In my first "Notebook" essay on STALINGRAD, I presented a brief overview of the two main approaches developed by Russian players — one early on, one later — to deal with the particular challenges (and opportunities) that were and are an integral feature of the Soviet strategic situation prior to the German player's opening moves. In this second installment of "The 'STALINGRAD' Notebook", I take a look at the changes in German tactics that have developed in response both to the improvements in Russian opening set-ups that started to appear in the 1970's, and to the far more effective (and nuanced) middle and late game Russian positional play that, as time went on, began to accompany those "stronger" openings with greater and greater regularity.
GERMAN OFFENSIVE STRATEGIES IN THE BATTLE FOR RUSSIA
Early Play-Balance and the Genesis of the Blitzkrieg Strategy
|German panzer division moves to the Russian front, 1942|
|German military train, 1941|
|Soviet 76mm Zis3 anti-tank gun and crew|
|Driving through |
mud on the Eastern Front
|Russian mixed column, 1941|
[As an intriguing bit of war gaming trivia, Don Greenwood (who had inherited this controversy, first from Tom Shaw and then from Randall Reed) was the one at Avalon Hill — I can only assume after he had seen one STALINGRAD rules question too many on this topic — to finally step in personally to end the persistent confusion over the issue of exchanges in STALINGRAD. He did so by reiterating, in the pages of "The General", that the original, printed exchange rules were correct, and that the popular "attack factors for defense factors" exchange rules, widespread though they might be among gamers, was incorrect. Most players — but especially those who preferred to command the Germans — were delighted, if a little nonplussed, when Don Greenwood (who had, at one time, alluded to the "exchange attack factors for defense factors, himself) threw the official weight of Avalon Hill (such as it was) behind the rules requirement that "attack factors be exchanged for attack factors". However, while the vast majority of STALINGRAD players were pleased with Greenwood's formal (if belated) rules clarification, it soon turned out that there was at least one group of gamers who did not appreciate Baltimore's intervention on this issue; and that was the MIT contingent, who were more-or-less headed by George Phillies, but who also included Richard Sylvan and Stanley Hoffman, among others. The reason for this kerfuffle between MIT and Avalon Hill is unclear, although the most popular theory is that the boys at MIT (particularly Hoffman and Sylvan), having developed their theory of play based on a quantitative analysis of projected loss-rates using the incorrect exchange rules, were disinclined to accept a change which invalidated much of their already-completed analysis. Whatever the reason, the boys at MIT were outraged; in fact, George was personally so unhappy with Avalon Hill that he and Don Greenwood ended up going back and forth on this issue for several months, even after the matter had been officially (and forever) resolved, first in "The General", and then in the 2nd Edition of the STALINGRAD rules.]
A New Paradigm: The "Positional" or "Long Game" Strategy
|Stalingrad street fighting, 1942|
|German anti-tank gun and crew, Stalingrad|
Russian Geography and the "Nuts and Bolts" of German Play
|German panzers at the Don River, 1942|
|German FLAK 88mm gun crew keeping warm, Winter 1942|
The Case for the Blitzkrieg Strategy
|Briefing Soviet soldiers before battle|
|German troops on the line near Leningrad|
|Battle for Moscow, 1941; the Russians counterattack|
The Positional Theorists' RebuttalThe "long game" advocates' response to the Blitzkrieg players' supporting arguments was both interesting and actually rather clever: instead of disputing the logic of their opponents' case, they began by conceding the overall validity of virtually every one of the opposing side's points; then, however, in a neat bit of rhetorical jujitsu, they turned each of these seeemingly pro-attrition arguments against their original authors. The Blitzkrieg supporters, asserted the "positional" advocates, were generally correct in their particulars, but completely wrong in their conclusions.
|German Panzer IV tank PzKpfw IV Ausf A|
|German planes enroute to bomb Soviet cities, June 1941|
|Battle of Moscow, Soviet Siberian soldiers|
|JS1 heavy Russian tank.|
|German army horse drawn supply wagon, |
Soviet Union, WWII
Debate Aftermath: Who Won?
|German Tiger destroys Soviet T34|
|Soviet POWs under German guard, 1941|
Of course, in the end, we are brought back to the crux of the original debate: which is, all things considered, which of these two approaches gives the German player the best chance of victory in STALINGRAD? This is certainly a simple enough question to ask; however, as I hope I have been able to show in this essay, it is also virtually impossible to answer definitively. Perhaps, when everything is said and done, the issue really comes done to a player's temperment: the aggressive German commander who wants to sieze the initiative on the first game turn and maintain it thereafter, will probably prefer the Blitzkrieg strategy; on the other hand, the Axis player who is patient enough to take risks selectively, but who still wants to maximize the battlefield results of a comparatively small number of low-odds attacks will probably be more comfortable with the less nerve-racking "long game" approach.
CONCLUSIONThe play of STALINGRAD, like that of virtually all of the Avalon Hill classics, has undergone a number of changes in the decades since the game's introduction in 1963. Some of these changes I have already outlined in the first installment of "The 'STALINGRAD' Notebook", but others have resulted from a process — driven by the creative efforts of a number of dedicated players — that, for want of a better word, I will call the "deconstruction" of the original game design. What I mean by this is that, as time has gone by, improved Russian defensive play has inevitably led to new (sometimes radical) thinking about methods (both tactical and strategic) to improve the German player's prospects for victory in STALINGRAD; and, just as importantly, this new thinking has also led to a reappraisal of the effect of the flow and tempo of the game on German options. Stated differently, the rise in popularity of the hyper-modern Russian defense has had a dramatic impact on contemporary views of what is actually required to generate a reasonable chance of an Axis victory. Thus, German control of terrain at various stages in the game, strength differentials between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army, and the role of low-odds attacks have all been thoroughly reevaluated by long-time players, and, in more than a few cases, old ideas have either been modified extensively or even discarded completely.
Finally, I should note that the terms "Blitzkrieg" (and "attrition") and "positional" (and "long game") are my own. In order to more clearly illustrate what I believe to be the gradual evolution of German strategic thought among STALINGRAD players, I have resorted to an arbitrary and (admittedly) somewhat simplified typology of the ideas that found themselves in competition both in countless face-to-face discussions and within the pages of the hobby press over the years. It is doubtful, in fact, that even the self-professed proponents of the two schools of German play that I have outlined in this essay would necessarily agree with all of my conclusions regarding the theories underpinning the two, very different approaches to German strategy. Nonetheless, I think that, on the whole, I have been fair to both factions, and that the preceding description — brief though it may be — is generally true, if not to the letter, then at least to the "spirit" of the facts.