March 2, 2015 by crew
The thunder of artillery still echoes across the hypothetical battlefields of 1946 Germany where, after a year of uneasy peace, the former Allies of World War II have been hurled into all-out conflict against each other. Certainly this is far more than a “Cold War,” yet not quite a “World War III.” Instead it is World War 2.5, where the winning armies that liberated Europe are now head-to-head in a conflict many people of the day thought was inevitable. Thankfully for all of us, they were wrong.
The date is June 10, 1946. The Soviet invasion of West Germany is now a week and a half old (see Part One or Part Two of our article series). To the north, the ten divisions of the Soviet 1st Baltic Front have taken Hamburg, reached the Danish border, cut the Kiel Canal, and reached the outskirts of Bremen. To the south, the 2nd Southwestern and 1st Balkan Front are having a harder time in the mountains of Bavaria.
The real battle remains in the center, where four Soviet “Fronts” (some 750,000 men) have pushed to a jagged line running from Hannover in the north to Nuremberg in the south. The Soviets, however, are about to commit their reserves.
BLOCKING ALLIED COUNTERATTACK - June 10, 1946
Among these reserves are a Soviet guards mechanized brigade and an independent heavy tank regiment of the 1st Guards Tank Army, driving toward the critical town of Würzburg. Instead of being committed to the final push, these reserves find themselves diverted to head off a French counterattack that has just caved in the army’s right wing. The vanguard of this Soviet “stabilizing” detachment is a mixed-arms battalion drawn from the heavy tank regiment and the mechanized brigade’s infantry and T-34s.
The commander of this force, a young guards captain who “cut his officer’s teeth” in Berlin last year, has no illusions what the consequence of failure will be. Meanwhile, his armoured car scouts report that the French have stopped advancing, instead taking up defensive positions. The Soviets have been spotted, and the French are waiting.
As the Soviets press on, their dread only deepens. The French are deployed in a thick patch of Bavarian hills and forest, with only narrow, winding roads connecting tiny hamlets, the worst country for heavy Soviet armour. Sure enough, the captain’s worst fears are realized when a French Dewoitine D520 fighter dives out of the sun and machine guns the truck carrying his Katyusha rocket launchers into flaming wreckage.
The Soviets fight back, with lighter T-34s tackling the high ground to the left, IS-2 heavy tanks in the center, and IS-3 heavy tanks forming a powerful right hook through the woods to the north. But the faster French tanks, a mix of Sherman variants and M24 Chaffees, have plenty of time to re-position in optimum ambush spots, particularly against the Soviet right. However, the Soviet captain orders his mortars to drop a smoke screen in front of some of the French ambush positions. It buys the IS-3s just enough time to crack the French wing.
The Soviets also score heavy successes on their left wing, where nimble T-34s are able to shut down French Shermans trying to turn the Soviet flank. But the French fight back furiously, making the most of their advantages in numbers, artillery, and agility over this rugged terrain. Chaffees hit IS-3s in the flank, one even using the Soviets’ own smokescreen as cover against them.
Only when the Soviets fold up both wings is French resistance in the center finally overcome. At last, the young Soviet captain (shaken and sickened by the slaughter) is able to report success to his superiors back at brigade HQ. The colonel promises him the Order of Suvorov for his efforts that day, proclaiming that this victory has helped stabilize the Soviet drive on Würzburg. Secretly our captain fears the French may deserve such accolades more than he.
RESISTANCE OPERATIONS IN POLAND - June 11, 1946
Not all the action is taking place on the front line of course. Deep in Soviet-occupied Europe, especially in Poland, embers of rebellion have been rekindled into flame by the outbreak of war in Germany. “Armia Krajowa” is the Polish “Home Army” that fought so hard against both German and Soviet occupiers (Poland was divided in 1939 between the two invaders, remember). The Armia Krajowa also fought against Soviet occupation forces even after V-E Day, and now sees another opportunity to perhaps win freedom for Poland.
A small detachment of the Armia Krajowa has decided to hit a Soviet troop convoy as it makes its way through Silesia. They strike when the convoy is crossing a bridge over the Bóbr River, hitting the first and last vehicles in the column in an attempt to trap it on the bridge. In the chaos that ensues, most of the Soviet convoy is destroyed, although the resistance fighters take surprisingly heavy losses after many of their bazookas miss. Still, this is a Polish win, with the survivors vanishing into the woods to lick their wounds and strike another day. Special thanks to Beasts of War community members @lblunchboxlb, @radegast6, and @yavasa for suggesting and helping with this great idea after our first article.
HEAVYWEIGHTS ON THE AUTOBAHN - June 13, 1946
At last, Nuremberg is about to fall. After an apocalyptic six-day fight that has cost the Soviets dearly in lives, equipment, and worst of all time, the German and American defenders of the city have to withdraw. A counterattack mounted by the US 9th Armoured (the same division that captured the historic Remagen Bridge over the Rhine) has opened an escape corridor to the west. Now the exodus begins, endless streams of civilians making their way west along the Nuremberg-Frankfurt autobahn.
Along the way they pass hilltops crowned with American and West German units, ready to fire over the civilians’ heads if a Soviet advance guard appears. The eastern sky glows red by night and is smudged black by day. Nuremberg is burning.
The men of one West German detachment, the 1st Bundeswehr Panzer Brigade, know they’ll never make it. Their unit is equipped with leftover heavy tanks, assault guns, and tank destroyers, vehicles that drink too much fuel and move too slow to ever reach Frankfurt. Rather than abandon their vehicles and join the civilian retreat, this ad-hoc “kampfgruppe” decides to disobey orders, turn around on the autobahn and slam the lead Soviet spearhead head-on.
There they will fight as long as possible, then blow up their equipment before scattering into the woods. Along their way, they pass other German units in the night, Panthers, Lend-Lease Shermans, grenadiers in halftracks, who decide to join them. They meet the Soviets as dawn breaks on June 13, squaring off along the abandoned superhighway. Their opponents are the lead elements of the 25th Tank Corps, spearheaded by their integral shock regiment of heavy armour and assault guns.
The West Germans deploy in a crossfire astride the autobahn, but also set up strong forces to hold the wings. There is talk among the officers about engaging the Soviets at night, since their one Panther has one of the new FG-1250 infrared gun sights (yes, Battlegroup: Fall of the Reich does have rules for these and other IR devices). But the rest of the kampfgruppe would be blind, so instead they wait until first light.
Confident in the thickness of their armour (and the weight of their numbers) the Soviets send their main assault straight down the highway. The Jagdtiger is the first to open up, its huge 128mm gun blowing the turret clean off the lead IS-3. The two hand-me-down Shermans open up on lighter armour, although one lucky round actually “pins” another IS-3. Furious firefights erupt between squads of grenadiers and guardsmen, supported by the machine guns of halftracks and BA-64 armoured cars.
The Soviets make a push around the German left, the kampfgruppe commander dispatches the Jagdpanther to redress the situation. The Soviets also push around the right, with the Panther ambushing the first SU-100. This wing soon caves and it’s up to the grenadiers with “panzerfaust” rockets to kill the last SU-100 and shut down this thrust as well.
In the end however Soviet airpower turns the tide and they win the day. The German survivors, destroying all their equipment behind them, scatter into the thick forests of southern Germany, there to carry on the fight as guerrillas. In front of them, the “victorious” Soviet spearhead is in shambles. Behind them, the rest of the Allied and civilian columns are soon under the protection of the US 9th Armoured. Nuremburg is lost, but many of its defenders will fight another day.
By June 14, our “World War 2.5” is reaching a critical juncture. Disintegrating Allied lines have the Americans ever more ready to turn to her nuclear option. Soviet losses, meanwhile, are quickly draining her reserves, which aren’t quite bottomless after all. Diplomats are working frantically for a cease-fire, but can peace really come with millions of Soviet troops on West German soil? Check back next week for the final part of our series, and see how “World War 2.5” concludes.
- Part One: The Floodgates Open
- Part Two: The Big Push
- Part Three: Valiant Heroics
- Part Four [Finale]: The End?
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"...four Soviet “Fronts” (some 750,000 men) have pushed to a jagged line running from Hannover in the north to Nuremberg in the south. The Soviets, however, are about to commit their reserves."
"Rather than abandon their vehicles and join the civilian retreat, this ad-hoc “kampfgruppe” decides to disobey orders, turn around on the autobahn and slam the lead Soviet spearhead head-on."