By December 1942, the German 6th Army was encircled in STALINGRAD and a decision was taken to withdraw 6th Army. The plan was in 2 parts, the first of which was Unternehmen WINTERGEWITTER (Operation WINTER STORM). This was a drive from the SOUTH to establish a secure bridgehead over the River MYSHKOVA. The main effort of this was to be with 6th Panzer Division, at the time refitting in France after their withdrawal from the eastern front in April 1942. The division was well led, fully equipped with the latest equipment, well trained and over strength. Two more panzer divisions were allocated to the operation; 17th and 23rd to provide flank protection to 6th Panzer Division’s advance. Both were badly under strength after prolonged fighting on the eastern front and neither was a division in anything other than name. Indeed, 6th Panzer Division had to divert during the operation to clear 23rd’s axis of advance. Added to that, 17th would not arrive until the operation was well underway. And if that wasn’t enough, as 6th Panzer Division moved to their assembly area in southern RUSSIA, the front collapsed and they detrained into a vacuum that was rapidly being filled with Soviet troops! They had to stabilise the situation, create a front behind which the Division could assemble, and then launch their attack.
In short, Operation WINTER STORM was successful. 6th Panzer Division secured a bridgehead over the MYSHKOVA and were able to see STALINGRAD in the distance, some 30km away. This left the second part of the plan, which was that the mobile units of 6th Army would attack southwards to link up with 6th Panzer Division and allow the remainder of 6th Army to withdraw. However, by the time 6th Panzer Division had established their bridgehead, it was clear that the mobile units of 6th Army were in no state to complete their part of the overall plan. 6th Panzer Division was therefore tasked to plan and then execute an operation to open a corridor for 6th Army and keep that corridor open until 6th Army had withdrawn along it. The operation was cancelled shortly before it was to start – why? The front had collapsed elsewhere and 6th Panzer Division was rushed away to stabilise the front in that sector, sealing the fate of 6th Army. The rest, as they say, is history.
What of the Soviets, no bit part players in these events by any means. Facing the oncoming storm was 57th Army and specifically 4th Cavalry Corps, which was busy moving into the gaps in the front. They would bear the brunt of the early engagements. As it became clear that this was a major German attack, reinforcements in the shape of 4th Mechanised and 13th Tank Corps were rushed to the scene. It should be noted that German intelligence got things wrong at this point, being convinced that they were facing 3rd Tank Army, but this was not committed. This is a key point in reading the sources as German sources often persist with this misidentification. Anyway, this first wave of reinforcements was followed by a second wave, 2nd Guards Army, who were tasked to halt the offensive on the MYSHKOVA. This is, of course, what happened and you may well see references to the attack being halted. However, as we know, this was the Germans objective and they had planned on going no further. Had they launched their effort to create a corridor, would they have succeeded? Who knows? 2nd Guards Army were a strong force and 6th Panzer had already had some hard fighting, but that is to speculate!
We will be playing 2 games from the series of scenarios written to cover this operation and which I hope will be published in the near future. We will be using TooFatLardies‘ excellent Chain of Command rules and the campaign supplement; At the Sharp End. The rules are platoon level WW2 rules, focused on infantry but with plenty of support options and the ability to play all armour games if that is what you desire. The rules are available from TooFatLardies:
GAME ONE – DEFENCE OF POKHLEBIN 5 DEC 42 (10:30-12:30)
After securing KOTELNIKOVO, the main town and railway station serving their assembly area, 6th Panzer Division continued its build-up in preparation for the coming offensive. Because they had such a large area to secure given the ‘absence’ of other troops to secure the area for them, they opted to create a series of mutually supporting strongpoints backed up by a powerful mobile reserve. One such strongpoint was POKHLEBIN. In Game One, we see the Soviets attacking a Collective Farm in the vicinity of POKHLEBIN as both forces move into the area and seek to secure it for themselves.
GAME TWO – THE ROAD TO MAJORSKI 5 DEC 42 (13:30-15:30)
There is a lack of clarity as to when this action took place. One of the participants recalls it being the 3rd but the events described closely match the Soviet attack towards KOTELNIKOVO and there seems to have only been one of these. The commander of 6th Panzer Division, Lieutenant General Erhard Raus, dates this as the 5th and so I have gone with both this and the previous scenario occurring on the same day and that day being the 5th.
As the Soviets were attacking POKHLEBIN, other forces pushed past and continued towards KOTELNIKOVO. This took some of their forces towards MAJORSKI, where the initial advance was blocked by the German defenders. This game takes place as that pause comes to an end with both sides seeking to push forward.
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Monty the Desert Rat