The crowd “oohed and ahhed” and small children cried when they fired a small howitzer at the end of the speeches. Roza looked at her fellow veterans, they all smiled and shook their heads. Firing a single howitzer was like firing a toy gun compared to the horrors of a real barrage. Roza vividly remembered the first one she experienced.
Two nights after our patrol, we left our trenches and moved forward. We always moved at night, but this night was different. They fed us first, when we were usually fed after the march. And when we halted, there was no order to dig in. At midnight, Junior Lieutenant Kirillovna gathered the squad leaders together and gave the orders. Being the Lieutenant’s messenger, Roza got to sit in on the meeting.
“We are in the second echelon” began the Lieutenant, “the first echelon will smash through the enemy line and quickly move toward the day’s objectives. This means there will be by-passed pockets of resistance. It is our job to eliminate those pockets to ensure no enemy forces are behind our advance. Starting positions, first squad will be on the right flank. Sergeant Topolsky, third squad will be next. This is Sergeant Stanislavona, who commands the machine gun section assigned to us, her section will be in the center with me and the command section. Also joining us is Corporal Pavlyuk, medic. Your squad will be on my left, comrade Tarasenko and finally, Sergeant Dimitievna’s second squad will anchor the left flank. Get as much rest as possible, artillery barrage commences at 05:40 hours. The first echelon attacks at 06:05 and we jump off at 06:20. Any questions?” There were no questions. After the meeting, the squads assembled in the new alignment and then we lay upon the cold ground to try to get some sleep.
“We were all awakened by a great noise, a noise I still have no words for” thought Roza as the crowd began to mingle and amble toward the buffet tables. “Movies depict distant artillery fire as though it were a distant thunderstorm – they never sounded like thunderstorms from our positions, it was the sound of hell itself.”
Our platoon was kilometers away from the targets, yet we felt the ground vibrate. For twenty minutes the death noise continued without a break, at the end, they launched the rockets. The landscape was lit by a macabre light cast from the rockets’ trailing flames. When it ended we were ordered to get on our feet. The Lieutenant stared intently at her watch for what seemed like an eternity, then she put her whistle to her lips and blew.
We had barely move a hundred meters when the fascists’ began their barrage on the first echelon in front of us. The horrendous noise of explosions was a clarion call of death and we were advancing to meet it.
This game was an attack mission from THW’s Nuts! Fourth Edition and the second game in my Rzhev Meat Grinder campaign. For this game, I used my entire platoon plus two assigned company level assets – a medic and a machine gun section. The game was played on a 4′ x 4′ table which is just the right size for 28mm figures on the squad or platoon level. The terrain for the board’s nine sections were:
The mission begins with 3 PEFs: Red PEF was in Section 1, White PEF in Section 2 and Blue PEF in Section 6.
The Soviet campaign morale is 5 and this mission’s investment level is 4. The German campaign morale is 3 and their mission investment level is 3.
The Germans activate first. The Red PEF moves 4″ & takes cover in the woods. The White PEF refuses to move. The Blue PEF moves 8″ and is in cover at the edge of the woods.
When the Soviets activate, 1st Squad moves and comes in sight of the Blue PEF. The PEF resolves into “Something is Out There.” The 3rd Squad, Machine Gun Section & HQ section all move without trouble.
When the 4th Squad activates and moves, it comes into sight of the White PEF. The PEF resolves into a defensive position with 1 German Infantry Squad. Fourth Squad wins the in-sight and fires resulting in the German sniper becoming obviously dead, his spotter is OOF and 2 German riflemen are forced to duck back. The remaining Germans fire back at the five Soviets who had fired at their squad. Pvt. Antonovna, a rifleman, goes down OOF. The squad leader & 2 LMG gunners return fire then duck back. An Assistant LMG is forced to duck back. However in the return fire, the remaining Germans are forced to duck back.
On the left flank, 2nd squad advances without incident.
The Soviets win the activation roll. Squads 1 and 3 fast move into the woods. The Machine gun Section moves forward. I forgot to mention this, but at the start of the game, I had assigned my Senior NCO, Sgt. Navenka Volinskaya, to the 1st squad since they were short handed. On this turn, the rest of the HQ section joined with the 4th Squad to help bolster the unit. In other words, I’m going to position the Lt. where her leadership die will help the squad members recover from duck back which they do. The medic, Cpl. Hanna Pavlyuk, begins attempting to save the OOF rifleman. The members of the 4th squad who weren’t in duck back advance forward. They don’t have line of sight of any of the enemy in the trench. The 2nd squad on the left flank also advances.
When the Germans activate, I hold my breath when the Red PEF finally comes in sight of the 2nd Squad. But it resolves into a “False Alarm.” That means there’s only one German squad facing my entire platoon. However, with the large amount of clear space in front of the trench, how many will I lose in taking the German position?
The Germans recover from duck back while the lone rifleman that wasn’t in duck back fires at a member of the advancing 4th squad. He misses and she misses with her return fire. He answers with return fire of his own forcing Pvt. Diasova to duck back.
The Soviets activate first. The 1st Squad begins emerging from the woods and come in sight of the German defensive position. First Squad wins the in-sight and opens fire with its LMG forcing 4 Germans to duck back into the bottom of the trench. Cpl. Orazeva opens fire with her submachinegun sending her first target OOF. However, the Germans she missed return fire and Orazeva is killed. Senior Sgt. Volinskaya fires and forces the offending Germans to duck back. The 3rd Squad and MG Section continue to advance through the woods.
Knowing she must get the 4th Squad out of the clearing, Lt. Kirillovna looks for cover and seeing none nearby, she orders a fast move toward the Germans. Meanwhile, the medic continues treating Pvt. Antonovna and Pvt. Diasova recovers from duck back.
The 2nd Squad also fast moves with flanking the German position as its objective.
The German NCO moves into the trench and opens fire on the advancing 4th Squad. The point, assistant squad leader Cpl. Radka Ivanov is immediately killed. Behind her, the sniper Sakhao is also hit and goes OOF. The spotter, Cherneako, returns fire, but misses. The German NCO returns fire taking Cherneako OOF before he ducks back. As the turn ends, all of the living Germans have ducked back into the bottom of the trench.
The Germans win the activation, but all they can do is recover from duck back.
Soviet 1st Squad moves beginning to position itself to flank the German position. The LMG fires forcing 4 of the Germans to duck back. Senior Sgt. Volinskaya sprays the trench with fire, but is wounded by return fire. Squad leader, Sgt. Mashenka also fires on the trench forcing the German NCO to duck back. She is also wounded by return fire. Fire from Pvt. Vasylenko forces the last German to also duck back.
The 3rd Squad fast moves and gets close enough that Cpl. Popova tosses a grenade into the trench causing one German to go OOF. The MG section continues to move forward. Fourth Squad fast moves toward the trench. Medic Pavlyuk loses Antonovna and moves to begin treating the wounded spotter.
The 2nd Squad works its way through the woods toward the rear of the trench.
The Soviets activate and 1st Squad moves to flank the German position. With all of the Germans ducked back into the bottom of the trench or behind the trench, there is no one to target.
The 3rd Squad charges the trench and make contact with the cowering Germans. Vicious hand-to-hand fighting ensues with one Soviet rifleman going OOF and all of the Germans in the trench going OOF. The Lt. with the 4th Squad advances to the top of the trench. The 2nd Squad advances to the back corner of the defensive works.
When the Germans activate, the two remaining Germans seeing the rushing 4th and 2nd Squads, leave the battlefield.
After Action Analysis
At first glance, you might be prone to think this was a lop-sided battle which heavily favored the Soviets. Instead, it kind of shows what the Soviet army was up against – a well disciplined entrenched enemy. While comrade Jr. Lt. Kirillovna only had 8 casualties – half of them were irrerplacable NCOs including her second-in-command, Sr. Sgt. Volinskaya. The game also illustrated the military adage that you need at least 3:1 odds when attacking a defensive position. Kirillovna had 4 squads & a machine gun section against a determined squad in a defensive position. Only 2nd Squad and the MG Section made it through the mission unscathed.
In the past, I’ve used spreadsheets to track a forces progress in a campaign. This time, I’ve done something a little different, I’ve developed a page where everyone can view the platoon’s progress through the campaign. The 3rd Platoon’s Roster is here:
The platoon’s Campaign Morale is now 6 and the German’s is 2. The next mission will be another Attack mission as the platoon advances toward Sychevka.
As always, comrade readers, your comments, suggestions, and rubles are always welcome as well as lavish gifts of caviar, sable and vodka! You can even make a donation here:
2 thoughts on “The Meat Grinder, Part 6 – The Rzhev-Viaz’ma Offensive Begins”
Great after action report – it’s brutal when you run into infantry in defensive positions.
Brilliant post- I really love this kinds of game and this campaign is a superlative example of it.