Impedimenta: Decisive Campaigns: Operation Barbarossa

By James Cobb 20 Sep 2016 0

It the first in what we hope will be many ‘themed’ weeks, Wargamer is excited to introduce the first article in a series looking at supply & logistics systems in wargames. Called ‘Impedimenta’ in Roman times, logistics and supply are the hidden lifeblood of any army, empire or military campaign. When it comes to games, this area is often the first to get cut or abstracted away, but every now and then you get an attempt to provide some kind of working model. James Cobb starts us off with a look at Matrix Games’ Decisive Campaigns: Operation Barbarossa.

For all of the General Staff’s vaunted efficiency, logistics has been the Achilles’ heel of the German army. If their victory at Koeniggraetz in 1866 had been less complete, the Prussians would have started eating their horses. The drive into Republican France after Sedan in 1870 – 1871 stretched Moltke’s supply line almost to the breaking point, causing the confusion around Orleans. Slow re-supply played a role in crippling the initial lunge in 1914 and stopped the Michael Offensive in 1918. Maintenance, an oft overlooked function of logistics, caused Hitler’s “Stop Order” before Dunkirk in 1940. Thus, logistics must be modeled in the pivotal 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union.

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The pipeline seems good at the beginning of the campaign.

More Opels Needed

At first blush, Decisive Campaigns: Operation Barbarossa’s supply system appears as the usual simple “keep a clear corridor of hexes back to a supply source” approach. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Supply requires trucks, trains and, in extreme cases, planes. The German offensive is the most interesting logistically so it will be the basis of my comments; the Russians are able to fall back toward their supply sources.

Supply comes in two flavors: “general” and fuel. “General” supply is food, ammunition and the other necessities of life. These supplies emanate from Berlin to the Army or Panzergruppen HQs. Transporting “general” supply is a function of terrain and Action Points (AP). The limit of distance to be covered efficiently is measured in 250 AP. Good weather and roads make supply easy but rain, ice, snow and tough terrain cost AP so the deeper the Germans lunge, the more difficult supply becomes. Every division carries two or three days’ supply but, without good paths and being within five hexes of their HQ, movement and combat will consume stocks. Under-supplied troops don’t fight well. A table explains how much supply was used, stocked, requested and received. A color coded overlay shows the path to units HQs and the number of AP needed to reach an area which indirectly indicates units’ supply status.

Fuel for the panzers is more detailed. The main depots and Forward Supply Bases (FSB) for each of the three army groups are initially co-located near the German start lines. Fuel is transported to Panzergruppen HQs by trucks with the Gruppe’s number on them. For the first few turns these trucks are green but, as the panzers roll and the column of trucks extend pass ten hexes to the HQ , they turn to white, then orange and red. These darker colors reflect a decrease in fuel and, thereby, efficiency. The Germans must capture a railhead quickly so that the FSB can be moved up to it via a decision. Depending on distance, all trucks and trains will become greyed for one or two turns as the FSB is set up, allowing the trucks to roll again. Panzergruupe HQs should be moved along or near rail lines or main roads as the primitive Russian secondary road network rips German trucks apart, adding to supply difficulties. The army groups’ logs and reports tell how many truck “runners” are available and the percent that number constitutes of what is needed for necessary transport.

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The sickly white color of the trucks mean that Panzergruppe 1 is overextended.

Of course, if the Russians cut a supply pipeline or if partisans disrupt transport, all planning goes for naught. Cut off panzer divisions are greyed out and, if a Panzergruppe HQ is isolated, the trucks disappear. Isolated units can re-supplied by air using the very expensive (in Political Points (PP)) “Luftwaffe Supply” card.

The Complexities

Logistical considerations for the German player begin before the campaign starts. Players can noodle up Hitler’s priority and receive seventy precious PP. However, they can spend over thirty PP on logistics by the end of the second combat turn. Players can choose different levels of support for wheeled transport or the Eisenbahntruppen who must convert Russian track gauge to German. Players can choose to delay the offensive to capture a Russian oil shipment, take their chances or ignore it. Any choice could cost PP and sour relationships with REMF officers. Bad relations with officers produce half-hearted performance or clear insubordination. Balancing the cost of optimum supply with the need for PP for other purposes and keeping officers in line is tricky.

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Now that the FSB is established, the trains can move out.

The fact of the matter is German strategy must revolve around logistics. To win, German thrusts most follow the few Russian primary roads and railroads; straying too far from them makes German units red meat for Russian counter-attacks. These problems only escalate in the rainy Fall and the bitter Winter. On the other hand, spending PP for logistics will drain those valuable points at the Berlin, OKW, OKH and Army Group levels. The panzers must move fast to win but moving fast only increases logistical problems. The answer to this conundrum is to achieve great victories early to gain PP to solve logistic twitches.

Simply the Best

Decisive Campaigns: Operation Barbarossa’s logistical model is not perfect. The “general” supply model could be as specific as the fuel model. The logistical ramifications of reassigning a panzer division to another Army Group could be posted up front instead of being indirectly revealed in the Army Groups’ logs the next turn. The same criticism can be made about the supply changes caused by switching between blitzkrieg, sustained and defensive postures. Still, no other game handles the different modalities of transport, the effects of shortages in different kinds of supply and the political turf wars better than this one. All strategic and operational games should have this level of logistical concepts. Otherwise, we should just go back to the old “D1-Elim” model.

Decisive Campaigns: Operation Barbarossa can be purchased via Steam or Direct.

This article covers a game published and/or developed by members of the Slitherine Group of companies. For more information, please see our About Us page.

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