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.

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Götz von Berlichingen – Advance!

The American 5th Infantry Division had returned to the line on the 9th of November 1944 when where they took up defensive positions. The 2nd Infantry Regiment was the most advanced Regiment of the division and took up positions around four village areas. Indications were that to the front was 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen.

The American regimental commander deployed 1st Battalion forward holding a town and woods to the regiments front. These troops were well positioned to disrupt any German counter attack. Behind 1st Battalion, 2nd Battalion provided a strong second line while a reinforced company was oriented north to protect the likely direction that a German flank attack would come from. Below, the 1st Battalion sector from the northeast. The 2nd Battalion reinforces the position with supporting dispositions.

The American 3rd Battalion was deployed to the right of 1st Battalion taking advantage of high ground and wooded slopes provided advantageous positions for screening the regiments flank. A platoon sized team secured a small village on the right rear, near which divisional mortars were placed. Each battalion was supported by an understrength company of M-36 Jacksons. Two artillery battalions were on call, as was the usual American aircraft.

Above, the area of operations viewed from the north. American 1st & 2nd Battalions are in the foreground, while the 3rd Battalion is in the top left.

To the east elements of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division under command of SS-Standartenführer Gustav Mertsch was forming for a hasty attack. Mertsch allocated 37th Panzer Grenadier Regiment for the operation and reinforced it with a Kampfgruppe built around surviving elements of the divisional Panzerjäger battalion and reconnaissance battalions. SS-Obersturmbannführer Hans Lingner would command the attack which would be directly supported by two 105mm artillery battalions and a werfer battalion. Finally a 150mm artillery battalion was allocated for counter-battery fire.

Reconnaisance prior to the attack had built up a general picture of the American positions, which comprised three battalions in the sector with greater strength to the American left. However, the exact positions of American forces was unclear. Lingner determined to launch a phased operation, with each attack going in silent. First to move was his 1st Panzer Grenadier Battalion which moved over open ground towards a short wooded ridge behind a village. This was the battalions first objective. To the left a small but steep hill providing excellent visibility was to be secured and was clearly an important objective. With 1st Battalion advancing and approaching the likely enemy positions the 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion moved forward to the right of 1st Battalion. 2nd Battalion was tasked with supporting 1st Battalion’s attack, if needed, and securing a village. The battalions were then go into defensive positions. 3rd Panzer Grenadier Battalion was further to the right and held back in reserve to act as a follow-on battalion. As 1st and 2nd Battalions engaged the enemy right the Panzerjäger Kampfgruppe, Kampfgruppe Wahl, was to conduct a swift deep flanking movement against the unprotected in the American right. It was critical this battalion was to advance with speed and break into the rear areas. As this attack developed 1st Panzer Grenadier Battalion would support by moving against the now exposed American right flank.

In this aerial photograph above the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 37th Panzer Grenadier Regiment are seen to be advancing in the top left.

Above, the 1st Panzer Grenadier Battalion secures a small village while their objectives, a steep hill in the front and enemy positions on the wooded hill to the right are visible. Below, a view from 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion as it advances to the right of 1st Battalion. American infantry and tank destroyers have engaged 1st Battalion. In the following turn German Nebelwerfers and 105mm artillery saturate the American position forcing the survivors to retire.

In the following turn German Nebelwerfers and 105mm artillery saturate the American position forcing the survivors to retire. The Panzer Grenadiers of 1st Battalion now advanced seizing the wooded ridge and engaging the retiring American survivors with small arms and in the case of the retiring tank destroyers with Panzerfausts.

American 155mm artillery now joined in firing at the advancing infantry, the resulting suppressions visible above, top left. This was met by counter-battery fires by German 150mm guns firing at extreme range. Despite locating the American artillery quickly the counter-battery fires were frustrating ineffective, continually suppressing rather than destroying the American artillery. Also visible above in the foreground are German trucks towing Pak 40 anti-tank guns. These were allocated to each Panzer Grenadier battalion for possible use against American counter-attacks.

It was at this time that the flanking action by the Kampfgruppe Wahl entered. Divided in to two groups, in an effort to navigate the dense terrain on the American right, the unit moved rapidly forward.

The Kampfgruppe comprised 28 Stugs and was supported by a company of Panzer Grenadiers in 250/1s halftracks, a number of Sdkfz 250/9 reconnaissance halftracks and two sections of quad 20mm flak vehicles. They can be seen above advancing on the right rear of the American position. The village was found to be held by a single American platoon. Beyond the village was an American 106mm mortar battalion which was overrun by the advancing troops.

Above, the view from the American mortar battalion position as Stugs advance. These Stugs are the less effective L/43 version pulled into service by the division from serveral reserve and training formations to supplement the division’s limited armoured units.

Below, the general situation with Panzer Grenadiers attacking the American 3rd Battalion from the front while the  Kampfgruppe Wahl advances on the rear.

As the German Kampfgruppe Wahl advanced through the rear areas they came under a series of Jabo attacks. The first, shown below, was ineffective due to well placed 20mm flak. The second however was delivered after the flak had been neutralised and resulted in a number of destroyed Stugs. Below, Jabos deliver an attack run, a Sdkfz 250/9 is visible in the foreground.

Above, Jabos deliver the first attack run, a Sdkfz 250/9 is visible in the foreground. Below, another attack targets on another group of Stugs.

The Kampfgruppe Wahl had now advanced deep behind the American position but had now become dangerously outstretched. Obersturmbannführer Lingner had issued several order changes.

1st Panzer Grenadiers had been issued follow on orders which was to see them push into the second line of the American 3rd Battalion. However a lack of artillery support delayed the attack. Until the attack finally went in the American battalion retained a strong blocking position. Finally, when the American 3rd Battalion broke in route the Panzer Grenadiers were now unable to support the Kampfgruppe Wahl as planned.

Further, the 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion was taking heavy casualties from elements of the American 1st Battalion, especially direct support fires by tank destroyers, and finally a platoon counterattack by anti-aircraft half tracks. There position risked being comprised and with German casualties rising quickly Lingner had no choice but to commit his 3rd Panzer Grenadier battalion, visible below in the foreground, in an effort to maintain momentum.

Above, foreground 3rd Panzer Grenadiers advance in support of 2nd Panzer Grenadier. Top left Stugs of Kampfgruppe Wahl are  engaged in an exchange with tank destroyers supporting the 2nd American Battalion. Portions of the battalion had relocated east facing positions to face south to slow the German flank attack. American artillery has fired smoke to isolate portions of the Kampfgruppe Wahl so the outnumbered Americans can concentrate their fire. In the centre American M16 halftracks conduct a company sized local counter-attack to apply pressure on the 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion, which was near breaking. This couster-attack was driven back by hastily deployed Pak-40 anti-tank guns.

With casualties mounting, fading light and the momentum of the attack clearly lost, Lingner now called his attack off. Casualties on the Kampfgruppe Wahl had been heavy and while the morale was high the commander was unable to advance further. 2nd Panzer Grenadier had suffered heavy casualties and further operations would have been unwise. Three objectives had however been secured and one American battalion shattered. The 37th Panzer Grenadier Regiment had acquitted itself well, though the crushing victory so needed, remained elusive.

The scenario  was developed using the Scenario Generation System and involved a hasty attack by the Germans who reinforced their attack with an Option A, the werfer battalion. By the end of the game three objectives had been secured while the Panzerjäger battalion had been forced to check morale. The Americans had also taken an Option A reinforcement, a 155mm artillery battalion. They retained two objectives but had lost one battalion, it had been forced to test morale twice. The result was therefore a winning 7-5 draw to the Germans.

Pawns against Panzers

France 1940, a British Staff Officer writes in his diary, on hearing news of the ever worsening situation in France…”Meanwhile the nightingales sing full throatedly around the chateau and like the countryside in the loveliness of May, illustrate with great measure of delight that can be drawn on in spite of the madness of the men who are responsible for this disaster.” With the scene set let us turn to the situation at the front.

Elements of the 8th Panzer Division, were moving rapidly forward with the Panzers leading the advance.  As the day progressed reconaissance reports indicated a stiffing of enemy forces with at least three battalions detected to the front of the division. Not wishing to be delayed the advanced Panzer Regiment commander determined to conduct a hasty attack.

The aerial photograph, looking north, shows the general area with the British deployed from the left with their advanced positions some 1200 yards from the right, which denotes the German entry. In the area of operations five terrain features have been identified as of particular interest to the British commander, Brigadier Stopford who commanded 17th Brigade a component of the 5th Division on this fateful day. In the foreground left to right are a small village which had no mention on the maps the Stopford had in front of him, and a small but high hill providing excellent vantage points over the open country. Further north (centre left and right) two ridges, one forward one to the rear each with high points providing further excellent visibility. Finally, in the far north, (upper left) a small village marks the only objective on the British left. Like that in the south both villages set astride roads critical to 8th Panzer Divisions advance.

The 17th Brigade, indeed all of 5th Division, had been on the move for two days and arriving around noon was hastily deployed. Brigadier Stopford focussed his defence on four of the objectives, a fact soon identified by advanced German reconnaissance patrols. Unfortunately little time was available for entrenching, platoons were hastily deployed making what use of the cover available.

The brigade comprised three infantry battalions. 2nd Battalion The Royal Scots, 2nd Battalion The Northamptonshire Regiment and finally 6th Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders. The brigade was also supported by the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, a Divisional Cavalry formation equipped with MkVIb light tanks and carriers. In support were four 25pdr batteries (each of two firing stands in Spearhead) and in more general support a number 4.5″ guns were available for counter battery fires should the Hun venture into the divisions area.

A view of the British centre with elements of the 2nd Battalion The Northamptonshire Regiment holding a key hill covering one of two roads that pass through the Brigade’s area east to west. The 2nd  Battalion The Royal Scots can be seen in the left rear.

German forces advanced in three groups against the British left. The 1/28th Schützen battalion, on foot, advanced in an arc on the first ridge which formed the advanced left flank of 17th Brigade using woods to screen its left flank. To its front was 6th Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders. Supported by a 105mm artillery battalion this battalion was to seize and occupy the ridge and drive back the expected British counter attacks.

1/10th Panzer Abteilung was to support this attack by a wider flanking movement designed to attack the rising ground to the rear of the ridge that formed the British left flank. This battalion was to dislodge the expected defenders from the flank and to support the main dismounted grenadier attack by attacking the enemy from the rear. It would in fact fall on rear and flank elements 6th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. The Panzer battalion was supported a company of infantry in Sdkfz 251/1 half tracks. On call were artillery fires from a further 105mm artillery battalion. Once the position was secured the Panzer battalion was to deploy into a blocking position. The Regimental HQ was to remain forward to ensure exploitation if the situation allowed. Both battalions would open up a corridor which would allow the remaining Panzer battalion, 2/10th Panzer Abteilung, to bypass all enemy forces and moving through this corridor breaking into the enemy rear.

Above, a view of the British left flank. The 6th Battalion, The Seaforth Highlanders can be seen deployed on the first ridge with further elements of the battalion deployed on a second lower ridge behind. The battalion dispositions provided anti tank guns in the rear, as well as infantry to protect against German flanking movement.

Above, the 1/28th Schützen Battalion advances. In the distance the ridge marking the British left flank is clearly visible. Elements of the the Seaforth Highlanders can be seen on the ridge, as well as in the right distance. Further elements were deployed to the left to halt the expected frontal advance. In the foreground a MkVIb light tank platoon, 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, has opened fire from a small farm. In the ensuing firefight German anti tank guns were able to neutralise the tanks.

Another view of the farm and the MkVIb light tank platoon. In the battle the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry was broken up by company to provide fire support to the infantry battalions.

Meanwhile 1/10th Panzer Abteilung advances against the open British left. Panzer I and II tanks lead the advance with Panzer 38t and Panzer IVs in support. Visible are half track mounted infantry which were critical to the battalion overcoming enemy infantry. In this photo the British light tanks have not been located.

Having destroyed the light tanks German infantry surged forward. British artillery fire was relatively ineffective falling on platoons that were not to be engaged by British infantry. In contrast German 105mm artillery fires targeted British positions in support of German infantry. German platoon fire tactics, supported by HMGs and 75mm Infantry Guns, quickly overcame the defenders.

Visible in the top left elements of the 2nd Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment, put in a counterattack against the German left. This company strong attack caused the German commander some concern. However, Brigadier Stopford was unwilling to order a battalion sized attack in support of his own left flank. He remained convinced that the main German attack was yet to be delivered against his own right or centre.

By now the 1/10th Panzer Abteilung had begun its own flanking manoeuvre. Having advanced directly west it now swung south and and moved to attack the British left flank. Just as it did so British anti tank guns concealed on a the ridge opened fire destroying Panzers I tanks leading the advance. Below, the anti tank guns deployed on the ridge conduct, ambush fire.

The attack now became general with Panzers and half track infantry moving forward. German artillery was particularly effective targeting the anti tank guns with a massive artillery strike. Yet the German artillery was compromised as British counter battery fires fell around the German guns. Amazingly the German artillery continued to support the attack, as the British 4.5″ guns were totally ineffective.

Below, another view of the advance, showing the two German battalions converging on the Seaforth Highlanders. Just to the left another MkVIb platoon of the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry is seen engaging advancing German infantry. This flanked platoon was decimated by fire from Panzer IIs to its flank.

As the attacks continued German Panzers swept forward destroying the hopelessly outnumbered Seaforth Highlanders. Despite a solid defence the battalion broke, allowing the objectives of the 1/10 Panzer Abteilung and 1/28th Schützen battalions to be secured and hence to deploy into blocking positions as seen below.

With the corridor secured 2/10th Panzer Abteilung was unleashed. As noted earlier while Brigadier Stopford expected the remaining German battalions to attack his centre and right the Panzers advanced on his far left, German right, continuing their drive deep into the rear.



The scenario was developed with the Scenario Generation System. The Germans comprised 450 points while the British 300 points. Robin, commanding the British, reinforced his defence with a further Option A. The Germans had two Stuka sorties which failed to appear. Enough said about that! British artillery, while well planned to provide much needed support was particularly poor on the day. The counter battery fires failed to silence a single German battery and the 25 pounders doing little more. The final result, in what was a very enjoyable game, was a 9-5 German victory. 

All miniatures are from the excellent Heroics & Ros ranges. Trees from Irregular and buildings from Timecast. 

Since publication of this report the British government has released a statement regarding the battle via the BBC. You can read the report here.

Panzer 38t TO&E

One of my many Spearhead projects was the assembly of a generic early war German Panzer formation. The aim was to collect vehicles that could be used on the Western Front, during the invasion of France in 1940, as well as the initial operations against the Russians as part of Operation Barbarossa.

Russland, Panzer 38t

I have always liked the look of the Panzer 38t. Its versatility, at least of the chassis, is well demonstrated by its use in some versions of the Marder and the eventual evolution to the Hertzer. I therefore decided to use the formations equipped with the Panzer 38t as the basis for my initial early war German Panzer formations.

Over the years my Early War Panzer Battalions have seen service in scenarios set in France and Russia, with mixed results of course.

The following TO&E represents these formations. The core information was provided some years ago by John Moher. This revised TO&E differs slightly from the more generic TO&E included with the Spearhead rules.

France 1940:

For the invasion of France two Panzer Divisions were equipped with Panzer 38ts,  the 7th and 8th Panzer Divisions.

Battalion Headquarters:
HQ: 1 Panzer 38t
1 Recon Panzer I or Panzer II
2 – Light Tank Companies each with:
3 – Panzer 38ts
1 – Panzer I or II
1 – Medium Tank Company with:
2 – Panzer IVDs
1 – Panzer II

Notes:

  1. In 1940 only Panzer II A-E were available, all have DEF 2/2 only. The points cost is reduced to 6 points.
  2. A mix of Panzers I and II tanks were operated in each battalion. To model this within each battalion one light tank company would use the Panzer I and the second light tank company a Panzer II. Other divisions may have used a similar mix.
  3. Some battalions in the 7th Panzer Division can replace a Panzer 38t, in light tank companies, with a Panzer II.

Russia 1941:

For the invasion of Russia five divisions were equipped with Panzer 38ts. These were the 7th, 8th, 12th, 19th and 20th.

Battalion Headquarters:
HQ: 1 Panzer 38t
1 Recon Panzer II
2 – Light Tank Companies each with:
3 – Panzer 38ts
1 – Panzer II
1 – Medium Tank Company with:
2 – Panzer IVDs
1 – Panzer II

Notes:

  1. In 1941 all Panzer II are F models. Earlier model vehicles have been up armoured. All have a DEF 3/2.

Russia 1942:

I haven’t been able to confirm which divisions were still operating the Panzer 38ts in 1942, though production finally ended in that year.

Battalion Headquarters:
HQ: 1 Panzer 38t
1 Recon Panzer II
2 – Light Tank Companies each with:
3 – Panzer 38ts
1 – Medium Tank Company with:
3 – Panzer IVDs or Panzer IVEs

Notes:

  1. All Panzer II are F models. Earlier model vehicles have been up armoured. All therefore have a DEF 3/2.
  2. Panzer 38ts would be later models so should be up armoured with a DEF of 4/2.
  3. Panzer IVs are either D or E models. 

In future posts I shall post some photos of my Panzer 38t battalions as well as their points costs if using the Scenario Generation System.