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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!
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!
I give myself a fright, in my second Ostfront campaign battle!
Having gained ground on my first mission, in my effort to sieze bridgeheads over the river Mzha at Pavlovka, I'm keen to use my gains as a springboard to get over the river and give the Soviet 104th Motor Rifle Brigade another bloody nose. As a newly-arrived kampfgruppe commander in Das Reich, I'm also keen to prove myself, though anxious not to foul it up, either. And it looks like I am about to be given ample opportunity to make a mess. For some reason, the mission 'briefing' credits us with capturing a bridgehead - perhaps something is lost in translation here, as the best we have done in my sector is to reach the river on our side, not actually get across it. But my real problem now is that Ivan is reported to be throwing a tank brigade against us, from the north-east. I don't know what sort of tanks they have, but this really doesn't sound good. Nevertheless, if at all possible, I want to throw some troops over the river, before going over to the defensive to meet this counterattack.
I'm hoping that my own heavier armour will have arrived on the scene by now. But my hopes are dashed when I find that they are still not deployable. All I have is the same re-inforced Grenadier (infantry) company to the west of Pavlovka, and the Panzer Pioneers who fought my first battle, now depleted by the loss of one of their SPWs.
A look at the map shows there is a small pocket of Ivans to the south, but I'm more interested in pressing on than wiping them out. Nevertheless, in moving my Panzer Pioneere towards the river, I keep one platoon in reserve, to the east of the little pocket, where it can contain them...or perhaps destroy them, if the opportunity presents itself.
On my left flank, I move my footsloggers west, heading for Pavlovka. In GT:OS, there are limits as to which squares (even within move distance) you can move a platoon onto, and in this case, my rear platoon, near the river bank, is left trailing behind the lead platoons. I can see that these fellows are going to be quite isolated until they can close up with the rest of the company, but I'm in a hurry, and accept the risk. Which I am about to be given cause to regret.
These moves trigger two battles. To the east, a Soviet counterattack is coming in at the point where my Grenadiers and Pioneers have come together. This one doesn't worry me unduly, as it involves infantry only. But on the left, as luck would have it, more bad boys from the 104th Motor Rifles have decided to go for my isolated Grenadier platoon, which has reached a wood to the west of Pavlovka, close to the river. I took a chance, and now I'm going to have to pay the price.
I have visions of the Ostfront equivalent of Custer's Last Stand, a platoon wiped out that I will surely miss later. I put such thoughts aside, and choose to fight this battle first. At least this time it's daylight, and I'll be able to see what I'm doing. Time for the Das Reich to show the Bolshevists what we're made of!
...to be continued!