Category Archives: Ostfront 1941

The Cauldron 

Having failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough in the engagements along the Vodista the advanced elements of 8th Panzer Division reformed before being recommitted. The 10th Panzer Regiment’s 2nd Panzer Battalion had suffered heavily in the previous engagement and was replaced by the 3rd Panzer Battalion. Likewise the 28th Schutzen Regiment’s 1st Battalion, having been badly mauled, was allowed time to rest and reform while the 2nd Battalion was allocated to the renewed advance. Yet despite these changes the advanced battalions of the division were moving forward less than 14 hours following the bloody encounter at Vodista.

The Soviet casualties from the previous action had been similarly heavy. This coupled with the German ability to manoeuvre against the Soviet flanks greatly concerned the Soviet commander. Soviet battalion commanders were reminded of the importance of all round defence. Attempts to reinforce the division, including counter battery assets were generally rejected. Again only an under strength Tank Brigade was bought forward to stiffen the line.

As the first German reconnaissance reports came in, and were analysed, it become clear to the German commander that the reorientation of Soviet battalions had created a gap between the towns of Roskopol and Dovhonosy.

Aware of the Soviet armoured formations in the area General der Panzertruppe Erich Brandenberger ordered an advance by 2nd Battalion of the 28th Schutzen Regiment into the gap to both seize high ground and act as an anvil against the Soviet armour. This advance would see the 2/28th Schutzen advance some 3000 yards over open ground. Having secured the high ground an anti-tank screen was to be established overlooking one of two bridges in the area. The majority of the battalion would then conduct a flanking movement against the Soviets deployed in around Dovhonosy. Brandenberger was confident that here a significant portion of the Soviets here would be orientated west and south and therefore by poorly prepared for such an attack. This attack also provided relatively direct access to critical high ground, the battalions secondary objective.

At the same time 3rd Panzer Battalion would conduct a deep flank march and attack Dovhonosy from the south. The aim of this attack however was to draw the Soviet reserves, likely comprising armour across the front of the anti-tank screen. The commander of 3rd Panzer Battalion was given clear instructions to break off at anytime. Both battalions were to be supported by divisional artillery assets. Finally 1st Panzer Battalion was held in reserve slightly to the left of 2/28th Schutzen for exploitation or as flank protection for Soviet infantry attacks from Roskopol into 2/28th Schutzen.

Below, the area of operations with 2/28 Schutzen visible advancing east towards high ground overlooking a bridge. The town of Dovhonosy is visible in the right foreground while the village of Roskopol is centre right.

In the Soviet plans were also checked. With no key terrain in the centre, apart from a bridge near the Soviet rear area of operations the centre was lightly held. Further, acutely aware of the German ability to conduct flanking movements the Soviet battalions were indeed deployed to protect against such attacks. Finally, concerned by the threat posed by Panzers breaking out into rear areas, villages now became hasty blocking positions ensuring that could only be taken by direct assault. Holding has Independent Tank Regiment in reserve the Soviet commander relaxed to await the Germans.

Above the Soviets deployed around Dovhonosy, viewed from the south. The village is held by a SMG company. To the rear is the high ground that would be 2/28th Schutzen Battalion’s secondary objective.

Below, the Soviet right flank, viewed from the west. The battalion in the foreground was not engaged while that to the rear formed part of the position around the village of Roskopol. Both are positioned for all round defence but comprising limited troops (11 stands) have a limited command radius.

The advance of 2/28th Schutzen was relatively uneventful. While often visible to the Soviets they were unable to engage or determine determine the objective of the battalion or the main focus. Finally, as the battalion finally reached its first objective it began to deploy its anti-tank guns on high ground while the infantry orientated for its advance against Dovhonosy. At this point the Soviet forces were unleashed.

Soviet reserves, comprising a converged Tank Regiment were committed to an advance towards Dovhonosy, which it was reasoned was the main German objective. Simultaneously a supporting Soviet infantry battalion, deployed around Roskopol, surged forward.

The infantry can be seen above having emerged from Roskopol and the woods behind the village. Below, the Independent Tank Regiment and comprising survivors from two regiments, can be seen advancing. Roskopol is visible in the top left.

Having been deployed in defensive positions the Soviet battalion commander could have formed his battalion up prior to advancing. However, encouraged by the Regimental HQ and political officers such detail was forgotten. Instead the determined Soviets surged forward.

The general situation in the centre can be seen below with Soviet tanks and infantry advancing while Soviet artillery began to fall directed by Soviet observers on the high ground to the right. The 2/28th Schutzen was now engaged against three battalions on all sides. The defence of “The Cauldron” had begun!

At this point 3rd Panzer Battalion began its own attack on Dovhonosy. Moving rapidly the battalion deployed drawing fire and inflicting casualties on the Soviet defenders.

The Panzers and Panzergrenadiers were to be supported by 105mm artillery fires. Communications issues however caused delays in these fires. When they did arrive they were often ineffective. The result was the Panzers and Panzergrenadiers were forced to engage in direct fire. These attacks while effective they slowed the advance resulting in the loss of some momentum. However, the Panzers pinned many Soviets reducing their ability to effectively engage 2/28th Schutzen. Fortunately casualties on 3rd Panzer Battalion were remarkably few.

Below, 3rd Panzer presses forward the initial plan to feint here, followed by rapid fall back had been abandoned. 3rd Panzer would instead bypass Soviet defenders and press forward to support 2/28th Schutzen.

Meanwhile in “The Cauldron” 2/28th was becoming hard pressed. As the infantry repositioned to halt the combined infantry and armoured attacks German artillery provided relentless support. The less than optimal positioning of German forward observers meant that heavy 150mm fires concentrated on breaking up infantry attacks while 105mm artillery disrupted Soviet tanks. Yet these relentless fires provided valuable time for the German infantry to redeploy.

With Soviet reserves and infantry committed the German 1st Panzer Battalion, held in reserve, was itself unleashed. Advancing the PzIIs, Pz38ts and PzIVs raced to support the 2/28th Schutzen, as can be seen below. Their advance would see them attack the flank of the advancing Soviet infantry.

Yet the advance of the Panzers took time and the Soviet assault continued relentlessly. Soviet armour, desperate to overwhelm 2/28th Schutzen attempted a series of close assaults. However, each of these assaults was driven back by combinations of anti-tank guns, anti-tank rifles and artillery. Below, KV-1 heavy tanks attempt to overrun Pak-36 anti-tank guns supporting a Flak-88. Also visible are T-34s, T-26s and T-28s.

This armoured assault was immediately followed by a desperate assault by Soviet infantry who surged forward against 2/28th Schutzen. At this critical moment 1st Panzer Battalion began to engage the exposed flank of the Soviet infantry as can be seen below.

With such desperate fighting and merciless attacks Soviet morale had finally reached critical levels. While all Soviet formations had fought with determination the tanks were first to break, being classed as green. Shortly after the attacking Soviet infantry’s resolve broke. With this the Soviet centre collapsed and the Panzers surged forward. Victory had been achieved and the breakthrough could once again begin.

The action was, like that at Vodista, a Hasty Attack developed using the Scenario Generation System. Generally similar forces were used, though some minor changes had been made. The Germans used an Attack List, supplemented by an Option A, while the Soviets used a Defend List without options. Soviet morale was classed as random. Unlike the veterans faced at Vodista here the Soviet tanks were found to be green while both infantry battalions engaged were classed as regular. There was much apprehension by both commanders when these rolls were made! Both Soviet and German artillery, while firing, was generally less effective. Yet again the ability of the Soviets to achieve combined arms was critical. As the Soviet commander described he could either advance his on a narrow front and achieve a degree of cooperation, or advance his tanks on a wider front but likely not achieve combined arms. A fascinating game with many hard choices for both players.


Decision on the Voditsa

Since crossing the border into the Soviet Union the 8th Panzer Division had made remarkable progress sweeping aside disorganised Soviet defenders at every turn. However, with reconnaissance reports indicating more organised defensive position astride the division’s main thrust it seemed that the Soviet resolve could be stiffening. As a result the division reconnaissance reports were analysed before the division’s advanced battalions resumed their advance.

Indications were that three enemy infantry battalions were deployed across a 7km frontage, but additional forces were available to directly support the position. Of particular interest were that two key heights were not held, one on each flank. The Soviet commander had clearly opted for a less exposed position ensuring he was less likely to be outflanked. While the position of these undefended objectives encouraged thr splitting of forces, to seize terrain, this was quickly ruled out. The assets of the division would act in close support to bring overwhelming resources to the decisive point. The advanced units committed to 8th Panzer Division attack comprised the 1st and 2nd Battalions from the 10th Panzer Regiment, with supporting panzer grenadiers, as well as 1st Battalion from the 28th Schutzen Regiment. Two 105mm and one 150mm artillery battalions were to provide support fires while a Luftwaffe Flak battery was allocated for direct support, a counter should Soviet heavy armour be encountered.

By 2pm the various battalions of the division were once again moving forward. The main effort was to be against the Soviet left flank. The 1st Panzer Battalion was to advance at speed on a narrow front first securing high ground and then advancing to secure a key bridge known to be held by Soviet infantry. The Panzers here were to be be supported by much of the artillery. To the left of 1st Panzer the 2nd Battalion of 28th Schutzen Regiment was to advance to a low ridge in the centre of the sector. This ridge provided ideal firing positions for the attached Luftwaffe Flak battery and would protect the flank of the Panzers from Soviet armour which it was expected to be in reserve. A further artillery battalion was allocated to this battalion. Finally, the 2nd Panzer Battalion was initially held back for possible exploitation. Like the 1st Panzer Battalion it contained a company of panzer grenadiers.

Above the battlefield viewed from the north with the Soviets on the left. The Germans can be seen advancing on the top right. Below, the Germans advancing. The panzer Grenadiers of 1st Panzer are in Sdkfz 251s.

1st Panzer’s advance was uneventful until it neared a bridge over a tributary of the Voditsa River. Here, a well placed Soviet ambush engaged the right flank of the 1st Panzer. The Soviet infantry, firing anti-tank rifles, caused a number of casualties on German light tanks. Almost simultaneously dark shapes were reported some 2km distance as Soviet armour was was committed to a counterattack. The Soviet infantry it seemed were supported by an Independent Tank Regiment comprised of three tank battalions reconstituted from other formations. With the Pz38ts and PzIIs of 1st Panzer Battalion clearly unable to engage the Soviet heavy tanks the battalion was ordered to retire at speed and reform for its next task in what was expected to be a battle of manouvre.

Below, a Soviet SMG company in the woods appear from ambush positions to engage the advancing armour with anti-tank rifles.

Simultaneously in the centre advancing German infantry (2/28th) had become engaged with a Soviet infantry near the low ridge it was tasked with seizing, as can be seen below.

Below, a view from the Soviet lines as the Soviet armour advances.

As the Luftwaffe Flak battery was deployed the infantry engagement reached critical levels when a reinforced Soviet company launched an attack on the German left. While the German infantry repositioned against this attack, supported by 105mm artillery fires, German infantry supported by infantry guns and HMGs engaged the main enemy defensive position. With casualties mounting the Soviet infantry, classed as green, broke in rout.

As the Soviet infantry streamed to the rear Soviet tanks arrived in the centre. Split into two parts, by woods and the tributary of Voditsa River, the T-28s advanced on the German 2/28th left while KV-1s, T-34s & T-26s the right. Now as the Soviet armour engaged the German infantry 2nd Panzer raced to the German left and to engage the Soviet T-28s. A confusing but desperate engagement now developed between Soviet armour, classed as veterans, and the German infantry. Hopelessly ineffective Pak-36s engaged KV-1s, 88 Flak engaged first T-28s, KV-1s and then T-34s with little result while German infantry engaged the advancing tanks with anti-tank rifles. However, it was German artillery that slowed the advance as all three German artillery battalions bought down heavy artillery fires that decimated the Soviet light tanks.

Visible above to the rear of the German infantry are both 1st Panzer Battalion (right) which is retiring and 2nd Panzer (left) as it moves to the left. Below, another view of the German centre.

The Soviet commander, seeking to support his armour with infantry was finally been given permission to reinforce the armoured attack. As such infantry from the Soviet left surged forward from their defensive position along the tributary of Voditsa River. This action in turn drew the return of the 1st Panzer Battalion, who now attempted to advance along their original axis. A brief but desperate action in a narrow defile halted the German advance, with heavy casualties to the attached panzer grenadiers. While this spoiling attack failed to catch the advancing Soviet infantry in the open, as was hoped, it halted their advance to support the Soviet armour.

Casualties on the German infantry had been slowly mounting and eventually the battalion broke retiring to the rear. However, no sooner had it retired the officers rallied the battalion. Almost immediately the 2/28th advanced and secured the low ridge again. Meanwhile, and still unsupported by infantry, the Soviet armour of the Independent Tank Regiment was fully engaged against against 2nd Panzer and supporting panzer grenadiers. While the KV-1s were immune to the 37mm and short barrelled 75mm guns of the German tanks the T-28s and T-26s were not. Even the PzIIs with their 20mm cannons created havoc as they swept around the the Soviet rear. While shattering the Soviet armour the 2nd Panzer secured the village of Nesterov. Victory seemed secure!

Below, 2nd Panzer Battalion advances at speed to outflank the Soviet armour.

Yet the Soviet commander was unwilling to accept defeat. The political officers having rallied the infantry of the Soviet centre now ordered several companies forward in a desperate attempt to recapture the village of Nesterov. Yet the main threat to Nesterov came from the Soviet right where, a veteran battalion, also surged forward. As 2nd Panzer reformed, after its desperate battle against Soviet armour, wave after wave of Soviet infantry attacked. Reinforcements, consisting of Panzers, were thrown into Nesterov to bolster the outnumbered panzer grenadiers that faced in excess of two companies of attacking Soviets. 1st Panzer meanwhile raced to reinforce 2nd Panzer in its third attack of the afternoon. Yet as 1st Panzer engaged the attacking Soviets the defenders of Nesterov, having repelled several assaults, were finally overcome.

After a desperate battle, and with artillery fires exhausted, the German attack was called off. The Soviets it seemed could after all fight with great determination.

The scenario was developed using the Scenario Generation System and involved a Hasty Attack by the Germans against the Soviet defences. Both players opted for an Option A reinforcement. While the Soviets outnumbering the Germans the superior German command and control allowed the Germans considerable more ability to manoeuvre. Indeed, during the engagement no less than seven German order changes were achieved. This assisted the Germans to break off, reform and manoeuvre, often attacking the Soviet flanks. This combined with the German ability to maintain combined arms greatly aided their attack. However, the Soviet resolve was determined. In this scenario when a Soviet battalion is first subjected to fire its morale is determined. One infantry battalion was determined to be green, one regular and one veteran. As the Independent Soviet Tank Regiment was also classed as classed as veteran the Soviet defence was extremely determined. A great game and an ideal outing for my son’s Soviets.