They completed the opening-turn pockets, attempted a super-Lvov unsuccessfully, saw us open those pockets with immediate counter-offensives, and then appeared to effectively abandon the idea of pocketing our units. Their moves from turn 3 on focused on capturing strategic locations. The capture of Odessa proved crucial to their quite effective logistical campaign in the south. Aside from that, grinding progress in the north got them into Pskov. Their late-turn armored drive in the south fell short of the Donbass cities. And the main Panzerball took Vyazma but was unable to cross the Volga in force or drive beyond Vyazma towards the big prize of Moscow.
Some of their reluctance to drive their motorized units through our lines may have sprung from the many times we were able to isolate their spearheads. We were never able to destroy any German armor, of course, but we were able to rout them with significant losses on a couple of occasions and regularly hamper supply. With limited supply, their motorized forces were often short on movement factors and thus unable to attempt pocketing moves even had they wished to try.
A final important element of our successful defense this year was our effective air campaign. Starting by turn 3, we were regularly shooting down more German fighters than they were producing (about 25 fighters plus 5 fighter-bombers per turn). About turn 10, the Luftwaffe withdrew from front-line combat. Most fighter squadrons cycled back through National Reserve and spent a turn or more in rear area bases on rail lines refitting. For the last couple of turns, the German air force returned to the fray with rejuvenated squadrons, but we were once again able to begin to erode its fighter strength. Meanwhile, the biggest punch of the Luftwaffe, their Ju-87 squadrons, never really recovered from the thrashing of August. Looking around the German air bases on turn 17, the largest Ju-87 squadron has 25 aircraft (out of 40), while the others range from 4 to 12. Total deployed dive bombers might reach 100. Their level bomber fleet withdrew from front-line action earlier, replenished its losses, and spent several turns strategic bombing a variety of targets far in the rear, presumably in order to build experience and morale. They have at least some level bomber units on night missions.
With at least air parity over most of the front, we were able to have air support in most of our combats in the last few turns. It is unclear how effective our bombers were, but their presence must have contributed at least some of our successful defensive battles.
The Axis air has been ready throughout the campaign to interdict our forces in great strength. In the first few turns, this resulted in slowing our units and preventing some from escaping pockets. However, once the lines became stabilized, it is hard to see what advantage this has given them to make up for the increased fatigue. We have taken advantage of this tendency on their part by moving units that they have good detection on – from front-line positions – around behind our lines where we have plenty of AAA and defensive fighters in order to provoke a reaction. This is part of our general air strategy of seeking to fatigue German fighters and inflict casualties whenever possible.
Meanwhile, the Red Air Force is quite healthy despite sustained losses in the 500-800 a week range. Our best regiment has an experience of 90, we have 12 squadrons in the 80’s, and more than a page on the commander’s report in the 70’s. We even have a Guards air squadron, the 1GShAP. We have begun to experience some severe fatigue issues as our higher morale permits longer stays in front-line airbases. We still have respectable pools of first-line aircraft, although we have burned through our stockpile of older models (except for the 313 DB-3B’s).
Of note on the list of our best air squadrons is the presence of units still flying older equipment. The 69 IAP-PVO is flying I-16’s and has an experience of 88. 287 IAP is flying I-153’s – biplanes! – with an experience of 81. We made the decision not to spend AP on manual conversions of aircraft models. We set some of our good squadrons to “upgrade only” but mostly let the program decide when to upgrade. It appears to have worked out fairly well. Who knew that those I-153’s still had some usefulness left?