austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

I'd say that I had spring fever, but I know it isn't spring

Returning to Hearts of Iron, for an update on the first half of 1948 because it got awfully eventful: I have invaded Russia. In winter.

As previously reported when January 1948 began, the Comintern was at war with the Allies following the explosion of the Korean War into a Third (Fourth?) World War. The United States, with some landings by Japan and the United Kingdom, was shearing the eastern end of Siberia off the Soviet Union, and pressing into Mongolia.

With the start of the new year, I liberated the nation of Menkukuo, turning more occupied Soviet provinces into an ally. This relieved the United States of supporting the population, of course, and lets them assemble army units (and, theoretically, air force and navy units, although they don't have the industrial might for that sort of work). And I think it fits well with the anti-colonial policies the United States plays in this timeline; I've been creating a lot of little homelands.

Still, the Soviet Union, with something around 400 divisions of infantry and 40 of mechanized infantry, pressed eastward, forming a pretty solid front from the eastern Gobi Desert and sweeping in a diagonal toward the northeast. Where I could provide air cover --- which is not everywhere, as the battlefields in that part of the world tend to be huge --- I might as well be guaranteed a win; but where they could bring their massive manpower against me, I might as well give up. But there is a counterbalancing factor.

One of the things the game allows nations to do is to send units to allied nations as expeditionary forces. The other nation can refuse the offer, but (and the sending nation can withdraw it), but this can be a way to augment a military. And now, the several Chinese states, Korea, and Japan were sending infantry units as expeditionary forces almost as fast as they could raise them. The United Kingdom, United Provinces, Canada,and Australia were doing almost as well.

These expeditionary forces are not an unmitigated benefit for the receiving nation. The receiver becomes responsible for supply, as is only reasonable; also for upgrading units to the current standard. Great Britain's infantry of 1948 is comparable to the United States's, certainly, but the Guangxi Clique offers more in quantity than anything else. And the expeditionary forces assemble in Shanghai for reasons which surely make sense to the game; they have to be transported the thousands of miles to the front. This taxes the transport capacity --- essentially, the logistics and infrastructure --- of even the mighty United States, to the degradation of the entire combined fighting forces. But with a front reaching over five thousand miles long, what alternative is there?

So how is this for an alternative: the forces which overran Germany and Italy were still in Western Europe. Over the course of January I assembled them into Scapa Flow, for deployment on a long arc to try an invasion from the White Sea. There are some historical considerations to discourage one from invading Russia in the winter, but then, if it's possible to get transports through the White Sea, one would have the element of surprise on one's side.

And so on the 8th of February 1948, a combined landing force of marines, mountaineer, and mechanized infantry stormed the ice floes of Murmansk, overwhelming a light garrison and taking the naval base and air base present. Swiftly the United States began running strategic and tactical bombing missions from Murmansk, putting the coast of the whole White Sea under its air cover. Remember what was said before about battles in which the United States brings air cover. With Murmansk as a staging base and source of air cover, the invasion of Archaengelsk was able to begin the 24th of February, and to secure that naval base and air base by the 27th.

My objective here was to take the coastal territories around the White Sea, so that in the event units in any one province were defeated they would have somewhere they could retreat to, and in fact, have a path to retreat, if need be, back to a naval base from which they could be evacuated to Scotland. Also by establishing such a linkup, supplies could be sent through Murmansk and by land, easing the chronic shortage of shipping convoys; the transport overload was at its worst between supporting two new invasion depots and transporting troops to the Gobi-Mongolia front. Unfortunately, between the weather, the poor infrastructure, and this irritating tendency of the Soviet Union to fight back, the linkup across the White Sea arc was not completed until the middle of April.

I should mention the game does model the weather, in some fashion; I don't tend to pay much attention to it because it's awkwardly data not overlayable on the more useful map screens, and it's rarely important to me. While bad weather slows unit movement and supply capacity, I rarely need the highest speeds of any of my units, and usually have abundant supplies. Oh, planes can't take off in the worst weather, but if a sortie is delayed twelve hours, usually for my games, so what?

I don't know whether the simulated weather is based on a simple randomized model or whether it reflects real historical records. The latter would be challenging but is conceivable. Europa Universalis III, using a modification of this game engine, allows one to start from any date between 1453 and 1789 with the territories of the world assigned to the nations which controlled them that given date. Mapping the weather for as many provinces, hour-by-hour, for 20 game years would be ... overkill, for the sake of authenticity, but imaginable, except that for so much of the world there just aren't weather stations worth anything. Sure, we can say with confidence what the weather was like in Iowa for any date the past century, but if you're fighting a battle in Iowa in 1948 you're doing something really wrong.

Between the units connecting, however, and the improving circumstances of the roads and weather as spring set in, the United States's advance was able to pick up speed. By the end of May American-controlled territories reached to within a hundred miles of Leningrad and within two hundred miles of Moscow. An attempted blitzkrieg sent a cavalry unit to cut a swath of territory from the bulging American lines west to touch Latvia, with the hopes this would leave the Soviet troops defending Leningrad bereft of supplies. While a good theory, the Allies did not have enough forces to defend this corridor: the middle section was retaken by the Soviets and the division in Opochka, near the Latvian border, were stranded. The first air-supply transport kept them in fighting shape, however, but the hopes of letting Leningrad, Gdov, and the rest of the Soviet Union's western coast fall into the American laps were frustrated.

Nevertheless, over the course of June, the United States managed to occupy Kalinin, Rybinsk, and Rzhev --- the northern borders of Moscow. While the forces in this theater were getting dangerously thinly spread, the target was almost irresistible. On the 1st of July, therefore, the Battle of Moscow began.

The Soviet Union was, apparently, in the midst of evacuating Moscow; the city was lightly defended, and the slender Soviet air force completely absent. Despite my urgent hopes for a beautiful symbolic moment, the defenders held out just long enough and it was not until the early morning of the 5th of July that the United States LXXVI Corps occupied Moscow. Cleaning-up operations continued for about five days.

Along the way, the Allies did take all of the Pacific coast of the Soviet Union, so the Soviet Union faces water only at Leningrad, Koningsberg, and along the Crimean. Also, at the start of April, the United States liberated Manchukuo, increasing again the total of allies and reducing the supply burden of the United States.

Despite these triumphs and even bagging this prize --- and Moscow is worth 50 points for the little-noticed Victory Points scoring system --- the Soviets did not offer surrender, nor did I imagine this might compel a surrender. There's a lot of territory remaining, and the vast Gobi-Mongolia front remains in its curious stalemate. While a quarter the Soviet army has been destroyed, that is still 300 infantry and about 30 mechanized divisions left to fight.

And the European Russia front is very near the limits of its natural extension. I know how, in this game, a front feels when it's vulnerable to a ``Battle of the Bulge'' counterattack, and this is near it. The units are stretched thin and have been fighting hard for five months with little letup. While I have fresh units under production and rush them to Archangelsk as swiftly as possible, that's not a high rate of replacement; and the burden of supplying the many Allied Expeditionary forces is keeping them from being adequately resupplied.

I have some potential solutions in mind. One of them is to temporarily stop bringing expeditionary forces to the Gobi-Mongolia front. There are already mind-bogglingly huge armies there. Instead I can try transporting them from Shanghai to European Russia, where they can become the garrisons to the Americans' cutting blade. I may also halt the upgrading process for units, on the theory that it's better to have fully supplied, mixed-calibre forces than to have a partially supplied, raising-to-uniform-calibre forces. Stopping the upgrading of obsolete Expeditionary Forces can be done right away; shipping appreciable numbers of divisions from eastern China to the White Sea --- or, if I can get some breaks, at least to Leningrad --- will take longer. I have to hope that the western front will not face any counterattacks severe enough to break the line. And I must also hope that the line can be made strong enough before the new winter.

So there it is. I have to find solutions to my supply problems, and my deployment problems, or see all this hard work gone to waste. And yet I think I have an approach.

Oh, yes, in sulking about the game's Special Events scheme: on the 13th of March it was reported that Czechoslovakia had just experienced The Murder of Jan Masaryk. Given the state of Soviet-Czechoslovak relations, I find this implausible, even if we overlook that the Second World War here began as a Czech-German war in 1938.

Trivia: By the start of the Soviet offensive in December 1941 the Soviet Union had lost about two-thirds of its coal and three-quarters of its iron production capacity to Germany. Source: The World At War, Mark Arnold-Forster.

Currently Reading: The Ophiuchi Hotline, John Varley.

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