|Bonus Scenario - Blood From Stones|
|by Pete Gade|
Note: This scenario first appeared in the February 2006 issue of Scrye magazine
Nothing can help us any more, Paula. Prayers seem like vodka—they blunt the cold for a moment.
-Guy Sajer, The Forgotten Soldier
Final Days – 1945
Despite a fate that was signed, sealed, and in the process of delivery, Germany fought on.
In 1945, the nation essentially found itself squeezed between the planes of a cider press, with both the Western Allies and Soviets applying pressure across broad fronts. The Allied offensives of the summer prior completely re-drew the map of Nazi-occupied Europe. Great swaths of Western Europe were in Allied hands in the wake of the D-Day invasion, and a series of summer and fall Soviet operations reclaimed the Ukraine, Belorussia, and the better part of Eastern Europe. Unable to accept that the fall of Berlin was inevitable, Hitler simply lamented, “Nothing ever went right now.” The reality of the situation was far grimmer. The German military was merely a desiccated husk compared to the forces Hitler commanded in 1940-41. They were beaten, and a final defeat was only a matter of time.
In the east, the situation was particularly grim. By one German estimate, the Soviets had an eleven to one superiority in men, seven to one in tanks, and twenty to one in guns. Moreover, the Soviets also fielded equipment that was on par, or outright superior, to that of the Germans. The Soviet T-34/85 could penetrate 4 inches of armor at 1,000 meters, which was often enough to defeat Panthers and Tigers at closer ranges. The shells cast by the newer IS-2 tanks could blow German turrets off their mounts from long ranges, while hopes of defeating IS-2 tanks required the lighter Panther tanks to close within 400m.
It’s in this environment that the German situation in the east became a masquerade of denial, where regiments were called divisions, and battalions were called brigades. Hitler continued to push these fantasy formations from his bunker in Berlin with the notion that victory was still one brilliant offensive away. He was certain that failure only came from a lack of will, rather than a lack of men, materiel, and motor fuel. An order came down that no divisional commander or above was to attack or retreat without contacting the German High Command through normal channels. Of course, at this point, “German High Command” meant Hitler. His word was absolute and final. World War Two had indeed become “Hitler’s War.”
Come January 1945, the Soviets launched a massive offensive that bore troops from the Vistula River in Poland to the western banks of the Oder River, roughly 100 kilometers west of Berlin. Using frozen rivers as bridgeheads, the Soviets struck a spectacular gain of 500 kilometers in the period of a month, but then the offensive froze to a halt. Fears of counterattacks from East Prussia, Pommern, and Silesia checked the advance, as did the coming springtime thaw.
Indeed, the Germans followed up the Soviet offensive with a series of strikes across the eastern front. All of them failed. Three attempts at relieving Budapest came up short, and the city fell on 13 February. The newly formed Army Group Vistula, under the personal command of Heinrich Himmler, was winnowed down into ineffectiveness by 24 February. Undaunted and utterly disconnected from the realities of the situation, Hitler ordered yet another counterattack with the Danube River as its objective. By 16 March, this attack fell victim to yet another counterattack on the part of the Soviets.Use what you have, fight where you can …
The push for Berlin was on. Clearly, hope for protecting the city was the dream-induced province of zealots. For more practical souls, the reality of the situation often distilled down to time. Delaying the Soviets meant providing others the chance to flee toward the more lenient Western Allies. Given the brutal and state-sanctioned treatment the Soviets received at the hands of the Germans, there were axes to grind and scores to settle.
Hammered by blow after blow, German units fought where they could with what they had at hand. This often meant that shattered formations pooled their resources together in ad hoc Kampfgruppen with the aim of turning Soviet thrusts at key locations. Likewise, the Soviets attempted to prevent these units from reconstituting in any form so they could ensure a clear road to Berlin. Sprung from their bridgeheads west of the Oder River, the Soviets sought to sweep these pockets of resistance aside and secure the heights around Berlin before making their push for the city proper.
Gozlow: More Fuel for the Pyre
On 22 March, the Soviets launched a massive push toward locations west of Berlin. Within the city of Kuestrin, a battle raged for control of the highway that led to Berlin. The Germans flung nearly 30 Panthers and King Tigers into the fray and managed to beat back the attack with the help of stiff infantry resistance. Meanwhile, just north of this action, another Soviet formation made a beeline toward the town of Gozlow. Here, in what was little more than a village, elements of the Brandenburg Battalion and the Kurmark Panzergrenadier Division holed up and waited to see what the Soviets would bring to bear.
Just as in Kuestrin, the Panzergrenadiers took up positions within the city. With Panther tanks bolstering their defense, they steadied themselves for any Soviet armor that would slip into the city. A call was put out for support, any support, that could be thrown onto the burning pyre that the small berg of Gozlow would become. Ahead, through a screen of smoke, the first T-34/85 tanks appeared … and they were without any infantry at their side. Perhaps, this day, there would be hope.
Little did they know that another wave would soon follow up that initial assault, which featured a number of IS-2 tanks … and escorting infantry.
Scenario: Blood from Stones
Forming an ad hoc Kampfgruppe with SS forces, shattered elements of Panzergrenadiers and the once-formidable Brandenburg Division attempt to blunt the Soviet thrust on Berlin. They must defend the city from Soviet shock troops, while also keeping their losses low so that they may fight again another day.
Tanks roaming city streets make for easy prey, and such was the case in Gozlow. The Soviets advanced their T-34/85s with abandon, forgoing the eyes and ears that supporting infantry provide. The Brandenburgers and Panthers picked off the first wave of Soviet tanks in brutal city fighting, but at great cost. When additional Soviet tanks arrived, this time with infantry support, the Germans nearly broke. Enter the King Tigers of the 102nd SS Panzer Battalion, which bloodied the Soviet thrust yet again. The Soviets withdrew, but it was only a matter of weeks before they would kick down the doors of Berlin and claim their final prize.