The Great War, Where the Poppies Grow, 28mm
My Russian 1914 army came about late last year when I bought a box of Copplestone Russian Civil War figures at a wargame show. I re-touched them, added a bunch more, and then painted up a German army to fight them. I was planning to use “If the Lord Spares Us”, a rules set designed for the Great War in the Middle East, but then along came “Where the Poppies Grow”, part of the new “Crush the Kaiser” stable, and so I used that instead. The game involved a Russian attack on a German defended position – 5 defending companies (two of which were jaegers), assaulted by ten companies of Russians, in three battalions. Both sides had machine guns and artillery in support. With hindsight we should have followed the old maxim that the attacker needs at least a 3:1 advantage. Still, the Russians in 1914 were nothing if not wasteful of their men…The Russians had a choice of two objectives – the interdiction of a railway on one side of the German line, or the capture of the village of Dounbitz on its other end. We (that is Chris Werb and I) opted for the village – which with hindsight mightn’t have been such a great idea. Mark Colston commanded the Huns. Anyway, the attack went in with two battalions – the third being held in reserve in the woods on the far side of a small river.In theory the Russian had a gun battery firing in support, but despite firing at the village over open sights they proved singularly ineffective, and only killed one man during the whole game. That though, was a third of the Geman casualties…The assault was a disaster. On the first turn the two lead companies were pinned down by German fire – a lethal cross-fire of two Maxim guns and the rifle fire of the Jaegers holding the village. The Russians advanced two more companies past them, and they were stopped in their turn. This leap-frogging continued for another three turns, until the Russians reached the edge of the village. That though, was their high-water mark. With over 50% casualties the lead battalion failed its morale check and scattered, followed by the second battalion a turn later. The only bright spot was that the Russians had brought up their own Maxim detachment, which deployed at the end of a small copse, and inflicted two more casualties on the Jaegers before the infantry survivors bolted. We worked out that this represented a casualty ratio of around 30 to 1!As the game was over so quickly, and we still had a couple of spare hours, we re-jigged the table, and set up a smaller meeting engagement, with the table dominated by a village, and a small wooded hill. Both attracted the two sides like a magnet. The Germans got to the hill first, and deployed one company on it together with a machine gun detachment and the regimental headquarters, while another company lined a railway embankment and covered its flank. The Russians had no option but to launch their own battalion in a charge – with the inevitable result that they were broken and routed. They actually got into bayonet contact with the German defenders, but by then their casualties were so high that they failed their battalion morale test, and fled the field.Things went better for the Russians in the village. Both sides entered either end of it at the same time, but a heroic Russian charge led to the ejection of the Germans, after some brutal hand-to-hand combat in the Polish hamlet. The pictures below show the fighting, and the immediate aftermath as the Germans milled around outside, trying to steel themselves to go back in again. The game ended before this dénouement, but having broken the Russians on the hill the Germans were able to send in reinforcements. So, despite their gallantry, the Russians would probably have been forced to abandon the village if we’d continued.The rules were very simple and easy to pick up. They owe a lot to the WW2 set “Rapid Fire”, and that made for a fast but bloody game. Officially the rules are designed for the West Front in 1916-18, but you just have to ignore all the rules about aircraft, gas and massed artillery in order to use it for 1914. “Crush the Kaiser” plan to produce supplements covering other theatres and phases of the war, but I’d certainly use them again when we revisit this period. While the Great War lacks the glamour of the Horse and Musket era, it still has its own brutal charm – unless land up commanding the Russians during a forlorn attack that is!