Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Unquiet Flows the Mius (2)

Dawn over the River Mius, and the Kyubyshev bridgehead.
As dawn broke upon 18th July, 1943, the planned offensives on both sides clashed around the Kozhevnya bridgehead in what amounted to an encounter battle. Where the Germans hoped to eliminate the bridgehead outright, the Russians sought to extend it. Once the Soviets could establish a line along the ridges that formed a chord across the base of the river's arc, there would be almost nothing the Axis could do then to eliminate it.
Germans about to launch their attacks.
The Germans were quicker off the mark. The scenario called for the Germans to move first, but thereafter the 'initiative', as I term it, would be contested. Point 143 was at once seized by the two battalions of 515th Infantry Regiment, whilst the 79th Panzergrenadier Regiment secured Point 141. A whole battalion of StuG assault guns - 16th Panzerjager Abteilung - supported the move.
End of move 1.  The Germans have occupied the ridge line;
but Kampfgruppe I have yet to move.  The Russians have
moved up rapidly on this flank.
It would have been better had I/79 Battalion occupied Point 138 as well, an omission that would later prove costly. Even in the lower lying ground between Hills 138 and 141, that battalion came in for the undivided attention of two, and later  three, artillery battalions.
4th Mechanised Brigade seizes Kozhevnya village.
Meanwhile, on the southern flank, 4th Mechanised Brigade seized the unoccupied Kyubysheva village, II/4 Rifle Battalion garrisoning the place, whilst I/4 Battalion advanced to the river bank. The 4th Brigade tanks began a gunnery duel with the Panzer IIIs of 2nd Panzer Regiment, across the river.
Tank column crossing the river at Kyubysheva.
The Kozhevnya bridgehead garrison comprised the rifle battalions of 5th Mechanised Brigade, with the brigade's tank destroyer group  garrisoning the village itself. The rifles lurked in the woodland on either flank. As the dawn paled the eastern sky, the brigade's tanks, two companies of T34s and one of T70s, began pouring across bridge, followed by the attached column of brand new SU76 assault guns. At the same time, the two artillery battalions lining the eastern riverbank were about to be joined by a third.  At once they opened fire against enemy seem moving about near Point 138.
Tank column crossing the bridge at Dmitievka.
On the northern flank, the lead motor rifle battalion (I/6) of 6th Mechanised Brigade rushed the Dmitrievka bridge to seize the unoccupied built up areas on the far bank. They were at once followed by the powerful column of T34 tanks. Passage across the bridge defile would take some time before a full scale assault could be mounted in this sector. But events were about to take a sudden turn.
The German attack ready to jump off....

...but the Soviets seize the initiative!
If the Germans made the earlier start, the Soviets promptly, possibly even prematurely, seized the initiative (see small picture to the right: the respective dice rolls, the red die, of course, belonging to the Red Army). The following three pictures show subsequent developments, from the German perspective, on their right, centre and left.

2nd Pz Rgt advances ahead of 60th PzGr Rgt.
On the right, the 2nd Panzer Regiment moved rather ahead of the 60th Panzergrenadier Regiment, still forming up close by the Division's supply column parked near Point 112. I/2nd Panzer Battalion began a cross-river gunnery duel with the T34s of 4th Mechanised Brigade. The heavier guns of II/2nd Pz Bn might have joined in with effect, but for their attention being drawn to developments near Kozhevnya.
Soviet probing attacks towards Pt138.
 There, pressure was already mounting against the Axis centre, where their gun line was not very well covered. The initial probing attacks by Soviet armour were the weightier for the strong artillery support they were receiving. Meanwhile, Oberst von Manteuffel had placed his command HQ close by the I Battalion 16th Artillery Regiment. Both the Axis artillery battalions were directing their fire at the Kyubyshev village, causing some damage to the 4th Anti-Tank Unit therein, sufficient to induce a retreat - and to block the bridge before the second SU company could cross.
I/6th Battalion boldly attacks Hill 141.

Finally, on the northern flank, the Red Army columns surging out of Dmitrievka were already attacking Point 141. So impetuous was the assault by the lead rifle battalion of 6th Mechanised Brigade, that they drove II/79th Panzergrenadiers quite off the feature, despite the latter's supports. As the attacks broadened and intensified, the whole of 515th Infantry and 79th Panzergrenadiers were driven from the ridges. The German armour - assault guns - were left precariously clinging to their objective points, 141 and 143. To prevent the enemy seizure of Pt 138, the light tanks of 2nd Panzer Regiment placed itself on the feature, where it found itself in a confrontation with their T70 counterparts of 5th Mech Bde.  
Remarkable early Soviet successes: Germans
disrupted across the whole front.
On the southern flank, meanwhile, the coup d'oeil of the local commander, Major G.G. Grishuk, had discerned an open flank by which he might cross the river, seize point 112, and perhaps capture the Axis supply column. No sooner conceived than ordered: under cover of the tank duel, I/4 Rifle Battalion splashed into the river, where they found themselves opposed by 2nd Panzer Company.

We'll interrupt the narrative here, and resume with a later posting. It was to be written up in one hit, but half way through I hit a 'bad button' and somehow wiped the lot: pictures, text, everything. The saline flow of language that ensued I'm glad nobody got to hear. So to the restarted story. So far, the bold actions of the Red Army, though costing something in casualties, has placed the Germans under pressure. Can they keep it up?

To be continued...

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Unquiet Flows the Mius

By mid-July, the German Operation Zitadelle, the attempt to pinch out the Kursk salient dominating the centre of the Eastern Front, was petering out in the face of staunch Soviet resistance, the Soviet counter-offensive in the Orel salient, and disturbing developments in distant Italy. Planning a counter-offensive in the central fronts, STAVKA also ordered attacks to launched at once on the Mius River, with the view of breaking through on that front, or least to draw off substantial Axis fighting units in that direction.

Months earlier, during the far-reaching advances by the Soviet Armies in the wake of the Uranus and Saturn Operations, the Soviets had penetrated the Mius River line, threatening the whole German position in the Donbas region. With great effort, the Germans contained the breakthrough and destroyed the stranded Soviets, but the latter maintained a tenuous bridgehead near the hamlet of Kozhevnya, downriver from Dmitrievka town. By mid July, just as the Russians were gearing up for a major offensive on this front, the Germans were organising a final attempt to eliminate the bridgehead. 

It was whilst tidying up (yeah, right) some loose papers of various ideas I was considering that I came across a scenario designed for the Rommel game system. This looked like fun, so I adapted it for my own set up. Some fairly major surgery was required to fit a system of large squares into my own smaller hex-grid. The TO&E required a fair bit of adjustment, too. I played the game using the Portable Wargame system, but with considerable changes to the Strength Point system. The Germans started first, but thereafter I used my dice roll system for determining the initiative (who goes first in a given turn).  However, this might have been a good scenario for the more random card activation system.

Partly owing to playing the game outdoors, I used my (mostly) resin river sections (weight), which are quite wide enough to occupy a whole hex width. I made a special rule about this river. Passable to foot and tracked or semi-tracked vehicles, but not to wheeled, to cross it, a unit had to move up to the near river bank, next turn enter, and the move following spend exiting onto the far bank. Units in the river could initiate and defend a close assault (with a penalty), but not shoot.  

Finally, the red and blue stars on the map were objective points that I will explain in due course.  

The forces detailed for this operation were:

Soviet Union:

2nd Guards Mechanised Corps: 
-   HQ and staffs, Major-General I. B. Munchkin (6SP)
-   Supply column:
-   4th Mechanised Brigade:
          I/4 Motor Rifle Infantry 6SP
          II/4 Motor Rifle Infantry 6SP
          4th Tank Battalion: 2 T34 medium tank Coys @ 3SP
                      1 T26 light tank Coy 2SP
-   5th Mechanised Brigade:
          I/5 Motor Rifle Infantry 6SP
          II/5 Motor Rifle Infantry 6SP
          5th Tank Battalion: 2 T34 medium tank Coys @ 3SP
                      1 T70 light tank Coy 2SP
          5th Tank Destroyer Unit: 1 45L46 light Anti-Tank, 2SP
-    6th Mechanised Brigade:
          I/6 Motor rifle Infantry 6SP
          II/6 Motor Rifle Infantry 6SP
          6th Tank Battalion: 3 T34 medium tank Coys @ 3SP
-    Corps Support Troops:
          Guards Mortar Battalion: 1 BM-13 Katyusha rocket launcher @ 2SP*
          Medium Artillery Battalion: 1 x 122L22 gun 2SP
          2 x Light Artillery battalions: e@ 1 x 76.2mm field gun @ 2SP
          2 x Assault gun battalions: e@ 1 x SU76 @ 2SP

All troops count as 'average'.

24 units (median 12)
81 strength points (exhaustion point, -27)

Special rule for Katyusha.  Counts as mortars for range.   May shoot ONLY in the artillery fire phase.   Rolls TWO dice instead of one when shooting.  May not shoot in consecutive turns.  I am considering adding a rule for minimum range of 2 hexes.


16th Panzergrenadier Division:
-   HQ and Staff: Oberst G von Manteuffel (6SP)
-   16th Supply Column:
-   Kampfgruppe I
          I/2nd Panzer Battalion: 3 x PzIIIL medium tank @ 3SP
          II/2nd Panzer Battalion: 2 x PzIVG medium tank @ 4SP
          I/60th Panzergrenadier gepanzert: 5SP (counts as elite)
          II/60th Panzergrenadier motorised: 5SP (counts as elite)
-   Kampfgruppe II
          Coy/2nd Panzer: 1 x PzII light tank 2SP
          16th Tank Destroyer Battalion: 3 StuGIIIG medium assault guns @ 3SP
                                                             1 Marder II panzerjager @ 2SP
          I/79th Panzergrenadier motorised: 5SP (counts as elite)
          II/79th Panzergrenadier motorised: 5SP (counts as elite)
-   Elements of 294th Division (under command);
          I/515th Infantry Battalion 6SP (average)
          II/515th Infantry Battalion 6SP (average)
-   Corps support troops:
          2 x Light Artillery Battalions, e@ 1 x 10.5cm howitzer @ 2SP.

All troops, except panzergrenadiers, count as average.

20 units (median 10)
72 strength points (exhaustion point, -24)

In the above map, the blue line indicates the German deployment zone to the west; the red line the permitted Soviet deployment zone to the east. Where that red line cuts off a portion of the west bank of the river is the location of the bridgehead the Soviets seek to expand, the Germans to eliminate.

The blue stars were German objective points, the red stars the Soviets'. To win, the Germans had to take 2 of the red stars whilst retaining at least 2 of their own. The Soviets won if they held at least 3 of their own objectives, and took at least one German. All other results counted as a draw, or indecisive action.

To be continued...


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Naval developments...

Two new vessels for the Azeitonian Colonial flotilla.
An added dimension to the affairs in deepest darkest Aithiops, upon the equatorial east coast of which has been established an Azeitona colony close by the mouths of the great grey-green Limpopo River, which is a deep as the sea (handy, that!) and bordered with fever trees...  To maintain this outpost against the seaborne depredations of rival Azuria colonists upon the Island of Madasagascar (not to mention Madasahatta), the rude irruptions of the Ruberians of the Cape Colony, the coarse corsairs of Zanzingabar, and the riverine incursions of the militant m'Butu... the Azeitonians right early recognised the requirement for a strong and versatile naval presence.

Kickapoo, flying the Azeitonian flag.  The flag was designed by
Paul 'Jacko' Jackson.  Quite a nice one, I think.
Hence the purchase at vast expense, two vessels, veterans of the War Between the States of the U.S. of Anaconda, the ironclad Lafayette, and the turreted monitor Kickapoo; and their towage, at vast effort, of both, across the Great Western Ocean, around the Cape of Good Grief, to safe anchorage in the Limpopo Estuary.
The Lafayette - slow, but imposing.  

The Governor of the Cape Colony, Darius Lord Reduncle was not best pleased the Azeitonians had achieved a viable and rival naval presence in this part of the world, right under his nose as well.  To be sure, neither vessel was a match for the coastal battleship HMS Blunderer, which flew the broad pennant of Commodore Roger Redington, but they would form the nucleus around which could be built a considerable flotilla of small craft.   The Governor felt in his bones that the Blunderer would one day be forced to try conclusions with the two intruding vessels...

HMS Blunderer, flying the blue ensign, at anchor at the Cape
of Good Grief.  Over the way lies HMS Horsefly - too small
to take on the Azeitonian ironclads...

There will be an action between the rival flotillas, but unless I do some tweaking, it is very unlikely the two ironclads together could possibly be a match for HMS Blunderer alone.  Some tall cunning might be in order for the Azeitonian flotilla commander to make a fight of it should the Ruberians put in an appearance...

I've created a couple of 'broad pennants' for the respective naval commanders, but where (and how) they are to be flown has yet to be determined.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Under lockdown...

Irregular Turcowaz Sipahi face Ruberian Lancers.
Much to my surprise, not a lot is happening chez moi on the war games front. Ideas occur for campaigns and battles (of which more anon) and for a new 'cartoon' navy, which is probably not a very good idea, however fun it might be. This posting follows on from the previous three to begin with - a project that began from small, modest beginnings, into something pretty near global.
Recently on my cutting board.  Spare Airfix Foreign Legion
figures as artillery.  The leaning back guy looks to be
tugging the firing lanyard.

Having last year fought a couple of battles - more or less historically based, though disguised into a period 40 years previous, upon General Townshend's disastrous 1915-6 operations in Mesopotamia - it seemed to me that the BLUE OPFOR, the Turcowaz, ought to have an army of its own, rather than  Azurian (BLUE) ring-ins. The Turkish Army of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 seemed to me designed for the task. Turns out that though Strelets-R make the figures, they aren't that easy to get hold of.   Only the foot Bashi-Bazouks seemed to be available.

Well, that's a start. Paul threw in a half dozen of Turkish sipahi from a couple of centuries earlier - great for irregulars, and colourful withal. Between them they could make for all kinds of Turkic or Arabic tribes people dwelling in the more obscure parts of the world. Eventually we found some regular foot in the Strelets-R 'Thin Red Line' Pack.  

Irregular Turcowaz sipahi.
Now they have all been painted up, the TURQUOISE Army presently constituted as shown in the following pictures.
Turcowaz Army.

Turcowaz Army

1 Army Command stand
3 Regular Infantry Units with
     1 command stand, 3 rifle stands
4 Irregular Infantry Units with
     1 command stand, 3 warrior(?) stands
1 Irregular Cavalry Unit with
     2 sipahi stands

To be added when the opportunity provides;
1 Regular Cavalry Unit with
     1 command stand, 3 cavalry stands.
2-3 Artillery Units with
     1 gun, 2 or more crew.

At the moment a spare regular command stand can substitute for 1 gun crew, and a Krupp type of gun perhaps scratch-built. This army is certainly 'fightable' as it presently stands. The 'Units' might represent anything from companies to Divisions, though they will probably be seen more often as battalions or brigades.
Turcowaz army, yet to be supplied with more modern artillery.
And so it will - sometime soon. I hope.

The circumstance is that Major-General Scarlett's Ruberian expedition into the Medifluvia has been stopped by the Turcowaz Army, and retreated to the scene of their first victory at Hak Al Kumara. There he has permitted himself to become besieged, giving vent to strident appeals to higher command to effect his rescue. Rather than leave the stranded army to stew in General Scarlett's juice, that higher command cobbled together a second expedition, under Major-General Ezekiel Rust to attempt the relief.
Even in its unfinished state, this army is ready for action.

This circumstance brings me to the serendipitous inclusion of the following unit into the Ruberian (RED) Army. The 'Thin Red Line' box contained a couple of sprues of Highlanders. A dozen of the figures being sufficient for my purposes - I wanted no more than 1 unit, 'Jacko' (who had put the order in on my behalf) got the other dozen or so. It so happened that the 7th Division relief column of 1916 included a couple of Highland battalions.  I had been thinking of making them into something vaguely Hellenic, but changed my mind.

In painting the 'tartan' on the kilts, I again used my 'sample' technique that I used for my Napoleonic highlanders, which, I think, turns out surprisingly tartan-like. To my eye, anyhow. Pictured is the Dearg Highland Infantry. The flag is, of course, the Cross of St Andrew, with the Cross of St George in canton.

Dearg Highland Infantry in the service of Ruberia.

And now, folks, for an abrupt change of subject. 

Lately I have been thinking more and more about where I'm going with my WW2 armies. So I have begun a wholesale reconciliation of my Russian army, with the view of building as many 6-stand units of the 'Not Quite Mechanised' type as I can with what I have available, supplementing them with 2-stand SMG, and possibly other, subunits. The 6-stand units will be battalions, regiments, brigades or Divisions, depending upon the scale of action. In their Divisional role, though, I'm thinking of adding a 76.2mm field piece or 122mm howitzer. 
My Soviet Infantry - most of what I can find, anyhow...
Below is most of my Soviet artillery to date: 3 76.2mm anti-tank/ field pieces; 2 122mm howitzers (one is semi-scratchbuilt, the other a metal model), and 4 152mm howitzers. 
Most of my Soviet artillery.  I'll probably be building a couple
more of my scratch-built field guns.

The nearest is an older type with the 'shark-fin' muzzle brake that I made a week or so ago. It is based on a spare Airfix British 5.5-inch howitzer, with the gun barrel trimmed back and replaced with one from a Plastic Soldier kit. The gun shield and elevating (?) wheel were added on. The shield is wrong, but looks right to my mind - a very acceptable piece. A bit of weathering and highlighting/ shading should finish it off nicely.
Latest inclusion to my heavier Soviet ordnance: an older pattern
(M1937) 152mm gun/howitzer.  A quick kit bash with a
cardboard gun shield.

What I have in mind is Operation Dolgorouky, some time in mid 1944, pitting a couple of Soviet Armies - one Rifle, one Shock - against a single Panzer Corps. Dare I rope in Bob Cordery's 66th Army - a facsimile thereof, slightly reorganised - as the Rifle army? The 6th Shock Army will be the one with most of the teeth.  I'm tempted to call the pair collectively the rather small 'South Pripyat Front'...

On the German side, XLIX Panzer Corps will comprise 1 Panzer Division,  1 Regular Infantry Division, and 1 'Grenadier' Division - a formation a trifle weaker than the regulars. Their front line position will be dug in, wired and mined.  

It's all in my head at the moment, wanting for me to begin by sorting out the Russians, then the Germans, and putting pencil to paper...