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Historical Miniatures Wargamer from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Shevchenkovskiy Rudnik

The constant roar of the panzer engines made the last comments at the orders group difficult for the offices assembled to hear. Adjusting his back, the cramped conditions were doing nothing to relieve the incessant pain, von Funck gathered his voice. “Gentleman, we have been defeating the Soviets since we crossed the border almost two weeks ago. Now, while it seems the enemy resolve is stiffening I have complete faith in you to execute your orders. Remember, we must manoeuvre at every opportunity and use the indirect approach to overwhelm the Bolshevik.” Handing over the briefing to the regimental commander von Funck departed. Indeed in these few days since crossing the border in June 1941 his opinion of the fighting quality of the enemy had reached a new low. He had no doubt the enemy would be swept aside.

The companies of the divisional reconnaissance battalion, combined with information from an ever increasing flow of prisoners indicated a concentration of Soviet tanks to the Division’s front. While a cautious commander could await a concentration of the division von Funck wished to retain the momentum. Two battalions from 6th Schutzen would advance. Both would advance from the left in an oblique movement. The 1st Battalion would take the position on the extreme left and advance through the town of Berezyne. While a Flak platoon would be deployed in a covering position in the nearby woods the remainder of the battalion would advance to the dominating ground to the south-east. As 1st Battalion past through Berezyne 2nd Battalion would cross its start line advancing in a similar south-easterly arc falling on the north of a ridge that ran east to west, the Shevchenkovskiy Ridge. Behind this stood the village of Shevchenkovskiy Rudnik. In immediate reserve was 1st Panzer Battalion which sat due west of Shevchenkovskiy Rudnik and south of the ridge.

General Hans von Funck was confident that the direction of his attack, effectively an attack from the north, would draw out the Soviets who would be forced to react. Leaving their west facing orientation and defensive positions they would instead advance north to counter the German force. These Soviet attacks would, as always, be disorganised and lacking in combined arms. They would first be held by the Schutzen and then, with their flanks exposed be destroyed by the Panzers.

Above, the battlefield as viewed from a Fieseler Storch from the north looking south. The town of Berezyne is visible in the right foreground while in the centre left is the village of Shevchenkovskiy Rudnik. West of the village is the key east-west Shevchenkovskiy Ridge. 1st Battalion (left) and 2nd Battalion (centre right) are clearly visible.

Below, 1st Battalion is somewhat scattered but has just secured its primary objective. The battalion advance position will be the second ridge across the stream. In the extreme distance Soviet tanks and infantry are just visible. The Soviets had achieved combined arms here by deploying an independent company. On the extreme left an 88mm Flak platoon has fully deployed and covers the gap in the two battalions. It’s position provides an excellent overwatch position covering the flank of 2nd Battalion.

Below, another view from the Storch this time flying near 2nd Battalion looking east. Shevchenkovskiy Ridge is on the right where an advanced platoon of KV-1 tanks has been located. The KVs, originally facing west, would soon fall back over the ridge.

The Soviet defences had been well considered with no less than three KV-1 platoons carefully deployed in ambush. As one retired another prepared to open fire. Below, in the centre distance another T-26 platoon engages 2nd Battalion from a wood. Hidden next to it was a second KV-1 platoon. Undeterred the 6th Schutzen’s 2nd Battalion press forward to seize the ridge, and into the Soviet trap. Additional T-26s, T-34s and infantry are visible just west of the village of Shevchenkovskiy Rudnik.

While 2nd Battalion was advancing on to Shevchenkovskiy Ridge a Soviet reserve tank regiment was ordered forward. Expecting a weak Soviet tank reserve the commander of 6th Schutzen’s 1st Battalion was alarmed to report a massed Soviet armoured thrust which predominantly comprised T-28 supported by a battalion of T-26 light tanks.

Above, the Soviet Tank reserve advances while below, 1st Battalion prepares to engage them. The 1st Battalion was already engaged in an ineffective fire-fight with elements of the Soviet centre near Shevchenkovskiy Rudnik. As the T-28s moved up the engagement became general. German artillery fires were generally ineffective and the Soviet combined arms ensured the German infantry engaged their counterparts while the Pak-36 and 75mm Infantry Guns attempted to counter the Soviet armour. However, dispersed along the lines their fire was ineffective. 1st Battalion was hopelessly pinned down.

The Soviets now began their counterattack. In the centre Soviet tanks surged forward. Nearest to Shevchenkovskiy Rudnik the T-26s were concentrated while at the western end of the Shevchenkovskiy Ridge T-34s and KVs advanced. All around them Soviet infantry moved forward. Soon, the Soviet armour attempted to overrun elements of German infantry on the ridge, with mixed results. While German artillery fires were typically concentrated at infantry on occasion the were focussed on tanks. Pak-36 and 75mm Infantry Guns further targeted the Soviet tanks – when they crested the ridge.

In all the better part of a Soviet Tank Brigade was now concentrating their attack on 2nd Battalion. The armour was particularly determined (veteran morale), yet the supporting infantry were equally focussed on their task (regular). A further infantry battalion was soon detected moving towards the ridge having been previously positioned on the Soviet extreme left. 2nd Battalion was clearly about to be overrun!

Below, T-34s and KV-1s press their attack against elements of 2nd Battalion.

Below, another view of the situation, this time looking east along Shevchenkovskiy Ridge. Visible in the distance near Shevchenkovskiy Rudnik are T-26 and a KV-1 platoons, some ten tanks in total. All would advance on 2nd Battalion before being driven back by fire by 88mm Flak weapons deployed to the left. In the extreme distance elements of the T-28 equipped brigade can be seen engaging 6th Schutzen’s 1st Battalion.

Below, a view of 1st Battalion’s position. Unable to engage the armour effectively the battalion abandoned its forward position and retired to its secondary position while covered by fire from the anti-tank guns and infantry guns the battalion. While executed with precision the retirement was the first significant retreat of the division since the invasion began.

General Hans von Funck was furious. His intelligence officers had clearly let him down and he had foolishly underestimated the enemy. The well considered Soviet defence and audacious counter-attacks were decimating 6th Schutzen. Either a general retreat must be authorised, or the reserve committed. Yet what could the Panzers of 1st Battalion achieve by attacking in to the KV-1s and T-34s astride the battalion’s route of attack? It was a hopeless situation. Yet, the prospect of a retreat was unpalatable. The orders were issued and 1st Panzer Battalion moved forward with speed.

Above and below the Panzers move forward. Visible are Pz-38ts, Pz-IIs, PZ-IVs and halftracks.

Details of the unfolding engagement on the southern flank of the ridge are confusing to say the least.

The advancing Panzers were hopelessly outmatched by their Soviet opponents and paid a significant cost for their frontal attack. Yet many Soviet tanks were outflanked and engaged from the flank and rear. Some were even isolated and engaged by German infantry and halftracks. Soviet infantry suffered heavy casualties from German infantry and concentrated artillery fires. Yet, a further Soviet battalion (veteran) was committed and attacked the Shevchenkovskiy Ridge with great determination.

As darkness engulfed the battlefield the fires of burning vehicles provided an eerie illumination. Von Funck’s veterans had held, but the butcher’s bill had been terribly high. The 7th Panzer had fought well, but over confidence, and a resolute enemy, had nearly ended in catastrophe. Von Funck had been taught a lesson!

The scenario was another Hasty Attack and like those previously, had been developed with the Scenario Generation System. The change in Soviet force structure had proven particularly effective. Careful and considered deployment had resulted in combined arms being achieved by the Soviets at each point of engagement. Further, the use of ambushes had resulted in a number of surprises for the Germans. Soviet resolve had also stiffened with two Soviet battalions, or equivalents, being veteran while another was regular. Only the T-28 Regiment was classed as green. The massed T-28s were particularly effective and their ability to engage infantry was particularly concerning. This was countered by their tendency to become periodically combat ineffective – suppressed.

Another outstanding game, full of challenges and an ideal way to complete a series of Ostfront games between my son and I, at least until next time…

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Clash at Zahvizdya

With his staff car drawn up next to the peasant farm house von Funck, supported by his forward command group, watched elements of the II Panzer Battalion move down the road before peeling off the road to the right 200m distant moving. As he sipped his coffee he was aware his attack was now well underway. Then, as he rested his cup on one of the nearby command tanks, the first artillery shells impacted 2km distant. The battle had begun…

While elements of the division were heavily involved in fighting less than 24 hours prior at Dzhelishay now key fighting units were well in motion by first light. Enemy positions had been located east of the previous battlefield by elements of the 37th Reconnaissance Battalion, the division’s reconnaissance battalion. Indications were that three enemy infantry were this time heavily concentrated and deployed in depth with individual battalions positioned to rapidly reinforce each other and more importantly with interlocking fields of fire. Two battalions were deployed forward their defence based around the towns of Zahvizdya and Krivosheintsy with the later being the larger town. To the rear the village of Vasyukiv seemed to mark the rear of the enemy defencive positions. Clearly the Soviet commanders felt that the retention of the villages, control of the road network here and their interlocking fire was critical. However, the Soviet left looked open it was here von Funck focused his main effort.

Again a three phase of operation was adopted. Phase One would see 6th Schutzen’s 1st Battalion advance over open ground to the right of Zahvizdya in a wide arc. This battalion was tasked with the securing of a gentle slope to the right of Zahvizdya. Here the commander was to position an attached 88mm Flak platoon and secure the woods to the flank of Zahvizdya. If the situation warranted the battalion was to advance further through the woods to a position at right angles to the advance. Phase Two would start as 90 minutes after the troops of 1st Battalion crossed their start lines. Here 2nd Battalion would conduct an angled attack on Zahvizdya and its environs attacking in an arc from the south east. The battalion commander was encouraged to infiltrate left and right of the town rather than risk a direct attack.

Above, 6th Schutzen advances. 1st Battalion is in the foreground while the 2nd Battalion is visible in the distance as it moves on Zahvizdya. Below, another view clearly showing the town of Zahvizdya, the rising ground and the Zahvizdya woods between the town and rising ground.

Phase Three began a 30 minutes after Phase Two with a rapid movement by the the 2nd Panzer Battalion around the right flank in a deep turning movement, driving deep into the Soviet rear. More importantly it would open the road network and provide follow on formations a clear road east.

Above, the 2nd Panzer moves forward. While below the general situation with the road from west to east in the foreground showing the general open Soviet left flank and route of the Panzers. Soviet positions are visible at the top with the two towns on the left and the small village of Vasyukiv in the top right. The Soviet rear battalion can be seen providing protection from a German flanking movement. In the top right Soviet armour, drawn from an Independent Tank Brigade, is just visible moving forward. It was committed here to reinforce the Soviet infantry formations.

Meanwhile fighting around Zahvizdya became confusing. German infantry became quickly engaged by Soviet infantry in woods to the north of the town. The German battalion commander as expected now worked the flanks overcoming the north woods and advancing and engaging the rear of the town. Here support weapons and several platoons in the outskirts were overcome. Despite putting up a determined defence the surviving Soviet troops deployed around Zahvizdya were soon those huddled in the town itself.

Above, German 6th Schutzen is shown involved in heavy fighting. The 2nd Battalion is shown engaging the Soviets around Zahvizdya. In the upper right elements of 1st Battalion secure the woods and prepare to face the Soviet armour.

Below, another view of 1st Battalion. Here the 88mm Flak platoon, represented by its prime mover, has just fallen back. The battalion commander had been overly optimistic around positioning it so far forward. Likely to be engaged before it was deployed the platoon was withdrawn leaving the enemy armour to be engaged by the battalions light anti-tank and infantry guns supported by artillery fires by divisional artillery.

Confused and desperate fighting now occurred in the area known by many survivors as the cauldron. Soviet tanks surged forward engaging the Germans. The few anti-tank guns available fired relentlessly and suffered the ferocity of the Soviet tankers. Infantry guns likewise lobbed shells at the lumbering giants which more often than not bounced off.

Above, in the area of Zahvizdya just following the armoured overrun of 2nd Battalion’s anti-tank guns. Below, the situation in 1st Battalion’s sector as Soviet infantry abandons its positions in the woods to support their armour.

Hans Vilmer, a private in the 1st Battalion describes the action in his sector:

“While much of the battalion engaged the Soviet tanks from the woods my company engaged the enemy infantry that remorselessly advanced in support of the enemy Panzers. Their infantry tactics were poor and we often slowed their advances with rifle and machine gun fire. Once they went to ground they usually stayed put. Then selected men on my left would sneak forward using the small undulations that separated the fields in the cauldron and attempt to engage their steel monsters with anti-tank rifles or satchel charges. It was a dangerous business. These Panzers, like the Bolshevik infantry, were under our almost unceasing artillery fire.”

However, the arrival from the east robbed all hope of a Soviet victory. The 2nd Battalion from 25th Panzer Regiment had taken a circular path and now engaged Soviet infantry from the flank. Almost simultaneously the Soviet tanks and their supporting infantry collapsed. Below the Panzers move forward to the attack.

With the Soviet formations around Zahvizdya destroyed General Hans von Funck mounted his command halftrack. With a brief word to his driver the vehicle lurched forward from the verge and on to the dusty road. From here Funck continued east, with the other elements of the division…

The action was Hasty Attack developed using the Scenario Generation System. The Germans used an Attack List, supplemented by an Option A, while the Soviets used a Defend List also with an Option A. Soviet morale was classed as random and on this occasion the one infantry battalion, deployed around Zahvizdya, was determined to be regular and another, supporting the tanks green. The final battalion was not involved in the fighting. The Soviet tanks were however found to be veteran. The Soviets were hamstrung by poor command and control being unable to change orders, despite multiple requests. Worse, their artillery refused to support the troops involved in the fighting despite continual requests for fire support. Had they the outcome could have been entirely different.

The Glorious 7th Panzer

The first few days of June were glorious. Sweeping manoeuvres, rapid advances and prisoners in quantity. The armoured elements of Army Group Center were making outstanding progress and in just a week high command was issuing orders for the Panzers to pause while infantry formations dealt with pockets of resistance. Of course it wasn’t just the infantry divisions completing these tasks. One such position was in 7th Panzer Division’s area of operations and elements of the division were allocated to eliminating the Soviet pocket centred around the town of Dzhelishay.

The town of Dzhelishay itself was of little importance. However it was the central element of an area that sat astride 7th Panzer’s line of communications. The various areas of high ground and bridges were of more importance as they dominated or defined the routes of advance for any Soviet counterattack. Yet as General Hans von Funck stood, straightening his back after pouring of maps and hearing the latest intelligence briefing, he was in no doubt the real objective for the day was to destroy the enemy concentration. “Gentlemen, this action will be different. Our infantry will be getting amongst the enemy.”

Funck’s plan was relatively simple. Three villages stretched across the area of operations with Dzhelishay in the centre. Vernigorodok was on the Soviet left and Kaynary on the Soviet right. With a number series of spot heights behind Vernigorodok. Funck determined the forces around Vernigorodok would be the focus of his main effort. His plan was divided into three phases.

Phase One would see two battalions from the 6th Schutzen Regiment conduct a silent attack initially though well supported by divisional artillery. Infiltration tactics would be used with rapid advances on the flanks supported by heavy support fires by each battalions support elements in the centre. Once enemy advanced positions were overrun the second phase would begin. Phase Two would see 2nd Battalion exploit the position swinging 90 degrees capturing rear positions and the high ground behind Vernigorodok. Meanwhile, 1st Battalion would complete its deployment into defensive blocking positions. This would be backed by attached 88 Flak weapons and together would likely be the focus of Soviet armoured counterattacks. Phase Three would see the commitment of the 1st Panzer Battalion on the left of the infantry. Held in reserve it would be used to either, exploit the general situation by a rapid deep movement north, to engage the expected any armour attacking the 6th Schutzen by a thrust in the flank or, overrun Soviet infantry moving to reinforce the defenders of Vernigorodok.

Above, the general situation with the Germans advancing from the left. The 6th Schutzen’s two battalions are visible on the left. The forward villages are Vernigorodok in the foreground, Dzhelishay in the centre and Kaynary in the far distance.

Below, another view of the German advance. 2nd Battalion is in the foreground with 1st Battalion on the east side of the road. Each battalion’s fighting stands are general deployed forward with machine gun, infantry gun and Pak companies deployed in close proximity to provide support fire. A German 88mm Flak platoon is being moved into overwatch positions on high ground prior to deployment.

Two companies of Soviet infantry have been deployed forward of the village of Vernigorodok with other elements held further back. Soviet artillery observers are located in Vernigorodok itself along with various HQ and support companies.

While Vernigorodok was clearly under attack the village of Kaynary to the west (above) and the town Dzhelishay in the centre of the area of operations (below) were peaceful.

Interestingly the Soviet garrison in Dzhelishay was predominantly deployed within the town environs and was to act as a reinforcement to an attack on either flank. The Soviet Regimental HQ was located here to further enhance the ability for the battalion to react. Yet, before it could be committed approval from the divisional commander was needed. Communication was frequently a problem and while the divisional commander approved the commitment of his armoured reserve he was less willing to commit his infantry located at Dzhelishay.

Above, Soviet armour, from an independent tank regiment moves forward. The vehicles comprise T-26s, KV-1s, T-34s and T-28s. However, the distances involved meant the infantry engagement around Vernigorodok was entering a critical phase and the Soviet armour was still some distance from the now hard pressed Soviet defenders.

Above, Soviet infantry fall back on Vernigorodok while a Soviet heavy machine gun platoon is close assaulted by elements of 6th Schutzen’s 2nd Battalion. Despite a determined defence the Soviet infantry were finally overcome and the survivors fled from the German veterans.

Above, the Soviet armour moves into the attack uncovering advanced German elements drawn from 6th Schutzen’s 1st Battalion. With no infantry in support the Germans engaged Soviet tanks with anti-tank rifles, Pak-35 anti-tank guns, 75mm Infantry guns and even artillery fires from divisional 105mm guns. These were further supported by a well positioned and deadly 88mm Flak platoon firing from high ground, visible below.

The German fire from the woods had an unforeseen side effect. The regimental commander of Dzhelishay, who had been continually requesting approval to support the attack on Vernigorodok took the initiative himself. While careful to not move his headquarters from Dzhelishay, and risk another trip to the gulag, he ordered elements to engage the Germans firing from the nearby woods at Soviet armour. Soon the Soviets from Dzhelishay surged towards the Germans. Outnumbered the German company halted the advance in several places but lacking support weapons and artillery the position looked untenable. At least until the commitment of the 1st Panzer Battalion that now swept forward.

The Soviet position was clearly hopeless and within thirty minutes of the commitment of the German Panzers the Soviet armour broke in rout and with it the last Soviet hope of halting the German attack was lost. General Hans von Funck was pleased he had once again found the measure of the Soviets. Tomorrow he would take the offensive, his line of communications secure.

The action was Hasty Attack developed using the Scenario Generation System. The Germans used an Attack List, supplemented by an Option A, while the Soviets used a Defend List also with an Option A. Soviet morale was classed as random and on this occasion the two main formations involved were regular while the counter attack from Dzhelishay was by green troops. All German troops were classed as veteran. The Soviets were hamstrung by poor command and control being unable to change orders, despite multiple requests.

Beyond Avesnes

After a little discussion Friday evening found Robin and I settling on a Spearhead game set in France during 1940. We of course intended to use the Scenario System to develop the situation. With my own British still not ready for this campaign I promptly dusted off a German list based around the 7th Panzer Division.

Having reached Avesnes 7th Panzer was expected to reform following it advance. However Rommel had other plans. Colonel Karl Rothenburg, commander of the 25th Panzer Regiment, was ordered forward and soon encountered further enemy forces. To his front was “Sutton Force”, an adhoc assembly of various formations. Rothenburg opted to engage the enemy by a rapid hasty attack. when he to learnt the British had failed to secure two critical ridges. Either the British commander was up to something, or he was incompetent. Rothenburg hoped for the later, but feared the former. Divisional intelligence officers further advised that Sutton Force comprised elements drawn from an Armoured Division, rather than the more typical Infantry Division.

The German staff work hastily began to put the plan together. Immediately available were two Panzer Battalions from 25th Panzer Regiment as well as one motorised battalion from the 6th Motorised Regiment. Flank marches were ruled out, instead both Panzer Battalions would work together, massed for the expected armoured clash. The more open right flank was clearly the area for the Panzers to operate leaving the infantry to secure the centre. One Panzer battalion would advance with the second held in reserve. A Motorised Battalion drawn from 6th Motor Rifle Regiment, without armour, would secure the centre and one flank of the Panzers. This battalion would be reinforced by a number of 88mm Flak guns and using high ground could dominate the centre. Divisional 105mm artillery was available for support of the attack. Around 1pm German formations of the 7th Panzer Division crossed their start lines. As they did Stukas circled overhead occasionly swooping down to attack enemy forces.

In the centre 1/6th Motor Rifle Battalion advanced over open ground with out incident. The battalion secured its objective and deployed several platoons secured a large wood. Other platoons and support companies deployed to the left while the attached Flak deployed on dominating high ground.

Some distance from the battalion British forces held a second wooded ridge, seen below.

Meanwhile to the right German Panzers advanced towards their initial objective, a ridge some 1400 yards in length, British infantry were detected advancing from the opposite direction and intent to secure the same ridge.

While clearly they would reach the high ground first they would expose their flank in the process. As a result the 1st Panzer Battalion would halt while the second Panzer Battalion was ordered forward to envelope the advancing British. Below, 1st Panzer Battalion is on the left while the 2nd Panzer expands to the right.

Valuable time was lost manoeuvring the 2nd Panzer battalion into position. Below, Panzers and infantry in halftracks prepare to engage the exposed British left. In the distance British armour can be seen moving forward.

This British armour was clearly a threat, and had to be countered removing valuable assets from the main effort. Below, the under strength armour of Sutton Force comprising an adhoc regiment of A-13s and Vickers Mk VI light tanks.

Meanwhile in the centre battle was also underway. British infantry pressed forward pinning the German 1/6th Motorised Infantry Battalion while advancing to attack the German left. Rather than react to the flanking attack German infantry engaged the British centre. Here, German infantry and heavy weapons, supported by concentrated artillery fires, decimated the British centre. Then, as planned exposed German elements fell back to their next defence line.

Below, the attack on the German centre viewed from the British right. In the left distance British forces are heavily engaged and suffer heavy casualties, while in the foreground the press forward the British infantry are not engaged.

The German main effort was however on the German right where the Panzers were massed. Attacks on the British infantry positions were generally well coordinated. Again supporting artillery provided critical assistance to the infantry and armoured components. The attacks included a number of overrun attacks, though those against the British infantry near the high ground were generally more successful than those against the infantry on the ridge. 

Above and below, the German main attack gets underway. Panzer I and II tanks are visible close assaulting British infantry. While other Panzers secure the high ground.

However, well positioned British anti-tank guns limited the ability of German tanks to overrun a number of British positions which slowed the German advance.

As this battle was in full swing British armour was now moving forward. Interestingly, British armour seemed unwilling to engage at long range, but rather pushed forward to reduce the range. By doing so the generally deployed Panzers often had the advantage of stationary fire. 

Soon the British Crusier tanks were burning brightly. Though their élan had been admirable they were no match for the Panzers. With the British armour a spent force the British infantry position on the ridge, having lost their armoured support and their own anti-tank guns, had no other option but to fall back. 

The German Panzers were once again free to advance, though casualties on the Panzers of 1st Battalion had been heavy. Clearly British resolve was increasing as has been indicated in British reports, but they were still unable to halt the Wehrmacht.

The miniatures shown here are from the excellent Heroics & Ros range, with the British from Robin’s collection and the Germans from my own. The buildings are from Timecast while trees from Irregular Miniatures. The remaining terrain is homemade.