As he pondered his operational maps, XXXV Korps commander had an insurmountable problem to solve. To both north and south, the Soviets had established bridge crossings and was holding them in strength. His only armoured reserve was heading south to try to stem the flood of Soviet armour heading east. Even if this succeeded, he had the depleted remains of two divisions to hold off six, with half the city of OREL lost already. If he delayed ordering an evacuation, his divisions would be cut off, with Soviet air superiority dashing any hopes that his garrison might be supplied by air. If he withdrew, he would be falling back on his lines of communication and might hope to counterattack when the Soviets reached the limit of their supply chain.
17 Panzer fortuitously failed to intercept 16 Tank Corps, with its T-34s, and hit instead 19 tank Corps, still equipped with T-70s. The lighter tanks were no match for 17 Panzers‘ Pz IIIs and attached StuG IIIs, and suffered heavily. The stream of Soviet armour heading west lost momentum and stalled as it reached the limits of its fuel.
The order to withdraw had been issued by XXXV Korps Commander, knowing that it would probably cost him his career, but judging it better to save his troops. Headquarters and artillery began to crowd westward as pioneers and infantry began a systematic destruction of anything that could not be carried with them. As 1 Guards Artillery Division arrived at the front and began to pound the west bank, it was already clear that the Austrians in front of them were withdrawing.
Being short of engineers, it took the Soviets some time before bridges in the city centre were able to take heavy enough traffic for supplies and vehicles to cross. As they pursued the fleeing Fascists, a cat and mouse game of rearguard ambush and retreat developed, with the Wehrmacht strewing booby traps and mines in the path of the advancing Soviet tanks. This timely account of the Battle of OREL makes interesting reading
It can be seen that far fewer forces were involved in my battle than the real operation.
- Nowadays, OREL or ORYOL (Орёл) appears on Google map as RAZGRAD.
- I set the morale of the two Wehrmacht divisions to 4, and the Soviets to 2, meaning that each Soviet Division would be able to conduct two attacks and each Wehrmacht division four defences before becoming exhausted and disorganised. The early successes of the Soviets meant that these limits were not tested, and OREL fell without much of a struggle.
- Another solo game, with the dice deciding a number of things:
- Would the Soviets reinforce the north (1,2) or south (3-6) crossing site?
- Would the breakthrough armour swing north around the west of OREL (1-3) or make a deeper breakthrough (4-6)?
- How much air support would both sides get, one, two or three sorties (1d3)?
- Will the garrison be surrounded (1-3) or escape (4-6)?
- With an active pair of players, most of these actions would have been decided or gamed by the participants themselves. I could have Skyped or Zoomed the game, but as previously mentioned, I’m pretty much all screened out by work at the moment.