Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Relief of Tarnopol, April, 1944.

General view of Soviet positions.  Tarnopol
is in the far distance.

About a week ago, Paul 'Jacko' Jackson and I got together one evening to fight out a scenario based on something I had seen associated with the Rommel group. This was the attempted relief of Tarnopol, to rescue remnants of several German units trapped in the town, and cut off several kilometres behind the rather fluid Russian front line.  
Map of the battlefield as set up on my hex table.

This line was held by 15th Rifle Corps: two infantry Divisions, 9th and 366th. They were to be deployed in defensive positions, somewhat dug in, east of (i.e. above) the red line (inclusive) according to the above map. They comprised:

XV Rifle Corps:

Corps Command: General Officer, staff and scout car, see VI Guards Tank.
9th Rifle Division:
    Command: Div Cdr, plus Scout car = 3SP
    3 Infantry regiments, each 6 stands, 6SP = 18SP
    1 45L46 Anti-tank gun stand, with tractor = 2SP (light anti-tank)
    1 76mm Field artillery, with tractor = 3SP (counts as medium anti-tank)
    1 ISU152 assault artillery = 3SP
366th Rifle Division:
    Command: Div C.O. plus scout car = 3SP
    3 Infantry regiments, each 6 stands, each 6SP = 18SP
    1 45L46 Anti-tank gun stand, with tractor = 2SP (light anti-tank)
    1 76mm Field artillery, with tractor = 3SP (counts as medium anti-tank)
    1 ISU152 assault artillery = 3SP

These formations were permitted 10 hexes worth of defensive works, which were the eight earthworks and two barbed wire entanglements shown in the maps.

In support of XV Rifle Corps lay VI Guards Tank Corps just off the eastern (i.e. top) edge of the map.  This powerful formation comprised:

VI Guards Tank Corps:
    Command: Corps C.O. staff, scout car and jeep. 
    Counts as overall commander @ 6SP
    1st Tank Battalion: 4 T34/76 tanks @ 3SP (medium tank, medium anti-tank) = 12SP
    2nd Tank Battalion: 4 T34/85 tanks @ 4SP (medium tank, heavy anti-tank) = 16SP
    Motor Rifle Regiment: 4 SMG stands = 4SP
    Guards Mortar Battalion: 1 BM13 Katyusha rocket portee @ 3SP
    1 Field artillery battalion: 1 76mm Field artillery with tractor = 3SP (counts as light Anti-tank)

Totals: 102SP, exhaustion on -34.


The German start line was west of the map, 'below' the blue-grey line, exclusive. They will have carried out their relief mission if they successfully carried and held four of the five objective points marked by the white stars. Two of these, the Russian commander declined to hold in strength.
Map of the early action.  North is off the left 
edge of the map.

To carry out his relief mission, the German Corps commander was given a battlegroup of Fourth Panzer Army, comprising 8th Panzer and 9th 'Hohenstaufen' SS Panzer Divisions, with self-propelled artillery support, and a unit of Nebelwerfer rockets.

Axis:

Battlegroup Commander: General der Panzertruppen, with staff and half-track command vehicle 6SP
8th Panzer Division:
    Div Cdr in half track 3SP
    Panzer Abteilung: 3 PzIVH tanks @ 3SP = 9SP (medium tank, medium anti-tank)
    StuG Abteilung: 3 StuGIIIG @ 3SP = 9SP (medium AFV, medium anti-tank)
    1 Panzergrenadier battalion gepanzert: 4 stands plus armoured halftrack = 5SP
    2 PzGr battalions motorised: 4 stands plus medium truck @4SP = 8SP
    1 Pioneer Battalion gepanzert: 4 Pioneer stands plus armoured halftrack = 5SP

9th SS Panzer Division:
    Tiger Company with:
         1 Tiger I tank @ 5SP (heavy tank, heavy anti-tank)
         1 PzIIIN tank @ 2SP (light tank, light anti tank, counts as infantry gun) 
    Panther Abteilung: 2 Panther tanks @4SP = 8SP (heavy tank, heavy anti-tank)
    Jagdpanther Abteilung: 3 Jagdpanther AFVs @5SP = 15SP (heavy AFV, heavy anti-tank)
   2 PzGr Battalion, gepanzert: each 4 infantry stands plus armoured halftrack @5SP = 10SP
   2 PzGr Battalion, motorised: each 4 stands plus medium truck @4SP = 8SP

Artillery Support:
    1 Wespe unit = 3SP
    1 Hummel = 4SP
    1 Nebelwerfer = 4SP

Total: 104SP, Exhaustion point -35SP.

Notes: 
1.  The 6-stand Russian infantry units represented regiments, and were given 6 strength points.
2.  The 4-stand German infantry units represented battalions, and were given 4 strength points, except when mounted in armoured halftracks, for which they were upgraded to 5SPs.
3.  The original Rommel scenario gave the PzIVs and StuGs to the SS Division, and the Tigers etc to the Wehrmacht.  As that seemed to me unhistorical, I switched them, though I admit I could be quite mistaken in this matter.
4.  The PzIIIN was my own addition to the Axis formation.
5.  The unit to which I assigned Jagdpanthers, was allocated in the Rommel scenario 'heavy tank hunters'.  It is likely that what was intended was anything from Nashorns, towed 8.8cm FlaK guns, or even Ferdinands. Jagdpanthers had not long entered service by April 1944, but I figured their presence just plausible.
6.  The Nebelwerfer and Katyusha rocket launchers were treated as mortars for range, were capable of firing only on alternate turns, but rolling double the dice.
7.  For this action I used SP to determine the number of combat dice rolled. In effect we used a kind of hybrid Portable Wargames/ Hexblitz game system. As a result, the action rattled along fairly crisply.
8. The Soviet Tank Corps arrived on the table edge on move 2, as called for in the original scenario. Upon reconsideration, it might have been better to have randomised the arrival time, say to a roll, from Turn 2 onwards, of a D6, with a '6' being rolled to arrive.
9.  The original scenario placed the Soviet HQ in the table edge town. Instead, I took the place to be Tarnopol, and placed a couple of German infantry stands therein to represent the garrison to be rescued.  They were not otherwise involved in the action; the Russians were not allowed to enter the precincts.
10.  In armoured duels, anti-tank shooting at 'heavier' graded armour subtracted 1 from the 'to hit' dice. In the duel between a T34/76 (3SP; Med Armour, Med AT) against a Jagdpanther (5SP; Heavy Armour, Heavy AT), the Russian would roll 3 x D6 looking for 6s; the German 5 x D6 looking for 5s and 6s.  The outlook for the T34 would be pretty bleak!

Germans on their start line.

The narrative will be brief. The Axis advanced with the 8th Panzer on the right and 9th SS Panzer on the left.  The Soviet 25th Regiment, exposed on its high ground ahead of the main position, came in for a heavy bombardment from Axis ordnance. Although they repulsed an early infantry attack, it was plain the regiment could not remain there long, Reduced to half strength, they pulled back, under continual pressure, until they reached the barbed wire. Unable to negotiate this obstacle betimes, 25th Regiment succumbed to a final barrage, to be stricken from the 9th Rifle Division's order of battle.

On the other flank, 1098th Rifle Regiment also found the pressure from German infantry and armour too much to hold their fortified position. Back they went, into the marshlands to their rear. German panzergrenadiers followed them therein, but soon left again to await developments from the approaching armoured battle.

General view of the battlefield, including the just 
arrived 9th Tank Corps, and some very welcome 
logistics elements.

During all this time, the Soviet artillery was subjecting especially the German infantry to a steady and effective gunfire from field and assault artillery. This considerably slowed the Axis advance. All the same, 26th Rifle Regiment was driven out of its partly fortified, partly forested position, well to the rear
By this time, 9th Tank Corps had entered the battlefield, the lighter T34s plus field artillery on the northern flank, the heavier T34s, Katyusha and SMG unit on the southern.  



When 26th Rifles were driven out of their position, two companies of T34/76s swept around the flanking woods to engage the German Jagdpanthers. This more or less went as might have been expected. I don't recall they hurt the German armour - possibly one platoon fell back, but the Russian tanks took 4 hits. Only one was damaging, though; the rest were treated as 'retreats', and back went the target company 3 hexes; the other went back later, during the Soviet turn. Thenceforth, German activity was limited to attempting to pound the soviet defence lines on the northern flank. Panthers drove the anti-tank unit out of the riverside village, but couldn't make up their minds to cross the stream to test the Soviet hill defences beyond. Meanwhile one T34 company had taken up position in the fortifications formerly occupied by half of 26th Rifle Regiment.

There was more action in the south. The defile between the forests and the marshlands wide enough to accommodate but two tank companies side by side, tended to limit the weight of the Soviet counter-attacks there. All the same, they did knock out one PzIV platoon, and damaged several StuGs as well. For their part, the German armour gave almost as good as it took, wiping out the lead T34/85 company.
By this time, a count indicated, to my surprise, that the Germans had reached their exhaustion point; the Soviets were still well short of theirs. It was the Soviet artillery that had done the damage, and that damage had been done to the German infantry.

As played, this was not a well balanced scenario. The odds are simply too stacked against the Germans, especially played in this format. Historically, both sides fought each other to a standstill. Only some 9 men of the Tarnopol garrison ever reached their comrades to the west.

Were I to do it again, I would make the Soviet rifle infantry 'poor' partly to suggest many were barely trained conscripts, partly to indicate units that had already been through the mill. The Guards Tank Brigade would be average, but maybe the T34/85s I'd count as 'Elite'. The Germans I'd rate as 'Average' across the board, with maybe the Tiger I and its companion PzIIIN counting as 'Elite'. These 'Elite' designations I admit to being quite arbitrary. 

Meanwhile, the First Blacklands (Balkans) War is awaiting its first battle, that the narrative may proceed.  I hope I can get that done shortly.



18 comments:

  1. Great looking game Archduke - I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the Blacklands

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    1. Cheers, Maudlin - It's getting that bally first battle done that's the hold-up now...

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  2. Your tabletop looks very engaging with all those models ready for action.

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    1. Hi Peter -
      Yes, I find that even on the table top, quantity has a quality all of its own...

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  3. Archduke Piccolo,

    A very interesting battle report ... and I was particularly interested in your comment about the hybrid Portable Wargames/ Hexblitz game system. My recent play-test campaign has made me wonder if I ought to go along those lines myself, although previous attempts seemed to fall rather flat. Perhaps it is something the I ought to revisit.

    All the best,

    Bob

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    Replies
    1. Hi Bob -
      At first I was going to go the Hexblitz way, but then, when I got out the numbered chits, we both said 'Nah - let's just do the PW thing. But we both went with combat dice by SP rather than by unit, whilst keeping to the PW ranges. It is probably not quite 'de rigueur' but it seemed to work.

      I quite like my organisation that gives 6 stands to a Russian regiment - 6SP overall, and 4 stand, 4SP to a Western type of battalion. I have an idea, though, that I really did have too much armour on this table for the organisations I really have in mind. Probably on the Russian side, 3 tanks only, or possibly 4 ought to have been the limit; the Germans maybe 5, and the SPs selected according.

      It may be a while before we do another one of these, but I do have a scenario in mind that features the Romanian Army, early 1944.
      Cheers,
      Archduke Piccolo.


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  4. Ion,
    Quite aside from the accuracy or balance of the Rommel scenario, you were indeed wrong to assign the Tigers etc to the SS - in fact some of their armour was assigned to the Heer! You could also have fielded some JS2......

    https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=55&t=90546

    https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=4777

    Neil

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    1. Hi Neil,
      Seems the original scenario writer was right, then. Never mind. I'll sort that another time, perhaps. When adapting someone's scenario, and lacking any references, I tend to stay fairly closely with the original. One 'learns' a whole deal of stuff over the years, and it takes time to discover that some of it has to be unlearned - e.g. that the SS formations got the flashier equipments before the Wehrmacht did. Seems that that was not invariably the case.

      Thanks for the links.
      Cheers,
      Archduke Piccolo

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  5. BTW, SS divisions normally had 6 battalions of PG, but normally only one was armoured.
    Neil

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    Replies
    1. I have an idea that the original scenario did indicate that, but part of the adaptation had to do with halving the numbers. Looking back over my notes, though, I discover that I ought to have had FIVE panzergrenadier battalions in the SS Unit (or, 8th Panzer as I called it), 2 armoured (one pioneer), 3 motorised. I can't explain how or why I missed that. Bother.

      That one extra battalion might have made a bit of a difference.
      Cheers,
      Archduke Piccolo.

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    2. You know - I think I might have to redo that scenario - and do it properly next time.

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  6. Superb spectacle sir.
    I have Hexblitz in mind to do a Market Garden game - debating now is I should combine with PW.

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    1. Hi Duc -
      I think if I were to 'do' Market Garden, i'd be hexing up my 6ft by 4ft board, and then wonder if I have enough ... erm ... length. But seriously, it otherwise seems to me a playable proposition using PW, or an adaptation thereof. Alternatively, you might give Hexblitz or Megablitz a look.
      Cheers,
      Archduke Piccolo.

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    2. For Market Garden I'd be tempted to separate out the three airborne landing zones: Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem rather than try to fit it all on one table. If played out in sequence it would fix the arrival of allied forces. German reinforcements could be more random in arrival. It would be possible to play it solo or as a "co-operative" type game with all players on the German side.
      Neil

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    3. Years ago (early 1990s I think) I participated in a group Market garden project played on a single, very long (!) table, using Command Decision rules. I was the German commander at Nijmegen. It didn't go well. At the very first exchange of fire, I had to make a morale roll. Rolled a D10 - DON'T ROLL HIGH! Rolled a 10, didn't I. Immediate pin.

      The day was to continue the way it began. I did manage a brief delay, though, when I shot up a platoon of Shermans on the Nijmegen bridge...

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    4. Interesting stuff guys yes.
      I have an 8'x5'
      Hexes are about 4.5" each.
      If I scale it, i reckon it's about 1"=1mile in order to fit Joe's Bridge to Arnhem with some flanks.
      I envisaged 1.5" x 1.5" units as battalions in order for this to work - with 3 or 4 units per hex.
      I think that suits Hexblitz?

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    5. Yes, I rather think Hexblitz (or Megablitz or 'Not Quite Mechanised') would suit the scheme you have in mind. If you're using 1:72 figures and vehicles (or a similar scale) the ground-scale used by those rule sets is 4cm to the kilometre. So a 4" 'width' of hex represents a distance of 2.5 kilometres (1:25,000).

      Admittedly, the 1-inch to the mile is (1:63360) a rather larger scale of action. However, my own quick look seems to indicate a scale of 1" to the kilometre - call it 25mm to 1 Km - 1: 40,000 - would still fit the Allied front line and Arnhem on your 8ft table.

      That would make your 4.5" hex represent 4.5km in distance. The range of, say, a 25pr gun/howitzer 2 or, possibly stretching it a bit, 3 hexes. Under the standard Hexblitz rule set, the range of a 25pr (field gun) stands at 4 10cm (4") hexes.

      For mine, artillery ranges would be the only question to resolve. In my view, the rest could easily be adapted to your table.

      I would quite like to see how this goes!


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    6. Excellent. Thank you sir.
      Yes - it would be 1/72 and the scope is quite epic.
      It's the wargame 'headlines' that I want to see falling out of it - 'Paras hold for another day', 'Germans cut the road', 'XXX corps held at Nijmegan during Groesbeek Heights attack' etc. ...and simple execution of the rules throughout so that day turns are quite practical.

      Great food for thought on the ranges. I think I can make Hexblitz work for this.

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