The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: June 2019

Bleak Years

After two years and uncountable losses and destruction, neither side can claim victory in the East. The Axis still flies the swastika from the towers of the Kremlin, and in the South, 6th Army  finally captured Rostov, the “gate to the Caucaus”, after a swirling, gruesome campaign across the vast plains between Dnjepr and Don that lasted the better part of the year.

However, the Axis failed to reach its declared goal of cutting of Leningrad, Russias second largest city, starving it to death and thus securing its Finish ally. In Karelia, the Finns are fighting a desperate rearguard action, their divisions reduced to regiments, regiments to bataillions, the army ruined along with the burning wrecks of 19th Panzer XX sent to stop the Soviets. During Autumn, the Soviets drove back the Panzers from the last open rail line before the German infantry could close up, reestablished supply and secured the continued flow of reinforcements to the “cradle of the revolution. With the snow, newer, stronger tank formations arrived: The new tank corps armed with the T-34  rolling of the assembly lines in the Urals that now are back into production managed for the first time to take on a German Panzerkorps head on and force a retreat. Standing on Red Suqare in Moscow, the tanks and artillery of the First Guards Tank Army can already be heard, rumbling through the  eastern and northern suburbs.

Despite the bloodshed, neither side seems yet to have exausted its reserves.

Ken Newall takes a look at his truly epic Scorced Earth report after two years of campaining: 1942 Game Commentary

 

1942 Campaign Commentary

The Axis force other than a final(?) spasm North of Moscow are now in a defensive posture and withdrawing in places on both of the major fronts. This therefore would seem a good point to review this campaigning year’s progress.

The Axis

The Axis plan was to isolate Leningrad from the rest of the country and through isolation ensure the fall of the city and elimination of all Soviet forces in the north and Finland. To this this they embarked on two separate (and diverging) objectives.

In the north the main thrust codenamed “Meatgrinder” was to capture by a single direct thrust the city of Vologda which occupies the vital rail junction between the East and Leningrad/Archangelsk

The southern attack codenamed “Fishhook” had Rostov as its territorial objective but was primarily designed to eliminate Soviet troops and tie up reserves and Soviet tank assets keeping them from engaging in the north.

At one point it looked as if Meatgrinder would succeed.  Although Vologda was never directly threatened the junction at point 2197 was occupied (ever so briefly) and Leningrad was placed out of supply on a couple of occasions. However a Soviet counter attack managed to encircle the advancing German column and they were forced to retreat losing some panzers along the way. Since that highpoint the Germans have repeatedly demonstrated that where they mass they can advance The Soviets for their turn have demonstrated an amazing ability to recover and fight back. So whereas the Germans have steadily advanced it has been at a snail’s pace and the winter rains now restrict any breakout opportunities.

Even in the face of this advance the Soviets were confident enough to strip away their best assets and launch their own (limited) counter attack North of Moscow which has resulted in the re-capture of a Moscow hex and the occupation of the Kalinin/Moscow rail line the consequences of which are still unfolding.

One small aside was the ill-fated attempt by a single panzer corps to drive directly NE from Moscow and try to flank the Soviet defence of the Upper Volga. This unit found itself cut off and made a fighting advance to the safety of its own lines to the NE. What was notable here is that this showed how, if determined and fed with reinforcements the Soviets could hold onto territory and were capable of local counter attacks against German front line units. One hex in particular requires mention. That is the fortified position at 2616.  This has held out throughout the campaign despite actual and considered attacks and has held steadfast as a bulwark against German attempts to clear a corridor along the East bank of the Upper Volga Indeed it could be said its defiance has facilitated the Soviet counter attack at Moscow to succeed for without this the flanks would have been more vulnerable to counter attack.

By any measure therefore “Meatgrinder” has failed in its objective.

The Northern Front in 1942

The Northern Front in 1942

By contrast in the south operation Fishhook achieved all of its objectives but not exactly as planned and demonstrated a classic error of the German command to maintain a momentum of mass aimed at the prime objective.

Initially the plan worked like clockwork; numerous penetrations of the Soviet fortified line between Stalino and Voronezh were made and the resulting encirclement battles at the frontier killed hundreds of points of Soviets. Their mobile reserves were drawn into battle and a number eliminated. The Axis forces then advanced rapidly into the great bend of the River Don and were careful to maintain their objective as Rostov rather than be diverted to Stalingrad en mass which was a tempting fruit.

However they did then make a strategic error. They believed that a small expeditionary attack across the Don just south of Stalingrad would block reinforcements and tie up Soviet relief forces heading to engage their main bridgehead across the Don 100 miles east of Rostov. Thus a small number of panzers moved across the Don just south of Stalingrad. They did briefly staunch the flow of reinforcements but were quickly surrounded in turn. These forces then had to endure a fighting withdrawal back over the river.

(The Soviet’s own ill prepared counterattack into the bend of the river added complications but was dealt with promptly and efficiently.)

Ultimately however the splitting of the forces proved more of a hindrance to the Axis than any benefit it gained them. The diversion of forces rendered the main thrust aimed at isolating Rostov and forcing surrender by encirclement moribund. Soviet reinforcements from the deep south hemmed in the Axis bridgehead which did not now have enough strength the engage these new troops.  The bridgehead was forced to halt its expansion until infantry and the troops from the Stalingrad region could be brought to bear. Due to two river crossings and a limited road network the latter took far too long and much longer than the Soviets re-deployment along the SE bank of the river where they engaged the main bridgehead while the panzers were still struggling back over the Don.

In the end Rostov was taken by direct assault but too few Soviets were eliminated in this second phase of the operation and crucially the dissipated German armour was not strong enough to confront the Soviet tanks who are now pressing against the bridgehead and harrying the retreat.

The larger question isthis; Did OKW made a similar mistake in their Grand Strategy by splitting their forces north and south and running Fishhook at all?

Would the Axis have been better to have put all their assets in the north? If they had done so it is quite likely Leningrad could have been isolated for a period but the Soviets unchecked in the south may well have launched a counter offensive of their own or more likely transferred many more troops and mobile assets against the Germans in the north.  This is a question that will never definitively be known all we do know is that the Germans have failed in the north and at the time of writing they are themselves now under dire threat of encirclement.

The Southern Front in 1942

The Southern Front in 1942

The Soviets

The Soviets are generally pleased with the position at the moment. It is true that it was a dire failure to react to the German breakout at Kalinin in late ’41 that put them under so much pressure in the  north but given that start they have much to be pleased about their current status.

They have for all practical purposes stabilised the line and have just launched their own winter offensive in the north.

Throughout the year although there were some early German breakthroughs in the north they organised their defence well with AT units strong armour units and managed after a while to pull back their armour assets into reserve. They do not fear the German strength now in the north. Furthermore they have through continued local counter attacks caused numerous casualties amongst the enemy armour. Their own attack north of Moscow has proven a good diversion from the main front and the recapture of a Moscow hex an added bonus.

Throughout the entire campaign despite the Axis actions in the south they have not diverted masses of troops south from this sector but managed to maintain just a sufficient amount for the job in hand.

In the south the Axis attack was initially devastating encircling many frontier forces and eliminating many more in the subsequent pursuit.  The Soviets did organise a well executed credible mobile defence to contain the Axis initial attack but their own counter attack inflicted only minimal damage to the enemy. Despite some losses they managed to withdraw most of their armour East of the Don and maintain a defensive reserve.

The defence of Rostov went as well as could be expected. The city itself fell but the Soviets have extracted considerable losses to the Axis mobile forces in the battles east of the Don.

Their own foray across the Don was however quite disastrous. Too few forces sallied West to attempt to trap the Germans across the river at Stalingrad but they were immediately and expertly dispatched by the Axis forces and Soviet command in the south has been far more cautious since preferring to mass and husbanding the remaining tank assets,

As far as drawing off troops which could have been used in the North the Soviets in the south did not call for many such assets north of Tula. They did use many of the reserves south of Tula and a few reinforcements were diverted south but throughout the campaign the Soviets have generally been masters of committing just the right amount of troops to a given situation. Not too much and not too little

Overall then the STAVKA are pleased with the conduct of their forces in ’42.

Currently they hope their new offensive will cut off all German forces in the region Kalinin/Moscow/Vologda and they can deal a deadly blow to their foe.

The Germans however have shown themselves repeatedly to be good in a crisis and strong mobile assets from the south will soon arrive to bolster the faltering northern forces so only time will tell how this next phase will develop.

Air War

Time and again the Germans have shown their mastery of the air. When the Soviets can mass they are able to achieve some local success but every time they mount a large offensive operation or engage the Germans head on the German technical superiority shows resulting in the loss of Soviet aircraft which are no march one-for–one against the German machines.

1942 NOV I Axis Turn

Weather Roll: The rains continue to fall but cold artic winds turn these to snow above the Arctic Circle. ,

Finland & The Army of Norway: Murmansk front no activity.

In the centre the Axis continue a slow pull back.

In the south the remains of 9thpz  pulls back into Jonesuii as the two remaining Finnish units from the main army cover the left flank and the rail line north. New German units arrive at Helsinki as engineers fortify pinch points throughout the central lake system.

AGN: The attack from Leningrad down the Kalinin line caught the Germans mid-way through their belated engineering attempts to fortify the area. The single Soviet rail break is repaired allows new units from Germany to bolster the front joining local reserves and rebuilt units at Kalinin march North. Further East the Germans reluctantly relinquish their hold on the Leningrad/Vologda line deciding not to leave a rear guard which is seen as easy fodder for the advancing Soviets. They hope that falling back to a supplied position will stiffen the defence.

The main attack East continues the German units seemingly oblivious to the crises unfolding further West. Two attacks are mounted. The northernmost is a low odds attack and disaster strikes as an Exchange takes out half the attacking divisions. The resulting force advancing on a one hex front is too weak to exploit the hole created and its advance after combat is hotly debated and may leave the attackers too weak to stand against a determined Soviet counter attack. A few miles south the Germans eliminate another Soviet stack but this is well backed by reserves and no exploitation is possible.

At the bridgehead over the upper Volga the local counterattack by the Soviets last turn cannot be sufficiently corralled so the line moves West conceding 3 hard won hexes to Soviets defenders and finally reliving the 4 hex siege of point 2616.

AGC: A few arriving training divisions swap places with front line units who move North to aid in the defence of Moscow while fortification of the line continues.

AGS. Operation Fishhook is officially declared complete and Axis forces are ordered to cross back over the Don and assume a defensive posture. Freed German armour prepares to entrain north to bolster the defence around Moscow and the North.

Air War. Tactical support aids the German northernmost attack but elsewhere the Luftwaffe mounts a multitude of raids against the Soviet rail system in the north. Flying in waves of two the bombing streams are intercepted by waves of Yaks and Migs unescorted the bombers suffer two eliminations and two Aborts but manage to Abort two soviet fighters and inflict 2 rail hits.

Aircraft in the south that can reach the main Soviet rail north/south bomb it and largely unopposed fragment the line with 3 hits.  The lone Soviet interceptor is Aborted.  Aircraft unable to reach the rail line transfer North.

Battle Report

Diced Attacks = 2
Soviet Losses = 32
German Losses = 10

1942 OCT II Soviet Turn

Narrative

“The Russian infantryman was virtually immune to seasonal and terrain difficulties, furthermore he was almost the complete master of the terrain.  There appeared to be no obstacles for the Russian infantryman. He was as much at home in dense forest as in the swamp or trackless steppe. Difficult terrain features stopped him only for a limited time; even the broad Russian streams were crossed quickly and with the help of the most primitive expedients. The Germans could never assume that the Russians would be held back by terrain normally considered impossible. It was in just such places that his appearance and frequently his attack had to be expected.

The Red infantryman could, if he chose to, completely overcome terrain obstacles in a very short time. Miles of corduroy roads were made through marshy terrain in a few days. Paths were tramped through forests; 10 men abreast with arms interlocked and in ranks 100 deep prepared these lanes in 15 minute reliefs of 1000 men each. Teams of innumerable infantrymen moved guns and heavy weapons whenever they were needed. The Russian materiel was useful in this respect; motorisation reduced to an absolute minimum, the lightest vehicles, tough horses that required little care, suitable uniforms and finally the human mass which moved all loads and performed all required tasks like a machine.”
Extract from “Fighting In Hell” Edited by Peter Tsouras c Greenhill Books 1995

Turn Report

Partisans: 5 rail hits inflicted

Finnish Front: In the centre the Soviets launch their attack eliminating some German Ski troops. Against overwhelming odds a tough Finish 1-6* regiment holds off an entire reinforced infantry division.  The elation is short lived as news of an unfolding disaster in the south reaches the commander.

An attack lead by two Tank corps, numerous Tankk brigades, various infantry groups and shored up by massed artillery and a large air presence engages 9th panzer in a direct assault. The Germans crumple under overwhelming odds and the cadre falls back to Jonesuii. The retreat exposes the flank of the second to last full strength Finish division on this front and with no escape it surrenders to a man in the face of a second Soviet assault. There is little now to stop a Soviet breakout into the central Finish heartland.

Finnland fights for its life

Finnland fights for its life

Leningrad Front: Soviet High Command re-designate the Front boundary at Cherepovets.  All forces to the West (and south of Leningrad) coming under the Leningrad Front, those reaming east and south to Tula form the Moscow Front including the Army of Moscow operating West of the upper Volga Canal/North of Moscow.

Sensing the time is right and fearful that every passing day could reveal the large build-up of troops to the Axis the Soviets launch a massive attack south all along the new Front.

Five attacks in all shatter the peace of this relatively quiet and hitherto defensive sector. The aim of the Soviets is to seize or at least interdict the vital rail junction north of Vyshniy Volchek. This line supplies the German drive to Vologda and its capture would plunge the entire German northern effort out of supply.

Two attacks either side of the direct route down the Leningrad/Kalinin line bypass the double stacked infantry division defenders secure in their forts but smash past their weaker comrades to the East and West. Newly raised Mech Corps and First rate 9-7-8 Tank Corp lead the advance.

To support this effort and with the secondary objective of forcing the Germans to evacuate their toehold on the Cherepovets/Leningrad line three other attacks through swamp forest and rivers rupture the German line with a single tank battalion at one point advancing to open terrain beyond. (The mud and ZOC/terrain costs prevent even the most mighty Russian formations overrunning the weakest German defenders)  In all 4 infantry/light xxs are cadred.

Soviet Winter offensive against AG North

Soviet Winter offensive against AG North

Moscow Front; The Moscow Front assumes a defensive posture with the exception of a thrust north from west of Yaroslavyl, which eliminates a mixed stack of German units and presses against their bridgehead East of the upper Volga

Army Moscow eliminates the lone German infantry xx trapped against the lakes and pushing West gains a further 16 mile advance consolidating their hold on the Moscow/Kalinin railway.

Voronezh Front. All quiet here.

Stalingrad Front; (formerly Rostov Front.)

Soviet armour formations press into the eastern flank of the Don bridge-head cadering a 12-10 pz. A second attack fails against stiff Axis resistance desperate to hold open the escape route as the main body of troops prepare to withdraw north.

Air War: In the south Soviet short range formations are able to concentrate against GS targets due to tardy German airfield construction which has lagged behind the main front. Long range strikes attempt to achieve some rail hits but are ineffective.

In the north the Soviets send out their long range bomber force to attempt to isolate the point of attack in the region of Vyshniy Volchek and short range forces attempt to bottle up the main German forces to the east should they attempt to pull back. In support of this latter action all Soviet Moscow based fighters run suppression raids against German fighters based at Moscow targeting the long range twin engine formations.

All these northern operations are largely ineffective although the one hit achieved will hinder the expected German transfer of troops north from the Don bend. German fighters strip away fighter support with patrol attacks and interceptors risk by-passing the remaining Soviet fighter escorts to target the bombers.

Over Moscow the fighters which survive the Patrol attacks are intercepted by strong German fighter forces. All Soviets jettison their bomb loads and engage the German fighter force but it is an unequal fight.

In all these operations cost the Soviets 7 eliminations and 2 aborts, the Luftwaffe having only 2 aborts in return. 2 hits on rail lines are made. The only crumb of comfort for the Soviets is that one of these hits is west and one east of Vyshniy Volchek so do protect the flank of the main attack but a single hit can quickly be repaired so the effect will be minimal if any.

Combat Report

Diced combats = 13
Losses: Germans= 51, Fins = 5
Soviets = 8, Soviet Air =7

1942 OCT II Axis Turn

Weather Roll: The rains have come, covering the entire landscape in a sheet of mud (except G).

Finland & The Army of Norway: Murmansk front no activity.

In the centre the Axis brace for the inevitable Soviet attack and shorten the lines in a few places.

In the south the battered rump of the main Finish army struggles backwards moving northwest at a crawl inhibited by terrain, weather and Soviet ZOCs.  Meanwhile the 9th Pz takes position in the forests 16m south of Joensuu to hold open an escape route for the hapless Finish forces.

AGN. With the Soviet main line in full supply and their own attack floundering for lack of it the German forces call off all offensive action and reposition trucks to try to bring supplies forward but the difficult terrain leaves hundreds of miles of front unsupplied and thus exposed to Soviet counterattack

The better supplied main drive to Vologda however mounts two attacks advancing in two parallel columns 16 miles closer to the objective and causing some losses to the defenders.

German counteroffensive north of Moscow

German counteroffensive north of Moscow

AGC No action here

AGS. ROSTOV FALLS!!. Not by a tactical pincer surrounding and isolating the city as planned but by a brute force frontal assault. A Rumanian/Italian army stiffened with some German infantry divisions and well equipped with artillery and a concentrated assault Corps and a number of German Assault and combat engineers.

The success comes too late to call off attacks south of the Don which proceed as planned eliminating a number of low grade Soviet units but the Axis do not advance after the combats and consolidate the bridgehead in exploitation. The raison-d’etre for the forces south of the Don is no longer valid so they plan to withdraw as soon as possible – trucks move in to provide supply to cover the withdrawal.

Rostov falls

Rostov falls

Air War: Rostov based fighters take to the skies to defend their air bases in the city. They fail to inflict any hits on the dive bombers aiding the attack but one Yak is aborted by a Ju87. Rostov’s anti aircraft proves a much more formidable defence, aborting one bomber and returning 3 more but the survivors are able to provide enough support to mount a viable attack on the city.

Elsewhere 3 rail hits are inflicted.

Combat Report

Attacks: Diced = 7
Losses: Soviet Isolated = 7 (the Mech xx in the Don bend), Un-isolated = 41
German = 4,
Italian = 3,
Rumanian = 6