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The Battle of Shilovo: 1942

Welcome to Shilovo. It’s July 4th, 1942, and the Wehrmacht has embarked on yet another ambitious offensive: Fall Blau. This time, the plan focuses on the south, pushing from last year’s front (very roughly, a line from Kursk due south to Dnepropetrovsk, then southeast to Rostov, about 800 kilometers in total) to the Baku oilfields and the city of Stalingrad.

It’s only just begun, though, and we concern ourselves with the fighting around Voronezh, and more specifically, a work settlement a bit to the west called Shilovo. (It doesn’t exist anymore—it’s just part of Voronezh.) Shilovo sits on a hill overlooking the Don river, a strategically-important barrier keeping the Nazis out of Voronezh proper. Historically, the Germans took it on July 5th and 6th.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to hold them off a little better than that.

Notice a few features about this map: first, the UI I forgot how to hide. It’s covering the place name for ‘Trushkino’, the town at the bottom center controlled by the Germans. It faces Shilovo across a deep valley. Roads run northwest from Shilovo and northeast from Trushkino, then split to the north and northwest to meet one of the two crossroads objectives. Besides the valley between the two towns, and the hillside south of Shilovo, the map is more or less flat, which presents a problem: I know the Nazis have some armored vehicles, and I don’t have much in the way of anti-tank weaponry. The sum total of my force is as follows: two rifle companies, the battalion machine gun company (ten or so Maxim guns, all told), the battalion mortar company (same deal), and the battalion AT company (armed with anti-tank rifles, which may as well be rocks for all the good they do).

From the Russian side, this is almost entirely a defensive effort, and that’s reflected in my chosen deployment. (We won’t talk about my first mission in this campaign, a defense to the northwest. It didn’t go well.) One rifle company, under Homenko, is deployed at the northern crossroads, reinforced by most of Beda’s platoon. Drobotov’s platoon holds the central crossroads, while Churginov’s platoon serves as a reserve between the two. Bits and pieces of the machine gun company and the anti-tank company are detached to strengthen the two crossroads strongpoints.

The remainder of Beda’s platoon, along with the battalion mortars and the bulk of the machine guns, are deployed on the forward slope on the western approach to Shilovo, commanding the valley. With good, overlapping fields of fire, and tons of ammunition to boot, I suspect the machine guns will serve to hold the valley approach to Shilovo without issue. I’m more concerned about the central crossroads. If the Germans bring tanks down the west road, I’ll have a bad time of things. Hopefully, the northern crossroads strongpoint will be sufficiently distracting.

Anyway. Let’s get this show on the road. I had hoped to provide some extra screenshots here beyond the few I took during the battle, but alas, my VLC screenshot button isn’t working correctly, so you’ll just have to rely on your war correspondent, me.

The Germans begin their attack with a push, oddly enough, across the valley. The machine guns deliver a murderous hail of fire into the advancing Wehrmacht troops, and in large part, the advance stalls about halfway to my line. German forces will rally and push up the hill somewhat, but never in any organized manner, and never any closer than about one hundred meters to the guns.

Gunners on the northeastern outskirts of Shilovo engage German forces in the trees near the Trushkino road.

The northern crossroads, as I thought might be the case, turn out to be more interesting. It takes the Germans about ten minutes longer to make it down the road toward the strongpoint, but they arrive in greater force, and I have fewer heavy weapons to spare. It quickly becomes clear that the main German advance is coming from the west along the main road, so I shift some of the defenders facing north—a second machine gun team, and one of Beda’s squads—to meet the threat.

The fire on my position intensifies. The Germans clearly want this crossroads. Mortar fire begins to land in town, and the piddly 50mm mortars attached to each of my companies can’t even begin to fire in reply. They stick to shooting at the oncoming Germans, which is admittedly more scary than effective. (Your average 50mm mortar bomb has about 100 grams of explosive, which is less than some hand grenades of the time.)

The situation worsens about 20 minutes into the mission. A halftrack comes down the road, and while its mounted machine gun is keeping my anti-tank gunners’ heads firmly below trench level, a pair of Panzer IIs roll up the road. This is no good. Time to bring in the reserves.

A machine gun team shoots past Russian trenches (at frame left) toward advancing German infantry, while a Panzer approaches from the right.

One of the anti-tank gunners manages to get a shot off at the halftrack, which is enough to force its crew to bail out. By now, though, the Panzers have backed off, and are now working their way around to the north, where my defenses are lighter. One of them pushes into the town, about fifty yards behind the camera above, and begins shooting up my poor defenders. Fortunately, between the carnage west of Shilovo and the reserves arriving and bulking up the line south of the crossroads, the Germans realize they can’t hope to break through without further reinforcement. They call for a cease fire, and I gladly accept.

The casualty ratio favors me, as you might expect from a victory in a dug-in, defensive battle. I started with 400 men, of which about 250 were front-line combat troops, and lost 50, including a few machine guns lost and a few abandoned. (The abandoned ones will be recovered.) The Germans lost 150 out of 360, including one halftrack. I put some fire on both tanks, but neither appear to have been greatly inconvenienced by it, and undoubtedly, they’ll show up again.

Having survived this battle, I only had one more to play on the first turn, and it played out very similarly—the battle played out over Shilovo again, except shifted one grid square south. The same deployment, with machine guns covering open ground, served me well, and I’m into the second turn of the campaign now. I was able to bring some artillery up all along the line, along with anti-tank guns and air spotters. I expect the next few battles will feature much improved fireworks.

Flight Instructor Fishbreath: The Kamov Ka-50

My old college pal and sometimes wingman John (a.k.a parvusimperator from Vanguard, or from the Warthog aircraft review) has had DCS: A-10C since, I believe, well before I bought DCS: Black Shark 2. Once I had the Ka-50 in my hangar, we began a sort of cold war, each of us waiting for the other to flinch and buy the other platform so we could do same-aircraft multiplayer. Well, I’m pleased to announce that he cracked first, and has become the proud owner of a Ka-50 to go along with mine.

Rather than learn as I did, by finding the very few Youtube videos on advanced Ka-50 combat employment and reading the manual’s occasionally (read: frequently) confusing descriptions of complicated procedures, he decided to accept my generous offer of flight instruction (half-delivered in a Russian accent). These are my notes on my curriculum and his progress, which may or may not be entertaining or useful. The student may be in to offer his thoughts at some point.

Since John can’t count any helicopter experience among his flight sim or real flight time, I decided we would start with a cockpit tour, a cold start, and some free flight. The cockpit tour got off to very much the start I expected, as the Warthog-acclimated John asked all the usual questions: “What’s this 1970s TV screen doing in my cockpit? Why are there all these switches? Why are there gauges and indicator lights over my head? This is claustrophobic. How do you see out of this thing?” After he ran out of things to gripe about, we went around the cockpit, and I pointed out handy things like the targeting control panel, the Shkval targeting system (the 1970s TV) and the ABRIS moving map system, the navigation, autopilot, and datalink panels, and a few of the switches we’d need for an engine start.

Speaking of, that’s where we went next. The Ka-50 is not a complicated aircraft to start—hydraulics, batteries, the APU, engines, generators, and power switches on a few avionics panels. The inertial navigation unit, which on the A-10 constitutes five minutes of waiting during startup, needs only to be powered on in the Ka-50; since it’s updated by the satellite navigation system, it can be instantly updated when airborne, and isn’t necessary for the minute or two a good GLONASS fix takes.

With the rotors turning all proper-like, I took off, gave John some pointers on how to get off the ground safely (add a little forward cyclic, since the neutral stick position on the ground yields backwards flight in the air), and watched. Unfortunately, this first takeoff was not wholly successful. John got stuck in an overcorrect cycle, backwards and forwards, until he whacked the tail on the ground and ended up leaving it there. Fortunately, I had guessed something of the sort might happen, and John moved to the next helicopter lined up on the ramp, whose engines were already turning. This second attempt proved a little more successful: John took off, and we went over some helicopter basic flight maneuvers.

This is where I’ll have to digress to talk about the Ka-50’s autopilot. It starts with everything off: there are no computer inputs at all, neither for control dampening nor for actual flight control. This mode—or rather, lack of any mode—is interesting from a wow-this-is-not-a-stable-helicopter perspective, but it isn’t useful as a flight training tool. Instead, we started with flight director mode, which, when enabled along with the pitch, bank, and yaw autopilot channels, provides stability enhancement but doesn’t add attitude changes of its own. As such, it represents the way the helicopter handles when you’re flying it by hand, or when you’re in between attitudes when the autopilot is engaged.

John took to it fairly quickly, after we covered the basic fact that helicopters move in the direction you move the stick at low speeds, and fly not entirely unlike airplanes at high speeds. We also discussed vortex ring state, a helicopter hazard encountered when an inattentive pilot descends into his own rotor downwash (the helicopter may be climbing relative to the air, you see, but the air is moving down very quickly). We had a little jaunt around the airfield, and then returned for a landing, during which there was no crashing! John developed a bit of fondness for the Ka-50, particularly its agility and light control responses. Little did he know that the autopilot would prove his greatest foe yet.