Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bolt Action Battle Report: Operation Barbarossa, Battle for Smolensk

On 6 July 1941, forces from 10th Panzer attacked across the Dnieper River towards Elnya, quickly overwhelming forces from the Soviet 13th Army.

On Sunday, John came over with his recently painted Soviet forces and we replayed a game based on this river crossing (though we might not have actually known it at the time).

Here's what the table looked like.  Looking south.  Soviets will defend in the village on the left, and the Germans will attack through the woods in the center from the right.  The bridge (key terrain for both sides) is just to the south of the woods in this photo.

John had an infantry company, which seemed like about seven thousand Soviet soldiers, supported by a commissar, two anti tank guns, and a T34 tank.  And a really unfortunate medic.  His 1st platoon was an LMG squad, an SMG squad, and two rifle squads.  This platoon was also backed-up by a T-34/85 tank, tank riders, and an anti-tank gun.  John's 2nd platoon was 2 LMG squads, a rifle squad, and an anti-tank gun.

On the German side I brought a Panzergrenadier company team.  I had a company commander in a Panzer IV, a platoon of three Panzer IV tanks, an infantry platoon with 3 squads, and a veteran squad in a Hanomag half track which represented the combined remnants of a platoon from the earlier stages of Barbarossa.

The Soviet higher HQ (regiment) mission was to block the German advance by preventing them from crossing the river at any cost.  The German higher HQ (battalion) mission was to seize the bridge over the Dnieper in order to pass the 10th Panzer forward into Elnya.  John selected missions for his forces that focused on a spoiling attack across the river in order to disrupt the German advance.  He also set a victory condition for his Commissar to execute at least one soldier.  He did.  Several.  I selected platoon objectives: the tank platoon would seize the bridge (both sides) while the infantry platoon would seize the woods on the west side of the river and the town on the east side of the river.  Neither John nor myself revealed our company and platoon missions to one another.

John deployed his 1st Platoon on the east side of the river and the rest of his forces were held in reserve.  On seeing his deployment, my plan changed a bit as I realized there was no way I could advance across the open space on the north side of the woods, so I changed my plan and decided to advance through the woods in the center and use smoke to screen an assault crossing of the river into the town.

 Soviet AT gun with commanding fields of fire to the north of the bridge.  Bad juju.

John's deployment with the bridge in the southern sector of the battlefield.  The Germans will attempt to advance infantry through the woods north of the bridge, cross the river to secure the south side of the bridge and eliminate any anti-tank threats, then push the tanks across the bridge to secure the river crossing.  What could possibly go wrong?

LMG squad defending the east side of the river.  I would need to drop smoke here to get my infantry across the river.

AT gun waiting to smoke the first thing to cross the bridge.  That guy needed to be dealt with, but I didn't have any perfect ideas yet.

The German Forces move into their assault position.  I advanced the squads into the forest and was going to shift the tanks to the right to cover the approaches to the bridge.

John has a cunning plan for this tank:

John surprised me again with a quick counterattack across the bridge led by his tank, which caused me to shift my infantry to the right towards the bridge.  John's T-34 immediately smoked one of my tanks and then immobilized the company commander's tank.  His tank riders jumped the gun and rushed forward without support, and were cut down by my rifle squads and the veteran squad.

John starts to move his arriving reserves into position to attack across the river and into the woods.  This is going to be a problem.

One tank burns and the commander's tank is immobilized.  My veterans had to deploy early to deal with the tank riders while my infantry advances into the woods.

John pressed the attack in the center and massed forces near the bridge for a big push into the woods.  Realizing I had completely lost the initiative, I backed my squads out of the woods and set up a defensive line to meet his attack.  Then my forward observer called an artillery strike.

My tanks pinned the T-34 pretty well, but could not penetrate the armor.  Meantime, John's horde of infantry is massed to bring the hurt across the river.  Looks like an artillery target for me.  We decided that the infantry could advance across the river, but could not fire while doing so.

The artillery strike obliterated the medic (she took over 14 hits from a medium howitzer).  Pinned the T-34 beyond recovery, and generally forced john to spread out his attacking forces to advance piecemeal into the forest.

The fight for the woods was the central crisis for this battle.  I had my units in ambush, so John's initial advance was met with a shredding wall of MG-42 fire.  John's LMG squads responded in kind, though, and my three squads in the woods got hammered pretty hard.  Then one of my squads FUBARed and annihilated its neighbor squad with friendly fire.  Crap.

Here you can see my squads on the edge of the woods as I withdrew them and transitioned to defense.

John's infantry is across the river, but not in the concentration he had hoped, mainly due to the artillery barrage messing things up for him.

At turn six, the Germans were still on the West side of the river, though the large number of Soviet casualties were starting to take their toll on John's forces.  John and I decided to play on.

John had nearly cleared me out of the woods when I committed my tanks to the edge of the forest to smash his infantry attack.  My veteran squad in the Hanomag redeployed to the north end of the woods and destroyed John's last LMG squad.  Then in a decisive but late move I pushed a Panzer IV across the bridge (who in-turn pushed the wrecked T-34 across the bridge) and got a perfect shot off on the AT gun, knocking it out.  By that point the Soviet lines had collapsed and the bridgehead was open, but it was too late for the Wehrmacht.  The sun had fallen and due to the long delay in forcing the river crossing, the German battalion commander recalled the assault company to establish a hasty defense along the West side of the Dnieper for the inevitable Soviet counterattack.  My commander, who had suffered an immobilized tank on turn 2, certainly faced court martial proceedings for incompetence and failure to achieve the battalion objective within time constraints.

Germans finally clear out the woods and establish a bridgehead on the East side of the river, but it is too little, too late.  They will need to withdraw and prepare to defend against the Soviet counterattack in the morning.  John's spoiling attack resulted in the near annihilation of his command, but by delaying the Germans as they dealt with the attacking Soviet infantry, John's risky plan stalled the German penetration and secured an operational win for the Red Army.  Good Game!

The German commander in his immobilized tank had a very not good day.

Mechanized infantry Veterans eliminate the last Soviet infantry in the woods.

German tanks roll across the bridge and into town as evening falls, only to be told to return to the west side of the river, ceding their hard-won ground.

This was a really enjoyable game.  The fact that we did not know one another's victory conditions led to some really fun game play.  John totally surprised me with his spoiling attack, and it paid off for him in the end.  Even though his company was almost completely annihilated in the late stages of the battle, they managed to hold-up the German advance long enough for their higher headquarters to react and force the Germans to transition to the defense.  Great stuff.

Butcher's bill:

Soviet losses, around 90 plus a tank.  Advancing into ambushing German machine guns is costly.

German losses, 16 (four of which were friendly fire), one tank killed, and one tank immobilized.

The takeaway: Quantity has a quality all its own.


  1. Thanks for hosting such a good game. Reading the battle report is like reliving it. I thought I had momentum right up until the artillery spread me out. I had planned to loose two squads in the woods, allowing three to survive and dig in, but the river was really costly. The game was very cinematic. It helped that we kept playing beyond turn 6. The battle felt like it ended properly.

    1. I had a lot of fun. As soon as I saw your troops massed in the center I knew I had a problem. I couldn't push tanks across the bridge until I dealt with the infantry on my side of the river. Great game.

  2. "If we can create a well-played game, just one, we will be able to acknowledge, without embarrassment or question, our own and each other's genuine claim to excellence."

    -Bernard DeKoven, "The Well-Played Game: A Player's Philosophy."