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Bäke Battles: “der Mensch” In The East

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For the third in our series of outstanding armored battalion/kampfgruppe level commanders on the Ostfront, we will recreate some key battles from the career of the legendary Major General Dr. Franz Bake. He is described by some as “The best kampfgruppe leader of the panzer force”. Although he served in the West in 1940 and for a time in 1944, we will focus on his career in the East.

Bäke was known simply as “Der Mensch” to his troops. It is hard to translate this term, which includes the qualities of courage, compassion, and loyalty. Unassuming, friendly and optimistic in outlook, he was deadly serious when it came to conducting panzer operations in a way meant to produce victory at the lowest cost to his men. Prevented by circumstance from panzer command during Barbarossa and Case Blue, Bäke was the quintessential kampfgruppe commander of the second half of the war. He was a man whose personal qualities enabled him to take command of disparate units stitched together into kampfgruppes that were given extremely difficult fire-brigade missions during the long German retreat.

He returned to his civilian life as a dentist after the war and died in an automobile accident in 1978. Thousands attended his funeral, in tribute to “der Mensch”.

Charlie Meconis and George McEwan

Bäke Prelude at Pokhlebin 42

3 December 1942. The trapped German 6th Army lies in Stalingrad, forbidden by Hitler to break out. But Hitler has belatedly agreed to a rescue attempt-Operation Winter Storm, directed by General von Manstein. Armeegruppe Hoth's XLVIIth Panzer Corps is to spearhead the attack from Kotelnikovo, 80 kilometers southwest of the Stalingrad pocket in the bleak Kalmyk Steppe. Rushing all the way from France aboard 75 trains, General Erhard Raus's completely re-fitted and superbly trained 6th Panzer Division is arriving. His panzer grenadiers have already occupied a series of strongpoints north of Kotelnikovo, supported by artillery in place there. But his full strength 11th Panzer Regiment is only now assembling in random order, and already there are reports of Soviet cavalry probes around the village of Pokhlebin. The Reds have reacted quickly to the relief force's arrival. On the 3rd December 1942 the combined arms spearhead of Lt. General Meshkin's IV Cavalry Corps makes violent contact with advance elements from Raus's 6th Panzer Division at the small village of Pokhlebin. Latter that day the newly arrived 11th Panzer Regiment hastily assembles at Kotelnikovo for a counter attack. Among the first panzer commanders ready for action is a middle-aged dentist, Major Dr. Frank Bäke. Old enough to be a father to his men, he is already loved and respected by the panzertruppen of the II. Battalion. Bäke and his battalion are the spearhead of that counter attack. The opening round of Winter Storm is about to begin. A Panzer legend is about to be born…

Bäke's Winter Storm I

This scenario follows on from the earlier Bäke CMBB scenario "Bäke's Prelude at Pokhlebin".

After the victory at Pokhlebin, General Raus is supremely confident in the superiority of his tank forces. In the steady rain of a brief thaw, 6th Panzer sent most of its mobile forces in a Kampfgruppe commanded by Panzer Regiment 11's Colonel Hünersdorff across the Aksay on the road toward Verkne Kumsky early on 14 December.

Encountering only light opposition at first, most of the Kampfgruppe had just arrived in Verkne Kumsky around 9am when the first Soviet combined tank and infantry attack struck the village from the north. As this attack was being repulsed, reports from both captured Soviets and the II Panzer battalion's light recon platoon of Pz IIs indicated that a large Soviet tank force was on the move southeast of Verkne Kumsky.

In order to "fully use his mobility and his full firepower to seek out the enemy in the open terrain", Col. Hünersdorff immediately ordered Major Dr. Bäke to take his reinforced II Battalion out of the village to find and destroy the reported Soviet tank force. Bäke used terrain cover to move his force some 4km south of Verkne Kumsky just to the west of the road and then turned them to the east. One of the most critical and intense tank battles in the history of the Eastern front is about to begin, and Major Bäke will be in the thick of it...

Map size: 2.2km x 4km

Total points combined: 13000

Bäke's Winter Storm II

No 3 in the CMBB Combat History series Bäke Battles: “Der Mensch” In The East”, this scenario follows on from the earlier CMBB scenario "Bäke's Winter Storm I".

15 December 1942

The bulk of Panzer Regiment 11, under the leadership of Colonel von Hünersdorff, is assigned to the forward mobile defense of Verkhne Kumksy, a critical jumping off point for the next thrust toward Stalingrad. Major Dr. Bake is deputy commander of this force. A holding force under Hauptmann Löwe is set-up in the village of Verkhne Kumsky itself.

But the tankists and motorized infantry of Colonel-General V.T. Volksii's Soviet 4th Mechanized Corps are full of confidence and grim determination too. They spearheaded the southern pincer that surrounded the 6th Army in Stalingrad and they will die before allowing the German rescue attempt to succeed. Despite the blue skies above the Kalmuk steppe another winter storm is about to break...

Map size: 6km x 4km

Total points combined: 22000

Bäke's Knights Cross At New Year Part I

No 4 in the CMBB Combat History series Bäke Battles: "Der Mensch" In The East", this scenario follows on from the earlier CMBB scenario "Bäke's Winter Storm II".

The dawn of 1943 in southern Russia is masked by a freezing fog. The Soviet High Command’s “Little Saturn” offensive has broken through and buried the Italian 8th Army—and with it all hope for the surrounded and starving German 6th Army in Stalingrad. But Stalin wants more than Stalingrad. He has ordered his worn-down forces to continue the offensive to cut off all German forces in southern Russia. One more breakthrough and the war in the East might be over.

Only one month earlier, the full strength German 6th Panzer Division had arrived in the region with 150 armored fighting vehicles to lead a bold rescue attempt to break through to Stalingrad. [see our scenarios “A Bäke Prelude at Pokhlebin” and “Bäke’s Winter Storm I and II”] Now the depleted division has been rushed back 150 kilometers to the west in a desperate attempt to stem the Red Army avalanche in its rear. The division is widely scattered in order to cover over 100 kilometers of the front along the Bystraya river from Morozovsk to Tatsinskaya between the Don and Donez rivers.

Red Army Lt. General V. M. Badanov has been ordered to combine the exhausted remnants of the 24th and 25th Tank Corps and the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps for one last thrust to victory. Their task is to cut the railway line that leads from Morosovsk to Stalingrad, and thereby seal the fate of the 6th Army trapped in Stalingrad. Under cover of darkness and fog they are on the move.

In his headquarters in the small village of Novo Maryevka, Major Dr. Franz Bäke and the surviving tank and supply crews of his II. Abteilung of the 6th Panzer Division’s 11th Panzer Regiment have quietly marked the beginning of the New Year.

But the flares suddenly bursting in the early dawn sky do not celebrate the New Year, Alarm! Russian tanks!

Map size: 2km x 2km

Total points combined: 7500

Bäke's Knights Cross At New Year Part 2

No 5 in the CMBB Combat History series Bäke Battles: "Der Mensch" In The East", this scenario follows on from the earlier CMBB scenario "Bäke’s Knights Cross at New Year Part 1”.

Bäke’s II. Abteiling of the 6th Panzer Division’s 11 Panzer Regiment fights a desperate armoured action against the exhausted remnants of Red Army General Badanov’s Soviet 24th and 25th Tank Corps and the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps as they make one last try to cut the vital rail link to Stalingrad.

High noon on New Year’s Day 1943.

As the fog begins to burn off, the last wave of the Soviet tidal surge known as Operation Little Saturn is crashing up against Major Dr. Franz Bäke’s panzers near the village of Novo Maryevka. After a vicious fog-shrouded brawl at dawn in the village [see “Bäke’s Knight’s Cross Part 1”] yet another Soviet tank and infantry force, under the command of Red Army Lt. General V. M. Badanov is making a last gasp effort to cut the vital railroad from Morozovsk to Stalingrad, which runs south of Novo Maryevko, and thereby seal the fate of the 6th Army trapped in Stalingrad.

Nothing much stands in their way except what’s left of Bäke’s II. Abteiling of the 6th Panzer Division’s 11 Panzer Regiment. Red Army General Badanov has scraped together his very last reserves from the exhausted remnants of the Soviet 24th and 25th Tank Corps and the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps to make one last try for glory.

The stakes are high and there are no more cards to play. Both sides will have to show their hand.

Map size: 2.2km x 4km

Total points combined: 14000

All of the above scenarios are available for test over at The Proving Grounds.

There are several more scenarios to follow in the series covering actions during the Kharkov fighting in the winter of 43, Kursk in the summer of 43 and then the operations to open a way out for the troops stuck in the Korsun Pocket.

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