March 9, 2015 by crew
At last we end our article series on “World War 2.5” where the fate of Europe is yet again decided on the battlefield. A year after the fall of the Third Reich, the armies of the former “Allies” find themselves once more in combat, this time against each other. Two weeks ago, the Soviet Union (perhaps provoked past endurance by the paranoid and nuclear-armed west) has launched a full-scale invasion of West Germany.
If you’re new to our series, see Parts One, Two and Three here to see how this campaign has gone so far. Don’t forget that right now we also have the download for the Rules Pack that goes along with this campaign so once you’re done reading give that a look! For now, it’s June 15, 1946 and the crisis has reached a boiling point in central Germany.
CAUGHT IN A PINCER - June 15, 1946
Major John Wyte wonders if he should tell his men that their mission has already failed.
Commanding a mixed battlegroup of the 11th Armoured Division, Major Wyte leads the vanguard of a British counterattack driving on Wolfsburg. Their mission was to relieve the brave chaps of the 3rd Canadian Infantry, fighting off three times their number in the streets of the crumbling German town. Radio communication with the Canadians has ceased. Regiment HQ confirms Major Wyte’s fears, no one has heard from 3rd Canadian since 06:00 this morning. The rescue force has come too late.
All too soon, Wyte’s battlegroup has troubles of its own. Regiment has just passed word that Typhoon patrols have spotted two Soviet columns converging on his position. Intelligence has identified these as the 8th Guard’s Mechanized Brigade coming down from the north with heavy tank regiments approaching from the east. Wyte’s new orders are to fall back to a vital crossroads and hold as long as he can denying the Soviets access until the rest of the division can mobilize against the threat.
With a combat record running back to the campaigns against Rommel in North Africa, Major Wyte is no stranger to being hit from more than one direction. Taking personal command of the Challenger tank, he quickly deploys as the Soviets make their two-pronged advance. At first, this defence holds firm, especially in the east. Here, his Churchills and infantry (firing PIAT antitank launchers) hammer approaching SU-100s and infantry. Things don’t go so well to the north, where hulking ISU-152 assault guns wipe out an infantry squad and immediately threaten Wyte’s left wing. To redress the situation, Wyte commits the ace up his sleeve, one of the brand-new “Centurion” main battle tanks.
An ear-splitting shriek crushes all other noise off the battlefield, the unmistakable howl of massed Soviet “Katyusha” (Little Kate) rockets. Instantly Wyte loses contact with his mortars, and judging by that wall of fire billowing a hundred feet into the air, Wyte knows those mortars are gone. One Churchill blows up, the other is killed as it tries to withdraw. The Fireflies and Comets respond, killing one of the dreaded IS-3 heavy tanks. The battle is an uneven one, even as a Typhoon finally appears overhead to maul more Soviet armour. Soviet mortars take out the rest of the British infantry, and even the Centurion eventually goes down to a lucky hit.
Despite these losses, Major Wyte knows he has gutted the Soviets just as badly. He orders his Challenger back to a churchyard in the northwest corner of the battlefield. His only other tank, the valiant Black Prince, has thrown a track in the thick hedges. Refusing to abandon his comrade, Wyte stations his Challenger in an overwatch position and prepares to make his stand. Again comes the demonic scream of the Katyushas, the blast kicking the earth from under his Challenger. Yet Wyte’s tank has survived. The Black Prince, however, is not so lucky, only two of its crewmen surviving to bail out and sprint back toward him.
Wyte’s gunner yells out a sighting report. Soviet assault guns and tank destroyers close from two directions. Wyte bellows to engage the tank killers, sighting in on the first SU-100 and giving the order to fire. The 17-pounder kicks in its braces, and a sickening tongue of flame jets out of the Soviet wreck. Already the loader is swinging another shell into the breach, but the Soviets have already fired. The Challenger is hit with a deafening clang and already Wyte knows the hit is fatal. The Challenger is on fire and he screams the order to bail out.
At last, the battle is over. Even as Major Wyte, burned and bleeding, limps out of his tank and hands his pistol to a young Soviet Guards lieutenant, the rest of the 11th Armoured Division is consolidating positions on the roads to Hannover. Major Wyte and his men cannot know, marching off to an internment camp in Poland, how much this “defeat” has won for his comrades. Hannover will never fall, and the line of British Army of the Rhine, however battered and bent, will hold. He won’t know until he and his men are released after the war where he returns home to receive his Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his heroic but doomed stand outside Wolfsburg.
COUNTERATTACK AT KASSEL - June 18, 1946
By 04:00 on June 16th both Soviet and Allied commanders realize that the campaign in Germany is coming to a head. British forces have taken hard defeats but broken Soviet attempts to encircle Hannover for a second time. American and German forces have lost Hof and Nuremberg, but hard-hitting French and German counterattacks have ensured that Frankfurt and Mannheim are no longer under immediate threat. With the north and south in bloody stalemate, the Allies resolve to make their last big counterattack right in the centre, where half-hearted Soviet attacks on Kassel have recently come to grief.
Captain Harold Peters can’t say he’s happy to be back in Germany. He’d first come here as a platoon leader with the 3rd Armoured Division in ’45, then as a company commander in the “Fulda Gap” battles two weeks ago. The whole division was badly torn up, but no sooner had they been patched together in Belgium than they were being moved back into Germany. Something big was up, but no one at Battalion S-2 (Intelligence) or S-3 (Operations) was talking. The rumour mill, however, speculated that a big offensive was in the making, the objective no less than an invasion of East Germany.
Captain Peters commands Able Company, 1st Battalion / 33rd Armoured Regiment, 3rd Armoured Division. It’s a hodgepodge of M26 Pershing heavy tanks, M4A1(76)W Shermans, and M4A3E8 “Easy Eights,” whatever was available when Division was throwing itself back together. Peters forms the centre of gravity for 1st Battalion, with the 75mm-armed Shermans of Baker Company coming across the Kassel bridge to his left and the lighter M24 Chaffees of Charlie Company at the churchyard to his right. Dog Company is in reserve, together with the infantry attached from 36th Armoured Infantry.
The American mission is simple, if terrifying. They are to drive northward and breach Soviet defences along the Halle-Kassel autobahn, opening the road into East Germany. Too mad no one mentioned the entire Soviet BATTALION coming down that highway the other way. Battalion acknowledges Peters’ report and orders Peters to halt his advance and grab cover. The reason becomes horrifically apparent as the skies thicken with the drone of hundreds of aircraft engines. A whole fleet of B-17s, the kind of armada they used to send at German cities, is carpet-bombing a grid five klicks wide and ten deep starting just a few hundred meters in front of Peters’ line.
Five minutes later, it is over. Through a horizon of smoke and dust, Peters can make out tongues of flame. Clearly Soviet armour has been hit. But there’s plenty left, as Peters’ gunner confirms with a half-panicked contact report. Peter snatches up his radio, ordering Able Company to open fire. To his left, Baker Company is already engaged, some of them shooting straight off the bridge. Charlie Company is also in trouble, engaged in a fight for their lives in that churchyard.
For Captain Peters, the next ten minutes are a blur. His gunner kills the lead T-34/85. An ISU-122 takes a shot at him, Peters swears he can hear the shell hiss by his turret. The turret of that ’85 is just landing in a roll of oily flame. A Sturmovik screams down and takes out the Pershing right next to his. Second Platoon’s “Easy Eights” face off against the Stalin-3s, but they can’t get through the frontal armour. Yelling to his driver, Peters orders his Pershing forward before pivoting right to hit the command Stalin in the flank (those extra antenna are a dead giveaway).
Now he’s awash in Soviet armour coming straight down the autobahn. If he lives to be a thousand, he’ll never know how he survives the next sixty seconds. But before it’s over his crew has killed an SU-100, a T-34/76, and (with two shots) that ISU-122 that almost took his head off. But now Peters has other troubles – his tank is almost out of ammunition.
P-51 Mustangs come in, their rockets taking out a second Stalin while Third Platoon finally gets a flank shot on the third. Battalion artillery drops a smoke screen on the highway, blinding at least some of the Soviet counterfire coming back at them. Baker Company is taking losses, one Sherman’s turret blown clean off the bridge to land in the river. Charlie Company is screaming for help by that churchyard. Peters engages an ISU-152, killing it with his last rounds and bringing his crew’s tally to six. Halftracks loaded with infantry pour up, almost immediately engaged with what sounds like a Soviet guards rifle company. Still Peters is determined to help. His 90mm may be dry, but he still has machine guns.
By the time the day is won, 1st Battalion has only a handful of tanks left, many of these out of ammunition or broken down. As his Pershing rumbles down the autobahn, the rest of 33rd Armoured Regiment falling in behind, Peters passes a sign in German, Russian, and English: “NOW ENTERING THE GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC.” East Germany. With an exhausted sigh, Peters shakes his head. He really is getting tired of this country.
So how does “World War 2.5” end? Well, that’s outside the scope of an operational-level game. We’re only trying to see how a certain campaign ends, and suffice it to say the Soviets have lost this one. Fighting will probably rage for quite some time, but this is the juncture future historians will mark as the turning point. In game terms, the Soviets hold seven West German city hexes, giving them a score of 21, compared to the Allied 28 (still holding 25 West German city hexes, plus one East German hex for 3 additional points).
Want details? Download the “World War 2.5” game, available for Backstagers on Beasts of War. If you have any questions, we can start an “FAQ” thread in the History Forum. In the meantime, I’d like to thank BoW community member @gladesrunner for all her playtesting help (and patience), as well as my friend Russell at GXE Games in Pompano Beach, Florida. I’d also like to thank @amphibiousmonster and @jamesevans140 for “convincing” me to undertake this project, and of course our kick-ass BoW editor @brennon for putting up with my over-lengthy drafts and making these articles look so great on the site.
- Part One: The Floodgates Open
- Part Two: The Big Push
- Part Three: Valiant Heroics
- Part Four [Finale]: The End?
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"Their mission was to relieve the brave chaps of the 3rd Canadian Infantry, fighting off three times their number in the streets of the crumbling German town..."
"...Peters is determined to help. His 90mm may be dry, but he still has machine guns."