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Chapchachi Scenario


I assume the use of my army lists, but so long as the forces are small it doesn't matter how they are chosen.
 

Soviet brief

It is mid-January 1918. You are a senior commander in the Tsaritsyn Red Guards, and have been sent to bring the revolution to the proletarians of Astrakhan, currently suffering under the whip of Cossack reactionaries. Your progress has been halted at Ochovatka, because the Whiteguards have destroyed large sections of the railway line just north of the village of Chapchachi. You have just learned from a sympathiser in that village that their armoured train has steamed to the rear for repairs and is not expected back until tomorrow. You must therefore attack Chapchachi village with haste and occupy it, repair the line, and steam on to Astrakhan city. Your forces are superior to the enemy's, although their cavalry is obviously a worry.
 

Cossack brief

It is mid-January 1918. You are an Cossack officer in the Tsar's army, loyal to the end. Your fellow officers from Petrograd and Moscow report that the Bolshevik overthrow of the Provisional Government is now unlikely to be over-turned any time soon, and that the Astrakhan Voisko is threatened. You have been sent with as many reliable men as are available, which isn't many, to the village of Chapchachi to hold off Red forces heading south from Tsaritsyn. You have torn up large sections of the tracks north of the village to prevent the enemy's armoured train from coming in close. Unfortunately, your armoured train is in desperate need of repairs and has returned to Astrakhan for a day or so. You must hold off the enemy attack, which you now see coming from the northwest. You can expect to be heavily outnumbered, but at least you have the benefit of knowing that your men are greatly superior to the Red rabble.
 

The forces

Given the low numbers fighting at this time, I assume a base is 20 men approximately, a couple of MGs or a single field gun.

The Cossack forces are chosen from the Cossack Insurgents list (1917-1918 column). I think 150-200 points would be about right, partly depending on how big a table you have and how many figures. Because the original Astrakhan forces had sufficient MGs, one can tweak the table to allow more chance of them. The Whites should get either a good officer pool or be allowed to choose between two for each position.

The Reds get chosen from the Early Soviet list. At this stage commanders were inexperienced and chosen on political merit, so I recommend a poor pool and/or no selection between options (including commander). However, the low resistance of the Astrakhan Cossacks suggests that Red forces were not weak, so they should get a points compensation. I went for +50 points. It would be realistic to give an inexperienced player the Soviets (and perhaps +100 points).

I assume that the Soviet forces were a typical mix of Red Guards from any local proletarian areas (Akhtubinsk or Tsaritsyn), un-demobbed reservists with no actual wartime experience (Conscript classs) or former frontoviki caught in the area while try to return to their homes further east (Regular class or better). At this early stage there would be little reason to see partisans.
 

Terrain

game map

Both the Soviet and White forces are from the Astrakhan area, so the battlefield is well known to the commanders, despite the absence of maps.

Chapchachi is on the eastern bank of the Volga, just north of Astrakhan. But the Volga is not one river at that point, rather a 20 km wide braid of rivers, often linked lakes would describe it better. Every spring it floods, filling the massive bed and spilling out onto the plains beyond, so the land near the rivers the land is fertile and flat. The land further away from the rivers however is extremely dry and inhospitable. Think of the Nile (before it was dammed) and you won’t go too far wrong.

Chapchachi itself stands on a tiny rise beside a flat flood basin of fertile farm-land. It is a straggling collection of peasant huts, each surrounded by wooden fences and outbuildings. A few kilometres to the west is slightly larger village of Ochovatka. There are no isolated farms or hamlets, everyone lives in the villages.

There are small rises dotted around the plain, but nothing that would justify the word “hill”. The lower gentler ones are marked on the map in pale green, and the few higher, slightly steeper ones in dark green.

There are no hedges, fences or ditches. Being mid-winter, there are no crops either.

Around the farmland are large expanses of sandy, stony areas which are too rough to be cropped, generally just a bit higher than the plain. The highest parts of the sandy areas are marked in dark ochre on the map. These rough bits are covered in low scrub, which has largely died back now that it is winter. While a small body of men can hide in the bushes easily enough, moving through them is tiresome, doubly so if attempting to remain out of sight.

To the south-west of the village is the braid of rivers around the Volga and a huge expanse of plavni – the typical river flats of Russia’s big rivers. This is extremely heavy going, alternately rocky and sandy, with quick-growing scrub and reeds scattered around, especially on the higher points. Made worse at this time of year by the thin ice not quite holding a man’s weight, so that at any time a person crossing it can find themselves waist deep in freezing water. Visibility is poor, thanks to the scrubby plants.

The edge of the plavni is lined with a thick mass of high reeds which reach well over man-height and which block sight completely at ground level (though a man standing on a house in the village can see over them). The reeds are passable, slowly, at any point.

The road from Astrakhan to Akhtubinsk is a dirt track, but quite wide and firm at the moment, if a trifle rutted. Neither it, nor the paths and tracks out to the fields, are visible at ground level.

The railway line is embanked a couple of metres high to avoid the inevitable Spring floods (except at Chapchachi itself which is on a rise). It can be assumed to block all line of sight except between the low rises, and has a considerable “shadow” behind it even when viewed from the highest ground. The embankment is a substantial impediment to all vehicles and artillery and can only be crossed by them in the area around Chapchachi and at the crossing point some 4 km to the north. Cavalry will have to dismount and lead their horses across, but it barely slows infantry.

The rail line itself has been sabotaged by the defenders for a stretch every couple of kilometres out from Chapchachi, preventing the Red advantage in armoured trains from being used. The Reds have repaired it and cleared it of mines just past the edge of the sandy area north-east of Ochovatka, about 5 km out from Chapchachi. Any further repairs will be futile, as the Whites will send out a party during the night to undo them.
 

Weather

It is very cold, being January in continental Russia, let us say -10ºC (10ºF), warming up to 0ºC if it gets sunny during the day. There is no chance that you will persuade troops to stay out at night – they will insist on sleeping in houses. Even sentries will not venture far from dwellings.

Days are longish and clear, since we aren’t up by Petrograd – I will designate sunrise at 7:30 a.m. and nightfall at 5:30 p.m. (Petrograd time).

The region is extremely dry. Snowfalls are light, and then melt if the sun comes out and dark soil is visible. The snow coverage on the ground is therefore extremely light and no impediment to movement. It tends to pile up along fences, houses, trees etc with the wind, but is easily brushed aside.

A night attack does not seem feasible, but a determined party could follow the railway line or the river edge and position themselves for a dawn launch. Any units wandering too far away from these easy landmarks would struggle to orient themselves properly. The river would be far too treacherous to cross in the dark.
 

The Game

The Soviets get to the battlefield by marching out of Ochovatka or by train from Akhtubinsk. Either way they can’t exactly sneak up or easily out-flank the position (which is why it seemed to me as a likely defensive spot).

The Whites will sleep in Chapchachi and if they want to defend forward of the town will need to march out. They may not have prepared trenches (too cold), but MGs or artillery may have a prepared defensive position and it is assumed buildings are loop-holed, if required.

This would appear to be a very simple game to run as a Kriegsspiel, with limited forces and high visibility.

Otherwise, the following procedure seems appropriate. Each player rolls for respective forces and then maps a very basic plan of attack and defence. If possible a neutral party then determines where they meet and sets up a table accordingly. Units might be designated as off-table reserves, if left clearly to the rear.

Flank marches should be signaled well in advance if they move through the plain. They will be hidden but should have a significant chance of delay or coming on in the wrong place if they move through the plavni.
 

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