War in the East – After Action Report
The Road to Smolensk: a War in the East AAR
War in the East is a monster wargame by Gary Grigsby covering the entire course of the Russo-German conflict in World War II. It is set on a divisional scale with 10 miles to the hex and weekly turns. It includes four full campaign games along with eight smaller scenarios.
This AAR covers one of these scenarios, the Road to Smolensk, a 10 turn game focusing on Army Group Center’s advance through Belorussia and into the heart of Russia proper. My friendly antagonist, Bob Malin, will play the Germans, and I’ll be commanding the very surprised Red Army along this portion of the front.
The Wehrmacht explodes forward and overruns the Soviet border armies, striking deep into Belorussia and forming two large pockets west of Minsk, consuming large portions of the Northwestern Front and Western Front. These isolated pockets are marked for destruction on the following turn; units that begin an enemy turn completely surrounded can be forced to surrender in their entirety. At the beginning of the scenario Army Group Center is assisted by portions of Army Group North, although these units will withdraw off map later, representing the action in the direction of Leningrad, which is itself covered in a separate scenario. In a campaign game all this and more would be under the player’s direct control.
Additionally, the Luftwaffe executes a devastating surprise attack on Soviet airfields, destroying nearly 1200 Red Air Force planes and achieving air supremacy.
All in all, a powerful German opening here by Bob, and a superb demonstration of fire and movement by the Wehrmacht in its prime. The fully fueled panzers can move up to 50 movement points in this opening turn, although they rarely achieve that theoretical maximum possible mobility afterward. The bypassed and isolated Soviet units are basically gone and cannot be rescued. What’s left isn’t enough to form a linear defense, so I gather these remnants east of Minsk and place them in a very loose checkerboard pattern designed to cover the front with zones of control; this won’t stop the Wehrmacht, but it can slow it down. Reserve forces from the interior rail forward and try to form a line along the Dnepr and the open corridor leading to Smolensk itself. The shattered Red Air Force abandons its on map bases and withdraws to the National Reserve, an offmap holding pool. From there, it cannot fly missions, but neither can it be bombed into oblivion. For now, the Luftwaffe controls the skies.
Bob destroys all the pockets now deep in the rear, forcing dozens of combat units to surrender, and the prison cages swell with hundreds of thousands of men.
Yet there is a price to pay for these incredible victories: it takes a lot of infantry to lock down and consume these pockets, and the two Panzer Groups are operating very nearly on their own and are now hundreds of miles into the Soviet Union. Minsk falls, and the screen east of it is brushed aside, but pressing much further without flank support from the Landsers risks isolation.
This gives me something of a breather and I’m able to rush more units forward from the interior and form something like a coherent line along the length of the Dvina and Dnepr rivers. The defenses along the Smolensk corridor thicken as well. Large forces from Reserve Front cover the approaches to Moscow, but these remain mostly frozen for the duration of the scenario.
The Landsers struggle to catch up to the panzer spearheads. In the meantime, Panzer Groups 2 and 3 split off in different directions, with one group veering off north of Vitebsk and the other pushing directly into the Smolensk corridor between the Dvina and Dnepr rivers
I rush forward more forces from the interior to cover both these advances. My command and control is slowly being restored starting from Northwestern Front on the north edge of the map on downwards. Both sides receive action points (APs) each turn, and with these APs each player can appoint leaders and reattach units from one headquarters to another. I start sacking the original leaders of my armies and fronts and appoint new and better ones.
Soviet forces along these two lines of advance deploy in depth to absorb panzer lunges; this results in a weaker forward line but helps diminish the possibility of pockets. I haven’t got the unit density to do this along the entire line. However, the mighty Dnepr river to the south is itself a major obstacle.
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Great AAR. Looking forward to buying this, of course!
Thanks for the AAR, really liked it 🙂
Really looking forward to this one, even though the sheer size might be a bit overpowering at first.
Nice AAR. The casualty report in your victory screen seems to be messed up. It says “SU Lost” on the Axis side and “AX Lost” on the Soviet side. But the numbers seems to tie with up with your narratives.
Whoops! Figured it out. SU LOST gives points to the Axis and vice versa.
This game faithfully portrays the struggle between the Axis powers and the Soviet Union as far as the Axis side. And that’s the problem with it. It faithfully does that. There is no option for the Axis to do anything differently. They are forced to suffer the blunder of the winter of 1941. There is no choice what so ever.
On the other hand, the Soviets can move all of their production out of harms way and out produce the historical Soviet Union.
You can guess what those to things in combination mean. It’s fun being the Axis in 1941. It’s fun being the Soviets in 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945.
For $80 I’d rather buy two or three good fun games and leave this one in the box.
You’d be amazed at the variety of strategies and outcomes that are possible. The German cannot escape Winter, but whether the Soviet can escape being pocketed on a ruinous scale in the opening is up for grabs. In this AAR, the drawbacks of not rushing infantry forward fast enough, thus leaving all the work to the Panzers, are on display but the Axis player can improve on that.
A good Axis attack can destroy a forward-defending Soviet, and a more careful Soviet effort may result in the loss of a lot of industrial production.
Leningrad, for instance, can be taken in the game, in 1941. That gives the Germans a substantially better launching pad for the 1942 campaign than they got historically.
Much depends on accuracy in play, on foresight, and sometimes, on chance. The game is rich in possibilities.