Case Blue Kharkov

Hugh Grotius

This is my first play of any OCS game. I played Kharkov 1942, solitaire, from Case Blue (with the OCS 4.0 rules). At the start, the Soviets are driving on Kharkov from the east, southeast, and southwest.

Here’s a wider, albeit fuzzier, view. (It may look clearer if you click the “zoom” button above the pic.) This is around game turn 2, I think. The Soviets made rather plodding progress at first, thanks to my unfamiliarity with the game system — not to mention some awful dice rolls!

An even wider view, showing the big Russian salient southwest of town. A wise Soviet commander would be careful to keep this bulge from being cut off…

Axis turn 3. The Russians went first on turns 1 and 2, but now the Germans win the toss. Both sides are trying to encircle the other southwest of town, but the Germans are having more success.

The Germans punch through the Russian line in the south, taking a city (Barvenkovo) worth a couple Victory Points, and threatening to pinch the Russian salient from the south.

The air war is bloody. Here’s a typical engagement. A Russian IL-2, with fighter escort, tries to bomb an SS unit that has cut off several Russian armored brigades. The Luftwaffe intercepts….

… and both the German and Russian fighters take losses.

The Russian bombers miss their targets, and the SS unit completes the encirclement of the doomed Russian tanks.

End of German turn 3. Note the puncture of the Russian line in the south, and the dueling attempts at encirclement in the west.

Russia’s turn 3. The Russians attempt to manage the southern “puncture” by cutting off the puncturing unit. The German 4-5-8 motorcycle brigade is isolated in Barvenkovo.

To the north, the Russians make some headway, infiltrating German lines just south of Kharkov. The Axis units guarding the western approaches to the city are forced to fall back to secure their supply lines.

German turn 4: The Germans turn the tables in the south, punching another hole in the Russian line, thereby relieving the isolated German motorcycles at Barvenkovo — and threatening to encircle the Russians.

Russian turn 5: The Russians wisely fall back, but they are short on units to hold the line. They decide to fill the plugs with cavalry that had been garrisoning the crucial depot at Izyum, leaving only an HQ there — an HQ in movement mode, to boot.

Big mistake. At the time, I remember thinking: by completely plugging the line, I’ll delay the Germans one turn — and besides, there are all those hills and arty in the way. But tanks aren’t slowed by hills in this game, and they certainly aren’t slowed by a couple of arty brigades. Plus, there’s that whole overrun thing.

German turn 5: Sure enough, elite tanks from the 14th Panzer division overrun the lone Russian armor brigade blocking the road northeast. The 14th Panzer and 60th Motorized Divisions pour through the opening and race up the road. With stunning swiftness, Izyum falls.

Izyum is worth 5 whopping VPs, but that’s not the worst of it. Without Izyum, most of the Russian units southwest of Kharkov are cut off from trace supply — something I didn’t fully realize until after Izyum was gone. (A wider photo illustrating this is a bit further down the page.)

German turn 6: The Germans win the turn-order roll, and they expose a second embarrassing Soviet error: I forgot to garrison the supply dump (and 2-VP Victory location!) at Valakaleya! Actually, I had garrisoned it, but the 343rd Rifle Division wandered northwest a hex, where it was achieving nothing at all. How many times have I read OCS players admonish newbs: garrison your rear areas!

Russian turn 6: Here’s the promised wider view of the resulting supply catastrophe. In turn 6, the Russians did manage to reclaim Valakaleya, securing its VPs. But this did nothing to remedy the supply problem. Izyum is connected by rail to the Soviet supply centers to the east; Valakaleya is not, as it’s simply further down the rail line from Izyum. There is simply no other way to get the supply over the Donets to the units to the west. Well, there is another way — by taking Kharkov or its southern neighbor, Zmiyev — but the Germans there hang tough.

Anyway, I lost a fair chunk of the western forces to attrition. I did manage to save a bunch by having them “eat” supply stockpiled under one of the HQs in the sector. But many others withered away.

I haven’t said much about the far northern sector, as it was pretty quiet — neither side had enough supply to do much. But in the last two turns, the Russians put some supply here, and they managed to launch a couple assaults on the 2-VP city Belgorod. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to crack its rather formidable defenses.

In Kharkov itself, the Sovs managed to take one hex of the city, in its southeastern corner. But again, the remaining defenses hung tough, even in the face of artillery and rocket attacks. (Those rockets are expensive! 8T a pop. I fired them twice, maybe 3 times, the whole game.) The Russians did manage to take Chuguev, another VP city southeast of Kharkov. But the Germans had the better of the air war over the city, and they repeatedly bombed and disorganized the elite Russians leading the charge.

Here’s a look at the dead pile.

The victory tally was close! The scenario says the Axis loses one VP for every 3 REs lost while attacking (not while defending). I assume this refers to ground-unit losses, not air losses? Assuming it’s only ground units, I *think* the Germans lost only 3 or 4 REs while attacking, but I kept forgetting to keep track. Here’s a summary of VP totals:

Russian Victory Points:

During game:
1 Hex of Kharkov taken during scenario: 1 VP

At game end:
1 Hex of Kharkov held by in-trace Russian: 2 VP
Chuguev held by in-trace Russians: 2 VP
Valekaleya held by in-trace Russians: 2 VP
Krasnograd held by in-Supply out-of-trace Russians: 1 VP
Lozovaya held by in-Supply out-of-trace Russians: 1 VP
Kharkov neither seized nor encircled: no auto-victory

Total: 9 VPs

Axis Victory Points:

During game:
5 REs lost while attacking: -1 VP
(I assume this doesn’t include aircraft)

At game end:
4 hexes of Kharkov (out of 5) held by in-trace Axis units: 4 VPs
Barlenkovo held by in-trace Axis units: 2 VPs
Izyum held by in-trace Axis units: 5 VPs
There are in-trace Russian units South of Donets: 0 VPs

Total: 10 VPs

Axis wins by one VP – assuming aircraft losses don’t count!

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Finally, some closing thoughts. I really enjoyed this scenario and the OCS system! The scenario seemed well-balanced to me; I loved how both sides got to play offense and defense at different points (as was the case historically, I guess). It’s rather counter-dense, and I can see why folks recommend smaller scenarios first, but I don’t regret the choice — for me, it was a good way to see lots of aspects of OCS in action.

I was way too cautious and bumbling as the Soviets on offense; I did a better job with the Germans. I obviously had a little trouble managing my supply lines as the Russians. I think I do understand the supply rules pretty well, but I don’t yet have an instinctive sense of just how far I can “stretch” my supply lines. Nor am I adept at using extenders or my trucks/wagons.

OCS itself really impresses me. I really like the way the game models three types of supply: food, ammo, gas. I especially enjoy having limited on-map supply: it makes you think about where you want to attack, whether it’s worth it to use arty or rockets, and whether to fuel your tanks. That all “feels” right to me. I didn’t mind the infamous “double-turn”; I think of it as uncertainty about who gets the initiative when. I didn’t mind the surprise rule either, though I can see why some people might not like it. Me, I like a little uncertainty in my gaming.

The game took me about 3 days to play, playing several hours a day. No doubt I’ll speed up as I learn the system better. On day one, I was looking up rules all the time. By day 3, I was barely ever touching the rulebook. Compared to ASL, the rules load here is quite light. (And I say this as a fan of ASL.)

Now on to another Case Blue scenario. I’m thinking “The Edge of the World”. After that, I’ll try a multi-map scenario. In the meantime, thank you for reading.

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