Drive on Moscow Design Diary #1: Order of Battle
Determining the combat units (order of battle or OB to military historians) to be represented in a game on a historical battle is obviously a key part of the design process, and is rather more complex process than you might think.
First, of course, comes researching the battle. Many well-written histories fail to include a detailed order of battle or adequate maps. Fortunately, books-and online sites-devoted to orders of battle are increasingly common. Among the works I used were David Porter’s “The Red Army in World War II”; Chris Bishop’s “German Infantry in World War II” and “German Panzers in World War II”; Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr.’s three volume “German Order of Battle”; Robert Forczyk’s “Moscow 1941: Hitler’s First Defeat”; the excellent maps of Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson’s “The Drive on Moscow 1941”; and “Slaughterhouse: The Encyclopedia of the Eastern Front.”
Besides OB information being more widely available, with the partial opening of Soviet archives since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have a much more accurate idea of the Soviet OB during Operation Typhoon than we did 20 years ago. (But it should be noted that a completely accurate and detailed Soviet OB may never possible. Because of the chaos caused by the initial Axis attacks, it is doubtful the Kremlin had a completely accurate picture of its forces for much of the battle.)
In many cases, particularly with the Axis, I had detailed OB info down to the level of regiments or even battalions, but the size of the map and the number of units the Crisis in Command system could reasonably handle, caused me to decide to do the German mechanized units at division level, while handling the infantry as corps (generally of two to four infantry divisions). Presenting the panzer and motorized infantry as divisions would give the Axis mechanized forces a historical degree of flexibility. But corps worked for the infantry since during Typhoon infantry divisions were rarely committed individually. Finally I added two smaller Axis units, the Lehr Motorized Brigade and the Grossdeutschland Motorized Regiment, since these were elite units that often acted independently and had combat power out of proportion to their size. In all cases, artillery strength was factored directly into the combat units.
The Soviets were a more complex affair. At this point in the war, most of their corps level commands had been eliminated as the Soviets simply didn’t have the required officers available to staff so many corps commands. Infantry divisions (“Rifle” units in Red Army parlance) were generally formed into Rifle Armies of (usually) four to six divisions, making them generally equivalent to an Axis infantry corps. But during this time a number of individual infantry divisions played key roles in defeating the Drive on Moscow, and I wanted at least a representative sample of those units in the game. Some were well-equipped divisions from the Soviet armies in the Far East (the so-called “Siberian” divisions) while others were “Guard” divisions formed from units that had already distinguished themselves in combat. Though later in the war Guard units would be especially well-equipped, at this stage the title was more of a boost to morale than anything else.
At the start of the Axis invasion in June, Soviet armor and motorized infantry had been formed into corps level units, most somewhat larger than an Axis panzer division. These corps had been all-but obliterated in the first month of the invasion, and August they were formally disbanded, replaced by scores of tank brigades (along with a handful of tank divisions). In reality though, many of these “brigades” consisted of 50 or 60 obsolete light tanks along with (at best) a few T-34s or KV1s, the only Soviet tanks really capable of taking on the Axis. There were far too many of these weak units to represent them all individually. Some were assigned to direct support of the Soviet armies, and were factored into those units combat strength. The others I chose to combine with the most effective (and famous) Soviet tank units of the battle, most notably Katukov’s 4th Tank brigade. Which is why those units have a “+” sign on them, to indicate they represent more than the named brigade.
Soviet horse cavalry was formed into divisions which were really the size of a regiment, which in turn were formed into corps the size of a division. The cavalry units represented in the game are reinforced corps that also include supporting tank brigades.
Finally, those familiar with the battle may ask, where is the famous Soviet 1st Guard Corps? It is there, but broken down into its constituent elements. The 1st Guard Corps was made up of units of varying size and type over the course of the battle (including two Guard Rifle Divisions and Katukov’s tanks) so adding it as a unit would represent it twice over.
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