HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDOn 19 November, 1942, the Red Army launched a massive offensive, code-named “Operation Uranus,” against the northern and southern flanks of the German 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army which were fighting in and around Stalingrad. This operation against Army Group South had originally been intended by its planner, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, to coincide with another equally powerful offensive, code-named “Mars,” aimed at the German 9th Army which occupied a narrow salient around Rzhev. Both operations were scheduled to begin in late November, 1942. Zhukov, however, thought that he perceived an opportunity to knock the Germans in the south off-balance and thus, before all of his offensive preparations had been completed, attacked the Stalingrad positions early. Ironically, Operation Mars began as planned but would ultimately end in a catastrophic and bloody defeat for the Red Army; Zhukov’s gamble at Stalingrad, on the other hand, would yield a tremendous Soviet victory that would both save his career and his military reputation. The Stalingrad offensive, in its aftermath, would also come within a hair’s breadth of shattering Germany’s Army Group South.
Supply, not surprisingly, is a central factor in TURNING POINT whichever scenario is selected for play. A unit can only be in one of three supply states: supplied (full attack strength, full defense strength, and full movement); unsupplied (half attack strength, full defense strength, and half movement); isolated (zero attack strength, full defense strength, and half movement). In addition, the supply rules for the two opposing armies differ significantly. The Russians may trace a supply line of eight hexes or less to any unblocked friendly rail line, and four hexes or less to the east edge of the map. If the Soviet supply line exceeds these ranges, then the affected unit is isolated. The Russian commander also controls two mobile depot units that can supply the advancing Red Army. In the case of these mobile depots, Russian units within four hexes are in supply; units that are five to eight hexes from these depots are unsupplied; those that are farther than eight hexes away are isolated. The German player’s supply situation is much simpler: Axis units are supplied if they are within twelve hexes of an unobstructed friendly rail line, otherwise they are unsupplied; Axis units are never isolated.
Because it encompasses the entire Stalingrad-Volga River battle space, the 22” x 28” two-color game map covers a playing area that extends approximately 390 miles from north to south, and 350 miles from east to west. Terrain effects on movement and combat are negligible: only fortified zones affect enemy movement, and only river lines and fortified zones influence combat; cities and towns, strangely enough, confer no defensive advantages at all to an occupant. In addition, German reinforcements may use rail movement, but only on the turn of their arrival; Soviet reinforcements, however, may never move by rail and must enter play using regular ground movement.
The Combat Results Table (CRT) is the “quasi-bloodless” type characteristic of virtually all of the SPI games that utilize the KURSK Game System. Even high-odds combat results are heavily weighted in favor of Retreats, Exchanges, and Half-exchanges. By way of example, comparatively high-odds — 6 to 1 or above — are required before the attacker has any prospect of rolling a D Elim result, and even at 9 to 1 odds, air support is necessary to avoid a one-third chance of a Half-Exchange. Because of this distribution of combat results, “toe-to-toe” slugging matches between the opposing armies tend to produce lots of retreats and exchanges; the real key, if a player wants to establish offensive momentum and favorable attrition, is the creation of fluid combat situations in which “surrounded” attacks become possible.
The counters are clearly printed and easy to read. Soviet units are a dull rust color, while German counters are printed on a blue-grey background. For ease of setup, the Axis allied units — those that were part of the Italian 7th Army, and the Rumanian 3rd and 4th Armies — are a lighter shade of blue-grey than their German counterparts. Axis counters typically represent divisions; individual Russian combat units are corps.
To determine who wins, players compare their respective tallies of victory points after the conclusion of the final turn. Victory points are awarded for the destruction of enemy units, the capture of terrain, the depth of the Soviet western advance, and for any gaps that can be torn and maintained in the enemy’s north-south continuous line.
The November Historical Scenario begins with narrow-front Soviet attacks on both the northern and southern flanks of the German forces near Stalingrad. On the first game turn only, Russian odds are increased two columns on the CRT for attacks against Axis Allied units (Rumanians and Italians) and one column against any defending Germans unlucky enough to be in the Russians' path. The historical setup virtually guarantees that Soviet forces will succeed in breaking through the Axis front and, during their mechanized movement phase, will be able to complete the encirclement of the German 6th Army, and most of the 4th Panzer Army, as well. This initial encircling Russian cordon, however, is both quite thin and quite brittle. Because Zhukov chose to launch his offensive before his preparations were complete, the Red Army has only ten mechanized units available when this scenario begins. Hence, as they say, this is where “the cheese gets binding” for the Russians.
If the players are using the “Hitler Insanity” rule (which I strongly recommend that they do), then the German commander will have only one unsupplied mobile mechanized unit inside the pocket, and only six units (four mechanized) outside with which to block the advance of the now mainly unsupplied and isolated Soviet motorized units west of Stalingrad. This is because the “Insanity” rule prevents all Axis units in German fortified hexes from moving or attacking on the first turn of the game. Although there is one Hungarian security division and three additional German infantry divisions in the Axis rear, they are all too far from the front to reach the battle area before the third game turn, at the earliest. Moreover, any off-map reinforcements that the German player receives will not even start to show up until game turn five. What this actually means is that, if the German player is going to win, he or she will have to prevail the with forces that are on the map at the start of the scenario.
In terms of the Novemember Historical Scenario's action, the first turn of the scenario sets the stage for the coming battle, but the game really begins on turn two. Starting on the second game turn, the Russian player will attempt to widen the breaches in the German line while, at the same time, he or she pushes supply and rifle units forward through these (hopefully widening) gaps to support his exposed and mainly unsupplied and isolated mechanized corps. The Soviet goal, at this stage will be to deny mobility to Paulus’ units within the pocket and also to begin to construct a second, even tighter ring around the Germans trapped at Stalingrad. If, at this stage in the battle, the Red Army fails to strengthen its grip on the German units inside the pocket — particularly the six German mechanized divisions — then an armored melee will probably ensue in which the German advantage in mobility will be decisive.
The German problems at this stage are, of course, very different from those of the Russian. Although the Axis player (when playing with the "Insanity" rule) only gains complete freedom of maneuver starting with turn two, there will probably be very little that he or she can do to improve the situation of the German infantry inside the pocket. Moreover, it is doubtful that the trapped German mechanized units will be able to accomplish much either. Nonetheless, any units that are not immobile should immediately move to expand the size of the pocket and to pin any Soviet mechanized units that they can reach. Obviously, these moves should only be performed if they can be made without exposing the pinning units to surrounded Russian counterattacks. Also, starting on the second game turn, the German commander will be able to start stripping units out of the northern part of the Axis fortified line. This section can be almost denuded of defenders because Soviet supply lines do not extend far enough west to support an attack against these positions. Most of the units freed-up will be weak (1-4) Italian infantry divisions, but the Axis player should also be able to shift one or two (3-5) German infantry divisions towards his new ad-hoc defense line. This temporary line, given typical Soviet play, will anchor its left flank on the northern section of the Axis fortified line and will then usually extend south along the Chir River to the Don. At this point in the game, the German player must decide how daring he or she actually wants to be. Time works in favor of the Red Army, so if the Axis player wants to have any hope of relieving Stalingrad, he or she should probably begin working towards that goal immediately. Unfortunately, given the meager resources available, the German player really has only two options: he or she can use the mechanized units inside and outside of the pocket to try and form a supply chain through the Russian cordon (during their "initial" movement phase), thereby allowing the trapped German armor to squirm through the Soviet ring and into the open during their "mechanized" movement phase; or alternatively, the Axis player can counterattack — at low odds and with air support — vulnerable Soviet screening units in an effort to batter his or her way in to the encircled forces near Stalingrad. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, but whichever one the Axis player chooses, that choice will probably determine the course and outcome of the game.
Game turns two, three, and four will usually be decisive when it comes to resolving the fate of the Stalingrad pocket. However, even if Stalingrad cannot be saved, the Germans may still be able to salvage a victory. The early elimination of enemy combat units, particularly armor, will often establish a large advantage in victory points, for one player or the other, which will be extremely difficult for the other player to overcome in the later stages of the game. Still, barring a complete battlefield disaster, it is often worthwhile for a player to play on, even when his or her combat losses have been heavy: the respective fortunes of the two opposing armies can swing wildly from turn to turn, and will sometimes hinge on the outcome of a single crucial battle late in the game.