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The Baltic Will Tell – Warsaw Pact Operational Considerations

From Comrade Counter-Admiral Joe Kussey, an in-depth analysis of the options available to Warsaw Pact for Operation Garbo – the invasion of Sweden. The document is also available for download at this link.

After playing Scenario #3 several times and invading Denmark, I thought I would take a look at the difficulties of invading Sweden.  Invading Denmark seemed pretty straight forward – capture Copenhagen’s three city hexes and win the game.  Because of the WP helicopter and air transport fleet, supply is not major concern in that scenario, unless WP loses Air Superiority over Copenhagen.  Given the massive advantage of ground support vs brigades with a defense of “1”, it was just a matter of getting units into position and providing air support to the Polish Marines.  Would this be the case with Sweden?  After setting up, it is clear that this will be more difficult than invading Denmark. 

Upon review, several things stand out.  Unlike Denmark’s situation further southwest, Soviet airfields are more distant from Sweden, ruling out attack helicopter support until an airfield is secured and repaired.  In addition, Soviet forces set aside to conduct the opening invasion are relatively light given the size of Sweden: 3 Air-Drop battalions, a Marine and a parachute brigade.  This will make splitting forces risky.  With no major geographic objective that could end the game (such as the fall of Copenhagen), Soviet forces will have to capture a ground to win.  WP will need to fight on a broader front.  In addition, Sweden also has a better equipped army and will receive NATO reinforcements.

The Three Possible Plans

First, distances.  Soviet Mi-24’s will not reach Sweden, so any plans to use them will require the capture of an airbase.  In addition, the Soviets have only 1 Mi6, and that barely reaches a very small section of mainland Sweden.  Speaking of helicopters, WP will not have any ASW Surveillance along the Swedish coast, making it tougher to sink submarines until an airfield is secured and repaired.  The Soviets have some air transports, but they will only be able to shuttle limited supplies until an airfield is captured.  On Turn 0, the Soviets will have to move their helicopters to either Airfield 408 or 420 to enable the helicopters to be used later – even to conduct a Ferry mission.  Because of distances, supply will be an issue.  In the Denmark attack, there were some transport helicopters to support the amphibious assault.  Not here.  Supply by aircraft is inefficient until an airfield is captured – the entire Soviet Air Transport capability can only bring in 7 Supply/turn, hardly enough to support even two brigades attacking.

As such, the capture and repair of a harbor and an airfield is an absolute necessity, and as soon as possible.  Larger armored forces will have to enter through a captured harbor.  There will be no coup de main to win this game, so a Soviet buildup and advance on several axis will be required. 

Operational Choices

So what options are available to the Soviets to achieve victory?  Given the VP allocation at the end of the game, Stockholm MUST be captured (20 VP), along with its port (10 VP).  Also, one full division must be ashore (25 VP).  This, along with the typical VP for cities, airfields, and eliminated units, will need to surpass 90 VP.  I expect WP to lose more shipping and aircraft.  Because the Swedish navy is small, VP’s will definitely have to come from capturing geographic locations.  We will need a port!  Note:  The following presumes that the Swedish SF will move into the undefended Stockholm port at G2242, but does not take into account the HQ at G1642.  If it moves towards the invasion zone, a SEAD mission will have to be dedicated to it.

There are three ports in Sweden near an airfield and within striking distance of Stockholm.

1. Direct Assault on Stockholm

Ground strikes would clear a path through the coastal batteries for Marines to land next to the port at G2145.  The initial amphibious loadout will include the Marine brigade and an EW unit, along with 4 Supply points.  The EW unit is a superior choice, as it will make urban fighting much easier on Turn 2 (at least 50% of the time!).  The Marines will attack the Naval Base and clear it as part of their landing.  The 2 SF battalions will land and capture Stockholm south of the river.  The potential exists to attack across and take Stockholm port, depending upon the Ground Support situation – the Swedes will have at least 6 modifiers, so you best bring about 30 Strike points!   The 1139th Parachute will take airfield 357.  The Soviet parachute brigade will land at Sodertalje (G1944) to stop any attack from the west with its ZOC. 

Eventually, 20 Supply points will be needed to repair the naval base and make the airfield operational for Soviet air transport use.  Repairing the port immediately will allow the Amphibious TF to discharge its remaining supply on turn 2.  This will be more than enough to make the airfield operational for Turn 3 and bringing at least elements of the 7th Guard Airmobile division.  This plan will require air superiority in only TWO megahexes on Turn 1 – the airspace around Stockholm, and one to protect the Amphibious TF as it makes its approach to the invasion zone during Turn 0.  The Stockholm megahex MUST be controlled by WP air forces!

Direct Assault on Stockholm

2. Attack Around the Port of Norrkoping

There are two possibilities when looking at an attack on Norrkoping: 
A – mass in the Norrkoping area. 
B – Secure the harbor but conduct an Amphibious Assault into Stockholm to begin clearing the city.

Option A: 

Ground strikes and an air dropped parachute/SF battalion could take out the coastal batteries and securing the urban hexes along the road to Stockholm to the northeast.  The Marines with their EW unit would sail unopposed into the Norrkoping harbor directly, unloading their supplies on Turn 1!  This coup de main will provide enough supply to repair and make operational the nearby airfield, #349 at the end of Turn 1.  This airfield will be assaulted by the parachute brigade.  The unit’s mission will also include preparing to advance onto the city of Linkoping on turn 2.  But don’t underestimate being able to take a facility without a fight!  NATO can contest such attacks with ground support that sneaks in past WP air cover and can provide a nasty A1 surprise in combat!  As such, proper air support will be needed to prevent such surprises.  The final SF unit can be airdropped to the northwest and capture the urban hex there, OR can be held for turn 2 as a reserve.

Attack on Norrkoping, Option A
Option B: 

A Marine landing in the Stockholm area, along with the assault on Norrkoping can be nothing more than a diversion that serves little purpose.   The Soviets cannot expect a single brigade to clear Stockholm after Turn 1, when clearly, the Swedes will reinforce the city with HV units and any units north of Stockholm.  The Marines have the ability to BEGIN clearing the capital for later forces to follow up.  There is an advantage in threatening the Swedes from multiple points.  Allowing the Swedes to fortify Stockholm uncontested for several turns COULD be problematic later and theoretically, the offensive MAY bog down before achieving enough VP’s.

If the Marines land at Stockholm, however, it splits the Soviet forces and it will be more difficult to build supplies at both locations, since they are also split by distance.  A single prong attack on the Norrkoping area will allow a more concentrated defensive posture while building up the necessary logistical structure to begin the attack in several directions.  Because the harbor can be taken undamaged on turn 1, it seems pretty clear that maximum supply (the Amphibious TF) should land at the undefended port and allow Turn 1 repair of the airfield.  This will allow Turn 2 landing of the 7th Guard Airmobile division, since supply will not be a concern on Turn 2 (initial forces will not need supply on Turn 2, see 12.7.3).  The Amphibious forces can return home on Turn 2 and reload armor and more supplies for a return trip. 

The concentrated plan will require Air Superiority in TWO megahexes during the initial invasion turn, just as in the direct assault on Stockholm.  If the Soviets choose to execute a two-prong attack, the air force will need to watch over a larger area, as well.  Given that a concentrated attack on Norrkoping will greatly speed up the supply situation and is less risky to the exposed Marines, Option A would be the preferred option for Case #2.

3. Attack Around the Gavle Harbour

Ground strikes will clear away the coastal batteries.  The Marines with an EW unit will land next to Gavle and assault it directly.  This will be risky, as it is across a river and any contact results will hand loses to the Marine brigade.  If the Marines are successful, a parachute battalion will enter the town to secure it, allowing the Marines to move further south. 

The two SF battalion would land and capture airfield 324 and 333.  The parachute brigade will capture Uppala, a city half way between Gavle and Stockholm, and begin to drive south towards Stockholm on turn 1.  Again, the Marines could support this attack or conduct a two-prong attack and invade in the Stockholm area as in #2. 

This has potential, as the Soviets can conduct a pincer attack on Stockholm with the two brigades.  Although Swedish presence is limited on Turn 1, the Swedes will certainly reinforce the city with HV units and any regular army units that can reach Stockholm.  There is risk in splitting forces in this case.  If landed at Stockholm, the Marines and any supply landed would be exposed to an attack from the rear once the Marines begin attacking to the north in a pincher move to link up with the parachute brigade. 

Attack on Gavle Harbour

The choice to attack Gavle also has its problems, even if forces are not split.  Soviet Air Superiority will be much more difficult to obtain and keep over the Gavle megahex because of the distance to Soviet bases – only fighters at Airfield 402 and 405 could provide full support – other aircraft will be operating at extended range.   Secondly, a Gavle attack would leave parts of the battlefield without Air Support, to include the Amphibious TF on an approach to land near Gavle.  Attacks on the Amphibious TF on Turn 1 shouldn’t be a major concern, however, since the Swedes have no Standoff weapons to attack a large TF. 

What is more concerning is the NATO reinforcements that shortly thereafter – while the Amphibious TF is still unloading supplies – especially the German Tornados slipping in to destroy stockpiles, sink ships or damage the port.  This means that any resupply TF will likely undergo some sort of aerial attack, as well as the port itself, once captured by the Soviets. 

In addition, supply stockpiles will have to be spread out, rather than consolidated.  Gavle is too far from an airfield to allow supply to stockpile two hexes away from both facilities simultaneously and allow them to become repaired and/or made operational (41.3.b and 32.1.4.5). While Gavle is one of the three options due to its port and airfields nearby, and the two-prong attack is enticing at first glance, it is the riskiest and requires the acceptance of losing air superiority over parts of the battlefield.  A successful offensive will require proper logistics, so an attack on Gavle is very risky and has a chance of a dramatic failure, even more so if a two-prong attack is attempted.

Final Thoughts

The building up of supplies is absolutely necessary to be successful as the Soviets.  Not just for offensive action, but also for repairing and making operational an airbase and a port.  WP will need both before they can bring in larger mechanized forces.  A two-prong attack to start the invasion would enable pressure the Swedes to contain drives on multiple axis.  On the other hand, attacking in only one area places maximum force at the point of a single attack axis.  It allows quickest repair of captured facilities and the ability to reinforce with follow-up units.  This will enable the Soviets to build up its forces and defend them most easily, while harassing the Swedes with interdiction, ground strikes and NATO navy elimination.

The use of these supplies can be a delicate balancing act.  Every attack and every move over 5 MP will use supply points (3 in the case of the brigade), since the invasion zone will be out of General Supply.  Fortunately, if air superiority holds, supplies for the ground units are not going to be necessary for the first 2 turns (Rule 12.7). 

Air superiority is VITAL, not just for preventing NATO ground strikes, naval attacks and ground supports during ground combat, but also to allow Soviet units freedom of action without using precious supplies.  It will be a careful balancing act for the Soviet Air Force as well; how many fighters to dedicate to Air Superiority and how many to hold back to escort bombers during high priority sorties that will tempt NATO to intercept or slip some bombers past for ground support and upset a ground combat?  How important will it be to dedicate precious fighter escort to the Gavle port attack – half of the Swedish navy on Turn 1 will likely be stationed there (only half of the Swedish navy can escape their harbor slips on Turn 0).  This is a top priority bomber attack, especially if there are submarines at the docks.  Other priorities include targeting Airfield 324, 339 and 350 to slow down the Swedish Air Force. The disadvantage of a two-prong attack splits the Soviet Air Force, also, and must be taken into consideration when planning.

The operational planner will have to decide whether to split forces and take more ground outside of the capital and threaten Swedish defenses on multiple fronts or to consolidate forces with a bludgeoning attack on the capital.  Though forces are light, they should be sufficient to secure at least both harbors and one airfield.  An attack on Norrkoping would provide for such a situation immediately.  On turn 3, the Soviets receive two more full divisions, in addition to the airmobile and mech division sitting in Kalingrad waiting to land.  By the end of Turn 2, the Soviets should have enough supply to repair both an airfield and a port (if not attacking Norrkoping), assuming that the Soviets maintain Air Superiority and is not forced to use supply to make attacks during previous turns.  They will need these facilities repaired as quickly as possible.  Each brigade requires THREE supply points to attack and THREE MORE to move more than 5 MP.  The Soviets will need a lot of supply once they commence their breakout.  Soviet airlift capabilities, even with an airport, are only enough to support 7 brigade-level attacks per turn- not including the fuel to get into position.  And don’t forget the supply needed to rearm any ADA battalions!  As such, the port is also necessary to bring in more supplies in the mid and late game via Convoy, once a full division is ashore.  Ship-borne supply can triple this total logistical capability.

The conquest of Sweden will require a different approach then knocking off Denmark, but with proper logistical planning, the second week of the war should see the scales tip towards the Soviets as larger ground forces are brought into the theater and begin to conquer valuable Swedish real estate.  The approach taken will hinge upon the aggressiveness of the WP commander.  Norrkoping allows the quickest buildup, but a direct assault on the capital provides many rewards.  Just make sure you bring in some ADA units to counteract the inevitable bombing runs on your supply hubs in the mid and late game!

1 thought on “The Baltic Will Tell – Warsaw Pact Operational Considerations

  1. An error in the article on my part.

    9.19.2 says EW cannot be used against units defending in a city or urban hex. The comment on its use in stockholm was not correct.

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