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GT:OS - Red revenge

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33LIMA    762

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!

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33LIMA    762

Die Bolshevisten kommen!




The battle around my eastern bridgehead kicked off next and was to make the one in the west look like a tea party. Here, I had pushed two platoons over the Mizha east of Pavlovka, deploying them in another wood, in a rough semicircle with its base running east-west parallel to the river. Both platoons had taken losses in previous battles. On the left, the infantry platoon had lost two section comamnders and its attached cannon-armed halftracked Schutzenpanzerwagen (SPW) , leaving the surviving crew fighting on foot. On the right was my panzer pioneer platoon, which had also lost an SPW, but still had its attached Marder III 7.5cm SP A/T gun (pictured at top). The platoon commmander also still had his own SPW, mounting a useful 3.7cm weapon in place of a cab-mounted MG. By this time - it's late afternoon, and daylight is beginning to fade - both vehicles and troops are dug in. The edge of the woods is about 20 meters behind the SPWs in the picture below, and the river is about 100 meters further away again, on the other side of a stretch of open ground.




At this point, a pair of small tracks runs south through the woods past our positions, with a small road to our right front, running up to the north-east. My pioneers are deployed in depth, mainly to cover these tracks and the road in particular. The latter runs from left to right across the picture below, about 50 meters beyond these SPWs. Anything coming down that road in particular, is going to get a good pasting. At least, that's the idea.




The Marder is in front of these two SPWs, covered by another one on each flank. All three light AFVs are also slightly dug-in, and the Marder has a good field of fire down to the road, between the trees.




I really love the visuals in GT:OS. The AFVs look as good as 1/35 models, never mind the 1/300 or 1/285 miniatures typically used in company-level wargames. Plus they're fully animated. And the environments are equally good. All this helps create the feeling that I'm in a wintry wood in the depths of the Soviet Union, waiting with my troops for the enemy to arrive, and not merely looking down onto a wargame table.


It's not long before the Soviet baillifs arrive with the evident intention of chucking us out of here. And this time, they aren't just some poor footsloggers. An APC of some sort is reported headed towards us along the road running up to the north-east.




Stand to! After several battles, the pioneers are depleted, so we'll be relying mainly on our own light armour in this battle. Doubtless knowing this, my SPW gunners crouch down behind their gunshields and prepare to give battle.




...to be continued!

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33LIMA    762

Achtung! Feindlicher panzer!




The Soviet APCs coming down the little road turn out to be Universal (aka Bren Gun) Carriers, a British type supplied to the USSR via the Arctic Convoys. The gunner in the lead vehicle is killed when our troops open up, having let him come down nearly to the end of the road.


He's not alone, though, as a second Carrier is coming down the track behind him




My Marder has a crack at the leading Carrier...




...which goes up in flames, causing the second one to shower clouds of snow from its tracks as it frantically backs up.




The knocked-out Carrier burns brightly, a fine boost to the morale of my pioneers and a warning to any Reds who should come this way. The warning is emphasised my small arms fire in the general direction of the apparently retreating enemy. All this activity is based on my original orders and dispositions - I have not intervened in any way.




At this point, the airwaves come alive with fresh contact reports from the infantry platoon on my left. The Soviets - footsloggers this time - are coming down through the woods towards us, from the direction of a track junction to the north.




Small arms fire from my grenadiers cuts down the enemy. I walk the camera a short way up to the north for a better view, and watch the Soviets try to make headway against our fire. Their casualties mount and the attack seems to peter out.




At this point, the tide of battle suddenly turns. There are explosions and heavy gunfire back over to the right, where I have left my pioneers to handle what seemed to be an abortive Soviet probe. Radio reports confirm that the attack there has been renewed, and this time, with tanks! They're T-60 light tanks and they come down the road from the north-east. My Marder sends the leading tank to hell in flames...






...but the others pull off the road to the east, then swing around to atttack.




Somehow, one of them makes it past us into the open ground on our right, and swings west to attack us from the flank.




He quickly knocks out the SPW covering my right rear. I have that sinking feeling, as I see the battle spiralling rapidly out of my control! I'm reluctant to order anyone out of their defensive positions into this storm of steel, so decide to let them fight it out from where they sit.




My platoon commander's SPW is nearby, but facing the wrong way. And he's too deep into the woods to have a clear field of fire out towards the T-60. To cap it all, the crew has taken casualties, already.




To his right, the T-60 makes a dash into the woods, past the burning SPW...




...and comes in behind my Marder...




Another T-60 charges the Marder from the front. The loader has already been killed or seriously wounded and the gunner doesn't fire - either he's petrified, or the chamber is empty.




TheT-60's crew suddenly bail out and cower fearfully in the muddy snow!




I think the tank has been hit by the 3.7cm gun on the platoon commander's SPW.




But by this time, two more T-60s have made it past us into the open ground between the woods and the river, beyond the burning Carrier.




The T-60 which doubled back has come to grief, though, turning turtle in an abandoned tank scrape.




Within a matter of minutes, my panzer pioneer platoon has been decimated. The Marder and the commander's SPW are both out of action. As the two advancing T-60s turn west to run along the road behind our position, I manage to save my surviving SPW by swinging it around and backing it into the woods still being held by the infantry platoon on the left flank of my bridgehead. That platoon is still largely unaffected, having won its firefight with the Reds coming down from the north. I can't pull it back, as the Soviets now dominate the open ground to our rear. So I order it to attack north, deeper into the woods, if only to take it further away from the T-60s now motoring about to the south-east. But GT:OS now decides enough is enough and brings down the curtain.




We've held our ground and inflicted much heavier casualties than we suffered, but at the cost of my main striking force - my precious panzer pioneer platoon and its SP A/T gun - virtually wiped out. So I'm not surprised this counts as another defeat. It certainly felt like one! Where are those b***dy Tigers???


...to be continued!

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33LIMA    762

Duels in the dark!




The map above shows the operational-level situation at about the time of the most recent battles. Our (blue) territory still extends onto the northern bank of the Mzha either side of Pavlovka, but angry red arrows show that our bridgeheads are now being pressed hard. The good news is that heavier armour is now at last becoming available in our area of operations – a platoon of Tiger tanks (at this point in the war, possibly made up to strength with some Panzer IIIs) and some StuG III assault guns – indicated by the two oval 'fully tracked vehicle' unit symbols on the right no longer being ‘greyed out’ (the one with the little 'H' for 'Heavy' under the oval is the Tigers). I waste no time in ordering these westwards, towards the action, but it’ll take time for them to arrive. In the meantime, there are more battles to be fought by my troops already in contact, on either side of Pavlovka.


It’s now evening and pitch dark. The first fight involves the troops to the west. These men – an infantry platoon with an attached 7.5cm SPW kanonenwagen – had earlier secured a small area on the northern bank of the Mzha, and held it against an enemy counterattack. But now, they are on the defensive, back on the southern bank of the river. How this happened, I’m not sure. Did GT:OS ‘auto-resolve’ this? Or in deploying them just now, did I place them there myself, without realising I could/should have kept them north of the river? Either way, even if it's down to the Deutscher equivalent of SNAFU, the good news is that they end up in a compact defensive position, well dug in and with good fields of fire over mostly open ground, covering both near and far banks of the river.


Here's the kanonenwagen...




...and here, stood to and shivering impatiently in their trenches, are my grenadiers (the Germans re-titled their infantrymen in this fashion mid-war)...




If you can see anything at all in these pictures, you may be able to make out the dark ribbon of the river running across our front, maybe 75 meters away.


For a while, nothing happens and I use time acceleration. I’ve not ordered fire to be held and the party eventually kicks off just after 20:00 hours, when enemy troops are spotted to our right front, on the far bank of the river. You hear a subtle electronic 'beep' sound which signifies a report has been received, whether verbally or by radio. Check the map, and the 'signals log', top right, shows you the message, while animations on the map provide detail - in this case, the flashing red circle centres on the location of the spotted enemy.




These are duly fired on. Then some more Reds appear, this time about half left. Tracers lash out towards them and our grenadiers busily work the bolts of their rifles as they join in. The SPW cracks off a few 7.5cm HE rounds, first to right, then backing out of its revettment to the left, the impacts flashing and booming noisily in the scrub over the river.




From our positions, I can see nothing of the enemy myself, and am reliant upon the reports coming in from our foremost positions. The odd muzzle flash out in front shows where Soviet soldiers are firing back, rifles mostly, with the odd PPSh SMG or Degtyarev LMG. A green flare goes up somewhere deeper on the enemy side. After a while, the firing dies back.  




I turn time acceleration back on. It drops out occasionally when there’s further shooting, but the action is pretty desultory and it seems clear that we have beaten off a weak attack by unsupported enemy infantry. We’ve held our positions and inflicted some casualties, but from whatever cause, are still back on the wrong side of the river. The western bridgehead has been given up. Still, we've won the fight. In the picture below, the command interface overlay has been turned back on and the clock read-out, top centre, has been turned to 'time remaining' mode, indicating that the curtain is coming down in 23 seconds.




So far, so not-too-bad. But the next battle is kicking off over on my right flank and this one will be an altogether nastier business.


...to be continued!


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33LIMA    762

Keil und kessel!


'Wedge and cauldron' the Germans were apt to call the common pattern of mobile operations - a force driving a wedge into the enemy's lines, then attracting the enemy to it like wasps to a honey pot, and having to fight off all comers, often surrounded. GT:OS was about to bring this experience to life forme.


To the north-east of Pavlovka, my pioneer platoon had been nearly destroyed by a strong enemy attack supported by APCs and light tanks. A few scattered pioneers in trenches is all that’s left, along with a surviving SPW that’s back off and linked up with the infantry unmotorised platoon holding the left flank of the small bridgehead.


It’s still dark when the Reds renew their attack. There’s no artillery preparation. Instead, the attack consists of several T-60 light tanks supported by some troops in Universal Carriers. Here's one of the light tanks...




...and here's one of the Carriers...




This force rattles down the road to the north-east, outflanking us on the right and fanning out behind us. I’m forced to back my surviving SPW into the woods; he narrowly avoids being knocked out by the rampaging T-60s.




Things rapidly go from bad to worse as another platoon of T-60s, with some dismounted infantry, pushes down a north-south track, right through the centre of my positions, between the grenadiers on the left and the few survivors of the pioneers on the right.




By this point, pretty well everyone is beginning to panic, having no effective defense against even light tanks. To order them out of their trenches in the dark seems suicidal so I leave them where they are. The only thing that saves them is that the Soviets have other plans. I become aware that the T-60s and Carriers on my right are driving off to the south, towards the river to our rear.  




So that’s the plan. Rather than destroying us, they are intent on cutting us off and securing a bridgehead of their own, well in our rear. Not that there’s much left to destroy – a single SPW, a handful of pioneers, and a badly-depleted platoon of mostly leaderless and demoralised grenadiers.


The fighting dies off. Somewhere, somebody is putting up illumination rounds. I think it's friendly forces to the south, responding anxiously to the sound of tank motors. Well might they be anxious.




The map below shows the operational situation after the two night battles. Compared with the map at the start of this phase, the left-hand bridgehead is gone and the Reds have gained ground around the west of Pavlovka. On my right, what's left of my eastern bridgehead is just about still there, hanging on by its fingernails, as it were. But it has been almost completely encircled and is effectively cut off - the attacking keil has become a desperate, defensive kessel.The Soviets have thoroughly re-established their positions to the east of Pavlovka, linking up with some of the troops I had surrounded.




The tables have been well and truly turned. Now, it’s the leading elements of Das Reich which are in danger of being encircled and destroyed. In fact, that process seems to be well under way.


The one bright spot in all of this is that my Tiger and Sturmgeschutz platoons will very soon enter the battle – the Tigers are coming up on the right, and the StuGs are already well-placed in the centre. If T-60s and Bren Carriers is the best the Soviets have, we will surely pay them back in spades for the losses we have suffered.  'If', as the Spartans responded to the threats of Phillip of Macedon. Either way, time is running out…


This is as far as I have got with my first GT:OS campaign and I am mightily impressed. It’s apparently one of the easier campaigns, so I will need to master things like calling in indirect fire (when it doesn’t work, I’m never sure if it’s because none is available, or because I’ve messed up my drills). But I won't be tempted to climb into a virtual, invulnerable helicopter, or turn on the labels. Win or lose, the grunt-level gameplay is far too immersive for that. GT:OS beats any other PC wargame I have played into a fairly distant second place.


There are a few things I’m not massively keen on. There’s little sense of identity – you’re not playing the role of a specific commander, in either operational or tactical levels. Instead, you’re whoever is in charge of whatever forces happen to be in the particular area, at either level. And the forces you do get seem to be a bit of a mish-mash, rather than a well-formed all-arms company or battalion group with a specific and balanced composition. The briefings/orders are very lightweight - more like general directives. And the forces deployed are somewhat small for the area involved, like you are fighting a scaled-down version of a bigger battle, with platoons on either side where their might really have been companies, and so on.


However, I have to say that Graviteam Tactics: Operation Star conforms beautifully to my idea of how a PC wargame should work, and well deserves all the praise that's been heaped upon it. The models, textures, environments, effects and troop/vehicle animations are particularly good. I love the ability to play reasonably effectively from ground- evel rather than God’s eye view and with on-screen markers turned off. Yes, it’s something of a handicap, but to me, this makes all the difference between playing what feels like a conventional wargame with miniatures, and playing an all-arms combat simulator from the perspective which the troops and commanders involved would have of the battlefield and the action. I also like the fact it’s not set up to be a click fest – the scope and pace of the battles and the decent AI mean you can operate like a real commander, making your plan, giving your AI subordinates their orders and leaving them to carry them out; intervening when necessary, rather than having to micromanage. You might as well play chess, as a PC wargame which lets you (or needs you to) exercise command and control over individual soldiers. The emphasis on platoon command and control reminds me of the best modern wargame rules I ever played, WRG's ground-breaking June 1988 set  for platoon-to-battalion level, 1925-1950. With GT:OS, Graviteam has done a similarly outstanding job.


Anyway, that’s enough plaudits for now, it’s time to get back into the fight! Division dropped me right into it by giving me this river-crossing mission with a hodge-podge of forces. I might have got away with it, if the Reds were as beaten as those fellows in the Head Shed seemed to think they were. Instead, the Soviets have made us pay a hard price. But now that my heavy armour has arrived at last, I’ll get a chance to show both Division and the Soviets that my spell on the staff in Berlin hasn’t dulled my ability to handle all-arms combat teams on the Eastern Front! Panzer, marsch!



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