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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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Dominating the Enemy

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Thinking back over the year just gone, it struck me that when players clash with the little lead chaps,  you often see a particular manoevre in close assaults. The attacking player will put his model half over the defender or the defences, to emphasise that he has broken into the position, and is about to overrun the enemy. He does this before a single die has been rolled, in the expectation that things will go his way.

2nd Tank Corps Break Into the Northern Advanced LineLook at the dancing Cossacks – things have gone their way!

This leaves the defender in somewhat of a quandry. Does one point out this ungentlemanly behaviour and seem peevish, or does one let it slide and invite the player to remove his overly-familiar troops when the attack fails?

KV1 of 16 Motor Rifle Corps Breaks inConfident KV-1 vs. a dug-in doorknocker

A good umpire will, of course, not allow this sort of untidy behaviour, and will invite the attacker to place his troops more decorously until he does actually win the firefight …. or not.

20th Panzer Grenadier Division is Attacked

An optimistic BA-10

As can be seen from the photographic evidence, I have not always been a good umpire, but to be fair to the players involved, I have had to illustrate this article with one or perhaps two Soviet-style propaganda shots!

Happy New Year!

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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*.

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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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Midwinter Reflection

2 Guards Mechanised Form Upo For the Attack in three columns2 Guards Mechanised form up for the attack in three columns of march

The fall of MOSCOW airfield marked the end of Phil’s visit to the games table. He left his Boxfiles behind as he plans to come back before New Year’s Eve. Naturally, I took the opportunity to photograph some of the contents and slot pictures into the orbats in place of some of my dodgier place-markers. A bit of rounding off happened too, during which the northern thrust around Moscow finally broke through the exhausted defenders. A hasty counterattack took back the airfield and southern defences, though not the eastern side of the riverbank. Flying into MOSCOW was going to be a precarious enterprise from now on, as the eastern end of the field would be under fire from across the River MOSKVA.

Over the past 30 years, head-on armoured battles have been a bit of a rarity (as you might expect from rules titled Not Quite Mechanised). During the course of the day I had been reflecting on the last time that armoured forces clashed at GAZALA. The comment then had been that something more formal was needed to cover the gaps. Phil is developing NQMsquared (or Megablitzsquared) and I’m happy that he is troubling to do the work on a system of squares that I enjoy playing, but don’t want to develop myself.

1 Shock Army is about to run head on into 7 Panzer Division in a mini PROKHOROVKA, so the battle rules will run like this:

As the lead elements of mobile forces run into each other, there will be an initial point contact as one or more bases touch each other at the head or front rank of the column. Resolve each combat in the normal way for winning the firefight.

When mobile stands fight enemy stands of different armour value in this way, everyone at the point of contact may choose which stand to direct their fire onto.*

The winner may:

  • Advance in contact (if mobility = or better than enemy mobility).
  • Hold fast.
  • Break off combat (if mobility is better than enemy mobility, or the enemy does not wish to remain in combat) to make contact with a command or logistic stand, where they can reorganise pins away as long as they are out of contact with enemy bases and not under fire from artillery. This takes a whole move.
  • Reinforce the combat with any other troops that are mobile enough to enter the combat.

The loser may:

  • Fall back in contact with the winner, if the loser is mobile enough (otherwise the loser can be bypassed if the winner chooses, and be engaged by follow-on forces who so choose).
    • If the enemy does not wish to advance, the loser may remain in combat for another round, morale permitting.
    • If the enemy wishes to remain in contact with the loser, and is mobile enough, he may do so.
  • Break off contact (if loser’s mobility is better than enemy mobility).
  • Fall back behind unengaged friendly troops, who will halt the enemy and engage him.
  • Mobile logistic stands can fight, but must fall back to their maximum limit in the face of the enemy as they attempt to fight.
  • If logistic stands are in prepared defences, they can halt a mobile enemy and fight, but can only halt non-armoured troops.
    • This means that armoured troops can choose to pass through logistic units without fighting them.
    • If logistic troops lose a combat from a defensive position, they must fall back in the normal way.
    • If they are passed through as described they may remain in position.
  • Fall back out of combat, into contact with a command or logistic stand, where they can reorganise pins away as long as they are out of contact with enemy bases and not under fire from artillery. This takes a whole move.

Example 1:

  • A PzIII stand (M armour, M gun) contacts a T-70 (L armour, L gun). The PzIII puts a pin onto the T-70 which elects to fall back.
  • The PzIII is joined by a SdKfz stand (L armour, L gun) from the second rank of the advancing column, as it advances to maintain contact. On the second round of combat the T-70 takes two pins and chooses to fire at the (L) Sdkfz causing one pin.
  • The T-70 falls back again to find a logistic stand but the Fascists advance to keep it in contact and are joined in the front rank by a command stand. On the third round of combat the T-70 takes no pins and chooses to fire at the unarmoured command stand, treating it as a (M) gun firing at a (L) target** causing one pin.

It can be seen in the picture at the top of the page that 2 Guards Mechanised Division is formed up in three columns of attack. Each column has armour at the head, followed by supporting infantry, then support (S), command (C) and logistic (L) stands.

*British commanders in the Western Desert complained on occasion that their anti-tank gunners shot up softskins in preference to armour, as it was easier to ‘brew them up’

** Remember that all armour and gun values are relative to each other. We reason that 45mm guns firing armour piercing (AP) at medium tanks would have a light effect, but the same guns firing AP or HE at unarmoured targets would have a medium effect.

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Winter Offensive Breaches the Walls of MOSCOW

No sooner had news of the breakthrough and loss of KALININ reached the commander of Army Group Centre, then reports of attacks along the line of the MOSKVA-VOLGA Canal began flooding in.*

MOSCOW from the SoutheastMOSCOW

Attacking the MOSCOW-VOLGA Canal Line looking SouthThe MOSKVA-VOLGA Canal looking south

Pressure mounted north of MOSCOW, with the canal line coming under heavy attack from successive waves of infantry, supported by Sturmoviks and Army level artillery.

Attacks Increase North of MOSCOW

 Corps commanders were initially confident, but as pressure mounted, it became clear that defensive lines were buckling to the north and south of MOSCOW.

The Canal Line North of MOSCOW is Breached

The Canal Line North of MOSCOW was Breached

The Airfield South of MOSCOW comes under Heavy PressureThe airfield came under heavy pressure

Elements of 10 Cavalry Corps and 1 Shock Army, comprising 1 Guards Tank Division, 2 Guards Mechanised Division were observed pouring through the breached defensive line south of MOSCOW, leaving the infantry of 18 Guards Rifle Division to roll up and protect the flank.

As successive waves of troops battered the airfield defences, first the entrenched Bavarians  of 17 Infantry Division, then the hastily pressed Luftwaffe ground crew, gave way, pulling back to the southern suburbs of MOSCOW. Soon, Soviet guards banners were seen fluttering over the eastern outskirts of the city as engineers hastily improved the river crossings that had allowed the leading waves of 1 Shock Army to cross the frozen river MOSKVA.**

The Walls of MOSCOW are BreachedThe walls of MOSCOW were breached and the airfield overrun

Hard-pressed Defenders fall back to the SuburbsHard-pressed defenders fell back to the suburbs under pressure from 1 Guards Rifle Division

Urgent signals were sent to Army Group Centre, and thence to 3 Panzer Korps. Would the counterattack prevent MOSCOW being encircled? To find out would require the table to be reconfigured again to place the long axis facing east-west.

*YesthatPhil turned up for this one, with much-needed Soviet reinforcements, and boar paté. It being Christmas, there was Port! The table had been reconfigured to place MOSCOW in the centre, allowing it to be outflanked to north and south, if required.

** Some serious paper, card and cork engineering was taking place as the Fascists dug into the tabletop with paper earthworks and the Soviets forged gaps through the minefields and flung pontoon bridges over the frozen river MOSKVA

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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 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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Battle of Bir Bar ‘el

Since explaining combat in the  Battle of WASHBOARD RIDGE, infantry stands have been reduced in strength by 3, reverting to the original version of NQM. See how this works with a combined infantry and tank brigade assault against  a defending battalion with anti-tank support.

 

Order of Battle – Allies

 Beds & Herts orbat at the Battle of Bir Bar 'el

 Black Watch Orbat at the Battle of Bir Bar 'el

 

Order of Battle – Axis

 

  • 8th Bersaglieri Regiment (Motorised) – 1 Comd car + 1 Mortar + 1 47mm Atk (CS3)
  • Attached from DAK1 50mm Atk (S2) +1 Limber (L2)
  • V Motorised Battalion 2 Trucks (L3)*, [ Bn Comd + MG + 45mm Mortar (CS3)], [ 3Rifles (F3)]
  • XII Motorised Bn detached to support Ariete

*(The Motorised Bn could equally be protrayed as two single truck stands  of strength CS3 and F3. If I do that , I usually put some infantry in the back to show they are not just Logistic trucks)

Italian Orbat for the Battle of Bir Bar el

 

 

 

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Getting Chilly on the Northwest Front

2nd Inf Div troops astride the VLADIMIR-MOSCOW road in deteriorating weather

2nd Inf Div troops astride the VLADIMIR-MOSCOW road in deteriorating weather

As the last mud froze into iron hard ruts around KALININ and VYSHNY VOLOCHYOCK, the Axis X, II, and VIII Infantry Korps awaited winter with some confidence. The line they held stretched from south of LENINGRAD along the railway to KALININ and MOSCOW. Unlike the winter of 1941, the Landser were better equipped with winter clothing, lubrication oils that did not freeze solid and winter stoves for their dugouts. The Soviets had proved unable to retake MOSCOW this summer and would surely not do so this winter. Should the line come under pressure, then 4 Panzer Korps sat in reserve at VELIKIE LUKIE.

The Northwest Front Early Winter 1942 with Known German and Soviet Positions

The only fly in this ointment was the Soviet 30 Division that had penetrated the line between 12 and 32 Infantry Divisions. The railway was still cut at this point, and restoring the line was a priority for X and II Korps, on whose boundary the breach sat.

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