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Some Like It Hot: Patton vs. the Russians, 1945
After-Action Report, Cold Wars 2019, Lancaster Pennsylvania
This event was run using Active Armor WWII, a computer-assisted operational-level system, and 15mm (1:100 scale) miniatures. It depicted a fictional surprise attack based on Patton's outspoken advocacy for a strike against the Soviets after the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, combined with the first version of Churchill's "Operation Unthinkable," in which 100,000 Germans were to be recruited to help the US and British defeat the Soviets and liberate Poland. Historically, this plan was leaked to Stalin by the Soviet agents who came to be known as "The Cambridge 5," and the Soviets re-deployed their forces in response. So, in our scenario, instead of a thinly-spread Soviet Motor Rifle division, Patton's strike force runs straight into the 12th Guards Tank Corps, dug in and ready for battle. The attack is set on the frontier near to Prague, in Czechoslovakia, at a town called Hradek. Churchill's plan calls for blasting through the front lines, followed by a penetration and then (strategically) a northward sweep to encircle the forward Soviet units and liberate a major portion of Eastern Europe. This game depicts the first day of the attack. (The scenario, charts, and computer set-up files can be found here in the Scenarios section.)
The Soviets, although possessing a powerful force including heavy tanks and self-propelled artillery, do not know where the Allies will strike. They set up first, needing to cover every possible avenue of attack. The Allies set up second, with full knowledge of the Soviet deployments. The Allied victory conditions require the creation of a corridor a foot wide across the table by the end of the day, to establish a path through which the Allied forces can pour for their northward sweep. Although the Soviet air force historically enjoyed superiority in numeric terms, the Allied advantage in strategic bombers has been used (in our scenario) to draw off much of the Soviet air strength. For the purposes of this battle the Allies enjoy a significant advantage in air support.
From the Allied perspective, their forces are well-suited to the task at hand. The US 4th Armored Division is a crack formation, the pride of Patton's 3rd Army. The 14th Panzer Division - a surviving undefeated German armored formation, holding out in the Courland Pocket at the end of the war - has been re-constituted with captured German tanks and equipment. All of the troops are highly-motivated veterans. The air support is supplied by the RAF in the form of several squadrons of Gloster Meteors, early jet aircraft with a powerful strike capability. Locally, the Soviet air forces are outnumbered 2-to-1.
What was supposed to be a walk in the park has turned out to be much more difficult, however: the Soviets are ready for an attack, and have dug in along the frontier. If the Soviet forces are not tied up along the whole battle line, they will be able to respond to an attack at any single point with overwhelming force.
The tabletop (8' x 5').
The Soviets may deploy along the southern edge of the woods, along the road, anywhere inside of Hradek itself, and along the ridge line running east. The hills are rough terrain. The Allies must advance onto the table from the north. The scenario depicts the first day of the battle, with each turn lasting for an hour. The attack begins at dawn. For this game, the weather was clear, but low-light conditions exist at the start of play. Maneuver units are battalions (3 or 4 bases, each representing a company), with an entire corps on each side.
The Soviets deployed along the front with dug-in infantry and towed anti-tank guns. Artillery and armored reserves were located centrally, positioned to respond to the Allied schwerpunkt. In the center, to the east of Hradek, an inviting gap is left open, surrounded on three sides. The Soviets set up a killing zone in case the Allies should do the obvious thing. Needless to say, they were not so obliging.
The Soviet deployment: anti-tank guns and infantry dug in across the front, backed up by armor and artillery.
The Allies began their advance with armored units: the Germans were on the western side of the front, up to the center, and the Americans to the east. A battalion of Tigers led a tentative push towards the central pocket in the Soviet lines, with recon units advancing toward the near edge of Hradek. A battalion of Panthers pushed for the gap between the town and the wood. The main Allied thrust seemed to be American, aimed at the ridge line at the eastern edge of the table, however, and the Soviet armored reserve started to shift toward it in response.
The Americans begin their advance towards the ridge line, supported by German artillery units as well as their own.
The Allies did not use any of their air power during the low-light conditions of dawn, but once the sun was fully up the Meteors of RAF 613 and 614 Squadrons went into action, destroying a regiment of SU-76s and reducing a unit of SU-122s to a shadow of their former selves.
A regiment of SU-122s is effectively removed from play by Gloster Meteors.
It soon became clear that the American advance in the east would not be the only matter of concern to the Soviets, however. Some of the T-34/85s had to be pulled back to deal with the lead tanks of 14th Panzer to the west of Hradek.
View of the table from the north as the battle develops.
It became clear that a major battle for the position on the ridge would take place. The American tanks were not necessarily the best units for this assault, but were pushed forward regardless, with the bulk of the US armored infantry deployed in support.
Soviet troops dug into the ridge line, as seen by the troops of the 4th Armored Division.
At this point, the Soviets chose to hit some of the important attacking formations with their available airpower. Both the US heavy tank battalion of M-26 Pershings and their supporting 155mm M-12s were targeted, suffering severe damage in the strike.
The crewmen of the 8th Tank Battalion discover that those experimental Soviet jets weren't so experimental after all...
The Soviets held firmly on the ridge, and showed once again that, with infantry in rough terrain, "killing tanks is fun and easy." Persistent US attacks with infantry and artillery in support, however, ate away at the Soviet lines. The concern increasingly became the armored formations lying just over the ridge. With fighting all along the line, the 8th Tank Battalion - back in action after their pummeling by the Soviet 2nd Air Assault Aviation Squadron - managed to break through the low-lying gap in the ridge, coming into close quarters with the nearest Soviet armor.
Heavy US tanks face off against the T-34/85s of the 49th Guards Tank Regiment (and the few SU-100s of the 933rd SP Anti-Tank Regiment
Toward the west, a different battle is taking place. The Germans have engaged only lightly in the middle, engaging the Soviets in the forward positions in Hradek, while keeping the Soviets in the center pinned with the threat of attack by their Panzerjager IVs and the Tiger battalion.
The Tigers and self-propelled AT guns of 14th Panzer act as a force-in-being, pinning the Soviet center in place.
Meanwhile, the Germans advance to the west of Hradek, following the Panther Battalion with US armored infantry, Panzergrenadiers, and Pioneers, and entering the woods. The Soviet response is an active one: they counter-attack in the woods with the forces available, and manage to focus attacks on the leading Panther battalion from all sides as it skirts the town. Their only serious armored formation is a single battalion of T-34s, however: serious, but likely not serious enough given the weight of the German attack.
The view from the Soviet lines as the Panther Battalion pushes past Hradek.
Ultimately, the German threat is negated through a "death by a thousand cuts" - between infantry attacks, the fire of Zis-3s, and the efforts of a Guards Tank Regiment, the Panthers are defeated, and the German push halted. The Soviet counter-attack in the woods results in short-range fighting, but nothing here will prove decisive - the Germans are fatally delayed, even as they defeat the defenders. A potential disaster on the western side of the battlefield has been averted by the Soviets.
Panzer grenadiers advance to the attack. The Soviet armored cars are unsuited for the mission they are given, but "needs must when the Devil drives..."
Finally, the battle is decided as the Americans overwhelm the last remaining Soviet armored reserves positioned behind the ridge line. Assisted by the efforts of the last RAF squadron available for the fight, they break through along the eastern edge of the table. Between them, Patton and Churchill have just triggered a total war which will likely end in defeat at the hands of the massive Soviet army, cost millions of soldiers' lives, and re-write history as we know it. (But you never know - maybe Poland will be freed after all...)
The last Soviet armored reserves are beaten, and the front gives way.
Analysis and Thanks
The game was well-fought on both sides, and could easily have gone either way. The Allies did not fall prey to the cautious advance which has cost their side the game in earlier play-thoughs: Patton himself would likely have approved the aggressive attitude displayed by both American and German commanders. The German attack at the western end of the table could have proven decisive, even though it was not as heavily supported as the thrust against the ridge. If fault needs to be found, it would be with the use of air power: more significant targets could have been found for the early air-strikes. In the end, this proved to be unimportant, however, as the Allies ultimately carried the day.
Pushing the American forward armored units into the rough terrain on the ridge might have seemed suicidal (and in some cases it proved to be) but it led to the key break-through which won the game. Patton was never afraid to lose a few tanks!
For the Soviets, it was a near-run thing. They deployed well, and used their reserves well, too. It could easily have been the case that they won by dint of simply out-lasting the Allies: in another turn or two, all of the leading American formations would have run low on fuel, if not also on ammo, and although they would have been able to re-supply, that would have taken too much time. The Soviets could have redeployed and fought until nightfall, at which point it would be simply too late for the Allies to carry out Churchill's plan as massive Soviet reenforcements arrived. (The intended Soviet designs on the Allied supply columns did not come to fruition, but were well-founded in conception.)
The defeat of the German attack on the right was notable: counter-attack can be an excellent way of delaying an attacker, as it proved to be here. And although we were all a little surprised when the Panthers were defeated (they hadn't even been disordered up to that point - they simply ceased to function through massive attrition), they were beaten in the end.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the game - it was great fun! Good players make for a good game, and we had a very good crew indeed. Thanks especially to my co-organizers, Richard Henkus and Alex MacDonald. The scenario was Richard's idea, and many of the figures (the better-looking ones, of course) were his. Alex was a great assistant in running the game and took all the photos. And between them, they fed me the stack of Reese's Peanutbutter Cups and lattes which kept me functional for the duration. You guys are truly excellent!
- Arofan Gregory (Game Master)
Copyright (c) 2019 by Arofan Gregory. All rights reserved.