HAVING RECENTLY PLAYED Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad (Dan Verssen Games, 2018) I pledged to learn more about the Eastern Front in World War II. Although I have long studied and played wargames about WWII, I previously focused on various naval campaigns, tactical armored combat, air warfare, and the Western and African fronts. Before playing Pavlov’s House, the closest I really got to getting ‘into’ the Eastern Front was playing Panzer 1st Ed (Yaquinto Publishing, 1979), Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear, 1941 – Operation Barbarossa 2nd Ed. (Academy Games, 2012), Panzer 2nd Ed. (GMT Games, 2012), and Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 3rd Ed. (Academy Games, 2019). I had dabbled in the naval conflict using the Baltic Arena scenario book for Command at Sea (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 20XX) and in the air war using the campaign game found in Wing Leader: Blitz, 1939-1942 (Wing Leader Expansion Nr 1) (GMT Games, 2018). What I have not done in the past is look at the Eastern Front at a theater or campaign perspective.
The first step in my ‘education’ was to look at my bookshelf. I discovered that, like my wargame collection, my book selection was also lacking in a similar manner. Looking to rectify the situation, I payed a visit to McKay’s Used Books (Manassas, VA). I was very fortunate to find a classic of military history, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany, Vol. 1 by John Erickson in paperback for less than $3. The book is a bit dated (original copyright 1975) but my version was printed in 1999 and includes an updated preface dated 1993. I see many comments that this telling of history, from the Soviet perspective, has not changed much even in the past 20 years. For myself, it is a good first ‘deep read’ into the Eastern Front. However, it is not without some issues. The foremost issue that I have with the book is a lack of maps. Maybe it’s the wargamer in me but I really need to see the battlefield. In the case of The Road to Stalingrad I have only a minimal familiarity with the geography meaning if I am to make any real sense out of narrative I must have a map!
Now, I could easily go online and find a map, but I am a wargamer and in 2019 I acquired Ted Raicer’s The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 Deluxe Ed. (GMT Games, 2018). The game uses two 22″x34″ maps to depict the Eastern Front. So, I laid out the map to ‘follow along’ with my reading. As is usual, one thing led to another.
Book I in The Road to Stalingrad is “On Preparedness: Military and Political Developments, Spring 1941.” This ‘book’ covers the Soviet preparations from 1940 to the start of Operation Barbarossa. As I read the book and was locating place names on the map I also found different units referenced. At this point it made sense to grab the unit counter and place it on the board just ‘to get an idea’ of what was where. When I reached the end of Book I the mapboard looked much like the set-up for Scenario 17.1 – Operation Barbarossa. Not exactly, but close.
Close enough that I can play. Hmm….
Book II of the Road to Stalingrad is “Halting the Blitzkrieg, 22 June 1941 – 19 November 1942.” This corresponds nicely to the Operation Barbarossa and Fall Blau scenarios of The Dark Valley, covering Game Turns 1-17. My intention at this point is to read a chapter in the book then play the corresponding turns of the wargame. Roughly speaking, each chapter is one or two (usually 2) game turns. At least, I’ll start out this way because I know that my game will diverge from history. I think it will be an interesting experiment and I wonder how much I am ‘contaminating’ the experiment by ‘reading ahead.’ Will reading ahead help to avoid the mistakes of history, or will the same situations happen because they were inevitable?
I aim to find out.
Feature image courtesy GMT Games