Come on Pieter, three days with no update is hardly fair Nice AAR, which is good for me as I've yet to play this scenario and it looks huge and complicated. Is it relatively straight forward to pile into Vitebsk within the first turn? Casualties are immense again (which I find to be a theme of the Kharkov series).
I had the time to play the turns, but the days were over before I could update the AAR.
We're now at turn 6, and I should have turn 4 and 5 up at the end of the day, and possibly turn 6 too.
As to Vitebsk: there are two things you can as the Soviets do if the Germans capture it with a recon unit, which is what's likely to happen if there's a lot of artillery residue around and other units can't get into the hex.
1) You can kill the recon unit and move in with some of your tanks or a recon unit, which is what I did. The tanks will die but the attack will buy time and will require the Germans to remove you from the city the hard way.
2) Kill the recon unit but don't capture the city. The Germans will get points for a turn 1 capture, but you get replacements on turn 2.
As to losses: I've lost about 180 units by the end of turn 6, mostly because I counterattacked in the first few turns. And although my losses are high, the difference in unit KIA VP's is only around 300 points, or 4 German infantry regiments.
There are basically three options you have for the first few Soviet turns:
1) Counterattack. Knowing that most of your units are doomed anyway, try to take down as many Germans with you as possible in the first few turns.
The good part of this approach is that it will usually significantly weaken if not destroy the German Panzer and Motorised formations you're facing, as the Germans get only a handful of infantry divisions to soak up losses in the first few turns.
Although my losses have been high, many German formations have at the least lost their timed step and a number of Panzer Grenadier formations are at half strength, not to mention that 18th Panzer more or less bought the farm.
Another (very) good part is that you don't give the Germans all the initiative, which is what happens when you stick to a defensive line or start pulling back. In my case, the Germans have the initiative in the north but they're not getting anywhere in the south.
The bad part of the strategy is that you end up with fewer losses to hold Smolensk and other objectives, which is why a large part of my northern flank is flapping in the breeze. On the other hand, my losses have been mostly in the center, so my northern flank would've been under pressure to begin with.
2) Retreat to a line along the Dnepr and the minor river running south from Vitebsk. In this case, it's more or less crucial that the Germans capture Vitebsk on turn 1, as you need the replacements. Although the Soviets lack men, you do have enough men to form a very thin line at the rivers which will at the least keep the Germans busy for a while.
The good part of this strategy is that it will basically stop a German push in the south as they won't be getting across the Dnepr between Orsha and Mogilev. You can build a reasonably strong defensive line north of Orsha too as long as you place detachments in front of the line (there's no river there to hide behind). The German push in the north and center will be slowed, and at Vitebsk probably halted because you have city hexes on your side of the river and the Germans need to cross the Dvina to get to you.
The bad part is that, when the Germans break through into the rear, you're in trouble as you can't move your units back quickly enough due to zones of control and German interdiction. This is less of a problem between Orsha and Mogilev and, after looking at the initial forces, I do believe that stopping a crossing between Orsha and Mogilev is entirely possible.
With this strategy, you're forcing the Germans to focus on three points: the land area north of Orsha, the area north of the Dvina and the area from Mogilev to the Southern edge of the map. You have plenty of forces in the South, which was and still is somewhat surprising to me and my opponent will be in for a few surprises in the next few turns too, but the area north of the Dvina between Velizh and Nevel is impossible to hold, so eventually the Germans will outflank you through Velizh. If the Germans capture Velizh and possibly Mstislavl in the south whilst your troops are at the rivers, it's game over.
3) The option the official AAR details: keep pulling back and lure the Germans in. You preserve forces, but you give the Germans the initiative and when you start running in this scenario, you won't stop until you reach the Eastern edge of the map. All of your local counterattacks will also have to move west into German ZOC. This is the typical DB series defensive strategy, but as the combat is so deadly in the Kharkov engine, a defensive line is only temporary and has the weakness of having to constantly pull back due to lack of forces.