Das Reich faces defeat as the Soviets counterattack!
Pavlovka campaign, mission report #3
Despite having only limited forces at my disposal - a mixture of unmotorised and armoured (engineer) infantry - I was, I felt, doing quite well my in battle to clear Pavlovka and secure bridgeheads over the River Mzha. I had destroved some Soviet defenders, left some battered remnants surrounded in my wake, and secured a small bridgehead over a ford to the west of the town, with my 'foot' infantry. To the east, I decided that my panzer pioneers would by-pass the remaining Reds holding Pavlovka on the centre, and secure another crossing to the east. All this went well - until the Soviets decided to do something about it. In fact, they decided to wipe out both my bridgeheads, starting with the one on my left.
Here, my force consisted of two unmotorised infantry platoons, one with a self-propelled AT gun for direct fire support - a Marder II, pictured at top. We still hadn't had time to dig in, but I'd deployed the platoons in depth facing roughly north-west, astride the expected axis of the enemy attack. There was no certaintly the Soviets would comply with our expectations, but I wanted to keep my platoons in decent visual cover in a compact, mutually-supporting grouping. No point in feeding Oxo cubes to the lion, as a British officer said of Arnhem. If the Reds went another way, fair enough, but if they came to get us, well, we'd be ready for them.
Here's the commander of my left-hand platoon, anxiously scanning towards the western edge of the woods. The river is about 50 metres his left.
And here are some of his troops. As it happens, they wouldn't have long to wait, because it was in this platoon's sector, that the Reds would first show their hand.
As usual, I'm playing with labels turned off and avoding a 'God's eye' view of the battlefield. This makes combat look and feel much more realistic - and a lot more suspenseful. GT:OS likes to keep you waiting, rather than pitching you right into the fight - time acceleration is available for the suspense-haters or the time-deficient.
The party begins when my left-hand platoon - the one with the Marder - spots the enemy, moving left to right across its front, towards the river.
I have already enabled firing at will in Initial Orders and it's not long before the foremost sections have opened up. They are ably supported by the Marder, which uses its AA machinegun as well as the Pak.
Some of the Reds are shooting back at us, but it's obvious that others are crossing the river up ahead, turning our left flank. This isn't good, but I have set up with a section back to the left rear, so as to provide us a degree of all-round defence, textbook style. I'm still under attack from the west and I'm not going to split my force to go chasing after the enemy. I have a second platoon to our north-east; but they are covering the right flank of our position and I'm not about to compromise it by redeploying them. I've made my plan and for now, I'll stick to it, rather than dancing to the Soviets' tune.
I take the luxurtyof pushing the camera out to the west and south to the river -not too far, just far enough to get a better view of what my forward troops can already see. It's quickly obvious that some enemies have got over the river, but plenty of them have fallen in the attempt.
My Marder has been shelling the enemy during their crossing, but now switches targets - engaging the enemy in the woods to the west. He fires several rounds, the loader steadily feeding the long 7.5cm rounds into the breech each time. But some of his shells splinter the trees just to his front, causing casualties to my own troops.
I track the camera about a hundred meters to the west, and get a closer view of the enemy advance. There aren't too many of them, but they are coming on, somewhat hesitantly, using fire and manoeuvre.
My Marder cuts into them with an HE round which bursts just in front of an enemy officer, who falls to his knees before keeling over.
However, there are some casualties on my side, too, including those which I believe are down to wood splinters thrown out by the Marder's fire.
At this point, the shooting dies away. The platoon to the north remains unengaged, but any thought of redeploying to sweep up such Soviet forces as have penetrated to our rear ends when GT:OS decides the battle is over, for now. Despite my boys having inflicted much heavier casualties, we are adjudged to have been defeated. Evidently this is because because the Reds have made substantial gains in territory.
I'm not too worried about this. I'm more concerned about preserving both my own forces and the bridgehead, in both of which goals I have succeeded. I don't think the enemy behind us are in any great strength. I am happy to leave the job of mopping them up to other parts of the Division which I know from the briefing are coming up from the west and south - including some heavy tanks. We're still stretched fairly thinly up here, and the critical question is whether we can hold on until the heavy stuff arrives.
...to be continued!