Fire in the Steppe: 49th Mountain Corps
I saw something on the internets the other day, a wargame designer declaring that the tank battles of Brody/Dubno aren’t famous enough to justify a game design. In a way I suppose he’s right: if you’re counting on your customers’ pre-existing knowledge of the subject to sell your game, then Brody/Dubno is going to be a difficult topic. Since I like to tell the full story of the battle or campaign on which we’re basing a game, it doesn’t have to be a household name.
Fire in the Steppe is all about the battles at Brody and Dubno in June 1941. Though usually described as one or two “battles,” they actually took place over a very wide area as a series of division-level actions. The battles at Brody and Dubno suit our Panzer Grenadier series almost perfectly. They take place in the opening days of Operation Barbarossa, a well-known event. They involve huge numbers of tanks, always a plus with Panzer Grenadier players. And both sides get the opportunity to attack and defend.
Fire in the Steppe: 49th Mountain Corps is one of our Campaign Studies, small books that add scenarios to existing games, expanding the story. 49th Mountain Corps (the book) has ten scenarios highlighting the battles of German mountain troops and those two formations of Waffen SS militia (who were a Nazi Party organization, not a branch of the German armed forces, and therefore “uniformed criminals” rather than “soldiers”).
Fire in the Steppe uses the very large stockpile of pieces we had leftover from the old, long out-of-print Eastern Front game. I didn’t want to re-issue that game, as I’d changed my views on the use of wargames as a storytelling device since that game appeared. The pieces provided plenty of panzers and Soviet tanks and all the supporting infantry and heavy weapons and vehicles needed for the battles between the Red Army and the invading German Army.
They did not, however, include German mountain troops or Waffen SS party militiamen. The German 49th Mountain Corps with two mountain divisions participated on the right (southern) flank of the German penetration, while the “Life Guard” motorized SS regiment and 5th SS Motorized Division saw action a little farther to the south, but still within Panzer Group 1’s command area.
Neither the mountain troops nor the party militia formations were central to the German effort, and if we’d been making a new set of pieces for Fire in the Steppe, I still wouldn’t have included them at the expense of something else. Unless I had more pieces with which to work, and in our line of Campaign Studies, that’s exactly what’s been made available.
The mountain troops come from Panzer Grenadier: Parachutes Over Crete. They usually have better morale than the line infantry (since morale is tracked separately, not on the pieces, this was not a limiting factor for the game design). Their firepower is better (this does require different pieces) and they usually have better leadership (likewise). Mountain machine-gun platoons sacrifice a little firepower for better mobility.
The German 1st Mountain Division was in the line at the opening of the Barbarossa offensive, and attacked the Soviet 97th Rifle Division on 22 June, the first day of the attack. Driving toward Lvov (also known as Lviv, also known as Lemberg, also known as Lwow) and flanked by the corps’ two regular infantry divisions, the division made good progress in heavy fighting. But on the 25th it was counter-attacked by the Soviet 32nd Tank Division in the Battle of Stary Yakov, and suffered serious enough losses to be pulled from the front and replaced by the 4th Mountain Division. First Mountain Division then occupied Lvov, where its troops helped massacre the Jewish population and the Polish faculty of the University of Lwow even before Einsatzgruppe C arrived to murder people in a more orderly fashion. That left 4th Mountain Division to resume the advance against the still-fighting 97th Rifle Division, but the locus of action by then had moved to the north-east
There are no Waffen SS pieces in Fire in the East; 49th Mountain Corps (the book) draws on Slovakia’s War for the needed Waffen S pieces. I didn’t include them in the original game, because I didn’t want to; I don’t particularly like designing games that feature them, unless they are badly defeated. And that’s pretty much what happened to them in June 1941.
The Life Guard Brigade, deeply favored thanks to its connections to Germany’s supreme leader, had half-track armored personnel carriers much of its infantry where regular army panzer divisions could at best mount just one battalion in them, and sometimes only one company of one battalion. The regiment had been increased to the size of a large brigade, with the aim of becoming a full-sized division. In addition to five armored infantry battalions, it had its own battalions of assault guns, engineers, anti-aircraft and reconnaissance troops. Much was expected of the great leader’s bodyguard, and little was achieved.
The Life Guard began Operation Barbarossa as the only formation in Army Group South unprepared to leave its assembly area on 22 June. Only three days later did it see action, and despite its lavish standard of equipment the brigade failed to make much headway.
Slightly better prepared, but no more effective, the 5th SS Motorized Division also participated on the fringes of Army Group South’s advance. The German command seems to have little trust in the outfit, made up for “Aryan” volunteers from other European countries (including a battalion of Finnish mercenaries) and assigned the division’s three regiments to flank guard and similar missions rather than deploy them as a division.
That pretty much sums up the SS militia’s participation in the Brody-Dubno battles: a minor role on the fringes. That makes their part in the campaign, along with the more substantive one played by the two mountain divisions, perfect for our Campaign Study approach. We’ll add another chapter to Fire in the Steppe, using parts from another game and another book, to round out the story a little more.
You can order 49th Mountain Corps right here.
You can order the Mountain Package right here.
49th Mountain Corps, Fire in the Steppe, Parachutes Over Crete and Slovakia’s War all for one low price.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold approves of this message.