Updated: Mar 23
Thunder in the East – Citadel
by Robert Lloyd
This is my third start at Citadel. I am playing the Scenario but with a potential Campaign extension. I am anxious to consider how the Wehrmacht can live with the revival of the Soviets and survive until the winter of 1943 – 1944 and even up to the start of Bagration in June 1944.
The Thunder in the East Citadel Scenario starts with the Axis in a position to win an Operational Victory. However, the margin they have is fragile. Five Objective Cities are within two hexes of the front line on the Axis side. I began my exploration of this Scenario by calculating that a German offensive had a chance of success because Soviet morale is only 20 MPs. A few turns of sustained attacks in which the Russians held their lines but had heavy losses could see them collapse.
However, the results of my first efforts were not encouraging. In my second game, three turns of attacks reduced the Soviets to 13 MP. Still, the Axis in the same space of time had Army Group Centre almost destroyed in the encirclement. The Russian Armour burst out, overrunning Army Group South and capturing six Objectives, including Dnepropetrovsk in one disastrous July III turn. Soviet Morale bounced back to 37 MP and so completely out of the danger zone.
In these prior games, I accepted the logic of the Kursk offensive. It offered a potential morale victory, and gaining even a little ground would give more space to protect Orel and Kharkov. If the Germans attacked elsewhere where the Soviets are not so strong, that would leave the Ukraine exposed, and the Russians would perhaps gain an easy victory. Some confrontations cannot be dodged. In my previous games, I attacked at Kursk and used the Blitzkrieg Event on July I or July II.
However, it is now clear; the Axis will have to box cleverer and avoid being sucked into a struggle where they lose their ability to manoeuvre. They cannot afford to lose sight of the Soviet hitting power and their ability to use mechanised units to penetrate German lines. A flexible defence must be prioritised. That applies to the use of the Blitzkrieg! event which may be better used for a major counterattack after the Soviets have committed to a line of advance. These tactics also apply to the use of the Luftwaffe. In previous games, in attempting to support offensive operations, the Luftwaffe exhausted itself too quickly and suffered excessively from Flak and “Aircraft” CAS results. This time they will hold back more and be available for defensive air support.
The Soviets have a much less complex strategic problem in this scenario. They have ample reserves at the start of the Scenario, and the Axis line is far from being an ideal defensive position. In previous games, the Red Army struck hard when the Germans pushed their heads into the noose. They may find it harder if the Axis are more cautious. I have found this Scenario gave good scope for the Soviet Air Offensive Event, which will be chosen again.
In the longer run, the Soviets will want to take advantage of the summer weather to allow for rapid exploitation once they can turn the tide so that they do not find the Germans securely entrenched on the Dnieper with the mud season on the horizon. They must not either deplete their own resources excessively. If the Soviets lose more than 4 MP per Objective liberated, then they are going backwards. Once they are out of the USSR, positive MP gains depend on preserving manpower (no more Objectives to liberate). The Soviet economy is weakened by the damage of the invasion, and if attrition is greater than the seasonal limits, then the Red Army will decline from its 1943 peak.
I am using the updated 2020 TITE Vassal Module and the ETO rules as of February 2021 (in development).
There are no great innovations in my third set-up of this Scenario. The set-up demands the covering of the whole front. Hence, creativity is in the options to reduce and strengthen units and in the placement of improved positions, garrisons, and reserves.
The Soviets make the Kursk salient a tough proposition, including fortifications and some Hardened Garrisons. They make sure Leningrad is strong enough to resist a surprise attack. Elsewhere the front is mainly held by reduced Armies and, in places, Corps.
For the Germans, their mantra of flexibility only works where they have their panzers concentrated, mostly south of Bryansk. They have only one reduced Panzer Corps north of Smolensk, and the long front held by infantry from the Baltic to Bryansk is a big concern. If the Soviets break this line, then the lack of mobile reserves will show. This is something that the Axis must address very soon.
Another Axis concern is the line around Orel which is very exposed to a Soviet squeeze. Abandoning this could represent a quick concession of the Scenario. Previous experience suggests holding on at Orel magnifies the difficulties of the Axis, and it is not the place for a flexible defence.
Finally, the Kuban bridgehead is vulnerable due to its remoteness and the impossibility of getting an uninterdicted NLoC. The Soviets will cut off the Crimea sooner or later. A Hardened Garrison in Novorossiysk was considered, but I preferred to place these in Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, and Sevastopol for the longer-term defence of the Lower Dnieper and Crimea.
The war on the Russian Front was about to reach a new climax. The pause in operations could not last much longer.
OKH demanded a pre-emptive offensive to stop the Soviets from dictating the whole course of operations in 1943. There was some sense in this, but the German strategic reserve was weakened by the growing Allied threats in the rest of Europe, including the imminent invasion of Sicily. German officers on the Eastern Front familiar with the strength of the Soviet positions were doubtful that any attack would achieve much.
The situation of the Soviet Union had improved markedly since the previous year. There was growing confidence that a new German offensive could not replicate the deep penetrations of 1942. There were strong reserves posted in the rear of the fronts. Stalin was intent on a major offensive to liberate as much of the occupied parts of the USSR as possible. The only question was whether this offensive would await the Axis attack or whether the Red Army would attack first? At the front, every Soviet unit was as fully supplied as they had ever been. Material shortages were not a significant concern.
Game Turn 1: 1 – 7 July 1943
The summer campaign began with German air raids on Kursk. These were a pale reflection of the Luftwaffe efforts in previous years. Most German aircraft were kept back to be prepared for any Soviet reaction.
On the main front, the Germans carried out ground operations between 3 and 5 July, which aimed to provoke the Soviets to reveal their own intentions. These efforts were all very concentrated, powerful attacks with strong panzer forces, each organised by a German Panzer Army. They were all very well supplied with ample munitions. No attempt was made to penetrate the Soviet defences in any depth, and with few exceptions, the Germans returned to their own lines within 72 hours of the start of the attacks. All the attacks were regarded as successes.
Von Kluge (Army Group Centre) ordered Clossner’s 2 Panzer Army to carry out a hammer blow against the Soviet line covering Zheleznogorsk. These were strong Soviet defences northeast of Kursk backed up with trenches and nests of AT guns which had strict orders not to retreat. Nevertheless, Clossner’s panzers dealt with the Soviet 70 Army clinically and completely shattered every sign of resistance. The road toward Kursk was opened on 4 July, but the next day Von Kluge recalled Clossner and transferred the 2 Panzer Army to cover the Bryansk Front and protect Orel from the north.
Hoth’s 4 Panzer Army had similar orders from Von Manstein (Army Group South). For 48 hours, the Germans struck in several directions from the Kharkov area. The Soviet 3 Guards Army was smashed in the first German assault near Volchans’k, as were other exposed Soviet salient. Nevertheless, on 5 July, Von Manstein was obliging Hoth to prioritise the defence of Kharkov.
Finally, Von Kleist (Army Group A) ordered Von Mackensen’s 1 Panzer Army to destroy or disrupt Soviet forces covering Taraskova and so clear well-covered ground between the German lines and Lugansk where the Germans believed strong Soviet armoured forces were concentrating. Von Mackensen was successful, and the Soviet 38 Army was dispersed in his operations, and this temporarily improved the German line on the Donets River and the whole area north of Stalino.
In the Regular Movement Phase, the Germans deployed for defence. They absolutely avoided exploiting the openings they had created in the Soviet lines. The ground attacks were supported by expending 2 OPs and were almost totally successful. 3.5 MP of Soviet morale loss has been inflicted on the Russians with no German step losses. The Germans want to play this game slowly, and they did not commit the Luftwaffe except for a single well-protected and unsuccessful mission. Neither did the Germans use the Blitzkrieg! card or New Model Tanks Deployed. These will be saved for later.
This is only the first half of the turn, and from the Axis point of view, it will only be regarded as a success if they can weather what the Soviets will throw at them in their player turn.
The German attacks in early August caused an alert to all the Soviet Fronts, which were required to fight back and implement their own plans to take advantage of the commitment of the German reserves. These were designed to prevent the Germans from remaining concentrated only in the sectors they chose. Partisan attacks were carried out, and some of their effects resonated at the front.
Typical of these actions were attacks made by the Leningrad and Northwestern Fronts both north and south of Novgorod. The Northwestern Front pushed through thin German lines on the south side of Lake Ilmen. The Leningrad Front’s advance was more contested, but, at Myasnor, Sovetnikov’s 34 Army managed to penetrate through the positions of the German 52 Corps. This left the German 8 Corps at Novgorod in danger of having its lines of communication cut.
Also, during the first week of July, on the West Front, the 2 Shock Army advanced through to the Upper Dvina Valley above Vitebsk. German troops were too thinly spread to stop this isolated Soviet effort.
The actions around the Kursk salient and along the Upper Donets River were much more intense. The Soviets had local air superiority and committed many bombers to attack German airfields behind this part of the front. This had some impact, but the Luftwaffe was still able to support the defence of key positions which came under attack from Soviet ground forces. Little ground changed hands, and there were costly battles on each side of the salient, but the Russians contented themselves with slow attrition of the enemy while their own losses were considerable. The Soviets also repaired the gaps in their lines where the Germans had smashed into their front. Zhukov arrived in this sector as Stavka representative, and Konev’s reserves were fed into the battle where needed. Soviet Tank Armies were prominent in the fighting in the south, where they were massing in increasing numbers. The 5 Guards Tank Army participated in an attempt to cross the Donets at Bakhmut on 6 July, but this did not succeed thanks to the very firm defence of the German 5 Corps lining the south bank of the river.
The Soviet 56 Army also attempted a crossing of the Kuban River on 6 – 7 July. They were opposed by Romanian Mountain troops who were well supported by the Romanian Air Force. The Soviets used P-39 ground attack aircraft during the Kuban attack, but they suffered heavy losses from intercepting German and Hungarian fighters. In the end, the Russians had to cancel their attacks as the river was broad and, without effective air support, they could not establish a bridgehead.
The Soviets experience frustration in almost all of their attacks. The only one that was successful was a 1:1 attack on the Leningrad Front. The key to the action was often the German use of defensive Combat Air Support, which the Soviets could not counter because they had not retained a sufficient force of interceptors.
The Axis must be pleased that their initial plan worked so well. The attrition was heavily against the Soviets, who lost 13 steps to the 2 steps lost by the Axis. The situation in the air was more balanced. The Axis advantage out of the Luftwaffe’s close support, but they suffered six damage or suppressed results. The Soviets lost one air unit destroyed but only three other damage results.
Subject to the strain on the Luftwaffe, the Axis achieved their goal of keeping the tempo of the action under its control. How long can this continue?
Axis hold 15 Objectives – Axis Operational Victory
Game Turn 2: 8 – 15 July 1943
Despite the aggressive response of the Soviets, the Axis commanders on the Eastern Front maintained their operational plans. Each of the three Panzer Armies was directed to resume attacks against the Soviet concentrations, which had revealed themselves in response to the initial German attacks. New Panther tanks were deployed. Parity between the two air forces meant that the edge for ground operations often depended on the superiority of the tank forces committed.
There were two major tank battles fought, one on either side of the Kursk salient. The Soviet 2 Tank Army was intent on securing Mtsensk on 8 July. From there, it was but a short strike to reach Orel. However, on that day, the 2 Panzer Army attacked the Russian armour concentration and utterly routed it. Similarly, east of Kharkov, the 4 Panzer Army attacked the Soviet 1 Tank Army, which was filling positions which the Germans had already savaged once around Volchans’k. Hoth’s attack was not as successful as Clossner’s because the Russians withdrew, leaving much-mangled equipment on the battlefield but escaping before their armour could be completely destroyed.
Von Mackensen’s 1 Panzer Army was unable to locate a vulnerable Soviet tank formation, and the river Donets interfered with options. 1 Panzer Army still did huge damage to the Soviet 68 Army, which was trying to develop positions on the river at Sverodonetsk downstream from Bakhmut.
Zhukov was incandescent with rage when he received reports of the tank losses suffered between 8 and 11 July. Rokossovsky and Malinovsky were fortunate to retain their commands. Zhukov demanded that never again should such large armoured formations be committed without supporting infantry, preferably mobile infantry. Zhukov only recovered his good humour after he had spoken to Stalin. The Boss was unusually calm, and he had observed the Soviet Union had plenty more tanks.
Despite their successes, the Germans were experiencing difficulties as they began to sense the latent potential of the Red Army. Von Kleist reported to OKH on 10 July that the Soviets had such firepower on the middle section of the Donets that his forces could not realistically continue to hold the riverbank at Bakhmut and for 30 miles in both directions to the west and the east.
At the northern end of the Russian Front, the German 16 and 18 Armies were also fighting to maintain positions that were becoming too exposed. An evacuation of Novgorod was underway, and counterattacks near Shimsk, which depleted the Soviet Coastal Corps were intended to help Axis units get out of Novgorod. The 56 Panzer Corps was also actively supporting the 16 Army but found that it was ill-suited for combats in the swampy terrain. After briefly helping out Army Group North, it was recalled to the area south of Velikiye Luki.
This more disciplined way of playing the Axis in this Scenario is paying dividends. By limiting the Axis to one bombing mission, their flak losses are halved. Once again, the bulk of the Luftwaffe is held back for defensive duties. The Panzer Armies (3 of them) are actively making the best attacks they can, and they have eliminated three Soviet armour steps and Infantry Army in this Player Turn. Despite good combat results, they do not advance after combat, even disdaining a breakthrough result near Orel. The panzers avoid overcommitment and keep their mobility.
The Axis also take the Soviet attacks on the northern Fronts seriously. To meet this threat, they move two Panzer Corps northwest of Smolensk and Army Group North used an OP to support counterattacks that would otherwise have been too weak.
The Axis also prioritises basic defensive work. The Kuban defence line is completed with the Free Stuff Improved Defence. The long static front covering Smolensk is still in good shape.
TITE depends on small differences. The OP spent by AGN was important even though it assisted only two low odds combats. The Germans also played New Model Tank Deployed even though it only made a difference to two combats. Expecting too much of cards and other resources can mean they miss their best opportunities.
Zhukov ordered active operations to be continued on all fronts. This was to be supported by a major air offensive by the VVS. The Luftwaffe rose to the challenge in the air and shot down record numbers of Soviet aircraft. Nevertheless, the Germans suffered from the Russian efforts, and Luftwaffe airfields around Bryansk were subject to damaging attacks.
Zhukov did not define specific objectives, and deep penetrations of the German line were not encouraged on any of the fronts south of Orel. What was wanted was a steady grinding advance that would drive the Germans back from their stronger prepared positions and make them vulnerable to future punches. Advancing was difficult anyway as there was a fight over every mile at issue.
The Germans in Orel were most exposed to a squeeze between the Bryansk and Central Fronts, but they resisted fiercely. The Germans were well entrenched in Orel, and the Soviet 63 Army suffered huge losses to gain an advance of only a few hundred yards. The Bryansk Front fought to break the German lines at Kozelsk, which would have led to Orel by the back door. However, the German 20 Corps held its ground, making limited counterattacks.
Around Kharkov, the Soviets did make ground where the German lines were thinner, and Malinovsky got both the 1 and 5 Guards Tank Armies across the Donets River. They liberated Bakhmut and engaged the 3 Panzer Corps, which had taken up positions between the Russians and Stalino. There were tank battles near Horlivka on 13 and 14 July, but there was no clear victor.
Outside Zhukov’s zone of supervision, there were some more dramatic advances. The Soviet 56 Army breached the Kuban River line and, having done so, advanced all the way to the sea at Anapa. This left the German 44 Corps cut off in Novorossiysk.
On the northern fronts, the partisans scored a great victory by moving into Tartu, where Von Kuchler had his headquarters. With no substantial garrison present, the Germans headquarters staff had to relocate to Grebnova. However, this move proved ill-advised as the Soviet Northwestern Front had made a gap in the German line after the Soviet 55 Army shoved aside the German 10 Corps at Bezhanitsy. There were no German reserves in the area, and the Soviet 33 Corps moved forward alone as far as Grebnova arriving immediately after Von Kuchler’s headquarters, which was forced into a second hurried redeployment. The Red Army and the partisans, therefore, had forces astride both the main railway lines supporting the communications of the whole of Army Group North. The Russians also liberated Novgorod on 13 July.
There was a measure of caution in the Soviet move. To avoid heavy losses, the Soviets only advanced on the main fronts where they could reinforce units that could be exposed to the next round of German counterattacks. The Soviets have to take into account the fact that the Germans still have their Blitzkrieg! card and the German Panzers are still packing a big punch.
The VVS was pushed forward more, and this helped lead to the loss of two Russian air units. However, losses in the air are a bit more sustainable for the Soviets, and by playing Air Offensive, there will be more Soviet aircraft flying in the next few turns.
The Soviets want to slowly bring the Germans to a breaking point and raise the cost of them holding their lines. The Germans sustained several DP losses in combat this turn.
The advances the Soviets made in the Kuban, and the North were not in contradiction of this strategy. There is little risk of a German counterattack in the Kuban, and a lucky DR result at low odds (3:2) created an opportunity. In the North, the Soviets have only put one Corps and one Partisan Division at risk. If the Germans want to repair AGN’s positions, they will have to redeploy units from other sectors. The disruption of German communications will be a serious problem for AGN if it is not swiftly and cleanly resolved.
Axis hold 15 Objectives – Axis Operational Victory.
Game Turn 3: 16 – 23 July 1943
The Germans addressed the emergency on the northern sectors of the front. Model’s 9 Army struck back at the Soviets that had advanced near Vitebsk, employing the 39 Panzer Division to make a success of the operation to straighten their lines. The 56 Panzer Corps was similarly used by Army Group North to liquidate the Russian incursion at Grebnova, which was recaptured on 17 July. The German armour was quickly redeployed to make an attack at Novosokolnik, but this overstretched their capabilities and they were repulsed by the 31 Corps of the Red Army.
The Red Army’s determination to defend their gains was shown elsewhere. The German Panzer Armies tirelessly struck back at any Soviet forces poking their heads through German lines. Still, it was getting harder for them to make the Russians pull back. 2 Panzer Army fought for three days against the 10 Guards Army north of Orel at Bolkhov, inflicting terrible losses on the Russians but were denied any substantial recovery of ground. The same pattern occurred in the fighting around Kharkov, where 4 Panzer Army could not deal with every threat. Even though they savaged the 1 Guards Army at Rakitnoye, they were unable to give the same attention to other Russians approaching Kharkov from the east. The 5 Guards Tank Army also gained a defensive victory at Slavyansk, and this forced the 1 Panzer Army to retire gradually to Stalino.
In the Kuban, an evacuation was underway from Taman, which the Romanians were leaving as fast as boats could be found. The Germans left in Novorossiysk were in a poor position.
The Germans are still inflicting attrition losses on the Soviets at a fair rate during their Player Turn. The same tactics are followed on the ground and in the air, but with stronger Soviet forces holding the key pressure points, not every counterattack succeeded. Incrementally the Soviets are edging themselves into stronger positions.
The Soviets made an initial attack on Novorossiysk on 19 July, aided by the guns of Admiral Vladmirsky’s flagship, the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna. The battleship was protected by a number of smaller vessels. These were tracked by German submarines, and a Russian light cruiser was hit by a torpedo. It was not badly damaged but had to limp home, and the Russians found no trace of the undersea hunters. At Novorossiysk, the ground forces found the German defences to be quite formidable, and they made no progress despite help from the sea. Other Soviet troops (46 Army) captured Taman on 21 July.
The Soviets continued a major effort pushing the Germans back from the Donets River, and this consumed the efforts of three Soviet fronts (Southwest, Steppe, and Voronezh). Zhukov still insisted that penetrations should not be too deep and the advancing forces should be well supported by reserves. Rotmistrov’s 5 Guards Tank Army led the advance of the Southwestern Front, and it established itself at Pokrovsk, forcing the German panzers to withdraw and increasing the Soviet frontage near Stalino. The biggest Russian success was, however, at Lopan, where the German 48 Panzer Corps suffered huge losses in a tank battle with the Soviet 1 and 4 Tank Armies. The withdrawal of the German survivors allowed the Soviets to approach Kharkov closely, and Shumilov’s 7 Guards Army moved slowly past the city, heading southwest.
The Orel salient was also still the focus of pressure from both the north (Bryansk Front) and south (Central Front). Both sides suffered mounting losses in the fighting. The most notable advance was that of the 10 Guards Army to Kozelsk, which had been liberated by the sacrificial efforts of the 3 Guards Mechanised Group, which had stormed the lines held rather too flexibly by the 40 Panzer Corps.
Kurochkin’s Northwestern Front was also still active and kept the pressure on the still too thin German front west of Velikiye Luki. The Russians lost many tanks, and the Germans lost many men, but the front line did not shift much there.
The relative attrition on the two sides shifted a little in favour of the Soviets as the Germans have lost some of their stronger positions (7 Axis: 9 Soviet steps). This turn’s combats saw the first elimination of a German Panzer Corps in this scenario, and that is always a symptom of the Axis being under pressure. The Soviets nevertheless remain cautious. Their ability to absorb losses is nothing compared to previous years, and a German Major Offensive remains a possibility.
The Soviets have five Objective Cities now under their guns on the front lines. Some of them should soon fall under their control. When that starts to happen, the Germans might cut and run if they see no purpose in allowing the attrition to continue.
Game Turn 4: 24 – 31 July 1943
The fighting in the Ukraine was becoming a battle of wills. Anyone on the German side who questioned the retention of the Donbas was quickly silenced. Von Manstein was ordered to defend Kharkov, and this could only be achieved by attacking Shumilov’s 7 Guards Army at Pokrovsk. A similar operation to keep Stalino safe was demanded at Pokrovsk against the 5 Guards Tank Army. The final large munitions stockpiles of Army Group South were committed to these operations, as was every Luftwaffe aircraft capable of supporting ground operations.
In both cases, the Germans thought they were successful, and by 26 July their situation had seemingly stabilised once more. The Soviets lost a lot of men and equipment, and their attempts to outflank Kharkov and Stalino had stalled for the moment.
OKH did, however, allow one very significant withdrawal. On 25 July, orders were given for a swift withdrawal from the Orel salient. This was given up in favour of the creation of a strong line in front of Bryansk.
Those German troops in the Kuban not trapped at Novorossiysk were evacuated across the Kerch Strait.
The German operations were limited to two attacks, but they were fruitful. The Soviets lost another 4 steps in exchange for an Axis OP and a damaged German bomber. The Germans, therefore, avoided wasteful attacks elsewhere, and these were not necessary because the Soviets are starting to get concerned about the difficulties they will have in replacing their losses.
Economy was also present in the German air operations. Two big mission packets were unchallenged by the Soviets, and when the Soviets added defensive air support, the Germans declined an interception too. They still had a 2 CAS advantage thanks to a 3:2 advantage in air bolts plus a bolt for New Model Tank Deployed (on its last turn). Matching CAS points in the air is a fairly conservative way to fight because cancelled CAS points do not risk an aircraft damage result.
By abandoning Orel, the Axis is prioritising the Campaign Game over the Scenario's victory conditions. Soviet morale has dropped to 12, and by getting back Orel, it will recover to 16. Nevertheless, as things stand, the Soviets will not see a morale improvement over the scenario start until they capture 4 Objectives. In addition, until now, they have not been able to advance a unit that survives more than one hex beyond their start line (except in the Kuban).
The Soviets gratefully recovered Orel on 26 July, and then Rokossovsky had an easy advance until his troops met fresh German resistance on the Bryansk line. There he had to pause while the enemy was assessed. The removal of the Orel salient also shortened the front and made possible a release of reserves.
There no let-up in the fighting in the Ukraine where there were several actions, all of which caused both sides to lose more tanks than they wished. The most important attack was a frontal assault on Kharkov.
If the Germans had been more determined, they might have held it, but they were also supported by a Romanian Corps which had come up from the Crimea and was not ready for a pitched battle in a city. The Russian attack was led by Chistyakov’s 6 Guards Army and supported by Stavka’s largess. Christayakov’s men were near the city centre on 29 July, and he ordered a further attack which compelled a withdrawal of the Axis the next day.
The Soviet Trans-Caucasian Front scored another important victory on 28 July when their second attack on Novorossiysk succeeded. The men of the German 49 Mountain Corps were supposed to be elite troops, but they knew they had been abandoned, and they gave up the struggle once it was clear the Soviets were in earnest. There was no possibility of evacuation, and large numbers had to surrender.
On the opposite coast of Russia, the Soviet 4 Army broke out of the Oranienbaum bridgehead and captured Krasno Selo. This reduced the distance to a link up with the rest of the Leningrad Front. Admiral Tributs had sent the battleship Oktabryskaya Revolutsiya to assist in this operation which was a sign that the Luftwaffe was not feared on the water so much. The VVS’ summer air offensive was coming to a close, and if it had not driven the Luftwaffe from the skies, it had ensured there was parity in many places, including on the Baltic Coast.
The Soviets were lucky as they had no right to expect to recover Kharkov quite so easily, but they got an AP result. By recovering 3 Objective Cities, Soviet Morale is going to bounce back to 22.5, which is more than the start of the scenario.
Where the Soviets were unlucky was in the air attack on Romney, which had a 5 DV, but a “6” was rolled.
Compared with my prior game, this is better for the Axis, but the Germans are suffering attrition which will soon be unsustainable. Both sides lost another 6 steps.
Axis 12 Objective Cities – Soviet Operational Victory
Game Turn 5: 1 – 7 August 1943
The Germans in Russia were forced to surrender the 2 SS Panzer Corps, and many Stukas for transfer to the West as the threat to Italy grew.
Army Group North needed to rearrange its front after the loss of Krasny Selo. The required moves meant the withdrawal of the units closest to Leningrad. This would open the way for the Russians to link up with the Oranienbaum bridgehead.
Army Group Centre had a quiet front in early August. Most of the action was still in the Ukraine. A conference of Von Manstein and Von Kleist confirmed their Army Groups would continue to counterattack, and Von Manstein declared he would not be driven away from Kharkov. Although the Soviets already claimed control of the city, Hoth’s 4 Panzer Army still controlled several southern suburbs, and the German 30 Corps was ordered to attack toward the city centre. Above the city, fierce dogfights confirmed the Germans were not yet giving up the city. There were three days of intensive street fighting between 1 and 3 August, but the German infantry was stalemated by the fierce resistance of the Soviet Guards.
Von Kleist battered the Soviet 52 Army near Slavyansk. This he hoped would reduce the pressure on the Germans in Stalino who were missing the aid of Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps, which had entrained to go to Italy.
The Axis picked German Generals to get a free OP and a double shift in their attacks. This was perhaps the only chance for the Axis to recapture Kharkov and the Germans were unfortunate. Had they had one less CAS result, they would have had an AP result instead of an ST result.
The Axis forces in the Ukraine faced unrelenting pressure in early August 1943. The Russians had improved the basic T-34, and the 85mm gun version was becoming very common. Most Soviet attacks now had a strong armoured component.
The most successful Soviet advance was around Stalino, where the 1 Guards Tank Army was committed again (with Rotmistrov as temporary commander) against the depleted 3 Panzer Corps at Starbosheve. The Germans could not hold their ground, and by 7 August, a Soviet mechanised group had cut the railway to Mauripol. In Stalino, the German defence was short of fuel and vehicles because of effective partisan attacks which had plagued German mobile forces along the whole front.
The Soviets also made another strong advance west of Kharkov as they penetrated German lines near Krasnopillya. By 7 August, they were less than 50 miles from Von Manstein’s headquarters in Poltava. They were threatening the German line around Sumy, which was in danger of envelopment as the Soviet 2 Tank Army entered the upper Seym valley.
Further north, Rokossovsky’s Central Front was making slow progress toward Bryansk. He was, however, able to report to Zhukov that after a costly action at Trubchevsk, the 65 Army had gained a position near the Desna River below Bryansk.
On the northern fronts, the Leningrad and Northwestern Fronts had gained some of the ground which the Germans had abandoned. They also cleared out the last Germans in contact with Lake Ilmen after a successful advance past Shimsk.
The Soviets are increasingly in a commanding position in this Scenario. To achieve higher levels of victory, they need to capture one or two more objectives. With Stalino and Smolensk both on the front line, they have every possibility of gaining a Decisive Victory. Stalino is probably a lost cause for the Axis, and they will have to consider whether they should prioritise long term survival versus a slightly better result in the Scenario. For instance, the Germans cannot keep taking a loss on DP results to avoid a retreat.
A notable feature of this turn was the success of the partisans. Three Panzer Corps have been put out of supply or interdicted. As two other Panzer Corps were reduced to remnants, this will badly affect the next Axis player turn.
Axis hold 12 Objective Cities – Soviet Operational Victory.
Game Turn 6: 8 – 15 August 1943
The situation remained stable on most of the fronts held by Army Groups North and Centre. Still, Army Group South could no longer hold its positions, and a retreat toward the Dnieper was inevitable. Sumy was evacuated, and 4 Panzer Army and 6 Army planned to fall back through Krasnograd and Poltava.
Hitler and OKH would not accept a simple retreat, and Von Kleist was ordered to make a major offensive with his Army Group A to hold on to those parts of the Donbas still under Axis control and to distract any Soviet forces which might otherwise head for the Dnieper.
The Luftwaffe was ordered to cover Von Kleist’s efforts by raiding Soviet airfields as far distant as Valyuki. These were only successful in so far as they kept the VVS engaged in defensive measures. Army Group A did succeed in driving back the Soviet penetration between Stalino and Mauripol. In addition, with Rotmistrov temporarily reassigned to another command, the 5 Guards Tank Army was badly battered by the Germans at Barankove, and the Soviet unit had to be taken out of the line for refitting.
Von Kleist’s attack gave the Axis cover to reinforce their defences at Stalino and also for Army Group South to stage a retreat in good order. This also required Army Group Centre to release units to assist on Von Manstein’s northern flank, and this created a weakness in the German line between the Desna and Seym Rivers.
So, the Axis used the Blitzkrieg event for a Major Offensive, which was little more than a tactical attack with only two combats and one air attack. Nevertheless, two more Soviet mechanised steps are lost, and the Axis are able to maintain their defence of Stalino. Whether this can be sustained to the end of the Scenario might be doubted, but the Axis would not have had the required OP or the initial mobility to do this without playing the Event.
As the German line in northern Ukraine relaxed and fell back, the Soviet Voronezh and Steppe Fronts began to pursue advancing nearly 100 miles in five days. Vatutin’s men quickly occupied Sumy and overtook the Germans retreating in the Seym Valley. The German 6 Army was split, with the 11 Corps retreating after a hard action against the 2 Tank Army, leaving the 42 and 101 Corps to be surrounded near Biskin.
Konev’s Steppe Front, meanwhile, had raced to Poltava and Krasnograd before they found strong Axis forces between them and the Dnieper. Both advancing Soviet Fronts were outrunning their supplies. The Southwest and South Fronts were unable to advance further. The Axis defences around Stalino were still formidable, and in the fighting for the Stalino-Mauripol railway, the Russians were stalled.
The Russians gained a notable victory in the Black Sea when on 11 August, elements of the Trans-Caucasian Front got a bridgehead on the Crimean coast near Kerch. This should have been impossible, but the German 17 Army was weak and preparing to fall back from Kerch, which seemed a vulnerable point to them. The Soviets then rapidly reinforced their crossing, and within days they were pursuing the Germans toward Sevastopol.
The Soviet offensive in the north was making steadier progress. Four German Corps were in danger of envelopment between the Luga River and Soltsy. The 22 Army of the Leningrad Front crossed the Luga River on 13 August after breaking a German line at Gatchina. Soltsy had also fallen to the Russians on this date, and the 5 Tank Army was across the Pskov-Luga railway.
Finally, the Central Front captured Bryansk on 12 August. After this, the Soviet 10 Guards Army advanced along the Bryansk-Roslavl line and, in doing so, drove a wedge between the German 2 and 4 Armies.
All these actions were consuming Soviet supplies and machinery at a feverish rate. Fortunately, Lend-Lease supplies were arriving in great quantities, and this aid could help keep Soviet units equipped.
The Soviets got across the Kerch Strait with a 1:2 attack supported by a battleship (not that the battleship helped). There is a distinct luck advantage for the Soviets so far.
The Soviet advance is now getting rather dangerous for the Axis. For the first time in this Scenario, German units have been surrounded, and others are nearly surrounded. Rescuing them will impair the Germans ability to optimise their defence.
The Soviets played “More Spam” and rolled sufficiently for three resources.
Axis hold 12 Objective Cities – Soviet Operational Victory.
Game Turn 7: 16 – 23 August 1943
With the powerful Soviet advances in the Ukraine and elsewhere, it was increasingly obvious the German Army needed to withdraw and find better lines. However, there were political and military obstacles everywhere which made even short retreats difficult.
Army Group North had to fight a major battle at Ludoni to assist the retreat of Lindemann’s 18 Army from the Luga area. The Soviet 5 Tank Army was smashed and withdrew from Ludoni, having lost the best part of two Tank Corps.
Army Group Centre made slow retreats while still holding the Smolensk Line. Hitler refused absolutely any abandonment of Smolensk, and this exposed Weiss’ 2 Army, which had little support from Panzer units as the 2 Panzer Army (now under Rendulic) had been sent south to Chernigov.
Von Manstein had two conflicting objectives. He wanted to establish a new line on the Dnieper River between Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk. However, the 42 Corps and 103 Corps were trapped by the Soviets around Biskin. An attempt to rescue these forces with the 57 Panzer Corps failed in the Battle of Hadyach on 17 – 18 August thanks to a heroic defence by the Soviet 6 Tank Army. Von Manstein considered he could not delay the retreat to the Dnieper any longer, and on 19 August, the surrounded Germans were abandoned to their fate.
Von Kleist secured permission to abandon the Donbas. Army Group A began a race for the Dnieper, which was hampered by the slow speed of the Romanians. A garrison of the forgotten was left in Stalino for the Soviets to round up.
The failure to rescue two Corps surrounded in the Ukraine is bad news for the Axis. Giving up Stalino means the issue in the Scenario is reduced to whether the Soviets will do well enough for a Decisive Victory. As Smolensk, Kiev, and Dnepropetrovsk are all within reach of the Soviets; there is every chance of this outcome.
The Soviet Union could see it was victorious. The main issue now was to make it a victory the Axis could not recover from.
The situation was most favourable in the south though an attempt to break into the central Crimea at Nizhnegorsky failed. Stalino fell to the Russians on 20 August, and the German pocket at Biskin was quickly suppressed though a few survivors wandered the steppe desperately looking for a way back to the Dnieper. The Soviets were in no condition to attempt a quick crossing of the Lower Dnieper between Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk. However, powerful armoured forces ranged across the steppe east of Zaporozhye, and several Axis units were in a difficult situation there following the Russians' capture of Mauripol.
The Soviets were also ramping up their effort against Army Group Centre. Rokossovsky cleared the Germans from the Bryansk railway almost as far as Gomel. The Soviet 65 Army was within 25 miles of that city on 23 August. In addition, the Bryansk and West Front were resupplied, and strong attacks were made in the direction of Roslavl, and the Soviets took Betlitsa and Spas-Demensk. Sokolovsky’s West Front was ordered to liberate Smolensk with the 3 and 4 Shock Armies. They were prevented by strong German resistance on the ground and in the air. The Luftwaffe made a great effort at Smolensk, and the VVS had their worst losses of the campaign there. The final success of the Soviets was the capture of Polotsk by 1 Shock Army on 21 August. This created a sizeable gap between Army Group North and Army Group Centre, which was very thinly held by Model’s 9 Army.
The Leningrad Front captured Luga on 20 August but otherwise made slow progress. That was due to the limited mechanised forces the Soviets had deployed in the north.
The Soviets are prevented from making attacks across the Dnieper because they are out of supply. How much of a breather this offers the Axis will have to be evaluated, but it will last to the end of the Scenario.
Overall, this Player-Turn is very alarming to the Axis because having lost 12 steps; it is difficult to see how they can recover from this punishment. There are no replacements now until the new season unless they can get some from cards. The steady attrition on the Soviets has not really slowed them down at all, although it has been considerable. A shortage of Soviet mechanised units might become a factor eventually but too late to help the Axis save this situation.
Axis hold 11 Objective Cities – Soviet Strategic Victory
Game Turn 8: 24 – 31 August 1943
On the Baltic coast, the Germans committed the reconstituted 3 Panzer Corps to clear the roads of Soviet partisans. They achieved this but only at the cost of losing most of their tanks in ambushes.
Army Group Centre struggled to stabilise its flanks. Model’s 9 Army restored its front along the Dvina west of Vitebsk. 2 Panzer Army was also committed east of Gomel, smashing the Soviet 61 Army near Horodnya. Both these operations were very costly to Soviet forces exposed to these counter-attacks.
Finally, the fighting east of Zaporozhye continued with both sides having strong armoured forces involved. The Axis still had substantial forces east of the Dnieper there, and the Soviet 3 Tank Army was badly depleted.
More Soviet forces are unsupplied. This should help the Axis in the next turn or two. The Axis keep up their counterattacking tactics. By destroying three more Soviet Large Units, there is a sliver of hope for the Axis.
The Red Army continued to accumulate successes on most of their fronts until it became undeniable that they had won a truly decisive victory over the Wehrmacht in the space of just two months.
In the north, the Leningrad front crossed the Narva River and occupied Narva. The difficulties the partisans had caused prevented the Germans from defending the river line effectively. Equally important was the success of the Soviet 22 Army, which pushed back the German line in the Pskov Forest and followed the retreat right through to the city of Pskov itself, which they found undefended. The German 16 Army now had a substantial enemy in its rear flank.
The most significant victories for the Russians were in the Smolensk – Roslavl operations carried out by the West Front and Bryansk Front. The Luftwaffe continued its great effort to defend Smolensk, but it was to no avail as the Soviet Shock Armies pressed hard in their ground attacks regardless, and the German 12 and 101 Corps pulled back, giving up the city on 29 August. When Roslavl fell on the same day, the Soviets had an opportunity to encircle three German Corps, and they achieved this within two more days after the West and Bryansk Fronts joined up.
Rokossovsky’s Central Front and Vatutin’s Voronezh Front both drove hard toward the Dnieper. They reached the river between Kiev and Mogilev, both places still held by the Germans. Nevertheless, the Soviet 57 Army found unguarded crossings near Oster. They crossed the river on 30 – 31 August and held a bridgehead at Ivankiv. Elsewhere the line of the river was held by the Germans into September.
The Germans also continued to slow Soviet advances in the south and in the Crimea as the Southwest and South Fronts outran their supplies between Stalino and Zaporozhye.
Axis held 10 Objective Cities – Soviet Decisive Victory
The capture of Smolensk gives the Soviets a Decisive Victory in the Citadel Scenario. I was a little shaken at how easily they did so, for they had 3:2 odds reduced to 1:1 by German defensive air support, but they prevailed on the 1 in 6 chance which forced an Axis retreat. Worse, the success of the 3:2 attack at Roslavl meant the Soviets could surround three German Corps and a Remnant. [Developer's Note: Since this article was written, the AP result has been modified; if the Attacker Presses, now the Defender has a choice to Press - either Retreat or take a
step loss. This is smoothed some of the "luck edges" in these low-odds Hail Mary attacks.]
One thing which was striking about the Soviet successes was how much they stemmed from lucky low odds attacks. It is not purely luck, however, because the Soviets were making lots of attacks – a few in the range 3:1 - most probably 3:2 or 2:1. They did not hesitate to attack at less favourable odds, and some of those I am a little puzzled what to make of the situation. I had thought a more disciplined Axis play would help avoid the Soviet Decisive Victory achieved in my previous play of this scenario. The improved Axis play only managed to delay this for five additional turns, and they have mounting losses. In all the steps lost were 44 Axis and 58 Soviet. It would take both sides two seasons to replace those losses.
I cannot be sure when the Axis would be able to stabilise the position or whether they will be able to do so even when the autumn mud occurs. On the other hand, those five extra turns might prove very important for long-term Axis survival.
[Developer's Note: Just before this article was written, the AP result has been modified; if the Attacker Presses, now the Defender has a choice to Press - either Retreat or take a step loss. This is smoothed some of the "luck edges" in these low-odds Hail Mary attacks.]
I suspect I need to improve further Axis defence in depth. I am torn between redoing the Scenario looking for further improvements in Axis play (even improvements in their luck would be useful), or continuing this and seeing when and how the Soviets might be stopped.