Megablitz at RMCS Shrivenham Concludes
The Air Umpire has to use some SMART Chits and is Very Unhappy
Day 2 Continued
By 1400hrs on day two, a large air battle had developed over the Axis northern flank in support of LI Armeekorps (19PzDiv and 23PzDiv). Ground troops were briefly diverted by the impressive sight of the airmen wheeling in the sky, but causing little mutual damage. Five squadrons were involved in total, three VVS and two Luftwaffe.
Dusk saw a final late Romanian Airforce attack on the northern river crossings by 8 GD of 27 Army, which were making steady progress against desperate German infantry counterattacks. The ground crew at North slept fitfully and began loading what limited transport they possessed in anticipation of a withdrawal (Translation : Tim ran out of boot space in his car for Axis ground crews, so I was busily fabricating Masking tape tents to represent SPs on the airstrip).
The Soviet Air Liaison Officer lodged a formal complaint with Stavka at having to divert his only PVO regiment of 85mm air defence artillery to defend Comrade General Wallmanski’s army group headquarters against the whole might of a German panzer korps. Wallmanski claimed that the swing north of the enemy away from his headquarters was due to his resolute defence and the inevitibility of history! The Air Umpire was seen to put on his unhappy face when he had to place SMART chits on his ground support. This was altogether too close and personal for troops used to sleeping in tents with proper sheets at night!
Below, we can see LI Armeekorps advancing east. They appear unpeturbed by returning Soviet VVS aircraft returning from raids on KHARKOV, the results of which can be seen later.
Planned Soviet air attacks on large concentrations of army level artillery had to be abandoned due to the limited remaining capacity at North(1). Things rapidly went downhill as this airstrip was overrun in turn and the surviving fighters spent the day re-establishing themselves at airfields further to the east. The picture below shows Centre(2) being overrun, with fleeing ground support from South(3) heading north visible at the bottom of the picture
As air umpire, I can confidently state that any photo which includes enemy tanks within touching distance of a friendly airstrip, demonstrates clearly that someone’s plan has gone severely wrong. The blocking cavalry were of little comfort to the airmen.
The Romanians were likewise having similar troubles at North. The lighter, nimbler single-engined squadrons were successful in managing to disperse to airstrips further south, but the sole Ju 88 squadron, standing in for the Potez 63 B 2s and Bloch 210s of Regt 2, was caught on the ground and destroyed. Generals Moutski and Agerov seemed quite cheerful at this point, even though their headquarters had been hit by the fleeing fighters as they dispersed!
After Action Thoughts
It proved relatively easy for a single air umpire to cope with a game of this scale. I found early on that the umpire’s role was really that of a Plumpire, or player-umpire. It was easy to be dispassionate about the fate of the individual air squadrons and to avoid being partizan because combat for the most part simply consisted of handing dice to the player being attacked for him to roll. I would have been therefore blissfully ignorant for the most part of the damage caused had I just been a player. Because of the umpire role, I did need to know the effect of the attacks, in order to be able to give a judiciously moderated report back to the respective high commands.
Early on, the high level commanders were definitely suffering from information and decision overload. I felt that Comrade General Walmanski had a better grip of the situation initially and was delegating to his experienced army commanders, who were driving the divisional commanders in fine Red Army style.
Once the battle developed and the Romanian allies evaporated, General Rapier began to look happier. This may have been because his Panzerkorps was ripping through the Soviet rear areas. As mentioned previously, his loss of a substantial part of his railhead and the imminent arrival of 8 GD on his line of communication would have caused significant difficulties. The jury remains out on the question of whether this would have prevented him destroying 28 Army before his own supply line ran out or his own army headquarters in KHARKOV was overrun by 38 Reserve Army. Either way it would have been a close-run thing.
What was plainly clear though was that forward airstrips need to be mobile, well defended, or both. The Wehrmacht approach of casting Aufklaerungskompanies behind the lines caused as much damage as 8 GD‘s approach of heading west in full strength with lots of tanks. (Where does a tank park? Anywhere it wants!)
There was less air-to-air combat than I thought there would have been, mostly due to both commander’s focus on supporting their own ground forces or attacking distinct geographical targets. On a smaller battlefield with more air assets, that might not have been the case. During the whole battle, only one Luftwaffe air squadron was destroyed by ground to air fire, although on both sides, more attacks were driven off than that, by AA or fighter cover.
In summary, this was an excellent day. Thanks are due to Tim Gow for putting the game on, to Tom Mouat for making the venue available, and for Kiera for providing an excellent lunch containing three of the four main wargamers’ food groups : Pie, Chips, Beer and Garnish (anything green that isn’t pie or chips). The jelly was a touch of pure genuis!