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CDG 55 – Spanish Blue Division in Russia, 1943By Andrew H. Hershey | Admin | Published: January 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm
The article below is an abridged version of Combat Decision Game #55, “Spanish Blue Division in Russia, 1943,‚ÄĚ written by Andrew H. Hershey. Additional text and illustrations appear in the March 2013 edition of¬†Armchair General¬ģ magazine, where you‚Äôll also find additional interactive articles based on a Union infantry attack at Big Black River Bridge in 1863 and Red Army general Pavel Alekseevich Rotmistrov at the Korsun Pocket, 1944. On newsstands now.
This CDG places readers in the role of Colonel Manuel Sagrado, commander of Regiment 262, Spanish Blue Division, as Red Army forces prepare to launch a massive offensive to break the German siege of Leningrad.
Armchair General¬ģ challenges YOU to take command of this historical battle. Here’s how to get in on the action:
READ the article carefully
Winning solutions will be announced in the July 2013 issue. However, those eager to read the historical outcome and analysis can log on to armchairgeneral.com/cdg after February 25, 2013.
The German army did not fight alone against the Red Army on World War II‚Äôs vast Eastern Front. Fighting alongside the Wehrmacht were combat units from Adolf Hitler‚Äôs Axis allies ‚Äď Italy, Hungary and Romania ‚Äď and Germany‚Äôs co-belligerent against the Soviet Union, Finland. The ranks of those fighting for Germany also included volunteers recruited from pro-Nazi or anti-communist elements in Europe‚Äôs conquered nations and, notably, a volunteer division from Generalissimo Francisco Franco‚Äôs ostensibly neutral Spain, the Spanish ‚ÄúBlue Division‚ÄĚ (La Divisi√≥n Azul).
Incorporated into the Wehrmacht as 250th Infantry Division (operating as part of the German army instead of as a separate allied formation), the Spanish unit arrived on the Eastern Front in summer 1941 and eventually joined German Army Group North targeting Leningrad, USSR. In February 1943, with the German siege of Leningrad nearly 18 months old, the Spanish division occupied a key sector in the southeastern portion of the siege lines south of the Neva River near Krasny Bor on the main Moscow to Leningrad road.
Although Soviet attempts to lift the siege of Leningrad were so far unsuccessful, the Red Army victory at the Battle of Stalingrad (August 23, 1942‚ÄďFebruary 2, 1943) inspired Stavka, the Soviet high command, to attempt another powerful breakthrough offensive to relieve Leningrad‚Äôs battered, starving defenders and civilians. With German forces on the Leningrad front substantially weakened by having to send troops south to replace the catastrophic losses suffered at Stalingrad, and with numerous Red Army units freed up by the victory, Stavka judged the correlation of forces highly favorable for finally achieving a Leningrad breakthrough.
Armchair General¬ģ takes you back to February 9, 1943, near Leningrad, where you will play the role of Colonel Manuel Sagrado, commander of Regiment 262, Spanish Blue Division. As Red Army forces prepare to launch a massive offensive to break the German siege of Leningrad, your mission is to hold the defensive line at Krasny Bor and defeat the Soviet attack. Although the Soviet forces heavily outnumber your regiment in infantry, tanks and artillery, your soldiers occupy a key position in the German siege lines and therefore must turn back the enemy attack at all costs. Failure to prevent a Red Army breakthrough at Krasny Bor could precipitate a catastrophic collapse of the German army‚Äôs entire Leningrad front.
SPAIN‚ÄôS ‚ÄúBLUE DIVISION‚ÄĚ
In June 1941, Franco offered ‚Äď and Hitler accepted ‚Äď the Volunteer Division of Spain (Divisi√≥n Espa√Īola de Voluntarios). To prevent the Allies from construing this as a move by Spain to officially enter the war on the side of the Axis, these 18,000 Spanish volunteers came with restrictions imposed by Franco: They would fight as the German army‚Äôs 250th Infantry Division, not as a separate national unit of Spain; Hitler could only use them on the Eastern Front and not in any occupied Western European nation; and they could only oppose Stalin‚Äôs Red Army, not any British, French or non-USSR allied forces.
Although the Blue Division takes its name from the distinctive color of its soldiers‚Äô uniform tunics (intentionally different from the uniforms of Spain‚Äôs regular army), the division‚Äôs men all wear standard Wehrmacht uniforms while fighting with the Germans.
Since the Blue Division‚Äôs arrival on the Eastern Front, the unit has acquitted itself well in combat, particularly when fighting on the defensive. The imminent Red Army offensive, however, threatens to be the toughest challenge the Spaniards have yet faced in the war in Russia. The most critical portion of the division‚Äôs front is at Krasny Bor, the main focus of the Soviet attack ‚Äď and the sole responsibility of your Regiment 262.
RED VS. BLUE
To defend Krasny Bor against this awesome array of Red Army troops, tanks and firepower, you have only your Regiment 262, whose main strength consists of 1st, 2d and 3d infantry battalions. Each battalion is composed of three companies of infantrymen armed with bolt-action, K98 7.92 mm Mauser rifles and a heavy weapons company formed around six MG34 machine guns and six 81 mm mortars. The regiment also includes an anti-tank company with a dozen PAK36 37 mm anti-tank guns, a combat engineer battalion and a company of ski troops. Further support is provided by Reserve Battalion 250, composed of three companies of infantrymen armed mainly with submachine guns. An anti-tank gun section with three PAK40 75 mm anti-tank guns from 2d SS Brigade is also attached to the regiment for this battle. Fire support is provided by the regiment‚Äôs organic infantry gun company with two 75 mm guns and two 150 mm howitzers, and the Blue Division‚Äôs Artillery Regiment 250 with three dozen 105 mm howitzers and a dozen 150 mm howitzers.
At best, your regiment is outnumbered 9-to-1 in infantry and 15-to-1 in artillery. And while the enemy force has at least 80 tanks, you have none; thus anti-tank guns will be your regiment‚Äôs only protection against Soviet armor. Moreover, the Soviet Air Force has air superiority over the Luftwaffe in this sector. Your only hope for avoiding enemy airstrikes will be if miserable Russian weather intervenes and grounds Soviet planes.
On your regiment‚Äôs left flank, the unit boundary running roughly along the frozen Izhora River, is the Blue Division‚Äôs Regiment 269. Your right flank ties into the German 4th SS Polizei Division, with the boundary passing through a flat area of open peat bog that even in the winter is swampy ground that restricts the movement of infantry and armor.
The Blue Division‚Äôs commander, General Emilio Esteban Infantes, has given your regiment a daunting but vitally important mission: Hold the Krasny Bor sector at all costs against the Red Army offensive expected to begin within 24 hours. To help you determine how to accomplish this assignment, you have gathered your staff and subordinate commanders in your command post to hear three possible courses of action you are considering. As soon as the men are assembled, you immediately launch into an explanation of the plans.
COURSE OF ACTION ONE:
‚ÄúI will place three reserve forces behind our main front-line defense to reinforce the infantry battalions to their front or engage any enemy forces that might break through our trenches. Reserve Battalion 250 will be positioned to the rear of our trench on the left, the combat engineer battalion will be in the center behind the Bastion, and the ski company will be on the right. Our available regimental and divisional artillery will provide fire support all along the line.‚ÄĚ
Major Castro, one of your infantry battalion commanders, speaks up first. ‚ÄúColonel, since the Red Army is well aware of our front-line trench positions, our opponents will certainly try to obliterate them with a massive artillery barrage preceding their infantry and tanks. I fear that this plan risks playing to the enemy‚Äôs overwhelming strength in artillery firepower.‚ÄĚ
Captain Casas, a combat engineer officer, shakes his head in disagreement and says, ‚ÄĚMajor, although the Reds, as usual, will indeed launch a massive artillery barrage, the best place for our troops to survive such firepower is safely within our well-dug trenches. My own engineers helped construct them!‚ÄĚ
COURSE OF ACTION TWO:
‚ÄúTo accomplish this deception, we will evacuate our right flank trench from the Bastion to our eastern unit boundary and reposition our infantry battalion in that sector by swinging it southward and aligning it along the railroad embankment. Although this will appear to expose our defenses to an enemy penetration all the way to Krasny Bor, both the railroad embankment and the road from Krasny Bor to Mishkino will be lined with the guns of our anti-tank company and those of 2d SS anti-tank section.
‚ÄúAdditionally, Reserve Battalion 250 will form along the road as the regiment‚Äôs southern ‚Äėanchor‚Äô to prevent any enemy troops from proceeding past the kill zone should they escape. The combat engineer battalion and the ski company will be positioned behind our center and left to reinforce those sectors of our front, if necessary. Our artillery support will focus primarily on enemy forces in the kill zone but will help other sections of our front as necessary.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI like this plan,‚ÄĚ says Captain Bar√≥n, commander of the anti-tank company. ‚ÄúIt lures the Reds into a trap, where they will be targets for our massed anti-tank guns and it makes them sitting ducks ‚Äď most of that area is flat, open peat bog, which will slow their movement and make them vulnerable to my anti-tank gunners. The Reds will be stuck in the muck with nowhere to hide!‚ÄĚ
Major Le√≥n, the regimental operations officer, is not as enthusiastic. ‚ÄúColonel,‚ÄĚ he says, ‚ÄúI am uneasy about opening an avenue for the enemy to advance to Krasny Bor. What if we run out of anti-tank guns and ammunition before the Reds run out of tanks and infantry? This plan could end up handing Krasny Bor to the enemy if our trap doesn‚Äôt work.‚ÄĚ
COURSE OF ACTION THREE:
‚ÄúMeanwhile, I will space our anti-tank assets evenly across our front-line trenches and will hold the ski company as a general regimental reserve. Our artillery will give fire priority to our counterattack and will be prepared to launch a barrage along the old anti-tank ditch to seal off the salient, thereby preventing any Red Army troops from escaping and stopping reinforcements from pushing into the salient.‚ÄĚ
Major Castro speaks up again, and once more he is not pleased. ‚ÄúColonel, the success of this plan relies heavily on the exact timing of our counterattack. It must start at the precise moment when there are enough enemy forces in the salient whose loss would cause the Reds to halt their offensive, but before there are too many for our counterattack to defeat them. Any misjudgment on the timing could be disastrous ‚Äď we might be throwing away Reserve Battalion 250 and the combat engineer battalion. The loss of such a substantial portion of our regiment would leave our defense fatally weakened.‚ÄĚ
Before anyone else can comment, you close the meeting by saying, ‚ÄúThank you, Se√Īores, for your input. Now, return to your duties. I will make my decision and issue regimental orders very soon.‚ÄĚ
With the Red Army attack only hours away, you must decide now which course of action your regiment will implement to win this vitally important defensive battle.
What is your decision, Colonel Sagrado?
Click here to download a pdf of the map and submission form for Command Decision Game No. 55.
Andrew H. Hershey holds a doctorate in medieval history from the University of London. He contributes to the ‚ÄúUSMC Gazette‚ÄĚ and is a four-time winner of its Tactical Decision Game design contests. He also designs World War II tactical-level wargames for Heat of Battle and Le Franc Tireur.
Find earlier Combat Decision Games by clicking here.
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