The Opening Situation, most people who have read a little about WWII on the Eastern front will no doubt be familiar with the specifics of this battle and its consequences.
Historically this battle forms a vivid impression upon Western minds. Viewed as the beginning of the stall out of the infamous blitzkrieg of Hitlers war machine.
As the summer boiled to a close the weary Wermacht pressed onwards to Moscow. Forces had surrounded Minsk, and by passed it staging on the Dvina and Dnepr Rivers for the next push. One large city stood in the way of the road to Moscow: Smolensk.
On the 6th of July the STAVKA had begun ordering continuous counter attacks, to stem the Eastern push in the center of their strategic front. They also placed Timenshenko in charge of the Western Front.
The forces at the disposal of Russian commanders however were largely ill prepared and under armed and manned. Only two Mechanized Corps the 5th and 7th were fully armed, they along with 7 Rifle divisions attacked the flanks of 7th, 12 and 17th Panzer Divisions. Of 2,000 tanks over 832 were lost by the Soviets. Their shattered remains limped towards Smolensk.
As 2nd and 3rd Panzer Groups crossed the Dnepr on the 10th of July they cut thru the Soviet defense. Mogilev was encircled by the 13th. Counter stroke after counter stroke were ordered by the STAVKA. David M Glantz’s book Operation Barbarossa recounts the details, as armies from Vitebsk to Gomel were ordered to attack. All in essence failed. However Guderian and Hoths forces were taking losses. One officer is quoted commenting about the need to reduce casualty rates saying they needed to reduce casualties “if we do not intend to win ourselves to death”.
In a desire to race to Moscow Guderian sent 10th Pzr onto secure bridgeheads across the Desna. Indecision ensued as Hitler wanted the destruction of the newly found enemy armies. General Zukhov used this pause to strike. 4 operational groups were formed and on the 21st of July Timenshenkos forces attacked in Belyi and Roslavl in an attempt to relieve Smolensk.
Bitter fighting ensued and a breakout was finally achieved by the beleaguered Soviets. After regrouping and repulsing the poorly coordinated Soviet attacks XXIV Motorized Corps struck back, carving away at the Soviets and exposing the Northern flank of Kiev.
While the Soviet counterattacks were ultimately unsuccessful they did cause the German High Command to re consider its drive for Moscow. Fuhrer Directive 19 thus aimed Guderians forces to the Ukraine, and took 3rd Pzr Group from Guderians force stack.
Through July over 213,000 men had died across the 3 broad Army Groups. AGC slowed, and began to refit. Guderians forces continued to advance moving towards Brynsk.
This allowed Timenshekos forces to regroup and prepare a major counter stroke from Smolensk west in mid August. In the North Hoths forces fought the 22nd and 29th Armies and encircled large soviet formations in the Velkie Luki region.
In late August a 9 day Soviet assault achieved limited results for them east of Smolensk at enormous cost in life. The Soviets switched back to the defense. On the Desna River around the same time General Rakutin’s forces forced the retreat of AGC elements. El’nia fell back into Soviet hands, loss rates for the Soviet Divisions involved topped 30%.
Guderian’s forces however continued to brush aside counter attacks and drive ever deeper, crossing the Desna River on September 10th and pushed towards Romny. By the 21st Kliest (First Panzer Group) and Guderian could shake hands, they had linked up. The entire South Western Front was encircled.
The Stavka’s Smolensk offensive that ran from Velikie Luki in the North to Shchors in the south bled 100,000 casualties and lost 100’s of tanks. AVD covers some of this action.
Our opportunity is to look at two games that cover the battle period in question and see how they reflect the history. We will also look at the primary differences between the two games. Specifically the time period per turn, force size comparison, game mechanics differences as well as the potential for them as entertaining games in their own.
A Victory Denied game play and AAR:
This is a Vassal match against Anthony L, who has played the game before.
Turn 1 July 10th
The Forces all start on the board, abutting The Dnepr River. The Germans begin with ‘free’ activation, which is in essence the 2nd Panzer Group [Guderian] attacking and attempting to breach the river.
The German attacks are not spectacular despite the heavy use of Stuka air factors, they fail to take Mogilev in turn 1 and only a handful of units pass the River line. In the North Hoths group capture Vitebsk and carve towards Velizh. Each formation of armor within the two Panzer Groups needs to stay within an ‘activation range’ of each other [3hexes], otherwise only those in range of each other may activate.
In this game Minsk pocket reinforcements can be taken. The more you take the greater the risk of Soviet escapees breaking out and reinforcing. The Germans take modest reinforcements but still end up release a swath of Soviets.
Turn 2 July 17th.
The high relative movement rates the Panzers have allow an uncanny ability to change direction and focus of effort rather quickly as we shall see.
Rather than head North 3rd Pzr races South and attacks Smolensk that is left wide open due to chit draws.
It is noteworthy here to pause and understand if you did not know this was part of the A Victory Lost Family of games and therefore a chit draw based offering. Insightful comment no?
I have in the past found chit draw games to be wonderful or solo play. However in this instance both AVD and AVL they have annoyed the snot out of me as a solo game. Not sure what it is. Where as in a 2 player mode it is FANTASTIC, especially via Vassal. The tension of the chit draws is palpable, crushing and elating all at once! I can see how the play will be potentially very different each time to a certain extent. For surely the Soviet player has some clear choices here, that limit his discretion. AVD takes the chit draw and command rules a step further refining some of the rules a little in a positive way.
One thing I do notice is that my opponent is not pulling back very fast nor leaving units adjacent to my core units to impede their forward momentum. Rather he has bled a little in some pointless 1-1 attacks. I almost catch his units OOS in Turn 3.
He is ceding operational flexibility to me…just as Guderian achieved. Nice when you can get it. Prior to these moves the Soviets receive reinforcements, which are allocated to more rearward areas.
Back to 3rd Pzr Group, the rest of the org, splits and we leave one unit at the gateway thru the northern woods, and 9th Army XXII Corps locks up and isolates the 22nd Army where he took reinforcements.
PART 2 of AVD Coming Soon.
- BitE, Dortmund Campaign (meshtime.com)
- June-July 1941 Vento Nuovo Style (meshtime.com)
- A Victory Denied…or Aborted? p2 (meshtime.com)
- A Victory Lost_BGG (meshtime.com)
- BitE Turn 3 Soviet (meshtime.com)
- Book Review – The Defense of Moscow 1941: The Northern Flank (secondworldwaroperationsresearchgroup.wordpress.com)