This is a copy of the Article I wrote for a wargames magazine for the Kiev game
The following are the extracts of the ‘Official War Diary’ for the game and the first hand perspective of a would-be Panzer Grenadier. As has been said in these articles before, we really can’t tell you want happened on all of the tables. There’s about 800 square foot of playing space and it’s hard enough to concentrate on your own few square feet, let alone have a perspective on what the hell’s happening elsewhere. This year, with the game format being different to previous years and the table set up in the hall bearing no geographical relationship to where games were set, you really had to keep your wits about you. More than once an Umpire would come up to you and say “ you see troops moving up this road, they will be on table in 10 minutes” and then walk off. Whose are they? You’re expecting reserves, but are they yours? Has the enemy made an armoured breakthrough on a table 60 feet away?, which in game terms may only be 5 miles from your flank. A bit of Paranoia and a lot of perspiration, but bucket loads of fun.
But you really had to be there!
Briefing encounter….The room is dimly lit and stuffy. Most of the men staring at the Situation map are tired and unshaven. And the game hasn’t even started yet! The last hour of general discussion about the prospects for the week have produced no gems of military brilliance. The German commander issues orders to his Corps Commanders.
With one last effort for something positive to end the briefing on, the Commander of IV Panzer Armee fixes his gaze at the map.
“We are but one Panzer Army, we think that the Soviets have five armies facing us. It’s going to be difficult”
In fact the Soviets had nine armies. It was going to be a bit more than difficult. But for better or for worse for the next week we were back in the USSR. But for how long??????
Situation Diary Day 1
Somewhere near Kiev in the fall of 1943.IV Panzer Armee (4PA) is disposed North to South along the Dens and Diner rivers, opposed by 2nd Ukrainian Front (2UF) to the North of Kiev and the 1st Ukrainian Front (1UF) to the South.
4PA are to defend, at all costs, the supply heads of KOROSTEN, ZHITOMIR, BERDICHEV and KAZATIN. There are intermediate railheads at MALIN, FASTOV and BELAYA TSERKOV, all of which feed into KIEV. The Soviet mission is to capture these railheads and destroy 4PA as a fighting formation.Battle commences with a general assault by the forces of both Russian Fronts along the breadth of 4th PA, combined with a deep deployment of elements of 3rd Guards Parachute Division (3GP) by airdrop around the railhead of FASTOV in the rear of the Southern sector of the battlefield.On Day 1 from North to South the forces engaged are as follows:
(By table number)
1. Detachment C – 23rd & 21st Rifle (2UF) vs. 217th Inf. (LIX Korps).2. 1 Tank Army (2UF) vs. 291st Inf. (LIX Korps)3. 1 Guard Army (2UF) vs. 68th Inf. (VII Korps)4. 60th Shock Army (2 UF) vs. 88th Inf. (VII Korps)5. 3 GP (1UF) vs. 213th Security (Fastov)6. 27th Army (1UF) vs. 112th Inf. (XXIV Korps)7. 40th Army (1UF) vs. 168th Inf. (XXIV Korps) & 208th Inf. (XIII Korps)8. 38th Army vs. 340th Inf. (XIII Korps)
Tables 1 & 2In hard fighting throughout the day 217th Inf. and 291st Inf. Are pushed back approx. 6Km to a line with 183rd Inf.
Table 368th Inf calls for assistance from the neighbouring 75th Inf to the South. The pleas are answered when a regiment (2 battle-groups strong) arrives in the mid afternoon, just in time to join 68th Inf. in a dash for the western woods while being pursued by elements of 18th Army and 1st Guards.
Table 4The commander of VII Korps also orders the balance of 75th Inf. to move to the assistance of 88th Inf. to their south. Elements of 60th Shock Army (60SA) facing 75th Inf. detect this move, or rather, detect the 12 kilometre gap in the German line that results and 1UF commits 3rd Guard Tank Army (3GTA) to the battle, driving hard south-west toward FASTOV and 3GP. By nightfall, this formation, with 60th SA, has encountered the forward elements of 7th Panzer Division, and has chased 88th Inf. & 75th Inf. into Kiev, in the process capturing the first of the Luftwaffe's forward airfields.
Table 53GP lands its first regiment and prepares to assault FASTOV, which sits astride the railway line to BELAYA- TSERKOV, the supply head for XIII & XXIV Korps and to KIEV. 213th Security fights hard but by nightfall 3GP have taken possession of the Western town sectors and have landed their second regiment. 2nd SS Panzer has been ordered from reserve west of BELAYA TSERKOV to move immediately to FASTOV and restore the situation. Under constant attack from Soviet frontal aviation its arrival is delayed till nightfall on Day 1.
And on the other tablesThe landing obviously caused confusion within the Axis Command as the 18th Artillery Division received orders to en-train for FASTOV. Fortunately for 18th Artillery, 4PA staff officers recommended against this course of action and the unit detrained at a village 30 kilometres to the south-west.
Diary NotesThe fighting in the south is a hard grind, with the German units ceding ground grudgingly to the Soviets and yielding around 6 kilometres along the line.
At the end of Day 1, 4PA Command receives reinforcement in the shape of Rumanian and Hungarian infantry divisions at BERDICHEV and ZHITOMIR respectively. The Rumanians are ordered to detrain at BERDICHEV, while the Hungarians are to pass South from ZHITOMIR via BERDICHEV & KAZATIN to FASTOV.
Off to a good start…. I think…..
Day 1 hadn’t been so bad. I’d been involved in the scrap on table1 involving 217th Infantry Div, whose 6 fairly small battle groups of about 15 elements each (Rifles, HMG, Mortars etc) tried to hold up 2 Russian rifle Divisions.
Along side me is Gerry Elliott of the Holiday Wargames Centre fame (in Scarborough), and an erstwhile contributor to these events. Opposing us is one of Gerry’s regulars Herbert Gratz, and a new guy to the Megagames, Samei Huda. Now Samei is truly a special person. Being a trained psychiatrist this event would probably give him a couple of papers and lecture tour on human foibles. In fact, he arrived at the event with enough ‘sectioning’ papers for all the participants, just in case. But he is just the most irrepressibly happy person I’ve ever met.
On the other seven 12ft by 6ft tables similar friendships are being made or indeed renewed. The play is hard and competitive in a friendly way, with little dissent regarding the rules. Lunch comes and goes and this offers a chance to talk to some of the players on other tables. It does appear that some units are taking a pounding, and at the evening brief at the main meal we find out just how the first day has left the 4th Panzer Army.
Is this map the right way up- or are you just pleased to see me……
The situation south of Kiev was bad, very bad. While our Corps (59th) faced little opposition, at the extreme north of the battlefield others had not been so lucky. In fact an entire Corps (13th) is in severe danger of encirclement, and Kiev is in risk of being cut off, both north and south, by the Russians. The Umpires now ask the German Corps Commanders for their next days orders. I’m standing in as 59th Corps commander and issue orders for a withdrawal to try to keep the Corps together. The Russians have had to issue a plan, weeks in advance for this offensive so their strategic options for advance units are somewhat limited.
Later that evening I enter the umpires lair (a converted bar under the main hall, beer removed!), as howls of laughter have been clearly heard by the players resting in the lounge. Michael Mcknight, (Head Umpire), Phil Gray (Aircraft and other nastiness) and John Bramley (rules and disciplinarian) are close to tears. No, this is a ‘no names no pack drill’ moment. But it would appear that a German Corps Commander has made what can only be described as a ‘tactical error’. Now I’m not here to name and shame any one, and Chris don’t worry no one will ever know it was you. 7th Corps commander had issued a move order to 75th Division, which due to a cock up with the co-ordinates has effectively split the Division in two and opened a 12-km gap in the front line.
Normally this would be recoverable, but this isn’t normal wargaming. With its flank exposed to an entire Russian Tank Army who were on Reserve orders and ready to exploit any successes from Day 1, all that Mike could manage to say before another wave of laughter hit the walls of the room, was
‘Bit of a waste of time painting those boys then.’
Situation Diary Day 2 Fresh battles on day 2 saw (from North-South):(By table number)
1. 1 Guard Army (1GA – 2UF) vs. 291st Inf. & 183rd Inf. (LIX Korps)2. 3 GTA (1UF) vs. 7th Panzer and 20th Panzer-Grenadier (VII Korps)3. 27th Army (1UF) vs.112th Inf. & 10th Panzer-Grenadier (XXIV Korps)4. 40th Army (1UF) vs. 168th Inf. & 8th Panzer (XIII Korps)5. 3GP (1UF) vs. 2nd SS Panzer (XXIV Korps) & 213th Security6. Hungarians (German Allies) vs. Rumanians (German Allies)
Table 1In the course of the morning, 1GA drive through 183rd Inf., sideswiped the remnants of 291st Inf. and cleared the road to Malin.
Table 23 GTA came up hard on 7th Panzer and supporting 20th Panzer-Grenadiers and made grinding progress throughout the day, eventually turning their flank and forcing them back 8 kilometres.
Table 327th Army was counter-attacked by 10th Panzer Grenadiers but any German success in this battle was negated by events to the South and these units ended the day having just broken contact along the FASTOV-KIEV railway line.
Table 440th Army followed the maxim of a certain bourgeois capitalist named Patton and hung onto XIII Korps while strong elements of 38th Army drove hard for BELAYA TSERKOV and the rear of XIII Korps' position. By the end of day 2, XIII Korps HQ had command of a regimental sized battle group comprising those few motorised assets that were able to escape the pocket into which it had fallen.
Table 53GP were reinforced overnight with their 3rd Regiment but this was not enough to prevent the hard fighting troopers of 2nd SS Panzer (your truly- guess who) from clearing them out of FASTOV and encircling major elements of the Division to the West of the railhead, thus removing the immediate danger , though also tying up this powerful formation in the Axis rear area.
Table 6The unexpected battle of the day occurred at BERDICHEV. You will recall this was held by the 7th Rumanian Division (7R) and that, when last we wrote, 12th Hungarian Light Division (12HL) was en-route to FASTOV via BERDICHEV. These two Axis nations are allies of Germany but not of each other, and 7R chose this moment to demonstrate the fact by engaging 12 HL as it approached the town. Both divisions deployed for battle (the Hungarians even acquired air support from their Me109 staffel flying with the Luftwaffe – the Rumanian air assault staffel was grounded by Luftwaffe feld-polizei elements) and fought for most of the day, until news filtered through to 4PA that the diplomatic wires between Berlin, Budapest and Bucharest were glowing white- hot.
Diary Notes Day 260th Shock Army were instructed to head through the gap left the previous day by 75th Inf. Division and press on with all speed toward ZHITOMIR, for which purpose STAVKA released the 4th Guards Tank Korps from Operational reserve.Bright points of day 2 for the Axis were the failure of 3 GTA to break 7th Panzer's blocking position, thus saving the units deployed to the north-east of FASTOV, for the day at least. There was also the arrival of further reserve formations, including substantial mechanised forces, at the railheads.By the close of play on Day 2, 1st Hungarian Corps had reinforced 1st SS Cavalry at MALIN – just in time to greet the spearheads of 1TA, backed by 1st Guard Cavalry.
Transfer to the 7th Corps and the Start of something wonderful
Due to the nature of the campaign style of the game, you weren’t guarented to be fighting with the same units each day. So on Day 2 I found myself reduced from Corps Commander to Panzer-Grenadier. In fact, if it sounds like something short of a penal unit transfer, then the task facing us would be about to confirm this. Chris had to make amends for his ‘move order’of the night before and had brought up 7th Panzer and 20th Panzer Grenadiers to halt the juggernaut that would be the Russian 3rd Tank Army.
Panzers. Now that’s something sexy and exciting right! Well before Kursk maybe, but 7th Panzer started the Campaign with 1 Tank battlegroup (a dozen mixed Mark III’s and IVF2’s). 20th Panzer-Grenadier was slightly better in having a Stug III battlegroup and 5 more infantry battlegroups (9 to 7th Panzer’s 4).
With the Recon group from 7th Panzer, 16 mixed battlegroups (BG’s) prepared to hold an area 18ft long, 12 ft deep, from 40+ Russians BG’s. Its not often that a Panzer Division and Panzer-Grenadier Division, on one wargames table, just isn’t enough.
In excess of 90 T-34’s, plus a mixture of 30+ SU-76s, 85’s and giant 152s, with more rocket artillery than most Germans had ever seen, were about to head in our general direction and be most unpleasant. Perhaps as bad for us, the Russian 3TA was ably led by Chris Cornwall (a veteran of all of the Megagames) and the supporting cast of Herbert Gratz, Tim Davis, Paul Hookway, and Neil Bosher, all meant that this was an A list Russian unit. Samei had been added to 3TA for his exploits from yesterday. So not only were we going to bet stuffed by the Reds, but we would have a laugh and a smile in the process.
Just before we finished the briefing for the players of 7th Corps (Chris, Tony Hogg, Nick Miles Eric G.S and me), the German C-in-C put in a pre match visit. Ty, the C-in-C, made these last minute visits to the front his forte, a chance to pass on any tips or general words of encouragement. We waited spellbound for what these would be.
‘Just to let you know lads, there’s no Air cover for you. Oh and you can’t withdraw from battle at all today or everything south of Kiev will be cut off’.
Its usually best to have a plan…isn’t it?
With the inspirational words of our glorious leader still ringing in our ears we had three options. All out attack, which was quickly discounted due to the minor drawbacks of having little armour and no air cover to carry it out. All out defence, far the more prudent tactic but the Soviets as a highly mobile formation could, at their choosing, first assemble and then blast a hole some where in our line and pour through. Option three saw a mixture of defensive positions for the infantry battlegroups with the Stug and Panzer BG’s forming fire brigades. One half tracked Panzer BG was also on hand should it prove hard going. (As if!).
This left the 7th Panzer Recon unit. No much to look at, a mixture of armoured cars, and three attached Marders. In 11 moves time it would be dead. But what an 11 moves they would be.
Who wants the Penal Recon unit?
The terrain, as I said, was 18ft across and mostly featureless (a major factor in the games this week). A road ran centrally across the board from the Russian positions toward high ground that the 7th Panzer’s fire Brigade BG occupied. The 7th’s two Infantry regiments occupied the limited cover available on either flank of the road and covered to the far-left corner of the table. To the right of this and covering to the far right corner was the 20th PZ. The plan of aggressive defensive needed a little something ‘left field’, and this was to be the moment for 7th Recon BG.
Now the terrain offered a degree of offensive options to the Russians, but the road that ran across the board had a large woods running along it’s left edge. If the Recon troops could seize that quickly, and some Nebelwerfer Forward observers were added to the unit, just maybe we could catch the Russians as they formed up for the attack
So that was the basis of the plan. Hold the line, get the Recon troops forward and disrupt the Russians close to their front line. OK it smacks of desperation, but the C-in-C has given us the word, and the word is HOLD.
It all went well and then the game began.
The Russians obviously hadn’t read the script. Three Infantry battalions had deployed to the rear of the woods, and that was the good news. Each flank of the woods had 2 T-34 Tank BG’s. I pitied these Russians. Didn’t they know they were coming up against 7th Panzer’s Recon Btn?
The Russians moved first. A series of attack orders had been issued, and the Red Tanks had moved over halfway so would not be able to fire. 7th Recon had deployed in the open but out off visibility of the Russian Armour. The German turn brought only one move. The Recon Dash. All units headed as fast as possible for the ‘cover of the woods’ and the chance to take on the three Russian Infantry battalions advancing within them. It’s fair to say that the Russians hadn’t been expecting this but if they were worried by the prospect of facing these crack troops they hid it well.
By Turn 3 the T-34’s had advanced to the front of the woods, having had the initiative first since the game began, and now their infantry lined the wood edge. This left 7th Recon with two choices. Stand out side the wood and trade rounds with 18 T-34’s or attack the 50 infantry stands in the woods. 7th Recon hurled itself into the wood. Using it’s Werfer spotters and calling fire down on it’s own close assaulting units, it attempted to blast a hole in the front of the Russian infantry brigade. It wasn’t pretty and ultimately it was doomed, but it bought time for the both 7th Pz and 20th Pz Gren. Hard fighting all the way along the line had meant the rush of 3rd GTA was held. The one drawback was that the left flank had been turned, so we’d have to withdraw. Now we had bought the Army time and that was what mattered.
A solitary half-track withdrew from the woods on turn 10 having fought eight rounds of close combat with the Russian infantry. 7th Recon was dead. Long live 7th Recon.
Don’t worry lads “Today was bad…Tomorrow will be worse”
You know when a situation is bad, really bad, you just want some word’s of encouragement, a sense that the struggle has been worthwhile. Well the German team needed that at the end of day two. Queue the command team (or comedy duo) of Ty and Jason. Ty updated the situation map and it made pretty grim reading. On the plus side 2nd SS Panzer (that’s me again) had fairly flattened the Russian parachute Division, and we had held the line, and that’s where the good news ended. 59th Corps had taken damage.
And then the comedy began.
Ty asked Jason if he’d seen 13th Corps on the situation map. Jason, as 13th Corps commander and a member of the command staff, should be fairly well placed to know where this quarter of 4th Panzer Army was. You’d think!
“Well”, said Jason “It isn’t actually on this map anymore, however we do have a new formation to add to the Army list, 13th Regiment. Oh I’ll get my coat” A Corps lost in a day, you had to laugh, because crying just wasn’t an option.
And there’s more. Great fight on Table 6 lads. Only next time try to involve the enemy!!!
As if Ty’s problems weren’t enough, one of those Megagames specials occurred. Now it just so happens that the German’s erstwhile Allies, the Hungarian’s and the Rumanians, hate only one thing worse than the Russians.
For months before the game, a friendly banter between these two Allies had begun. However when the game was on the players reverted to character. Both sides, with equally poor kit have, chided the other about how useless each will be compared to the other’s tactical ability. Just the kind of nonsense the inter-net was invented for.
And that’s how things like the fiasco on Table 6 occur.
An umpire who shall remain nameless, but let’s call him Michael, asks the Rumanian C-in-C Togs (Michael Togwell) who was in the main hall, “ What would you do if a train load of Hungarians past through the area that you are controlling.”
“Shoot the …..…”
Ok says the umpire. Cut to the main bar. The Hungarian team consisting of David Lambert (pay close attention to him, he’ll be back later) and Neil Braddon, are supping Best bitter (either in a straight glass or a jar, I can’t remember which), when the same villainous umpire approaches.
“You know those B$st$rd Rumanians, they’ve just opened fire on a train load of your men. What are you going to do about it?”
Return fire, came the reply in unison. So they did, and it took 6 hours, an agitated C-in-C, and a Hitler directive to stop them. They didn’t frighten the enemy, but by God they frightened us!
Situation Diary Day 3(By Table number)
Actions on day 3 featured a last ditch defence of the railhead of MALIN by I Hungarian Corps, supporting 1st SS Cavalry against an all out assault by 1 TA and 1st Guard Cavalry. The Luftwaffe intervened on several occasions to the advantage of the defenders and by the end of Day 3 the Soviets were required to regroup and refit for a day to re-establish their unit's fighting efficiency. This allowed time for additional infantry to arrive on the scene from both Detachment C and 18th Army.
Table 2The continuing struggle between 3 GTA and VII Korps saw the arrival of 509th Schwere Panzer Abteilung on the scene. This gave the Soviets pause for thought in the course of the day, though in the end the Germans were forced to give ground in order to establish a firmer line of defence (one without the sword of Damocles in the form of 60th Shock Army poised above them)
Table 327th Army attacked into 88th Inf. backed by 454th Security, and was flanked, late in the afternoon, by 19th Panzer Division. An attempt by the 40th Army to counter this manoeuvre using 8th Guards Tank stalled as the unit collided with the static 46th Rifle (the People's Directorate for State Security has taken the extended families of those responsible into protective custody). 19th Panzer notwithstanding, the heart of 88th Inf.'s defensive position was wrested from it by the advancing Soviets 40th Army's limited attack. This was deftly countered by 10th Panzer-Grenadier and 112th Inf. in a day long action where the Germans enjoyed significant success on the tabletop, to the extent that 112th were keen to vacate their defensive trench lines and engage the Soviets with the bayonet.
Table 4An exploratory foray by 23rd Rifle of Detachment C along the line to KOROSTEN was repulsed by the advance of 2nd Fallschirmjager (2FJ).
38th Army engaged 3rd Panzer and then found that it had also got 2nd SS Panzer (me again) into the bargain. This surprise discovery led to the establishment of an impressive Pak-front while the eastern flank was refused.
Diary Notes Day 3Day 3 ended with a German withdrawal through the night and the whole of Day 4 to a new defensive line built on the `solid' foundation of XXXXVIII Panzer Korps and the newly arrived II Rumanian Corps, established 30 kilometres east of ZHITOMIR. Furious air attacks on the retiring German formations caused some casualties and also significantly wore down the air assets of both sides.
48th Panzer Corps to the Rescue and A nasty surprise for the Russians…Tigers
The C-in-C’s brief from the night before had been that 7th Corps would have to hold for the rest of Day 3 in order that the Southern units could pull back toward a new defensive position behind by 48th Panzer Corps. To help us we’d get the tools for the job, 509th Schwere Panzer Abteilung, or the Tiger battalion to you and me.
We also received 4 battlegroups of what was left of the infamous 75th Division. Those poor saps who’d been sent to two places at once and had already met some of 3 Guards Tank Army. Well 4 Pak 38’s against 90 T-34’s will always be a close fight.
So new toy’s to play with. I wonder what the Commander will give me today after the exploits of the Recon Btn.
Anyhow a couple of minutes later I’m left wondering how I’ll be deploying the 75th Division in an open and featureless battlefield. Ty pays another one of his customary visits.
“Just remember lads hold on and by tonight we’ll pull you back”
Thanks boss. But today the Russians are attacking from the front and the left flank; (they had turned this the day before). So the question arose, if we need save kit, what do you want us to rescue?
Ty scratched his beard, “ the Tigers, 7th Panzer, 20th Panzer Gren, Oh and 75th Infantry”
But that was everything that we had. “ I know,” said Ty and wondered off. Moments like that concentrate the mind.
Desperation Stakes Mark II….. or any one for a bit of Sacrificial Lamb?
We were about to be attacked from the front and on our left flank, on an 18ft long and 12 ft wide table with little (very little) in the way of defensive features. A main road crossed the board as before from the centre of the Russian position to the centre of the German position. This would be the road that we would have to hold, as this was the withdrawal route.
So we deployed with 7th Panzer and 509th Tiger Btn around the main road and on our left flank. A forward screen of 20th Panzer Gren ran the width of half the board, and horribly exposed was 75th Infantry Division, far to the right of the rest of the forces, but holding a minor road, just in case another exit route was needed.
The only bits of good news were that the Russians didn’t know about the Tigers until they came into range of them. Then it was just too late. On our left the shoe was on the other foot and for once in the week we were enjoying kicking the Reds. On the right the situation was not as rosy. 3 Pak 40’s, 4 Pak 38’s and a collection of short straw’s against a Russian Tank Corps. And better still when the withdrawal order was to come, there were no trucks. We’d have to walk quickly.
For the first few moves I held the Russians in the shape of Tim Davis and Paul Hookway off. In the end though a series of suicidal close assaults against Russian armour and final defensive fire on my own positions wasn’t enough to save the 75th. No one would be around to answer the withdrawal order, whenever it came.
Around 3.30pm the sun shone through the bay windows of the gaming hall and, as if by magic, Ty reappeared. A series of cordial hello’s and the order to withdraw was given. There’s only one small snag. 10 miles to the rear, the Russians have placed 60th Shock Army on the exit road that ran across the table. The whole of the force would have to traverse from left to right and exit by the minor road that the 75th had been holding up a Tank Corps on. Perhaps the sacrifice hadn’t been in vain after all. 509th Tiger Btn, 7th Panzer and most of 20th Panzer Grenadier lived to fight another day.
Situation Diary Day 4
Day 4 saw the Soviets regroup and advance up to the new German line, while 60th Shock Army, alerted by frontal aviation to these manoeuvres ahead of it, opted to begin digging in for the coming battle.
At last out of the front line…...into the fire!
A chance for a breather. While some games continued on, a huge set of Day 5 encounters were in the planning. Effectively these would start on the afternoon of Day 4, but Day 4 officially saw both sides regroup. 7th Corps is pulled out of the line. We are all reassigned to new units. Ideally, the Corps would be pulled back a safe distance after two days of Herculean effort. R and R lasted for 20 hours, before the Corps was back in action.
Situation Diary Day 5
(By table numbers)
The new battle lines resemble, in some ways, the old ones… from north to south the engagements included:
Table 1KOROSTEN - Detachment C, while lending its cavalry formation in support of the action at MALIN, is not idle, and advances toward KOROSTEN. The police battalions and security regiment prepare their positions and await reinforcement (!) while the Luftwaffe puts its, by now well-practised, airfield evacuation policy into effect and the medium bomber force departs for stations west well before scouts from 21st Rifle investigate the airfield.
Table 2MALIN – the I Hungarian Corps (10th Lt and 1st Armoured) and 1st SS Cavalry are reinforced by the arrival of a regimental formation from 2nd Fallschirmjager but are in turn flanked to the east by 18th Army while fighting 1st Tank to the North.Bitter fighting sees the 1st Guard Cavalry break into MALIN and the Hungarian defence lines are breached by Soviet armoured formations charging headlong into their midst. Just in the nick of time the rest of 2nd Fallschirmjager arrive on the southern flank and bolster the line against 18th Army while the remainder of the MALIN defence group begins to adjust its lines toward ZHITOMIR.
At MALIN 1st Tank and 18th Army force the I Hungarian Corps out of the town and away to the west. 1st Guard Cavalry have the honour of being first into the town as they forcibly eject the veteran Fallschirmjager. The Commander, 11th Guard Tank Corps, has established a curiosity park where the local populace can marvel at the collection of antique artillery pieces recently acquired from the Hungarians.
Table 3To the South of MALIN, 4PA puts in a set piece counter-attack to crush 60th Shock Army and, if successful, release forces to block any further progress by 1TA and relieve the forces facing 3GTA. The massed armoured strength of XXXXVIII Korps 1st Panzer, 1st SS Panzer, 19th Panzer and 12th Hungarian Light Division are committed into action against three of the Army's four reinforced infantry divisions (77th, 18th Guards and 30th Rifles), who have in reserve the 4th Guards Tank Korps.The action is such that 12th Hungarian and 19th Panzer are attacking 77th Rifle from the north-east while 1st SS Panzer attacks 18th Guards from the north and 1st Panzer faces 30th Rifles from the west. The remainder of the Axis battleline is on its southern flank.12th Hungarian have been reinforced with 509th (S) Abteilung and in a vicious morning battle push elements of 77th in on the main 60th Shock army position. This is not achieved without cost, unfortunate timing meant that the Hungarian flak was unlimbering when the Frontal Assault Aviation arrived over the battlefield and was able, with the precision worthy of a Guards Sturmovik Regiment, to despatch 2 Kompanies of 509th (S)'s Tigers. The Hungarians pressed on and have now gained a strong foothold at the base of 60th Shock's position.19th Panzer and 77th Rifles are interlocked in mortal combat following the advance to contact of the morning by 19th Panzer. 77th Rifles call in a number of airstrikes to impede their progress but are themselves hit and forced to abandon their frontline positions when aviation assets mistakenly assault the Soviet forces in the closely drawn battlelines. By mid-day both sides are engaged in swirling, divisional sized melee.1st SS Panzer (that’s me again, changed units) advances to contact with 18th Guards. Faulty staff planning in this division is found to have lead to the incorrect deployment of field artillery assets and the Army is astonished to learn that the division holding the centre of the line is actually giving ground, willingly. Elements of the People's Directorate for State Security are investigating this unusual occurrence in detail and the likely guilty parties have been shot while pending further investigation. 1st SS Panzer is occupied in mopping up the remnants of 18th Guards division for the remainder of the afternoon, when a call is received from 4PA. 1st Panzer, mindful of the fragile condition of some of the units in the line to its south, adopts a watching brief in the morning. Rumours persist of fraternisation between the opposing forces that have attracted the attention of the Gheime Staats Polizei, Feldgendarmerie and People's Directorate For State Security.
60th Shock Army is severely handled by XLVIII Panzer Korps, the Commander 98th Shock Regiment, 30th Shock Infantry Division has been recommended for the Order of the Red Banner for repeated use of Guard Mortar assets to clear the fascists from his own trench-lines. 30th Shock Division loses 5 battlegroups in the course of the afternoon as 1st Panzer finally attacks.4PA removes 1st SS Panzer from the fray in order to block the headlong rush of 1st Tank Army toward ZHITOMIR. 1st SS Panzer is joined by 20th Panzergrenadier and, in the late evening, by 1st Panzer, to form a powerful force. 19th Panzer is withdrawn from the fighting to rest and refit for all of two hours when word reaches 4PA of potential disaster threatening at KAZATIN where 38th Army has broken 112th Infantry and is advancing on the railhead. 10th Panzergrenadier and 3rd Panzer are already en-route, the security detachment is put into the front-line positions and 19th Panzer, as its battlegroups extricate themselves from the field against 60th Shock, are sent pell-mell south to join the fray over the course of the following day.
Table 43GTA was faced in the morning by 8th Rumanian and 25th `Panzer' Division (freshly arrived from Norway via France with a mixed assortment of exotic vehicles). By mid-morning this had altered to 8th Rumanian, 2nd SS Panzer (elements) and a single battlegroup strength formation from 25th Panzer.
12th Hungarian division is, unfortunately, still entangled with 77th Shock division when elements of 18th Army arrive from the North. 25th Panzer Kampfgruppe and 8th Rumanian, reinforced by 2nd SS Panzer, continue to hold back 3rd Guard Tank. At nightfall 8th Rumanian is shifted along the line so that the II Rumanian Corps now fights as a whole against 27th Army the next day. 7th Panzer is fed back from the reserve into the line for the day's action against 3rd Guard Tank, alongside the 454th Security division, so that 3GTA is now facing 4 German divisions (or elements of).
Table 5II Rumanian Corps (Mobile Group Togescu! and 7th Rumanian) were in action against the infantry elements of 27th Army for most of the day. An early attack by Group Togescu caused consternation at 27th Army HQ and much of the day was spent recovering ground lost to the Rumanians in this audacious manoeuvre.
II Rumanian Corps continued to defy the efforts of 27th Army to remove them from the battlefield. Even an assault by heavy tank destroyers failed to crack the Rumanian positions, foiled in particular by the cunning deployment of the cavalry regiment's mounted flame-thrower engineers. Commander 10th Tank Korps, 27th Army, has filed charges of nascent praetorianism against the Deputy Commander based on the budding personality cult gathering around this charismatic leader. The ability to persuade a tank brigade to respond to his every whim, to coax the Soviet communication chain into providing permanently on-call air support and the willingness to risk the integrity of the Korps command structure by engaging in hand to hand fighting with Rumanian cavalry have all aroused the interest of the People's Directorate.
Table 610th Panzergrenadier held the line against 40th Army in a dazzling display of smoke mirrors, fire and manoeuvre, while 112th Infantry were encircled and destroyed by 38th Army.Diary Notes Day 5By the end of Day 5 the Axis have battered 60th Shock into inactivity and stood off the attacks by 27th Army and 3rd Guards Tank, but have been unable to stop 1st Tank Army in the North, or 38th & 40th Armies in the South. KOROSTEN is under assault with no hope of relief for its security details. KAZATIN is under direct attack, with XXIV Korps racing 38th Army to reach it first. BERDICHEV has only its police battalion to fend off the expected attentions of 40th Army later in the day. The defence of ZHITOMIR requires that II Rumanian Corps continue to hold 27th Army, that the assorted forces flying the banner of VII Korps can hold back 3rd Guard Tank and that XLVIII Korps can do the same against 1st Tank Army. This then is the scene that greets the players on Day 6.
The Battle to end all battles
Today we are going to really hurt the Russians on Table 3. The rest of you are going to suffer, but hold your ground. Another day and another moment of clarity from the command team.
Only this time there was a massive scrap in the offing and we were going to have the better of it. Ty had positioned the might of 48th Panzer Corps, which included 1st SS Panzer, 1st Panzer and the newly arrived 509th Heavy Tank boys in one half of a U shaped position. The other half was made up of 19th Panzer, of which I’d now been sent to, and the 12th Hungarian Division.
Into this horseshoe drove the 60th Shock Army and all hell was about to be let loose.
So the forces assembled. Gerry Elliott who controlled 1st SS Panzer with Phil Hall led the Germans. Eric and Tony for their efforts with 7th Panzer now received command of 1st Panzer, and Michael Evangier, 19th Panzer Commander and our token American. (He’d travelled from Seattle to play, so don’t anyone ever tell me that Cornwall is a long way from them, Australians excepted).
Also Dave Lambert, fresh from fighting the Rumanians was back for real action. The Russians were led by Paul Hookway (having time off from 3rd GTA), and had such notables as Neil Kenneally and Grant Petit. Their moment of infamy was to come. Samei still smiling despite facing 1st Panzer, with only a handful of green troops and in ‘our corner’ Irish Dave and Mad Sean. What a pair. You’ll not meet a more pleasant wargamer than Irish Dave Houston. The only problem with him is he’s too bloody good. I’m sure that if we had given him a command armed only with catapults he’d still find ways to knock out armour. As he told me several times during the day, “there’re only green troops you know”. Oh I knew all right. The problem was they’d set fire to half 19th Panzers tanks in the process. And Mad Sean, well Mad Sean alone could have provided Samei the psychiatrist with a year’s work. Sean was up against Dave Lambert. The two were old friends. But you sensed something was about to happen.
In all my years of Wargaming, I’ve never lost a Tiger… Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Oh Sh*t!
Beef up the Hungarian’s they won’t be expecting that. Dave have the Tigers but keep your flak up close. Gerry barked out the instructions and we went into action. Dave looked pleased as punch at his new acquisitions. “This is quite a thrill for me. Normally I don’t play German’s and I can honestly in all my years of Wargaming I’ve never lost a Tiger Tank”.
Now we’ve all had those moments. You’ve said something that you shouldn’t have. The very utterance of it invites disaster. There was a silence amongst the German Players. You just wanted to catch the words in the air and stifle them somehow, but they escaped and seemed to fill the whole hall. We all knew what would happen next, we just hoped that somehow it wouldn’t. Oh but it did. One day Dave may live it down. OK I don’t believe that one either.
Do you know the Steps to the Happy Dance
The battle was raging. 19th Panzer on the left corner of the German advance was making hard work of the Russians ahead of us. Our hope was that 12th Rumanian with 509th would kick in the rear of the Russian position. 509th was a talisman unit. Every day when it appeared Russians on other tables would rejoice because that meant it wouldn’t appear in their area. Well today was special. The Russians knew that 60th Shock would be fighting for survival, and that 509th Heavy Tiger might just make that fight a lost cause.
Then that moment occurred. A moment in Megagames folklore.
The Tigers advanced along side the Hungarians. There was only one small flaw with the Hungarian Division (well two if you include the fact that it’s Hungarian to start with). Only two AA assets, and they were both on the move. Now Sean may be mad, but he’s not stupid. A call is made on the Radio and who should visit the Battlefield but the Russian Airforce’s finest Sturmovik’s.
40 seconds later, 4 Dead Tigers.
Now some wargamers might smile having inflicted this damage, you might tell your friend, or the rest of the table. Or you might be Mad Sean. And if you were then you’d scream at the top of your voice, perform “high5’s” with every Russian player on every table on then proceed to do the ‘Happy Dance’. Now I’m no dance expert. The Macarana was beyond me. And hopefully you’ll never have to witness the happy dance being performed. Suffice to say a lot of pelvic thrusting, more than is healthy for a room full of men, was unleashed in the general direction of a glum looking Dave Lambert.
Gerry looked again at the Stats chart for an error in any of the results. And scratched his head.
Things were not going well.
Did you throw these toys from the pram young man?
Try as you may, you never quite iron out rule anomalies.
One such occurred in this mammoth clash as 1st SS drove hard at the Russian lines. Russian 76mm Field Guns were being used in the AT role or vice versa which effected the distance at which they could be seen. Gerry and Phil Hall attempted to reason the situation through with Grant and Neil (these guys are all regulars to Megagames and Wargames holiday centre) and somehow it seems that the Russians had convinced themselves that defeat in 5 moves was imminent. They simply threw in the towel! For this, both Russian players received Iron Crosses at the closing awards ceremony. I later found out that Grant’s shop had been flooded the night before, which went along way to explain this collapse which was out of character with the rest of the fighting on any of the tables.
Either side of this ‘situation’ the fighting was hard fought. 60th Shock was being worn down, but 19th Panzer would be in no fit condition by the end of the fighting.
One bright point was that in holding the battlefield, for once the German vehicle recovery die role was better. Somehow Dave Lambert recovered all of the Tigers!
Technically he could say he’d still never….actually you know what, let’s leave that there.
Situation Diary Day 6
Day 6 begins with Soviet aviation striking the remaining German airfields and maintaining fighter cover over them for most of the day, severely inhibiting the ability of the Luftwaffe to support the front line.Table 11st Tank Army fought a hard battle against XLVIII Korps. 1st Panzer suffered heavy Panther losses to very, very, persistent Soviet mortar fire. 25th Stavka Tank Korps was released for the battle but found its motley collection of T70s, M3 Lees and T34s to be rather outclassed by the opposition. 11th Guard Tank made significant inroads into 20th Panzer-Grenadier and at the end of the day the Germans were denied the crushing victory here which would have freed XLVIII Korps for further actions the next day.Table 23rd Guard Tank Army and the rejuvenated VII Korps fighting in front of ZHITOMIR were well matched. XIII Regiment (the reconstituted XIII Korps) arrived to assist VII Korps and the 454th Security Division's Police Cavalry battalion operated in conjunction with 25th Panzer Kampfgruppe against 7th Guards. Elements of one tank brigade were able to break the Axis line in this sector and threaten ZHITOMIR.
Table 327th Army had a very poor showing today, the People's Directorate for State Security are currently advising on personnel changes in the Army's command structure. The sterling work of the Rumanian II Corps, including the use of Corps artillery in a direct fire role, was enough to stymie the advance of 27th , but not enough to stop 40th Army from seizing the railhead at BERDICHEV in the mid-afternoon, an event which saw the final demise of Luftwaffe activity over the front.
Table 4In the far South the XXIV Korps won the race for KAZATIN but, due to operational difficulties in the delineation of formation boundaries, was unable to present a cohesive defence. The 10th Panzer-Grenadier and 3rd Panzer formations were very roughly handled by the Soviet 38th Army and 8th Guards Tank from 40th Army.
Diary Notes Day 6At the close of play, OKH was required to confirm that sombre music would be played for some time in commemoration of the sacrifices made by 4th Panzer Armee. To be precise, the losses amounted to 16 infantry divisions (including 1 Hungarian) at a cost to the Ukrainian front of 2 divisions, one of which was 3rd Guards Parachute.The Soviets were in active possession of three of the points on the main North-South rail line (KOROSTEN, BERDICHEV and KAZATIN) and threatening ZHITOMIR from two directions.
Yes thanks for your efforts this week, have what’s left of this Security Division
Yesterday had been a change from the norm, with a German offensive. The final day I was back with 7th Corps. The main problem now was that the commands were small enough for one player to handle. We were back in the action on table 2 against 3rd Guards Tank Army, again. This time we had 2nd SS Panzer and 454th Security Division.
One bizarre aspect of having a rest and reorganisation day, was that this game started late on the Thursday evening. One or two players had over indulged at the bar and this would lead to some very strange opening moves with one particular case on our table of a player putting in a real Dr Jackal performance. There were more than a few sore heads the next day with the basic question of ‘What the hell was I doing last night?
The game situation was bleak. Which was no real change from the start of the week. Yet again 7th Corps was stretched out across a 24ft board holding the road to Zhitomer. This was it. Not one step backward. If the Russians broke through, they had won.
Now those who have been concentrating this far in the saga will notice a theme. What will I opt to command today? Will it be a) the Panzers or b) the other crap.
Being the game organiser, I also feel obliged to let the ‘paying customers’ have the good stuff, so it was Option b. The glorious 454th Security Division are not front line troops. Not by any stretch of the imagination. All that was left in a ‘fighting condition’ were 4 battlegroups. Three of these were Infantry, each with 3 HMGs and one Pak 38. These troops were slightly more useful than snowballs against the SU-85’s, SU152’s and 30+ T-34’s that had deployed less than two miles (about 2 foot in table terms) from us. Security Divisions, it seems, are big on machine guns (I wonder why?). No other heavy weapons at all. A bit of whinging to the 7th Corps commander meant that 3 105’s were also sent over to our positions. The time had come to deploy these indirect weapons in a direct fire role, in the cover of a small village that was at the heart of the defensive position. This might provide some protection against the mass of over 40 AFV’s that were menacingly being left by my opponent ready for deployment.
The three forward battle groups had to hold an area 5 feet wide. Behind them and the last ditch reserve was the ‘Surprise’. The Police Cavalry unit. How could I forget them? I wasn’t quite sure on how they would best be used for stopping tanks. But I had the feeling I was about to find out. The one useful bit of news was that being a ‘rear echelon’ unit, the 454th had actually had the time to prepare foxhole positions. Given that the ground conditions for the week were often declared as frozen, this had regularly been denied to German units once they had started to fall back from the first lines of defence.
The basic German deployment was a giant W shape across the table. 7th Panzer on the left formed the left part with the position, with 509th tigers at the base, providing the stopping force.
454th was considered expendable and so placed at the tip of the position to try to break up the any Russian attacks. To our right 20th Panzer Gren, and 2nd SS Panzer would have to stop the Reds. By now both had taking damage. It would be a difficult ask.
But for once the action passed my positions by. The best part of a Russian tank Corps stood opposite me. (I’d fought Paul Hookway for 3 of the 5 days and used bizarre guerrilla tactics as best I could and he had finally decided that caution was the watchword).
Russian attacks were going on across the table. In one particular ‘Vodka fuelled’ offensive the normally sober Herbert Gratz threw his troops with gay abandon at 7th Panzer positions. This display, which lasted for a good couple of hours, bought much tittering and general amusement to both sides of the table. Herbert returned to his efficient Austrian self the next day, but he did seem a little the worse for wear.
Eventually 454th was put under strain as the Russians attacked our positions from the right and left flanks. The concealed infantry held their fire until the last moment, and held their nerve. Losses were light. The Reds had much bigger fish to fry.
On the right a massive offensive had occurred and the real weight, of the 3rd GTA was brought tp bear. 2nd SS held on, but they were in real danger all day. Their rescue was to come from a most unlikely source and somehow I get the feeling that it would probably have been left out of any ‘unit history’.
Late in the day the Police cavalry managed to charge Russian infantry in the open but by then the road to Zhitomer had been breached along the line in 20th Panzer Grenadier’s area.
And anyway someone else had used Cavalry with much more elan.
The Rumanians rescue 2nd SS Panzer. No honestly…..and glad we were to see them….
On a table just behind us was the most unlikely scrap. Somehow, and I’m still sketchy on the details, the Rumanians had formed a bizarre ‘Pak front’ with 220mm howitzers (apparently it’s all they were good for). Then they had unleashed flame-thrower armed Cavalry. It’s a concept too bizarre for words, but apparently existed. And it destroys Tanks and Infantry.
This allowed them to pull together all of the wheeled vehicles they possessed and head to our table, to rescue 2nd SS Panzer who where under heavy pressure from one of the Russian units. It had to be seen to be believed. The relief on our table when this motley collection of armoured cars turned up almost made grown men cry.
So long and thanks for all the fish cakes…..
And so it was over for another year. Was it fun, well you’ve read the article? Would these guys do it again? Yes the majority are already signed up for the next game already, and it’s coming to the point where I’m penning people in, without having to ask them.
And as I said at the beginning, this is just my perspective of the game. The 40 plus other guys will remember other games, things I never saw. Actions are listed which will never mean anything to me even though they are in the ‘Official Diary’. (Thanks to Phil Gray for his Diary notes) I only heard after the event about Veteran German Paratroops being pushed out of a town by Russian cavalry, or the second rendition of the ’happy dance’ as Mad Sean’s green Russians stormed another of the vital objectives. Many Russian players have since talked about the sense of paranoia at each evening command briefing. Where were the extra German troops? Surely more would arrive and come crashing into an exposed Russian flank. The truth is there were no more but with the game set up, both sides had been kept in the dark about the condition of the other.
It’s really just too big take it all in. That’s not being pretentious, it’s just a fact.
Next year this insanity road show recreates the Tunisia Campaign. The games keep getting better. The umpires do a magnificent job. The players approach it in the right spirit.
Don’t just sit their, try it out. All of this fun can be yours, for £320. That includes your meals and your own room in a three star hotel for the week. I may even buy you a beer.