Last year I posted a scheme for defending Leningrad called the “open door defence”. The idea was to build a line of armies on the Luga, then to swing them to the line of the Volkhov once the German’s have gained a bridgehead. The title comes from the fact that the manoeuvre resembles opening a door, with the hinge at Novgorod.
I came up with the idea after losing Leningrad, and most of the Northern front, in every game I played. Since then I’ve used the strategy in eight games against humans and managed to hold the Volkhov line in every one (give or take a few hexes). Very few units have been isolated, and in seven out of the eight the Soviets have held Leningrad itself. This post updates the original with some refinements.
Command and control
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to try to make the corp system work. It’s fiddly and cumbersome, but if you have the patience to operate it, you do get extra die rolls, so your combat units should perform better.
Overall direction of the initial stages of the battle should be taken from Kuznetsov and given to Zhukov. I’ve found that if you put him in charge of the NW Front and keep the units attached below the command limit, there is either a big improvement in performance, or it feels like there is – and it’s a pretty good solution to the problem of getting the best out of your best leader. He can be moved to another sector once you have a decision at Leningrad.
Beneath him, we have Golikov in charge of 11th Army and Bezarin in charge of 27th Army, who are both fine. Sobennikov should be removed from the all-important 8th Army and replaced with a top class general; I put Vatutin in charge and give him control of 1st Mech Corp. This is the team for defending the Pskov-Leningrad axis. The other army of NW front, 22nd Army should hold the Sinyaya River on the approaches to the Valdai Hills with the ultimate aim of defending against a determined push south of Lake Ilman, the deep right hook. This army is under the keen but borderline incompetent Vostrukhov. At a convenient moment he should be replaced by Eremenko or similar level commander.
The Northern/Leningrad front can be left with Popov, Pshennikov can stay with the 23rd Army and Meretskov is fine with 7th Army. However, if the Germans reach the outskirts of Leningrad, switch Pshennikov with the best leader you can spare: Rossokovsky for example. He will fight the battle for the city itself.
Group the NW airforce in the Divenskaya area and keep it at full strength. The Leningrad air force can be divided, with the PVO headquarters filled with fighters and kept north of Leningrad. This is will have a second function as an airhead if the city is isolated. The Northern Fleet airforce should be fully stocked and assigned to support 7th Army and the Northern Air Command left relatively unmanned in preparation for the defence of the Volkhov line in support of 52nd Army, when it arrives.
Defence against the deep right hook
The key to an parrying an ambitious thrust past Lake Ilman followed by a left turn to link up with the Finns on the Svir is the Valdai Hills. This should be garrisoned on the first turn with the 41st Corp of the Moscow Defence Zone and the 111st Division. On the second turn put Kachalov’s 28th Army in charge and attach sapper regiments to it. Control of Valdai can be the difference between winning and losing the entire war.