This is the final part of Heinrich Mauthner’s story on the Western Front in 1914. Although I think ‘Glory’s End’ is a great simulation of this early part of the First World War, it was just too general and large-scale for my purposes. I intend to start all over again, using Mike Resch’s ‘Offensive a Outrance’ game as the strategic/operational model. Watch this space!
Back to Mauthner, and the 9th Corps has had its first major action in the First Battle of the Somme (see Part Two). The 18th Division is further blooded on the 11th of September, but Mauthner’s 17th Division is held in Reserve (this is the kind of thing that was ‘abstracted’ by me in this wargame, but will be more part of the gameplay itself in Mike Resch’s design).
The First Battle of the Somme grinds down into stalemate and attention diverts north where the French army on the Channel coast tries to link up with the Belgians south of Boulogne. The German First Army redirects several divisions to this sector, including those of 9th Corps. But a long march north by Mauthner and his colleagues ends fruitlessly as the remaining Belgian and outnumbered French units are dispatched with before they arrive. Another long march south back to the stiffening front-line south of Amiens.
Again we follow Mauthner’s narrative as 17th Division nears the front-line south of the Somme river ( again, I was using platoon-level miniatures rules to simulate these actions):
23rd September. We advance from Boves early morning, the town knocked about since last time. The British had retaken it but withdrawn again. The French are now in front. Marching along road south, early afternoon first shell-fire heard ahead, steadily growning in intensity. Then heard in front as we enter Guyencourt, about 2 kilometres ahead. We are held up in the town as our artillery moves up to deal with enemy batteries. We move out into a forest, shelling heavy and continuous on the road ahead to Jumel – 1st Battalion getting it. Shelling grows heavier still and closer. We see bursts on the main road, trying to get our field guns about a kilometre away. French ’75’s which come over at a terrible rate of fire. Bursts fall near the forest we are situated in, a continuous roar of explosions as we are ordered forward, our own guns returning fire as we pass. Coming out of the woods the shelling continues, but not on us, some of our own bursting 2 kilometres away, trying to take care of their guns. We enter the town of Jumel. 1st Battalion has moved across the river. Shelling has died down a little. But as we advance on between the road and river towards the next village, a torrent of shells rains down. The 600 metres to Berny is a long way as the shells fall, mostly behind us, but we make it with no casualties. Enemy fire still falling on the town but we are able to take shelter. These ’75’s are vicious weapons! As it becomes dark the shelling tails off. We check the buildings and await new orders.
As we make ourselves comfortable, all of a sudden we come under an onslaught of shells in the gathering darkness, scrambling for cover in the buildings, shrapnel clattering all around, lasting for about a quarter of an hour, then the shelling moves off to the south. We are all on high alert in case of a night counterattack. The shelling continues intermittently until midnight, then we get some sleep.
24th September. Awoken about 4 in morning, more shelling to the rear and in the woods to our front. The Leutnant tells us to get ready for moving. All this seems to lead up to something. Soon we are told that we shall be the lead company in the coming advance and we move out a few hours before dawn. More shelling up ahead in the darkness, flashes rapidly one after another, then quiet as we move slowly up along the riverbank. We halt on a road by a forest and await first light, which is not long in coming. We move out, advancing in line astride a road at the base of a steep slope, the river to our right. We see a wood in the brightening light to our front. Suddenly the air is filled with the sound of whizzing shells – whizzz-bang! whizzz-bang! Falling all around us, we fall flat on our faces and hug the earth. A scream above the roar – a man badly wounded. The shells drop their range slightly, Korporal Dietl comes over and urges us on. I see Georg doesn’t get up. He is lying on the ground, lifeless – I turn him over, his head a mass of blood – he’s dead, but at least he hasn’t suffered. The shells fall near again. We clutch the earth again, I beside Georg’s still body, explosions ringing in our ears. Chaos, men shouting for stretcher-bearers. Gerhard, a few metres away, cries out. He’s been hit and clutches his chest in pain. Others crying out, screaming. The thunder of detonations, smoke, shrapnel whizzing into the grass all around. We can’t move in this hell! Eventually the shelling dies off and we edge forward. Korporal Dietl has been killed. Leutnant Hartmann is wounded, Korporal Engelke killed. Shells fall again but to our rear on the following platoons of the company. Everything is confusion as we gain cover at last in the woods to our front. The enemy are not occupying it. We stop for breath, wounds are attended. Siggi, Johann and Gunther, too, all have received wounds. I am untouched.
The above account was actually wargamed using the ‘Over The Top’ miniature wargames rules by Frank Chadwick, and the shelling of Mauthner’s platoon using ‘ASL’ rules, house-modified for World War One, and my own system devised to simulate what happens to the individual characters. My character had a very lucky escape!
As a postscript to this final narrative of the game, I used part of the map I had created for the tactical wargame in another project for my portfolio, updating it to the trenchlines of 1916: