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Barbarossa: Army Group South, 1941

Barbarossa: Army Group South

Odessa Scenario Tutorial

Tactics and Strategy at Odessa

While most who have written about Barbarossa: Army Group South have described aspects of the Campaign Game (Scenario #5), many of the lessons necessary to win the campaign can be learned in the scenarios; they provide the key to good play and good play usually translates to winning play. Scenario #2: Odessa, provides lessons in initial set up, fortification, assault, and general support besides being just one tough place to take.

Soviet Play

This first step can affect play for the rest of the scenario. While most units start in their historical locations, there is some choice about four of the Untried militia and six other units. I suggest these locations:

  • The four remaining Untried militia in hexes 5733, 5831, 5929, and 6230.
  • The machine-gunners in hexes 5731 and 5830.
  • The "Istr" units in hexes 5733, 5831, and 5929.
  • The flotilla in hex 6531.
Note that hexes 5731, 5733, 5830, 5831, and 5929 each contain a one-point unit to be available in the event of only a one-step loss, thereby protecting (insofar as possible) the underlying two point unit from elimination on the first turn.

Soviet Strategy

It may seem odd to spread out the defenders but doing so forces the attacking Rumanians to spread their attacks to cope with a wider number and variety of targets and they still do not get any better attack odds. Compare the two armies. In terms of firepower, the Rumanians hold a numerical edge, about 23% in raw power, but in terms of steps, the two sides are almost identical, 50 Rumanian to 49 Soviet. In an attritional battle measured in terms of steps lost, the Rumanian will come out the loser, on average, because he must face Soviets in strongpoints, so even the Rumanian 23% advantage is cancelled. Therefore, the basic Soviet strategy should be to force the Rumanians always to attack strongpoints.
The drawback is that the defense is weaker in individual hexes. The danger is that if the defense concentrates in only a few hexes, the attacker gets a chance at a bigger victory and defender could lose more ground due to enemy exploitation (during the Axis motorized movement phase). A spread out defense means more combats hence more guesswork by the attacker about where the defender will allocate his artillery. Artillery provides the traditional key to defense of any fortified region. Tactically, notice how hexes 5731,5830, 5831, and 5929 form a screen of 2 to 5 defense points each, depending on how artillery support is allocated. Later defense will benefit from support from the naval coast artillery units; very late play will benefit from Black Sea Fleet guns. A successful Soviet player should seek to get both his mobile artillery units stacked with his HQ so that they both can co-ordinate to support the same defending hex.
The eastern sector of Odessa faces little initial threat. The Rumanian will seek to cut off communications with the east map edge to discourage the Soviet from taking the optional mountain division (which historically was intended for Odessa). Attacking the NKVD in a strongpoint would be poor odds and attacking the Soviet naval infantry would be a bad exchange of steps (if that occurs) and again, poor odds. Unless he really shifts strength, the Rumanian can manage only maybe two attacks in this area and the Soviet can easily support any defense here with naval artillery. A Rumanian advance along the strip of land between the two lakes can threaten but is easily stymied. Hex 6230 must be garrisoned as the land bridge can threaten the critical victory hex 6331. There is an 80% probability of the militia unit placed there having at least one defense point; the addition of naval artillery as support will make that defense even stronger, possibly up to four points. The area should prove to be a dead end for Rumanian units, particularly since any unit moving to hex 6231 will not have enough MA to re-deploy. The Rumanian can only guess about Soviet strength here.
After the first turn the Soviet player will begin placing his remaining four strongpoints, one per game-turn. I usually pick hex 6031 first. It is an objective hex and it will complete a second defense line: hexes 6130, 6031, 5931, and 5833. As the initial placement "screen" is destroyed, and there won't be many survivors, any units retreating should fall back to one of these hexes. Any units allowed to move should be moved to these hexes. Limited movement is an issue during the first turns because the Soviet HQ is Non-Op, a major factor limiting the Soviets. Hexes to consider later for strongpoints are: 5833, 6033, and 6531. These generally assume the Rumanians attack strictly in the western sector. If the Rumanian shows any sign of shifting east, build one in hex 6330, a very important VP hex.
The next important issue for the Soviet is creation of a mobile reserve, the proverbial fire-brigade. It would be useful to employ the Odessa Militia Cavalry Division for this purpose (useful for its two steps) but being part of the Garrison, it likely will be tied down for a while. The mission must then fall to the 26 NKVD Rgt., a motorized unit. Move it on first turn to 6032. Once the HQ becomes Operational, it should sit in a position behind the line to be eligible for reaction movement. Be sure it is the last step you take for any required combat loss as this unit cannot be rebuilt by replacements (it requires NKVD Repl. of which there are not).
Until the HQ reorganizes the Soviet player should let the 136 Reserve Rgt. stay put (to occupy hex 6330; at least until the HQ recovers), as well as the 54/25 Inf. In general, the eastern sector will likely be stripped of units to shore up the western, the 1 BSR naval infantry unit is a great unit to move west, being two steps. Such a shift west can leave the sector vulnerable to a sudden Rumanian shift to the east, but Soviet internal communications are better than the Rumanian ability, so such a shift can be met if recognized early enough; yes, count out where those Rumanian pieces can get to.
Elsewhere, consider moving 90/25 Inf to hex 5930 on the first turn to protect the artillery unit but only if the initial line is holding; if not, move the artillery unit back, you will not win this scenario without it. Next, convert the ZHOO Inf to a Repl. point and use right away to increase the 2 BSR Naval Inf. Take the 30 Mtn.Inf optional unit only if the Rumanian fails to cut the road to the east. If you take this unit, you must be prepared to defend forward or be very active; it is not a very good VP trade for steps. The best deal is to pay the VPs for the extra replacements; always do it. Use your replacements to rebuild units right away. If the front is not a disaster (meaning: the Rumanian is not doing well), then save one Repl. to rebuild a 2 point unit. Rebuilding of militia is likely a poor choice. Finally, employ the air units every turn you can at the scene of the biggest enemy push.
Overall, the Soviet will defend every turn; there will be no counter-offensive and, really, there is no point in it. On the other hand, consider an attack in those situations where, usually due to attacker retreats, an enemy artillery unit is not guarded. Also, the Soviet should always weigh the advantage of slipping a unit through the Rumanian encirclement. Sometimes this can be accomplished through the landbridge between the two lakes. Once into the Rumanian rear such a raider could inconvenience Rumanian retreats or threaten artillery. At the very least it will take one or two Rumanians off the front line in an effort to kill it, therefore it accomplishes a time delay on the Rumanian. As a final tactic, it could move adjacent to a front line Rumanian thereby forcing it, or some other Rumanian unit, to attack it, thereby forcing the same diversion of enemy effort, hence delay. The most critical hex is hex 6331. Should the Rumanian ever take it (usually late in play), you must count VPs to see how things stand; chances are, you will have to counter-attack.

Rumanian Play

From the start the attack on Odessa is an attrition match, just as it was historically. Much of this is attributable to the inefficient nature of the Rumanian infantry division but the Rumanian player does hold a numerical edge, about 23% in initial firepower (although off-set by enemy strongpoints) when comparing the entire force on each side. That advantage grows to 51% if comparing effective front-line strength on the first turn since some of the Soviet units are tied down as garrisons. The Rumanian player also has the initiative and he has greater attack flexibility because of the ability to co-ordinate the movement of all his units from the start; there is no Non-Op HQ problem. The Rumanian will find his best shot lies in attacking, systematic attacking against selected targets.

The Rumanian First Turn
I suggest the following Rumanian attacks against the suggested Soviet set up. Conduct them in the order presented here.

  1. Place 1 Arm and 1 and 9 Cav in 6028 and 7 Art. in 6027 to attack 6029; will have 10-1 odds or no worse than 5-1 if the Soviet adds his one-point artillery to the defense here. Be sure to advance the armor unit after winning this battle in order to destroy the strongpoint. One cavalry should exploit to hex 6228 and the other should accompany the armor unit during the motorized movement phase.
  2. Place GD Inf in 5631 and 21 Inf in 5632 and 2 Art in 5530 to attack 5731. Odds will be 3-1 if no Soviet artillery is offered in support but the odds will drop to 2-1 if the one-point Soviet artillery unit supports here, which it likely will do.
  3. Place Gran Inf and 7 Inf in 5730 and 3 Art in 5630 to attack 5831 along with air support. Expect the Soviet to support with two points of artillery. Much advantage here if can get to advance after combat, in fact this attack is the whole object of the first turn. Good luck.
  4. Place 3 Inf in 5729 and Army Art in 5629 to attack 5830. This may be a diversionary attack but you might still get lucky.
Other Rumanian Movement: 5 Inf to 5828 to maintain a screen, 15 Inf stays put and 5 Art joins it in 6429. Note that the Soviet cavalry unit cannot move since it is part of the Garrison and a Rumanian unit has not moved adjacent to it (thereby releasing it). Contrary to an earlier posting, I have decided the Rumanian 15 Inf will not cut the road. If the Soviet wants to give you 4 VPs to get the 30 Mtn Div. then so be it, he has made a poor trade for steps and you still have 14 turns to show him how well you can roll the die (at the very least, call up Warren Kingsley's opponent, Henry R., the guy can't miss!).
You should not try an attack on hex 5733 since you will likely discover that you have only 2-1 odds (only a 20% chance of 3-1 odds). If you feel lucky (or maybe Henry R. is rolling for you) and decide to go ahead with an attack on this hex, expect the Soviet player to add his one point naval artillery as defense support. If the Soviet player does not make any initial optional placement here, then by all means make this attack and be sure to include the 9 Cav at 5633 in the battle in order to be able to exploit to 5932 during the subsequent motorized movement phase; also attack with Gran Inf and support with artillery.
Perfect dice in the attacks listed above will eliminate 7 Soviet steps at a cost of 2 Rumanian. While the Soviet Coast Art is not trapped, its screen is destroyed and it will likely be on the front line for second turn. Much depends on these first turn attacks. If they go well, press straight down the road to Odessa and always target Soviet artillery, if given a chance. If not well, choose your attacks carefully by reducing each Soviet position systematically, try to shift some weight to the east in order to spread the defense. If the Soviet is slow in HQ recovery, the defense will not be flexible and will break in the west. If the Soviet HQ recovers early, spread the defense by attacking in the east as well as the west.

Rumanian Strategy

While the burden of attack is clearly on the Rumanian, he does not hold a clear edge, a sad state of affairs for what is an attrition match. That being said, the Rumanian has sufficient time that he might be able to pick his attacks. He need not always go for the best odds, but must resist the temptation to attack everywhere every turn. That would play into the Soviet game-plan. The Rumanian does have an edge (although narrow) in firepower but not in steps during early play even though some Soviet steps are locked up as garrisons. Always look for ways to exploit with armor and cavalry. Sequence your attacks to cut off defenders from retreats. Reward lies in good game play in positioning of units.
Artillery provides much Rumanian firepower but suffers from its inability to co-ordinate. There is no way Odessa will fall to massed Rumanian batteries; in fact, it can seem that there are too many guns. Consider stacking artillery with the infantry and using artillery as the first step of loss when defending (if you ever get to defend). Use it to reinforce reduced divisions. Use it also to support reduced exposed units, particularly those units which advanced after combat. From time to time consider holding the front line with just artillery, if only to tempt the Soviets out from their strongpoints. Still, artillery is indispensable, you can't make headway without it.
As the Play Notes (see Playbook) say, it is probably best to pay the VPs and take the German optional group. I do not as readily recommend the later Rumanian optional group (Gp. #3; with the engineer) due to its late arrival, but it might prove to be just the units necessary for the final attack, so circumstances will dictate. While such choices will make the game come down to a close count of VPs, the engineer and the German artillery (it can combine with Rumanian artillery) now give a sufficient qualitative edge that at least one more VP location can be expected to fall, let's say either Dalnik of Hex 6331. Happily, the German group (of 3 steps) is first available GT#30 which coincides with the arrival of seven steps of regular reinforcements (GTs 29 and 30), a total of ten steps offset by only one Soviet step. You will have on GT#30 a 30% superiority in steps and you match him in build-up for the next two turns. Clearly this is the time to strike with many attacks because the extra turn the Soviet requires to conduct a full replacement procedure will cause him a delay in getting units back to the front line, perhaps a fatal delay. Only by careful timing will Antonescu win this one.

Q & A

Q. In your Odessa scenario tutorial for BAGS you wrote here a while back, you mention a couple times about the 1 Odessa Cavalry as being part of the Odessa Garrison. On the setup card, it doesn't seem to be part of the garrison.
A. The Odessa Cav Div is not a part of the garrison, but it is a militia unit, so the 5 hex movement restriction applies (unless the Soviet purchases the reinforcement group which allow the Odessa Cav Siv to function as a regular division).

Q. Can the Soviets place their 4 extra strongpoints before the non-op HQ recovers?
A. Yes, they can.

Q. What does the 'R' inside the Red circle on the Soviet ISTR units refer to?
A. It means the unit cannot be rebuilt once removed from play. The symbol is shown on the How To Read Units Card. The rules just state that the unit can't be rebuilt.

Q. In the Odessa scenario, the Soviets get replacements at Odessa and from off-map. I'm assuming the ones from off-map have to be shipped in using the Soviet Ship transport rules. Do the ones that go to Odessa just get recorded on the replacements track or are they actually placed on the map?
A. Yes, the replacements have to be shipped in using naval transport rules. You can put the RPs on the Replacement Track, or, per the note on page 5 of the Play Book, you can physically place the RPs in Odessa using the Numeric markers to do so.

Q. About the Additional Retreat Option (rule 8.7) in Typhoon: the rule states the an affected unit takes a one step loss reduction. Does this reduction only occur when a retreat result is achieved or does the reduction in losses occur for any result? I read it as if a unit under an additional retreat marker gets a loss result and a retreat result, the step loss is lowered by one and the unit is retreated by the opponent. My rules lawyer opponent reads it as if all losses are mitigated by one step while under an additional retreat marker. The rule seems clear to me that only units affected by a retreat result benefit from the one step loss reduction.
A. Only the unit(s)under the Additional Retreat marker benefit from the reduction in the printed step loss, and the benefit does not occur if there is not a Retreat result. A defending unit with an Additional Retreat marker would have to take a step loss in an A1/D1 type result because there is no defender retreat result. No retreat takes place -- no benefit.

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