Campaign for North Rivett day 7 Posted on 21 Mar 13:00 , 1 comment

Early September 1942, General mud takes command of all operations on the Eastern front, bringing the German offensive, such as it was, to a stuttering halt for several weeks. But in early October the rain halts leading Adolf to launch one final grand offensive before the cruel winter sets in.

Stockpiling large quantities of fuel, arms, ammunition and general supplies Adolf orders Operation last chance saloon to widen the Yelnya bridgehead south of Smolensk in an attempt to break out and continue driving towards Moscow.

On the 5th October the offensive begins with a devastating bombardment from land and air. But the Soviets were well prepared and well dug-in, and when the Wehrmacht launched their assault led by the IV SS mechanised corps, were repulsed with heavy losses and no gains.

The offensive had degenerated into fiasco within days and when General Jodl timidly mumbled the disastrous news to Adolf, the reaction was tragically predictable.

 Adolf chews the carpet at the Wolfsschanze after another catastrophic assault

But wait! The dice Gods are very capricious these days. Due to certain chicanery too bizarre to record, the attack was a disaster, but not for the Wehrmacht, it was a disaster for the Soviets and the next reports to OKW stated the offensive was an utter triumph! Wiping lint from his lips, Adolf resumed his usual imperturbable self, ordering his troops to attack "here, here and here!" sweeping his arms majestically across the map in a more or less random fashion.

North Russian front October 25 1942

Although Stavka managed to rush troops to plug the glaring hole at Yelna, the sudden change in German fortunes proved electrifying. Manstein followed up the northern success with another major offensive in the South commencing early November in an attempt, led by the newly arrived 1st SS Panzer corps, to break out of the Kharkov bulge.

These assaults too proved wildly successful in the unseasonably mild weather, destroying the 3rd Guards tank army and the 7th Guards Banner Infantry army, the two best units Stavka had deployed across the entire battlefield so far.

Not stopping for the frost, Manstein ordered further offensives supported by 2000 fighters and bombers met by the largest concentration of Russian aircraft to date, 600 fighters and 900 bombers.

Drive on Kharkov November 25 1942

Unfortunately, the Mig-1s and I-185s were no match for the 900 modern German Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs, the Soviets losing 600 aircraft for trivial losses before surrendering the skies to the Germans.

After the devastating air bombardment this offensive too was a complete triumph destroying the 3rd Guards mechanised army and the 8th Guards Banner Infantry army, two more elite Soviet units annihilated.

Further German assaults were launched simultaneously further west and in the 2 months since the offensive began, the Soviets had lost 1200 aircraft and 8 armies, their greatest losses since the first days of the Great Patriotic war.  In reply, the Germans had lost only 300 fighters and 1 corps. Another 2 months of this would see the Russian line completely broken as Stavka only had militia and poorly trained reserves to fill the rapidly yawning gaps in their lines.

However, accelerated production of Soviet fighters facing a paucity of operational German fighters (most being held back in Germany to face the rapidly growing British and US strategic bombardment threat) meant that the Wehrmacht could no longer risk her numerous vulnerable bombers to unescorted air attack. This coupled with the drastically worsening winter weather meant that the offensive petered out towards Christmas 42, much to Stalin's great relief.

Losses had been heavy but the Soviet war economy was still gearing up and would soon outmatch the Wehrmacht's. By New year's day the front, although bent and battered, still held with Smolenk, the latest Soviet hero city, virtually surrounded, bloodied but unbowed, the defence nobly led by the Moscow militia. Ils ne passeront pas!

 North Russian front Dec 31 1942

South Russian front Dec 31 1942

In Germany, the RAF, with some support from the US, were performing heroic duty tying down large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters attempting to stop the strategic bombardment of German factories.

With only a few medium bombers like the Wellingtons and Hampdens available, there was a constant loss in German production such that by the end of 1942, the Germans had that year lost over 1.2 million tonnes of vital war material such as planes, tanks and guns, that would otherwise be destined for the Eastern front.

 2500 Axis fighters tied down in Germany facing 900 Allied bombers, Dec '42

If this is what it is like in 1942, what does 1943 portend with the imminent arrival of thousands of Lancasters, Halifaxes, Liberators and Flying fortresses, aircraft designed to destroy German factories?

The Mediterranean war, little affected by weather, ground on remorselessly. The British attempted to sneak the London militia on Free French transports past the ever watchful Italian eyes but were caught by a heavy air raid that destroyed 400,000 tonnes of French shipping, their last, destroying the bulk of the British corps as well. However the Italian aircraft were eventually driven off by long-range British fighters based in Gibraltar and Egypt and the Commonwealth regained control of the eastern and western Mediterranean.

Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean sea late October 1942

In December, the British launched a major invasion of Sardinia with 2 corps carried on its brand new amphibious fleet. However Cagliari was capably defended by the Roma motorised corps and the invasion was driven off with heavy British losses.

Western Mediterranean late December after the failed invasion of Cagliari

The Italians, cowed by this massive British show of force, contented themselves to maintaining their supply lines and security along the Italian coast. They were certainly not short of defenders and the Allies could expect a tough fight ahead.

Strong Italian home defence, Dec 1942

The Regia Marina also evacuated Balbo and the Marine corps from central Libya, but the Italians still had several corps trapped there.

The Greece front had settled down into a long sitzkrieg. Neither side had the power to assault the other, but it could prove a useful base for a southern invasion of Axis Europe in 1943.

 Greece and Yugoslavia, late December 1942

 The Battle of the Atlantic was the only theatre in Europe where the Axis were continuously triumphant. Based on a policy of heavy submarine building, by the end of 1942, the Commonwealth had lost a staggering total of 17.4 million tonnes of merchant shipping since the start of the war.

Add to that another 800,000 tonnes of troop transport, amphibious craft and their supply ships sunk, and several million tonnes of vital raw materials lost, Churchill was faced with the necessity of spending more than a third of the Commonwealth's entire military budget since the start of the war building or repairing more than a million tonnes of shipping a month, scoffing at Stalin's less than helpful advice "If I've told you once, I've told you a million times, the simple key to successful war is double all production!".

The Germans and Italians had suffered some losses but so had the British escort ships. To add to this shortage, unfortunately Roosevelt had not made light cruisers a priority in his pre-war planning, thus even US entry into the war only provided a modest boost to the anti-submarine effort. 

Losses in Allied shipping became so acute that by the end of 1942, the British merchant fleet was down to the bare bones and even the fleet carrier USS Ranger was yanked out of the Pacific war to escort the few remaining merchantmen safely home.

Fleet carrier USS Ranger provides escort duty in the North Atlantic Dec '42

It would be several months before the 2 million tonnes of US shipping being built a month could arrive to alleviate the shortfall. Even longer until the emergency draft of US CLs and destroyers start rolling off the slipways. Meanwhile 350 operational German and Italian subs still prowl the sea lanes, with more being built, ready to continue the carnage well into 1943.

On the political front, Rossevelt was exceptionally active. Immediately after declaring war on the Axis in March 1942, FDR thundered that the western hemisphere was the US's Mare Nostrum and applied heavy pressure on the Mexican government to join the Allied cause which they did on the 1st April.

Brazil was the next target or Roosevelt's strenuous efforts and on May 8 1942 she too declared war on the Axis powers. With these two actions, the already massive US war economy was increased by an extra 7.5% as Brazil and Mexican factories began to produce 150,000 tonnes of war material per month, an amount that would only rise as production is ramped up. The US was rapidly gearing up to be a world industrial titan.

In China, Terauchi had no desire to continue the Japanese offensive and in fact troops and aircraft were siphoned off to the Pacific war against the USA. Mao decided that this was the perfect time to launch an offensive in the North.

Chinese front June 1942 prior to Communist assault

Gaining some rare support from Chiang, the Nationalists launched a lend lease B-25 air strike to disrupt the Japanese 29th Garrison army west of Peking on the 17th June 1942. Unfortunately their aim was miserable and the 4 communist armies had to go in against prepared and alert defenders. The communists fought valiantly but were repulsed with heavy losses to their cavalry corps. 

The Japanese rapidly reinforced the sector with their reserves and by the end of august the front had stabilised in the same positions as they had been since the start of major hostilities in 1939. Chinese revenge must wait another day.

 China end of August 1942

The only other significant action on the China front was the alignment of Siam by Japan on the 12th April 1942. This led to the Nationalists to extend their flank leftwards and the British to extend their Burmese flank eastwards until the two allies met east of Mandalay on the 4th June. This protected the Burmese oilfields which could now flow north along the Burma road to fuel the Kunming factories.

China, Siam and Burma December 1942

 In the South China sea, the US wolf-packs began a glorious campaign hacking into the Japanese merchantmen carrying rubber from Malaya and oil from the Dutch east Indies, to the thirsty factories in Japan.

In one notable battle In late October 1942, 40 US subs sank 800,000 tonnes of Japanese shipping, all heavily laden with raw materials for the homeland that temporarily savaged Japanese production.

South India and South East Asia, Dec 1942

The campaign in India, which appeared to be one bright jewel in Japan's war, and after such a magnificent opening, quickly degenerated into stalemate. Yamashita was reinforced with the Life Guards, but that was it and without further troops the offensive was stalled even as India lay virtually defenceless before the Japanese forces.

The III Indian corps was railed south from Chittagong to Madras, but that unit could hardly withstand a determined assault and British forces were spread pretty thinly around the globe. Surely a few armies from China or home might break open the Indian front, cripple Commonwealth production and rapidly increase Japan's?

When queried on his timid attitude Hirohito brusquely replied that he had to husband his meagre forces to ward off the soon to be expected US marine invasions across the Pacific.

And in this final theatre, the war suddenly became incandescent. In October the first 4 brand new Essex class carriers, the most advanced CVs in the world, sailed majestically into the Pacific. Overnight this increased the US Pacific fleet to 9 CVs carrying a combined total of over 800 carrier borne fighters and bombers.

Nimitz based the Essexes and the Saratoga at Brisbane

and the Enterprise, Hornet, Wasp and Yorktown at Pearl Harbor

ready for any opportunity. The Kidō Butai rode uneasily at anchor at Truk.

Truk was very central to the action but suffered one serious defect, her slender supply lines back to Japan. Nimitz intended to exploit this flaw to the full. Thus in late November 1942 he sent out cruiser patrols into all the surrounding sea areas, their job being to cut off supplies to the Japanese fleet reducing their effectiveness should they decide to sortie. The cruisers were the bait to hook the Japanese carriers.

And Nimitz was not to be disappointed in his expectations. Yamamato had around 2000 long-range naval fighters and bombers (including the queen of the skies, the mighty Zero) based around the Pacific rim and it would only have taken a couple of weeks to concentrate them against the impudent US cruisers, but Yamamato made the crucial decision not to wait, sortieing with the entire Japanese fleet. Even more significantly, he split the Kidō Butai sending the third division (CVs Shokaku, Zuikaku and Soryu) to the Marianas while the rest of the fleet went into the Bismarck sea.

Even with this force majeste, the US cruisers proved highly elusive and none were brought to combat before Nimitz made his savage riposte. Combining both TF-17 and the US Pacific Fleet, all 9 US carriers sailed into the Marianas on the 14th December to confront the Japanese foe for the first time.

 The US was ably supported by some long-range Catalinas and obsolete Bolo's. The Japanese did rustle up 900 land based fighters and bombers but their bases were so far from the action that they didn't get involved at all.

It all came down to would the fleets find each other, and if they did, who would find the other first? The tension was palpable as both sides sent up their search planes on the morning of the 18th December. Unluckily for the Japanese, the catapult for the plane vectored on to the US ships was delayed in launching and the first Yamamato knew there was an enemy fleet in the air was when US SBD Dauntless bombers started diving onto the Japanese fleet.

The Kidō Butai flung every fighter at her disposal into the air but it was useless from the start. Shokaku's fighters were destroyed while taking off and the others didn't stand a chance. Within 30 minutes, all 3 Japanese carriers were sunk and the rest of the navy scattered to the four winds.

Thus after a year of such promise, Japanese hopes for final victory appeared to be irredeemably dashed in these 30 devastating minutes.

To add to the disaster, on Christmas day 1942, the XIV US Infantry corps stormed ashore at Kwajalein against negligible opposition, quickly securing the island in the US's first blow to make good Macarthur's vow that the US shall return.

Of course Japan was still very strong and her airpower totally dominated the Pacific. But as New Year's day 1943 dawned, how long could she maintain this dominance and what could she do to turn the tide of war?

 The US navy rampant in the Pacific, New Year's day 1943

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And this is where we must leave the Campaign for North Rivett, as Stalin's time as your humble recorder is up and I must return to the Omsk of Queensland, Mapleton.

It has been a great week of gaming with the designers, developers and playtesters of World in Flames. I will return soon with a debrief of the campaign including the builds of all major powers. We have taken in depth photos of the final position of all countries at the end of 1942 and may, if there is enough interest, write up a Jan/Feb 1943 campaign based on the finishing positions of the game.

Thanks to Sheldon who was a magnificent host to the 7 of us for 9 days including providing lunch every day, and his wife Ruth for very generously lending me her car and having us in her home. Thanks also to all the players who made this fascinating and thrilling campaign so much fun.

Finally, thanks to you, our loyal wiffers. Hope this little ramble into World in Flames was enjoyable and inspires you to greater feats in your next game of this international award winning and Guinness world record game.

Finally, in these troubled times, stay safe.

regards

Harry "Uncle Jo" Rowland

22 March 2020