Saturday, June 6, 2009

War Without Mercy, Kursk AAR #1, Jul-Sep 1943

For Joe and I, the first day at ConsimWorld's Expo was spent setting up Clash of Arms Games War Without Mercy:

We decided to play Scenario 31.0 Turning the Tide, The Kursk 1943 Scenario (pgs 5-8 in the scenario booklet).

Kursk, the largest tank battle in military history, was a major turning point in the war on the Eastern Front. Despite its defeat at Stalingrad, the German Army was still capable of conducting offensive operations in 1943. After Kursk the Red Army remained on the offensive for the rest of the war.

War Without Mercy is a strategic-level wargame representing the entire Eastern Front. Ground units represent corps or division-sized formations, while air units represent wings (of about 150 aircraft) and naval units represent 1-10 ships. Each game turn, with an Axis Player Phase and Allied Player Phase, represents about 2 weeks.

The Kursk Campaign is a 12-turn scenario starting in July 43 and lasting through December.

I chose to play the Russian high command or "STAVKA."

STAVKA's combat commands were organized into several fronts. These were: Finland (FIN), Leningrad (LEN), Northern (NOR), Central (CEN), Southern (SOU) and the Causcasus (CAU).

Joe, then was left in charge of OKH:

OKH's combat commands were organized into army groups. These were: Finland (FIN), North (AGN), Central (AGC), South (AGS) and Caucasus (CAU).

Some these Fronts/Army Groups can be seen here:

Russia was divided into several Weather Zones. These were, from north to south: A, B and C; while D is in North Africa.

The weather in July was clear, which lasted through September.

In the first week of July OKH launched an offensive against NOR. Three Panzer Corps led by Gen. Kleist of AGN easily breached the Russian lines 180 miles due west of Moscow. The panzers blew open a corridor 60 miles wide and sent STAVKA into panic.

Fortunately, the Germans were unable to fully exploit their gains and fell back to more defensible positions. STAVKA was too worried about the weakness of its defensive lines to realize the strategic and logistical reasons for the German withdrawal.

OKH was to repeat these "Panzer Raids" throughout the campaign. That is, a panzer strike force would conduct an attack and then would fall back rather than risk being cut off. (In game terms this armored units could move a second time using exploitation movement). However during the first part of July Gen. Hoth in AGC tried emulating Kleist's success, but his attack by spearheaded by 2 SS Panzer Corps and 1 Werhmarcht Panzer Corps faltered.

Fearing another breakthrough and the loss of its Tank Corps, STAVKA formed several armored strike groups led by Koniev (NOR) and Zhukov (SOU). Throughout the summer both leaders made probing attacks against German weak points.

STAVKA's caution was assisted by OKH ignoring der Fuhrer's ranting for an all-out offensive against the Kursk Salient. Instead, OKH consolidated its own defenses and conducted adroit panzer raids throughout the summer.

Both STAVKA and OKH employed airpower to support their respective ground operations. Initially the Soviet Airforce got the worst of it. Ill trained, Soviet pilots threw themselves at the invaders with wild abandon--and got shot down in droves.

(In game terms, I misunderstood the air-to-air combat mechanics. I thought that each air counter sent up for interception missions would attack specific enemy air counters. Not so. The combat factor of each "wave" was totalled and compared to the enemy's "wave," then a combat ration was determine. So I quickly found myself fighting aerial battles at less than 1-1 odds and ended up having 6 fighter squadrons shot down in flames!).

Looking for ways to draw German combat units away from the central theaters, STAVKA began planning "Mischief Operations" on the far flanks.

The first such operation was conducted on the Black Sea. A naval transport convoy, carrying a mountain corps, made an amphibious landing south of Kerch on the Crimean Peninsula. The convoy was escorted by the Black Sea Fleet, led by the battleship Paris Kommune. The only Axis naval force in the Black Sea was a Romanian destroyer flotilla. Despite the overwhelming odds, the Romanian destroyers put to sea and attempted to intercept the Soviet fleet. Unable to locate the Soviet task force, the Romanians turned back and were content to remain in port.

The beachhead was secured and the Soviet mountain troops advanced northeast. While a Romanian infantry corps barred their way the Soviet units were able to block the supply routes of several Axis units on the mainland west of Krasnodar.

Another part of STAVKA's Mischief Operation consisted of coordinating partisan activity behind German lines. Their primary effect was causing delays in German rail movement. OKH was forced to breakdown a couple of corps-sized units and deploy them for anti-partisan operations to keep the rail-lines clear.

Generals Hoth and Zhukov engage in panzer raids and Tank counter-raids:

Meanwhile to the north Kleist and Koniev were engaged in similar panzer and tank operations. Unfortunately for Kliest one of his attacks faltered giving Koniev an opportunity to pounce and smash 3 panzer corps. (In game terms all 3 German units had to flip to their depleted/reversed side):

Leningrad besieged by German and Finnish units:

All quiet on the Permafrost Front...

Soviet units on the CAU Front conduct attacks against the out-of-supply Romanians forcing them to abandon Novorossiysk.

In August the Fins got frisky and launched an attack against Leningrad's outer defenses. This offensive was supported by Finnish tanks and aircraft:

The Soviet corps occupying the fortifications were wiped out by this minor onslaught, but the inner defenses held:

This caused STAVKA to worry about Leningrad's security. To draw attention away from the siege, STAVKA executed another Mischief Operation. This time the Baltic Fleet, led by the battleship Marat, put to sea escorting a convoy. The convoy carried one infnatry corps which conducted an amphibious assault 90 miles southwest of Talinn, Estonia. This was just one part of a two pronged operation. As the Soviet troops hit the beaches, 2 airborne divisions landed 30 miles east of Talinn.

However, despite good weather conditions and firm ground, both divisions were victims of poor training and became scattered over a 30-mile radius from their intended drop zones. (In game terms they landed "disrupted").

With Novorossiysk firmly back in Soviet hand, STAVKA reinforced its foothold on the Peninsula:

However, OKH didn't give up on the Crimea without a fight. Two German infantry corps were railed down to the peninsula to beef-up the Romanian forces fighting a desperate rear-guard action.
Meanwhile 3 Soviet Tank Corps maneuvered around the southern flank of AGS recapturing Tagnrog en-route. STAVKA launched a major offensive against the now-exposed flank supported by Guards Infantry and Sturmoviks. As AGS's southern flank was attacked, Zhukov smashed through the army group's center. The breakthrough was short-lived as Hoth drove his 3 Panzer Corps into the breach forcing Zhukov to retreat. The 3 Soviet Tank Corps were sent reeling back through the breach after loosing over 50% of their armored vehicles.

As Zhukov narrowly avoided being cut-off Kliest and Koniev engaged in several armored duels in the north. Several attacks were conducted during this time but no major breakthroughs occurred.

Battle of the Baltic: OKH ordered naval units to to engage the Soviet Baltic Fleet in order to cut off the foothold in Estonia. A coastal defense battleship escorted by one cruiser and one destroyer flotilla sortied and engaged the Soviets off the coast of Latvia. In the ensuing battle, half of the Soviet destroyers were sunk, while the German battleship and all the escorting cruisers were damaged. The German task force retreated and remained in port for the remainder of the year.

Meanwhile, Soviet and Finnish troops stare at each other across the tundra...
It was now late September. By this time STAVKA received vital intelligence regarding Germany's industrial capacity. Throughout the summer STAVKA focused only on Germany's combat power. In doing so, the Soviet high command was completely unaware of Germany's limited ability to replace it's combat losses. Despite STAVKA's cautious actions, casualties among infantry units was still high. That is, each month the Soviet Union was nearly depleted of it's regular manpower reserve. However the industrial capacity remained intact so the factories kept churning out tanks causing an enormous build up of replacement vehicles.
In real-life terms what this means is that I didn't fully understand the nuances of the rules. I've played very few strategy, especially monster, games. I assumed that once a unit was lost it was gone forever as in tactical battle games.
But even this realization was an incremental process. Once I felt secure in getting steady replacements and reinforcements, I still didn't take my (the USSR) replacement capacity in comparison to Joe's (Germany).
The difference was significant. While German units were stronger and faster than their Soviet counterparts, the ability to replace lost or depleted units was anemic compared to the Soviet Union. In addition to this, the Soviet Union's rail capacity was twice that of Germany's. The industrial cities of the Soviet Union were also closer than Warsaw--the only replacement city available to Germany.
With September over, the weather charts indicated the clear & dry season would probably come to an end...

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