So, for 2017s first tabletop entertainment, I’ve planned out an 8 battle mini-campaign for the final offensive to capture Konigsberg, East Prussia, from April 6th to 10th. The city had already been surrounded for 4 months, but the Russian launched an offensive to eliminate the pocket (and the final German held parts of the Samland Peninsula) in early April - a fine subject for a series of Fall of the Reich games. So, armed with some initial reading and research, the campaign will play- out those last four days as 8 battles, each using a different scenario and allow me to get my recently re-vamped Russian on the field. The German defenders aren’t much to write home about, 4 badly burnt-out infantry divisions, with about 8000 Volkssturm and some SS police units, and about 50 SP guns as armour. Outside the city the defenders can look to the aid of 5th Panzer Division, but after its early hard fighting, I can’t imagine they were anything but a badly burnt-out panzer division with a few tanks and armour carriers left. They certainly didn’t achieve much in the actual fighting. I need to find some better information on 5th Panzer’s strength in April 1945, but I think I can guess it wasn’t pretty.
The first campaign game would be an assault on one of Konigsberg’s 12 surrounding forts. Originally Napoleonic defences, them were formidable even in 1945, mostly buried under metres of soil, with hidden embrasures and firing positions, and encircled by more trenches, barbed wire, minefields and an anti-tank embankment. Much of these exterior defences were smashed by the 4 day long preparatory bombardment, including by 203mm and massive 305mm siege guns. Before the attack began the embankment was flattened, the trenches filled in and the wire cut.
I would be playing a morning assault on Fort Va, called ‘Lehndorf’, held by the 1094th Volksgrenadier Regiment’s men, and positioned north-west of the city, close to the village/suburb of Juditten. My opponent would be the fort’s defenders and their few reinforcements (an alarm force of bicycle-mounted grenadiers and a Marder - woo-hoo!). Late war fighting and not a single King Tiger or such in site… how it really was most of the time.
My assault force was selected for the mission of clearing those bunkers and pillboxes, so twin ISU-152s for bunker-busting, assault engineer platoon with flamethrowers and demo charges, a screening rifle platoon (err, cannon-fodder) and T-34s, including a lurking OT-34 flamethrower tank hidden amongst them. For artillery, I wanted off-table 203mm guns (who wouldn’t?), but the points ran out, so I went with an on-table Katyusha battery, to saturate the fort under 132mm rockets. After that there were a few odds and ends, supply truck, sniper, etc.
The Germans held the fort with a Volksgrenadier platoon, 2 sMG-42 pillboxes, a Pak-40 and loader team in a bunker, a command bunker, 2 minefields, 30” barbed wire, trenches and a dug-in 88 (with loader team) lurking at the back. His reserves were more bicycle-mounted grenadiers, a Marder, resupply wagon, etc. Off-table he had only 80mm mortar fire (all artillery being under heavy counter battery fire). His BR was far lower than mine, but almost everything had a 3+ or 2+ cover save.
It was raining on the morning of April 6th, so all aircraft were grounded. No air support for either side, except timed air strikes. Air Attack counters would be worth 1 BR instead.
With both sides deployed, it was time to begin the battle. My plan was to soften up the defences with the ISU-152s and Katyushas whilst I awaited the flanking force of 3 T-34s and the 3 tank-riding veteran assault pioneer squads to arrive from my right flank. They would conduct the main assault at speed, to get onto/into the fort with their flamethrowers and seize the objective with lightning speed. Battlegroup’s Strongpoint Assault scenario allows a flanking force, but as the fort was historically close to large lake (effectively roughly the left edge of the table as I looked at it), it couldn’t really arrive from the left except by boat, so the flanking force had to be on the right, which gave it further to go under fire, but seemed to be .
So the first turns passed, my Katyushas hammered the fort to little effect (2+ cover saves, urgh!), my first ISU-152 shot did score a direct hit on an sMG-42 pillox and vapourise it, crew and all, nice job. The second pillbox proved harder to hit, even for my sniper hidden in a shell crater, who had the embrasure in his sights. In return came German off-table mortar fire, harassing my infantry and causing some pinning. The 88 took some very long pot-shots and missed. The PaK-40 in its bunker on (actually under) the hill, lined up an ISU-152 but the first shots clanged off the frontal armour.
Initially, the main fight continued on my left. An ISU targeted the pillbox and again missed, whilst the other one reloaded (ammo 2!). The sniper hit one German within the pillbox and his death pinned the rest of crew - result. Meanwhile, my Katyushas reloaded as fast as they could. The Germans hung tough, holding position and mostly going onto ambush fire. The PaK-40 fired again, aided by its loader team and scored all 3 hits on one ISU-152. First shot - clang! Second shot - clang! Third shot - kaboom! The big SP gun was a-goner… damn. That PaK was a big problem.
Turn 3 and the Russian flanking force arrived, to immediately be targeted by the 88, waiting for them. Its ambush shot hot but glanced off, phew! But, the tank riders had to jump clear. The softening up hadn’t really done much, to launch my main assault now would be suicide, so I had to re-think. I wasn’t going to directly attack a dug-in 88 with loader team over open ground with four T-34s. They would last, well, not long. So, as I had no way of pinning it (a few T-34 HE shells so far hadn;t cut it and my katyusha’s observer team had no line of sight), I decided to change my plan. The main assault would swing around to take the fort head-on, out of the 88’s sight. First, for this to work, the PaK-40 had to die! The T-34s gunned to full speed and raced around to the centre, more 88 shells flying high as they did. My last ISU-152 targeted the PaK-40 bunker for ‘the treatment’, but again failed to dent the fortifications. I called up some off-table artillery from Front-level support, using my dispatch rider, and four 152mm guns hammered down fire on the fort. They did little, beyond pinned the infantry and command squad within, no doubt with ringing ears, but that bunker-PaK was still free to shoot. Which it dually did, taking out the lead T-34. Argh! This wasn’t going well, the German were so deeply dug-in it seemed unlikely I could shift them.
German reinforcements were now also arriving, the Marder and a few guys on bicycles. Soon the fort would be reinforced with more men to winkle out. Desperate measures were required.
When one of my infantry squads came under MG fire, the 3 survivors got a lucky beyond the call of duty freebie order and so double moved at the Pak-bunker, next turn they would assault it with grenades and try and take it out. I failed to notice that in the charge they ran across and minefield, and so lost another man. Just 2 left, but when the defending MG then failed to spot twice it seemed they might get their chance for glory - go boys go! But an ambush firing second MG did not fail its spotting test and cut the two brave boys mad dash short in hail of bullets. Drat! Almost a very heroic moment.
My ISU-152 was reloading (again) so I unleashed my now reloaded Katyushas for another mega-strike. The screaming rockets smashed down and scored multiple direct hit, including on the bunker-PaK. 1 gunner was a casualty as the roof threaten to come in, and the resulting morale check saw the Volksgrenadiers abandon the gun… yeah! The fort was giving way. My last two T-34s immediately broke cover and raced for the fort, pioneers jumping off them as they advanced on the objectives. My sneaky sniper scored another kill, on the fort’s MG team and the resulting morale test left the last man running. Suddenly, the fort looked like it might well fall.
The last Germans put up a heroic fight, shooting down a few pioneers as they came through/over the barbed wired. The grenadiers on bicycles jumped from their transports (?) and ran for the fort, but too late to reach it in time. The my pioneers closed in and shot down the last of the infantry squad within, grenades and PPSHs blazing, whilst my OT-34 rolled up to the embrasure of the command bunker and poured on the flaming death. That flamethrower shot wiped out the forward HQ within. The human torches costing the Germans 4 counters - 2 for the senior officer, 1 for the flamethrower attack and 1 for the objective. The Germans drew the counters and the defenders broke! Time to pullback towards Konigsberg. But Fort Va ‘Lehndorf’ was gone. The first step towards the city had been taken…
Great game. Not a scenario I have often played, an assault on a strong point position, but it was great fun and a first outing for my ISU-152s (that I can remember). They did well, but the OT-34 won it, its final surge onto the objective winning the day. The poor Volksgrenadier had but up a good fight, but the Red steamroller is tough to stop in 1945 (as it was). So, I take an early lead in the campaign victory points. 3-0 up with 7 games to play (each battle is worth different amounts of campaign VPs, and bigger wins give a bonus too).
The next battle will be 5th Panzer Division putting in an emergency counter-attack on the Samland peninsula, just west of the city, on the afternoon of April 6th. On the day, the weather also cleared by then, so the VVS should be able to put in a strong appearance. After that, game 3 will be the Volksgrenadier rearguard fight in Juditten on April 7th, a delaying action to buy time for the retreat into Konigsberg’s suburbs. After that, we’ll be into the gritty business of street-fighting.
Here are some shot of the game in progress. Mostly of my stuff, as I’m too always involved in the game to wander to the other side of the board (read lazy), and really you just want to get on with playing.
The battlefield, to the right the fields across which the Russian assault will come, over-looked by the Fortress bunkers. The T34/85 wreck is marking an objective.
'Lehndorf', before the German deployment. The bunkers represent the hardened positioned
under the hillock.
The Russians arrive, visible through the morning rain. ISU-152 lines up a MG pillbox, much needed supply truck in close attendance.
Kaboom! Bye-bye pillbox with the ISU's first shot. Eat 152mm HE shell, direct hit.
Stalin's Organs begin to play, targeting the fortress hill. Smoke marks them as fired.
The fortress takes it first pins, but little damage. White smoke 'puffs' are for ambush fire.
Pak-40 scores multiple hits and takes out the ISU, even needing 10s to penetrate.
Flanking reserves arrive on the right.
Second MG pillbox, concealed in the wood line, under fire but taking a pounding and fighting back. Behind are dug-in grenadiers in their trenches, back from the wood line, meaning I'd have to get into close contact to target them. They await on ambush fire.
A feint on my right, drawing mortar fire and 88 shots, but not a serious attack, just something to draw fire from the main assault.
The reinforcements race round into the centre, pioneer tank riders still aboard.
88 finds its mark at last, the T-34 supporting the diversion is knocked-out.
The offending gun, dug-in behind the fortress (entrance bunker in the background)
Grenadiers await in trenches, on ambush fore
Two surviving riflemen try a crazy lone assault on the Pak-bunker. They came close, but, like most heroics, it ended in death.
Behind, the screening riflemen hunker down, sniper continues to harass from his shell crater.
T-34s move up towards the fortress, and one catches a Pak-40 shell and brews up. Pioneers now off and readying for the charge, but they need their targets pinned first.
T-34s move up again, the assault is on, HE flying. The OT-34 has just crashed through the barbed wire and is closing on the command bunker.
Wreathed in smoke from Katyusha fire, the OT-34 is almost there.
Meanwhile, pedaling like mad, the reserves can't reach the fortress in time to save it.
Burn baby burn! Pioneers are there and the OT-34 hoses down the command bunker, a crushing lost that broke the defenders. The pioneer's flamethrower wasn't required.