Lost Victories; The Battle of Stalingrad; Jan II 43 (Soviet) and beyond……
I’ve been debating on how best to handle this since it has been so long. When I last left off, there was only one Panzer corps surviving in the Stalingrad pocket. The Luftwaffe had tried, and failed, to deliver supplies to this corps. To the west, a Soviet armored corps was fleeing east in the face of an ever increasing number of Panzers. The Axis had surrounded the last of the Soviet armor, but left a way out of the pocket, perhaps expecting harassment bombers to close the door on them.
January II 1943
There really isn’t a lot of detail to share. The northern sector kept hammering at the Axis lines, slowly driving them back. At one point, I thought I had finally achieved the breakthrough I had been working so hard towards, only I hadn’t.
The Axis were reeling. The Romanians had been all but destroyed as a fighting force. The Italians and Hungarians were weakening, forcing the Germans to cover more of the line. There was a huge hole just waiting to be exploited.
Or so I thought.
The Soviets poured into the gap, deep into enemy territory ready to overrun a few engineer units and force the gap wide open and force a huge retreat.
It was then pointed out to me that a couple of units had moved too far. I don’t recall exactly what happened (and I no longer have access to those emails), but I had not taken ZOC costs into account properly. Or maybe it was the woods hex. The reality is that the Soviet Guards armored corps ended up moving too far and had to be brought back.
In the end, the Hungarians were forced off the final piece of rail that the Soviets needed to start pushing away from Stalingrad. The breach was widened, but again, the Soviets were unable to push their way through. Instead, they had to be content with continuing to push the Axis back.
The Axis had been stretching like a piece of rubber, but the line had not snapped yet, and it was about to get a major patch job.
To the south, the Soviets escaped the encirclement, barely. They trudged along to the east, assisted by the VVS flying top cover to ensure that no Luftwaffe bombers tried to stop the escape. Although low on fuel, by the end of the turn, they made it back to Soviet lines, which was starting to move forwards to greet them as the battle for Stalingrad was winding down. The last remnants of the 4th Panzer Army finally surrendered, releasing the hordes of Soviets to turn their attention to the west, towards Rostov.
It is at this point that the weather began to hinder the Soviets, making the march west slow and arduous. It was this slowness that allowed the Axis to reinforce the southern line and the Soviets make little progress towards Rostov.
By the end of February, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Panzer Division, the Das Reich SS Panzer Division, and the Wiking SS Panzer & SS Panzer-Grenadier Divisions had been transferred to the northern sector to attempt to seal the breach the Soviets were slowly forcing their way through. At one point in the line, the Das Reich Division broke through and drove deep into the Soviet rear about 30 miles, but cut itself off from the rest of the German Army.
So ended the Das Reich SS Panzer Division.
The scenario comes to an end at the end of February, with the Axis deciding not to take their final turn, feeling they had nothing left to prove. The Axis held off the Soviets during this offensive losing Voronezh and Stalingrad. Had the game continued, the Soviets wave would be difficult to stave off (in my opinion, of course), especially in the south. Not sure how many reinforcements, Soviet or Axis would have arrived in the south. I know this much. In the northern sector, the VVS was virtually non-existent, but had air superiority in the south.
The Soviets did make quite a push, all things considered, but still came up short. However, there was still a good sized gap in the Axis line between the northern and southern sectors that the Soviets were heading towards. While the LSSAH & Wiking SS Panzer Divisions, being joined by the GrossDeutschland Panzer Division were lurking around in the northern sector, looking to create a gap of their own in the Soviet lines, how long before one or more are called away to reinforce the south?
Now comes the question, what could the Soviets done differently?
After the Romanian lines were collapsed, the Soviets turned east to surround the 4th Panzer Army & 6th Army. This was to prevent them from escaping, but……
Per the scenario rules, any unit assigned to 6th Army cannot move away from Stalingrad during 1942, except through post combat advancing. The same does not hold true for 4th Panzer Army, however. They could abandon 6th Army and pull back, hoping reinforcements would arrive in time for them to push back and save 6th Army. Of course, I think this would have severely weakened both armies.
If the Soviets had turned west instead of east, they could still have accomplished the same objective of cutting supply/communications to 6th/4th Panzer Armies. The Soviets merely had to control the rail line running to Stalingrad.
However, there is still that pesky north/south rail line that I have written about multiple times, that controlled the flow of supply to Soviet units. A truck or two would have been nice to extend Soviet supply lines and sustain the offensive. Instead, the Soviets were stuck with roads, and their range was limited by this.
It took me a couple of turns to realize the importance of this rail line to Soviet operations. Taking the Romanians out is not a problem, but as can be noted in the picture, the Soviet sector across from the Italians is possibly the weakest anywhere on the Soviet line. This is a setup faulty. I should have at least planned for the reinforcements to arrive in this area for a major push into the Italian sector, or at least set it up better. I think I became too focused on the Stalingrad pocket.
These are the two major areas, I think that seriously hampered the Soviet offensive. I think that having it actually set up on the map rather than Jet, I may have caught this sooner, only I don’t have the Total War maps. I just have the Fire in the East/Scorched Earth maps, which does not have the road system that was used (although the scenario calls for these roads). Having the map out and set up may have flagged the railroad line for me as far as the different gauge, rather than a bunch of notes denoting where the different gauges start and end.
Lee did a fine job holding me up and holding me off. Even punched me in the nose a couple of times. A game, from beginning to end, would be interesting, but that would take months.
I have to get my area cleaned up before I can get a new game set up, but I think I am going to go back to the map & table configuration rather than using Jet. I can see things better, I think.
I think I am going to spend some time in Scandinavia again, be it a game of Narvik in Storm over Scandinavia, A Winter War in Finland, followed up by the Scandinavian what-if, an Allied invasion of Norway to “assist” the Finns.
It won’t be another 8 months before I post again. Sooner rather than later.