The Defence of TAMBOV Rail Junction (Fall Gabel AAR)

295 Infantry Division overrun the positions of 55 Rifle Division after a bitter fight.

295 Infantry Division overrun the positions of 55 Rifle Division after a bitter fight.

This battle was fought rapidly over one evening at Trebian’s ‘Shedquarters’ in two hours rather than the six that  I had originally envisaged. Present were Messrs. Graham, Phil, Will and Harvey, a newcomer to NQM, but by no means a novice gamer. Graham took command of Soviet 5th Army. Will and Harvey took command of 2nd Panzer Korps. Phil turned up slightly later and took control of the southern armoured thrust of 4 Panzer Division and Gross Deutchland.

Other newcomers to the game were the new casualty markers. Once the players had become accustomed to them, they speeded the combat sequence up significantly, and Graham deserves the credit for pressing me to actually do something about the ****** pins that rarely fail to draw blood at least once in a game. Contempory gamers are clearly made of less stern stuff than John Sandars, but we all appreciate the increased game speed!

The plan in my own mind was for two infantry divisions to fix the Soviet infantry position around the rail junctions with probing attacks, then outflank them to the south with the panzer divisions. Von Wyler had other ideas* and attacked due west down the railway on  a two-division front supported by korps artillery. I was explaining to Harvey the tradition of black heavy dice rolling low numbers, when Graham and Will immediately proved me wrong with some demon dice.

As a veteran NQM player, Will preceded his infantry attack with Korp-level artillery bombardment and an airstrike by the Luftwaffe. The PVO Strany was up to the challenge and had some success in fighting off the attack. I was probably a bit generous in allowing the Soviets to switch army artillery targets early on, but by this stage of the war, they were beginning to  develop the ability to put tactical doctrine into practice.

The German attack began to  cause and accrue some very heavy casualties. Notice that 296 Infantry Division is still on its movement tray. It was easier to do this than explain to Harvey that unit formations are not desparately important at this scale, and usually stay in base contact to count as organised. I needn’t have worried. Harvey picked up what was going on very quickly, like the seasoned campaigner that he is.

For this game I limited the number of stands in a division able to initiate a firefight to six, as we were using one-third strength divisions. Even so, the German attack by 295 Infantry Division began to bite into the northern defensive position of 55 Rifle Division, although 296 Infantry Division had less success against  56 Rifle Division, being repelled and only making headway when 4 Panzer Division cut its deep hook short and turned north into the attack.

I had expected Phil to outflank the Soviet 5th Army and cut into their supply line with his armour, perhaps even disrupting West Front Headquarters, He is normally pretty reliable in this respect, but he judged that the infantry attack needed support and shortened his hook to attack 55 and 58 Rifle Divisions directly.

Gross Deutchland break into the positions of 58 Rifle Division from the south

Gross Deutchland break into the positions of 58 Rifle Division from the south

The cost was heavy to  4 Panzer Division, which got caught by Soviet army-level artillery. Phil was using his own 22nd Panzer** to represent an understrength 4 Panzer Division. Eventually the continual hammering drove the Soviet defences in. They survived a number of morale checks, giving ground grudgingly and responding to ‘stiffening’ by their commisars (roll another die to pass a failed morale test and deduct that number of hit points from your own side. You can do this as often as you want until you pass or run out of troops!)

The destruction of 4 Panzer Division at the hands of 56 Rifle Division with supporting army level artillery

The destruction of 4 Panzer Division at the hands of 56 Rifle Division with supporting army level artillery

Graham by now had issued an entertaining series of predictions about the inevitibility of socialist victory that saw his 55 Rifle Division gathering its second wind and counterattacking  295 Infantry Division to drive it back . In most other aspects though his pronouncements and the course of the battle coincided only tenuously***.

55 Rifle Division reorganise  at Rail Junction 1 prior to counterattacking 295 Infantry Division

55 Rifle Division reorganise at Rail Junction 1 prior to counterattacking 295 Infantry Division

The arrival of 4 Tank Corps from reserves put any thought of further German exploitation on hold. Off-table manouvering from 2nd SS Panzer Division and 297 Infantry Division to the southern flank was countered by 20 Guards Rifle and 7 Motor Rifle Divisions, allowing Southwest Front headquarters to escape further east.

4 Tank Corps engage the right (eastern) flank of Gross Deutchland.

4 Tank Corps engage the right (eastern) flank of Gross Deutchland.

The real Soviet victory though, as 5th Army withdrew, much reduced but still in good order, was that they had fought four German divisions to a standstill and given time for West Front headquarters to pull further east as the first drops of the Rasputitsa began to fall.

5th Army withdraw with little real fighting strength left, but 2nd Panzer Korps is in no shape to pursue them either.

5th Army withdraw with little real fighting strength left, but 2nd Panzer Korps is in no shape to pursue them either. East is to the left of the photograph.

My thanks go to the players for fitting a lot into a very short space of time, and putting up with arbitrary decisions made to speed the narrative along. A few Heroes of the Soviet Union will have been made from the bitter defence of the  TAMBOV  Rail Junctions by 5th Army. For this battle, an infantry division had between two or three six-stand infantry battalions, so in other words, they were fighting at regimental strength. At this stage of the war this is not much of an NQM scale-down. I did however, leave a good deal of the supporting and logistic stuff out. two hours did not give enough time to consider supplies and ammunition.

4 Panzer may be receiving some new panzer IVs over winter, as it left a trail of burning Pz38(t)s strewn in front of the Soviet positions. The strongest unit that never made it onto the table, with three full panzer battalions was 2nd SS Panzer Division. Perhaps another day?

* Often, it’s the same idea :  “I can see the enemy in front of me, so let’s all attack frontally!”.

** Reputedly the worst panzer division on the Eastern Front. Phil is almost magnetically drawn to this type of unit as an antidote to the massed ranks of Panthers to be found elsewhere on the web. I’m not criticising Tiger/Panther armies,  just saying.

*** Phil called it ‘trash talk’ but I felt it showed an understanding of Soviet mentality – Stalin didn’t care who he annoyed and felt that everyone was ‘out to get him’. For the record, the Germans were out to get him; the Umpire wasn’t.

****** OuchI’veStabbedTheTipOfMyFingerAgain!!! WhenAreYouGoingToDoSomethingAboutTheseBloodyPinsChris?



Filed under 15mm Miniatures Wargames, Axis War Diary, Land Battles, Soviet War Diary, Wargames, WWII

9 responses to “The Defence of TAMBOV Rail Junction (Fall Gabel AAR)

  1. yesthatphil

    As is so often the wartime excuse, I was only following orders. Had I been ordered to cut the communications I would have done so – as it was I was encouraged to ‘get stuck in’, and the umpire clarified that the objective was the rail junction – so we did that.

    As it happened, Gross Deutschland carried the first line of defences scarcely taking a scratch, reorganised and was poised for the assault on the main position when time was called. Hey -ho … (not remotely at a ‘standstill’ 🙂 but the official history of this engagement is translated from the cyrillic .. ) ..



  2. The “at a standstill” refers more to the Logistic situation, Phil.

    I didn’t have time to develop this, but there is a disconnect in the rail lines between YELETS and LIPETSK bridged by a seasonal road that would necessitate all rail logistics routing through VORONEZH. although Gross Deutchland was in good shape, trying to feed logistics for the better part of nine divisions, three of them armoured, is going to be a strain over autumn.

    I may end up soloing the 2nd SS battle to see how precarious the link is over winter. There is no doubt that the rail junctions have been captured, and I’m sure that Little-Hitler will be declaring one of his ‘Festung’ directives.

    Regards, Chris.


  3. yesthatphil

    We weren’t responsible for the logistic situation, Chris …


    • Perfectly true, Phil

      What I’m saying is that those amateurs in Berlin have let down the Landser yet again, but I’m sure that you understand that and are just making the case that your divisions could be bathing their feet in the Pacific by now if only the Fat Controllers could keep up :O)

      I’m looking forward to your and Treb’s offside views on your blogs because this was definitely a game where the campaign imperatives directed the on-table action. Trebian was very reluctant to withdraw his forces (probably from the culture of being shot if you did that sort of thing in 1941)and had to be ordered to do it. I think that the next time we see 5th Army it is likely to be 5th Guards Army.

      Regards, Chris.


  4. Trebian

    The Russian version of events can be found at:, where you will see that Mr Grumpy was in charge of the Soviet defenders.


  5. redleg58

    Great game guys but I’m rather surprised by this one,I would have guessed that one of the German commanders would have read Duffer’s Drift (or the Prussian “The Dream”) and understood that you don’t need to over run a position to take it.I would have misunderstood my orders and took the Soviet headquarters, I think that would have given a different outcome, at the very least it would have caused the Soviet player to move forces to cover it’s withdrawal. Of course hindsight is 20/20 but, my instinct is always to threaten the enemies headquarters if given half the chance, it makes them jumpy lol . To my mind the big problem for the German player here
    was the overwhelming effectiveness of that Soviet artillery strike…That
    must have been a game changer in the German players minds!


  6. I was being facetious to Phil in my AAR, Don : He will reliably find an open flank in a game faster than a fat lady can find the last pork pie at a buffet. In this case, as he says, he was definitely “following orders” and I could see the pain on his face as he did so. It is a good example of having to play the scenario for the campaign, rather than the tactical game.

    NQM is deliberately random in combat as it seems to reproduce the range of results that you get in regimental histories. Regular players are used to the highs and lows in player morale that it produces; newcomers are sometimes a bit taken aback and try to make the ‘rules’ more predictable.

    There were a couple of very effective air and artillery strikes indeed. I hope Harvey doesn’t think this happens all the time! :O)

    Regards, Chris


  7. redleg58

    Oh I’m well a where of Phil’s prowess,I’ve seen other reports!.And I concede the value of playing out the campaign in character, particularly
    in a quasi historical game. I think I’m still in shock by all those cotton balls! Having played a few NQM games with our fictitious 1930s armies I certainly
    NEVER got those effects! But I can now happily live in hope…)


  8. We do push the limits of the game sometimes Don, but the medium and heavy dice occasionally fail to oblige by not being average. This was explained as a planned Soviet Army level barrage hitting troops as they rolled into the attack.

    A bit eye-watering for a retired tanker to witness, but roll enough dice ….

    Regards, Chris.


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