With 2019 seeing the 75th anniversary of D-Day (and the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2), some other campaigns/operations that also took place in the same year have maybe got less attention, despite their significance. In October 1944 the Imperial Japanese Navy was severely mauled by US forces in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and in the summer of 1944 the Red Army shattered German Army Group Centre and pushed into Poland. With the latter in mind, I’ve recently finished playing a WW2 wargame hosted by my mate John that I thought I’d share (all the very nice figures, vehicles and terrain in the pictures are John’s). Played over two evenings, it was one of those games where nothing seemed to go right to start with, but then everything seemed to catch up with itself.
In John’s words “the battle is based on the Soviet crossing of the river Czarna in Poland, from 11-13th August 1944. The Soviet 52nd and 53rd Armoured Brigades crossed the river and established a bridgehead at Staszow. The German 16th Panzer Division (which was well equipped for 1944) supported by elements of the 502nd Heavy Tank Battalion equipped with Tiger IIs launched an attack into the flank of the bridgehead to drive the Soviets back across the river”.
I didn’t manage to get a photo of the complete table set, so a quick description will have to do. The river Czarna formed the right flank of the Russian line, with infantry dug in next to the river supported by two Zis-3 76.2mm guns and two T34/85s. In the Russian centre a strong force of four T-34/85s, supported by tank riders, was preparing to advance, either further left across the Russian base line or across the table towards some of the German infantry units still trying to retreat and form a holding position.
The counter-attacking Germans deployed an armoured panzergrenadier unit (four SdKfz 251 half-tracks, one with a short 75mm gun) in a wood on their left flank, ready to attack along the river bank. This unit was supported by three Panzer IVs, with a Tiger II (and its escorting Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind) providing long range fire support for the centre of the German line. Right of the German centre was covered by three Panthers, with the remnants of the retreating German infantry holding a hilltop position on the right flank. The German plan was for the panzergrenadiers and Panzer IVs to attack the Russian bridgehead, while the Tiger II dealt with armoured opposition on that flank, leaving the Panthers to round up and destroy the T-34 force in the centre. Yep, that was the plan, emphasis on “was”!
Although the Panthers managed to move up to a good position in the centre, the German left flank attack bogged down pretty quickly when it became apparent that the T-34s opposing it were having no problem holding up the Panzer IVs, the latter taking hits while waiting for the Tiger II to move up to a good position. Taking the initiative, the four T-34s in the centre closed up on the German position rapidly, but their poor gunnery was rewarded by the Panthers knocking out two of their number and forcing the remaining two to pull back. The time was now right for the Panthers to launch their own attack, or it would have been if Russian reinforcements in the shape of two IS-2 heavy tanks hadn’t appeared moving down the road from the bridgehead!
Any move by the Panthers now risked being flanked by the IS-2s, the latter being quite capable of knocking out a Panther from the side. The Germans now realised that they needed to transfer the Panthers to their left flank and push everyone forward to try and take the bridgehead, but such a re-shuffling of forces was not going to prove easy. This was the point at the end of the first evening and, apart from pushing back the T-34 attack in the centre, the Germans were finding the going tricky, to say the least!
At the start of the second evening’s play, the Germans got some reinforcements in the form of three off-table 105mm howitzers and a motorised panzergrenadier unit (four trucks with associated infantry). Although these sound like modest reinforcements, tactically they gave the Germans much more flexibility, particularly in providing a motorised force that could operate on the until-now weak German right flank.
On the German left, the T-34s knocked out one Panzer IV and damaged another, but German artillery and infantry support fire eliminated the two Zis-3 guns covering the bridgehead. At this point, the Tiger II more than adequately demonstrated its capability by knocking out a T-34 and IS-2 in quick succession and from that point the pace of the action picked up rapidly! The remaining T-34 on the Russian left decided that waiting around to be picked off by the Tiger II was not really good planning, so it charged towards the Panthers in the centre, blazing away at the latter until one of them destroyed it with a well-placed round. The IS-2 in the meantime damaged one of the Panthers and forced them to cautiously pull back, but the Russian heavy tank’s luck was about to run out! The Tiger II moved up and, despite the cover provided by rubble and burning tanks, put a well-placed shot into the IS-2’s flank, brewing it up immediately.
With their flank now secure, the Panthers moved up towards the Russian centre, supported by a fast-moving attack from the motorised panzergrenadiers. As the latter assaulted the Russian infantry positions in the centre, one of the two remaining T-34s was destroyed at close range by the Panther unit commander. With only one badly-damaged T-34 remaining, at this point the Russians considered that withdrawal was the only option remaining. The Germans had eliminated the Staszow bridgehead!
Historically, the Russians repulsed the German attacks. Halfway through the game, it looked like the Germans would fail, but some very good shooting by the Tiger II, coupled with the reinforcements, turned things round. The most surprising part of it was that I played as the Germans, and won! You read that correctly, I won!