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jivemi January 20th, 2019 05:22 AM

Desperation at Artemki
 
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Desperation at Artemki

This is an AAR about Scenario #377, Ulf Lundstrom’s Defence of Artemki, the Soviet defence [1] of a small town on the way to Moscow against the German juggernaut in October, 1941. What makes this battle especially remarkable is how well it portrays the plight of heavily outnumbered, outclassed and all-but-demoralized green troops confronting a confident, experienced foe. All seems hopeless and everything hangs by a thread.

---Spoiler Alert—

Artemki is a habitation of dirt streets and mostly wooden buildings along a north-south road (also unimproved) which bisects the main paved east-west highway towards Moscow about a kilometer southeast of town. Collapsed buildings, rubble and shell holes give mute testimony to earlier bombardment.

Terrain immediately around it is largely open, with a thin belt of woods or copses extending north and south a couple hundred meters to the west, and in some other places lining or paralleling the roads. There are five objectives (750 points each) at street junctions or intersections inside the town, with another 500-pointer at the intersection of the two roads, and a 1000-pointer less than a kilometer from the highway’s eastern exit. Denser forest toward corners of the map, higher open ground in some places, and a stream further west of town will have no appreciable effect on the battle.

Defending the town is a battalion-plus of infantry and support. Three infantry companies of three platoons with four squads each constitute the main line of resistance. C Company is situated north and west of town along the wood line. G Co stretches from buildings along the town’s south street, next along the wood line southwest of town, lastly in woods along the highway to its south. K Co has two platoons in woods south of the highway near the crossroads, plus another a kilometer or more south in woods along the dirt road. As compensation for such dispersion each company commander has an HMG section under direct command.

A weapons company (O) with a Maxim HMG section, one 50mm mortar section and two of 82mm, a 75mm ATG section, an SMG section, an ATR section, and a motorcycle section provides modest firepower, AT capability and a measure of mobility [2]. Rounding out the force are an artillery liaison officer, a sniper, a T-26 light tank, a 152mm battery and a platoon of three T-34 M1940 tanks (which arrives half an hour into the battle), all under direct control of the battalion commander.

Ineluctably the conflict begins. Within five minutes the enemy pops into view from woods just across the stream less than a kilometer west of town. An advanced scout team in that area withdraws behind a smoke grenade while signaling back to F Platoon. This is passed back along the chain of command and the first 50mm mortar rounds are called in [3] with the 152mm battery to follow.

More fascist troops appear up north, then south along the paved road. Soldiers have been ordered to hold fire until they come within 150 meters, but up north panzer grenadiers with double LMGs spot movement or careless camouflage and open up at 400 meters so E Plt returns fire. MMG sections accompany this assault so an 82mm mortar section is lit up to suppress them. D Plt emerges from its foxholes further north to provide backup. The firefight becomes a standoff punctuated by mortar and artillery strikes on both sides.

West of town F Plt has been obliged to fall back from the wood line by superior numbers to take up positions in buildings to the rear. The T-26 moves up to provide support with its MGs, while J Plt moves into buildings near the southwest street junction, which appears to be a major focus of the enemy’s attack. C Co’s HMG section (C1) moves to a building from where it has LOS from the north along F Plt’s new front down to woods near the objective. Another from O Co (P0) moves to a crater from where it can fire west down the southern street. It arrives in the nick of time as an artillery strike finishes off the T-26.

Another German force heads towards the tree line gap between J and H Plts. The last mortar section has already been hitting them with harassing fire but still they come on. South across the highway enemy advancing from further south and along the road put pressure on two advanced squads of I Plt. K Co’s HMG cannot give much help due to high grass in front and intermittent artillery barrages discourage it from changing position. The other Weapons Co HMG section (P1) is directed to a position above the main intersection where there is LOS on Germans along the paved road. Likewise the sniper moves ahead to engage them at closer range.

Finally the T-34 platoon (Z) shows up and heads at top speed to the nearest flashpoint west along the road. By the time they arrive the situation there has temporarily stabilized but on the western edge of town it's becoming critical. Most of F Plt has been routed or decimated by artillery strikes and LMG fire from their vacated tree line positions. J Plt is in a similar situation as it tries to hold off aggressive Pioneers and Panzer Grenadiers closing in from south and west. Fortunately HMGs from O, G and C Co--the latter slicing in from enfilade--provide enough firepower to keep their adversaries temporarily at bay. Up north the long firefight tips in the Soviets’ favor and the 152mm battery is plotted to finish off disrupted Grenadiers so that D Plt can reinforce beleaguered defenders in town.

Suddenly without warning a quartet of Stukas comes screaming in from the west and makes a beeline for the tanks. Luckily their payloads of 500- and 50-kg bombs harm only their own side as two drop short, wreaking havoc on troops advancing along the paved road. The others do no serious damage despite landing on or near the last tank in line (Z2) [4]. A collective sigh of relief is short-lived however as news arrives that mech infantry and armor have now added further weight to the relentless assault.

Nearly two kilometers from the main intersection L Plt is suddenly confronted by a column of seven PzKw III Hs and a single II C. With only puny F-1 grenades for AT work their only options are suicidal close assaults, hiding or running away. Many don’t make it but a few fugitives give advance warning to the rest. After shooting up more pinned infantry and a couple Panzer II Cs in front the T-34s turn back to set up an ambush just west of the intersection.

Meanwhile the 152mm barrage has seriously disrupted the Grenadiers in front of E Plt, still dug in and resisting fiercely. As most rout away D Plt heads south to lend support to F and J Plts. While they’re in transit—and as the bitter struggle around the southwest town objective continues in bloody stalemate—the German armored column is dealt with by a combination of heroic infantry defense and gunfire. One III H is immobilized halfway to the southeast intersection by a fortunate squad from M Plt, another surrounded and overwhelmed by elements of M and N Plts as it tries to sneak off-road through the woods, the II C looping around Robin Hood's Barn further west in the open succumbs to a T-34’s 76mm cannon, and the rest approaching the intersection directly by road meet ruin in crossfire between tanks and ATGs . All they can manage are a few wild shots before they’re knocked out.

The T-34s next head to the tree line north of the highway to deal with an incursion of mech infantry and AFVs exploiting the woods gap between J and H Plts just south of town. The HMG section (P1) ceases its highway duty to join them. What’s left of K Co also heads north but most are caught in a succession of artillery barrages before they can clear the area.

Around the disputed town objective another armored column arrives and bulls towards it. Four Panzer II Cs and a III H are destroyed and three Panzer III Hs immobilized by Molotovs from infantry (including recently arrived D Plt) concentrated there, but their efforts are not enough and the street junction is captured. Most defenders are now routed or effectively neutralized after their stalwart resistance to the steel beasts. The situation becomes desperate as the remaining tanks (two III Hs and a II C ) accompanied by an APC think better of a direct approach and head north. There is nothing left to stop them. To make matters worse, rallied Grenadiers renew their assault on isolated E Plt; two squads have run out of rifle and LMG ammo, another is routed and they fall back towards the road.

Oblivious to what's going on up north the tankers transit the woods to see a gaggle of infantry, APCs and AFVs before them. A buttoned and apparently disoriented Panzer III H is quickly dispatched, along with a SdKfz 251/9, but at least two other ‘9s fire back; a HEAT round from a stubby 75mm cannon proves more than a match for Z2’s frontal armor and its luck finally runs out. The surviving tanks prudently withdraw behind the trees to allow artillery fire and P1’s HMG to further suppress the AFVs. (The enemy is so intent on the nearby objective that it’s been raining salvos on its own troops, while the 152mm battery now adds its own fury to the HE storm. The 82mm mortars, though, have been silenced by ammo exhaustion.)

After a pause the tanks return to the woods for a second go. This time they have better luck and two more Gun APCs are destroyed without loss; the last one is immobilized and hidden by smoke from burning trees and AFVs. They also dispatch two regular APCs before heading northeast to deal with the raiding armored column in town. Two relatively unscathed squads—G0 and N3—precede the tanks’ advance. HMGs and a ragtag collection of squads from G and K Cos are left behind to deal with pinned German infantry.

By this time enemy tanks have captured every objective in town but one—the southeast street junction. As G0 and N3 approach it the APC comes into view. It’s immobilized by a 76mm shot from Z1 just behind them. It’s not long before the Panzer IIIs show up; they’re boiling along at top speed and distracted by the infantry so the motionless T-34s have clear, undisturbed shots at point-blank range. Four come close, one hits dead center on the trailing tank’s turret side armor, blowing it up; the sixth penetrates the lead tank’s side hull, enters the crew compartment, ricochets off something to pass through the engine compartment, continuing on to hit the APC, which explodes [5]! The routing lead tank is finished off with Z1’s last AP round. Meanwhile the II C has gone off-road to approach the objective from outside of town, putting it in LOS of the ATG section which polishes it off forthwith. A good thing too, since the tanks have nothing left but HE and MG ammo [6].

Time is short but fascist infantry has infiltrated the west side of Artemki to frustrate recovery of the objectives. A couple still-mobile squads moving uptown are shot up before one (F0) gets lucky enough to suck up punishment and fire back to disperse a depleted Grenadier squad in buildings between the central and northern objectives. As G0 secures the central junction the mortars come out of hiding to regain the eastern; they also spot the Grenadier squad holding and frustrating E Plt’s attempt to recover the northern one. The motorcycle section joins Z0 as they prepare to drive it back, while Z1 heads to the blood-soaked southwest objective where German infantry continues to resist all attempts at recapture.

Time is running out as Z0 and the MC section drive off the stubborn Grenadier squad and regain the objective without incident. To the southwest Z1 waits patiently as ambulant squads there attempt to take the last one back. They fail. There is nothing to do but cast fate to the wind and charge. The sturdy yet vulnerable tank does so, seizes the junction next to a couple German squads in buildings across the street, and…nothing happens. So Z1 shoots them up, waits for the inevitable counterattack…which doesn’t come either…and the battle finally ends.

Writer’s Note:

What a magnificent struggle! Fancy recovering most of the VHs on the last two turns, two of them on the last (extended) turn no less, with tanks out of AP. Reminds me of the Lang Vei battle in MBT, where two light tanks had to grab the main and secondary objectives on their own since all the ground-pounders were either pinned, fleeing, or too far away. My compliments to Mr. Lundstrom (“wulfir”) for a most creatively designed and challenging battle.

It ended with a final adjusted score of 7728:504. Those wishing to see the precise butcher’s bill can check out the Battle Results Screen after hitting End Turn on the last save (Turn 33). As noted below the Stuka strike during the German interturn on turn 13 (first save) is worth a look. [EDIT: The middle save (Turn 26) shows the situation after the town objective has been seized and the raiding armor heads north.]


That’s it for now. Three saves (slots 64-66) are provided for illustration. Cheers and happy gaming!


[1] The scenario briefing erroneously states that it’s a Soviet delay. But since everybody starts out dug-in (unless they’re in buildings) it’s gotta be a Soviet defence against a German assault. No biggie.

[2] The Headquarters Menu is confusing here. Click on the commander 00 it says he has three HMG sections under him. Click on the individual units themselves and they are as stated above in the text. Again, no biggie.

[3] There are no pre-registered “gold spots” on the map for quick artillery call-up and accuracy. However one simply assumes that despite the Soviets’ primitive comms system—only company commanders and above, mortars and artillery, and the artillery observer have radios—they still had something worked out to provide indirect fire with some degree of precision. Just don’t ask for details!

[4] This airstrike is perhaps the most critical event in the scenario. If just one tank is only immobilized it makes it almost impossible for the Reds to have much chance of holding off the German tanks and Gun APCs. After hitting End Turn on reloads after the battle (and I swear upon the Altar of Mighty Mars that I didn’t do so during the battle) about 10 times the results were often different from what actually happened. At least twice Z2, the last tank in column, was destroyed and several other times immobilized. So it seems the Soviets really dodged a bullet here.

[5] Your humble narrator doesn’t really know how that disabling round to the tank wound up also destroying the APC. But it’s fun to speculate…

[6] Funny how the Godlike commander didn’t know the tanks’ ammo situation until reviewing the save. Not that there would’ve been anything he could've done about it had he been aware at the time. Good thing that last Panzer II left the road and blundered into the ATG section.


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