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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

WWI weaponry, C19 tactics - Kirkkilise (1912) revisited

A year ago, we used the Balkan Wars battle of Kirkkilise (1912) to try out some experimental rule modifications to adapt BBB for WWI. The report from that game is here.

Since then, Balkan wars specialist Dr Konstantinos Travlos aka Leadhead, Ph.D, has been creating a wonderful series of Balkan Wars scenarios for BBB. He feels the rules as written are able to cope with magazine rifles and quick-firing artillery just fine. Alan "Shedman" Millicheap's recent trial of Pat Wingfield's first Russo-Japanese War scenario for the Yalu River reinforces that view.

I therefore rejigged my Kirkkilise scenario for the standard BBB rules and we tried it last night. Historically the Turks were attempting a double envelopment of a Bulgarian army that was trying to drive between the two Turkish fortresses of Edirne (Adrianople) and Kirkkilise (Lozengrad), and that turned out to be larger and tougher than the Turkish army.

Battle lines drawn. 
Turks on the left, from Kirkkilise (left foreground) to Edirne (top centre); Bulgars on the right.
Black lines are the many small rivers that run down from the hills on the right through the plain.
White dots are the objectives: sectors in the Turkish centre, villages on the Bulgarian flanks.

Our Bulgarian players chose to change history by attacking Kirkkilise directly, preempting any Turkish right hook. This backfired badly. An initial Bulgarian success blew away some Turkish artillery, but left lots of Bulgarians low on ammo and disrupted. I was able to launch all of Mahmud Mukhtar Pasha's III Corps from its reverse slope positions, over the hills above Kirkkilise, against the discomfited Bulgarians. This fortuitously-timed counterattack on Turn 2 shattered a couple of Bulgarian divisions and half their gun line, at relatively light cost to the Turks. After that, the Bulgarian Third Army around Kirkkilise was always on the back foot, unable to mass enough strength anywhere to achieve a significant advance. They did try one desperate bayonet assault to break through to Kirkkilise, but the only result was another two divisions destroyed.

Matters on our left and centre were less one-sided but even more bloody. In the relatively open terrain in the centre, it was a case of mutual destruction - too much firepower around, too little cover, and both sides' infantry divisions were quickly winnowed away. Above Edirne there was some exciting cut-and-thrust. Nigel tried a bold left hook, marching out from his fortifications against the village of Tavsan Kurudzukoy to threaten the Bulgarians' lines of communication. A Turkish division was wiped out by Bulgarian fire. The Bulgarians launched a bayonet charge to exploit their success and were wiped out in their turn. This left a gap that the Turkish cavalry division was able to canter through to seize the objective. The Bulgarian 8th Division, including the Guards, arrived as reinforcements and were about to retake that objective. However, after 5 turns it was clear that the Bulgarians had suffered so heavily that they no longer had any realistic chance of even a draw, let alone winning the game, so we called it a Turkish victory.

Scenario thoughts: it's an interesting situation and the scenario makes it a good contest. Whether the victory conditions need adjustment is hard to say. With hindsight the Bulgarian players thought that attacking Kirkkilise head-on was a mistake (though I think there was some significant bad luck involved as well) and a different plan would have worked better.

Rules thoughts: wow, it is bloody! Per Konstantinos's suggestion, units with enough MGs were rated as firing "Devastating Volleys". This plus the enhanced firepower of Repeating Rifles meant that casualties mounted up really rapidly. Often units were losing not just one but two bases from a single round of fire - so 3-base, 9,000-man divisions were evaporating in a single 6-hour turn.

This actually felt right to me. It did seem as though the players were using ACW or Franco-Prussian-era tactics against WWI-era weaponry. As one of the Bulgarian players said, he was used to his Prussians being able to attack frontally and at least have a chance of closing and winning, whereas against magazine rifles and MGs it becomes almost impossible without proper firepower preparation first. After a few turns, so many units were spent and disrupted that both armies were getting either cautious, or bogged down, or simply exhausted. You could imagine them giving up on advancing, and digging trench lines instead, until enough artillery could be concentrated in one place to enable a breakthrough ...

The verdict, then: BBB does work as written for Balkan Wars and, I am confident in saying, for 1914. Even for later WWI, I can imagine it working essentially unchanged, just with judicious application of attributes to units and the usual careful scenario construction.

Bad news for lots of WWI model soldiers. Good news for us!