Kharkov AAR Final

It's the business end of the battle as Keating and Ford slog it out to the bitter end.

Russian Turn 9
Having given up the siege of KRASNOGRAD, Keatingski seems inclined to hang around and contest the issue, killing a regiment of the 62nd Infantry in the process. This may not be a wise choice. Hacking away at trapped German units is one thing, but once released, those units will be getting replacements, attack supply and HQ bonuses and will be an altogether more dangerous proposition.

In better news for Keatingski, BORKI finally falls. Russian still swarm all round the area, but they still can’t kill the Germans quick enough for the Stavka’s liking. Still, the capture of another objective will be a boost for Keatingski. Perhaps it will induce Stalin to release more units for the desperate defense of IZYUM and the south. Click here to see Shot 31

On that front, a resolute counter attack takes the Germans by surprise and eliminates two full infantry regiments plus two ancillary units. Still, these are von Ford’s first serious casualties in the south, and on its own will not be enough to slow the momentum of the attack. Keatingski has scraped up some units from somewhere, and the brave Colonel-General R.I. Malinovsky has at least been joined in IZYUM by three infantry regiments. Click here to see Shot 32

German Turn 9
All Russians east of IZYUM are clinically removed from the map by von Ford. Colonel-General R.I. Malinovsky wisely takes the last truck out of town, and lives to fight another day, but the same cannot be said for many of his comrades. The gap between the bottom of the still uncleared Chuguyev salient and the forward positions of 14th Panzer is down to 20 km. Depending on actions in other sectors, the closing of this gap could present some real supply problems for Keatingski. Click here to see Shot 33

Elements of 23rd Panzer, newly restored, continue to pick off Russian units in the vicinity of KRASNOGRAD. It is not clear what Keatingski hopes to achieve by remaining there, although there is every chance that Stavka is insisting that ground, once won, be not given up.

Russian Turn 10
Another few blocks of KHARKOV are taken, at an appalling cost in casualties but about half the city still remains in German hands. Keatingski finally abandons all pretensions to KRASNOGRAD and the surviving Russian units withdraw to the east. Of course Russian units never withdraw, they merely take up new defensive positions.

Keatingski is also forced to relax his grip slightly on Gruppe Borki, as units are belatedly detached to clear the Chuguyev salient.

More Russians, including an entire Tank Corps arrive in the south, and another thin defensive line is assembled. It remains to be seen if these will fare any better than the unfortunate occupiers of previous positions.

Shot 34 shows an overview of the entire front.Click here to see Shot 34

German Turn 10
The more mobile elements of Gruppe Borki make good their escape and other forces begin a drive east from KRASNOGRAD. Surely help is at hand for the rest of Gruppe Borki, who have been trapped behind enemy lines for some time. Click here to see Shot 35

In the south, von Ford’s panzers kill some more Russians, and make further advances, but the pace seems to be slowing. Is von Ford’s great offensive running out of steam, just like Keatingski’s earlier efforts? Colonel-General R.I. ‘Last Truck’ Malinovsky’s HQ is overrun in the latest fighting, but have we really seen the end of him? We have to suspect that he will be back. Click here to see Shot 36

Russian Turn 11
Keatingski slams the door on Gruppe Borki, cutting them off again just when it looked they might get out. It’s clear that if von Ford wants to release Gruppe Borki he will have to fight his way through. Obviously, Keatingski is in a hope extinguishing mood, as the southern lobe of Gruppe Kharkov is reduced to a single lump with a fairly short life expectancy. Click here to see Shot 37

In the south, Keatingski continues to form new defensive lines. Perhaps this one will hold out!

German Turn 11
More Russians are crunched as von Ford pushes north. It would really help his cause if there was a similar push south from the salient but von Ford’s northern panzers are still occupied, either holed up in KHARKOV or pushing east from KRASNOGRAD. At least 23rd Panzer is close to rescuing Gruppe Borki, who must be feeling just a little bit hurt that even the hint of rescue has taken so long. Click here to see Shot 38

Russian Turn 12
It seems as though Keatingski has finally given up on Gruppe Borki, withdrawing all units west of the formerly encircled units. Although there have been inevitable casualties, Gruppe Borki has held fast and stoutly resisted annihilation. It may well be in a position, once resupplied, to retake BORSKI which is suddenly looking vulnerable. Keatingski does get around to taking ZMIEV, which had been sitting unmolested behind the lines for some time. He also makes a greater effort to reduce the remnants of the Chuguyev salient. Click here to see Shot 39

No attacks are mounted on the defenders of KHARKOV though whether this is due to increasing German pressure to the west and north of the city or a lack of artillery support is unclear.

In the south, Keatingski can still form a defense line and seems to be slowing von Ford’s progress. Keatingski seems unconcerned with von Ford’s drive, because he is still maintaining large numbers of troops far to the west of von Ford’s breakthrough. It is not clear what he hopes to achieve by this, the reinvigorated Germans have already begun to exert serious pressure and cause serious losses.

German Turn 12
How quickly things can change. Only a short time ago, von Ford had three groups entirely encircled by Russians. While Gruppe Kharkov is still trapped, the units from Gruppe Borki and Gruppe Krasnograd are not only free but are strongly counter attacking. BORKI has already been retaken and forces are pressing hard near KHARKOV, near BORKI and south of KRASNOGRAD. Keatingski has occupied a huge amount of territory but this looks like shrinking very quickly. Click here to see Shot 40

In the south, more Russians are killed but there is no critical breakthrough yet. However, large slabs of the old Chuguyev salient still remain German controlled and if von Ford can link up with that territory then a significant number of Russians could still be put out of supply.

Russian Turn 13
It would appear that Keatingski’s offensives have completely run out of puff. There are still no attacks on KHARKOV and only a minor clearing of some more of the Chuguyev salient. Given that fact, perhaps Keatingski should quietly defy the Stavka and reorganise his defensive lines.

As has been seen, given time to prepare and an absence of overwhelming Russian artillery, the Germans can accept encirclement and still survive. The Russians cannot and if they are surrounded they die quickly. To survive, the Russians need a defense in depth plus mobile forces to counter attack any breakthrough. Keatingski is occupying far too much territory to be able to do this, and so is quite vulnerable to resurgent German attacks.

An ugly situation is developing south of KHARKOV where there is no cohesive defensive line and ZMIEV and perhaps even CHUGUYEV itself are under threat. Click here to see Shot 41

German Turn 13
As forecast, von Ford has broken through and his forces are now adjacent to ZMIEV. The II/6 Panzer Regiment of the 3rd Panzer Division has been cut off for almost a week but as with Gruppe Krasnograd and Gruppe Borki, help seems to be at hand. If other elements of 3rd Panzer can be liberated from KRASNOGRAD itself then 3rd Panzer will again be a powerful fighting force. Click here to see Shot 42

Elsewhere, liberal applications of airpower continue to soften up Russian forces in the south, perhaps in preparation for another major push.

Russian Turn 14
Again Keatingski is unable to undertake any serious offensive action. The southern front has been reinforced and the defense looks more substantial. On the other hand, there seems to be nothing available to prevent von Ford from walking into CHUGUYEV and re-occupying the salient. If he can link up his northern and southern forces then the pocket so formed will contain a large number of Russians who will probably not have the strength to break out. Click here to see Shot 43

German Turn 14
Another series of crunching assaults carries von Ford closer to regaining the territory he previously lost. Relief columns reach the center of KHARKOV, liberating yet another unit from the long suffering 3rd Panzer. So while von Ford never lost KHARKOV, he can now say that he has raised the siege of the city.

In the south, strongly supported by the Luftwaffe, von Ford pushes closer to BALAKLEYA, a town that he has always held but which was itself cut off for long periods of time. The town is now reconnected, and there is nothing to stop von Ford from finally establishing the second arm of his pincer. Unless some truly heroic defenses are established very quickly, a pocket will be formed. Click here to see Shot 44

Russian Turn 15
Keatingski mounts a few minor counter attacks and assaults a few outposts in the Chugeyev salient but otherwise makes no major defensive effort. This is a dangerous path to follow, with units of 23rd Panzer clearly on the road to BALAKLEYA and von Ford’s southern offensive only a few kilometers from the town. Keatingski should be packing this narrowing gap with as many defenders as possible. Click here to see Shot 45

German Turn 15
In the end, only the men of the 1049 Rifle Regiment of the 300 Rifle Division stand between the might of 1st Panzer Army and the awful, if somewhat familiar, fate of encirclement for many Russian units. They are not enough, and von Ford’s men break through and form the pocket. Given the disparity in forces, it is hard to see how Keatingski can produce the offensive muscle to break free, especially as many of Keatingski’s units are still holding useless ground up 70 km away from the critical point.

At the same time, von Fords northern forces have walked back into an undefended CHUGUYEV taking back the last of his lost objectives. Click here to see Shot 46

Russian Turn 16
Keatingski’s last throw of dice blasts the defenders of CHUGUYEV but is unable to retake it. The men in the pocket begin retreating east, but its far too late and their fate has been sealed. They will now be ‘fighting from encirclement’ which is Russian code for being annihilated. Keatingski’s Stavka report card will be looking pretty grim with KHARKOV and KRASNOGRAD untaken, units pocketed and other heavy losses. Clearly, Keatingski’s party-political work has not been of a sufficiently high standard and mistakes have been made. A benevolent Stalin understands that everybody else makes mistakes and a spot of gardening leave has been arranged. Of course, it can be hard to grow things north of the Arctic Circle but Keatingski will have plenty of time to try, and to gain a better understanding of Marxist-Leninist thinking, as it applies to military sphere.

Axis Turn 16
A few more Russian units are crushed and CHUGUYEV is decisively occupied. A bunch of Russians are stubbornly hanging on in the vicinity of KHARKOV but again they are encircled and can be removed at leisure. Von Ford is now in a position to push further east, as directed by the Fuhrer. Shot 48 shows the final situation.Click here to see Shot 48

These proceedings have demonstrated the stark differences between the two armies. With the benefit of a set piece start, the Russians can exert overwhelming force in their breakthrough sectors, and Keatingski did just that. But after the first few days, their shortcomings become obvious, as they simply cannot sustain their initial operational tempo. At the same time, the amazing resilience of the German army is illustrated. A single hedgehogged German infantry regiment can stand off all but the most concerted Russian attacks. Von Ford showed this when rather than retreat and give up critical objectives he accepted encirclement and waited for rescue.

When the time comes for a counter attack, that same German tactical excellence proves lethal in attack, as von Ford showed. The Russian player must recognise this and play to his strengths, achieving as much as possible when he has the advantage but preserving his mobile units for the inevitable defensive phase. The Russian Tank Brigades can really punish any Axis units when they advance, as can the Russian artillery. Keatingski seemed slow to realise when the tide had turned, and lost too many of his units defending territory he couldn’t possible hold.

Of course, there is not much that the Russian player can do about the dire situation in the south. No real defense is possible before IZYUM so forces must be conserved, as far as possible for this. The Russians should consider making a serious effort to capture CHUGUYEV and to eliminate the salient. This makes the task of creating a pocket much harder for the Germans by giving them much further to travel and by providing some excellent defensive terrain if things do go horribly wrong. Keatingski probably didn’t give this mission a high enough priority.

Having said all that, Keatingski did do very well to break through at KHARKOV and the whole battle could have turned out very differently if he could just have managed to take the entire city. He will be able to reflect on this, as he undertakes his corrective labor in the Gulag.

Posted by Gregor - August 15, 2008
Carriers At War Box Battlefront Box Battles In Italy Box Battles In Normandy Box Across The Dnepr Box Korsun Pocket Box