“You know what I hate the most about this place? The dirt; in summer it is dry chocking dust, in the autumn and spring thick cloying mud and in the winter it freezes hard as rock”.
“True enough Hans true enough, But at least now for a time it is hard enough to move.“
The comrades had been together since early in June ’42 when Hans had joined the recon battalion. Both from Bavaria they had soon become firm friends through thick and thin. Both had participated in the push over the upper Volga at the start of Operation Meatgrinder. They had driven forward and at one point late in straddled the N/S rail line to Vologda and thought that perhaps they had broken the Soviets will to fight. How wrong they were. The following week they had been amazed to see massed formations of Soviet tanks, armoured vehicles katyusha and infantry storm out of the East. They had been forced to withdraw along with the rest of the advanced corp. They received news that they were cut off and for two weeks were fed from supplies dropped from the air as streams of “Aunties” filled the skies. A gruelling month followed, reduced to starvation rations and slogging through snow, freezing fog and then sodden muddy marsh they has managed to fight their way out to freedom.
Two months after that they were on the march East again. Counter attacking their foe in a series of swirling battles of attrition and annihilation along the front. They broke through and with open steppe ahead it looked as if their objective might be reached but the cost had been too high and they were ordered to hold their ground. Then last week grave news had reached the unit. A large soviet force identified as the 50th Army had captured their lifeline West. The Veliki Luki – Vologda rail line just behind their formation had been cut. Furthermore Soviet forces were reputedly driving south from north of their position threatening them again with isolation.
They waited for orders to withdraw – then rumour had it that the Fuhrer had been persuaded that it was better to lose the chance of gaining a city than the certainty of losing an army. But they feared the week’s delay which had cost at least one field marshal his argumentative head in the Fuhrerbunker would allow the enemy to complete the encirclement. For days they struggled through cloying mud. The wheeled vehicles abandoned their lighter equipment dragged by horses and the tracked vehicles barely inching forward. The whole battalion had been tasked with moving the material. What they could not bring they destroyed. Artillery split like peeled spring onions their firing block removed littered the fields as the marched West. Trucks mired up to their axles lay abandoned by the roadside, stripped of anything useable, many burned and now rusting hulks of metal.
By the 6th day they were beginning to lose hope. Reports were reaching them of a Soviet breakthrough south along the Leningrad/Kalinin line many miles West and that Moscow was under threat.
But what a difference a few degrees drop in temperature can make.
It was on the morning of day 7 of their slog West that Hans looked out of the log cabin they has requisitioned for overnight shelter and his whoop of joy had shattered the dawn sleep of the exhausted battalion. Its frost! he cried frost! Thick, white frost!”. Indeed it was, covering the landscape. “Perhaps we can make it after all, he cried”
By nightfall the battalion had regrouped, vehicles were unstruck from where they had been clamped by mud. It was not yet so hard to require heavy equipment to smash so trenching tools, pics and farm tools were all that were needed to free and restore the wallowed vehicles.
The next morning the battalion staff sergeant passed out the orders. The corps was fully mobile again and they were to deal a blow to their Soviet foe who had dared to try and trap them A four corps strong attack was hastily organised and once again the pals were riding high and proud for the Fatherland. Three days later it was all over. With mobility had come supplies, air support, tanks and artillery support. The Soviet 50th Army was trapped and annihilated to the very last man – none escaped the German wrath.
Elsewhere formations arriving from the south has formed up against the Soviet Moscow attack erecting a wall of steel against the aggressor. The 14-10 panzer relieved by formations arriving from the NE moved from its fortified position aside the Moscow/Kalinin road and swung into Moscow NE providing a boost to the second line infantry divisions holding the suburb who had feared a Soviet attack for weeks.
North of the Veliki/Vologda road units were flooding West and opposing the Soviet threat from Leningrad.
The situation was saved.
Hans dare not contemplate what might have happened had the frost not come when it did.
“Hey Padre he shouted to the passing battalion chaplain. You can get off your knees – I think your work is done!!”
Weather: Frost in B all other zones unchanged.
Finland & The Army of Norway: Murmansk front no activity.
In the centre the Axis continue to pull back executing a counter attack against a lone 1-6* inf III (w) and eliminating it.
In the south the 9thpz cadre holds the as a German 5-6 freshly arrived from Germany joins the surviving Finnish division covering the main rail line north. In the centre of the country engineers continue to fortify and await the inevitable Soviet breakout into the hinterland.
AGN: The changing weather is akin to a miracle for the German army. The low mobility in the mud had stalled any rapid evacuation west or reinforcement of the pressure points at the front. The collapsing bulge north had allowed some infantry to shift sideways but these in their turn had been mauled by the Soviets. Now it was a different story. Panzers and motorized units from the East arrive in strength and movie into the line supplementing the existing defenders. They are content at the moment to take a defensive posture and await developments and or opportunities. With assets arriving weekly from the south and East their situation can only get better.
Meatgrinder is officially declared over (but not officially declared the failure it is) and all forces are ordered to cross back to the West bank of the upper Volga. The troops are not ready to do so without a fight however. The mobility and supplies provided by the frost are put to good use. The strong panzer formations formerly at the van are reversed and join units holding the line to the west. An attack is scrapped together against the 50th army which sits astride the Vologda/Veliki Luki rail line. Favourable odds are achieved and an attack launched. It is completely successful and the DE eliminates the entire stack including 2 Guards XXs who’s cadres cannot retreat. Other than the arctic combat this is the only attack this turn but nets 27 factors of enemy units.
At Moscow a Panzer corps arrives from the south just in time. Held by rail breaks just north and west of Tula it was not expected for another month but the frost allows it to move into the line. The 14-10 pz in the line is able then to move to Moscow NE replacing one of the second rank infantry XX hastily thrown into the front at the start of the Soviet assault. The Germans are confident the city can now be held.
AGC: No action.
AGS: The Don River bridgehead contracts back. Still held in mud, progress is slow. The Axis contemplate maintaining a presence in the swamps south of the river to facilitate any future move south and to require the Soviets to station more troops to hold the line.
Freed mech forces move north and engineers move into place to continue to fortify the bend of the river.
Air War: The Luftwaffe decides to give the Soviets some of their own medicine and launches a series of raids against Moscow area airbases with little short of disastrous results. When the skies clear the tally is Luftwaffe 3xE (including 2x109Gs) and 2xA for the VVS 1xA. 6 deep raids elsewhere only achieve 1 rail hit in the north but the 2 in the south should impede soviet assets moving north from the Stalingrad area.
Combats; Diced = 2.
Losses: Soviets = 28; German Air = 3