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…