49th Mountain Corps:
Scenario Preview, Part Three
by Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I think it’s common among game designers to regret letting go of games; I’m certainly among the very worst. There’s always a little more to make the game a little better, and I’ve certainly fallen prey to the pleas for faster game releases, and allowed things to hit the shelves when they weren’t quite ready. I haven’t done that in a long time, and the overall quality of our stuff is enormously better.
I still want to re-visit some of my favorite games, but rather than re-doing them I’ve found it just as satisfying to add additional scenarios. And that’s what I’ve done with Fire in the Steppe: 49th Mountain Corps.
As a child in Salzburg, I remember seeing these old men in the flohmarkt, at least they looked very old to me, selling their keepsakes. Edelweiss badges, and sleeve cuffs that read “Narvik” or “Kreta.” They had served a horrific cause, and now decades later, missing limbs and teeth, they hoped to trade those memories for one more bottle. That reality did not match the Rainier Regiment museum in the Hohensalzburg, where the paintings and the exhibits celebrated the victories.
I’ve written about German mountain troops before, but our current format lets the designer give a topic a lot more depth than the usual wargame approach. There’s no redemption to be found for the German armed forces in World War II, but I wanted to tell a little of the story behind those broken men.
49th Mountain Corps has 11 scenarios; we’ve looked at the first three here and the next four here. So now let’s have a look at the final four:
Return to Cold Water
29 June 1941
The 1st Mountain Division’s neighbor on its right flank, the 68th Infantry Division, only lasted four days at the front, as repeated attacks by all three divisions of the Soviet 4th Mechanized Corps shattered the German formation. On the 26th the 4th Mountain Division moved up from the 17th Army’s reserve to replace it, joining the drive on Lvov alongside the 1st Mountain Division. At the town of Kaltwasser, settled by German colonists in 1784, Vlasov’s tankers welcomed the Enzian Division to Ukraine.
Maj. Gen. Andrei A. Vlasov, commander of 4th Mechanized Corps, would later defect to the Nazis and serve them as commander of a puppet army of criminals and deserters. As a traitor, his accomplishments and those of his corps were expunged from Soviet historiography. The 8th Tank Division was a well-trained, well-equipped outfit and though its two tank regiments had been sent off in different directions by this point in the campaign, it had already abused the German 68th Infantry Division and now laid a major defeat on the 4th Mountain Division in front of Lvov. But the Red Army lacked the ability to exploit what victories it did score in June 1941, and after smashing and shooting up the Germans the tanks pulled back to reorganize.
This time, when the Soviets attack with waves of tank, they remember to bring some infantry with them. The Soviets have plenty of tanks, good morale, good leadership and good initiative. The Germans . . . have a company of 37mm anti-tank guns. It’s going to be a long day for the mountain boys, but at least the Soviets have to do a great deal in order to win.
Race for Brezezany
1 July 1941
With Lvov finally in German hands, the 4th Mountain Division sent a flying column around the southern fringe of the city to size the crossroads town of Brezezany. The Germans hoped to cut off the Lvov garrison’s retreat along the road to Tarnopol; the Soviets for their part hoped to fall back on the fortifications along the old Polish-Soviet border, a withdrawal authorized by the Soviet General Staff on the evening of 30 June. But first they had to get there.
While the 4th Mountain Division’s war diary claims that the jägern captured Brezezany in time to seal off the retreat of the Lvov garrison, 97th Rifle Division escaped this trap, only to be cornered in the Uman Pocket in August and finally destroyed. By this point the division appears to have lost its artillery and much of its combat strength, however, as the air attacks and constant combat continued to wear down its ranks. However, it appears that the Germans did not achieve quite as much here as they claimed.
The is a race scenario, where the Germans have to reach a blocking position ahead of the Soviets and stop them from getting off the board. They’ll win the race, but not in time to set up a solid line. They do have air and artillery power to help out, and the Soviets are dispirited by this point. But they’re not quite done yet, and can roll over an exposed German position.
Bridge to Terebovlya
5 July 1941
Despite the severe losses of the previous two weeks, the Red Army’s South-West Front continued to try to build new defensive lines to delay the Germans before they reached the old Polish-Soviet border. The Seret River had been the site of intense fighting during the Great War, and the Soviet Eighth Rifle Corps hoped to at least hold the Germans there. Behind the river lay Terebovlya, a pre-war Polish garrison town and the site of heroic Polish resistance to Turkish invasion in 1675.
The Germans forced their way over the Seret here, even as the Soviet South-West Front committed its dwindling armor reserves to the north at Tarnopol in an ill-advised attempt (orchestrated from Moscow) to turn back the invaders. The panzers grabbed the headlines, but the coordinated artillery and air support at Terebovlya as elsewhere truly made the difference.
The Soviets have won the race to the Seret and managed to set up a fairly good defense behind it – an impressive feat considering the strain of constant air attacks and the confusion of defeat. The Germans have to get across, with plenty of engineers, artillery and airplanes to help them; the mountain divisions had no tanks (and had lost their assault gun by this point), but artillery kept the blitzkrieg moving.
2 July 1941
The German XIV Motorized Corps had the added burden of two formations from the Waffen SS party militia, which were not considered fully combat-capable but clogged the road network and consumed fuel and supplies. After leaving them out of the fighting, the corps command finally committed the motorized SS Life Guard Brigade to a counter-attack against an advancing Soviet tank division. The militiamen sped forward with far more enthusiasm than skill, eager to serve their loathsome overlord.
Kurt Meyer, commanding the militia brigade’s recon unit, claimed that the approach march marked the first time he had seen German equipment abandoned in the field, conveniently forgetting the large-scale panics endured by SS militia in the Polish campaign of 1939. But on this occasion the militia actually fought well, striking the Soviet tank division in its right flank as it advanced and throwing it into disorder. The Soviets pulled back to their start line, but had disrupted the 298th Infantry Division and bought a little time for South-West Front’s withdrawal.
This one’s an odd number; we promised an SS militia scenario so I included one. The Army command didn’t trust the SS in combat (based on experiences in Poland and France), and the party militia saw very little action at Brody-Dubno. Here they make a flank attack against the advancing Soviets, who are unlikely to be too surprised since they know the Nazis are coming somewhere. The SS are mediocre, but the Soviets have been worn down some and are no better.
And those are the scenarios of 49th Mountain Corps.
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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 an unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold knows the number.
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