In December 1944, somewhere on the Eastern Front, a Soviet armoured advance guard encounters a German Aufklarungs unit screening its Division's withdrawal.
Fictional scenario, but based on actions described in “Tank Rider” by Evgeni Bessonov and Vol 1 of “Sdkfz 250/1 Alt ‘GD' Living History” by Richard Stone.
*Tankovyi Desant means tank borne infantry assault
This scenario contrasts the Soviet and German tactics used at this period of the war on the Eastern Front. For the Germans the heady advances of 1941 are long gone. Instead, the reality of a prolonged withdrawal under continuous Soviet pressure, punctuated by the odd local success prevails. This fighting withdrawal was destined to end in a bloody finale with the Western and Eastern Fronts meeting in Berlin.
The irony of this period is that the Soviets were able, due to their superiority in armour and material resources, to put into practice the principles of deep penetration armoured combat on a scale the Germans had been only able to theorise about. Conversely the reality for the German armoured troops was fighting a defensive action involving short sharp local counter attacks to eliminate Soviet penetrations of the German MLR or using mobile rear guard units to ambush the Soviet advance guard, then bug out before things became to hot.
Over the years the Germans had started to develop a new tactical doctrine based around the principles of ‘elastic' defence (see “ Standing Fast. German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front During World War II: Pre-war to March 1943, Major Timothy A. Wray from CIS) this concept provoked debate, which was never resolved right up until the wars end, between the armoured troops and infantry as to how best to use the panzers – massed or parcelled out to support the hard pressed infantry.
This change in tactical missions was most evident in the role of the panzer division's reconnaissance or ‘Aufklarungs' units. German tactical doctrine for Aufklarung units whilst acknowledging the fact that the radio was the most powerful weapon, did recognise that some situations would require information to be fought for. As such German recce ‘battle' doctrine called for an aggressive reconnaissance by strong mobile forces that were expected to fight for information. As a division's eyes and ears, they would scout ahead, form skirmish lines or maintain contact with friendly forces. If retreating they would throw up 'armoured screens' behind, intended to counter enemy reconnaissance units.
In the latter war years the panzer division aufklarung units would increasingly find themselves being ‘reinforced' and using this mobile fire power to form fast moving and hard hitting kampfgruppen which acted as a ‘fire brigade'.
During the past few years of combat the Soviets had started to put into practice their own armour tactics. Fast moving armoured spearheads roved deep behind the German lines after the MLR had been breached by concentrated and overwhelming attacks using infantry supported by huge artillery concentrations – although at times to great cost to the assaulting troops who suffered casualty rates in excess of 70%.
In 1944 to 45 the Soviets started to excel in long-range mobile operations. One tactic that was developed was to use a reinforced tank battalion as the Forward Detachment (peredovoi otriad). This battalion led for 1 to 2 days then was ‘switched out' for another battalion. Each tank battalion had a submachine gun company riding on its tanks. The organization for the advance of the lead tank battalion was as follows: the battalion or force commander rode up front with the main body, with a recce patrol in front. This patrol was usually in visual contact of the main unit, but it was not uncommon for this patrol or another to range up to 10km ahead of the unit.
Throughout the war the Soviets were very short of wheeled or tracked transport for their infantry. To allow the infantry to keep up with the fast moving armour, and provide close support if required; they commonly rode on the tanks. This tactic although ensuring the infantry could keep up with the tanks did lead to very high casualties amongst the tan riders. One such “Tankovyi Desantnik” or “tank rider” was Lieutenant Evgeni Bessonov who was often riding with the forward recce patrol –“I liked to sit on the front armour of the tank, on the machine-gun mounting (on the right side of the tank), holding on to the machine gun barrel with my left hand… I mostly travelled on the first tank – there was no dust and there was a good view. However, the danger was that the very first enemy's shell was for you…”
One problem that continuously faced the Soviets was the resupply and support of these deep ranging mobile armoured columns. Often than not what stopped the armoured advance was lack of fuel and ammunition, plus broken down or damaged vehicles not being repaired or replaced led to dramatic decrease in the battle worthy tanks available to the armoured units. Glantz in “Colossus Reborn” cites the example of the 10 th Tank Corps that on the 11 th October 1943 was reinforced to strength of 102 tanks and self-propelled guns. This corps supported the Voronezh Front's break out of the Bukron bridgehead, in the process falling to a strength of only 41 tanks.
This fictional scenario, based on combat accounts from “Tank Rider” by Evgeni Bessonov and “Total Detail: Sdkfz 250/1 Alt ‘GD' Living History” by Richard Stone, recreates an encounter ‘somewhere' on the Eastern Front in late 1944 between an advancing Soviet armoured column and a German kampfgruppe made up of elements from an aufklarung battalion.
Best played as H2H although will play well as Germans Vs Soviet AI.
Please note to allow AI play the number of turns has been extended. Human players will not need this number of turns. If playing H2H each player's CO is breathing down their necks and they have 45 turns – at 45 turns both players call a ceasefire.
Due to make-up of German forces this only plays as German Vs Soviet AI. If playing AI it is recommended you stick to scenario default for the first play (thereafter let AI set-up units). Experienced players may wish to give the AI an appropriate combat experience boost though this does not make the AI any faster, or more tactically adept, only better at combat!
This scenario comes complete with a command map. Download Tankovyi Desant Command Map here.