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Subject: W'43: The Soviets get Steamrolled rss

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Scott Ohman
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Here’s the German perspective on the latest session of the saga that began with “S41: Make the Bad Man Stop.”

By the end of the summer of 1943, both sides felt like they might be on the verge of collapse. As the Germans, I’d held onto Leningrad, kept the pressure on Moscow, and made large advances in the south. On the other hand, I’d pulled a lot of forces out of the north to support my southern offensive (and ground up at least as many in the relentless two-year long bloodbath that was Moscow). In so doing, I had perhaps opened myself up to what, by the end of the night, I was calling my “Northern Stalingrad.” After all, this is the campaign referred to in the rules as the “Soviet Steamroller.”

Towards the end of the summer, the Russians had finally launched their counterstrike, hoping to relieve Moscow by cutting wide around my weak left (northern flank). They had burst through just as winter came on, seriously endangering my lines. I had nearly my full force on the board, and steady reserves coming in, but they were led by overworked, depleted HQs. So I had the forces, but perhaps not the command, to turn the tide, shore up my lines, and regain the offensive. This would be made harder not only by another Russian winter, but by my now depleted airpower, which had dropped to single-fire (6 on each D6 rolled), while the Russians had now climbed to double-fire (5-6 on each D6). Damn those Americans, with their lend-lease bombers!

Before the first turn, I built AGN, AGC, and AGS HQ’s back up to full strength, and built my supreme HQ, OKH back up to a measly 1, leaving A at a strength of 1 as well. OKH had been pulled back to Warsaw in late summer, so they wouldn’t be helping any battles out with their airpower, but at least their strength wouldn’t be reduced by the snow. I was able to bring the 50th Mechanized as well as the 27th and the 54th infantry groups back onto the board (in Konigsberg and Warsaw) and beefed up all the infantry and tanks that had come back on the board during the past summer. I actually had more points than I was able to spend. This would continue throughout the winter, a point I didn’t hesitate to rub in the Russians’ face (in the hopes that recognition of my excellent supply situation would demoralize them).

I expected December 1943 to open with a bang. I held my breath, closing my eyes in anticipation of the red tide I expected to see surging out of the north, cutting off my forces in Moscow, and endangering weekly defended Hittlerburg (Leningrad). As Rusty stretched his long arms across the table, the only question in my mind was how many blitz markers he would pick up. Perhaps once this war is over some historian will be able to explain why, but to my surprise, the Russians only activated their supreme HQ and shuffled a few units around. They solidified their lines, added a bit of depth, and drove a single unit down into gap they had spent so much effort to open up.

Now it was my turn. Sadly, I had no forces in the north that could be used to reform my evaporated left flank, unless I wanted to completely evacuate my troops in Moscow. Incredulous, and confident, from his lack of offensive action, I shuffled a few units around as best I could in the snow (which reduces movement by 1 hex), and pulled up two of my recent arrivals from Konigsberg. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get all the way to the gap, but hopefully they’d be able to keep him from doing too much damage.

Having done what I could to secure the north, I turned to distracting him in the south. My best panzers and infantry blitzed across the Don 1 hex NW of Voronezh, and crossed the Donetz at Milleroo. The northern group immediately smashed the feeble soviet defenses (actually, if memory serves, it was a pretty tough tank) and concentrated as a group on the far side of the river; the southern group took until the second half of the blitz to break through, and were thus unable to immediately exploit their victory.

I should pause a moment here to explain the composition of my assault forces. I was repeating the basic strategy I had used the previous summer: Start with a full (3 combat value) strength HQ. Look for two points north and south of the area I want to capture that each have only a single enemy unit. They should be spaces with two hex sides I can enter from. An open space behind them is always a plus. Into these two points, I attack with two full-strength tank groups, and one full strength infantry, leaving a full strength infantry behind to defend the hex they just left – it would be great to bring a third tank or a second infantry along, but I don’t usually have enough forces to do that and defend in depth. I haven’t really examined the probabilities to see how likely this should be, but, coupled with a full-power air strike, I always seem to break through on at least one side.

Usually, my opponent will pull forces away from his successful defense, towards whatever side broke through. That leaves a weak front defending against my initially unsuccessful group. On the next turn, I use a second full-strength commander to break through with this group. At that point, it’s little more than a pleasant drive through the countryside. If for some reason my opponent doesn’t fall into this trap, no problem. I just exploit the victory of the first group. As I used this tactic over and over again in the winter of 44, Rusty would begin to look nervous anytime I put three blocks in the same hex, and would moan each time they entered combat, declaring his hatred of them, only to see them escape unscathed over and over again. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now, what brilliant counter did the Russians have for this southern drive? To my stunned surprise, nothing. He activated an HQ south of Moscow, and another east of the Rybinsk Reservoir (NW of Moscow), but once again he just shuffled a few units around. Perhaps he was still expecting something from me in the north, or he might not have had the forces or commanders he needed.

This gave me the opportunity to move those newly arrived reinforcements up into the swamp between Leningrad and the Rybinsk reservoir. My lines still had little depth in the north, but at least I once again had a solid line of black blocks running the length of the board. That worrisome business resolved, I continued my assault in the south, widening the break in the lines by attacking Kharkov, and 1 hex north. I hoped to finally achieve what I had failed to do the previous summer, splitting his armies in half, so I could eliminate his southern forces and then pivot around to encircle his entire northern army. Also, I think it was in this turn that I dropped the dreaded SS Panzers into Moscow. I was hoping that this would lead the Russians into thinking I had something planned for Moscow, or that the prospect of eliminating that group would cause him to devote inordinate resources to the task.

As 1944 greeted the Russians with the bleak prospect of defeat, they pulled back an HQ that had suddenly found itself on the front lines, and mounted a weak counterattack at Millerovo (North of Rostov). Ok, actually, there was a blitz involved, and I was a bit worried initially, but once Rusty commented that he didn’t expect it to do much, I relaxed a bit. He fiddled a bit in the Blitz, first attacking at Kursk, and then, when he failed to evict me there, shifting the attack to 1 Hex North of Voronezh. Another puzzling move. I began to consider that the single beer he’d consumed might have really gone to his head.

Anyway, back to the narrative…Remember my earlier comments about strategy? A larger version of the same thing paid off here. After pushing hard in the northern half of the southern front (or the southern end of the central front, if you prefer) I now smashed into the southern end of his line, successfully blitzing on Rostov.

A lesser opponent might have simply conceded here. Instead, Rusty took up his dice, sighing deeply. He was still in the game, but with his curious reserved attitude. Hmm…surely I had over-extended myself somewhere. Surely he could see that I still didn’t have the forces to protect my northern front effectively. I would soon though, and he was ever going to regain the initiative, now was the time. Even in the south, I was doing a lot of shuffling to keep up the momentum, and I’d used up quite a bit of command. Usually, Rusty is very good at turning my minor victories into major defeats, exploiting some small weakness I’ve failed to notice. He’ll spot a rail-line that doesn’t extend across a river, or a weekly defended hex-side that several forces can enter through. Something. This time, he said “I pass.”

I passed as well, as I didn’t want to over-weaken my commanders. Yeah, that's right, when he passes, it's a dumb move. When I pass, it's a brilliant strategy.

By now, I had a lot of units to strengthen, as well as commanders, which was fine as I had all my units back on the board. The Bulgarians and Romanians were still sitting back at their borders, as I’d never taken out Sevastopol, but other than that, I was starting Feb 44 with more capacity than I’d had in the opening days of Barbarossa. Given how poorly those satellite armies performed at Stalingrad, perhaps it’s better they were out of the way anyway.

February was the last month of guaranteed snow, so as you’d expect, we both wanted to get our hits in while we could. The Russians again attacked North of Moscow, this time southeast of the Bryansk reservoir, now trying for a smaller victory, cutting off the forces North and Northeast of Moscow. I casually shrugged as he moved his forces in, figuring that I could afford to lose a few blocks. Lacking supply, these forces began to experience attrition.

Rather than try to relieve them, I ignored the distraction and kept up the pressure in the south. Using the two-sided blitz again, I attacked south of Voronezh and North of Rostov. Yeah, that’s right, I blitzed three months in a row. In the winter of 1943, when the Russians were supposed to be steamrolling over my rapidly-retreating divisions. Feeling sorry for the Russians yet?

The second fortnight of Feb 44 was uneventful. We both sat back, Rusty licking his wounds, as I cackled gleefully. Sadly, this time I was only able to find uses for 74 of my 97 Production Points. I had some additional units here and there that had taken damage, but they were all engaged in combat, and thus couldn’t receive reinforcements.

March started uneventfully as well. When the first fortnight produced mud (disrupting both sides' HQs, reducing most movement to 1 hex, and shifting to German initiative) there didn’t seem to be much reason to blitz. The Russians passed, as did I. Perhaps this weather was a blessing. I don’t know what Rusty might have been able to pull off with another whole month of snow.

In the second fortnight, the snow came back. The Russians took advantage of this by launching new offensive operations in Moscow. Fortunately, he wasn’t able to damage my much-loved SS division. He did manage to hit the hex adjacent to Moscow holding my AGC commander. I know, what’s Army Group Center doing in Moscow? It’s been a long, messy war. He knocked 1 off AGC’s Combat Value after a quick check of the rules – I wanted to be sure the stronger commander had to take the hit, as I wanted my weaker infantry to take the bullet.

On my turn, I pulled back the commander, and put a tougher unit in front of him. I wasn’t ready for another blitz, but I did attack at, and 1 hex north of, Milleroo.

April is guaranteed mud, so I didn’t expect to do much, or to need to counter any Russian advances. In the first fortnight, I eliminated a full-strength Russian mechanized army south of Milleroo.

On their move, the Russian’s supreme HQ ordered fresh troops up into the steadily widening gap in the south. From my side of the board, the task looked hopeless. I had nearly twice as many blocks in the south, and while of course I couldn’t see his CV’s, I knew my corps were at full-strength.

In the second fortnight, I passed, as I knew dry weather was just around the corner. The Russians attacked 1 hex NW of Moscow. I wasn’t too concerned. Although my situation hadn’t really improved, it seemed like we’d passed the point where he would be able to achieve a major breakthrough, and a war of attrition clearly favored me. As it happened, my stalwart German defenders hung in, getting reduced down to ½ CV, but never getting eliminated.

May dawned with more mud, which was a mild irritation, but it did give me time to prepare. With my Supreme HQ finally up to full strength, I was able to send up a large group of fresh infantry and mechanized corps to the southern front by rail. I also did some sneaky things that you won’t hear about until the next session report.

Using a Supreme move of their own, the Russians fed fresh troops into the Moscow meat-grinder.

The dice were tossed for the second fortnight’s weather and came up…DRY! The Germans launched a massive operation aimed at establishing supreme, eternal dominance in the south. I blitzed NE and SE of Milleroo, smashing through his lines. 4 Russian armies were surrounded, Voronezh (a major city) was encircled, and the Russian Baltic HQ was eliminated. (If you’ve been following this story for a while, you’ll recall that the Baltic states are all currently under German “protection.”) After breaking through, I initially considered encircling Stalingrad, but decided that might over-extend my lines. There’ll be plenty of time for Stalingrad this summer.

The Russians blitzed as well, but it was only a holding action, as the once again tried to attack from North of Moscow towards the SW and W. I had only a single unit in each location, but they were well protected by the forest hexes they were defending.

So, the Winter of 43 ended with an off-chart German victory, 117 Victory Points to the Russians’ 29 VP. It’s not looking good for the survival of Mother Russia. Although I’m concerned about his increase to triple-fire airpower, I’m hoping he won’t have the forces to make use of this advantage. Rusty has predicted he can hold out until September. I plan to be slow and methodical at this point, so it might take a little longer than that.

A picture would probably help illustrate the Russians' dire situation. Perhaps Rusty will post something, but I think he was reeling to badly to ever grab the camera (or maybe he wanted no records of the debacle...)
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Peter Vrabel
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Re: W'44: The Soviets get Steamrolled
Best. Session. Report. Ever.

Nailbiting, I can't wait to read the next installment.
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Re: W'44: The Soviets get Steamrolled
humboldtscott wrote:
Perhaps Rusty will post something, but I think he was reeling to badly to ever grab the camera (or maybe he wanted no records of the debacle...)

Yeah, that's about right... I did add a couple of paragraphs here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1126174#1126174 but I'm afraid I can't allow any photographs to be taken.

humboldtscott wrote:
Perhaps once this war is over some historian will be able to explain why, but to my surprise, the Russians only activated their supreme HQ and shuffled a few units around. They solidified their lines, added a bit of depth, and drove a single unit down into gap they had spent so much effort to open up.

I was confused... it had been a couple of weeks, I'd forgotten how to play, I was sleepy, not enough fiber in my diet, the cat was bugging me. (Well I know the cat wasn't in the room, but the thought of the cat was bugging me.)

I was low on HQ steps (and units, ha ha), so I needed everything to be in the right place before I could attack; somehow, in the process of shuffling stuff around to support a push to the north of Moscow, I sort of overlooked the far north.

(We're both really relaxed about letting the other guy get part-way through his moves & then saying "hey, do you mind if I activate another HQ," or moving some guys & then saying "hey, do you mind if I put these guys back where they were," but in this case, it didn't seem right for me to re-do my moves after saying I was done.)

humboldtscott wrote:
As 1944 greeted the Russians with the bleak prospect of defeat, they pulled back an HQ that had suddenly found itself on the front lines, and mounted a weak counterattack at Millerovo (North of Rostov). Ok, actually, there was a blitz involved, and I was a bit worried initially, but once Rusty commented that he didn't expect it to do much, I relaxed a bit. He fiddled a bit in the Blitz, first attacking at Kursk, and then, when he failed to evict me there, shifting the attack to 1 Hex North of Voronezh. Another puzzling move.

If the blitz had broken through, I would have poured through (to the extent that I could in the snow) and cut supply to four or five of your guys, which would have been entertaining, and put you in the position of having to react to me. (The reason I didn't expect it to do much was A) at this point, you have so many full-strength units, if four or five of them were to go out of supply, would you even notice? and B) I didn't have the resources to take it any further than that.) But when I failed to break through, that second attack was just to pin those guys in place. Not a brilliant stroke, or even part of Plan A, just an attempt to limit the resulting punishment.

When I blitzed in that direction, I had to choose between that and putting pressure on the south side of Moscow. (One of those painful choices which make this game awesome.) The latter is what I wanted to do, and what I'd been preparing for; getting distracted by the chance of cutting off some of your guys was a mistake. (Not as big of a mistake as failing to break through, though. I was going to say the dice gods have forsaken me in this game--which is true!--but then any plan which depends on the favor of the dice gods is a pretty lousy plan.)

humboldtscott wrote:
He was still in the game, but with his curious reserved attitude. [...] This time, he said "I pass."

That reserved attitude was a mixture of A) relief that you hadn't hit any of the places where my front line was held (for want of a weaker word) by 0-strength HQs, and B) despair--I didn't have a lot to work with! With ~52PP, I was buying 3 HQ steps each turn; one of them was Stavka, and those other two don't leave much gas for liberating Moscow and defending the south and building up supplies for the summer!

(He hasn't taken Moscow, and it's never been out of rail supply--or, should I say, it hasn't been out of rail supply yet, ha ha--but we've been saying that I haven't been getting its PP since it was engaged; see http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/128891.)

humboldtscott wrote:
There'll be plenty of time for Stalingrad this summer.

(whimper)
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Re: W'44: The Soviets get Steamrolled
LordStrabo wrote:
Best. Session. Report. Ever.

Bah! Who wants to read about Big Scott mercilessly grinding me into the dirt! Frankly I can't see the entertainment value. And anyway I wasn't crying; a bug flew into my eye.

(Oh, he left that part out? Never mind then!)
 
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Peter Vrabel
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Re: W'44: The Soviets get Steamrolled
kuhrusty wrote:
LordStrabo wrote:
Best. Session. Report. Ever.

Bah! Who wants to read about Big Scott mercilessly grinding me into the dirt! Frankly I can't see the entertainment value. And anyway I wasn't crying; a bug flew into my eye.

(Oh, he left that part out? Never mind then!)


Ah, but that makes it better. Now it's going to be even more exciting to read about your tactical masterstroke that reverses the entire battle in a single move!
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Re: W'44: The Soviets get Steamrolled
LordStrabo wrote:
Now it's going to be even more exciting to read about your tactical masterstroke that reverses the entire battle in a single move!

Yeah, I've got one:
"Hey, could you hand me the rulebook? I just want to see if--awww! Aww, you dropped it right on Moscow! Here, if we're careful, maybe we can pick it up without scattering the blocks all over--awww!!"

Oh yeah, the most important part: "Now we'll never know who would've won!"
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Scott Ohman
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Oops, I noticed that I listed this one as W'44, and despite having 5 of 6 months in 1944, the rules refer to it as W'43, so I've changed the references to '43 if they are referring to the season, and left them at '44 if they're referring to a particular month in that year.
LordStrabo wrote:
Best. Session. Report. Ever.

Wow! Thanks man, but seriously, you need to get out more. I mostly wrote this as an effective means of procrastinating on a boring paper...think my instructor would accept this instead? It's even the correct length, although it'd be a stretch, I suppose, to claim it's related to elementary education.

It was hard to figure out how to write this one. I mean, people usually like humor, which is a lot easier when you've just gotten mauled. In this case, it was hard to find anything funny to say that didn't sound like gloating. So, I decided, the heck with humor, let's go with the gloating thing...I guess it worked.

kuhrusty wrote:
One of those painful choices which make this game awesome.)


Thanks for adding your perspective. Obviously, I can't see what's going on over there. Not only does it give everyone insight into what really happened, it gives me insight into where to find your o-strength HQs, so it's a win-win.

kuhrusty wrote:
If the blitz had broken through, I would have poured through (to the extent that I could in the snow) and cut supply to four or five of your guys, which would have been entertaining, and put you in the position of having to react to me. (The reason I didn't expect it to do much was A) at this point, you have so many full-strength units, if four or five of them were to go out of supply, would you even notice? and B) I didn't have the resources to take it any further than that.) But when I failed to break through, that second attack was just to pin those guys in place. Not a brilliant stroke, or even part of Plan A, just an attempt to limit the resulting punishment.


I wasn't sure if this was this right moment for the "I didn't expect it to work" comment, but I couldn't leave it out as it seemed to so eloquently sum-up the Russian's despair during this session. I've definitely gotten pretty cocky about my ability to suffer losses, as I mentioned elsewhere in the report - this may become a problem, but I think I can afford the attitude right now. And despite my bravado, I definitely get nervous anytime my opponent goes on the offensive, even in a limited manner, as I've seen things spiral out of control quickly before. On the other hand, I get nervous when you don't take any offensive action, as that must mean that you are pooling resources for something major. God I love this game.
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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LordStrabo wrote:
Now it's going to be even more exciting to read about your tactical masterstroke that reverses the entire battle in a single move!

The Soviets have issued a press release: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1135047#1135047
 
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