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Axis River Crossing, Ukraine, September 1941

The Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia (CSIR) fought its first battle in August 1941. This report details a fictional river crossing carried out by a German battlegroup supported by Italians in the Ukraine during the autumn of 1941.

The Battlefield

Below is a picture of the battlefield, played across the width of a table approximately 120cm by 160cm. The river runs down the length of the table in the centre, inbetween the opposing forces - the Russians defending on the left, the Germans and Italians attacking from the right. A dirt road runs across the width of the table and there is a town on the Russian side of the river.

The Battlefield

German Order of Battle

The German battlegroup comprises of the following units, split into three separate formations and two support formations.

  Command
        CO (Command Value 10)
    1 x Recce Unit (Sdkfz 231)
    3 x Engineer Units in Sdkfz 251
 
  Formation A
    HQ (Command Value 9)
    3 x Infantry Units
    1 x Support Unit (MG)
    3 x Transport Units (Motorcycles)
    2 x Light Panzer Units (Pzkpfw III short)
    1 x Medium Panzer Unit (Pzkpfw IV short)
 
  Formation B
    HQ (Command Value 9)
    3 x Infantry Units
    1 x Support Unit (MG)
    1 x Support Unit (Mortar)
    3 x Transport Units (Trucks)
    2 x Light Panzer Units (Pzkpfw III short)
    1 x Medium Panzer Unit (Pzkpfw IV short)
 
  Artillery Support
    1 x FAO (Command Value 8)
    3 x Artillery Units (105mm) + 2 assets each
    2 x Artillery Units (150mm) + 2 assets each
 
  Air Support
    1 x FAC (Command Value 8)
    1 x Dive Bomber Flight (Stuka) + 2 assets

The German battlegroup

This works out to 1655 points and a breakpoint of 10. The Russian player will be awarded 155 points at the end of the game.

Italian Order of Battle

The Italian battlegroup comprises of the following units split into three formations and two support formations:

  Command
        CO (Command Value 8)
 
  Formation C
        HQ (Command Value 7)
    6 x Infantry Units
    2 x Support Units (MG)
    1 x Support Unit (Mortar)
    1 x ATG Unit (47mm) & Truck
    2 x Light Tank Units (L6/40)
 
  Formation D
        HQ (Command Value 7)
    6 x Infantry Units
    2 x Support Units (MG)
    1 x Support Unit (Mortar)
    1 x ATG Unit (47mm) & Truck
    2 x Light Tank Units (L6/40)
 
  Artillery Support
    1 x FAO (Command Value 6)
    3 x Artillery Units (75mm) + 1 asset each
    1 x Artillery Unit (105mm) + 1 asset
    2 x Artillery Units (150mm)
 
  Air Support
    1 x Dive Bomber Unit (Stuka) + 1 asset

The Italian battlegroup

This works out to 1050 points and a breakpoint of 14. Note that 50 points will be deducted from the Victory Points awarded to the Russian player at the end of the game.

Russian Order of Battle

The Russian battlegroup comprises of the following units split into four formations and one support formation:

  Command
        CO (Command Value 8)
    1 x Tank Destroyer Unit (ZiS-30)
    3 x Infantry Units
    1 x Support Unit (MG)
    2 x Support Units (Mortar)
    2 x Light Tank Units (T-26)
 
  Formation A
        HQ (Command Value 7)
    3 x Infantry Units
    1 x Support Unit (MG)
    2 x Light Tank Units (T-26)
 
  Formation B
    3 x Infantry Units
    1 x Support Unit (MG)
    2 x Light Tank Units (T-26)
 
  Formation C
        HQ (Command Value 7)
    3 x Infantry Units
    1 x Support Unit (MG)
    2 x Light Tank Units (T-26)
 
  Artillery Support
    1 x FAO (Command Value 6)
    2 x Artillery Units (76mm) + 4 assets each
    1 x Artillery Unit (152mm) + 4 assets
 
  Field Defences
    8 x Wire Sections
    6 x Marked Minefields
    2 x Light Bunkers

The Russian battlegroup

This works out to 1220 points and a breakpoint of 14. Note that 30 points will be deducted from the Victory Points awarded to the Axis player at the end of the game.

Russian Deployment

The Russians were deployed in each of the three sectors: right, left and centre. The bulk of the forces were in the centre under command of the CO, with the reserves being held back behind the town. On each of the flanks was a bunker manned by infantry and MGs, with more infantry and T26 light tanks dug-in on either side.

Minefields were laid along the river bank on the Russian side to make it a tough job for the Axis troops to gain a foot-hold once they crossed the river. There was barbed wire along the other river bank, on either side of the bridge - again to make it difficult for the Axis troops to cross the river.

Russian Plans

It was the aim of the Russian player to force the Axis troops to attack in the centre and encourage them to cross the bridge. Once across, they would be engaged in heavy fighting in the town.

The artillery was scheduled to fire barrages on turns three and four along the opposite river bank to hopefully catch the Axis troops preparing to cross. Although this wouldn't be devastating, it would hopefully provide good harassing fire support.

Russian Right Flank Russian Centre Russian Left Flank

Axis Deployment

The river crossing scenario uses static deployment for both sides, with the attacker being able to deploy up to 20cm from the edge of his table baseline. Rather than split the deployment into two based on nationality, the Axis player decided to use the numerically superior Italian infantry to secure both flanks and deploy the Italian and German armour in the centre. The engineers were split, however, with the Italians on the left flank and the Germans in the centre.

Axis Plans

The Italians on either flank would advance to the river, taking advantage of the high ground and engage the Russians on the opposite bank. The German armour and infantry would then advance in the centre, followed by the German engineers, who would try to force a crossing of the bridge. The Italian engineers on the left flank would try to gain a crossing should the Russian defenders be silenced on that flank.

The Stukas would target each bunker on the third turn, then target the hill in the Russian rear on the fourth turn. The German artillery would fire barrage on the third and fourth turns across the front of the town. The Italian artillery would fire barrage across the front of the rough ground on the left flank on the fourth turn.

Axis Left Flank Axis Centre Axis Right Flank

Axis Turn 1

The Italians began the turn and made a steady advance along the line. The Germans did the same, but also managed to push forward to the bridge with the recce and engineer units.

Russian Turn 1

Using the optional rule for Fixed Orders, the Russians opened fire with several units and managed to suppress two Pz-III and one German engineer unit.

Casualties

There were no casualties in the first turn. The Russians were 0/14 away from their breakpoint, the Germans were 0/10 away from theirs and the Italians 0/14 away from theirs. Note that the two Axis battlegroups are treated separately in this battle, so each have their own breakpoint.

Axis Turn 1 Russian Turn 1

Axis Turn 2

The advance to the river continued on the second turn, with the Germans reaching the river in the centre and the recce and engineer units ending the turn on the bridge. The Stukas were called-in against the bunker on the left flank, but missed slightly and softened-up the T26 that was later destroyed by the Pz-III and Pz-IV units across the river. The Russian mortars came under fire from the German 105mm artillery, losing one unit. The Russian CO had a very lucky escape, taking 5 hits from the artillery, rendering him suppressed for the duration of the next turn!

Russian Turn 2

The Russian turn began with the MGs on the edge of the town suppressing the German recce unit on the bridge. The FAO in the church managed to call in artillery against the Germans on the river bank, suppressing the German FAO and some infantry.

On the Russian right flank, a T26 unit opened-fire at the nearest Italian L6/40s and suppressed them, whilst the infantry in the bunker suppressed some German infantry on the opposite bank. On the other flank, the combined fire of two T26 units failed to do anything against the Italians, but the MGs in the bunker suppressed some Italian infantry on the high ground opposite.

Casualties

The Russians lost one T26 and one mortar unit this turn so were 2/14 away from their breakpoint, the Germans were 0/10 away from theirs and the Italians 0/14 away from theirs.

Axis Turn 2 Russian Turn 2

Axis Turn 3

The Stukas arrived as scheduled and hit the bunker on the left flank, to no effect. They also hit the high ground in the Russian rear, knocking-out the remaining mortars. The scheduled artillery fired a barrage along the far bank of the river infront of the town, suppressing some infantry and the FAO in the church tower.

The Italians made a steady advance on both flanks, whilst the German armour on the right flank stalled for the second time. The German armour and infantry on the left flank took the Russian MG positions across the river under fire and knocked them out, allowing the engineers to take out the MGs on the other side of the bridge.

Russian Turn 3

Scheduled artillery hit the far bank of the river at the start of the third turn, suppressing a lot of infantry, both German and Italian. Superb timing from the Russian players' point of view! There was also success in the town as the ZiS-30, T26s and infantry combined their fire to knock-out the recce unit on the bridge and one of the hanomags on the road. The engineer units also came under fire, with one becoming suppressed.

Sporadic exchanges of fire took place along the river bank, forcing more Axis troops to keep their heads down.

Casualties

The Russians had lost one T26, two MG and two mortar units so far, making them 5/14 away from their breakpoint. The Germans were 1/10 away from their breakpoint after losing the Sdkfz 231 armoured car and the Italians were still 0/14 away from theirs.

Axis Turn 3 Axis Turn 3

Axis Turn 3 Russian Turn 3

Axis Turn 4

The fourth Axis turn began with scheduled artillery hitting the opposite river bank either side of the bridge. The Italian artillery hit the left flank suppressing several units, whilst the German artillery hit the right flank and again suppressed several units, including one of the German engineer units!

The Italian infantry on the right flank opened fire at the Russian positions on the far bank, those on the left flank that weren't suppressed moved to the edge of the river. The German armour on the right managed to get its act together this turn and advanced to the river bank, then destroyed a T26 unit in the town.

The combined fire of German armour, infantry and infantry support managed to take-out the MGs and infantry in the bunker (who had already been hit by the artillery at the beginning of the turn). Combined-arms at its best :-)

Axis Turn 4

Russian Turn 4

More scheduled artillery this turn, suppressing a fair number of German and Italian units on the far bank of the river, in addition to knocking-out an Italian anti-tank gun on the left flank. The German engineers in the town came under some serious fire, but managed to survive! A T26 unit advanced round the right of the town to take the hanomags under fire, but failed to do anything this turn.

Casualties

The Russians had lost two T26s, three infantry units, three MGs and two mortar units so far, making them 10/14 away from their breakpoint. The Germans were 1/10 away from their breakpoint after losing the Sdkfz 231 armoured car and the Italians were now 1/14 away from theirs after losing an anti-tank gun unit.

Russian Turn 4

Turn 5

The fifth turn began with the Italians doing not very much! Both HQs were suppressed from the artillery barrage last turn. The German FAO called in the 105s on the buildings on the right-hand side of the town, but this fell short and to the left, catching the German engineers in friendly fire - suppressing them...

The engineers across the road assaulted some Russian infantry and with the support of the hanomags, succeeded in taking one of the houses. They then came under heavy fire from several directions as the Russians were in very close proximity. One of the other engineer units was knocked-out when it was forced to fall-back into a minefield. Ouch!

The T26 unit that moved to a better position last turn knocked-out one of the hanomags this turn and almost succeeded in destroying the second. The remaining Italian ATG unit over on the left flank was knocked-out by the combined fire from T26s and MGs.

As the turn came to an end, the Germans were in a good position to move some of their armour across the bridge next turn. The Russians, whilst putting up a good fight, were close to breaking.

Casualties

The Russians had lost two T26s, five infantry units, three MGs and two mortar units so far, making them 12/14 away from their breakpoint. The Germans were 2/10 away from their breakpoint after losing the Sdkfz 231 armoured car and one engineer unit. The Italians were 2/14 away from theirs after losing both anti-tank gun units.

The End of Turn 5 Close-up from the Axis lines Close-up from the Russian right flank

Turn 6

The Italian troops finally reached the river bank on either flank. Russian infantry on the Axis left flank were knocked-out, leaving just one T26 unit dug-in defending that area. The German armour suppressed the MGs in the bunker across the river on the right flank, than came under heavy artillery fire. This suppressed several units, despite them being armoured vehicles.

Stukas removed the threat on the left flank of the town as they knocked-out the T26 unit there. The engineers in the buildings were suppressed so couldn't do much this turn. As the German armour began to cross the bridge, the leading Pz-IIIs were hit and suppressed by the combined fire of T26s and the ZiS-30 down the road. The infantry following remained on the bridge with their heads down waiting for the all-clear.

Casualties

The Russians had now lost three T26s, six infantry units, three MGs and two mortar units, making them 14/14 away from their breakpoint. The Germans were 2/10 away from their breakpoint after losing the Sdkfz 231 armoured car and one engineer unit. The Italians were 2/14 away from theirs after losing both anti-tank gun units.

The End of Turn 6

Turn 7

German engineers continued their house-clearance in the town, re-inforcements arrived across the bridge and occupied the buildings near the river bank. They were now facing the Russians across the road leading to the church.

The Russians had to make a command roll to continue fighting as they reached their breakpoint last turn. The CO succeeded in rallying the troops, so they fought on! The FAO in the church again called-in Red artillery against the German armour and infantry on the opposite bank. This time the tanks were unaffected, but several infantry units were suppressed.

The fire-fight between the T26 and the Pz-III down the main street continued, to no effect this turn. It was now only a matter of time before the Russians withdrew from the battle, but for now, they were putting-up dogged resistance!

Casualties

The Russians had now lost three T26s, seven infantry units, three MGs and two mortar units, making them 15/14 past their breakpoint. The Germans were 2/10 away from their breakpoint after losing the Sdkfz 231 armoured car and one engineer unit. The Italians were 2/14 away from theirs after losing both anti-tank gun units.

Turn 7

Turn 8

The Germans in the town finally managed to take the remainder of the buildings. The T26 unit in the main street was taken under fire by the Pz-III, then assaulted and knocked-out by engineers from the flank. Further reinforcements raced across the bridge, including some armour that worked its way round the left flank of the town.

Now the Russians really were up against it with the CO requiring a double one to rally his remaining troops and continue the battle. As expected, it was not to be and the remaining Russian troops withdrew in a somewhat disorderly manner!

Victory

The result of the battle was a major Axis victory as they suffered minimal casualties and held both sides of the bridge, allowing them to bring forces across the river at their leisure. It would be interesting to see how the Italian troops would have done on their own, that's not to say their troops are awful, but they certainly lack the support that the Germans benefit from.

Casualties

The Russians lost four T26s, ten infantry units, four MGs and two mortar units, making their casualty count 20/14. The Germans lost just the Sdkfz 231 recce unit and one engineer unit. The Italians lost both anti-tank gun units.

The end of the battle

 
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