Scenario Preview, Part Two
With Panzer Grenadier: Fire in the Steppe, I saw the chance to make use of playing pieces from the old Eastern Front game that we had in storage to make a new game. Our accountant had told me to “use them or chuck them,” and I thought I had the perfect solution.
And it was a good idea, which I compounded with another seemingly good idea: to create maps that followed the same layout as those in the old Eastern Front but with new artwork. That way older players could use these maps with the old expansion books we did for Eastern Front back in the day, and that would make them happy. It would also allow me to re-issue the Romanian pieces and scenarios from the old Eastern Front in a new expansion for Fire in the Steppe, Armata Romana.
I’d long felt that the Romano-centric scenarios from the old Eastern Front were the best of the 112 total scenarios in the package. They drew on Romanian-language sources, with lots of detail and plenty of interesting actions involving tanks, cavalry and mountain troops. What we hadn’t come up with at the time was a way to tie them together to tell a story.
Armata Romana has that: the scenarios are organized in chapters, with historical text and a “battle game” to let the story of the Romanian invasion of the Soviet Union unfold on your game table. It’s a pretty neat trick. Let’s look at the scenarios from Chapter Two.
17 July 1941
While further south their comrades finished the battle for Chisinau, the Romanian 3rd Army crossed the Dnestr River into Ukraine. There they faced the formidable Stalin Line pre-war defense system, held by second-line Soviet troops. Expanding the war on their own authority, 3rd Army’s staff ordered its troops to occupy the fortifications before they could shelter other retreating Red Army formations. Romanian assault groups formed and began the arduous task.
The Soviets showed little initiative to counter-attack, but neither would they surrender their positions and they fought with tenacious courage. The Romanians had to take each position in savage hand-to-hand fighting before they could wheel to the north and resume their advance.
This is an unusual situation, as the Romanian player doesn’t know the exact strength of the defenders, only that they have lots and lots of machine guns, are very well-fortified, and don’t really want to be there. The Romanians are crack mountain troops, as good as anyone in the Axis lineup, but they lack the artillery to properly smash the Soviet fortifications.
Steppe and Sky
17 July 1941
With the Dnestr successfully forced, the Romanian Mountain and Cavalry Corps moved forward into the alien lands of Ukraine. Hours after the forced crossing, the Soviet 18th Army responded with a badly-coordinated attempt to drive the Romanians back into the river, detaching tanks from one division to support infantry from another.
The Romanians beat back the first attack, but when reinforcements arrived the Soviets made a dent in the Romanian lines and threatened to collapse the bridgehead. The vanatori del munte stabilized the line and drove back the attackers, but at severe cost to themselves.
The Romanian mountain troops are plenty tough, and they’ll need to be to fend off this Soviet tank attack. The Soviets don’t have any of the awesome T34 or KV tanks this time, but they’ve got plenty of smaller ones and while the Romanian 47mm anti-tank guns can handle these, they can’t be everywhere they’re needed.
18 July 1941
The Romanian bridgehead over the Dnestr continued to draw Soviet counterattacks, and during the night of the 17th-18th Red Army recon units correctly identified the seam between the 1st and 4th Mountain Brigades. As the sun rose the next morning, the Soviet 18th Army launched a furious counter-attack aimed at restoring the Stalin Line and tossing the “mush eaters” back into the river. Fourth Mountain Brigade hurried one of its two-battalion “groups” into the breach.
In one of the fiercest close-quarters fights of the Armata Romana’s entire war, the Soviets poured into the Romanian positions and fought hand-to-hand for them. The Romanians rallied behind their officers, who paid the price: the group (regiment in the Romanian Mountain Corps’ parlance) commander, both battalion commanders and the commander of their supporting mountain artillery battalion were all killed in action on that bloody morning. But with the aid of heavy support from the only two modern, motorized artillery battalions in the Romanian inventory, the mountain troops repelled the attack and held the bridge.
It’s a brutal fight, with the Soviets bringing masses of tanks and infantry and the Romanians countering with superb morale and decided artillery superiority. They Soviets have a high bar for victory but they have enormous force at their disposal, while the Romanians are the elite mountain troops of the pre-war regular Royal Army.
19 July 1941
Chisinau’s fall represented a great success for Romanian arms, and the Soviets withdrew from the rest of Bessarabia in fairly short order. The Romanian Royal Armored Division pursued them. At Tighina, the Red Army turned to defend the vital bridge over the Dnestr River. If the Romanian government chose to pursue the war into Soviet territory proper, they’d need to grab this crossing.
Romanian morale soared as the last Soviet troops fled Bessarabia. The Royal Armored Division had swept the last of its enemies out of the lost province, and the Red Army pulled back desperately in an attempt to re-group. The tankers settled in to give their vehicles much-needed maintenance, and reservists prepared to be sent home. Romania’s war had been won; the rest of the campaign would be the Germans’ problem. Very soon, the Romanian soldiers would find that they had been mistaken in these assumptions.
This is one of the oldest scenarios in Panzer Grenadier; in the original set of test scenarios, before any actual games had been designed, this was the “bridge” scenario. As such it’s been played an untold number of times, though it only appeared in print for the first time with the old Eastern Front.
Crossing the Rubicon
3 August 1941
On 31 July, Romanian commander-in-chief Ion Antonescu accepted a desperate German plea for Romanian forces to push deeper into the Soviet Union and capture the important port of Odessa. To open the road to Odessa, first the bridge at Tighina had to be secured and the Soviet defenses penetrated. The two-week pause in operations had given the Soviets plenty of time to recover their wits and prepare their positions.
The Romanian horsemen stormed the bridge under heavy fire while the infantry crossed the river to the north. The Soviets pulled back hurriedly, opening the road to Odessa. Of the 340,223 Romanian troops who set off down that road, 92,545 would become casualties by the time Odessa fell in October.
This is a big, intense scenario with a Romanian cavalry brigade and infantry division trying to force their way over a well-defended river line held by a Soviet rifle division. The Red Army is well-supplied with support weapons and artillery and the Romanians are is going to have a very tough time trying to push them back from their front line.
Ride to Odessa
6 August 1941
The newly-created Soviet Coastal Army’s commander, G.P. Sofronov, ordered its troops to fall back into the Odessa perimeter on 5 August. Probing cautiously ahead of the advancing Romanian V Corps, Romanian cavalry encountered Sofronov’s rear guard and attacked rather than allowing the Soviets to move away unmolested.
The Romanians caught the Soviets emerging from a wooded area in column formation and fell upon them quickly. Ninety-fifth Rifle Division was a well-trained unit that had fought well in Bessarabia and would do so again in the Odessa lines, but taken by surprise they could not form adequate defenses and were routed before the tank unit could mount an effective rescue.
The Soviets are strung out in march order when the Romanians coming riding up on horses and motorcycles. They’re going to have to rally and defend themselves before they’re ridden down.
And that’s Chapter Two. Next time, it’s Chapter Three.
here to order Armata Romana and send Armata Romana into battle!
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold resists revision.