Scenario Preview, Part Three
I’ve always had a thing for languages. When I developed an interest in Romanian history, I set out to learn Romanian - my graduate school offered it, and it was free. Romanian history fell under the rubric of Habsburg history, the reason for those letters after my name up above, but I also wanted to know more about Romanian participation in World War II.
I never did get all the fluent in Romanian, but at least I can read it. Not until some years after the collapse of the murderous Ceausescu regime did much scholarship begin to appear on the Romanian campaigns alongside the Germans (under the reign of the Genius of the Carpathians, the historiography of Romania’s war began with the August 1944 declaration of war against Germany).
So once some broader studies appeared, I was ready to add the Royal Romanian Army to Panzer Grenadier. Armata Romana has 20 scenarios; someday I’d love to return to the topic but this is probably it for my Romanian infatuation. Let’s look at the final seven scenarios, which make up the Odessa chapter:
The First Assault
9 August 1941
Three lines of fortifications ringed Odessa, the city could receive supplies and reinforcements by sea, and the Soviets usually had control of the air. Nevertheless, the Armata Romana pushed its regiments forward. The first attack wave went against the Soviet troops dug in around the Razdelnaya railway station.
After bloody fighting, at times hand-to-hand, the Romanians took the railway station and the built-up area around it. With no air support of their own, the Romanian assault teams had to keep an eye on the skies for enemy aircraft instead. Already, lightweight Romanian artillery support and Soviet tenacity showed early signs that Odessa would not fall without a struggle.
It’s a pretty brutal frontal assault; the front’s narrow enough that the Romanians aren’t going to be making many skillful flanking maneuvers. They do have an edge in numbers, which they’re going to need, as morale’s all even and the Soviets have better artillery support. This early in the war (and in the siege), Romanian leadership is still acceptable.
Romania’s Bravest Son
12 August 1941
Heavy fighting continued on the first line of the Odessa defenses, as the 7th Infantry Division forced its way down the rail line toward the city. At the Karpova railway station, the Soviets had built their positions in and around the big railbed embankments, and proved nearly impossible to dislodge. With their artillery support doing little damage, the Romanian infantry went forward to dig out the Red Army foot by foot.
Two months earlier, sublocotenent Marius Dumistrecu had graduated first in his class at the Romanian Military Academy in Cernauti. When his men wavered, Dumitrescu stood and waved them forward. Slowly, the dorobanti followed, picking up speed as he stormed up the embankment and into the station itself. Dumistrescu and every man of his platoon had been killed in action by the end of afternoon, but the Romanians took the station.
The idea in wargame design (at least as I practice it; l I can’t speak for anyone else) is to show not just what happened, but why it happened. With lesser morale and lesser artillery, only the sacrifice of the best and brightest will buy Romanian success. The Soviets are just plain tough, and they’ve got enough machine-gunners to put up a wall of fire.
Counterattack at Kagarlik
16 August 1941
After a brief pause to bring up fresh formations and assess the situation, Romania’s Conducator, Gen. Ion Antonescu, temporarily took over personal direction of the offensive. Though fighting had been going on for several days, the siege formally opened on the 14th when Romanian cavalry reached the Black Sea coast east of the city. Two days later, the first full-scale assault began. In the Kagarlik sector, both sides deployed tanks and their best infantry.
The Soviet move out of their entrenchments and onto the attack surprised the Romanians. But the Guard, an elite formation, recovered fairly quickly and began to press forward. Both sides suffered enormous casualties, but eventually the Red Army was forced back. Yard by yard, the Romanian infantry ground toward the city’s center.
It’s an infantry meeting engagement between two very good divisions, the Romanian Royal Guard (but with no better artillery than the other Romanian divisions) and the tough 25th “Chapayev” Rifle Division, one of the showpiece units of the pre-war Red Army. This time, the Romanians have tanks, but so do the Soviets. It’s going to be a bloody brawl, it is.
18 August 1941
With fresh troops now in the line the Romanian III Corps resumed the assault on Odessa with a surprise attack. Infantry would go forward without artillery preparation to maintain the element of surprise, and then tanks would join them to exploit their success. For the first time, the long-promised German air support would actually be available as well. Unfortunately for the Armata Romana, neither the tankers nor the foot soldiers had ever practiced combined arms tactics.
The Romanians lost 32 tanks but managed to capture the key Karpova railway station and knock out the annoying armored train. German air support proved nearly useless, while the Romanian infantry shied away from their own side’s tanks and neither armor nor infantry officers seemed to grasp that the tanks needed infantry protection. The Romanians congratulated themselves on a tactical victory, but the cost had been horrific. Again.
It’s a tank-supported Romanian assault, with fairly plentiful armor by Romanian standards. And they’ve caught the Soviets by surprise. But there’s little tank-infantry cooperation, the artillery is once again really weak and only the tankers have much enthusiasm. And the numbers are close to even, without the tanks. It’s going to be a long day for King Michael’s boys.
Place of the Skull
18 August 1941
As part of the III Corps’ surprise attack, the 5th Infantry Division’s 9th Dorobanti (Rifle) Regiment went forward with fixed bayonets and no artillery preparation, hoping to catch the Soviets by surprise. They succeeded, but the Soviets quickly recovered to challenge the Romanians for possession of the hill.
Neither side proved willing to back down, and a furious hand-to-hand fight raged around the hilltop. Hundreds died, no prisoners were taken, and yet both regiments continued to fight beyond the point of exhaustion. By morning neither side could claim the hill, and the close-quarter fighting would erupt again when darkness fell, and carry on into the next day.
It’s a rough, close-quarters infantry fight, with a lot of men brawling over a very small piece of real estate. With next to no artillery, this one’s going to depend on the Queen of Battles. The constant appearance of the phrase “hand-to-hand fighting” in these scenario descriptions should tell you a little about the Armata Romana’s lack of artillery, armor and air support.
National Socialist Ardor
17 September 1941
For weeks, German staff officers had offered patronizing critiques or outright insults to every Romanian failure in the trenches before Odessa. Finally, the German command acceded to Antonescu’s request and sent troops to the siege lines. The infantry regiment and attached engineers were to train the Romanians in proper assault technique and lend their tougher moral fibre to Romanian attacks. A few days after their arrival, they went into action on the left flank of Lt. Gen. Nicolae Dascaclescu's 21st Infantry Division.
After enduring weeks of Teutonic verbal abuse, Dascaclescu unleashed a torrent of scorn on his German liaison officers when the attached German troops broke under Soviet fire and fled the battlefield, forcing him to commit his divisional reserve to plug the gap. “If you were Romanian,” he raged, “I’d have you shot.” René von Courbiere in turn blamed Dascaclescu for not pressing the attack with his Romanian regiments to relieve pressure on the Germans, and on the Luftwaffe for failing to deliver promised dive-bomber sorties, a promise all the Romanian divisional commanders had seen unredeemed since the siege’s start. Neither man seemed willing to acknowledge that they faced one of the Red Army’s premier formations, dug in and fanatically determined to hold the Hero City.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve used this scenario title, always for some signal failure of German arms. This is a big scenario, with a Romanian regiment and a German battalion-sized task force on the attack against a large defensive force (the Soviets actually have a numerical edge) that has an edge in morale and a heavily-fortified position. Aryan-ness is probably not enough to carry the day.
Ride of the Seventh
4 October 1941
On the far left flank of the Soviet defenses of Odessa, an assault by the 7th and 8th Infantry Divisions finally broke through the tough trench system. Having used World War One-era theory in the attack, the Romanian high command followed the last war's procedure for exploiting a breakthrough. The 7th Cavalry Brigade surged through the opening and near the village of Lustdorf met a Soviet counterattack head-on in what became one of the war's largest cavalry battles.
After a furious saber-swinging battle better suited to 1741 than 1941, the Romanians recoiled from the Soviet counter-attack. Odessa still held, but the battle confirmed the Soviet high command's decision to abandon the city.
The set wraps up with a mass cavalry battle; as best as I can recall, this is the only such in Panzer Grenadier. That makes for a unique game experience, and plenty of chances to make bugle calls as you move your pieces.
And that’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.