Field Marshall Erich von Manstein
Starting on 27 August 1941, Heinz Guderian’s Second Panzer Group, having received new orders from Hitler to break off its advance towards Moscow, began to attack southwards. The Führer and the OKH had become mesmerized by the possibility of achieving a truly massive encirclement of Red Army forces in southern Russia. They had reason to be optimistic. German forces had already trapped a large number of Soviet troops in the south, near the town of Uman, earlier in the summer; now, Hitler was keen to try for a larger pocket near the ancient Ukrainian city of Kiev. The Führer’s plan was simple: Guderian’s Second Panzer Group would pivot and drive south while Kleist’s First Panzer Group forced a crossing of the Dnepr and then pushed north to meet Guderian well to the east of Kiev.
General Heinz Guderian
Although personally dismayed by Hitler’s unexpected decision to halt the offensive against the Russian Capital, the commander of Second Panzer Group dutifully turned his divisions towards the Ukraine; and while Guderian’s attack pushed south, Field Marshal von Runstedt’s Army Group South pressed forward from the west towards Kiev. On 12 September, Kleist’s First Panzer Group, after weeks of bitter fighting, finally broke out of its Dnepr bridgeheads south of Kiev and surged northeast towards Guderian’s advancing panzers. On 16 September the leading elements of the two Panzer Groups met near Lohkvitsa.
General Georgi Zhukov
The German bag of Russian men and materiel was huge: trapped around Kiev were five Soviet armies. The fighting to liquidate the Russian pocket, because of its size, would continue until 26 September, at which point the last major Soviet resistance finally came to an end. As a direct result of this encirclement battle, the Wehrmacht captured 665,000 Russian prisoners, over 800 tanks, and 3,700 artillery pieces. The other direct result of this stunning victory, however, was that the German Army would not capture Moscow in the fall of 1941. And in the end, that would be the more important of the two outcomes for both Russia and Germany.
VON MANSTEIN: Battles for the Ukraine, 1941-1944 is an operational (corps/division) level simulation — which uses something of a cross between the THIRD REICH and THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW Game Systems — of large-scale mechanized warfare on the Russian Front. One player commands the Axis armies (Germany and its minor allies); the other controls the forces of the Red Army. The game system offers a nice balance of both new and traditional ‘East Front’ elements, but with a distinctly THIRD REICH flavor. This blend of old and new design features produces an exciting, unpredictable, and occasionally ‘nail-biting’ game situation for both players.
Each game turn follows a simple, but rigid sequence. The first player executes his player turn in the following order: he begins by determining the supply status of his units and then initiates his Movement Segment — both ground and air units move; next he executes the Combat Segment; and finally he concludes his player turn by (if called-for) conducting the Exploitation Segment, during which any eligible mechanized units may exploit a ‘breakthrough’ by moving and attacking again. The second player then repeats the same sequence, after which the game turn ends. Zones of control (ZOC’s) are semi-rigid: units must expend three additional movement points to enter an enemy ZOC but can continue moving if they have sufficient movement points. The stacking rules are interesting. The Axis player may stack three combat units plus the following: one leader unit, one artillery unit, one headquarters unit, and one combat air patrol (CAP) unit, for a total of seven different game counters. The stacking rules for the Soviet player are identical except that the Russians may only stack two combat units in a hex; this means that maximum Soviet stacking is limited to six unit counters. Combat between adjacent enemy units is always voluntary.
The combat routine for VON MANSTEIN is quite textured and nicely detailed. In order for units to attack, they must be both in supply and within the command range of an appropriate headquarters unit. The defending player, if he has units available that are eligible, may then dispatch reserve units to reinforce threatened sections of his line. Air units may directly support ground units or may be flown on ‘combat air patrol’ (CAP) missions over friendly-occupied hexes. If an attacker achieves a very high (modified) die roll during a battle, certain eligible mechanized units may move and attack again during the Exploitation Segment — this is where the previously mentioned “nail-biting” aspect of the game comes in.
Terrain affects both movement and combat. Clear hexes cost all units one movement point to enter, and movement along roads is doubled. Moreover, for purposes of road movement, major and minor city hexes count as roads. Major rivers are impassable except at bridges and fords. Crossing either at the Kerch Straits or at a major river ford costs armored units six additional movement points and all other types of units three points. Minor rivers cost armored units four additional movement points and other units two additional movement points to cross. Terrain effects on combat are a bit unusual, and take a little getting used to. Major and minor cities double the strength of defending combat units (but not leaders); units attacking across minor rivers must subtract five (5) combat factors from their total strength and the attacking player must also subtract one (1) from his die roll. Attacks across major rivers are permitted only at bridge or ford hexes and the penalties are severe: the attacker’s combat strength is reduced by two-thirds and the attacker’s die roll is reduced by two (2). Rules governing attacks across the Kerch Straits are identical to those for attacks across major rivers.
Combat in VON MANSTEIN is relatively orthodox, except for the inclusion of ‘Leader’ bonuses and the effects of air power. Battles are resolved on a traditional ‘odds differential’ combat resolution table (CRT) and die roll modifications (DRM’s) are very important to combat outcomes. In addition to conventional combat results, the game also includes ‘stalemate’ and, of course, ‘breakthroughs’ as possible outcomes.
The supply rules in VON MANSTEIN, although quite straight forward, are a little more complicated than some of the other East Front games dating from this period. For purposes of movement and defense, supply is determined at the beginning of the game turn, and a unit must be able to trace an unblocked line of ten hexes to a controlled, unblocked rail line that in turn connects to a friendly map edge. In order for units to attack they must be within seven hexes of a friendly headquarters unit. Interestingly, this requirement is different for Axis Allied units: they must be within four (4) hexes of an appropriate headquarters to attack and they must also be able to maintain a similar line to a headquarters unit in order to defend at full strength. Supply effects on movement and combat are simple: unsupplied units are halved both for movement and for all combat.
A number of interesting and, in some cases, unexpected design elements also add color and excitement to Prados’ simulation. ‘Leader’ units, for example, increase the attack and defense strength of any combat units that they are stacked with, and can also add 2 to the die roll if not opposed by an enemy leader. Also, in VON MANSTEIN, as in many other East Front games, eliminated German panzer units are replaced with smaller “Kampfgruppe” type units. There are also rules for ‘Minor Allies’ and ‘Artillery Units’ and even ‘Special Rules’ for individual scenarios that, when combined with the title’s other rules, serve to add a bit more historical detail to the game.
Victory conditions in VON MANSTEIN are specific to each scenario, but virtually always require the capture and occupation (in strength) of certain geographical objectives for one side or the other.
General Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist, Ukraine, 1941
VON MANSTEIN offers eight individual scenarios (mini-games) that allow the players to examine the strategic situation during different periods of the War in the East. The eight scenarios are: Kiev Pocket, 27 September to 10 October 1941 (seven game turns); Soviet Winter Counteroffensive, 14 January to 31 March 1942 (twelve turns); Operation Blue: The 1942 German Offensive, 28 June to 14 September 1942 (eleven game turns); Entombment of the Sixth Army: The Stalingrad Scenario, 19 November 1942 to 5 February 1943 (twelve turns); the Backhand Blow, 15 February to 29 March 1943 (six game turns); Aftermath of Zitadelle, 2 August to 3 October 1943 (eight turns); Battle for the Dnepr, 9 October to 25 December 1943 (ten game turns); and the Korsun-Cherkassy and the Fourth Panzer Army Episode, 1 February to 31 March 1944 (eight turns). Finally, to increase realism and to allow players to vary their approaches to the game, the designer has included a number of ‘Optional Rules’. These voluntary optional rules include: Amphibious Invasion, Soviet Paratroops, Soviet Tactical Mobility, German Replacements, and Air Supply.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Russian T34 in action
VON MANSTEIN: Battles for the Ukraine, 1941-1944 covers virtually all of the major mobile actions that took place in southern Russia from the beginning to the end of the Russo-German War, 1941-45. Therefore, if a major engagement (excepting the actual Battle of Kursk) occurred in the Army Group South sector, then it is probably in the game. Moreover, Prados’ design reproduces these many actions — because of the strong THIRD REICH influence on the armored rules for the game system — in a very challenging, if unorthodox, way.
German Panzer IV tank
VON MANSTEIN is very much an ‘offense-oriented’ game; a patient, purely defensive strategy is almost always a blueprint for defeat. The offensive momentum of the game system, as might be expected, comes from armored breakthroughs followed by exploitation movement and combat. This combat system is somewhat reminiscent of that of the old SPI game,THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW (1970). And just as in the older Dave Williams design, the second movement-attack combination can be devastating to the defender if he has not deployed his defense ‘in depth’: exploiting armor can pour through a gap in the front and run amok in the defender’s rear by attacking headquarters and cutting supply to large swaths of the defender’s front line. Needless-to-say, the constant threat of an enemy breakthrough makes for a very tense time for the defender, whichever scenario is being played.
Soviet machine guns
The history of VON MANSTEIN, like its subject matter, is interesting, in its own right. After first appearing in 1975 with the Rand Game Associates label, the game was reissued, with some major changes, as PANZERKRIEG by the Operational Studies Group (OSG) in 1978. In 1983, the Avalon Hill Game Company again reissued PANZERKRIEG which, by this time, had been further modified to include over 500 unit counters. However, although similar, these two different versions of the game design are not identical. PANZERKRIEG, besides having a lot more counters, is a much denser, more detailed, and considerably more complicated game than its precursor; for that reason, however, it is also considerably less accessible to the novice or inexperienced player than is VON MANSTEIN. By the way, one feature of the Rand Game Associates version which I liked, although I did not play the early edition extensively, is that the original game’s piece density tends to be somewhat lower than in the newer versions. What this means is that — in the early game turns, at least — the PANZERKRIEG game map tends to be a lot more cluttered than that of VON MANSTEIN. By the same token, one irritating feature of the older game (at least to me) was the decision to severely limit the number of unit counters. To cut production costs, the RGA version has completely different unit ID’s printed on the two sides of its counters; this means that players must be very careful not to inadvertently flip their units in the course of play. PANZERKRIEG, despite its several notable flaws, is undoubtedly a better simulation, but that does not necessarily imply that it is a better game. In the end, that determination has to be made by the individual player based on how much playability he is willing to trade away for the illusion of additional simulation ‘realism’.
- Time Scale: 7 days (one week) per game turn
- Map Scale: 14 miles per hex
- Unit Size: corps/division
- Unit Types: tank/panzer, mechanized infantry/panzer grenadier, rifle, artillery, parachute, cavalry, headquarters, leader, air units, and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 2-5 + hours
- One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Combat Resolution Table, Air Point Track, and Game Turn Track incorporated)
- 200 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions and Unit Combat and Movement Modification Chart incorporated)
- One 9¼” x 12” x 1” window-style Game Box (with slide-out, ‘lidless’ plastic counter tray)
See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; all of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU