Das Reich finally secures the Pavlovka bridgeheads!
Well, I finally reached the end of my first campaign in Graviteam Tactics: Operation Star, having in the process just about secured and held my campaign objectives, though not earning a victory (in a typically arcane GT:OS reckoning!).
The Pavlovka campaign had reached its final (eighth) operational-level turn, so although I might have several battles to fight at tactical level, I knew my time was running out. So to the east of Pavlovka, I pushed a combined force of StuG III assault guns and panzer pioneers northwards towards the River Mzha, intending to reinforce my battered units on the far bank and establish a bridgehead so strong that the Reds would be unable to kick me out of it, try as they might. That was the plan, anyway.
It was quite a tense business, as my SPWs, advancing on the left, changed from line to column formation to ford the river in the snowy darkness. There was a certain amount of bunching up as they reached the near bank...
...but the half-tracks quickly shook themselves out and made the crossing without opposition, passing the frozen bodies of casualties from the earlier fighting.
To their right, my two StuGs had moved up to a fire position on the southern bank, accompanied by an infantry platoon...
,,,but meeting no opposition, they then made their own crossing and swung north-east, to establish a blocking position against the Red tank brigade still expected to hit us from that direction.
At this point, the GT:OS curtain came down. I don't recall there being any contact as I write this, so I'm not clear what caused the handful of wounded reported on each side (or why they aren't counted in the casualty total). I'd achieved what I'd set out to, and gained some ground at the enemy's expense, so I'm not especially bothered that GT:OS only awarded me a draw. Equally I'm not bothered about the lack of combat. For me, 75% of the fun is laying and carrying out your plans, with the excitement and uncertainty as to whether, how and when the other side may, or may not, make the effort to mess things up for you.
I didn't know it at the time, but the next battle was going to be my last one of the campaign. And it was going to be an altogether more violent and bloody affair.
...to be continued!
The heavy stuff arrives at last!
Pavlovka campaign, mission report #4
To relieve the pressure on my infantry and pioneers around Pavlovka, I have moved a platoon of StuG III self-propelled 7.5cm guns to the south of the village, and a heavy tank platoon to its west. The StuGs aren't yet close enough to relieve my battered eastern bridgehead. But the Tigers are well placed to enter the battle to the west.
At the operational phase, I order two pioneer platoons to destroy the encircled enemy platoon to the south-east of Pavlovka, as a first step towards a concerted push with armour and infantry northwards, where what's left of my eastern bridgehead is still clinging grimly on. The Reds have light tanks up there and I'm not going to tackle them until the StuGs arrive. In the meantime, my people up there will have to hang on a little longer.
Over to the west, I order a strong, concentric assault on Pavlovka, with three grenadier platoons and the platoon of Tigers. On the left, a grenadier platoon will cover the open flank by attacking eastwards along the banks of the Mzha. In the centre, another platoon, with my tanks in intimate support, will attack east into Pavlovka itself. On my right, my third grenadier platoon will attack northwards, into the centre of the village. In the Initial Orders screen below, the blue arrows are inherited from my operational-level orders, and don't reflect the actual axes of attack I have just described.
My grenadiers begin to advance across the dark, snow-covered terrain. Yes, it's another night operation!
Just behind them, my heavy tank platoon rattles and roars forward. In early 1943, it was not uncommon for heavy tank companies to have a mix of Tigers and Panzer IIIs, though the latter were normally the 'close support' version (Ausf. N) with a short 7.5cm gun; here, we have instead long-barrelled 5cm weapons.
The tanks begin to catch up with the grenadiers as the hovels of Pavlovka loom through the darkness ahead.
The tension mounts as we reach Pavlovka. I have ordered the tanks to advance only as far as the outskirts, as I don't want them running into hidden enemy infantry or A/T weapons in the dark. The grenadiers will press on, at least until contact is made.
It's not long in coming, and it's my troops in the centre - the grenadiers with the tank support - who hit it first. There are enemy troops over there, near a cluster of isolated buildings, north of Pavlovka, and a fire-fight soon develops.
The enemy there are soon wiped out but now, the grenadier platoon coming up from the south bumps enemy infantry between them and the village. I'm still watching the battle from the positions of my troops in the centre of my attacking force, and the contact report on the radio is soon followed by tracer and illumination rounds over in that direction, marking the scene of the latest action. My tank crews, who have just unbuttoned, close up again, ready once more for combat.
I waste no time in ordering my halted tank platoon to get moving again, and assault deeper into Pavlovka. This will help their accompanying troops to clear the village and threaten the rear of the new defenders. I try to call down some artillery into Pavlovka, ahead of my troops, but I don't have a dedicated forward observer, and none of my platoon command elements can raise either gunners or mortarmen on the radio net.
My tanks press on into the village, but meet no further opposition there...
...so I order them to swing around slightly to the south, to get clear of the buildings, where they can have a less obstructed run at the Soviets who are resisting the advance of my right-flank grenadier platoon.
The Panzer IIIs take the lead, with the Tigers backing them up.
At this point, GT:OS announces that the Soviet 'key point' in Pavlovka has fallen! The enemy opposityion there certainly seems to have melted away. You can see from the message log that at one point, they asked for a cease fire; naturally, Das Reich is disinclined to parley with Bolshevists, so this went unanswered.
While checking the map, I notice with some alarm that the battle timer has already gone into 'countdown' mode, indicating that the curtain will soon come down - in just over four minutes, at the point the picture below was captured. Why so soon, I have no idea.
After taking Pavlovka, I had planned to exploit to the north and re-establish my western bridgehead over the Mzha. Not much time for that now! My lead panzers have by this time linked up with my right flank grenadier platoon just south of the village, lit up briedly by (presumably enemy) illuminating rounds.
The idea was to swing both tank and infantry platoons north and attack along the same axis, clearing enemies reported between Pavloka and the Mzha. But if I have any hope now of gaining the far bank in this sector, I need to try something different, and quickly.
The ilumination dies away again, not before I have noticed enemy trenches up ahead of my leading tanks.
This comes as a bit of a surprise, so I let both tanks and troops continue, so as to make sure that these quite extensive field defences are definitely cleared of their former occupants.
They haven't been! Some Soviets are still around out there. Tigers, Panzer IIIs and grenadiers crack off bursts of MG fire into the darkness.
This finally seems to do the trick, but a difficulty of a different kind is about to take a hand. One of my Panzer IIIs runs into the defences, and just when I think he's got glear, his tail slips deeply into the last trench. He struggles to get out, but seems only to succeed in miring himself more deeply.
One remedy in these situations is to intervene yourself, and give the unit an indididual 'Reverse!' order. This I quickly try, but to no effect. Instead, after a short struggle, two of the tank's crew get out and set about the right-hand track noisily with large hammers. Evidently, the panzer has shed a track.
At this point, rather than risk further such misadventures, I order my tank platoon to break off and attack north-west. Up in that direction, my left-hand platoon has met no opposition and indeed, has established a small toe-hold over the Mzha. Nearby on the map, I can see there is a bridge or ford, which the panzers could help sieze.
The bogged Panzer III's crew appear unworried at this turn of events. In fact, they turn on their lights as they continue to work.
By this time, the rest of the tank platoon is on its way to the north-west, leaving the now self-illuminated panzer behind them.
This leaves my right-hand grenadier platoon to assault north from Pavlovka to the river. Which they do, despite having taken some losses in their earlier battle south of the village.
There are more entrenched Reds up here, but my grenadiers have a Marder SP gun for close fire support...
...and soon, the leading troops can see the dark band of the river, looming up ahead of them.
Meanwhile, my two Tigers and the other Panzer III are now leading the dash towards the north-west of Pavlovka.
But before they get there, my time runs out! I am awarded a draw...
...which is one of those nonsense results you sometimes get in GT:OS, as in SABOW. True, I have sustained some losses, despite having a comfortable superiority over the enemy. However, we have done considerably more damage to the Soviets, in a night attack against dug-in opposition. I had deliberately concentrated my forces, and I really don't expect to get 'marked down' for successfully massing strength against relative weakness. So I take this to be a victory, albeit not a glorious one and at a higher cost than I'd have liked.
Back at the operational level, the map shows we have developed a strong position on our left and cleared the Soviet salient around Pavlovka, in the centre. Leaving a single Soviet platoon (depleted in an early battle) masked well behind our centre, we are now well poised to fight my planned second battle, on my right. Two panzer pioneer platoons will attack and destroy the enemy platoon in a defensive position south-east of Pavlovka. Then, they will link up with the StuG III platoon that is now standing by on their left flank, and attack northwards, to relieve my battered bridgehead east of Pavlovka.
For a while. the battle felt like it had slipped from my hands. Now, with my heavier armour finally in action, I feel once again in control. Time to wipe out the Reds on the right, then Das Reich will be well and truly back on the offensive in this sector!
I wish I had discovered the tactical marvel that is Graviteam Tactics: Operation Star years ago, but it took learning the wargame ropes in Steel Armour: Blaze of War, and an incredible sale on Bundlestars, to get me started. Better late than never! In over fifteen years of PC gaming, GT:OS I have found to be one of the very best, if not the best, I have ever played, certainly second to none. And I am looking forward both to completing my first campaign and to kicking off the many others available, from Ukraine to Iran and from Angola to Afghanistan. Most highly recommended!
This is likely to be the last mission report I file before the Festive Season, so I'll take this opportunity to wish the staff, members and readers at CombatAce a very happy Christmas!