Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Operation Uranus: The Battle Begins...

Red Army, 65th and 21st Armies.  The strength point (SP)
dice are 'colour coded': the green ones denoting 65th Army
The foggy down of 19 November, 1942 broke to the eruption of the Russian bombardment of the Romanian line.  Months in the planning and preparation, Operation Uranus launched into motion with the advance of the leading Rifle Divisions all along the line.  They were preceded by artillery bombardment of the fortified line. 

(Aside 1: In the following pictures you will see dice, lettered chits and numbered chits scattered about.  The dice indicate strength points.  At Jacko's suggestion, red counters replaced the dice once a unit reached 0 SP.  If the unit were subsequently destroyed, it would be removed.  Otherwise, it was still capable of movement (out of the action if it could).  The lettered chits indicated each unit's stance, and the numbered, the move priority.  This latter became something of a nuisance, especially owing to traffic jams.  I thought that a unit prevented from moving owing to intervening troops with a higher number (the units moving in numerical order) could 'reserve' its move until it was free to carry it out.  Towards the end of the action I was assigning the chits by 'sector' - that is, by 'vertical' rows of hexes.  That worked OK this time, but may need to be thought through.  Jacko did observe that it had an effect not dissimilar to the orders system used in Memoir '44.).
The blue SP dice markers denote 5th Tank Army, the black
dice the LOG values by Army.
This bombardment was carried out by the 6 'Army' artillery 'regiments', rated at 3 strength points each.  I don't recall that any of the Corps artillery (SP=2) ever did get to within range, though the 3rd Cav Corps heavy mortar did on the morning of the 20th November (where it made a useful contribution to the destruction of 13th Romanian Division). Though it is true that there was no forward observer/artillery reconnaissance present,  the arty preparation had been thoroughly reconnoitred and plotted on maps.  The destructiveness of that preliminary bombardment historically bore testament to just how well the fire missions had been plotted.  For the purposes of this game, I just directed the artillery directly along the hex row (file; column) onto the trench line.  The exceptions were one of the 5th Tank Army guns aiming one row to the right, the better to combine with its companion battery, and the 65th Army's single available regiment concentrating on the one enemy sector it could reach - that of 1st Romanian Cavalry.
The red SP markers denote 1st Guards Army.

Of course, I didn't expect much damage to the defending troops, but it would have been enough to have knocked out some of the protection of the fortifications. For their part, the Romanian artillery (2SP only, but had one unit for each Corps, and two at Army level) did some damage to the advancing Russian infantry. Now, the combat system we used had been adapted from Hexblitz into the following. Both sides in a given combat roll as many dice as they had strength points (SP) available, including attacking and defensive artillery support.

  Combat Table for Hexblitz

 Defender is
Attacker rolls
Defender loses
Defender rolls
Attacker loses
In ‘Defence’ ‘D’
1 SP
1 SP
‘Stationary’ ‘S’
1 SP
1 SP

‘Moving’ normally ‘M’
1 SP
1 SP
‘Moving’ changing position, ‘M’ OR is attacked in flank in any posture
1 SP
1 SP

Being fortified, the Romanians could ignore the first SP loss, provided it was in 'Defence' ('D') and provided it never moved from its position.  We signalled this by removing the fortification.

(Aside 2:  The game systems upon which this action was based generally has each side rolling the enemy's dice to determine effects upon their own units.  The dice rolls and their results are concealed from the enemy.  As I have no intention (well, no practical method, to be candid) of concealing SP markers, I simply had both sides roll their own attack dice.  The 'combat box' served to keep the dice from rolling around the table knocking over troops,  or onto the floor.  My attitude to such things is that troops in action are likely to have some notion of how the enemy is 'feeling'.  Given the scales, too, one might imagine that if the defenders have been reduced, say, from 6 to 3 SP, the attackers have made some inroad into their position, and are starting to feel a little slackening in the resistance.  Conversely, the defenders will have some idea by the weight of incoming attacks whether they are likely to throw them back or to be overrun.
Looking north towards the Don River from behind the
Romanian I and II Corps.
 A few other points I should mention.

Most of the front line Romanian infantry Divisions were stretched across two grid areas.  This gave them a broader front to defend.  Now, this did not affect their defensive capacity, whether attacked in the centre or their right or left front: they got their whole available SP, regardless, including artillery supports. This makes defence very powerful, but there is a little bit of a trade-off.  The attacker has three grid areas from which to attack, but, also, the attacker moving into contact, though adjacent to more than one defending unit, can select which to attack.  If the enemy wants to counter-attack, he has to change posture from 'D' to 'S' to 'M' - two game-turns.

(Aside 3:  I am considering that defenders immediately flanking an attacked unit, if unattacked themselves, might add 1 SP to the defence of their comrades.  If I do this, though, I think I'd be inclined to revisit the SP available to the defending unit depending upon which sector it is being attacked from.  For the purposes of this game we kept it simple, and it seemed to work satisfactorily.)
Looking north towards the Don River from behind V and
IV Corps.
That brings me to the time scale.  One game-turn represented two hours of daylight.  So close to the winter solstice, indicated 4 game turns from dawn to nightfall.  Either side had the option to prolong the day's action into the early evening for one further game turn.  Of course, as it will have become then a night action, visibility would be correspondingly reduced to one grid area.

WW2 Operations War Games: Chart of daylight hours (Europe)

Hours of daylight (approximate)
Game turns
January, November, December
February, October
March, September (Equinoctial months)
April, August
May, June, July

Behind the Romanian centre: Army HQ, reserve artillery, 
1st Romanian Panzer Division and Kampfgruppe Simons.

Part of the German XLVIII Panzer Corps, mainly
22nd Panzer Division supporting the Romanian army.
Of course, the expectation was that the operation would take several 'days' to complete.  During the course of this game, the action opened at 0800, but, by 1000, only 78th Rifle Division had made contact with the Romanian defences.  Defending that part of the line - the Romanian right flank bordering the German 6th Army - lay the 1st Romanian Cavalry Division.  The action here turned out to be a microcosm of the day's events, right across the front.  The Russians, supported by artillery from 21st and 65th Armies, rolled 11 dice (Div SP=5, +6 for the Artillery), looking for 6s; the Romanians rolled 8 (Div SP=6, +2 for the Corps Artillery), looking for 4s, 5s and 6s.  In the picture below, the 'high explosive flashes' marked artillery targets - a useful aide memoire.   Scoring 2 hits, the Russians received 4, a very reasonable result for both sides.  The Cavalry could no longer rely upon its fortifications for protection, and had lost a SP into the bargain.  Reduced from 5 SP to 1, of course 78th Rifle Div wasn't going to last much longer.  All the same, that Division was to survive the action, though depleted.

The battle between 13th Cavalry and 78th Rifle Divisions.
Both sides gave good accounts of themselves.
It was between 1000 and 1200 when the Russian infantry closed with the whole of the Romanian line. By this time, the preliminary bombardments had breached the fortifications in a couple of places - on Romanian 5th and 9th Divisions' fronts. Naturally, the Russian attacks concentrated upon these weakened points.  Even without the SP 'protection', the defenders were still rolling dice with three times the probability of a hit per die than the Russians could expect. The expectation, therefore, was that the attacking Russians could early on would take much heavier losses than the Romanian defenders.
General view of the early morning action.  The positions of
5th and 9th Divisions have taken damage.
This was the reason why Jacko and I both had, at the outset of the action, viewed prospects with more than a little trepidation.  Taking one look at the hordes in front of him, Jacko felt that the Red Army would roll - almost as they had done historically - straight over his 'thin brown line'.  With luck he might slow them down. A little. Maybe. My concern was that I had been over-generous with the Romanian strength points - or maybe under-generous with the Russian.  I apprehended my Armies simply dashing themselves to pieces against the  adamantine Romanian wall. 

Fortunately, neither fears were realised - or at least, not completely.
Action on the western flank, early afternoon. On 1st Guards
Army front, 203 Rifle Division is exhausted, and the 266th
has been knocked about too.  But some inroads have been made in the
Romanian I Corps line.  
One problem I did anticipate, and this action was partially intended to test, had to do with traffic control.  In particular, what could be done about depleted units - by which I mean those reduced to 0 SP?  Now, the wise commander, my military advisers tell me, would withdraw units that are getting knocked about, and shove in fresh ones.  I certainly had the reserves, more or less available.  Now, the Hexblitz game system 'proper' allows stacking and 'passage of lines'.  Apart from Army and Formation commanders, I didn't allow this.  So I was forced to shuffle units around if I wanted to preserve them.  Alternatively, I considered removing the depleted units as if destroyed (with a consequence I'll mention later), in order to make room for reinforcements to enter the action.

(Aside 4: This will have to be revisited.  I have considered one or two possibilities, but they will require testing.  Of course, the main solution is to have a less crowded battlefield.  But the spectacle!  To keep the spectacle, one has to seek other solutions).
South of Serafimovitch, early afternoon. 
The Romanian line is holding - though 6th Division has hardly been engaged.
 Several Soviet  Divisions have taken heavy losses.
In some respects, Jacko solved the problem for me: dropping an artillery stonk upon the stricken Division and removing it by such means from the Red Army Order of Battle.  Such was the fate of 47th Guards Rifle Division, and a couple of others.  Other depleted Divisions I managed, by considerable contortions, to extricate without letting up the pressure against the Romanian defence line.
Looking SW from behind 65th Army position.
For all the losses the Red Army was taking, the Romanian line was starting by late afternoon to show visible signs of sagging.  The first collapse occurred where the first contact was made.  Reduced to 1 SP, 78th Division managed to pull back and make room for 27th Guards Rifle Division from 65th Army to enter the fray.  First Cavalry collapsed shortly afterwards, leaving IV Corps artillery and anti-tank units to try to hold the right flank of the Romanian line.  In reserve, 15th Division might have advanced to reoccupy at least some of the lost ground, but chose to remain in its defensive posture close by Perelazovskiy village.
Breakthrough! Late in the day and 13th Cavalry Division
has collapsed.  
Small beginning though it was, yet it was a start.  The increased room to manoeuvre allowed the Red Army to bring a heavy weight to bear upon the remaining IV Corps Division, where losses also began to mount rapidly.
Looking NW from behind Romanian lines.  By mid afternoon
 the Romanians were still holding, but have taken some losses 
Meanwhile, 9th and 5th Divisions were coming in for most of the punishment, though the pressure was being felt all along the line.  At the time 1st Cavalry were overrun, 9th Division, facing 5th Tank Army was already down to half strength (3SP remaining) and 5th Division almost as badly placed.  It could only  be a matter of time before one or both were overrun.
The Romanian IV Corps under heavy pressure.
The firmest held Romanian positions seemed to be those of I Corps.  Although they had suffered some erosion, the cost to 1st Guards Army had been the complete depletion and later destruction of 203rd Rifle Division, and the 266th being withdrawn before that formation also succumbed.  To sustain the attack, the Army commander began to filter though his crumbling infantry lines his independent tank brigades.  Could they break through 7th Romanian Division?  Prospects looked unpromising.

Infantry attacks going in against the 5th Division salient.
In the centre, the powerful 5th Tank Army commander was also beginning to bring ahead his tanks.  In this whole operation, the arrangements of the Rifle divisions and Tank and cavalry formations indicated the idea that the initial wearing down and penetrations were to be carried out by the infantry.  The tanks would exploit, if possible, any breakthrough or collapse; or, the enemy line still holding, be the final heave to bring about a breakthrough.  
A view of the 5th Tank Army rear areas.
The tank formations in 1st Guards Army proved too weak to effect the desired breakthrough on their front, two of the three Tank brigades being flung back exhausted and hardly denting the 7th Division's line.  Two-six-six Division was equally decimated.  Better success attended the assault upon 11th Division.  Although 197th Division had taken heavy losses, the 11th were just barely hanging on as the sun set behind a gloom of clouds to the west.
Close of the action:  Two tank and one rifle brigade of
1st Guards Army have taken exhausting losses.

Russian infantry batter down the IV Corps defence line.
With the Romanian line apparently teetering along most of its front I elected to spend one more game turn in the darkness of early evening to bring about a more general collapse.  Struck in front and flank, the resistance of 13th Division was very soon overcome.  In the centre, 1st Tank Corps punched through the battered  9th Division at about dusk.  

There was no time for a counterattack.  The day's action ended on a note that the Russians were inclined to view with considerable satisfaction. The Romanian right had been crushed, and the left centre pushed in, with 5th and 9th Divisions destroyed. 

Breakthrough in the centre.  Russians poised to pour through on
either side of 14th Division.
The operation was far from over, of course.  But it seemed to me appropriate that the hours of darkness would be used by both sides to regroup and rally some of the scattered stragglers and restore some strength to depleted units. First of all, we placed, as far as possible one grid area between the respective armies.  This meant the Russians doing most of the pulling back, and in one place a depleted tank brigade had perforce to spend the night in close proximity to the enemy.  
Romanian right pushed back several kilometres, apart from
remnants of IV Corps (out of picture to the right.).

Then we totted up our losses, and subtracted from that total the SPs of all destroyed units.  Of the remainder, half, rounded up, could be added to depleted units.  The following conventions were to be followed:
1.  No more than half (rounded up) of losses to respective 'specialty' forces could be recovered: Armour, cavalry, artillery, engineers, respectively.  However, a 'recovered' infantry SP could be substituted for a specialty SP.
2. Units could not be restored to greater than their original strength.

I also have it in mind that:
3.  Priority should be given to the most depleted units/formations, beginning with units whose SP have been reduced to 0.  
(Example: suppose 3 infantry units, each SP=6, have in the course of fighting, been reduced to 0, 2 and 5 SP.  Eleven SP have been lost.  Overnight, 6 SP may be allocated to these units.  Two SP will bring the units up to 2,2,5; and the remaining four to 4,4,5 )

Crisis on the left.
Here is the table of SPs lost and recovered:
SPs lost
Red Army
SPs Destroyed*
Net loss
* Soviets lost 47th Guards, 203rd and one other Rifle Division destroyed.  Romanians had lost 1st cavalry and I think the 9th.  It appears that an AT gun unit had also gone.
Crisis in the centre.  Fortunately for the Romanians, darkness
ends the Russian assaults for the day.

Night.  Regrouping on the Russian left.

Altogether it has been a strenuous day for the Russian Armies: heavy losses but breakthroughs achieved.  On the whole I felt progress was satisfactory, losses, though expectedly severe, were not excessive.  Jacko and I both thought the game was enjoyable to play, despite little niggles with some of the mechanics that often occur on a crowded table.  They could be got around.

After the reallocation of restorative SPs we were free to carry on the battle into the next 'day' - 20th November, 1942.  What happened then can wait for my next posting.  There I will dilate upon the game mechanics and conventions we used, and where we might go from there.

Night.  Regrouping, rallying and restoring units and formations.

Before closing, here, I ought belatedly to thank Jacko for the supply of LOG (biscuits) and POL (beer).  It's being such a hot day (first day of summer and even inside it hit 30C (86F)), the POL in particular was most welcome.


  1. Stirring stuff- great game report.



    1. Thanks, Pete. I was a bit concerned that my diversions into the play rather than the battle might spoil the narrative, but reading it over just now ... not as disjointed as I feared it might be.

  2. Great stuff. In large games using a chit based activation sequence, I have often found it helpful to activate by formation rather than unit. So in this game that is probably each Corps or possibly Army (maybe do the panzer divisions separately). Speeds things up a lot and helps with the traffic management.

    1. Jacko suggested the 'activate by formation' thing, but I didn't feel that would make enough difference in this game. Activating by 'sector' (rows of hexes) seemed to me to gain more time, and it worked well enough for Day 2.

  3. Archduke Piccolo,

    What an excellent and very informative battle report. It contained lots of ideas that will help me when I re-write HEXBLITZ at some time in the near future.

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks, Bob - I appreciate your encouragement. If any of the ideas mentioned in this blog are useful to you, you are welcome to use them.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I'm late to the party as usual! It's good to see Hexblitz running in a big game, and your thoughts on traffic management are, as always, very interesting. My vague unsubstantiated opinion is that the Soviets didn't have much problem historically with "passage of lines" in pulling depleted units out of combat to allow fresh units through to attack, mainly due to a ruthlessly enforced traffic management policy, which gave priority to units moving forward to the front.

    Regards, Chris.

    1. Hi Chris -
      Your 'Army Level' NQM was partly the inspiration for this, and some further East Front actions that are in the pipeline. Of course, we have to work out the traffic control game mechanics as we go along, and I didn't really want to 'magic' the passage of lines and pulling worn units into reserve and feeding in fresh ones. What we came up with seemed satisfactory.
      Archduke Piccolo.