Panzer Campaigns 9: Rzhev '42

By Scott Parrino 14 Nov 2003 0

Introduction

Once more to the Eastern Front! The ninth episode of the Panzer Campaigns series returns to the vicinity of Smolensk and looks at the Soviet attempts from August to December 1942 to reduce the Rzhev salient, whose eastern most extremity placed German forces within 150 kilometers of Moscow. Rzhev '42 is a turn-based, hexagonal, company/battalion level, operational wargame that features a massive Russian winter offensive against heavily fortified German defenses. The 29 scenarios include both historical and hypothetical situations ranging from small, seven-turn battles to the entire Operation Mars and hypothetical Operation Jupiter offensives played out over 200 turns. The game offers single-player and multi-player modes (hot seat, PBEM, LAN), as well as a robust scenario editor for increased replayability.

Panzer Campaigns is now a mature game system, with any changes expected to be on the margins to portray specific circumstances of a campaign. For those who are not familiar this series, I recommend reviews of previous games at The Wargamer. The Game Mechanics, Interface, Graphics and Sound and AI sections of the Korsun '44 and Sicily '43 reviews may be especially useful to gamers looking for a detailed account of those game attributes.

The Summer-Fall Campaign, May-October 1942.
Glantz, David M. Operation Mars Revisited.

Plot and Presentation

Even while Operation Uranus, the massive Soviet counter-attack that isolated the German Sixth Army in the vicinity of Stalingrad, was underway, an even larger Russian offensive was taking place against Army Group Center and the German Ninth Army. While it certainly illustrates the level of effort the Soviets were able to make at that point in World War II, the failure of Operation Mars consigned it to relative obscurity in the history books.

The Rzhev salient was a bulge in the line east and north of Smolensk that had seen heavy fighting since October 1941. Its closeness to Moscow attracted the attention of both sides. The Germans, reluctant to abandon their closest remaining approach to Moscow, heavily fortified the region. The Soviets, who were compelled to maintain up to 800,000 troops in the vicinity to defend Moscow, had already launched two unsuccessful offenses by the summer of 1942.

In August 1942, the Soviets launched an offensive along the eastern side of the Rzhev salient. Though they were able to take a half moon shaped wedge out of the NE corner of the salient and capture Pogoreloye Govodishche, the Germans held on to important cities such as Rzhev and Zubtsov. The commander of the Western Front, General Zhukov was convinced that a combined attack with more forces from both the Western and the Kalinin Fronts could crush the Rzhev salient.

The Soviet high command (Stavka) agreed with General Zhukov and planned for a two-phased offensive against the German Ninth Army in the Rzhev salient. Operation Mars involved main attacks from the west (Belyi)and northeast (Sychevka) sides of the salient, with secondary attacks from the north (Moldoi Tud) and the northwest (Luchesa Valley). The second phase, Operation Jupiter, would have consisted of forces attacking from the southeast towards Vyazma. The goal was for the Operation Mars forces, having linked up and cut off the northern part of the salient, to then attack southeast to meet the Operation Jupiter forces and complete the isolation of the entire salient. The Stavka was so confident of success that they reassigned a mechanized corps earmarked for Operation Mars to an attack further west.

Operation Mars kicked off on 25 November 1942 in the midst of a severe winter storm that hindered both attacker and defender. In the northeast, fierce fighting resulted in a small bridgehead in the vicinity of Sychevka. A tank corps and a cavalry corps were able to thrust through this gap, but were themselves cut off and isolated by German armored counterattacks. From the west the Soviet attack was initially successful, opening a 20-kilometer gap in the German line to the south of Belyi. The 41st Army commander, however, was drawn into an attempt to take Belyi, giving the Germans time to muster three panzer divisions for a counterstroke. This attack isolated the 41st Army and defeated the second major attack of Operation Mars. The two secondary attacks made initial gains and complicated the task of the defenders, but were both eventually contained. By 15 December, the offensive was over, Operation Jupiter had been long canceled and reserve units were being dispatched southward to reinforce the success at Stalingrad.

The 29 scenarios in Rzhev '42 are all stand-alone, with 13 historical games including the 120-turn August offensive and the 200-turn Operation Mars campaign. Almost a third of the scenarios are alternate versions of historical games tweaked for more balanced play. The shorter scenarios range from 7 to 65 turns long.

Operation Mars, The Rzhev-Sychevka Operation (24 November - December 1942)
Glantz, David M. Operation Mars Revisited.

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