Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stalemate at Schlammdunsk

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.


  1. Good batrep Archduke, enjoyable read on a Sunday work!

  2. nice battle report, a good read for a Sunday evening at home.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Tony allows that it reads better than it really was... :-)

  3. A good batrep indeed. My WW2 forces still lack the infantry to make playing with them more interesting.

    1. For Panzer Marsch I wish I could field TWO rifle companies! But for Command Decision I can field one Tank, one Mechanised and 3 Rifle Brigades. Of the latter, though, a couple are rather under-equipped... :-)

      Overall I agree with you: infantry is still the Queen of the battlefield.

  4. Good work that man - there are battles of course, where both sides lose...

    1. Yes, I reckon that is a fair summation. But I have a feeling that Panzer Marsch's IGo-UGo system can lead to easily to 'stickiness' such as occurred in this game. But I've experienced similar things in other rule sets as well.

      A similar thing happened shortly after I started wargaming. Slightly outnumbered to start with, my Confederates had taken heavy casualties with an attack that looked promising but failed with some terrible shooting. I had 11 dice in one volley, wanting a high roll. Six of them turned up 1's, the rest about what you'd expect. Somewhere about 26 hits, when I could reasonably have expected 10 more.

      At any rate, my aggressive intentions having turned turtle, I went over to the defensive and consolidated a strong position. The enemy probed a bit, but declined to mount a serious attack. Drawn battle.

      In my view that was not altogether unrealistic for the ACW.

  5. Interesting. I like the fact that although the Soviets blasted the German armor they couldn't put together an offensive. I'm intrigued by rules with orders writing but not sure how to use that in solo games.

    1. The Panzer Marsch system is quite simple and might well work for solo. At the beginning of the game, on a rough map you draw arrows to where each platoon is to go, and what sort of stance they are in: 'Full Advance, Cautious Advance, Halt...' and so on. This places some limits upon what units can do.

      From then on each platoon uses these lines as an axis of advance. One of the pictures above shows the main lines approximately. The fact was, I had none extending beyond the road running across my front except on the right where 1st Platoon lined the front edge of the wood there.

      Any change to orders requires a message to be sent from BHQ to the unit concerned, by the appropriate comms channel. Strictly speaking, I think a message from BHQ to a Tank Platoon ought probably take 2 turns, having to go through the Tank Company commander. But you have to roll better than a 1 or a 2 (depending on the army) for comms to go through. Until then, the recipient unit can not act upon the new orders.

      My Russian organisation was very simple: a tank company and a rifle company with an MG company subordinated to it. Tony's was a deal more complex, though I can't accurately tell you the details.

    2. When my guys had reached their immediate objectives and had shot up the German armour so drastically, the German airwaves began a frantic crackling in order to bring the whole force into a defensive stance (actually it was the sound of comms dice rattling on the table).

      I had of course to change my stance too, if I wanted to advance, but it would have taken a fair while. In the end probably the Russians could have sorted themselves out, the German smoke screen would have disappeared, and we could have carried on with a fair chance of success. Maybe.

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  7. Super AAR Ion, totally agree with you on the rulesets, and I can imagine if you had of set this up for CD it may have been a pure romp for your Reds.

    Of course the forces would have been somewhat larger I suspect.

    Nice to see WW2 back on your site after a long break as well.

  8. Hard to say how the thing would have gone with Command Decision. Not a set Tony is keen on, and his army is set up for 1:1 figure scale anyway.

    With the same amount of toys on the table, I would have had the equivalent of a Tank Brigade (somewhat reduced) plus and infantry Brigade, though of course most of the support inventories would have been absent.

    The LMG stands get subsumed into my Brigade organisation, the 6 Rifle company stands always including one LMG stand. But the Light mortars stands don't really have a place in CD.

    Although most of my stuff is plastic, I did pick up some 20mm metal Soviets, which go quite well with them. I want to include the flag bearers somewhere in the organization, but haven't been able to make up my mind where. Battalion HQs probably... but then. I also have some dudes bellowing through megaphones...

    Ideas? (I might make this a topic for a posting shortly...)

  9. Re:The light mortars which you are quite correct in saying they do not really have a place in the TOE, however given that they were nominally the Pl commanders artillery I rather like fielding them with the Command Infantry Stand at Company level, just for looks mind.

    Battalion HQ sounds just the place for the flag bearers, perhaps only in your Red Guards TOE?

    Motorized Rifle Battalions and other Red units should have a Signals Platoon at Bn level...Megaphone poses?

    I think this would make a fine topic Ion.

    Regards Paul

    1. Cheers, Paul.
      I didn't know Soviets got a Command stand at company level - was that a change in CD3 or 4? Time was I had to do some tall staff work to get any kind of articulation into my Soviet battalions.

      Even so, my Mechanised Brigade never lost but once (and that in a demo game for a complete beginner). With such a record, my Mechanised Brigade, whether in the Red Army or in the Pan-Andean People's Republican Army, is designated Guards. Even my Tank Brigade has not yet earned that status...


    2. Hi again Ion, for the light mortars I was referring to the 2" type such as in the Revell Brits and the knee mortars in the Japanese. I am not sure the Soviets bothered with these and instead went straight into mediums at 82mm.

      Quite true about the Command Infantry stand for the Reds, but again I was referring to the Brits and Japanese.

      My mistake if I confused matters.

      Cheers Paul

    3. CD does in many ways hamstring the Red Army over the ammount of command stands it lets them have. Generally you get one Command Infantry at battalion level and should think yourself lucky for that Comrade!

      Armies of the Second World War (AotSWW) does list a few earlier ToEs that give more in the way of command stands, but CD3 didn't revisit the issue, unless there something in one of the CPQs (I am lacking 7 out of the 16 issues so there exist plenty of room for a revisitation of the issue that I have missed - so I would be interested to see where Paul has gotten his ToE from. If it was a house rule change to make them more playable, then that's fair enough too!

      Depending on the figures you could use the light mortars on the weapon stands for 1939-1941 Rifle Divisions (each rifle company is meant to have one weapons stand). Sadly, AotSWW doesn't list them as being part of the Motor Rifle Companies :( However, given some research it could be possible to squeeze in a weapons stand somewhere....

      The Reds also are meant to have command infantry stands for their rifle companies during the same period - of course AofSWW has the notation that divisions in the west should have these removed due to the purges of 1937 falling harder on the Western Military Districts.

      Given some of the stuff that I have read has pushed the argument that the bulk of the officers purged were recycled after a suitable time in the gulags, I could see some merit in having some rifle companies being able to retain their command infantry stands, or having them put back in as time goes on. Given decent sources and a reasonable argument and I will be amiable to many things on the table top:)

      As to the flags and megaphone figures, use them as a Zampolits stand (treat as Command Infantry Stand) detached from a higher formation. Of course you only get one stand per mechanized brigade, so maybe you could use some of the megaphone boys as Agitprop stands? or as part of a NKVD blocking unit - with a mmg stand too!

      Anyways, that's my two kopeks worth - Nice AAR - and we should have a CD game again soon!


      Scoll down. Its in the actual TOE's that have not been changed into the CD format (Sigs Pl).

      Again I was simply referring to light mortars and including them into stands as eye candy rather than weapons stands.

    5. Quite an interesting thread on Soviet organisation there - and from some of the posts I see that I am not alone in thinking that the Russians get a little short changed in CD! Modelling a Signals stand for a Motor Rifle battalion would be quite a nice addition, but to me Megaphones in the Red Army always seem to scream Commissar, such as portrayed in the movie 'Enemy at the Gates', rather than having a c3 function. However, that's just one blokes impression and part of the fun of having toy soldiers is creating toy armies that capture how you think they should look.

      I didn't see your reply to Ion regarding the use of light mortars as being pure eye candy as I was still writing my huge meandering comment to Ion as you were posting your reply. I think using light mortars on stands as eye candy is a good idea and would make for some nice looking command stands.

      I hope that everything I write regarding CD comes across as being in the form of politely worded suggestions and opinions - if it hasn't come across that way then please accept my sincerest apologies as causing offence was the last thing I intended to do.

      Kind Regards,

    6. Paul and Brian, I value your opinions both. Gold. I think I just misunderstood Paul's observation in re command (infantry) stands - or perhaps took a very liberal interpretation. I hunted down your sources, Paul, and confirmed one thing: except for the particulars of AA and the M/c unit, my Mech Bde is pretty much on the money. I like the look of the possible add-ons as as well... mmm.

      I never really minded the command restriction all that much except that for a rifle battalion of 14 stands, you tended to find the shooting stuff (rifle, SMG and ATR stands) moving around trailing the support weaponry (mortars, ATguns, MMG) around more or less uselessly, after them. The ATR stands, by the way, I treated as rifle stands unless there was some serious ATRing I wanted them to do.

      One of the forums I found (following Paul's direction, and then wandering around) remarked that getting a Mech Bde onto even a large table would be quite a challenge. I never found it so - but then, my Mech Bde is chronically short of transport, a circumstance I do not consider unhistorical - even for a Guards formation. At the moment, anything that requires a truck, tractor or half-track to move it, gets one. Everything else walks. My other infantry brigades will get draught horses if they are lucky.

      I think a 'little solution' to the command problems with the Red army, would be to have a staff stand at battalion level - especially battalions that have more than, say, 10 stands. That at least would give you some flexibility - some articulation between your 'sharp end' stands and their support stands.


    7. All valid points here gentlemen, and no offence was taken at all. I was just clarifying what I meant in order not to sound like someone who knew what he was talking about.

      I think I see what they are trying to do with Red units, and understand it to a certain degree with regard to command and control...But I do believe that proven and better equipped units (Guards) should have a little more flexibility such as what both you and Brian have suggested.

      Earlier in the year when a few of us were playing a Eastern CD3 game I found it most gratifying as the single German player to fend off two Soviet Brigade size units due to the ability of my command units, just like the real thing I suspect.

      I think TOE's always should be treated with a suspicious mind for especially Eastern encounters, and both Al and I tend to be quite relaxed about house rules.

      A nice little topic this!