Murmansk 1941 (Decision Games/Strategy & Tactics 194, 1999)
Scenario One: The First Attack, July, 1941 After-Action Report
The first of three scenarios in Decision Games’ Forgotten Axis: Murmansk 1941, titled The First Attack, July, 1941, covers the initial German movement by the 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions from their positions near Petsamo (modern-day Pechenga) towards Soviet defensive positions held by border guard units and the 14th and 52nd Rifle Divisions along the Titovka River. The scenario lasts for twenty-four turns of indeterminate length, but each turn is probably less than a day, most likely twelve hours.
Victory in the scenario depends on occupation of two key locations—Titovka and Ura Guba, each worth 10 VP each to the side to last control it—with the Soviets earning an additional 10 VP if the Germans do not manage to cross the Litsa River. The Soviets earn a further 3 VP for each German step reduced, with the Germans earning a single VP for Soviet step reductions and 2 VP for eliminating a Soviet HQ unit.
Two optional rules were used for this playthrough: Formation Effectiveness, which shows the ebb and flow of divisional effectiveness as it engages in combat (usually through die roll modifiers to combat); and Auto-Victory, granting all combats at an odds ratio of 7:1 or better with an automatic elimination of the defender’s units with no losses to the attacker. Both optional rules favor the Germans, and they were used for reasons that will soon become apparent.
Right off the bat, the Soviets hold a 20 VP advantage by controlling the two victory locations. To make matters worse for the German player, even a twenty-four turn scenario provides hardly near enough time to reach the furthest objective, Ura Guba, which sits a full fifty-one hexes from the German start lines. Certainly it’s feasible in theory; at a top speed of twelve hexes per turn, a German bicycle battalion could get there in five turns flat. But there’s the little matter of two Soviet divisions lined up along the length of the road to contend with…
With stacking limited to two units per hex in most cases, the single road threatens to jam up far too quickly for both German divisions, so my thought was to start one German division further south to draw Soviet forces towards them, hopefully thinning out the road defenses a bit. By threatening a Litsa crossing (worth 10 VP denied to the Soviets), they might allow the other division to attack a thinner defense.
Compounding German difficulties, the Combat Results Table threatens to harm the attacker almost as much as the defender, with the attacker susceptible to mandatory step losses on the higher odds columns. Throw in the doubling of losses when as few as six full strength units (attack and defense) participate in a combat and, in conjunction with the far greater VP the Soviets gain for German step losses, it’s a hard row to hoe indeed.
[Formations are listed per turn in the order their activation chits are drawn. Combat results given as Attacker Losses/Defender Losses. * results must be taken entirely as step losses; otherwise, half of all losses must be taken as step losses (fractions round up) with the remainder taken as hexes of retreat by the affected stack. Bombardment results given as NE (no effect), D (Disruption), D# (Step Loss plus Disruption).]
52nd Rifle: This division holds the lone bridge over the Titovka River, and its goal is to protect that crossing as well as the town of Titovka itself (worth 10 VP at game end). Seeing the German 2nd Mountain division creeping along the forest line far to the south, the southern flank units begin to move towards the tree line. With the intervening Tundra costing three MP per hex, it’s a slog.
3rd Mountain: Setting up in Petsamo, 3rd Mountain is tasked with breaching the Titovka defenses. Mobile lead units (68th Bicycle Battalion and 48th Mechanized Anti-Tank Battalion) surge forward, taking advantage of the double move accorded them. Other units filter in along the road.
14th Rifle: With responsibility for backing up 52nd Rifle along the Petsamo/Murmansk road and also guarding against flank attacks, 14th Rifle bears primary responsibility for slowing down 2nd Mountain. One unit races towards the victory location of Ura-Guba (10 VP at game end) while a full five battalions begin to head towards the forest 2nd Mountain seeks to use for transit. Divisional artillery, meanwhile, pushes down the road toward the vital Titovka river crossing.
2nd Mountain: There not being enough room on the sole road, 2nd Mountain uses the next best thing, the forests, to push on Ura-Guba and the Litsa River line from the south. Though only marginally better for movement than tundra (2 MP vs. 3 MP), the difference allows the slower artillery units to keep pace with the Mountain battalions.
52nd Rifle: Divisional artillery opens up on the lead units of 3rd Mountain, which are now in contact with the Fortress MG battalions on the far side of the Titovka River. [8 factors. Bombardment dr=3 for NE.] No joy, but a reminder to the Germans that stacking poses real dangers. Several Infantry battalions cross the river to contain the German threat.
14th Rifle: Artillery continues towards the front and the flank units continue towards the trees.
3rd Mountain: The remainder of the fighting forces trundles down the ragged road, with the more mobile forces holding tight at present. No sense in getting these bicycles ruined with a hasty attack when the rest of the division is just down the street.
2nd Mountain: Here the bicyclists are the first across the Titovka, helping to guard the crossing created by the engineers. The rest of the division will take multiple turns to follow, though.
2nd Mountain: With a congested river crossing point, only a few units will make it across each turn from here forward. Reaching the Petsamo-Murmansk road might be a stretch, but given the congestion up near 3rd Mountain, still probably the best approach.
14th Rifle: With the HQ watching the bridge over the Litsa, the active units in the division must all roll for initiative, given their distance from command. Slowly, a defensive line begins to form against 2nd Mountain’s line of advance.
52nd Rifle: The artillery opens up again, against the same targets as before. [8 factors. Bombardment dr=6 for D1.] 3rd Mountain’s AT battalion suffers losses, the first of this battle. It’s still not enough damage to allow for a robust counterattack, however, so the 52nd remains on the defensive.
3rd Mountain: The disruption of the mobile elements puts the initial planned assault into doubt. A preparatory barrage goes in against units of the 52nd blocking the road. [4 factors, +1 drm for High Effectiveness. Bombardment dr=3, final dr=4 for NE.] Even with the artillery failing to soften up the Soviets, the Mountain Infantry battalions have a mission to accomplish, so in they go. [24 attack strength against 8 defense strength for 3:1 odds; +1 drm for High Effectiveness. Combat dr=4; final dr=5 for 2*/3, doubled to 4*/6 for Major Battle.] An incredibly expensive combat for both sides, with the Germans losing four steps total and the Soviets losing three.
2nd Mountain: The crossings continue, slowly, with the 67th Bicycle battalion holding the tree line. Soviet troops are a least four turns away, but they will arrive en masse, while the German troops will but trickle into position.
52nd Rifle: With orders to hold the crossing, no retreat takes place. The artillery goes after the battered survivors of last turn’s battle, but the shells fail to find the range. [8 factors. Bombardment dr=1 for NE.]
3rd Mountain: Bruised but not defeated, the division’s troops swing around the units holding the approaches to the bridge, hoping to isolate them. The pause in combat gives the artillery a chance to catch up.
14th Rifle: The divisional artillery manages to move towards the fighting; they have 3rd Mountain’s vanguard in range now and will be firing for effect next turn.
2nd Mountain: The crossings continue.
3rd Mountain: An isolated Fortress MG battalion suffers the brunt of 3rd Mountain’s artillery. [4 factors. Bombardment dr=5 for D.] That effective barrage allows for a textbook assault, wiping out the border guards. [27 attack strength against 2 defense strength for max odds; auto-victory.]
14th Rifle: With 52nd Rifle beginning to show signs of fatigue after the constant pounding by the Germans, the temptation is to rush units of the 14th in to protect them, but the road leaves little room for maneuver. The artillery will have to suffice for now. [8 factors. Bombardment dr=5 for D.] The German bicyclists hit the dirt, but no damage is sustained.
52nd Rifle: Pulling out is not an option; the river will help in defense, and the artillery remains unaffected, so there’s still hope. Divisional effectiveness, however, has waned due to the losses, making all attacks less potent.
52nd Rifle: Undaunted, the artillery finally opens up, hoping to blunt 3rd Mountain’s forthcoming assaults. [8 factors, -1 drm for Low Effectiveness. Bombardment dr=2; final dr=1 for NE.] Fresh units filter warily into the line.
3rd Mountain: The division’s artillery unleashes a preparatory barrage, this time against the two battalions holding the road leading to the Titovka River bridge. [4 factors, +1 drm for High Effectiveness. Bombardment dr=3, final dr=4 for NE.] Yet another attack that has to go in the hard way, then. [27 attack strength against 10 defense strength for 2:1 odds, +1 drm for High Effectiveness. Combat dr=2, final dr=3 for 1/1, doubled to 2/2 for Major Battle, resulting in one step loss and one retreat for each side.]
14th Rifle: The artillery again hopes to score some revenge against 3rd Mountain for their assaults on the 52nd. [8 factors. Bombardment dr=1 for NE.] It’s not to be, but the Soviet redlegs assure themselves that they’re finding the range.
2nd Mountain: The crossings continue.
2nd Mountain: Though probably hard to imagine, the crossings continue, but now more units have entered the forest line.
14th Rifle: The artillery fires again, this time with feeling. [8 factors. Bombardment dr=4 for D.] A palpable hit on the largest concentration of 3rd Mountain forces, a strike that will likely affect their drive on the bridge.
3rd Mountain: Clustering on the road goes against all the tactics drilled into the officers of the 3rd, but there’s just no other way across this river. The engineers begin to move into place to force a secondary crossing, but with Soviet forces lining the opposite banks, it makes for a hard prospect. The artillery nonetheless targets a lone Fortress MG unit complicating matters. [4 factors. Bombardment dr=6 for D.] That’s all the opening the diminished units of the 3rd need. [18 attack strength against 2 defense strength for max odds; auto-victory.] They grind forward.
52nd Rifle: Divisional morale has collapsed. HQ still refuses to countenance a retreat that might restore the troops to some semblance of fighting trim, though—that river crossing must be held.
3rd Mountain: Free of enemy fire disrupting their plans, 3rd Mountain forges onwards. Lacking the numbers to force the bridge outright, they turn their attention to the Fortress MG units holding the southern flank of the crossing, starting with artillery to soften them up. [4 factors, +2 drm for High Effectiveness and Dismal Effectiveness. Bombardment dr=5; final dr=7 for D.] A sufficient thwack, and the ensuing combat promises to go smoothly as well. [21 attack strength against 4 defense strength for 5:1 odds, +2 drm for High Effectiveness and Dismal Effectiveness. Combat dr=5, final dr=7 for -/3, doubled to -/6 for Major Battle, causing 3 step losses.] The Soviets on the west banks of the Titovka have been eliminated.
14th Rifle: As before, the artillery will try to make the Germans pay, but there’s not much the 14th can do for now. [8 factors. Bombardment dr=1 for NE.]
2nd Mountain: The crossings continue, with the lead forces needing to decide if they will wait for the rest of the division to follow on. Time is running short, but for now, they will hold. Until the artillery gets closer, assaults can only lead to losses that the Germans can no longer afford.
52nd Rifle: With the river almost broached, the HQ and artillery begin to pull off the road, shifting north towards Titovka proper. Hopefully they have enough of a head start to beat the Germans there.
3rd Mountain: A fortuitous activation for the men of 3rd Mountain. The long-awaited river crossing commences, with the artillery joining the attack directly rather than prepping it via bombardment. [16 attack strength against 8 defense strength for 2:1 odds, +2 drm for High Effectiveness and Dismal Effectiveness. Combat dr=6; final dr=8 for 2*/3, doubled to 4*/6 for Major Battle, causing 3 step losses on the Soviets and 4 for the Germans.] Success, yes, but at a very high price for the Germans, who lose two already-depleted units in the effort.
14th Rifle: Soviet command makes a daring decision in light of the forced crossing and demands that 14th Rifle HQ surge forward to better direct the defense there. The few units holding the southern flank against 2nd Mountain will have to suffice. The artillery repositions rather than fires.
2nd Mountain: Throwing caution to the wind, the 2nd Mountain vanguard begins to approach the Soviet lines, leaving the safety of the woods, while the remaining units continue the crossing.
52nd Rifle: Running away seems prudent now, and that’s what they do, to the best of their ability, pushing as many units north of the road as possible.
14th Rifle: The roads are still clogged with retreating 52nd Rifle units, so 14th Rifle contents itself with pushing cautiously forward to create a defensive line between the Litsa and a group of lakes to the west of it.
2nd Mountain: With the southern flank forces from 14th Rifle hugging a river bend for protection, 2nd Mountain lacks enough firepower to encircle and defeat these pickets in detail, so they cautiously position for an assault in a few turns.
3rd Mountain: Not wishing to let 52nd Rifle regroup, the men of 3rd Mountain flood across the captured river crossing, but they lack the numbers to attack this turn. Nevertheless, their pursuit prevents the 52nd from regaining effectiveness.
52nd Rifle: The beaten units continue to pull back towards Titovka. Two battalions form up on another bridge crossing of the river, hoping to make another stand.
2nd Mountain: The Bicycle battalion and a Mountain Infantry battalion move to contact, but they refrain from combat for the time being while other units make their way to the impromptu front.
14th Rifle: With defensive positions set, the artillery lets loose a barrage, hoping to catch lead elements of the 3rd Mountain division unawares. [8 factors. Bombardment dr=1 for NE.] They successfully activate a reserve artillery division, which lumbers back to the now quite-formidable artillery park.
3rd Mountain: Another turn of positioning for the Germans, but this time, the river crossing can only be assaulted from a single position, so the best remaining units head to the front to take on the burden.
52nd Rifle: The defense continues to shift northwards towards Titovka. Though there are no good terrain features to anchor a line on, the 3rd will have to choose between chasing the 52nd or confronting the 14th, an unenviable decision to make.
14th Rifle: Fortified with new cannon, the artillery park opens up with a hellish barrage. [16 factors. Bombardment dr=1 for NE.] All those shells, to no effect. Otherwise the defensive lines remain static.
52nd Rifle: The fortuitous double chit draw here gives the beleaguered troops of the 52nd a chance to finish their defensive preparations.
3rd Mountain: Having escaped being pounded by 14th Rifle’s massed artillery, 3rd Mountain determines to cross this stubborn tributary, but realizes they simply don’t have the strength to force the issue. Luckily, the engineers at the front allow the bicycle battalion to cross with pontoons. Getting everyone over will take time this way, but with enough forces on the other side, the Soviet units blocking the bridge should be able to be removed.
2nd Mountain: The odds still do not favor an attack, so 2nd Mountain continues to build up forces against this ersatz defensive line that 14th Rifle has cobbled together down near the trees.
VP Count at 12 Turns:
- Soviet: 30 (10x 3VP per German step loss) + 10 (Titovka) + 10 (Ura-Guba) + 10 (No German unit over the Litsa River) = 60
- German: 14 (14x 1VP per Soviet step loss) = 14
At this point, the German position feels untenable, with a 50% chance of suffering at least one step loss (and a 16% chance of losing three!) via the 14th Rifle Division’s artillery every turn until such time as it could be contained. At three VP per step, there’s little hope that even taking one of the 10 VP objectives will make up the current difference, to say nothing of the future difference. Too, the end-run of 2nd Mountain seems destined for, if not failure, then at least insignificance. While I can see that splitting the German forces whittles down their firepower, bringing it all to bear along a single road is equally unworkable. Playing out the remaining turns seems mostly an exercise in die rolling.
Between an overly bloody Combat Results Table and a VP schema that, in all frankness, feels thrown together and untested, this playing proved an ultimately unsatisfying expenditure of time and effort. Seldom have I been as happy to take a game off my table.