Thursday, December 23, 2021

'It ain't what ya got, it's the way that you use it'

Arriving recently in the 'mailbox' were copies of three books by Pritt Buttar eastern front in WW2: 'Between Giants' (the Baltic states in WW2), 'Retribution' (the Soviet reconquest of the Ukraine in 1943), and 'Battleground Prussia' (the Soviet conquest of Prussia in 1944/1945). I finished reading 'Between Giants'' the other day, and am now into 'Retribution'.

Putting aside the usual criticism of Buttar's books (the lack of quality maps - I've read his four books on the eastern front in WW1 and they suffer from the same shortcoming), I enjoy his writing. It is accessible, and if you have any sort of spacial memory at all (not me!!), the action can still be followed despite the lack of maps.

Completion of the first book, and my reading only a short way into the second, has left me with several thoughts. 

The first is this: Buttar describes quite a lot of the action down at the battlegroup level, where from a German perspective (for example) the forces might involve a panzer battalion, a PzGr battalion, or an infantry regiment, and supporting artillery and AT assets. These actions match the level at which Keith McNelly's Scenario Generation System pitches the command levels and action. We fight these actions using Art Conliffe's Spearhead rules set, and the size of the actions, and also the sorts of scenarios it generates, really are a good fit. The sorts of outcomes that Spearhead, and the SGS, seem to produce, also seem to match much of Buttar's descriptions. You can find Keith's system here.

The second thought is this: I am fascinated by the number of times that Panzer Division recon battalions are used as 'firefighters', being thrown in to block Soviet breakthroughs, and the effectiveness that they appear to have had. Often these battalions are backed up with additional divisional AT and artillery assets, and often it seems that the impact of the artillery in itself is very significant. I guess one reason for the use of the recon assets is their mobility, which makes sense. Looking at the SH OOBs as they evolved you also see the gradual enhancement of combat capability with more powerful weapons in the Pamzer Division recon battalions. However I suspect it is the mobility that is the issue. 

Here is an AAR of an eastern front game in which Keith showed the usefulness of that mobility, even when these units lack significant 'hitting power'.

And here is an AAR of a France 1940 game in which Keith successfully used his German recon assets to 'shape' the battle and negate the advantages of the better quality French equipment.

Neither of these games saw the recon used in the defensive role that Buttar describes, but they do show the truth in the old saying 'it ain't what ya got, it's the way that you use it'.


  1. Another interesting point that comes out through all his WW2 books is that after every operation the Soviet general staff would analyse the operation for lessons learnt and diseminate the results. This is in stark opposition to the standard western view that the Russians only beat the Germans with overwhelming numbers. By the end of the war the Russia army was well schooled in warfare at the operational level above and beyond the western armies. Now, assuming that little of this knowledge was lost in the post war era I'm now of the opnion that NATO may well have had some unpleasant surprises in any invasion.

    1. I was taken with that too... fascinating. Buttar makes the point again when discussing the paratroop drops when the Soviets are forcing the Dnepr (1943)... poor analysis of past operations e.g. Vyazma, and rushed operational planning, lead to mission failure (my phrase, not his)


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