Recap: The Germans have broken through at Polotsk along the Latvian border.
Egorov's defeat spurred the Soviets into immediate action. One of Russia's most talented young generals was sent to the take over the critical sector: Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov. In the future, this man would rise high but this was his first major field command.* Egorov himself stayed in charge of the Baltic front but operational decisions were now in Zhukov's more capable hands.** The new commander ordered Egorov's defeated men to dig in and hold their position at all costs. But the Germans didn't try another frontal attack. Apparently the high casualties in the battle of Polotsk had discouraged them. Instead Zukauskas marched north into densely wooded territory in an attempt to outflank Zhukov's position.*** The march through the snow-covered woods was excrutiatingly slow, though. This gave Zhukov time to react. In his opinion Zukauskas' most likely goal was to interrupt the railway line between Vitebsk and Velikiye Luki that lead on to Petrograd. Hence, the Red Army made use of its interior lines and control of the railways to shift troops north with the utmost speed.
Zhukov ordered corps from several sectors to assemble at Nevel [5 in the screenshot] where he assumed command himself. In the meantime Egorov rushed west and took over the defense of Zhukov's old position [1 and 2].
1: Kniaginsky - 2184 pw
2: Egorov - 0 pw; headed west to assume command over Kniaginsky's stack.
3: Zhukov -1598 pw; ordered east to plug the hole the German flanking maneuver has created.
4: Petrov - 448 pw; ordered south to join Zhukov.
5: Assembly point for Zhukov and Petrov.
6: Liubimov - 1087 pw; headed west to join Kniaginsky and Egorov.
Zhukov had guessed the German intentions correctly, on December 24th 1921. 46.000 Germans appeared out of the woods and attacked Nevel. But Zhukov was already waiting for them with 92.000 Communists who had even had the time to prepare light trenches. Von Hoinigen-Huene obviously wasn't aware just how badly he was outnumbered and ordered his men to attack. The assault was spearheaded by Schröder's Marinekorps, an elite formation specifically trained for amphibious landings and river crossings. These brave men refused to be stopped by the horrific Soviet artillery bombardment and pressed on. But in the end all their bravery was in vain. After he had lost one third of his army, von Hoiningen-Huene finally aborted the attack. For the German marines it was already too late. Except for two pioneer regiments the entire corps had been wiped out.**** Other units suffered just as badly: the 16. Stossbrigade was no more and the 33. Infanterie-Division had lost more than half of its men. Total German casualties accumulated to 15.000 men as opposed to 9.000 men on the Soviet side.
Nevertheless, the offensive might have succeeded if Zukauskas and Hoiningen-Huene hadn't divided their forces. Zukauskas had headed north - probably in an attempt to outflank the Ostrov Line, this left Hoinigen-Huene far too weak to break through Zhulov's position.***** As a result he suffered a costly defeat and Zukauskas got bogged down as well. The German offensive that had been executed so brilliantly in its early stages had now lost all momentum.
In the meantime, the war had heated up further north. On December 15th, Finland and Rumania had joined Germany's war of aggression. German propaganda had started to call it a "Crusade against Bolshevism". Someone should have told them that the Crusades eventually failed miserably.
Unsurprisingly, the front with Finland remained quiet. Without German reinforcements the Finnish army wasn't strong enough to dislodge Kirov's army from Petrograd.
Along the Estonian border, the situation looked even more favourable for the Soviets. Since the war with the Baltic countries had started, Narva had been left weakly defended by the Estonian army. Shorin, the Soviet commander in the sector, had waited for weeks always expecting to see German reinforcements arrive. But now that strong German formation were bogged down in the woods south of Lake Peipus, he finally dared to attack himself. On January 11th, his 46.000 men crossed the Narva in the middle of the harshest cold any of them could remember. But at least this meant that the river was frozen and constituted less of an obstacle. Laidoner's Balts were badly outnumbered (almost 4:1) and outgunned; they faced modern Red tanks and several elite regiments. Nevertheless, the Balts defended their ground stubbornly. Eventually they were overwhelmed but the Soviets paid dearly: 2700 Communists died as opposed to less than 1.000 Balts.
Once again it had been proven that an entrenched position could be taken if the numbers were stacked heavily against the defenders. But as with the German attack on Polotsk high Soviet casualties made this a Phyrric victory.
Fearing reinforcements from the South - the Germans had to be alarmed at this breakthrough - Shorin retreated back to Marienburg the next week.
By February 1922, the entire front from Petrograd, via Vitebsk and Minsk, all the way to Kiev and Ekaterinoslav was trapped in stalemate. The Germans had lost half the Ukraine while all they could show for nine months of deadly battles was the small city of Polotsk. Their Crusade against Bolshevism was quickly turning into an embarrassment.******
Next update: The Germans try a new strategy
* In reality, it took Zhukov until 1923 before he even rose to command his own regiment.
** Zhukov has 5-0-4 stats and some really nice special abilities (cavalryman, beloved by the army, offensive terrain analyst).
*** In my humble opinion, Highlandcharge made two mistakes:
**** This was a waste. Germany can't build new marines making these units irreplacable. In my opinion, the marine brigades shouldn't be kept in a single unit but rather be divided throughout the German army so that as many stacks as possible can profit from the boni they provide.
- It probably would have been smarter to wait until the weather got better and the flanking maneuver could be achieved in a single turn. His two turn move lost Highlandcharge the element of surprise. Even during winter a one turn flanking maneuver is possible if one employs the right troops (cavalry and motorized infantry are available to the Germans; moreover he could have abused the tank bug).
- If one commits this many troops in an attempt to break through with brute force, one should also assign the best leaders available. Hindenburg himself, Hutier and Falkenhayn should have commanded this sector, not Balodis and Zukauskas (they aren't bad, just average (4-2-2 and 4-1-1)).
***** Loki100, this is exactly what you fortold: The Germans had to provide a guard for their rear and flanks. Thus one third of their army stayed under Balodis command at Polotsk. Even worse, they dissipated their forces by pursuing multiple targets at once. It left them too weak to achieve any of them.
****** Late January 1922:
- German NM: 72 - Red NM: 144
- German VP: 291 (+36 per turn) - Red VP: 1795 (+52 per turn)
- Total German combat pw was at 121% of the Red; they had lost most of their initial numerical advantage.
- German casualties: 247.289 - Red Casualties: 105.260 - Green, Southern White and Anarchists: combined casualties of over 70.000