Category Archives: Axis War Diary

The Soviet Winter Offensive Takes the SERPUKHOV to MOSCOW Line – Winter 1942/3

Knots of German Resistance

As the front around MOSCOW collapsed, the landscape filled with large and small  groups of Germans retreating to the west. Lacking heavy equipment, knots and pockets of resistance caused just enough delay to the advancing Soviets to keep a semblance of order and a front line, albeit one with rents kilometers wide.

NQM Delaying Action Winter 1942/3

 

Some resistance was more resolute than others, 12th Infantry Division, in particular, fighting hard to buy enough time for the front to reform.  Advancing against them were 38 and 57 Rifle Divisions.

38 and 57 Rifle Divisions Advance to Contact

For some of the hard-pressed Landser, it was easier to fight and die in position than to continue trudging through the snow. Iron-hard ground and lack of time to prepare reduced the effectiveness  of the German advanced defensive line.

12th Infantry Division Advance Defensive Line

Behind the forward troops, preparations proceeded as fast as the appalling conditions would allow.

Roads Provided Tenuous Lines of Communication

Anxious troops, with little time to rest, wearily awaited the Enemy. To their front, the forward defensive line is breached.

The Forward Line is Breached

Waves of advancing Soviets press forward to the main defensive line.

NQM Soviet Advance Winter 1942/3

The Divisional Railhead is a scene of frantic activity as the Enemy draws nearer.

NQM Divisional Railhead Winter 1942/3

Even a captured Soviet armoured train is pressed into service.

A Captured Soviet Armoured Train is Pressed into Service

But just as 12th Infantry Division, was at the limit of its endurance, the pressure began to ease. The Soviet advance had outpaced its own supply lines and come to a halt. at the end of this two-hour battle with YesthatPhil taking the Axis, and the Author playing the Soviets as a player-umpire (Plumpire). The Change in the map looked like this:

12 Inf Div holds the SERPUKHOV to MOSCOW line

12 Infantry Division holds the SERPUKHOV to MOSCOW line

The Soviet Winter Offensive Takes the SEPUKHOV to MOSCOW Line Winter 1942/3

The Soviet Winter Offensive Takes the SEPUKHOV to MOSCOW Line Winter 1942/3

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Retreat from MOSCOW – Jan 1943

MOSCOW Encircled from the West

This three-part game followed directly on from the last MOSCOW scenario. YesthatPhil was at all three evenings, and Trebian turned up for the middle session.

A brief unseasonal warm spell gave trouble alike to the advancing Red Army and retreating Wehrmacht as the pincer movement closed around MOSCOW. The Soviets, with their lighter logistic requirements still managed to continue the advance, but the Wehrmacht was forced to abandon much of its heavy equipment in the retreat.

Confusion reigned on the Axis side as orders and counter orders flew around. Little flying took place, as both sides found their aircraft mostly unable to take off from airfields surrounded by fog and low cloud; the Soviets fared better in this respect.

Infantry from the broken front lines struggled to maintain coherence. Soviet armour appeared to be more mobile away from roads than the Axis, but in any case long lines of infantry poured west, attempting to link with adjacent units and form a defensible line, racing to stay ahead of the advancing Soviet armour*.

IMG_7779

Axis Forces are Thrown Back into MOSCOW

Inside MOSCOW, disorder was everywhere. Logistic and Luftwaffe units fled into the city as the airport was overrun. A frozen river MOSKVA proved to be no obstacle to men and horses, although bridges were thrown across the river to allow passage for armour.

20th Panzer Grenadier Division is Attacked

The spell of mild weather was brief as the temperature plummeted and hard snow covered the ground once more.

20 Panzer Grenadier division Surrounded

20 Panzer Grenadier Division found itself surrounded and destroyed in detail as the reorganised  1 Guards Tank and 2 Guards Mechanised Corp lapped around the defences.

18 Guards Rifle Division Overrun the Airport

Fierce dogfights erupted over MOSCOW with the Soviet pilots gaining ascendency. A Bf 109 can be seen crashing into the rail tracks in the picture above.

18 Guards Rifle Division Overrunning the Airfield

18 Guards Rifle Division  continued to push north over the airfield and into the outlying southern districts of the city. They met 258 Infantry Division head on, driving them back with heavy casualties on both sides. Katyushas provided close support from the airfield, with devastating effect. Such Luftwaffe support that did reach the front line was fully occupied attempting to support infantry dug in to the river line, with nothing to spare for counter-battery work.

Desperate German Counterattacks fail to Dislodge the Attacking Soviet Infantry

Desperate counterattacks by the defenders failed to dislodge the attackers. At this stage of the battle, both commanders were wondering if they had enough forces to hold/take MOSCOW. This is one of the features of the game, of which I am proudest. I tend to think that I have the balance right when both players are wondering if the battle is winnable from their own perspective.

MOSCOW Encircled from the West Limited Reserves are Redeployed to Plug Breaches in the Defencess to

38 and 39 Rifle Divisions turned east to attack into the city, having encircled it from the north. After cutting the main railway lines to the west , they made little headway at first against the outer defences, but eventually managed to gain a foothold as the defenders retreated deeper into MOSCOW.

Soviet Infantry takes the Outer Defences of Western Moscow

Having done this, they paused to reorganise and conserve their strength, consolidating their gains against any Fascist breakout down the rail lines. 2 Guards Mechanised Corps can be seen advancing west  in the top left of the picture above, with 1 Guards Tank Corps in the picture below .

Retreating Wehrmacht InfantryForm a Hasty Defensive Line

To the east, remnants of Axis infantry divisions began to reorganise on the rail junction and railhead, throwing up a hasty defensive line in the face of the advancing 1 Guards Tank Corp, with the surviving mobile remnants of 20 Panzer Grenadier Division regrouping behind.

*Trebian, who was present for the second evening, had more armour on the table than he has seen for the previous twenty (real life™) years. He didn’t squander it attacking MOSCOW either, just let it scamper off to frighten the bejazus out of the Axis lines of communication.

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MOSCOW Surrounded

20 Motorised Division Stops 2 Guards Mechanised Corps in its Tracks 20 Motorised Infantry Division halts the advance of 2 Guards Mechanised Corps

Depleted as they were from the previous Summer’s Drive on MOSCOW, 7 Panzer and 20 Motorised Infantry Divisions still managed to blunt the breakthrough by 1st Shock Army on the city’s southern flank. No less dangerous though, was the northern flank breach.

Soviet Infantry Break Through on the Northern Flank of MOSCOW

The initial bridgehead was widened until it burst through the reserve line and soon, long columns of Soviet infantry could be seen trudging through the snow on their way west.

Soviet Infantry approaching MOSCOW to Outflank it by the North

Dislodged from their prepared defences on the canal line, all the disorganised infantry defenders could do was fall back to the east or south into MOSCOW.

Attempts by 20 Motorised Infantry to halt the Soviet advance lacked vigour as they had yet to recover from halting 2 Guards Mechanised Corps. 7 Panzer Division  was in no shape to assist, having had its own battle with 1 Guards Tank Corps, so retired west to refuel and reorganise. As part of its reorganisation,  20 Motorised Infantry was redesignated 20 Panzer Grenadier Division.

The defenders in MOSCOW were in crisis, with continued enemy infantry attacks from the east and south, and the rail line of communication to the west in Soviet hands. LittleHitler formally declared MOSCOW to be a fortress even as a relief  by 3 Panzer Korps was prepared.

Retreating Fascist Forces see MOSCOW Dwindle in the Gathering Gloom Retreating Fascist Forces see MOSCOW Dwindle in the Gathering Gloom

Festung Moskau from Phil's Pb-eye Candy BlogSee More Frontline Soviet News Footage on P.B.Eye-Candy

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KALININ Falls!

As the commander of Army Group Centre watched the Soviet offensive open in front of him, It became clear that the weight of the attack was falling, not on MOSCOW, but on KALININ.

8th Jaeger Withdraws North of KALININ

The already reduced 8 Jäger Division bore the brunt of the opening attack, situated as it was to the north of the VOLGA river along the railway line to the vital rail junction of VELIKIYE LUKI. The Jägers fell back steadily over two days to the west of KALININ, extracting a price, but taking heavy casualties as they did so.

8 Jaeger Withdraws North of KALININ

 27 Army was identified as the controlling enemy formation HQ. As it drew level with KALININ, the leading divisions swung south to attack the city, with Sturmovik and army level artillery support. Already, Wehrmacht reserve divisions were moving to cover the rail bridge crossing the VOLGA, but the main line from VELIKIYE LUKI to MOSCOW was now in Soviet hands.

37 Rifle Division Attacks South into KALININ

The defenders of KALININ, 161 Infantry Division, were unprepared for the ferocity of the attack by 37 Rifle Division. Despite losses to the minefields and prepared defences, and spirited counterattacks by the defenders, first the outskirts, then the centre of the city fell. 

36 Rifle Division Seizes a VOLGA Bridge

A seesaw battle for the river crossing commenced as the leading elements of 36 Rifle Division seized the southern bank in the face of elements of 256 Infantry Division that were rushing to secure the bridge. 8 Jäger Division, reduced to a regimental headquarters and company of infantry, managed to throw the Soviets back to the northern edge of the bridge just long enough to allow 256 Infantry to open a route to KALININ. Through this, the survivors of the city poured, leaving their heavy weapons behind. The bridge was blown in the face of the leading Soviet assault parties.

Back in his FührerBoxfile, LittleHitler was foaming at the mouth with fury at the loss of KALININ and the commander of 161 Infantry was summoned to explain himself. A professional withdrawal under fire, over a bridge being attacked by the enemy, did nothing to save him. The division was ordered to be shipped to France to refit, but its commander and senior staff found themselves stripped of their rank and sent to a penal battalion.

The Line is Breached North of KALINEN

Meanwhile, a serious breach in the front had opened between XX Korps at KALININ and X Korps to their north. With armoured forces concentrated in the South and around MOSCOW, little stood in the way of the advancing divisions, The Luftwaffe had little success in divining the extent of the breakthrough either, as the flanks of the attack were patrolled by large numbers of Soviet fighters.

To be continued …

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Storm from the Northwest – Days 2 and 3

Day two of the Soviet Winter offensive in the Northwest saw X, II and VIII Korps under heavy pressure along the whole of the line. By this stage of the war, German defensive positions had formalised into an outlying belt of minefields studded with MG42 nests, then a main defensive line backed by a reserve line, all of some considerable depth such that they could not all be carried in the same attack.

II Korps Artillery II Korps artillery in the reserve line supports the failing defensive line of Lt Gen von Seydlitz-Kurzbach’s distinguished 12 Inf Div.

Soviet doctrine was evolving to cope, and although not as tactically proficient as they would become later in the war, the early desperate days of throwing waves of unsupported infantry in to the attack were giving way to more coordinated offensives with artillery and tank support. They would attack along a line, then ruthlessly reinforce success, leaving failing attacks to flounder. Thus it was that Lt Gen Wandel found pressure on his 121 Inf Div slackening as troops were diverted to support the break-in to 32 Inf Div‘s main defensive positions.

This attack had been preceded by violent assaults on two flanks against the distinguished 12 Inf Div veterans of Lt Gen von Seydlitz-Kurzbach. The division fell back in good order, having sustained intolerable casualties in the first day of the attack.

Northwest Front 05The vital rail junction on the divisional boundary of 32 and 121 Inf Divs, looking southwest, before  coming under heavy Soviet attack

This relief was, however, only temporary. Day three of the offensive saw renewed pressure on this sector of the defensive line to break open the main railway to VELIKIYE LUKI (Великие Луки)

121 Inf Div Main Defensive LineAll along the northern half of the line, German infantry were falling back to their reserve positions; most in good order but some in disarray. Soviet flags could be seen fluttering over the main line, and in the odd quiet moment balalaika and accordion music could be heard!

More to follow …

The Attack Develops on Day 3Link to the map

Game Notes:

1.More of this battle from the Soviet side can be seen on YesthatPhil’s P.B.Eye Candy Blog

2. This game was planned for Trebian’s 5×11 foot table at Shedquarters. My pasting table is a quarter of the size, so although the length is adequate, depth has been compressed by half.

3. The marked roads are also railways, which is why a Chibi armoured train is parked at the southern end of the track by VYSHNY VOLOCHYOK Вышний Волочек.

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Storm Forecast from the Northeast

Northwest Front - Opening Stages

The miserable stalemate of the Rasputitsa on the NORTHWEST Front was broken with the first hard frosts of winter. This offensive had been expected for some time, but the ferocity of the assault caught the German line by surprise, and soon reports of heavy fighting were flooding in to X, II and VIII Korps Headquarters in volumes that told of an assault along the whole defensive line north of VYSHNY VOLOCHYOK Вышний Волочек.

Northwest Front 03

126* Infantry Division fought off attacks from militia troops identified as belonging to 30 Rifle Division supporting the northern flank of 31 Rifle Div. The Soviets had blocked the north-south railway from MOSCOW to LENINGRAD, and repeated counterattacks had failed to dislodge them in the previous month.

Northwest Front Rail Crossroad

12* and 32** Infantry Divs came under heavy pressure that the whole of X and VIII Korps Artillery could not relieve. These positions began to crumble as 34 Rifle Div  penetrated the forests in front of them.

Link to the map

To be continued …

Notes:

*126 Infantry Division was commanded by the newly promoted commander of its 422 Infantry Regiment – Maj Gen Hopper.

** 12th Infantry Division distinguished itself in Poland and France

*** 32nd Infantry Division was known as the Löwe (Lion) division and also had an excellent reputation.

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Racing the Rasputitsa, Part II

This game was played over an evening from 8 to 11 o’clock including setup and strip down, with Trebian taking the Soviets and Yesthatphil taking the Axis . I scaled the game at one NQM battalion representing a division. This gave me some problems midway through the game, but more of that later.

Boris03

The 2 Panzer Armee advance was limited to  the rail line from TAMBOV to BORISOGLEBSK due to deteriorating weather. Soviet resistance was less hampered, but 57 Army comprising 99, 150, 317 and 351 Rifle and 14 Guard Rifle divisions  had left most of their their divisional artillery behind in order to advance to contact with  48 MotKorps, comprising 17 and 18 Panzer divisions with 29 Motorised and 167 Infantry divisions.

Soviet South Front had managed to reinforce BORISOGLEBSK with 335 Rifle division from 9 Army in time to fend off assaults from 2nd SS Panzer and then 10 Panzer  divisions from 46 Mot Korps as they arrived on the outskirts of the rail junction.

Boris02

Things were looking good for 9 Army, as Strategic RKG reserves in the shape of 3 Guards Cavalry and 24 Tank divisions were able to catch 2nd SS Panzer.

Boris01

Then disaster struck …

I applied a Tank Terror ruling  to the reinforced 10 Panzer and 18 Panzer assault on BORISOGLEBSK. The look of horror in Trebian’s eyes told me that I had failed to carry the players with me in the narrative. The story running in his head told him that the heroic 335 Rifle division, fortified* in a city, on the point of achieving guards status , had had victory snatched from them by a dodgy umpire ruling and one die roll. It took a bit of smoothing over as Phil marched the division off into captivity**.

Boris05

Elsewhere things were going badly for the Germans. An apparently unending wave of attacking infantry was tearing into 48 Mot Korps as it advanced along the rail lines. Any semblance of an attack dissolved as logistic echelons found themselves defending against close assaults.

Boris04

A fierce cavalry-armour battle developed around the outskirts of BORISOGLEBSK. what became apparent was that the panzers were not going to reach STALINGRAD this year and were not going to hold on to the TAMBOV-BORISOGLEBSK railway.  The assault ended with scattered remnants of  48 Mot Korps straggling in to BORISOGLEBSK in order to fall back to VOROZHNEV to regroup.

* I keep having this problem with the open, single storey, wooden built-up areas in 1940s Russia. Everyone equates them to the high-rise city centre scenes in ‘Enemy at the Gates‘ rather than the more open suburbs of Stalingrad that burned down leaving only chimmney stacks. I count these troops as Medium in defence, and only count  fortified troops in concrete bunkers as Heavy.

** On reflection, a rule that works well at battalion level is too abrupt to apply to an entire infantry division, even if it has left its heavier equipment behind  to reach close terrain. On reflection, I should have made the panzers fight through the rail junction. The result would probably have been the same, looking at the red pips on the infantry stands, but the players would have been happier, and that’s important.

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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?

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Fall Gabel (Fork)

Fall Gabel (Fork)

Fall Herbst

As the Rasputitsa drew on from the South in Autumn 1942*, German forces in the area of YELETS, East of KURSK made one last attempt to unseat Soviet 5th Army guarding the strategic rail junctions West of TAMBOV. Capturing this area would also dislodge or destroy the headquarters of West Front.

Rumours of Soviet Forces deeper in the East were picked up by the Abwehr, but surely the bottom of  the Soviet manpower barrel must have been reached by now? The plan is to fight this over at Shedquarters as soon as Graham, the WHELKs and I have a free Tuesday evening. In the meantime, I’m painting up more Soviet infantry.

German Forces :

HQ 2 Pz Korps :

Comd Car (s3), Signal Bn Radio truck (s3), Tac Air Liaison Truck (s3), Korps Field Hospital Bn Truck (s3), Korps Arty Bn HQ Truck, Korps Arty Bn 155mm (s3) + Limber (s3), Rear HQ Workshop Truck (s3), Korps Rear HQ Fuel Truck (s3), Close AA Flack Bn 20/37mm (s3) + Limber (s3). Rifle Bn Comd (s3), 3 Rifle stands (s3), MG stand (s3), Mortar stand (s3)

Gross Deutschland Grenadier Division, 4 Panzer Division, 2 SS Pz Division

Supporting From XLVI Korps : 295, 296 Infantry Divisions (North Flank), 297Infantry Division (South Flank)

Supporting From XIV Motor Korps : 47 Motor Division (South Flank)

Soviet Forces :

HQ West Front :

1 Comd Car (s3), 1 Signal Bn Radio truck (s3), 1 Tac Air Liaison Truck (s3), 1 Front Field Hospital Bn Truck (s3), 1 Front Arty Bn HQ Car, 1 Workshop Truck (s3), 1 Fuel Truck (s3), 1 Ammo Truck (s3), NKVD Rifle Bn Comd (s3), 3 Rifle stands (s3), MG stand (s3).

Artillery Division : 2 76mm guns (s3), 2 122mm howitzers (s3), 1 152mm gun-howitzer (s3), 2 120mm mortars (s3), 6 tractor limbers (s3).

PVO Anti-aircraft Division : 37mm Anti-aircraft gun (s3), 12.7mm DShK MG (s3), Quad 48 MG (s3). 3 limbers (s3).

7 Motor Rifle , 4 Tank, 20 Guard Rifle Divisions

HQ 5th Army :

1 Comd Car (s3), 1 Signal Bn Radio truck (s3), 1 Army Arty Bn HQ Car, 1 Workshop Truck (s3), 1 Fuel Truck (s3), 1 Ammo Truck (s3). NKVD Rifle Bn Comd (s3), 3 Rifle stands (s3), MG stand (s3).

RVKG Anti-tank Brigade : 2 Anti-tank rifles (s3), 45mm gun (s3) + limber (s3).

55, 56, 58 Rifle Divisions

* In my fictitious NQM Eastern Front campaign.

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Battle for Girovka Bend

The toys got a rare outing to the Monday Night Group this week, (after many weeks of meeting on Wednesdays or Thursdays, the group is back to its eponymous night). I took the opportunity to game a particularly interesting part of the South Western Front around Kharkov. XLIV and XXIV Korps were tasked with securing rail bridges against what was expected to be weak Soviet opposition. This was to be a prelude to 1 Pz Korps attacking South West to disrupt Southern Front‘s attack against the southern flank of Army Group South.

Our host was the Revd Ian Lowell, with Graham, Chris A.  and Richard rounding out the Soviets. Will and Ian took the German side, with Phil (yes, that Phil) bringing 1 Gebirgsjaeger as late arriving reinforcements (not that late as it turned out). The start state looked something like this, representing the front and army group commanders’ plans. As we shall see, the situation on the ground was slightly different :

The Soviets realised early on that 3 German Divisions : 71, 262 and 101 light, were trapped in the fork  of the river bend and attacked north and south more or less simultaneously on the morning of the first day. At this stage, I thought that 12H were east of the river. It turned out that they were not, and the unit marked up as them was an extra division that no-one knew was there! I think that Will had enterprisingly found an extra Panzergrenadier division from the reserves.

For the avoidance of confusion, the picture below is of the Kessel on Day 3 when the German counterattacks have pushed 11Cav back over the bridge in the south, but are steadily losing ground to the Guards and tanks in the north. Richard’s well-tailored arms are putting pins onto 22GR.

By day 2 they had pushed 101 Light division back almost to their bridgehead and we can see 12H where they were supposed to be.

By Day 3, 22GR and 5Tk had succeeded in pushing 71 division south into what was fast becoming a Kessel. Richard discovered that T-60s are quite capable of inducing ‘tank terror’ in unsupported infantry. Even the camera lens is shaking in this shot!

Richard, in charge of the defence of KHARKOV and fired by the possession of 2 guards and one mechanised division threw off all attacks by XLIV Korps and then also attacked south into the area held by 10 Hungarian division, making steady progress to the railway line.

XXIV Korps was not idle whilst this attack was developing. On day two it threw its weight against  GIROVKA and its bridge, but to less effect than might have been hoped. By day three, 1 Gibirgsjaeger division launched itself into the attack against GIROVKA. There was some Soviet confusion as to how far forward 227 division was. It proved to be in GIROVKO, not STALINO as thought when the map was drawn.  This happens a lot in games with commanders losing track of units, sometimes for days at a time.

The Soviets also riposted on the third day with a fierce attack against STALINO that swayed back and forth several times until the Germans were finally ejected on the sixth day of the operation. The timely provision of a commisar detachment (one of Phil’s) may have helped! We allow the commisar to override a morale check by firing at his own unit and adding his score to the casualties. They are not popular chaps!

In the south of the German attack on day four the Luftwaffe made an appearance with two squadrons of He 111s attacking VOROSHEVGRAD to forestall any reinforcements that might be massing there. You can see them flying east in the corner of the picture below.

Whilst this was going on , 10 Hungarian division succeeded in establishing a pioneer bridge over the destroyed railway bridge on the western river fork. This was not to survive long though, as on day five, a VVS attack onto the newly established bridge destroyed it and sealed the fate of any forces trapped in the bend.

You can see the Zementer* squadron making its run-in with 3 squadrons of Ratas in support

A six on one black heavy die ensures that the bridge is closed for business!

One Stormovik and three 1-16 squadrons took part in the attack. It is worth noting that my ropey old Mustang conversion delivered the goods once more, but the photographers insisted that Phil’s better painted model be substituted for propoganda purposes. This is the shot below that you will see on better painted blogs 🙂

Ian’s legendary reputation for rolling sixes deserted him as the Soviet jaws closed around his trapped forces in the Kessel. At this point, momentum was lost on both sides as the Soviets outran their immediate supply lines and the Germans began to pull back to their start lines, having lost two divisions (71 and 262) to the enemy. Many of the divisions on both sides in the south were at between 20% and 50% strength, although because of the plentiful rail network, most units could still trace supply lines at the end of the battle, as can be seen by the truck markers.

This setback to the Germans will have consequences for the forthcoming second stage of Fall Blau. The two Korps Commanders will be having interviews without coffee before their Army Chief of Staff. Losses were heavy on both sides around STALINO and GIROVKA.

The players all kindly professed to enjoy the game. Richard was introduced to the joys of being an NQM Corps commander in a fairly gentle fashion and will hopefully want to repeat the experience. General Vyler reinforced his reputation as a steady commander in defence, and Generals Evanski and Agerov added another medal to their already substantial rows. General Stahl added to his reputation as the Minifuehrer’s fireman, but not even he could put out a fire without buckets. The game started at about 8pm and finished at a little before 11pm with pauses for coffee and Welsh cakes.

* The Germans called StormoviksZementers‘ (Concrete mixers) because of their toughness

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Filed under 15mm Miniatures Wargames, Air Forces, Axis War Diary, Hungarian Army, Land Battles, Soviet War Diary, Trucks, Wargames, WWII