The Russian forces, sweeping towards Berlin from the Oder bridgeheads were of 88th Rifle Division, with their tank brigade in support, and led by ‘Seydlitz’ troops (anti-Nazi POWs who ‘volunteered’ to fight).
Here is the table, looking west to east, from the German deployment zone.
and the opposite way...
The Germans started the game dug-in into two strong points, one around the Kunkelsee Farm (on the right above), the other was further down the road, covering the approach to Lietzen itself (the Lietzen strongpoint, below the trees on the left, above). The troops in the trenches were Volkssturm, with an auxiliary platoon (of local forestry workers conscripted to fight). In support they had 2 80mm mortars, a PaK-40, an 88, and a single 105mm howitzer (with an FAO in a bunker), a quad 20mm FlaK and a single off-table 380mm railway gun shot! In reserve were four Panzer IVs, three Panthers, a King Tiger and veteran armoured panzer grenadiers, tooled up with extra MG-42s, covered by a Wirbelwind.
The red tide consisted of: two ‘Seydlitz’ rifle platoons and a rifle company of another three Russian platoons, a T-34 company (on which one rifle platoon was riding), with a further two T-34/85s and a PT-34 mineroller tank to clear the road of any minefields. There was also three SU-76s and 2 SU-85s for support fire. Artillery was considerable. A battery of 76.2mm guns, a battery of 122 howitzers, a battery of 152mm howitzers (off-table) and a first priority request, plus a battery of three 82mm mortars, also, a timed PE-2 airstrike for turn 5. Plus logistical support in 3 ammo trucks, signals units, senior officer, dispatch rider, etc. We also had 5 counter-battery fire missions, and they had one timed off-table timed artillery barrage...drat!
The game started with Germans setting up and moaning about our 108 BR to their 84 (which had a D6 added for their ‘Backs to Berlin’ fighting spirit, which was a 6 - oh here we go!). Our 14 officers to their 8, we had more infantry, more tanks, more artillery and an aircraft. The pressure of the red horde was already being felt.
Our Russian plan (if you’d call it that) was to start with a human wave infantry attack, using the Ura! special rule to get 4 infantry platoons moving fast, as we cut loose with ever artillery gun and mortar we had. Our main attack would come on the left, with a diversionary 'demonstration' attack on the Kunkelsee strongpoint, which the following tanks would quickly bypass to press on west for the Lietzen strongpoint.
Our artillery opened fire on the farm, causing some pinning, and wiping out a 50mm mortar team with a direct hit (whoopee!). Small beer to start with. As our infantry ran west across the patchwork of open fields, the Germans held their fire and went onto ambush fire orders all along the lines. Their 80mm mortars launched a few rounds down range to harass our advance with some unwelcome pinning. The 380mm rail gun shot whistled in to pin two more infantry squads and kill a man, not so great, but big artillery like that really needs a direct hit, then something really dies... and in the confusion of battle we forgot to counter-battery it as well... drat!
Next turn the human wave advance continued, as a little YaK fighter buzzed in overhead and swooped down on the German’s rear signals van. Unfortunately an ambushing quad 20mm raked it with fire, pinning the fighter and serious damaging it. Next turn it would take another hit and be shot down in flames... oh dear.
On the ground the red infantry rolled on and the German MGs around the Kunkelsee Farm, even crewed by mere forestry workers, opened up a raking area fire, sending most of a rifle platoon to the ground, even as their 76mm infantry gun set up and returned an effective fire. 82mm mortars rained down on the German trenches, but their cover kept them safe enough, and the Russian attack on the trenches stalled (not a major worry as it was a diversion, to attract fire away from the centre, which it wad doing well). More soviet artillery thundered in, and the farm was now swathed in smoke and dust, but few casualties resulted (the PaK 40 surviving a direct hit by very good luck).
Germans kept to the plan, held their fire except for MGs sweeping the ground with area fire, and keeping the Russian's heads down. Our two Maxims were returning fire at the trench line, blazing away like bilio, but again to no effect. The main problem the forestry workers had was their auxiliary ability to pin themselves.
Turn 3 and the loss had so far been low, a few infantry each side (mostly from cover saves rolls of 1). Now the Russian tanks rolled in. These we would mass on the eastern table edge before being released forwards in the main attack. On the left the SU-76 battery rolled up to bring the Kunkelsee Farm strongpoint under direct HE fire, as the artillery switched targets to the Lietzen strongpoint. Over the next turns the SU-76s kept up a heavy fire, and were soon out of ammo... and needing a supply wagon, which was coming - slowly!
The Germans first armour arrived, Panzer IVs leading their counter attack down the road, Panthers joining their left in the open ground, supported by the mighty King Tiger.
Turn 4, and the Russians ominously massed more armour, SU-85s, and more T-34s with tank riders, next turn it would be time to go. All our artillery hammered the Lietzen strongpoint, with similarly disappointing results as earlier. Meanwhile, the German’s reserves raced up, panzer grenadiers in 251s moving to support the Kunkelsee Farm, where Russian infantry were now very close. Their proximity caused the Germans to open up, and area ambush fire had most Russian squads hugging the ground or diving into bushes pinned. There was a lot of pinned Russian infantry, and the returning Maxim MG fire was doing very little to help.
Turn 5, and the great tank charge could begin, helped by a big command and control roll for 36 (get in), every T-34 hit the accelerator and began to advance in a long line. This provoked some very long range ambush fire from the distant 88 and King Tiger, which missed at 68” range. Also, a Sturmovik arrived (our VVS officer was having a good day so far), and raced in to drop its 4 bombs, only for a quad 20mm FlaK to open fire again and pin it, driving it off, but it would be back...
Our PE-2 also arrived, its timed strike would be on the road, almost on top of where the Panzer IVs were deploying off the road to meet the closing T-34s. Excellent timing and location, but foiled by the waiting Wirbelwind, which drove off the PE-2 before it could unload its 8 bombs. Drat-again!
Now, with the T-34 charge on, the tides of war shifted. The Germans anti-tank opened fire with a vengeance, a PaK-40 side shot from the farm killed the first Russian tank, then a Panther hit and killed another, tank riders bailing from the flame wreck. Miraculously a third T-34 survived an 88 hit, but a fourth was left in smoking ruin by a Pz-IV. The tank battle was on. The T-34s pressed onwards, one hit and destroyed a Pz-IV with an AP shell. The SU-85s, halting to give covering fire at long range, hit and destroyed another Pz-IV. The King Tiger took aim, fired, missed and jammed its main gun. Unable to fix it, it was reduced to a heavily armoured pair of machine guns (and much German moaning followed).
The Russians, tactical co-ordinating to unpin a mere rifle squad, saw a chance to close assault pinned Volkssturm in the Kunkelsee trenches, only for the inexperienced red infantry to refuse to fix bayonets. They would have been shot for such disobedience, but the German MGs soon did the job instead. And many more followed, as the MGs ripped through our cowering infantry at short ranges. The centre was pinned down and being whittled away fast, the diversionary attack hadn’t worked and the infantry in the centre had been drawn into attacking the trenches instead of pressing on with the tanks. Meanwhile, the Seydlitz troops did press on on the left, through the woods, making for their objective, the Lietzen strongpoint. The first T-34s reached the anti-tank obstacles on the road, the (PT-34 now wrecked by a Panzer IV hit), and diverted through the woods to get around, the tank charge was still on,(rash but fun).
To aid it, our senior officer finally sent his dispatch rider with a message to call up army level artillery. Four 203mm howitzers crashed down on the Lietzen strongpoint, a direct hit destroying another Pz-IV, and the German artillery observer’s bunker, killing him too. The heavy guns had done their job (for once this game).
Finally, some Russian infantry summoned up the courage to assault the Kunkelsee Farm trenches, but their close assault failed, and more MG fire, now from the tooled-up panzer grenadiers in the woods behind, sweep the trenches clear of the enemy again. The SU-76s had now re-armed and rejoined the battle with more long range HE, causing some pinning and wiping out a Volkssturm MG team. The Sturmovik returned, only to be shot down by both quad 20mms in another accurate blaze of fire. Another 2 counters for that aircraft lost.
The tank battle swung decisively to the Germans, a Panther’s gun barked and cut another T-34 into scrap metal, and a Panzerfaust from a Volkksturm infantryman in a trench destroyed another. Both the SU-85s emptied their ammo bins in response, and scored 4 hits on the last Panzer IV, destroying it in an uncharacteristic display of good gunnery.
It was time for the last Russian gamble, the chits were mounting fast (too fast), but if the Lietzen strongpoint was ever to fall then the Seydlitz troops would have to do it, the main tank attack has shot it bolts and failed. The traitor Germans burst from the woods with a great Ura! , and the loyalist German MGs opened their ambush fire. It was a massacre, like the Somme, the waiting MGs just cut swathes through the platoon. 2 squads broke and ran, the others were reduced to half strength. Then it was the German's turn! And the smoking MGs finished the job, 36 men gone in tyhe blink of an eye. Heads in hands, and with that final doomed charged, the Russians agreed they were beaten. Only a few BR remained from our 108, and it was 5 o’clock. Time to pack up, and reflect on a gruesome day.
The Steinstellung was still intact. The Germans BR loss amounted to just 50 from their 90, so still in healthy fighting shape. The Russian force was in tatters. Over a 100 dead infantry (to just 20 odd Germans), 11 of 13 T-34s were burning hulks, both SU-85s survived the inferno, but were out of ammo, and all three SU-76s, although their long range HE fire had seen them at far less risk. As the smoke cleared, Lietzen was still safe, and this route to Berlin at least was still holding its ground.
The Russian’s brutal frontal ‘assault ‘plan had failed dismally. Our artillery, queen of the battlefield, had failed to do much, the 3+ cover saves of the trenches had been so good. Even Volkssturm and armed civilians had but up a heroic fight from them.
The information and background for the game we took from Berlin Dance of Death by Helmut Altner and Zhukov at the Oder by Tony Le Tissier. It went to historical results anyway, the Steinstellung did hold out on April 19th, and the Seydlitz troops got massacred and ran away.
Here are the snaps from the game.
The Russian human wave, field grey of the Seydlitz troops in the foreground.
Germans deploying into the Lietzen strongpoint, 88 behind.
German senior office, camping in his tent.
The sole German artillery gun, its work cut out.
The Yak fighter arrives, heads for the radio van, and gets shot down...
First 152 and 122 artillery impacts on Kunkelsee.
More 152 strikes on the trenches, the auxiliary troops weathered the storm and it passed on.
Oh dear, crazy Ivan, the Vodka soaked pilot of the Yak crash lands...
the German players did this to rub it in.
The red infantry under harassing mortar fire in the centre are thinned out.
SU-76Ms fling HE at Kunkelsee from long range.
The infantry gun next to them tried to help out too...some hope.This was the diversionary attack.
Kurmark grenadiers arriving at top speed
Panzer IVs on the road from Lietzen to counter-attack
Panthers arrive as well... lordy!
The parade ground advance of T-34s in the main tank charge.
Seydlitz troops advance through the woods, target the Lietzen strongpoint beyond.
More Seydlitz troops hold the road junction and claim an objective.
Here they come... long fields of fire wouldn;t help the Panthers, whose crews seemed pretty inept. 2 kills for 3 tanks today, but no losses.The Konigs Tiger is in need of some field workshop assistance.
The tank attack develops.
First T-34 goes up in smoke, from a side-shot from the unpinned Pak-40 at Kunkelsee.
The offending gun, damn lucky to be in the game... it claimed 3 T-34s by game end.
Russian infantry perilously close to the Kunkelsee strongpoint. Even pinned civilians were too much for inexperienced red infantry to assault, apparently and much to their real commander's discuss and shouts of "Just get stuck in!!"
T-34s bypass the anti-tank obstacles via the woods.
The two SU-85s halted here to give fire, to good effect whilst the ammo lasted.
Packed trenches of the Lietzen strongpoint, Panzer IVs in close support but taking losses.
White puffs of smoke mark units on covering fire (most of them).
The bold leading T-34s brew up, victims of Panzerfausts.
The 88 just behind had run out of ammo on a special counter. It didn't help much.
The field in foreground would shortly be the scene of the slaughter of a Seydlitz platoon to the man.
Small victory, a Panzer IV is destroyed by a 203mm howitzer direct hit. I stopped taking pictures after this...too depressed, I just wanted to go home...