It’s late July (turn 6) and the situation at Smolensk seems relatively good in our WitE Axis AAR. We’ve crossed Dnepr at select places and encircled Soviet units in Smolensk. As a result, the enemy has withdrawn to a new line of defence. The infantry here is going to do what they’ve been doing since the start of the game, which is marching forwards to catch up with the retreating Soviet divisions.
The panzer units, in turn, will try and reduce the pocket, and then prepare to jump forwards once again. One problem arises though – we are at the far reach of our supply network. No more easy fuel and ammo, which means motorised units are going to have a shortage of movement points. As such, the German spearhead is forced to wait for the infantry and the railroad to catch up. This is a common problem for Axis in the opening phases of 1941 in WitE, which simulates the historical problems fairly well (but we’ve heard War in the East 2 does an even better job at this).
What about further advances? How do we proceed to Moscow from here?
In the end, we don’t manage to dislodge the defender from Smolensk, though the city will certainly fall next turn. Most other units are destroyed, with a net of around 50 000 Soviet prisoners added to the loss tally. Elsewhere the infantry advances to contact. As you can see from the yellow outlines, almost everyone is facing supply issues.
Facing the Soviet line at Velikie Luki, Vyazma and Bryansk
The next part of our WitE adventure as Axis is to decide where to head from here. Velikie Luki is the northern part of Army Group Center, and here the terrain is full of rivers, swamps and forests. No panzers should head here, and we will simply slog forwards with the help of the infantry. The simple objective is to head East, and protect the flank, of AGC and AGN.
In the centre, we take Smolensk and stop due to lack of fuel. Each turn we’re not moving and bagging units is a turn the Soviets can use to reinforce their defences, and you can be certain that is what they are doing. Once the infantry can join the battle, and the panzers are back in supply, the troops will head towards Vyazma, and then to Moscow.
South of Vyazma – Smolensk axis is the southern flank of AGC. It extends all the way to Pripet marshes. River Desna runs between Bryansk and Gomel, and this is our next objective. For now, this is going to be an infantry endeavour, though the terrain is fit for tanks too. Only, supply issues are going to hamper any major panzer drives in this area.
Bryansk will open up advance towards Tula and the southern USSR, whereas Gomel will unhinge the Soviet lines and threaten Kiev. Ultimately breaching the next river-line also allows us to advance towards Orel and Kursk.
The Breakthrough to Vyazma
Unlike in the north, where the Soviets easily reach double digits in combat value, here the line consist of units in the open and in the rare forest or fortified position. Enemy unit density is low, and only a handful of well-positioned strong units manage a CV of ten or above. Though our units are not in full movement points, this opens up good opportunities for breaching the line and forcing further withdrawal by the enemy.
This time around our infantry units have had time to move into contact, and they are more than a match for their Soviet counterparts. The first line is driven back with deliberate attacks, and the second line plus the retreating units are hit again with hasty attacks as well as a few more deliberate attacks. Mopping up is done with the motorised and panzer divisions who manage to advance to the gates of Vyazma. The XXXXVII Panzer Corps is left in reserve, to fuel up and to exploit any weaknesses that follow.
A small pocket is still a pocket
Velikie Luki is captured on turn eight, with the Soviet resistance mostly collapsing as a result. For some reason, the Soviets have parked most of their aircraft here, though unfortunately, we have no luck overrunning them.
North of Gomel we encircle five divisions and two brigades, but the enemy manages to break open a part of the pocket. The next turn we close the pocket and capture Gomel in the process.
Around Vyazma the enemy manages to scrape together another line of defence. Our reserve panzers come in handy as we punch through, drive back and encircle fourteen enemy units.
Where Do All These Soviet Units Come From?
Clearing both pockets leads to losses of somewhere under 100 000 men for the Soviets. You can see that the enemy is having manpower problems, as most destroyed divisions are well below full strength. Yet, this doesn’t really hamper the enemy’s ability to throw in new divisions.
As you might know, in the Barbarossa turns all destroyed Soviet divisions join the fray again for free. They are re-formed at the edge of the map as shell units, which then fill up with manpower as the AI ferries them to the frontlines. There is, therefore, no shortage of enemy units, though they might be a bit weak.
And still, the resistance in front of Moscow has been upped considerably. Nothing we can’t wade through, but here too we can forget about hasty attacks as the defensive combat values climb to double digits.
On the other hand, this concentration of combat power means that elsewhere the enemy units are weakening.
Even though we wait another turn to rest and refit, we aren’t able to fuel up efficiently. As the enemy forces fortify and increase in strength, we are also forced to opt for deliberate attacks. As an added strategical faux pas, my infantry divisions seem to have headed to a completely different direction, mostly wiping out the Soviets south and north of the area.
There are considerable forces south of Rzhev in good defensive positions.
It’s clear that time is starting to run out, and we need to make some clear moves. So what happens next?
Supplied and Ready to Go
Once again, we are forced to spend some time fueling. Luckily, by now the railhead is so close that all our armored formations can afford a HQ Buildup. At the same time our infantry formations keep on pushing, with the enemy flanks crumbling all around them.
Though the enemy once again has more or less continuous front to face us, it is full of weakpoints that we can exploit. With our tanks ready to go it’s simply a matter of choosing where to go.
It’s easy to see from the above screenshot that there is a weak point between Rzhev and Moscow. While most other positions are well-defended, here there is just a worn out AT-brigade, a rifle division and some shell cavalry divisions. We mass three panzer divisions here and create a three hex-wide breakthrough with hasty attacks.
As you can recall, three hexes are needed for a breakthrough as this allows us to move through the middle hex without paying zone of control costs.
A few more attacks are needed to clear the path through enemy rear units, but as these are weak it proves to be a cakewalk. The result is not enough to challenge the historical Vyazma pocket, but it’s still a considerable catch for our forces. Most units in the Moscow sector are now pocketed, though the city itself is heavily fortified and defended.
The northern and southern flanks are mostly advancing at will at this point, though this only means a few hexes at a time due to the units being mostly infantry.
Still, the situation is dire for the Soviets. How will the AI react this time around, and what is happening in the North and South?