Cardboard Wars

War is the continuation of politics by other means

Stalingrad: Nov II 1942


Operation Uranus

Before I begin, I neglected to name my opponent for this round of battles. I am playing against Glory Rules Judge Lee Hanna. He will be playing the Germans and trying to hold back the Soviet hordes. I anticipate a fun game. Lee will not be writing any battle reports (and that’s okay). The German turns will be covered.

To kick off Operation Uranus, the Soviets get the only move of the second half of November, 1942. The Germans don’t get to move at all, so the Soviets have to make the most of this special invasion turn.

This offensive led to the encirclement of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, which occurred in December, but it laid the groundwork for the Sixth Army to get caught in Stalingrad.

Operation Uranus & the German pocket (click image to enlarge)

Operation Uranus & the German pocket (click image to enlarge)

A quick study of the map shows Sixth Army in Stalingrad, as well as the Soviets, and a large concentration of German armor in support of these operations. Much of this armor has been weakened from heavy fighting. Protecting their flanks is the Romanian Third Army to the north, and the Romanian Fourth Army to the south.

The Romanians are the primary points of attack, especially the north flank, where the Romanians are weakest because they are stretched too thin, one division every 16 miles. The Soviets have the opportunity to blow a big hole in the Axis lines.

The idea is not only to create a pocket in the Stalingrad area, but to force the Axis to stretch their forces even further, to weaken the Italians and Hungarians by forcing them to cover more ground. Right now these minor allies are still in pretty formidable defensive stacks. They must be forced to spread out.

As the front snakes toward Voronezh, currently in German hands, the Soviet forces grow weaker the further north the line goes. Five infantry divisions received as reinforcements are sent to this area to bolster the line, but the Soviets will not be doing much fighting from the end of the Romanian line north until more reinforcements, especially armor, arrive to help. The lone exception is Voronezh. German forces are weak in the city, and this is probably the best opportunity to force them out of it.

The center section of the line (opposite the northern Romanian flank) is devoid of airbases, so Soviet engineers are tasked with building airfields, preparing for an influx of air units in December. Aborted air units are kept off map and require air replacement points to get them operational again. The Soviets will receive 9 air replacements, more than enough to get all units operational again. The VVS will grow quite a bit in December.

Operation Uranus begins (click image to enlarge)

Operation Uranus begins (click image to enlarge)

The winter is late in coming this year, and the weather is frosty, allowing normal operations for Uranus.

The Axis are only allowed to fly defensive air support over Stalingrad or any hex adjacent to the city. Defensive support is flown in two places, one being the salient just north of Stalingrad that is occupied by one of the German’s strongest Panzer divisions, the 16th, and the other being a Panzergrenadier division just outside of Stalingrad.

The Soviets fly ground support missions over the 16th Panzer division, and with all of the aircraft over the hex, things get confused, and the Luftwaffe loses an Me-109F trying to bypass Soviet escorts, and the Soviets lose a group of Yakovlev Yak-1s also trying to bypass Luftwaffe escorts. Both air units are aborted, and will cost replacement points to get operational again. No air units on bombing missions were harmed.

Ground support is also flown over the city of Voronezh (which suffers a massive aerial bombardment) over the Romanian 4th Army, and the German 3rd Panzergrenadier division.

Combat results (click image to enlarge)

Combat results (click image to enlarge)

Uranus kicks off with the two southernmost Romanian corps being completely destroyed and opening up the path to the Axis rear area. The corps in the ravines is ignored, in favor of attacking a little further north, gaining the results of a Defender Half Eliminated and a Defender Retreat. No casualties so far for the Soviets, but I had hoped for a better push nearer to Stalingrad. The bypassed division is now kind of stuck.

A little further to the north, another Romanian division is destroyed, leaving an artillery regiment to retreat. The last attack against the Romanian 4th Army ends with an Attacker Stopped result. Per the rules, however, the Soviets get a second roll in this situation, but will lose combat factors equal to 1/2 of the defending Romanian combat factors. The new result is a Defender Retreat, pushing the Romanians back, but costing the Soviets an infantry division (4-6).

The attack on the 16th Panzer is put off at this point. I considered this attack because the 16th is sitting in a fort, with no armor effects for its defense. Instead, I move on and attack the 3rd Panzergrenadier division (11-10), and roll an Exchange. Eleven points eliminated as the division is reduced to cadre strength, reducing two Soviet Guards infantry divisions to their cadre strength.

Tanks hit the Romanian Third Army hard, and it disintegrates. A breach is ripped in the front, about 6 hexes wide (roughly 100 miles in length). Unfortunately, there are only a small number of Soviet tank corps in the breach to take advantage of it.

The battle of Voronezh goes easier than I thought it would. Considering that much of the Soviet forces are crossing a river and attacking into a city, their attack factors being quartered, an Exchange is quite acceptable, and the Germans are routed out of the city. Heavy Soviet forces race into the city, including a Soviet NKVD political police regiment. The Germans are not going to get this city back without cost. A Guards divisions is cadred, and a regular infantry division is lost.

The Soviets have captured their first victory point objective. Only three more to get to do as will as the Soviets did historically.

So now I come back to the attack on the 16th Panzer Division. It is here that I hesitate. I carefully calculated everything out to get a 3:1 advantage, but with the defensive air support flying, the best odds I can muster is 2.77:1, which means the result of Attacker Half Eliminated result is on the table.

Romanian losses vs. Soviet losses (click image to enlarge)

Romanian losses vs. Soviet losses (click image to enlarge)

I had to stop and walk away for a little while to think about this. Do I really want to take this risk? The odds aren’t that great, especially with the -1 DRM. Possible results are [Attacker Half Eliminated 1/6), Attacker Retreat (1/6), Attacker Stopped (1/3), Exchange (1/6) and Half Exchange (1/6)].

I decided to go for it.

Half Exchange! The 16th Panzer division is cadred, along with the 100th Jaeger (light) division, and the Soviets lose 11 combat factors. Soviet armor chases the retreating cadres out of the hex and pushes as many forces to hold the newly won ground as we can.

If I were to push forward during exploitation with reckless abandon, the Soviet tank corps would be at risk since they can’t stack with each other. Despite the loss of an 11-10 Pansergrenadier and a 16-10 panzer division, the Germans still have some punch in the area, in the form of two Panzergrenadier divisions (11-10 & 10-10), and a 16-10 Panzer division that is broken down into smaller components, a 12-10 Panzer division, and a second 16-10 Panzer division in reserve near Rostov. This is not to mention the cadred divisions (3).

Soviet exploitation (click image to enlarge)

Soviet exploitation (click image to enlarge)

After careful consideration, exploitation movement is rather conservative. I don’t want to get the tanks out too far ahead where they can be isolated and destroyed piecemeal. But some advancing is done. Against the Romanian Fourth Army, the Soviet4th Tank Army advances, overrunning the Romanian artillery regiment, and an airbase. At this time, air unit escape has not been rolled for, but the fate of the two Romanian air units (IAR81 fighters and Ju-87B dive bombers) will be accounted for in the next installment.

Where the Romanian Third Army used to be,  tanks and cavalry advance (cavalry can legally move during the exploitation phase in this scenario) only as far as the remnants of the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, while the Guards mechanized corps overruns the AA battalion and stops adjacent to a pair of Axis Panzer cadres.

The last of  the exploitation movement is used to plug a couple of holes that developed during the course of the attack. The idea of a limited exploitation is to keep the German Panzer cadres in Soviet zones of control and prevent them from being rebuilt during the German turn.

I think Uranus has gone very well. Just like the actual war, the Stalingrad pocket has not been established at this point, but the groundwork for cutting Sixth Army off has been laid. Nine Romanian divisions were destroyed, 4 German divisions were mauled. The Germans do not have enough troops to patch the breach to the north and form a line against the southern advance. Next turn, the Germans receive (among others) 5 armor replacement points (not enough to rebuild any Panzer division, 2 more Panzer cadres from the south, a 3-6 Luftwaffe infantry division, and one Romanian infantry division can be replaced (by my reckoning).

Those who have read this blog know that there are times when I get timid and not sure what to do. This is not so with Scorched Earth. As the Soviets, I have no fear of the Axis army. I am more confident with the Soviets than I am with any other nationality, even though this is the first time I have had this game out in nearly 25 years.

The designer’s notes state that the Soviets need to cut the Stalingrad pocket off on the first turn, because the Germans will only get stronger. It is true that unit for unit, the Germans are stronger, but this is balanced by the weak minor Axis powers, and that the Soviets can be very dangerous when they can gang up on the Germans.

The Germans will have little choice in how they stabilize the line. If it is weak, I will break it again, then the race to Rostov begins. If given the opportunity to destroy more Panzer/Panzergrenadier divisions, I will target them. The center has been smashed. How will the Germans respond?

In order to help make sense of all the corps markers on the map, photos of the units in all the corps is featured below. They turned out a little blurrier than I had hoped, but readable.

20150814_220035 20150814_220048

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