Saturday, April 28, 2012

Gary Grigsby's War in the East - Don to the Danube Expansion - A First Row Seat for WWII Soviet Operational Art

The Don to the Danube expansion for Gary Grigsby's War in the East has been released a while ago. This expansion offers new scenarios and challenges for you. In case you are playing as the Soviets, you are now on the strategic offensive and it's time to show off your operational art.

One of the first scenarios I jumped into was the Cherkassi-Korsun one. This operation is quite famous and was a tough one for both the Axis and the Soviets. I was put in command of the First and Second Ukrainian Fronts and sooner than later, the formidable order of battle felt quite diluted in the expanses south of Kiev.

The first thing that you should note about WWII Soviet Operational Art is that operations were conducted by fronts and armies. Corps and divisions belonged to the tactical and grand-tactical realm. Take a look at the manpower of those Soviet divisions and you will notice that strength-wise they are just like brigades or reinforced regiments. Don't expect a lone Soviet division to do too much operational stuff without the support of the rest of the corps and army to which it belongs.

That being said, a quick peek at the area of operations can be seen in the image below.

Right click and "open in a new tab" for the full size version, please.
Much to their dismay, the German 1st Pz. Army command couldn't convince OKH of the need of an immediate withdrawal of troops northwest of Cherkassy, leaving a bulge right in the seam between the Soviet 1st Ukrainian and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts. The scenario starts with the Soviet force already positioned for an encirclement of the unfortunate German troops near Cherkassy.

However, the Soviet forces deployment is not so out of the field manuals.

The 1st Ukrainian Front (counters with light blue internal coloring) is widely spread. In some sectors, like northeast of Vinnitsa, there is a stretch of the frontline defended by the 1st Tank Army (counters with red external coloring) where troops and tanks are so few that is almost an invitation for the Germans to a drive straight into Kiev. The left flank of the 1st Ukranian Front has a bit more backbone, just barely to be on the offensive, with the 6th Tank Army's 300 tanks, 25,000 men and 400 gun tubes. These guys have more than one reason to be on the offensive because 7,000 of their fellow soldiers are encircled some 10 miles behind the enemy lines (see screenshot above: a single hex with surrounded Soviet troops). To sum it up, the 1st Ukrainian Front has a sector so wide that makes it very difficult to achieve two trademarks of Soviet operational art: concentration and echeloning of troops during the offensive.

The 2nd Ukrainian Front (counters with orange internal coloring) fares much better. A bit smaller frontage and some of its armies echeloned, Soviet Army style.

Right click and "open in a new tab" for the full size version, please. Note the Soviet troop density and echeloning north of Kirovograd (units stacked within a single hex). According to WWII Soviet operational doctrine, the second echelon troops were to move through the front line as soon as the first echelon troops broke through the enemy's tactical defensive line. 
In the screenshot above, the tooltip with redish-brownish background at the bottom of the screen has icons indicating the amount of units below the cursor. That's a great thing about this game: despite the abstractions of hexes and turns, actual tanks (115 in this case), vehicles and men are counted. Although I am not a bean counter, I get a better sense of what my troops can achieve when the counters can be easily translated into tanks, men, trucks, support weapons.

But I am digressing, so back to the 2nd Ukrainian Front. I was mentioning that it has more punch than the brother front in the north. The blunt force on the enemy front line will be applied by the 4th Guards and 53th Armies. The exploitation of the breakthrough will be the task of the 5th Guards Tank Army. South of Kirovograd there are well-seasoned Soviet troops (5th and 7th Guards Armies) but they are too far away from the breakthrough point. This is historically correct: both Armies were still engaged in operations south of Kirovograd.

The game scenario asks the player for objectives far from the frontlines. I just ignored them and focused on a shallow envelopment of German troops in the Korsun area, more or less following historical lines.

Right click and "open in a new tab" for the full size version, please. The arrows represent the lines of operations: thick arrows for decisive operations and the thin arrows for shaping operations. The dotted arrows are for operations to be pursued at a later time.
One may ask: where did all that "deep operations" (another trademark of Soviet operational art) mambo-jambo go? In other words, why such a limited penetration and shallow envelopment? The strength of own troops for this operation appears as not enough to attempt a deeper penetration or a bigger envelopment. In any case, the term "deep operation" is sometimes overstated or misunderstood. Georgii Isserson, one of the most revered pre-war Soviet military thinkers, considered deep battle not as a goal itself but as a means of defeating almost simultaneously the first and second enemy defensive echelons. And in this case, all we can apparently afford as the Soviets is to chew one small bite of the enemy forces.

I played this scenario and succeeded in enveloping and destroying many German units. At around turn four (out of seven), it was clear that my operation has reached a culmination point where no more gains could be achieved.

Right click and "open in a new tab" for the full size version, please. Note the remainder German troops surrounded near Cherkassy. This pocket of German forces was bigger than shown here.
Right click and "open in a new tab" for the full size version, please. The tally of destruction. 
It is no surprise that Gary Grigsby's War in the East continues to deliver quality wargaming content. The Don to the Danube add-on offers a series of historical scenarios starting at several dates during a phase of the war where the Soviet Army was on the strategic offensive. I am  pleased that this game almost forces me to play/fight in a different way depending on which side I choose. And I am very excited about how that different way of playing/fighting is quite historical.



Anonymous said...

Got it a few months ago myself and am still learning mechanics of game. I am most impressed. Great write up. I hope to see more.


JC said...

This is a great game. More coming in the near future.