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Subject: Belgium and Antwerp 1914 rss

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Robert Lloyd
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I have messed up play of Belgium and Antwerp so often in this game that I have written these notes to ensure it never happens again. They are primarily from the perspective of the CP, but there are a few tips for the AP too. The rules for this part of the game are not the most straightforward and the rules on supply, port supply, sea movement, strategic movement and national collapse have to be interpreted very carefully along with the special rules on Belgian units (19.56) and Antwerp (11.44 and 11.52). It is partly the confusion this often causes that prompted me to write this. The situation changes game turn by game turn (“GT”) to the end of 1914, so the notes follow the turn sequence.

GT 1: August I 1914.

Belgian units cannot move (Rule 19.56) so the CP does not need to screen Antwerp. Attacks on Antwerp are not allowed either so it can be mostly ignored. Except, do not forget French or British cavalry could attack German communications so make sure they cannot reach an unoccupied Liege or reach an unstacked HQ using Antwerp as a secondary source of supply. You will not want to have to deal with the consequences of this kind of mischief in the next CP turn.

Namur should be eliminated. It is a big mistake to do anything which gives Namur a chance of survival on GT1 as you cannot afford to be further bothered by it on GT2. That means you need a 5:1 attack at least and that requires 7:1 natural odds or 6:1 with an HQ. The CP has few attack opportunities with its German right wing in August I, so there is also a good argument for going for 7:1 odds after shifts to additionally avoid any risk of loss. If you plan to hit Maubeuge or send units towards Rocroi on the following turn, units engaged previously at Namur will be well positioned for this.

GT2: August II 1914

By Rule 19.56, the Belgians in Antwerp still cannot be attacked. Neither can they move so long as there are three German infantry divisions within two hexes of the city.

The containment of Antwerp is essential this turn as the Germans cannot afford to have the Belgian Army wandering around their rear. The CP should have included in the German right wing three weak divisions which will be given this task. A 2-3-4 and two 2-4s would be ideal. Do not allow them to be eliminated on GT1 or a stronger unit will have to substitute for them in the screening force.

Do not leave the screening units adjacent to Antwerp as the Belgians are allowed to attack.

If the Germans fail to screen Antwerp, the AP can move the Belgians. Their freedom to move will then depend on whether there is a continuous German front and whether any ports including Antwerp and Ostend are available as supply sources. I will not consider this situation in detail because it really should not occur. However, it is a variant of the raids and escapes discussed below and likely will be more disruptive for the CP because of the lesser development of the general position.

GT3 - 4: September 1914

Until the strategic move of September II 1914, the CP should be able to forget about the Belgians if the screening force remains in position. If not something has gone seriously wrong on the main front.

This is a critical stage of the game for the CP as the AP will now meet the initial challenge of the German attack in the west and will likely have hit back to some extent. However, the CP should use this period to complete the occupation of all Belgian territory other than Antwerp. Ostend, the coastal marshes, and the margins of the Ardennes on the southern border of Belgium are the places where continued retention of Belgian territory by the AP is most likely. Capture of Ostend, if not achieved in August, should not be delayed any longer.

By the end of September, the Germans are often heavily embattled on the main western front and the eastern front is likely to be in increasing danger. Therefore the arrival of the first substantial German reinforcements and replacements is usually extremely welcome. There may be a lot of calls on these units (23 Divisions) but Antwerp will need more attention, as from October the Belgians will be able to move. In October, three weak divisions will not contain the Belgians. There are now two choices:

1) Prepare for an immediate assault on Antwerp;
2) Improve the containment of Antwerp.

Either way, the Germans will need more units in Belgium and the only way to get them there, assuming existing forces are busy with the French and Russians, is to be ready to strategically move units in the September II turn. Greater flexibility can be gained by strategically moving an HQ or two within movement range of Antwerp preparatory to deploying New Units around them. What exactly is required will be discussed under the heading of the next game turn, but if you miss this strategic movement opportunity then your options may be limited and the AP might embarrass you.

GT5: October 1914

This is the most critical turn for the CP in dealing with the Belgian menace. There are several possible situations, but the special rules relating to Antwerp now change.

Units in Antwerp can now move regardless of the proximity of German divisions. They still have the double movement rate and are allowed to move through Holland in order to reach a port. This would normally be Ostend, although the Belgian cavalry can reach Dunkirk in good weather if the path is clear. The rule requiring movement to end with units in supply still applies.

Antwerp is a port and Belgian units within 4 hexes are in supply but not if any of the A hexes or any of the hexes surrounding the city and designated by the 2nd edition rules are occupied by German units (Rule 11.44). Regardless of this, Belgian units actually in Antwerp are in supply but only for negation of attrition (Rule 11.52). Their attack and defence values are therefore halved if there is no proper port supply. Belgian units have -1 drm entrenchments now, but the units in Antwerp are stacked with cavalry so this will not apply as long as this persists.

Belgian units might now also be able to use sea movement. Rule 9.51 restricts this to movement to and from supplied ports. Rule 11.52, negating attrition does not permit supply for the purposes of sea movement. There are only two situations where Antwerp is likely to be supplied after the fronts become continuous. First, if the Germans are not occupying the “A” hexes and other surrounding hexes that interdict supply as a port. Second, if there is not a complete ring around the city and there is a gap in the main front – as a result of an attack in the AP’s last combat phase - then there is one of those notorious contorted supply lines across Belgium to France. This is a temporary phenomenon but it is enough to allow the Belgians to escape by sea in a strategic movement phase. In this instance, the oddity of the supply rule works to give the Belgians a chance to escape they are unlikely to otherwise have.

Another critical factor in October 1914 is which side has the initiative and moves first in the west. The situation of Antwerp is one important reason why the CP might not switch initiative before this time - there are likely to be other good reasons too. If the Belgians move first in October 1914, they may be able to forestall the German strategy. We will assume they do not. Other than taking advantage of the first move, it is hard for the AP to take advantage of a back to back move associated with an initiative switch with the Belgians because they cannot easily anticipate it and Belgian movement may be restricted by supply.

Immediate Assault

The advantage of this is that Antwerp will be a distraction and a drain on CP effort for as short a time as possible. It also aims to kill off the Belgians for good. Here we consider what it takes to swiftly eliminate the Antwerp enclave and what the consequences are.

The Belgians stacked in Antwerp have a total DF of 16. However, due to lack of port supply this is reduced to 8. The city gives a column shift for the defender but the Belgians cannot benefit from their trench modifier so long as their cavalry is still there.

For the Germans, attacking Antwerp depends on having concentrated sufficient force within movement range of the hexes around the city at the end of the previous turn - taking into account the fact that weather might be wet in October. The city cannot be completely surrounded relying only on the secondary supply sources, Brussels and Ghent. An HQ would need to move across the river or canal to achieve occupation of all six surrounding hexes but this, while advantageous in reducing chances of escape, may not be necessary. It should be arranged so that any attack avoids the river column shift and gains a concentric attack drm.

It is not possible to guarantee the capture of Antwerp in a single attack at reasonably achievable odds. At 4:1, with a positive drm, the city will fall on a one third chance. At 5:1 it is an even chance with the drm. At lower odds, the city will not fall in one attack at all. This means that an OHL attack needs to be considered for this operation. Without OHL, the city could still fall over two turns, but this increases the period during which the attacking force has to be committed and gives the AP an opportunity to evacuate the Belgian HQ and other survivors of the initial attack. This will not be possible if all six hexes around the city are occupied. The survivors will be too weak to break the ring.

With OHL, the city is vulnerable to two successive attacks which greatly increase the chance of capturing the city. At 4:1 and above for the initial attack, the second attack is bound to succeed, so the only issue is what losses will be suffered by the Germans. At 2:1 or 3:1 the Belgians might lose only three units in the first attack and the odds of the second attack will not guarantee the elimination of all three remaining units and the Belgian HQ. It will be risky indeed to try this at 2:1 as German losses will keep the odds of the follow up attack too low for comfort. Even an initial 3:1 attack is a bit dicey for such a critical situation although it is problematic only with an initial die roll of ‘1’.

Concentration of force principles suggest that the Germans should take no risks. Odds of 4:1 or more should be achieved. Ensuring the city falls in one turn means that the force used to make the assault will be able to redeploy rapidly starting in the strategic movement phase and Antwerp should then never more worry them.

4:1 odds means getting 32 attack factors against Antwerp plus an HQ, or 40 attack factors without an HQ. Commitment of OHL is also necessary to handle a failure to take the city in one go. The probability is that 32 factors would require the use of about 10 German divisions given that three weak ones from the containment force are likely to be involved. That probably involves about one third of the October reinforcements and replacements and using an HQ support at this stage of the game is significant as they cannot be flipped before April 1915. It also means that a second HQ may be needed to help concentrate the attacking force if relying on New Units. This will be part of the planning at the end of the previous turn.

The attack will be on Table B and at 4:1 the loss of three German units is possible in combat. An attack at initial odds below 4:1 could incur higher losses as well as risk failure.

A 3:1 attack only needs 24 attack factors plus HQ and OHL. If you are prepared to take the risk of a repulse then this might call for only 8 infantry divisions assuming three have 4 attack factors and three are from the weak screening force.

If these forces and the losses can be spared, then an immediate assault has a lot to recommend it. If the AP holds no other hexes in Belgium, the result will be Belgian collapse and all future Belgian resources (19 RPs) are lost and the eliminated units will never be replaced. Even if the AP holds some Belgian territory they will not be able to replace their losses unless they hold a Belgian city as the Belgian HQ will be lost in the Antwerp debacle. Antwerp is a VP city too and worth having for that reason. It is a significant victory for the CP to take Antwerp and collapse Belgium.

The main reason not to make this attack would be the simple difficulty of accumulating the necessary force, or unwillingness to lose multiple units in the assault when the CP has very little to spare. Attacking Antwerp greatly lessens the pressure the Germans might otherwise apply to the French and could result in a more permanent loss of momentum on the main front at a time when the Germans could be already losing ground at critical spots. If the Germans are simultaneously having to deal with Maubeuge, the Channel Ports, and Antwerp, then this will make it difficult to achieve sufficient concentration of force to assault any of them. This is also an argument for giving all of these places timely priority. An Antwerp attack is much easier if Maubeuge and the Channel Ports are not also being screened, but have instead been taken in September. Finally, it is possible that a more important use of the OHL/OberOst capability and HQ support precludes this attack - a big emergency in the east for example.

This game does reward early success. Where the Germans have preserved their forces in the west, efficiently dealt with Namur and Maubeuge in the first turns, and has not got a serious emergency (or compelling opportunity) on the main western front, then Antwerp should be ripe for picking. If not, then see below.

Containment

If Antwerp is not attacked by the Germans in October 1914, what should be done? Whatever the answer, some account now needs to be taken of what the AP can do. We should also consider whether any outcomes could be superior to the immediate attack.

The first concern should be that the Belgians will move in operational movement. Where can they go? If the western front is not continuous they are free to move so long as they occupy towns and cities to gain secondary supply. The Belgian HQ could also help here. To prevent this, and for many other reasons, the CP cannot allow the main front to be anything other than continuous at this stage of the game. This should not be difficult and is ordinary good play.

Without a break in the main front, the Belgians are more limited in their options. Supply then practically means connecting to a friendly port. Belgian units will be in supply within 4 hexes of such a port but not via secondary sources then tracing to the port (Rule 11.44). Accordingly, containing the Belgians will possibly involve the Germans occupying or screening Ostend and the other Channel Ports. If the Belgians or any other AP unit is capable of getting to such ports, bearing in mind the Belgians are allowed to go through Holland in October 1914 only, then the CP has allowed a multiplicity of fresh problems to emerge. If the Belgian Army gets to Ostend then it is in supply and its defence strength is not halved, as it is in Antwerp.

Belgian operational movement can also be supplemented by strategic movement. For instance it may be possible for the Belgians to go to Ghent and then, if it is not sufficiently screened, strategically move to a friendly Ostend or to France through a break in the front which the French and British have engineered during combat.

These difficulties can be avoided by the CP by garrisoning Ostend and ensuring no AP unit established in Dunkirk or another Channel Port, if not friendly to the CP, can establish a supply connection to the Belgian units after movement.

If these conditions pertain, all the Belgians can do in operational movement is make raids. Learn from my mistakes. In October in fair weather, Belgian infantry, who are not blocked can make it to Brussels or Ghent and get back to Antwerp in a single move ending in supply for the purposes of avoiding attrition. Belgian cavalry can do this in wet weather and also make round trips to Mons or Charleroi (in fair weather). If the Germans fail to block this, they may find some of their units screening Antwerp are out of supply and temporary occupation of Mons will delay the resource points it supplies.

The possibility of these raids means that containment by three weak German divisions is not adequate in October 1914. It also forces the Germans to move adjacent to Antwerp where they will be vulnerable to attack - albeit at rather low odds.

So long as Ostend is occupied and the main German front is continuous, an effective screen around Antwerp now requires 4 units. These should be in hexes W6918, W6818, W6718 and W6719. This still allows the Belgian cavalry to raid Brussels but that will be only an inconvenience as the screening force is supplied from Ghent. If this must be prevented, or if Ostend is unoccupied, and the weather is fair, a 5th screening unit is needed in W6820 as otherwise the Belgian cavalry could then still reach Ostend and the infantry will otherwise follow via Ghent and a strategic move to Ostend.

A complete ring with a sixth unit may help block a sea evacuation but needs an HQ to provide supply.

Four or five German divisions around Antwerp are less than the ten that might be needed along with the other assets that would have to be committed in a 4-1 sure thing attack.

If by error, the Germans do not have enough units available to screen Antwerp, then it is really necessary to pull back and sit in those towns and cities which you need to stop the Belgians occupying. Ostend and Mons should be priorities. This will also create the possibility of a Belgian escape by strategic movement via a large gap created by combat in the main front.

As mentioned, the Belgian force in Antwerp can attack a ring of units adjacent to the city. However, even against a 2DF Landwehr Division they can only get odds of 3:1 with a -1 drm for entrenchments. This might be necessary to create the conditions for a sea move but will otherwise risk the Belgian force for little gain. Remember sea movement is only possible if Antwerp is in supply and that means creating a hole in any ring of units around the city and (rather oddly) another gap being created in the main front for a supply line to France.

The options here include removing the maximum force (say the HQ and as many other units as you may) or a minimum force, such as the HQ on its own. The first reduces Belgian losses so that they are not awaiting the accumulation of resource points to restore full strength. The second ensures that the means to replace losses (the HQ) is preserved but the Germans are offered no immediate capitulation of Antwerp and the potential need for an assault is preserved. The HQ should really leave by sea, whatever the situation, at the first opportunity as it doesn’t have the movement for an overland escape.

Evacuation of Antwerp is conditional on the vulnerability of Belgium to collapse. If Antwerp is the last hex in Belgium occupied by the AP then its loss will trigger Belgian collapse. Any units evacuating from Antwerp are then fated to serve as non-replaceable units with an attack/defence factor of one. Such units are not completely without purpose, but it is not ideal for the AP.

GT6: November - December 1914 and afterwards.

The situation around Antwerp will persist if there has been no immediate assault, if it is properly contained, and if the AP does not take the first chance to evacuate.

The operational movement rates are now reduced for units in the west in contact with the enemy, so the risk of raids and escapes overland is much reduced if the Germans keep units adjacent to Antwerp and interdict the port supply ensuring the defenders have to return to the city after any move. Practically, the Belgians cannot do much so long as the main front is some distance away.

Because of the reduction in movement, the Germans can get away with a three division screen adjacent to Antwerp as the Belgians cannot get to Ghent or Brussels and back into supply any more.

Neither side can really want this situation to persist indefinitely.

The CP wants to redeploy its screening force and wants the VP for the city. The CP should really only wait until it can afford to concentrate an adequate attacking force and this should be easier in early 1915 as the number of replacements and reinforcements increase. A twist on this is that the CP might be happy for the Belgians to evacuate if that means a costly assault is avoided. Nevertheless, if the AP thinks the CP will never attack he may not go voluntarily especially if the conditions for collapse do not exist and the HQ is safe and able to build replacements.

The AP knows that the CP can take Antwerp if he makes a proper effort. Evacuating, means avoiding losses which the Belgians will not fully replace until 1916, or ever if the conditions for collapse apply. A reason to delay evacuating the non-HQ units might be to hang on long enough to avoid collapse if the French/British have a chance to recover Belgian territory before the fall of Antwerp. If this is not possible, then the AP has to choose. First there can be a battle in which 2 - 4 German units will be lost along with all the Belgians permanently. Alternatively the Belgians withdraw, accept collapse, and have six weak non- replaceable units for use on the western front.

Summary

The initial German invasion in the west has to be tightly managed as the ratio of force is so even that the CP cannot afford high losses or any other disruption to its moves. France and Britain are the main danger and the Germans must not be distracted by Belgium more than absolutely necessary. It is possible to devise a low risk approach which includes taking care of Namur and Antwerp in GT1 and GT5 respectively at high enough odds to guarantee capture. There is some doubt about the Antwerp operation, because a ten division attack in October with an HQ and OHL is a large commitment of resources which could prejudice the main western front battle at a critical time. There is also a lurking suspicion that if the attack is delayed the Belgians might evacuate anyway and let the Germans have it more cheaply.

Whatever, the CP elects to do in the critical October turn, he must ensure that Antwerp is adequately screened which requirement begins on GT2 (August II) and increases again on GT5 (October). If the AP is given any leeway then Belgian movement overland could have very bad consequences for the CP by raids or escapes. For the AP, holding Antwerp beyond the CP October turn not only extends the CP commitment to this front but can give the AP the choice of whether to fight or flee and perhaps hang on long enough to avoid a collapse.
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Bill Lawson
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I've played this game many, many times. With competent German play Antwerp and the Belgian Army are toast. This is a flaw in the design IMO . After all the Belgian's did escape from Antwerp and continued to fight till the end.
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Robert Lloyd
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I do not disagree. If the Germans give Antwerp high priority then the Belgians cannot escape. Even if they do not, it is not really possible to reproduce the exact path of the historical escape not least because the situation in Flanders is rarely anything like the historical one.

On the other hand, I hope I have shown that an escape is possible if the Germans delay attacking Antwerp. It is not a historical escape (by sea?) and there is a good chance the Belgians will be collapsed.

Also, I am not 100% sure finishing Antwerp in October is always the right thing. I did it in my current game and my opponent really benefitted from the absense of units at key points elsewhere on the western and eastern front and scored some real successes that turn.

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Also, I am not 100% sure finishing Antwerp in October is always the right thing. I did it in my current game and my opponent really benefitted from the absense of units at key points elsewhere on the western and eastern front and scored some real successes that turn.

[/q]

I agree with not always the right moment,I am sure there are constellations
where it will be better to postpone.
But in most games I have played so far this was the moment when CP could afford to do it, the opponent benefitting the least from the absence of the units needed to take Antwerp.
 
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