I set out to design Panzer Grenadier: Grossdeutschland 1944 as a pretty simple project. We would add a small scenario book to a promised set of special pieces for the German Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland in their own color scheme. All of the scenarios would just be extras for Panzer Grenadier: Broken Axis, adding no additional pieces or maps (since the special Grossdeutschland Division pieces are all also included in Broken Axis, in plain old German Army colors).
As happens way too often, I made the project far more involved than it needed to be. All I needed to do was design 18 or 20 more Broken Axis scenarios, just filling in the gaps in the chapters. It wouldn’t be very difficult. Well, it would be kind of difficult, but no more than these things usually are. But I had all of this great source material on the Soviet August 1944 offensive south-east of Kishinev, and I saw that I could craft a really fine story with it instead of just filling in a few gaps.
I’m not sure many gamers actually care about the historical story; I’ve been advised by one of our distributors to pick up the pace of turning out new product and not worry so much about the historical depth. Games from other publishers with a dozen “typical action on the Eastern Front” scenarios sell almost as well as ours, and the difference isn’t enough to justify the labor that goes into them.
That’s well-meant advice, and it’s almost certainly correct from a business standpoint. And if I don’t pay attention to the business standpoint, I have to look at my pet turkey Egbert in a whole different light. I know better. And I did it anyway.
Grossdeutschland 1944 as published is a far different book than I set out to write. Broken Axis covers the actions of Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland thoroughly, so there’s not much more to tell of that story. The story instead is focused on the attack of the Soviet 37th Army (part of Third Ukrainian Front) between 20 and 23 August 1944, the opening days of the left or southern wing of the Jassy-Kishinev Offensive. Though only covering three days of operations, with most of the battles taking place on the first day, the Soviets overwhelmed the Axis with an intense operational tempo so there’s a wealth of possible scenarios from which to choose.
The offensive struck at the boundary between the German Sixth Army and Romanian Third Army, with the German 306th Infantry Division and Romanian 4th Mountain Division getting most of the attention. The Soviets scouted their targets carefully, and then opened the attack with an intense artillery barrage followed by a tank-supported infantry assault on a narrow front. On the second day they committed their mechanized formations to exploit the gap blown in the Axis lines.
The Axis had months to prepare their defenses, and they did. The Soviets faced three lines of minefields, wire and entrenchments. Strongpoints featured well-built, well-sited bunkers. Most of that disintegrated under the well-planned barrage. The initial assault parties had the support of JS-2 heavy tanks and SU-122 or JSU-152 assault guns. Each defending division faced an attacking army, each of which put four divisions in its first line and five more in its second, with the second-line divisions giving up their artillery, anti-tank guns and mortars (on down to their 82mm tubes) to bulk up the front-line units’ firepower.
In game design terms that made for a scenario-rich environment, with a lot of action taking place in a very small place. It’s the sort of story our recent approach to Panzer Grenadier games can tell very well, but Broken Axis simply didn’t have all the pieces needed to tell it.
Broken Axis was designed by Mike Perryman; I designed the scenarios in one of its chapters (the one about the Royal Romanian Armored Division). Mike selects the pieces needed for a game based on exactly what the scenarios need, and between those and the Romanian tanks I squeezed in (we had 22 more to work with, thanks to switching to a then-new printer) there aren’t any extras.
Grossdeutschland 1944, as I re-worked it, needed some more stuff. It’s built around four chapters: the first-day assault by 37th Army, the subsequent actions of 37th Army, and the operations of the neighboring 46th Army. The fourth chapter cover the battles of the 3rd SS “Death’s Head” Panzer Division around Târgu Frumos in April 1944 in support of Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland.
Because the Soviet assault depended on intense concentration of force, the scenarios have more troops involved than the Broken Axis mix provides; I needed more Soviet infantry (both Guards and RKKA - Red Army of Workers and Peasants). Those come from Kursk: South Flank, which also provides some wide-open farmland that’s useful for the second- and third-day scenarios when the action moved into the flatlands of central and southern Moldova. And it has the Waffen SS pieces for the Death’s Head chapter.
The Axis positions for the most part were well behind the Dnestr River, as the Soviets had secured bridgeheads well before the offensive opened, but after the breakthrough both German and Romanian divisions tried to stand on successive river lines (the Chaha and the Cogîlnic). Neither Broken Axis nor South Flank has river map boards, so those have to come from Fire in the Steppe (which also has plenty of German and Soviet truck pieces). Artist Guy Riessen used the same underlying art pattern in all three games, so the maps meld together almost like it was planned that way. Finally, none of those games have Romanian mountain troops, which are found in the book Armata Romana.
And that’s what we have in Grossdeutschland 1944. It does require parts from three games and a book, and I think it uses them pretty effectively to tell a comprehensive story. I’m quite proud of the result; it’s exactly the sort of book or game that I want to create, and want to see us publish. But that distributor marketing guy is also right, a good friend trying vainly to save me from myself. Sales will never justify the effort I poured into this little book, and I would have been better off publishing one of those “I took the research from a computer game!” thingies.
It’s too late to take it back now.
You can order Grossdeutschland 1944 right here.
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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.