll be able to overcome it. For now, it seems that that the war of manoeuvre is over. It's understandable in any case - I attacked on a relatively narrow front with many rivers, hills and towns and the French reserves have been pouring in quickly. Right now, my only hope is to overcome the French with a brute force taking an advantage of the numerical superiority, which will be diminishig with time...

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