Tuesday 8 August 2017

Yiannitsa (1912): Greco-Turkish Balkan War battle

My last post reported on a fictional modern Greco-Turkish naval clash. This week the same sides met again, but in a much more historical setting, at Yiannitsa (1912). This is the second Greco-Turkish scenario in Konstantinos Travlos's Balkan Wars collection, the first being Sarantaporo which we fought a few weeks ago.

Greek attacker's-eye view from behind the left wing, where we threw most of our weight. 
The right joined in at the end to take a couple of victory bridges.
Note the pleasing water features.

For a Balkan battle, this was a relatively flat battlefield, dominated by a lake in the middle and the marshes and rivers around it. These gave the battle a distinctive shape as the attacking Greeks are obliged to divide their forces to take the town of Yiannitsa on one side and some key bridges on the other.

Dave and I took the part of the attackers while Crispin donned the fez. I am embarrassed to report I misremembered a rule we have played hundreds of times, the one about when artillery can and cannot fire over intervening friends. (The relevant bit: not when all three are on the same level.) The Turkish defenders were therefore a bit hard done by as either my guns should have been masked by my own troops initially, or I should have taken longer to get my infantry deployed for the attack. This rules error of mine on our left flank was compensated for by a tactical error on the right, where a couple of Greek regiments deployed in the open too close to the Turks and were swiftly wiped out.

This was an early instance of the game's overriding lesson for us. Used as we are to late nineteenth-century weaponry, the lethality of magazine rifles backed up by machineguns and breech-loading artillery came as a brutal shock. As Dave put it:

"Well what a game. I was up late into the night thinking about it. I can now see why trench warfare developed and the headache it caused the higher commands. It took a good number of turns working out what not to do. I lost a whole regiment on turn one due to a failure to understand the change in weapon technology from the 1870s. It's all about massed artillery, clear a position, leapfrog up, move the infantry to another protected position and start again."

Despite the carnage in Greek ranks as we moved up to the attack, eventually numbers told. We whittled down the heavily outnumbered Turks, took advantage of night to move up our massed gun lines, threw in fresh waves of men and finally overwhelmed the enemy. On the last turn we took the objectives we needed for victory, but this was not guaranteed, and after discounting for my error to our advantage on Turn 1, this could easily have resulted in a draw or a Turkish win. Konstantinos's scenario seems really nicely balanced and at this point, without further playtesting, I don't have any changes to suggest.

Dave's astute tactical observations, above, show you the kind of insight this game gave us. Of course in this game as in this war, as in virtually all of the wars in the preceding 50 or so years, the attacker ultimately prevailed. The professional military men observing it drew the conclusion that the attack brings victory, and tuned their strategy and tactics accordingly, with the results we see in WWI.

Since the troops and terrain for Yiannitsa are still boxed up ready to go, we may give this one another go later this month and see if a second playtest comes out differently.