The boys from the Wakefield and District Wargames club returned over the weekend of 7 and 8 November 2015 to fight a retreat of the Russian forces in late 1942.
(Above – the players and umpire Richard far right)
The premise of the game was based on a real event in that the Russian forces had pushed too far and been caught in a salient by German thrusts on either side, a little like the Battle of the Bulge with the Russians being the original aggressors. The game was set up with a 24 feet by 6 feet table with a Russian garrison at Popovka at one end of the table (a battalion and a few tanks); a force retreating out of Popovka (a small T34 battalion, 4 KV1’s, and two infantry battalions); a Russian holding force in the centre of the table at Kremennaya (2 small assorted tank battalions with a mix of lend lease and Russian armour, and four infantry battalions); and a small relief column (light tanks and a paratrooper battalion plus SP A/T guns) speeding up from the other end of the table to assist in the withdrawal. The Germans had the ability to come on in two locations along each long edge of the table and had approximately one small tank battalion and two infantry battalions each plus assorted artillery and AA. The Russian objective was to get the retreating column from Popovka off the table 24 feet along the other end of the table, in particular their highly valued KV1s, T34’s and a column of wagons carrying articles of historical significance. The Germans simply had to prevent this happening.
(Above – The Briefing. Popovka can be seen in the bottom right, Kremennaya in the centre and the relief column came on top left)
After the Russians had drawn their dispositions, the Germans chose to attack at points directly opposite each other, one either side of Kremennaya, and we extended the table outwards by 2 feet times 4 feet at each of the four locations to provide some depth to the Germans coming on. Their plan was to cut the road in two locations and then deal with anything trying to get along it. We were particularly happy with this idea of extending the table only where needed as it cut down on the number of boards needed for the game and provided an interesting look for the game.
(Above – the initial German thrusts on one side of the table)
The Germans moved first and on one side of the table they came on hard, and on the other side a little more tentatively as they scouted for enemy positions. The commander of the Russian retreating column may well have been phased by the initial scale and position of the German attacks near Popovka and only slowly advanced out of the town, although a couple of T34’s did speed up the road to try and take positions around a crossroads to head off the advancing German armoured spearhead, and these were quickly lost to the German’s superior numbers. At the other end of the table, as the Russian relief column came on, it was quickly sent to ground by the thought of facing and trying to break through two panzer battalions and a significant amount of infantry.
Day 1 saw a fair amount of carnage, particularly to the Russian armour. The retreating column struggled to get out of Popovka and it was only towards the end of the day when the commander of the column was shot (or he may have had a personal engagement somewhere else to go to) that they finally pushed out of the town in force to counter attack the Germans attacking.
(Above – the Russian retreating forces finally get going)
However, they had left it very late and the Germans had established defensive positions along both roads out of town which was to severely hamper the retreat on Day 2. Aircraft were fairly numerous for both sides throughout the day but was pretty ineffective with the exception of one German bombing run which took out 2 Russian tanks in one go. At the other end of the table, the relief force was completely stuck due to the choice of position of the German attacks.
In the centre at Kremennaya, the garrison there was quietly trying to stay low to avoid the encircling enemy probes.
Day 2 saw very much of the same thing. The retreating column committed most of its armour trying to defeat the Germans on one side of the town as they had gone into defensive mode. By the end of the day, all the T34’s had been brewed, but the KV1s had all managed to survive with minor damage.
On the opposite side of Popovka, the original garrison had spent itself taking the small farm along the secondary road, and no longer had the strength to continue the retreat.
In the centre at Kremennaya, Italian and German elements had finally reached the edge of town in a concerted but under strength attack (see picture below).
The Russians had managed to hang on to a few of their tanks to assist the infantry in the defence, but the encircling Germans on all sides left the garrison there pinned.
At the far end of the table, despite the late arrival of three T34’s which attacked the Germans with typical courage (or is it stupidity), two were quickly brewed and the third heavily damaged, although they did take out a PzIV in the process as revenge. German mountain troops and normal infantry plus A/T guns had kept the Russians pinned around a small farm and its surrounding fields for the whole game.
By the end, despite total carnage of the armour on both sides, the result was that the Russian player had not achieved their objective as it had advanced only about 6 feet from its starting positions and had not even linked up with its colleagues in Kremennaya. The umpire concluded that the Russian players had not pushed quickly enough out of Popovka to take up key defensive positions to help defend the retreating column, which itself had needed to move rapidly along the two roads that led to Kremennaya. Had they done so, they may well have achieved their objective of getting off the table. In the end therefore, a win to the Germans.
Despite all of this, the game was a cracking one, and everyone had successes in patches. It was another absolute pleasure for us to host the W&DWC boys again and to see their enthusiasm and experience their sense of fun. We look forward to seeing them again in 2016. The Battle of the Bulge has been suggested as the next theatre to tackle, so we will work on that.