Monday, 18 February 2013

Monthly Archives: February 2012

Battle for Girovka Bend

The toys got a rare outing to the Monday Night Group this week, (after many weeks of meeting on Wednesdays or Thursdays, the group is back to its eponymous night). I took the opportunity to game a particularly interesting part of the South Western Front around Kharkov. XLIV and XXIV Korps were tasked with securing rail bridges against what was expected to be weak Soviet opposition. This was to be a prelude to 1 Pz Korps attacking South West to disrupt Southern Front‘s attack against the southern flank of Army Group South.
Our host was the Revd Ian Lowell, with Graham, Chris A.  and Richard rounding out the Soviets. Will and Ian took the German side, with Phil (yes, that Phil) bringing 1 Gebirgsjaeger as late arriving reinforcements (not that late as it turned out). The start state looked something like this, representing the front and army group commanders’ plans. As we shall see, the situation on the ground was slightly different :

The Soviets realised early on that 3 German Divisions : 71, 262 and 101 light, were trapped in the fork  of the river bend and attacked north and south more or less simultaneously on the morning of the first day. At this stage, I thought that 12H were east of the river. It turned out that they were not, and the unit marked up as them was an extra division that no-one knew was there! I think that Will had enterprisingly found an extra Panzergrenadier division from the reserves.

For the avoidance of confusion, the picture below is of the Kessel on Day 3 when the German counterattacks have pushed 11Cav back over the bridge in the south, but are steadily losing ground to the Guards and tanks in the north. Richard’s well-tailored arms are putting pins onto 22GR.

By day 2 they had pushed 101 Light division back almost to their bridgehead and we can see 12H where they were supposed to be.

By Day 3, 22GR and 5Tk had succeeded in pushing 71 division south into what was fast becoming a Kessel. Richard discovered that T-60s are quite capable of inducing ‘tank terror’ in unsupported infantry. Even the camera lens is shaking in this shot!

Richard, in charge of the defence of KHARKOV and fired by the possession of 2 guards and one mechanised division threw off all attacks by XLIV Korps and then also attacked south into the area held by 10 Hungarian division, making steady progress to the railway line.

XXIV Korps was not idle whilst this attack was developing. On day two it threw its weight against  GIROVKA and its bridge, but to less effect than might have been hoped. By day three, 1 Gibirgsjaeger division launched itself into the attack against GIROVKA. There was some Soviet confusion as to how far forward 227 division was. It proved to be in GIROVKO, not STALINO as thought when the map was drawn.  This happens a lot in games with commanders losing track of units, sometimes for days at a time.

The Soviets also riposted on the third day with a fierce attack against STALINO that swayed back and forth several times until the Germans were finally ejected on the sixth day of the operation. The timely provision of a commisar detachment (one of Phil’s) may have helped! We allow the commisar to override a morale check by firing at his own unit and adding his score to the casualties. They are not popular chaps!

In the south of the German attack on day four the Luftwaffe made an appearance with two squadrons of He 111s attacking VOROSHEVGRAD to forestall any reinforcements that might be massing there. You can see them flying east in the corner of the picture below.

Whilst this was going on , 10 Hungarian division succeeded in establishing a pioneer bridge over the destroyed railway bridge on the western river fork. This was not to survive long though, as on day five, a VVS attack onto the newly established bridge destroyed it and sealed the fate of any forces trapped in the bend.

You can see the Zementer* squadron making its run-in with 3 squadrons of Ratas in support

A six on one black heavy die ensures that the bridge is closed for business!

One Stormovik and three 1-16 squadrons took part in the attack. It is worth noting that my ropey old Mustang conversion delivered the goods once more, but the photographers insisted that Phil’s better painted model be substituted for propoganda purposes. This is the shot below that you will see on more accomplished blogs :-) 

Ian’s legendary reputation for rolling sixes deserted him as the Soviet jaws closed around his trapped forces in the Kessel. At this point, momentum was lost on both sides as the Soviets outran their immediate supply lines and the Germans began to pull back to their start lines, having lost two divisions (71 and 262) to the enemy. Many of the divisions on both sides in the south were at between 20% and 50% strength, although because of the plentiful rail network, most units could still trace supply lines at the end of the battle, as can be seen by the truck markers.

This setback to the Germans will have consequences for the forthcoming second stage of Fall Blau. The two Korps Commanders will be having interviews without coffee before their Army Chief of Staff. Losses were heavy on both sides around STALINO and GIROVKA.
The players all kindly professed to enjoy the game. Richard was introduced to the joys of being an NQM Corps commander in a fairly gentle fashion and will hopefully want to repeat the experience. General Vyler reinforced his reputation as a steady commander in defence, and Generals Evanski and Agerov added another medal to their already substantial rows. General Stahl added to his reputation as the Minifuehrer’s fireman, but not even he could put out a fire without buckets. The game started at about 8pm and finished at a little before 11pm with pauses for coffee and Welsh cakes.

* The Germans called StormoviksZementers‘ (Concrete mixers) because of their toughness

NQM Soviet Air Defence Commands

In addition to an air army  as previously mentioned supporting each front commander, the Soviets had military district air defence commands as follow :
Leningrad, Baltic, Western, Kiev, Odessa, Transcaucasus, Archangelskii, Kharkov, Moscow, North Caucasus, Orel, Volga, Central Asia, Transbaikal, Ural, Siberia.
These were in addition to the air army that each front had for direct ground support. Each geographically named military district air defence command had a subordinate front air defence command (PVO) and an air command that was tasked with protecting a geographic area, being independent of the army front commands with their own supporting air armies.
The numbers of air divisions in each military district were variable, but might typically number some 6 Divisions containing 20-30 air regiments (About (12 + 18) NQM fighter models). We are still dealing with big numbers here, The Moscow Military District had (30) NQM models plus (23) from the Moscow front and more from the flanking army fronts, say another (46) to give perhaps (99) NQM models in total, across an area of 3 army fronts. This compares to the (15) NQM models that the allies had at Gazala for one army of 2 corps (equivalent to 2 Soviet armies).
Caution :  I have taken these sums from a direct count of the orbats on the excellent (  for 1941.To see the number of models available in any part of the front, you would have to look at the relevant military district and then extrapolate. I would suggest that by summer 1942 orbats were running around 1/3 of their 1941 strengths, and newer aircraft would be trickling in on the Soviet side. This would give perhaps (20) rather than (55) NQM models, a more maneagable total. PVO fronts normally covered airspace over several ground army fronts. That gives us 3 independent forces for the Soviets :
Ground forces (RKKA)Rabočě-Krěst’janskaja Krasnaja Armija (Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army)
Air defence forces (PVO)ProtivoVozdushnaya Oborona Strany, PVO Strany (Anti-Air Defense of the Nation)
Air Forces (VVS) – Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily (Military Air Forces)

The acronyms above were all sourced from Wickepedia

Military District Air Defence Command

(1-5) Front Air Defence Command (PVO)

(Moscow had 4 commands with 8 regiments and 6 battalions)

(3-7) Air Defence Artillery Regiments
1 AA gun (s3)
These may be 57mm, 40mm or Maxim MMG regiments

(0-2) Barrage Balloon Regiments
Designate a line as having barrage balloons, which prevents low level attacks

(0-3) Air Warning Regiments
0-1 Radar (late war lend-lease)(s3), 0-1 searchlight (s3)

1-6 Air divisions (Moscow had 2) comprising :

24 PVO Division
(2 – 10) PVO Fighter Regiments (Moscow Command had 2 divisions of 5 as follow:)
11PVO – (2) I-16
16PVO – (2) I-16
24PVO – (1) LaGG-3
27PVO – (2) I-16
34PVO – (2) I-16

78 PVO Division (forming June 1941)
176PVO – (1) I-153
177PVO – (1) I-16
178PVO – (1) I-16
233PVO – (1) I-16
309PVO – (1) I-16

In addition Moscow had an Air Command of 3 Divisions with 1 forming, containing 11 regiments and 7 forming.

Comparative Strengths Tank vs Aircraft Crusader/Venezia (GAZALA)

I was looking up servicable combat aircraft strengths for the Western Desert (as one does) and wondered how they compared to servicable tank strengths (excluding reserves) around the time of Rommel’s 26th of May Offensive to take TOBRUK (Operation Venezia); known to the British as the GAZALA battle. This  followed the British Operation Crusader, begun in November 1941.

Given that figures fluctuated as battles were fought, caution is needed, but here is what Ellis (1993) has to say in The World War II Databook. (NQM 30:1 strengths in bold brackets as always). More tanks and ‘planes were around in the logistic chain and the Mediterranean theatre, but I have excluded these.  The numbers make for a maneagable campaign and will doubtless be further jigged to reflect the models that I actually have.  I was surprised at the Allied types breakdown from Brad Hunter (2006) on the Axis History Forum;namely the 5:1 Hurricane to Spitfire ratio. A huge amount of ratio-ing and extrapolation has gone into these figures, and will doubtless continue.

November 1941 (Crusader)


Tanks – 711 (23),  Aircraft – 445 in DAF (15), broken down as :
Armoured cars :  (8) Marmon-Herrington, (2) Humber

Light/Cruiser : (3) Honey, (11) Crusader
Medium : (1) Lee, (3) Grant
Infantry/Heavy : (3) Matilda, (5) Valentine
(1) Boston, (2) Baltimore, (2) Mitchell – Bombers
(5) Hurricane - Fighters/Ground Attack

(2) Kittyhawk, (1) Tomahawk, (1) Warhawk, (1) Spitfire – Fighters


Tanks – 244 (9),   Aircraft – 360 * (12), broken down as :
Light : (2) PzII
Medium : (5) PzIIIh
Heavy : (1)  PzIVe
(4) Bf 109, (2) Bf 110 – Fighters
(2) Ju 87 - Dive Bombers
(2) Ju 88, (2) He 111 - Bombers


Tanks – 146 (5)  Aircraft – 300 (10) broken down as :
Light: (1) L6
Medium : (1)  M11, (3) M40
(3) C.R. 32, (4) C.R. 42 Falco(1) G. 50 Freccia, (1) M.C. 200 Saetta – Fighters
(1) Z. 1007 Alcione - Bomber
* Ratioed from (183 North Africa/375 total Mediterranean) in June 1942 and approx 600 total Nov 1941

May 1942 GAZALA (Venezia)


Tanks – 849 (28),  Aircraft – 463 (15), broken down as :
Armoured cars :  (10) Marmon-Herrington, (3) Humber

Cruiser : (3) Honey, (10) Crusader
Medium : (1) Lee, (4) Grant
Infantry : (3) Matilda, (7) Valentine
(1) Boston, (2) Baltimore, (2) Mitchell – Bombers
(5) Hurricane - Fighters/Ground Attack

(2) Kittyhawk, (1) Tomahawk, (1) Warhawk, (1) Spitfire – Fighters


Tanks – 330 (11),   Aircraft – 183 ( 6), broken down as :
Light : (2) PzII
Medium : (8) PzIIIh
Heavy : (1)  PzIVe
(2) Bf 109, (1) Bf 110 – Fighters
(1) Ju 87 - Dive Bombers
(1) Ju 88, (1) He 111 - Bombers


Tanks – 228 ( 7)  Aircraft – 248( 8) broken down as :
Light: (2) L6
Medium : (2)  M11, (3) M40
(2) C.R. 32, (2) C.R. 42 Falco(1) G. 50 Freccia, (1) M.C. 200 Saetta – Fighters
(1) Z. 1007 Alcione - Bomber
Alcione (Kingfisher) bomber converted from a Liberator, and Freccia fighter by QRF from the Author’s collection

… and for anyone who has read this far, I am adding thumbnails to the aircraft pages as I try to make sense of the air strengths in NQM terms for various theatres of war. (Last updated September 2012)

The Soviet Air Force Toybox.

By special request (You know who you are Tim!), here is the NQM collection of Soviet Air Armies (PVO) and Long Range Bomber Force (ADD) :



(2) I-15 (Il-153 from in early “”sky laquer”)

(3) I-16 Rata (Author’s models)

(4) LaGG-3 ( in winter MK-7 white laquer)

(2) Yak-7B ( in AMT-4/-6/-7 laquer)

(1) MiG-3 (Author’s Spitfire conversion in the older AEh-15 dark green lacquer and a red banner thumb to show what it should really look like!)

(2) Spitfire (lend-lease) (

(2) P-51 Mustang (lend-lease) (


(3) U-2 Kukuruznik (Another  dodgy diecast from the Author)

(1) A-20 Boston (lend-lease) (


(1) Il-21 Stormovik (early single seat 1/200 Author’s model)
(1) Il-22 Stormovik (later twin seat, converted from P-51 by Author)

(2) P-47 Thunderbolt (lend-lease) (


(1) TB-3 (TB-3 Bomber converted to G-2 transport originally by Revd Ian Lowell in the Author’s collection and one from to show what it should really look like)
(1) Il-4 (Author’s conversion of a Japanese Betty and from

(1) Pe-8 (Author’s conversion of a USAF Flying Fortress and from again)

Missing from this list are the hordes of AA regiments, represented in my army at the moment by a few 1/72 and 15mm Bofors guns borrowed from my US and British collection

And here they are in a disorderly state, waiting to be bombed by the Luftwaffe! These boxes probably look disorganised enough to enter the “show us your spares box” thread”

For the inner modeller inside us all, there are many online resources. This one is a good start : (

Soviet Air Forces VVS

The Soviet Air Forces on the Eastern Front

A Luftwaffe Fw 189 Uhu (Owl) searches in vain for VVS orbats. Converted P-38 by the Author
If the Luftwaffe on the Eastern front is slippery to pin down, then the Soviet air forces make it look a model of clarity! A combination of limited and conflicting sources, massive early losses and constant replacements and attrition mean that this orbat is an approximation at best.
Summer 1941 saw a huge proportion of the Soviet air assets destroyed close to the border, with both Soviet and Luftwaffe orbats reduced to 20-33% of their initial strengths in 1941.

The Author's storage box for the VVS is a faithful reproduction of the Soviet state of organisation days into the Axis invasion

It was normal for Soviet regiments to be operating at 1/3, or squadron strength. Depending on the scenario, you could either field the correct number of regiments at one strength point each (s1), or amalgamate them to 1/3 of the correct number of regiments.

See this link for a breakdown of  forces :

For 1940 – 41 Boyd (1977) gives the following for the Western Military District :
3rd Air Army
9th Composite Air Division (fighters, bombers and Shturmovik regiments)

4th Air Army
10th Composite Air Division (fighters, bombers and Shturmovik regiments)

10th Air Army
11th Composite Air Division (fighters, bombers and Shturmovik regiments)

III GKO Air Corps
42nd Bomber Division
52nd Bomber Division
61st  Fighter Division

Directly allocated as required to air armies from MD HQ:
12th Bomber Division
13th Bomber Division
43rd Fighter Division
59th Fighter Division
60th Fighter Division

By 1943 the Soviets distinguished between Air Armies directly supporting the Army Fronts, the Air DefenceForces (PVO) and Long Range Air Arm (ADD), which comprised ADD bombers, GVF transport and special GKO transports and was as I understand it part of the VVS.
The air armies were allocated as follow :

KARELIAN FRONT                  (7th Air Army)             Gen Sokolov
LENINGRAD FRONT               (13th Air Army)           Gen Rybal’chenko
VOLKHOV FRONT                  (14th Air Army)            en Zhuravlev
2ND BALTIC FRONT               (15th Air Army)            Gen Payatikhin
1ST BALTIC FRONT                (3rd Air Army)             Gen Gromov
WESTERN FRONT                  (1st Air Army)              Gen Khudyakov
BRYANSK FRONT                  (16th Air Army)            Gen Kondratyuk
1ST UKRANIAN FRONT         (2nd Air Army)             Gen Rudenko
2ND UKRANIAN FRONT        (5th Air Army)              Gen Smirnov
3RD UKRANIAN FRONT        (17th Air Army)            Gen Krasovski
4TH UKRANIAN FRONT         (8th Air Army)             Gen Khryukin
INDEPENDENT MARITIME ARMY (4th Air Army)    Gen Naumenko

When compiling lists like these, you have to watch out for generals who move between armies, rather like the boy who always appeared at each end of those long school photos by running along the back.

Sources :
Boyd, A. (1977) The Soviet Air Force since 1918. London, Macdonald and Jane’s.

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