|A view of the battlefield looking westwards from behind Soviet lines.|
In the late spring of 1942, as the Russian Front shook off the mud of the Rasputitsa, both sides bestirred themselves into resuming the advances made before attrition and the winter ice had frozen all large scale activity. The scarcity of good lines of communication in the vast Russian plains made the road nexus about the otherwise unimportant village of Schlammdunsk a very attractive objective for both sides. Its present unoccupation by either side was just one of those inexplicable accidents of war that exist simply to puzzle historians.
|Looking south along the Russian front line.|
Entrusting a picked task force to his favourite Colonel, Ivan Ivanitch Ivanov, Marshal Zhukov instructed him to seize the village and exploit on to control the road extending from Schlammdunsk to a small farm two or three versts to the south.
|First Rifle Platoon riding on the tanks of|
First Tank Platoon.
To carry out this task, Colonel Ivanov had available elements of 13th Army:
- A Rifle Company of 111th Rifle Brigade, with three rifle platoons each of an 8-man HQ Section, and two rifle Sections. Each section had its own PTRD anti-tank rifle.
- Attached, as was normal (according to the Army List anyhow), was its supporting Machine Gun Company, comprising;
1 Light Machine Gun Platoon with 5xLMG
1 Heavy Machine Gun Platoon with 2xLMG and 4xMMG
1 Light Mortar Platoon with 3x50mm Mortars.
- A Medium (T34) Tank Company of three Platoon, whose 2nd Platoon had been temporarily substituted by a platoon of 3xKV1A heavy tanks - 7xT34/76 and 3xKV1 in all.
|The Rifle Company HQ.|
The Russians advanced with the three Rifle platoons forward along the whole front. Placing his armour upon the right front, with the rifle platoons riding on the medium tanks, Ivanov had the MMG and Mortar platoons linking 2nd and 3rd Rifle Platoons on the left, whilst the LMG Platoon rode upon the KV tanks between 1st and 2nd Platoon on the right.
|Battlegroup HQ: Col Ivanov on right of picture.|
But the conservative objective given this task force were to prove too restrictive in the event.
|Red Army Orders and movements.|
As the forces closed from east and west, Col Ivanov stared aghast as through his binoculars he discerned the full strength of the German forces he was facing. Commanded by Oberstleutnant Antonius von der Ormandy, the Germans has gathered together four platoons of Panzergrenadier infantry, reinforced by a 2-gun section of long-barrelled anti-tank guns - 50mmm PaK38s.
|The German front line seen from the north.|
But it was not they who concerned Ivanov, but the plethora of Armoured Fighting Vehicles the Germans deployed: an eclectic collection of assault guns and panzers that almost double his own numbers in tanks. Ivanov counted a Platoon of PzIIIs and another of PzIVs; a Platoon of long gun StuG IIIs, and a Platoon of short; and a pair of Marders carrying Russian 7.62cm guns. Altogether a force to be reckoned with.
|Germans advancing towards the rich farmlands|
west of Schlammdunsk.
|Dense woods dominate the middle of the battlefield.|
For his part, Oberstleutnant von der Ormandy had as good reason - possibly more - for his own apprehension. Outnumbered though they were, the Soviet armour was the better protected, and all were armed with the formidable 76.2mm main gun. It seemed expedient to face the enemy with every AFV he could muster, though he prudently kept back the Marders from the action about to unfold.
It was not long, even after a pause to allow the infantry to dismount before the Soviets were at or near their objectives. The German armour had meanwhile got ahead of the infantry and soon brought the Russian armour under fire. The Russians were comfortable enough - aside from a scratch or two and some minor damage to a 3rd platoon T34, the first German shots were largely ineffective.
|A brisk tank battle leads to heavy German losses...|
Not so the Russian. The superiority of their armour and armament quickly told. In a trice 5 German AFVs, smoking gently, were scattered about the field. A sixth - the PzIII Platoon commander received a hit that put his tank's gearbox out of action. In the next few minutes, the Germans managed to break a track upon a 1st Platoon T34, but that was it. Fortunately the Russians failed to improve their score.
|...for trivial cost to the Russians: the expenditure of|
half the ammunition from more than half the tanks, and
one T34 immobilized
All the same, it was clear that with over a third of his armour out of action, a change of plan was called for. The Oberstleutnant pulled back his tanks and StuGs - the wounded tank crew laying demolition charges before abandoning ship.
|First (PzIII) Panzer Platoon loses 1 tank and the|
Company Commander (sand coloured) heavily damaged and
reverse gear knocked out. This tank was abandoned soon after.
Down came the smoke to cover the move. And Colonel Ivanov found himself something at a conundrum. His orders did not allow for any further advance. Exploitation was not going to happen quickly, and not at all unless he could get a message through. Snorting with impatience, he waited as his radio operator tried to get through to his company commanders. No comms. He had to wait, fuming with disgust, as the radio operator tried again.
|Behind the smoke screen, the Germans regroup|
and form a defensive line.
The Germans were able unmolested to pull back behind the line of the Sowchos 73, covering the move by placing his anti-tank guns in the gully separating the twin crowns of the ridge on the other side of the road from the farm. But he continued advancing in the centre, aiming to seize control of the dense woods in the centre, and hoping thereby to dislocate the Russian line just beyond. On his far right his 1st (Motorised) and 2nd Platoons mounted the hill facing the eastern farm, in preparation for an assault.
|The view looking from behind the German|
left flank, south-eastward across the
By this time that small farm had been occupied by a rifle section of the Soviet 3rd Platoon. The remainder of the Platoon lined the irregular ridge to its rear, covering the flank of the Heavy Machine Gun Platoon and the light mortars.
|Two German platoons on the southern flank.|
The message at last having got through to his company commanders, Ivanov directed that a push be made towards and to the east of the dense woods. Third Tank Platoon had to reform its line facing in a south-eastern direction before advancing, to allow the KVs to take over their line. The German masking smoke covered this movement. Meanwhile, a section of 2nd Rifle Platoon advanced across the stubble of a recently cleared field in a reconnaissance move to discover the strength of the Germans advancing through the woods.
|German manoeuvres and Russian tentative advances|
before both sides call off the action.
In what amounted to an ambush, half the section was lost to heavy short range fire from front and flank, and the rest fell back more quickly than they had advanced. However, the heavy machine guns east of there, alerted by the firing, exacted a toll upon the enemy. Six of them fell as the long range fire scythed through the leaves.
|The Russian left flank, looking NW. |
Part of 3rd Rifle Platoon has occupied the small farm.
Lining the crest of the ridge line, the rest of 3rd Platoon,
the MMG and Mortar Platoons, and 3rd Tank Pl in the distance.
But the incident put a stop to any further Soviet advance. Ivanov countermanded his advance order - which exceeded anyway those he had been given. But the Germans themselves were not especially interested in putting Russian mettle any further to the test. By tacit agreement both sides settled into their positions , the battle done.
|Third Tank Platoon turn to move in a South Westerly direction|
just as the Soviet smoke screen begins to fall. The halt was called soon after.
It is hard to think of an action in which one side lost 6 AFVs and 6 figures, and the other just 5 figures and one heavily damaged but still running AFV, as anything but a decisive victory to the latter. But it had to be admitted in the final situation, neither side was prepared to chance their arm further.
|Looking west, the Soviet view is blocked by the German|
smokescreen. The Red armour was loath to move through that!
Sometimes one has to admit that the game system we are using has certain limitations, which dissuades one from acting too wildly against one's judgement. Often that limitation lies within the players. This was a pickup game (Panzer Marsch! rules), pretty much, with terrain fairly thick but more or less randomly laid out. Force sizes and composition were determined by Army Points (1500 apiece) and time of the war (early to mid 1942). That I had no orders beyond where I had reached was simply due to my expectation of being unable to get further ahead anyhow. Tony expected my armour to carry on its advance, but that required the issuing of further orders. The first attempt simply failed when I rolled a 1 on the comms dice.
His early halt was occasioned by the loss of so many vehicles so quickly - one turn (mine) withal. Mine was due to many causes: unfamiliarity with a rule set I play about twice a year; the Germans' change of stance from advance to defence; the strength of the German infantry and support weapons; that at least 6 of my 10 tanks had already used up half their ammunition; early failure of comms; and finally, Colonel Ivanov's attack of spinal jaundice. Not that Marshal Zhukov blamed him overmuch. His orders had been carried out, after all.