Ah, Ploschad...lovely Ploschad. Actually, my friends, Ploschad is an awful 'hole of a place: a collection of a few wooden huts somewhere deep in the heart of Lithuania. Or should that be "deep in the heart of the new Fatherland"? Not if the Ruskies have anything to say about it, that's for sure: in fact, the new Fatherland will find itself getting well and truly 'done' by the new Motherland at this rate! But I get ahead of myself...

Ploschad and its bridge...but who's that lurking in the woods?

My name is Hauptmann Siggi Starkbier, leader of the 1st Kompanie, 1st Battalion, 1001st Infantry Regiment, and I have been fighting in this verdamnt war ever since the little corporal made the decision to visit Warsaw by tank. I've fought the Russians going east, fought the British and the Amis in Normandy going east, and now I'm fighting the Russians again, this time going west!

It is late summer 1944. The city of Vilnius has fallen and 19th Panzer Division’s counter-attack has failed. The Fourth and Third Panzer Armies of Army Group Centre have fallen back on the Lithuanian city of Kaunas in disarray. Now the Soviets are driving forward again, seeking to capture Kaunas before the army can properly regroup. One route to Kaunas takes the Ruskie advance through the Chera valley towards the walled city of Bashnya. I am part of the force sent to stop Bashnya falling to the Slavs...but I have to say we are not doing too well so far!

After the long journey from Normandy, me and the lads ended up in Osen, further up the valley. Not much to Osen: the remains of a big church and, more importantly, two bridges over the river Chera. The Russians wanted the bridges, Command wanted them blown to smithereens. Regrettably it was the Soviets that got their way. There were just so many of them! 

Now the Slavs have launched another attack: this time trying to swing round south of Holm, via Ploshad, and hit Bashnya from the flank. As the Kolonel explained to me, this is not good news. Although Bashnya is being prepared for defense, and more of the Fuhrer's wonder weapons are on the way (blah, blah, blah!), someone has to delay the Russians at Ploschad for long enough for a larger, more powerful force to be gathered together to stop them more permanently. He smiled as he said this, and I knew who was going to be leading that force! 

He went on for a bit about my year's of experience  and quality of my men etc, but I knew it was Normandy and Osen that were the reason I was once more heading into the storm! Now I sit in Ploschad, writing this diary, waiting for the Soviet steamroller to arrive. It's not all bad: I've got the lads with me, four squads' worth with some Fausts; plus Oschsenbohnen's PaKs and, more importantly, Mohntorte's StuGs.

Ed's note: the diary breaks off at this point, seemingly resumed after the battle was over...

Well I'm glad that's over, and ever gladder that I'm still alive and in one piece. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, actually. The Ruskies tried to be clever, but luckily my strength-in-depth approach when placing the men paid off.

We'd been aware that there were Russians in the woods in front of the village for a bit of time, but had been keeping our heads down so as not to be spotted. I'd put the infantry in the village itself, one platoon either side of the road, but kept everything else back, splitting it between the two sides of the road. One PaK on the left, one PaK on the right, one in the village. Two StuGs on the left, two StuGs on the right, but both behind the village as a mobile fire brigade ready to go wherever they were needed.

Suddenly a  mass of enemy troops burst from the woods on the right. And when I say "mass", I mean "mass". There were so many of them that the dust they kicked up made it hard to pick targets! I quickly realised that their plan was to by-pass the village entirely, presumably just trying to get past us so that they could head for Bashnya. 

The enemy column headed top speed down the right flank, not even trying to suppress my men in the village. The lone PaK on the right flank right at the back (skulking in the woods) managed to spot and take out the lead enemy T-34, but it looked as if the Russians would just punch past us before we could stop them.

Fortunately the Mohntorte fire brigade was in reserve and ready for action. I ordered him just to head right and try and hit the enemy column in the flank with everything he had. The trouble was that the Russians were moving so fast. Desperate measures were called for. Reluctantly, because it seemed like a suicide mission, I ordered Freddi Feuerzangenbowle to take his two squads out of their trenches in the village, hop the low hedge bordering the hamlet, and head out into open ground and try and delay the column by shooting at them with his 'handful of fausts.

Freddi grimaced, but didn't argue (he knew it had to be done) and, before I could even wish him good luck, was over the hedge with his men and engaging the Ruskies.  

Unfortunately the 'fausts were ineffective: the Soviets were seemingly just out of range, and I closed my eyes to what I expected would now be the massacre of Freddi and his men.

But no: the Soviets had a plan, and were sticking to it. Ignoring the brave Freddi, the enemy column just kept going. It really was going to be all up to Mohntorte and his StuGs, especially as the PaK at the back was under heavy fire.

The lead StuG, crewed by Otto himself, burst round the corner of the village and engaged, quickly dispatching the two lead T-34s with a couple of crackingly good shots. This was the delay we needed to get the rest of his platoon into action. After that it was almost an anti-climax. With Mohntorte on its flank, the PaK at the back still bravely shooting when it could, and Freddi's chaps still threatening its rear, the Soviet column was doomed. A short ten minutes of intense action later, the Ruskies melted away, back into the woods from which they'd come.

Ploschad is still a hole...but at least it is still a German hole!

This was as far as the Soviets got

A cracking game of IABSM where a bold Soviet plan came so close to working. Neil utterly surprised me with his 'smash down the flank without stopping' tactics, and it would have worked if I had deployed my men further forward. As it was, he totally bypassed my first line of defense, avoided half my defenders entirely, and it was only because I had the StuGs as a very mobile reserve that I managed to stop his column at all. Yes, the final clash was a bit of a duck shoot, but you really had to be there to realise just how close he came to victory. A great game, with Neil consoled by the fact that he had still won a minor Soviet campaign victory.

Robert Avery