We are studiously working on the next Panzer Battles title covering the various actions around the Soviet capital in late 1941/early 1942. We have just started to share some of the initial scenarios with our play-testers. One of the testers was surprised how well the game captured the period flavour, and offered to write-up an After Action Report to share with you all.
This was my first look at the new Panzer Battles game, Battles of Moscow. The idea was to find a small scenario and get a feel for how the game played. With the game still in early development and most scenarios still only in planning, I set my expectations low. But there are some scenarios that have been fleshed out sufficiently to allow for testing and I decided upon a small scenario covering the 119th Rifle Division's part in the Soviet offensive around Kalinin on 5th December.
My intention was to gain some basic insight into this game and was not an attempt at a serious test. Regardless, I thought I would play it blind to add some interest. So, I did not open the scenario up to examine it in detail but instead had a look at the corresponding setup in Panzer Campaigns Moscow '42 to get a feel for the bigger picture. This showed that the 119th was a Siberian Division (highlighted in yellow below) supported by two depleted Tank Battalions. (All images can be clicked to view full-size)
I think this is a good illustration of the vast scale over which the battles around Moscow were fought and I found it a good way of getting the context for the scenario I was about to play.
The 119th Division had two Siberian Rifle Regiments (421st and 634th) and the 920th Rifle Regiment formed around men taken from the ranks of the NVKD. As part of Kalinin Front’s 31st Army, the division was involved in the attack to the south of Kalinin that was attempting to meet up with 29th Army’s attack from the west of the city to trap the Germans defenders.
I was interested to see how the AI handled the Soviet attack so I decided I would play this one as the Germans.
The German’s in the frontline are setup in a series of bunkers overlooking the Volga. These are manned primarily by the 162nd Infantry Division’s 329th Infantry Regiment on the left, and a single battalion from the 129th Infantry Division’s 427th Infantry Regiment, on the right. The 162nd Division's 236th Pioneer Battalion, is located to the rear. Both divisions were part of 9th Army’s XXVII Corps which held the front line south from Kalinin.
Having surveyed the German positions, my plan such as it is, is to have the Germans sit tight in their bunkers. Once they leave these, they will struggle to find any other shelter. The bunkers themselves are barely adequate as the game values reflect that they were constructed above ground and primarily from ice. They will be of no help once the Russians assault, so the hope is to disrupt the attackers before they get that chance.
The primary reserve at the German's disposal is the Divisional Pioneer Battalion. The nine platoons in this unit are at full strength (many of the other German units are around 70%) and have high assault values, so they will more than hold their own against Soviet assaults and may be valuable if a counterattack is required. I will wait for the Soviet attack to unfold and send them where they are most needed. A good plan is a simple plan, or something like that...
The Soviet is the first player, so I start the Dawn turn. Initially not a Soviet in sight but then one by one units appear out of the gloom as they advance across the frozen Volga. It is an impressive sight. The scale of Panzer Battles allows for a clear image in your head of what the symbols on the map really represent. The scene played in my head like a movie. This took me by surprise as I am not known for an overactive imagination! But for whatever reason, suddenly there was a heightened sense of reality that stayed with me for the duration of the scenario. It was one of those gaming moments that I will not soon forget.
This image shows the situation at the end of the Russian turn. Visibility was only 4 hexes but already, around 2,000 infantry and a few brave horse-drawn AT guns could be seen. At the last minute 3 BT-7 platoons raced across a pontoon bridge and made straight for the centre of the German line. Apparently, my troops are in a state of shock. Not a shot fired yet by either side! On to my first turn.
I cannot resist attacking some of the AT guns before they can deploy, and I manage to takeout 5 guns. In addition, I am able to disrupt a couple of Russian infantry companies. Russian losses by the end of the turn are 54 men. But my own loss of 20 men was more than I had expected and was mainly a consequence of the deadly Russian artillery. Still, all is under control. My fire will become more effective as the enemy closes range.
Russian artillery rains down and a second wave is revealed, following closely behind the first. And apparently the two units I disrupted must have rallied! On my right, the NKVD regiment with T-26 tanks in support, charges up the slope. My opportunity fire disrupts two rifle companies and destroys one tank but a recon platoon in a forward position has been disrupted and will have to retreat.
This turn is critical as I must disrupt as many units as possible before they are close enough to assault. But somehow my best efforts only produce the disruption of a single BT-7 platoon. However, 3 more T-26 tanks are destroyed due their close proximity to several AT guns.
My hope is that Russian fatigue is rising. Their total losses are now 141 compared to 62 for the Germans.
With the two Dawn turns behind me, this is the first Day turn. With visibility now at 8, I can see the opposite bank of the Volga for the first time. More artillery hits my frontline and then the Russian assaults begin. Urrah! Since none of my units are disrupted, all the assaults end in failure for the attacker. But these still take a toll on my defenders in terms of fatigue gained and men lost.
During my turn I manage to disrupt 3 more units and destroy the last two visible T-26’s. Not great, but Russians losses are now 292 to my 112. As this scenario is 24 turns long (a full day), time should be on my side.
Turns 4 & 5
The first successful Russian assault forces the retreat, shown above. My pioneers have to move forward to assist an isolated position. During turn 5 they make an unsuccessful assault and so the isolation remains. Overall, the Russians continue to press forward but have yet to take any of the objectives. Following the loss of their tank support, the attackers on the right flank have lost their initial enthusiasm for the fight, which is why they are not shown.
Turns 6 & 7
A storm hits during turn 6 which reduces visibility to 1 hex and gives my troops a little respite. (editors note: weather is now changeable by turn) Also, my pioneers finally breakthrough to the isolated objective and relieve the exhausted defenders. Meanwhile another sector of the front is threatened and once again a pioneer company is sent to the rescue. The next turn sees the storm lift and the unexpected resurgence of the NKVD regiment’s attack on my right. They punch a hole in my defences and pour through as seen above. No problem. I am not panicking…
Turns 8 to 11
The Russians have now taken their first objective and have infiltrated behind my frontline in several places. My pioneer company in the centre makes a foolhardy attempt to retake the objective and is disrupted in the process. While stranded in the open it is hit hard by artillery after which it then loses 80 men in close combat. Hard to watch. The 45 survivors are now desperately trying to escape. But on the right, I see an opportunity to retake a bunker and hopefully distract the advancing Russians from their attack on a hard-pressed objective that they have set their sights on.
Turns 12 to 17
Well… perhaps I am starting to panic just a little. Three more objectives have fallen. My attempt at distraction was a total failure and soon another objective will certainly fall. The pioneers in the centre (Company 2, as shown above) manage to reach the relative safety of a bunker on Hill 161 but are down to 24 men. Company 1 has been bypassed and Company 3 is still in good shape despite being isolated and under constant attack. But how long can they hold out? Things are looking bleak.
Turns 18 to 24
But as it turns out, not as bleak as I imagined. The accumulated fatigue due to constant assaulting must have finally worn down the attackers. As expected, another objective was lost but my pioneers held out until the end. The result, a Minor Victory. Admittedly for Company 2, it was something of a pyrrhic victory for the 2 remaining survivors but still a victory of sorts.
When I commenced playing this scenario I was expecting to go through the motions. It was to be a learning experience. This was a scenario where the initiative was almost entirely with the attacker. I should have been bored out of my brain. But once I started, I could not stop. It was a surprisingly intense experience and the digital lives of those involved became important to me. For someone who has not played against the AI in years, I honestly was not expecting a contest. Yes, the AI did some silly things, but it is probably saying the same about me.
As s first taste of Battles of Moscow, it was more than I had expected. Perhaps it gets even better?
Thank you to our intrepid tester for their time writing up the combat report!
For comparison to the first shot from Panzer Campaigns Moscow '42, here are the various forces identified in this particular Panzer Battles scenario. Its clear that there is a density of Soviet units ready to cross the frozen Volga.
We expect there to be a lot of new rule inclusions for this title as well as different PDT values. For example, it is almost impossible to dig-in once the ground is frozen. As mentioned in the After Action Report, many of the bunkers and pillboxes in game do not add to the defence value of units as they are considered to be above ground rather than dug-in. Frozen single hex rivers and lakes are now crossable, at least for foot, ski and horse units. The frozen penalty rules have been completely redone and will have a range of impacts as has the previously mentioned weather rules.
We have trialed spotters for artillery and you can expect that divisional guns/rockets and higher (corps and army assets) will need dedicated spotters to operate. Artillery and mortars are much more effective and have driven the need to be limited by the availability of spotters. Dedicated indirect fire units in brigades and below will not be as constrained as the heavier guns.
We are also trialing a revised Alternative Assault Rule from Panzer Campaigns, but expect this to be different to that prior series and finally Strength Recovery and Replacements will also be in game to allow longer scenarios to work.
This title is a ways off, but testing is ramping up as we try and ensure the game represents the period combat and we bed down this range of new rules.