It is hard to make long-term plans in a PBEM. More often than not they become obsolete because human players tend to come up with unpredictable moves. That doesn't mean that one shouldn't make plans that reach several turns ahead but a readiness to throw them over board the minute new dangers or opportunities present themselves is essential. In this game I had thought more about tactical principles (see chapter 1) than precise moves. In part this was owed to the special character of the Drang scenario: the warplan for a German player is probably always the same:
1. Go East!
2. Smash the Red Army on the way!
When Durk declared war, I had had ample time to reorganize and improve the German Army. At that point it was organized in four army groups and two independant forces.
Army Group North consisted of 5 infantry corps. During the first turn, it would remain inactive since the Baltic was still locked. One turn later, it would be transferred by rail into Estonia and Lithuania in order to reinforce the weak Baltic armies. Once the Baltic front is stabilized the Njemen Army should be able to attack into Belorussia. It will participate in the northern pincer of a huge encirclement operation designed to sack the entire Red forces in Belorussia.
With 14 infantry corps, Army Group Center was considerably more powerful. In the first turn of war, it was ordered to hold the frontier between Poland and Belorussia. But one turn later, it would take the offense and send 3 of its 4 armies through Lithuanian territory in order to encircle the Red forces in Belorussia.
There were two reasons for the seemingly timid actions in this first turn:
Commanded by von Hindenburg himself, Army Group Ukraine encompassed almost half the German Heer: its 20 corps (16 of them infantry, 2 motorized infantry and two cavalry corps) were organized in five armies and a reserve of two corps remained under von Hindenburg. These were the men designated to land the first blow.
- As long as Lithuanian territory was inaccessible, the frontline with the Reds was only two regions wide. Attacking in such a narrow sector was too risky.
- But more importantly, I simply lacked the railway capacities to get these troops into favourbale striking positions fast enough since the entire German railway pool of ~1.200 points had been allocated to the Army Group Ukraine.
For those familiar with the Grand Campaign or AGEOD's ACW, 1.200 railway points will sound like a lot. But in Drang it really isn't. In fact, Army Group Ukraine had to travel lightly: all supply units were left behind, they would have to catch up in the followoing turns after a long march over Ukrainian roads. Unnecessary units had been removed from the stacks (in particular I had gotten rid of all transmission and signal units)*.
This initial priority in favour of the Ukraine is pretty self-evident: The Belorussian front is narrow and thus a risky terrain for attacks. All other possible fronts (Finnland, Baltic, Caucasus) are still inaccessible. But in the meantime the Ukraine lies wide open and unless the weak Ukrainian and Cossack forces there get reinforced quickly, the Reds stand to make easy gains.
Unlike the three other German army groups, Army Group South was ill-prepared for the war. Stationed in the Balkan, it hadn't received any reinforcements since locked Austrian territory had isolated it from Germany. But that would be remedied soon. At Munich, 23 artillery regiments, two artillery brigades as well as two stormtroop brigades and one mountain infantry division were waiting to reinforce von Mackensen's men. In the near future, the 9 corps of Army Group South would attack in the Southern Ukraine.
At Kiel the I. Army consisting of three corps was waiting to land somewhere along the coast of the Black Sea and at Ankara the German Asia Corps was ready to reinforce the Caucasian nations.
The armies of Austria-Hungary on the other hand had been stationed in locked territory. Therefore I hadn't been able to change their setup and recruiting new units had been impossible as well. But for the moment I lacked the necessary trains to get them into combat anyway. Small cavalry contingents rushed ahead to secure the essential railway lines into the Ukraine against Red partisans while the rest of the Austrian forces slowly marched towards the Ukrainian border.
In the Ukraine, two cities were of the utmost importance: Kiev and Kharkov. If either city should fall, the Eastern Ukraine was as good as lost which would enable the Soviets to greatly shorten their frontline. To counter this danger, the men of von Gronau's XVI. Army boarded trains headed for Kharkov where theywould reinforce the mixed force of Ukrainians and Cossacks that had been ordered to defend the city to the last drop of blood. And indeed the Red army advanced against Kharkov from two sides. Budyenny and Egorov took Belograd without a fight. The few Ukranian militiamen managed to retreat before the Red onslaught just in time. Meanwhile, Snesarev marched towards Kharkov from the East. Surprisingly neither army attacked the city.**
However the main Red offensive was launched from the Donbas. Antonov-Ovseenko had assembled a huge army at Donetsk. It was now rushing west towards the Dniepr. On October 14th the Red Army reached its goal and the Red vanguard under Zhdanov celebrated the occasion by slaughtering the 2.500 Ukrainians defending the Dniepr harbour of Alexandrovsk.***
But the biggest Red success in this first turn occured further east. At Lugansk 11.000 Ukrainians and Cossacks had been left behind. It really was a shame, these units could have been handy, but since they were all locked, it was impossible to evacuate them. Kojnilov's men made short process of this leaderless, incoherent force.
By mid October, Kharkov had thus been heavily reinforced but the city was also threatened by encirclement. Only one railway out of the city was still in German hands. Luckily for me, Durk had allocated his armies in a way that would make it hard for him to close the pocket: His main force was in the South but he lacked troops in the North-West.
The only army in that sector was Trotzky's force but it was about to get forced into a deadly dance with five German armies ...
The Northern Ukraine was my main target during this first turn. My goal: extend the front beyond the Prypiat Marshes and lay the groundwork for Trotzky's encirclement. Surprisingly, the weather was still good and the ground dry this late in the year.**** Thus some fast marches would be possible.
Trotzky's army protected the crucial railway crossing over the Dniepr. But Durk had forgotten to protect his rear. Even better, it would be hard for him to rectify this mistake since the railway tracks north had been destroyed in several places prior to the outbreak of war.*****
The opportunity was too good to ignore. While von Hindenburg and von Gallwitz reinforced the Ukrainian army at Kiev, von Hutier and von Beseler pushed their units on as soon as they left the trains. They crossed the Dniepr just north of Kiev and outflanked Trotzky. On October 14th von Hutier's men took Chernigov. The 2.000 Reds garrisoning the city were annihilated. Suddenly two powerful German armies threatened Trotzky's flank and rear.
But there was even worse news waiting for the Soviet War Commissar: On October 13th, Friedrich von Preussen had emerged out of the Prypiat Marshes with 60.000 men and immediately taken Gomel. The XV. Army had left all its heavy equipment behind at Kowel (the last city on Polish territory on the south-western end of the Prypiat Marshes). Then the entire army had crossed six regions of forest and swamps within 13 days.
This shouldn't be possible you wonder?
I agree! This attack was the one move in this turn where I exploited the tank bug. It highlights how absurd this bug is. I had created an army that was designed for maximum speed. Pontoneer units helped with the river crossings and the tank batallion in each division gave them a speed that would have made WW II tank division envious. When I discovered to my surprise that this move was even possible, I was wavering between laughter and disbelief.******
A picture of one of these wonders of German engineering in its hour of glory:
In reality, range and speed of the German WW I tank model (A7V) were fairly limited (as were those of allied models). Off roads its speed was 8 km/h at best with a range of roughly 35 km. The notion that such an armored snail could have crossed the Prypiat Marshes in less than a fortnight is utterly ridiculous.
But if players don't use a house-rule, it is possible to play the Drang scenario as if it was 1939 not 1921. If every tank in the unit pool is build and all tank division options are used, Germany can field 10 divisions profiting from the tank bug, Austria-Hungary 3 more. Fill each division up with as many elements as possible and each of these divisions will come close to 1000 pw. Leave supply trains, field hosipitals and any other baggage behind and you have created the equivalent of WW II tank armies. I would recommend to form 3 or 4 armies out of these 13 "tank divisions". Each will muster between 3000 and 4000 pw. Use them to outflank the Soviet positions and strike deep behind enemy lines. Ideally take out Red depots and cut off/encircle the Red frontline armies. Send in regular infantry to widen the breach/finish off isolated enemy forces ...
The tank bug transforms a WW I situation that favours the defender into a WW II like blitzkrieg. But obviously that would completely break the game. I stopped exploiting the bug thereafter and proposed a house-rule against its use.
In this game, the tank bug gained von Preussen's stack one turn. With normal speed it could have reached Chernigov. Durk didn't have the reserves to protect Gomel and it probably wouldn't have been a priority either since several regions with railway lines in Trotzky's rear were threatened as well. The city would have fallen to me - just one turn later.
However the most decisive action in those first two weeks of October was fought on the sea. The German fleets had steamed out of the harbour of Kiel as soon as the war began. The two main battlefleets had been dispatched north in the faint hope that the Soviet fleet might sail out of Kronstadt.******* Of course Durk didn't commit such an epic blunder. But my second naval attack caught him with his pants down.
I had dispatched a cruiser fleet into the Black Sea: 8 German cruisers accompanied by 8 destroyers. When Souchon's task force approached the Strait of Kerch it encountered a dozen Soviet fluvial destroyers. The Soviet ships may have been top of the food chain amongst fresh-water ships but now they encountered another type of beast. The entire fleet was sunk before its sailors had even loaded the guns. 4 transports surrendered to the Germans. 4 days later Souchon entered the Strait of Kerch where he was pleasantly surprised to make the acquaintance of a second Red river fleet. Sixteen gunboats were send to the bottom of the sea. In the Sea of Azov the German cruisers continued to spread mayhem. A third Red fleet was cornered and lost its entire combat contingent of 12 gunboats. Within 6 days, Souchon had sunk almost the entire Red river fleet in the South.********
Durk's decision to move his fleets out of the safe harbour of Rostov may seem curious, but I think he had a good reason. If I am not mistaken, he intended to send these fleets into the Dniepr where they could have blocked any German crossing attempts. If Souchon hadn't intercepted them on their way, Durk could have locked the entire length of the Dniepr (at least until the river would eventually freeze). The few Ukrainian and German gunboats would have been no match for the mass of Red river ships.
Next update: the gloves come off and the real bloodshed begins.
* Signal units provide additional command points. That can be very useful for an army short on leaders. But the Germans have an abundance of high-ranking generals. Signal units are thus utterly useless to them. I had stashed them in fortified cities in the Polish hinterland.
** Durk tends to be more aggressive. But I believe it was the right decision on his part not to attack. Wolf would have had a fair chance to stand his ground. But even if he had been defeated, von Gronau's 80.000 men would have enacted bloody revenge upon tired Red attackers.
*** These city garrisons are locked which makes them human sacrifices. Doomed from the start, all they can accomplish is to slow down the enemy.
**** It was to be the last turn with clear weather before the winter.
***** Just as in my game against Highlandcharge, I had abused the uneasy peace and sent almost a dozen cavalry regiments into Red territory to wreak havoc upon the Soviet railway network. Several crucial lines were thus out of commission when the the war started.
****** My apologies to Durk, I should have stopped right there and aborted the attack. But I wanted to see if this really worked. In fact, I could have staged more attacks of this sort (I had two more tank-bugged armies, but slowed them down artificially by adding other units.
My advice: Until this bug gets fixed, anyone playing a RUS PBEM should insist on a house rule against this bug. It can be neutralized rather easily: add any unit that has the normal movement speed of infantry to the stack containing a tank-bugged division and the movement speed of the entire stack will revert to normal.
******* This would have been utter stupidity. The Red fleet while not unimpressive is but a fly compared to the German assortment of dreadnaughts. The AI makes mistakes like this (see Axe27's Drang AAR), a human player doesn't.
******** The combat stats of German cruisers aren't that much better than the ones of Red river ships (my cruisers had 11/11, Durk's fulvial destroyers had 8/5, his the gunboats 6/4). The decisive factor here was range (the German fleet opened fire at range 7, the destroyers fired back at range 5, the gunboats at range 3). All these battles were basically over before the Soviets could do any damage.