Well, congratulations on decisively winning that advanced Kriegspiel, Leutnant Narwhal. Of course, those wargames are only theory. They are nothing like reality.
Of course. But if you allow me, Generaloberst, why are we training our officers about a hypothetical war against our allies the Soviets when we are still fighting the British everywhere in Europe and soon in Africa ?
In any case, Generaloberst, if I can give some feedback on the simulation, I believe it overestimates the Soviet resistance. We have seen how well they managed in Finland. They will collapse the minute they see our Panzers rolling in their steppes ! And that’s without accounting for our Luftwaffe !
In a previous blog post, I won Eastern Front 1941 in Advanced, which corresponds to the difficulty of the game when it was first released in 1981. The Advanced level may be the original experience, but the authentic, “as intended by the designer” experience is at Expert Level, so I was adamant to play it that way and report.
The game starts with almost the same situation as in Advanced :
The first obvious difference is the addition of 5 Fliegerkorps at the extreme left of the map. Instead of directly attacking units, each of them can support one unit every turn ; adding its strength (or rather a part of its strength, depending on distance) for one turn.
No air force for the Soviets. Certainly the rustic soviet planes are nothing more than mosquitoes compared to the German might !
The other obvious change is the addition of unit stances – comparable to Operation Apocalypse. There are four of them : Standard, March, Assault and Entrench. They do exactly what is described in the first image. I will soon discover that Soviets entrench themselves a lot.
Finally, the manual warns me that I will be facing 119 Soviet units in total (reinforcements included), whereas I only faced 96 in Advanced, so that’s +25%. Eh, if I don’t allow them to build-up I should manage.
In any case, my plan is close to what worked so well in my previous attempt – in the summer season I will dash for Leningrad, carefully advance in the center and build a strong bulge in Ukraine, allowing me in Winter to wheel North against my enemies.
The first week goes exactly according to plan. The enemy cavalry is pushed back, allowing the Germans to surround the powerful Russian infantry armies, and even destroy some.
A few weeks later, it is looking good. The Soviets screening the (former) Baltic States are – almost – surrounded. The rest of the Soviet forces in the North have been mostly routed. True, the cavalry escaped, but the infantry did not.
Sadly, Soviet reinforcements are already pouring in, and in the North-West a tactical mistake allows most of the Soviets to escape my pincer for a time :
One month after the beginning of Barbarossa, the Russians have pretty much rebuilt a new front North-East of the border. Their units are entrenched, and waiting for me.
The front is stable for a while, but on August 10th I finally wipe-out both the Soviet armies in the former Baltic States and those in Western Ukraine. This gives me an opportunity to outflank the Soviet center from both the North and the South :
Late August, I am approaching Leningrad, though significant Russian reinforcements have already arrived.
As for the rest of the front, the Russians managed to plug a bit their gap in Ukraine, but their divisions are being surrounded and destroyed one after the other North of the Pripet Marshes :
In that latter location, one week later, I destroy two Soviet divisions and I am in position to destroy more :
End of September, some mistakes with my orders around Leningrad slowed me down (an infantry corps blocked the advanced of the Panzerdivisions) but I am wheeling around the Soviet Center. In the South, a particularly resilient Soviet infantry army manages to hold off alone the whole Romanian army for weeks.
Sadly, the arrival of the rainy season saves many Soviet units I was about to destroy. As the whole front gets bogged down by mud, I cannot push my advantage in the North (in Leningrad and close to Smolensk). I dig in (entrench) and wait for the terrain to be more favorable to offensive operations.
It is time to pause a bit and assess the general situation. The situation is very different from where I was the same day during my Advanced “training”. This was the situation then :
I have not taken Leningrad, I conquered a significantly smaller part of Ukraine – no way to wheel North from there. In addition, the Soviets managed to hold a real front, as I have not been able to destroy more units than they receive every week.
Something else soon becomes apparent : my forces are extremely depleted. In Eastern Front 1941, units have two stats : Muster Potential and Combat Strength. Combat Strength is how efficient a unit is at a given moment, and depends on combat, stance, supply, etc… Muster potential is the maximum possible Combat Strength, and it is only reduced by combat. In Advanced, muster potential goes down only slowly, but in Expert, battles are bloody, especially with Russians entrenching every time they can.
The end result is that some of my German units are already below 80 muster potential, and many Romanians units are below 40 at this point. One of my tank divisions that saw a bit too much combat is “only” at 100, another had been destroyed in the bitter combat in the Pinsk Marshes; a third division is at risk but relentless air support would save it until winter.
One month later, winter arrives :
As for my plans, I forgo any hope of destroying all the Soviet forces, and my hope to ever take Stalingrad. Instead, my plan is to leverage my remaining ace up my sleeve : the fact that I had already half-surrounded the Soviet near Minsk (north of the Pinsk Marshes). My plan is to complete the encirclement, then methodically move those units South until I destroy all the Soviets North of Ukraine. As Leningrad is bound to fall as well, I feel I am likely to end winter in a position very favorable to German arms !
At this point, what I should have noticed – but did not – is that most of my elite tank divisions are poorly positioned in the middle of the frontline, so my encirclement would be mostly done by slow infantry divisions. In addition to this, my tank divisions have no infantry reserve next to them, so even if I had an opportunity to push through with them, they would very likely to be surrounded and destroyed.
Anyway, immediately after the mud freezes, I start my surrounding operation North of the swamps :
Two weeks later, the trap has fully sprung. As a bonus, even badly weakened, the Romanians in the South managed to trap more Soviet divisions – în aste mâni mai curge un sânge de roman !
There are more good news : after massive supply issues in early November, I finally manage to surround Leningrad. It is bound to fall now !
I am now highly confident I will defeat the Expert level. I destroy several Russian units between Minsk and Smolensk, and I daringly push all along the front where there are opportunities. The Soviet line seems on the brink of collapse.
This turns out to be a turning point in the war… because this all-out attack was a decisive mistake. In my assault, I disorganized my own frontline, pushing some units in highly risky positions. In theory, I expected my vanguard’s flanks to be supported by the still entrenched units, but I failed to recognize that many of those supporting units had been depleted in the first month of the campaign.
The Stavka counter-attacks everywhere I push, destroying some of my corps in the process. In a few locations, they even manage to infiltrate some of their forces behind my lines.
Now it is my line that is on the brink on collapse ! I defend as much as I can, accepting to lose some ground in the process ; doing this countless Soviets and German units are destroyed. The Soviets have more of them, I do not.
All is not lost of course – hopefully my divisions wheeling from the North might destroying the attacking Russians !
But the Russian reserve is called-in, and counter-attacks my forces coming from Minsk. I am powerful enough to stop them, but my attack in support of the center is now bogged down, and I have to entrench. Unsupported, my middle (East of Kiev) is now collapsing under the Soviet assault.
There are few corps still resisting, but they are outnumbered, and badly depleted. I need to bring reinforcements as fast as I can, using march posture, from the North and from the South. The only good news is that in the far North I finally control Leningrad.
The reinforcements allow me to establish a dotted defensive line around Kiev, but the Soviets now strongly push South, and risk isolating my forces in Eastern Ukraine :
At this point, I confess I checked in the manual when the campaign ends. End of March. 6 weeks to hold. This is not that much, but if I fail they have the time to reach Poland.
First thing : orderly retreat in Ukraine, to avoid total encirclement.
Sadly, the Romanian forces, the Italian division and a German division do not manage to disengage, and they are held in place near Crimea. With Crimea under Russian control, no Operation 60 000 for them.
At the same time, in the North, the defense of Leningrad is streamlined somehow :
But there is nothing I can do to fix the core weakness of the German center. The Soviets do not exploit their breakthrough with deep operations, instead they concentrate on the German divisions to destroy them en detail.
With the help of the air-force, I manage to save what can be saved, week after week :
But at this points most of my divisions are totally depleted. Here is for instance what is left of one German infantry unit.
And the 29th of March, the game finally ends – a decisive defeat at -76 points for me (I started the game at -128).
Here is the final situation of the front :
Why did I lose ?
I would say 3 different reasons :
- “Trained” by the Advanced level of difficulty, I grew complacent toward terrain : I only saw it as impacting speed, when it has also a strong impact on losses in expert mode. I went right through the swamps rather than avoiding them for example. Between this, the entrenched Russians and wasteful offensives to gain minor tactical advantages, I had way more losses in muster capacity than I could afford,
- Overall, I did not pay close attention to where my tank divisions where, and I did not make sure they remained grouped for the winter offensive. I was too focused on short term destruction of the enemy, giving a kind of “random walk” to my movement. This hampered me from breaching and quickly exploiting strategic opportunities,
- My final attack all along the line weakened me more than hurt the Russians, allowing them to pull a devastating counter-attack, though at this point I believe my fate had already been sealed ; but I could perhaps have earned a less dramatic defeat (for instance I believe I could have taken Moscow)
In a nutshell, I played a bit too much like an abstract game where you push enemy counters in the correct direction until they cannot retreat and they disappear, when in expert mode you need to see Eastern Front 1941 as a realistic wargame with management of a long term resource : the muster strength.
There will not be a next time though, at least not on this blog. Having lost 1941 I am not going to move to the even harder 1942 – time for me to conclude on this game in an upcoming post.