Scenario Preview, Part One
Panzer Grenadier: Slovakia’s War is a heavily revised version of our old, out-of-print First Axis book, including the playing pieces from First Axis and from the old out-of-print Sinister Forces. I didn’t want to throw the pieces out even though it turned out that we didn’t have nearly as many of them as I’d thought.
First Axis had thirty scenarios, and all of them drew on games and other books for board and pieces; all of those were out of print, too. I re-worked 23 of them to use Fire in the Steppe and Broken Axis, and those scenarios are the basis for Slovakia’s War. Let’s have a look at the first eight. In these, the Slovak Mobile Division is at the height of its combat powers.
25 June 1941
The Slovak mobile group met its first opposition near Wojtkowa, in formerly Polish territory just to the northeast of the Slovak border. They found Red Army troops of 8th Rifle Corps who had been bypassed by the advancing German spearheads a few days earlier, undamaged and still ready to fight. Col. Rudolf Pilfousek sent his tanks forward to support an infantry assault.
Eighth Rifle Corps remained full of fight, and most importantly well-supplied with corps-level artillery and ammunition. The border guards put up fierce resistance and the Slovak infantry balked at advancing even when accompanied by their tanks. Pilfousek pulled his troops back without having put a dent in the Soviet line.
Backed by plentiful tank support, the Slovaks crash into tough NKVD border guards backed by some additional anti-tank help from the Red Army of Workers and Peasants. The Slovaks have artillery support, while their initiative and morale are about as good as they’re going to get. Their best may not be enough to overcome the border guards, who have lots of artillery of their own to back their anti-tank batteries.
27 June 1941
Apparently embarrassed by his group’s failure, Pilfousek ordered them forward again only to find that the Soviets had pulled out without the Slovaks noticing. The German corps command then ordered the group back to assist a German engineer battalion that was reducing Soviet fortified positions left behind in the rapid advance. The Germans believed them to be unoccupied, but they had to be investigated all the same.
Things began to go badly from the start, as the Germans drove right up to an unsuspected machine gun position and suffered terrible casualties. The Slovaks then sent their tanks forward in a reconnaissance-by-fire to find the hidden Soviet positions and determine which bunkers were occupied. Only after the tanks had been fired on did the Slovak infantry assault the strong points, with the help of their own engineers and a few survivors of the German unit. The Slovaks showed they could be just as careless as the Germans - several tanks were lost when they spotted Soviet anti-tank guns and moved directly in front of them to wait motionlessly for infantry support.
The Soviets can’t do much except react to the inept Slovak-German attack, but when they do react they have considerable firepower. The Soviets hold strong fortifications, and the Axis have to come right at them. This is going to be tough on the Slovaks despite their plentiful tank support.
Slovakia’s Battle; Phase One
22 July 1941
After spending several weeks absorbing reinforcements in the rear areas, the Slovak Mobile Brigade finally was attached to the German 49th Mountain Corps and ordered into action. The German corps command sent the brigade to the town of Lipovec to block the retreat routes of Soviet units coming from the north. The town was believed to be Soviet-occupied, and the Slovaks were to eject the defenders and hold the position.
Despite the help of tank support, the Slovaks had trouble fighting their way through the first Soviet lines. The “brigade” was very small and lacked sufficient infantry for the task, and when Pilfousek sent tanks forward without infantry support several were shot up by Soviet anti-tank guns. By late afternoon the Slovaks reached the edge of Lipovec, only to be thrown back later. Their colonel ordered the tanks to pull back and refuel, and had not issued any further orders when the Soviets took the decision out of his hands.
The Slovaks have a long way to go, with many objectives to captures, and while their force is mobile it’s simply not very good (outside of a lot of tanks). The Soviets should be on their heels, but they have to strength to stand up and fight the Slovaks and a strong contingent to anti-tank guns.
Slovakia’s Battle; Phase Two
22 July 1941
Col. Rudolf Pilfousek ordered his entire brigade to move forward to Lipovec, apparently thinking the town was already in Slovak hands. The Soviets still held firm there, and the Slovaks began to fight them house-to-house. While the fighting raged in the town and drew the Slovaks’ attention forward, a Soviet flanking force struck hard from the south.
The Slovaks fought hard for the town, but Pilfousek and his staff had done a poor job of scouting and planning. The Soviet flanking attack took them completely by surprise, and the brigade was cut in two. Some units panicked, while the brigade’s lead elements had to fight their way back to re-gain communications with the rest of the Slovaks. Two companies of Germans helped stabilize the situation, and though they took Lipovec the brigade never truly recovered from this battle.
This was a difficult scenario to design, since we have a surprise Soviet counter-attack that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Should the attack come as a surprise (through some mixture of hidden arrivals and randomness) or give the Slovak player the foresight Pilfousek should have had, but ignored. In the end I decided not to saddle the Slovak player with that stupidity. Even knowing when and where the Red Army reinforcements are coming, this once again is going to be tough for the Slovaks.
Holding the River
16 September 1941
Finally sent back into action, the Slovaks were tasked with guarding the right bank of the Dnepr River south of Kiev. On the opposite bank, the Germans were in the process of isolating a huge pocket of Soviet troops. All the Slovaks had to do was to prevent the Soviets from crossing the river, and not allow them to break out of the trap.
The Slovak version of events doesn’t completely match with other indicators. The Soviets were indeed making counter-attacks at this time, but on the other side of the pocket. Even a successful crossing of the Dnepr would not have brought them any closer to escape and would have on the contrary put one of Europe's great rivers between them and the rest of their forces. The Slovaks claimed to have repulsed a major attack yet they suffered no casualties. We’ve taken their word in constructing this scenario, but in all likelihood this was a much smaller action than what is depicted here (if it happened at all).
I think I soft-pedaled the conclusion a little: I don’t believe this battle happened at all and I think the Slovak division staff just plain made it up. It’s a pretty powerful Soviet force that comes storming over the river, and the Slovaks probably should have fantasized an enemy who was easier to defeat. The great Slovak advantage is their mobility: it’s a completely motorized defending force, able to quickly concentrate against a crossing point.
25 December 1941
Knowing their enemies to enjoy Christmas celebrations, the Red Army launched numerous attacks on the holiday. The Slovaks were dug in behind a river, with strong German formations on either side of them. But the Soviets had made careful preparations and backed their attacking infantry with strong artillery support, knowing this would unnerve the fragile Slovak brigade. The German divisions were struck at the same time, to make sure neither could lend assistance.
The Slovaks held their positions, despite a lack of German support (powerful attacks kept their neighbors well-occupied themselves). The Slovak “division” had already detached one of its four battalions to coast defense duties on the Sea of Azov, leaving it the equivalent of a reinforced regiment. The duty on the Mius line would be the Slovak division’s only extended exposure to combat, and it held up very well.
Once again the Slovaks are holding a river line; this time the battle actually happened. The Soviets are numerous and fierce, but their tank support is pretty crapulent.
25 July 1942
After refitting with replacement personnel and trucks, the Slovak Mobile Division set out in the second echelon of the German advance into the Caucasus. When fierce fighting broke out in and around the city of Rostov, the German corps command committed its shaky allies to capture a key collective farm northeast of the city.
The Slovaks faced some of their fiercest fighting of the entire war, but slowly managed to force the Soviets back and capture the collective farm. In a marked difference from the unit’s first year of war, the division not only fought a successful action but was fit for action again afterwards. They re-joined the German second echelon and drove on into the Caucasus.
The Slovaks are out-gunned and out-moraled, but they’re not out-trucked and that’s going to be their key to victory, using their mobility to avoid those Soviet guns. And they get a Slovakian airplane! Now how cool is that?
High Water Mark
15 September 1942
The Slovaks saw little fighting during the Axis advance into the Caucasus, as German and Romanian divisions did the dirty work and the Mobile Division breezed along in their wake. With the Soviet 56th Army fighting with berserk fury to hold the approaches to the port of Tuapse on the Black Sea, 57th Panzer Corps finally committed the Slovaks to a major attack. If the Axis could break through to Tuapse, the Soviet defenses along the Black Sea coast would be cut in two.
Though the capture of Tuapse was vital to the German campaign plan in the Caucasus, neither of 57th Panzer Corps’ mercenary divisions (the other was the 5th SS “Viking” Division) were up to the task. On the Soviet side, North Caucasus Front had asked for thousands of Communist Party members and additional political officers, and these men and women helped keep fighting spirit at a fanatic level. The Red Army held with its back to the sea, setting the stage for an eventual massive victory. The Slovaks, badly damaged in the effort, were pulled back out of the front lines.
Once again, the motorized Slovaks are on the attack. This time they have numbers on their side, plus artillery support, plus bicyclists. They have a pretty steep victory bar to cross, and a determined enemy to overcome.
And that’s our look at the Slovak Mobile Division. Next we’ll talk about the scenarios featuring second-line Slovak units.
Send the Slovaks into battle! Click here to order Slovakia’s War.
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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 knows nothing of Slovakia.