Red & White:
Scenario Preview, Part Four
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
When I first envisioned the set of playing pieces for the book that became Iron Curtain: Red & White, I had in mind a revived Polish Exile Corps fighting alongside the Western Allies against Soviet aggression. They would form an elite fire brigade for the new NATO alliance, heading to the trouble spots with an array of cutting-edge weaponry like Centurion and Pershing tanks.
That idea started out as a downloadable supplement, when we still did that sort of thing. I wanted to make sure we didn’t cover any topics in a download that we’d want to pursue later in a physical format. Which wasn’t that bad an idea in itself, but then I had the fairly stupid notion to make actual die-cut pieces for the Polish download, and since they were die-cut, we had to make a lot of them.
Fortunately, John Stafford came along to save me from a bad decision, and not for the first time. He wrote a series of 40 completely new scenarios using the Polish pieces to tell a story of a Cold War gone hot in the early 1950’s over a Soviet attempt to militarily snuff out a democratic Poland (which does sort of ask for it by waging an intense anti-Communist propaganda campaign). He’s turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and I am impressed with the results. I think you will be too. Here’s a look at the final segment of 10 scenarios:
Contain, Contain, Contain!
10 November 1951
With their drive toward Poznan blunted, the Soviets changed gears and headed for Lodz. This attack again lay along the seam between the Warsaw Military District and the Silesian Military District. The former sent the 5th Podhale Rifle Regiment and 62nd Special Troops Company to assist the hodgepodge of Silesian forces in containing the Soviet threat. The opponents collided near Ostrow Wielkopolski and Lake Trzcielin.
As both sides wear down from continuous combat, the commanders have to become clever in the use of their forces. Attrition only benefits the side with the most troops, which would be appropriate for Soviet forces coming from the east, but not for those fighting from Germany and Czechoslovakia.
If you lose containment, you give up a big play. The Soviets are still on the attack, but not in really good shape. Even so, they must press forward and punch a hole through the Polish defenses. The Poles for their part have reinforced their own sagging regular forces with low-grade militia on the one hand and high-morale special forces on the other. The Polish player will have to make good use of his small group of elite shock troops while trying not to expose his shaky militia to the full weight of the Soviet armor and its AK-wielding tank riders.
First Stand at Skoczów
13 October 1951
The mighty Vistula River runs through Scoczów providing a defensible obstacle to thwart the Soviet advance. The local Polish commander blew the bridges as the first Soviet unit rolled into sight, and the confident Poles prepared to hold the formidable barrier. But the Soviets came prepared for this event.
This battle is another variant of the river crossing attack. In this one, the Soviets are trying to build a bridgehead that follow-on armored forces will exploit to break out from the Polish cordon. If the Soviets achieve success here, they will charge onward toward Bielsko-Biala trying to skirt the many lakes and rivers in this region.
Moving to the Southern Front, we have a large scenario with the Soviets trying to use their armored bridge-layers (another ultra-cool special rule new to this book) to fight their way across a defended river. The Soviets are pretty much heedless of their losses as long as they get over the river in force; the Poles have to stop them and inflict heavy casualties while doing so.
Intersection at Zory
13 October 1951
The route to Katowice passes through Zory, a small manufacturing town astride Highway 81. Rather than fight defensively, the Polish commander set up a classic L-shaped ambush for the advancing Soviet force. The Soviet’s response will determine the success or failure of this gambit.
Lots to do and only so many units and so much time to do it in. That's often the story of war. The Polish commander is intending to pull off a hit and run ambush, but he has to hold some of the real estate unless he can really do asymmetrical damage to the Soviets. For the Soviet, kill them all and then roll off the north edge of the board. Simple, right?
The Soviets need to control the main road and get off the board, but somewhere out there to Poles are waiting to ambush them. Sneaky Poles.
15 October 1951
The 23rd Tank Division fought through the Polish ambush at Zory, catching a number of Polish units in the pursuit phase as they moved aggressively forward. Katowice lay less than 20 miles northeast of Zory along Highway 81. After the ambush, the Soviets placed more emphasis on scouting. As the terrain is fairly flat with grasslands and fields, it makes for ideal tank country when the weather is nice. Soon the boom of cannon and the roar of engines would echo across those fields.
The Soviet command is pushing hard in their drive toward Krakow, deploying a two-pronged advance. They expect their tank commanders to hit hard and keep going, as they learned from the Germans just a few years ago. The Poles also want to hit hard, but have to husband their forces while still making life as difficult as possible for the invader. They have some land they can trade for time, but the Poles must inflict serious casualties on the Soviets or they will lose in the end.
A medium-sized tank battle on the wide-open plains of Poland, with the heavy metal on the board (Soviet JS2 and T-44 tanks against Polish Centurions and Pershings).
Trumpet Call of Krakow
27 October 1951
The irresistible horde of Soviet men and vehicles captured Katowice and continued to grind forward. While the well-trained and fanatically-dedicated Polish troops proved their mettle again and again against the Soviets, the numbers told the story. Then Mother Nature got into the act. October is not a good time to fight in the east. Napoleon learned that the hard way, then Hitler relearned it. But Stalin said "push on," and so they did, mile after grinding mile toward Krakow.
This is a tough fight for the Soviets. They get to pick the schwerpunkt of the battlefield, but exploitation will be difficult, although the ground will hamper the defender's mobility as well. Also, their overall advantage in numbers is slim and the terrain lends itself to the defender. The Poles are fighting to keep Krakow out of Soviet hands, and the mud is on their side. Is the furor of the Red Army waning?
Panthers, Tigers, Pershings and Centurions, all in Polish white livery. Pretty cool.
3 November 1951
General Sulik, commander of the Silesian Military District, growled in frustration. His men blocking the approaches to Krakow from the west boasted big successes in stopping the Soviet drive, and their complex defense in depth wrought havoc on the Soviet units. But as he'd feared, the Soviets had begun to push around the flanks to the south and north looking for weak spots, and they'd just found one near Trabki. Sulik barked an order to his aide to send in his final reserves to plug the hole, then picked up the phone to call Marshal Anders in Warsaw and ask for more help.
As both sides wear down, the Soviets with their superior numbers are able to exploit weaknesses in the Polish line. Sometimes the rear echelon units take the brunt of the damage when that happens. Regardless, if the Polish forces cannot stop the encirclement of Krakow it is likely to fall. Already the refugees are moving northeast toward Warsaw, which itself is under heavy pressure.
The Soviet drive does not relent, even as its units wear down. The Poles are stretched prett y thin here, but have a distinct unit-to-unit superiority from which they’ll have to wring every last advantage.
7 November 1951
After several days’ more hard fighting, the noose around Krakow is almost closed. Anders and Sulik are working together trying to keep a line of communications and supply open since they are unwilling to give up Krakow, vowing to fight for every street. They've even recruited some local militia to help fight the Russkies. If the Soviets are successful today near the town of Zlotniki, the noose will be closed.
This battle is not quite "all in" for the Polish side, but it's important. If Krakow is isolated it will probably fall in time to Soviet pounding unless some other event occurs to intervene. Likewise, the Soviets are behind their timetable and Stalin is pushing for a quick victory before the rest of NATO and winter weather, or both, can make their presence felt. Both sides need a big win here.
The Poles are well-fortified behind a river, but the Soviets have brought their armored bridge-layers again. Everyone’s victory conditions are pretty high, which is going to make for an intense fight along the Vistula.
9 November 1951
With Wroclaw fallen and Krakow surrounded, General Sulik has returned much of his staff to the field units to fill critical shortfalls. He knows the Soviets will hit them again hard at dawn. Besides praying for rain to keep the Red Air Force at bay, he gathers his remaining senior officers for a pep talk. Polish history, he reminds them, is not filled with great Polish victories. It is a country overrun time and again by bigger powers. Yet it was here at the site of Sulik’s headquarters, at Wawel Hill, that the semi-mythical Prince Krakus slew the Wawel Dragon and at Wawel Hill that Polish defenders held off furious Mongol attacks for ten straight days in 1241. Once again, Sulik insists, Poland’s sons must hold off a vicious, unstoppable barbarian horde from the east.
This battle will be fought at close quarters. Both sides will have to leverage what small advantages they have to eke out a victory. The Poles need to hold on to give their allies time to provide assistance. The Soviets need to crush the Poles so they can move on to Warsaw and end this bloodbath.
The Soviet armored spearhead has been ground down, and now the infantry has to make its own breakthroughs. The Red Army has some tank support, but not enough for any sweeping maneuvers. This dragon is going to have to fight on foot.
This is Not 1939!
11 November 1951
On the evening of 7 November four British LSTs pulled into the docks at Gdynia and began offloading tanks and other vehicles, which rolled directly onto trains headed south. Half those vehicles went to the Warsaw Military District which sent some to Poznan and some to the Warsaw front. The remainder headed further south toward Miechow where a counterattack to open a corridor to Krakow would kick off on the 11th.
The arrival of fresh tanks and supporting vehicles (some crewed by American volunteers) breathed some new life into the Polish forces. If they can break through to the Krakow garrison it will provide not only a badly need morale boost for the Poles, but also prove that the Soviets are not unstoppable, and that NATO is there and helping. The Poles don't have to destroy all the Soviet forces to win this, just convince Great Stalin that it's not going to be worth it for him to continue.
The good news is that the Poles have many more tanks this time, and a solid edge in armor support over the Soviets. The bad news is that many of these new tanks are Shermans. The Poles have to punch a hole through the Soviet lines and pour through; the Soviets have to hang on as bets they can.
Breakthrough from the North
13 November 1951
With the renewed vigor infused by the new tanks and American volunteers, Sulik and Anders' forces continue to attack to open a logistics corridor to Krakow. Polish forces inside the Krakow pocket are running low on ammunition but do their part to put pressure on the Soviets from behind. An increase in American airpower is also helping the Polish cause. The Soviets must hold on through this peak effort, and then counterattack toward Warsaw. If the capital falls then this war will surely be over.
So how did it all turn out? Who knows? If the Polish Army could hold on to several key cities, and the NATO forces were able to wreck at least one of the Soviet armies, it's possible the Soviets could be convinced to come to the conference table. Of course, the looming threat of nuclear weapons would play a significant role: would the U.S. use them (they had far more than the Soviets at this point)? If the Soviets demonstrated a willingness to use their own few nuclear weapons, would that deter the Americans or cause a nuclear war? Thankfully this particular brand of insanity never occurred, but if you read the turbulent history of the Soviet-occupied countries after World War II, this type of struggle for the future of Eastern Europe was certainly possible. How that might have come to pass is certainly open to discussion. Thank you for playing our game; we hope you enjoyed it.
We wrap with a big scenario of a Polish relief attempt, with strong forces battering at strong Soviet forces holding the ring around Krakow. The Poles enter from both sides of the board, putting the Red Army in the position of Caesar at Alesia two millennia earlier.
And that’s it for Iron Curtain: Red & White. But the Iron Curtain saga will continue.
Get in the game! Click here to order Iron Curtain: Red & White.
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.