Sunday 15 February 2015

Nasty Surprise at Smeysko (Eastern Front WW2)

Nasty surprise at Smeysko
Orsha-Smolensk highway July 1941 by Richard Baber

This is a fictional table-top action designed to simulate a surprise counter attack against a German column during the advance toward Smolensk in July 1941. Whilst the scenario and place is fiction, the unit types and strengths are historical.

I thought it would make an interesting scenario for the all conquering Germans to be caught by a sudden Russian counter-attack. Pitting veteran Germans against elite NKDV security units, make a nice change from the usual Soviet early war rabble.

The Scenario
The German commander is ordered to attack and seize the small village of Smeysko on the Orsha – Smolensk highway. Whilst the village itself has little strategic value, its location will prove useful as a forward supply and medical hospital as the advance moves towards Smolensk. The German player (or players) should be told that it is believed that the village is defended and combat is to be expected. The strength of the defences is unknown, but resistance has been sporadic in this sector.

Unknown to the German commander the Russians are about to unleash a new weapon upon his force the M-8 Katyuska rocket launcher. These weapons are so secret that even local commanders are not allowed to know about them! A battery of these launchers has been placed near Smeysko and together with some hastily gathered local troops, the Russian have prepared a nasty surprise.

The table should be set up with the village near to one end, with the highway down the centre; fields and wooded areas dotted around to hinder movement (see map). The German column enters from the west along the highway most of the Russian forces begin concealed, except for a token force left to defend Smeysko. Allow the Germans to deploy for their attack, at which time the Katyuska open up and the Russians launch their counter-stroke!

German orders
You are a Captain in 12 Aufklarung abteilung (Recon battalion) of 12th Panzer Division; as usual your units lead the way – like the cavalry of old. Your division is driving towards Smolensk, along the Osha-Smolensk Highway. Russian resistance has been sporadic but occasionally is stiff, sometimes their units fight to the end, other times they flee or surrender without a fight.

You have been given command of a small mobile battle-group, you will have to move fast and strike hard to achieve your objective. Your objective today is to capture the village of Smeysko which sits near the highway and will provide a useful base for future operations. Intelligence has informed you that it is likely the village will be defended, though they don`t expect resistance to be great.  

German forces
Elements of 12th Panzer Division (veteran)
CO, NCO, RTO driver in Horch field car
Artillery FOO, driver in Kubelwagon
M/C platoon
10 men (6 M/C, 2 M/C comb with MG34)
2 Armoured car platoons
1 - Sdkfz 231, 1 - Sdkfz 222
Motorised Panzer Grenadier Company with -
CO, NCO, 4 runners, 50mm mortar team, AT rifle team
3 - PG platoons each with
10 men (MG34)
All carried in trucks
Tank Company
3 - Pz38 (t)
PanzerJaeger Platoon
2 - 37mm AT + crew & tows
Off table support
1 - battery 105mm guns

Russian Orders
You are a major in the NKDV; you are in command of one of the highly secret M-8 Katyuska rocket batteries. Today your battery is set up near the village of Smeysko, a security unit is dug in and around the village, whilst the battery vehicles are concealed at the edge of a small wood close by. Your orders are to stop the fascists and drive them back along the highway, using the Katyuska to deliver a barrage of high explosive upon their heads. The local army commander has gathered troops for this counter-attack, but its you and your NKDV who will win the day for the Motherland.

Whatever happens you must not allow the Katyuskas to fall into enemy hands! Withdraw them from danger if the enemy look to be winning, sacrifice your entire command if necessary! If you cannot get the launchers to safety, destroy them to prevent capture as a last resort – you life and that of your family depend on you carrying out your orders!

Russian Forces

Smeysko defenders
Elements of 27th Rifle Divison (morale - shaky)
2 - Platoons infantry (10 men each)
MMG + crew
47mm AT gun + crew
NKDV squad - 6 men SMG armed (fanatic)

NKDV Katyusha battery (morale - fanatic)
Major + 15 men
2 – launchers, 3 supply trucks

Counter-attack force
Elements of 27th Rifle Division and 16th Tank Brigade (morale – regular)
Tank Company – 3 BT-5
2 – Infantry companies with:
HQ – CO, NCO, Kommisar, 3 runners, AT rifle team
3 platoons with:
10 men (LMG)
NKDV squad – 6 men SMG armed (fanatic)
Support company (composite) with:
2 – MMG + crew
2 – 81mm mortar + crew
1 – 47mm AT gun + crew & tow

Once the Germans are deployed for their attack, the Russian commander can announce the Katyuska barrage. He may then place his fire template over two randomly selected German units and dice for effect as per your rules.

1 – MC platoon, AC company
2-3 – Pz38 (t) company
4-5 – Panzer grenadier company
6 – HQ, panzerjaeger platoon

This could of course effectively remove one or more units from the German order of battle before they even have the chance to fire! It may at least cause morale checks and casualties against the German units before the Russian mount their counter-attack.

On Tuesday 15th July 1941 the soviets un-leased a new weapon upon the German attackers – the M-8 “Katyusha” rocket launcher.

The weapons very existence was a closely guarded secret. Their crews were elite soldiers of the NKDV, the Soviet security police, who had to swear an oath that if threatened with death or capture they would destroy the launching devices and use every possible means to escape capture, if necessary by committing suicide. The security barrier surrounding the rocket-launch batteries extended even to the highest commanders. Only the supreme army commanders and members of the war assembly were allowed to approach the batteries – a precaution that considerably impaired their efficient deployment. 

The widespread blanket of fire emitted by the Katyusha meant it could be ideally deployed along the focal areas of the attack. The artillery commander of the Soviet Western Front – General I. P. Kramer, reported:

 “Reports from infantry commanders and artillerymen say that this sudden burst of massive fire inflicted heavy losses on the enemy and had such an effect on morale that whole units panicked and ran away”!

German troops were painfully surprised by the tactical manoeuvrability of the rocket launcher, due to their high road speed (up to 25 MPH), their rapid set up capability once they reached their firing position, the speed with which they could be brought to fire on the march and their high rate of fire – 320 rockets in 26 seconds. One of the first German reports of this new weapon from an officer of Harpe`s 12th Panzer Division read:

“Dark cloud over the launch point, then missiles resembling those fired by our own smoke mortars (nebelwelfers), the muffled roar of the flying projectiles, 30 to 40 of them impacting simultaneously, a loud explosion, widespread flames, small craters 12 to 16 inches deep. Despite the low fragmentation effect, the troops found bombardment by these missiles extremely unpleasant, not least because of their wide dispersion. Fragments of the missiles and the testimony of prisoners, aided our observations and soon captured launchers completed our information”.

Tank War 1939-1945 by Jabusz Piekalkiewicz (ISBN 0-7137-166605)
German Infantry in WWII – Order of Battle by Chris Bishop (ISBN 978-1-905704-85-9)
Operation Barbarossa 1941 (3) – Army Group Center by Robert Kirchubel (Osprey Campaign 186, ISBN 978-1-84603-107-6)
Hitler`s War on Russia by Charles D. Winchester (ISBN 978-1-84603-195-3)


  1. Very kind John, not exciting enough for the editors of the glossies though :-(

  2. The Soviet rocket launchers were not secret. Where do you get your info?

  3. Sources are listed at the bottom of the article.

  4. Anonymous?
    At least explain your option, a name would help as well. No shame in disagreement.
    With regard to the scenario, nice one. I would like to try one at my next gaming evening.
    Thank you,