Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Barbarossa Campaign - a Win, and a Loss

I once posted before about 'The Barbarossa Campaign' solo game, by Victory Point Games.  Marvelous stuff, so I've been giving it a bit of an airing recently and made some loose notes about two games with it.  One saw my invasion of the USSR crash down to defeat in the smoking ruins of Berlin; while the second game turned out in an Axis triumph all the way to the hinterland beyond the Volga.  So, with these two different outcomes, how did it come about?

I decided each time to try and pursue - for the sake of curiosity - the alternate strategic mode of exploitation, which would have meant Germany making a much more concerted effort to utilise (i.e. plunder) the economic resources of occupied Russia, as opposed to the lawless chaos they actually took place.


The Axis invasion ploughed through the western Soviet Union, although a-historically slowly when compared to the real thing - Moscow is safely deep in the Soviet rear by Winter of the year, and there is even a minor disaster when Armour losses have climbed so steeply I'm forced to temporarily abandon my 'exploitation' economic focus in favour of rebuilding panzers to get my offensive force back up to scratch.  Even so, I've had a good broad-front advance, and all portions of the line are well advanced for further thrusts next year.

This year curiously goes far better than the previous.  Soviet losses mount with yet more encirclements, and I'm even able to switch back to 'exploitation' by the Autumn - having restored my Armour strength to a decent level.  Leningrad is under siege, Ukraine is occupied, and then the big achievement comes in the winter - Moscow itself is captured, a full year after the historical German assault on it failed.  The initiative is flowing strongly my way!  Another war-shaping occurrence takes place when the 'Grozny Event' randomly pops up - German high command has prioritized the capture of the Caucasus oilfields, which means I could get a victory-clinching bonanza of initiative-points.  Next year must clearly be focused on holding Moscow while I attack in the South.

In the springtime mud, I can't do any big blitzes so I knock off a few front-line targets at each end of the line.  Sevastopol is taken, and - by freak chance - so is Leningrad.  I'm even pressing on towards Archangel, and it begins to feel like I'm overseeing a Soviet collapse!  However, a surge in the Allied industrial production snuffs out all this optimistic feeling pretty swiftly: before I know it my lead has slipped away and suddenly we've got 'contested initiative' - the Soviets will be increasingly active with their counter-attacks, from now on.   This proves to be a disaster for me, as my attempts to expand into the Caucasus are repeatedly frustrated.  Every time I begin to advance south-east out of the Don bend, Soviet counter-attacks threaten to cut off masses of troops gathered there.  I spend the year fighting see-saw battles around the Don and Donets rivers, cutting my way out of encirclements and similarly failing to keep Russians 'in the bag'.  By the end of the year I've even lost Rostov, the gateway to the Caucasus.  Even up in the (relatively) quiet northern sector, although I'm still holding Moscow it's now at the tip of an increasingly precarious salient.  Suddenly, things aren't looking too good at all!

 With Soviet armour now reaching top-class quality, I'm soon in serious trouble.  I counter-attack in the south, retaking Rostov and the Crimea.  In response, a Red Army offensive explodes in the north; I'm forced to finally concede Moscow is untenable, and relinquish my year-long occupation.  I finally stabilize the front from Leningrad to Smolensk, but the initiative has now sunk down to 'Soviet Initiative' - no more 'blitz' attacks possible from me.  Seeing the writing on the wall, I switch my economic focus to 'Defenses', hoping to buy time and cling on to what I've got.  

The war seems lost, but clearly nobody told my allies: with truly abysmal timing, the random event 'Axis Allies Fully Commit' turns up.  Rumania, Hungary etc. all now decide to abandon sanity and lash themselves to the sinking ship - smart move, guys!  With hard battling in the south, I manage to hold both Kharkov & Rostov through the summer.  Things begin to disintegrate in the north, as Smolensk falls and then even Minsk is lost.  I take advantage of a hare-brained 'Propaganda Offensive' event to counter-attack at Minsk with the Gross Deutschland unit, retaking it to boost notional morale (clearly the symbolism of Minsk being captured really meant a lot back on the home front, somehow!)  Problem is however, that the Soviets are growing ludicrously powerful.  By shifting my weight north, both Kharkov and Rostov are lost, followed by Sevastopol in the winter.  I try to put together a line on the Dnepr river, only for a Soviet Guards Tank unit to blast right through it.  I fortify Minsk and Kiev as my two anchor-points for the front line which now runs Leningrad-Minsk-Odessa.  Initiative sinks down to 'Axis Collapse', which sounds about right historically speaking, although we are still inside Russia rather than in Poland - I'm doing better in terms of occupied territory, at least.

With pretty much nothing left to lose, Hitler busies himself with 'OKH Purges' - clearly the chance to settle scores with internal enemies is a greater priority than the Red Army.  The logic of this swiftly becomes obvious as the Spring offensives batter away all the remains of the line.  Both the fortresses of Kiev and Minsk are taken, Odessa is lost, and Leningrad is isolated up with the Finns as the Soviets plow west to take Riga.  The extended front-line is clearly too much to hold at this stage in the game, and Soviet advances accelerate all the time.  Summer sees Poland change hands with Konigsberg stormed, Warsaw encircled, my last Panzer force trapped in Eastern Poland, and Rumania's oil-fields cut off.  At this stage the game comes to an end, with me clinging on around Berlin and Vienna.  It is totaled up as a 'Soviet Minor Victory'.


1941 Summer
Things leap of to a flying start as I begin with the 'Lebensraum' event card - a bonus Panzer unit to add to my reserves, right from the off!  Clearly a bit more serious pre-invasion planning has taken place, which suits me.  I launch my big invasion, encircling enemy armies and taking cities.  Brest-Litovsk, Kiev & Riga all fall, and Minsk only holds out by pure chance.  Frustratingly, despite all the advantages, I don't get enough initiative-points to bag myself a valuable victory point.

1941 Autumn
Another stroke of luck - I get to upgrade a Panzer unit to an SS Panzer, which gives me much greater attacking power.  It promptly tears off, single-handedly taking Eastern Ukraine by blazing all the way from Kiev to Kharkov.  Such a precarious salient looks certain to be cut off, but incredibly the Soviet counterattacks fail - far luckier than I deserve!  Soviet attacks in the north prove more difficult to handle however, as I encircle a pocket around Minsk only for the Red Army to cut a way back to them, and they even isolate a Panzer unit in the woods south of Leningrad.  Things look precarious, and the imminent winter is likely to see Soviet attacks prove even more dangerous.

1941 Winter
Proof that there is no advantage like being up against a fool: the 'Soviet Purges' random event turns up - Stalin paralyses his high-command through the winter, sacking and arresting commanders he doesn't like the look of, which buys me a critical break from counter-attacks.  I manage to rescue my isolated Panzer corps, complete the encirclement around Minsk to belatedly take the city, and generally shore up my front line.  This has bee a far luckier turn of events than I've got any right to!

1942 Spring
A lucky 1941 has been a big help, but let's not fool around: Soviet industrial power will simply grow and grow, so I'll ultimately lose unless I win it this year by knockout - taking Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad.  The spring mud means no dramatic moves at first, so I expand slightly in the south to take Rostov and the fortress at Sevastopol.  The front-line has a strange 'bulge' shape, as many cities on the flanks still hold out while in the centre I'm deep into the Soviet Union.  

1942 Summer
More beneficial events - SS Infantry become available, increasing my city-taking potential.  I also get the 'Ukrainian Separatists' event, which just goes totally wrong - they are eliminated in their first attack, completely wasting the potential bonus.  I push on to take Smolensk on the way to Moscow, and Tallinn falls on the northern Baltic flank to tighten the screw on Leningrad.  My southern advance now occupies the bend of the Don river, just shy of Stalingrad.  All this impressive advance stuff does come at the cost of ignoring various other sites - the majority of the Black Sea coast is made up of Soviet enclaves, particularly Odessa, which the Romanians seem completely unable to reduce.  

1942 Autumn
The Soviets can't catch a break - their 'Soviet Workmanship' event slows down their Industrial development, but their first ever Guards unit does appear in Moscow.  Odessa finally falls, Moscow is assaulted, along with Voronezh.  All the major objectives are in range of being attacked next turn.

1942 Winter
The 'Operational Pause' event brings in the Gross Deutschland unit, so I now have a wealth of special units to attack the cities.  Leningrad falls, then Moscow, along with Voronezh and finally Stalingrad itself!  I build fortified hedgehogs on them, which hold out against the Soviet counterattacks, and then that's it.  Soviet defeat, and a collapse of organised resistance.

I was, as you'll see, quite ridiculously lucky in my card draws and random events.  The Soviets never got good attacks that let them begin building up Guards and Tank units; my own invasion got a streak of bonus attacking units to drive it, and I managed to succeed in all my crucial attacks.  I don't think the 'exploitation' economic strategy made much of a difference in Game 2, as it was victory by lucky knockout.  Game 1 seems to indicate that it could at least have led to a war fought for longer, far deeper in Russia.  One other interesting point to note is that I couldn't get any victory points saved up in either game, which means that if I hadn't taken all the key cities, I would likely have come unglued and collapsed pretty swiftly.  

Interesting reminder that despite all the talk you often get in the history books that the Nazi invasion of the USSR was ultimately doomed to fail, 'should have' and 'probably' don't translate into 'certainly'.  With a lot more good fortune for the Axis side, and a far less active defence from the Soviets, and things could have been very much worse for the world.  

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