Saturday, 23 April 2016

Flames of War - Barbarossa - Always Attack!

The opening armour engagements of Op BARBAROSSA have long captured my imagination. The somnolent heat haze, the huge stretches of  dark pine forest, the interminable steppe land stretching to far horizons, ominous clouds of black smoke on the far horizons, then suddenly the solitude is ripped apart by the clash of armoured giants - KV2s, KV1s, T34s and diminutive T-26s...

I have read many engrossing accounts of the pernicious Soviet doctrine of attack at all costs, at all times, no matter how hopeless the circumstances. Uncoordinated and poorly planned attacks of untrained tank crews in mechanically unserviceable tanks were hurled at the German panzer spearheads in doomed attempts to stem the Barbarossa onslaught. I highly recommend Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front: Vol1 1941-42 Schwerpunkt by Robert Forczyk for a detailed operational account of these actions. 

This week we played out a scenario featuring my recently painted KV platoon. In order to give an impression of the vastness of White Russia we played on a 8 x 6 table, stretching no-mans land accordingly.

I put my recently acquired Team Yankee terrain to good use simulating a Soviet State farm collective, which I imagine would feature a soulless office block and grain storage silos, as well as large patches of slurry where unwanted fertilizer was dumped.
The idea of the scenario was to capture that tipping point in a particular locale where the exhaustion and inexorable laws of logistics and mechanical wear have resulted in the tip of the armoured advance balancing the local Soviet forces.

This ideally suits the FOW Surrounded (Defensive Battle):
After a successful attack trapped the defenders in a pocket, only one slender corridor remains linking them to the outside world. Recognising the importance of this lifeline, both sides throw everything they have into the battle.

Mission Special Rules
Surrounded uses the Immediate Ambush (page 265) and Prepared Positions (page 264) special rules.Your Orders
The Attacker

You have the enemy on the ropes. One more strong blow will crush them. Cut the corridor and the surrounded enemy pocket will fall. You must seize one of the objectives, breaking the enemy’s lifeline.

The Defender
You are the only thing standing between your army and disaster. While you hold the corridor open, the pocket will hold out, and a counterattack can be launched to relieve it. If you fail, the whole pocket will be captured. You must prevent the enemy from attaining their objectives.

As well as his panzers, pzgrenadiers and their half tracks, and of course the dread 88's, Bryan’s list also paid the points for a Stuka schwerpunkt, where you get to reroll the number of a/c in the strike. Along with the 88s, probably the only effective weapons against the thick skinned KVs...or so you might think! Bryan split his panzers and infantry between the 2 objectives, and naturally kept the 88s as his ambush platoon.

I deployed my T-26s on the road network, aiming to use them to sweep the area between the two objectives to trigger the 88 ambush, or at least reduce their deployment envelope. At this point I had a rather negative view of their capabilities, although this was to change…

Initially I viewed the objective protected by the larger German force as the primary objective, since it looked to have easier approaches, including a wood conveniently close by from which to stage an infantry assault.

Although I had 2 large platoons of Strelkovy, they had to be deployed as a single company.  They were supported by the small T-34 platoon, which included my Company commander.

I kept the KV platoon well to the rear, initially, respecting the long reach of the 88s and waiting to see where these long range death dealers would deploy before committing.

As it happened, Bryan deployed his ambush very early, recognizing that the T-34s, including my Company Commander, represented my main effort.

Unfortunately for me, the combination of the 88s and the larger panzergrenadier platoon, supported by half tracks, made short work of the T-34s and badly chewed up my conscript infantry who were advancing in the open. With my commander gone my whole force was vulnerable if I lost too many more platoons...

This forced a rethink, the secondary objective now looked to be much more attractive, and the KV platoon accordingly changed into higher gear. Unfortunately this attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe, 

and I felt this first air strike was going to hurt, given my foolishly cramped deployment of the massive beasts meant that all 3 fell under the template…

However, whilst a few hits were scored, some lucky armour saves prevented any lasting damage and the platoon continued to lumber forward, and around, to the objective, now closer, but over on their right…

Where the slightly faster, and much, much lighter armed and armoured T-26s...

were attempting to regain the initiative by harassing the dug-in German panzerschutzen.

Bryan called up a second Stuka strike to interdict the KV platoon...

But, lesson learnt, this time they were nicely spaced, and suffered no damage. 

Nothing daunted, Bryan pondered how best to redeploy to my changed plans... 

Clearly he needed more than just air cover to support his panzer and pz grenadier platoon on the second objective - as well as a couple of schutzen squads they had already also lost a panzer to a T-26!

With my T34s in flames and my Stelovky having fled the field after taking more than 50% casualties, he decided it was safe to leave his immobile 88s to hold the first objective...

so mounted up his Panzergrenadiers...

and revved up his armour to run interference on my new thrust – but would they get there in time to support the beleaguered second kampfgruppe, now losing yet more schutzen to the 152mm howitzer sported by the KV2?

These KVs were slowly lumbering up on the objective, escaping yet another air strike, this time a single a/c, with as much ease as one brushes off the buzzing insects that frequent this part of the world...

The only immediate relief Bryan could provide was in the form of yet another airstrike, this time in strength, and now targeting the T-26s in the hopes of forcing yet another platoon off table and so forcing a company morale check...

However his unlucky die rolling meant that the T-26s escaped those bombs, only to lose tanks to side shots from the Pz 38(t)s!

It was now a 3-way race: would my command crumble if I lost another platoon, or would I be able to seize the objective first? Would Bryan's redeployed first kampfgruppe arrive on-task in time to keep the objective secure - or would my screen of 45mm anti tank guns be able to halt this redeployment?

Or would they be outflanked themselves enroute? Well as it happened Bryan's panzergrenadiers assaulted their flank, whilst he sent the panzers on ahead. Fortunately I lost left than half the guns, as yet another lost platoon would have forced a company morale check!

Back on the objective, the Schutzen platoon holding onto it for the Germans was looking weak after all that hard pounding from the KV's. But the second panzer platoon was now approaching the scene...

And the paper-thin armour of my T-26s was particularly thin at the rear!

With my anti tank gun platoon wiped out by a double envelopment, and my T-26 platoon gradually getting shredded, the loss of either would require me to pass a Company morale check. Could I get my KV platoon, invulnerable to Pz38(t) fire, within assaulting range of the objective before my supporting platoons dissolved?

Well, alas for the brave defenders of the Soviet motherland, on this day it was not to be. As the last T-26 went up in flames, a failed company morale check meant that the redoubtable KVs had to slink back into the forests - but be assured they shall emerge to fight another day!


  1. Nice...think you might like some of my Barbarossa comics on check out the archive versions

    Love the Russian front

  2. Replies
    1. Yes Mark I see what you mean, that's a great format. Love the Brody one - massed T34s - lovely!

  3. A delicately balanced battle. I imaging the tension was rising ... and your commissar was checking his pistol!! 8O)

    von Peter himself

    1. Yes your Vonship, it went right down to the wire - which was great, we were worried, with so few German weapons able to touch the KV's, that it might be unbalanced..

  4. Good looking set up and game. KVs are beasts!

  5. Enjoyable report Sparker! Good call on the table size. It looked so much more the part. I think Barbarossa might have been my first wargame interest thanks to a Purnell's book some one gave me as a teenager. Now you've relighted my interest.

    1. Thanks David! Yes I think the table size also influenced the game play, as the time it took for the Germans to redeploy to the second objective was the Soviet window of opportunity...

  6. Excellent, so good I want to play FoW. Love the big table!

    1. Thanks Monty! Yes I've been really impressed with the way the rules for this game gave such a historical flavour and outcome.

  7. Very impressive and tense game. Like you I find the early armour battles of OB to be fascinating, though the times that two or more KV2s were functional and fighting together could probably be counted on one hand with fingers left over. Still, lovely to see those odd tanks on the table.

    1. Thanks Michael! Yes much as I love the look of KV-2s that's why I restricted myself to just the one!

  8. Great report...sounds like it was a hell of a game. Thanks for the pics and write-up.


    1. Thanks Stanley - yes whilst it could so easily have been one sided actually it could have gone either way right to the end - so close!

  9. What a classic battle of encirclement which I think your large table facilitated well. I'm particularly fond of the KV2.

    1. Thanks mate - yes I thought you might like that land battleship!