With their backs absolutely against the wall, the stubborn defenders of the village of Cherkasskoye had stopped the first German attack cold. But they knew it was only a matter of time before the crack troops of the Grossdeutschland division hit them again. Operation Zitadel was the last big roll of the dice from the Werhmacht, defeat would be catastrophic for the war effort!
This campaign “Storming the Citadel” was now reaching the final stages, and only a desperate last-minute defence would save the Soviets from a crushing defeat. Can they hold the line, or would the Teutonic juggernaut steamroller them?
At this last stage in the campaign the Germans have a pretty fearsome amount of support for their attack. Rolling their 2d6+10 they managed 21pts and went for:
- Extra Senior Leader
- le.IG-18 75mm infantry gun
- Pioneer flamethrower team
Due to the slightly unusual way support works for this scenario the Soviets only get another 1d6+4 support, but they do get to keep their entire core platoon, plus two squads from winning game 5, plus their supports from game 6. Rolling well they got to add 10pts of support to what they had already, so Soviet support would be:
- 2 entrenchments
- Maxim SFMG
- DSHk 12.7mm HMG
- 2 flamethrowers
- Sniper team
The German core platoon is a bit weaker than the Soviets though, after the previous battles they have a total of 21 men to face 37 Reds. All up, two well-equipped and determined forces, but the Germans definitely had the edge in armour, with the Soviets not having much that could stop the Tiger.
The approach to Cherkasskoye is a slightly intimidating one for the attacker, with plenty of open ground to cross in front of the Soviet positions. Only on the German right was their cover, with the fences and buildings hopefully offering some protection.
We had fought over this ground before and last time the Germans had chosen to attack through the houses along the edge of the board, these providing the only cover for them, apart from a few patches of scrub in the open. The defenders have no such problem, with fence lines, a hill, buildings and the option of digging their troops in to get the benefit of hard cover. However, the scenario rules dictate that the only entrenchments the Soviets can use in this game are ones they used in the previous game. I had paid for two entrenchments off the support list and only used one during the game. This had been a gun pit with a Maxim directly blocking the German advance into the houses.
In the patrol phase the Soviets quickly moved a marker up into those houses to prevent the Germans getting a foothold, and managed to confine the Germans to JOPs on their table edge, with only one up in the scrub on the German left.
The Germans rolled a 9 for force morale. They roll as elites, but morale is low at the moment and this prevented them getting a better start. Not to worry though, as the Soviets also muffed their roll and started only a rock-bottom morale of 8.
The German force had a lot of long range firepower to bring to the table with all their LMGs, an infantry gun and a Tiger with its 88. They also had some short range nastiness with their flamethrower and plenty of leaders to keep up the momentum of an attack. The plan was to push up in the narrow confines of the buildings on the right again and just overpower the Soviet defenders.
The Soviets expected some German armour, but took a gamble of focussing on taking out the German infantry. It was tempting to dig in a Zis-3 and try to kill their armour, but there was absolutely no guarantee they’d be able to kill a Tiger if one showed up. With a DSHk and not one but two flamethrowers the plan was to draw the Germans into knife-fighting range by deploying a JOP well forward in the houses and then hit them hard with HMG fire and flamethrowers.
An inexperienced German squad leader deployed his LMG team forward on the German left, occupying a patch of scrub and putting his gun on overwatch covering the objective. For now though, that was the only German move. Initially there was no response from the Soviets, so the Germans deployed a full squad on their right, where it could begin to move towards the fence line. Now though the Soviets managed to roll a 1 on their command dice and deployed a sniper team on the hill facing the scrub patch and started to plug away. The lady snipers were having trouble getting the range on the Germans though and the first couple of shots went wide, with the third only managing some shock.
Meanwhile, the Germans continued to move up on their right, with a second squad now joining the first. This meant the German infantry was now fully committed, although they had plenty of other toys in the bag yet.
The Soviets were content to let the Germans come for now, and waited until they had crossed the wooden fence and were in the trees near the Soviet JOP before unleashing a fearsome volley of fire from their camouflaged positions. Dug in right in front of the German advance was a DSHk heavy MG, which brassed up the lead German section with a Soviet infantry squad deployed behind the fence joining in. Unluckily for the Germans their squad leader took a hit in the first volley, and over on the other side of the table the sniper also fired and managed to draw a bead on the squad leader in the scrub. That was two “Junior leader wounded” rolls right away, but they managed to escape with only one point of force morale lost.
The Germans weren’t about to take this lying down though, and they fired both MG-34s into the DSHk. As this was dug in while the nearby infantry were only hiding behind a wooden fence (ie: light cover) the Germans were able to concentrate their fire on the gun instead of the hits being spread between both. The hard cover from the gun pit proved its worth though, and only one man from the gun team was hit. Clearly the Germans needed more firepower to push through, so they deployed their le.IG-18 infantry gun in the open in their centre where it could draw line of sight to the HMG, and immediately started throwing 75mm HE rounds at it, causing some shock on the Soviets and then killing two of the HMG crew shortly after. This was enough to pin the DSHk team, cutting their firepower in half. A major setback for the defence.
The Soviets held the line though, and between the DSHk and their two DP-28 LMGs were putting out a respectable volume of fire. Shock began to mount on the Germans and with their JL reduced to one command initiative he was struggling to keep it under control.
The Germans had a couple of CoC dice due to their better troop quality, but the Soviets now managed to accrue their first one. With shock mounting on the German squad in contact now was the time to launch an ambush. The Soviets cashed in their only CoC dice and deployed a flamethrower team at the end of their phase. Catching the Germans by surprise they rolled a healthy load of attack dice and barbecued three Germans, wounding their JL again and putting enough shock on the rest of them to put them to flight. Unable to retreat in any other direction the fleeing squad ran right through the fresh squad to their rear, dumping seven points of shock on them due to the rarely used “interpenetration by gibbering friendlies” rule.
Having a squad break is never good, and this cost the Germans another three points of morale, putting them on five. The attack was definitely still on though, they had fresh troops in hand and the command dice to run them.
The DSHk now no longer had any infantry to the front, so switched its fire to the le.IG-18 and the two traded hate briefly, with casualties on both sides. With German units falling back, the Soviets felt the momentum of the battle was swinging in their favour so it was time to double down and bring on more troops. Along the hill a dug in infantry squad popped up out of their foxholes and opened up on the German infantry gun. This was long range and the gun did have a gun shield, but between the rifles, LMGs and the DSHk (even though it was only rolling about three dice by now) they managed to wear down the gun crew and when they put a hit on the gun’s JL and some hefty shock on the survivors the gun crew broke and ran. Between the “JL wounded”, “support routs” and “JL routs” this lopped three more points off German morale. This was a disaster, costing them two command dice and a JOP. Unsurprisingly the Soviets picked the JOP nearest to most of the Germans’ troops, as this would increase the Germans’ losses if they withdrew or routed.
The German attack had now properly stalled, but Grossdeutschland don’t give up that easily. Digging into their pile of spare command dice the German platoon commander personally led his second infantry squad forward and whistled up the one thing an Allied player doesn’t ever want to see: a Tiger on the other side of the table. This immediately started smashing chunky 88mm rounds into the DSHk, quickly putting enough shock on it to break the gun crew. Some frag also caught the squad leader of the nearby infantry squad, although the wound wasn’t critical and didn’t cause any morale loss for the Soviets. The fleeing HMG crew (well, the one surviving man really) did cause a point of shock on that squad as he ran through them, making the second time in one game that we used that slightly obscure rule. Interpenetrations are like buses, obviously?
For an encore the Tiger punched some 88 rounds into the Soviet infantry behind the fence, which offered absolutely no protection for them. Two men were hit, and it looked like the Germans might be able to get some revenge. Could they use their pool of spare command dice and the Tiger’s big gun to get their attack back on the move? Well, probably not as shortly afterwards the Soviet sniper got an activation off and managed to shoot their German squad leader that had been ineffectively lurking in the scrub all game. Since this JL only had one initiative the result of “-1 initiative” was actually a kill, and this dropped German morale another point to a very dodgy one point, meaning they lost yet another command dice. Stubbornly the Germans battled on, bringing their second squad up and into contact with the Soviets in the houses. But they had now used their last two spare command dice and would only be rolling two dice per phase. Surely the end was nigh?
Indeed it was, as the Soviets managed to roll another 1 on their dice and deployed their flamethrower into a pigsty (there’s no glamour in war) and opened up on the Germans, wiping out one MG34 team on the spot and causing the other to break. German morale crashed out and hit zero, and the survivors took to their heels and ran.
Despite the attack from a well-armed and determined foe, the defenders of Cherkasskoye had held the line again!
The Butcher’s Bill
The Germans definitely took the worst of it this time. The Soviets ended the game with a whopping 8pt morale advantage, which was enough to zero out all their losses from the engagement.
For the Germans, not so lucky.
They lost 4 men dead, a squad leader dead, and 2 wounded from the core platoon, while another four men got captured by the Soviets during the rout (most of them from the small pinned team in the scrub on the German left flank). This leaves that platoon with only 9 men (including the CO and two JLs), so I suspect it’s going to get disbanded to beef up the other two.
Understandably, the Soviet CO was pleased and allowed his opinion to creep up one point to +3. This will grant the Soviets an extra support point next game, and I think is the first time the boss has cracked a smile all through the campaign. The men though were unmoved by their light casualties and their opinion stays on -2, which is ok but not great. The platoon leader though was obviously celebrating his good performance, because he’s now slipped sideways into the “green” section of the table where he’s drinking heavily. Turns out he’s not a jolly drunk though, his mood is “droll”. I do always enjoy when Russian leaders slip into this part of the table though, I’ve met enough Russians to know the stereotype is solidly grounded in fact. They do like a drink.
Over in the German camp though: sad faces all round. The CO’s opinion dropped a point, but their good performance earlier in the campaign means this only brings it back to zero. The men though are positively mutinous. The heavy casualties cost three points of morale, dropping them to -9 and earning the platoon commander a “carpet parade” in front of the company CO, after which his mood drops from “content” to “retiring”. I don’t think we’ll be seeing this man leading a platoon again though, there’s not much left of it.
But all is not lost for the Germans. They’ve still got one more chance to take Cherkasskoye and claim a minor victory in the campaign. For the Soviets, where things had looked very gloomy a few campaign turns ago they can take heart in the fact that they’ve now prevented a German “major victory”, and maybe could even hold out for a win? That would mean beating the Germans in this same scenario for a third time on the trot, and I’m pretty sure the Germans will be doing their best to make sure that doesn’t happen!
- The DSHk deployed up front in a position which blocked the German advance and forced them to stop and throw everything at it. Its gun pit and the Soviet SL deploying in support of it allowed it to last long enough to soak up a lot of firepower. Becoming pinned quite early meant it actually didn’t throw a huge amount of dice back, but it really did draw an amazing amount of fire. The Germans barely shot at anything else.
- A sniper is always a 50/50 call, but if you do have one there’s no reason not to deploy it early. In this case the Soviet one paid off, as it put the JL commanding the small team in the scrub out of action fairly early and after that the team never activated and cost the Germans several men POW in the retreat. However, once the Soviets had the DSHk on table there were never any spare 1s to activate the sniper. The more I use them the more I think snipers are an early-game option for the defence that gives you something to do while you’re holding off with the rest of your platoon.
- Again, flamethrowers proved their savagery in close terrain. However, the proximity of JOPs is key. Both sides had flamethrowers but only the Soviets were able to use theirs, as the Germans would have needed to bounce up a JOP to bring theirs, as the had in the previous game.
- The German morale collapse was almost entirely down to JLs getting wounded. They had some really bad luck, with a high proportion of kills on troops converting into leader hits that nibbled away at morale. But to be fair the Soviets were getting the kills in the first place that were putting those leaders at risk.
- The Soviet support picks and plan meant the Germans might actually have done better by attacking across the open ground. If the Tiger had come on early and just advanced towards the objective the Soviets would have been reduced to trying to use their flamethrowers to stop it. This was a gamble for the Soviets, but it worked out.