|Eastern Front Campaign - Part II: Hell's Gate|
|by Steve Winter|
Background: The Korsun Pockete
As Army Group South fell back during the winter of 1944, Hitler ordered XI and XLII corps to hold onto a salient into Soviet lines between the towns of Korsun and Cherkassy. On January 18, the Soviet 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts attacked the flanks of that salient and closed around it, trapping 56,000 men supported by only 43 tanks and 27 assault guns. A rescue effort was quickly organized by von Manstein, but Hitler intervened and ordered a counter-encirclement -- an impossible goal in that situation. After heavy fighting, the relieving force reached the Gniloi Tikich stream, but could advance no further against stiff Soviet resistance.
The trapped forces attacked southward toward what they believed was Manstein's relieving spearhead. They reached the village of Shenderovka where they expected to be met by friendly columns. In fact, Manstein was barely holding onto his small bridgehead across the Gniloi Tikich. By then, the pocket was reduced to a diameter of just 3.5 kilometers. Every German move was observed by the Soviets, who poured artillery and rocket fire into the cauldron. The Germans dubbed Shenderovka, their road to freedom, "Hell's Gate."
Between the trapped force and III Panzer Corps lay Hill 239. Manstein passed a message to the trapped force that they must break through to Hill 239 on their own, and there they could link up with III Panzer Corps. What he failed to communicate was that Hill 239 was still held by the Red Army. Shortly before midnight on February 16, the trapped men of Group Stemmerman moved into the freezing night. When point guards reported that the hill was blocked by T-34 tanks and accompanying infantry, German soldiers were ordered to fix bayonets and advance silently. The furtive attack made headway until a Soviet guard fired his rifle and raised the alarm. Red Army searchlights swept the hillside, revealing swarms of desperate German soldiers crawling upward. The tanks cut loose, causing tremendous casualties. In the darkness, fighting was vicious and at extremely close quarters, with no mercy shown by either side. Eventually, tanks of III Panzer Corps responded to the battle and drove the T-34s off the hilltop, but the Soviets kept heavy pressure against the flanks of the tenuous corridor.
By dawn, the survivors reached the banks of the stream with pursuing T-34s close on their heels. Men dived into the snow-swollen river in a desperate bid to escape, where hundreds more were swept away.
Solitaire Scenario: Hell's Gate
Germans of Army Group South, pocketed by Red Army advances in 1944, were forced to fight their way out through encircling enemy lines. In the darkness, they bumped up against T-34 tanks, setting off a desperate dash to escape across the Gniloi Tikich stream. In this solo scenario, you control a group of German tank hunters (panzerjagers) trying to clear a path for the fleeing troops.
It's not hard to destroy the Soviets if you can work carefully toward your objectives, but time is against you. Sometimes you will be forced to take risks by the ticking of the casualty clock.
Your best friends in this scenario are the refugees streaming toward the river. By moving carefully, the panzerjagers can hide among them. While the Soviets are busy gunning down unarmed refugees, the panzerjagers can get close enough to assault.
Your biggest handicap is the lack of effective medium- and long-range weapons to use against infantry. You must get close to attack with much hope for success, and that means risking being the closest target.
The initiative die roll can work for you or against you, regardless of which way the roll goes.
The western T-34 is easier to assault because it has no cover and there's no Cossack Captain guarding it. If you knock it out quickly, you'll save many soldiers' lives and buy yourself some time to set up the attack on the remaining tank. But watch out! The Cossack Captain is a tough nut to crack. If you lose any panzerjagers while fighting the western tank, you might not be strong enough to deal with the eastern block.
Sometimes your choice of which tank to attack first is dictated by the positions of the initial refugees. Advancing without refugees to distract Soviet fire can be fatal.