BRYANSK looking south.
Warning, although this battle was fought to a conclusion in three hours, the write-up ties in a lot of loose ends from previous posts at this stage of the campaign. Casual readers are advised that it is perfectly acceptable to skip most of the text and look at the pictures. 🙂
BRYANSK’s importance to the Wehrmacht was as an army railhead and defended city in the direct path of the closing Soviet pincers. It was also where 2 Armee Headquarters was located. Even today, the city is relatively low rise (four story apartment blocks) and sprawling, with open streets, sitting on the River DESNA. It was not an easy city to defend, so to reflect this, I made the built-up area much larger than has been customary for cities of this size. The first NQM battle for BRYANSK in March 1942 can be found here.
With the fall of ORYOL, TULA and KURSK, if BRYANSK were to fall before the infantry of IX Armeekorps, retreating from STALINOGORSK to the north, and LIII Armeekorps withdrawing to the west from KURSK, then a potential catastrophe could unfold at BRYANSK. To the west of this area was where the Panzer divisions of 2,3 Panzerarmee and Heersgruppe Mitte were mustering for a counterattack, but were not yet ready.
In addition, units were streaming through the city to avoid being surrounded as the Soviets closed in from the north and east. Amongst these formations were XX Armeekorps with the veteran Prussian 258 and newly raised 292 Infantry Divisions. Both had suffered heavily in the retreat from MOSCOW and were at half strength. The remaining division in the Korps, 183 had fared rather better and was close to full strength. All had withdrawn well to the rear around GOMEL before the battle began.
IX Armeekorps had been equally roughly handled by the Soviets, and although a Korps in name, 7, 78 and 252 Infantry Divisions amounted to little more than a single division regrouping around GOMEL. The remaining 35 Infantry Division had lost all its heavy equipment in the retreat, so had been sent to France to rebuild, being reduced also to regimental strength.
General Weise, the newly appointed commander of XXXV Armeekorps defending the east bank of the River with 262 and 293 Infantry Divisions clearly understood that BRYANSK must not fall.² His Korps had been roughly handled at ORYOL but had managed to break contact and recover to BRYANSK, collecting stragglers on the way and absorbing reinforcements from other retreating divisions. The Korps was under no illusion that another retreat would be tolerated, and set about fortifying their position as best they could.
On the west bank to the north, VII Armeekorps with 16 and 387 Infantry Divisions had conducted a successful fighting withdrawal from KALUGA, pursued by 10 Army. They had brought with them the Bavarian 17 Infantry Division, and together they held the northeastern quarter of the city, masked by forest on the northeastern bank.
The three divisions were well supported by heavy artillery that had been massing there ready for the planned counteroffensive, but in infantry strength they only amounted to a single full strength division. Pioneers had been preparing the main bridges in the centre of the city for demolition.¹ in addition, each division had ferries and pontoons ready to allow infantry to cross the river for logistics and reinforcement.³
The attack began as planned for the Soviets, with desultory recce results doing little to impede or delay the deployment of 61 Army ( in the north and 28 Rifle Corps comprising 132 and 211 RDs in the first wave of 70 Army in the south. 2 Tank Army, in accordance with its orders, found a river crossing well to the south of BRYANSK and lost no time in throwing 2 Tank Army comprising 9, 16 and 19 Tank Corps across the River DESNA with 3 Tank Corps held in reserve to protect the river crossings.
As the leading Soviet divisions on the open ground to the east of BRYANSK came within range of divisional artillery, they began to dig in, returning fire with their own guns. Although less effective than the Germans, the weight of fire began to mount against the defenders.
To the north, by taking advantage of heavily wooded terrain, the leading divisions of 61 Army were able to close with the German advanced positions on the east bank of the DESNA. There were also lakes that I did not model in this sector, as I am still coming to terms with the limitations of squares. 356 Rifle Division was repulsed by the reduced 17 Infantry Division that had been reduced to battalion strength before the Soviets withdrew, with 50% casualties inflicted on the Soviets, mostly by artillery and close tactical bombing from a well-coordinated Luftwaffe.
Despite this, 336 Rifle Division bridged the DESNA and swung south to attack the positions of VII Armeekorps.
To the south, the BRYANSK garrison commander tightened his perimeter upon seeing sizeable columns of Soviet armour streaming west to cut off his lines of communication.
So far, his only losses on the east bank had been from artillery fire, but these had been significant, and he pulled his infantry back to spare them further casualties.
More waves of Stormoviks appeared over the city centre. This time, the objects of their attacks were the bridges over the DESNA.
The Luftwaffe broke through the Soviet fighter cover and managed to cause damage sufficient to prevent full third of the Il-2s reaching their target. The bridges had held, but only just.
The anticipated swing north to attack the city with tanks did not materialise, but the previously static 28 Rifle Corps had finished its preparations for a river crossing, and capitalised on the light defences remaining as they swarmed over the river.
With reinforcements massing on both sides, BRYANSK was becoming the focus of a much larger battle. If the Soviet armour managed to sever communications behind the railhead, then the fall of BRYANSK would become a certainty. If however, the Soviets overreached their own supply lines, then they may have placed their own heads into the jaws of a trap.
… to be continued.
- Shown on the table top by a single bridge with three strength points. All had to be destroyed before the bridge became impassible.
- Contrary to expectation, his predecessor had not been shot. Generalfeldmarschall von Kluge was short of good generals at this stage of the war, and had buried the bad news in a welter of even worse news, in his reports to Little Hitler’s daily conference
- Phil has some rather nice river crossing markers that are far superior to my scruffy Airfix US Marine rubber dinghies.
Post Game Notes.
1. I was joined for this game by YesthatPhil, together with his rather splendid new horse-drawn infantry support units and heavy guns. They fought as heavy in this game, rather than the very, extra or super heavy guns that they are built as.
2. The Germans were cast as being able to withstand or initiate four assaults rather than the two that the Soviets were capable of, before being forced to either fight disorganised or withdraw to reorganise properly. This mechanism allowed four German infantry divisions to hold their own against eight Soviet rifle divisions in a tense game. The liberal use of heavy artillery and air attacks meant that the casualties were heavy on both sides.
3. Phil was able to switch key units on internal lines to stave off a heavy attack to the north of the city despite having nothing in reserve. The Soviets followed their orders of encircling the city rather than assaulting it in a head-on attack, using their armour to bypass BRYANSK, rather than becoming enmeshed in some very uninviting street fighting.
The follow on will prove to be interesting, as the Germans have reserves massing, and the Soviets are pushing retreating German units into the area.