This battle was fought rapidly over one evening at Trebian's 'Shedquarters' in two hours rather than the six that I had originally envisiged. Present were Messrs. Graham, Phil, Will and Harvey, a newcomer to NQM, but by no means a novice gamer. Graham took command of Soviet 5th Army. Will and Harvey took command of 2nd Panzer Korps. Phil turned up slightly later and took control of the southern armoured thrust of 4 Panzer Division and Gross Deutchland.
Other newcomers to the game were the new casualty markers. Once the players had become accustomed to them, they speeded the combat sequence up significantly, and Graham deserves the credit for pressing me to actually do something about the ****** pins that rarely fail to draw blood at least once in a game. Contempory gamers are clearly made of less stern stuff than John Sandars, but we all appreciate the increased game speed!
The plan in my own mind was for two infantry divisions to fix the Soviet infantry position around the rail junctions with probing attacks, then outflank them to the south with the panzer divisions. Von Wyler had other ideas* and attacked due west down the railway on a two-division front supported by korps artillery. I was explaining to Harvey the tradition of black heavy dice rolling low numbers, when Graham and Will immediately proved me wrong with some demon dice.
As a veteran NQM player, Will preceded his infantry attack with Korp-level artillery bombardment and an airstrike by the Luftwaffe. The PVO Strany was up to the challenge and had some success in fighting off the attack. I was probably a bit generous in allowing the Soviets to switch army artillery targets early on, but by this stage of the war, they were beginning to develop the ability to put tactical doctrine into practice.
The German attack began to cause and accrue some very heavy casualties. Notice that 296 Infantry Division is still on its movement tray. It was easier to do this than explain to Harvey that unit formations are not desparately important at this scale, and usually stay in base contact to count as organised. I needn't have worried. Harvey picked up what was going on very quickly, like the seasoned campaigner that he is.
For this game I limited the number of stands in a division able to initiate a firefight to six, as we were using one-third strength divisions. Even so, the German attack by 295 Infantry Division began to bite into the northern defensive position of 55 Rifle Division, although 296 Infantry Division had less success against 56 Rifle Division, being repelled and only making headway when 4 Panzer Division cut its deep hook short and turned north into the attack.
I had expected Phil to outflank the Soviet 5th Army and cut into their supply line with his armour, perhaps even disrupting West Front Headquarters, He is normally pretty reliable in this respect, but he judged that the infantry attack needed support and shortened his hook to attack 55 and 58 Rifle Divisions directly.
The cost was heavy to 4 Panzer Division, which got caught by Soviet army-level artillery. Phil was using his own 22nd Panzer** to represent an understrength 4 Panzer Division. Eventually the continual hammering drove the Soviet defences in. They survived a number of morale checks, giving ground grudgingly and responding to 'stiffening' by their commisars (roll another die to pass a failed morale test and deduct that number of hit points from your own side. You can do this as often as you want until you pass or run out of troops!)
Graham by now had issued an entertaining series of predictions about the inevitibility of socialist victory that saw his 55 Rifle Division gathering its second wind and counterattacking 295 Infantry Division to drive it back . In most other aspects though his pronouncements and the course of the battle coincided only tenuously***.
The arrival of 4 Tank Corps from reserves put any thought of further German exploitation on hold. Off-table manouvering from 2nd SS Panzer Division and 297 Infantry Division to the southern flank was countered by 20 Guards Rifle and 7 Motor Rifle Divisions, allowing Southwest Front headquarters to escape further east.
The real Soviet victory though, as 5th Army withdrew, much reduced but still in good order, was that they had fought four German divisions to a standstill and given time for West Front headquarters to pull further east as the first drops of the Rasputitsa began to fall.
My thanks go to the players for fitting a lot into a very short space of time, and putting up with arbitrary decisions made to speed the narrative along. A few Heroes of the Soviet Union will have been made from the bitter defence of the TAMBOV Rail Junctions by 5th Army. For this battle, an infantry division had between two or three six-stand infantry battalions, so in other words, they were fighting at regimental strength. At this stage of the war this is not much of an NQM scale-down. I did however, leave a good deal of the supporting and logistic stuff out. two hours did not give enough time to consider supplies and ammunition.
4 Panzer may be receiving some new panzer IVs over winter, as it left a trail of burning Pz38(t)s strewn in front of the Soviet positions. The strongest unit that never made it onto the table, with three full panzer battalions was 2nd SS Panzer Division. Perhaps another day?
* Often, it's the same idea : "I can see the enemy in front of me, so let's all attack frontally!".
** Reputedly the worst panzer division on the Eastern Front. Phil is almost magnetically drawn to this type of unit as an antidote to the massed ranks of Panthers to be found elsewhere on the web. I'm not criticising Tiger/Panther armies, just saying.
*** Phil called it 'trash talk' but I felt it showed an understanding of Soviet mentality - Stalin didn't care who he annoyed and felt that everyone was 'out to get him'. For the record, the Germans were out to get him; the Umpire wasn't.