Bristolscale7's History Corner: Blitzkrieg, by the book

Blitzkrieg--the word evokes images of charging panzers, Stuka dive bombers, and encircled French troops. The purpose of this article is to discuss the accuracy of this general impression and then meditate on the whether or not Flames of War captures this style of offensive warfare on the table top.  So what are we talking about when we use the term?  In practical terms blitzkrieg refers to the mobile warfare doctrine developed by a younger generation of German officers in the 1930s.  These officers argued that armoured forces should be concentrated along a narrow front to achieve a breakthrough in the enemy's lines.  Many military forces in the 1930s saw armour as primarily a tool for infantry support and tanks were distributed among infantry formations rather than concentrated in armoured divisions.  According to the German model the concentrated mobile forces could exploit breakthroughs and plunge deep behind the enemy lines to destroy logistics and command structures.  At the same time large portions of the enemy would be encircled and eliminated.

Let's take a look at an actual German operation.  The German strategic offensive for the summer of 1942, Case Blue, involved a huge drive into southern Russia.  Hitler committed a blunder in August when he split Army Group South into two groups.  One group continued to push south to the oil fields.  The other group headed to the Volga and Stalingrad.  As the Germans approached the Volga there was a major engagment west of the Russian village of Kalach.  The German military published a magazine called Signal for popular reading by the troops.  The following maps of the battle of Kalach are taken from it.

In this first map below we see the initial German penetration north of Kalach.  There is a major cut from the north and a broader application of pressure from the south.  Bear two things in mind as you look at this first map.  First, we're in mid-1942 now and the Soviets and others are now implementing (or attempting) counters to blitzkrieg.  You see it in the two black arrows.  These represent Soviet forces attacking the flanks of the armoured spearhead.  If these attacks succeed then the German armoured forces become encircled, not the Soviets.  The attack failed in this circumstance--beaten off by German grenadiers following up the armoured forces.  The second thing to note is the bulge created by the German advance.  This illustrates the dual purpose of the blitzkrieg: exploit but also encircle.

In the second map below we see that the salient (bulge) is well established.  The Soviet forces attempt two counter-attacks at this point.  One strikes north from the salient while the other attempts to link up by attacking south through the new German lines.  These fail.

Now the Germans pinch off the salient to form the encirclement.  The main German attack cuts across the salient from the south.  Other German forces engage in the north to prevent a Soviet counter attack

In the final map below the salient is reduced and the graphic explains that over 35,000 infantry, 270 tanks, and 560 guns were captured.  Note that the front line to the east of the encirclement takes an offensive posture while the salient itself is captured.

Thus concluded another bloody chapter in the war on the Eastern Front.  This was the last major battle before the Germans arrived at Stalingrad.  We can grasp, even after this short exposition, why the Germans had trouble in Stalingrad--blitzkrieg clearly is more suited to open, mobile warfare than it is to urban warfare.

So does Flames of War capture this?  The first thing to point out is that Flames of War is a company level game.  A German infantry company was just over 100 men, give or take.  In terms of armour, roughly, a company level battle represents a portion of an armoured regiment, one of a couple forming an armoured brigade.  In essence, two 1780 point forces fighting it out represent each player controlling a couple different types of companies--a good chunk of a bigger battle.  In terms of game play, the Flames of War system does an excellent job of capturing mobile warfare.  Concentration of armour is locally powerful, but without support it can be isolated.  The exploitation nature of mobile warfare is also well-represented.  Tanks that punch through defences can wipe out artillery parks and kill command teams.  The 15mm scale helps capture the flavour of this type of warfare.  Flames of War strikes an excellent balance between flavour, playability, and veracity.

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