Michael Eckenfels, 26 September 2021
The thunderous arrival of Operation Uranus heralded the death knell of the German Army on the Eastern Front in November, 1942. The Germans had been tightly focused on taking the city of Stalingrad, an important and large city on the Volga River, to both cut off traffic on the Volga (thereby removing a highly important transport route for the Soviets), and to seize for propaganda purposes. At first, Stalingrad was of no interest to Hitler, but it slowly became so as the weeks passed. The Germans assaulting Stalingrad itself were bled white in the face of vicious Soviet resistance, whom in turn also suffered grievous casualties. The Soviet counteroffensive (Operation Uranus) proved to be completely successful, cutting off the German 6th Army and numerous independent field formations, along with tens of thousands of support personnel. Both OKH and Hitler promised the encircled troops they would be rescued quickly, which served to feed the 6th Army’s commander, von Paulus, with hope that all his army needed to do was to stay put, awaiting rescue, instead of launching his own offensive to try to link up with his would-be rescuers.
An absolutely outstanding and full account of the Battle of Stalingrad can be found from many sources, including books by Jason Mark (Death of the Leaping Horsemen, Island of Fury), David Glantz (his Stalingrad trilogy), and of course Beevor’s Stalingrad, but another lesser-known one can be found in a series of videos by a YouTube user named TIK, which can be found here and is currently at 26 episodes – though he’s still making new ones and is far from finished on this subject. TIK’s videos will give you an excellent perspective on the battle overall, including the significant battles that took place in the Don bend in July and August 1942, which greatly impacted the overall campaign.
Stalingrad Solitaire is published by Canvas Temple Publishing
In any case, this AAR article is on my playthrough of the game Stalingrad Solitaire. This game, which is a successor to an earlier effort by One Small Step called Der Kessel, puts the player in the shoes (jackboots?) of von Paulus, 6th Army’s commander at the time, putting the weight of decisions on your own shoulders. Should you sit tight and hope Hoth’s relief force makes it to you? Or should you spend precious supplies to try to fight your way to Hoth? You have very few resources to address the mounting problems facing you within “der Kessel,” not to mention other events impacting the front as a whole (the 6th Army’s survival means the Soviets divert a great deal of strength to hold you in place instead of seeking to destroy the rest of Army Group South). After all, there are two full German armies still in the Caucasus, having attempted to capture Soviet oil facilities there. With this disastrous Soviet counteroffensive, they must withdraw to avoid an even greater encirclement, so holding out here in the Stalingrad pocket is doubly important.
click images to enlarge
The board itself is a point-by-point system; in the image above, I’ve added a border and slight shading so you can see exactly where the German positions lie. Stalingrad itself is on the eastern edge of the pocket.
This shows the game board at start. Some German positions have two units, while others have a UA/fortification symbol. The fortification symbol is exactly that, while the UA is the other side of that counter; it requires an expenditure of effort on the part of the Germans to turn into a full-fledged fortification. But, these forts are not permanent and can disappear quite easily. More on that, later.
You might also note some of the German units appear lighter than others. The units showing their lighter sides are depleted; the darker side is a full-strength side (which admittedly is rather generous considering how run-down the German units in Stalingrad were).
I’ll go into more detail with options and how turns work as we begin this AAR, so let’s get started. Winter waits for no one…
Memoirs of Oberleutnant Hassel, O3 (3rd Assistant Adjutant), 6th Army
November 3, 1942
It seems that my work has paid off. My attention to detail in helping the Ic with his intelligence assessments has given me the opportunity to be at the forefront of our great endeavor to the south – against Stalingrad! We have heard a lot of stories coming from there, of course, but it’s become apparent that the O3 there for 6th Army has fallen ill and requires an immediate replacement. I am off for parts south tomorrow!
Michael’s Stalingrad Solitaire AAR will be running on Sundays
November 29 (Turn 1)
The last few weeks have been a blur, a whirlwind of staccato death in the last few days. What was supposed to be the ‘finishing touches’ on Ivan in Stalingrad has become a disaster of unimaginable magnitude. I’ve had no time to write in this diary given the demands on my time (20-some hour days since I’ve arrived!). It’s been very important to help 6th Army’s Ic stay on top of things, given that a few meters’ worth of space can mean the difference between the death of the enemy or the death of our boys.
Death may be the least of our concerns, now. Ivan has launched a counteroffensive that we were unable to contain, to both the left and right of our positions in and around Stalingrad. They linked up a few days ago, effectively surrounding us. The electric air here tried to imbibe our commander, von Paulus, with the momentum to affect a breakout – but this has been absolutely forbidden by The Fuhrer. Our window of opportunity is slipping by…even I, updating the situation maps hourly and sometimes more quickly, know our chance has passed. We must rely on our comrades outside the pocket to relieve us!
Each turn in the game represents “1 to 5 days” of time, “depending on the level of activity.” The rules don’t get more into this. The game lasts 16 turns total, so if we extrapolated that the Stalingrad pocket was formed in late November and surrendered in early February, we’re looking at about nine weeks’ worth of time. I wish that aligned better with 16 turns, but another intangible here is that the full 16 turns might not be representative of that historic timeframe…meaning, in game turns, the Germans might have historically surrendered on game turn 12 for all we know. This is not a highly specific game, though, and is meant to be more of a lighter sim on the subject matter. So, we will make do and not try to read too much into a system that’s meant to be simple.
First, we have to conduct the Strategic Phase, which is a collection of steps involving morale, supply, upkeep, and a number of other things, starting with a Random Event Determination. This is a card draw, which will spell out what happens this turn (if anything):
I was directing our map unit (‘unit’ is a generous term, as it’s three Feldwebels and an officer cadet – if you can believe it – caught here with us in this trap) when I overheard the belief that our Luftwaffe brethren will provide us with all the supply we need – though the torrent we were promised is but a trickle. The weather is getting worse; it is colder, there is more snow, and the winds have picked up tremendously, causing a great number of hazards to our transport aircraft attempting to land here in the Pocket.
Oof. ‘Hazardous Flying Continues’ means a -3 to the Airlift roll later…which means our Supply situation is going to be pretty terrible later this turn.
Next is Weather Determination, but this is a point of confusion for me. The game says the weather starts as ‘Fair,’ which is marked on the game board. Seems odd to say that and then require a card draw to determine the weather. So on Turn 1, I ignore this and move to the next step.
Now, we determine the Luftwaffe Commitment level. This can be Weak, Average, or Strong; we obviously want Strong, because the better their commitment, the more supplies will potentially be delivered, though this can also mean Army Group South as a whole will deteriorate for it (as maximum effort is being given to Stalingrad and not elsewhere along the vast front).
Despite the weather, von Richtofen, the commander in this sector, has promised vehemently that he will make an all-out effort with every available transport and bomber over the next few days, hoping to make up for the weather’s impact.
By the way, the game comes with a decent, clear d6, but I’m using different dice – a German d6 and a Soviet d6, for the appropriate rolls needed in the game.
For better or worse, I roll a 6. This does get a modifier of +2 as our SSI (a measure of the strategic situation as a whole) is 10, but that modifier is not needed; we get a ‘Strong’ commitment from the Luftwaffe this turn.
Next up is a roll to determine the Relief Force’s commitment to their push to the Stalingrad pocket. A Strong result will mean they will likely make headway towards us, but at the detriment to the front as a whole.
And in this case, I roll a 5; with that +2 modifier (which is again not needed) thanks to a strong SSI, we are able to get a ‘Strong’ commitment from the Relief Force.
We have also heard from the staff of Hoth, whom is to command our relief force. This is fantastic news, as Hoth is an excellent commander. If anyone can get through to us here, it is he and his veterans!
Next is the German Morale Level. At game start, this is 33; it is set by the number of locations the German units occupy in the Pocket, as well as the numbered location of Hoth’s Relief Force (in this case, they’re in the ‘1’ position). There’s 32 points’ worth of locations in the Pocket, plus one for the Relief Force, for a total of 33.
From this, we now determine how many IPs, or Initiative Points, we receive this turn. These can be used to take Actions later. We get one IP for every 5 points of Morale, with leftovers ignored. We thus receive six IPs for this turn.
Wading through these initial turn items might seem a slog, but they’re all incredibly important to the game as a whole. Especially now, as we conduct the Airlift and see how much of Herr Goering’s bluster is actual truth. Even with a Strong commitment from his Luftwaffe this turn, that -3 Random Event result is going to hurt us.
I rolled a 4, which is pretty good normally, but that -3 means it’s a 1. That results in 1 whole Supply Point making it into the Pocket, which raises our Supply total from 10 to 11. Every little bit helps, but you’ll see just how fast these Supply Points can disappear, soon. That 4 Supply we would have received were it not for the Random Event would have been very nice.
November 30, 1942
The promises over the last few days from the Luftwaffe has resulted in a few drips of supply – we fortunately have stockpiles, so our units will not experience a shortfall in the next few days. However, with this feeble income, we will be in dire straights soon if this level of service continues…
Now, we conduct unit upkeep. For every five German units, including Headquarters, depleted units, and battlegroup units, we have to spend one Supply point to keep them functioning normally. If a unit is not supplied, a roll has to be made on an Upkeep Table to determine losses.
There are 22 German units in the Pocket, which means we need to spend 5 Supply to keep them all in good shape. Yes, this means we have to spend one full Supply Point for those two leftover units, and the remaining effects are unfortunately lost. Our Supply has dropped from 11 to 6.
That’s it for the Strategic Phase. Now, we move to the German Phase, where we conduct our Actions.
One of the most important is ensuring the wounded get out of the Pocket. Right now, the Wounded marker is set to 3; each point of this is equal to about 1,500 men. Spending one of our six IPs will evacuate three Wounded, so that’s my first Action – spending one IP to reduce our Wounded total to zero. If Wounded were allowed to continue to grow (which they can from Soviet attacks), each 5 Wounded would reduce our IP count by 1, so it is a good thing to try to keep this total low.
(Note that the Supply marker did not move from 11 to 6 in this image; I caught this soon after taking the picture above and rectified this.)
Fortunately, our wounded comrades have been flown out. There has been enough transport to get the roughly 3,500 wounded trapped here out where they can get proper care. Soon enough, I worry, those numbers will reestablish themselves…
This leaves us with five IPs. There are, besides the Evacuate Wounded action, several others I can take, including:
- Appeal (to try to gain extra Supply, Freedom of Action, or other benefits…maybe)
- Prepared Defense (to either flip a UA, or UnActivated, counter to its Prepared Defense side, or place a new UA counter)
- Movement (to, naturally, move units around)
- Tactical Attack (a general attack to keep Soviet units off balance and hopefully delay the start of their Final Offensive against the Pocket)
- Create Battlegroup (which are formed from noncombat personnel and soldiers from destroyed units; these are weak units that are only good for being a roadblock or filling a gap in the line)
- Surrender (which would make this a very short AAR)
Each Action costs a certain number of IPs, and in some cases, Supply Points as well. Our options at this point in time are somewhat limited; the Surrender action is out of the question right now (and it’s kind of silly to consider, in my opinion), there’s no need to Create Battlegroups, the Soviet Final Offensive is in its infancy planning right now so keeping them off balance isn’t going to have a large effect. Appeals, Prepared Defenses, and Movement are very viable right now.
Movement would be good in order to shuffle around some depleted units, especially the Romanian 20th Infantry Division, in the south part of the Pocket. However, Movement is expensive; every five areas moved by our units costs one IP and one Supply Point. Moving into an area adjacent to a Soviet unit counts as two areas. I’m not sure I want to do this right now.
A Prepared Defense marker, whether placing a new one or flipping a new one to its Prepared side, costs 2 IPs or four Supply. I haven’t seen a specific restriction saying that you cannot build a new one and then flip it to its Prepared side in the same turn, so that should work though it will cost a lot of IPs.
What are IPs, you may ask? They can absorb one hit from a Soviet attack, which can be very useful. You’ll note from earlier there’s a LOT of them along the northern part of the Pocket, but the southern side is bereft of them. I’m going to spend four IPs on creating a Prepared Defense for the 20th Romanian Infantry Division; their depleted state worries me the most out of all units around the perimeter.
The 20th Romanian Infantry Division was part of the Fourth Romanian Army guarding the front south of Stalingrad; not all of its soldiers were pushed northwards, but this represents the remainder of their force, ergo the reason why it is in a depleted state. It was also under 50% strength before the Soviet offensive, so its effectiveness even then was highly questionable.
That expenditure leaves me with one IP. I’m spending it to move the German 295th Infantry Division out of Stalingrad, to Peschanka, where the Romanian unit is. Its Depleted state means one hit and its gone, so a full-strength (so to speak) German division here will greatly shore up this position. This also costs one Supply point, but hopefully it will pay off.
Come back next week to see what happens!
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