Defensive Action on Horseshoe Hill
After the battle for the crossroads, German recovery teams work miracles on the tanks lost in the fighting. While tanks can be recovered, the lighter vehicles are mostly write-offs, but Colonel Stiegel is not new to the Eastern Front where constant degeneration of combat potency is the norm.
With the news of the coming Soviet counterattack, the troops of the 16th Panzer Division dig in on Horseshoe Hill and the surrounding hilltops to the west and south. These positions need to be held to ensure the supporting grenadiers can be safely trucked in to beef up the defenses.
Horseshoe Hill is the only secure ground facing the Russian front so a defense in depth cannot be arranged without giving up key objectives. Instead, Colonel Stiegel decides on a classic rigid defense in the middle on good defensive ground while putting his mobile units on the north and southern wings to put the enemy under fire as they become engaged in the fight for the center hill feature.
The hill itself is wooded and covered in snow. With a smoke screen provided by the artillery, troops with panzerfausts and anti-tank mines can wait entrenched and hidden for the assorted Soviet armor to roar up the slopes and into the teeth of the ambush. MG42 heavy machine guns on top of the hill will prevent Soviet infantry from supporting the tanks. While the Germaninfantry close assault the surprised tanks, support fire from the two Nashorns, two Panthers and two surviving siG33 auf 38t guns on hilltops to the south will contribute to reducing the enemy. For defending in the hilltop woods, 3 platoons of infantry, 2 panzershrek teams, and two 75mm Pak40 anti-tank guns are deployed with another platoon, two mortars and Colonel Stiegel himself with his staff held in reserve on the reverse slope.
In the north, there is a smaller hill and the town where Kampfgruppe Jackboot attacked through in the previous battle. OKW has listed the town as an objective, but with it still not secure, there is little choice but to first let the Russians take it and then try to counterattack and drive them out of it. For this task, the Tiger platoon and mechanized engineer platoon are deployed on the northern hill. Due to losses in the previous battle, some of the engineers will have to go into battle on foot instead of on APCs. It is hoped this assault group will catch the attacking Soviet troops and tanks on their flank as they swoop south towards Horseshoe.
The artillery battery and the command post are positioned to the west of Horseshoe protected by a section of Flakpanzers. The CP sees little of Colonel Stiegel during battle according to his creed, "If I can't smell the cordite and blood, then I'm not close enough to the action."
OKW has also listed the crossroads east of Horseshoe and the road leading to it from the southwest as objectives to be held but that is dangerously exposed ground. Instead of a determined defense, a pair of four man recon teams and a panzershrek team are hidden in the trees and rough ground near the road to act as security posts. The idea is for them to retreat back to the main line of defense after contact with the enemy is made and the armor on the southern hilltops can put the enemy under fire. Slowing down the enemy's advance along the road will give time for the supporting grenadiers to take up positions blocking the road who will go on to retake the crossroads.
A horde of cavalry rushes west taking the crossroads and the lower southwestern road in one wild dash. The only resistance offered is from one security post of four German troops who put up a spirited defense. Repeated cavalry charges are repelled by small arms fire mowing down the brave horses and their riders. The soldiers take turns ducking into the cabin to reload their weapons while the others keep up a withering fire against the oncoming animals. After a hard fight, the post is overrun killing three of the defenders and capturing the fourth who faces an uncertain future after the losses inflicted.
After the cavalry clears the security post and charges southwest, the main Soviet assault of tanks and trucks loaded with troops steams straight west against no opposition at all. Only one recon unit is hit by a shot from a Panther. The tanks carry on through the smoke screen on the hill and into the trees as expected.
German troops deploy panzerfausts, anti-tank mines and grenades on mass against the BT-7s and T-34s but their inexperience shows with no results but one immobilized light tank. The Russian tanks overcome their surprise and return merciless machine gun and cannon fire cutting down scores of the defenders. The Germans take even more losses from their own panicky use of grenades and explosives which do little to the enemy tanks but blast their own troops apart who are trying to close assault the tanks. A 75mm Pak40 ATG is overrun because it cannot see through it's own smokescreen and it is run over by a BT-7 without having fired a single shot. The Russian tanks take the northern objective of Horseshoe and according to their orders to push on, they drive down the back of the hill into the German rear areas to finally be stopped by accurate deadly fire from the Nashorns on the southwestern hilltop. In total, the Germans lose 3 squads of troops, one panzershrek team and an ATG during the fight on the northern half of Horseshoe. The MG42s are barely able to retreat on time into the trees and smoke.
The picture shows the start of the Soviet attack on Horseshoe Hill. Note the smoke screen from the German artillery on the hill and the lack of long range defensive fire because of the intent to defend using an ambush by the infantry.