The toys got a rare outing to the Monday Night Group this week, (after many weeks of meeting on Wednesdays or Thursdays, the group is back to its eponymous night). I took the opportunity to game a particularly interesting part of the South Western Front around Kharkov. XLIV and XXIV Korps were tasked with securing rail bridges against what was expected to be weak Soviet opposition. This was to be a prelude to 1 Pz Korps attacking South West to disrupt Southern Front‘s attack against the southern flank of Army Group South.
Our host was the Revd Ian Lowell, with Graham, Chris A. and Richard rounding out the Soviets. Will and Ian took the German side, with Phil (yes, that Phil) bringing 1 Gebirgsjaeger as late arriving reinforcements (not that late as it turned out). The start state looked something like this, representing the front and army group commanders’ plans. As we shall see, the situation on the ground was slightly different :
The Soviets realised early on that 3 German Divisions : 71, 262 and 101 light, were trapped in the fork of the river bend and attacked north and south more or less simultaneously on the morning of the first day. At this stage, I thought that 12H were east of the river. It turned out that they were not, and the unit marked up as them was an extra division that no-one knew was there! I think that Will had enterprisingly found an extra Panzergrenadier division from the reserves.
For the avoidance of confusion, the picture below is of the Kessel on Day 3 when the German counterattacks have pushed 11Cav back over the bridge in the south, but are steadily losing ground to the Guards and tanks in the north. Richard’s well-tailored arms are putting pins onto 22GR.
By day 2 they had pushed 101 Light division back almost to their bridgehead and we can see 12H where they were supposed to be.
By Day 3, 22GR and 5Tk had succeeded in pushing 71 division south into what was fast becoming a Kessel. Richard discovered that T-60s are quite capable of inducing ‘tank terror’ in unsupported infantry. Even the camera lens is shaking in this shot!
Richard, in charge of the defence of KHARKOV and fired by the possession of 2 guards and one mechanised division threw off all attacks by XLIV Korps and then also attacked south into the area held by 10 Hungarian division, making steady progress to the railway line.
XXIV Korps was not idle whilst this attack was developing. On day two it threw its weight against GIROVKA and its bridge, but to less effect than might have been hoped. By day three, 1 Gibirgsjaeger division launched itself into the attack against GIROVKA. There was some Soviet confusion as to how far forward 227 division was. It proved to be in GIROVKO, not STALINO as thought when the map was drawn. This happens a lot in games with commanders losing track of units, sometimes for days at a time.
The Soviets also riposted on the third day with a fierce attack against STALINO that swayed back and forth several times until the Germans were finally ejected on the sixth day of the operation. The timely provision of a commisar detachment (one of Phil’s) may have helped! We allow the commisar to override a morale check by firing at his own unit and adding his score to the casualties. They are not popular chaps!
In the south of the German attack on day four the Luftwaffe made an appearance with two squadrons of He 111s attacking VOROSHEVGRAD to forestall any reinforcements that might be massing there. You can see them flying east in the corner of the picture below.
Whilst this was going on , 10 Hungarian division succeeded in establishing a pioneer bridge over the destroyed railway bridge on the western river fork. This was not to survive long though, as on day five, a VVS attack onto the newly established bridge destroyed it and sealed the fate of any forces trapped in the bend.
You can see the Zementer* squadron making its run-in with 3 squadrons of Ratas in support
A six on one black heavy die ensures that the bridge is closed for business!
One Stormovik and three 1-16 squadrons took part in the attack. It is worth noting that my ropey old Mustang conversion delivered the goods once more, but the photographers insisted that Phil’s better painted model be substituted for propoganda purposes. This is the shot below that you will see on better painted blogs 🙂
Ian’s legendary reputation for rolling sixes deserted him as the Soviet jaws closed around his trapped forces in the Kessel. At this point, momentum was lost on both sides as the Soviets outran their immediate supply lines and the Germans began to pull back to their start lines, having lost two divisions (71 and 262) to the enemy. Many of the divisions on both sides in the south were at between 20% and 50% strength, although because of the plentiful rail network, most units could still trace supply lines at the end of the battle, as can be seen by the truck markers.
This setback to the Germans will have consequences for the forthcoming second stage of Fall Blau. The two Korps Commanders will be having interviews without coffee before their Army Chief of Staff. Losses were heavy on both sides around STALINO and GIROVKA.
The players all kindly professed to enjoy the game. Richard was introduced to the joys of being an NQM Corps commander in a fairly gentle fashion and will hopefully want to repeat the experience. General Vyler reinforced his reputation as a steady commander in defence, and Generals Evanski and Agerov added another medal to their already substantial rows. General Stahl added to his reputation as the Minifuehrer’s fireman, but not even he could put out a fire without buckets. The game started at about 8pm and finished at a little before 11pm with pauses for coffee and Welsh cakes.
* The Germans called Stormoviks ‘Zementers‘ (Concrete mixers) because of their toughness