No plan survives contact with the enemy, and so it proved.¹
As the lead elements of 1 Tank Army, (6 and 31 Tank Corps, and 31 Mechanised Corps) approached the east bank of the River VORSKLA, the Soviets had three main problems:
The first was ordering their line of march to deliver infantry , tanks, artillery and engineer bridging equipment down a single axis of advance. Despite a long absence from the game, Trebian produced a workable plan that saw three bridges being thrown over the River VORSKLA in largely flat, close terrain with limited opportunity for long range observation.
The second was crossing the river under a bombardment that saw the central bridge destroyed, necessitating the deployment of army level bridging assets. Finally, attacks had to be coordinated with tanks and artillery to ensure that the defenders were subdued before close assaults went in.²
The Soviets managed this in fine style, helped by the fact that the two infantry divisions from 49 Rifle Corps – (111 RD and 270 GdRD) attached to the tank army were able to cross before the armour, to secure the west bank.
The Germans were badly stretched, with their defence being concentrated in POLTAVA and to the north, with a reserve division controlling the northwest road to CHERKASSY (Modern day Cherkasy). Large tracts of the river and countryside were covered only by patrols. Accordingly, LII Armeekorps commander ordered patrols forward, and began bombarding the bridges with the divisional artillery of 255 Infantry Division to the north, and 332 Infantry Division to the south. The artillery of 57 Infantry Division was commanded forward to bring the river within range. The divisional commander was not happy, but complied with an order that left his artillery dangerously exposed, as he saw it. For security, he sent 199 Infantry Regiment with them, perhaps trusting his fellow divisional commanders less than the enemy as a risk for losing his guns!
Initially with scouts crossing the river on inflatables or the comical but effective waders and tubes the Soviet infantry surmounted the largely undefended river obstacle. As infantry pontoons, then heavier bridges capable of taking tanks were built, the trickle became a flood.
Destruction of the 31 TkC pontoon bridge came too late to stem the tide, so it was not long before the two German divisions were under heavy attack on the outskirts of town. The German Armeekorps commander called his artillery forward into the city to conduct counter battery fire against the Soviet Army level breakthrough artillery corps, but it was not enough to reverse the situation, and he had to withdraw them with significant losses, protected on the line of march by his schnelle (fast) antitank battalions.
In the city, the two divisions put up a fierce fight, but surrounded and pounded mercilessly with artillery, the shattered remnants were rounded up and marched into captivity. To the north and further west, the Soviets did not have it their own way. The leading elements of 6 Motor Rifle Division pounced triumphantly on the exposed artillery of 57 ID, only to discover that they had a tiger by the tail! The artillery shot over open sights and repulsed the Motor Rifles with heavy losses.³
By now, Wehrmacht units that could retreat were doing so, with local counter attacks to keep the marauding Soviets off their tails. All of 255 ID and 332 ID’s guns were lost to the enemy. Having gained POLTAVA, 1 Tank Army’s commander paused the tempo of operations to allow his logistic units to catch up and to allow the main bridge over the River VORSKLA to be repaired for road and rail traffic.
Game Notes :
- The plan for my first hybrid online/tabletop game had been for Jon Freitag in America to be the Commander of 1 Tank Army (1TkA), and for a variable number of players to push the toys on the table. In the event, General Freitag was detained by the NKVD for having a suspiciously German-sounding name, and command passed to Trebian, who brought his webcam. Richard Lindley popped up online, so was given command of LII Armeekorps, and when YesthatPhil also popped up online, he was given the southern arm of the Soviet attack that had developed around POLTAVA. The game worked well enough to try it with a larger tabletop contingent, probably a maximum of four IRL and two online, limited to non-local players who cannot physically attend, as the game demands an actual close 3D view of the table for divisional and corps commanders – the “toy pushers”. The online presence works only because the divisional commanders report back from the front line and execute the Army commander’s plan. Both online players were very patient with the limited views of the board and sometimes patchy information coming back from the front, and quickly accepted the role of being a commander in a headquarters 50 or so kilometers back from the front line.
- The 6″ squares that my board is divided into would be about ten kilometers across for Front Scale Orbat (FSO), but I fudged artillery ranges to make it easier for players, giving them the Corps Scale Orbat (CSO) ranges of one square for mortar battalions, three for divisional 76.2 mm – 10.5cm artillery and five squares for corps and Army 122/150/203/210mm artillery, if scout or divisional HQ spotters were within one square of the enemy. For ranges in the rules see 12- Weapon Range Table as a starting point in the discussion! You can see that I was overly generous, but it sped the game along by reducing the time that the Soviets had to spend faffing at the bridges and lining up artillery.
- What can you do as a Soviet commander if you roll a one against the enemy’s six?
- It should be remembered that although I randomly show a road or railway on the board, that both are always present. If nothing is shown, then the squares are assumed to contain minor unmade roads.