Stately Counterpane Manor saw its first game of Blitzkrieg Commander yesterday. We returned to a scenario called Many Rivers to Cross that I originally ran using Tac:WW2 rules on New Year's Eve 2004.
The scenario's title comes from the period following the victory at Stalingrad when the Stavka, realising that having to await permission to advance beyond each river line was slowing down the front-line troops, made commanders aware that medals would be awarded for each river crossing seized. The Mariupa River at Laritsa was (in our fictional case) deemed worthy of award of the Order of Kutuzov, Second Class.
Our Soviet Commanders were Jamie Crawley (Major Korolski) and Andy Sangar (Colonel Sangarov). Here we see Korolski and Sanagarov contemplating the task ahead.
Stuck on the wrong side of the river and hoping to escape when their engineers had repaired the bridge were Colonel Sangrescu of the Romanian 17th Infantry Regiment (Richard Sangar, left) and General Grau, commander of 59th Infantry Division (Phil Gray, right).
The table had the Mariupa River at the western end. It was crossable only at the bridge but this had been destroyed by a previous Soviet air raid. Engineers struggled to bridge the shattered spans while the Romanians prepared to sell themselves dearly.
157th Tank Brigade (forming the Forward Detachment of 51st Tank Army) began the battle split into two columns. Korolski, with a weak battalion of tanks, half a battalion of motorised infantry and a below-strength regiment of Cossack cavalry, advanced on the right towards the ridge held by Romanian infantry and German Marders. Sangarov, with the rest of the tanks and infantry advanced on the left.
Almost immediately, the Soviets got lucky. A flight of patrolling Il-2s bombed the position on the ridge, causing damage and casualties among the Marders and the infantry. The resulting suppressions would prove crucial for what was to follow.
Whilst his T-34s finished off the Marders, Korolski launched his cossacks in a sweeping manoeuvre to slaughter the cowering Romanians.
At this point, the German 88mm FlaK36 east of Laritsa started to cause heavy casualties among the T-34s. However, if Sangarov could advance and draw fire onto his battalion, Korolski would be able to swing around the open northern flank and cut off the defenders. Unfortunately, Andy chose this moment to embark on a run of failed command rolls and his tanks stood still while Sangrescu's Renault R-35s caused heavy casualties among the, still celebrating, Cossacks and the 88 severely weakened Korolski's tank force. With time running out it looked like the Soviets would be unable to reach the river in sufficient force.
However, even now the Red Air force could yet tip things in their side's favour. A flight of Pe-2 dive bombers suddenly appeared over Laritsa. With long lines of trucks and horse-drawn wagons drawn up in the streets of the town waiting to cross the river, slaughter looked inevitable.
Every sidearm available joined the Moebelwagens by the river bank in putting up a storm of fire. Phil rolled his five dice and...
... the Pe-2s went down in flames.
At the start of their game turn five the German engineers completed the repairs on the bridge. Colonel Sangarov tried one last throw of the dice (literally) revealing that he had a company of partizans in the large wood west of the river. Sadly he was unable to make contact with them and order them to attack the bridge. The rear area elements of 51st Infantry Divisions HQ began withdrawing.
By now we were short on time and the Soviets were within one loss of their break point. We called the game a narrow Axis victory but noted that Korolski was at least likely to reach, if not cross, the river.