Breakout at Borizov
Last week we continued our series of eastern front Flames of War games set during Operation Bagration. In the first game, elements of 78th Sturm Division stopped the Soviets cold in their sector, as happened historically at points along the line. The Soviets broke through at many other points along the line though and so for this second game I decided to portray a Soviet tank thrust against elements of 5th Panzer Division and 505th Heavy Panzer Battalion . The Soviets were to field a pair of medium tank battalions with the objective to penetrate as far west as possible with as much force as possible. Against them was a pair of German companies tasked with stopping the breakout using minimal forces.
Scott and Bob brought the Soviets. Scotts battalion had two full strength tank units (T-34/76 and T-34/85), IS-2s, BA-64s, and a platoon of infantry. Bob’s battalion had two small companies of T-35/85, a full company of ISU-122, a platoon of 120mm mortars and a platoon of infantry. The scenario gave the Soviets the full support of the VVS in the form of priority air support by Sturmoviks.
I put together a few German companies and allowed Brett to pick two. He chose to field the Tigers of 505th Heavy Panzer with two platoons of Tigers, a platoon of pioneers, and some SP quad 20mm AA, led by their veteran commander in his Tiger. The other company chosen was of Panzer pioneers with a couple of platoons of pioneers (one with Stuka zu fuss halftracks), a battery of 88mm FlaK, a platoon of marders, and an off-table medium artillery battery of 15cm guns.
I grabbed some maps from Google Earth of the area north of Borizov and decided on one based on the preferences of the Soviet commanders. In this scenario, the Germans start with a pool of victory points and pay points for each unit the deploy and for losses during the battle. The more platoons deployed initially, the greater the VP cost, so we opted for an initial deployment of three platoons – the pioneers occupying the town, the 88’s behind the hedge covering the center of the table, and the 15cm guns ready off table. The Soviets deployed their entire force and we were underway.
On the Soviet left, Scott and Ken advanced forward shielded by a low ridge. On the left however, Bob and Tom found their forces hemmed in by the large wood along the south edge of the table. This caused them to bunch up and the 15cm artillery claimed its first victims of the day. Bob and Tom decided the woods looked more inviting than the artillery and dived into the forest. As Scott’s tanks crested the ridge, they came under immediate fire from the 88’s, which killed a couple. However, fire from Bob’s 120mm mortars destroyed one gun and the second failed to unpin and was subsequently assaulted and destroyed by the BA-64s.
The German platoons not deployed on table were available as reserves, but the luck was not with the Soviets in the early going and there was nothing but static on the radio. Ken’s T-34s and IS-2s spilled over the ridge and began engaging the pioneers. A lone Pioneer team closed the gap on the north side of town and this team was soon crushed beneath the tracks of the T-34s, which kept going around the north edge of town and into the open terrain beyond town. Ken’s platoon of Soviet infantry took advantage of the pinned down pioneers to launch and assault. The two units fought back and forth for several rounds before the Soviets “won”. The pioneers had lost the combat but were able to fall back onto the center of town. Both platoons passed motivation and stuck around, but neither had the strength to uproot the other. However, since the Germans retained possession of the church steeple (aka artillery OP), this was a German win as the 15cm shells continued to rain down on the Soviets. The guns were such a thorn in their side that they committed most of their air support to trying to destroy the guns. They did manage to pin them for a couple of turns, but never silenced them.
The first German reserve platoon, the pioneers from the Tiger company, arrived in the south and moved into the woods. Only four teams strong, this unit could do little to halt the Soviets, but was prepared to do their duty. The Soviets attacked them with infantry and tanks in the forest and destroyed them utterly with no losses other than the delay caused by deploying to fight them.
Finally the first meaningful German reserves arrived as a platoon of Tigers roared onto the table and moved to occupy a ridge overlooking the west half of the table. Ken’s T-34s had skirted the town but now dove into the cover of a small wood to stay out of LOS of the big cats. The Sturmoviks made one try to knock out the Tigers to the north, but were unsuccessful. The IS-2s stopped to engage the Tigers, but neither side could do much against the other at long range. Bob began double timing the ISU-122s forward. Five more 122mm guns would definitely make a dent in the Tiger platoons. However, the 15cm guns continued to hammer away, destroying an IS-2. Scott finally had enough and redirected his tank company toward the village to put an end to the troublesome artillery observer.
Tom’s tanks had just reached the west edge of the woods and were positioned to make a break for the west table edge when the Germans received additional reserves in the SW – a platoon of Tigers followed closely by a platoon of Marders. This formidable array of firepower stopped any plans of a rapid advance on this front.
In the final couple of turns the Germans were able to shore up their formidable gun line. The Sturmoviks made one try to knock out the Tigers to the north, but were unsuccessful. Our game time was up and we decided to end it and tally up the score. The Soviets had managed to get almost all of their platoons across the halfway line, but didn’t get any of them off of the west tabl;e edge for the big VP awards. They also did not bring forward their supply convoy to resupply their forward elements for bonus points, primarily due to the vulnerability of the trucks to the ever present artillery. The Germans had been forced to deploy most of their two companies, using many of the VP in their initial pool. However, their losses had been relatively light, to they ended the game with more VP than the Soviets, but only enough for a minor victory.
I really liked how the scenario played out and everyone had a good time. The game had the feel I was looking for, with the mass of Soviet armor pressing ahead against scattered, and at times desparate, German resistance. With four standard FOW formations and approximately 40 Soviet AFV’s on the table we were still able to set up and play 11 turns in four hours. On the German side we did pretty well considering the late arrival of our reserves and there were only a couple of minor deployment changes we could have made. On the Soviet side I think they could have been a little less cautious, perhaps double moving more (e.g. after the 88’s had been destroyed and the center was open) or risking the trucks to the artillery in hopes that some would get through.