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Defiant Russia




'Road to Berlin' Scenario Preview
Part Two
By Mike Bennighof
July 2006

Writing, testing and honing 75 scenarios for Panzer Grenadier: Road to Berlin was an enormous amount of work, but we’re pretty sure it produced the best set we’ve made to date. Here’s a look at the historical background of the second set of 25 scenarios. (You can see the first 25 here.)

Scenario Twenty-Six: Ad Hoc
1 February 1945

Only in the German Army could “official ad hoc units” exist. On the afternoon of 31 January two such battalions were ordered to attack the new Soviet bridgehead over the Oder River at the village of Kienitz. The troops had never met one another until that afternoon and were armed only with rifles; but the assistance of several tanks from the National Socialist Driver Training School was expected to make a difference.


The ad hoc battalions pushed forward with remarkable will, but the darkness and lack of control broke them into small groups. The Soviets shattered them with ease, and over half of the troops committed were killed in action — young soldiers who might have added to the strength of existing formations. Some among the Soviet leadership thought they might roll into Berlin within days.

Scenario Twenty-Seven: Oder Flood
2 February 1945

Along the line of the Oder River, the Germans attempted to halt the Soviet advance and keep them out of the German heartland around Berlin. After the line stabilized, Red Army reinforcements began at first forcing and then enlarging bridgeheads over the river. At Genschmar, troops from 2nd Guards Army entered a small bridgehead and began probing to the west. A German counter-attack force quickly flung themselves on the invaders.


The Soviets advanced past the dike but were driven back by the German attack. After heavy fighting along the dike, sometimes hand-to-hand, the Germans could not break through the barrier and reeled back. They had kept the Soviets from expanding their bridgehead, but they could not wipe it out. Soon the Red Army would ferry more tanks over the river and make a new attempt.

Scenario Twenty-Eight: Hero of the Soviet Union
3 February 1945

Commanding a makeshift division arrayed along the Oder, Maj. Gen. Adolf Raegener watched helplessly as Soviet battalions swarmed over the river and drove back his labor troops, police and other “alarm” units. Loaned a good mechanized battalion, and gathering his own troops, Raegener ordered a counterattack to drive them back. But assembling these forces took hours, and the Germans did not jump off until night was falling. Raegener did not wish to attack in the darkness, but his division had no radios and depended on the civilian telephone network for communications.


Poorly coordinated, the attackers moved ahead sporadically but had come within sight of their objectives when Sgt. Sergei Mostovoy took a hand. Apparently becoming completely berserk when his machine-gun team ran out of ammunition and grenades, Mostovoy, one of the largest men in the Red Army, threw aside the overheated barrel and hefted the tripod as a weapon. Braining Nazis until the mounting bent, he then took hold of a shovel and killed several more. When that broke as well, he tucked one hapless German under his arm and squeezed until the man passed out. The rest of the attackers threw down their weapons and ran screaming into the night. Mostovoy was named a Hero of the Soviet Union for his exploits.

Scenario Twenty-Nine: Night of the Swabians
4 February 1945

Recently arrived from the Western Front, the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division had been flung into action as it arrived. Once the division staff had its bearings, they gathered their armored elements together for a night attack on the the Soviet bridgehead over the Oder around Gieshof. The 301st Rifle Division had crossed the river several days earlier against minimal opposition and its command did not expect a spirited counter-attack.


The Soviets, taken by surprise, fell back in disarray and the Germans secured Gieshof. Fighting would continue in the area for two more months as the Germans struggled to hold the river line and the Soviets recovered from their rapid advance across Poland. It would be soldiers of the 301st who raised the hammer and sickle over the Reich Chancellery in late April.

Scenario Thirty: Brandenburg Panzers
5 February 1945

Just to the north of the Raegener Division’s struggle to contain 79th Guards Rifle Division, the Brandenburg Panzer Grenadier Division’s tank battalion tried to drive the Soviets back over the Alte Oder, a shallow alternate channel that ran just to the west of the big river. The tankers had long experience and new vehicles, but were sent into battle by V SS Mountain Corps without infantry support.


Political appointees like SS Gen. Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger of V SS Mountain Corps had little experience in managing a battlefield, repeatedly bungling matters that experienced staff officers would have easily handled. The Brandenburgers, knowing their own unit to be politically suspect, moved out as ordered without any accompanying infantry. The tankers did surprisingly well, but the Guards had arranged several heavy anti-tank batteries with interlocking fields of fire that the Panthers could not penetrate. Without foot soldiers to dig out the guns, the battalion had to abandon what had begun as a promising offensive.

Scenario Thirty-One: Reitwein Forest
5 February 1945

While other bits and pieces of Raegener’s division attacked the Soviet bridgehead, the Soviets responded by launching attacks of their own on other sectors held by the division. To the south of the Brandenburg Panzer attack, a regiment of officer cadets arrived on the battlefield just in time to face one of these Soviet advances.


The German cadets met their objective by holding the Soviets out of the village of Podelzig, but suffered heavily in the operation. It was one of the division’s few bright spots as more and more Soviet troops crossed the Oder in preparation for the final drive on Berlin. But committing officer candidates to battle at all was a sure sign that the German Army was near total collapse.

Scenario Thirty-Two: Luck of the 21st Panzer
7 February 1945

Hastily issued new tanks and assault guns, rushed across Germany and unloaded on open sidings rather than at a station, Col. Hans von Luck’s 21st Panzer Division received orders to immediately attack advancing Soviet forces and escort a supply convoy into the Küstrin fortress. Difficulties unloading the heavy vehicles on an open stretch of track, and roads clogged by refugees, delayed the start of the operation until the wee hours of the morning.


The 21st was a veteran, well-led division with new equipment; but the Soviets fought tenaciously, while rain and mud helped slow the Germans as well. The attack failed to take Gorgast and the supply convoy had no road to Küstrin. The rains would only grow heavier in coming days, halting the Soviet offensive for several weeks — a precious pause of which the Germans would make little use.

Scenario Thirty-Three: Out of Luck
9 February 1945

The arrival of the 21st Panzer Division in front of Berlin gave the 9th Army command a powerful armored force to help stabilize its lines. The division set about forcing open a corridor to the beleaguered fortress at Küstrin along the road from Gorgast. The Soviets planned to prevent the Küstrin garrison’s escape to aid to Berlin’s defense, not understanding the depths of Hitler’s insanity which insisted on holding the old city on the east bank of the Oder as a jumping-off spot for his planned grand counter-offensive.


Aided by famed Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel (who was shot down during this operation), the 21st fought its way through to the Küstrin perimeter in the face of fierce Soviet resistance and increasing mud and rain. The corridor thus opened would remain the fortress’ lifeline for the next several weeks. Having seen what a well-equipped panzer division could mean to Berlin’s mobile defense, Adolf Hitler ordered the formation immediately transferred to Silesia and its place taken by two hastily-raised infantry divisions made up of new recruits.

Scenario Thirty-Four: Infantry Attacks
13-14 February 1945

Seen as the last line of defense before Berlin, the Oder River took on great import to both the German and Soviet high commands. The Soviets had established many bridgeheads over the rain-swollen river, and the Germans were determined to wipe them out by any means necessary — deploying suicide planes, frogmen and guided missiles against the bridges themselves, and flinging all manner of hastily-formed ground units against the Soviet enclaves. None were of much use.


Though only recently organized, the Döberitz division had a high concentration of infantry instructors among its NCO’s and junior officers and a surprising amount of fighting spirit. But heavy mud and Soviet resistance combined to keep them from achieving their goals. The Red Army clung to its bridgeheads over the Oder, and everyone knew that when the weather cleared, the advance would resume.

Scenario Thirty-Five: Kutuzov’s Heart
16 February 1945

As Soviet troops drove into Silesia, the industrial region between Poland and Bohemia, they neared the town of Bunzlau. Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, vanquisher of Napoleon, died there in 1813 and his heart was buried on the spot. Soviet commanders made capture of the town a top priority, hoping to reap propaganda value from the rescue of the old general’s vital organ from the Nazis. Kutuzov had been resurrected as a national hero in the Great Patriotic War’s propaganda effort, and now the modern Red Army’s generals saw themselves emulating his feats. The Germans, for their part, stood ready to deny the town to the Soviets simply because the Soviets wanted it — they do not seem to have been aware of the political significance of the site.


The Soviet 6th Guard Tank Corps had already been repelled by the 1st Ski Division (Soviet sources claim this was 19th Panzer) when the fresh division struck it again. Poor handling on the part of Rybalko’s elite 3rd Guard Tank Army headquarters had placed the corps in an untenable position, and it fell back with heavy losses. The old marshal’s internal organs would have to wait another month for liberation.

Scenario Thirty-Six: South Wind
17 February 1945

On the north bank of the Danube, the Soviets had been pushed back from Komorn but still held a bridgehead over the Gran River. With great difficulty, the Germans moved their armored formations from the south bank to the north to eliminate this threat in “Operation South Wind.” This was seen as a necessary prerequisite to the re-capture of Budapest, and an opportunity to catch Soviet mechanized formations in the front line and destroy them.


The move of armored formations away from the Hungarian plain had been detected by Red Army intelligence and interpreted as the very sensible re-deployment of these crack units to defend Berlin. Their appearance on the north bank of the Danube caught the Soviets totally by surprise: no one expected such an insane strategic move. The Tigers and infantry rolled over the Soviets, destroying many vehicles and according to German claims, a number of heavy anti-tank guns for the loss of one Tiger.

Scenario Thirty-Seven: Gran Intermezzo
19 February 1945

The fall of Budapest on 11 February had released a number of Soviet formations, which gathered north of the Danube. Operation South Wind was designed to throw them back over the Gran River, and by achieving surprise the Germans did just that. The attack continued, with a daring night assault on a small Soviet bridgehead at Kemend, about six kilometers north of the Gran’s junction with the Danube. No other bridges stood between Kemend and the bigger river, making it a key German goal to seal off this potential invasion route.


Soviet minefields stopped the German attack cold, as the Tiger commanders proved unwilling to advance until the engineers could assure them of mine-free routes. The fighting along the Gran would continue for another week, presaging even more combat in Hungary for Germany’s rapidly-dwindling elite forces.

Scenario Thirty-Eight: Flemings Sabred
19 February 1945

The Germans had planned to launch Operation Winter Solstice on 16 February, striking the Soviets in the flank as they advanced on Berlin and hoping to isolate their armored spearheads. Col. Gen. Heinz Guderian’s bold plan might have had a small chance of success, but Adolf Hitler diverted all but one of the crack, full-strength panzer divisions slated for the operation to Hungary. Then Joachim Ziegler, the stunningly incompetent commander of the 11th SS “Nordland” Panzer Grenadier Division, jumped off his attacks a day early. The attack gained very little ground and within a few days the Soviets were on the counter-attack.


The Soviets swept over the Langemarck Division, a formation of Belgian volunteers, with little trouble. In other sectors the Germans put up much fiercer resistance, and the attack was halted for two weeks while heavy rains made operations difficult. When the Soviet offensive resumed, they would sweep to the Baltic coast with little difficulty.

Scenario Thirty-Nine: Evil Russians
2 March 1945

Once the rains had let up along the Oder front, the Soviets began fresh offensive operations. The Germans had brought up a handful of fresh troops, but were scraping the bottom of their manpower barrel: facing 8th Guards Tank Army were trainees formed into a new division, politically suspect special forces troops thrown into regular duty, and Gen. A.A. Vlasov’s legion of Russian traitors in German uniform.


The large-scale Soviet attack floundered in the face of an unusually heavy German artillery barrage, tank destroyers firing from cover and fanatic individual tank-hunting by the Russian mercenaries. Artillery fire separated the Red Army’s infantry from the tanks, and their former comrades-in-arms made the tankers pay a heavy price for lack of protecting foot soldiers. By afternoon the Germans were confident enough to mount a counter-attack, which also fell apart under heavy artillery fire.

Scenario Forty: Clash of Giants
6 March 1945

With Germany’s last armored reserves, Adolf Hitler demanded an attack be launched in Hungary with the coming of spring. There would still be frost, he declared, to keep the ground firm and the Red Army would never expect an attack in Hungary as Budapest had fallen in February. The Soviet command definitely did not expect such lunacy, and though enemy Panzer formations had been identified and anti-tank defenses put in place, the Red generals did not really believe an attack would actually commence. Right on schedule, the Panzers advanced on Seregelyes.


The Soviets at first stopped the German advance, but the Tigers shot up the Soviet heavy tanks and the panzers resumed their march. The Red Army had not expected an assault would come in this sector with Berlin in danger, but even at this late date the German showed they could conduct mobile assaults with skill. The Tigers rumbled forward toward the Danube, with seemingly little in the way that could stop them.

Scenario Forty-One: Spring Awakened
6 March 1945

Just what the German offensive in Hungary was meant to accomplish is hard to determine more than six decades later; it certainly made little strategic or operational sense. Between the muddy ground slowing the German tanks and poor march discipline tangling formations, the attack went forward hours late. The Soviets met most of the attacks with infantry and well-prepared anti-tank defenses, but south of the road junction of Seregelyes one of the newly-arrived panzer divisions struck a Soviet tank corps willing to contest their advance.


Much of the German armor had not even made it to the battlefield, and that which did was slowed by the mixture of mud and snow. The Soviet tanks were also slowed, but not as badly, and the Germans took the worst of the fighting. While other German units made great penetrations on the offensive’s first day, the Hohenstaufen Division had nothing to show for its efforts.

Scenario Forty-Two: Children of Vienna
6 March 1945

In most armies, doctrine held that prepared defensive lines should first be breached by infantry units, with armored formations committed later to exploit their breakthroughs. German generals urged this approach for the Spring Awakening offensive in Hungary, but Adolf Hitler insisted on using his beloved SS panzer divisions in the first rank and there were few infantry divisions that had been refitted to first-line status. One of the few was the 44th “Hoch und Deutschmeister,” an Austrian unit known as the “Children of Vienna” that traced its history to the old Imperial Army’s finest regiment.


Traditional practice was not borne out in this action: the 44th did not make significant gains and the opposing Guards division held their lines with relative ease. The Soviets would be in much more trouble from SS panzer divisions penetrating on either side of them, and the 36th (a very good division, formed from several airborne brigades and holding the Red Banner) would be forced to withdraw on the next day with little of their discomfort due to the Austrian troops opposing them.

Scenario Forty-Three: The Potato Fortress
12 March 1945

Piece by piece, the Kurmark Panzer Grenadier Division took control over so many small ad hoc battalions and regiments that it approached the strength of some of the German armies deployed at the front in the spring of 1945. Among these were regiments of officer school cadets, highly motivated and usually combat-experienced young soldiers. One of these had been assigned to the village of Wuhden just south of Reitwein and west of the Oder. When Soviet troops surrounded them there, the division commander, Col. Willi Langkeit, ordered the cadets to break out. Adolf Hitler personally countermanded Langkeit’s order, declaring Wuhden a “fortress” to be held to the last man, its importance due to the key military facility located there. The “facility” turned out to be a barn holding several tons of potatoes slated for the Army commissariat. Having already ignored numerous “Führer Orders” to execute his own troops for cowardice, Langkeit tossed this latest into the fire as well and confirmed the order for the cadets to make their way out of town.


The Germans ate the last potatoes, then broke out of Wuhden. They managed to reach their own lines, but not without the loss of 80 percent of the cadets. Langkeit continued to file fictitious reports of the heroic resistance of Fortress Wuhden for the next four days, at the end of which Hitler ordered the garrison to blow up the “facility” and break out. The Greatest General of All Times also directed the immediate commissioning of every survivor as a lieutenant. The division commander manufactured a suitably heroic tale of the escape for his Führer, who tacked on two weeks’ leave as a reward for each survivor.

Scenario Forty-Four: König’s Tigers
13 March 1945

Led by Capt. König, the 509th Heavy Tank Battalion spearheaded the 1st Panzer Division’s Battle Group Bradel in its drive toward the Danube River, south of Budapest. The Soviets had expected the assault, and prepared several lines of defense. Southeast of Lake Velenz the big tanks ran into a battalion of heavy assault guns in prepared positions.


German and Soviet accounts of this battle are at extreme variance — the German account is adamant that the Royal Tigers met and overcame two dozen of the Red Army’s biggest armored vehicles. The Soviet situation maps and battle accounts list no unit with the big JSU-152 machines anywhere near the battlefield (only the unit shown in the scenario could possibly have been involved), with only the Lend-Lease Shermans of 23rd Tank Corps engaging the Germans on this day. The Germans claim to have destroyed all 24 JSU-152 assault guns at the cost of three Tigers; the Soviets claim to have held their positions with infantry and anti-tank guns only. While both sides lied shamelessly in their accounts of the fighting, the German fabrications make for a more interesting scenario.

Scenario Forty-Five: Courland Pocket
13 March 1945

When Soviet armies surged through the German lines in October, 1944 to the Baltic Sea, they trapped 400,000 soldiers of the German Army Group North in western Latvia. Adolf Hitler repeatedly refused to evacuate them to help defend Germany, and they occupied the attention of several times their number of Red Army troops (just how many is still disputed). The Soviets made numerous attempts to liquidate the “Courland Pocket,” one of the most serious coming in March near the town of Saldus.


The Latvian “volunteers” fought off the Soviet attacks with heavy losses, and were on the brink of collapse when the weather suddenly warmed above freezing. Heavy mud brought the Red Army to a total halt as both sides found themselves unable to move vehicles or artillery except on the region’s very few paved roads. The Courland Pocket would outlast the Third Reich, only surrendering when Germany herself gave up.

Scenario Forty-Six: South of Balaton
20 March 1945

While tank battles raged to the northeast of Hungary’s inland sea, Lake Balaton, on its south shore German forces had advanced perhaps a bit too far. The Soviet 135th Rifle Corps, ordered to draw off as many Axis reinforcements as possible while the advancing tank forces cut off the Germans, sent its infantry forward against a sector held by a mixed German-Hungarian force. Both Axis units had shown weak performance in the recent past, and each division commander seems to have believed it was his unit’s task to buttress the other.


It made little difference to the overall picture, as the Germans would soon be forced to retreat by their defeats in other sectors. But the Soviets pushed the horsemen back from their exposed salient along the lakeshore. Soon the Germans would be racing to put all of Hungary behind them.

Scenario Forty-Seven: Guards Meet Guards
20 March 1945

The 1st SS “Adolf Hitler Life Guards” Panzer Division had been sent to Hungary to help spearhead a mighty new offensive against the Soviets. But heavy snow and thick mud slowed the panzer divisions, and when the Soviets made their counter-stroke, they spearheaded it with rifle divisions advancing on foot.


The two divisions met head on and engaged in a fierce struggle, with both sides suffering heavy casualties. Despite Soviet advantages in firepower and air support, fanatical SS resistance held up the advance and enraged Soviet Marshal Fedor Tolbukin. For his part, the “Greatest General of All Times” fumed that his namesake division had failed him. Postwar SS apologists, apparently seeking to distance their heroes from the madman, would claim that the troops sent Hitler the severed arm of a comrade killed in this action, but like many tales of SS heroism this appears to be pure fiction (among other inconsistencies, this weird legend begs the question of just how they shipped a body part to the Führerbunker when the Reich could not easily move ammunition or fuel between Berlin and Hungary).

Scenario Forty-Eight: Küstrin Corridor
22 March 1945

A narrow strip of German-controlled ground connected the 18th-century fortress of Küstrin at the junction of the Warthe and Oder Rivers to the German lines outside Berlin. Küstrin had held out for over a month when Marshal Georgi Zhukov ordered his subordinates to finally eliminate this German bridgehead. Step one was a concerted attack on the corridor.


The disparate German formations flung randomly together in front of Berlin had little coordination (most of the SS battalion’s parent division was in Hungary, for example, while the panzer battalion had a fairly random selection of mostly-new tanks and assault guns), and the Guardsmen had been heavily reinforced by 8th Guards Army. The Guards drove into the German position despite heavy tank losses to the German Panthers, and forced their way through to link up with other attacking Soviets to the north.

Scenario Forty-Nine: Horses and Tigers
24 March 1945

With the situation in western Hungary deteriorating by the hour, the Germans began a headlong retreat into the Bakony Forest northwest of Lake Balaton. Just north of the lake’s northeastern corner, the most modern and archaic units in the German force joined to slow the enemy pursuit. The Soviets for their part now smelled blood and hoped to finish off the wounded Nazi state.


The Germans claimed 16 Soviet tanks knocked out, including eight Stalin tanks, against the loss of three Tigers. The next morning the battalion reported that it blew up 14 of its own Royal Tigers because of a lack of fuel; the Soviets of course reported them destroyed in combat. The Germans formed defensive positions where they would be pocketed within a week, while the Soviet armored forces finally probed into the gap between the German 2nd Panzer and 6th SS Panzer Armies and shot through it toward Vienna.

Scenario Fifty: Final Counter Attack
27 March 1945

With Soviet armies storming over the Oder River, the last natural barrier in front of Berlin, Adolf Hitler projected a series of counter-attacks to drive them back. Knowing this to be a doomed enterprise, the command staff at German Ninth Army sent four divisions out of the Frankfurt bridgehead anyway, hoping to keep the Soviets off balance a little longer.


The German panzers did surprisingly well, taking their initial objectives and sowing confusion in the Soviet ranks. The Soviets, for their part, appear to have assumed the German command would never be so insane as to throw away their last panzer reserves in such a cavalier manner. While the German tanks advanced, their accompanying infantry fell victim to massed enemy artillery and rocket fire. “The attack was a massacre,” army group commander Col. Gen. Gotthard Heinrici, the “Poisonous Dwarf,” raged to his staff. “The Ninth Army has suffered incredible losses for almost nothing.”

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