44th Infantry Division (Hoch und Deutschmeister) had found temporary respite in VALUYKI as the Soviet Winter Offensive surged westward, following the failed Fall Blau. Holding a rail junction and two river crossings, VALUYKI was a typical Soviet town, with rail sidings, low-rise workers apartments, and little else.
The 44th was a Viennese division that had not particularly distinguished itself up to this point in the war, and which now found itself facing two cavalry divisions (1st and 28th) on the boundaries of two separate Army offensives (16 and 11) that had shown little inclination to be hindered by snow, ice or frozen rivers¹.
No help could be expected from the north and west, where XIV Motorised Korps and I Panzer Korps were strung out in unpromising winter conditions with a huge gap in the front to their north, with KURSK at its centre. To the southwest, 11th Army with their Hungarian and Romanian allies were having problems of their own. Nevertheless, the recently appointed divisional commander, Lieutenant General Heinrich Deboi was confident that he could hold the town and rail yards, and prepared his regiments for a second long winter in the depths of Russia. Information from Korps intelligence, was that his division was sitting astride two army boundaries, and so could reasonably expect to be bypassed.
Initially, things went well: The horizon filled with clouds of cavalry and horse-drawn transport, making their way steadily towards and around the defences.
After a few days though, the cavalry artillery began to pound defences in the southwest corner of the town, and as casualties mounted, the enemy began to force its way in through the defences, with vicious close-quarter fighting through the spread out suburbs. It was clear that liaison officers had been working across the army boundaries to formulate a plan to eliminate this troublesome point of resistance
Inexorably, the net closed until the town was cut off from relief. Austrian pioneers destroyed the bridges across the frozen rivers to prevent rail traffic. Soviet pioneers breached minefields covered in snow and ice.
… until after a month of hard fighting, the town fell, with the surviving Austrians being led off to an uncertain future.
This game was fought over two hours on a Sunday afternoon with YesthatPhil. He sized up the scenario, looked at the brief that said “Surround and Bypass”, but decided that a battle would be more satisfying. He then proceeded to tear through the hapless Austrians, demolishing the defence in the space of an hour.
One of the features of NQM is that the relatively low numbers of dice rolled for combats gives a sometimes very grainy set of results. Some players hate this and see it as a failure of rule design. I see it as a perfect way of introducing friction. Phil was successful because he concentrated his limited artillery assets on one corner of the town until he could fight his troops in. From then on, he concentrated his attacks sequentially, pulling out troops that needed to reorganise, and reinforcing the attacks with fresh troops held back for just this purpose. I was unable to do the same with only half as many troops, and limited real estate in which to deploy them. It wasn’t long before the Cossacks were forcing my fighting troops back onto my logistic park, with predictable results. Having space to pull troops out of the firing line is essential if they are not to become overloaded with casualties very quickly. Having said that, the Austrians won very few firefights and very few close assaults … it was just one of those days for them.
Phil achieved one of his personal objectives of getting his new White scout car into combat, along with a rather nice Jeep converted into a Gaz Jeep. His cinematically themed Hollywood Kirk Douglas Spartacus DBA slave Army is pretty nice too. We spent the extra time discussing trucks and 3D printing. More to follow on that once the paint dries.
- I checked AFTER I had set up the tabletop, only to find that the main river runs to the WEST of VALUYKI … oh well, it’s frozen!