Saturday, September 24, 2022

Twilight of the Romans III, did someone say Adrianople?

We played another game of Twilight of the Britons. When played on the continent, I call it Twilight of the Romans. Bill took the Gothic warriors while I had the Romans and their Germanic and Hun foederates. We opted for 2 dimensional hills, since the troops don’t slide off the slopes.  Dice determined Bill started deploying first and then moved first. I deployed two of my heroes with light skirmishing units and will not do that again if they have heavy units in their warbands. Both sides deployed with gaps in their battle lines, something I suspect is another mistake. But on with the game.

We played a little over an hour, then broke for dinner and conversation. The armies were intertwined. After dinner, another 20 minutes sufficed to see the sky fall on the Romans. Even if they hadn’t reached breakpoint, they were in trouble. The Gothic cavalry that chased the Monks and their attached hero off the table pulled up before they rode off after them. Another turn or two would see them turn about and fall on the rear of my right shield wall. We played 7 turns in about an hour and 35 minutes.


Another lesson: heavy cavalry making frontal attacks on heavy infantry shield walls is not an optimal tactic.


The rules need some further polishing. Some might think missiles are too powerful. I need to see some more games before deciding. Hey, most of those armies spent a lot of time throwing things at each other. Next week I will see about getting a Hun army against a Gothic army, no Romans to be seen.

Monday, September 12, 2022

August 8, 1918 and the Stab in the Back

I’ve been reading about the Eastern front in WWII recently. Some of Hitler’s decisions can only be explained by looking back at the end of the First World War, the Great War.


In 1918 the increasingly desperate Germans launched a series of offensives aimed at knocking the British out of the war before the Americans brought their full strength to bear. The offensives failed but pushed the British to the wall. An attempt to knock the French out caused serious damage but the first US troops helped blunt the German advance. German Army morale eroded, both from the lack of success, and also the amount of food found in overrun Allied positions. Germany and their allies were slowly starving due to the British naval blockade. The troops were told that the British and French were in just as desperate straits because of the U-boat blockade.  The cans of bully beef so disdained by Tommys were prized by the hungry German storm troopers, and evidence they’d been lied to. 

Bully beef ration

War weariness among troops (and civilians) was in the air, no surprise since industrial-scale slaughter had been the order of the day from the beginning of the war. In 1917 the morale of the Russian army had collapsed after hideous losses, leading to revolution and the Russians suing for peace. The Italian army’s morale collapsed at Caporetto, almost taking Italy out of the war until shored up by French and British troops. The French army suffered a mutiny that they managed to keep secret from the Germans. The mutiny was put down, in part by meeting some demands of the troops, execution of the ringleaders, and a cessation of many frontal attacks. The British had a mutiny by 50,000 troops in a rear area rest camp that they managed to keep secret until the late 1960s. All of this happened in 1917. The Germans, fed on a diet of bloody victories, had not yet had major morale issues. Signs of fatigue were evident.

British tanks

The western Allies (the Entente) recovered from the March-April mauling while two million fresh US troops flooded into France. A series of offensives began, knocking the exhausted Germans back. On August 8, the British Empire launched an attack. Preceded by a short intense barrage, Canadian and Australian troops advanced in a heavy fog behind hundreds of tanks.  Some Germans fought hard, but many either surrendered to small enemy forces or took to their heels in panic. Thousands headed to the rear, berating reserves coming up, calling them strike-breakers and saying they were prolonging the war. It was the worst breakdown in morale the Germans had seen in the war, and on a large scale. Five or six divisions dissolved that morning.

German prisoners, August 8, 1918

Word of this got to the Quartermaster General (and functional commander of German armed forces), General Erich Ludendorff. His nerve broke. His previous attacks of nerves had come and gone without too much ill effect. This time, he spoke to the Kaiser, saying August 8 was the Black Day (der Schwarze Tag) of the German Army. He insisted that peace had to be negotiated before the army melted away. This was the first time that the Kaiser had been told by his generals that the war wasn’t going to be won but in fact was headed to defeat. He very calmly (for once) said he would do so and informed his politicians to start seeking peace. He had also just been informed that his Austro-Hungarian allies were prepared to sue for peace; their starving empire was coming apart at the seams. Meanwhile, spurred on by the whiff of victory in the air, US and Entente forces stepped up attacks.


The German government was authoritarian, with a few ornamental trappings of democracy. Once doubt was implanted at the top, it grew, seeping down, fed by the two million military dead and the ongoing starvation of most of the population. Ludendorff’s attack of nerves started the rot. In time it led to the collapse of the government, revolution and the Kaiser fleeing to exile in Holland. Meanwhile, Ludendorff recovered his nerve and began looking to place the blame on anyone else. The Social Democrats (socialists!) were in power when the time came to pay the victorious pipers. The ultra-rich Jewish banker Max Warburg was sent to negotiate with the vengeful Entente powers, minus any conservative politicians or military figures. The German army had begun unraveling, with many deciding to head home immediately. Dealt a lousy hand, Warburg had little choice but to sign a punitive treaty that even some Entente officials thought went too far.


The German army had not yet been forced back onto German territory and claimed to have “won” most battles through the first 3 years of war. How had defeat come to pass? The extreme right blamed the defeat on the Stab in the Back by Jews (Warburg) and Communists (or Social Democrats, lefty types). Ludendorff jumped on this; it absolved him of any blame. Two million dead troops, many more mutilated, and widespread starvation were ignored in this version of history. A gassed corporal laying in a hospital bed adopted this myth readily. He was named Adolf Hitler. Ludendorff would end up in bed with the Nazis. In time they parted ways with him as his conspiracy theories grew too loony even for them.

Edit: I have been re-reading John Toland's "No Man's Land", about the last year of the Great War, 1918. Although Ludendorff recovered his nerve after August 8, once the coordinated Allied offensives started in late September from Flanders to Verdun, both Ludendorff and Hindenburg demanded that the politicians seek an immediate armistice; they were out of reserves and feared the German army was about to implode. The generals studiously avoided sending any high ranking officers to seek the armistice, allowing them to claim they were blameless. The liberal politicians who were suddenly allowed into the government had no wiggle room, knowing that an immediate armostice was tantamount to surrender. This makes the adoption of the stab in the back tale even more sinister. They were fully aware they'd been defeated but refused to take the blame, setting up others. End edit.


What does this have to do with WWII, you ask? Hitler feared the German people might rebel again. His solution was to go for guns and butter. Civilian autos were produced into 1942, three years into the war. The economy didn’t begin full mobilization until then. The Soviet Union went to full mobilization shortly after being attacked in mid-1941. The US stopped producing civilian cars two months after Pearl Harbor. Lipstick manufacturers made cartridges instead, etc. There was precious little butter, but quite a few guns.


Among the many reasons that Germany lost the war, a glaring one was waiting until fairly late in the war to shift to a full war production footing, just as RAF Bomber Command and the US 8th Air Force began hammering German factories. Meanwhile both the US and the USSR cranked out war material in ever growing mountains. Each out-produced the Reich by large margins.


Ultra-nationalists still swear by the Stab in the Back. For them, it beats facing the truth.