Rolling Back the Bear

Having progress this year the painting of my Soviets I was particularly keen to deploy my them and with Christmas holidays in full swing a perfect opportunity presented itself. After some discussion we opted for an Eastern Front scenario set in late 1944, as Operation Bargration had run its course. The scenario was developed with the Spearhead Scenario Generation System and found, much to our surprise, surviving elements of the 20th Panzer Division conducting a Hasty Attack on two weak Soviet infantry regiments reinforced by an independent heavy tank regiment.

Soviet forces were drawn from the 75th Guards Rifle Division. Their commander, Major General Vasily Gorishny ordered elements of the division to deploy forward with four key areas of terrain held by two successive lines of infantry. The 212th Guards Rifle Regiment held the left with one battalion forward and one in the second line. Each battalion defensive position drew heavily on woods and hills to provide cover for the defenders with selected positions reinforced by dug in positions.

Above the defensive positions held by the 212th Regiment, with a close up view of the second line below.

The centre was held in a similar fashion, with both battalions drawn from the 231st Guards Rifle Regiment and under command of Lieutenant Colonel Vasily Maksimov.

Above the Soviet centre and below the second Soviet line clearly showing the second battalion protecting the flank. Each regiment was positioned for attack frontally or from the flank.

The extreme Soviet right of the divisional sector comprised generally open terrain and with only one area of critical terrain the area was abandoned. This resulted in something of a salient being formed by the Soviet left and centre. To the rear of the position the Soviet Major General Vasily Gorishny placed his only reserve, the 59th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment. It was expected the German forces would attack the Soviet right and here it would be well able to deliver a crushing blow should the Germans attempt a flanking movement.

As the sector was considered quiet much of the artillery had been massed in other sectors leaving the division limited to support, when available, from various counter-battery artillery units.

With the terrain on the left clearly heavily held by the Soviets the German commander Generalleutnant von Kessel decided on a concentrated attack on the Soviet right by two Panzer Grenadier battalions would open the attack. One battalion would be supported by some 20 Stugs and Jagdpanzers, as seen below.

The attack was to be further assisted by 105mm and 150mm artillery fires from the division’s artillery assets. With these forces falling on the Soviet right flank and right corner of the Soviet positions it was hoped that one Soviet battalion would be broken and any subsequent counterattack broken up. Then with a corridor opened up a German Panzer battalion would be unleashed to breakout deep into the Soviet rear, or if the situation required, to support the main effort. The German Divisional commander further believed that holding the Panzers in reserve would lessen the likelihood of any early commitment of Soviet reserves, which were likely T-34s.

The German advanced was launched in sequence. First one Panzer Grenadier Battalion crossing its start line, then around 60 minutes later the second crossed its own start line. Below the general view of the advancing German forces in the left and right foreground.

Each battalion made solid progress and encountered little delay or opposition excluding occasional mortar fires from Soviet on table 82mm and 120mm mortars. 

Eventually the German advance triggered heavy direct fires by Soviet infantry and several well positioned heavy machine guns. Unfortunately for the Soviets several advanced positions were quickly overcome by concentrated German artillery fires and others were being turned by lead German elements. The weight of the German attack was now being felt.

Gorishny now released his armoured reserve and the 59th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment, comprising IS-2 heavy tanks and a company of sub-machine gun armed infantry, moved forward against the flanking Panzer Grenadier battalion.

Above the general situation with the German battalions visible in the foreground. On the extreme left the 59th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment is just visible entering the battle area. Below, another view of the tanks as they move forward supported by infantry.

Panic overcome the German infantry and while the desperately tried to strip away the Soviet infantry the Soviet armour dealt a bloody toll on the infantry. Other Soviet infantry added to the casualties as Soviet heavy machine guns and infantry from villages added to the weight of fire. 

However, some respite was gained as the Stugs and Jagdpanzers opened up long range fire on the Soviet armour at extreme range. 

As described previously effective German artillery fires had caused heavy casualties on Soviet forward positions but the deteriorating situation now forced the German artillery fires to switch to smoke rounds in an effort to screen the exposed German Panzer Grenadiers.

These artillery fires in turn increased the likelihood of the German artillery being located. Indeed Soviet artillery teams were working frantically and soon the Soviet counter battery fires began to fall. First the German 105mm artillery battery was located and over the course of 40 minutes was silenced by 122mm and 152mm Soviets guns. Then, with the the German 150mm guns located the Soviet artillery switched to these guns. Over the course of an hour most of the German artillery had been silenced.

Simultaneously the Soviet tanks had engaged in a one sided exchange of fire and likewise after some an hour the majority of German assault guns had been silenced and the first Panzer Grenadier Battalion, directly in front of the Soviet tanks, had broken.

Meanwhile the German 20th Panzer Division headquarters were a hive of activity and emotion. Reports of Soviet tanks were initially thought to be T-34s, when it was realised that they were heavy tanks the German commander Generalleutnant von Kessel slammed his fist on the table – his plan was unraveling. Without hesitation he ordered his Panzer Kampfgruppe, containing his armour and supporting Panzer Grenadiers in halftracks forward. Rather than attack the Soviet right or breakout to the rear the Panzers would advance to the right of the second Panzer Grenadier and smash through the now thinning Soviet line. 

The Panzers made rapid progress forward despite being delayed but a stream several hundred yards from the ridge that was there first objective.

However as the tanks of Panzer Regiment 21 prepared to attack the Soviet positions the second Panzer Grenadier battalion reported that it’s elements were now also in retreat, having suffered overwhelming casualties. Von Kessel, with no other viable option ordered all attacks to cease and all remains elements to fall back. The Soviets it seemed were too strong.

Another fascinating game and while this time the Soviets had held a different point of attack may well have resulted in a different outcome. The Soviet infantry being particularly weak in artillery and anti-tank guns. Fortunately the German intelligence and reconnaissance assets had failed to reveal the full extent of the Soviet deception and instead of being an exposed salient the Soviet commander had created a trap for the Germans. All miniature are from Heroics & Ros excellent 6mm ranges and are from my own collection.

4 thoughts on “Rolling Back the Bear

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