Lithuania’s Iron Wolves:
Scenario Preview, Part Four
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I generally try to bring our expansion books in at a rough balance of story (historical background, usually) and scenario (scenarios and sometimes rules). I’ve always been really good at the lost art of what journalists call “writing to space.” In the internet age, it’s way less valuable, but ask for 800 words and I can deliver 800 words on the first draft, no more and no less. I have no idea how, I just sort of know.
So bringing in the story part at half of the book comes easy to me. The scenarios are much harder, first because they’re going to take as many words as they’re going to take - you don’t know the length of a scenario’s special rules, for example, until after it’s designed and developed. And second, it’s much harder to judge how much space the scenario information - lists of units and their locations, mostly - is going to need.
What that means is that Panzer Grenadier: Lithuania’s Iron Wolves blew way past its page allowance and I had to toss out a whole chapter to make it fit. It has the story/scenario balance I wanted, but I did too much of it. We’ll probably come back with a Part Two at some point, since half of it’s already in the can, but for now Lithuania’s Iron Wolves comes in at three background chapters and four campaigns, totaling 17 scenarios and four battle games.
Let’s look at what’s now the final campaign of this monument to my quirky design desires:
The Lithuanian Army’s leadership counselled against resisting the threatened Soviet invasion in June 1940, but the civilian government could not countenance handing over their country to the Communists and ordered the Army to repel the invaders.
The Lithuanians faced terrible odds: four small infantry divisions mobilized, with their ranks fleshed out with quasi-reservists from the Rifle Association. Thousands more Rifle Association men formed loosely organized militias to fight the invaders. Against them the Red Army deployed overwhelming force, including 20,000 men already inside Lithuania’s borders. No foreign aid would be forthcoming.
Gates of Vilnius
Lithuania had made her bargain with the devil to gain Vilnius, and would not give it up without a fight. The Lithuanian infantry was reasonably well-armed and well-trained, but lacked the Red Army’s numbers and firepower. The Soviets were themselves lacking in confidence following the Winter War, but had plenty of modern weapons.
The Soviets brought their overwhelming superiority in manpower and materiel to bear on the Lithuanians just as it had been on the Finns a few months before. The Lithuanians hoped that fearsome resistance might bring the Soviets to the bargaining table, but with Lithuania’s only allies - Latvia and Estonia - capitulating to Soviet demands, the Soviets had no reason to listen to talk. Lithuania could either fight or surrender.
This is a huge scenario, with six maps in play and somewhere well north of 100 units on those maps. It’s a Soviet infantry assault, but the human waves are met by plenty of (pretty good) Lithuanian infantry supplemented by (really bad) Lithuanian militia. For an expansion book, I feel like there’s more leeway to give the hardcore players the sort of scenario they rarely see in the Panzer Grenadier boxed games; this one will work well for team play.
Just before the invasion took place, the Red Army of Workers and Peasants moved its showpiece unit, the 1st Moscow Motorized Rifle Division, the Bodyguard of the Proletariat, from its base at Polotsk to the Lithuanian border. When the invasion began, the elite motorized rifle division had the task of taking and occupying Panevezys, Lithuania’s fifth-largest city and more importantly the center of its publishing industry. The reactionary books, pamphlets and magazines that had rolled off its presses would be eliminated as a threat to the continuing socialist revolution.
Desperate Lithuanian resistance, even an armored counter-attack, could not blunt the advance of the Red Army’s best division. The Soviets broke through the Lithuanian lines and rushed through the gap, scattering the militia forces that tried to stop them. Anti-tank guns claimed a fair number of the thin-clad Soviet fast tanks, but the onslaught could not be stopped.
This is a merely large scenario, with the Red Army’s elite 1st Moscow Motorized Rifle Division fighting its way across a long board filled with Lithuanian defenders wielding anti-tank guns and their ubiquitous machine guns. The Soviets have the edge is just about every category, but to whom much is given, of him much shall be expected.
The invading Soviet armies - the 3rd and 11th - each included a cavalry corps, each of those with two cavalry divisions and one rifle division. These were the only large mobile formations in the Red Army of 1940, as the former head of the armor branch, Dmitry Pavlov (who also had charge of the invasion of Lithuania), had parceled out the tanks to support the rifle corps. And so they were tasked with sealing Lithuania’s northern and southern borders; the Lithuanians sent their own cavalry to interfere.
The Lithuanian cavalry could delay the Soviet advance, but could not stop it. The Soviet cavalry would reach the Baltic coast before the slow-moving Lithuanian infantry could have crossed the border into East Prussia, but the Lithuanians had never considered sending their army into exile. Even the cavalry brigade would remain on Lithuanian soil to join in the last stand.
Every campaign in the book has a cavalry-against-cavalry scenario, so of course the Lithuanian horse go up against the Red cavalry. This time the Lithuanians have caught the Soviets napping, and need to inflict some losses and ride away fast before the enemy wakes up.
The Soviet plan for the invasion of Lithuania, drafted by the staff of district commander D.G. Pavlov, called for parachute landings at the Gajuna railroad station. From there, the paratroopers would march to Kaunas’ airport where reinforcements would land by airplane. Then they would join with Soviet troops stationed nearby to secure the capital.
The Lithuanian militia had little stomach for a fight against Soviet paratroopers, and crumbled under their attack despite a significant edge in numbers. A late counter-attack by a company of Lithuanian regulars threatened to take back the airport, but the Soviets drove them off with heavy losses and consolidated their hold on the airfield. The capital would not remain in Lithuanian hands much longer.
The actual Soviet plan for the invasion of Lithuania (stillborn, as Lithuania actually chose not to fight) included a parachute landing outside Kaunas, so of course we had to include it in the scenario set. This could have been the script for Kabul 1979; hell, it probably was the script for Kabul 1979.
Lithuania’s Last Stand
While Soviet paratroopers dropped on the countryside and Red Army troops ranged out of their bases within Lithuania to seize brigades and other key sites, the Lithuanian Army tried to hold back the Soviet spearheads converging on the provisional capital of Kaunas. The Lithuanians were badly out-numbered, but as the Finns had proven just a few months before, the Red colossus stood on feet of clay.
While the Soviets had a great many tanks and the Lithuanians had very few, the Lithuanians had anti-tank guns and the examples of the Finnish campaign to show them that the all-powerful Red Army could be stopped. The Soviets would not be denied, ultimately, but in this battle the Iron Wolves succeeded in turning them back.
The Soviet light tank brigade of 1940 was a badly unbalanced force, and that shown here as the Red Army has plenty of armor, but no infantry to protect the tanks from the angry Lithuanian infantry. Yet the tanks must approach the Lithuanian positions to meet their objectives. That should make for an intense fight if the Lithuanian player is paying attention.
The Lithuanians had fought well, standing their ground to defend their country rather than flee into neutral East Prussia. But they could not overcome the huge advantage the Soviets held in numbers and firepower, and their complete domination of the skies and near-total monopoly on tanks.
The war lasted two weeks, with the second half consisting of scattered resistance by Rifle Association militias and the remnants of the regular army. Lithuania never formally surrendered; a new People’s Government was formed in the aftermath of the collapse of resistance and it requested annexation by the Soviet Union. The Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was declared in August 1940; the Soviet timetable had not been delayed at all.
Despite the decision to stand inside Lithuanian territory and Soviet moves to seal the border, at least 10,000 Lithuanian soldiers made it to East Prussia, where they were disarmed by the Germans and forced into prison camps. In the spring of 1941 they would be secretly released and organized into a special brigade for the upcoming German invasion of the Soviet Union.
And that wraps up Lithuania’s Iron Wolves!
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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 a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects.
People are saying that a few of them were actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold believes himself an iron wolf.